Other: alcohol abuse
Soris was dead.
Every time Bannon closed his eyes, he could see his cousin, the way he looked the last time he saw him: manacled by the guards, looking back over his shoulder, his face pale with fear, his eyes pleading for salvation. Why hadn’t Duncan rescued him? You, Soris’ eyes accused, why didn’t you rescue me?
When they got back to the inn, Bannon grabbed a bottle, threw the money pouch on the bar, and went upstairs to shut himself in his room.
Alistair didn’t know what to do. Bannon has suffered a terrible shock and the loss of his whole family. No matter how Leliana tried to be optimistic about it, or Zevran tried to ignore it, Alistair couldn’t shake the evil feeling that the worst had happened.
Ever since the Fade dream of Goldana, where Bannon had brought him out of it by saying his real sister needed his protection, he’d wanted to go see her. She lived there in Denerim, and Alistair had been going to ask about taking time to do that. He’d been nervous, though. He hadn’t seen his sister since he was a wee child. But she was his only living relative, that he knew of.
So, once Bannon had seen his family, he was going to ask. But then…. Maker’s Breath, the Taint was in the Alienage. He couldn’t very well have a happy reunion with his sister after that.
And worst of all? Alistair was glad the Taint had only affected the elves. They could be contained within the Alienage, the quarantine strictly enforced by those thick walls, those heavy gates. Because if it got out from there, it would spread to the whole city. Goldana lived near the market; that was so close to the Alienage gate! Curse him for a selfish bastard, but he didn’t want Goldana’s family to suffer. The way Bannon’s family surely had.
Alistair wanted his own bottle, so he could wash away the guilt he felt.
“Not again,” Leliana said at his elbow. “Alistair, go talk to him.”
Leliana tried to reason with him, but he wouldn’t hear it. He rescued the money pouch and found their booth, where he sat across from Wynne.
“What’s wrong?” the old mage asked in worry.
Alistair let Leliana explain. “Where’s Morrigan?” he asked, interrupting the women’s plotting of how to cheer up their leader.
Wynne said, “She disappeared soon after you left.”
“Good riddance.” He was about to ask where Sten was when the qunari and assassin approached the table.
“Are we leaving to fight darkspawn now?” the giant asked.
“No,” Alistair said morosely.
Sten’s brows made a deeper V. “Why?”
“Bannon’s just lost his family. We can leave in the morning.”
“What is this ‘family,’ and why can we not leave without it?”
Alistair gaped up at him. “You must have a family. People related to you?” Sten’s eyes showed no glint of recognition. “I know you had a mother, at least.”
“I do not see what one’s bloodlines have to do–”
“Didn’t your mother raise you? And your brothers and sisters? You know?” Alistair emphasized in annoyance. “Your family.”
“We were raised in the creche by Tamassrans.”
Alistair waved his hand in defeat. It wasn’t worth the bother. He glanced at the elf next to the giant. “I suppose you don’t have a family, either.”
Zevran shrugged. “Need I reiterate how my mother sold me to the Crows?”
Alistair waved that off, too. “You could be a little more sympathetic,” he said sharply.
“As a Grey Warden, Bannon should attend to his duty. Attachments… only interfere.”
“I agree,” said Sten.
“Well, take it from people with real feelings,” Alistair growled, his own fears and guilt making him edgy, “Bannon needs some time. We can leave in the morning.”
“If he’s not hungover,” Leliana mused darkly.
Alistair went to check on Bannon a few hours later, when every one else went to turn in. He got Zevran to pick the lock when Bannon didn’t answer Alistair’s increasingly more insistent knock. He feared the worst, but the elf was only passed out awkwardly in his bed. The former Templar breathed a small sigh of relief, then rearranged his friend into a more comfortable position and tucked the blankets around him.
He rescued the fallen bottle and began setting it on the nightstand, but the dregs still sloshed within, so he took it away, instead. “I hope it works,” Alistair murmured, not unsympathetic to Bannon’s plight. The liquor never stopped the Warden nightmares, but… sleeping indoors had alleviated them before.
Back out in the hall, Zevran had been joined by Leliana and Wynne. They looked on with various flavors of concern for their leader. “He’s fine,” Alistair assured them, wishing he felt as confident as he sounded.
He was proven wrong in the dead hours before dawn. The elf’s screams threw the whole inn into an uproar. Alistair barged back into the room and shook Bannon. “Wake up!” He had to try for several minutes, his heart thumping with worry. “Wake up!” He grabbed Bannon’s arms as the elf clawed his way to consciousness. “You’re all right; calm down. You’re fine. You’re safe! We’re at the inn.”
The wild energy drained out of the elf and he went limp. “Soris?” he croaked.
Alistair couldn’t answer that one.
They headed out the next morning, not even waiting for Bodahn to travel with them. Alistair hoped they weren’t leaving their tents too far behind. “What about your new armor?” he said with sudden inspiration. “Bodahn’s got it for you.”
Bannon just growled, “No one’s going to attack us. We cleared out those bandits a couple of days ago– there’s no way any new ones moved in that fast.”
Alistair couldn’t argue, so he just followed.
Wynne tried to talk to Bannon, and Leliana tried to get him to talk, but he ignored them both.
They stopped early to make camp, waiting for Bodahn. Bannon just tossed his bedroll out near the fire as if he didn’t care whether he had a tent or not. He flopped down on it and produced a full bottle of wine out of the depths of his pack. He drank and stared at the small beginnings of their fire, while the others pussy-footed around, setting things up to start dinner and prepare the camp site.
An hour later, the light turned grey as the sun went down behind the treeline. Bodahn and his little donkey cart trundled up to the group. Alistair and Leliana paid the dwarf his fees and brought out the tents. Bodahn asked about the elf’s armor, but Alistair put him off as best he could. Bannon wasn’t fit to be making decisions, and things weren’t getting any better.
Alistair sat down next to him. “You can’t keep doing this.”
“Leave me alone.”
“I can’t. Look, we need you. You know, the smart you.”
Bannon closed his eyes, his head bowed in despair. “My family….”
“I understand that. Really, I do. Just–” Alistair cut himself off as Zevran approached, Leliana just behind his shoulder, motioning for Alistair to stop. He frowned in puzzlement, then yelped and leapt out of the way as the assassin flung a bucketful of water over the drunk elf. Bannon sputtered and shook water from his face, then gave Zevran a look of pure hatred.
Zevran gave it right back. “You are pathetic!” he sneered. “You don’t have the balls to be my patrone. I should finish the job and kill your sad, sorry ass! Look at you! It would hardly be an effort.”
“You son of a bitch!” Bannon leapt up and went for the assassin’s throat. Zevran skipped back and flung the bucket at him, then ran like hell. Bannon knocked the missile aside and tore after him, deaf to Alistair’s plea for reason.
The Templar got up to pursue them, but Leliana forestalled him. “Let them work it out.”
“Sometimes a gentle hand is not the best solution.”
“But–” Alistair glanced at Morrigan and Wynne, who came over from their respective tents.
“What’s going on?” Wynne demanded.
“Zevran is going to talk some sense into Bannon,” Leliana replied calmly.
“Talk?” Alistair exclaimed. He looked off in the direction the elves had disappeared. Usually, they would run around the camp, staying close. This time, there was no commotion, no shouting and yelling. They’d run off, and worry gnawed at Alistair’s stomach. “What if they kill each other?”
“I do not believe it will come to that.” Was that a tinge of doubt in Leliana’s voice?
“One less elf in our company would be quite a relief,” Morrigan said.
Alistair bit his lip. Normally, he would agree with the witch. But now? He sighed.
The damned Antivan was nearly out of sight, dodging through the trees. Bannon bounced off a tree trunk, hit a root, and sprawled in the dirt. He grunted as the wind was knocked out of him, but he pushed himself up and continued his dogged pursuit. He didn’t know which way they were headed or how far they were going, and he didn’t care. Only one, slightly vague thought entered his mind– beating the shit out of that little shit.
Bannon rounded a copse of gorse bush and sighted his target. He put on a burst of speed and collided with Zevran, who’d suddenly stopped.
The elves went down in a heap and slid along the ground with the momentum. They wrestled a moment. Bannon straddled Zevran and began hitting him. He was too enraged to go for his weapons. With a snarl on his face, he lashed out, raining blow after heavy blow on the assassin until his arms ached.
Zevran only raised his arms to shield his face. Bannon’s fists slapped loudly at the leather armor, the steel bracers. The Antivan uttered not a sound.
Suddenly, Bannon froze, one fist raised. What was he doing? Zevran only lay there, not fighting, not resisting, just… cowering. Like an elf cornered by the guards during a Purge. Bannon felt sick to his stomach.
A moment later, he felt much worse, when the assassin’s knee drove into his groin. His vision flashed and he cried out. He tried to curl up and clutch himself, but the assassin rolled him off and started punching him in the face. Bannon’s head rocked and he saw stars. He flailed at his attacker, and Zevran grabbed his hands.
Zevran bore down on him, pinning his wrists to the earth. He sat on Bannon’s stomach, precluding his victim from being able to reciprocate with a well-placed knee. He snarled down at Bannon. “Your family is dead!” he spit, his words driving harder than his fists. “What are you doing to do about it, eh?”
Bannon’s rage flared. He struggled against the assassin; if he couldn’t use his arms or legs, he’d bite the bastard! Zevran leaned forward, almost eagerly. He jerked his head down and cracked his skull against the bridge of Bannon’s nose. The Denerim elf cried out and fell back.
“Well?” Zevran goaded. “What do you think you are going to do? Eh? What?”
“Nothing!” Bannon snarled. “I can’t….”
“And if they are alive? What then, eh?” Zevran leaned more heavily on him as he squirmed to pull free. “If they are alive and Tainted? What do you think you will do? Go back there? Bribe the guard? Climb the gate? Crawl through the sewers to be with them? So you can watch them die? Slowly? Well?”
Bannon thrashed, but it was useless. He was helpless. “Nothing!” he screamed raggedly again. His eyes stung, his vision blurred. His heart ached. “There’s nothing I can do,” he sobbed. “Nothing….” He was useless and weak, crying like a baby in front of an assassin who would probably kill him in disgust.
Instead, Zevran eased his weight off. After a moment he said, “What are you going to do about this Brother Genitivi, then?”
Bannon sniffled and coughed, but he managed weakly. “We’ll find him. And if the Sacred Ashes exist, we’ll find those, too.”
“And what about the Blight?”
“We still have the treaties with the Dalish, the dwarves. We’ll gather an army.”
“And Loghain and this petty civil war?”
“Eamon will handle him. Then we can fight these damned darkspawn.” His voice grew stronger.
Zevran released his arms. “So, it is as I said, no? You need to concentrate on what you can do. No matter what happens– or has happened, or will happen, or might happen– to your family, you must put it out of your mind.”
But how could he, when he saw them every night, accusing him? When every thought of his father was of him being devoured from within by the Taint; every thought of Shianni was of her broken and bleeding under the guards; every thought of Soris was of his dangling, lifeless body? “Don’t you have any family?”
“No,” Zevran said, stone cold.
“Don’t you have any friends? Loved ones? People you care about?”
“No,” he said, even more coldly. “The Crows teach that love is a weakness.” He helped Bannon up. “Affection, attachments, these are only tools that can be used against you. To hurt you.” A shadow crossed Zevran’s face, just for the briefest moment, then was gone. “You wish to survive the coming war, you need to be hard, like the Crows. Not weak. Especially not in front of the shems. You’re an elf. You think they trust you to lead them? Perhaps now; but always in the back of their minds: ‘He is inferior; he will make a mistake.’ They will let you do the hard jobs, until they no longer need you. Or until you become too pathetic for them to put up with any more.”
There was a loud CRACK as Bannon’s fist connected with the Antivan’s arrogant jaw. Zevran flew backwards and landed roughly on the ground with a grunt.
“That was for calling me weak, and pathetic!” Bannon panted, but he felt a bit more in control of himself. “And for throwing a bucket of water on me!”
“Urgh,” Zevran commented. “Sorry. I had to get your attention somehow. And get you away from the others.”
“Come on.” Bannon went over and gave him a hand up. “We should get back.” He looked around. The dim light of dusk was deepening towards full dark. He looked expectantly at the assassin.
Only to find Zevran looking expectantly back at him. “Well?” Bannon prompted.
The Denerim elf threw his hands in the air. “Great, you don’t know where you ran? Where’s the camp?”
“We came from this direction, no?” Zevran started forward. At least there was a skid mark in the dirt pointing the right way. “Did you not know where you were going?”
“I was chasing your sorry ass,” Bannon snapped. “You have no idea where we are, do you?”
“Of course I do!” Zevran stopped and looked around to get his bearings. “We’re in the forest.”
“Ha! That shows what you know. We’re in a woodland.”
“Oh! Well, if you know the way, do lead on!”
Bannon staggered ahead a bit unsteadily. His stomach protested. “Oh, hang on… I’m going to puke.” He leaned on a tree and did so, noisily.
“Are you sober now?” Zevran asked in annoyance.
“Now I have a headache.” He gently touched his swelling nose.
“Well, I have a toothache,” Zevran griped, cradling his jaw. “Don’t expect any sympathy here.”
Bannon turned away from the stinking puddle and wandered through the trees for a bit. He kept peering around for any sign of the campfire’s light. “You really never had any friends?” he asked the elf shadowing him. “Nobody you could trust?”
“What, like you trust Alistair?”
“You said you worked with other assassins. You had to trust each other on a job.”
“To a point,” the Antivan confessed. “But let me tell you something. In the Crows, the word ‘friend,’ is used when someone wants you to do things for them, to help them, to protect them from their rivals…. Then, when you expect the same consideration in return, they stab you in the back to be rid of you.”
Bannon frowned. He stopped again and looked at the assassin, although it was getting hard to see him in the blue-black night shadows. “So when you call me your friend…?”
“Oh, I don’t mean friend,” Zevran deflected casually. “I mean a person of acquaintance with whom I am currently allied and loyal to. It is just shorter to say.”
“So we’re not friends?” Bannon clarified.
“Well,” Zevran said, tilting his head away, “not in the usual sense of the term, no.”
“And this thing you started calling me? Not patrone… Amico? What’s that?”
Uncomfortably, Zevran admitted, “Ah, that means ‘friend.'”
“‘Friend’ as in, I protect you from these Crows, and when I’m done, you stab me in the back?”
“No!” Zevran hissed in frustration. “What about you, is that what you plan to do with me? After this Blight of yours is over, and you have no need of me, you will eliminate me? Or cut me loose, toss me to the untender mercy of the Crows?”
“No, I….” Bannon looked away. He ran a hand back through his hair, wincing as his ‘headache’ flared up.
“We are just close companions,” Zevran said. “I swore to serve you until you see fit to release me. You wish to be rid of me, that is all you need to do.”
“No, that’s not what I want.” Bannon sighed. All right, the annoying little bugger had grown on him. Not that he would admit it out loud. “You know I need you.”
“That is good.”
“So find the camp.”
“Yes, you, Ser I-Swore-An-Oath-To-Serve-You. So serve! I’m giving you an order.”
“I am not your slave, Ser We-Don’t-Have-Slavery-In-Ferelden! How do you expect me to find the camp, anyway?”
“You can yell for Alistair.”
Zevran’s eyewhites flashed wide in the darkness. “An assassin never calls for help!”
“Oh, you expect me to do it?”
“Yes, I do.” Zevran folded his arms.
“Fine, we can just stumble around all night like a couple of idiots.” Bannon stalked off, keeping one hand out in front of him, in case any trees suddenly sprang up in his path.
“Carpenters yell for help, do they not?” Zevran’s voice floated out of the darkness a short distance off to the left.
“Well, Grey Wardens–” Bannon bit his tongue. What an idiot! “Stand still a minute.”
“Just shut up and stand still.” Bannon closed his eyes and tried to feel the tug in his blood that indicated Alistair’s presence. “I think it’s this way.” He resumed heading in the same general direction. He wasn’t sure. Maybe they weren’t close enough for him to be able to sense Alistair. Maybe they’d spot the campfire light before Bannon could be sure of feeling the other Warden’s presence.
“You think?” the assassin griped.
“Feel free to wander off on your own.”
“If I find the camp, I will be sure to send a search party.”
Bannon countered, “If I find the camp, I’ll tell them you fell in a hole and need help getting out before a family of badgers gnaw your legs off.”
“Well, I will tell them–”
“Shut up, and maybe I can find Alistair,” Bannon snapped impatiently.
“How would you do that?”
“It’s a Grey Warden thing.”
Bannon closed his eyes and tried to picture Alistair battling a hurlock. He needs me, he cajoled his Taint-bearing blood. Where is he? He felt a tug and turned eagerly in that direction. “This way,” he told the assassin.
It wasn’t long before they heard voices and saw the glimmer of firelight. The two elves walked back nonchalantly, trying to slip into camp unnoticed. But of course, the Grey Warden bond worked both ways.
Alistair turned to them. “There you are! We thought you’d gotten lost.”
“What, us? Lost?” Bannon scoffed.
“Never!” Zevran added.
Alistair narrowed his eyes. “Well, it was dark out. What happened, you ran face first into some trees?”
“What’s for dinner?” Bannon added.
“More bugs and slime.” Alistair looked to the annoyed witch. “When are you going to learn to cook lamb and pea stew?”
“When are you going to learn to cook anything?”
“Hey, I can cook!”
“Not that I noticed.”
Bannon looked at Zevran. “And they complain about us,” he muttered. “Hey, Wynne,” he called, not waiting for Zevran’s response. He dogged the mage. “What have you got to cure a headache?”