Nara Mahariel was freezing her ass off.
Wearing her Wade-Wear pea coat had seemed like a brilliant idea that morning, but the windless, clear day had given way to a breezy, snow-filled evening. Fortunately her car was parked only four blocks away from the office and since the snow hadn't been falling for long she could probably still drive home.
It was Yulemas Eve and despite the holiday, Nara had elected to go into work. Politics never slept, and this was especially true for the Dalish embassy. On Tuesday the Landsmeet would hold hearings on the current state of elven equality; an upcoming trade negotiation with Kal'Hirol was scheduled on Thursday; on Friday the First Enchanter of Tevinter would be meeting with the Society of Elvish Magi to discuss opening a satellite school in the Brecilian Forest. Working today and Yulemas would ensure that when the embassy reopened on Monday, everything would be up to speed.
Besides, it's not like she had anyone to go home to
Stop being bitter, Nara thought sternly. It's been a year now; get over it, it's done. He used you then dumped you cold. He's not coming back. You're better off without him.
As she walked past the Gnawed Noble Tavern she could hear the drunken revelry of holiday patrons streaming through the windows. At least someone's happy this evening, she thought dryly. She shook her head and continued towards the car.
As she reached her white sedan and fumbled for the keys her phone began to vibrate. Nara reached into her coat pocket and, after retrieving the phone, gazed at the caller ID: it read LELI <3. She ignored the call momentarily, climbed into the car and started the engine. It was only after she'd pulled onto the road that she answered the phone.
"You were supposed to be here two hours ago," said Leliana in an accusatory tone.
"I know, I know; I'm sorry," replied Nara dismissively.
"No you're not," said Leliana knowingly.
"Okay, fine, I'm not sorry," said Nara, exasperated.
"You're not doing this because of Marge are you? I thought we were already past this."
"I'm not punishing you because of your girlfriend, even though I think she's a lying, manipulative witch."
"I keep telling you, she's not like that."
"You only say that because every night she has her tongue in your-"
"What?" the elf replied innocently. "I'm just saying you're not exactly impartial."
There was a small silence.
"Nevermind that," replied Leliana, though her voice was flustered. "Where are you now?" she asked.
"Just passing the Market District-"
"-and heading towards the Noble Estates development," said Leliana, disappointment in her voice. "You're headed home. Don't deny it."
Nara sighed. "Leli, I just
I'm just not in the mood, okay?"
"Nara, you haven't been in the mood for ages. We both know what the cause is. I know he hurt you; Maker knows he hurt you badly. But despite that I can tell you're still in love with him. Why can't you just admit that you miss-"
"Finish that sentence and I hang up Leli."
There was another small silence.
"Alistair's already here. He's been asking after you," said Leliana.
"Of course he has," replied Nara, smiling for the first time.
"He would make a wonderful boyfriend-" began Leliana.
"-but not for me, I'm afraid," said Nara, cutting off her friend. "I don't like him that way and besides Leli, I'm not ready."
"If you change your mind love
"I'm not going to change my mind Leli." Nara felt a tiny stab of a guilt. "But I hope the party goes well. And Leliana?"
"Happy Yulemas to you too, Nara."
Thanks to her embassy job Nara was currently living in the Warden's Peak Residential Park, a suburb located some 20 minutes outside of Denerim. As she drove past the other homes she could see bright lights strewn all around the outside walls and countless lawns decorated with Yulemas displays. For Nara, however, home was a small, plain two-story getup with beige bricking and an overgrown lawn. To Nara's surprise, Ontar was not outside waiting for her. The mabari usually squeezed himself through his special door, sat on the lawn and happily knocked her over the second she left the car. Maybe he's just taking a nap, she thought. He's done it before. She parked the car and entered the house, stopping only to grab a bottle of Tevinter red from the garage fridge - if she was to spend Yulemas Eve alone, a little alcohol certainly wouldn't hurt.
As she walked through the kitchen she called out to her beloved pet. "Ontar? Ontar! Mummy's home!" She was now at the living room doorway. "Mummy's home and she wants a great big hu-"
The wine bottle fell from her hand and shattered on the kitchen floor.
Nara couldn't move, breathe or talk. Her body was immediately engulfed with a mixture of hatred, terror, confusion and
something that scared her even more than the sight before her.
Ontar turned away from figure seated on the living room couch and bounded over to the broken bottle.
Said figure stood from where he'd been seated. His black hair had been cleansed back to its original blonde and a tattoo now graced his face, freed from whatever makeup he'd used to disguise it. When he spoke there was now a distinct Antivan accent, a far cry from his imitation of that of the Fereldens.
"Hello Nara," said Zevran.
Zevran calmly walked over to the remains of the bottle and knelt down besides Ontar, who was happily lapping up the spilled wine. Zevran stuck a finger in a red patch then brought it to his lips.
"Tevinter wine. From Yul-Sen if I'm not mistaken. I don't know what's worse: the fact that you now drink or the fact that you are drinking very poor wine
Not even a ghost of a smile from her? Zevran's heart fell. She must have learned the truth the truth about everything. That would make winning her back even more difficult.
"Nara, please say something," he pleaded still nothing. He came over to her and laid his hand on her shoulder.
Zevran's touch snapped Nara into motion and she violently jerked backwards, colliding with the kitchen counter.
"By the Creators
"As for the how, I merely let myself in. As for the what, it is Yulemas Eve. I came by to give you two things you have long deserved an apology and an explanation."
At the word 'explanation' Nara's face became a storm of anger. "If that is your aim then kindly get the hell out of my house."
Zevran's eyes softened. "Nara-" he began, but the Dale had regained her sensibilities and she was having none of it. With surprising speed Zevran found himself pinned against the pantry door, a stinging finger prodding his chest and Nara shouting in his face.
"You used me Arainai! For two years you wormed your way into my life, into my heart and into my bed. Then during a diplomatic summit a bomb goes off in the middle of Denerim and 12 people are killed including the head of state that I invited and two of my good friends. Then later on that same day I come home to find you gone and some halla dung note about needing space - no explanations, no warning, no nothing. But then D-Sec tells us that the Crows might've been involved, and that horrible little epiphany light went on in my brain. So on a hunch I had our friend Morrigan run her tech wizardry on my laptop. Turns out my encrypted embassy files had been cracked, read and copied without me realizing it. Add all our little 'how was work Nara?' conversations and you had everything you needed to kill those people. You put their blood on my hands Arainai," she spat.
"How did you learn my name?" asked Zevran quietly.
"I ran a sketch by an Antivan contact of mine don't bother asking who," she replied quickly. "The person said they'd seen you at a function for the Antivan king a couple years back but looking as you are now. They gave me your name and told me I should forget I'd ever seen you." Nara gave a harsh laugh. "Somehow I doubt that's going to happen."
Zevran knew the answer to his next question, but he asked it anyway. "If you knew who I was and what I'd done, why did you not inform the authorities?"
Nara knew that Zevran knew (her glare told him as much) but to his surprise she backed away from him and instead rested her hands on the countertop.
"Guilt over the dead. Gen Cousland, the governor of Highever? She was a friend of mine. Brecilius Zathrian was my boss. And I was the one who convinced King Harrowmont to come out of seclusion." Nara gazed at the living room window. "Fear for my life. The Crows never admitted to the bombing, but since I had good evidence I wouldn't be allowed to blab for long, would I? Hell, you'd probably have volunteered to silence me, have one last bit of fun with me." Zevran flinched at her harshness, but Nara didn't notice. "And
I guess I was embarrassed. Not to mention the fallout this would have had for the Dalish sociopolitical movement. I couldn't do that to our people. So
I kept silent."
"And what reason did you give for my departure?"
Nara was still for a moment, then turned back to Zevran. "I told my friends you were a miserable cheating bastard, and that I'd caught you with nude photos of another woman." And that I missed you terribly, thought Nara, but she immediately squashed the sentiment.
Zevran couldn't help but laugh. "I must say, you certainly know how to slander a man's good reputation. Now bella mia, I believe it is time for my side of the story. No, no, no," he said as Nara opened her mouth. "After the tongue-lashing you just gave me I think it is only fair that I muster some sort of defense." The assassin said a silent prayer to Santo Nícolo, took a deep breath and spoke to his broken lover.
"Bhelen Aeducan contracted the Crows to eliminate Pyral Harrowmont, but the man was all but invulnerable in Orzammar, even from them. When they heard that you were working to bring Harrowmont to Denerim for the summit three years ago, they sent me to infiltrate the Dalish embassy and keep tabs on the negotiations. That fact that you were leading the charge made my job all that much easier. You were young, virginal, naïvely optimistic about the world and hopelessly romantic. It took me all of three weeks to grab your heartstrings and have you wrapped around my little finger, amongst other things." Nara blushed reflexively. "Two years undercover should have flown by like mere minutes had I remained focused had I done things right. But I didn't. Because one morning I woke up and realized that you had grabbed my heartstrings somewhere in the still reaches of the night. I realized that for the first time in years I was genuinely happy with myself I was in love. I'm still in love. With you. It is maddening, it is stupid and dangerous and irrational but it's a feeling that I cannot suppress or destroy. Love is why I took such pains to make sure my espionage could not be traced back to you. Love is why I have stayed away, to ensure your safety. And love is why I shot out your tires the day of the assassination."
Nara's eyes widened. "Halla dung."
Zevran took a deep breath he was about win her back or lose her forever. "While I normally acted as both infiltrator and assassin for the Crows, an associate named Taliesen was in charge of Harrowmont's execution. I only found out about the explosives some 20 minutes before the event. There was no way I could save the bystanders without compromising the mission. But I could at least make sure you were not one of them. You always drive the same route to the embassy, so I covertly intercepted you en route and made sure you never arrived. The job was completed and you were safe."
Zevran desperately searched Nara's face for any signs of belief or forgiveness. A golem had more facial expression than her at the moment. Finally she spoke.
"What happened afterwards?" she asked quietly.
"Both the Crows and I took issue to Taliesen's
excessive measures. While the Crows are in the business of killing people, harming bystanders, regardless of their worth, is an unspoken taboo. Accidents are bound to happen of course, but Taliesen was just being lazy and cruel. In any case the man had been sliding for some time and it gave the Crows the excuse they needed to have him removed. I must confess I rather enjoyed carrying out their edict."
"You keep talking about the Crows in past tense and third person like you're no longer part of them," said Nara cautiously.
"Our relationship had been
previously strained. The Harrowmont contract was the first real fracture. Two weeks ago we came to an amicable split. I'm too valuable to kill outright, and I'm not foolish enough to blab Crow secrets. As long as both parties recognize their boundaries I remain a free man. Between you and me, I have no intention of returning to the Crows. But before I disappear into the mists of Thedas, I had to come see you. I had to come explain what happened, even if you don't forgive me. Though that certainly wouldn't hurt," he added, and to his delight Nara gave a small chuckle and shook her head.
But when she made eye-contact again Zevran's heart sunk, because he could see the disappointment in her eyes.
"Sorry Arainai. It's not good enough."
That's not true, Nara though. I believe him. I trust his words. Why, I have no idea, but I believe him. Damn it, why am I doing this again? He had to leave. She had to stop feeling this way the fear, doubt, anger and the something gripping her heart.
"I think it's best if you leave now." The words sounded hollow in her throat, but she forced herself to say them.
"As the lady wishes," said Zevran quietly and he moved towards the kitchen door. But then he stopped.
"I'm warning you Arainai
" He was fumbling in his pockets for something. "Andraste's Knickers, what are you doing?"
"It's Yulemas, remember? I
have a gift. Please do not laugh or refuse me," warned Zevran. "Besides, I think you'll like it." And from his slender fingers, Zevran produced a pair of golden halla earrings.
"By the Creators
I thought I'd lost those," replied Nara in astonishment, both at the earrings and her lack of anger at their being in Zevran's possession. "They were my mother's," she replied quietly.
"I know," he replied in an equally quiet tone. "I apologize for causing you concern. They were lying on the nightstand the day of my departure. I wanted something to remember you by and an excuse to return if I ever got the opportunity." Zevran held up an earring in each hand. "If I may?"
No chance in hell you¬-
no funny business."
Nara watched Zevran with laser-like precision as he advanced and remained perfectly still as he gently inserted an earring in each lobe. Before she could stop him, he had slid his hands down to cup her face.
Nara grabbed Zevran's wrists reflexively. Zevran realized he had crossed a line and began to apologize.
"Mi dispiace Nara. It was an impulse; I couldn't help myse-"
But Nara hadn't heard, because she had finally realized what the mysterious something was that was currently tearing through her body like a raging bearskein.
The assassin could see fear in her eyes. But not fear of him.
Nara violently grabbed the back of Zevran's head and pulled him in for a searing kiss. He immediately pushed her backwards until she was pressed against the kitchen cabinets. Their hands frantically searched each other, retracing old pathways and charting new ones. Zevran mouth made its way to her neck and nipped at the sensitive skin. Nara opened her mouth but no sound came forth.
Ontar, smelling the familiar onset of pheromones and sweat, headed for the utility room. Sleeping in the bedroom was not an option tonight.
Zevran awoke to an empty bed. He grabbed the rumbled bedsheet and wrapped it around his waist, deciding it wouldn't be worth the effort to find his discarded clothing. He entered the living room to find Nara dressed only in a shirt. He joined her at the window and together they stared at the world. Outside a new bout of snow was softly falling to the earth and a dozen children were playing in the street.
"Happy Yulemas bella," said Zevran, gently kissing her shoulder.
Nara continued to stare outside.
"I must say that shirt looks rather fetching," said Zevran, taking a few seconds to leer at Nara's bare legs. "But personally, I prefer the tutto naturale look
Nara gave a small, sad smile. Zevran's heart dropped again.
we need to talk."
Last night had been an earthshattering experience for Nara (in more ways than one). But now the rubble was left and it couldn't be swept under the rug to fade away.
Waking up in Zevran's arms had been the most natural and wonderful feeling in the world. But who was she feeling safe with? The charming city elf who'd met her with coffee outside the embassy or the world-weary ex-hitman who'd bared his soul the night before? She needed to be sure. And that's why she needed to have this conversation.
Nara sat them both down on the couch. She took a deep breath.
"First of all Zev
eyes up here," she said, annoyed.
"Hmm?" Zevran's eyes snapped upwards from her legs. "I'm sorry mi amore; I was entranced by the view."
This time Nara blushed. "Never mind that." Deep breaths, Nara. "First of all I want you to know that I don't regret last night; I don't think it was mistake either, at least not entirely. It was cathartic I needed the release, the relief. I've had all these emotions corked up and being with you let me let go. I mean, really let go." She blushed again. "My problem is this - you were honest with me."
Zevran's eyebrow arched in confusion. "I was not aware being honest was a bad thing in relationships."
"Usually, no. But in our case, we had a relationship that was built on falsehood and deception. I'm in love with the man standing in front of me," declared Nara. "It's the identity of the man I can't decide on. Is it the guy who swept me off my feet three years ago, the man who showed me so many new things I lost count? Or is it the guy who bared his soul to me last night on the chance that the woman he betrayed would muster a shred of forgiveness for him? I just don't know. So," said Nara drawing a breath, "I've decided to give you a Yulemas gift."
"Really? On top of last night? I thought that gift sufficient enough," replied Zevran with a waggle of his eyebrows.
"Zevino!" yelled Nara, and her heart twinged.
"Mi dispiace, amore. Vi prego di continuare," answered Zevran, his face finally betraying his concealed fear.
"Last night, you gave me the earrings. This morning, I give you a second chance." Zevran's mouth opened slightly. "No," interjected Nara, "I have not forgiven you. I have not forgotten what brought us to this point. But I will give you the opportunity to make amends and start fresh. That means no more sex," she said. "At least not at first," she added with another blush. "Look, this might get complicated-"
"No mi amore," said Zevran solemly. "This is a rather simple gift, your second chance. I don't want to lose you again. So whatever it takes, whatever you need I will do it. From now on, I am yours." He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the lips. Then he began to remove her shirt.
"I just said no more s-"
"Shh," he said huskily. He gently laid the discarded shirt on the ground, then removed the bedsheet from around his waist and draped it over both of them. Zevran wrapped his arms around Nara's waist and curled into her body.
And as the two lovers lay side by side in still and loving intimacy, Nara's hand searched out for Zevran's and gave it a hesitant squeeze. He squeezed back just as hesitantly.
"Happy Yulemas amore," said Nara.