Inevitable - Raelinae - Baldur's Gate (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: A drow and a vampire spawn walk into a bar... Chapter Text Chapter 2: Promises, promises... Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3: Conversations Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4: Different kind of nightlife Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 5: Lost and Found Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6: Drinks and thirst Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7: Dinner discussions Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8: A game Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 9: Moonlight and music Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: Reading and flirting Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11: ComforTable Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12: Misconceptions Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: Instinctual Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: Respite Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: Concessions Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16: In the thick of it Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17: Ruminations Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18: Lessons Learned Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19: Tension Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20: Jealousy Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21: Restraint Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22: Solitude Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 23: Revelation Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24: Change Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25: Desires Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26: Art of War Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 27: History Repeats Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 28: Tactile Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 29: Confrontation Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 30: Something wicked this way comes Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 31: Reconciliation Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 32: Evanescent Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 33: Stealing Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 34: Visions Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 35: Insatiable Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 36: Inevitable Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 37: Agonizing Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 38: Indescribable Agony Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 39: Once and for all Notes: Chapter Text Notes:

Chapter 1: A drow and a vampire spawn walk into a bar...

Chapter Text

It’s the flophouse again tonight, because it took forever for Astarion’s arms to unkink from being held over his head for hours, and they’re running out of night. Leon had already found his mark and gone. It’s Astarion with Dalyria now, both of them keeping their eyes and ears open, neither one wanting to return empty-handed tonight. Especially not Astarion; he had his fill of torture during the day already. He’ll take a reprieve. Dalyria is antsy. She hasn’t had enough wine to cool her nerves, Astarion thinks. He orders a round and passes it to her. She gives him a narrow-eyed look but downs her cup. He’s all smiles and carelessness, as if this success isn’t weighing on his mind. It is, but he doesn’t need to show it like she is. He needs to be suave and ready. He needs to find a willing bedpartner. Or at least a poor bastard fool enough to follow him into an alley.

It’s not his first thought, when the door opens with a merry jingle and the gigantic figure of a man hurries in from the rain. His first thought is something more along the lines of distaste at the weather. It was a welcome reprieve for a vampire spawn, letting them have more time before the inevitable agony of daybreak, but navigating the rushing gutters at the end of a night’s rain is a nuisance. Astarion also doesn’t exactly like to get wet. Nor did Cazador give them cloaks to keep the rain from soaking them. It wasn’t as though his spawn could get sick. Why waste the money?

But when the man pulls back his hood, there’s a frisson of excitement through the place. Dalyria, drinking his cup now too, doesn’t notice it immediately. But Astarion does. Astarion’s eyes blow wide.

A drow.

The whispers in the flophouse explode. An under-elf? In Baldur’s Gate? Unheard of.

He’s tall and broad-shouldered. Ashen gray skin and long white hair, damp where his hood didn’t cover it. He’s a mountain of a man. He shrugs out of his cloak and hangs it on the peg by the door, a sure way to get its pockets picked if it has any, and he apologizes to the barmaid for the water it’s dripping. His voice is soft. Rich. Sweet as honey. The barmaid, in turn, is clipped and aggressive with him. No one trusts a drow. They’re all vicious and ruthless and typically only around to serve their own means or some bizarre means of their wicked spider goddess. The man looks almost hurt by her callous disregard, though, and that’s very interesting to see.

Astarion’s curiosity is… sufficiently piqued.

He makes his move before Dalyria can even see what started the murmurs around them. He’s on his feet and following the drow to the bar.

“We don’t serve your kind,” the barkeep snarls. Again the drow seems startled- but a little less so- by this rebuttal.

“I see,” he says softly. “Is there no way for me to simply purchase some water before I go on my way..?”

No.”

“Come now, Tressa!” Astarion says brightly as he slides smoothly in at the drow’s right side. “Coin is coin, is it not? Why should it matter what hand gives it to you?”

Tressa scowls at him. She’s suspicious of him- has been for a while, smart woman- but silence is golden in her line of work. She brusquely holds out a hand and the drow smiles. He gratefully fishes out three gold pieces. Astarion adds three more to the pile and says, “Make it wine, my good lady. Seems he could use some warming up.”

The drow smiles again. It’s a friendly thing. Homely. It makes his handsome face soften. He already has none of those quintessentially drow ‘kill-you’ sharp angles to his face, but the smile just makes him seem terribly boyish.

“Thank you,” he says. “I… don’t know how to repay you, really.”

“A conversation will do nicely,” Astarion replies as easy as breathing. “I’m sure you’re fascinating, darling.”

He can feel Dalyria’s eyes boring into the back of his head. Jealous he had found this beauty before her. She’ll have to settle for someone less interesting or else go back with nothing. He does always try to pick the beautiful ones and oh, he’s hit the jackpot tonight. The drow finally turns to look at him full in the face for the first time and Astarion’s struck by the weight of that stare. It’s black on black on black. No- the irises are a deep gorgeous green. It’s very nearly like a tiefling’s hellfire gaze. He marvels at it. Drow are said to have a multitude of eye colors, among the books and broadsheets, but never this. Intriguing. Astarion almost reaches up to touch the pale ash gray of the skin under those unusual eyes. He stops himself. Only a twitch of his fingers would have given the aborted motion away, if anyone was watching his hands. The drow’s got a rueful sort of smirk now. He blinks and Astarion’s freed from his stare.

“I was right,” he says instantly. “You are fascinating.”

“You’re allowed to ask,” the man replies. “I know you must be curious. People who stick around long enough to notice always are.”

Tressa returns with a cup of wine. Astarion can smell it; it’s cheap stuff. He wrinkles his nose at Tressa for being so chintzy. The drow doesn’t seem to mind; he drinks. Doesn’t even make a face besides the smallest downward turn of his lips. A withheld grimace. Astarion leans down, all but laying halfway on the bar now, to regain the man’s attention. He’s practically posing. He may as well be. He gestures to the drow’s face, which, now that he's looking, is liberally splashed with freckles, an interesting thing to see on skin typically unused to the sun.

His eyes.

“Is that natural?”

“Not at all.”

“I thought not. I’ve heard tales of your people but none of them include eyes that gorgeous. And those should be making the front pages of the broadsheets, darling.”

The man smiles a bit and takes another drink of the swill. That just won’t do. Astarion’s already leaning far enough. It’s a simple sleight of hand, really. He’s still careful about it because the last thing he needs to do is be kicked out of the flophouse now.

“How did it come about then?”

The drow smiles. “It’s a curse. And then a shoddy bit of curse breaking that didn’t quite work.”

Oh,” Astarion purrs. “You’re more fascinating than I even hoped. I mean really darling, cursebreaking? Never would have expected that.”

“I was little more than blind thanks to the curse, so… I did what I could. Though perhaps I could stand to have made a better choice of cursebreaker, all things considered.”

He finishes his cup. Astarion feels a faint flutter of unease. There’s nothing to keep the drow here now. He’d had his cup, the patrons were still side-eyeing him with undisguised distrust, and it wasn’t like the rain was going to die down. He was better off continuing on to wherever his destination was. It was hard to say if this conversation had been scintillating enough for the man to stay from pure enjoyment. And if he left… well, certainly Astarion wouldn’t have filled his own quota, but he would also never know more. The fellow was entrancing. A puzzle of many pieces Astarion has the strangest longing to fit together to make the drow make sense . There was so much lurking behind his placid demeanor. Astarion could sense the coiled snake, the cornered beast, hiding just beyond that smile. It reminded him of himself, of his siblings. A monster buried just below skin-deep. Unsurprising, considering this is a drow he’s talking to, but if he’s supposedly a monster the man seems to keep that trademark viciousness of his people buried deep. He’s only been… kind, so far. Friendly. It’s bizarre, as far as Astarion knows. Drow are known for infighting and poisoning and political intrigue. Kindness is a foreign concept to them. In that respect, anyway, one would certainly fit in when it comes to the underbelly of Baldur’s Gate.

It’s so terribly interesting. The man is an enigma and Astarion likes a bit of a thrill to his conquests, provided they’re pretty enough. And this one, true to drow norms, is beautiful.

“What’s your name, darling? Of course, I can call you darling all night, if you’d like, but I’d love to know what name I need to be calling.”

The drow blinks at him. At the flirtatious wink Astarion drops at the end of his sentence. Then his brow furrows. He takes almost an entire minute before he responds, haltingly, like he’s not sure of his own thoughts, “I- I’m- Tav.”

Astarion laughs and he’s surprised to realize some of it is genuine. “Why did you have to think about it, my dear?”

“No one’s asked,” the man- Tav - says softly. “In fact I think you’re the first person who’s actually tried to hold a conversation with me at all. Without, er, spitting in my face or at my feet first.”

Astarion clucks his tongue. “How horrid.”

“I’ve gotten used to it,” the drow replies wryly. “This tavern is hardly the first one to treat me hostile. Wouldn’t have been the first I’ve been thrown out of, either.”

“Goodness. What crimes have you been committing? Is there a trail of broken hearts in your wake?”

“My crime seems to be I showed my face outside the Underdark.”

“It is a very beautiful face, darling. I can see how it would spark… crimes of passion, shall we say.”

“I assume it’s heart-breaking, even?” The drow says, the first hint of a smile in his voice and curling the corner of his full lips.

“Most certainly.”

“That may be my mistake then.”

“By all means keep making it,” Astarion murmurs, refilling the man’s cup with the wine bottle he’d snatched from behind the bar when Tressa was in the kitchen. “It’s a gorgeous mistake.”

The drow huffs some sound that’s not quite derisive and not quite amused. He drinks deeper of this wine; Astarion picked well. He shakes his head. “I can’t help but feel like you’re after something, my good sir.”

“Perish the thought.”

The man smiles and holds out his emptied cup and Astarion gamely refills it. He likes this banter. It’s refreshing. Most drunkards take one look at his face or body, listen to one or two lines, and that’s that. The drow is playing hard to get. Or rather… he seems to be playing a different game entirely. He drains his cup again and sets it carefully on the bar.

“Are you not going to drink?”

“Oh, sweetheart, I only paid for yours.”

“Ah, my apologies. I didn’t see you pay for the bottle at all.”

“I haven’t the foggiest what you’re talking about.”

The man chuckles. “I see. I must’ve missed it.”

“You must’ve. I would never.” Astarion’s juggling a small, threadbare red bag now. It’s heavier than he would have expected for a vagrant. The drow just smiles. Astarion slips a single coin from the bag and palms it. The bag he dangles to let the drow take back.

“Surely that sort of proficiency and skill deserves more than one coin?”

Astarion winks. “Who said yours was my only one?”

The drow laughs aloud, this time, a musical noise that makes something in Astarion’s chest pull tight. It’s a lovely sound. He gets the strange feeling the drow doesn’t laugh nearly enough. He wants to hear it again.

“All that said,” Astarion hums, “there is one more thing I would steal from you, if you’d be… amenable.”

He leans back, lets the pose and the breeches do the talking, and waits. He can’t say what he expected, effusive agreement or stern rejection, but the uneasy way the drow is suddenly holding himself was not at all among his guesses. Like the other man doesn’t know what to do with the offer. It’s unbelievable. Astarion refuses to believe that the man hasn’t suffered a host of potential suitors. Come the hells, the heavens, or high water, there is absolutely no denying this man is attractive. Damn the color of his skin. He’s amazing.

“Perhaps- some other time,” the drow says, strangled and awkward. “But not- no.”

It’s a strange, unsure rejection, which is not a type of rejection Astarion is used to. He’s used to the excuses of ‘too drunk’, ‘another man!?’, and the one he finds most amusing, ‘a headache’. He hasn’t had a mark simply too anxious to agree since Sebas-

He slams the door on the memory. Shoves it away. He twists instead, curving effortlessly back into the drow’s space, and bats his eyelashes.

“Are you sure, dar-?”

He doesn’t get further than that, because when he wraps his fingers around the drow’s left wrist, the man yanks it out of his hold so fast Astarion’s struck dumb. The drow is similarly speechless, but there’s a distinct kind of vulnerability in his eyes Astarion recognizes. One that Astarion keeps trapped inside of himself.

I don’t want this.

No.

Don’t touch me.

Don’t touch me!

“Oh.” He says, simply, nothing else coming to mind. Nothing else fair, accurate, and honest enough for the truth they just wordlessly told each other.

The drow sighs. He pushes his cup toward Astarion, just a little, and Astarion knows a peace offering when he sees one. An apology. He fills the cup. This time, before the drow picks it up to drink, he does, and knocks back a hefty swallow he refills. The drow smiles, but it’s tired now, dragging down at the edges despite his best efforts. He props his head on a fist. It braces his jaw, right below where a scar- dark as pitch- carves a line up his left cheek.

“What do you know about drow?”

Astarion perks up. He can play this game. It’s infinitely easier than thinking about the hundreds of beds he’s been in. He sets down the bottle to tick his fingers.

“Matriarchal society. Tiny little buggers, which makes you far beyond the pale, my darling. Vicious. Deadly. Prone to infighting. Have an unhealthy obsession with poisons. Drizzt Do’Urden is the best thing you ever produced. Bar none. I won’t accept criticisms. The men are supposedly powerless- pardon me if, looking at you, I simply don’t believe that. And-”

Astarion pauses. He doesn’t say it, but he’s thinking it. A drunken conversation he overheard once, from someone who’d had dealings of some sort with a few drow come to the surface.

I heard that if they’re not shipped off to fight as fodder, the men are basically sex slaves! No freedom for them. Just used by their women.

Yeah but the women are pretty. I wouldn’t complain if I was them. Seems like a good life, having a parade of women who want to get your dick wet.

Astarion recalls ingratiating himself into the conversation after that. Luring the second man away from the first. If there was one thing Astarion knew after over a hundred years in Cazador’s control, it was that being forced into sexual encounters you didn’t wish for wasn’t exactly pleasant, surrendered to, or wanted.

It was torture.

That would be the last lesson the dumb bastard ever learned, but Astarion had been ever so eager to teach it to him, and greatly enjoyed the look of horror on his face when Cazador had taken him away.

The old conversation and the implications brought with it bookends the earlier thought and suddenly they’re right back to it. He glances over at the drow. Tav’s answering smile is worn out. An old blanket, threadbare and thin. Almost transparent enough to show what hides beneath.

“Yes,” Tav says quietly. “You know.”

He does.

“You understand.”

He does.

“I’ve heard the rumors,” Astarion says stiffly instead. They don’t have similar backgrounds. He’s not the same as the man next to him. They’re not the same. They’re not.

The drow nods.

This time doesn’t feel as tense as the last did. Like Tav already expected to hear everything Astarion said… and didn’t say. He’s used to it. His tired smile is still on his face and he keeps it as he loosens the laces of the bracer on his left forearm.

Good f*cking gods the meat on this man’s bones. He has enough muscle that Astarion is nearly certain he could clear out the flophouse and a few of the nearby bars with no trouble. He watches raptly as the drow rolls up his sleeve a bit and feels his stomach drop down to his feet when he sees what he’s being shown.

There’s ridges of scar tissue on that left wrist. Familiar ones. Lines cut into the sides again and again and again.

Damage from straining against a manacle.

From fighting imprisonment, or uselessly trying to escape pain being dealt, or simply long mistreatment. Astarion knows them well. If Cazador would but allow it, he would have plenty of his own from his aching days in the kennel.

“The rumors your people hear about mine are far from inaccurate,” Tav says softly. “Sometimes embellished. Usually not. No need to, if it’s close enough to the truth. And we are a twisted, savage folk. Lolth worship is a vicious thing. Our culture is strict, vengeful, rigid, and demanding. Women rule everything. Men bow and scrape and nod along to their every whim, hoping to go unnoticed or hoping to garner enough power to be worth something to the society. Alternatively some of us just have none of the luck.”

He finishes speaking with a dry laugh. He’s one of those unfortunates, clearly. Astarion’s still staring at his wrist long after Tav’s pulled back down his sleeve and done up the simple bracer again. He longs to reach for that hand again, but this time to caress the old hurts, and that’s baffling to him. It’s beyond strange and beyond pointless to feel this sense of kinship. Just because the drow had experienced similar things in his past means nothing to Astarion. It shouldn’t, anyway. But the idea of the man bound- chained- and used hits too close to home. It’s making him think and it shouldn’t. What it really means is that Astarion can’t bring himself to think further about taking the drow for his victim for the night. The idea sets off some squirmy feeling in his gut. He pushes it stubbornly away but it won’t stay gone. He has no choice but to accept his role; he can at least choose not to force the poor thing to live his old torments again. Even if he can get the man to agree to consensual sex, it would only end in pain regardless. He knows oblivion would be swift as Cazador drinks the drow dry. It certainly is for the rats Astarion is permitted to consume. But it would be worse for a grown man. The bite hurts. Astarion remembers how it hurts. He remembers screaming for hours, until his voice cracked and tore and faded, but even still-

Tav shifts, moves his cup again, and Astarion snaps out of his roaming thoughts immediately. By muscle memory he goes to grab the bottle, and pauses instead. He looks up at Tav. The drow looks back evenly, so uncommonly sweet and open and unassuming.

“I-”

“Brother!” Dalyria calls suddenly, and he looks at her automatically because he knows it’s him she’s looking for. Their hair and builds are similar enough they can get away with the ruse better than most. She’s trying to support the dead weight of a young man too deep in his cups to escape them. She smiles tightly at him. “I’m afraid your friend has passed out and we should get him home.”

Saved and forsworn. Rescued from his own thoughts, from the drow’s hypnotic eyes, from staring at the curve of his soft pale lips.

Astarion gives a theatrical sigh. “Not again. I swear… anyway, farewell my dear. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”

He hopes he never sees the drow again.

But he does, and it’d be lying to say he hasn’t been looking.

It’s not at the flophouse the next time, because they never hit the same tavern twice in a tenday, but the next time he sees the man it’s outside the Blushing Mermaid, which Astarion thinks he himself might rather resemble as soon as he recognizes the long white hair and powerful build. There’s pink in his hair, Astarion realizes as the moonlight caresses him. It’s faint but it’s certainly there. It’s how he ‘introduces’ himself: he wraps a lock of it around his finger and tugs. The drow startles. There’s bewilderment and irritation fighting for dominance on his face when he turns his head. Like he’s trying to decide who the culprit is before he reacts. Perhaps he’s thinking it’s a child (no impish little one, not even a half-orc, could ever reach high enough to pull his hair, despite the long length of it) and doesn’t want to snap at a kid.

When he sees Astarion, those dark eyes light up with recognition and no small amount of joy. It’s a beautiful expression. It makes the green of his eyes sparkle like gemstones.

“Well!” Tav says brightly, bright and silvery and kind to Astarion as the moon. “Well met once again, my friend!”

Friend. It sits wrong on Astarion’s chest. It’s not the right word. He’s not this man’s friend. He’s a threat. He’s dangerous. He’s also a fool. His failure to bring anything home the last time he’d lost himself in this man’s attention had earned him severe punishment. Days of it. He can’t afford to fail again tonight. He doesn’t want to. He’s better served leaving this conversation here and going into the Mermaid and finding himself a lovely drunk lass. A quick, easy life stolen in the clinging shadows of the moon.

What happens instead is his mouth opening and a cheery, “Hello , darling, fancy seeing you here!” coming from somewhere inside him. The somewhere of falsehood he keeps all his masks.

“It is a pleasant surprise.”

There’s a sweetness in Tav’s face. Borne on his smile. A gentle, kindly thing that Astarion experiences a quicksilver urge to kiss. It’s there and gone again faster than he could even think about it and he hopes it stays buried.

“Are we only friends now?” Astarion asks with a pout. “Sweetling I thought we had something special.”

The drow chuckles. “You didn’t leave your name when you left, you know. Only a stolen bottle I then had to pay for.”

Astarion sucks his teeth. “Oh, my deepest apologies, my dear. Tressa can be so demanding sometimes.”

“It was no trouble, really..?”

The man trails off. Then co*cks an eyebrow. Waiting. Astarion realizes he still hasn’t given his name and… well honestly he shouldn’t. He never has. Usually the person he’s speaking to won’t make it through another night. Why give them his name? It’s never mattered before (there’s never, never, been a second meeting) but he’s not sure he can give away a piece of himself to this virtual stranger. He has precious few belongings left from before. The name is one of them. A relic of a time he had a family and someone loved him.

It’s easy to fall back on bluster. “That’s presumptuous of you, you know. You treat yourself to a drink and make demands in return?”

The drow snorts. Astarion nearly cringes at the sound. It’s exactly the sort of undignified, lowbrow thing Cazador would snap at him for. Punish him for. The drow gets away with it. The amused tilt of his lips is calming.

“Fair enough,” he murmurs. “Silly of me to expect recompense when my name was about the first thing you asked of me.”

Astarion affects a pout. “I had expected to use it a fair few more times that night, you know.”

“But then your friend collapsed, hmm?”

There’s an edge of suspicion to the otherwise innocuous question. Tav might suspect he’s a thief or cutthroat. It’s not an overly wild assumption, all things considered.

“Sadly yes,” Astarion sighs as though he didn’t hear it. “He’s such a nuisance. I don’t think I’ll be trying to take him around any more.”

He doesn’t even know what the man’s name was. Can’t recall now what color the drunk bastard’s hair was. None of it matters. He’s dead, drained dry, no more than a rotting husk. But any sort of cover story is better than none, and it’s better he has one for why the stranger drow will never see him with that particular poor sod again.

“Poor fellow.”

“Some people can’t hold their drink,” Astarion agrees. “You seemed well able to, darling. Am I wrong on that?”

Tav counters his playful question with one of his own. “Are you going to pay for this one, or am I?”

Astarion smiles, running a hand down the drow’s muscled forearm, and says, “I guess we’ll see.”

Astarion spends an hour with Tav. It’s not long, but he weasels some more information out of the man. Thirty years to grow, sixty years of training and serving as a soldier, sixty years a slave. Ten years of freedom and recovery. Ten years of traveling. It’s Tav’s rough estimate of his life. If one factors in Astarion’s years as a vampire, they’re rather close in age. Tav’s younger by a little more than a decade. It’s such an inconsequential gap between elves. They could have been playmates when they were elflings.

“I dunno,” Tav mutters, slurring a bit now that he’s six drinks in. Astarion’s been playing a small game to himself, racking up the drow’s tab and seeing how long it takes him to notice, but he’s drunk enough now that Astarion’s stopped playing. Tav squints at him. “If you’d grown up in Menzoberranzen acting the way you do, you’d have been dead before you turned twenty.”

Really?” Astarion murmurs with amusem*nt. Learning anything about drow culture has been delightful. He ought to pen a book of his own.

“Yes,” Tav says. He sounds disconcertingly sober a second later when he grumbles, “Though your endless, rampant trickery would have helped.”

“How much?”

“Hrm. Maybe you’d have made it to thirty.”

He isn’t sure what makes him say it. “What about thirty-nine?”

“Killed on the cusp of your fortieth,” Tav sighs. “A fine melodramatic thought.”

Astarion affects a wounded look but something inside him is shaking. He wasn’t comfortable giving his name but he does give his age when he died? What’s wrong with him?

“Well you made it past a hundred and sixty, darling, so I think I’d have been just fine, gentlemanly and sweet as you are.”

“I wasn’t always this way,” the drow says softly.

“Oh? What were you like before?”

“I was drow.”

All traces of humor, inebriation, and lightheartedness have suddenly vanished. Tav’s gone serious and remote. Something about his vacant, faraway expression makes Astarion’s skin crawl. This is new and strange and he’s not at all fond of it. He wonders how to bring the drow’s mood back aboveboard. They’re nowhere near close enough yet for him to know, and his usual methods of simple seduction are far out the window. He tried that once already. He didn’t like the results.

He considers asking Tav who he used to be.

He considers apologizing.

In the end, he orders another round of drinks.

“Have you been keeping count?” Tav asks quietly as he drinks the next round, still off-kilter and withdrawn, and Astarion wishes he could pull the soft sweet man he’s so enamored by back out.

“Of course not, darling.”

“Going to be a shame when you have to pay for all of this.”

“That’s if I do, my dear.”

“Oh?” A small smile tugs at the soft pale corners of Tav’s mouth. Astarion feels tension he wasn’t even aware of loosen across his shoulders at the sight. “Is it to be me again after all?”

“I said we’d see, did I not?”

Tav does. Astarion vanishes into the night laughing about it, about Tav’s mock-irritable face as he counts the coins out into the barkeep’s hand. Just before Astarion had taken his leave he’d finally gotten a real smile again, and he’d wanted to end his night with the drow on that high note. He has a spot of luck and interrupts a thief mid-burglary, and both he and the thief return unwillingly to the palace.

Chapter 2: Promises, promises...

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Why darling, at this point I have to assume you’re stalking me.”

Tav snorts. “I should like to hear how you came to that conclusion considering I’ve been here two hours and you’ve just arrived. Perhaps you’re doing the stalking.”

Astarion presses a hand to his chest and affects a look of incredulous outrage. Tav’s already smiling. Astarion’s glad the drow has no idea how perilously close to the truth that joke actually lands. That he has been spending time scanning crowds for the head of soft roseate hair that’s rapidly becoming familiar. He hasn’t found it nearly as much as he would have liked. The few times he has while alone they’ve been short liaisons. A couple of pleasantries exchanged. A drink or two. A flirtatious line dropped like a stone into the Chionthar between them because Tav never rises to them and Astarion doesn’t push it any further than that. He’s been craving a chance to sit and talk for an hour or more again.

Sadly it won’t be forthcoming tonight either. Not with one of the bloody ‘parties’ on the docket. This was to be a quick night, an in and out night, a ‘find and lure something back to the mansion with honeyed words and keen promises’ night.

Tav fits none of these criteria, Astarion stubbornly tells himself.

It’s the Lute they’ve found their company at this time, and finally it does make some sense why they keep bumping into each other (besides that star-crossed lovers sort of nonsense Astarion reads about in the flowery romance novels he and Aurelia amuse themselves with during the long hours of the day) at the bars across the city: there’s a wooden flute hanging from Tav’s belt by leather straps. It’s a weatherbeaten but much loved thing.

Tav’s a bard.

“You play,” Astarion says, more observation than question, tapping one end of the instrument to set it swinging.

“I do indeed,” Tav replies, stopping its sway with one hand.

“So if I were to ask for a demonstration of how well that pretty mouth works…”

“You may get one,” Tav laughs. “But perhaps not the way you hope for.”

“Never say never, sweetling. Though that also explains how heavy and generous your coin purse is. Swindling the locals, are you?”

“They’re more receptive than the country folk were, I’ll tell you that.”

“The provincial types likely thought you were there to do… all manner of awful things, really. Patriars and Baldurians are a different breed.”

“Is that so?”

“I guarantee I’d be receptive.”

“I’m sure.”

“If only I could stay, darling.” Astarion laments. “Unfortunately I’ve work to attend to.”

Tav smiles. “I’ll miss you when you’re gone.”

If it still worked, Astarion would swear his heart skips a beat at the fondness and truth of that. It’s another nail in his proverbial (and sometimes literal) coffin.

“Will you really? Promise?”

It’s so stupid to ask. Stupider still to have some sort of hope. But stupidest of all is Tav, who rakes the hair away from his face and gives Astarion a light, airy smile that’s all honesty.

“I promise.”

Astarion flees into the night, where he finds some pretty little thing who can’t be older than sixteen, and it’s easy to get her to agree to go to the palace for a party. She’s ever so excited to go.

Astarion stands on the battlements later, in the moonlight, letting the breeze ruffle his hair and keep the screams at his back from reaching his ears. He wonders where the drow is now. He wonders if Tav kept his promise.

He wonders if Tav would miss him if he only knew.

The next time, the next bar in the shadows of night, and the drow greets him by immediately declaring he is not paying for drinks. Astarion is all smiles, wheedling the man into paying for something, because he has no coin of his own.

(It’s not a lie. The gold jingling in his purse wasn't originally his.)

When Tav comes back, it’s with a flagon of beer, and Astarion’s nose instantly wrinkles.

“You cannot be serious, darling.”

“You said something. Should’ve specified.”

“I am not drinking that.”

“Then you’ll be drinking nothing,” the drow says with a winning smile.

“Rather nothing than swill! I can’t believe you’d think I’d touch that. Haven’t I given off a good enough impression, darling, of my tastes? They’re rather higher than this. I would have expected you yourself were proof of that.”

Tav’s not swayed. He winks with a sly smirk. “This is what you get for presuming I’d freely let you continue to whet your appetites on my coin.”

There’s something strange about him tonight. Something off by just a hair. He’s different. Too different. Too open in the wrong kind of way. Too jocular. It’s unnerving. His expressions are wooden and inflexible. They’re… masks. They’re still beautiful and believable but Astarion can just barely see beneath them. Astarion stares hard at the drow, willing him to drop the pretense and be honest with him (cruel cruel irony laughs at him in the back of his mind), but Tav is not to be swayed. On his mask or the beer. Astarion finally breaks their staring contest to shove the mug away.

“Fine then. Nothing it is,” he says haughtily, and Tav only chuckles. It sounds genuine, for a split second.

“Fair enough,” he hums as he picks it up. He sweeps down the length of the bar and hands it off to a different patron, who roars with gratitude and quaffs the whole thing faster than Astarion can blink.

Tav returns with a bottle of a deep, rich red wine not two minutes later. The bottle, a glass, and another playful wink. This one Astarion could almost believe he means.

“Well now, where did you find this?” Astarion purrs.

“I asked for the most expensive and unnecessarily highbrow thing they had for sale.”

Astarion huffs a laugh. He’s nearly certain that’s an intentionally insulting direct commentary on himself more than it is the wine. He approves.

“What was that about me abusing your coin and kindness?” He asks as Tav pours him a drink.

Astarion has realized, in the interim, that the drow is bartending. Or waitressing. It’s baffling. Far as he could tell the fellow wasn’t strapped for money.

Tav’s smile is soft at the edges. Almost real. “Well. I’d hate for you to go thirsty.”

Oh, but Astarion’s absolutely parched. Famished. What he wouldn’t give to drink his fill from Tav. He’s not even completely sure how he means that. The dazzling green of his eyes is gorgeous in the low intimate light. There’s something there. Something vulnerable. Something the drow’s all but offering him. Astarion leans forward, trying to peer into those dark depths that hide Tav’s soul, and Tav’s soft-edged smile gets even fuzzier at the corners of his lips. They’re pulling up into something authentic. Warm, almost. Like the candles nearby.

A patron calls for a drink and Astarion sees the shutters slam closed in those emerald eyes. The drow leans away and Astarion’s only now realizing how close they’d gotten. How he’d been drawn to Tav like a moth to a flame. He watches as Tav’s candlelight smile turns into something smooth and brittle. Glass. He replies that he’ll be right there. But before he slips away, his dark eyes flicker back to Astarion, and just for a second, he sees that vulnerability there again.

He drains the glass- it’s a damn good wine, hardly tastes at all foul to him- while he waits for Tav to come back around to him. He’s been watching and Tav’s so utterly fake. Cool and distant despite his open expression and easy laughter. It rankles Astarion’s attitude. Sours his stomach.

“Since when do you work here?” Astarion grumbles, holding up his glass, which Tav is quick to attend to.

“I don’t,” he says as he tops him up. “But they were struggling, and I offered.”

“You…”

Astarion doesn’t have words. It’s beyond weird to have simply offered his services out of the blue. What kind of bizarre person is the drow? Who just helps because they can, because they want to, because they see the need and want to? Except the poor bastards who serve Ilmater, anyway, but frankly that’s on them. Baldur’s Gate is not nice to those who are kind for the sake of kindness. He can see why the proprietors would need the aid; the lady is heavily pregnant and moving at a snail’s pace. She calls and Tav is gone again before Astarion can think properly. When he comes back, though, the wine bottle already in hand, Astarion has had one thought.

“What are they paying you for this?”

“Nothing,” Tav says. “Though I believe this bottle is on me, technically. I’ll offer, anyway.”

He fills up the glass again, and again leaves a speechless Astarion behind him.

The next time Tav returns it’s to an open seat and a pile of gold under the empty wineglass.

There’s a moment at dusk in the next tenday that Astarion’s alone and he finds himself transfixed, staring down an alleyway.

The drow is impossible to mistake: broad shoulders, waterfall of white hair, ashen skin. There’s no one else like him. In the city, at least. Perhaps not anywhere. He’s kneeling in the dirt, examining a crying child’s scraped knee, and soothing her with kind words. She hiccups and cries but listens to his voice. The drow lays a hand over the wound. There’s a glow- healing magic?- and then the child is staring at his hand with wonder in her big blue eyes. Tav takes his hand away, wipes it calmly on his pants, and her knee is intact again. She giggles and throws her arms around his shoulders. He laughs. There’s a sharp voice somewhere distant. It calls a name. The little girl perks up. Tav tenses. The girl scrambles upright with the exact kind of grace that got her hurt in the first place. She runs off to a scowling, scared woman, who is eyeing Tav with no small amount of distrust. The girl speaks animatedly, pointing at drow and knitted skin in turn, and the woman, as expected, does not offer a single word of thanks. She snatches her child’s hand and stomps off.

Tav’s smile is sad.

The whole world is against him, hates him, and still he’s only giving kindness into it. It’s the stupidest, most asinine thing Astarion has ever seen. Why is the drow like this? Drow are not known to be like this. He’s supposed to be sad*stic and cruel. He’s supposed to be ruthless. It’s like he’s the antithesis of what his people are meant to be. Purposefully or incidentally, Astarion wonders. Has he chosen this or was he exiled from Menzoberranzen for his nature? Do drow even exile the soft-hearted or do they simply kill them?

One thing feels certain. Tav will die if he stays in Baldur’s Gate. If he stays among the cruel callous nature of this city that’s so strikingly at odds with his sweet disposition.

Tav should leave. Much as he doesn’t want him to go, Astarion knows what would be best for the man. He knows this city.

Leave, he begs the drow silently. Leave here. This place doesn’t deserve you. It will break you, and I don’t wish to see it. Leave. Leave. Leave.

Astarion is the one who leaves. He all but runs in the opposite direction. He will not claim the bard. He cannot. He will not be just another vicious component in this unrelenting grindstone of a city. He will find a victim far from wherever Tav is. Someone who doesn’t care.

And he does.

Notes:

Aaaand we're back! This feels short but otherwise it'd be WAY too long, looking at the proper breaks. Sorry for the delay, been feeling crummy, but I've been working on this the whole time- promise ;)

Chapter 3: Conversations

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Petras is going to be the death of him, at this rate. The death of his own annoying self, at the very least, because Astarion is very close to strangling the nuisance right here and now across the table.

Cazador knows they can’t stand each other. It’s a punishment of an altogether different but no less grating sort to force them out into the night as a pair. They’re bound together not by any physical means but certainly by a magical one. Astarion is not allowed to be more than a hundred feet from his annoying brother, and vice-versa. The pain is immediate and shearing when they stray too far. So they stay together. The whole purpose of the punishment is for them to spend time together, after all. It’s a rarer punishment than the physical ones and usually comes as a result of either Astarion or Petras falling behind that invisible quota Cazador- or at least Dufay- keeps over their heads. Astarion has a feeling it’s Petras this time, because he’s been good, even considering his lovely drow distraction. He’s been keeping up a steady stream of victims. He’s gotten a couple of reprimands so far, a day or two earned in the kennel, for bringing back a mark late into the night or bringing back someone ‘unsatisfactory’. He’s known for being picky and choosing the loveliest bodies he can find to sacrifice but lately he’s been bringing back any old eager fool or whatever wretch crosses his path at the most unfortunate moment for them. Godey’s made note of it but apparently Cazador cares less what the mark looks like so long as he gets to drink his fill. It’s a nice little nugget of information. Invaluable for Astarion, at the moment, because he’s struggling in an entirely different sort of way with picking a victim.

He’s always picked the most lovely creature the night would give him. The problem is, he knows precisely what creature that is, who it remains, and he can’t surrender that damn sweet-hearted drow to Cazador. The squirming feeling in his gut makes a reappearance whenever the barest thought of Tav in Cazador’s clutches comes to him. It’s a terrible idea that lingers like a bad taste in his mouth. He also can’t give up his stolen moments with the drow- fool that he is, that they both are- and so instead Astarion’s been forced to settle for whatever works best on a limited schedule. Whatever, whoever, he can convince to follow him back. Forcibly or otherwise. And lowering his standards from that impossible one Tav’s set for him has worked wonders on his body count.

No, Petras is certainly the weak link tonight. Petras is the reason they’re both sitting at this table glaring murder at each other when they’re not plying their so-called trade.

“Can’t you hurry up?” Astarion groans.

Petras has his arms folded and a pout on his face and it’s no wonder he isn’t attracting any attention when he looks like an overgrown petulant toddler. He shoots Astarion a venomous glare.

You haven’t gotten anyone yet either.”

“I have two,” Astarion replies haughtily. “There’s just no point in sealing the deal until you have even a crumb for yourself. I can’t go back without you, useless oaf.”

Petras bares his fangs for a half second. Too quickly for them to be noticed by any bystanders. Astarion narrows his eyes and smirks.

Cute. Try that on one of these lovely drunkards instead, why don’t you? A smile works wonders.”

Petras scowls at him. He scans the bar, the tables, cataloguing the patrons. Astarion will snap at his worthless sibling if he picks either of the women who’ve spent nearly a half an hour making eyes at him. They’re his easy marks. Petras can and will find his own, or they’ll go back to the mansion hungry and punished.

Petras grumbles and gets up from the table. He’s heading to the bar. Astarion feels the warning prickle of pain across his skin as Petras gets further away. Petras pauses for a second but continues on. The feeling won’t go away but settles like a cloak of needles on their skin. Astarion closes his eyes and sighs and pushes the sensation to the back of his mind. The small pains are easier to ignore after so many years of the severe ones. The scars on his back, the tear of his nails from his fingers, the agony of his skin being peeled away. This? This is just a mild discomfort. Perfectly bearable. Ignorable.

Astarion roves a look over the bar, pausing at one particular table to wink at the two women who’ve been very eager to make his acquaintance for a bit. They giggle. If Petras shows even a hint of a success Astarion will be over there hitting them up and dropping his best lines in no time flat. Hollow promises of a night of enjoyment. But for now, he can’t bother with going for them. Certainly if they show signs of leaving or dawn creeps too close he’ll just take both and Petras can claim one for his own sacrifice. It’s grating to have to surrender anything to Petras but he doesn’t have much choice if they want to get home without burning.

But for now, they’re unimportant, and Astarion continues his bored scan of the tavern.

None of these people are tall. None of them have soft smiles. All of the rare smiles he catches have edges, either hungry or dangerous, and he frowns. His own smile is like that. Carefully cultivated to be alluring. Why does that bother him? That’s just how the people here…

Oh.

Gods help him, he’s thinking of the drow. He side-eyes Petras with annoyance. If it weren’t for this punishment and his brother’s presence he’d be slipping through the shadows on the hunt for the man. Looking for ashen skin, roseate hair, and jewel-green eyes. Looking for… a different kind of night. Tav’s a different kind of conversation than the ones he usually has. Than these give-and-take ones he has with victims. There’s nothing sexual about their talks- not for Astarion’s lack of trying- but instead there’s just a peaceable feeling when they’re together. Tav doesn’t expect anything from him but conversation and a drink or two. It’s… nice. Tav, still bafflingly, is nice. For no reason or purpose. Astarion supposes he understands the purpose of kindness for kindness’ sake but gods, it has no place in this city. Then again, a drow as a whole has no place in this city. Tav has to be the only one. A drow in the Upper City would have spread amongst the gossipy patriars like wildfire. Astarion and his siblings hunt the Lower City regularly. They- he- have only ever seen one drow.

(He’s heard tell there was a drow involved in the Bhaalspawn Crisis, but he and his siblings weren’t allowed out during that time.)

He scans the room again. What he wants isn’t here. Tav’s certainly not. Petras is talking up a pretty brunette. Astarion rolls his eyes. They all have their preferences even if they can’t always abide by them; Petras prefers women by a wide margin and the brunette is doe-eyed and just his type. He waits for a couple more of the telltale signs- the girl’s flush, Petras’s wide smirk, him sliding a drink toward her- before he gets up and approaches the two lasses who’ve been waiting for him. The punishment prickles viciously but Astarion expected it. He doesn’t wince. He smiles instead, wider with the faint hope that Petras is feeling the pain. The girls titter and blush immediately but are oh-so-receptive. They snipe at each other, vying for his attention, before he assures them he has hands and heart enough for both of them. The taller of the two has her blonde hair up in a bun. There’s a wedding ring on her finger. The smaller wears her hair loose, and twirls a lock of it around her finger. He takes the strand from her and presses it to his lips. She swoons. Astaron reels out several mid-tier rehearsed lines and they work only too well. It’s all a role in a stage drama now, and he’s practiced this part to perfection over the past hundred and fifty years. It takes no time at all to have them both eating out of his hand. He’s succeeded for the night, no question. All that remains is Petras. The needling feeling hasn’t lessened or strengthened, meaning Petras hasn’t moved, and Astarion isn’t going to bother checking on his sibling’s progress. They’re all old hat at this now. Petras has been a spawn for some fifty years less than Astarion, one of the newer by far, but he’s no slouch at bringing home prey. It's only a matter of time.

And time tells: Petras, idiot that he is, swaggers up a little later. The girls look unnerved by his presence. Astarion’s lips tighten into a thin white line but he controls the desire to smack sense into his sibling.

His cousin, he tells the women, and there’s a party at their family’s mansion they’d love to invite these lovely ladies to, provided, of course, they feel like spending the night. They agree, wholeheartedly, and Astarion thinks of the wedding band he slipped from the woman’s finger as they saunter back to the mansion. How fickle and easily broken true love is. How futile love must be if this woman hasn’t even noticed the ring missing from her hand. Even when she covers her rather high-pitched laugh with that hand. How utterly useless love is, he thinks when she’s hauled away by Cazador’s impossibly strong hands.

He hopes, at least, that her poor husband won’t miss such a terrible wife.

Oh thank the gods, he thinks, three days later, despite every instinct to the contrary, when he sees the drow at the edge of a crowd heading deeper into the city. Good company at last.

It’s just him tonight. He’s already had to deal with Petras enough for one month. It makes it easy to thread through every gap the crush of bodies leaves him. Just behind Tav now, following in the man’s wake, and it's the first time Astarion’s really scented him.

Roses? Not what he’s been expecting. There’s also some strange hint of a spice clinging to him. Astarion’s exceedingly careful as he reaches forward. He pulls a lock of soft white hair to his nose. Not a fragrant oil for his hair then. Is his body itself perfumed then? Or is it his very blood?

Astarion tugs on the strand and Tav jerks with surprise. It’s become something of a greeting at this point, so when Tav turns his head, he’s already smiling the warm smile Astarion will staunchly refuse to admit makes his breath catch.

“Well hello,” that soft voice says.

“Hello,” Astarion replies in kind. “Always a pleasant surprise to find you out and about, darling.”

“I didn’t realize you’ve been looking.”

There’s something faint there. Something hopeful and tentative. Tav wants him to have been looking. He’s wanted to be sought out. Astarion supposes it isn’t too wild a thought that the drow craves his company: Astarion prides himself on being charming and alluring. But he gets the sense that it’s the acceptance he offers that Tav misses more than any of these games of attraction Astarion’s playing. Tav’s long stride slows and Astarion settles naturally in at his side.

“Keeping me company tonight?” Tav asks.

“If you’re amenable,” Astarion says back.

“Always,” Tav murmurs, and Astarion’s beyond glad the crowd is the jostling type. The step he missed can’t give his momentary pause at the single word away.

He’s discovered, at this point, that Tav can lie as easy as breathing. He’s seen it happen once or twice and the man is so incredibly earnest that Astarion’s almost believed him, even if he’s been a direct witness to the crime in question.

He’s also discovered that Tav tells the truth rather a lot. Foolishly often. And he’s even more earnest when he does. There’s no way to doubt him when he speaks the truth.

Always.

How dare he be honest about that.

“You’re a rather confusing creature,” Astarion comments as they take seats at a bar. His eyes are already flitting about the room, cataloguing likely victims for the end of his indulgence, but he leans against Tav’s side for the warmth he finds there. The drow is by no means a furnace, but Astarion’s always cold, and Tav feels blessedly warm to him. If Tav dislikes the closeness or the chill of Astarion’s skin, he never says so.

“Rude,” Tav replies mildly. He isn’t offended. He flags the bartender down. He orders a mellow wine, as usual, and food for himself. Then he lifts his eyebrows at Astarion. Astarion makes his own order- a middlingly expensive wine, never any food- and props his chin on his fist to stare at Tav.

Truth be told, it’s one of his favorite things to do.

Tav’s beautiful, of course, there’s certainly a benefit to his looks. But Astarion finds his expressions fascinating. He’s been doing this exercise a while now and he’s gotten better at deciphering whether Tav’s face is his own or a mask. Right now it’s teetering between both. Astarion’s words will decide which he slips into.

“Don’t you want to know why?”

The balance is decided. Tav’s careful façade of control cracks into a wry smile. His real self. Astarion’s noticed that most of his genuine smiles have a hint of disbelief to them. Like he can’t believe he’s being spoken to by someone who shows actual interest.

The warm smile is special, and, so far as he can tell, belongs to Astarion alone.

“You’re going to tell me regardless of what I say,” Tav points out with dry amusem*nt.

“I am.”

Tav chuckles and it’s one of those soft sounds that just does a number on Astarion’s innards. He couldn’t even say which one. His stomach’s empty of butterflies and his heart’s dead.

“Do your worst.”

“Too honest,” Astarion sniffs pointedly to start. “Though your lying isn’t half bad. Too generous. Too kind by half, you soft fool. How many times have you paid for my drinks now?”

Tav co*cks his head. “Not enough.”

Astarion narrows his eyes at the drow. ‘Not enough’ means Tav doesn’t think they’ve spent enough time together. He will not be distracted by the man’s longing for him. Not right now. He tucks the notion away to marvel at later.

My point is,” he stresses, “that I still don’t understand how you’re not dead yet. You should’ve been a body in the gutter by now.”

“Why are you so sure there haven’t been attempts?”

Cold sweeps through Astarion’s body.

“Beg pardon?” Tav shrugs. Astarion shakes his head. “No, darling, no no. Explain. Now.”

“I told you already that I’m not exactly looked upon favorably,” Tav remarks. “Sometimes it… inspires people. To violence, to be clear. There’ve been… I think half a dozen, so far? Tries at my life. They just… don’t succeed.”

Astarion blinks. “So you’re a fighter then.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I’m proficient enough at defending myself, not much more. I certainly don’t enjoy it. The last one left a bruise on my ribs that still hasn’t faded.”

“Then why haven’t you left yet? I doubt you were finding this much pushback in the farmlands.”

“Not much coin, either. Unfortunately this is the most lucrative place I’ve been to yet. Money tends to be a necessity, I’ve found.”

“Is it worth the…” Astarion gestures at Tav’s whole frame.

“I think so. More importantly…” Tav says calmly as he picks up his glass. “You’re here.”

Nothing changes in the bar. There isn’t a fight that breaks out or a shouting match that starts. Astarion would know; his eyes have been active this whole time. Despite the lack of change suddenly Astarion’s hyper aware of every noise. It sounds like rolling thunder to his ears. It’s too much. It’s deafening. He can’t handle it. He stands up, abruptly, and Tav looks startled by it. Then a guilty little flush tints his ears and cheeks. It’s beautiful.

Astarion turns roughly away. He’s unsure and angry and he can’t do this.

Despite his haste and his incredible discomfort Tav’s voice is like a fishhook in his mouth. One sound from the drow and Astarion stops dead.

“I’m sorry.”

Don’t be,” he spits.

“Can I walk you home?”

Astarion turns and sneers at him. “How terribly pedestrian of you, darling.”

Tav takes that jibe in stride, propping his chin on his hand and sighing. “Sorry. Just feel as though I never get enough time with you. I’m always greedy for more. I won’t ask again.”

Something twists in Astarion’s chest. He can’t tell if it’s Tav’s forlorn expression, dull tone, or the idea that Astarion’s gone and cut away one of those small kindnesses Tav offers so freely. It was the last thing he wanted. He would love to spend every last second of his night in the drow’s company. He wouldn’t even mind if Tav walked him home (cringingly juvenile as that is) if his ‘home’ wasn’t a proverbial lion’s den.

He can’t think of what to say. He simply leaves.

Notes:

This was going to be twice as long if I didn't split it where I did but I don't like where I had to split it. AGH. Next part should be out soon though there may be a bit of a gap between it and the next chapter, so I may wait on the next chapter juuuust a bit. We shall see!
Also I've been forgetting to mention but I can also be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SapphireLancer if anyone wants to come yell at me there, and/or see the occasional Tav post I do :3
I'd love to talk to folks!

Chapter 4: Different kind of nightlife

Notes:

I took out a tag because I don't really think it applies. I'm not exactly intending to go into detail on Astarion's victims and what happens there, and anyone reading this should know the details of his servitude already. If anyone disagrees, thinks I ought to add the r*pe tag back in, let me know, and I gladly will!
Anyway, have some more of these dorks! They're not terrible at communicating, but they sure could be better...

Chapter Text

Astarion apologizes (without saying the words) for his rude behavior the next time they meet, days later, but Tav just smiles. It’s forgiven. It was forgiven the same night. The same instant, perhaps. Damn the man for being so ridiculously selfless.

“I don’t want you to walk me home,” he says, feeling awkward and unsure of himself. “But I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to just… walk. We don’t have to spend every evening at a tavern.”

“No, we never did,” Tav agrees. “I thought it made it easier for you.”

Astarion has no idea what that’s supposed to mean and worse, it just means that Tav’s perhaps been going out of his way- maybe even his comfort zone- for Astarion’s sake, somehow. It’s terrible to acknowledge that he’s been on the receiving end of one of those endless small kindnesses Tav hands out.

(The drinks, he tells himself, do not count. Probably Tav would do that for anyone who wanted to talk to him. The running tab he’s racking up under the drow’s name isn’t anything special.)

Of course Tav’s been playing for his keep in some of those taverns but Astarion has yet to catch him in the act. It’s a needle under his skin that he hasn’t heard the man play. Yet he won’t ask for a demonstration. He’d rather Tav’s mouth be used for talking rather than playing music. He’s still trying to put the pieces of what Tav’s about into place. Trying to make this strangely sweet drow make some sense. It’s the curiosity that keeps him coming back, surely. Only the curiosity.

“Easier for me? For what?”

Tav shrugs. “I don’t claim to know. Whatever it is you do for work at night. I’m not going to pry for details.”

“Better you don’t,” Astarion mutters.

“I thought as much. Where would you like to go?”

“I…” Astarion has to pause. He’s never been asked that before. Not seriously, anyway. If a victim’s asked him that, the answer was obvious. As far as he’s come to be concerned, every last square foot of the Lower City is the same as the one beside it. None of it stands out. None of it is special, remarkable, or holds any importance to him. Except for a plot of empty dirt in the cemetery, perhaps. Baldur’s Gate as a whole is a hunting ground, not a place he goes to feel at ease or find some selfish enjoyment.

Not counting the way he desperately seeks out the man with him, anyway. Everything about his indulgence in Tav’s time is selfish.

“I don’t know.” His opinions usually don’t matter so much. “Have you got ideas?”

“I like the parks at night,” Tav replies softly. A small smile plays on his pale lips. “I miss nature, sometimes. There’s not a lot of it here. The parks are like little green gems in this… er, luxurious crown.”

“Your eyes are the jewels, my dear.”

It’s a practiced line. An old one. It’s been in his repertoire for ages. He’s confused by how genuine it came out. There’s no flirtatious purr to his words. Tav seems to notice his lack of affectation, but all it does is make him flush. Gods, Astarion loves that look on him. Blood in his soft gray cheeks comes up more of a dusky pink than red. It’s lovely.

“Be that as it may,” Tav says with evident embarrassment, “Shall we?”

The park Tav leads him to is quiet at night. Seems most folk would rather enjoy the colors of flowers and grass by day than by moonlight. Still, the hush is actually… nice. There’s only the song of crickets and the burble of water from some distant fountain. Astarion gets the sense that Tav’s got better eyesight than him in the dark, and he remembers suddenly…

“Infravision?”

Tav laughs. “No, I lost that when I was cursed, same as it took my regular darkvision. Drow houses really don’t like it when their slaves escape. The curse is designed to essentially hobble you so they can find you easily as you stumble around in the dark.”

It’s only the third time Tav’s ever mentioned his past. That’s a topic both he and Astarion haven’t spoken much about. Astarion doesn’t want- doesn’t need- to know, and Tav has no obligations to tell him. Hearing about this curse for slaves is… a little jarring. He knew males were often little better than slaves, knew Tav actually was one… yet Tav speaks of it so lightly. As if he doesn’t care. As if he’s left that past behind him. Perhaps he has. He’s far from the Underdark, after all. Far away and free and beautifully moonlit. He glances back at Astarion’s silence, then down, and with a smirk says, “Watch your step.”

He doesn’t elaborate and Astarion feels foolish taking an extra tall step to avoid whatever obstacle Tav can see that he apparently can’t.

“Yet you can see better than me.”

“I have better darkvision than you,” Tav chuckles.

Offended by principle, Astarion lifts his chin. “How do you know?”

“Biology,” Tav replies with a grin.

“Cheeky bastard.”

“Simple facts.”

Astarion feels gravel, not grass, underfoot, and he blinks. They’re on a path now. He feels like there was probably a path all along. That Tav wanted to watch him blunder about in the dense thickets of saplings planted in the park. Doubtless it looks genuinely nonsensical to see a man refined enough to be nobility tromping through some underbrush. And… perhaps Tav is owed a little amusem*nt at Astarion’s expense.

They move onto the path and simply pace down it. A nice normal night. A pair of lovers enjoying their time together. Saccharine sweet. Perfectly normal from the outside. Not at all a vampire and his prey.

Tav is at ease here, more than he is while out in the city, and he points out a flower here or there that he knows the name of. He knows more of them than Astarion ever would. Astarion, meanwhile, would swear he hears a clock ticking down every second he spends with Tav. The walk through the park should be relaxing, calming, a simple stroll with a ‘friend’, but instead Astarion feels the weight of time on his shoulders. He’ll have to leave soon. An hour or so at best, if he’s reading the time right on the clock set into one wall. If he delays much longer than that he risks going back empty-handed again, and he’s been doing that often enough to raise concerns. Settling for easier marks has made a difference, but when he spends half the night searching for Tav, the consequences add up. Nor is it any sort of wise for him to be thinking about the drow he could be spending his time with when he should be putting on his best performance for his current bedpartner. Sex has long meant little to him but it somehow means even less now. It’s a chore actively keeping him from doing what he truly wants. And gods below is having something to want again such a strange feeling. He wants to spend his time right where he is. He wants to be with Tav. He wants to dig through Tav’s history. He wants to know everything. Tav never seems to notice- or at least is sweet enough to not do any digging of his own- that Astarion has not once offered up a fact about himself. It’s always him trying to see exactly what makes up the confusing drow beside him.

They walk side by side, carefully not touching, and Astarion realizes, when their knuckles accidentally graze, that the ticking clock he hears may actually be Tav’s steady heartbeat. It speeds up a little at the brush of his hand. When he looks up that faint flush is in Tav’s cheeks again. An old pink rose, its colors fading, but still lovely. It makes him think of earlier, of the compliment he so unintentionally meant, and he tilts his head.

“Not used to compliments, are you darling?”

One of those uneven smiles. “When do you think I ever get any?”

“That seems so impossible. Not one single compliment? No praise for how beautiful you are, how utterly attractive, not a single comment about your body or your laugh? Not even one catcall or whistle?”

“I- my laugh?”

“Well.” He hadn’t meant for that to slip out either. “Perhaps that one is my preference, my bias talking. Still, darling: not one?”

“Not one,” Tav confirms softly. “Honestly I never thought I was attractive at all, really.”

Astarion comes to a sudden stop in stark disbelief.

“What.”

Useful , yes, perhaps, but attractive-”

What.

Tav blinks down at him, at his growing irritation. “Er, what..?”

Tav.” Astarion growls, and he doesn’t miss the way Tav shivers. “You are one of the most beautiful people I have ever laid eyes on. And please take that as quite the compliment, coming from me . I know beautiful when I see it, darling. You are positively stunning when you smile.”

There’s silence for a second, and then Tav’s face falls. He recovers it into an aching smile. “I don’t… smile much, if you’re not around.”

It’s another of those admissions that punches the breath out of Astarion’s lungs. He doesn’t let it show but he feels it, a breathless catch in his mask, a truth digging claws into him.

“That’s such a shame,” he murmurs. “You’re most beautiful then.”

The uneasy smile fades off of Tav’s face, and then his expression goes entirely slack, like Astarion’s words have taken him by surprise. Slowly the blood creeps into his face instead, and the light of the moon proudly displays that that slow blush tints the tips of his elegant long ears too. Tav looks away, suddenly deeply interested in the fountain, but he doesn’t move away. Astarion realizes it would be best to brush this whole uneasy moment off, so he does. Deflect and divert. Tav doesn’t want to talk about it and that’s easy. Astarion only needs a joke to settle them and he can do that easily. He resumes walking and smiles to himself when it only takes Tav a few steps to catch up.

“I’m more amazed you’re not fighting suitors off with a stick,” he says lightly.

Tav’s tone is dry, but level again. “I don’t think that’s what the folk I have to fight have in mind.”

Astarion feels a smile tug at his lips. “Have you stopped to ask them?”

“Hm. Generally I’m too busy dodging wild sword swings, but perhaps I can try that next time. Usually they’re unconscious by the time I’ve a mind to talk to them.”

“Men usually are, darling.”

Tav snorts sharply at the unexpected joke.

“Am I to assume you’re not in that camp..?” He asks, and Astarion turns his nose up.

“Of course not, my dear. Gods. My lovers are all properly taken care of. What sort of selfish creature do you take me for?”

“One who keeps abusing my coinpurse and goodwill with nary a fear of recompense, I think.”

“Says more about you than it does me, darling. You’re not the type to hold grudges, are you?”

“No,” Tav agrees, but he’s fighting a smile. “But I am the type of man who keeps a running tally of how much you’ll owe me some day.”

Astarion’s eyes widen in delight. “Oh? And, pray tell, what is that count up to?”

“Two hundred and sixty four gold pieces,” Tav says instantly, telling Astarion that he either actually was keeping track or he’d been waiting with the lie. Either way it’s absolutely precious: he approves.

“Oh is that all,” he scoffs. Tav instantly smiles. He isn’t, of course, any sort of angry about it. Astarion’s nearly certain he could spend another three months drinking the poor dear into poverty and Tav would indulge him to the last.

“That’s all,” Tav agrees. “We can start small, if you’d like to start slowly on that repayment. A handful of gold whenever I see you. Maybe even just a few pieces of gold here and there…”

Astarion stops walking. Tav’s tone is still light and teasing as he talks on but something cold and uncomfortable has settled in Astarion’s stomach like lead. A realization.

There’s usually only one way he repays those who buy him drinks. It’s all part of the process. Seduce: be attractive and endearing, simper over (preferably) an already drunk mark, smother them with affection, drink what they buy. Lure: promises of more to come made with word and gesture and body. f*ck: bring them back to the mansion, bring them to the guest room, climb on the bed, get on his back, wait.

His body is almost always part of this equation. Gold? Repaying Tav in gold? It’s unusual. Gold means nothing. He could steal anything from any room in the palace and it would likely sell for enough to pay Tav’s coin back in full. With interest, if he wished it. It’s so simple. So easy. So painless.

Which means it must be wrong.

Tav stopped a second after Astarion did, and there’s a worried sort of confusion on that beautiful face. It makes him ache. Tav’s so… sweet. Astarion reaches out, trailing his fingers down the impressive thickness of an iron-gray forearm, relishing the warmth of his skin, pulling away before he could even humor the temptation of slipping his hand into Tav’s.

“You know… normally I’d have repaid you in something far more valuable than gold, by now. Far more worth your while than… whatever this is. This pedantic time we’re spending together.”

Astarion has never played this game in his long wretched unlife. Maybe he did before he was turned, before the orders came, before his life became this endless song and dance of victims. He’s not used to actually trying to… be with someone.

“Instead,” he laughs, biting it off when it gets a touch hysterical. “Instead we’re strolling through a park at midnight. This is ridiculous. I cannot believe you have me doing this.” And wanting more.

Tav’s expression has switched from confusion to concern. “We can leave if you’d rather-”

No!” Astarion snaps. “That’s the problem! I don’t want to leave. But I… I don’t know what this is. Or what I want. I… have no idea what this is but completely foreign to me. I’m on the back foot here, darling, and that’s not a place I ever want to be. But I keep coming back anyway. And so do you. Which is the most confusing part of all of this, to me. I’ve got nothing to offer you. You don’t want what I can offer. You rejected me that first night, which I am most unused to. I haven’t had a single clue of what to do since.”

Breathe, Astarion reminds himself, because he’s stopped. Not good for the façade.

“…I think this is fine.”

Astarion looks up at him sharply. Tav’s not looking back. “What?”

“This is fine. I like this. It’s nice to be able to be around someone who isn’t out to kill me. Let my guard down, so to speak. Not something I could really do back home, or here.”

He’s got it twisted, Astarion thinks. I’m so close to killing him at any given moment.

One lapse, one second, one thought too close to Cazador’s monitoring consciousness and he’ll bring the master’s attention to himself, and worse, to Tav. It’s a sobering, crushing thought. A terrifying one. Astarion’s greed clashes with his worry. He cannot ever let the master have Tav. But he can’t stay away. He truly can’t. Not when he seeks the man out like he’s something vital to Astarion’s survival.

Leave, he tells himself, tells Tav. Leave. For both our sakes. Leave.

“…I’ve said the wrong thing again, haven’t I?” Tav says softly, and Astarion wrenches his thoughts away from thoughts of ‘home’. Tav looks morose; apologetic. “Sorry. I’m learning, but it’s a bit difficult sometimes. I’m never quite sure what’s safe and what’s not for us to talk about. You can let me know if I overstep, you know that, right?”

“You haven’t,” Astarion says slowly. “Forgive me, darling. Part of the problem is that there’s so much I can’t tell you. Even if I wanted to. And… I think I do. Want to.”

“Tell me when you can,” Tav replies. “I’ll wait.”

Astarion huffs. “You’re too kind.”

“You’ve told me that before.”

“It keeps being true, doesn’t it?”

Tav laughs. Astarion can’t resist the smile that pulls at his lips in response. He can feel the equilibrium returning. A calm veneer over the uncertainty, the tantalizing closeness, that lies in that gap between them. A fake genial persona Astarion knows well, one that he’s seen from Tav’s masks that Tav also knows how to emulate.

Diffident. Casual.

Friends.

Astarion takes a step back. Tav’s warm smile tinges with sadness as he does and something deep, deep in Astarion’s chest twists sideways.

“I figured it was time for you to go.” The drow glances at the clock. “It’s usually around now.”

“Is it.”

“If I’m lucky I get two hours of your time. Usually, luck is not with me. Tonight, though, it seems it was.”

Astarion’s going to regret these two hours during the day. Godey will make sure of that. But right now, he’s… glad.

“I enjoyed this.”

“So did I.”

“Can we do it again, darling?”

Tav smiles one last time. It’s the warm one.

“Just say the word.”

“I… hm. Thank you.”

Astarion resolutely turns and walks into the night, melds into the shadows, and he hunts on the way back to the manor. There’s a bard on a street corner that catches his eye. He watches the man for many a minute. Wondering if the drow he just left smiling in a park was a better or worse bard than this one is. He stares long enough that the man notices him first, approaches him first, and that’s his first and last mistake.

Chapter 5: Lost and Found

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Astarion can’t say for sure that Tav’s avoiding him after the last time they were together, but he finds it incredibly suspicious that it’s been more than a tenday since he’d last seen the drow. He wonders- worries- that perhaps he’d misread all of those signs Tav was putting out. That it had been the last straw and Tav had decided to move on from Baldur’s Gate. Scaring the man off with an accidental bout of honesty had not been his intention at all. Worse, he finds himself both anxious about the drow’s absence and pining for the sound of his voice. The steady tick-tock of his heart. He’d be fine with that sound counting down the seconds as long as he can hear it.

With no idea where to turn Astarion finds himself back at the bar Tav had selflessly offered his evening’s efforts to. The one with the single good wine and a pregnant proprietor.

The Dancing Cat, it’s called.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the place. It’s small. The sign is in need of repair. The front door squeaks on its hinges. The patrons are few and mellow. Astarion weaves his way through the cramped tables to the bar. He doesn’t see any sign of Tav, and gods know it’s impossible to miss a man that large amidst a drab crowd like this. He seats himself and the pregnant mistress of the house calls to him that she’ll be along in a moment. Astarion waves a hand airily. He’s not in any rush. He’d like to find Tav tonight, foolish as that impulse continues to be, but if he and the drow miss each other in the night… well, it’s probably for the best.

“What can I- oh.”

The lady gets a good look at Astarion. Even if his clothing isn’t quite so fine as he longs for, his persona is one of refinement, and she notices it. She gives him a strange look- likely wondering how a patriar got lost in the Lower City- but then wisely seems to decide business is better than unnecessary questioning.

She asks him one question instead of several. “What can I get for you, saer?”

“Something expensive, full-bodied, and red,” he says. He knows she has it. He drank half the bottle last time he was here. As an afterthought he adds,“If you’d be so kind.”

“Lovely,” the woman says with a smile. “Just one moment, dear.”

She fetches a glass- Astarion pretends not to notice the water stains- and then a dark green bottle he recognizes. She pours a generous amount into the glass and smiles again.

“Will that be all?”

“Not quite.”

“Saer..?”

She blinks. Blinks again when he slides several coins across the bar at her. It’s Astarion’s turn to smile, and he does so disarmingly, keeping his fangs disguised. “The drink, and a little… information, if you’d be so kind.”

He’s surprised to see her uneasiness melt into wariness. How curious. He wonders if there’s something else hiding here. A Harper relay point, perhaps, or some secret smuggling ring. Thankfully, Astarion’s a magistrate no longer, and he has absolutely no care if any of those things are true. His interests are elsewhere.

The woman cradles her belly carefully. “What do you want to know?”

“You had an assistant last month. A drow.”

There’s a flicker on her face. Suspicion wars with… affection? “Yes, I… I remember. What do you want with him?”

Astarion hopes his voice doesn’t sound as weak and plaintive to her ears as it sounds to his. “Where is he now?”

“I haven’t a clue,” the woman says, and the way her expression turns morose isn’t faked. “I keep hoping he’ll show up again myself.”

“Why?”

“Well he’s a dear, isn’t he? Far beyond what I expected from… well. You know,” she whispers conspiratorially. “His kind. He was sweeter than I expected and oh, ever so patient. I do wish he’d return. You know he refused payment? What a silly thing to do in this city. He left with a smile and a good tip or two regardless. We’ve missed his helping hand.”

“So you’ve no clue where he’s gone?”

The woman sighs. “He mentioned he had no permanent place. He’s a traveller, you see. Making enough to, by night, rent a room around the city. Wherever he ends up when he’s finished plying his musical trade, I think.”

That sounds about right. Astarion swallows a hefty mouthful of the wine. It tastes more bitter tonight. He’s not sure if it’s tainted by his disappointment or if it was just somehow sweeter poured by the handsome drow.

“Then you’ve no hints as to where I could possibly locate him.”

“No, saer.”

If she’s got no information for him then this well has run dry and so has his patience. So, after two long swallows, has the wine. He nods to her.

“Good night, madam.”

“Saer!” She calls before he gets far and Astarion is waved right back to the seat he left. She leans in and murmurs, “If you’re to look for him- and if you find him- please let him know to come back. I was thinking of offering him a room upstairs, if he wanted. At least until the babe grows and needs it.”

She rubs her swollen stomach. Astarion can’t help but huff. “I feel he’d reject that offer too.”

“Most likely,” the woman sighs. “But I would still like to offer. If ever you see the dear, tell him to come back, hmm?”

It’s beyond tempting. Having the drow nailed down in one place, a place he could avoid or frequent as needed, is a very nice concept.

“If I find him,” Astarion agrees, already berating himself, because he knows it would be better if he never finds Tav again.

He does, of course.

Tav looks blatantly exhausted the next time he catches sight of him. Like he hasn’t slept in the whole tenday he was missing. Astarion’s dead heart leaps with joy and relief. Even past the pang of worry.

“Darling?” He murmurs to Tav’s broad back, and Tav takes far too long to respond. Like he wasn’t sure that it was him being addressed, or he didn’t recognize Astarion’s voice, or perhaps both. Regardless it takes a gentle tug of Tav’s hair- greasy and lank- to get his attention. He turns and needs a second to process Astarion for who he is. The moment the recognition sets in, though, Tav’s whole body relaxes. A little too much; he nearly slips from his stool.

Darling,” Astarion repeats as he helps him settle again. “What in the hells is wrong?”

“Tired. It’s been a long tenday.”

“Obviously,” Astarion tuts. “Come now, love, I think we should take our leave from this little dive. You need a quieter place to rest.”

He takes Tav- stumbling more than walking- to the nearest park he can think of. There he sits the exhausted drow down on a bench and clicks his tongue.

“You’re a mess, darling. Poor thing. What happened?”

“Long story,” Tav mumbles. He yawns before continuing, “I couldn’t tell you it all right now.”

“Where are you staying, my dear?”

“‘m not.”

“What?”

“I’m not. No idea what my campsite looks like either, not since they dragged me out of it.”

What?”

Tav waves a hand as if nothing’s concerning about that sentence. He yawns twice in his next one. “Folk trying to give me over to a drow mercantile band. Telling them to… to… take their trash back.”

Tav,” Astarion gasps, an unfamiliar pain welling up inside him. He nearly lost the man. Tav was nearly taken.

“I’m fine,” Tav says sharply, his eyes clearing a bit at the sound of anguish in Astarion’s voice. “It’s fine. I’m never going back there. I’ll never go back to the Underdark again.”

Astarion steps closer and lifts Tav’s chin. Tav smiles at him. It’s dopey and sweet.

“If I went back I’d have to leave you,” Tav says. He’s too sleepy to try for even his most authentic lie. He speaks the truth. “I don’t want to leave you. Ever.”

“You fool,” Astarion grumbles. It’s all he can get out around the lump in his throat. Tav will, of course, inevitably leave him. He has to, for his own good. But gods, never that way. Never in any way that would cause him pain. A hopefully far-off day, where Astarion bids him goodbye for the last time before the sun rises to hurt him, and wishes him good luck on his journey. A future where Tav walks away is infinitely preferable to one where Tav’s dragged back to his own hell.

“We need to find you a place to lay your head, my dear. You’re certainly not thinking straight, saying sweet little nothings like that.”

“I’m okay here,” Tav says, and suddenly his head weighs twenty pounds in Astarion’s hand. He’s relaxing. Comfortable. “You’re here. I’m fine as long as you’re here.”

Oh, ever so the opposite. Tav’s not safe with him. Astarion is a danger to the poor man just by association. And Tav is a danger to him in turn: this simple trust, for one, but also the fact that Astarion can’t tear himself away when he’s so keenly needed by the drow means he’s going to find himself on the sharp aching end of Cazador’s wrath before tomorrow.

“Come away from here, then, my dear.”

Astarion pulls Tav up and away from the bench, away from the cobblestone walks, and into the grass. He takes Tav’s cloak from him and spreads it on the ground, then guides Tav down upon it. Glassy green eyes watch him with confusion, with trepidation, or at least until he folds his legs and sinks gracefully down at Tav’s side.

“There,” Astarion says softly. “Better?”

Tav shifts closer. He has the utter audacity to pillow his head on Astarion’s thigh and make a content noise once he’s settled there.

“Yes.”

“Wretched creature,” Astarion murmurs fondly.

Tav makes another quiet noise. Yet another when Astarion runs his fingers through Tav’s untamed, uncombed mess of hair. It doesn’t take even two minutes for him to fall asleep. Actually asleep, which takes Astarion by surprise, and now he knows he can’t leave the drow alone. True sleep is a state so vulnerable for elves to be in that they never choose it. It’s a showcase of the incredible (foolish, ridiculous, wonderful) trust Tav’s placing in this pale elf he barely knows.

And Astarion stays. He stays through the hours. He stays much longer than he should. He stays until the birds begin to sing. He stays and he guards and he flips his knife and he runs his fingers through long rosy hair. But the birdsong is his cue; dawn isn’t far off. Neither is his punishment.

“Tav?” He whispers. “Darling?”

Tav shifts. Curls tighter, his huge body almost protective in the way it curves around Astarion’s legs like a barrier. If only he could keep the sun from the vampire’s flesh.

“Tav.”

This time the name is accompanied by a shake of the shoulder and Tav startles. He blinks awake and looks up. Flushes and smiles in equal measure at Astarion’s poorly masked amusem*nt.

“Ah. I, uh… oh. Hello. Er, good morning?”

“Something like that,” Astarion replies. “Certainly time enough for you to find a proper bed and let me return to mine.”

The blush is winning. Tav sits up. The cold viciously sinks its teeth into the spot Tav’s head has been for hours. Astarion controls the wince. He can’t control the way he misses the warmth and weight of Tav’s trust.

Tav scrubs a hand over his face. “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t- normally, I mean, I wouldn’t have-”

“It’s quite alright, darling. I could have left at any time.”

Tav doesn’t look at him but good heavens are the tips of his ears bright pink. “But you didn’t.”

“No,” Astarion says softly. “I didn’t.”

“Sorry. A-again. About…” Tav gestures at his wet cloak in the grass and Astarion’s painfully cold leg and the fading night.

“Don’t mention it,” Astarion scoffs. He stands. “Literally. I warn you now, you won’t see me for a few days. Please keep yourself away from any malicious hands in the meantime, hm?”

Tav chuckles, still apparently too embarrassed to look Astarion’s way. “Will do.”

“Actually, darling, on the note of keeping yourself out of trouble… the lady at that bar you were keeping last tenday-”

“Rhyla.”

He hadn’t known her name. Hadn’t cared. Of course Tav had asked and remembered. “Yes that one. She’s looking for you.”

“Ah.” Tav seems strangely uneasy all of the sudden. His spine’s gone tense, his shoulders stiff. “Did she say why?”

“She wants to offer you lodging, darling. Do me a favor and accept, won’t you?”

Tav whips around. His eyes blow wide. First in surprise, then in horror.

“I couldn’t possibly!” He breathes. “The baby’s due any day and I-”

“All the more reason to be a resident helping hand, wouldn’t you say?”

Tav blinks. Astarion’s logic has hit him dead on. He doesn’t have a rebuttal. Which is good, because Astarion was- is- bound and determined to get the drow to agree. Astarion would prefer cold hard knowledge as to where he can be sure Tav is. Places he can avoid and steer his siblings away from. Any one of them would likely love to get their hands on such a gorgeous creature as Astarion’s found, and he’s greedy enough to want to keep Tav completely to himself.

Scared enough too.

Astarion cannot possibly leave this park, this night, this moment, without one last thing. He steps around the drow’s hunched figure and stops. Tav jumps. Then he freezes when Astarion bends down. One finger under his chin has him looking inexorably up, up, up until he meets Astarion’s eyes. Jewel green to fiery red.

“Take care of yourself, darling. And let me know where to find these would-be abductors of yours. I would have a word with them.”

“You can’t-”

“I can.” There’s night left enough for this. “But more important by far is promising me you’ll take care of yourself, and go back to that tavern.”

“I-I will.”

“Hmmmm?”

A familiar expression tugs at one corner of Tav’s mouth. It makes his smile lopsided and shy. “I promise.”

“Good. I’ll see you again soon, my dear.”

There’s no escaping Cazador’s fury at him having been missing all night, especially with the condition he’s in upon returning, but despite the broken wrist, several cuts, and more than a few bruises, he brings with him the news of four unconscious victims to be collected at a roadside hovel, so there’s the gift of a half-dead rat for dinner before Godey begins flaying the skin from his chest.

Notes:

Sorry about the delay I uh... maaaay have gotten completely consumed with a modern AU featuring these boys and tossed down nearly 30k words in the last week like a woman possessed. May start posting that up soon too, if there's interest. It's fun to see what changed and what stayed the same. I've been having a blast with it.

We'll see!

Chapter 6: Drinks and thirst

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

One request, he’d had one request for the drow, and certainly they hadn’t come to a properly worded agreement but gods damn it Astarion had hoped that man’s stupid innate goodness would have him falling all over himself to obey.

Instead he’s at the Dancing Cat and the drow’s not.

The lack of his tall figure is, of course, immediately apparent. He’s normally instantly visible. Astarion glowers at the patrons. None of them seem to pay him or his burning eyes any mind. None of them look up or look at him and frankly he couldn’t care less about the few coquettish glances that do come his way. He’s been locked up in the kennel for nigh-on sixteen days now. Getting out and getting to see Tav again has been at the forefront of his thoughts the whole time. He’s been desperate for it. The urge to find the drow has been a subcutaneous itch for several of those agonizing days. And the fact that he’ll have to scour the Lower City to find the man is almost insulting.

But gods help him, he wants to.

Astarion sighs through his nose and prepares himself for another long night.

But on his way out the door, someone calls out.

“You again.”

He glances over his shoulder; it’s the pregnant woman, no longer quite so pregnant. The proprietor. Rhyla, was it? Her eyes are wary but there's still a smile on her face.

“Thanks for finding the lovely lad,” she says. “If you’re still looking for him, he’s out back chopping wood.”

Astarion’s heart does a strange thing where it does a somersault inside his chest. A swooping up and down thing. Bizarre. He makes for the door, but stops himself.

“...thank you. For that.”

“Take this with you,” she says, handing him a chilled mug of something that smells sweet. “He could probably use it.”

Good f*cking gods, a body like that should be illegal and then some. Astarion’s staring. He knows he’s staring. He couldn’t tear his eyes away if he tried.

Tav’s shirtless. His hair tied up in a high tail. Tav must put his hair up much more than Astarion has ever realized, he notices: the back of Tav’s neck is splashed with freckles, like he leaves it bared to the sun. Astarion burns with jealousy. He hasn’t felt the sun’s gentle touch in more than a hundred years. He doesn’t even remember what it’s like. Tav does. Tav’s skin does. Tav’s ashen skin has the freckles- everywhere- to prove it. Looking at him like this Astarion can see they dot his shoulders heavily and make dark constellations down his arms and spine. The ones across his nose had been endearing enough. Now Astarion just wants to see where he can find more. Legs? Hips? How much of himself does Tav leave bared to the sun when no one’s looking? He wants to ask. He wants to know. He wants to see it all. Trace imaginary patterns on every last inch. Tav moves, lifting the axe above his head again, and the end of the horsetail brushes his bare shoulder blades, settling between the flex of them. Astarion’s mouth goes dry. The musculature on display… heavens help him. He’s seen this kind of body on statues of the divine and rarely anywhere else. Astarion has paid this man many a compliment and none of them measured up to this.

There are scars on that back too. Line after shadow-dark line scored into the meat of Tav’s upper back. Astarion knows those scars; he’s worn those scars himself. His never stay. His vampiric regeneration makes sure of that. Tav’s won’t fade. The whiplashes are there forever.

He watches as the axe comes down, watches the smooth rippling bunch of abs, and hears the cracking thunk of the log propped on the stump in the bar’s sideyard splitting in twain. He certainly doesn’t watch it split. His eyes are glued to arms and shoulders and the corded neck he’d do just about anything to sink his teeth into. Tav turns for another log to hew. Gods, his back. Tav freezes; his half-turn has let him see Astarion now.

“Ah. Hello there.”

Astarion makes some sort of noise in return. Something that could be construed as a greeting, he faintly hopes. Tav co*cks his head and Astarion forces his brain to think. He shakes his head and looks up into those dark eyes.

“Glad to see you’re here.”

Tav smiles. “Yes. Rhyla, Osian, and I agreed this would be a fine arrangement. Thank you for telling me.”

“I had my own reasons.”

“Has it anything to do with my coinpurse?”

“What?” Astarion has to look away, out at the neighboring building, to keep his head straight. Tav’s bent over now, tying several chunks of firewood into a bundle. He fills out his pants well. Focus. Something about his coin- ah, a joke. About their enduring arrangement where Astarion drinks on Tav’s gold. “No.”

“You’re unusually distracted tonight,” Tav remarks.

“You’re unusually distracting,” Astarion retorts instantly, kicking himself a second later for saying it out loud. Tav looks up from tying the bundle, takes in Astarion’s expression for a moment, and then his face breaks into a wide, self-satisfied smirk. None of that shy blushing from the last time Astarion (however unintentionally) complimented him. Perhaps because he can tell he has Astarion on the back foot this time. Astarion’s making it much more obvious than he’d like. He’s a vain creature, subsumed by beauty, and Tav’s incredible.

“I feel like you usually have better lines than that.”

Astarion gives an indignant scoff and his scorched pride recovers enough to let him glare at Tav. “My lines are fine, thank you very much.”

Tav sets the firewood bundle aside. He shoulders the axe and smiles. Takes a few steps closer. “Then tell me one.”

He has to look up to meet those dark eyes, and it drags his appreciative gaze up Tav’s sculpted body. Astarion’s mind goes blank again. Something about the way Tav looks, to be certain, with his torso bare and glistening. But moreso, for the moment, it’s his scent that’s rid Astarion of thought. He’s used to roses and that unique spice. He’s not at all used to sweat and musk and that spice being so strong, strong enough to coat the back of his tongue, strong enough to tempt him closer. He comes back to himself only one step in. Tav’s still smiling. It’s got that familiar wry touch he adores.

“There’s no one like you in all the realms, is there?” Astarion breathes.

Tav co*cks his head. Smirks. Waits a beat before he says, “You’ve had better, but I like that one, too.”

Astarion doesn’t have a witty repartee for that. Tav inclines his head at the mug in his hands. Gods above, he’d forgotten he was holding it. “That for me?”

It’s a balmy night in Kythorn, and after physical exertion like that, no doubt the cold drink will be appreciated. Tav’s been at the work long enough to be sheened with sweat, just as much as any man would be in the burgeoning summer’s heat.

Provided said man wasn’t undead, of course.

Astarion hands over the drink and Tav takes it eagerly. He sets the axe aside and wraps both hands around the earthenware mug to relish its chill. Then he drinks the whole thing down in a few gulping swallows.

Astarion watches his throat work with envy. With greed. If only anything tasted good to him anymore. Blood sometimes does, perhaps would be divine if it weren’t cold, clotted, congealed, and rotting. The only live prey he’d ever caught had been a fool rat that came too close to his clutches. He’d been severely punished for having the nerve to feed his neverending hunger. He remembers that two-tenday stretch of starvation none-too-fondly. He remembers the very literal daggers of pain in his guts, a new one sunk in every day by Godey until his torso had been sliced to ribbons. It was a potent reminder to never indulge in easy prey while he was out in the city. He could eye stray cats and mangy dogs and salivate but he would never risk the punishment again.

Tav sighs with delight when he finishes the drink. He blinks down at Astarion and winces, sheepish. Astarion can’t figure out what that means.

“Sorry,” Tav apologizes. “Did you want to try some?”

Astarion reaches up and brushes his thumb over Tav’s bottom lip. Tav freezes. He stares, shocked, as Astarion puts his thumb to his lips and licks it.

Whatever the drink is, it’s almost sweet enough to taste good, but the tang of vinegar is sharp. He doesn’t let it show, merely letting his mouth pull into a suggestive smirk, and though Tav shakes his head with a rueful smile, he can see the particular dusky pink of a blush in the man’s cheeks.

“C’mon. We can have a few more inside. My treat.”

“It’s always your treat.”

“Noticed that, have you?” Tav says lightly. “So have I.”

“You could stop at any time.”

“It’s a small price to pay,” Tav says in that warm voice that makes Astarion’s innards molten.

“What, to spend time with me?”

He tries for easy, for careless, for complete nonchalance, and fails. His voice comes out a guarded kind of sharp. Stabbing at Tav’s strange motives. Trying desperately to make sense of all of this. Why does he keep coming back? Why does Tav keep indulging him? Why are they here, tonight, together? Tav doesn’t care to call him on the longing he hears in his own voice. He only smiles and nods and that’s… enough. It’s enough to know that Tav wants him here too.

“Someday I’ll run out of your patience.”

“I doubt that,” Tav says. “But you're certainly welcome to keep trying your hand at it.”

“Well darling, I hope your gold is prepared for tonight.”

Tav laughs. He’s holding the door open for him, grinning, and says, “After you.”

Notes:

Smaller chapter today because there's a longer one on the way when I finish tying a piece or two of it together. Enjoy a little bit of fanservice in the meantime? Haha.

I lied, by the way, I can't possibly post that AU just yet. It has some small and some major spoilers for this fic, so I'll have to hold off. Gives me more time to work on it though! Which I will. Because I am obsessed still.

Chapter 7: Dinner discussions

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Astarion sneaks off to the Dancing Cat six days later. He’s been good, diligently bringing erstwhile idiots back to the palace, and feels like he deserves a bit of a treat. A day off, even if that only means punishment in the end. The allure is stronger. The marks don’t look at him in that same warm reverent way Tav does. His siblings are a mixed bag- he gets along best with Dalyria, just fine with Leon and Aurelia, and not at all with Petras and Violet- but no conversation with any of them ever settles or intrigues him like talking with Tav does. He’s not sure why he enjoys Tav’s company so much. It makes little sense. But it’s so comfortable that he doesn’t feel like questioning it. Tav makes him feel like the rest of his twisted undeath doesn’t exist for a few hours and that’s worth the risks.

Or so he tells himself night after night.

He slips into the bar and is immediately disappointed. No tall handsome drow in sight. It’s still early for the nightlife and not counting the drunks snoring on tables who may not have left since the night before, the tavern’s empty. He frowns- surely Tav’s not already gone back on the arrangement?- but figures he may as well check. He heads to the bar itself and the tender of it today is a man he’s yet to see. The husband, if he had to guess, who looks road-weary. His black hair is already peppered with grays and his eyes have their own baggage. Still, he smiles kindly enough, and is quick to ask what Astarion would like to drink.

“Oh, not him,” a voice calls from the door that leads into the house attached to the bar. “He’s here for something else entirely.”

The proprietor. The formerly-pregnant woman. She’s got the infant cradled to her chest and a fiendish grin on her lips. He co*cks an eyebrow back at her.

“And what, pray tell madam, am I here for?”

She hands the babe off to her tired husband. “Go and wake Tav, will you, Osian? I’ll keep his friend company.”

Astarion perks up automatically- beyond his control- at the realization that Tav is here. The lady smirks down at him when she sees it. He deflates again immediately but the damage is done. She saw his excitement. Her husband takes the baby upstairs with him and she turns on Astarion.

“I thanked you once already for steering him back, but I’ll gladly thank you again. I wasn’t even aware of how helpful he can truly be. He’s a gem and a half. No wonder you were trying to keep him all to yourself.”

There’s a part of him that goes angry and taut at the notion of anyone else- no matter how well meaning or kind- staking any sort of claim on Tav or Tav’s time. That part of him is greedy and selfish. That part of him is something that wants to have Tav- all of him- and keep him to itself. He has to shove it away. Shove that deep dark feeling of possession down. Tav is something he wants, yes, he’s through denying that. But Tav is also something he needs to protect, which means he cannot indulge the urge to keep.

More of that vicious urge must show on his face than he intended because the woman laughs and holds up her hands in surrender.

“Calm down there, saer,” she says, the title sounding much more derisive than deferential now. “I can assure you that boy’s still yours first and foremost.”

She’s got a lot more spunk when she’s not exhausted by pregnancy, he thinks. She sets her hands on her hips and wears a big co*cky grin he finds… almost charming, really. So is her calling Tav a ‘boy’ when in reality Tav’s probably a good three times the half-elven woman’s age. She’s got sass and a motherly feel in nearly even measure.

He almost likes her.

“I should hope he is,” Astarion sniffs. “Though I didn’t tell him to come back here for your sake, my lady, that I promise.”

“No, you did it for you,” she laughs, “and that’s understandable. He’s hard to pin down otherwise. A hard worker, that one. What he’s taken to doing lately is going out early to try and find his work, then coming home to rest for a few hours, and waking up after dusk with hopes of seeing you. Quite a difference from his former routine, or so he tells it.”

A nervous feeling shivers down his spine that he has no name or basis for.

Tav’s still making concessions for him. For Astarion’s sake. For the faint hope of seeing him in a day. That’s a perilous closeness.

Astarion knows he should hate it more.

A door shuts upstairs. Astarion can’t stop the instinctive reaction to glance at the sound. The woman snickers. Faintly he can hear Tav’s voice from above. It’s a little thicker and lower than normal. He appears after a second more in the doorway and Astarion bites back a smile. Tav’s clearly barely been woken up: his hair’s somewhat tangled, his clothes definitely put on straight from a washing pile, and he blinks sleep from his eyes even as he stumbles down the stairs.

Astarion finds himself terribly fond of the whole look. He’s never liked slovenly habits but he’ll gladly overlook them just this once.

“Good morning?” He says.

Tav’s eyes lock onto him at once. That warm smile that makes his stomach flutter curls slow and sweet as honey across Tav’s face.

“Something like that.”

Tav wakes up quick and it’s a good thing as the tavern business picks up. He and Tav have premium spots at the bar. Astarion looks around at the crowd and the noise and then at Tav and groans with satisfaction. He’s barely begun his night out and already has Tav. It’s so much less of a hassle.

“It is so nice to not have to track you down, darling. I just come here and find you. Much easier. Less time consuming for sure.”

Tav chuckles. “I thought so too. I’m not going to complain if we get more time together this way. Plus having a bed is nice.”

Astarion frowns at him for that; he remembers, suddenly, Tav’s casual mention of a campsite and not a rented room. Tav notices his frown and winces.

“But that’s neither here nor there. Rhyla, if you would, can I have that bottle of red I brought back with me the other night?”

Rhyla grins and vanishes behind the door to the back. Astarion blinks. He has a sneaking suspicion that that means…

“Did you buy a wine for me, darling?”

“We ran out of the other one the last time you were here, earlier in the tenday,” Tav explains. “I needed something else. Your tastes are expensive and I may as well play to them.”

It’s not any kind of wine he comes here for. Not any more. It hasn’t been for a while, either. He hunts the night for Cazador, and he hunts the night for Tav. One agitates, the other soothes. He really wouldn’t care if they left this whole farce of drinking off by the wayside. He wouldn’t care if all Tav had was a tent and a bedroll. He’d still find him, night after night, because there’s a strange measure of peace to be found here.

It’s got nothing to do with the drink.

“You shouldn’t have.”

Tav gives him a wry grin. “I’d prefer to keep something on hand for you than not.”

“And how much did it cost you?”

“I feel I shouldn’t say,” Tav replies thoughtfully, which Astarion’s brain immediately translates to ‘exorbitant’. Tav smirks at him. “You’re not supposed to inform the recipient of how much a gift cost, I’m told. I find it a strange custom to get used to.”

“Is it different, among drow?”

“Very. You always want to know exactly what the balance is so you know where you stand with the person giving you a so-called gift, because if they ever expect you to repay in kind, you never want to come up short.” The woman returns with a bottle and a corkscrew and Tav takes them with a smile and a word of thanks. As he uncorks the bottle he casually continues, “Of course, many times both the giver and the recipient will lie about the price, and one will kill the other over a perceived or entirely fabricated slight, but. Such is the way of things in Menzoberranzen.”

“Wretched hells.”

“Yes, I much prefer this custom.”

“So if I were to ask what my bill stands at now?”

“That depends.”

Tav pours out a deep dark red wine into the glass provided to him by the owner. It’s rich and thick enough that for a second Astarion compares it to blood and his mouth waters by default. He looks up at the drow curiously.

“On?”

Tav pushes the glass toward him. “If you accept the wine or not.”

Astarion holds that jewel-green gaze as he brings the glass to his lips and takes a sip of it. He’s pleasantly surprised; he can actually taste the floral notes at the back. It has to be very good wine. Tav’s gone and spent far too much. Idiot. He takes another drink, a deeper one, savoring the floral and sweet notes.

As he does, Tav says in a deadpan tone, “Five hundred and eighty two, then.”

And Astarion chokes. He coughs for a second and gives Tav an incredulous look. Tav’s grinning. Unrepentant and unbothered. Pleased, even. Quite humored by the stunned look he’s being given.

Darling,” Astarion gasps out. “You must be joking. That’s far too much for a single bottle of wine. Please tell me you weren’t fleeced out of over a hundred gold for one bottle of- admittedly rather good- wine.”

“Ah ah,” Tav tuts. “I’m not supposed to tell you.”

“I may knife you if you don’t.”

“Promises, promises.”

Astarion takes another sip anyway. Tav’s mischievous expression fades a bit, into one of genuine warmth, and Astarion still cherishes those small smiles that are the rarest.

“You really must stop this practice,” Astarion mutters. “It can’t end well for your purse.”

“Oh, no, I’m not planning on stopping any time soon.”

“No?”

“No. This is the only guarantee I have that you’ll keep coming around. You have to pay me back someday.”

Astarion laughs. “Oh my dear, no. No no no. That’s never going to happen, my lovely fool.”

“Ah.”

He swallows the rest of the glass- damn the drow for having a stroke of luck with his choice- and holds it up; Tav’s quick to pour him more, looking supremely pleased with himself. Astarion just stares at that expression. Really, none of this makes sense. He knows why Tav’s doing this to appease him- he’s too attractive to not understand blatant interest- but what is Tav getting in return right now that keeps him spending his money? His company’s not nearly priceless enough to buy the way Tav’s trying to.

…is it?

“The problem here is, you’d let me keep going, wouldn’t you, dear? Drink you right out of house and home.”

“On the contrary,” Tav rebuts. “You’ve done the exact opposite. Meeting you has put a roof over my head.”

Astarion takes a second to digest that. “I suppose that’s true. How interesting.”

“It is. And it means I find I’ve a surplus of gold at my disposal. Forgive me for putting it to good use.”

“I don’t know if getting me drunk counts for good use, my dear.”

“I’ll find out whenever you actually get drunk.”

“Oh? You noticed?”

“That you’ve left our encounters far more level-headed than I, far more often? Hard not to. I even think one or two of those you planned on getting me, and me alone, drunk.”

Astarion covers his mouth with a hand and affects a scandalized tone. “Darling! I would never. Such horrid accusations. Coincidentally… not drinking tonight dear?”

Tav smirks. “No, I think I’d prefer to just spend the time with you with my head unclouded. It’s been a while since the last time that happened.”

Astarion realizes that’s true. Astarion’s spent quite a bit of the last month locked up or performing the dance of seduction he’s spent so long perfecting. Before that Tav was missing, and when he was finally found he was practically too exhausted to think. And before that, their night in the park under the stars. He leans into Tav’s space with a lascivious smirk.

“Can I trouble you to join me at a different table then? I’m not sure how much of our pillow talk your patron wants to overhear.”

The proprietress snorts. She’s been… not hovering, exactly, but lingering within earshot, and Astarion’s been aware of her closeness the whole time. It’s been grating on his nerves. His night belongs to blood and sex and death and Tav. Not to her and her curiosities. Or her protectiveness of her drow helper. He also doesn’t like the suspicious way she eyes him. Like she knows, or suspects, his nature. Tav’s nature, conversely, is as sweet as ever. He smiles.

“Of course.”

They take up residence at a tiny corner table that Astarion’s pretty sure is propped up on one side by a dusty book. Tav, across from him, looks ridiculous crammed into this small space. Still, he’s not complaining, and Astarion tries to offer the wine again but with a smirk Tav shakes his head.

“All yours.”

“If you insist,” Astarion sniffs, pouring himself another glass.

“So why did you want to talk alone?”

He glances up at Tav and Tav’s suddenly serious expression. He shrugs, playing at nonchalance, and sets down the bottle. “You’ve piqued my curiosity, dear. I’ve been curious about drow culture from a direct source since our first meeting, and every snippet more you offer is so very fascinating. Though, it has brought up some other questions since.”

“Such as?”

He doesn’t quite know how to broach this but he can’t relax until he does. If his concerns are well-founded he may have to give up all of his own insidious wants and force Tav onward. If they’re ridiculous and Tav tells him so without masking to do it, he can trust the drow’s telling him the truth. He frowns across the table at Tav.

“These… assailants of yours, darling. The ones who keep attacking you. They’re not from Menzoberranzen trying to drag you back, are they?”

Tav’s eyes widen. He blinks. Then he laughs. Heartily, which makes Astarion scowl at him. When Tav calms down again he wipes a single tear from his eye and shakes his head. He snags Astarion’s glass and tips back a sip, eyebrows flicking up at the taste, then slides it back.

“What’s funny?” Astarion says sourly.

“They’re not from Menzoberranzen.”

“Are you sure? You keep coming under fire-”

“I’ve told you why.”

“But this last time they were going to bring you to drow. I wor- thought perhaps it meant they were hunting for you. I assure you humans will take any coin that crosses their path without a care why they’re taking it or who they’re taking it from.”

Tav’s dark eyes narrow at him for a split second. He sees it, but has no idea what it means. Then Tav’s giving him a placid smile.

“I’m sure.”

“What makes you so sure?”

The smile grows and slips sideways into that wry truthfulness. Astarion relaxes to see it.

“Because I wasn’t any sort of important enough to be hunted down. The kind of measures you’re talking about would be used to, at best, get a matron’s wayward daughter back home. Not an escaped slave. The moment that mercantile band saw I was male, much less caught sight of these-” he points to the black sclera of his eyes- “I would have been killed immediately. They likely would have killed the would-be kidnappers too for bothering them with my sorry self. No, there’s no one after me. I’m only one of many. Enslaved males are the lowest possible rung of drow society. Chaff for the battlefield, really. The only unusual thing about me is that I succeeded in getting away. Usually slaves just die before they make good on their escape. I had help.”

“Oh.” Astarion can’t think of much to say to that, so he takes another drink. He’s glad, at least, that he doesn’t have to worry about taking out a squadron of drow soldiers to defend Tav. What’s much scarier than the idea of fighting a group of murderous drow is the undeniable fact that he would do it. Viciously. He’s already indirectly killed men for Tav. He’d be fine with killing them with his own two hands and a well-aimed dagger. He won’t let anyone take Tav away from him. “If, ah, you’re sure.”

“I’m sure. People just don’t like me. And I, regrettably, am a very large target.”

“And much too trusting.”

“Mm, you’ve complained about that before.”

“For all the good it’s done. You have been staying out of trouble, yes?”

“You told me to.”

“That's something you should want for yourself, you know.”

“I do. But…” And Tav smiles, softly, down at the rough grain of the table. “It’s nice that someone else wants it, too.”

It’s another of those little smiles, one of those quiet admissions, that hits Astarion off-center and leaves him feeling like he’s forgotten what balance is. He huffs a sigh and takes another drink, glad his generally bloodless state means he can’t blush like Tav does. Still, he feels… better. It’s a relief to know he doesn’t have to contend with angry drow trying to reclaim one of their own at any cost. It’s strange to think Tav means so little- or that he at least thinks he means so little- when nearly every one of Astarion’s thoughts has started to bend around him.

“I do want that,” he admits, very quietly. “Your safety, love. I’d rather you were in your bed here every night for me to come to instead of risking the streets and the drunks and the… potential kidnappings. Or any other probable bedpartners, interestingly enough.”

Tav co*cks an eyebrow. “I can assure you no one’s considering me as a bedmate. I’m not sure anyone is interested enough in me beyond hearing me perform or bloodying my lip.”

“I don’t think you’ve given an accurate assumption of yourself, darling.” Tav co*cks his head. Astarion tilts his at the bar, where the proprietress is still watching them. She has been the whole time, even after they moved away from her immediate vicinity. “I think you’re cared for more than you know.”

Tav shrugs. “Good help is hard to find, I’m told.”

“Tsk. Don’t sell yourself so short, dear. That woman would be over here in a heartbeat if she thought at any point that I was threatening you. She hasn’t trusted me from the start.”

She’s very wise to do so, and quite perceptive. He approves of her, and approves of her protectiveness of her tenant, even if his outweighs hers.

“I wouldn’t worry about her. I know I don’t have to suspect you of anything,” Tav says softly. “I don’t think you have any plans to hurt me.”

He’s trying so hard, so hard, not to. “No.”

“Truth be told, I’m usually more worried about you. It’s always… a relief, I suppose you could say, to see you again. I’m scared there’ll come a day when I won’t, and then I just won’t know what to do with myself. I know you keep asking me to be safe, but…”

Tav reaches across the table and slips his fingers into the relaxed curve of Astarion’s empty hand. Astarion’s dead heart flutters. Every time they touch so casually he’s reminded of how warm and alive Tav is compared to him. Astarion eyes Tav’s hand in his. It’s bigger than his yet the fingers fit perfectly against his palm. There are calluses on Tav’s fingertips. He can feel the blood beating under the ashen skin. He can hear it. That steady tick-tock. The sound of Tav’s long slow inhales and exhales. He becomes, for a moment, aware of his own breathing, of the fake rhythm he’s established to avoid suspicion of his true self. He could imitate breathing but there’s no way to replicate the stalwart beat of Tav’s heart. He surrenders himself to the sound. His mind drifts. For a moment there’s nothing in his world but the two of them breathing and the throb of Tav’s heart. He stares at gray knuckles and swipes his thumb across them; the color contrast is startling but beautiful. It almost makes him jump, almost pulls him out of his comfortable reverie, but he refuses to let this quiet moment end. He doesn’t want to; he’d love for this to be forever. Tav squeezes his hand but it feels like those fingers close around his quiet heart. For a moment he has a heartbeat too. Restarted by that tender touch.

He looks up, and Tav’s expression is soft but his smile is pained.

“…take care of yourself too, please?”

Astarion laughs. Easier said than done by a mile, in his particular case.

“I’ll try.”

Notes:

Hey look! A smidgen of Tav backstory! Both of these guys actually play their cards pretty close to the chest. It's not great for building a relationship. Which is definitely not what's happening here. Nope. Not at all ;)

Uploading this chonkier chapter before the Valentine's patch of BG3, because I assume I'm going to be spending a good amount of time kissing my companions, trying to see how many new animations for kissing them there are, and giggling madly.

Chapter 8: A game

Notes:

So! Hi! Small, teeny-tiny itty-bitty chapter for today, to celebrate getting 1,000 hits, which is... kinda nuts to me. I've been writing this AU/canon divergence thing mostly for myself, of course, but I'm really happy people seem to like it! Every bit of interaction is fuel to my fire but there is no number I love seeing go up as much as I love seeing my inbox tick, heh.

I should have a proper chapter up soon, but in the meantime, have this strange little stream-of-thought thing that took hold of my brain one night and refused to let go until I got it all down. It's... perhaps a little weird, and certainly not my typical "style", but such is the way of these types of fugue state words. They happen and I can only hope I can type fast enough to get it down before it leaves my brain.

Anyway, see you tomorrow!

Chapter Text

The next time he leaves his hour of indulgence with Tav, he feels drunk. Not properly drunk, tipsy and flush with an abundance of alcohol, but drunk on something else entirely that he doesn’t have a name for and doesn’t want to try and put a name to. Something warm and soothing that feels heavy on his chest.

Something better left with Tav, he thinks.

He lets instinct carry him through the Lower City, to and into the arms of a man who stinks of a whor*house and alcohol, and lets habit carry him through the act of taking the man back to the mansion and letting him have his way.

His mind is occupied. Stuck on the thoughts of a gentle male drow.

Forcing away the inkling of what’s happening between them and yet cradling it close.

And even though he shouldn’t, he makes a resolution that very night.

It’s a sort of game, to him. It becomes a game he plays with terribly high stakes. Not a good one, either, but a game nonetheless.

Keep the drow alive’ is its name. He’s pretty sure the drow in question would hate this game.

Astarion can’t say why he’s so determined to play the terrible game as best he can. Maybe as a punishment to himself. Maybe to spite Cazador in a way the master doesn’t even know he’s being spited. If Astarion can keep one man, one victim, alive and out of Cazador’s clutches, it’s a win in Astarion’s book. It’s a single positive tally in a ledger whose pages are filled with sin and murder.

At least it’s not that one, he thinks as he beckons an effusive woman to climb atop him.

It’s not him, he thinks as he prepares a blushing young man for his co*ck.

I didn’t kill him, he thinks every time Cazador’s cold hand closes on his temporary bedpartner’s shoulder. It’s not that man.

I don’t care about that one, he thinks as he hands over the man who’d tried to pickpocket him.

I don’t care about this one, he thinks as he effortlessly charms a middle-aged noble.

I don’t know his name, he thinks, staring after a screaming man. Nor do I care.

He doesn’t ever let himself think about facts like Tav would hate what he’s doing, would hate it more because he’s doing it for Tav’s sake, or the fact that perhaps every other person he leads to death by the hand could be like Tav. They all have their own lives, after all. Lives he’s ripping them from.

It doesn’t matter.

They aren’t the drow. They weren’t kind to him. They didn’t smile the same way when they saw him. They looked at him expecting the transaction they’d have shortly after his approach. Tav never looked at him like that. The excitement Tav looked at him with was a plane away. It was a sweet, kindly thing, not an avaricious thing, and that made all the difference.

The marks don’t look at him like Tav does.

Would they? He thinks, once, when the girl he’s chosen for the night is nervous and inexperienced but still enthusiastic and eager to learn as they settle into the red bedroom. Would she smile at me like he does if I just let her go and found her again?

But she isn’t Tav. She doesn’t even have a name. She is lost to Cazador’s grasp and Astarion’s back out in the night searching for another. He sees Tav, this time, at a distance, and he’s glad Tav doesn’t see him. His hair’s still a mess and his collar’s in no shape to be considered refined. He turns away from the sight of the drow.

Not that one. That one stays alive. Her, though… he sidles up to a tipsy half-elf. She isn’t him at all.

The game is a poor panacea for the rot in his heart. It’s an excuse and he knows it. That doesn’t mean he has to acknowledge it. As long as he sets it aside and forgets it, he can still greet Tav with a smile and a wink. As long as he hides his bloodstained hands behind his back Tav won’t see the truth of him. Tav’s the important part of this equation. Even more so than Astarion is, and it’s passing strange to care about something- someone- more than himself. Not that he’s not a part of the equation: he is. He’s playing this game for two people only: himself, and Tav. It’s not his fault every life he weighs against the drow’s comes out lacking. It’s not theirs, either: it’s Cazador’s, in the end. But Astarion can’t win against Cazador. That’s proven every time he ‘misbehaves’. Every time he’s brought to heel with whip and compulsion and contempt.

So he’s playing this terrible game of ‘keep the drow alive’ because he wants this victory over his despicable master. He wants the single point. The one measure that shows that maybe his blackened soul isn’t entirely irredeemable. He wants it with a viciousness he likens to his hatred for Cazador.

It’s so bittersweet to want something again.

He stubbornly refuses to name it for what it is.

Chapter 9: Moonlight and music

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Astarion could- and would- swear, as Eleasias wears on, that he only needs to follow moonlight or music to find the drow whenever Tav isn’t home. Sometimes both, despite the fact that he never stumbles upon Tav actually playing. Like the hand of fate, he feels the particular call of Tav no matter where he starts his prowl. It’s a gentle push he feels inside. A silver string tied to a rib that tugs him onward to find the man. Often, if he’s alone on his nightly hunt, he follows it. If he’s got his siblings he tries to find a moment to slip away. He can always find Tav if he just looks. He sometimes can almost see the silver string, a single thread of moonlight shimmering across his path, reeling him in. He follows it tonight to the docks. It’s cooler down by the water. An escape from the summer heat and the smells of the city. As he gets closer, the music joins the moonlight, the two intertwining, until he can hear Tav humming nearby. It’s just audible over the slap of waves against the moorings. He leans over a low wall and there the drow is, awash in a pale silver glow that Astarion isn’t quite sure is natural, sitting at complete ease on the stairs just under him. This preternatural sense for the man is invaluable and concerning in equal measure. Tav’s writing something in a notebook under the moonlight. The string, its job done, comes unknotted from its spot inside his chest, and suddenly Astarion’s in complete control of himself again.

“You know,” he says loudly, and grins when Tav startles with a yelp. Tav flails and catches his quill. Then he glares up at Astarion. There’s no heat to it. He loses even the façade of temper a second later and cracks an answering smile. Astarion squints: there’s a bruise on the drow’s left cheek.

What makes you so sure there haven’t been attempts?

No idea what my campsite looks like either, not since they dragged me out of it.

Another attack? It seems more barroom brawl gone awry than it does targeted, and Tav certainly doesn’t seem worried, but then, he didn’t last time either. Violence has always come easily on the streets of Baldur’s Gate and it seems they truly don’t care for drow.

Tav opens his arms in an airy shrug. “Do I know what?”

“It occurs to me that I’ve never heard you play.”

It’s occurred to him more than once. Near constantly, really. But tonight there’s no bar, no patrons, no company whatsoever aside from the occasional drunk vomiting his guts into the Chionthar. It’s just him and Tav. No audience but each other. Astarion thrums with eagerness.

“That’s true,” Tav muses. “How odd. Unfortunately, I haven’t got an instrument on me at the moment. Apologies.”

The disappointment is immediate and visceral. It’s also strange. Astarion’s heard many a bard. All sorts, from good to bad to bawdy, populate the taverns he and his siblings equally frequent. But Tav’s a special kind of bard.

He’s Astarion’s bard.

No. No, that isn’t true. Won’t be true. Astarion pushes the thought down. As deep as he can drown it. He fishes for the flirty persona instead, finds it, and reels it back up.

He clucks his tongue and sighs. “That’s a shame, darling. I had so hoped to have finally caught you at a good time. All alone down here and all.”

Tav smiles. Astarion shoves the warm flutter in his stomach down past even the possessiveness.

“I can’t play you a tune but I can sing, if you’d be amenable to that.”

“Serenading me already, sweetheart? I’m flattered.”

Tav laughs. Astarion shifts around the banister to come down the stairs. He ignores the way his skin shivers at the proximity to the Chionthar. Running water! His vampiric senses scream in alarm. Lots of running water! Bad! Stay away! It’s fine. He has no plans of taking a dip, and Tav doesn’t seem the type to push him in for the fun of it. Though, Astarion’s not sure what would happen to him if he did. Would he disintegrate? Melt? Burn? Would it hurt?

He takes a heavy seat across from Tav on the stair the drow’s occupying and Tav seemingly has picked up on Astarion’s new tension because he looks a tad concerned. Astarion waves an airy hand. He’s fine. The Chionthar is at his back. It’s fine. He’s fine. He’s distracted: Tav’s gorgeous with all of his angles and curves greased moon-pale. The deep neckline of his current shirt is a credit to his physique. Astarion spends a definite moment staring at it and Tav chuckles.

“What would you like?”

“What?”

It’s always so bewildering to be asked what he wants.

“What would you like to hear?”

Astarion blinks. “Oh, uh. I don’t… I don’t exactly know songs.”

He’s never cared. Not until now.

Tav hums. “Well, I’ll spare you the tried and true. Doubtless you’ve heard them all.” But I haven’t heard them from you, Astarion thinks. “Give me a second to think of one of my poorer original works, hm?”

“You make your own?”

“Of course,” Tav says with an aura of baffled amusem*nt. “It’s my job.”

He had set aside quill and journal at some point but picks up the journal again now. He shuffles through some pages of writing in a neat, spidery script, glancing around on occasion- Astarion doesn’t miss how Tav’s eyes can never pass cleanly over him, not without catching and staring for a heartbeat- until he finds a page he spends an extra second scanning. Then he glances up again, at the lighthouse this time, and nods. He shuts the book and lays it aside again. He leans back against the rock wall, closes his eyes, and opens his smiling mouth.

Tav’s voice is even more charming when he sings. Soft and sweet. Astarion’s lost all over again. He couldn’t say what the song was about . It’s so much more about the voice and Tav’s serene expression. The silvery radiance Astarion is now sure can’t be natural. As he watches the glow shift, fade, and intensify while Tav sings, he sees the bruise on Tav’s cheekbone heal. Right on the words about healing. How interesting a bard’s powers are. He blinks and reaches out, touching the spot, and the radiance envelops his fingertips.

It’s warm. It sings. It’s a complimentary song to the one Tav’s singing. A harmony. A woman’s voice, beautiful beyond measure.

The light starts to climb up his fingers, making for his hand, and Astarion snatches it back. The harmony cuts off. It’s just Tav singing now, but he’s opened one eye and is smiling indulgently. Astarion blinks at his still very normal hand. Blinks at the drow. Tav’s lips close and the song fades off into a hum- the same hum Astarion had followed to his side- and the glow gradually dies.

“What was… that?” He asks, gesturing at Tav’s normal- and healed- body.

Tav smiles and glances at the moon. “I think that counted as my Evensong for today.”

“An Even..?”

“I suppose we’ve never talked about divinity,” Tav says calmly as he packs his journal into his bag.

“No,” Astarion agrees, because for him there’s no point in even sparing a thought for the gods that hate his twisted existence. “Though if you’re about to tell me you’re a god I’d believe you.”

Tav stares at him for a second in surprise, then laughs, a faint flush darkening his cheeks. “I’ll take the compliment for what it is, but no. I happen to be a devout follower of my dark lady. The Dark Dancer.”

Astarion has never heard of such a goddess and Tav seems to have expected that, smirking a little.

“Her name is Eilistraee.” Tav speaks her name with a loving reverence. Astarion ignores the asinine spark of jealousy he feels for the sweet way Tav’s voice cradles the goddess’ name. How can he be jealous of how a name sounds in Tav’s mouth when he still hasn’t given his? “The wayward and headstrong daughter of Lolth and Corellon Larethian, who believes drow have, deserve, and can harmoniously make a life for themselves on the surface. Many devout pray to their gods or goddesses. Worshippers of Eilistraee perform for her every night. A song or dance, usually. An Evensong. That was my tribute for tonight.”

“Wait,” Astarion says, surprised, as they ascend the stairs together now. “Is she why you’re a bard?”

“Somewhat, yes. It’s a practical thing to perform both for coin and for her. That, and I’ll forever feel like I owe her.”

“For?”

“Rescuing me,” Tav laughs. “Run thy sword across my chains, Silver Lady, that I may join your dance. I never expected a goddess to listen to me, much less actually take that exact action, but I could have been freed no other way.”

“Oh.”

He remembers tendays ago, and Tav’s frank explanation, going ever-so-slightly soft at the end. The only unusual thing about me is that I succeeded in getting away. Usually slaves just die before they make good on their escape. I had help. He hadn’t mentioned that night that he’d had divine help. Astarion can’t help but feel like he understands a deep devotion to someone that, in no uncertain terms, saved one from slavery. If there were ever a monster hunter crazy enough to kill Cazador and free his spawn from their servitude, he could reconcile following such a person until the end of his days. The debt he’d owe them would feel impossible to match.

“So yes, that’s why I’m a bard,” Tav continues. “I was properly trained and sent off to spread her word, and have been for years now. The coin helps me travel.”

“Is there a temple to her here?” He doesn’t know what shrines to the gods are housed in Stormshore Tabernacle. He’s not entirely certain he wouldn’t be consumed in holy flame for even trying to set foot in the place.

They’re on the main thoroughfare now and while the tabernacle would be to their right, the Dancing Cat is to their left, and left they turn without a conscious decision.

Tav tilts his head in thought.

“In Baldur’s Gate? No. The tabernacle has a receptacle to allow for prayer to many of what they designate lesser gods, more of a conduit for the faithful than anything singular. Eilistraee is still too unknown by most standards, but I’ve prayed to her there and she answered readily enough. Though… I hear there’s an actual temple of hers in Waterdeep, and I’d love to visit it someday.”

Astarion’s head whips around to look at him and he sees the wistful look in Tav’s eyes. Tav, though, notices the movement, and he chuckles and holds up his hands.

“I don’t intend to leave any time soon.”

You should, Astarion thinks but can’t bring himself to say. The words won’t come. He doesn’t want to say them. He doesn’t want the drow to be gone. It would be infinitely safer for Tav to be long gone up the Sword Coast but the thought of the drow no longer being a light in Astarion’s dark nights hurts worse.

And he’s a selfish man.

Selfish enough that he nearly steers them to take a right two streets early, to get them comfortably lost, to keep Tav all to himself for just a little longer. In the end he buries the itch and sees Tav to the front door of the homey little tavern. The irony of walking Tav home after just having thrown a fit about exactly that isn’t lost on him. But there’s a marked difference between Tav’s current temporary home and Astarion’s neverending hell.

One is safe. One never will be.

He can see Tav’s already put two and two together. Tav can tell by the way he hangs back that there’ll be no wine or further talk tonight. A distinctly sad look comes to the drow’s handsome face and Astarion abruptly feels as though he’s done something utterly wretched. Like he kicked a puppy. He can’t just let it end like this tonight.

Not quite like this, anyway.

“Goodnight, love.”

The melancholy fades. Warmth takes its place. Tav hikes his bag up on his shoulder and smiles.

“Goodnight.”

Notes:

Vian Izak is my quote-unquote voice claim for Tav, so if you're curious about the song choice for this chapter, what I imagined he was singing, it's this song here! I do have a whole playlist for Tav (of course I do) but unfortunately it ventures into spoiler territory for the future of this fic, so I can't share it, haha.
A little more Tav lore! It's sure on a slow drip, huh? Honestly when I made him I had no idea what I was getting into but the more I read up on Eilistraee and drow culture and all, the more I knew what was going on with him.

Also I made a correction a couple chapters back- despite mentioning them plenty elsewhere, I'd forgotten a little detail about Tav's back when Astarion was so shamelessly ogling it, so I went back to add that in. If you don't feel like re-reading, Tav's got whip scars across the expanse of his shoulders. Poor guy.

Chapter 10: Reading and flirting

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He spends half of the next tenday wandering the stacks in Cazador’s library during the day, looking for any reference to this dark dancer of Tav’s faith. It’s not rare for the spawn to wander the palace whenever they have time; two-thirds of a day they’re hopelessly trapped indoors, after all. They have to find some way to occupy the time, and the library is often a favorite. Even all these years later Dalyria can be found there poring over medical texts. She’ll never perform surgery again- for more than just the patient’s safety- but she still reads the medical journals with a longing in her eye. He’s not sure how, in her nearly two centuries of slavery here, she hasn’t read all that Cazador’s slim pickings on the subject have to offer, but she’s always there. Perhaps she has read it all and is only re-reading it. He has no idea what’s so fascinating but he’ll leave her to getting misty-eyed over words like phalange and tendon.

Cazador’s section on gods is even less full than his selection of medical books, but then, it’s a surprise it exists at all. Vampires as a whole have no love for gods. No use or purpose for them. Astarion gave up on entire pantheons generations ago. They don’t care a whit for a single starveling desperate vampire spawn.

He ends up going through more than half of the section before he finds even a mention of a dark dancer. Another two shelves before one mentions Eilistraee by name. That book is quite an interesting one, because deep in its passages there’s a chapter devoted to the rambling of what the foreword of the chapter calls a madman. Apparently he was lost for tendays in the thick forests of Cormanthor. Eventually, starved and weak and traveling by seemingly neverending moonlight, he ended up stumbling upon a colony of drow who- gladly!- took him in and cared for him. He stayed with them for months, during which time he was told much of the lesser goddess whose teachings they followed: Eilistraee. A drow goddess aligned with good. She was a goddess of the moon and of the arts. Song. Dance. Craftsmanship (particularly of instruments) and smithing.

The chapter stops short after a couple more paragraphs of the man’s life amongst those kind drow. It stops after some of his lurid descriptions of their rituals- one of which Astarion quirks an eyebrow at and resolves to ask Tav about- claiming that the man was clearly delirious and letting his fantasies get the better of his addled mind. There’s a footnote that points out that all dark elves should be treated, as a whole, as dangerous. They’re a violent and vicious people, bar none. The man’s recounting was clearly flawed. A ‘good’ goddess among the drow is a laughable concept.

Astarion himself finds it somewhat funny that his thinking was nearly identical to the footnote only a few months ago. Until he met a kindly drow with warm eyes, a soft voice, a sweet heart, and a penchant for music.

He slots the book back onto the shelf with a wry smile. He’s got a strange feeling now, about the silver string and the music he can follow to find himself at Tav’s side, but that’s a thought for another day. Or no day at all.

It’s very nearly the first thing Astarion says when he next sees Tav, after they’ve exchanged customary greetings. A tug on roseate hair. An answering chuckle.

“So, darling, if I may ask: when do I get to see you dance naked under the moon?”

Tav splutters instantly. His face turns a deeper shade of pink than Astarion’s ever had the pleasure of seeing. Green eyes are wide when they turn to him in horrified astonishment.

What!?”

“I read up on your religion, dear,” Astarion says, calmly blotting a spot of spat wine from his sleeve. “And that rite in particular stood out to me, for… shall we say, reasons. I’d quite like to see it, if you’ll indulge me?”

Tav laughs shakily. “That’s not- I’ve never-”

“Oh that’s a profound shame, dearest. With your body? Not putting it on display seems a crime. What I’ve gotten to see was a sight, I can proudly say.”

Tav rubs a hand over his burning face. He’s gone past pink and into red. Astarion’s flirtatious remarks have never gotten to him so thoroughly before. And he’s made plenty.

“I’ve never- I mean, I’m not particularly comfortable? With- with nudity, I mean. My own especially. Not after…”

Ah.

Astarion leans closer and nudges Tav’s broad shoulder with his own. He keeps his voice serious when he says, “I don’t mean to upset you, darling. But trust me when I say from what unfortunately little I’ve gotten to see that your body is worth showing off, and I’d love to see more. However, your choices are, of course, your own. I’d still like to see you dance, though. Perhaps if you keep your eyes closed and... I can let mine wander?”

“That wouldn’t help,” Tav says softly. “Your gaze is… intense. I’d feel it on me.”

Oh?” Astarion purrs. “Tell me more. I get so few compliments in return for the ones I give. Intense, hm?”

Tav relaxes subtly. Smiles a bit. “Yes. I can often tell you’re around long before I even see you. I feel your eyes on me.”

“I still startle you on occasion.”

“Well you’re still sneaky, but if you’re nearby without speaking to me long enough I’ll notice.”

“Sneaky?” Astarion scoffs. “Rude of you, darling. As for the latter, I’ll have to put it to the test someday.”

Tav chuckles. “If you insist.”

Tav’s right.

The next time Astarion finds the drow by night it’s inside a rundown tavern that, by rights, no one should be inside. He’s fairly sure if he was still a magistrate he’d have to get one of his fellows who deals in building permits or city planning to condemn the damn thing. He catches sight of the tall bastard on the other side of the single room and just settles on a stool and stares. It only takes some thirty seconds for Tav’s long ears to twitch and then he’s looking around. Eagerly. When their eyes meet Tav’s brighten immediately and Astarion pretends he doesn't feel an answering warmth in his chest.

“You weren’t kidding,” Astarion notes once Tav’s wound his way through the crowd with an uncanny grace a man that big should not have.

“Of course not,” Tav replies easily, sitting next to him. Astarion leans into the heat the drow emanates without conscious thought. “I told you. Your eyes are intense.”

“It doesn’t seem to work on anyone but you, dearest.”

“You’ve been looking at other men? I’m hurt.”

Astarion wants to smirk so he does, plasters the expression on his face, but underneath it he can’t help but remember. It’s been seven nights since the last time he sought out Tav. There’s been five others he found and brought back to the palace and f*cked in that time. Two men. Three women.

He’s been looking at plenty of others. He just wishes he wasn’t.

“I do have a job to do, darling.”

“So you get paid to be this charming?”

Astarion can’t help the noise that escapes him, though he just barely stops it from being a snort. It comes out as more of a sharp nasal exhale. Tav had almost made him laugh.

“Oh no, sweetling, I’m this charming naturally.”

“True, I should’ve known. So the stalking is how you get paid then? Private detective, perhaps?”

“Heavens no. You wound me with the very suggestion. Any gossip I pick up on in my night is very much mine to enjoy.”

“Do you have anything fun to share?”

“Oh, nothing worth repeating. Upper City, patriar nonsense. It’s all rather tedious.”

“Tedious how?”

“Who’s f*cking who, who’s having whose baby out of wedlock, lines of succession and intermingling family trees. Very tiresome.”

“Who is f*cking who?”

Astarion rolls his eyes and nudges Tav’s shoulder. “I don’t want to talk about them. I’d rather talk about you.”

“But I’ve got no stories to tell on that front. I’m not f*cking anybody.”

“And not for my lack of trying,” Astarion sighs.

“Not for your lack of trying,” Tav agrees, smiling slightly. “Which has been very flattering.”

“People would have to be blind, deaf, stupid, or dead to not desire you, love. Or just too afraid of your big bad racial reputation to approach.”

“I’d bet a drink on the latter.”

Astarion smirks. “Oh you beast.”

He hails the bartender.

Notes:

Leap day whooooo! Thank y'all again for all the lovely comments, they make me so happy!

Chapter Text

“You haven’t been home lately,” Astarion says accusingly as he slips onto the stool nearest a familiar powerful frame.

Tav relaxes when Astarion sits next to him. It’s quite interesting to see all of his tension just slip off his broad shoulders. And there was a lot of it, carried uneasily across his body. Astarion’s aware of why- there’s at least six people across this tavern glowering at Tav’s back- but not as certain why the drow is comforted by his presence. If he were to be honest for a minute, though, he knows the feeling. Tav’s proximity soothes him more than anything else ever has. Astarion doesn’t know why no one else seems to feel the aura of calm the sweet man projects. Yes yes, he’s drow, the scourge of the underworld, a danger across all the realms because of their viciousness and callous disregard for anyone that isn’t themselves. But gods below, this one is so obviously different. This one, he thinks wryly, loses more fights than he ever wins. Astarion runs a knuckle over a scabbed-over deep gash in the meat of Tav’s left forearm. It’s new. It’s infuriating. Someone’s hurt his kindly drow. Someone’s hurt what’s his.

“I’m alright,” Tav says quietly at the touch.

“I know you are,” Astarion sighs. “Doesn’t mean I want to see you hurt, love.”

He rests his head on Tav’s shoulder as he glares at the old gash like it’s personally offended him.

(It somewhat has.)

Tav just chuckles. It’s a soft sound that only relaxes the both of them further. The wound remains old under his touch. The tension remains gone under his head.

Tav’s not one for intimacy. Usually nothing more than the closeness of his shoulder against Astarion’s as they talk and drink. Even that, sometimes, makes him tense up, if it’s the left side. Astarion made a particular point after the second time he noticed it to avoid the left. He’s otherwise free to fawn all over Tav. He hadn’t meant to push that boundary tonight but tonight the drow seems okay with it. It’s been a few days since they last met and he’s pretty sure the drow missed him. He certainly missed Tav. He missed this comfort, this casual closeness, the scent of Tav’s skin, the tick-tock of that big steady heart.

Hells, but he missed this.

“You haven’t been home,” Astarion repeats, turning his face a little more into Tav’s shoulder, drinking in his scent with every unnecessary inhale. “I’ve been looking.”

“Were you worried?”

Tav shifts his wounded arm away as he asks and Astarion doesn’t chase it. Not right away, anyway. He likes to feel the warmth under his hand too much to stay away though. “A little.”

It’s strange to realize it’s true the moment those two words leave his lips. He was worried. He hasn’t been concerned about anything but his own skin in… decades, at least. More than a century. Worrying over anything that wasn’t avoiding punishment hasn’t been one of his impulses in forever. Perhaps because he keeps unconsciously thinking of Tav as his, he counts as being part of Astarion’s few concerns.

Perhaps.

“I’ve been trying to keep trouble away from their doorstep,” Tav says with a sigh. “I seem to attract it, no matter what I do.”

He shifts and his muscles ripple and tighten underneath Astarion’s knuckles, the wound there dark against his ashen skin, and Astarion knows what he’s saying.

“Bad actors, coming to bother you?”

“Unfortunately.”

Astarion lifts his other hand and presses his whole palm and the slender curve of his fingers to the old wound. Tav always runs warm to him, but the wound is hot under his touch. Tav sighs again, but with definite relief this time.

“That feels good.”

“Oh? Really, darling?”

He’d had a feeling it would. His skin is ice-cold, no matter how many of those rotten rats and bugs he ingests. He’ll never be glutted on enough blood to feign living warmth again.

Maybe he doesn’t need to, if someone likes him as he is already, appreciates how he is now. Maybe this is already good enough.

“You have plans for the night?”

“None but this,” Astarion replies. “And the usual. Work, I mean.”

Tav hums, but he doesn’t move, and neither does Astarion. They’re comfortable together, warm and cold balancing between them, Astarion ever-so-aware of the pulsebeat of Tav’s blood beneath his palm. It’s mouthwatering, but more than that…

It’s a relief.

‘Bad actors’ indeed, Astarion thinks the very next night, when he watches a drunkard sway upright from his seat in the Dancing Cat and try his best to swagger up to a suddenly unsmiling Tav.

“The likes a’ you ain’t welcome here!” The drunk sneers as he comes on.

His friends cheer for him, for having the (liquid) courage to approach the scary dark elf. The proprietress starts to yell over their din, unmistakably furious, but Tav just lets the man get close. Astarion bristles instead of Tav. If this man lays one finger on his drow…

In the end he doesn’t even have time to draw one of his daggers. The man throws one punch and Tav’s out of its way with a graceful sideways step practically before it was thrown. Astarion would swear he but blinked and the drunk has been put through a nearby table with enough force to crush the old thing to splinters. Tav looks down at the dazed man dispassionately. He reaches down, grabs a fistful of the man’s shirt, and calmly- easily- lifts. He drags the groaning fellow to the door and tosses him out on the street. Tav turns on a dime- making half the bar flinch- and levels an actually fearsome glare on the drunk’s suddenly-silent friends.

They get the message.

They get up as a group and shuffle to the door under the drow’s baleful eye. Tav watches them go, until the last one, whom he snags by the back of his shirt collar and jerks to a stop.

“You didn’t pay,” Tav says in a low voice that drips with disdain and danger. “For the drinks or the table.”

The poor fellow singled out reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pouch of coins. They clink and rattle musically: his hands are shaking so hard the bag is jingling. He upends it instead of counting, pouring a stream of gold into Tav’s open palm, and the proprietress is guffawing at the back of the room.

“That’s enough, I think, Tav,” her husband says, a tired smile on his face, and Tav nods. He shoves the last man out the door and slams it behind them.

The rest of the tavern slowly gets back to their drinking; Tav frowns down at the ruins of the table. He sighs as he collects the dropped coins. When he comes back to Astarion’s side he gives the coin over and grumbles when he sits back down. Astarion hasn’t said a word, utterly entranced by the display of speed and power and ferocity, and he’s too intrigued to do much more than push his drink toward Tav.

“You look like you could use it,” he murmurs.

Tav smiles- only a little- and does drink the wine down in three gulps.

“I’ll make a new table, Osian.” He sighs when he sets the glass down. “Sorry about-”

“He started it,” the woman interrupts. “He got what he deserved.”

“Still.”

Tav eventually retreats to the sideyard because he can, of course, hear the angry mutters directed at his back. Astarion naturally follows the drow. They sit together, only sipping the wine, under the half moon’s light.

The next night when Astarion returns, carving out a single hour for his indulgence, he finds Tav is indeed in the process of making a table. Tav glances up and smiles when he slips into the sideyard. He’s sawing wood into planks. Astarion sits, and watches, and brings Tav a cold drink just before he leaves for the night.

The night after when he lets himself in, Tav’s planing the wood. Astarion again sits himself down on the stump and watches Tav work.

“I wouldn’t have expected ‘woodworking’ to be in your repertoire,” he comments.

“Eilistraeen communes are very much ‘live off the land’ types of places,” Tav says. “There’s always plenty of hands-on work to be done. While I was there recuperating I tried my hand at many of the disciplines. I’m not the best at any one of them, but I’m passable.”

“So you stayed at a commune,” Astarion says thoughtfully. “What about the temples?”

“I’ve never been to one, actually,” Tav replies softly, the small smile on his lips too melancholy for Astarion’s liking. “They’re few and far between. The Dark Lady is still rather unknown except to her own faithful, and they often keep to their own spaces. The communes are all over, secular and quiet. Always welcoming. Regardless of race, of course.”

“And… here?”

Tav looks up at him, visibly confused, and Astarion scowls with annoyance at having to spell it out. He thinks back to last night, coming back into the bar on his way out into the night to finally start his hunt, only to find the proprietress squaring off with one of the drunk’s friends from the night previous. The man was furious about her continuing to harbor the drow; the fiery woman put her hands on her hips and snarled right into his face, “He’s worth more than his weight in gold and worth more than the sorry likes of you will ever be able to offer me. Get out of my bar.”

The man had squared his jaw and looked for all the world like he was about to strike the woman. She only narrowed her eyes at him, daring him to take the shot, and Astarion had smoothly inserted himself.

“Allow me, madam,” he’d purred. “I can take out the riffraff just as surely as Tav can.”

He hadn’t left the man dead, but had certainly not held back with his blades, and if the man succumbed to his injuries… well. It was a better fate for him than Cazador’s fangs would have been. Small mercies and all that.

Astarion sighs and grumbles, “Baldur’s Gate. Despite everything… all the opposition… you’re staying? No… odd little desires to rush off back into the wide world and leave the city behind?”

“No, I think I’m settled for now. Something about this city just keeps me tethered to it.”

Tav winks, at that, and Astarion can feel his ears twitch with the nonexistent flush of pleased embarrassment. He hopes Tav didn’t notice and knows only a moment later that the drow absolutely did. It’s mortifying. Not entirely unwelcome but quite mortifying. He’s not used to his body giving him away. He coughs, awkwardly, and looks away. Into his palm he says, “And you’re happy here? Tethers… notwithstanding?”

Tav smiles. Warmer. Happier. More real, and more him.

“I am. I’m glad to be of use, of help, no matter what needs doing. Osian can handle the bar and Rhyla the babe, but I’m still here as someone they know they can rely on. I’ve never really been that for anyone else. It’s different, but… I don’t mind it at all.”

Tav stands up, suddenly, and Astarion focuses sharply on the sinuous silent movement of Tav’s body. Focuses on them, in the dark, in the warmth of a summer night, alone together. Tav’s scent intoxicating in this scant space between them. Tav’s movements deft and sure as he sets aside (what Astarion assumes must be) a future table leg and picks up another.

“You’re good with your hands,” he notes, watching the way Tav’s fingers carefully skim the wood for imperfections with something akin to jealousy burning low in his stomach.

“Kinda have to be,” Tav replies with an amused look up at him. “Bard, remember? My hands are my livelihood.”

Astarion bites back a number of risqué comments. “Sometimes I forget, darling. Still have yet to hear you play, you tease. And you’ve only sung for me the once.”

Tav smirks at his theatrical, put-upon sigh.

“I suppose you’d like another?”

Astarion just smiles at him. Genuinely smiles. Tav blinks at him, thrown for some reason, and then that dusky flush Astarion really does adore creeps down the points of his ears and suffuses his cheeks.

“I do have one, I guess.” He says quietly.

“I’m all pointy ears, love,” Astarion purrs.

Tav’s nervousness persists as he sings. Astarion knows quickly why. The song is one of longing, is one Tav’s clearly written with him in mind, and he can’t say how that makes him feel.

Worst of all, he does relate to it. Far too much.

Sometimes it feels like Tav’s his shadow. That they’re so alike they could blend together, mould into each other, if it weren’t for this barrier Astarion’s kept between them.

It’s for his sake, he has to remind himself. It would be disastrous for Cazador to find out about this. Disastrous for him, and disastrous for Tav. Deadly for Tav.

At this point, losing Tav to Cazador’s avaricious touch may be deadly for him, too.

He won’t think about that. About any of it. Blissful ignorance is called that for a reason, after all. The ignorance is part and parcel with the bliss.

The next time Astarion comes into the tavern proper, days later, there’s a noticeably newer table on the floor. Its construction is good. It’s solid. Shinier and sturdier. And, he notes, it’s in a place of pride right by the bar, far from the spot of the table that it had been made to replace.

A treasured object, made with love.

Astarion can’t help but smile, and he hides it before the proprietress can call him out on it, but he can tell from her broad smirk that she knows anyway.

Notes:

Oops long chapter? I could have split it but where's the fun in that?
Song for this one is by the same artist, this time this song! It came out only a little bit ago and man, it really fit the whole dynamic of the (early) parts of this fic perfectly! Wish it had been around sooner.

Also, why on earth does everyone seem to think something bad is on the horizon? Goodness...

Chapter 12: Misconceptions

Notes:

About that missing angst tag...

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The man in the cage of his arms smells of sour ale. It’s typical and it’s disgusting. Astarion’s turned his nose away and is taking the slightest of inhales instead of the mimicry of breathing. He uses the inhales as pleasured little gasps to tell the man he’s enjoying himself. As usual, the little lie works only too well. The man’s not suspicious- too horny to bother- and Astarion’s not overacting.

Tonight’s mark is a little overzealous; he has Astarion pinned to the wall outside of a sleazy little tavern he half-recognizes. Astarion reacted to the rough move with a coo of delight and that was all it took to convince the fellow to do his drunken best at stripping him right on the street. Astarion helped- he didn’t need the doublet to get home, though if it falls in the mud he will be most cross- and now the man’s sucking none-too-gently at his neck.

Would that he could say the same.

First, thou shalt not drink the blood of thinking creatures.

Yes yes, Astarion tiredly thinks back at that echo of Cazador’s voice. It’s not the master himself- he never stoops so low as to invade their minds whilst in the act, deeming it ‘beneath him’- but just a memory. The compulsion he can never overcome. Even as the hunger churns in his stomach and fills his mouth with saliva. He forces his hands to wander. The man ruts against him, grinding their hips together aggressively, and Astarion’s next sigh is a little too annoyed to be lusty. Thankfully the mark doesn’t notice. Astarion tilts his head back- and freezes. Ice drops into his stomach. It obliterates all hints of his body responding in its simple primal way.

Tav’s standing some fifteen feet away. Staring. There’s no judgment in his eyes but Astarion unbelievably feels a lick of shame for the first time in decades. Tav stares for a long, agonizing moment. He stares directly and only into Astarion’s wide eyes. After that moment passes, Tav simply turns away. He vanishes into the shadows of the alley. Astarion swallows down the uncomfortable feeling those dark eyes left him with and puts his flawless flirty persona back up.

He has a job to do and his own skin to save.

“Come home with me,” he murmurs to the man. “I feel like we ought to enjoy ourselves in a proper bed, darling.”

“So that’s what you do for work.”

Astarion sighs and presses his perspiring glass to his forehead to quell a headache that doesn’t exist. Here comes a conversation he didn’t want to have. There’s a reason he’s been avoiding the Cat since Tav caught him in the act. Yet Tav has tracked him down, and his tone is too light to be angry or offended. He lifts his head but doesn’t look at Tav. He takes a swallow of the brandy he’d ordered. It has the typical burn and the terrible taste in spades. How lucky for him. Not like he hadn’t chosen it specifically for tormenting himself, though. He sets it down and side-eyes the drow that’s standing next to him now.

“You cannot honestly tell me you didn’t have that put together months ago, darling.”

“Well, yes.” Tav agrees, sitting on the stool at Astarion’s side and tapping the bar for service. “It just doesn’t seem like your thing.”

“Doesn’t seem like-” Astarion turns an incredulous, nearly offended look on the man. “I have been trying to seduce you from the beginning, my dear bard. How on Toril is that ‘not my thing’?”

“You stopped trying pretty quickly.”

“You weren’t interested.”

Tav makes a quiet noise but his brow furrows and his lips purse. He takes a sip of his drink. Astarion blinks. Had he read the situation wrong, months ago? He’s sure he didn’t.

Is it that the situation has changed now? Because that’s a very interesting idea. Not one he can indulge regardless, but oh, it’s very interesting.

“I’m surprised you didn’t interrupt,” Astarion says instead, yanking the conversation away from anything resembling talking about ‘them’, since he still has no name for whatever this bridge between them is. “Rescue me and my poor woebegotten honor.”

Tav’s lips stretch into an uncomfortable grimace. His tone is apologetic. “I thought that interrupting might cost you… er. Something. But I did figure that was what you did for work.”

Astarion huffs. “Of course you did.”

“Not a whole lot of options for someone out so late at night with timely engagements to make.”

“Exactly. I’m not ashamed of it, darling. It merely is what it is.”

“I know. I don’t begrudge you it. You do what you have to, to survive.”

“…thank you.”

“You are getting paid, right?”

In a putrid rat for every humanoid life sacrificed, yes, he thinks but does not say. Instead he tosses his head. “Darling, an unpaid prostitute is merely a slu*t. You had best not be implying that I’m an easy lay.”

Tav flushes, mortified. “No! O-of course not.”

“Good.” He smirks at Tav and knocks back his drink, meeting the drow’s eyes again when he sets the empty glass back on the bar. “Though I promise you, love, I could be convinced fairly easily if it’s the right person.”

Yes, Tav’s certainly blushing now. He nurses his own drink in silence. Astarion doesn’t push him; he’s used to his innuendos going by the wayside.

When Tav speaks again, it’s thoughtful.

“I was surprised, though.”

“Hm?”

“He was frankly below your standards.”

Astarion laughs. “My standards matter for little when it comes to work. It’s leisure where my preferences get a chance to shine.”

He winks at Tav, who smiles back. Astarion doesn’t know why he’s still bothering to flirt with the man. Partially because he can’t dare to mean it and partially because he has the sinking feeling that Tav’s already hooked like a dumb fool fish. Clearly there’s no need for further flirting, but he can’t stop himself from doing it every time. Perhaps it’s just the familiarity of it when he’s unsure of everything else about this strange developing thing they have. Whatever the case may be Tav always responds the same way: amusem*nt, and keeping Astarion at that same safe arm’s length he’s been at since that first night in the flophouse.

Tav’s refill arrives. He swallows it in two huge gulps and gestures for another. Classic liquid courage. Seems this conversation isn’t all that easy for him. It tracks, considering what Astarion thinks he knows about Tav’s history, but of all the bits and pieces of Tav’s backstory he’s collected, he hasn’t wanted to ask after that one. Not yet.

“Do you work for someone, or are you, um, self-employed?”

Self-employed. Gods, Tav is cute. Naïve. Still…

Darling, it’s rude to ask such a thing!”

“Ah. Sorry.”

Astarion clucks his tongue in disapproval. He lets the impression that he’s a (willing) sex worker hang in the air. It’s not true or false. The best kind of lies, he’s come to realize. Tav looks a little surprised, a little pained, a little sympathetic. Astarion dislikes the look of the last one.
They seem to have hit a sort of impasse of talk tonight. It’s a sensitive topic for both of them. Tav’s past and his everyday. Tav’s always exceedingly sweet and careful about it. Far better than Astarion ever is, for more than once he’s struck the nerve directly without meaning to. Tav always forgives, he’s a very understanding man, but that never makes Astarion feel any less insipid about the way Tav’s eyes widen with surprise or old noxious fear. Tav swirls his drink- a dark amber thing today- and frowns at the bar top. Astarion is mesmerized by the liquid’s curves and the refraction of light off its surfaces.

“Did you, uh, choose it because you like it, or..?”

“Nothing like that,” Astarion says. “I don’t get much enjoyment out of it, darling. It’s all on orders from-”

He stops himself, because to say Cazador’s name is to immediately earn his attention, and that’s the last thing Astarion wants.

“-someone else.” He finishes sharply, on edge now. How long has he been here, wasting time? Sitting here wishing alcohol did anything for him, wishing he could be drunk enough to forgo this conversation he’s been dreading, though of course trust Tav to walk up and completely throw out any of Astarion’s presumptions for how the conversation would go. He’d expected derision, in some way, shape, or form. Disdain. Disgust, perhaps. Instead he got acceptance and sympathetic understanding. Gods, when is Tav going to realize he’s too good for the likes of the pale elf he’s so fascinated by? Astarion doesn’t know how long it can possibly take. It can’t come quick enough for his sanity or slow enough for his greed.

“I’m sorry,” Tav says, hearing the bite in his tone.

He’s so tired of apologies.

“Most of us are, my dear.” Astarion snaps back, a little too harshly for the gentle look he’s getting, but the kindness in fact only pisses him off more. “That said, I do still have work to do tonight, Tav. It may be time to take my leave.”

He’s half out of his chair, turned to leave, when the drow says softly, “Would my coin suffice?”

Astarion’s limbs lock into place. He can’t move, can’t reply to that, can’t think. Can’t breathe.

But he can imagine it.

Tav, kneeling before Cazador. Tav, bruised and bloodied, disheveled. His own pale hand on one broad shoulder, trembling, but he’s helpless against a direct order to surrender his catch for the night. He thinks about asking Cazador to spare this one, please, please not this one, but that would only make it worse. It would make Cazador smile. Make Cazador happy, to see him in such pain. It would ensure he would be ordered to stand there, watching as Cazador yanks Tav’s head back, exposing the vulnerability of his soft gray throat to sharp fangs (please, don’t) that know only too well how best to cause agony. Cazador drinking the life from Tav’s body and the light from his eyes.

No.

No.

No.

Tav sounds soft and shy and embarrassed. “Not- not for- I just… I would like to spend more time with you, i-if I could, and I’d… I’d happily pay, if that would work for-”

Not for all the gold in Faerûn.

Astarion rounds on him, full of vicious fury, full of a fear he has no name for, full of ghastly nightmares of Cazador’s hands on the drow, full of loathing. “Don’t you ever f*cking say that.”

He can’t ever let Tav get into Cazador’s clutches.

The drow is positively aghast. “Not for sex -”

“Not for anything!” Astarion snarls. “I cannot and will not stay and nothing you can put up as collateral can change that!”

There’s something that fractures inside Tav’s dark eyes. Something that leaves the drow pained but silent.

“It’s not coin I do this for!” Astarion continues on, his voice a hiss now, because other people are starting to stare. “And what you would need to give me for me to accept is not something I could ever accept from you.”

It fractures further. Still Tav says nothing.

“Do not ever offer yourself like that again.”

Mute, Tav nods. Astarion can’t contain the rage, the horror, inside him much longer, and so he turns and rushes out.

He’s not gentle with the woman he finds. She doesn’t seem to mind. And even if she did, it doesn’t matter less than an hour after he pulls her into the red bedroom nearest Cazador’s study.

She’s gone. Like all the rest.

Like Tav would be.

Notes:

To be fair, I literally just forgot to add an angst tag (I'm really bad at tagging, you have no idea how long I sat staring when I first uploaded this fic with my brain gone totally empty) since angst was always going to be a thing. Chezaru reminded me of it, but then I realized what chapter was next. Since then I've been eagerly sitting on this one, haha. Staring at the tags like "angst gets added to you (2) days from now >:3". Helpful coincidences! Same with Beetron mentioning Tav figuring out Astarion's 'occupation'- that was going to be last chapter, actually, but I was compelled by the accurate guess to make a buffer chapter, and somehow it became 2k words I liked?? Writing is weird.
ANYWAY.
Sorry for this? >_>

Chapter 13: Instinctual

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It’s better this way, he lies to himself again and again. It’s safer. Stay away from Tav. Far away. As far as he can reasonably get even though he’s confined to the same city. He prowls entirely different sections of Baldur’s Gate. He can’t look at white hair or tall men. He has to resist the temptation. It’s better this way. He should have stayed away from Tav from the start. Obviously. He should have and he will. Tav will stay alive. Tav won’t offer up his life for gold. Of course Tav didn’t know what he was doing but Astarion does. It was a slap in the face. A harsh and sudden reminder that Tav is never more than a single wrong word or thought away from death at Astarion’s stained hands. Astarion’s known from the start that this thing he was allowing to happen- no, actively working toward- was dangerous for Tav. For him, too, but moreso for that gentle man. But he’d been greedy and kept going into the night with a purpose. With (dare he even think the word?) a hope.

Being without that takes nearly all of his rational thought away. He has only instincts left and they’re stay away and protect myself.

Protect myself is easy; he’s been doing it for a century and a half by now. He goes out into the night and he finds someone fool enough to follow him to spare himself the very physical reprimands that follow failure. He snaps at his siblings. He nearly bites Violet when she twists his ear one morning, complaining that he’s ‘distracted’ lately. Yes, protecting himself is easy. Simple. He does well at his supposed job. Well enough that one morning he sees Cazador eyeing him curiously. Curious Cazador is a dangerous form of Cazador. And as he approaches, dread twists Astarion’s stomach. But he knows his place. He stands still. Cazador presses a finger to the point of Astarion’s chin and tilts his head fangs sinking into an ashen gray throat back to look down at him.

“You’ve been so motivated of late, boy.”

The light fading from jewel-green eyes with Cazador’s every swallow. “Yes, master.”

The pale, claw-tipped finger slowly caresses a line down his neck. Cazador seems contemplative. “I’ve missed your sweet voice.”

Astarion shivers. There’s not time for him to rein in the reaction. Besides, Cazador wanted it; he smiles.

“Perhaps we’ll change that tonight. Your wilfullness never ceases to amuse me, boy. These periods you have of appeasem*nt are all the more precious when you break them.”

Protecting himself is easy. He’s out that night prowling on the docks. One of the sailors (not Tav, of course not Tav, thank the gods it’s not Tav, it can never be Tav) is hooked just as easily as his day’s catch. He’s reeled just as readily back to the palace with Astarion’s sweet lies of being a noble who wants to experience something real.

Protect myself is easy.

Stay away is nearly impossible with the string urgently tugging at his heart every night he slips out of the mansion. When he deliberately takes a wide berth around the tavern Tav lives at because if he doesn’t, his feet angle toward it automatically. He only needs to see if Tav’s still there, after all. Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he is.

Gods below, either option causes pain now. Yes, it would be so much better for Tav to have gone on. He’s shattered something inside the drow as it is. Maybe it was that tether Tav spoke of. Maybe it was something deeper.

Maybe he shouldn’t want to know.

He brings back a girl who fights and he gets whipped for the marks her nails left on Cazador’s face. He has no idea if it’s true or not. The evidence is long gone. But Cazador’s cruel amusem*nt stays, strong as it ever is, his pleased chuckles with every new lash the only thing Astarion can hear in the kennel besides the sluggish drip of his borrowed blood and the echoes of the screams Cazador craves so much.

Stay away is so hard.

When he winces the next day with each flex of his shoulders he can’t help but think of the drow. The dark lines slashed back and forth across the wide span of his upper back. Tav’s never mentioned where or why he got them. He hasn’t really needed to. Astarion can do math that basic without a hand to hold. Vicious drow women and Tav’s status as a lowly male. Getting whipped was probably the lightest punishment possible.

He remembers as well the healing gash in Tav’s arm, and suddenly he’s straining to keep to stay away with all his willpower.

Because he remembers the rest of it right afterward. Tav’s tension melting away on his approach. The warmth. The sound. The comfort.

He misses it terribly.

Not that one, he thinks the next night, already aware the damage has been done. Stay away, he thinks the night after that, standing at a fork in the street. One leads him to where he wants to go. One leads him to where he needs to go. Left, and he imagines he can hear the Cat’s sign creaking in the nonexistent breeze, calling him back. Right, and he doesn't have to scream himself hoarse tonight.

He goes left.

He goes left but he knows before he’s halfway down the street that he won’t find Tav in the tavern tonight. The string’s tug on his ribs is going in a different direction entirely. The moon’s shine indicates otherwise. The strains of music tell him that what he wants is far away. Far enough, perhaps, that he’ll never find the drow again. Astarion stops and reconsiders. He backtracks.

He goes right.

But his willpower cracked when he made the decision to turn left first.

Every ache of the phantom wounds across his shoulders as he rides his mark for that night demand comfort. His back itches unmercifully on the next night because his mark won’t stop touching him.

Comfort. He needs comfort. He craves it. He wants to be soothed by the presence of a man who doesn’t want a single damned thing from him in return. He wants to just be near that lovely man more than just about anything else. He wants it so desperately that the crack in his willpower grows bigger and sharper by the day. By the tenday. Grows deadly and dangerous.

And finally his willpower snaps entirely, and Astarion glides through the dark streets like a ghost, honing in desperately on the silver string’s pull, feeling it singing in delight in his chest as he finally gives in to what he truly wants.

Notes:

Another one that wasn't meant to get as long as it did but got away from me in the end. This was not supposed to be the next chapter, haha, but because it doesn't mesh well stylistically with the actual next chapter, I cut it short here. Probably will put up the next one in a couple days? I've been trying to keep to posting every five days (I have an obsession with multiples of five) but I'm sure everyone else also wants these two to make up already XD

Chapter 14: Respite

Notes:

Finally.
Also, there was a chapter uploaded two days ago- the fifteenth for me- if you missed it!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Three nights later, in a dingy old tavern he’s forgotten the name of, for the first time he can remember: Astarion apologizes and means it.

“I’m sorry, Tav.”

Tav’s regarding him warily. He’s a woodcarving, stiff and unblinking, and Astarion feels certain he’s shattered the equilibrium between them irreparably. It’s been more than a tenday. More than two, if he had to guess, though the days blurred together when he stopped thinking about anything but dragging home victims. He feels more fed than he has in a long time, his belly fuller and his senses sharper than they have been in ages, but it didn’t fill the gnawing emptiness growing in him day by day. The loneliness he tries to ignore, rearing its familiar ugly head, greeting him like an old friend. It’s one of those things- like the sanguine hunger- that he can never outrun. Through it all, through each long day, he found he missed his drow. It’s good to stay away, so much safer, but hells, it hurts. He can’t even remember if he caught sight of the man during the week, though if he did, he doesn’t think Tav called out to him or came to him. It was a fair reaction. It was what he deserved. He’s had plenty of time to think about what he’d snarled and how it must have sounded. How Tav must have taken it. Tav’s cold shoulder is perfectly justified.

But he can’t stand it.

He’d stared at Tav tonight for several minutes and the man hadn’t so much as twitched. Deliberately ignoring him. Astarion hadn’t been ready for how badly it hurt. His heart’s been dead for so long that it has absolutely no right getting shredded in his chest just because a single man won’t look his way.

But he’s never wanted anyone to look at him the way he needs Tav to see him.

He finally swallowed his considerable pride and approached outright. Tav had given him a sideways glance and resolutely stared forward again. That was when the apology came, borne up his throat from somewhere gut-wrenchingly deep and honest, and finally he has Tav’s attention.

“I’m sorry,” he says again, quieter, feeling like it’s a drop in a bucket bigger than he can fathom.

“Can you tell me why?” Tav shoots back, instantly, but just as quietly.

Astarion blinks at him. Why he’s apologizing? For the outburst from last time, of course. It should be obvious, which is what tells him that Tav’s digging deeper. Almost obediently his chest cracks apart for Tav’s question to pry open and drag the right answer to the light for Astarion to see. The answer for the questions Tav hasn’t spoken aloud, the several he condensed into the single, but that he needs the answers to more.

Why can’t you stay with me? Why don’t you want me? Why am I not good enough?

“It’s not like that,” Astarion gasps out. “Hells, darling, it’s not like that at all.”

Tav’s cold façade is breaking apart, thawing into pieces like a sheet of ice, and the uncertainty glimmers beneath it. How could it be anything but ‘like that’, with all that Astarion snapped at him? Those harsh words about how he could never accept anything from Tav. Astarion nearly curses aloud. He would love nothing more. He wishes he could only explain the entirety of the circ*mstances they find themselves in.

If I accept, you die, love, and I can’t lose you.

Love. Astarion can’t recall now when that pet name was added into the roster but neither he nor Tav have ever mentioned it. Safer not to. Safer to pretend it’s only a name. It needn’t go deeper than being like any of the other endearments he so flippantly tosses out.

It can’t go deeper than that, though he fears it already has, and long ago at that.

“It’s… complicated,” is the best Astarion can get out after a few internal rehearsals, and he cringes to hear it aloud. It’s a woefully inadequate explanation but it’s about the best he can do with the multiple strangleholds Cazador’s rules and compulsions keep him under.

“I see,” Tav murmurs. The ice has grown back together and his tone is suitably frosty. Then jewel-green eyes meet Astarion’s square on and Astarion stops breathing. He’s never seen the drow so serious. Tav’s voice sinks even lower, a deep tone of demand, and he says, “You can’t tell me or you won’t?”

Relief pours down Astarion’s tight throat like the sweetest wine. A wine worth hundreds, bought by the sweetest idiot he’s ever met. He could cry for how much weight the simple introduction of an option in replying takes off his shoulders.

“Can’t,” he admits, and even that’s a struggle.

Tav frowns for a second, but not in anger. It's almost thoughtful. Astarion must’ve answered that question correctly, and though he isn’t sure precisely what the stakes were, they felt monumental. Tav sighs through his nose. He stares down at his drink in silence for a moment that feels like a year then… slides the glass toward Astarion.

“You’re paying this time. For putting me through all that.”

Astarion laughs weakly. He knocks back Tav’s drink and sits next to the drow, leaning into the man’s warmth, and he’s so intensely relieved. Judging by the way that taut shoulder relaxes under his weight, he knows bone-deep that Tav feels the same way.

“That’s fine,” he says. “I want to say it’s my turn, after all.”

Tav laughs- the scales are incredibly unbalanced between their coinpurses and they both know it- and Astarion’s whole body goes loose and light at the sound.

He’s missed this.

He’s missed how much better he feels here. The yawning void inside his chest has gone. Tav’s there instead. Tav’s there, his every touch light, his smiles soft, his scent surrounding them, his heartbeat alluring to Astarion’s ears. His laugh is as intoxicating as the wine supposedly is.

It’s probably not supposed to be this easy- to regain a man’s trust, to be back in his good graces, to be forgiven- but Astarion thinks that perhaps Tav is just as hopeless as he is at this point. Tav is just as wrapped up in this strange messy thing they share. Just as tangled, ensnared, with no escape in sight… and no desire to escape regardless.

He’s missed Tav. Tav’s missed him.

And clearly neither of them are going anywhere.

They spend the night together, into the early hours of dawn, unwilling to part. What finally convinces Astarion to give up the comfort of Tav’s presence is the fact that the drow’s practically falling asleep sitting up. Astarion does pay- he’d promised- and then they’re headed out the door into the encroaching dawn. There’s faint birdsong drifting on the breeze. Houses and inns have lights on as their occupants ready themselves for the day. Tav is trying not to lean his considerable weight against Astarion’s side but every time he guiltily makes to pull away Astarion tightens the arm that he has- with no sure memory of when he did it- wrapped around Tav’s waist and dragged the man close again. They’re going to part soon. He knows that. Until that moment, though, he’s going to enjoy every second. He’s going to enjoy every sound of the drow’s continued evidence of living and soak up every last bit of heat.

“I didn’t sleep well, when you were- when we- after the last time we… met,” Tav explains, unprompted, after another sleepy reshuffling. He looks down at Astarion. His eyes are shining with sincerity and the something Astarion cracked before with harsh words is, it seems, mended, because he sees that unidentifiable emotion in jeweled irises once more. “I missed you.”

I missed you too almost- almost- comes out of his mouth. Instead he murmurs, “I know, love.”

“And I felt horrible for upsetting you-”

Astarion’s not sure where the urge comes from but he’s following through before he can ponder it. He reaches up, pulls Tav’s head close, and presses his forehead to the drow’s, staring deep and fierce into wide eyes.

“It wasn’t your fault.” He says firmly. “I reacted badly when you-” He chokes on the words ‘nearly offered yourself blithely up to slaughter’ because the rule of not revealing his true nature or plans- Cazador’s nature, Cazador’s plans- cuts the words off at the root. He scowls at his own inability, takes a deep breath, and lamely finishes, “…when you said what you did. It was my mistake. You couldn’t have known.”

Tav looks uncertain- and perhaps a little dazed by their closeness- but he doesn’t argue, and Astarion lets the drow go, pulling him away with a decidedly ungentle tug to soft rosy hair that… makes Tav bite his lip? Interesting. He files that little note of intrigue away for later.

“Now stop blaming yourself,” Astarion huffs sharply. He crosses his arms and looks away. “If I have to apologize one more time I’m going to be sick.”

“Can’t have that,” Tav agrees, a hint of the warm smile Astarion prefers creeping back into his voice at long last.

“It would be terrible for my reputation,” he sniffs.

Tav laughs. Astarion can’t help but steal a glance at the man’s face. It’s potentially his very favorite of Tav’s many- fake or real- expressions. When the drow’s smiling down at him again he can’t resist the need to reach up and smooth a lock of white hair behind the point of Tav’s shadowy ear. He brushes over it in the process- a buried and bruised part of him can admit to a latent curiosity about any sort of shared racial traits- and the heat in Tav’s eyes abruptly turns into fire instead of warmth. There’s a sudden spike of spice in the air that’s impossible for a vampire’s nose to miss.

So a drow’s ears were just as sensitive as any surface elf’s. Good to know.

“Let’s get you home.”

Tav’s quick to bury whatever feeling that brought welling up inside him, Astarion can tell, but he seems much more awake as they finish the trek to the Dancing Cat.

“Go on then,” Astarion hums. He’ll stay outside. No need to delay the upcoming torture Godey’s no doubt got planned for him when he goes back empty-handed (but all the happier for it) for the first time in many days. Cazador will be thrilled to see his willfulness is back. The streak of appeasem*nt is over. Astarion’s firmly chosen to do something he wants, and that’s never going to end well for him. The thought should cause him more dread than it does. For now, at least. He’ll regret it when he slips back into the palace but for now? For now he feels at peace. Whole again. “Sweet dreams, darling.”

The last look Tav gives him as he slips through the door of the tavern is one of sweetest relief.

Astarion can relate only too well.

Notes:

Look, they're kinda hopeless, what can I say? And hey, Astarion finally passes an Insight check, lookit him go! What's really funny is how many Tav's passed so far... ;)

Chapter 15: Concessions

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Even if that something in Tav’s eyes is back again and no worse for the wear, there’s a definite- if different- something that has broken between them, Astarion realizes the next time he and Tav are strolling a moonlit park. It seems in return for finally admitting some part of himself- regardless, apparently, for how rudely and sharply he’d done it- Tav’s let down a wall Astarion wasn’t even aware was up. He’s still soft, still gentle and kind, still out of place in the city, but there’s a curious steady darkness in him now. A seriousness he didn’t have before. It feels natural. It doesn’t feel like a front or a mask or a lie. It feels like Astarion’s seeing under all of those. Seeing over the crumbled remains of the wall. This is another part of Tav: serious, driven, and above all calm. It seems very drow to Astarion, like it was a part of him Tav had kept hidden until he was more sure Astarion could handle it and didn’t mind it. It reminded him mostly of that single dark, deeply searching look, the one that had precluded the very important ‘can’t or won’t?’ choice given to him. It doesn’t help that Tav keeps staring at him like he’s trying to read Astarion’s mind.

Just when Astarion is starting to wonder if he’s messed up, earning himself this serious man instead of his shy gentle one, he sees Tav flush pink when their hands brush.

Not quite so different, in the end.

More drow, perhaps, than he was before, but still his drow.

Astarion’s relieved to find, as their walk wears on into the night, that it still only takes a touch to make his drow blush. A simple touch, a particular kind of smirk, a deliberately coy look. Tav may have unlocked this serious self but he is still (reassuringly) sweet beyond measure.

Astarion doesn’t quite know what to make of the shift, but he was certain of one thing about it.

A truth for a truth.

He’d finally been forced to tell the truth and now he’s seeing a true self Tav kept veneered. When he mentioned the hypothesis- a little accusingly- Tav had only smiled.

“Something like that,” he’d murmured. “It’s more that… you came back. We were both a little… harsh, but-”

Harsh, Astarion thinks with amused disbelief. He’d shouted that lie that Tav wasn’t something he wanted right into Tav’s shocked face and Tav’s response, more than two tendays later, had been two cold snapped questions. Harsh! He’s not certain even this Tav is capable of harsh.

“-you’d still be fine with me.” Tav finishes. “I thought maybe all of me. Turns out you don’t need me to be someone I’m not… quite pretending to be.”

“No, you’re still wretchedly sweet.”

Tav smirks. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Oh darling please,” Astarion groans. “If you want compliments I’ll gladly provide far better ones. All night, if you’d like. I could spend half of it on your body alone.”

“I would prefer you didn’t, but… I can’t say I’d mind, either. Would be an improvement over the last time.”

Astarion pauses in the middle of the path, frowning. Guilt is still an uncomfortable emotion, newly recovered from its place of disuse, but he feels it keenly only around the drow, like Tav’s the one who took it off its high shelf and carefully wiped away the dust and is still holding onto it for him. It’s uncomfortable, but Astarion can’t say he truly hates these little reminders of a humanity he thought lost. He’s been so numb for decades. For those reasons he refuses to think of, Tav’s bringing all of it back to him, piece by piece. And he’s grateful, if a little acerbic about it. It makes no sense to him, still, and that makes him uneasy. Unsure. Astarion had hurt Tav, hurt him terribly, but he’s received a reward of honesty instead of the anger or abandonment he more truly deserved.

He lifts his chin. Tav’s watching him in a curious silence. With an air of expectation.

“I was very rude to you.” Astarion hears himself say, and he’s almost surprised by what’s very nearly yet another apology.

“You were honest,” Tav corrects instantly. His expression is calm and his gaze earnest. “Even if you didn’t intend to or want to be.”

He can’t help but be offended. “I did want to be.”

It catches him off-guard. Another truth, taken easily from his lips, this one not choked by compulsion. He tests it with another and it comes as easily as the first. “I do want to be.”

Tav’s looking at him, one eyebrow curiously co*cked, and a slow smile curls his lips.

“That’s even better then.”

“What? Why?”

The stare. It’s too serious for the drow he knew. It looks past his eyes and reaches down deep.

“I want to know you,” Tav says quietly. “I wouldn’t still be coming with you, hoping to see you, or trying to find you, if I didn’t. I want to know the truth of you. No matter what it looks like.”

Astarion should say something, he knows. Laugh the words off. Deny them, because he knows what’s at the core of him, and it isn’t anything anyone would want. Brush the sentiment away with a sly, “Why darling, that almost sounds like a confession of love!”

But it… does sound like a confession of love, and it’s left him distinctly breathless. Delivered from an unsmiling mouth- wrong wrong wrong- and those serious eyes it leaves Astarion extremely off-kilter yet yearning for more. Gods, he wants Tav to see him. To see every part and still, somehow, find those wretched pieces amenable. Acceptable.

Loveable.

How utterly ridiculous.

They’ve reached one of the paved little squares. A fountain occupies the center of this one, burbling quietly, and naturally Astarion sits on the bench near it instead of the rim of it. Tav perches on the edge of the fountain instead, regarding Astarion’s foul glare at the water with amusem*nt and some amount of curiosity. But no anger or prompting. There’s been silence since Tav last spoke. It wasn’t precisely a tense one, but Astarion knows he has to say something to that little confession. He sighs as he runs his eyes over the drow’s tall frame.

“It’s hard for me to talk about myself, darling. For… several reasons.”

“I’ve gathered.”

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed you haven’t tried to ask, either. Which… I have to thank you for that.” Tav doesn’t reply, which Astarion is grateful for, because he’d rather move on from gratuity as quickly as possible and pretend he didn’t say it. “Which makes it all the worse that when you did ask, I very nearly bit your head off.”

“I wasn’t expecting it, true.”

“I-”

“Much as you’ve enjoyed yourself at the expense of my purse strings, I didn’t think it was an altogether ridiculous idea, to offer coin for an extension of our time together.”

On the tin, it wouldn’t be. Probably most any whor* would leap at the chance to spend a night with their legs closed in the company of someone who was genuinely interested in them.

But Astarion was not most whor*s.

“Entirely different situations, my dear.”

Tav shrugs. Calm. At ease. Unbothered. “If you say so. I won’t pry.”

Astarion’s brain pauses again. He’s staring at the wood grain of the bench. They’re simple words Tav says. But the meaning is more. It’s a promise spoken without the specific term. No expectation of something- anything- from him. Tav’s continued respect of these invisible boundaries Astarion can’t- isn’t allowed to- explain. Tav’s acceptance. Tav’s hesitant understanding, hovering just outside Astarion’s barriers and walls and defenses, just waiting for Astarion himself to reach out to take that waiting understanding by the hand and let Tav fully in. The way Tav never really reaches for him, but if he does, it’s slow, patient, letting Astarion decide if it’s too much or not enough, seemingly never realizing how it can never be enough for a man as greedy as Astarion finds himself to be.

He stands up. Approaches. Tav watches him come closer with soft eyes. He slips off the edge of the fountain. Astarion stops in front of the drow. He can’t quite meet that gentle stare. Tav’s a whole head taller and his scent is heavy in the air between them, stronger than the flowers and grasses. This conversation is hard, figuring out the right words is hard, feelings are hard, but that spice-and-rose scent is somehow so grounding that he can forget the rest of it all for a moment in time. Astarion stares determinedly at the center of Tav’s broad chest.

“…that’s a gift you’re giving me, you know.”

“Hm?”

“Your discretion. I won’t forget it.” Not even after you’re long gone and my nights feel empty all over again.

“I hope you don’t,” Tav says, and his voice is a little too raw. Real. He doesn’t want to be forgotten and gods, Astarion could never. Not now. Not after months of the first measure of peace he’s found in decades of unending slavery.

Tav leans in and again Astarion notices the minute pause. The hesitation. The wait for Astarion to move away if he wants to. If he wants to back away from this simple touch. Tav won’t be offended if he does.

But he doesn’t.

He doesn’t want to.

If anything he leans desperately forward, closing the gap, rising up a bit onto his toes to press his forehead to Tav’s. An echo of the other night. Of a closeness growing between them that shouldn't be. His eyes finally meet and bore into Tav’s but the drow easily meets that intense stare head on.

“I can’t,” he whispers. “I can’t forget you.”

Too close, too close, not close enough, never close enough. It can never be enough.

He’s too greedy for there to be an ‘enough’.

“Good,” Tav murmurs back, relieved and sorrowful all at once.

For the first time, Astarion experiences the deep needful urge to kiss him. It’s similar to the one from before, from months ago, but it doesn’t flit through his thoughts this time. It comes in and roots itself firmly. He could. He knows he could. It would be easy. How many of the marks has he kissed because it didn’t matter, because it was a pointless gesture of false affection, because they were going to be dead soon? More than he can count, certainly. More than he could even recall for sure. Shadowy faces long forgotten. Sweet words long erased. Names long ago discarded. The thought of that parade of previous partners has him pulling away. The urge is there- will always be there now- but it’s been overshadowed by his past and all the evils contained in it. If he kisses Tav, won’t he also be kissing all of those specters of his past? If he kisses Tav, every future one will be compared, and he knows- even without having given into the urge- that they would all fall short.

“I don’t know how to do this,” he admits, staring at Tav’s lips, cautiously flicking a glance up to dark eyes already staring back. “Taking it slow isn’t exactly in my repertoire.”

It doesn’t have to be love for them to be ‘together’ or an item. Interest is a wholly separate thing and that’s all this is. Interest. Interest in Tav and how he works, interest in what Tav offers by virtue of existing and expressing that same curiosity toward him that he has toward Tav. It’s just interest.

“Taking it slow?” Tav echoes. He smirks and leans back against the edge of the fountain. He seems pleasantly at ease even despite how close they’d briefly gotten. No sweet flushes to be found on his cheeks now.

“What’s funny, darling?”

“I feel like time is the one thing we do have on our side. Not tonight, of course, because I’ve already had you to myself for- well. We’ll call it long enough, anyway. But I’m sure we can ‘take it slow’, as you say. We’re elves. You have a very long time to figure this out. And I’m patient.”

He thinks, again, about how Tav should leave. But Tav’s right. About all of it, which is a strange feeling. And, in one way, a disappointing one, because now he has to leave, and he doesn’t want to. Not after finally returning to his drow’s side again. Astarion takes a step back, but almost without conscious thought he’s taken three forward, and he splays one pale hand open on Tav’s powerful chest. He doesn’t say anything- what could he say?- and neither does Tav. Tav merely breathes, soft and calm and reassuring beyond measure, and finally Astarion feels that last bit of tension fade. It’ll be back, of course, probably sooner than later, but for now he’s at ease.

He looks up into Tav’s eyes. “Soon.”

Tav smiles. “Soon. I’ll hold you to that.”

Astarion trails his hand down, fingers lifting just before they skim the waistband of Tav’s pants, and, those dark eyes on him all the while, he silently fades into the quiet of midnight.

Notes:

I don't think I've mentioned recently how much I love all of you repeat commenters and readers who keep coming back, but oh my god, I LOVE y'all. You're excellent and I'm so happy you're here. I'm glad you like my big soft idiot son; he's become rather important to me! His (future) boyfriend, too.

Speaking of, have you seen them lately? Now you have! (Yes Halsin's here too. Of course he is.)

Chapter 16: In the thick of it

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The next time he encounters the drow, the next time the silver string pulls him through the city instead of to the Dancing Cat, it’s when the poor bastard is in the middle of a rather nasty bar fight. It seems to be all of them against him, and yet he’s not losing. Certainly not winning, either, but definitely not suffering as catastrophically as his opponents. Astarion had been right about his ability to defend himself. His siblings- Petras and Leon, today, and he’d told himself ‘only a glimpse of Tav’ because they were with him- excuse themselves the moment they notice the tavern is a bit too rowdy tonight. Astarion lingers. Leon snaps at him to come along, there’s nothing for them there, but Astarion merely chuckles.

“Perhaps I can lick a few wounds, hmm?”

Leon gives him a look. “Play stupid games-” he warns, but Astarion cuts him off.

“-and play them cleverly, and you’ll come out on top. Don’t worry your lovely head over me, darling. I know what I’m doing.”

Petras seems suddenly curious, like he thinks it’s a good idea to ‘lick their wounds’, that simmering bloodlust he carries coming to the surface, but Leon is older and firmer, and Leon drags the blond away. Astarion he doesn’t bother trying to convince further. Astarion does what he wants and reaps the punishments. Leon will have no part of that. He shoots an annoyed, “Don’t get yourself in trouble again!” over his shoulder, though, for what it’s worth.

As soon as the two are out of sight and earshot, Astarion weaves his way into the fight. Someone’s bleeding. He can smell it. It makes his stomach rumble. He hopes it’s not Tav. He ponders unsheathing his daggers but he’d rather not add to the scent hanging in the air. It’s a rough, uncoordinated thing, this, and Astarion’s at the mountain of a drow’s side in no time flat.

It’s not Tav who’s bleeding. Small mercies. Tav has a black eye and split lip that seems to have somehow already healed a bit. Bards have some magic, Astarion remembers suddenly. Likely the drow had healed his own hurts like he’d healed the girl months ago. Oh, that must be galling his attackers even more. Hard enough to take down on his own, five or more on one, and he’s casually been healing his most grievous hurts? It must be vexing.

“I must say, my dear, there are easier ways to get attention if you crave it so badly,” he comments blithely when he finally gets to Tav’s side. The drow blinks down at him in honest surprise. It gets him hit- a solid punch to what looked like his hip- but he’s shaking that off with a grunt only a second later. “You needed only to ask me, darling.”

“Good evening,” Tav says in surprised greeting. “Apologies for meeting you like this.”

“Oh, were you waiting for me?”

“I’m always hoping to see you.”

Astarion chuckles. It’s nice to be wanted. The drow is very cute, bruising included. Astarion lashes out and drops one of the bigger brutes with one very carefully aimed hit below the belt. He’ll feel that for a while.

“While the welcome is… appreciated, I feel these fellows are better off left here and us taking our business elsewhere.”

Tav dodges back from a wild swing up at his chin. “I wouldn’t argue that.”

The drow connects a hard right into one of the drunk’s faces, sending him sprawling into another, and Astarion sees the window for what it is. He takes Tav’s hand and they flee.

He lets go, eventually, because he’s aware of how nice Tav’s fingers feel in his. He lets go and he covers it as a theft, snagging a forgotten bottle from an outdoor table at one of the inns, and grins over his shoulder at Tav with his prize in hand. Tav’s expression is caught somewhere between amusem*nt and exasperation and it makes Astarion’s stomach warm. It’s a very cute expression.

They head out, out into the night, and at some point he falls back enough to let Tav lead. He’s likely the better equipped of the two of them to navigate the city proper, but unlike him Tav seems to be ambling with an actual destination in mind, and Astarion’s content to follow. They take turns sipping from the bottle. It’s a little stronger than he expected but it still tastes horrid. His sips are much smaller than Tav’s. Despite it Tav’s course is straight and his stride true. Somewhere along the way they lose the emptied bottle. When Tav finally stops it’s in an open expanse of tall grass just outside the Basilisk Gate. He sighs as he plops down. Astarion folds his legs and sinks gracefully to sit at the drow’s side.

They haven’t talked in a while so it almost shatters the calm aura hanging over them when Tav says, “Sorry about all that.”

“No harm done,” Astarion replies easily. “Though I see now where you get all your little injuries.”

Tav suddenly sits up straight. His eyes are dark and radiating… concern, perhaps? Tav reaches over and, without asking, takes his hand in gentle fingers… and pauses. He frowns a little, tilting Astarion’s hand back and forth in the moonlight, but his knuckles remain uninjured at every angle.

“I could’ve sworn…” Tav shrugs and releases Astarion’s hand. “All the better if you weren’t hurt.”

Astarion can’t mention his vampiric regeneration had his superficial little wounds sealed in mere minutes. He instead offers a flirtatious smirk. “You could’ve just asked to hold my hand, sweetling.”

Tav rolls his eyes but he’s smiling. “I only wanted to repair any damage I did.”

You did?”

“You wouldn’t have joined the fight if not for my sake.”

“Perhaps I just enjoy a small scrap on occasion.”

“I doubt that very much.”

“Hm! And why do you say that?”

“Something about the perfectly coiffed hair and unwrinkled clothes gives it away.”

“Well!” Astarion huffs, not at all angry. “I have to say I don’t mind a fight. There’s something graceful to a proper match. The- shall we call it- give and take of one side versus another. It can be quite… hm, satisfying. What you had on your hands was a brawl, my dear, and those are only about brute strength and size. It’s really no wonder you were winning. Now, if you’ll do me one little favor, love?”

Tav lifts his eyebrows, a silent acknowledgement, and Astarion reaches over to cup his chin. Tav goes still. Somehow impossibly stiller once Astarion’s thumb sweeps over the scabbed cut on his lip.

“I’m more worried about you, dearest. Take care of this for me, would you? Along with anything else I can’t see.”

He doesn’t remove his hand. Tav’s staring down at him in shocked silence but after a moment he closes his eyes and hums a few bars of a song Astarion doesn’t know. Astarion can feel the soft vibration. He expects the glow that comes; he doesn’t expect it to be lavender, lilac, not the silver of before, or for it to be cool where the silver was warm. When Tav opens his eyes (both unbruised now) once more, settling them comfortably on Astarion’s face, Astarion swipes the tip of his thumb over Tav’s plush pale lip, whole again, and smiles slightly to see the cut gone. Tav doesn’t immediately make to pull away but Astarion does after a heartbeat of hesitance.

“What was your crime, incidentally?”

“I told you, my crime seems to be existing. Or being up here on the surface, anyway. Not a lot of people take kindly to it. So far you’re the only one who hasn’t, at some point, tried to attack me, suspect me of skullduggery, or verbally degrade me.”

“I can still do any of those things, if they’re your thing.”

“They aren’t.”

Astarion chuckles. Fair enough. “You’re keeping your coinpurse fat despite the opposition,” he points out.

There’s a wry smile on Tav’s face. “There’s a difference between me performing and me just trying to live my life. Performance is… an extension of me, I guess you could say, but… obviously the most likable part.”

“I doubt that,” Astarion breathes. “Every bit of you is as desirable as the last. I’m sure there isn’t a single part of you that isn’t delicious, or that someone covets.”

“I think I’d prefer to be admired than ogled.”

“Well, forgive me for doing both, darling.”

Tav laughs. “You’re forgiven. But no else is.”

“I’m only concerned about myself anyway,” Astarion says with a flippant shrug. “And I’d prefer if no one was looking at you but me.”

“So would I, isilme.”

He’s not expecting the soft tone or the gentle expression or the very drow word tacked onto the end. Astarion narrows his eyes at the man, whose cheeks have suddenly started to burn that adorable dusky pink.

“Excuse me?”

“Well I have to call you something,” Tav says, nervous and quick. He settles down a bit when he notices Astarion’s look is more contemplative than angry and continues, “You’ve yet to give me a name. So I gave you one myself.”

“And what, pray tell, does it mean? Or is it too scandalous to say in good company?”

Tav reaches over and one of those exceedingly gentle gray hands fondles the particular lock of hair that curls over Astarion’s ear. Shifts it back over the curve of cartilage, brushing his fingers over skin the same way Astarion had their last meeting, and Astarion fights back the shiver.

Isilme . Drow for ‘moonlight’. I only ever see you at night, despite how hard I look all day, and your coloring… well. You’re a vision in moonlight. Breathtaking. Cold and pale and lovely. I’m yet uncertain you’re not potentially a child of Selûne herself.”

Astarion can’t breathe. “You’re drunk.”

Tav smiles slightly. It’s a bit crooked and somehow all the more genuine for it. “Only a little. Frustratingly sober, really.”

“Had I known you wanted to get drunk I’d have stolen more than one bottle of wine from the place we passed on our mad dash out of the city.”

“Oh, the one was enough. You’ll be leaving soon.”

“Is that so?”

“Mm-hmm. You always do. A little earlier than normal for all the running we did.”

The drow sounds achingly sad about that. Astarion hates that he’s right. He shifts closer instead, and Tav looks at him with a faint hope. Astarion doesn’t get too much closer. He wants to- gods, he wants to- but he is cold and Tav’s wearing perilously, distractingly little as it is. No sleeves on that shirt. His arms are delicious to look at. Corded sinews and powerful muscles. The whole of him is a temptation and a treat that Astarion can’t indulge in.

…not for long, anyway.

“Perhaps I can stay a little longer,” he whispers. It’s true enough. His marks for the night are already found. Tav left them bruised and bloodied but drunk at the tavern. Astarion has had their murder in mind ever since seeing them.

“I’m glad.”

And Tav means it. Astarion can all but feel his sincerity. It’s an incredibly dangerous game he’s playing, one he’s bound to lose eventually, but oh he’s greedy. He wants every moment he can get in the drow’s company. Astarion knows he has to go. He’s getting too close. Too comfortable. It would be so easy to reach over and pull Tav’s face toward him, so easy to press their lips together, so simple a thing to just kiss the man next to him until they’re gasping and their hands are clawing at each other’s pants.

He wants it.

He doesn’t.

He does, but he’s more scared of what would happen if he indulges. If he gets too far into it and instinct (or Cazador) takes over and he leads Tav back to the mansion. Tav sighs softly next to him. Astarion allows himself one small thing, and it’s to carefully lay his hand atop Tav’s in the grass. Tav stills, for a second, and then he turns a blindingly bright smile on Astarion. Astarion pretends not to see it. He pretends his dead heart doesn’t lurch. If he pretends to be unaffected hard enough, maybe he won’t start to believe in this little lie they’re building up between them, brick by cautious brick.

They sit in the humming silence of the night for several minutes more. Tav watches the heavens, the stars twinkling, some of them falling as they watch. Astarion does too, or he is if anyone were to ask, but truth be told his attention is entirely on the drow. Tav’s hand is still warm under Astarion’s. One minute adjustment has their fingers slotting together. Tav squeezes. Astarion’s heart once again definitely does not lurch. How long can he pretend? How long can he hold back? The answer, he realizes, is not much longer. Time, and restraint, are not on his side. He can feel Tav’s pulse between his fingers. Each tick-tock thump- each rush of blood that courses through Tav’s body- he feels, and it’s like a siren song specifically targeting a starving vampire spawn. And how much longer, truly, can he resist it? The rules prevent him from indulging, from imbibing, but the temptation may lead him to ruin on its own.

Better not to find out.

Astarion takes his hand back. He stands. Even as he does he can see Tav’s shoulders slump. It makes him feel terrible. Guilty. Just as disappointed as Tav seems to be. He looks away from the forlorn silence at his side. Looks up.

“Why am I here?” He asks the night and its stars. He glances down at Tav. “Why are you here?”

Tav smiles, same as ever. “Because I want to be. Is it not the same for you?”

“I think… maybe it is.” Astarion says hesitantly. “Maybe that’s exactly why.”

There’s no way to convey why that’s a problem. There’s no part of him that wants to admit it is a problem. He shakes his head and turns pointedly toward the city. He starts walking without saying goodbye. He doesn’t want to say goodbye. Apparently neither does Tav, because that’s not what he says to Astarion’s retreating figure.

“Safe travels back, isilme.”

Astarion glances back at the drow- just as gorgeous in the moonlight as he claims Astarion is- but can’t bring himself to smile. Tav does it for him. He turns away at the sight, his skin prickling with a blush he doesn’t have enough blood in his body to properly form, and feels an absolute fool when he says into the dark, “Goodnight, love.”

He can feel those green-dark eyes on his back as he walks away.

Once he reaches the Lower City his body naturally sinks into a hunting crouch.

It’s easy to track the ruffians. The scent of their blood has been lingering on the back of his tongue for half the night. He finds them still carousing, but outside a different bar this time, drunker than ever and shouting with laughter. Astarion plies his way into the middle of them with charm and guile- the excessive drinking means they do not seem to remember the pale elf at the side of the drow earlier- and none of them expect his blades when they come free. He has to call on Cazador for help, which he despises doing, but he simply isn’t going to be able to drag three knocked out grown men back to the palace alone. Cazador is… confused, but pleased, by the excess. He sends Leon and Petras, who have apparently been unsuccessful, so Astarion gets to leer at them with pride when they return empty-handed to their sibling.

“I told you soothing their hurts would be beneficial.”

Petras looks skeptical, and he sniffs the air around Astarion pointedly. Astarion bares his fangs.

“I didn’t drink them, you fool,” he snaps. “I follow the rules. You were the one who seemed tempted earlier.”

Cazador’s ire is raised, both by the notion they’d disobey and by them fighting again, and Petras winces as the iron grip of Cazador’s will tightens around him. Astarion lets his rigid muscles become Cazador’s to control. Leon sighs as his brothers go about collecting their respective burdens, no longer captaining their own selves. He takes his own dead man snoring and leads the way back.

Notes:

I've actually been wanting to get this chapter out for a while. It's kinda important! But then I kept shuffling events around and it ended up here. Also I've been using an online drow dictionary that may or may not be accurate but uh, too late at this point, because I've been using a couple of the words for waaaay too long to change them now. Hope nobody minds!

Anyway, as always, I hope you enjoy and I'm so happy y'all are here! The comments legitimately give me life, I love them and every one of you readers SO much!!

Chapter 17: Ruminations

Notes:

Warning for very mild descriptions of torture/gore!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Moonlight.

It’s a simple term. An obvious one. He’s pale and pretty and best visible at night.

Yet he’s never felt so content to exist within a name before. His own is fine, of course, but in the absence of it he finds himself growing well used to being called Moonlight.

Isilme.

Tav cradles the syllables like they’re a precious thing. In a way that’s both appreciative and respectful. A way that makes Astarion feel… oddly warm. Tav has a particular way of stressing the ‘s’ that Astarion’s never quite heard, despite all the poor unfortunate souls he’s spoken to over the decades, and he has to conclude it’s a drow thing. Makes sense, since the word comes from Tav’s own language. He finds it a little odd that drow even have a word for moonlight, all things considered, but Tav later answers that with a laugh.

“Eilistraeens have added or changed several words of our language to reflect their surface-dwelling lives. Moonlight used to be something of a curse to be spat out- its light can hurt us, after all- but they reshaped it to mean something more suited to its beauty.”

Isilme.

He tries to make the sound with his own lips and doesn’t quite manage it. He needs to stress that ‘s’ a little more. He’d like to hear Tav say it a dozen more times. Endlessly, perhaps. It’s so lovely when Tav says it. Astarion needs more practice with the unfamiliar word, which, well, considering he’s likely got at least another day in the kennel and potentially two to three before the skin painstakingly peeled off his left arm grows back… he has the time to practice it.

He shifts up onto his knees. The threadbare mattress on the floor does little to alleviate the cold and unrelenting ache on his backside, but of course, that's not what it’s for. The manacles dig in when he moves and he bites back the pained gasp as the left one digs into raw muscle. Cazador’s particular favorite ‘casual’ torment is flaying. He enjoys taking his time with the knife. Enjoys every second he can wrest from the act. Every last sweet scream he can coax from Astarion’s dry cracked lips. He’d been particularly thorough with this round: he’d been irritated at Astarion’s failure after days of success. He often was, but usually left the punishment up to Godey. But if Cazador ever made a personal appearance in the kennel, it was always to take Astarion away, his vivid red gaze never so much as glancing at any of his other spawn as they cringed away from his presence. He takes Astarion to that dim octagonal room that has racks of macabre tools on seven of its eight small walls. That room is special; that room is Cazador’s, and Astarion’s, and he can never scent any of the other spawns’ blood in that room.

It’s all his. Always his.

Astarion grimaces at his skinless arm. Three or four days. Three to four days before he can sneak away again to rest his head against Tav’s steady shoulder, listen to his breath, relish the rhythm of his heart, bask in the simple comfort of his drow.

Plenty of time to practice.

Plenty of time to think again and again of the way Tav said the word. The reverence. The adoration. The careful caress of his fingertips in silvered curls and against the sensitive skin of his ear. Plenty of time to remember Tav’s voice.

Plenty of time to whisper the word so quietly not even the rats could hear.

Isilme.”

No, it still sounds wrong. Tav’s voice, whispering from the corners of his mind, saying the name, a pleasant repetition that relaxes his tense muscles.

Tav’s soft eyes, soft hands, soft warm skin, and soft explanation of its meaning.

“Moonlight.”

He doesn’t think Tav knows what he’s done, giving him a name that isn’t his own.

For one, it’s a shell he can hide in. A someone else he can be, for those few short hours he keeps Tav to himself. A someone who perhaps hasn’t slit throats and for sure a someone who doesn’t watch the thick red blood pool in the gutters with desperate insatiable hunger.

For another, he can’t recall how many people he’s ever bothered to give his name to, but how many have given him a name… there’s only one. Tav hadn’t taken his own name from him. He could have demanded it at any time. He still could, and at this juncture, Astarion might just give it to him. Instead of taking, however, he gave.Another olive branch, another fractured anonymity, a man he isn’t and the pretty moon-pale elf Tav only thinks he knows. To Tav, he’s isilme, he’s moonlight. Soft, ethereal, beautiful, untouchable, and kinder than the sun to a rogue drow out on the surface alone.

He’s the moon and the stars in Tav’s nights. He’s…

Isilme.”

Almost got it. He just needs to hear Tav say it some more, that’s all, and then he’ll get it.

Soon.

He tugs at his bonds. Winces. Sighs. Relaxes into the chains’ slack. His body adjusts quickly to the threshold of pain that is hanging loosely from the manacles. Then he lets his dazed and utterly exhausted mind fall into the blank oblivion of reverie. One thought follows him down:

Soon.

It’s all he can think for three days. It’s still not anything like he expected when he finally slips out into the night four nights later and heads straight to the Dancing Cat, because the moment Tav lays eyes on him, the four days are gone. He’s back under the moon in a field and Tav’s hand is warm under his.

He’s across the tavern within a second and he’s pressing the back of Tav’s hand to his lips without any thought but warm. Tav laughs at the unexpectedly sweet gesture, because he can’t possibly know how badly Astarion’s craved warmth for the last four days, and it just seems like those tales of courtly knights kissing their lady love’s knuckles. It seems coquettish and silly. Astarion lets it be that, lets himself fall back into his role as Moonlight, as this elf Tav thinks he knows. He brushes the new gesture off with a flirtatious comment, and they settle right back into their normal rhythm. The bar, the wine, the woman’s knowing looks. Tav’s pulse drumming steadily under his ear. The only difference is that Tav keeps using the new name, just as he’d hoped, and Astarion commits every new inflection of it to memory. Tav uses it enough, says it enough, that Astarion realizes that he’s been isilme for a long time in the drow’s mind. Tav had just never slipped up and said it aloud until the other night. Astarion’s glad he did. Isilme poses less of a danger to Tav than Astarion does. So long as he can keep that in mind, things should be okay. Right now, things are okay.

Astarion lets out a long slow sigh that takes his tension with it.

Tav seems to recognize something is different, because his every movement is measured and careful, and while Astarion appreciates the gesture, he also scoffs at it.

“I’m fine, darling. You don’t have to treat me like glass. In fact it’s almost offensive.”

“Are you sure?” Tav asks. “You just seem… different, today. I wanted to…”

“I know,” Astarion interjects. Dryly he continues, “You’re very conscientious, love. It’s wonderful that you worry that pretty head over me. But I’m alright. I’m fine. Just… mm, tired?”

“Do you want to go upstairs?”

Astarion gives Tav a raised-eyebrows, amused smirk look and just waits. It takes a couple seconds, but then Tav flushes when the implications of his offer catch up to him.

“I didn’t mean- that wasn’t- I meant if you wanted to borrow my bed for a- a nap, or something, not join me in it.”

Astarion chuckles. “I know, love. But it’s taken you so long to proposition me that I just couldn’t resist.”

I’m not- that was not-” Tav takes a breath and Astarion watches with interest as he masters himself and slips into that calm veneer. The serious version of Tav that he’s yet to really understand. The one that, he’s starting to realize, wants to protect him. Because that’s what the edge in his voice is when Tav next speaks: protectiveness. It’s obvious in the way his eyes have gone flinty. “I would just prefer you to be safe or comfortable if something’s wrong. Seems like a bed is the least I could offer you.”

Astarion, chin propped on one hand, can’t help but smile. Genuinely. “It’s kind of you, my dear, but no, I’m alright.” He straightens up. Leans into Tav’s side. Pillows his head on the drow’s shoulder. “Just let me have this, and I think we can call it good.”

He can't see Tav’s expression. Can’t see the emotion in those green eyes, or the curve of pale lips, or whether or not there’s a flush in those gray cheeks.

But Astarion knows there’s a soft smile on that face and in those eyes when Tav murmurs, “As you wish, isilme.”

Astarion mouths the word, the new soft way it was spoken, and smiles.

For the first time in four days, he can relax.

Notes:

Astarion's extreme-introspection chapters are always interesting. I never know where he's going to go. I just write them out as he talks. Or, in this case, thinks, and thinks a lot.

Love everyone, you're all wonderful!

Chapter 18: Lessons Learned

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Astarion hasn’t thought of Garrett in a very long time, but the comparison comes easily tonight, and it rattles him.

He’d slunk into a tavern on the north end of the city, only half-aware of the fact that he’d been following the silver string, his brain fogged by hunger and a day-long torture. He needed a mark tonight. He was too tired and hungry to not find one.

Instead, he found Tav.

Or rather, Tav found him, a hand gently sweeping a curl of hair behind his ear, and he’d jerked back in surprise, coming fully back to the world to see Tav looking at him with bemusem*nt.

“Alright, isilme?”

He’d blinked, confused for a second, unsure for a moment who the handsome drow was possibly referring to, but then the pieces had clicked into place. Once they did, he’d relaxed utterly.

“Hello, love,” he had said. “Always a pleasure to see you sauntering over.”

Tav laughed softly. “I don’t think you saw me coming at all.”

“Guilty.”

They had talked for a while. Tav hadn’t had anything to drink but was perfectly content to order Astarion something, but Astarion had calmly refused. He had a job to do. Tav understood, but all the same, Tav didn’t go, and he was honestly pleased by the drow’s steadying presence. He needed blood desperately, but gods Tav’s presence had its own calming effect. He barely felt the hunger while he was at the man’s side. There was a different hunger in him when Tav was around.

Tav had just offered to take a walk with Astarion when a small voice angrily cleared its throat. Tav, shame-faced, had turned around to confront the… eight-year-old girl glaring daggers far up at him.

“Today’s our lesson,” the child had said. “You promised.”

“So I did,” Tav had replied wincingly. Placating the nasty little beast with words and a quick hand gesture. He had turned to Astarion with a frown and an apology that made little sense- “Sorry but it’s Sevenday and I promised”- and then had let the tiny girl tow him out onto the cleared space at the center of the tavern.

The lesson, Astarion realized, was a dance lesson.

He’s been watching for several minutes now as Tav leads the girl through a lively number from the musicians in the corner. The girl's giggling and laughing. Tav’s smile is something Astarion’s never seen before but he loves it regardless. It’s warm and kind and bright as the sun. He’s having fun with the lesson, clearly. And Astarion isn’t minding watching. Tav has a definite grace to his every movement that’s fascinating. He’s big- broad-shouldered and muscled and tall- but he moves with preternatural fluidity. Astarion’s not sure if that’s a drow thing or a devout of Eilistraee thing or a Tav thing. Regardless, it’s captivating.

The girl is not nearly so coordinated. Tav takes every trodden toe without so much as a wince. His expression remains either calm, pleased, or amused. He directs calmly and gently when he’s not directing her by careful nudges.

It occurs to him, somewhere during the lesson, that Tav’s sweet. Tav’s absolutely darling. Even these people have realized it despite their prejudices. They smile as they watch. They clap along to the music. They encourage the girl, but more surprising, they encourage Tav, and by name. Whichever tavern Astarion’s found tonight, it’s clearly one Tav’s been to more than a few times. People that he’s won over with his kindly nature.

And that brings the reminder of Garrett crashing into his thoughts.

Astarion had been young, then. Barely a decade into his vampirism, barely allowed at last out of the palace to roam the night and bring the master his feed. And, still young, he’d made a mistake.

He allowed himself to care.

Garrett had been sweet and insecure and a pure delight to speak with. Engaging and witty. Astarion had liked him immensely. They’d spent nearly the whole night shoulder to shoulder deep in talk. About anything and everything. Garrett’s overbearing parents (he could relate, he’d said, thinking of Cazador) and highbrow life (“Oh I know darling, isn’t it atrocious?”) and everything in between. Astarion had felt so strangely comfortable in Garrett’s presence. He’d liked it. He felt a need to preserve it, preserve Garrett, and so he adamantly denied the call demanding him to bring home Cazador’s dinner. He could not, would not, let that victim be this darling boy with so much life ahead of him. And, since he was still young and stupid, he’d thought it should be possible to let Garrett go. Cazador would never know if he did.

Wrong.

There had been a fury that crested inside him when he flatly thought to Cazador that he had let the mark go when Cazador demanded he explain. It hadn’t been his own. It had been Cazador’s rage at his spawn flouting his rules. And Astarion, who had known some few examples of Cazador’s penchant for cruelty already, felt a sudden upwelling of primal terror that (however briefly) drowned out Cazador’s voice.

He’d run. Fled. Like a coward.

He’d run with a faint hope that if he could only get far enough away Cazador’s control over him would lapse and slough away like sunburnt skin.

He learned quickly that there was no such thing as ‘far enough away’ from Cazador.

The compulsion struck him after only an hour of running. The compulsion locked him in place so utterly he couldn’t even fake breathing. And then Cazador had come, that soft-edged voice hiding sharp cold iron under it whispering from the depths of his mind, and commanded him to come home. Immediately.

And he had. He’d had no choice.

Astarion’s mind still shies away from the memory of the tomb. He doesn’t like to think about it. Which is ludicrous, he knows, when lately he’s toeing the line of an even greater transgression most nights of his tenday. Cazador had meant that wretched tomb, that gods-forsaken year, those agonizing tendays into terrible months, as a punishment that would linger on and dissuade him forevermore from foolish acts like defiance. In many ways, and for a very long time, it had worked. Fear of that torment had kept him in check. Had kept him obedient and good.

Broken him.

Now Tav’s here. Tav’s in his nights. Tav’s in his life. Tav’s broken him in an entirely new and different but no less enduring way. Tav has him hooked, obsessed, well beyond rational thought. He’s staring at Tav as the drow whirls the girl into another tight turn that makes her squeal with delight. He’s relieved by every one of Tav’s soft warm smiles, the curve of his lips, the sound of his laugh.

It’s all proof Tav’s alive.

To this day he has no clue if Garrett lived or died. As hard as he fell for the boy in those few short hours, after the tomb had stripped away his sanity, he had no longer cared if Garrett survived. Part of him sometimes hopes he did.

But he knows Cazador would never let a slight like Astarion’s go unpunished. He’s nearly certain that Garrett died the same night he was locked into the tomb. He avoids the cemetery and that terrible reminder of his own forgotten mortality so he’s never gone to check for that particular headstone. He doesn’t want to know. Not really.

Isilme?”

Astarion jerks back to attention. The little girl is across the tavern, tugging on her mother’s skirts and chattering a mile a minute, and Tav is here. With him. In front of him. Sweat shines on his brow and concern shines in his eyes. Tav’s hand is gentle as he cups Astarion’s chin to make red eyes meet green.

“That’s the second time tonight,” he murmurs, and Astarion feels like melting into the touch, into the warmth, into the care. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“I’m fine, darling,” he replies easily enough, because he hasn’t seen a ghost.

Garrett’s specter haunts only his thoughts.

Notes:

Hey hey! I have next to no self-control so I didn't wanna wait six days to post the next chapter. There will be another chapter on the fifth like normal! To quote someone else, "Please look forward to it!"

Also yes, this is my take on Astarion's previous 'darling boy'.

Chapter 19: Tension

Notes:

There was a chapter posted a couple of days ago in case you missed it (18) I just have no self-control and really didn't wanna wait six days to post. Oops? The schedule is back on track now, next chapter after this one will be on the 10th!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Aurelia is as anxious as ever. She’s always determined to do right by Cazador. The master tortured her to the point of shredding her vocal cords one time and that was enough for her. She may not be the best at what they did, but she was ever the most dedicated, and tonight she’s sitting against Astarion’s side fidgeting nonstop with her own claws. He can’t help but think that she doesn’t have the weight, heat, or heartbeat he craves from someone being so close to him. The tavern is a nice one, one of those high-brow establishments that they run the risk of snagging a patriar’s kid from, but the risk is negligible. Astarion’s bored; without a certain man to distract him, he’s focused on his work for the night. He’s been eyeing a woman who’s extremely tipsy and getting far too comfortable with the exasperated bartender as a result. It should be easy enough to sway her attentions to him. A few words, some well-placed sensual touches, and she’ll likely be tripping all over her feet to follow him home.

He hears it; he feels it. The air shifts. The mood shifts. Tension rolls over the tavern like a wave crashing on the shore. It comes, and it goes. Someone calls out the name he already expects.

“Tav!”

“Hello, Richter,” Tav’s soft voice replies, and gods, Astarion can’t help but relax at the sound of him. Relax more when he glances over to see the newcomer. Aurelia, by contrast, tenses up.

“Is that a drow?” She whispers.

“Seems so,” Astarion replies flippantly.

Aurelia is used to him and his mannerisms; she peers keenly at his narrowed distrustful eyes as he watches the drow. He may be acting calm but he’s now as uneasy as she is.

On the surface anyway. It really wouldn’t do to showcase exactly how tender he feels whenever Tav’s around. The false face of distinguished boredom comes naturally to him, after all this time. He’s worn it for decades.

“Hells, what a beast.” He remarks. “I thought they were supposed to be… smaller. They’re reputed to be the smallest and most slender of the elves.”

“And the most vicious,” Aurelia hisses.

“The rumors about their beauty aren’t wrong at least.”

She glares at him and he gives her a tight smile in return. He has no plans to approach the man tonight. Not with a sibling present. He determinedly keeps his eyes away too- though he badly wants to drink in the sight of his drow- because he doesn’t need Tav’s attention. Not tonight. Too risky. The problem now is how to go and lure the poor misbegotten waif at the bar. Tav’s not three feet from her at the moment and she’s gawking at him. Astarion considers making a game of it: slide up to the bar, insert himself into that gap between woman and drow, touch Tav, tease the man, whisper just the right things to give himself a single glimpse of that dusky flush. He glances surreptitiously at the drow from the corner of his eye. Tav’s speaking with the bartender, one of his pleasant masks in place, but it’s clear to Astarion, anyway, that Tav’s somewhat comfortable here. It must be a place he frequents often enough to perform.

A thrill races along Astarion’s skin: might he finally get to see Tav play? He doesn’t see an instrument, but perhaps

He doesn’t get that wish. He does get Tav’s attention. It seems like the minute Aurelia is coaxed to dance in the arms of a man deep in his cups there’s an electric pull between the drow and himself. He can’t look away. He’s not sure if he was watching too long or if it’s merely unfortunate coincidence but when Tav turns around they lock eyes. Tav’s holding a bottle of wine Astarion recognizes with a jolt of liquid heat. It’s stupidly expensive but he likes the floral notes it has.

Fool,” he whispers, a slow smile of amusem*nt curling his lips, and Tav seems to be well able to read the word on his lips. The mask drops in a heartbeat. Tav smiles that warm smile that Astarion’s sure could melt his innards. The one reserved for him.

“Hello, darling,” he murmurs when Tav approaches. “So this is where you waste your coin on me.”

“Not a waste,” Tav replies.

“Agree to disagree, love.” He says with a wink.

“You seem to like it.”

“Oh I do. It’s a lovely vintage.”

“Then it isn’t a waste.”

“You’re sweet, my dear. Now do me a very important favor and make yourself scarce, hmm?”

Tav’s brow furrows instantly. “Problem?”

“Potentially,” he says, but before he can say more, Aurelia is returning. She freezes when she sees the drow looming over their table. Her eyes blow wide. Astarion doesn’t miss a beat; he holds an arm out and calls, “Ah, my dear, come back! This fellow was just leaving, as it turns out. He’s mistaken me for someone he knows.”

Aurelia sits nervously in her seat next to him. She’s perched on the edge of it, ready to bolt if this gigantic specimen of a drow gets violent, but she offers Tav an uneasy smile.

Tav inclines his head to her politely. To Astarion he says, “Have I?”

“You have,” Astarion says, a bit more firmly, because he cannot let Tav stay.

“I didn’t think so…” Tav shifts his bottle of wine. Astarion’s bottle of wine. And then he leans in. Astarion can smell him. He has to quash the urge to reach up for the strand of rosy hair that slides over Tav’s broad shoulder and dangles teasingly just out of reach.

“No, I think you really must have the wrong person,” Astarion says with a measured seriousness, letting his face express every last bit of disdain he’s not saying. He’s glad he doesn’t have a heart that can give him away by racing as he swallows down the panic. Get away get away get away. He gives the drow a slow onceover and meets Tav’s eyes finally. “Sorry though I am to say so.”

Tav stares into the eyes that are begging him to understand and play along for a second that feels like an eternity and then winces. That liar’s mask comes to his face as smoothly and naturally as breathing. He straightens once more.

“Ah, you’re right. My friend has blue eyes. I’m sorry for the overfamiliarity. Could I buy you a drink to apologize?”

Astarion feels a smile threaten his lips. Cheeky pup, playing their game now. He chokes down the affection and summons the bluster.

“I appreciate the offer, darling, but as you can see…” He slings an arm around Aurelia’s shoulders and ignores how she jolts when he does. “I’ve already got a perfectly lovely date and it would be very poor behavior from me indeed to leave her alone.”

“As you say,” the drow says with an elegant incline of his head. “Apologies once again, and have a good night. Ma’am.”

Aurelia waves awkwardly as the big man leaves their table, and gives Astarion a searching look. He gives her a bored one in return.

“What?”

“Why did you refuse?” She asks, suspicious. “He was throwing himself at you. That would have been an easy one to take to the master.”

Astarion scoffs. “I’m sorry, sister, did you not see the sheer size of that bastard? I make one wrong move and he’d snap me in half like a twig. Not worth the risk.”

Aurelia eyes Tav’s back. “I suppose…”

“There’s easier wretches in this bar alone. Start there and work your way up to what may well be half an ogre. I wonder what sort of Underdark monster his mother f*cked to get that result.”

The drunken waif is amenable to joining him, though he ends up good-naturedly having to help her back to the palace, and she giggles most of the way. Aurelia’s dancing charmed the man who’d asked her so she’ll leave alone with him. When they meet back at the mansion that night, neither of them mention the drow whatsoever, and he’s glad of it. He’s been so careful about it, every time, making sure he and Tav can’t be seen by Cazador or his siblings. They would either demand to know why he hasn’t brought the drow back to their master or attempt to steal Tav away for themselves. He’s a catch. Of course he is. Astarion can’t allow- won’t allow- anyone else to get their hands on what’s his.

“Sorry about the other night,” he sighs when he’s next able to catch Tav alone. “I can’t- say-” Compulsion chokes him. He rephrases with the usual. “…it’s complicated.”

Tav shakes his head. He’s smiling. One hand is teasing white curls, more bold than he’s dared to be before, and Astarion may as well have melted into a puddle as those gentle fingers slide through his hair. But then he’d taken a sip of that expensive wine Tav buys him, remembered their last meeting, and that cursed urge to apologize had come back. Tav holds his guilt hostage indeed. He had straightened up to speak and oh, the way Tav’s gentle hand had skimmed the surface of his skin- scalp, ear, neck, shoulder, arm, culminating in a squeeze to Astarion’s hand that had translated right up to his unbeating heart- had made Astarion lean into him.

“It’s alright. I should get used to letting you come to me, I think. Better that way. I can’t interrupt you otherwise and you do tend to find me without an issue.”

“Yes, that may be best.” He’s playing with a lock of hair now. He didn’t have to yank it to get Tav’s attention tonight but he still likes the feel of it in his fingers. He hasn’t forgiven this particular lock for teasing him last time. He winds it around his finger, admires the blush-pink hues running through the ivory, and lets it go again. “Though, if you don’t mind my asking, sweetling: why blue?”

Tav smiles a tad ruefully. “It was the first thing that came to mind. But honestly, I think blue would suit you. You’re already pale as it is. The blue would just complete the picture.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“Though if I’m being honest, isilme, I think I prefer the red. Which isn’t something I ever thought I would say.”

“No?”

“Of course not. I used to be scared of red eyes. Probably still am, if they’re not yours.”

Astarion’s only three long swallows into the wine when Tav says that. He sets the glass down.

“Were you now? Why is that, dear?”

“Most drow have red eyes. My… tormentors had red eyes. All of them. Red eyes were just… something I came to attribute with pain and revulsion. With hatred. Thankfully, I don’t encounter very many people with red eyes on the surface, so I haven’t had much to be afraid of.” Tav turns to look at him. Looks directly at him. Stares into his eyes. Tav’s expression is… fond. “Until yours. Only to find I’m not afraid of yours at all.”

Astarion tucks his chin so he can stare at Tav through his lashes, and he’s not surprised by the way Tav flushes that cute dusky pink in response. Pleased, and amused, but not surprised. Tav’s shown to be easily flustered as their unusual relationship has progressed.

“And? You like what you see, then?”

Tav swallows hard. “I do.”

“I’ll warn you, though, to stay away from anyone else with red eyes. Don’t trust a single one of them. Only me, hm?”

“That’s doable.” Tav says softly as Astarion takes another sip of his drink. “You’re very trustworthy.”

Astarion chokes on the wine. Tav is paralyzed with indecision, his hand hovering over Astarion’s back, like he wants to help, but doesn’t dare touch Astarion. He can’t give the man the permission he wants, Astarion realizes as he wheezes, and so Tav’s unsure of what to do. On the other hand he’s thought about touching the drow several times- more than once sensually- but never has either. The terrified look in that green gaze floats back up into his mind’s eye every time he thinks too long about it.

Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me. Never touch me.

Darling,” he gasps when he can inhale without coughing. “You don’t know the first thing about me. How can you consider me trustworthy? You don’t even know my name!”

“I don’t need to know your name to know your character,” Tav says, which Astarion thinks is a hell of a thing to tell a vampire spawn. “You just are. I can tell. It’s… comforting.”

“I’ve literally stolen from you. And forced you to pay for more than one drink.”

“That doesn’t make you untrustable.”

“Most people would list ‘stealing’ as an untrustworthy trait, darling.”

“I’ve long forgiven the single coin.”

“Oh?”

“I made it back before I retired for the night anyway.”

“Did you?”

“Of course.”

They’re relaxing again. Settling back to normal. The rhythm of heartbeat and breath and talk.

“You’re very proficient, it seems.”

“I try my best,” Tav says with a smile. “Usually it’s appreciated.”

“There’s a great deal I can appreciate about your best, love.” He holds up his glass in a toast before he drains it. “For one example. The other is the name you gave me. I quite like it.”

Isilme?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I’m glad. I thought it presumptious of me, but I thought it fit you well enough as a placeholder.”

Astarion scoffs. “And what, pray tell, would you know about ‘fitting names’, Tav? Does that even have a meaning, sweetling? If there’s one thing I know about elves it’s that the more long-winded and the more syllables squashed in, the better. I rather thought drow may be of the same mind. I mean… Menzoberranzen?”

“Perhaps? I don’t know much about elven culture. Or much about drow culture either, if I’m being fair.” Tav says gamely. “Certainly not any clue if ‘Tav’ has a meaning. It’s not my real name either.”

That’s news to Astarion and he pauses to blink at the drow, then narrow his eyes suspiciously. “So you haven’t trusted me that much, hm?”

“Entrust my name to a stranger I met at a bar who robbed me within five minutes of meeting? I may be new to the city but I’m not that much a fool.”

Astarion can feel a smile tugging at his lips. The drow is playing his own game right back at him, amusing and sweet, with much less bite. It’s cute.

“Fair enough, my dear. Then what is your name?”

Tav smirks. “Truth for a truth.”

That’s unfair,” Astarion pouts. “I just got this name. Let me enjoy it a bit.”

The way Tav’s expression goes soft makes something inside him melt to match. “I won’t take it from you if you like it.”

Real gratitude comes to his lips as infrequently as genuine apologies do. It’s only natural that Tav gets both of them at any given point, if he’s earned them.

“Good. Thank you.”

Notes:

Officially (in my doc anyway) past the halfway point! It's about time to things to start picking up in this little relationship of theirs. I'm looking forward to it, and I'm sure you all are too ;)
Also you get to deal with my personal heeadcanons about the spawn siblings since there's not a ton of information about them out there and by the time I found some of it, I had long ago written in my own, so now you're stuck with these, haha.

Chapter 20: Jealousy

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He’s been flirting with a future victim for a half hour by the time the drow enters the bar. The customary hush falls and Astarion doesn’t even have to look to know who it is. What it is. Dark elf! gets whispered in several different voices. Some derisive. Some angry. Some spooked. Even one lascivious purr. Regardless none of them dare confront the drow. He’s got at least a foot and fifty pounds on the biggest drunkard in here. Astarion finds it very amusing that they’re all so afraid of a man he’s literally watched heal a little girl’s scraped knee and pull a frankly ungrateful yowling kitten from a tree. A man with the softest heart and sweetest smile he’s ever seen.

Tav heads to the bar and requests a drink and this bartender isn’t so crude as Tressa. He hands Tav what was requested- Tyche Pink, he’d guess- and hurriedly retreats. Astarion knows he must be the only person in the whole room who can see that Tav’s tense. He wants to go over and curl up against the drow’s side, burrow into Tav, ease all that tension with talk, but he can’t abandon his mark at this point. He’s minutes away from sealing the deal. From leaving with the poor fool boy.

“Can’t believe it.” Said boy says aloud in wonderment. “You ever seen one’a them?”

“Once or twice. Certainly a specimen, isn’t he?”

The boy pouts, disliking that Astarion’s attention has shifted, and grumbles, “I guess.”

Astarion cuts him a sideways glance. No accounting for his taste after all, it seems. It occurs to him, though, that if he continues to stare at Tav’s broad back he’s going to get the drow’s attention. It’s worked time and again. He ought to look away.

But he doesn’t.

Tav does indeed perk up after a few seconds and he shifts on the seat he’s taken. His eyes roam the tavern. There’s no way for Astarion to prepare his dead heart for how those green eyes light up when Tav spots Astarion’s monochrome curls. The way his eyes, full of intent and heat and joy, automatically shift down and find Astarion’s.

Then they shift to the side, and Astarion’s stunned to see something completely new take over Tav’s face. It’s a harsh expression, poorly masked at the last second, and Astarion cannot believe his eyes.

He knows Tav’s moods. His expressions, his mannerisms, and his masks. He can see through some of them and some of them Tav’s better at hiding. Tonight there’s no hiding this one. Not fully. Not in time before Astarion catches it, understands it, and marvels at it.

He’s never once thought he would see jealousy spark hot and vicious in those gentle green eyes.

“He’s looking over here,” Astarion’s victim hisses suddenly. “We oughta go ‘fore he comes over here.”

He won’t. They’ve already agreed that Tav’s to wait for Astarion to approach him. And Astarion knows Tav will hold onto that concession even if it absolutely burns him up inside. There are rules to follow now and they both know them. Tav knows now that this is Astarion’s job and he won’t interfere. He’ll stay away even if all either of them want is to be close to each other. Astarion can feel the urge even now, still tangled up with his willpower, to go over to his drow. But Tav must be stronger than him, because he turns back around, and his shoulders are stiffer than ever with the fortitude he’s exhibiting. He doesn’t want to get Astarion into some perceived trouble. He’ll keep a safe distance.

Apparently that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t get jealous of someone else getting Astarion’s time.

He should go, Astarion knows. Take this idiot back to the palace and show him the last good time of his life. Finish his job for the night, fulfill his purpose, eat for the first time in days. But good gods, Tav being jealous is doing something strange to his arousal. It feels almost… genuine. Like, for once, he wants to feel the pleasurable flame of desire. Tav’s heated eyes on him are twisting something up in his guts and it feels incredible.

This is a new development, and Astarion quite likes the look of it on Tav.

“No, come now,” he purrs to his mark, completely taking his attention off of the drow. “The night’s just started, darling. It would be a shame to leave now.”

He lays a casual hand on the boy’s thigh. The boy jumps, eyes shooting down to Astarion’s cold hand, then up to his smirk, and the poor thing blushes. He turns an even brighter red- not nearly so entrancing to Astarion as the dusky pink Tav gets- when Astarion slides his hand further up and dips it down. He cups the boy’s soft co*ck and smiles. Dangerous. Predatory.

“A drink or two will fix this nervousness, my dear,” he murmurs. “You’ll feel better. I’ll feel better. Things will even be better later. Between you and I and this.” He squeezes. “I’ve been so patient, all evening, my dear. Don’t pull back on me now.” He noses along the shell of the young human’s ear, whispering into it, “You’ll not tell me no, would you?”

The boy swallows hard. He glances at the bar again and relaxes.

“H-he’s gone. I’ll go get you a drink, then? E-Esmeltar Red?”

He thinks of Tav’s wine, Tav’s careful attention to his tastes, Tav’s nigh-constant concessions. Everything Tav does that just screams adoration and deference.

And then he pushes the thoughts away. He chuckles and squeezes again. “You’re spoiling me, darling.”

Astarion waits until the young man’s headed up to the bar before he shivers.

Tav’s not gone. Tav’s far from gone. Astarion can feel his gaze like it’s undressing him. He wishes he were. The idea of Tav’s fingers moving with surety on his laces has his arousal pounding. He tilts his head, glances coquettishly over his shoulder at the drow sitting only a few tables behind him drilling holes into his back, and smirks at him. Tav looks away, but his frustrated frown is losing to an amused smile. Tav knows damn well that this is Astarion’s job. He sees the act for what it is. He’s familiar with the act. Astarion tried to use it on him for their first several meetings. Sometimes it still creeps in, but Tav’s rebuffs are gentle.

Astarion continues to play his mark like a fiddle for another half hour. Getting him to buy drinks, getting him drunk, flirting and laughing at his increasingly terrible wit.

And the whole time all he can concentrate on is the feel of Tav’s eyes on his back.

He makes a show of it, kissing the boy’s neck, sipping his wine slowly, licking the rim of the glass. Unsure of what could possibly frustrate Tav further, but pushing the envelope anyway, because the idea that Tav is jealous heats him from the inside out. So he toys with the mark. Skims touches over bare skin. Wishes it were someone else he’s touching. Wishes it were someone else he’s putting his mouth on, promising a wonderful time in a soft whisper, fantasizing about a different man entirely- not this scrawny farmer’s boy- that he’s brought under his spell. Tav’s not so desperate to be wholly caught up like this boy is. The fact that he can’t sway Tav into sex is practically one of his favorite things about the drow.

When it’s not frustrating him, anyway.

Eventually the future victim gets up, complaining about his beer going through him, and stumbles off. Astarion exhales quietly through his nose as he watches him go. A moment later he straightens up; there’s warmth against his back, and a familiar scent of sweet spice and roses.

“I’m not sure if this is crueler to me or him,” Tav says, soft and directly in his ear, and Astarion arches his back at the sinful little whisper. It’s low and intimate and erotic. It’s lighting his nerves on fire.

“It’s cruelest to me, I think,” he murmurs. He glances behind him and sees only a familiar shirt. He cranes his head back. Tav’s looming over him and another spike of desire rushes through his veins. “Because I have to pick him over you.”

And it’s you I want.

A smile plays at the corners of Tav’s lips. It’s not the full one, but it’s there, and Astarion adores the sight of it.

“That may be so. Regardless, I think I’ve put myself through enough of this torment for the night. I’ll see you soon, I hope?”

Astarion reaches up, caressing the scar on Tav’s left cheek, and wishes he didn’t feel the strange hollow sensation in his chest.

“I hope,” he echoes.

“Good night, isilme.”

Tav leaves with a silken touch that trails down the length of Astarion’s ear, and he couldn’t fight the shudder if he tried.

He doesn’t try.

Notes:

Like I said, things are starting to pick up between these two! At long last. Next chapter's even better- this 'relationship' is rapidly snowballing (in a good way!) from here, heheheh. Also the next chapter is more than twice as long as this one. Oops.

Chapter 21: Restraint

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The distance Astarion has to maintain never gets any easier to maintain. In fact it’s often strained. Tav’s like a lodestone pulling on his restraint. He wants. He wants so badly. Only fears of repercussion (for him, for Tav) keep him on track, and even those are struggling to hold him back as it becomes harder to ignore the truths he keeps buried. He slips into a particular bar late on another Sevenday and already expects what he sees: Tav, well settled in today, who speaks to someone else with a slight smile. His little dance partner is already winded and pink in the cheeks from exertion across the tavern. Tav is laughing with one of the band members when he spots Astarion and beams. Astarion glides across the floor to Tav’s side and Tav smiles warmly.

“There you are.”

“Do you always come here on Sevendays then, darling?”

“I have an obligation,” Tav replies, winking at the girl, who grins a gap-toothed grin at him. “I wouldn’t dream of slighting poor Katill.”

“Don’t you have an obligation to me, love?”

“I’m all yours now.”

“Oh, so I’m second fiddle. To a child. I see. I see how it is.”

Tav chuckles. He’s gentle as ever when he slips a curl behind Astarion’s ear, and Astarion leans toward the touch without thinking, chasing that phantom sensation of fingers on his skin.

“You know you mean more to me than that.”

He’s not going to think about that phrasing. At all. He’s not going to think about the way it makes him feel light and warm and full. He’s not going to think about the way it dulls the sanguine hunger but ignites a different one. He’s not going to think about the relief that unfurls in him at the notion that he means something to someone.

“Do I?”

“Do you need me to spell it out for you, isilme?”

“Hm. Perhaps not.” He can’t afford to let Tav say the words. Any of them. Anything adjacent to them. Better to divert the conversation, bring it back to a familiar territory he knows, even if that territory is nearly as dangerous. Flirtation is nearly as automatic as his fake breathing at this point. “I’d rather spend some time trying to raise your expectations of me.”

“I don’t see how you can,” Tav says, “But feel free to try.”

“If I can’t raise my standing above that of a child I have really lost my touch.”

Tav grins. “You’re so threatened. By an eight-year-old. Who’s missing two of her teeth.”

“An eight-year-old you devote your whole evening to!” Before Tav can reply he quickly adds, “And for free, I imagine.”

Tav flushes.

“A simple ‘yes’ will suffice, sweetheart. I already know I’m right.”

“It wouldn’t be right to accept money for-”

He puts a finger to Tav’s lips. Tav blinks but is, surely, silenced. Astarion smirks at the total obedience. It’s a nice thing to see.

“The difference is, Tav, she thinks about you every Sevenday.” He leans in, puts the sultry whisper right in Tav’s delicate ear. “I think about you every night.”

Tav’s lips move under his touch but he stays silent. His eyes, burning emerald, say enough for him. Keen interest. Desire. Astarion feels a vicious little thrill of victory. He coils closer, definitely in Tav’s space now, sliding a hand into that soft roseate hair and winding it around his fist. He tugs, watches Tav bite his lip, and slowly slides his hand down until it rests on Tav’s forearm over a gray ghost of a scar from tendays back.

“You see, my dear, when I’m with you, I feel so alive. Yet I crave only to die- just a little death- with you.”

Tav co*cks his head. Smirking. “Mm. The little death is the only good one to experience on a regular basis.”

Astarion can’t help but light up. It’s been ages since anyone picked up on that, recognized the entendre- as it should be!- and he’s beyond pleased by it.

“Oh you are a delight, love. No one ever gets that reply right. I do believe you’ve made my night.”

“With or without that pleasurable little death involved?”

“Oh, either or. I could take it… or give it, if you’re very good for me.”

“Hmm, and how good is ‘very’, exactly?”

“Darling,” Astarion scoffs, “I’m not sure you have it in you to be bad. At anything.”

“You’re welcome to find out the unfortunate way.”

“Well now that’s putting the cart before the horse. You can at least let me have the time to formulate a list of all the ways you’ve yet to disappoint me.”

“Oh, that makes it sound like a long list.”

Astarion co*cks his head. “Not really, surprisingly enough.” Then he wrinkles his nose with not-quite-feigned disgust. “You’re annoyingly kind. It rather dwindles the choices for the list.”

The smirk on that pale mouth slips sideways and becomes a soft and warm smile Astarion knows well. “You’re sweet, and sillier than I thought.”

No one’s ever called him that before. Looked at him like that before. A hundred and fifty years and no one has ever held so much of him in their hands. His perfect body, his unbeating heart, his black soul. No one’s ever held them all and still wanted them the simple way Tav does. Smiled at him like Tav.

Gods save him, Astarion has never wanted to just kiss someone as badly as he does right then. Lean in, draw himself up, press his lips to Tav’s smiling mouth. Instead he leans on an elbow, props his chin on his hand, and bats his lashes flirtatiously. It’s over the top, but on purpose, and Tav’s smile turns into a wry grin. Astarion thumbs the dark shadow of the scar down to the paler skin of Tav’s underarm.

“I can go all night with the flattery, darling. But is that really all you want?”

Tav’s grin gentles again. He covers Astarion’s hand with his own. Carefully squeezes. “Yes.”

Astarion’s brain screeches to a halt. He straightens up, leans back, and stares at the drow. The drow who just continues smiling his warm smile and holding his hand. It’s… nice. It’s different. It’s not his normal. At all. The complete lack of intention or expectation does something wholly surprising. Astarion finds himself wanting to indulge, to lean in, to relish the drow’s warmth. He wants to kiss him. He… no. He doesn’t want it to end at a kiss and that’s where things get muddled. It’s strange: he does and doesn’t want to sleep with the man. If he does then he’ll probably bring Tav back. He- Cazador- will kill him. He can’t do it. It would be so easy- so blasted easy, Tav has made it easy- to follow his predator instinct. Seduce. f*ck. Drag to his master. Forget. As easy as breathing, more than a hundred years in. Just another routine, a part of his day. Simple.

But there’s a strange new twisted stunted part of him that… that wants to sleep with Tav. Share his body willingly, feel the pleasure for once, see what Tav looks like when he falls apart under loving caresses. It’s a terrible guilty urge he’s never felt before.

The guilt burrows under his breastbone and burns. Hot as fire, sharp as knives, cold as ice.

Astarion yanks his hand back.

Tav blinks in surprise, but then his expression softens into pity, into understanding, into camaraderie, and Astarion’s stomach sours further. He pushes his chair away. The drow apologizes, softly, but Astarion is out the door and vanishing into the night without another word or backward glance.

He’s back less than a tenday later. Hells take him, he can’t stay away. He can’t resist.

Tav’s clearly relieved when Astarion sidles up to him outside the Elfsong. His eyes light up, quite the feat considering, and Astarion feels a warmth settle in his belly.

“Come here often?” Astarion asks, a silly, disarming little question, since they’ve met here nearly a dozen times so far.

“I like the atmosphere,” Tav says. “And the company is the finest I’ve found.”

“Flatterer.”

“I can go all night,” the drow replies, and it’s a peace offering. A truce. It’s what Astarion said last tenday before he took off. What Tav probably is thinking upset him. Astarion can’t help it.

He runs cool fingers up the back of Tav’s neck. He grabs a handful of soft white hair and pulls. Tav bites back a moan, and Astarion’s suddenly deathly curious about that. It’s not the first time he’s noticed it. It could mean any number of things and he would love to know which ones are true. He lets go, trailing his hand back down neck and shoulder and arm, nudging his fingers against Tav’s and smiling to himself when Tav makes to hold them. Tav’s eyes go from heated to a calmer smolder of amusem*nt when Astarion slips back out of his grasp quickly and easily.

“Can you?” He murmurs, and he’s kicking himself. He still doesn’t dare bed the drow. But thinking about it is no crime.

“I can try, but I’m no expert,” Tav laughs.

Astarion thinks that’s something of a lie. He also thinks they’re talking about two different things, and he loves that open honesty.

“And you think I am, do you, dear?”

“You’ve proven adept at compliments so far.”

They aren’t talking about the same thing. Compliments and prowess at giving them, not sex. Astarion settles into the lesser meaning with a little relaxing of the tension in him. He gives an airy wave. “You make it easy. There’s plenty about you to compliment and plenty of you to compliment.”

“I could say the same.”

“Oh? Do go on, dear, compliment away. I promise my ego can handle it.”

Tav smiles. “You’re beautiful.”

Tav says it easily, meeting his eyes squarely all the while, no blink or nervous dart of the eyes to spell it out as a lie. It’s the truth to him. That truth strikes Astarion off-center. Not quite full in the chest but a little to the left. It hurts, but somehow… comfortably. He likes the sweet pain of it. It’s not the first time he’s heard that particular compliment, far from it, but he’s never heard it from Tav. He likes how it sounds in the drow’s voice. In that soft timbre.

“What else?” He purrs.

Tav shrugs casually, like he’s not blushing faintly in the lamplight. “How long do you have tonight? For me to… properly sing your, well, many praises.”

Astarion pauses. If they’re not careful this will turn into what he was talking about, not Tav. Sex, not flirting. Tav f*cking him quick and dirty against the back wall of the Elfsong while he moans for more. He’s not sure Tav would be ready for that, even if he’s more than ready for it. Tav’s better than he was about being close with Astarion but the vampire spawn is nigh-certain attempting to seduce him would be very far off-limits. For more than one reason. Gods, he still wants to. He has a feeling it would be markedly novel and he’s curious if he’s right. Tav acts very differently from most of the men he picks up for a romp. How far does that gentleness extend? He’s been thinking of f*cking the drow more and more often. He’s thought about it for a long time- with Tav’s body how could he not?- but lately the idea clings to his thoughts. The warmth and comfort Tav offers him, extended to sex… how would it be? How would it feel? He keeps thinking about quick and impersonal, his usual, but Tav would probably not be like his ‘usual’. Gods, Tav would treat him right, wouldn’t he? Care and attentiveness. Adoration.

Consent.

He runs a hand down the front of Tav’s shirt and the drow just smiles. Calm. Relaxed. Not about to burst out of his skin because the touch is unwanted. There was a second where he felt Tav’s bare skin beneath his fingertips and it was heady. Astarion fights the urge to leap into his lap or pin him to the bar. He pulls his mind back to their conversation, which Tav is still waiting on, indulgent and patient as ever.

“Enough time for you to sing a few bars.”

“I’d need more than a few.”

“I doubt that,” Astarion says. He’s trying to remember what they were even talking about, where they are, where his siblings are. He’s lost in Tav’s eyes. His thoughts are on how Tav’s latent strength would make easy work of bending him over and taking him hard. “I’m afraid I’m really rather boring, darling. One note.”

“You can find a variety of ways to play a single note,” Tav murmurs, and a frisson of heat shivers through Astarion at the utter suggestion there. Gods above is Tav actually flirting back? That’s never happened before. He rather likes the effect it has on Tav’s expression. It gives him a certain intensity. Astarion has to wonder if that’s how he looks when he’s concentrating on a song.

“Can you really, darling?” Tav hums assent. “Someday you’ll have to show me.”

“Just say the word.”

“You’ll give me a demonstration?”

“A very thorough one.”

Oh, Astarion needs to leave. This is getting perilously close to something more than he can give, and worse, it’s something he wants almost more than his reasoning can hold. He refuses to think Cazador’s name or look for his master’s connection but he’s suddenly paranoid he’s going to get his attention anyway. The emotions writhing around in his chest and stomach are new and strange and he’s nearly worried about them. It wouldn’t be out of the norm for Cazador to check why. Astarion’s series of failures in the past few months have irked Cazador greatly, but he enjoys making Astarion scream so much that he doesn’t go searching for a reason Astarion’s failing so much more often. He doesn’t want to think about how close to the surface his thoughts of the drow are. He keeps his mind carefully off of Tav whenever he’s home but once he’s free in the night it’s hard to not think of the man. Cazador would only ever need to wrap a hand around his mind to know everything. For Tav’s sake Astarion should stop this thing. End it immediately. Astarion’s used to the punishments, he could deal with that, but the idea of anything happening to Tav because of him is… wrenching. And unlike with Garrett, decades back, he now knows full well what terrible tortures Cazador is capable of, and there aren’t many that Tav could survive as a mere mortal man. Nor would he wish to bear witness to them, which of course means he would be forced to, by torment or compulsion, until his screams are the only thing left after Tav’s fade away.

“Hey.”

Astarion startles and focuses back on the world in front of his eyes, not the one playing in the back of his mind. Tav’s peering at him with soft concern. The intensity’s died out of his eyes. There’s an amazing amount of care in the hand that curls around his forearm. He can barely feel it. He could easily wrench his arm free and leave. He doesn’t want to but Tav’s left him the choice.

Choice.

It’s so strange to have a choice.

“You okay?” Tav asks quietly.

“Fine,” Astarion answers after a second. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Tav’s brow furrows. “Sometimes you… you get this look in your eyes, and…” He glances at Astarion, shakes his head, and weakly finishes, “Never mind. I’m getting ahead of myself.”

“How so, love?”

“It’s just… well, actually, it’s not important, isilme.”

He says that, but there’s the uneasy look on his face that won’t fade, and Astarion doesn’t much like it, or how it makes him feel. Tav’s withholding something from him. Something about him. Something about him that clearly bothers Tav. He hates the very idea that there's something about him that could be bothering Tav. He also hates that he has no idea what it could be, or how to fix it, because Tav won’t tell him.

f*ck.

He needs to get them back to solid ground. He can’t find it out here, wherever they’ve drifted in this conversation. He goes back, finds the thread he dropped, and picks it back up.

“Fine then, never mind that. What was that you were saying about a demonstration?”

It’s clumsy. Very obvious. No one in their right mind would fall for it. Tav wouldn’t- shouldn’t- either. He’s more perceptive than that. But perhaps that perception is exactly what leads him to co*ck his head and smirk and lean on the bar and say, “Tell me when and I’ll show you whatever you want me to.”

That’s an altogether too kind offer, and one Astarion certainly wants, and for a moment he doesn’t shy from it. For a moment he thinks of Tav’s hands on his hips and Tav’s lips on his neck and he shivers. Green eyes sharpen in response. Back to that strange intensity.

“Some other night, love.” He says eventually, and Tav’s good about masking his instant disappointment, but Astarion still sees it for that split second. He can’t help but chuckle.

“Some other time. I promise. You’ve got me quite curious now.”

Actual lust, Astarion thinks to himself once he’s left Tav’s distracting self very far behind him. He palms his half-hard co*ck and hisses with a low-burning need. He hasn’t experienced actual lust in a long time. Decades by now. He doesn’t need it to perform. It doesn’t surprise him that Tav’s brought it out of him- gods know he’s attracted to the drow on several levels and physical’s merely one of them- because Tav’s proven to be unique in many ways. Tav has shattered Astarion’s long-imposed world views into pieces one after another. Turns out he’s still capable of lust. Still capable of care. Still capable of craving those small intimacies and sweetnesses he’d long ago given up. The touch of a hand and the curl of an arm around a waist and the whisper of breath against a delicate ear. He likes it when Tav does it. He likes it when he does it to Tav.

He doesn’t bat an eye when picking the big brute of a bedpartner he chooses for the night’s clumsy tries at intimacy. He chose this man in a fit of pique, of selfishness, and though it feels bad now, he’d chosen with a purpose.

The man is very nearly Tav’s size.

He keeps drawing comparisons- Tav would have spent much longer preparing him, they certainly would be kissing as often as possible instead of him dodging this man’s every attempt, Tav definitely wouldn’t just thrust into him mostly dry- but he can’t help it. His lust led him here and it was misbegotten.

He wants Tav, not this fellow, but Tav isn’t something he can risk enjoying. If the man underneath him doesn’t live through the night he couldn’t possibly care less.

If Tav didn’t make it through the night, simply because the desire to bed the drow is becoming too fierce to ignore, Astarion wouldn’t survive either. Not really. He’d be hollow all over again but this time nothing could ever fill the void Tav would leave behind in his soul.

Yet he thinks of it, for a single moment, and it’s nearly his undoing. Tav’s great gray chest under his hands, sheened with silvery sweat in the moonlight. Tav’s soft hair wrapped around a fist, the way Tav moans when Astarion yanks it. Tav’s hands on his hips, their grip never too tight. Tav’s mouth on his skin, warm and adoring. Tav’s soft gasping breaths, beyond his control as he rises to his peak.

Tav’s co*ck, driving deep into him.

A bolt of desire sears through Astarion, stronger than anything he’s ever felt, and it makes his balls tighten. The fantasy is over quickly when the man taking his pleasure grunts at the spasm that squeezes his co*ck. Smirks.

“Feels good darlin’?”

He’s back. Back in the guest bedroom, back with this man he doesn’t know, back to having sex he doesn’t care about. Back in his role. Astarion gives the stranger a coy smile. It doesn’t feel good. It never does. It’s a stretch and burn he can’t stand. But he has a part to play, and so he says- far too calm and level, if the man had been paying enough attention- that of course it does.

It’s only later, much later, after his quarry is gone, as he lays in an abused, sore ball alone in a cold bed, that he swears to himself he can never think of Tav like that again.

He wants it too much.

Notes:

Boy oh boy they're circling the drain ever faster, huh? These dumb boys.

Chapter 22: Solitude

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He encounters a sweat-stained Tav one night, late late into the night, long after Astarion has usually gone home. It’s the only time Tav is the one to push their boundaries. The only time he’s not thinking clearly enough to treat Astarion with the usual ridiculous amount of care and kindness he normally does. He’s drunk or sleep-deprived or both, full of vigor and excitement, born of a joy that’s nearly delirium. His coinpurse jingles obnoxiously with far too much gold and his flute hangs from his belt. Astarion’s just missed a performance. The loss of an opportunity to finally see Tav at work makes him frown (definitely not pouting) and Tav notices it. When his arm circles Astarion’s back he brushes the poem scars and Astarion’s skin crawls violently, like thousands of tiny spiders have climbed inside his doublet. He writhes out of Tav’s hold- though Tav, of course, instantly lets go- and stands to the side panting. Trying to reclaim a grip on himself. He feels Cazador’s attention and roughly turns away from the drow- the one thing he cannot bear Cazador to see. Astarion lets Cazador know his revulsion and that it’s because someone touched his back. Cazador’s fault. Cazador’s scars. Cazador merely laughs at his discomfort. Promises him new scars if he continues to be childish about the old ones. A new poem, a new long night of carving and crying out, a new-old torment visited upon him anew. Astarion is even graciously allowed to feel the echoes of the last time. Cazador ripping the agony of it from his memories and pressing it into his thoughts. The letters burn on his skin with phantom pain. He’s gasping, sightless to the present, back on that cold wood table in the dark with letters being branded onto his skin at knifepoint and then-

And then Cazador is gone.

Astarion can finally relax. He breathes again. He just breathes for a long, long moment, letting the useless action ground him, and then he turns to face Tav.

The drow’s vanished.

Astarion blinks at the empty space, baffled, hurt, unsure. Had Tav taken offense at him so abruptly shaking him off? It would be unusual but then, so was his initial reaction, and maybe Tav thought he was better left alone for the rest of the night.

He lifts his eyes and- ah, not gone, but taken. A lovely elven lass has him by the elbow and Tav seems to be trying his best to be kind to her. But his smiles are uneasy and his body tense. Something kindles hot in the pit of Astarion’s stomach. He’s not sure if it’s jealousy or rage. Perhaps it’s both. It doesn’t matter regardless. He winds his way through the few people that stand between him and Tav.

“Pardon, miss.” Astarion says, carefully keeping his voice neutral. “But I do believe that’s my date for the night.”

Mine.

She glares at him with orange eyes. Wood elf. When she turns those limpid eyes up to Tav it’s with a masterful pout. Tav’s eyes widen a bit when he sees it. Astarion has to bite back the instinctive snarl, cage it between his teeth. He wants to kill her.

He’s mine.

“Is it true?” She asks the drow in a truly pathetic whining tone.

Mine mine mine.

Tav smiles down at her and gently frees his arm from her claws. She tries not to let him go; Tav proves just how strong he is by succeeding anyway, and proves how gentle by barely jostling her as he does it. It’s better than she deserves. Astarion’s fighting not to bare his teeth in a snarl at her for having the audacity to force Tav to stay when he’s showing clear discomfort. He wants to slip his knife into her back. He wants to slit her belly open. Spill her entrails.

Mine. Mine. Don’t look at him. Don’t ever touch him again. Never make him make that face again.

Tav, freed, holds his arm out and Astarion wraps his elbow around it instantly. He glares at the woman, projecting every murderous thought he has in mind through his eyes, and hopes she gets the hint. Tav is his, tonight. Tav is his every night.

Tav is his.

Mine. All mine.

The lass huffs, eyes sparks of a flame, and Tav apologizes to her with a rueful grin and a bow of his head. She doesn’t take it gracefully. She doesn’t take it at all. She turns her nose up at his apology and turns sharply on her heel to storm into the bar. Astarion thinks about coming back later to bring her to the master. She deserves it. She deserves to die for upsetting his drow. Tav watches her go with something of a crestfallen look. She’s taken all the liveliness out of him in one fell swoop. He looks confused and hurt. Astarion’s mad about it, mad at her, and he smooths his free hand up Tav’s arm, trying for soothing, unsure if he’s succeeding. Tav still seems uneasy. Wrong. Delicate, somehow, like he’s one push from breaking.

Astarion switches tactics. Humor instead of soothing. It’s all he can think of.

“I think it would’ve hurt less if you stuck her in the ribs,” Astarion observes.

“I would never!” Tav gasps, a definite and deliberate overreaction that’s kind of cute. Meeting Astarion halfway on the poor attempt at humor with his own terrible offering.

“No, but the kindness did her a disservice. A girl like that is better off dropped immediately. No leading them on even a little or they think they own you. I’ve seen many of that type.”

Tav sighs. “I don’t get it. Don’t get people.”

“I know you don’t, darling. You are somehow the most forgiving yet asinine person I’ve ever met. It’s a wonder this city hasn’t chewed you up and spat you out on its doorstep already.”

“It’s tried. I think I’m stronger than it.”

“For your sake, I hope so.”

Astarion leads them back out into the night. He keeps his arm loose to let Tav escape if the drow chooses to do so but… he doesn’t. Tav stays close to him. Comfortingly, warmly, distractingly close. Tav sighs after a few minutes of walking. He’s relaxing, a bit, but the progress is slow. Astarion becomes aware, after those couple minutes, that Tav’s hands are trembling. Astarion looks up at him. He wants to kiss him. Run his fingers through that long soft hair.

“Do you want to go somewhere?”

“I don’t know,” Tav answers hesitantly. His many careful masks are fading now that it’s just them. Breaking apart into pieces scattered about their feet. “I… I don’t know.”

Astarion tugs them to a stop. He pulls his elbow free and faces the drow. Tav looks miserable. The desire to run his fingers through Tav’s hair strikes again and Astarion figures there can’t be much harm in it. Tav’s never minded before. He cards one hand through it and dark eyes meet red. Tav’s shoulders droop. Only a little bit. He repeats the gesture over and over until Tav’s practically leaning into Astarion like an overgrown cat seeking pets. It’s cute. It’s comfort. It’s another brick laid into this bridge they’re building between them, one that’s just about sturdy enough to stand on its own.

“I think I like that,” he whispers when Astarion reluctantly stops. “It feels nice.”

“Good to know. Now come with me.”

He takes Tav’s hand this time. Their fingers come together perfectly, and Tav finally smiles.

Just a little, but it’s enough.

He drags them back to a familiar park. Tav seems confused and Astarion realizes it’s because the last time they came to this one, Tav had been so exhausted he was nearly delirious, and Astarion had spent his whole night with the drow’s head pillowed on his thigh. He brings them to that same spot now. A spark of recognition flares to life in green eyes. Tav turns to ask for clarification and pauses; Astarion’s already sitting. Tav blinks. Astarion smirks up at him. He pats his knee and Tav flushes just a bit in the moonlight. He takes an extra second to fold his legs beneath him and sit. Astarion rolls his eyes and drags at the drow’s shoulder until Tav’s flat on his back, staring up at him in shock, head on Astarion’s knee.

“There we go,” Astarion says smugly. “That’s better.”

Oh.”

“Roll over.”

“What?”

He pulls. Tav rolls onto his side obediently, facing Astarion’s torso, head on Astarion’s thigh, and the tips of his ears are a deep pink. Astarion runs his hand through long white hair again now that it’s no longer trapped under the man. Tav mumbles another quiet, “Oh.”

They don’t talk after that. Astarion lets the night do the talking- the insects, the distant burble of water, their breathing, Tav’s racing heart- as he just soothes the drow with one hand. Eventually, the nighttime music of nature dulls, and he realizes Tav has slipped into full unconsciousness. Tav’s asleep, just like before, and Astarion is secure enough in their solitude to smile gently down at his drow. It’s a foreign expression on his face, but… he likes it. He likes the feel of it. He likes a lot of this. Of these stolen moments they find together in the night. It’s dangerous, and it’s not like he’s getting any thrills off of skating carefully around the danger. It’s more the fact that he does like these infinitesimal moments, and there’s so little for him to like in his unlife. Is it so bad that he wants this one indulgence? Is it truly so terrible that he just wants to spend time with the only person he’s ever known to never expect anything of him? He can’t help but chuckle to himself after a second’s thought: he’s had marks fall asleep on him when they’re done, but never like this, and he’s never wanted them to trust him the way Tav unconsciously is. Once or twice he’s watched his victims sleep. Waiting for the time when Cazador would take them away. Staring at their serene faces he’d thought them fools. Pitied them for the terrible decisions- their mistakes- that ended them up in bed with him. Ended with them in bed with a monster. He’d watched them sleep knowing that each deep breath was one closer to their last.

Tav isn’t like that.

Tav, asleep on him, is a measure of trust.

(They all were. They all trusted him. Look where that got them.)

Tav’s soft breathing is soothing. The slow steady beat of his heart as he slumbers stills Astarion’s thoughts until there’s nothing left in the night but the sound of his drow. He bends every sense to that, for a second. He watches Tav’s chest rise and fall. He listens to Tav’s resting heartbeat. He can smell that sweet-spicy scent, that mulled cider aroma he can taste at the back of his tongue, half-tamed by a rose perfume. And lastly he can’t stop himself from pressing a palm flat against the drow’s sternum. It’s blessedly warm under Tav’s shirt, but moreover, Astarion could almost swear he can feel Tav’s heart.

Mine.

He shakes off the possessive thought for the umpteenth time tonight. Tav isn’t his. Can’t be.

But he wants him to be.

Astarion sighs quietly to himself. He looks down at his sleeping drow. Helpless to resist, he runs his fingers through roseate hair one more time. Tav mumbles in his sleep and rubs his cheek against Astarion’s thigh. Astarion hums curiously, impressed by how deeply asleep Tav’s already fallen, and then his idle hands get to work. The idea’s only half-formed in his brain, a hazy thing in his mind’s eye, but he thinks he can make it happen, and make it look good.

He’s not quite sure how long they’re together in the dark. Long enough that the shadows are going gray at the edges. When Tav wakes up he snuggles closer, nuzzling his nose against the crease of Astarion’s thigh and hip, and the vampire has to take a quiet breath in to hold himself in check. There’s an intimacy to that closeness and trust that he’s never experienced. It feels so soft and sweet and good.

“Feel better?” He whispers.

Tav’s eyes flash open. He looks up, mortified just as much as he was the last time, but this time he doesn’t shoot upright blushing furiously. This time he stares at Astarion for a long moment before that warm smile comes to his lips.

“I do. Thank you, isilme.”

That’s what I wanted to hear,” Astarion says. “But if you’re up I think I have to get going, love.”

“Of course.”

Tav sits up- and pauses. He frowns, reaching a hand over his shoulder, and gives Astarion a quizzical look.

“Did you… braid my hair?”

Astarion shrugs, a hint of a smirk playing at the edges of his mouth. “Couldn’t resist.”

Tav swings his head side to side and the plait sways with it. He looks confused.

“I can take it out-” Astarion starts.

No!” Tav says quickly. “It’s fine. I like it. Just… it’s been a while since I’ve had my hair up like this. I don’t know how to do it myself, and… I don’t like to let people touch me.”

Astarion co*cks an eyebrow. That seems unbelievable, considering just how much and how often and how many ways he touches the drow. How Tav leans into each careful touch like it’s something he needs . “Really?”

“Yeah.”

Astarion trails his fingers over his handiwork. It’s loose and elegant. He often braids Aurelia’s hair for her, so he has the practice. If he’d had flowers nearby to fold into the braid he may have. It would’ve looked lovely on Tav. Instead he worked with what he had, and what he had was long locks of alabaster, plenty of time, and the knowledge that hands in that hair soothed his drow’s heavy heart.

Those were all the reasons he needed.

“I find that hard to believe, love.”

Tav doesn’t look at him. He stares wistfully into the darkness outside their little shared space. There’s a sense of melancholy to him all of a sudden. Astarion doesn’t know where he crossed a line but he knows he must’ve.

“It’s fine in some cases,” Tav says softly. “It’s rare that I want it, or accept it.”

“So this is another gift you give me,” Astarion murmurs as he skims a touch over the newly bared skin at the nape of Tav’s neck. It looks surprisingly delicate, for all of Tav’s muscle. He traces constellations amongst the spates of freckles hidden there. Tav shivers under his fingertips. “And only me, hmm?”

Tav tilts his head down and toward him, just a little, just enough to see the slight smile on that lovely pale mouth.

“Only you.”

He’s mine .

Notes:

That ending is an image I can very well see in my head and only wish I could draw it, haha.

On that note, who wants to count all the times Tav's told Astarion he loves him (in not those words) but Astarion fails the saving throw to notice? I think we're on two or three by now...

Chapter 23: Revelation

Notes:

TW for a slight mention of suicidal ideation (extremely slight but I wanted to warn for it anyway).

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Are you alright?”

Astarion frowns up at Tav. “Fine.”

“Are you sure?” Tav asks softly, concern pulling his expression tight. “You’re limping.”

“No more than you,” Astarion snaps.

The drow’s had a limp all along, but it rarely shows up. He favors his right leg only slightly on a normal day, a bit more on the rainy or cold days. It’s been raining all day today, but that doesn’t exempt Astarion from work. The pain radiating down his leg, however, nearly did, until he was threatened with double the torture that had put him in this state to begin with. He had acquiesced to work. He had agreed to work but first he’d needed to find something else. Some one else. His drow, who he finds in less than twenty minutes, who sees him coming and excuses himself immediately, whose brow furrows quickly but he hadn’t asked until they were back out under the stars. A small kindness, that, as is so typical of Tav. The braid’s gone, Astarion notices vaguely, but then, it’s been nearly six days since last he saw the man. Of course it’s gone.

He’ll have to redo it.

He huffs.

Tav blinks at the sour mood Astarion’s in, at his vicious comebacks, but he doesn’t complain about it. He never complains about it. It only serves to make Astarion feel guilty. It makes him want to be nice. He normally apologizes, but today he doesn’t. He spent enough time apologizing to Godey and Cazador already today. He won’t let ‘I’m sorry’ pass his lips one more time tonight. Even if he’d mean it, when it comes to Tav.

He tries to think instead of what to say to bridge the gap and is practically ashamed when what comes to mind is, “Why is that, anyway?”

Yet Tav takes it in stride, as ever.

“Same reason my left wrist is scarred,” he says easily. “The chains I wore were on my left wrist and right leg and secured to a bed frame. The leg chain was long enough to let me get off either side of the bed, enough to relieve myself in the chamberpot, but no longer than that. That would be dangerously close to allowing me enough slack to… free myself from the situation, shall we say. It was also enough to hinder me when I needed to escape. I ended up breaking it.”

“The chain?”

Astarion’s not thinking of the fact that Tav had thought of ending his own life. He’s not. He’s not thinking of the man lying cold and dead in chains. He’s not. He’s not thinking that he nearly never got to meet this man who’s changed his life.

Tav’s smile is wry and hollow. “My leg.”

Astarion’s head whips toward him. “You-”

“Sadly I was a poor healer at the time. Nor did I have any sort of materials but the bedsheets. I healed it and bound it but… not well. I had it fixed more properly later, when Eilistraee’s priestesses offered me succor, but the ache remains.” He laughs. “It was far from a clean break. I was rather desperate. It was presumably my only chance at freedom. If you’d ever been in that situation, you’d understand the lengths you’d go to for escape, and-”

I do.”

Tav’s eyes shoot to his immediately. Astarion had choked out the words and now he’s grappling with the compulsion that overwhelms his senses if he gets any sort of close to admitting truths. Who he belongs to. The blood-bound slave he truly is.

Tav’s hands are so painfully gentle on his shoulders. “Isilme?”

Gods he loves that name. He loves the way Tav says it, like it’s a whisper of supplication, like it matters so much to him.

Astarion nods and waves him away. His throat’s clenching and spasming. He chokes and gasps. But Tav must see the remote calm on his face because he doesn’t panic. He just tightens his hold. Astarion reaches up and clutches those pale gray fingers. Tav takes his hand and holds it. Astarion slips his fingers into Tav’s. Squeezes.

It takes a minute more for the horrible choking sounds to cease, for the stranglehold to ease, and then Astarion sags into Tav. Tav wraps his arms around Astarion. Astarion shudders. Tav is so warm. He feels like he’s being bracketed by torches. It’s soothing. So is the hand that brushes through his curls.

“You’re not okay,” Tav says worriedly. “Can I ask?”

“No,” Astarion croaks. “No.”

So Tav doesn’t, and Astarion turns his face into Tav’s shoulder, inhales the rose-spicy scent he's come to adore so much.

“I’m here,” Tav murmurs overhead. “I’ve got you.”

He presses Astarion against him. Astarion doesn’t have a word for how utterly at ease he always feels inside the circle of the drow’s powerful arms. One ash-gray hand cradles the back of his head. Astarion closes his eyes and just breathes, just lets the warmth of Tav’s body and heart sink into him and loosen his muscles, relishes the feeling of Tav’s fingers in his hair and on his side.

He wishes he could spend every minute of the rest of his endless life here. He allows himself the single indulgence of reaching up and grasping a fistful of Tav’s shirt. It’s warm with Tav’s heat between his fingers.

Time passes as the two of them stay pressed together. Astarion’s greedy chill saps more and more of Tav’s warmth but Tav doesn't whisper a word of complaint. Nor does he say anything when Astarion buries his nose into the join of neck and shoulder. He merely readjusts his stance and tightens his hold accordingly. They shouldn’t be out in the open like this. It’s a risk. Anyone could see them. Anyone includes his siblings. This whole sordid thing could come crashing down around his ears if he doesn’t pull away and shake off this comforting feeling.

But gods, he can’t. He doesn’t care. Tav is the only thing he needs right then, and Tav is apparently keen to provide.

Isilme?” Tav whispers with a definite note of concern, probably a few minutes later, and Astarion’s eyes flash open. sh*t. How long has he been forgetting to breathe? He doesn’t remember. Long enough to be concerning, clearly, or just outright suspicious. “Are you alright?”

“Never better, darling,” he murmurs into the hollow of Tav’s throat as he reluctantly pulls away. “Sorry to keep you hostage for so long.”

“It’s fine,” Tav says, the arm around his waist slow to leave him. “Of course it is. I don’t mind at all.”

There’s a hint of that sweet blush in his cheeks and it makes Astarion smirk. He falls back on his usual persona because the rest of him, buried further down, is still reeling, still screaming for the warmth and comfort of Tav’s embrace.

“Of course you don’t mind, dearest. Who would mind me being pressed up against them?”

It’s almost certainly the wrong thing to say and Tav’s expression falters briefly. He’s seen Astarion with plenty of others who want just that from the pale elf. Tav is not one of them. Before he can say as much Astarion’s taken his hand.

“Not that I strictly count you among them, darling. I hardly mind if you do want me pressed against you, but…” his voice trails off. Quieter, more truthful, he whispers, “…but nor do I mind if you don’t. In fact, I rather like that, you know. Perhaps it sounds strange but… it’s nice to not be wanted, sometimes.”

“I get it.” Tav murmurs back. “You know I do.”

I don’t like to let people touch me. It’s fine in some cases. It’s rare that I want it, or accept it.

“Yes,” Astarion realizes, abruptly, the truths Tav’s been telling him. The inherent understanding between them that’s existed since day one. “You do. I suppose it’s no wonder that… we…”

He trails off, because he doesn’t know how to end the sentence. ‘That we found each other?’ No. That wasn’t why. ‘That we understand each other?’ Maybe. ‘Keep coming back to each other?’ Most definitely, actually. They keep coming back because they understand each other just a little too well. He may not know all of Tav’s history. Tav certainly doesn’t know any of his. But they know enough, they know each other, even without speaking the words. There’s a comfort in their unspoken shared experiences that sets them both at ease. It’s what allows him- and him alone- to touch Tav. It’s what makes Tav so utterly relaxing to be around.

Whatever it is, whatever the name of that feeling he experiences in Tav’s embrace, it binds them securely and totally. It binds them together and brings them together, night after night, tenday after tenday.

In the end he doesn’t have to figure out what the right words are. Of course he doesn’t. Tav already knows them. Tav just smiles and says, “I know.”

It comes to him in a flash, just after midnight one night, when he and Tav are alone in a small patch of greenery and cricket song.

There is a word for what he feels in Tav’s presence. He knows what it is. He’s just never had cause to feel it, not for most of his life, long enough that the truth of the word had long ago slipped his mind.

He feels safe.

Oh, he knows Tav would never be able to stand against Cazador if the vampire lord came calling. Nor would he want Tav to. That’s not how he feels safe- he doubts he ever will, where Cazador is concerned, always looking over his shoulder- when he’s with Tav. There’s no such thing as protection from Cazador’s power. Never will be. Astarion belongs to the master and always will.

The way Tav makes him feel safe is hidden in the way that Tav earnestly does not intend anything. Ask him for anything. Tav has no hidden motives, no agendas, no nefarious ideas going on behind his soft green eyes. Any time desire flares in those eyes it’s because Astarion wanted to see it and played his drow like the drow plays an audience to get that reaction. Astarion is in control. For the first time in a long time. He’s in control and because he is, he knows exactly what he’s giving up. What he’s giving to Tav. And Tav only wants him, wants Astarion, just as he’s always gotten him. No matter how grasping his fingers, how cold his body, how vicious his tongue, Tav wants it all. There’s no punishment if he snaps at Tav. None besides the hurt look that flashes through dark eyes. Honestly, on the off chance he catches a glimpse of that look, it hurts worse than half of the things Cazador could do to him. Physical pain is one thing, one he’s practically used to. Emotional pain is a new thing entirely. Emotions are a new thing entirely. He hasn’t had many to his name except fear, rage, pain, and self-loathing. Nothing positive. Nothing like safety or comfort or… acceptance.

Astarion feels seen with Tav. Astarion is safe to let his guard down, even if it’s just a little, when they’re together. The fanciful airs he uses as defense are there- they’re always there- but Tav is allowed to see under them, to see the truth of him, because he knows Tav won’t run. Tav won’t take advantage. Tav only smiles that gentle smile and cradles his pale hand like it’s something achingly precious. The drow is content with the Astarion he gets. The one he sees. The one Astarion allows him to have. It’s a terrifyingly genuine version of himself. One he thought long dead. One buried a long time ago, perhaps, that he’s resurrected just for these stolen moments.

One he wants Tav to have.

The realization leaves him staring at Tav in soft amazement. Wondering when and how it happened that he let someone so close to him that he can feel safe with them. It’s been decades since he risked closeness. He didn’t think he knew how any more. It came so easily with Tav. So simply did they come together, settle into tendencies and habits, that he’s realizing he’s been safe with Tav from the beginning. That’s been the feeling behind his utter comfortability. Behind the way he relaxes only when he’s with Tav, over a century of constant vigilance draining out of him, out of every strained muscle. Not once has the drow hurt him intentionally. Tav’s usually doing his damnedest to avoid upsetting him. The only reason he ever does is that he can’t know how to avoid the pitfalls and Astarion can’t warn him where they lie on Tav’s slow steady path down to Astarion’s guarded heart. Tav continues on regardless, every time, dusting himself off and continuing unerringly on. He’s determined to reach that level Astarion’s just about willing to let him into. Astarion has nothing in him to counteract Tav’s gentle inclinations. It’s unusual. He has no defenses. Even the pitfalls aren’t enough to dissuade Tav. He keeps coming right back. And Astarion keeps letting him. He gets the strange feeling he always will. He needs Tav to keep reaching out, keep grasping at his invisible sharp edges to peel them back even as they make him bleed, keep finding his way past Astarion’s ancient scars.

He needs Tav to see him. All of him. Every last shadowed part of his soul.

And stay.

He thinks it might be possible. That he might finally have found someone who cares.

“You’re stubborn, you know that?”

Tav, scribbling new lyrics in his notebook with an adorable little furrow in his brow, blinks and looks at him with confusion.

“What?”

“You’re stubborn,” Astarion repeats, laying his head on Tav’s shoulder. “Extremely so.”

“Is that a problem?”

He can hear the amusem*nt, the smile, in Tav’s voice. It makes him smile, and he’s glad Tav can’t catch it on his face.

“No, I don’t think so. If anything, I rather appreciate that about you.”

“Then I’ll be sure to stay stubborn. Just for you, isilme.”

Astarion laughs, nuzzling Tav’s shoulder, fond beyond words for just a moment. Tav doesn’t move, lets him do as he wishes, but he can still see that small smile from the other night. The one that accompanied only you.

His smile. The one only for him. So much of Tav is only for him.

“Can I braid your hair again, love?”

“If you’d like. I… rather liked it, actually. Kept it off my strings for a few days.”

“I think you just want my hands on you, darling.”

“Well.” Tav’s ears are turning a faint pink. “That too.”

“Hm, you’re getting greedy, my sweet. Keeping me all to yourself, getting jealous, wanting me to touch you- my, a man could blush for feeling so special.”

Isilme.”

He laughs as he gets to work.

Notes:

Ooh look another little dangle of Tav backstory- and also Astarion maybe finally realizing some things.
Maybe.
Possibly.
Probably not XD

Chapter 24: Change

Notes:

We're going to pretend I have self-control but this is proof I don't. There was a normal chapter on the 25th; I just had a very poor mental health day and I'm making questionable decisions because of it, haha. There'll be another, much longer one up in a few days, and then MAYBE I pause for the much bigger one later. We'll see how I hold up against the urge to drop one of my favorite chapters.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“This is early for you,” Tav says casually, seemingly not noticing that Astarion’s staring at him in slack-jawed awe.

He had stumbled upon the drow outside the Dancing Cat. Tav’s shirtless. His pants hang low on sharply defined hipbones. Water drips from his chin, his fingers, and the ends of his hair. Astarion had watched him dump the bucket over his head to rinse off what smells faintly as though it may have been vomit. The baby, or a drunk? Who knows. Astarion’s been unable to take his eyes off the glistening trails of water since. Gods below the man was cut from granite. Smooth chiseled perfection. The pants are starting to get wet too from those rivulets of water and if Astarion gets to see the outline of the drow’s co*ck he’s not going to be able to tear his eyes away. So he looks away now. He looks pointedly at the feline sign swaying in the evening breeze.

“I had time.”

The days are growing shorter and the nights longer. More time for the spawn to hunt. He’s out because he has a mark to find. Some lowlife who’ll be overjoyed to come to this month’s fancy soirée. He has to find them early enough to invite them and lead them back before the ball- the banquet- starts. He shouldn’t be here but… he is. Why, he can’t quite guess at. Safety, he decides. Every single one of his siblings is prowling the streets for victims tonight. He can’t risk Tav falling for any of their lies or affectations. Tav was easily reeled into Astarion’s wicked web. He’s stuck there even now. It shows in the way his body has angled toward Astarion’s. How at ease he is despite how vulnerable he is. Hell’s teeth the man’s toweling his hair dry and can’t even see. He’s blind in front of a vampire. He has no care at all for his own safety. Clearly he has to be looked out for. Protected. Astarion doesn’t want the drow to follow any one of his siblings to his death any more than he wants Tav to find it at Astarion’s own hand.

“Do me a favor, darling.” Tav inclines his head, indicating both that he’s listening and for Astarion to continue, which he does after a second to best think of how to voice his demand. “Stay home tonight. Stay in. Don’t be… out here. On the streets. If you need gold I’ll provide. But just don’t… don’t stray from the house.”

There’s a beat of silence. Tav seems a little startled, but nothing worse than that. Finally he nods. “As you say.”

That easy. Astarion only had to ask and the man’s agreed, the man’s doing it, no questions asked or clarification sought. The implicit trust Tav places in him is as heavy around his neck as a noose.

“You’re not even going to ask why?”

To which Tav just tilts his head. “Do you need me to?”

“Most people would be curious, at least!” Astarion snaps. “Most people, even the most common idiot, would want to know why someone’s asking them to do something! Any sort of explanation at all. Why the hells wouldn’t you ask?”

“I figure you have a good reason to ask. And you seem concerned about something. It’s good enough for me.”

Astarion tosses his hands up into the air in disgust and disbelief. “Who made you this way!?”

“What way?” Tav asks with a blank look and a blink of confusion.

“The way you are! This… trusting! This… this guileless and foolish!”

Tav’s expression turns… not cold, not quite, but stony regardless. His smile isn’t entirely genuine, or even familiar. “I did. I made myself this way. Because I didn’t want to be anything like what I’d seen around me in the world before. I wanted to be better. The day I broke my chains and escaped I began to remake myself. Into someone I could be proud of. Into someone I truly wanted to be. Above the expectations of those around me. Someone different. And it was worth it. Every last minute I dedicated to that change.”

Astarion scoffs, staring hard at the ground now. He can’t look at Tav. Not right now. Not in the face. Not when he’s trying to tell an immortal, forever-unchanging vampire that he can be someone- some thing- better than that. “You make it sound so easy.”

“I didn’t say it was easy. I said it was worth it. It’s a lot of work. You have to want it. You have to want to be better. You have to be determined to break away from what you were and forge a new path, even if it’s terrifying. It took a long time to make myself into this man. And I’m proud of what I am.”

“What you are is a rotten fool,” Astarion hisses.

“Perhaps,” Tav murmurs. “But if I can be there when someone needs me, if I can be that person someone trusts, then I’ll be the fool as long as I need be.”

Astarion swallows hard. “That’s going to get you killed.”

“So be it,” Tav whispers.

Astarion draws a breath, ready to let it out in a furious tirade that just… dies on his tongue. Instead he points at the door.

“Stay inside. Don’t come out tonight.”

Tav smiles. It’s too warm, too sweet, too kind. He drapes the towel over broad shoulders and simply does as he was told. Astarion’s stomach clenches and unclenches sharply. He turns away before the door has shut behind the drow and rushes into the deepening night.

Change. Change. How can he change? For more than three times the original length of his former wasted life he’s been this unthinking unfeeling unchanging monster. Incapable of remorse or apology. Incapable of love or sorrow. Performing every night like he’s in a stage play. A veteran actor who knows his part and could- does- play it to perfection in his sleep. For a century and a half he’s been that worthless actor. That senseless murderer. A needle-fanged creature of the night. What does Tav know about change? What right does he have to lecture Astarion on it?

(Hasn’t he changed, since he met the drow? Hasn’t he changed so much? Hasn’t he started to realize how awful his actions can be? Hasn’t he been expending so much effort and care to protect Tav? Hasn’t he started to feel remorse, started to apologize and mean it, started to ache with the loneliness he’s ignored so long, started to lo-

No. Certainly not that.)

(Hasn’t he changed?)

Tav’s simply a good-hearted fool. Too soft and kind for his own good. Astarion has to make sure he stays safe.

That's all there is to it. Not an iota more than that.

Nothing at all to do with the anxiousness that curdles his stomach. Nothing at all to do with how Tav makes him feel, makes him think. Nothing at all to do with his own powerful need to ensure his drow is safe.

Nothing at all.

He takes a circuitous way back to the palace with his find, a lovely lad wearing far too much cologne and makeup, talking the poor fellow up the whole time so that the man won’t notice they’ve passed at least two avenues leading into the Upper City where the party he was promised awaits. Astarion bids him to wait outside the Cat, promising another bottle of sweet champagne in just a moment, and ducks into the noise of the bar.

He only needs a second.

The male drow is head and damn near shoulders above the rest of the crowd. Astarion desperately wants to slip through the press of people, wrap a lock of hair around his finger, and pull. He wants to see the way Tav’s eyes light up when he turns to smile at Astarion. It’s one of his guiltiest pleasures. Someone who wants to see him. But he doesn’t move from his stolen spot by the door. He only came to ensure Tav was following orders. Only that. Nothing more.

Tav’s dark eyes pass over the throng, skating over Astarion, but swiftly return. Astarion feels something burn in his chest- Tav knows him with barely a glance- and then another, stranger sensation squirms alongside the burn when Tav’s eyes do light up and he does smile. Tav looks over the crowd, looks back at the bar, and lifts pale eyebrows pointedly.

See? I’m being good. I’m doing what you asked.

It’s all he can ask for. He nods once and slips back outside to his ‘date’. The man bemoans the lack of alcohol and Astarion shushes him, assures him that there’s plenty at the party, and come to think of it they’re going to be late. They really ought to hurry away from this particular spot so they don’t miss out on the food and especially the drinks. Finest in the city, for sure.

Notes:

P.S. One of these days Astarion will stop lying to himself about how he feels. One of these days.

Chapter 25: Desires

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He hears the music. Not a melody but words, and he knows that voice. Astarion eagerly slips down the alleyway toward it. It’s been days since he enjoyed Tav’s company. He’s been staying away since the party, recovering himself, letting his body and psyche come back to his usual levels of detachment. He’s well enough now. And he’s missed Tav’s presence. The only thing he’s been missing is that measure of peace he gets from being near the drow.

He can hear Tav just around the bend, and there he pauses to listen. If he made his presence known there’s a strong chance Tav would stop singing, and he doesn’t want that. He hasn’t pestered the drow for a song in a long while. He loves the sound of Tav’s voice. The song is melancholy. Not one he recognizes. Tav must have so many, he thinks. This one is soft and aching and, he gets the sense, about him once more. About them.

Tav’s voice finishes echoing. Astarion’s heart finishes beating along to the wavering cadence. Astarion starts forward… and freezes at the sound of a man’s voice.

“C’mon, doll, why not somethin’ sweet? Lively. Fer me?”

He has no right being angry, being jealous, at the sound of Tav entertaining someone else. This is Tav’s livelihood. Entertainment. Astarion knows better than anyone what some of the unasked for drawbacks of entertaining people are. He doesn’t know if Tav’s deliberately appealed to this man or not. Much as Tav has agreed not to butt into his work, he must not insert himself into Tav’s. It’s only fair.

“Not interested,” Tav says coolly.

Despite himself Astarion relaxes. At least until he hears a growl.

“What if I ain’t askin’?”

Pressed into the shadows, a sliver of moonlight brought to earth, Astarion bares his fangs.

Don’t touch me!” Tav snaps.

Tav can get angry at him if he wants. He’s not going to sit here and listen to Tav be assaulted-

Something cracks. A scream. Astarion darts around the corner and-

Oh.

Tav’s the serious version of himself. His eyes are cold, dispassionate, his lips a thin line. He looks up at the sudden appearance of Astarion. He blinks but the mask doesn’t crack. Instead he calmly says, “Ah. Hello, isilme. It’s been a while.”

The man who must have been harassing the drow is on the ground before him. He writhes in silent agony. One arm is bent… the entirely wrong direction. There’s blood thick in the air. He can see shards of bone sparkling white in a moonbeam. There’s no point in asking if Tav’s alright. The question lingers at the tip of his tongue anyway. In lieu of asking Astarion steps closer and reaches out. Tav doesn’t move but he regards the pale hand warily. Astarion takes it back.

“Shall we go, love?” He nods down at the man. “I don’t think he’s going to be leaving any time soon, so we may as well.”

Tav glances down, looks back to Astarion, and nods. He steps over the prone man and follows Astarion without a word.

“Everything alright, darling?” Astarion murmurs as they retrace Astarion’s steps. “Not like you to… hm. Choose violence, shall we say?”

“I don’t like being touched out of the blue,” Tav responds. His voice is still strange, flat and calm, and Astarion frowns. He eyes Tav curiously and the urge strikes him to push the boundary. See how much he can get away with, see where Tav draws lines. ‘Only you’, he had said tendays ago now. How far is Astarion alone allowed to go? He’s been so careful for so long. But this- this is not his drow. Tav’s gone somewhere internal yet distant and he doesn’t like it.

Desperate times, desperate measures, and all that.

He grabs Tav’s forearm.

Tav moves faster than a striking snake at the unexpected touch. Suddenly Astarion’s back and skull slam into the wall of the alley. Tav looms over him. Those jeweled eyes are all fire and danger. His hands are pinning the vampire to the wall by the shoulders; there’s the power in the hold that Tav should have, looking at him and his sheer muscle, but that he never uses. Astarion feels a shiver flare up his spine. Tav must feel it, must misunderstand it, because suddenly his expression goes startled, then pained, and he releases Astarion with a wince.

“I-I’m sorry, isilme, I-” Tav’s frown turns irritated. “But why would you..?”

“No harm done, love,” Astarion purrs. “I rather expected that reaction. Hoped for it, anyway. As for why , I didn’t like your little… mood.”

What? Why would you make me- I don’t want to hurt you!”

Astarion scoffs. “Sweetling it will take a lot to hurt me. I’m much more concerned about the other way around.”

“I don’t think you could hurt me,” Tav says with a note of surprise.

Astarion knows full well he can. It would be beyond easy to do. He’s a vampire spawn. He has strength and speed Tav never will. “I must disagree, dear.”

“I dare you to try.”

The bluster, the bravado, is kind of cute. Astarion smirks, for once not worrying about the slip of fang against his lip, and hooks his foot around Tav’s ankle. He shoves, twisting with the motion, and now he’s pushed an altogether adorably startled Tav against the wall.

“Oh,” Tav breathes. “Um.”

Astarion shifts closer, pinning Tav with his whole body, nosing the line at the join of neck and shoulder, nuzzling into the hollow of Tav’s throat. Tav’s frozen. He’s stopped breathing entirely. Astarion breathes a chuckle into ashen skin.

“See? It’s easy, love.” He wedges a knee between Tav’s and that makes the drow suck in a startled breath. “You made it sound so hard, yet here you are, completely at my mercy.”

“I-”

“You don’t seem upset about it.”

“It didn’t exactly hurt,” Tav whispers.

“No? Do I need to try again, love?” Astarion purrs, pressing his mouth to Tav’s neck. For a second he can feel the fluttering pulse under his lips before he loses it when he moves away from the temptation. Tav tilts his head and brings the rapid beat right back under his lips. Astarion groans aloud. His teeth ache with the desire to bite. Sink into soft gray flesh, glut himself on that sweet-spicy blood, experience true bliss for a few short minutes until Tav’s gone.

He shoves the predator instincts down. Brings back his seductive ones. He slips a hand below the back of Tav’s waistband, fingers cool against Tav’s skin, and scrapes his fangs just so across that racing pulse. Tav’s breath hitches. Astarion smirks against his skin.

“Mmm… you smell good. You feel good.”

Isilme.” Tav sounds more like a ravished man than a worried one.

“Whatever shall I do with you now that I have you as my defenseless captive, my dear?” Astarion murmurs against the bob of Tav’s heavy swallow.

The drow’s hands find his slender hips. There’s something not quite right about Tav’s voice when he says, “You can hurt me.”

Not what he expected. The request makes something tighten in Astarion’s stomach, and he’s not sure if it’s desire or disgust. He doesn’t know what to think about it. Especially out of his gentle drow. He’s no stranger, of course, to people who like pain to be visited upon them. Usually during sex, for his purposes. He’s not one of them, though sometimes he has to be, but he’s also not sure about being the one causing the pain. It’s a strange middle ground for a nearly-starved vampire spawn. Being careful enough to not draw blood is a challenge.

“What?”

He has to ask, has to be sure he heard that, has to confirm his sweet-hearted drow said those particular words.

Tav’s grip tightens. “I want you to hurt me.”

“Tav,” he warns.

Tav seems to take it as permission. He leans into Astarion’s space. “Please?”

The plea sends a frisson of heat through him. So many other ways, places, and times he’d love to have Tav begging him for something. This is not one of them.

“I think not, darling. Not here, at least. Not like this. Not with you not acting like yourself.”

“I’m f-”

Astarion jerks forward with all his body weight; Tav hits the wall a second time, this time hard, and it seems to stun him. That or it’s the way Astarion snarls into his slack face, “Don’t you dare say ‘fine’, Tav, I swear to all the gods-”

Green eyes blink down at him. Normal green eyes. Tav’s eyes. Not whoever the hell else he’d just been pinning to a wall. They stare each other down, fiery ruby to soft emerald. Astarion relaxes at the sight of his Tav, who very carefully lets go of Astarion’s hips. He has nowhere to go to back away and Astarion doesn’t move. He didn’t like the strange attitude but he quite likes the feel of Tav’s perfect body against his. And the heat. He could luxuriate in it. Tav is staring down at him with something akin to wonder. It’s managed to overwrite the worry, though the first thing Tav says is still, “I’m sorry.”

Astarion closes his eyes and sighs.

“Oh, don’t apologize, you soft-hearted fool.”

“But that wasn’t- I shouldn’t have-”

“I think I’m more at fault for it than you, my dear. Though I must say…” Red eyes open, take in that sweet flush he knew would be darkening Tav’s cheeks, and he smiles wryly. “I think I finally understand exactly what you like about having your hair pulled. That’s a very intriguing relationship with pain you have there, Tav.”

The flush is deepening. Like Tav’s mortified to admit to anything, even if he already has, in so many ways. “I… do have strange relationship with pain. Not necessarily bad, but… probably not good either.”

“That depends on how you play with it. Someday I’ll have to map it out.”

Tav leans down, presses their foreheads together, and Astarion hums with satisfaction. Powerful arms wrap with untold gentleness around his waist. He curls closer into the embrace.

“If you’d like,” Tav whispers. “Someday.”

Astarion loops his arms around Tav’s neck and laughs. “You’re an incredible temptation, love.”

“Sor-”

“That’s not something to apologize for.”

Tav’s staring down at him. The wonder is strong but it’s being subsumed by something else. Something deeper, hotter, hungrier. Tav stares into his eyes, at first, but then his gaze falls to Astarion’s lips, and his own part. Astarion could swear his heart races at that subtle shift of attention. He’s realized, suddenly, just as Tav seems to have, the position they’re in. His blood surges. His arousal surges. He drags his fingers through long rosy hair and Tav moans at the nails Astarion rakes over his scalp.

Tav.”

“Yes,” Tav whispers. A heartbeat later an even softer, “Please.” follows it.

He wants to. Gods, Astarion wants to give in, drag Tav closer, kiss him hard and deep, drop to his knees in this alley and make Tav moan again. He wants it desperately.

But he knows better.

He runs his hands through Tav’s hair once more but this time he tightens his grip and pulls Tav away. Tav whimpers at the sparks of pain but at the same time he goes loose. Pliant. Lets Astarion manhandle him away.

“I have to go, love.”

“Don’t,” Tav pleads, but he’s not actually holding him hostage. The arms around his waist are still too gentle. Too forgiving. “Not this time?”

Astarion groans. “You sweet, delicious thing. Must you make this more difficult for me?”

When he pulls away, Tav lets him go. Of course he does. Not without a wounded look like a kicked puppy, but he lets go all the same. Astarion can’t resist one more touch. He can’t resist the sturdy line of Tav’s jaw. He can’t resist cupping it, sweeping his thumb up the deep scar, and Tav smiles, wistful, under his hand.

“Goodnight, isilme.”

“Tomorrow,” he promises. “Tomorrow night, love.”

When the next night breaks Astarion does his due diligence first. He finds an older woman flattered by his attention, his compliments, his silvery words, and the moment she’s gone he’s redressing with the intent to head back out into the night. Dufay is the one who grants him his ‘dinner’ and when he slips into the Dancing Cat that night it’s with the taste of congealed rat blood still clinging to his teeth. The tavern’s in full uproarious swing this late into the night. Early into the morning? Whichever one wants to term those transient hours until dawn.

Tav sees him almost instantly, like he’s been intently scanning the bar constantly and checking the door every time someone entered. A smile lights up his gentle gray face. The proprietress rolls her eyes and shoves him toward the invading vampire. Tav weaves easily through the crowd, sublime with his dancer’s grace, and Astarion catches a handful of his shirt when Tav reaches him. He pulls. Tav bends elegantly down so Astarion can purr into his ear, “Hello love.”

The throng jostles them together; Astarion stumbles at a shove but Tav’s arm is around his waist in half a second.

“Alright, isilme?”

“Never better,” he murmurs, possibly too softly for Tav to catch, but by the way Tav’s smile goes warm, the drow heard him. “I don’t suppose there’s somewhere we can sneak off to to be… alone?”

Tav smirks. His arm tightens, pulling him against the drow’s heat, and then Tav’s making his leisurely way through the rowdy clientele with ease, with Astarion in comfortable tow.

They slip past the back door of the bar, past the stairs that lead to the second story, and into a cramped kitchen. It’s homey, if a bit too rustic for Astarion’s tastes, and he sits gingerly at one of the chairs around the dining table. It looks flimsy and liable to break with any sudden movements. Or so he thinks until Tav sits easily in another and it holds the drow’s weight without so much as a groan.

Astarion leans an elbow on the table and props his chin in one hand. “So.”

“Hm?”

“What’s on the docket for tonight, love?”

“I feel like it’s up to you,” Tav answers, looking a little perplexed. “You were the one who said you’d be back tonight. I figured you had something in mind.”

“Not at all. I’m not the planning type, darling.”

The only thing on his mind is being here. Spending as much of his time as he can scrape together right where he so dearly wants to be. It hasn’t mattered to him where they go or what they do. If they drink or walk or talk. All that matters is that he has Tav all to himself. Tav’s scent, his words, his smiles, his body.

All his.

Tav eyes him curiously for a second, and then he stands up. With an adorable little smirk he says, “Good to know. Let me get you a drink.”

Tav vanishes through the doorway back into the tavern proper and Astarion is left alone in the kitchen. These people live small. Threadbare. Not as poor as some of the wretched in the city, to be certain, but they could be doing better. There’s a shuffling sound- probably rats in the pantry- and the occasional creak of an old house. He wonders what it’s like to be one of the common folk. He can’t remember now but he doubts he was one. His tastes and mannerisms were highbrow long before Cazador tore him from the mortal coil, that much he’s sure of. This isn’t a place he would ever have been caught dead in, and isn’t one he’d be caught undead in now.

If it weren’t for Tav, anyway.

He’d go damn near anywhere for Tav, which is a little disconcerting to a man who for so long has only been concerned for himsel-

Something warm, wet, and sticky latches onto his ankle and he yelps. When he looks down, he’s more than a little startled to discover he’s not as alone as he’d thought: the babe is gnawing at his leg. A literal ankle-biter. Astarion scowls and scoops the child up.

“Listen here you tiny wretch-” he growls at it, but it only giggles. Giggles. Rude. “I will warn you, brat, that I bite back, and my bite is worse.”

He bares his fangs at the little termite but it only giggles again and reaches for his mouth. He holds it at arms’ length and scowls at it.

“I don’t like you,” he tells the baby firmly.

“Oh come on,” Tav says, laughing as he comes into the room with an altogether very familiar bottle of wine. “She’s not that bad.”

“She bit me.”

“She’s been doing that a lot lately,” Tav replies. “Teething. Lots of screaming through the night as well. Osian must’ve brought her down before he went out to help Rhyla and got caught up. Look, help yourself-” He drops off the bottle. “-and I’ll take her back to the bassinet.”

He doesn't know much about children, but… “By herself?”

“She’ll be fine,” Tav replies calmly. “Not like she can get out. Though, if it’ll make you feel better, I’ll let Rhyla know she needs supervision.”

Astarion huffs. If he had it to spare he’d be flushing indignantly right about now. “I don’t- I’m not worried about-”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Tav interrupts, laughing. Then he winks and says, “Pour me a glass too, would you, isilme?”

He does.

He’s enjoyed far too many minutes of time tonight at Tav’s side. Every time he tells himself he must be going he pours the drow another drink instead, or sees Tav do something new in face or body he’s never seen the man do as he gets steadily drunker. As Tav’s inhibitions fade, Astarion for the first time let his touches linger far longer than any sort of convention dictated or any kind of nicety’s sake. It had been greed. His own fascination is going to be his undoing, he just knows it. It’s a cloying obsession and one he can’t shake himself of. It’s dangerous- beyond dangerous- for both himself and the gentle drow. But the greed, the greed keeps him coming back like a fool, desperate for this comforting sense of safety only Tav can offer him. Despite Astarion’s unspoken intentions Tav seemed to appreciate the closeness. There’s a haziness to his eyes that isn’t quite the drink’s fault. It’s desire. Astarion can taste it at the back of his teeth. Ripe as soft fruit, mellow spice like clove, a sweet mulled wine that lingers. It beckons him ever closer. He can only hope that Tav’s too drunk to remember the fact that Astarion had briefly lost control of himself at one point, that it was his lips pressed in a firm kiss to the curve of Tav’s neck, that it was half a moan he buried beneath the sound of Tav’s pulse. He almost wants to forget that he did it. He knows he shouldn’t have. The greed, the want, the vicious hooked need festering inside him growing stronger by the day made him desperate and reckless. He’s only really forestalled tonight by the fact that Tav starts to fade more to the drink than his own desire. It’s pitifully stunning to Astarion that even drunk (and not insignificantly horny) Tav’s touches still never stray toward anything even resembling groping or suggestive. He’s a perfectly gentlemanly drunk, all things considered. Normally eloquent, Astarion’s lovely bard starts messing up words, and while it’s cute, it’s a midnight chime. Hells, the worst Tav gets at all is when Astarion was half-dragging, half-carrying the man up to his room, Tav had nuzzled into his chest. Nuzzled. Astarion had thought about it, again, just for a moment: what if he stayed? Made sure the drow was going to be okay? Crawled into bed with him and held him while the hangover began?

But then Tav had whined about him being cold and reality had slammed back in. He was a vampire, this was forbidden, and he was putting the drow in danger even now. He had put Tav to bed and fled.

Not before glancing back to see how serene the man looks asleep.

Hells. This is going to end up just like Garrett, if he keeps doing this. Another tortured year- if not more- of starvation and agony and wishing for death anew.

But strangely, he’d take it. He would suffer it if he could only leave that tomb and come find this soft-hearted beauty again. If Tav would still be waiting for him in the night with open arms, eager to see him, eager to hold him.

Astarion’s single bastion of safety.

It would be worth the pain and the clinging clawing madness.

Notes:

If "Kiss the girl" from The Little Mermaid wasn't playing in your head about halfway through, it is now. And yes, I'm cruel, and yes, I love me a slow burn. Sorry not sorry!

Editing to add after the fact: forgot to drop the song Tav was singing! This time it's this one, which has absolutely no implications at all. None! None whatsoever!

Chapter 26: Art of War

Notes:

I've given up on a schedule. I have too many wonderful people who are suffering between chapters who beg for a new one. You'll get one whenever they win (which is very easy for them to do).

On a side note, I still can't thank all you readers enough for consistently coming back, commenting, and just in general liking this fic. It's definitely a major part and driving force behind the constant updates (I am so sorry for your email inboxes, subscribers!) but it's also because this fic is nearly done and I started it in November I have been D Y I N G to talk about it all. The faster I get it out, the faster I can stop nearly combusting with my need to scream about (spoilers).

Anyway, slightly longer chapter today! Love y'all!!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry to get you involved,” Tav says one night. His sigh fogs in the air and is taken away by the brisk cold wind.

Astarion had seen the drow walking nearby at a crisp pace and darted over to join him. Tav had seemed startled by his presence for a moment before he smiled, but the tension never left him as it usually did. It was, even still, drawn as tightly around him as his cloak. They’ve chattered about inane things up until this moment. Now Astarion smirks and glances up at Tav’s rueful expression.

“What, the pair following us?”

“So you noticed.”

“Hard not to, darling. They’re terrible at this.”

Tav’s turn to smirk. “Yes, yes they are.”

“How long has this been going on, my dear?”

“Oh, a few days. I’m not quite sure who they owe their allegiance to, but they’re amusingly determined. And, as you say, bad at their job.”

“Do you want to fight them or lose them?”

“Both,” Tav sighs. “They’re costing me time with you.”

“That is unforgivable.” Astarion agrees.

They’ve only taken two turns and one street when he can sense they’re speeding up. His ears can catch the crunch of snow under their boots catching subtly up. Tav’s aware of it too. His tension ratchets up a notch. Astarion dislikes the look on him. “Come, shall we lose them first and kill them second?”

Tav smiles tightly. He doesn’t nod but it’s answer enough. They move out of the back street and into a busy plaza. There’s a crowd here, of children and their caretakers, of vendors and hawkers, of urchins and beggars. They weave into the crowd and a second later Astarion jolts when Tav takes his hand. His fingers are warm against Astarion’s cold flesh and he greedily squeezes. For a second, he glimpses a smile on Tav’s face at the feeling. Then Tav squeezes back.

Tav leads, and he follows. A very backwards dance, but a graceful one nonetheless, and once or twice they swap positions. They never let go of each other. When they exit the crowd it’s into a small alleyway, barely big enough for them to walk side by side, but Astarion lets Tav lead so he can follow carefully in the bigger man’s bootprints. Tav pulls them both off into a side spot, a single divot in the alley where a couple of the nearby houses leave their refuse for disposal, and Tav whips his cloak off. Astarion’s brow furrows.

“How good of an actor are you?” Tav asks, and Astarion laughs low.

“You’ve come to the right man for that, darling.”

“Good.”

Tav tosses his cloak around Astarion’s head and shoulders and drags him close with it. Astarion almost freezes up at the closeness of them now. The darkness of the cloak smells like Tav. Tav smells like Tav. Rose and spice and sweat. Tav pulls him even closer, until they’re practically pressed together, and then suddenly Astarion’s looking down. Tav’s perched on the edge of a barrel, half-sitting, half-standing, and Astarion knows what his role is supposed to be suddenly.

Gods, Tav’s cruel. Unintentionally so, of course, but it’s a cruel position to be in for Astarion regardless of what Tav meant for this.

He smirks down at the drow. “You only had to ask if this was what you wanted, love.”

Tav rolls his eyes. He’s level with Astarion’s chest, perfectly kissable, and his feet are carefully placed outside Astarion’s. He’s bent over oddly, trying to diminish his shape and size, to be different and not himself, and it must be uncomfortable, but his expression is neutral. They’re just a pair of lovers broken off from the party crowd to be alone and horny. Nothing else. Quite typical for festival nights, after all. Not anything a pair of rogue thugs looking for a drow to assault need to worry about. Tav’s cloak is a different color on the outside than on the inside and he’s covered Astarion’s distinctive hair with it. They could be anyone. Anonymity suddenly feels like the carte blanche Astarion’s been craving. They could be anyone else. They are anyone else. They’re just any other pair of lovers you could find in any one of these secluded places in any corner of the Lower City.

“How good of a scene did you need this to be, darling?” Astarion whispers in Tav’s ear, running a hand up one powerful thigh. Tav lets out a sharp, gusting breath. Astarion smirks. “I can be extremely convincing.”

Isilme,” Tav growls in warning. “Not that convincing. I need to keep an eye out for our friendly little pursuers.”

“Do you?” Astarion asks, bending closer, keeping his cloaked head between the rest of the alley and Tav’s face so it won’t be seen. “They won’t know.”

“I’d rather not risk them knifing you in the back because you’ve gotten me, ah, thoroughly distracted.”

Despite his words, Tav’s hands find Astarion’s hips, and there’s a swooping feeling in his gut when he realizes just how large those hands feel.

“So not too convincing, but convincing enough?” Astarion presses, throwing his arms around Tav’s shoulders to cover him in part with the cloak, curving in close enough to share Tav’s body heat. Nosing down his ear.

“I- ah-”

Closer. Tav’s hands have to leave Astarion’s hips because his knees are there now instead, and Tav’s arms curl protectively- possessively?- around his waist. Despite that clear sign of acceptance, Tav looks up at him with a hint of disapproval.

“Perhaps a little less intense than this,” he says. “They’ve not followed us yet. Probably checking all of the branches off the plaza.”

It’s a subtle back off but a back off it is, so Astarion pulls away a bit. He stays close enough to leave the cloak draped over Tav’s shoulders, though, because unlike him the drow can actually be affected by the cold.

“Any idea why they’re so determined, darling?”

“Mm. Think it’s the usual suspects- they're related to the former group that almost succeeded, then mysteriously vanished.” Tav looks up at him with both curiosity and amusem*nt. “That was your doing, was it not? You knew it was a group of humans. I never told you that.”

“Killing them, yes, as for what happened to the bodies, that I couldn’t tell you. I wasn’t present for that part.”

“Four of them. Impressive.”

One of Tav’s hands is running up and down his back and it’s distracting. “Why thank you, sweetling. Always lovely to have someone singing my praises. Though I’d prefer to actually hear you sing… and I’ll be honest, I didn’t escape as unscathed as I would have liked.”

Something like a growl rumbles through the body under him. “Noted.”

“They're already dead, darling.”

“These ones aren’t.”

“These ones are also stupid.” Astarion points out. He glances back at the mouth of the alley. “Obviously.”

Tav huffs. “Obviously. Hm. So, hypothetically…” He trails off and Astarion looks back at him. Tav’s expression is all wry amusem*nt, but there’s the barest touch of disdain there. “In your opinion, since we’re an underground race that’s blinded and hurt by the sun, when might you expect to best take a drow by surprise?”

“Daytime.” Astarion says without hesitation.

Exactly,” Tav sighs. “And yet.”

Astarion smirks. “And yet.”

“At least that previous group had that sense to them. It was why they got ahold of me at all. Caught me napping, quite literally.”

“Rude bastards.”

“Very much so.”

“And you’re certain, darling, that these people aren’t being sent after you? From Menzoberranzen?”

“Yes,” Tav says easily. “I told you- I wasn’t important enough to be tracked down like this. I’m a nobody to Menzoberranzen at large.”

Astarion doesn’t like the way Tav is so derisive of himself. He gets closer again. Tav’s warm. Tav smiles, slightly, and tightens his arm around Astarion’s waist.

“Besides,” he continues, “If they were after me in particular I’d have expected them to do a little more research into their quarry. Clearly, they’ve done none.”

“I suppose…” Astarion agrees, watching as Tav’s eyes slide toward the mouth of the alley. Amusem*nt curves those full pale lips into a dangerous smile. He turns them back to Astarion. Tilts his head back. His lips brush Astarion’s jaw and Astarion wishes he could blame the cold for the way he shivers at that faintest touch.

“For example.” Tav whispers right in his ear. “This curse of mine, and in particular the cursebreaking. The curse, as I told you before, took away my sight. Darkvision and infravision both. Mundane eyesight is worthless in the Underdark. Yes?”

“Yes..?”

“Well, what I haven’t mentioned is that the cursebreaking may not have given me my infravision back, but it gave me something else instead.”

He pulls back and nods his head slightly to the side. Astarion glances from the corner of his eye and…

Oh.

There are footprints in the snow besides Tav’s own. Footprints that keep coming, despite no one being visible to make them. Astarion blinks. These are some amateur assassins indeed, to be trying to pass unnoticed over snow, but moreover…

He meets Tav’s glimmering jewel eyes. “You can see through invisibility.”

“Yes,” Tav admits with a soft breath of laughter. “Drow magic is a tricky beast for our own people, say nothing of trying to unravel a drow curse when you’re non-drow. When the cursebreaker worded the spell he wasn’t careful enough. Returning ‘enhanced vision’ to me took an odd form, but I’ve never particularly minded it. Not that it’s ever had much use, but… right now I’m not complaining.”

They watch the footprints move off up the alley. Once they’re gone- and Tav’s better ears can apparently no longer hear the crunch of snow- he lets Astarion go and Astarion takes a reluctant step back. Tav stands and stretches- Astarion hears the pop of several vertebrae- then sighs. Astarion makes to hand him back the cloak.

“Keep it a moment,” Tav says. “I have unfinished business, of course.”

“Oh darling please,” Astarion purrs. His daggers are in his hands, smoothly twirling, and he smirks over the sharp silver curve of one. “Let me.”

“I can’t let you do all of my dirty work.”

“I hardly mind, darling.”

“But I do. Might I borrow one of those?”

“Not even armed,” Astarion sighs. “Whatever am I to do with you?”

“That remains to be seen, in our dwindling time together tonight. If you please? I promise I’ll return it to you.”

“See that you do, love.”

He’s lost one dagger in his years and it resulted in a whipping he still remembers. He hands over one of his two; he may need the other if Tav’s in any way not proficient in a fight. He will step in rather than let Tav get hurt.

For a man so big, Tav’s disconcertingly quiet when he moves. He traces their own path back across the snow. Astarion follows. Tav gives him a displeased look for it, for just a second, then shakes his head with a rueful smile. He stares down the alleyway. After a second he raises his free hand. One complicated hand gesture, then a second, and a ball of blackest night congeals further down the alley. There’s the startled yelp of caught prey.

Then Tav’s gone. Even sprinting across the snow he’s terrifyingly silent. A lethal shadow closing in on the orb of darkness. Inside it two figures of men light up in lavender flames; Tav’s inside the orb a second later as it begins to fade. A choked cry. One of the lavender figures falls and loses its glow. The other shrieks before it, too, loses form and the lavender flames vanish. The sphere of darkness has gone too, like the moon coming out from behind clouds, and Tav alone is standing in bloodied snow. It’s over in all of two seconds. He’s facing the wall of the alley, sideways to Astarion’s eyes, and Astarion’s not quite sure he recognizes the drow he sees. This man stands tall, back ramrod straight, a strange hollow look on his face. Cold viciousness as he watches the men at his feet twitch through death throes. An old haunted memory. Something buried in him brought to the surface.

Who made you this way!?

I did. I made myself this way. Because I didn’t want to be anything like what I’d seen around me in the world before. I wanted to be better.

It took a long time to make myself into this man.

It’s unfamiliar, and Astarion is uneasy.

“Tav?”

Shattered glass. The strange mask fractures and falls. When Tav turns his head to smile wearily at Astarion, Astarion relaxes. He knows this man, though this man with his tired smile and blood splashed up the front of his coat and a blade dripping crimson is… a tad more exciting than the sweet one he’s more accustomed to.

‘Covered in blood’ is a good look on Tav, he can’t help but think.

“Sorry about this, again.” Tav mutters just loud enough to be heard. He crouches and very sweetly wipes Astarion’s dagger clean on the jerkin of the man whose throat he’d cut with a single smooth slice of the blade. “Not how I intended to spend my evening. But, again, at least they were bad at their jobs.”

Darkness and Faerie Fire, right?”

“Two of the most used things in a drow’s arsenal,” Tav sighs as he approaches. “Something they should have been well aware of if they were hunting a drow and not just looking to hurt one for sport. Your dagger, isilme.”

Astarion doesn’t take it. He reaches for it but almost beyond his control his fingers slip past it and drag down the blood still warm on Tav’s chest.

“That was…”

Tav co*cks his head. “Don’t tell me we’re unearthing fetishes tonight, isilme.”

Astarion looks up at him through pale lashes. “Do you have any to share?”

Tav chuckles. “Not as such. None I know of that you haven’t already found for yourself, anyway.”

“That cute little way you moan when I pull your hair, you mean? That one is delightful, love.”

Tav only smiles. He leans closer. Astarion tilts his chin up in anticipation. Finally. Finally.

His dagger slides back into its sheath.

He sighs harshly through his nose as Tav straightens again. “Tease.”

“Forgive me for not feeling particularly playful with someone else’s blood drying and cooling on my clothes.”

Astarion gives the ruined outfit a considering glance. It’s really quite a fetching look on Tav but it is cold and Tav, at least, is susceptible to illness. Plus he’s liable to be questioned on where and why he got covered in blood. Better to be gone from here and let the bodies be just another of Baldur’s Gate’s many mysteries. Astarion backtracks to the alcove, no longer careful about his footprints, and takes Tav’s cloak from where he left it on the barrel. He shakes it out.

“I suppose you’re right, my dear. Let’s get you home and…” he peers at Tav around the cloak, “…out of those clothes. New ones are optional.”

Tav laughs. Astarion folds the cloak over his arm as he heads back to Tav’s si-

There’s a distinctive sound Astarion recognizes but doesn’t. A sound that doesn’t make sense until he sees the quarrel sprout from Tav’s left shoulder like a grotesque flower. A crossbow fired. Horror makes him freeze in place. Tav’s wounded. Tav’s been wounded. That… that wasn’t supposed to happen. Tav whirls toward the opening of the alley, the one toward the plaza, and bares his teeth in a mockery of a smile.

“Ah,” he growls. “They were supposed to report back and didn’t. Gave myself away there, didn’t I?”

“You did,” comes a smooth voice in reply.

“Well that’s my mistake then.”

There’s two men at the head of the alley. One is loading a new quarrel. The other unsheathes a shortsword.

Casual as you please, Tav rips the bolt from his arm. The smell of his blood blooms in the air, sharp-sweet-spicy, and Astarion’s stomach cramps powerfully. Saliva pools in his mouth and collects behind his teeth. Gods, Tav smells good. The spice of his scent is definitely hidden in his blood. It’s ingrained, part of him, and it smells heavenly. He’s never scented blood so delicious. And he’s opened enough veins across cobblestones to know the many sour, heady, bitter, rich smells of spilt blood. Tav’s is unique.

The crossbow one’s a squat man reeking of tavern backrooms and sweat. The other looks to be a wood elf. The wood elf cuts a look over to Astarion and his lips curl into an appreciative smirk Astarion’s seen time and time and time again. Enough times he’s grown utterly bored of the expression, with one notable exception.

Carnal interest.

The wood elf looks back at Tav but jerks his head at Astarion, asking, “Who’s your pretty friend, irinal?”

Astarion’s stunned to find the elven word tickles something at the back of his brain and he almost bares his fangs in outrage. “Don’t call him that.”

The wood elf is closer to Astarion and when he slips past the mouth of the alley, it’s toward the vampire. Tav doesn’t move, watching the man with the crossbow trained on his heart warily. Astarion’s only too aware Tav’s unarmed again.

Idiot. Beautiful lovely idiot.

“It’s what he is,” the wood elf scoffs in reply as he comes ever closer. “Forsaken and cast down into that lightless pit below. Only a crazed bitch goddess left to the wretched shadelings. You, though, pretty one. I can provide you much better company than a coalskin cave-elf. Come with me, hmm? We don’t have to be here for the removal of this particular foul stain on our city. You and I can go off together-”

Don’t you dare.” Tav snarls. “You don’t touch him.”

The crossbow man jolts at the sudden vitriol. Tav’s eyes aren’t on him any more. He’s glaring with a real and fiery hatred at the wood elf. The wood elf seems to realize that it’s him in trouble, despite his companion, and he looks away from Astarion to prepare for an attack from Tav.

That’s all Astarion needs.

Quicker than a blink he has one of his knives fitted warm and familiar in his hand. One heartbeat from the wood elf later he has the dagger buried to its hilt in the stranger’s chest. He aimed directly for that single loud th-thump.

He didn’t miss.

The crossbow man turns the weapon on Astarion and Astarion does bare his fangs. The man’s eyes blow wide. He suddenly knows what he’s facing down. A drow and a vampire are a terrible combination to find yourself opposite of on a dark night.

“You lot really are terrible at this,” Tav sighs. The man’s weapon swings back to him even if he can’t take his eyes off of what he now sees as the bigger threat. If Astarion could use his fangs, oh how right he’d prove the man’s fears to be. As it is, he’s not sure what to do with this long-ranged combat stalemate. What is he supposed to do to help? He’s perfectly proficient with a bow but he also doesn’t have one and his innate cantrip is fire. The alley is walled in wood and the festival has ensured there’s more than enough booze among the refuse and gutters. A fire here would quickly go awry. Tav seems to know that too. He’s scanning the walls with a frown.

“Nothing for it,” Tav says quietly.

The next word Tav speaks- “Flagra.”- is redolent with power, and the magic that he flings from his fingers is bright, silver, and prickles uncomfortably against Astarion’s skin. It homes in on the man- the crossbow fires wide- and incinerates him in a manner not unlike a fireball would have, but the telltale scent of ash, woodsmoke, and ignition is missing.

Guiding Bolt. Tav’s not just a devout of Eilistraee, Astarion realizes with a sinking dread. He’s a Cleric of Eilistraee. A wielder of powerful holy magic that could incinerate Astarion in an instant. Oh, the gods do so love their ironies.

Tav watches the man fall dead with dispassionate eyes. Then he lets out a low quiet exhale through his nose and meets Astarion’s eyes.

“You’re a cleric,” Astarion says, not quite able to keep the harsh accusation out of his voice.

“I am.”

“I didn’t think your profession killed.”

“We try not to. But one of the Eilistraeen tenets is to repay violence with swift violence to ensure less people are hurt.”

“Convenient.”

“Efficient,” Tav argues calmly as his approaches. “My race is, as a whole, strong, deadly fighters. Eilistraeens don’t like strife and pain. We lend succor and aid. Not death. But if our hands are forced, we strive to solve fights quickly. Preferably without bloodshed, but, well.”

Gods, Astarion can smell him. His blood, his sweat, that strange metallic burn of magic on his fingertips. He reaches out to touch the warm delicious wound. “You’re hurt.”

Tav blinks. He glances at his shoulder, where Astarion’s pale fingers curve over the deep wet black of his tunic, and he smiles slightly.

“Right. I’d forgotten.” He lays a warm hand over Astarion’s cold hand. Astarion feels the chill prickle of Tav’s magic cascading past his fingers. He shudders. Healing magic does nothing to him. It can’t. He’s undead. It feels strange but oddly welcomed, and it doesn’t even try to sink into his skin. Nor does it burn him like he half-expects it to, if it’s divine magic. It passes his fingers by to repair the damage to Tav’s muscle. “You’ve seen me heal before. Did you not realize I was a cleric?”

“I thought it was bard magic,” Astarion grumbles, wriggling his hand free. “Not holy magic.”

“I won’t hurt you,” Tav says quietly. And maybe he won’t. But his eyes are soft enough to hurt.

“See, I’d believe that, if the evidence wasn’t nearby.” He inclines his head toward the radiantly charred corpse. “And yet. Seems your goddess doesn’t take kindly to anyone hurting her devotees. Divinity’s always fickle.”

“Not fond of gods, are you?” Tav asks as he examines his healed shoulder.

“No,” he spits. After a second Astarion guiltily adds, “…though yours seems nice enough.”

Tav smiles for a brief second in time. Then his expression pinches, just a bit, and Astarion jolts when the warmth of Tav’s hand curves over his jaw. There’s that softness in emerald eyes that he craves so deeply. He melts into the touch. Tav leans down and presses their foreheads together. Astarion shifts closer. Tav’s other arm circles his waist. Presses him flush. Absolutely surrounds him in Tav. In everything Tav. And Tav’s warm. So warm. His expression, his body, his heartbeat, his spiced blood. Astarion closes his eyes, drinks it all in, and sighs.

“Are you alright?” Tav asks softly.

“I am,” he answers. “You are too, love?”

They’re toeing a deep line. A fissure in the façade of their supposedly casual relationship. Astarion’s question is normal but it feels intimate, capped with the endearment, as he’s cradled so close to the drow.

It would take so little to kiss right now. Astarion burns with the desire. He curls his fingers into the back of Tav’s shirt, trying to stave it off, trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. His desire is Tav’s death sentence.

“I’m fine, of course.” Tav murmurs.

“You were hurt.”

“My own fault. Normally I’m better at this.”

“Fighting? Really?”

Tav chuckles. He pulls back and Astarion has to stomp on the urge to follow. “Isilme. I’m drow. Much as I may wish it were otherwise quite often, I am, and my upbringing was exactly as any other drow male’s is. Or did you forget me mentioning my years as a soldier?”

Oh. That’s right. Tav’s softness and sweetness has given him a perception of this man and this man alone. The one he was before, the one he changed from… would have been that exact monster all the whispers speak of. He’s mistaken Tav’s many injuries as inability instead of, as he should have known, a long series of kindnesses offered to his pursuers. Tav could have killed them all indiscriminately and with a laughable ease. He’s chosen not to, time and time again. Suddenly it makes sense all over again why this city hasn’t killed the drow, despite its best- and, he thinks, looking around at the corpses, some of its worst- attempts. ‘Proficient enough at defending himself’ indeed. Tav’s likely seen a neverending kind of war for survival and a kind of hell few people in Baldur’s Gate could understand. One that’s sharpened him into a blade with an edge so fine it’s become invisible. But it’s there. It’ll always be there.

“You’re like no soldier I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seduced plenty of those foolhardy Fists.”

Tav snorts. “I guess that’s fair.” Those gray hands are warm and distracting against his lower back. “I forget you’ve only met the me I’ve become.”

Astarion remembers that hollow expression of earlier, the cold dead green eyes, the rigid military posture, and shakes his head.

“I like this you better than I like him.”

“Me too.”

He burrows his face into the edge of Tav’s tunic. He doesn’t give a damn about how much blood he’s wearing because of it.

“I’m glad you changed.”

Tav’s head curves over his, tucking his chin against the back of his curls, and the pleased hum that comes from his throat starts low enough in his chest that Astarion can feel it. Adore it.

“So am I.”

Notes:

Yeah no they're still both idiots. Occasionally perceptive, occasionally murderous idiots, but still idiots. Someday they'll figure their sh*t out.

There are actually a ton of buried hints and references in this whole work, by the way, that after certain reveals I would hope make for an interesting reread. There's been several so far- quite a few, actually, though they may not make sense until said reveals. Ah well, discussions for a later time. Have an amazing day everyone!!

Chapter 27: History Repeats

Notes:

Yes, yes, it's a good ol' fashioned "stuck in a closet" trope, and no, I shan't apologize for the cringe.

Finally the biggest chunk of Tav backstory. Accordingly, warnings for mentions of rape.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

They’re very nearly caught not long later, and it almost ruins everything- the closeness, the unspoken ardor, the adoration- they’ve built between them.

Or rather, Astarion is very nearly caught.

Burgeoning spring is busy in Baldur’s Gate. People swarm the markets and streets even late into the night. Farmers prepare for planting. The ships docked in the harbor are eager to break through the ice. He and Tav are sticking close to each other because gods know they could be easily separated by aggressive shoppers. He’s practically glued to Tav’s side and perfectly content with that until he sees Tav’s brow furrow from the corner of his eye. He looks in the same direction Tav is and spies features he knows. Aurelia and Dalyria moving through the street. Panic seizes him; he grabs Tav’s arm and pulls and Tav doesn’t fight him on it in the slightest. Tav rushes away with him. He only stumbles at the start, surprised by it, but then they’re weaving through the throng as easily as they had during the festival. Astarion finds a narrow crevice between a house and its adjoining business and wedges Tav into it; he’s more surprised Tav fits than he is that Tav goes willingly. Astarion slips in after him and turns to keep an eye on the street.

“Coworkers of yours?” Tav asks quietly, and Astarion has to laugh.

“Something like that.”

“I imagine the one isn’t your sister then.”

“No, but it’s a close lie, isn’t it?”

“Serviceable enough.”

He sees Dalyria approaching, her nose to the breeze, and Astarion fights the urge to swear. Did she catch wind of him? He hopes not. This isn’t at all the area he’d said he’d be going to. They’ll have questions if they catch him. He backsteps further into the hiding spot and bumps into the drow; Tav makes a soft noise.

“Sorry love,” he says distractedly, focusing on Aurelia next. He watches them for what feels like minutes. The crowds are too loud for him to keep track of time with the beat of Tav’s heart. Astarion sees Dalyria drop her chin and say something to Aurelia; Aurelia smiles hesitantly. He shifts back and forth to evade any notice as he tracks their progress through the crowd. The pair are talking to each other now, calm and detached, and Astarion gets the sense that even if they did detect him, neither is petty enough to turn him in. It’s not like the spawn as a whole haven’t had occasions where they must move on from a hunting ground if they had no luck in it. Violet (or Petras) would have run back home to Cazador to report Astarion’s strange wandering but the women don’t. He can trust they won’t.

Isilme?” Tav says, sounding slightly winded, and Astarion looks back at the man over his shoulder.

Before he can ask, he feels it.

Tav’s bigger than him, wider than him, and has nowhere to go in this small space Astarion had hastily shoved them both in. Tav couldn’t back any further away. Tav’s been pressed against him this whole time.

That’s Tav’s half-hard co*ck nestled against his lower back.

“Oh,” Astarion murmurs, eyeing Tav’s deep flush and deeper embarrassment. He arches his back just to feel the way Tav’s tented trousers catch against his breeches and Tav hisses. “Well hello.”

Isilme,” Tav says, and this time it's more of a whine. “Please, can you move?”

What meager blood he’s consumed is rushing to all the wrong places in Astarion’s body.

Darling,” he purrs. “Here I was, starting to think you just weren’t interested in f*cking me.”

Tav tries to say something, to argue or complain, but he loses it a moment later: Astarion’s arched his back, wrapped his hands around the back of Tav’s corded neck, and pressed his ass to that thick swell.

“Gods above,” Astarion moans outright, and it’s not quite playacting. “You’re massive, aren’t you love?”

“I-”

“Should’ve known,” Astarion murmurs, rolling his body. Tav gasps. He’s going past half into full hardness against Astarion. He can get the sense of what Tav’s packing like this; his is the kind of co*ck that stretches just to the point of pain but not past it. Enough to leave a delicious ache that lingers for days. Astarion shivers. He wants it. He wants Tav’s co*ck buried to the root inside him, that stretch and burn, the warmth and feeling, Tav’s hands…

Astarion reaches for those careful hands, those deft fingers, and puts them on his waist.

“You can touch, love,” he whispers. “I hardly mind. In fact- gods- I’ve been waiting forever for this.”

I want it. Don’t you?

Tav’s hands settle uneasily. He’s still so sweetly shy. His fingers don’t tighten, necessarily, but nor does he take them away. Tav’s breath is coming faster and faster. Astarion shudders at the warm gust of it over his ear. The drow’s heartbeat is thunderous, so quick that the rocking of Astarion’s hips could never hope to match its pace, and the sound is rapturous. The scent of Tav’s desire is thick in the air. It coats the back of his tongue and makes his teeth ache. He longs to sink his fangs into the drow’s skin, anywhere he could strike, and gulp down that fluttering pulse. He looks up with half-lidded eyes to see if Tav matches his own burning feelings, and his heart goes cold.

Tav’s expression is remote but his jaw and neck are tense, and he’s looking away. He hasn’t moved even once, Astarion realizes sharply, and suddenly it’s all falling down around him.

“sh*t. Tav?”

He tears himself away and turns around. Tav’s definitely still aroused, no doubting that, but every other part of his body language is screaming the opposite sentiment. It’s a look and position he knows more than well enough.

What did I do wrong?

“Darling?” Astarion calls, and Tav snaps back into their plane of existence with a quiet gasp. His eyes clear and focus, and he blinks in surprise at Astarion. Then his expression turns apologetic, and that’s somehow worse than the distant look of before.

“I’m-”

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Astarion interrupts fiercely. “I shouldn’t have- I lost my head, there. But hells, Tav, why didn’t you stop me?”

Tav stares at him in honest shock for a second, and then his expression becomes utterly heartbreaking. Pained and rueful and apologetic again.

“I… couldn’t. I wouldn’t have. I feel like I haven’t… explained my history of slavery to you as properly as I could’ve,” the drow says after a second. “As I should have.”

Astarion feels abruptly hollow. He’s putting two and two together and the four from that with previously gained knowledge and the picture it’s painting is sickening him. sh*t, what has he done?

“Then tell me,” he begs. “So I can’t- hurt you, again.”

He doesn’t ever want to be one of those people he ‘entertains’ at Cazador’s parties. One of the greedy marks that paw eagerly at skin and take their pleasure at the end of uncaring grasping fingers. Decades, a century, he’s been tormented. Used for his body. Used his body, as a tool. He’s become numb to it in time but he remembers how it first felt. The idea that he made this impossibly sweet, kindly man feel anything similar is gut-wrenching. The fact that Tav might be thinking he only wants that body against his is horrific. He wants it all. He wants everything. But he wants it only if it’s given willingly. He’d be a hypocrite to accept anything else.

Startling him, Tav’s face hardens into something smooth and impassive. Astarion has, for the first time, pushed Tav too far. He’s already done damage and now he’s dared to dig deeper. There’s a terrible writhing pit in his stomach.

“Some other night, perhaps,” Tav says coolly, and Astarion doesn’t need to be pushed or told to move out of the drow’s way. He moves back. Tav brushes past him, pulling his cloak tight around him to hide the tent in his trousers, and Astarion can’t bring himself to follow.

Astarion’s the first out of the manor the next night. He’s rushing through the streets to the Dancing Cat, only to be told by the woman that Tav’s not there.

“The east side, I think he said,” she informs him, and Astarion nearly curses aloud. He offers her a distracted thank you instead and slips back out the door.

Come on, you damned little string, don’t fail me now. Where is he?

It feels foolish to even think it, like he has any command over it, like it’s even real at all, but it only takes a second for him to feel the tug at his ribs.

At his heart.

And he follows it.

Tav’s not on the east side of the city. He’s up in the north part of the Lower City, among the taverns and shops, sitting silent and unhappy on a bench at the edge of a park they’ve never been to.

“Tav.”

The drow startles. He looks up, wide-eyed, at Astarion. “How did you..?”

“It’s another night,” he pants. He ran here, and it would be strange if he wasn’t panting, but even despite his lack of a need to breathe… his chest feels tight and drawing breath is actually difficult. “And we need to talk.”

Tav looks like he’s not sure if he wants to. Astarion decides that just this once, he’s going to force the drow into something, because if there are boundaries, he needs to know where he can’t cross without causing Tav pain. He sets his jaw.

“We need to talk.”

“Not here,” Tav whispers. “Not…”

Astarion holds out a hand. Tav takes it after a moment’s hesitation. It’s a long trek, but a worthwhile one, to the docks. Tav stares out at the water. Looks down at Astarion. Oncoming spring keeps the whole city bustling, but a little less so the docks until the ice thaws. The fervor is about the planting, after all, so the focus of it lies on the landward side of the city. It’s the dead of night and they’re far enough away from the busy side of the wharfs. It’s silent here. They’re alone. Despite it Tav’s stiff and uneasy like he hasn’t been in months. He won’t meet Astarion’s searching gaze. His eyes skitter nervously away from the vampire’s figure.

Astarion blows out a hard sigh and Tav flinches.

“Look, darling, you don’t need to explain anything about your past at all if you don’t want to. I… think I get the gist of it. What I do need to know is where I need to draw the lines in the sand. If I ever have to see you make that face again it shall be entirely too soon.”

Tav knots his fingers together, then undoes them, then clenches his hands tight. He’s beyond tense. He looks ready to bolt. He looks ready to vomit.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Astarion takes a deep breath. “I need you to.”

“You’re not going to look at me the same way.”

“Hells with that, dearest. Believe me when I say that nothing you can tell me will shock me.”

“No, you’ll pity me. And that’s worse.”

“How can I pity a man who’s overcome that past?”

“You already do. You’re already looking at me differently. You’re not-” Tav chokes. “You’re not even touching me.”

Astarion co*cks his head. He’s been holding back, specifically, but hearing that… “Do you want me to?”

Tav closes his eyes. “Yes. It confuses me, how badly I want that sometimes. But I do.”

Astarion steps closer. Tav tenses for a second, grimaces at his own reaction, and forces himself to relax again. Astarion can tell it’s forced by how Tav’s face closes down in concentration. He walks right up to the drow. Close enough to touch but not touching yet. Tav gives him a beleaguered look. He’s a man fighting a battle against himself and Astarion understands that only too well. He’s slow and careful about reaching up but Tav’s pained look never changes. He’s not wary or uneasy as Astarion’s hands thread into his hair. One pass, then two, and Tav’s shoulders sag an inch. Three, and his eyes close again to savor the feeling of Astarion’s fingers in his hair. Four, five, and Tav’s relaxing, his body curling toward Astarion’s. The pain in his face doesn’t leave, not entirely, but a heartbreaking vulnerability grows alongside it.

“Oh my sweet,” Astarion murmurs. “I’m here. I’m with you. You’re alright. I’ve got you.”

“I- I know. Thank you.”

After another minute Astarion takes the last step closer. He’s moulded to Tav’s front. Dark eyes flash open. Tav’s inhale is shaky. But his arms wrap around Astarion’s waist. Astarion’s hands leave Tav’s hair and cup his face.

“I should explain,” Tav says anxiously.

“When you can.”

Truthfully Astarion’s already weighing the time he’s spent out tonight. Has it been too much? How much longer can he spare? Tav pays attention to that, generally, far closer than he ever does. Tav dreads it because he doesn’t want the vampire to leave; Astarion dreads it because it feels like a tightening noose around his neck. He doubts Tav’s been paying attention tonight, though. Not with how distraught he is. Astarion generally doesn’t dare to be this close to him- pointedly not counting last time- and it’s either a marker of willingness or of desperate need that Tav’s holding him.

To hells with the time.

He stretches up on his toes and pulls. Tav’s head comes down on his shoulder. Tav’s arms shift to hold him tighter. He holds Tav with one arm and the other cradles the back of the drow’s head, pale fingers careful as they curl in the hair at the back of his neck.

Tav needed the closeness, Astarion knows a full minute later, when Tav finally lets him go and takes an unsteady step back. Astarion mourns the warmth and contentment that he loses when Tav pulls away.

“Darling?”

Tav glances at him when he calls but otherwise looks around for… something. When he spots it he gestures for Astarion to follow. Tav takes a seat on a set of stairs and Astarion experiences déjà vu: months upon months ago, Tav’s soft voice singing into the night, the silvery healing light that had suffused him.

There’ll be no healing tonight. These wounds are too old.

“You know the basics,” Tav begins. “Drow society is matriarchal, to put a very soft point on it. Women have all the power. The best men can hope for is a position of any import, and even that doesn’t guarantee them any comfort or safety. The best we can hope for is abuse and derision. The worst is sacrifice or death. Some males are no better than sex slaves, if their lives as military fodder don’t work out. I was still in my youth, so I didn’t have to worry about a female taking advantage of me for some time yet. But the males of the house, of the house’s forces like myself, were my problem. Threatened by my size, strength, and prowess in strategy. Drow society is a neverending game of treachery. So long as they were keen enough to get away with it there would be no repercussions for killing me. As a bunch of males, there may not have been any pushback regardless. I was well aware there was a target on my back. I was ready for an attack from all sides at all times.” Tav sighs. He looks out over the Chionthar, then back to Astarion, and smiles painfully. “I didn’t expect it to come from above.”

“One of the females?”

Tav rewards his correct guess with a wan expression and a small nod. “My own mother. She laid the trap for me to walk into. Sold me into slavery for prestige within the house. She’d never cared for me, never given much indication of maternal instincts, but still I had no reason to fear her betrayal. When I went to meet with her I was greeted by a priestess of the house, and the priestess had me follow her into the dungeons. I never did see my mother that day.”

Astarion can’t be horrified by the idea of a mother turning on her own progeny. He doesn’t remember his own parents. Perhaps they loved him. Perhaps they didn’t. He doesn’t know what it’s like either way. Whatever Cazador claims as his ‘parent’ can’t be any real love.

He can be horrified by the dread turning his lovely drow into a small sad shell of himself though. He watches Tav rub at his scarred wrist. The motions only get harder and faster until he reaches across the gap to grasp Tav’s quivering hand before Tav can bruise his own skin. Tav exhales shakily at his touch.

“I’ve mentioned the chains.”

“Yes.”

“The bed?”

Astarion feels nauseous. “In passing.”

“Oh. Did I?” He looks down at their clasped hands. “I… I spent the next sixty- or so- years chained to that bed. I don’t actually know how long it was. It didn’t matter and no one cared to keep me informed. Hard to keep track of time if you never get to sleep properly. As I said, some males are no better than sex slaves. You’ve known that from the start.”

“Yes.”

That first night. All of his worst assumptions. The pain in Tav’s beautiful eyes that spoke to a dark place in Astarion’s soul. They both knew what it was to be forced. Coerced. Taken against their will. Raped.

“Some of us get a worse fate than just that.”

Astarion’s brow furrows. “Worse..?”

“The males who are contracted into sex slavery are usually still given their small luxuries. There’s… levels. Consorts are the luckiest. Attached to a matron or other powerful female. Untouchable. A dearly coveted position. The men who bend to a female’s every whim are next down. They retain freedom. Most males fall into that category. But then there are the few who, for whatever reason- and there can be several- are…” Tav pauses. He takes a moment to breathe. Smiles slightly when Astarion squeezes his hand. When he meets Astarion’s eyes it’s with his own carefully blank. “Some of us are chained and given no life except that. Some of us are laden with curses to prevent escape. Some of us have something so desirable- in my case my size and strength- to add to the gene pool that we can’t be allowed to die or escape. If my seed could produce progeny like myself, it would be advantageous to the house. And so I was locked in that cell, to that bed, to be used. I was no longer even a male. I was an object. A thing to be used at any woman’s leisure. At any time, in any way, with my protests falling on deaf ears.”

Astarion doesn’t know what to say. How to comfort. It’s a scenario both familiar and not.

“They were never gentle,” Tav says, tilting his head to indicate the wicked scar that curves up his left cheek. “In time I grew to crave that. The pain instead of… the rest of it. The pain I could concentrate on. The pain was… better. Perhaps that doesn’t make sense-”

“I wish it didn’t.”

Tav half smiles at Astarion’s interruption as he finishes, “-but it was what worked for me. It was one of those few things that soothed me. Kept my mind away from my body. That’s why, though, that I still…”

His moans and barely withheld reactions to pain stimuli. The lust in his eyes when Astarion had him pinned. That ‘interesting relationship with pain’ Astarion had so flippantly mentioned and his promise to explore it someday. Tav wanting him to.

Tav reclaiming something for himself.

“Well. It’s why I can’t separate the two in my head- my body- at this point. Made a mistake there. But I needed something to get me through, and-”

“You do what you have to to survive. To make it through. No matter what it looks like.”

His own method of shoving mind far out of body. Going through the motions because that’s good enough. It’s always good enough. No one cares about who he is under that façade and pretty face. They don’t care to know. Don’t care to find out. So why should he give them any piece of his truth? Why do they need to have anything other than the body they want? They don’t care. No one’s cared. No one’s ever cared.

No one until the drow in front of him.

It’s Tav who squeezes his hand this time- touch-averse, touch-starved Tav- and Astarion reacts almost clumsily to the proffered affection. Tav smiles, squeezes, and lets go. He tilts his head back and looks to the moon.

“Eventually, I realized there was no point in protest. There was nothing I could do. Nothing I could say. No one cared about who I was. What I could do. What I was capable of. I had no value any more besides that one purpose. I didn’t… matter. So I stopped fighting. I gave up. If there were days I couldn’t perform, well, they had potions for that. There was no escape from my role. So I let it happen. I laid there in silence and let it happen. For decades. And that's why…” He doesn’t move his head but those jeweled eyes fall to hold Astarion’s. “That’s why I didn’t stop you last night. I’m not used to having a voice. Having a say in what’s happening to my own body. I just defaulted to that state of letting it happen.”

“I’m… Tav, I…” Astarion doesn’t know whether to apologize or sympathize or empathize or curse the gods. He wants to do them all. He doesn’t know what to say. The silence settles between them, thick, but not uncomfortable. It’s never uncomfortable. It should be, with a topic like this, but it’s not. Astarion’s mind is racing from thought to thought. How many times, how many ways, can he hurt the man in front of him before he finds the point where Tav will no longer forgive him?

Even he’d (unintentionally) disregarded Tav’s actual consent. Started to take what he wanted without being told no. Tav had frozen up; consent was dubious at best and otherwise nonexistent. He’s almost surprised Tav came out alone with him tonight: it would have been justifiable for Tav to want nothing to do with the man who had assaulted him.

“It was all the more confusing that I did want it,” Tav says, deliberately light.

Astarion’s racing, morbid thoughts screech to a halt. He blinks at Tav, surprised, and Tav smirks.

“…pardon, love?”

“I didn’t hate it,” Tav repeats, softer now. “Far from it. I just couldn’t control that old instinct telling me to surrender. If you give me some forewarning, it may be alright, in the future.”

“I’m not going to push you.”

He can’t. Not without feeling dread and guilt. Not without risking his own instinct to follow through with over a century of programming. Not without risking Tav’s very life.

“No,” Tav says, co*cking his head, scrutinizing Astarion like he's something fascinating. “No, you won’t. I’ve known it all along. I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

“Believe me,” Astarion murmurs, reaching across the space to carefully place his hand on Tav’s knee. “I understand it.”

Tav smiles. He takes Astarion’s pale hand in his own and threads their fingers together. It’s a play of light and shadow. The cool white of his skin, the smoky gray of Tav’s. They don’t blend together, but Astarion’s happier they don’t. They don’t blend, but they do fit together.

As if they were made to.

Notes:

A bit heavier, I know, but I've been sitting on this for a long time. It was likely obvious enough if you paid attention to hints (and know anything about drow lore) but I still didn't have Tav outright say it until now. These two are cagey about their histories for vastly different reasons: Astarion obviously can't just go skipping around informing anyone and everyone that he's a vampire spawn, whereas Tav's whole take on how little he gives up personal information is to smile and say "Well, you didn't ask!"

Chapter 28: Tactile

Notes:

Going to preface this one with saying that I tried something different for the chapter uploaded last (Tav's backstory) and I'm not sure how well it worked or if it showed up properly, so there is one you may have missed before this. If you've read it, carry on! If not, well, now you know it exists!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

None of the talk has faded from Astarion’s thoughts by the next time he finds Tav. It lingers at the back of his mind (along with that steadily-harder-to-ignore true lust, more now that he knows what’s in Tav’s pants) the whole time he’s out, charming others. His poor dear drow. Everything that’s been done wrong to him. All those things they can each relate a little too much to. Astarion’s shackles aren’t physical like Tav’s were but they’re just as impossible to break with his own power. And he knows, after all these years, that there’s no hope of divine intervention for him.

He tried. And he gave up.

It all lingers. Thriving in the back of his mind like a rot. He and Tav are very different, have obviously different approaches to their shared traumas, but somehow he can’t help but attach some of his own feelings to Tav’s. How alike are they? Tav said he didn’t mind being touched, that he wanted Astarion to touch him, but was that only that night, because he needed the comfort? Or is it all the time? How many times has Tav been upset by Astarion presuming he had an inalienable right to just lean against him or play with his hair or skim his fingers over ashen skin? He remembers the wood elf woman. How tense Tav was under her hands. A deep discomfort that lingered long after she had been dealt with, that Astarion had had to calm Tav down from (by touching, actually, so perhaps..? ), that had been so clear on Tav’s face that he couldn’t believe she wasn’t seeing it.

Only you.

He thinks, perhaps, that Tav genuinely meant it.

Even so, he finds he’s hesitating the next time he catches sight of the drow. What if the usual ways he greets Tav bother him but the bastard’s just too sweet to voice his discomfort? It’s highly likely.

Instead of winding a lock of hair around his finger and pulling it, he taps carefully at Tav’s shoulder, and for the first time in a long time Tav’s expression isn’t instantly at ease now that Astarion’s gotten his attention. He watches Tav frown. Watches Tav’s guard come up alongside his shoulders as he stiffens on his stool. He watches Tav turn his head to see who’s bothering him… and watches every last bit of that growing tension leech instantly from Tav’s posture when he sees Astarion. The guard drops instantaneously. The warm smile Tav saves for him makes its wonderful appearance.

Isilme,” Tav greets. “Didn’t realize it was you.”

Astarion co*cks his head slightly, starting to smirk despite himself, because all of his poisonous doubts are evaporating in the face of Tav’s easy honesty in his presence. He wraps a lock of rosy hair around his finger and tugs, the typical and proper greeting; Tav’s smile softens.

“That’s better,” Tav says, and Astarion agrees.

They while away the night together as usual. Astarion’s anxieties are swept away and stay away. He can’t be so worried Tav’s bothered by their closeness if they’re mutually seeking it out every other breath. If, for every time he has to lean away to take a sip of his wine, Tav’s body follows him like a moth to a flame. If he can't resist the siren song of Tav’s warmth against him and he keeps chasing it whenever he notices they’ve drifted too far apart and he shivers. How can he deny Tav wants his touch when Tav’s eyes close with gratification when Astarion’s fingers sink into his hair?

What’s stranger still is how much he craves Tav’s gentle hands on him, is nearly desperate for the utter care in Tav’s cautious touch, and how much he’s discovering he needs Tav’s version of restraint. He’s grown spoiled on that respect. The empathy.

And it’s starting to become a problem, because…

He’s tired. He’s tired of being touched in ways he doesn’t want. He’s had far too much of Tav’s kindnesses, the respectful way he waits to touch until Astarion leans into it or silently requests it. It’s warped his sensibilities just enough that when the mark he’s been working on convincing to follow him back to the palace for an hour pushes him against a wall and tries to kiss him, his dagger slips freely and naturally into his hand. He twists, sinuous, and sinks the blade into the man’s overgrown belly. He holds the man’s startled eyes with a wicked smile as he pulls the blade down with inexorable strength. The man’s still too preoccupied with his shock and Astarion’s beauty to realize he should have struggled. The pain renders him unconscious. The blood loss ensures he’ll stay that way, at least until it kills him, and Astarion feels no remorse whatsoever.

He’s tired.

He can’t afford to be tired but gods, he is. He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want the pain that’ll result from this loss. He has to weigh these two consequences, pit them against each other, but he can’t. He’s tired. He’s exhausted, and nowadays, that only means one thing.

He follows the string.

He doesn’t know the name of this bar off the top of his head. He’s been here before, caused a fight here before, and he remembers he cheered on the brawlers with promises of himself as a spoil.

None of that matters.

None of it matters compared to the sight of Tav- soft, sweet, perfect Tav- sitting at the bar talking to the bartender.

Astarion doesn’t think twice. He’s too tired to think. He plods across the floor with not a single ounce of his usual grace. He takes the open seat on Tav’s right side and instantly sags into Tav. Presses his forehead into Tav’s shoulder.

And his drow, true to form, only chuckles softly.

“Hello, isilme.”

Astarion makes a noise. He’s too tired for a proper greeting. Tav’s head rests atop his for a second. Then he pulls away.

“You want anything to drink?”

Yes. No. He wants to drink Tav. No mortal concoction can slake that thirst.

He shakes his head.

“Fair enough,” Tav murmurs. “Anything else I can do for you? You look… exhausted.”

What a nice way for Tav to say even he thinks Astarion looks like sh*t tonight. For a split second it makes him smile. Then the accurately called out exhaustion drags him back down into its depths. He closes his eyes and hones his other senses, smell and sound, focusing them on the man next to him. Tav’s blood. Tav’s heart, its beat calm and regular, a wonderful sound he’ll never get tired of hearing.

“Be here,” Astarion sighs. “Do what you’re doing.”

The drow laughs again. “Can do. Take your rest, my dear.”

He drifts. Astarion doesn’t quite drowse, doesn’t quite trance, doesn’t quite exist. In his beleaguered mind it's only him and Tav in a bubble all their own. Even though he knows Tav’s not talking to him, that Tav’s talking to someone else, he’s shut out that outside. There’s only him and Tav, and Tav’s hand on his thigh, and Tav’s shoulder under his head, and Tav’s breathing, and Tav’s steady heartbeat, and Tav’s warmth.

There’s nothing else. There’s no punishment, no hunger, no fear, no pain.

Just relief.

Relief. Comfort. Safety.

His drow.

Isilme?” Tav whispers, some time later, and Astarion jerks out of his near-reverie. He lifts his head, just a little, and the sounds of the environment filter back in. Yelling drunks. Clanking tankards. Pouring liquids. The smell of something acrid in the air. He buries his nose into Tav’s shoulder again. The scent of roses and sweet-spice, mulled wine, and the faint beat of Tav’s heart.

“Hm?”

“Shouldn’t you be going?”

Yes. Probably. If Tav’s asking it’s probably past the time he normally takes his leave. Tav’s very conscientious like that. But tonight?

He wraps his arm around Tav’s. Keeps it hostage and thereby keeps that bright spot of warmth that is Tav’s hand curving over his thigh.

“No,” he says finally, speaking in words what he made obvious in actions. He nuzzles in again. “Not yet.”

The next time Tav rouses him it’s by taking his arm back. Astarion sleepily protests but Tav does take it back. A second later the hand that’s been resting on his leg is gentle on the back of his neck, fingers slipping into his hair, and Tav’s voice is in his ear. The slight warmth of Tav’s breath against the sensitive curve of skin.

Isilme, we have to be going.”

He’s too scattered to bring the swell of desire under control. Too tired to not turn his head toward Tav’s mouth. Too out of it to fight how badly he wants Tav.

Tav chuckles. His lips brush over the corner of Astarion’s jaw when he speaks again. “Come on, you poor thing.”

“Do we have to?”

“Actually, yes.”

That’s not quite the answer he expected. Astarion lifts his head and suddenly becomes aware of the silence of the place. Drinks are gone. People are gone. The bartender’s wiping down the bar. They’re the only patrons left.

“Oh. So we do.”

“Yep,” Tav says, much more awake and certainly not drunk. “Closing time. Come on, love. Let’s take our leave.”

He doesn’t need the proffered hand to get to his feet but he takes it anyway just to steal some more of Tav’s body heat. He’s more than glad Tav doesn’t let go even as they leave the bar. Even as they venture into the dark gray of pre-dawn, their fingers intertwine, and Astarion’s stupidly grateful for the continuing touch. It’s terribly ironic, considering what drove him to Tav tonight was a virulent hatred of being touched, and gods, did he even clean his dagger?

He pulls it out in the middle of the street to check over the blade. Tav doesn’t flinch or even look worried by the fact that Astarion’s suddenly armed. He does glance down at the knife but that’s all. Astarion turns it over and back in his hand. It shows only silver in the starlight.

“You know,” he says, his mind spiraling away, his words thoughtless but spilling forth regardless. “I hate being touched.”

“I know.”

Tav squeezes his hand as if to dispute the point but it does the opposite. He can’t help but feel more at ease.

“But with you… with you, it’s fine. I want it.”

“I know.”

“Why is that, do you think? Why do I want to touch you? Why don’t I mind if it’s you? I just… can’t understand it. What makes you different?”

“I can’t speak for you, isilme. Not for this. Whatever your reasons, they are yours. I’m just glad for them.”

He sheathes his dagger and looks up at Tav. “And what about you?”

“Hm?”

“You hate being touched too. So why…” Astarion looks down at their clasped hands. “Why is this okay for you?”

He looks back up to await his answer and Tav, surprising him, is smiling slightly.

“I told you once before,” Tav says. “That I don’t like it. That it’s only okay if it’s you. As for why, there’s a real answer and more likely answer.”

“Give me both.”

Tav laughs. “So, the most likely answer is that you're male.”

“What.” Astarion says flatly. “Just because I have a penis? You don’t know that.”

“Don’t I?” Tav murmurs, and there’s a spark of something hot in the depths of his eyes. He looks away before Astarion can dig it out and marvel at it. “Even if you don’t, you present as male, do you not? It’s close enough. My past… well. You’ve heard the sorry tale now. You can guess why I’m basically petrified of women. Men I just feel… less threatened by, as a whole, though I’ve always got my guard up anyway. Which is where the real answer comes in. The real answer is that I feel safe with you. I know you’re not going to hurt me. And that goes a long way toward earning my trust. More than I can say.”

“I have hurt you,” Astarion whispers, remembering the fractured pain in Tav’s eyes, the coldness of his guarded stance when he had apologized. The way he feels guilty whenever he snaps at the drow. The way Tav had frozen up on him the night he briefly lost his control, and forcing Tav to talk to him on the next night.

“Mm, maybe, but never intentionally, I don’t believe. I don’t exactly know what’s holding you back, isilme, but it’s not my business to know. All I know is that you don’t want to hurt me. And that’s enough for me to trust you.”

Tav leans down and presses a kiss to his forehead. Astarion blinks and rears back. He’s never experienced such a simple thing. A nonsexual kiss. A gentle form of intimacy freely and cautiously given. He looks up at Tav and Tav’s expression is so damnably soft that it makes Astarion’s stomach flip.

“Why..?”

“Why not?” Tav counters, his lips pulling into something not quite a smile and not quite a smirk. It falls flat after a second. “Unless you didn’t like it? If so-”

“It was fine,” Astarion says. He’s still off balance. “I just… have never had… it’s new to me, is all.”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t say that,” Tav sighs. “Sometimes I worry we’re too alike.”

Of course they are. Astarion’s known that for months. They’re mirrors of each other. Day and night. Light and dark. Tav’s known about as much nonsexual intimacy as Astarion ever has, and apparently he’s decided to share what he’s learned from gods-know-where. The proprietors of the Cat, if he had to guess. He doubts Tav’s seen many other examples of couples, if he’s traveling the same nightlife circles Astarion has been. No, the husband and wife he lives with are the most likely culprits. People who love each other. Wholly and utterly. Got married and had a kid because of love.

He’s thinking of love like it’s a dirty word but something deep down in him resonates at every repetition of the word. Something that tenses sweetly with every beat of Tav’s heart. With the pulse he can feel beating between each finger caught between Tav’s.

Something he’s been pushing away and refusing to name for a long time now.

He pushes it away once more.

“Well,” he huffs a little uncomfortably. “It’s not as though I didn’t like it.”

He didn’t mean it as a hint- he didn’t think he meant to, anyway- but Tav takes it as one, bending down to kiss his forehead again, and this time Astarion all but leans into it. He finds he does a lot of leaning into Tav’s touches and gestures of affection. Seeking them out. Unlike the man who had the gall to grasp at him earlier in the night, the one who died for making that mistake, the one he left a corpse on the street. He hadn’t even cared if he was caught. If he was noticed leaving the scene. If there would be Fists searching him out later, complaining to Cazador (yet again) about his ‘caustic, violent pale elf’. Bargaining silence for getting to hold Astarion down and ‘punish’ him.

It’d happened twice before.

He leans into the simple kiss like it’s a lifeline Tav’s thrown him, and just as if it was, Tav’s arm wraps around his waist and reels him close. Astarion tenses, for a moment, surprised. But he relaxes again- his drow would never hurt him- and looks up.

Tav’s eyes gleam with desire. Astarion knows the look of it well after all these decades. But this- Tav’s version- is bizarrely… soft, is the only thing he can call it. It’s a soft desire, no malice, no demand, just the gentle arm around his back and the soft look in his eyes. The powerful body he’s pressed to betrays not a single twitch of arousal.

Almost against his will Astarion’s whole body loosens up. He sighs. Tav’s lips quirk up in a smile for the small half-second Astarion sees it before he’s buried his face into the curve of Tav’s neck. He can hear and feel the quiet cross of sigh and chuckle Tav lets out. Tav’s other arm circles his waist, embracing him; Astarion’s own reluctantly come up under them and curve awkwardly around the drow. He’s never done this before. Not without an expectation of something preceding it or following it. An embrace of comfort, not lust. It’s all foreign to him. Every bit of it. Probably to Tav too, if he had to guess, knowing his drow’s past now. They’re two fools trying to navigate a vast new experience neither have truly had. Astarion doesn’t know how to react. When he tries, what comes out instead surprises him.

“I don’t know what you’re doing,” he says. To me, he doesn’t finish, though he mouths the words against Tav’s skin. “But I do know that this? This is nice.”

Tav hums agreement.

Notes:

So! There's an end chapter count now. Yay for end counts! And with that, I'll see you next time!

Chapter 29: Confrontation

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“C’mon, pretty little thing, let’s go back to my place.”

“I’d rather we went back to mine,” Astarion purrs, but truth be told he’s getting irritated. This man’s getting pushy in all the wrong ways. If Astarion were still afraid of sexual assault, he has a feeling that’s exactly where this night would end. Taken whether he consented or not. The drunk seems the type to force himself on his targets. He’s certainly going to bruise Astarion’s elbow with a grip like that.

“Nah,” the man says, and his sour breath reeks of alcohol. “I wanna go back to my place. All of the things I need to make you feel good are there.”

“Darling I’m sure I have some of those fun little tools you’re talking about at my home. And it’s probably closer-”

The hand tightens. Yes, he’s definitely going to bruise. How annoying. The boorish ones are never his type but sometimes they’re the easiest ones to wrap around his finger. This one has started off just fine; now it’s starting to get dangerous. Of course, short of staking him or cutting his head off, it’s not like this man presents any real threat, but he doesn’t like being dragged around like a misbehaving dog either.

f*ck this. He’ll find another.

“Let me go,” he snarls. He considers using his fangs. He could also go for a dagger. There’s one up the sleeve the man’s not clenching.

“Don’t get cold feet now, my little bird,” the man says. “I have so many plans for you tonight.”

Yes, this is certainly slipping into serial killer territory. There’s a particular unhinged quality to this fellow that Astarion doesn’t like. He picked wrong. Very wrong.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline, darling.”

He moves his free wrist, feels the dagger hidden up his left sleeve start to slip down towards his palm. The man suddenly covers his mouth with his other hand. Astarion bares his fangs on reflex but he can’t bite.

Thou shalt not consume the blood of thinking creatures.

Even a drop in his mouth, on his teeth, on his lips, could break that rule. He doesn’t want to find out what happens if he does. In fact he’s not sure he can. Reflex should have had him biting but he can’t. His jaw won’t move to allow it. The knife’s blade has slipped past his fingers. The hilt is almost in reach and then-

“Let. Him. Go.”

He recognizes that voice, and yet he doesn’t. Astarion looks to the side and red eyes widen with surprise when he sees Tav. Tav’s a tall broad man, scary if you don’t know him like Astarion does, and suddenly scary even to Astarion, because there’s a flare of wild light in green eyes he’s never seen before but that he can feel on an instinctual level screams danger!! It would be bizarre to see on the Tav he knows but this cold version of the man he knows so well wears it like a second skin.

“Who the f*ck’re you?”

Tav doesn’t answer. His calculating look is the blank, dead-eyed stare of a seasoned murderer. Astarion twists his wrist and tilts the dagger in his hand, trying to flash the blade at Tav to show he’s got this under control, but if it works, Tav makes no sign of noticing.

“Let him go,” Tav says again, softer now, deadly calm. Astarion’s transported back to an alley and the emotionless rigidity of the drow soldier.

“Think yer scary, cave-elf?” The man laughs.

Astarion certainly thinks he’s scary. The soldier is entirely at odds with the gentle Tav he knows, the warm smile that’s so at home currently missing from a face so cold you could believe it’s never seen the sun. Astarion really, really doesn’t like the soldier.

But he can appreciate the soldier’s efficient brutality.

Tav takes one step forward and the mark proves he has some survival instinct, even buried and blurred by booze, by immediately releasing Astarion to grab at the shortsword on his hip. The second he does, though, Tav lunges forward with an unreal speed. Astarion backpedals and Tav’s in the stranger’s space in a heartbeat. Four movements is all it takes: the man swings. Tav ducks under the swing. Catches the man’s wrist on his forearm. Strikes with his open free hand. There’s a distinct crunch of bone and the immediate scent of alcohol-soaked blood. The man pulls back bleeding profusely from a broken nose. Two more movements: Tav sweeps in and with a single harsh turn of the man’s wrist has him dropping the shortblade. His other hand scoops it out of midair. Now the soldier’s armed and the mark isn’t.

One more finishes it. The two after it are unnecessary.

One deep thrust through the man’s stomach and a wrenching pull to free the blade again. One last decisive cut- with a dizzying amount of power and anger behind it- slices his head clean off his neck. Astarion watches it happen in incredulous, quite curious silence. There’s a thump, then a louder thud a second later. The soldier stands stock still as both body and head fall and watches the neck gush lifeblood at his feet. It turns the dirt into sucking mud.

Astarion watches the soldier for a long moment. The soldier shows no signs of moving. Even his breathing is nearly imperceptible. When Astarion gingerly takes a step forward- minding the growing puddle- the soldier’s frigid green eyes slowly lift from the corpse and his head turns Astarion’s way.

There’s no recognition.

Astarion’s still not afraid. Uneasy, perhaps, but not afraid. This is Tav. He knows Tav. He may not know this part but this is still Tav.

The soldier doesn’t budge except for the look. He watches Astarion come closer. He doesn’t move when Astarion’s close enough to touch, or close enough to leech the warmth from his skin. He doesn’t move when Astarion reaches up and cups his face, gently sweeping his thumb up the scar on his left cheek.

“Tav?”

Still no recognition. Just silence.

“Now then,” Astarion murmurs. “Bring back Tav. My Tav. The one that calls me moonlight.”

The drow soldier finally moves, turning toward him, and his grip on the sword goes unsteady, then white-knuckle tight, and back again. The soldier stares down unblinking into red eyes. Finally, his shoulders slump a bit. Astarion smiles. The way Tav leans into his touch, visibly subtle but physically heavy, gives him away.

“Hello there, love.”

“Sorry.”

That’s also very telling. Of course Tav’s first response is to apologize.

“No harm done. Are you alright, darling?”

Tav blinks. “Fine.”

Astarion purses his lips. “Not quite what I mean, sweetheart.”

He’s more worried about Tav’s strange absent mental state than he is any physical wounds, but Tav lied about that too- or he’s unaware of having taken a hit. Astarion’s not quite sure where the wound is but he can smell the sweet-spice of Tav’s blood, so he’s definitely injured.

“Fine,” Tav repeats, slightly quizzical.

“If you say so,” Astarion sighs.

“What about you?”

Astarion blinks. Typical Tav, more worried about anyone but himself. “Perfectly lovely, darling, though we ought to get out of here. And quickly- I like these shoes.”

Tav glances down and sees the dark mud is slowly expanding outward. He’s already standing in it. Astarion’s close enough that soon he will be too. Tav hums. He fixes Astarion with a slight frown, then startles the absolute hell out of the spawn by sweeping him up in a bridal carry that’s as embarrassing as it is… well, arousing. He may be starving but he’s still not exactly light as a feather, yet Tav’s sure acting like he is. Tav walks them both out of the puddle then sets Astarion down. He winces at the wide-eyed look Astarion’s giving him, winces again at the blood and the body, and says, “I’m sorry about all-”

Astarion presses a finger to Tav’s lips, and just like the last time, he immediately shuts up. “You apologize entirely too much for a man who does no wrong, my dear.”

Tav casts a significant glance at the corpse. Astarion rolls his eyes, scoffs, and waves a dismissive hand.

“Better you did, love. If you hadn’t I would’ve. In all likelihood his next victim wouldn’t have been so feisty as me. Now, come with me. We’re going to make ourselves entirely scarce, hmm?”

He takes Tav’s hand and starts to walk away at once. Tav follows after a moment, one that nearly makes Astarion jerk to a stop, counterbalanced by a vastly superior weight to his own. Tav stares at the grisly sight as they pass it. His eyes stay on it long after they’ve rendered it a speck in the distance. The only thing that tears his eyes away at long last is Astarion threading their fingers together and squeezing hard. That brings those green eyes to his face. Astarion continues on without a word. Tav’s gaze scrutinizes his countenance. Searching for the mask he’s sure Astarion is wearing, perhaps. He’s not sure what Tav reads in his expression but eventually emerald eyes fall to the ground and stay there. Tav’s hand is warm in his. He squeezes it again and takes a bit of comfort in the hesitant return.

Astarion, truly, has no idea where they’re going. He hadn’t set off with a destination. He just wanted to get away from that place and rescue the drow from his own mind. The former is easy; the latter seems to get further away the longer they walk, like Tav left some part of himself with the corpse. Despite his growing misgivings, talking just doesn’t feel right, and when it comes to connecting with the drow, Astarion’s learning to go with what he feels.

Tav’s silent too, for the most part, though at one point he does lift his head and hoarsely say, “I feel like you’re far too comfortable with my darknesses.”

To which Astarion can only flippantly reply, “I’ve seen too much of your light to be bothered by it.”

It’s not the right or wrong thing to say. Tav doesn’t react to it at all. He falls silent once more. His eyes drift to the cobblestones instead. Astarion lets the silence fall. They keep walking. There’s only the moonlight he’s been named after and the silence of the shadows. Looming dark houses without lights and quaint gardens. One such house has a garden bounded by a low stone wall and finally that’s the right place. He pushes Tav down to sit on the wall. Tav blinks up at him. Not very far up at him, but up at him regardless. Astarion props his hands on his hips and frowns slightly down at the dumbstruck drow.

“Now then, darling. About those ‘darknesses’ of yours.”

“I-I don’t know if I should talk about…”

“Sweetling I promise you I don’t care about whatever horrid nonsense you got up to in your past. If anything that makes you even more attractive. Squeaky clean isn’t really my style. The way you are now is exactly the way I want you, and I know your past is part of that.” He sits next to Tav, nose haughtily in the air. “If you were an iota less interesting and complex than you are right now, I wouldn’t be here at all. Neither would you. You’ve overcome everything you’ve left behind. Your burdens and your bloodletting. Which is something of a shame, actually, because the bloodletting is… my. It’s certainly something. But-”

“It’s not what you think.” Tav says softly, but Astarion stops speaking instantly anyway. “The kind of blood on my hands… isilme. I’ve killed children younger than Katill. I’ve killed infants. I see them, sometimes, in my nightmares, and…”

A choked silence falls.

He drags Tav’s head to his chest. Tav freezes initially. After a minute, though, one hand slowly comes up and tightens in the back of Astarion’s shirt. Tav’s weight comes down into Astarion’s arms. It’s heavy, and it’s a relief. Tav’s utterly let go, trusted Astarion to hold the entirety of him, and Astarion is only too content to support it.

“Isn’t that what you said you changed from?” Astarion murmurs over Tav’s bowed head. “From that shadow of before into who you are now?”

The hand tightens again. “But what if a shadow is all I truly am?”

“It’s not.”

“There are hundreds of corpses in my past that would beg to differ.”

Mine too, he thinks. “If it was, you wouldn’t have hesitated tonight.”

“Ah.”

“But you did.”

“…you noticed?”

He touches the new wound on the side of Tav’s neck. Not left by his fangs, much as he wishes it were. It was left by Tav’s tender-hearted nature. By his initial refusal to fight. “Of course. It’s proof, you know. Of all that changing you’ve done. I don’t like to see you bleed, but it means something that you are. You understand that, don’t you darling?”

Tav’s silent for a long time. Astarion just runs a hand over roseate hair and waits. Eventually his patience is rewarded by a long slow exhale that tickles along his shirt collar. And Tav’s voice, steadier now, though there’s still an intense vulnerability in it.

“I feel like… you see parts of me I didn’t think I had. Whether because I left them behind or because I didn’t know they were there, you see them.”

“I do.”

“And you don’t care.”

“No.”

“You accept them.”

“Of course. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t. If you hadn’t been there, sweetling, I promise you, I was about to cut that man’s throat, and I wouldn’t have this remorse for it that you do . Despite what you may be thinking, darling, we’re not two sides of the same coin. We’re not moonlight and shadows. You and I? There’s no lines between us that aren’t blurred.”

He reaches for Tav’s other hand and slots their fingers together, admiring the difference of their skin yet again. They interlock. They complete each other. The smooth perfect paleness of a monster, but with a false face everyone adores. The sword-scarred gray of a sweet man rising from the ashes of a cruel one, but who wears the face of someone everyone fears.

Tav’s sigh shudders. His fingers squeeze.

“Thank you, isilme.”

“Any time, my love.”

Notes:

See you next time for the third act conflict! :D

Chapter 30: Something wicked this way comes

Notes:

Whoooooo third act confliiiiict!

...why isn't anyone else cheering?

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

There’s something wrong tonight.

Astarion can sense it, a strange edge that hovers over him, a guillotine blade ready to drop. It’s making him anxious.

Something’s wrong.

It may be him. It may be Tav. It may be the night itself.

There’s no moon tonight. The shadows cling and press in and dance in the torchlight. He shifts closer to the drow who himself is barely more than a shadow in the dark. The only indication of his presence half the time is when lantern-light gleams off his soft ivory hair. Astarion’s close enough to know he’s following Tav because there’s at least heat next to Tav that he can greedily soak in. There’s that level of comfort he can find only here. They’ve both been quiet tonight- perhaps Tav is also feeling that uneasiness in the air- but the silence isn’t unusual. He thinks. Tav’s leaving just as much room for conversation as he is. It’s unfortunate- contemptible- that he’s going to have to leave soon. He should have already. He should’ve left ages ago to find a new idiot to bring back to the palace. There’s still a chance, if he parts from Tav, for him to find someone drunk enough to not see the hunger in his eyes.

He should go.

Every antsy part of him is telling him he has to go. Whatever is wrong, he should put distance between it and him, it and his drow.

He needs to go, he has to-

His shoulders slump reflexively and he reluctantly lets go of Tav’s hand. Tav glances at him- he can just spot the angle of Tav’s head moving in his peripheral- but says nothing. He never makes a fuss about Astarion constantly changing his mind on his own rules of touching.

Except, it seems, this time.

“Where’s your date for tonight?”

Astarion blinks. Looks up at Tav. Tav’s voice had been oddly neutral when he asked. As it turns out his face is no less so. A spike drives into Astarion’s guts. He doesn’t like that expression. It looks impossibly wrong on Tav’s often-compassionate face. He’s seen Tav make similar faces before but something about this one just isn’t right.

Something’s wrong something’s wrong-

“Right here,” he replies, a little edge of uncertainty to his normally suave and confident tone. Tav is, of course, still not one of his victims. He’ll tell himself that forever because it’s the one thing he can never allow to happen.

“If that’s the case,” Tav murmurs, his stare pointedly remaining forward, “then why are you still hesitating?”

Astarion freezes in place. “What?”

Tav stops too. Tav turns to face him. His eyes are cold in that calm expression. That’s the problem, that’s what’s wrong with it, and it feels like the cobblestones under Astarion’s shoes are an ocean suddenly, rocking him back and forth. He feels bizarrely nauseous.

“We’ve been dancing around this point, isilme, for a long time.”

I can’t I can’t don't make me don’t LET me.

“No, Tav-”

“What do you want? From me?”

“I…” He gives Tav a shaky smile. You. I want you. “Things I can’t have.”

Comfort. Safety. Security.

He doesn’t know how Tav knows. He doesn’t know how Tav reads those words right off his tired, aching thoughts, but surely Tav does, because Tav cups his chin in one hand. His eyes burn now. Astarion’s silent pleas have scratched through the ice hiding that flame from him.

“And if I want you to have them?”

Let me have you. I want you. From your smile all the way down to the marrow of your bones. I want it all.

“I can’t accept, darling. Besides, I’m… used to not getting what I want. Old hat at disappointment.”

“You don’t have to be. I’m-”

“I do, love.” And he can never explain why.

Tav’s hand on his face slips back, curves over the back of his neck, his touch so tender and cautious that Astarion deeply aches.

Give it to me I want it all I want everything I want every part of you you’re mine you’re mine you’re MINE.

“I want what you want, isilme. I think we both want it. Desperately. I hate seeing you show up looking so incredibly exhausted, so pained, night after night when you find me. I miss you when you’re gone. I’m jealous of anyone else who gets to lay a hand on you when I can see you don’t even want it. Tell me what I can do, isilme, tell me how I can help you, free you from this. I can’t stand seeing it break you down. I freed myself. I want to free you. Tell me how.”

Astarion can’t speak. There’s a lump in his throat. Can’t think. The flame in Tav’s eyes has burned away his thoughts. Can’t breathe. He doesn’t need to. Can’t feel. A numb chill is seeping into his bones. Can’t blink. If he does the unshed tears may slip through his defenses.

Mine all mine you can’t stay but I don’t want you to go.

Tav presses his forehead to Astarion’s. The fire in his eyes is gentle enough to wound. It flows into him, coils around his heart like a small ferocious dragon, like his useless heart is a treasure that Tav actually wants.

Isilme I don’t want you to hurt any more. It hurts me so much to see you in pain, my love.”

Astarion’s mouth drops open. He doesn’t know what to say. He has to refuse, he has to argue, he has to inform Tav there’s no saving him. He has to say something.

But there’s nothing left in him to deny the truth.

He does want this.

He wants to be close to Tav, claim Tav for his own and be claimed by him, keep Tav safe and whole and in his arms for as long as he can. For his whole wretched unending life if he can.

He can’t speak those things. So he looks up at Tav, again, and hopes Tav can read it in his eyes like he did just a minute ago.

Thank the worthless gods, Tav does.

Tav leans in. There’s no denying his eyes are on Astarion’s parted lips. If he had a heart that still beat, it would be pounding frantically right now, but he doesn’t. It takes his brain a moment longer to register that what he’s feeling is anxiety. His body, thankfully, is quicker on the uptake. He’s got both hands fisted tight in Tav’s coat. Torn between pulling him closer and kissing him at long last and the anxiety screaming at him to keep Tav away for Tav’s own safety. He pushes Tav just a little further away. Breathing room, he tells himself, and certainly his breathing is picking up.

He finds words, finally, and they both are and aren’t what he wants to say.

“You need to leave. Leave the city. For good. And you can’t come back. That’s… that’s what’s best for me, really, even if I don’t… want…”

Tav pulls back. Swipes his bottom lip with his thumb. Loving. Adoring. “Come with me.”

Astarion chokes. “I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Tav asks softly, but the old reminder spears through him sharp as a blade.

Can’t,” he stresses again. “I’m- bound, to this city, forever, and I can’t- I can’t leave it.”

“Then neither can I.”

Tav-”

“I won’t leave without you.” His arms wrap around Astarion’s waist as if to prove his point.

“You’re in danger!”

“I don’t care.”

I do!” Astarion shouts, panicked and furious and full of so much adoration. He writhes and Tav pulls his arms back immediately. Stupid, forgiving, wonderful man. “I can’t lose you and if you stay, I will, and that’s- that would be- I can’t…”

He trails off, out of steam, out of hope, and Tav’s fingers spread along his jaw and lift his head. Tav’s expression is pained.

“What are you so afraid of?”

He can’t answer. Just gives the drow an agonized look. Compulsion forbids him. Green eyes search his face. Tav’s thumb sweeps over the sharp height of his cheekbone and Astarion wants to melt into the other man’s touch, wants to forget this conversation, wants to just hold and be held by the drow. But with Tav’s softness comes the soldier’s steel. His voice has gone stern and serious when he says, “There’s a look in your eye, often, of fear. You want to get closer but you’re much more afraid to than not, and I know it isn’t me you’re afraid of.”

He can answer that. “No.”

“You know me.”

He can answer that too. “I do.”

“You know I won’t hurt you.”

That too. “Yes.”

“I would never.”

Such easy answers. Honest truths. “I know.”

“Then why-” And finally Tav chokes, briefly looks annoyed at himself, and finishes, “I wish I knew how to help.”

“You can’t,” Astarion says, soft as a whisper, and then repeats it with strength and malice. “You can’t.”

“I know,” Tav replies. “I just wish I could. I don’t want you to be afraid. I don’t want you to hurt.”

“You can’t help. Don’t ever try. I don’t want you hurt either, and you- you would be, if you tried. I don’t… I don’t want you to… to be hurt.”

I don’t want you to die.

“I can handle pain just fine.”

“That’s- this is different. It wouldn’t just be pain. It would be- you would die, Tav, and I can’t- I don’t want-”

“You know I’m proficient at defending myself. You’ve seen-”

Astarion shakes his head frantically, looks at his own hands, so tight in Tav’s coat, so torn between letting him go and keeping him close. His knuckles are stark white. He’s trembling.

“Not like this. Not from this. You can’t, Tav, my dear, you simply can’t.”

The drow sighs. Part frustration, part sadness. His arms come around Astarion anyway, holding him close. Tav presses that soft kiss to his forehead and something deep inside him just cracks open at the gentle touch.

Against his skin, Tav murmurs, “Whatever reason to leave that I’ve had, my place is always beside you.”

“It can’t be.”

Isilme-”

Don’t call me that!” He snaps, furious, aching.

He finally pushes Tav away, holds him at arm’s length like he always should have, if he wasn’t so weak as to let the man break him down with soft kindness and open arms and an endless forgiveness he never once deserved.

He pushes Tav away but he can’t unclench the fingers tight in Tav’s coat. He pushes Tav away but he doesn’t want to let go. It’s what’s best. Astarion knows that letting Tav go and forcing him to go as far away as possible is the best course of action. But he’s so godsdamn selfish, so weak, so greedy. He wants Tav. He wants Tav to always be only a few minutes, only a hundred steps, away. A safe harbor he can find no matter when he needs it.

And he needs it.

It takes a tremendous effort of willpower to open his fists. Tav makes a pained noise when he does. Like he’s also aware, somehow, with that strange seemingly psychic ability to read Astarion he’s gained tonight, that this is the end of it all. Tav doesn’t beg. He doesn’t have to. Astarion can see those ashen hands trembling in his peripheral vision. Tav’s terrified. Tav is scared of the next words that’ll come out of Astarion’s mouth. The soldier’s seriousness has been swept away by the panic. The pain. The only thing left for Astarion to wound is the soft man he cares about the most. The one that’s going to hurt him the most.

He looks into Tav’s agonized eyes (‘the easiest way to tell a convincing lie is to hold eye contact’) and manages to say, “You should leave. We will never see each other again. Because I won’t come find you.” in a remarkably level voice he almost doesn’t recognize as his own.

That same something in Tav’s eyes from before- the emotion he watched fracture months ago in a bar with harsher words than these- doesn’t just break this time. It shatters. Something inside Astarion shatters with it. An echo of the pain he sees in Tav keens inside his chest. It’s nearly enough to render him insensate. The best he can do is turn and walk away, and without another word, that’s what he does, leaving a stunned drow behind him, silently begging him to come back.

Notes:

Hey so show of hands who wants the next chapter already-
These things wouldn’t happen if Tav would stop trying to offer himself up on a chopping block, but also, he had no idea that’s what he’s doing, but it freaks out Astarion every time.

Also, I love shoving in a probably-obscure song lyric in, because no one will guess which one but even if they do, will never guess what song/artist it's from, haha.

Chapter 31: Reconciliation

Notes:

Okay okay there was enough begging, have this one fairly early because I don't want any of you to be unhappy for too long! And also this is another of those chapters I've been wanting to get out. But yes, as usual, if you missed it, there was a chapter a few days ago; please make sure you've read it first!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Everything is hazy to Astarion after that wretched moonless night.

He does his job. Mechanical, uncaring, a routine unbroken. He goes out, he follows his siblings to the flophouse or a tavern or a bar, he brings someone back. He avoids the Cat. He avoids most anywhere he’d used to find Tav. He can’t bear to see his drow. The pain lodged under his breastbone hasn’t faded. Won’t fade. Sometimes it’s needles. Sometimes a mace. Sometimes it’s a fist closed around something sensitive and new. No matter what form the pain takes for the day, it is a constant he cannot go a day without feeling, and that’s fine. He accepts that. It’s his burden to bear. His penance, his punishment, for breaking a wonderful man’s soft heart.

Heartache hurts.

Some of those nights, when the pain is intense, he wonders if it would be easier to just go through with it. Bring the man back to the palace. What other end is there, for this idiotic thing between him and the drow? Spend as much time as Cazador allows them just enjoying Tav for what he is. Who he is. Kissing him, worshipping him, riding him, feeling those string-callused fingertips on every inch of his skin. Sure, Tav would die at the end, but gods, hasn’t Astarion led innumerable people to that exact fate without batting an eye? What’s one more? What’s that one more?

But he can’t do it. The idea of a moonlit Baldur’s Gate- a world- without that single beautiful drow in it tears something inside of him apart. Something he’s been ignoring for months. Something that he’s broken before and put back together, but this time he can’t quite manage it. Their last meeting shattered it. The painful notion of losing Tav forever shreds the pieces further and scatters them about. He pulls the bits back together, every time, sets and joins them, makes them form the shape of the something again, but the seams of it are so broken and jagged now that they hurt to look at. He spends so long turning the idea of losing Tav into an exercise in self-flagellation that he almost doesn’t realize it’s been at least several tendays since he’s seen Tav, and the last time had been… less than ideal. It only sinks in one night when he heads outside and is startled by the scent of flowers- roses, and his heart pangs- and the warmth of late spring. It’s been months. Months. Perhaps the man’s moved on at last. Please, gods, please let the drow have gone on from Baldur’s Gate. Let him have listened to Astarion’s pleas. Astarion goes out into the nights with a faint hope- mixed with a significantly less faint pain- in his heart. He has no luck. He can’t find Tav in the dark. Either the jagged something has cut the string he used to follow or Tav’s gone beyond its range. He can’t feel the silvery tug any more. Perhaps that's what the lingering pain is. A severed end.

He hopes that’s true even as his dead heart keens at the loss. He hopes Tav’s left at long last. With any luck the drow’s left the city. With any luck, Astarion won’t find him the next time he looks.

(And he does look. He can’t help but look. He’s greedy and selfish and idiotic. He looks.)

But he doesn’t find what he’s looking for.

With any luck, he never will.

Clearly, luck has never been on his side.

It takes two nights of fervent looking- each night the ache of a loss he doesn’t deserve growing in his chest- until, on the third, he spots a familiar head of long white hair and it’s like a knot loosens in his heart. It gets tangled up in his stomach instead a mere moment later when he realizes he needs to speak to the drow and after the last time they spoke… he has no idea what his reception will be. Tav may brush him off. Yell. Scoff. Any number of things. They parted on bad blood and sour words. But like a lodestone pulling him in he drifts through the rowdy crowd to the drow’s side. He’s careful, hesitant, about reaching out. It’s been too long. He made his choice. He made a choice for both of them. He doesn’t deserve this moment. He should leave. He needs to leave.

No.

He needs Tav.

The instant he tugs the single lock of hair, the man turns, and Tav’s whole demeanor shifts at once.

His joy is radiant.

Astarion’s struck dumb by it, by that beauty, by this kindness he didn’t earn, so he can’t think of anything to say. And gods do they need to talk. Tav’s expression shifts from joy to concern to warmth over his extended silence and Astarion barely hears him over the cheering drunkards when he says, “Sweet hells, I’ve missed you.”

He has too. Hells take him, he has too. He opens his mouth to say as much but there’s no sound. His throat doesn’t work. It’s thick with some emotion he’s never felt. He moves closer instead. Too close, perhaps, or maybe not close enough. Never close enough. Tav knows, though. He shifts back, following cues Astarion didn’t think he was giving, until Tav sits on a barstool facing him. They’re practically face-to-face now. Tav’s height advantage is gone. Tav’s eyes are so dark, so warm, so gentle, so kind, so inviting. Astarion’s still speechless so it’s Tav who speaks for them both.

“Where have- no, um… Have you… been well?”

No. Yes. No. He doesn’t know how to answer. Such a simple question but it has so many facets.

Every day was agony without you. You were safe. I missed you. He’s not okay. He’s far from well. He’s…

He’s…

Gods above and below he’s in love.

It’s a cruel, sharp thing, the realization, and Astarion recognizes it as the jagged something in his chest he’s been taking apart and reassembling because all the while he’s been trying to make sense of it. And all the while he couldn’t make it make sense because he was missing the most vital piece. With Tav here, with Tav in front of him, suddenly he’s looking through the cracked mess of that pitiful something and realizing it’s got the beauty of a stained glass window and always has. He just couldn’t see it without Tav to give him the glow of moonlight streaming through that he needed to realize it.

Astarion’s not sure how long he must’ve stood in dumbfounded silence but it’s long enough that Tav reaches out for him, and the heat of one ash-gray hand wrapping around his startles him.

“You- ah, isil- er. Are you all right, love?” Tav asks softly.

It’s still easy to fall back on bluster but the threshold is far harder to hit than he’s ever known it to be. “Of course I am, darling. Why wouldn’t I be? You’re here. I’m here. And the night is young.”

Tav smiles at the pet name, dropped so naturally between them. He wears the smile even as he says, “I was worried, after last time. You wanted me to go, but… I couldn’t possibly.”

“…I know. I- I do apologize for… I was scared.”

“Of?” Astarion doesn’t answer. Tav smiles wryly. “Ah. Complicated?”

Astarion nods.

“I- well, I figured that was it. Isilme, it was my fault. I pushed you. But when you didn’t show up- when I didn’t see you for so long- I worried perhaps you may have gone for good, and that, well…” He sweeps a thumb over the back of Astarion’s hand. Astarion shivers as his skin hungrily absorbs Tav’s warmth. “That hurt a lot.”

“Did it now?”

“It did. There was a lot I meant to say, not least of which is that I’m sorry.”

“I’ve told you before. You apologize too much. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“I can’t believe that. Not this time. The face you made… isilme. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, and I swear I’ll make up for it.”

Astarion can nearly hear the faint beat of his pulse in his ears as he steps closer. Or maybe it’s Tav’s pounding heart. Tav’s heated blood. Tav’s knees part for him, easily, and a shiver of longing goes up Astarion’s spine.

“How?” He breathes, close enough now that they can speak almost in whispers and no one will overhear.

“However you’d like.”

“Then tell me. What else did you feel, while I was gone?”

“I missed you.”

“You said that already. What else?”

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you.”

Astarion’s closer. “The whole time?”

There’s a tension in Tav’s frame now, but it’s a sweet one. “The whole time.”

“How long was it?”

Tav shudders. “Two months.”

“Two months of pining,” Astarion muses. “You’re overdue a reprieve.”

“I am.” There’s a hint of a rumble in Tav’s voice.

“And what does this reprieve look like?”

“Whatever you want of me.”

Everything he wanted to hear. Astarion hikes one leg up and hooks it over Tav’s hip. The drow makes a soft, needy noise.

“I don’t think you can make good on that,” Astarion can’t help but tease.

“I can try.”

Astarion slips wholly onto his lap. Tav’s broad and steady enough he can pull it off with far too much ease. Tav curls one arm around his waist to ensure he can’t fall. He’s more worried about the stool being able to hold their weight than he is Tav holding his. Tav holds him effortlessly. It’s a pleasant rush. They’re inches away from kissing. Tav’s eyes are more black than usual- his pupils have dilated.

“Do or do not,” Astarion says, the words coming from a place so far back in his memory he no longer knows where he heard them. A woman’s voice, lecturing him. “There is no try.”

“I-” Tav’s brow furrows. “I will, I- you’re different, you-”

Astarion shifts. Grinds down a little. Tav’s mouth stops working, which is fine, because Astarion doesn’t need him to use it. He’s said everything the vampire needed to hear. Astarion presses closer, moulding his front to Tav’s, snuggling in, and Tav is cautious about wrapping both arms around him in turn. It feels… nice, in his embrace. Safe. Relaxing. Someone yells at them to get a room. Astarion presses his face into the shadow-dark curve of Tav’s powerful neck. Tav tilts his head back just enough to press Astarion’s mouth to his pulse. Astarion can feel the beat against his lips; it makes him tremble. The warmth of Tav’s skin is so intoxicating. Astarion longs to sink his teeth into it. Pull the blood from the drow’s body into his own, suffuse himself with stolen heat, kiss the wounds he leaves afterward. Anything and everything. Instead he slips his hands into that long soft hair.

“The front,” Tav offers in a voice gone just a touch gravelly. Astarion’s stomach tenses with a spike of desire. He massages his way to the front of Tav’s skull and the reaction it gets from the bigger man when he digs his nails into just the right spot is fascinating. Tav nearly melts. Groans, a low, deep-throated sound, and leans into the touch. Astarion’s so enamored by the response to his cautious ministrations that he loses just a bit of his inhibitions.

“Tav?” He says without really thinking about it. Tav rumbles. It’s acknowledgement and pleasure both. Astarion could swear he felt something twitch just under his thigh. It takes his breath away. He rakes his hands through rosy hair until he can pull it, making Tav look at him, and gods above the drow’s dark eyes are almost glassy. The pull on his hair makes them sharpen again, but with something else, something Astarion has had long years to become familiar with, and this time he knows he feels something against his leg. He’s arousing Tav. The idea is a heady one. Before he can tell himself not to, that it’s still pointless, that it means nothing, that none of this means anything, he blurts out, “Astarion. My name is Astarion.”

He had realized, during Tav’s fumbling words earlier, that Tav didn’t know what to call him. It felt wrong. Sideways. He wants the drow to know what name to say. His real name, after all this time. He liked the anonymity but he’s tired of running. He’s tired of being someone he’s not. Tav has trusted him at every turn and he knows he can trust Tav with the truth of him. With who he really is. He knows Tav wants the truth of him. Every last bit of it.

His name is the simplest thing to hand over.

Clarity floods back into jewel-green irises. Tav’s pale lips part. Astarion is so taken by the picture the man paints that he jumps when a warm hand cups his jaw. There’s a fondness in those dark eyes he can’t understand.

Astarion.”

Astarion stops breathing. Tav says it like a prayer. Like begging supplication from a deity. It’s the single most beautiful sound he’s ever heard. Greedily, he wants more. He wants to hear how many different ways and pitches Tav can be coaxed to say it in. Whisper it? Moan it? Cry it out? This wanting burning in Astarion’s chest is unfamiliar. He doesn’t know if he’s scared of it or if he craves it. His body answers for him by climbing carefully from Tav’s lap. Tav lets go. Doesn’t fight him on it in the slightest.

“I’m sorry,” Astarion breathes. “That wasn’t- I shouldn’t have-”

“Astarion.”

His mouth snaps shut. Gods below, his name sounds so good in Tav’s voice.

“There’s no need to apologize,” Tav continues, calmly turning back to the bar. He softly adds, “I understand.”

Briefly Astarion recalls the whip-quick terrified reaction from the flophouse. The pain in Tav’s eyes that Astarion instinctively knew. That he must have mirrored since. That talk at the docks and Tav’s vulnerability. Tav does understand. He doesn’t, not really, he doesn’t have all the pieces of this puzzle to know the real reasons Astarion could never stay, never proceed, but he can understand a reluctance toward sex.

“Of course,” Astarion murmurs. “I- I think I must- would you mind, terribly, if I take my leave of you early tonight?” Tav shakes his head. “I know that- since the last time- but I promise it won’t be as long this time. I’ve… I missed you too much.”

There’s a small faint smile on Tav’s pale lips. “Next time,” he agrees.

He’s not the type to be angry or hold a grudge. He’s not mad about this. He’s never been mad about anything Astarion’s done. It’s more than Astarion deserves, a man like this. That’s the thought that makes him run, that makes him snag the first petty thief he comes across, and return home.

“I was wrong,” Tav says the next time they meet, his voice softer than the breeze. They’re standing together on a balcony outside the Elfsong. Tav’s leaning on the rail and smiling at the slumbering city. For the most part, everything between them is right back to where it was.

For the most part.

Astarion can’t help but look at Tav through new eyes, now that he’s given into that feeling he’s been fighting for so long, and he likes what he sees even more than he did before.

“About?” Astarion asks, helpless to resist the urge to play with Tav’s hair.

“What to call you, now that I’ve truly met you.” he replies, smiling as Astarion tugs. “Isilme wasn’t quite right.”

“Still a heavenly body, so you weren’t quite wrong, either,” Astarion says with a wink. His is the heavenly body and he’s still half-hoping to show Tav that someday. “What would it be instead then? If you have a new idea.”

Tav straightens. Astarion lets the soft rosy strands of hair slip from his fingers like gossamer. Tav turns to face him. There’s an intensity kindling hot in his eyes that doesn’t match the gentleness of his smile. He reaches out and Astarion doesn’t flinch or duck away from the hand that caresses his cheek. He relaxes and leans into the touch instead.

Slyan’ssun.”

It’s not a word Astarion’s ever heard, of course. It’s a drow word, and he doesn’t know the language. It’s soft whispery music in Tav’s voice. Everything is music in Tav’s voice, his name certainly one of them. This one is too.

“Meaning?” He asks, though he thinks he already knows.

“Starlight. Still beautiful, silvery, and remote, but shimmering and lovely. And, well.” He places his hand on Astarion’s head, digs his fingers into snowy curls. “Smaller, too.”

Astarion scoffs to choke down the entirely different sentiment that nearly escaped his lips instead. “Well! Now that you’ve thoroughly insulted me-”

“It’s time to take your leave.”

Tav knew. He was working up to it. His wistful smile says as much. He’s kept careful track of when Astarion leaves him for the night. Every night. No matter how much he- they- may wish it were otherwise. Astarion pulls back. Tav’s hand falls to the side, his fingers carding through moonshine curls, easing one around the back of his ear. Astarion holds still and Tav’s hand does too. It’s warm against his skin. The brush of those fingers against the tip of his ear makes him yearn for more. He’s never had to abstain so strongly as he has around Tav. It’s enough to set his teeth on edge. He wants . Oh, he wants. He wants Tav, wants to kiss him, wants to claw his clothes off and sink onto his co*ck. He’s never pined for someone like this. Garrett wasn’t like this. Garrett had been soft and sweet and wonderful but he’d had so little time to love him. With Tav he’s been so much more careful at every turn and it’s left him desperate.

And terrified.

“It is,” he murmurs, reaching up to clutch Tav’s hand to his skin. He closes his eyes, trying to emblazon the sensations into his memory, and smirks when Tav’s fingers move along the shell of his ear just to make him shiver with a thirst he could never slake. “You know just what you’re doing to me, you beast.”

“Guilty,” Tav breathes. “I know I can’t tempt you to stay but… doesn’t mean I don’t want to try.”

Red eyes open and drill into jewel green. “I promise you, Tav. I want to.”

“But you can’t.” Tav takes his hand back from Astarion’s cold grasp easily. “I know.”

Tav’s eyes flit between Astarion’s eyes, his lips, his hands, his neck, and back. Over and over. He leans in, just a bit, one of those times his eyes linger on Astarion’s lips. Astarion’s whole body lights up in a rush of desire. But Tav sighs and pulls away, smiling a smile that’s more of a grimace, and he says, “You’d better go, Astarion. Before I do something drastic.”

Astarion has to swallow the immediate plea for him to indulge in whatever drastic measure he’s considering. He has a feeling it’s the kiss they’ve come so close to so many times but never had. He wants to know what Tav tastes like so badly. He wants to feel those lips on his. He wants.

“I do have to go,” he says, slipping effortlessly backwards like the floor underfoot was greased. He can’t help but add a wry, “For both our sakes.”

Tav smirks back. “Good night, slyan’ssun.”

A whispery voice in Astarion’s ear. The soft susurration is like a melody.

Slyan’ssun.”

As much as he loved isilme, he loves slyan’ssun more, and it sounds more natural from Tav’s lips. Perhaps it’s how much more adoration is packed into the single word. Tav knows his real name now, knows the right thing to say at long last, and he treats it with even more reverence than he did the fake one. Moonlight fit him fine; Starlight feels like he’s come home. Slyan’ssun is a term of such endearment Astarion’s never known its like. He could get lost in how comfortable it makes him. He’s comfortable enough- as is Tav- that physical intimacy becomes even more commonplace than it had been. He’s finally pushed boundaries he hasn’t dared to before and the reward is greater than he could have hoped. Tav’s arms around him feel right. The way he fits against Tav is perfect. He hadn’t noticed it before but now that he has he doesn’t want to be anywhere else but in the drow’s embrace. When they meet in the shadows Tav’s pulling him close instantly and Astarion’s more than willing to go. He soaks up Tav’s heat and the soft words Tav speaks. The gentle caresses to hair and skin. He gives as good as he gets- he has never been a poor lover- and more than once their trysts have ended with either one or both of them hard and aching. He always takes his leave then, scared to push further past that, and Tav never argues. Only watches him leave with desire hot in his eyes.

The discretion is more than he deserves, and he knows someday his restraint will snap. But until then, they dance around their budding closeness as carefully as he watches Tav guides Katill through yet another dance. Despite a burning desire inside Astarion to do so, he still doesn’t dare close the last bit of distance. He wants so desperately to kiss Tav. Tav seems a little confused both by his hesitance and the desire so clearly displayed. He gave his permission, expressed his own desire, months back. Astarion wants him, but Astarion also won’t make that last move. He leaves the space. Tav, out of kindness or nicety or respect or what have you, leaves it too. It’s too kind, too sweet, too generous.

Gods, he appreciates everything about it.

Notes:

Not much of a third act conflict, boys. But y'know, they're really just too stupid and too in love to be apart for long. Their natural state should be together, bar none! Also this chapter was painfully sweet and I'm not apologizing. It's a peace offering, haha. And hey, Tav finally actually knows Astarion's name! Plus bonus new thing to call him.
Frankly it was always the name Tav used for him from back when I was writing a more typical BG3 playthrough fic, so it's been hard to not use it all this time. And on that note, if the site I've been using has the words wrong, I do not care because I've used these names for months and I'm not stopping now. They're ingrained.

Isilme, by the way, I was pronouncing "Ee-seal-may"; Slyan'ssun to me is "slee-an-sun". Just if anyone was curious!

Chapter 32: Evanescent

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

It’s a significant risk- a cardinal sin- to leave one of the parties. But after the fifth man’s touches become so aggressive he feels like he’s going to shred his own skin to escape Astarion slips out onto one of the balconies. The night air is warm but he feels so incredibly cold. And alone. He’s had a dozen hands on his body in the past hour but it’s all impersonal. He suddenly realizes that he knows exactly how that Tav chained to a bed felt so many decades prior: he’s a thing. An object to be pawed at, fawned over, and enjoyed.

Thinking of Tav was an awful mistake.

Suddenly his drow is all he craves. The personhood, the meaningfulness, the caution, the gentleness: now he craves it all. It’s a physical pull in his chest.

It’s the silver string. It’s back.

The music of the soirée fades away. The moon sings to him instead, low in the sky in the distance, amusingly in the same direction the string’s trying to pull him.

He can’t leave.

He couldn’t possibly.

Cazador would know. Cazador would be furious. Cazador would flay him. Make him scream until he shreds his voice. Make him scream past that.

He can’t leave. He couldn’t possibly.

But when he looks around, he sees the exact spot to do it, and the string vibrates with joy. His joy, maybe, or perhaps the string’s. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t care.

He gracefully descends the nearby creeping ivy. He vanishes into the night. He glides amidst the moonbeams. He follows the silver string tugging fervently at his ribs.

He finds Tav, and Tav’s smile is so soft and warm that he instantly feels the answering swell of heat inside him, and when they rush to each other and collide, Astarion can feel every last inch of his tension release.

Gods,” he murmurs against Tav’s collarbone. “You feel so good.”

Tav laughs, but it’s tinged with concern, and his hands are so gentle on Astarion’s back that they can't even aggravate his scars. Nothing like the others. Nothing like anyone else he’s ever known.

“I feel like you need something tonight.”

“You. I need you.”

Tav nuzzles the point of his ear. “You have me, slyan’ssun. However long you need me.”

Always, he can’t say aloud. But it rings in his heart, tremors down the string, makes his hands tremble in Tav’s collar. Forever.

“Good.”

He requested someplace far from the Upper City and Tav regards him curiously for a second. Then he cups his chin thoughtfully.

“I have an idea.”

Astarion simply follows in the drow’s footsteps. Or at least he does until Tav pauses and reaches back for his hand, clasping it, and then they’re walking side by side. Such a simple gesture but one that feels so right when it’s his drow.

“Are we headed to a park?”

Tav stops. Astarion stops with him. Tav’s frowning slightly. He co*cks his head at the pale elf accompanying him. “Not the park, no, but something in a similar vein. Do you trust me?”

“Yes.”

The answer comes before Astarion even has time to think about it and gods does it throw him for a loop. He does trust Tav. It’s insane. All these long years of his life, of his suffering, and he finally has one person he trusts completely. There’s precious few things Tav could do to betray Astarion’s trust in him and Tav isn’t the kind of person who would ever do them. He’s safe with Tav. Truly and fully safe.

The realization rocks him and he leans into Tav’s solid chest, lets the steady rhythm of Tav’s breathing soothe him. These days his heartbeat sounds less like an inexorable timer and more like a wordless reassurance. A beat of his own music. Astarion’s still never heard him play an instrument but he likes this one best already. Tav wraps his arms around his waist. Astarion feels so warm and content and gods, he feels so incredibly safe.

“I do,” he whispers against Tav’s shirt. “I do. I trust you.”

Tav hesitates for a heartbeat. Then he presses a kiss to the crown of snowy curls atop Astarion’s bowed head. Astarion tenses for a split second before he burrows deeper into Tav’s arms. Tav sounds choked up when he speaks.

“I’m glad. Thank you.”

He knew he was safe in Tav’s embrace. He's known that for months. He’s known he loves the drow, truly, madly, and deeply, for tendays now. But somehow the fact that he trusts Tav implicitly sinks in deeper than the other two foreign things to Astarion’s reality. Safety and love were facets of trust. Unbridled trust is something he’s never been able to have. Yet he can have it, with Tav. He can trust Tav. Tav won’t harm him. Ever. Not in any way that could tear them apart.

He lifts his head; Tav’s chin curves over it perfectly. Astarion hums. Tav does too, and he can hear the smile in the drow’s voice. Astarion brushes his nose, then his lips, along Tav’s collarbone, then up his throat. Not for the first time, Tav tilts his head just so, and Astarion’s mouth fits just perfectly against his pulse. He keeps his lips pressed there for more than long enough to feel, then bring to heel, the sanguine hunger calling for Tav’s spiced blood.

It’s getting easier to do.

“Hm. Slyan’ssun?”

“Oh right.” He whispers against Tav’s heated skin. “You had a plan.”

“It’s not terribly important,” Tav murmurs, nosing that particularly audacious curl back behind his ear. “If you’d rather go back.”

“No, love, I’m all yours for the night. Quite content to see what idea you’ve got brewing in that pretty head of yours.”

Tav chuckles in his ear and it makes him shiver.

“Come on then.”

“You don’t seem the type of person to enjoy camping, or roughing it at all, but I find that sometimes it’s nice to escape the city for a bit and remember what clean air smells like.”

Astarion doesn’t answer right away because for the first time he’s seeing exactly what Tav looks like out of the city, in the wild, and somehow he’s even more lovely in the moonlight out here. Drow were supposed to be people of the dark, of caves and caverns and castles, but Tav looks like he belongs here. He’s beautiful in the shifting shadows of leaves. Astarion can’t believe he’s jealous of the grass caressing Tav’s thighs.

“I am not a man made for the great outdoors,” he agrees finally as he steps into the field. “But if you insist…”

Tav holds a hand out to him like he’s a princess and worse yet Astarion takes it. Tav’s skin is as warm as the night. Tav shifts his grip as Astarion draws level with him and suddenly they’re once again holding hands like infatuated children. It’s embarrassing yet Astarion never wants to let go. He squeezes Tav’s fingers and his heart is full to bursting when Tav squeezes back.

Tav leads him into the small copse of trees on an overgrown unseen path he seemingly knows by heart. He follows without a single complaint. Astarion’s eyes roam over Tav in the moonlight, in the dark. He really is beautiful like this. More than he’s been before. Suddenly he feels like he’s been missing out on an integral part of Tav and didn’t even know it. Every time he thinks he’s discovered all of Tav’s facets he finds another. Tav’s perhaps as skilled as he is at keeping his cards close to his chest.

They exit the trees and Astarion’s mouth drops open: they’re staring at the expanse of the ocean, moon-dappled and neverending. The copse dies out just short of a cliff face. Astarion peers nervously over the edge. It’s… far. A sheer drop down to tide pools. He shifts away from it and turns around to find Tav’s sitting reclined against one of the nearest trees, one that’s closer to the precipice than its fellows, and he looks completely at home there.

“You’ve been here before,” Astarion says with an exaggerated tone of accusation.

“Of course. It’s a very nice place to be alone and enjoy the quiet. Listen to the waves. Get away from the smell and crowding of the city. And, sometimes, just to play by my lonesome where I can’t attract attention.”

Astarion walks back to Tav’s side. It’s cool out tonight, even for an undead, and he craves Tav’s warmth. He rubs at his arms for effect. Kneels next to Tav.

“It is nice. Secluded and all that.”

“Exactly.”

“Does it happen to have anything to do with your hatred of being touched?”

A secretive smile comes to Tav’s lips. “It might.”

“Am I still the only exception to that rule?”

Tav co*cks his head. “Care to find out?”

Astarion doesn’t need a second opportunity.

“I understood you, tonight, I think. What you must have felt back in that cell, on that bed. I’ve known the feeling for a long time but just never… put it into the right light.”

He’s leaning into Tav’s chest, head on one solid shoulder, his legs draped over Tav’s lap, and Tav’s hands feel wonderful, one around his hip, the other on his thigh. Tav’s head rests against his. Astarion’s watching his own hands, pale fingers ghostly in the moonlight, as he pulls a flower's petals out one by one.

“I’m sorry,” Tav says, and Astarion rolls his eyes at yet another unnecessary apology, but before he can grumble about it, Tav continues, “That you ever have to know that feeling. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

He sighs, briefly turning his face toward Tav’s skin to inhale the scent of roses. “Neither would I.”

He tosses the stem of the flower away into the grass and resettles his head on Tav’s shoulder.

“What was it like, all of that? I know the women are supposed to be cruel, but was there ever a time you enjoyed it, do you think? Back at the beginning? Before you were locked up?”

“No, I, uh… I hadn’t formed any attachments to anyone before I was chained. Most of this-” He threads their fingers together, for a moment, then lets go. “Most of this is new to me. All of it, really.”

Astarion blinks. “All of it? You never even had sex for the enjoyment of it?”

“I was a breeding slave, Astarion. Mutual enjoyment was never part of the bargain. Tenderness is unheard of. You think any one of those women who took what they wanted from me ever considered what I needed in return? I was used and abandoned. Over and over. Nothing more. Never anything more.”

Astarion’s staring at him as he lets the pieces of Tav’s life that he’d known already fall more fully into place. Finishing out that stained-glass window’s corners.

“Until you…” Tav flushes a bit. That dusky pink Astarion finds so damned charming. “I never really felt… anything. Never wanted…”

Astarion stares at the drow for a long moment while the poor man trails off nervously. He can’t help but caress Tav’s cheek. Cup his jaw. Tav sighs and closes his eyes. Relaxing into the touch.

Then Astarion pivots until he’s straddling Tav’s lap. The drow tenses with surprise at the bold move. His eyes fly open and he’s staring up at the pale elf. Astarion can hear his heart beating wildly. He threads a hand into soft white hair, dragging his nails across the front of Tav’s scalp and drinking in the shivery breath that escapes Tav’s lips when he does it. He pulls his hand free and presses it against Tav’s shoulder. The drow’s upper body obediently comes to rest against the tree.

“So you’ve never been kissed? Is that what you’re telling me right now, love?”

Tav licks his lips reflexively. Astarion makes no illusions that he’s looking at anything but the quick slip of pink against those plush pale lips. It makes Tav shudder.

“I- there was a girl, at the commune, but it wasn’t- it was just a…”

Astarion leans his full weight against Tav’s heaving chest. It supports him. He weighs next to nothing compared to Tav’s solid, steady bulk. He’s safe here. He wraps his arms around Tav’s neck and brackets Tav’s waist with his knees. One roll of his hips would probably get them both going, if Tav’s not already half-hard. Gods know Astarion is.

“Hmm?”

“It didn’t… mean anything,” Tav manages after a moment. His eyes flicker rapidly between Astarion’s lips and his half-lidded eyes. “It was quick. We were both nervous.”

“You still are.”

Astarion’s got a hand in the thick tresses at the back of Tav’s head and he’s just mindlessly massaging the man’s scalp. Tav feels so good under him. Warm and alive and thrumming with nervous energy and no small amount of lust. He shifts, opens his legs, rests even closer against the curve of Tav’s body, and Tav jerks against him with surprise. Their hips are flush. Astarion’s hard co*ck is right against Tav’s. Tav gasps for breath. He’s shaking and it’s not the night’s chill. Or the cold of Astarion’s body. Astarion can scent it on his skin: it’s arousal, and it’s a heady thing when it comes from the drow. Sweet and spicy and rose-tinged. Astarion leans in, pulling aggressively on his handful of hair, and Tav’s head falls back with a whispery moan. Astarion’s lips press against the curve of Tav’s neck. He mouths over the rapid heartbeat, pounding against ashen skin, like Tav’s blood is trying to escape its safe confines. The pale elf desperately wants to sink his fangs in. Bite. Relish the gush and heat on his tongue.

“Astarion.”

The plea garners his attention and Astarion leans away. Safer to not even give himself that temptation. He settles for a different temptation: the very promising tent in his darling drow’s trousers. He unlaces them one-handed (to a huff of surprise or amusem*nt from Tav, he isn’t sure which it is) and slides his hand inside.

Ah,” Astarion sighs. “Such a shame you’ve not been treating anyone else to this.”

“I don’t want anyone else.”

The admission is a sharp blade sunk into the softest parts of Astarion’s hardened heart. Tav wants him. Only him. Part of him thinks of course because desire is what he’s been moulded to do over the course of a century and a half. Sex is one of his constants (wanted or unwanted) and Cazador is the other. It’s his purpose. But the rest of him howls with joy. Tav wants him. It’s a blessed gift. The way those green-on-dark eyes stare up at him says everything Tav’s mouth is beyond expressing. Astarion leans in. He can’t breathe, can’t think, and thankfully he doesn’t need to do the former. He runs his fingers so lightly up the shell of Tav’s long ear that Tav’s shiver is a thing he’s helpless to resist.

“Tav…”

“No!” Tav whimpers.

For a second, Astarion’s frozen on his lap, wondering what he did wrong, and before he can scramble free, can stop potentially hurting the drow in that intangible way he doesn’t understand but wants no part of, he feels Tav’s hands on his hips. Tav’s burying his face in the crook of his neck. Warm. He’s so warm. Astarion craves his body heat like a drug. He sinks his free hand into soft rosy hair again and cradles the drow’s head to him. They’re so close. Astarion’s never been so lost in love. He would do anything, right now, say anything, if it would make Tav happy.

“No,” Tav repeats, breathless, but the word leaving him as a gust of humidity against Astarion’s throat. “Not- not Tav. Please. It’s- my name, my name is… it’s…”

“Tell me.”

“Tathlyn. I was- I am - Tathlyn.”

Tathlyn.” Astarion whispers against soft white hair. Close to his ear for full effect. Tav whimpers. His co*ck jumps in Astarion’s carefully loose grip. He tightens it as a reward and Tav chokes out a cry. There’s something wet against the heel of his hand and Astarion grins to himself: Tav’s leaking already. Too new to sex by far. Poor thing. He begins to stroke, a slick slide, and Tav moans. Astarion feels the vibration of the sound through his whole body and it sends a white-hot bolt of desire down his spine.

“That’s it, love,” he murmurs as Tav’s hips start bucking into his hand. “Just like that.”

Tav shakes his head. He’s looking with undisguised longing at Astarion’s smirking mouth. “But I want-”

And Astarion breaks that final rule he made for himself without a second more’s thought. He kisses the drow. He kisses Tav, and Tav keens like a broken thing, and Astarion’s never loved anything or anyone this much. It’s a poisonous, dangerous thing, this love he carries, but Tav’s devouring it like it’s something he needs more than air. The kiss is a clumsy attempt on Tav’s part but that makes it all the sweeter to Astarion. His beautiful love, inexperienced, unused to genuine affection and loving touches. Astarion wants to set his whole past ablaze. Burn away all that hurt this man and replace it with everything he knows to offer. He pulls away and Tav looks dazed. Like he’s a million realms away, but not in any sort of terrible way, Astarion’s relieved to notice. More like he’s just gotten his mind blown by how incredible a good kiss can be. Astarion squeezes Tav’s hips between his knees. Tav stirs like he’s waking from a long and pleasant dream.

“Still with me, love?” Astarion asks with a smirk.

“Yes.”

“It’s not too much?”

“Not- not enough.”

That’s what I want to hear.”

He presses another kiss to soft lips but it’s fleeting. Tav chases his mouth when he moves away but Astarion resumes the slow firm strokes of his hand and Tav moans against his lips.

“Astarion-”

“I have you.”

There’s a clumsy hand on his hip, then on his own tented breeches, and Astarion hisses at the jolt of sensation.

“Something you want, my dear?”

“I want you to- to feel good too. Please. Let me-”

Well isn’t that novel. Someone who not only cares about but wants his pleasure too.

“Some other time, love,” he whispers in return. “Tonight I want to taste you.”

Tav looks confused by that. The look doesn’t fade- increases in fact- when Astarion shifts off his lap. Astarion coils before him, a sensuous thing, and pulls at Tav’s trousers. He doesn’t want them off- hardly- but he needs more room to work. Tav helps, after a baffled second, pushing his pants half down his hips.

Gods. f*ck. The freckles are down here too.

Astarion draws lines between the specks of darkness. Making patterns in the splatters of ink that mark Tav’s hips. Tav shivers. Astarion slips the pants just a bit further, enough to finally free Tav’s co*ck from its confines, and Astarion’s staring, delighted. Thick, heavy, and gray as an iron bar. He can’t stop moving his fingers over velvet-soft skin as he frees his prize. It’s hot and smooth and slick. Tav’s a beautiful mess. Astarion groans: the head of Tav’s co*ck is the same flushed pink of his face. It’s gorgeous. He needs it. He wraps a pale hand around the thick shaft properly now- hells, his fingers barely meet- and pumps his fist a few times. Greedily, he watches liquid pearl up at the tip. Tav whimpers. Those green eyes are switching rapidly between Astarion’s hand on his co*ck and Astarion’s concentrating face. His hips stutter when Astarion squeezes.

Ahh, Astarion-”

Astarion bites back a groan. He thought the only way his name could ever have sounded sweeter was if Tav was moaning it, and gods above he was right.

“Feels good, love?”

Yes,” Tav whines.

“Just you wait, darling. I’m far from through with you.”

It’s going to be tricky to get his mouth around this monster, with his fangs not nicking sensitive skin, but Astarion is determined. He licks a path up the underside. Following the pulsing vein there. Tav’s dick is soaked in precome. The taste is different than he’d expected. That cloying spice is here too, in the taste, and Astarion’s never known anything like it. It’s something he’s never encountered before he met Tav. It has to be a drow thing, or an Underdark thing perhaps, but no matter what it is Astarion wants more of it. It’s in Tav’s blood. In his sem*n. Astarion wants to drink it all down.

“Astarion!” Tav gasps. “What are you- you can’t- that’s-”

Astarion gives him a wicked smile. He presses a kiss to the flushed, oozing tip- licking up a new bead of precome- and then opens up to take Tav’s co*ck into his mouth. The instant he does Tav whispers, “Oh hells.”

As he sucks ardently on the head, Tav’s coherence vanishes in between one stuttered heartbeat and the next. He’s only making sweet, desperate noises now, and Astarion palms his own straining erection with each one. Tav is glorious. He’s trying, cutely, to hold still. It’s an effort. His thighs are tense. His fingers carve furrows in the dirt. Astarion isn’t sure if that instinct is a holdover from his days as a chained slave or not. Either way, he hates it. He reaches out and takes one of those clenched fists. Tav opens it automatically. Astarion places Tav’s palm on the back of his head. It rests there, heavy and trembling, and Astarion pushes his own head down with Tav’s hand. Groans for effect when Tav’s co*ck slips ever deeper. Use me, he wants to beg, but then he’d have to stop sucking the co*ck lying heavy on his tongue, and he won’t let it go until Tav’s coming down his throat.

Thank the gods, Tav gets it.

He’s hesitant about tightening his fingers in soft white curls. But he does. He does, and he pulls, and Astarion moans encouragement when another inch slides past his lips. Astarion grips Tav’s thighs firmly and goes loose. Relaxes to facilitate Tav’s every whim. It’s what he usually does, giving up any control to just let the whole thing pass quickly, but for once his mind is fully present. He’s lucid. He’s incredibly conscious of Tav’s every last movement. Every sound he makes. The broken wanting neediness of the drow. He’s never had a mouth on his dick before and Astarion finds that such a profound shame. He’s falling apart like a shattered porcelain doll and it’s beautiful. Every tug and every downward bob of his head he determinedly takes in more. He wants it all. Every last inch. He needs Tav’s co*ck buried to the root in his mouth. Needs it like he doesn’t need air, and that sparks an idea.

The first eager swallow when Tav’s co*ck is deep in his throat makes Tav cry out. Each further swallow he takes Tav deeper, until his nose is pressed against gray skin. In no time flat he’s got his lovely drow sobbing with need.

Astarion’s been praised many times before for his ability to keep a man’s co*ck buried in his throat for far longer than should be possible. The truth is, it’s an easy thing, if you have decades of forced practice and you don’t have to breathe. Tav’s praising him for it now, but not in words. Not like the others. No, he’s praising Astarion in soft whimpers and the needy fingers tangled in his curls, keeping him in place even though he has no plans to move. He’s going to spoil this act for Tav forevermore: no one else will ever compare to this and Astarion knows it. Tav will know it too. Long after Tav’s moved on to another city he’ll remember his co*ck deep in Astarion’s throat and gods Astarion can only hope he’ll masturbat* over the memory. That Tav will take himself in hand and moan his name as he works his shaft and never come close to the bliss he’s feeling now.

Ah- ah, Astar- slyan’ssun-”

The soft hiss of the drow word is easier for Tav to get out between clenching teeth. It sounds even more beautiful than his own name.

He swallows again. Tav cries out, high and sweet. His fingers clutch tighter before his innate gentleness returns and he eases up. Astarion’s torn between being used to the gripping, and loving how very Tav the tenderness is. If his every hope for the night wasn’t to have Tav coming down his throat, he might even have stopped there.

But he can’t.

He wants. He needs.

Astarion bobs his head in a steady rhythm, swallowing every time he has Tav deep in his throat, letting his muscles flutter around the sensitive head of Tav’s co*ck. Gods, he loves the sounds. He’s about to come because of just the way Tav sounds as Astarion takes him apart. It’s beautifully needy. He takes himself in hand again and groans around Tav’s shaft. It’s been so long since he’s actually wanted to enjoy an org*sm. Tav’s about to push him through one far more easily than anyone needs to know about.

He f*cks his fist while he sucks Tav’s co*ck and it’s good, so good, that for the first time he can recall, he whimpers. Tav’s hand loosens in his hair once more, likely thinking he’s done wrong- sweet fool that he is- and Astarion protests that by sinking all the way down again and staying. His hand works feverishly over himself. Tav’s close- he can feel it he can hear it he can smell it- and he wants to come alongside his lover. Even once, even just this one time, he wants them to enjoy a shattering climax together. He groans as the cusp grows ever nearer; Tav’s hand returns, both this time, tangling in his curls and holding him down even as Tav begs him by name to relent, because he can’t, he’s going to-

He does. They do, nearly simultaneous, both of them moaning in tandem. Astarion pulls half off Tav’s co*ck, throat working to swallow, tongue curiously examining once again. He wants to commit everything about this to memory. He has to. His release stains the grass in spurts. He doesn’t lose a drop of Tav’s. Refuses to. It’s his. Everything about the moment is his . Tav’s hips move and his hands tighten and he sobs.

Astarion ..!”

Tathlyn, he thinks in silent adoring echo. My love.

“It’s nice to know you’re just as capable of lying to me as you are withholding information, Tathlyn.”

They’re carefully redressing now, still only a few feet apart. Astarion remembered, suddenly, the fact that all along Tav’s been hiding this information from him. It’s not fair (he knows he has no right to be irritable about keeping secrets) but the way Tav’s real name has settled into his heart feels so right that he finds himself bizarrely annoyed he didn’t get to learn it until now.

“I didn’t lie to you, Astarion.” Tav says softly. Fragile and aching but honest.

“Look it’s fine that you did, I hardly deserved to know your name right away, you said it yourself, an-”

“But I didn’t,” Tav repeats. He sounds close to tears. Astarion refuses to look at them. At him. “It was why I took so long to give you my name that night. I had to think. Tav… is my name. Or it’s… it’s what I was called. My name is… is Tathlyn Aletyl, belonging to- ha. Well. Belonging of House Vandree. Tav was what…” Tav chokes, suddenly, and despite himself Astarion looks. The drow has a hand pressed to his throat. He looks torn and pained and horribly unmoored. Lost and sad. “It was all I knew myself to be.”

He looks up, into Astarion’s wide eyes, and softly finishes, “And then you gave that throwaway title a new purpose. It means something to me now. But I still… I wanted you to know who I really… who I really was. Who I… maybe still am after all. I’ve never really known who I am or who I was but you make me want to know. I want you to know.”

He doesn’t have words.

Tav does.

“You trust me,” he says quietly. “I trust you. With all of me. I have for… a long time. You know all of the worst parts and you’re still… still here. I can’t tell you how much it means. I… I lo-”

Astarion crosses the space between them in a blink and presses a hand to Tav’s mouth. He gives the startled drow a tight smile. “Ah-ah-ah. Let’s save that sweet little lie for another night, lo- darling.”

For a second Tav looks heartbroken that Astarion doesn’t want to hear the words. But when Astarion pulls his hand away, there’s a small soft smile on Tav’s lips he didn’t expect, and suddenly he knows why it’s there.

Maybe he didn’t let Tav say it, but he knows what Tav was going to say, what Tav’s feelings are regardless of whether the words are out in the air. Tav still got his point across. Astarion still knows, now, and nothing can change that.

Cheeky pup.

It’s a good thing he loves Tav too.

Notes:

Lord, it only took 'em 32 chapters to get to any sort of proper sexual anything. Good heavens, boys. Who made you this wa- *shot*

Anyway, finally Tav name! I have been dying to get that out for my own reasons but it's so good to have it finally aired out. Now they both have a secret name for each other! Which will most certainly not be abused, oh no, not at all! Also: trust. I personally adore how important that realization was for them both to come to. Also, confes- okay well most of a confession. Still counts, if they both know, right?

So, there's a strong likelihood the next chapter will be a week or so out, little longer a time than usual, so hopefully the offer of finally some smut!! can tide you over for a few re-reads in the meantime? XD

Chapter 33: Stealing

Notes:

Hey so! I know I mentioned a Modern AU with Tav before, but I'm ~kinda~ doing something with that right now over here if anyone's curious about AU Tav with his boyfriends, Astarion and Halsin!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Go on up,” the lady says with a wry smirk. She knows why he’s here. “Third door down the hall. On your left. Think he's still sleeping. If he doesn’t answer you may as well go in and wake him up for me.”

Astarion gives her a distracted half-smile in passing. His body’s thrumming with eagerness. He nearly takes the stairs two at a time. He can hear her laugh behind him.

At the third door on the left, though, he pauses, seized by a sudden thought.

Was her permission enough for him to enter the room? Or did he need Tav’s? The homeowner and the current tenant… he’s not sure which counts as the person who needs to offer him an invitation so that he can enter.

Astarion carefully touches the doorknob. He’s not sure if it’s a good or bad sign that he can. Or if it means anything at all. He’s picked many a locked door, after all. Breaking is easy; it’s the entering that’s hard to do as a vampire spawn.

He grasps the doorknob and turns; it opens. He pushes it into the room and takes a deep, unnecessary breath, then cautiously extends a hand. He reaches forward. At the door frame. Beyond. His hand enters the room with no resistance and Astarion feels his shoulders sagging with relief. He steps into the room.

The shutters are open and the moon’s shining in. More than enough light for him to see by. Tav keeps his room tidy. His bedclothes, on the other hand, are a tangled mess, and in the middle of it he spots the man he wants. Tav’s a mound in the middle of the bed. Astarion can hear his soft exhales. The slow soothing beat of his heart. They’re the only sounds in the room.

The only sounds he needs.

He creeps closer, careful on old floorboards, and crouches down next to the bed. Tav’s pale hair is glowing in the faint light, a beacon for his fingers to find, and he sinks them in eagerly.

Tav, fast asleep- which still seems so strange- doesn’t even stir at the touch. Astarion caresses the drow’s cheek. He’s reveling in the fact that he can touch the drow at all. At his whim. At his will. Without quite knowing when he did it or why, he rose to put a knee on the mattress, and then he’s on the bed. Lying at Tav’s side and watching the drow breathe. The way his eyelids move as his eyes flick side to side. The dreams don’t seem to disturb him. Astarion cards his hand through Tav’s hair. Tav smiles slightly and digs his head deeper into his pillow. Astarion runs a careful finger up the long edge of Tav’s elegant ear. Once, then twice, watching the drow’s expression change with each, the pleasure of the touch sinking through his dreams. He pinches the delicate tip and Tav gasps. Tav’s eyes crack open. When his sleepy mind registers Astarion is on his bed, staring at him, his eyes widen and fill with sharp clarity.

He smiles.

Astarion frowns.

“I’ve just realized this is terribly ghoulish of me,” he says, but he isn’t even half propped up on his elbow before Tav’s flailed to grab him.

“Wait!” Tav begs. When Astarion does wait, poised half upright, Tav sighs, then recovers himself. “I think it’s only creepy if I dislike it.”

“I don’t think the definition of stalking changes depending on whether or not the person being stalked approves of it, darling.”

“Hush,” Tav murmurs, running his hand up Astarion’s arm. “I’m happy you’re here.”

Astarion is too. He leans into the warmth of Tav’s touch. Tav grips tighter, tries to bring Astarion back to rest on the bed, but suddenly Astarion has other plans. He moves, quick as a blink. Next thing he knows, he’s pushed Tav’s shoulder to get the man flat on his back and straddled him. Tav blinks up at him, that signature flush starting in his cheeks, but there’s a definite hunger to the way he looks up at Astarion looming over him. A hunger that sparks hot when those jewel-green eyes fall to his lips.

Astarion can’t help but agree with the sentiment.

He’s chest to chest with the drow a second later, trapping gentle gray hands up against the pillows, and kissing Tav like he wants to devour him. Several parts of him certainly do want that. Tav groans into the kiss.

The noise, the arch of Tav’s back, the roll of his hips: it all fuels a fire. Astarion’s consumed by a dizzying want. He kisses Tav again and again and Tav’s a good student; it takes him no time to be kissing back with equal need and fervor. Astarion starts to grind his body against Tav’s and absolutely delights in the way Tav moans against his mouth. Tav’s soon panting, whimpering, chasing his lips every time Astarion pulls away to let the poor man take a breath only one of them needs. Astarion runs a hand up under Tav’s rumpled sleep shirt and finds a stiff nipple. Tav arches again under his touch. A wordless entreaty for more. Astarion can barely hold his groan back. Tav’s intoxicating. Every whimper and whispered plea, every twitch and shudder of his body, the sights and smells of him as he comes apart under Astarion’s forever-knowledgeable fingers: it’s intoxicating. It might just be all he ever needs in his life. He’s losing control of himself, he knows, just being so wrapped up in this moment, but he’s more relieved by far that it's not in the typical way. He has no desire to retreat to the corner of his mind. No need to. Everything he craves is here, pinned underneath him, gasping and wanting. Tav’s scent is heavy in the air and the spice-smell keeps him grounded beyond anything he could have imagined.

His drow. His lover. His.

He’s pretty sure there’s nothing in the realms that could take him out of this moment. He’s certain, until there comes a sharp rapping at the door and the woman’s curt voice, extremely (sharply) amused, saying, “I’ll be thanking you to hurry up, if you please. I need him for the evening rush.”

Astarion starts at the sound of her voice. He straightens up and calls back, more composed than he was about to give himself credit for, “He’ll be along shortly.”

He thinks, anyway; when he looks down Tav’s clearly forgotten entirely about the rest of his life outside of his bed. That much is obvious. His pupils are huge and his chest is heaving and he looks beautiful between Astarion’s knees. He also looks betrayed when Astarion shifts as though he means to get off him. Astarion co*cks his head and smirks down at Tav.

“You heard the lady.”

Tav blinks. “Did I?”

Astarion snickers. He rolls his hips, just an experiment, and yes, Tav’s hard against him, and yes, Tav’s aware of it, because there’s a new tightness to the edges of his eyes that hints at restraint. He leans back down, hovering just out of range for Tav to kiss, and smiles.

“We’ll have to save it for next time, love.”

“Can next time be right now?” Tav asks, his plaintive gaze moving from Astarion’s eyes to his lips, and focusing there with a longing intensity. And oh, he can’t say no, can’t deny the drow- or himself, if he’s being truly honest- this.

Astarion chuckles- “Greedy boy!”- and presses another kiss to those parted lips. One of Tav’s gentle hands finds the back of his neck and holds tight. Astarion won’t get out of this one so easily, or so the grip would imply, but he knows a single movement against Tav’s hand would have the man releasing him instantly. Tav would never hold someone against their will. Not with his history. Astarion doesn’t want to leave regardless.

He didn’t intend it to- not until Tav’s desperate grab at him- but the kiss deepens. Tav’s pelvis shifts under him; he groans into the drow’s mouth as Tav’s thick co*ck drags against him. He grinds his hips down against it. Tav’s tongue presses to his lower lip. He opens his mouth to the kiss. Tav’s tongue is tentative for a second, but only a second, only for the moment before Astarion’s meets it. Then it slips it in further, his hand tightening in moonlight curls-

And his tongue passes over the tip of a fang.

Astarion jerks back. Tav- of course- doesn’t look upset. Not even when the scent of his blood fills the air, thickening Astarion’s thoughts, flames licking at a wholly different portion of his restraint. The sanguine hunger intertwining with the carnal hunger. He wants Tav. He wants every part of Tav.

Things he can’t have, risks he can’t take.

“Hells, Tav, you’re incredible.” Tav smiles nervously up at him. “If I don’t leave now, love, your landlady will likely ban me from the premises for good, because I will have you crying my name, darling.”

He slips off of Tav’s waist, regretting every second of the growing separation, and Tav props himself up on his elbows to watch him go with needy eyes. There’s a definite tent in the coverlet. Astarion looks directly at it, licking his lips, then smirks up at Tav.

“You may want to take care of that before you go downstairs, my dear. Quite a distracting sight.”

He glides to the door to leave. It really will be beyond difficult to take off if he lingers much longer. Every last part of Tav’s body whispers temptation.

Slyan’ssun?”

“Yes love?”

“You, um… you know you can come back if you want to, right..? Any time you’d like? Even if I’m not here, you can come in, and-”

Astarion can’t help but laugh. “Oh my love, if you dare to give me permission, just try to stop me from abusing it.”

Notes:

Iiiiii did not realize how small this chapter actually was. My bad! More in the usual five days!

Also geez, once you let 'em start they don't wanna stop, huh? Why the hell did it take you guys more than 30 chapters to do this, again?

Chapter 34: Visions

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

He doesn’t know why he’s denied himself this for so long. Now that the dam- his restraint- has broken, kissing Tav is all he wants. It’s the first thing he does when he finds Tav at night. Sometimes aggressively, sometimes sweetly, always lingering: when he and Tav cross paths he has to claim the drow’s lips. At times he finds himself held securely- and so gently- in Tav’s arms. Others he’s pushed Tav against the nearest wall with a growl and thoroughly kissed sense out of the man.

He doesn’t know why he’s denied himself this for so long.

Not until Tav’s moaning under his mouth, his hands, and the red bedroom paints itself across the insides of his eyelids.

Astarion rears back with a gasp, eyes flashing open, seeing Tav but a Tav superimposed on those silk sheets, the vermilion coverlet tangled around his legs, his throat rent open by savage fangs. The blood-stained mouth above it whispers his name.

Then Tav says it again, his tone firm, and Astarion snaps out of the horrid vision. He looks wildly up, at a perfectly intact- if concerned- Tav, and shudders.

“Astarion?” Tav says a third time, this time gentle, as gentle as his fingers in white curls at the nape of Astarion’s neck. “Slyan’ssun?”

That properly grounds him in the present. He leans forward. His forehead finds Tav’s shoulder. He takes deep unnecessary breaths, just as much to calm down as breathe in Tav’s spiced scent, and is helpless to resist the way his muscles unlock at the soothing sensation of Tav’s hand cradling the back of his head.

“Are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” Astarion answers. Painfully honest as usual when it’s Tav asking. “I saw… something, for a second there.”

It felt so real. He could feel the sheets. The fading heat in Tav’s body. The silence of their mutually unbeating hearts. The oppressive environment of the manor. The stench of old blood layered so deeply in the guest bedroom, soaked into the walls and the mattress and the carpet, only noticeable to a vampire spawn who’d dragged many owners of that long-spilled blood into that room. His mind screaming warnings he’d do well to heed. Warnings he’s told his own deaf ears for months. He presses a kiss to Tav’s warm collarbone. Tav presses one to his crown of curls in return.

“Tav.”

“Yes?”

Astarion thinks of a dozen things to say. None of them are right. None of them fit this horrible moment where he’s caught between guilt and memory and want. He lifts his head and Tav sees what he needs. Tav leans in and kisses him so softly that Astarion has to chase his lips for the harder kiss he so deeply desires. Tav allows it, for a moment, but then he pulls away and the height difference between them ensures Astarion can’t reach him for more.

“It’s not going to happen again?”

He pauses. He doesn’t know for sure. He’s kissed Tav for longer periods before, at this point. Longer and harder and more passionate. Shorter and softer and more shy. The guest room has never blared into his thoughts so vividly. It’s rattled him, and Tav can tell.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t,” he says quietly. “Leave it here for tonight, slyan’ssun.”

“No!” Astarion gasps. His fingers tighten in Tav’s shirt. “Please, I… please.”

Tav’s expression is one of discomfort. He doesn’t let go of Astarion’s waist, though, which he takes as a measure of surety. After a long second of contemplation Tav hooks a finger under his chin and lifts his head. Astarion is clearly only too eager for the careful press of Tav’s lips. He leans into it, voracious suddenly, pinning Tav to the wall and whining wordlessly for more. The kiss deepens on Tav’s part, roughens on his, and it's all Astarion can do to remember to keep his fangs to himself. The red bedroom doesn’t invade his thoughts again. It lingers at the back of them, an inescapable truth, and he can’t hide the uneasy edge it gives him. Not from Tav’s discerning eyes. Tav treats him like he’s made of glass. Like he’s capable of breaking. About to shatter. The drow’s touches are careful and every press of his lips is gentle until Astarion coaxes the strength out of him. Forces it out. He doesn’t need tender. He needs to feel something, anything, else. Something to make him forget the damn bedroom and that horrid vision of Tav dead in it. He needs Tav alive, vital, gorgeous, and desperate under his hands. He drags his nails down Tav’s chest and finally, finally, manages to push Tav past the point of nicety. The next kiss is a crush of lips and a tightening of Tav’s arms. Astarion gasps and sighs into the drow’s mouth. When Tav pulls away his eyes are clouding with lust and Astarion’s own spikes in response.

“Astarion.”

“Mm, don’t stop now, love.”

Astarion’s sinuous, curving closer, his lips and teeth finding Tav’s pulse, his hand venturing south to what he can already feel against his hip. He palms the hard swell tenting the front of Tav’s trousers. Tav’s breath hitches; so does Astarion’s, and he lets it out in a low sigh. “Gods, Tav.”

“Astarion-”

“I want you.”

Here?” Tav asks, his voice pitching high with embarrassment, but he doesn’t fight Astarion on it. He just seems confused.

Everywhere,” Astarion corrects. “But right here is a good place to start.”

He kisses his way down Tav’s throat to the deep neckline of his shirt, making sure to leave the occasional bite- each one making Tav gasp, even though Astarion knows he’s being mindful of his fangs and only grazing skin- as he makes his path. As he does, he kneels, until he’s on his knees before the only man he’s ever wanted to give complete control over him.

When he looks up, Tav is staring down at him with wide eyes and blown pupils. He catches Tav’s stare and lifts his eyebrows and waits. It only takes a second for Tav’s fingers to sink into his hair. Astarion hums with satisfaction as Tav cards that hand through his curls once, twice, then grips and brings him closer to Tav’s straining co*ck. Astarion can’t help but smirk, a little, running his hands up Tav’s tight stomach.

The smirk turns brittle when the shirt rides up on his wrists; he can see Tav’s bare skin, and he’d forgotten.

He hates the sight of myriad scars. He’s never asked about the dozens of little ones before, or the longer ones, the ones that scarred white and the ones that scarred black on Tav’s soft gray skin. He had his guesses, and he didn’t want to know the truth.

They’re evidence of the Underdark.

Tav’s life as a merciless soldier who took lives indiscriminately if ordered. The Tav who hadn’t yet learned the value of life or sworn to save as many as he could. The one Astarion doesn’t recognize because that Tav is so different than his own love. Tav’s grown, loved, changed.

And he said it was worth it.

They’re evidence of the abuse Tav endured too, he’s sure, scars left by the women who used his body like it was a toy to break. The women who cut him, scarred him, made him desperate for pain to cope with the roiling self-hatred Tav felt.

Hells, he has never so desperately wanted to delve into the Underdark as he gets the sudden urge to do when he sees those scars. He wants to burn Menzoberranzen to the ground, scorched earth, and hang the entire Vandree house out to twist in the wind for having the godsdamned gall to so severely hurt his beloved. This man they broke, the one who never deserved any of it, Astarion’s drow, his his his forever.

Slyan’ssun?”

The call brings him back from his hateful thoughts, clarifies the here and now. He focuses on Tav’s co*ck. Mouths at the fabric barring him from what he wants. Inhales- the sweet, the spice, the musk, the sweat- and groans.

“Tav. I want you.”

“Astarion…”

“Just like last time,” he murmurs. “Deep in my throat. I want to feel you come again. I want to drink it all down.”

It’s adorable, the way Tav flushes that deep dusky pink. The way it suffuses his ears and even spreads down his chest. He presses the back of his free hand to his lips and gives Astarion a scandalized look.

“We can’t do that here!”

“Oh I beg to differ, love. I’ve gotten away with much more indecent acts in much more obvious locations.”

“I-” There’s a second’s pause. Tav’s clearly thinking. After a second his eyes met Astarion’s again and his expression has smoothed into something more calm, yet wry. “I’ll bet you have, actually.”

“Mm, I have. Still…” He slips the belt easily open, unlaces the front of Tav’s trousers, and smiles salaciously at the damp patch on the front of Tav’s tented smallclothes. He sucks at it- Tav’s breath hitches- and nearly purrs at the taste. “It’s true enough that no one else should get to see this. It’s mine. Isn’t it love?”

The hand in his curls runs a tender trail to the back of his neck. “Of course it is.”

“Perfect.”

He’s gentle- loving- about slipping Tav’s clothes down his thighs. Tav shudders. When Astarion takes him to the root in one smooth slide- he knows, now, what he’s working with- Tav cries out and promptly slaps a hand to his own mouth to silence himself. Astarion grumbles with disapproval, sinking his nails into Tav’s thighs, and Tav keens all over again at the pinprick pains. Astarion’s own co*ck twitches, past half-hard now, and he swallows around Tav’s girth, feeling the saliva drip past his lips, lost in the sensation.

Until Tav’s begging, anyway, brings clarity rushing back in.

Tav, above him, shyly whispering.

“When you said last time- I was thinking- the bed, and you on top of- against me, and-”

Astarion’s on his feet almost without conscious thought. “I can do that. We can- yes, Tav, we can do that.”

His hands are shaking on his own ties. The images Tav’s put in his head, the need

When he has his own pale co*ck- flushed rosy pink- freed he hears Tav’s breathing stutter. Tav’s hand appears in his peripheral. Nervous but wanting. Astarion laughs without breath and stretches up to kiss the drow.

“You can touch, love.”

Tav whimpers. He doesn’t make the move. That’s fine; Astarion moves for them, pressing into Tav, grinding their hips together, a slow slide of their co*cks against one another, and their groan is a mingled noise in the night between them. The difference in size, shape, color: it’s beautiful. He curves a hand over the back of Tav’s neck. Tav braces his forehead against Astarion’s. A deep, searching look into each other's eyes.

Astarion starts to move.

He tries to rock his hips, straining up onto his toes to do it, and overbalances. Tav’s blessedly quick to react. His arms are around Astarion’s slender waist almost immediately. Astarion whimpers. They’re so close. Tav’s blood is thrumming under his skin. The scent of mulled wine is half-hidden by sweat. He nuzzles into Tav’s neck, closer to the smell of his blood, and tries to thrust again. He can feel Tav’s groan against his ear. A second later Tav moves his hands. Astarion’s ready to protest until Tav’s taken careful hold of his ass. He kneads the soft give of flesh almost like he’s trying to figure out what to do with it. It’s enough to make Astarion delirious.

Yes,” he moans. “Hold me?”

Tav’s hold strengthens and settles as soon as he begs. Then Tav pulls, pulls him closer and up, and rolls his hips at the same time, and Astarion’s head falls back with a groan. Tav nips at his exposed neck.

f*ck, that’s-! Like that, Tav, like that-”

They buck their hips in tandem, losing their inhibitions to need and greed and lust, Tav controlling the pace perfectly as Astarion desperately tries to rut against him. Gods he’d climb Tav like a damned tree if he had the time. The man’s just a shade too tall. Astarion settles instead for wrapping his fingers partially around both of their co*cks, delighting in the way Tav shudders when he does, the way Tav moans, the way that his hips jerk out of rhythm with his first stroke of them both.

Slyan’ssun..!”

“I know,” he whispers fiercely into Tav’s ear. “I know, love, I know. Together, Tathlyn, please-”

It’s never been so easy, so quick, for him to come wholly undone. Tav leans in further and further- his grip tightening with every whimper, every rock of his hips- until they’re as close as they could possibly be, his breath harsh and rapid in Astarion’s ear. Astarion’s hand is tangled in long roseate hair while the other pumps their co*cks fast and hard.

“Astarion I can’t- I’m going to-”

Astarion thinks he moans encouragement, or perhaps a plea, or perhaps just agreement as he gets close. Tav lifts his head. Green eyes lock on red. Suddenly their mouths meet, the kiss fervent, Astarion blissfully swallowing Tav’s drawn-out whine when he feels that thick dark co*ck throb in his hand. Tav’s hips move in staccato jerks as he paints his own chest- and some of Astarion’s- with hot ropes of seed. Astarion follows his lover’s climax only a few short strokes later with a choked grunt. It pulls his muscles taut in a pleasant way that he’s never quite felt before. For a second, his toes come fully off the ground, but he trusts Tav to hold his weight. And Tav does, easily, his hands unmoving but still so gentle with him. The intense pleasure crests and breaks over him like a wave. He doesn’t ever remember having an org*sm that’s hit him this hard. Trust his sweet lovely drow to give this gift to him. The kiss is broken but they didn’t move away; Astarion’s panting desperately into Tav’s mouth. The drow closes the distance again. This kiss is soft, languid, and lingering. Astarion only pulls back to let Tav gasp for the breath his love actually needs. Astarion’s eyes roam Tav’s flushed face and he can’t help but smile.

“Gods you’re beautiful,” Astarion says. He tugs at long rosy hair. “Easily the most wonderful man I’ve ever known.”

Tav gives him a soft sleepy smile. He produces a kerchief from gods-know-where.

“I noticed last time that it was, um, a little messy.”

When he starts to clean them both up with care and gentleness, Astarion has to shake his head in disbelief. “That’s exactly what I mean.”

Tav only kisses him.

Notes:

Why did you wait for so long, Astarion? I seriously cannot get them to keep their hands off each other. Oh well, I'm sure that flash of the bedroom means nothing. Right?

Chapter 35: Insatiable

Notes:

Hey hey, so, I'm a terrible asshole with extreme ADHD and only remember important information at the darnedest times, so I keep remembering I have a link to link at 3:43 am while I'm at work and away from my laptop. But this time I remembered while at the computer!
So!
Fanart exists and like. I could (would, will, did) cry about it. Please find it here. It's SO lovely AND it's one of my favorite sceeeeenes? Just brings on the waterworks ;-;

Also I feel like I should apologize for the content of this chapter but... I won't.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

There you are.”

Tav, lying on the ground in a tiny clearing watching the stars, startles at the sound of Astarion’s voice. He props himself up on his elbows and watches Astarion approach with amazement.

“How did you..?”

It’s a good question and one he doesn’t want to answer. He must have spent an hour prowling around trying to follow the tug at his heart. It kept confusing him, leading him places he could not go, and now he knows why. It took shoving through a small copse of whippy saplings and one particularly attached bush (he’s sure he’ll have to do some mending tonight thanks to its thorns) to even find this spot. He’s frustrated, at this point, and eager to reward his own efforts.

He drops to his knees at the drow’s side and kisses Tav hungrily. Tav mumbles a greeting in between the first kiss and the third. Laughs when Astarion pushes him flat and nips at the underside of his jaw.

“You have a leaf in your hair,” Tav says, pulling it out. “Did you fall headfirst into a bush, or..?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Astarion grumbles. Still, he bows his head and lets Tav run careful fingers through his curls, sighing at the sensation.

“Thank you, love.”

Two leaves.” Tav corrects himself. “I don’t know what you put yourself through to get here but thank you for doing it. I needed you tonight.”

“Is that why you’re out here in the middle of nowhere, love?”

“I needed space.”

“And me, apparently.”

“I always need you,” Tav murmurs, the adoration all but glowing in the darkness of his eyes, his hand sinking once more into soft silvery curls.

“Well,” Astarion tilts his head into the touch. “You have me.”

“I’m grateful, truly. Come here?”

“A little cold for that, isn’t it?”

“All the better to be closer.”

Astarion frowns. There’s no way Tav hasn’t noticed how chilly he runs. Summer’s taking its time settling in. If he curls up with Tav now he’ll only make the drow cold.

“Not a cuddler?” Tav asks wryly.

“I’ve never tried.” Astarion answers, full honesty as always with Tav, and he sees how his lover’s brow furrows with concern.

Tav extends his arm. “Then I insist.”

Astarion’s still unsure about it, worried for Tav and Tav’s health, but… he’s also curious. He’s enjoyed the many other types of closeness the two of them have indulged in- the leaning against each other, the embraces, the kissing, and, surprisingly, the sex- so why not add in another new one? He stretches out on his side next to Tav. Tav adjusts his position with a shift of his arm; Astarion’s head ends up on Tav’s right shoulder and he stiffens immediately once it lands there.

He can hear Tav’s heartbeat. It’s thunderous. It’s amazing, so close, only the thinnest barriers of skin and muscle between him and the thing he craves most. He reaches out and lays a hand over Tav’s heart. Listens to it pick up at his touch, then settle again, into that steady tick-tock rhythm he knows so well. Tav’s soft laugh is something he feels more than hears. But he does hear it, an enchanting echo in Tav’s broad chest, and he can’t help but relax as usual at the sounds that soothe him.

“Alright, Astarion?”

“This is nice.”

Tav’s arm wraps around him. Tight, but not too tight: he could escape with minimal fuss. Tav’s hand drapes casually over his hip. After a second, two fingers slip under the waistband of his pants, pinpoint warmth against his skin.

“…that’s better.”

Tav chuckles again.

Tav turns his attention heavensward once more and Astarion just lies in the circle of the other man’s arm. There’s a muzzy kind of warmth descending over his thoughts. Like he could fall asleep here. Tav’s heart is so steady, so constant, that it’s incredibly soothing. It’s a lullaby, the beat of a song, and he never wants to hear it stop. Someday, of course, it will, because Tav’s only mortal and his long lifespan will eventually come to an end. But that’s centuries away. Tonight, and for the conceivable future he has with the drow, he can relish the sound. And he does. For a long time. When he feels reverie creeping up on him he takes the intense effort to focus his thoughts. He glances up at Tav’s calm, serious face.

“What are you doing, anyway? Stargazing?”

“Trying to memorize them,” Tav says.

Memorize them?” For a second, he’s distracted- Tav’s fingers have finally moved from their spot on his skin, arcing back and forth in a leisurely slide. “Why?”

Tav shrugs his other shoulder. “I’d never seen them before I came up here, you know. They still fascinate me.”

“How long have you been on the surface?”

“Ten years or so. I guess eleven, now. I’ve been in Baldur’s Gate a while.”

“You have.”

Astarion can never express how grateful he is for that.

“Despite that, I’m still not used to them. It seems like every time I look there’s more, ones I missed.” Tav turns his head and buries his nose in white curls. “And some are more breathtakingly beautiful than others.”

“Oh hush.”

Tav kisses the top of his head. He looks back at the sky. Astarion thinks it’s normal to drape an arm over your bedpartner’s torso so he does. Tav makes a quiet approving noise. Truth be told he can hardly reach all the way across. His fingers just barely dangle off the side of Tav’s chest.

Astarion cranes his neck back so he can look at his lover. “I think you’re biased.”

Tav tilts his head and meets his eyes. “Maybe a little. Slyan’ssun…”

Astarion closes the distance before Tav can. Tav gives a whispery little moan against his lips. Astarion is determined to kiss him harder until he realizes the sound of Tav’s heart has sped up. He pulls away and splays a hand over Tav’s chest.

“That’s interesting.”

Tav’s free hand comes up but before he can thread their fingers together, Astarion shifts his hold, deliberately brushing a finger over Tav’s nipple, and Tav freezes. His heartbeat stutters.

Very interesting,” Astarion murmurs.

“Astarion-”

Shhh.”

Tav oh-so-obediently shuts up. Astarion begins to tease the nipple under his fingers as he listens intently to the sound of Tav’s heart. It’s starting to beat faster. His breathing is picking up too. Astarion can hear it all. It’s delightful. It’s not unexpected, in a sense, because of course these reactions are what a body typically does when arousal starts. He knows that.

He’s just never cared before Tav.

“Tav, can I..?”

“Yes.”

Tav’s holding carefully still. Even his drifting fingers have paused. He’s trying to keep his breathing measured as Astarion slips his hand under the soft cotton tunic Tav’s wearing. He traces scars he finds by touch up Tav’s torso until his fingers are right back on that already-stiffened nipple. Tav lets out a sharp sigh at that. His hips shift. Arousal. Astarion can scent it on his skin. Mulled wine. Soft sweet perfume. A taste Astarion dearly wants on his tongue. He shifts to the neglected nipple and Tav’s breath stutters. His heartbeat’s only gotten faster. His blood is singing. Astarion rises up onto his elbow and leans halfway forward to press his lips to Tav’s neck.Tav whines at the first careful scrape of his fangs on delicate flesh.

“You’re amazing.” He says there, letting lips and fangs graze skin. “Everything about you, my sweet. I need it all.”

A practiced line that’s never been genuine until now.

Tav still has one arm around Astarion’s waist but the other he’s draped across his eyes. He’s flushed. Astarion can see the pink darkening in his cheeks, his ears, down his neck. It’s lovely.

It’s vexing.

“Look at me, love.”

“Astarion-”

“Let me see you.”

“I can’t-”

He pinches a nipple. Tav shudders. “Look at me.”

The demand does it. Tav lifts his arm, lets it fall bonelessly overhead, and Astarion realizes that he wasn’t hiding his embarrassment. Dark green eyes smolder with truth.

“Every last part of me belongs to you, slyan’ssun. Everything. It’s all for you.”

It’s another confession to add to the tally. There’s so many now. Astarion cradles each one close because each one means so much. There’s been confessions of love, confessions of lust, confessions of wants and needs. This is one of complete devotion. Astarion practically lunges across the space between them, his mouth hard and desperate, and Tav’s free hand is tangled quickly in his curls. The kiss goes from sweet to fierce and back again, over and over, until Astarion’s blindingly aware of the throbbing of his co*ck. He pulls back, wild-eyed, and stares at Tav.

“What’s- what can I touch, Tav, tell me what-”

Everything,” Tav moans. “Everything. It’s yours. Gods, Astarion, please-”

He cups a hand over the straining hardness barely kept in check by Tav’s laces and Tav mewls.

Yes-”

Astarion doesn’t waste a second more. He’s through the laces in seconds, nearly as desperate for his hand on Tav’s co*ck as Tav is, and the instant he has that hot thick length in his hand Tav groans. Astarion lays his ear to Tav’s chest and listens to his heart race. It’s entrancing, the way it picks up as he moves his hand in slow but firm strokes over Tav’s erection. He watches liquid bead at the slit and smears it with his thumb, smiling to himself at the sudden stutter of Tav’s heartbeat.

“What do you like, love?”

“I don’t- I don’t know, I-”

“You have to have some preferences, Tav.”

Tav grips his wrist, just for a moment, but it’s enough to get him to stop. Tav’s dark eyes are pleading and soft.

“I don’t know, Astarion. You’re the first person I’ve ever lain with voluntarily.”

“You… mean you have no idea-”

“No.”

Ideas are flitting through Astarion’s mind. Images, one after another after another, each more raunchy than the last, each one a spark to the flame growing in his gut. His co*ck stiffens with each one. Gods, Tav is a blank canvas for him to paint. And in this particular case, he’s a master artist. He squirms up just to press a searing kiss to Tav’s lips.

“Tathlyn,” he murmurs. “I have so much to teach you. To show you. Can I?”

Tav’s gentle fingers anchor in his curls and bring him back for another kiss. And Tav, his sweet loving drow, his beloved oxymoron, spreads his legs and begs.

Please.”

Fiendish delight fans the flames into a blazing wildfire. “As you wish.”

He starts slow, and he starts small. Teasing touches designed to madden. He’s still desperate to listen to the rolling thunder of Tav’s heart but the position is a hard one to keep. Astarion ends up half-upright. He plays with Tav’s nipples first, making his lover tense and tremble, but then he rucks Tav’s tunic up and the first teasing bite to one makes Tav gasp. It doesn’t take much of that sweet torment to have Tav shuddering, his hips bucking at nothing. Astarion settles that problem by slipping his hand back down to take hold of that thick gray co*ck. His thumb rubs over the head, spreading moisture, and Tav keens.

“Good boy,” he murmurs against Tav’s skin. “Just like that, my love. Tighter?”

Yes yes yes-”

Astarion chuckles. His next strokes are firmer. He can see the tension in Tav’s thighs.

“Gods, you’re beautiful.”

Slyan’ssun..!”

“Keep saying my name, darling. Every single one you can think of. Call them out for me. Sing them. Scream them. I want to hear your voice, love, I want to hear everything.”

On his next downstroke he keeps moving his hand, carefully cupping Tav’s heavy balls, and Tav jerks with surprise, a small gasp catching in his throat.

“Too much?”

“I- I’ve never-”

“Hm.”

He fondles them, feeling the weight of each, licking his lips at the memory of Tav coming down his throat. His hand drifts lower after a second, brushing a touch over Tav’s perineum that makes him twitch, but the first careful press of the pad of his finger to Tav’s entrance makes the drow immediately tense up.

“Darling?”

“What are you..?”

“Ah, if you’d rather top, that's fine too, of course. I can easily play a submissive role, love.”

Tav’s blushing. “N-no, I mean- I don’t- what are you doing?”

Astarion blinks down at his drow. That wasn’t quite what he was expecting. Tav being a dominant man does and doesn't surprise him- Tav’s got the size and strength to make quick and easy work out of any bedpartner, and hasn’t he proven his power before?- because Tav’s role thus far in their few more sexual encounters has been quite passive. Tav being confused by the touch is what’s giving Astarion pause.

“I was going to stretch you open, darling. A finger or two, no more, just for the pleasure and sake of it, but… if you’d rather I didn’t-”

“No, wait! You can keep going! I-I just… I’ve never…” Astarion doesn’t think the blush can get any deeper but it does when Tav adds, “Astarion. You’re the only man I’ve ever been with.”

Astarion blinks. “The only..?”

Tav nods.

“So you’ve never had sex with a man. In any capacity.”

Tav shakes his head.

“Gods. You’re really something, darling. Saving it all for me and absolutely ruining any relationship you’ll have after this by taking the best lover first.”

“I’ll take my chances with the future,” Tav says dryly. “But… I do want you to be my first. I told you, it’s all yours. Take it. Take me. I want you to.”

Oh.”

All of Astarion’s previous fantasies are swept away in an instant. Not Tav bending him in half and f*cking him good and hard. Him, pushing Tav’s leg up, hooking Tav’s knee over his shoulder as he buries his co*ck deep inside the drow. Tav’s moans as he’s filled. Laying Tav on soft covers as he presses inside him slow and loving. Languid rolls of his hips that leave Tav gasping his name and clutching his shoulders, his back, his hips, writhing underneath him as he climaxes wet and messy between their chests. He blinks out of the pleasant daydreams to see Tav’s only gotten redder. He smirks and unsticks a lock of hair from Tav’s forehead with gentle fingers.

“I can’t say I expected that.”

“Is it so unusual?”

Astarion can’t help but chuckle. He sweeps the long lock of hair behind Tav’s ear. “Most men of your… stature aren’t submissive, sweetling.”

A wry smile comes to Tav’s face and Astarion knows why. Drow men can be nothing but submissive. He leans in and brushes his lips over Tav’s. Astarion can’t help but find it almost funny. What a first choice for a male lover Tav’s decided on. The seasoned whor*, the practiced murderer, the starving vampire spawn.

The man he is under all of those things.

“I don’t mind at all, love. I’m proficient in both positions, I assure you. You’re in good hands.”

“I can tell,” Tav mutters.

“Flattery will clearly get you places, darling. Can I continue? I’ll be gentle, my love. I want you to enjoy this.”

“I trust you.”

And somehow that- along with the soft look on Tav’s flushed face- means more to Astarion than any endearments or words of love ever could.

He sits up, reaching into the back of his pants for the tiny bottle of oil he stashes there. Tav gives him a confused look, then a deadpan one when Astarion coats his fingers with it. The continuing blush really ruins any chance he has at looking annoyed though.

“You just keep that on you?”

Astarion gives Tav a bored look. It only takes a second for Tav’s flush to deepen. He looks away.

“…right. Sorry.”

“It is my profession, darling, certainly, but you never know when you’ll find a good use for something like this. Oh, the locks I’ve picked.”

He wraps his slick hand around Tav’s co*ck and Tav bodily jerks when Astarion begins to stroke him.

“O-oh.”

“Off with these,” he demands, tugging at the open laces. “I need more room to work and I want you to be comfortable.”

Tav wriggles and shimmies out of his trousers until he’s beautifully bare from the waist down, and Astarion has to bite down on the urge to suck Tav’s co*ck or nip bruises amidst the freckles on his thighs and hips. He does allow himself to stroke his own shaft, gasping at the electric shock of his own touch, thrusting into the ring of his fingers a few times to savor it.

Then he notices Tav staring- eyes wide, open-mouthed, seemingly awestruck- and smirks. He leans over the drow. Presses a kiss to the spot above his racing heart, one to his collarbone, and finally one to his throat. Just a little higher and he murmurs, “Do you want to touch, love?” into Tav’s ear.

“I- please? Can I?”

Astarion guides Tav’s hand to his co*ck but hells, he’s not ready for how hot Tav’s fingers are when they tentatively wrap around him.

“Oh f*ck,” Astarion groans, helpless against the need to rut into that cautious grip. “Gods, Tav.”

Tav’s strokes are anything but firm, anything but sure, but it doesn’t matter when Astarion enjoys the touch.

“Stop,” he whispers after a second. “If you don’t I’m not going to let you.”

“Would that be so bad?”

Tav,” he groans. “I promised to teach you. I can’t possibly do that if you have me coming on your chest in the next minute.”

“Oh.”

“That’s a lie, I absolutely still could.”

Tav laughs softly. “And you would?”

“My love, I would have you screaming.”

Tav shifts his hips. His legs fall open again. Prompting. “If you say so.”

Astarion grins. “I do love a challenge. Shame you’re not going to be one. Can you bring your leg up for me, darling?”

Tav calmly does, except that he extends it far beyond Astarion thought possible, casually nearly folding himself in half.

Tav.”

“I-I’m flexible. I’m a dancer.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Astarion mutters, skimming a hand up the length of his lover’s leg. “You keep giving me plenty of things to play with. But heavens, love, not this far.”

They come to a compromise: Astarion’s head is once again on Tav’s chest. He’s got Tav’s leg resting in the crook of his arm but also carefully over his hip. Tav’s breathing is a little quick, his co*ck leaking against his stomach, and Astarion’s had to shift no less than three times to find a position that was comfortable for his own.

“Okay,” Tav whispers, sounding very much unsure of himself, and Astarion can feel only tension.

“Relax, Tav.”

It takes a few seconds but Tav does, only to tense again the moment Astarion presses an oiled finger against his rim.

“Love.”

“Sorry, I-”

“I know, my sweet. But it’ll be much easier if you can relax.”

Tav tightens the arm he’s got around Astarion and takes a few deep breaths. The vampire listens to them whoosh in and out of Tav’s lungs. After a minute, Tav’s body eases, and this time when Astarion presses against him, he doesn’t tense up. There’s a momentary tension, borne out on a gasp, when his finger breaches the tight ring of muscle. He glances up to ensure Tav’s still fine- and he is- and then carefully begins to work the single digit in deeper with small thrusting motions. Now that Tav’s keeping himself relaxed it’s easy with the oil. His body flutters around the invasion, testing how it feels, and Astarion’s both relieved by and hungry for the way Tav whimpers. It’s a good sound. It’s a more sound. It’s a begging pleading sound.

Astarion works the tight clench of Tav’s hole slowly and carefully, coaxing it to open for him, and gods but Tav’s heartbeat. He’s listening to it with rapt attention, catching the way it speeds up or stutters in time to the movements of Tav’s body or the sounds from his lips. When he feels sure he can add in a second, Astarion leans up to check first, eyeing Tav’s blown pupils and the deep pink of his cheeks.

“Still good?” He murmurs.

Tav’s panting. His body is seeking out the touch Astarion’s paused. His eyes meet Astarion’s.

“Yes. Please, I… it’s good, I- I like it, it doesn’t feel-” The drow doesn’t finish, a sudden flash of embarrassment darkening his tense expression, but when Astarion kisses his chest he finds the words. “It doesn’t feel bad, slyan’ssun, at all. Please. I want more.”

“You’re sure?”

“I am.”

Just in case, he pulls his finger free- pleased with the way Tav’s body instinctively grips at him, to prevent the loss, and more pleased by the unhappy whine Tav lets out- to coat several with oil again. Prep happens to him rarely but he knows how to do it, knows how to make it pleasurable, and he doesn’t want Tav to experience even a moment’s pain. Not tonight. Not during this. Even if Tav wouldn’t mind, might even enjoy it, Astarion just wants to relish him in the deep shadows of the evening.

“More?” He murmurs against Tav’s skin when he presses two fingers to the ring of muscle he’s already partially opened. “You’re cer-”

Tav angles his hips before he can finish asking, trying his damnedest to sink Astarion’s fingers into his body on his own, a wordless plea.

Astarion manages to pull back in time. He chuckles.

“You’re certain,” he acknowledges. He lays his head on Tav’s chest again; the drow’s heartbeat and breath are rapid with need. “More.”

He presses them both against, and then in, a deliciously smooth slide. Tav moans, his head falling back, his hips rolling instantly into the touch, bringing the digits ever deeper.

Astarion..!” Tav moans. “Yes, yes, this is- that’s-”

Astarion thrusts deep. Tav cries out. It’s not pain. It’s delight and desire. Tav in the throes of both sends a flame through Astarion’s body. He’s burning from the inside out. His co*ck aches. He wraps a hand around it and buries his groan in Tav’s shoulder. Astarion doesn’t need to see what he’s doing. He knows. He does need to see Tav, to see his lover fall apart, and as beautiful as the sounds of Tav’s body are, he wants to see it.

When he looks up it takes his breath away.

Gods above, no one’s ever gotten to see Tav like this but him. That knowledge makes him greedy, possessive, avaricious. Tav belongs to him. Tav’s every sweet cry is his and his alone. Each one makes his co*ck throb in his own slick hand. The way Tav’s mouth shapes his names. The way his chest heaves for each desperate breath as his body instinctively rocks back into Astarion’s thrusting fingers. Things no one else has ever had the luck, the grace, to see. Those jailers of his past- the drow women who kept Tav captive- they had never let Tav love, let him feel, let him enjoy. They’d never searched out his sweet spot, the one that makes him keen, the one that makes his hips twitch in a desperate attempt to get Astarion’s fingers back to it. Astarion aims for it now that he’s found it. Tav’s breath cuts off sharply, then restarts with a gasp, a sob, and he moans Astarion’s name again.

“That’s it, my love. Just like that.” Tav whines at him; he smirks against hot skin. “Touch yourself, darling.”

Tav seems confused, for a second, his body still chasing Astarion’s fingers. He tilts his head to look down at him and Astarion has to kiss what he can reach: in this case the edge of Tav’s jaw.

“You know how,” he murmurs. “Don’t even try to tell me you don’t. As if you haven’t thought of me in the past few tendays, as if you didn’t take yourself in hand when I left you in your bed alone that morning, as if you haven’t gotten hard just thinking about my mouth on your co*ck, and had to give yourself relief from this pain because I wasn’t there. I know you have, Tathlyn. I know it. Touch yourself. I want to hear you moan my name as you do. I want you to tell me everything you’re thinking.”

Tav’s hand hesitantly comes up and he wraps gray fingers around his weeping co*ck.

“Good boy,” Astarion whispers, craning his neck to leave the words right in Tav’s ear, and he smirks when he sees Tav’s fingers tighten for a second. “Now set your rhythm, love. I’ll follow.”

“But I- you-”

“No, Tav. Tathlyn. This is about you, my sweet. What you need, what you want.”

“You. Astarion, I want you.”

There’s a burst of adoration deep in his heart. He presses a kiss to the spot below Tav’s ear, one to his racing pulse, and one to his shoulder, licking the salt of his sweat there. He presses and rubs his fingers over that sensitive bundle of nerves inside his lover and Tav’s mouth falls open on a new moan.

“You have me, my love. Right here. But if you want what I want, Tathlyn, then I want to see your face when you lose control. Touch yourself for me, love. I am. I want to feel this with you.”

Tav’s still so hesitant, and in a way, it breaks him. All his long years he’s been forced to become acclimated to pleasure and pain and sex. Tav’s never been sure of his own boundaries or needs. Not until now. He’s still struggling with them. It’s clear in the way he’s careful with his own co*ck. Astarion almost wants to take over, wants to take the painful decisions from Tav, but moreso he wants to see Tav chase his own pleasure. He waits patiently while Tav finds a rhythm and tightness to his grip he likes. The moment he’s found it, thrusting into the circle of his fingers, Astarion hums and moves his own hands once more. Tav groans. Astarion lays his head on Tav’s shoulder to listen to the symphony of his body. Tav buries his nose in silvery curls.

So good for me, Tathlyn.” He murmurs. Tav shudders. “So perfect, my love.”

Slyan’ssun,” Tav whines.

Every upcoming moan gets hidden in Astarion’s hair. He can feel the warmth of Tav’s breath against his skin, his ears, stirring his hair, and he loves every second of it. Tav’s hips never stop moving, chasing the dual sensations of his own hand and Astarion’s, his lower back bowing beautifully off the ground as he gets closer to his peak. But as he nears it, he falters, and Astarion looks up to see the drow’s expression has creased with… is that fear?

“Love?”

Tav doesn’t answer. It only takes Astarion a few seconds to sort through the potential reasons why Tav’s afraid of his own org*sm before he understands, and his heart aches.

“Tav,” he murmurs. Tav’s dark eyes open to slits to stare at him. Questioning. Still scared. Astarion nuzzles his chest. “Don’t be nervous. Remember how it feels with me? How it felt when you came, deep in my mouth, my throat, how you felt then? It’ll be like that, my love. It won’t hurt. Nothing I do will hurt you. I promise you that. I want only your pleasure. It’ll build to a point where you think you can’t take another stroke, another thrust, but then you’ll break in the most pleasant way possible.”

“It’s never- until you-”

“I know, darling. But you are with me. And I want to see you lose yourself in ecstasy.”

“Astarion-”

“For me, Tav? Please?”

The begging comes oddly naturally to his lips, considering how much he detests the word ‘please’, but perhaps it’s because he genuinely wants this. He’s nearly desperate to see Tav taken by the full rush of his climax. He wants Tav to understand how good sex can be. Gods, he wants to remember it himself. Tav’s the key to that. Tav’s always been his key. The one thing that can unlock all those emotions and wants and needs he’s kept hidden away inside himself for years.

Tav uneasily starts stroking himself again. Astarion presses his fingers in deep. Tav’s uncertainty dies once Astarion’s also bringing him back to the forestalled peak. His hand tightens. His strokes become sure, if a little poorly timed as his concentration scatters, his mouth opening on a moan, his co*ck jumping in his grip, so beautiful to watch-

“Tathlyn-”

Slyan’ssun-!”

“-come for me, my love.”

He does.

Tav’s whimpering, panting through it, through the desperate rhythmless pulls of his co*ck, calling out Astarion’s various names on repeat, interspersed with frantic pleading, and Astarion knows in that second that there’s no song Tav could write that would sound better to him than the one he’s singing now as he crashes through the org*sm Astarion promised him. Astarion is gasping, open-mouthed and desperate, against Tav’s shoulder, rutting against his own hand and Tav’s hip with equal parts need and fervor. And it’s the way Tav cries out his name- his real name- that wrenches his climax out of him. It’s the way his name sounds in Tav’s strangled voice that unleashes the waves of pleasure from deep in his belly, that makes him curl into a tight ball half on top of the drow as he spasms; coating his hand, the grass, and Tav’s hip with his seed. They lay together, panting, shivering in the aftershocks. Astarion’s reluctant to take his hand back- one or two more thrusts inside Tav’s body, caressing his walls and sensitive nerve endings, smiling with every ever-so-reactive twitch in Tav’s body- until Tav’s clean hand is groping clumsily at his back, then his neck, until it anchors in his hair. Astarion’s up instantly on his elbow, practically lunging for Tav’s lips, and Tav kisses him nearly as hungrily as he’s kissing his drow. When they part Astarion settles comfortably back into his spot against Tav’s side. He pillows his head on Tav’s shoulder once more. This time he draws small circles over the heartbeat he can hear.

It takes a while to slow down. Astarion listens to the heartbeat settle for a long, long time, relishing in the cadence. Eventually it falls into a slow steady rhythm. Astarion relaxes with it.

“You alright, Astarion?”

“I think I should be asking you that,” he says, glancing up. Tav’s voice is a little hoarse. “You’re the one who isn’t used to this.”

“I’m fine. I liked it,” he adds. He sounds a little confused, a little surprised, a little pleased. “It’s never been… like that before. Er, except those times with you.”

Astarion hums. “That’s good. Glad to see I bring out the best in you, love.”

“If that’s what you want to call it,” Tav laughs.

“I don’t suppose you were prepared for the mess again, dear?”

Tav smirks. “Left pocket.”

“You’re darling, you know that?”

He’s careful with cleaning Tav’s soft co*ck, abusing the chance to properly run his fingers over it, map out veins, admire the flush and curve. Tav whines at him after a few seconds of his extra care. He smiles and presses a kiss to the tip. Astarion’s very careful with the hole he stretched open, circling the gape of it tauntingly, and Tav shifts.

“Are you always such a tease?” Tav gripes.

Astarion’s reawakening heart pangs. No. He isn’t. He never gets a chance to be. He never wants to. Usually he wants his victims to be taken away as fast as possible. He wants his payment. He wants to forget. He wants to push away those people that used his body. On the rare occasions that he’s not wholly disgusted by the ordeal, he still never engages in any sort of softness. There’s no point in it. They’ll be dead within the hour. Why would he be upset if their thighs aren’t clean and their genitals dry? So he doesn’t care. Never bothers.

But this is Tav, and he cares so much.

“You’re beautiful, love. How could I resist the temptation? Even if I’m actually of a mind to go… farther.”

He presses the pad of his finger to the ring of muscle and groans when it gives way. Tav’s body, coaxing him back in, begging him for more…

Tav’s eyes are too.

“You can,” he whispers. “If you want to. I… I think I want to.”

Darling,” Astarion stresses out the endearment. “I’ve made you so greedy with so little time!”

“Because I’ve liked everything so far. Your hands, your mouth, I-”

Tease.” Astarion hisses, but he’s the furthest thing from angry. It’s his restraint that’s about to snap once more. “I won’t let you go if you keep talking.”

Tav co*cks his head. He doesn’t open his mouth again- though his lips quirk into a sinful little smirk- but he does open his legs wider. A silent prompt. Astarion barks a laugh and shifts around his lover so that he can lean down and press a deep kiss to pliant lips. Tav’s soft moans into his mouth are a wholly different but equally powerful temptation. Astarion has to pull away before he really does lose his head… again.

There are things he has to do.

“It’ll be a few days before next we meet, darling.” He says, nosing along the strong edge of Tav’s jaw. “I’ve a very annoying and long-running pressing obligation to attend to.”

“I understand,” Tav murmurs, turning his head to try and catch Astarion’s lips one last time, and Astarion pulls out of range with a chuckle. Tav regards the distance ruefully. His hand is warm against Astarion’s, their fingers interlocking, and Tav quietly says, “I’ll miss you.”

“And I you, love.”

Notes:

They're just sickeningly sweet, aren't they? Reprehensible, really. Someone oughta lock them up!

One of them, anyway.

Chapter 36: Inevitable

Notes:

Well, here we are at long last. The entire reason I wrote this whole fic. The ending I envisioned from the start. Everything has been leading up to this moment. This inevitable moment. Been a long time in coming, in getting here, and I thank you all for being along for the ride!

This chapter has a song accompaniment (you'll know when you need it), and honestly the video is rather necessary as a demonstration of sorts as well, so find that here.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The rules of the less fancy soireés the Szarr palace hosts never change for the spawn.

Wander among the guests. Never spend too long speaking with one or another. There’s no point in flirting or trying to take one of them off to the bedroom for later. There’s a clear delineation as to which guests will leave, which ones are well aware of the company they keep- if not that they are vampires themselves- and the ‘guests’ that will not see dawn. They, the spawn, are only here for a couple purposes: crowd control and Cazador’s fiendish amusem*nt. When it inevitably turns into a bloodbath, his eyes roam the ballroom, stopping on each of his spawn in turn. It’s a sad*stic test to force them to keep their hunger in check or else feel their master’s wrath. Cazador is never angry if they lose the fight against the impulse and the hunger and try to drink (the rules stop them anyway, inches away from slaking their nonstop thirst and aching for it) but he is, worse, viciously pleased. The torment he can dish out for attempting to break one of his rules is a long-lasting, heinous one, as Aurelia found out all of one time. She was gone for a month. She screamed every day. She came back quieter and has been completely subservient ever since.

The rest of them learned from her example.

Astarion charms an older half-elf woman with only three sentences. She’s not one of his invitees. If he had to guess, she’s one of Dalyria’s. He leaves her tittering and flushed. Lightning-quick glances around the room tell him it must be getting late. Some of Cazador’s unwilling blood donors have been escorted from the ballroom and into his private rooms. All that remains on the floor is a strange assortment of finery and the common folks’ shabby best. The few vampires, the aware nobles, and their unfortunate victims. Cazador always lets his few fellows feed on a couple of the smallfolk. Most of them await their doom in his office. The vampires look around with a barely-concealed ravenous hunger. Cazador sits upon his throne up on the dais. He scans the party with a magnanimous expression. Astarion’s eyes catch his for a moment and Cazador’s smile turns utterly malicious. The master’s touch on his mind is cold and deadly. No words are spoken, no orders given, but Astarion does not need them. He knows his purpose on these nights. He moves on to the next person who looks a little uneasy- one of his, who brightens when they see someone they recognize- and soothes them with sweet words.

A minute later he’s off again, this time promising a dwarven woman a glass of wine with a wink, and he heads to the nearest table.

His skin itches and crawls. There’s a strange air of tension over this party. It’s an unusual feeling. A caught breath, and the whole party is waiting silently for the exhale. It’s making him antsy. He seamlessly switches conversation partners in passing each of them but it doesn’t help. He reaches the table laden with food he won’t eat and-

“Astarion!”

-his heart freezes in his chest.

He knows that voice and the last place he ever wanted to hear it was here. He turns and yes, there he is, the tall bastard, eagerly making his way to Astarion’s side. Tav’s clothes are fine and slimming. Astarion thinks he’s beautiful all over again.

No.”

The gasp leaves him involuntarily, a noise of pure horror, crawling up from somewhere deep inside him. The heart he thought dead screaming in fervent denial. A part of him refuses to believe he’s seeing what he’s seeing. This has to be a nightmare. It has to be. This cannot be real. Please, gods, let it be a horrid nightmare that he’ll soon wake up from.

Tav’s hand, gentle as ever as it cups his face, nearly makes him weak in the knees for a totally different reason than the usual one.

It’s real. This is real.

Oh gods no.

“Wh-what are you doing here?” He breathes, barely able to even get those words out. Tav’s so sweet and lovely. So beautiful. So alive.

For now.

“Ah, I got an invitation!”

Rage begins to kindle fiery-hot in his chest.

“From who?” He’s going to kill them.

“Er… truth be told he didn’t quite give me his name.” Stupid, trusting, wonderful, beautiful, lovely fool. “Fellow in a black and brown doublet?”

Petras. Astarion’s stolen blood burns. Cazador will punish him severely for hurting one of the other spawn (much less attempting to tear him limb from limb) but for this instance Astarion rather thinks Petras has earned his full wrath. His wrath, and that nameless dread clawing its way up his throat. Tav is here because of Petras. Tav is at one of Cazador’s parties, Tav is at Cazador’s palace, Tav is… is…

Tav is going to die.

The realization shears through him from head to toe in a single sharp bolt of agony.

Tav is going to die.

He’s going to lose that game he’s been playing.

He’s going to lose his drow.

He’s going to lose the only thing that’s mattered to him for ages, the only thing that’s made his dead heart beat, and the only thing he cares about in all of Faerûn.

He stares at Tav in soft-edged disbelief. Tav looks relieved to have finally seen someone he knows. To see someone he trusts. Gods, what idiocy. What a selfish stupid man Astarion has been, all this time. This was always on the table. This was always a risk. And now it feels like this was inevitable.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Tav says, slightly winded, but smiling even so. That voice, usually a balm to his nerves, shakes Astarion from his thoughts. “It’s so good to see you. I’ve felt so out of place this whole-”

“You cannot be here!” He hisses up at Tav. “You need to leave.”

Tav just blinks at him. Sweetly naïve. He looks a little lost, concerned by the panic-fury Astarion’s practically radiating, and he gently- always gently- clasps Astarion’s forearm.

“Is everything alright?”

No! Astarion only barely manages to keep himself from howling it aloud. My poor beautiful kindly fool, you are going to die. The thought rips into him deeper and sharper than the lash ever could. He jerks his arm away from Tav’s gentle hold and Tav’s expression crumples in an instant. Sorrow and apology. Gods above and below Astarion needs to figure out a way to rescue his beautiful idiot from this trap waiting to be sprung. It can’t be long until midnight now. It can’t be. And Tav can be bloody anywhere but here when the clock chimes.

“You need to leave,” Astarion repeats furiously. “Don’t talk to anyone else. I’ll give you the directions. Leave and don’t look back. Don’t come back. Do you understand?”

“I-” There’s a bewildered hurt in Tav’s jewel-green eyes. No. No he doesn’t understand. And Astarion doesn’t have time to make him see. There’s not enough time for an explanation when Tav needs to be running. Tav hesitantly finally says, “Yes..?”

Good,” Astarion breathes, full of relief. Maybe there’s time. Time enough to get the drow out of here and then Astarion has to cut this thing between them off at the root. He’s told himself to do so for months, for so long, but actually seeing Tav here, in this hellhole, finally cements his determination to give up any hope of keeping Tav in his life. Tav’s in too much danger. He’s too close. Too comfortable next to Astarion. He’d been tense as he approached and Astarion had seen it bleed out of him once he was closer. Now it’s back, but sharper, harder, because Tav doesn’t understand and Astarion doesn’t have the words to tell him how beyond f*cked up it all is.

He grips Tav’s arm this time, and Tav winces. Astarion is not gentle. Not like Tav. He starts to pull Tav along and the bigger man follows with unsure steps. He wants to ask what’s wrong. Astarion can practically feel the question vibrating in the air between him. Feel it in the warm gray skin under his hand. Gods, Astarion wishes there was time to explain and apologize. Perhaps right before he slams the door in Tav’s face for good. Near the ballroom doors Astarion stops and whirls. Tav flinches at the speed of it. A knife twists in Astarion’s gut. Tav’s afraid of him.

“Listen to me,” he says, too fervently to be ignored. “Go out the doors. Take a left. Go down the hall, pass two junctions. At the third-”

“Astarion!”

Astarion’s jaw snaps shut. He glares fiery murder at a swaggering Petras. Petras doesn’t seem phased. He smiles charmingly up at Tav. Runs a hand suggestively over the drow’s thick bicep. Tav tenses at the touch, in a way he hasn’t done near Astarion since their first few meetings. The pale elf is biting his cheek to contain himself.

Petras smirks at Astarion. “You’re not trying to run off with my date, are you? Jealous of my good taste and your poor choices?”

Astarion is so scared, so furious, that he can hardly think straight. Cazador can sense it, and turns his attention lazily toward his two spawn. Astarion shuts his mind down. Petras stiffens. They both know they have the master’s attention. Astarion desperately wants it to go elsewhere. Petras does too, but for a different reason. They both feel the disdain as Cazador realizes it’s just them again, fighting as always, boring wretches, and his cold mental touch wanders away. Petras relaxes. Astarion lets out a shuddering exhale. Tav looks beyond confused.

“He’s not yours, Petras.” Astarion snaps.

“Nor is he yours, brother.” Petras sniffs. “He’ll belong to the master before long.”

Astarion’s innards fill with ice. How long does he have? Tav, meanwhile, suddenly seems to realize he’s in trouble, at long last.

“You know,” he says, smoothly, one of the many masks Astarion has become aware he wears, “I don’t think a party this grand is to my tastes after all. Terribly sorry, Petras. I asked this fellow if he could help me take my leave.”

“And he did?” Petras says, suspicious, and Astarion knows why. He shouldn’t be trying to help a victim of Cazador’s leave. That was not something he should be doing. It was very, very peculiar. Petras cuts a look over Astarion’s tension and smiles just a bit wickedly. “Are you quite certain he wasn’t just going to try and keep you to himself?”

Drain you dry? is what Petras doesn’t say.

“Completely certain,” Tav says, his tone cool. Astarion was trying to tell him to get out, not where to go for a romp. Tav’s still hurt by the rejection. The forcefulness of it. He’s hiding it but Astarion can hear the waver of it in his voice.

“Hmm,” Petras says. He’s the furthest thing from convinced. He squeezes Tav’s arm and Tav physically pulls away. Petras isn’t bothered. He leers. “Unfortunately, pet, Astarion’s not the one in control of who can stay or go. That decision belongs to the master. And soon, so will you.”

Tav’s voice is cold hard iron when he snarls, “I belong to no one.”

A dungeon. Chained. Used against his will. Abused servant of a matriarch. Far too close to the fate he’s skirting by remaining here.

“Soon-” Petras starts to croon, but Astarion just shoves Tav’s chest. Pushes him away from Petras, from himself, from the ballroom, from the danger.

Leave,” he begs. “Now.”

“What are you doing, Astarion?” Petras isn’t hiding his confusion now.

“You have to go,” Astarion whispers. “Please.”

Tav’s shoulders slump. Resigned. He’s going to do it. He’s going to go. Petras is catching onto there being something more happening here, but- thank the gods- catching on too damn slow. Tav will be gone. Astarion will never see him again. It’s better that way. For both of them. There will be a terrible, agonizing punishment for this; perhaps Cazador will think of a new poem.

Astarion was a fool to keep entertaining those midnight meetings. Better to let them go. Fade. Become a bittersweet memory. Nothing can be between them. It’s insane. Impossible. He was a fool, such a fool-

A clock chimes.

Once. Twice.

The snarling starts. The screaming follows.

Astarion looks wildly at Tav, who has gone pale. Petras has turned away, viciously delighting in the smell of blood and the sight of carnage, and so Astarion grabs Tav’s wrist and shoves his shoulder into the doors.

They don’t budge.

He tries again. Nothing. On the third try Tav helps too, but even his bulk and power mean nothing. They’ve already bolted and barred the damn things to prevent escape.

He stares at Tav. Tav stares back. They share the same horror. Astarion feels Cazador at the back of his mind, searching to ensure none of his spawn have treacherously decided to feed, and Astarion makes a decision he hates.

If there’s no hope of escape, he can at least make it quick. He can’t feed, can’t taste Tav’s spiced blood for himself, but he can make it quicker than Cazador ever would.

Astarion reaches out. Gives himself this one thing, if it’s his last chance. He cups the side of Tav’s face. Gods, Tav is warm. There’s a throbbing, painful emotion in those dark-on-dark eyes that Astarion wants to experience more than anything. He wants to kiss him. Gods, he wants it so badly his teeth ache, and it’s not the blood in the air’s doing. It’s pure desire.

He takes his hand back. Tav’s still staring at him with that adoration, that love, and Astarion’s burning from the inside out.

Slyan’ssun?” Tav says softly.

“Yes love?”

“Is now the right time for that sweet little lie?”

What?”

But he knows what the drow means only a second later and if anything could have hurt worse, it’s the confirmation from Tav’s own lips that Astarion’s destroyed something perfect.

“Tav.” Astarion chokes out. “Tathlyn.”

Of all the damn idiotic things to say just before he faces death… It makes his heart pang with agony. His beautiful love. The first and only thing he’s found comfort in, found love in, and now he has to wrench it out of him. He has to just reach up, take Tav’s head in his hands, and with one sharp twist, end it all for good. It’s the best thing he can do for-

Cazador’s mind clamps down on his. Cold sweeps into his very bone marrow. He’s not himself any more. His body is limned with red and Tav’s expression drops. It’s not Astarion’s voice that speaks.

“What’s this?”

Cazador uses Astarion’s eyes to scan Tav’s figure. Tall. Broad. Gorgeous. Strong. Avarice far more chilling than his own lights up Astarion’s nerves.

This one is perfect, Cazador purrs.

Astarion thinks the only thing he can. I thought you might like him, master.

Bring him to me.

Cazador vanishes and Astarion’s left alone staring at Tav. Staring at a lamb he’s about to lead to its slaughter. He waited too long, he hesitated out of love, and now everything’s worse. He’s condemned Tav to suffer Cazador’s torments. The one thing, he knows from over a century of experience, no creature should have to endure.

No, they’re not quite alone; Petras, still by their sides, laughs.

“I did well for myself tonight,” he says smugly. “Perhaps I’ll even get a treat.”

“Over my dead body,” Astarion snarls back. “He’s mine.”

“I brought him here!”

“And I’m bringing him to the master.”

“You can’t claim him!” Petras shouts after him. After them; Tav is moving uneasily along at Astarion’s side, nudged by the careful hand at the small of his back. “The master will know!”

Of course he will. Cazador imperiously beckons Astarion and his charge forward. It’s as much a wordless compulsion, an order ringing in Astarion’s head, as it is a physical gesture he makes. Astarion goes. Tav stumbles after him, all grace gone. Fear has taken its place. Astarion’s stomach churns. A servant has already handed Cazador a glass vial. Its innards glow a faint green. It’s a truth serum. Astarion has seen it used before on thieving servants. Cazador likes to watch them cry and apologize and prostrate themselves before him and beg for a mercy they’ll never receive as they tell truths they can’t control.

He waves Astarion away. It takes far more self-control than Astarion would like to do it. To obey. It’s almost difficult. His every instinct is to not leave Tav alone before Cazador. But he can’t control his muscles. They move, and he walks away, and Tav, to his credit, does not watch him go. Tav stares at Cazador with an inkling of fear. Tav’s controlling his breathing. Tav’s trying to remain calm.

Oh my poor dear, Astarion can’t help but lament. My poor beautiful wretch. Don’t struggle.

Cazador makes a gesture. The servant holding the potion goes to Tav’s side. They look hilariously small next to him. “Drink this.”

“What is it?”

There’s a silence so profound Astarion’s sure he could literally hear a pin drop if one fell.

No one talks back to the master.

Cazador’s thin lips merely pull into a deadly smile. Tav straightens. He’s no fool. He can sense the danger. Astarion gets the feeling that he’s checking his exit options without actually looking. It’s impressive. And pointless.

“Drink.” Cazador says again. Less calm. More sharp. More vicious. More vampire.

Tav takes the bottle. Unstoppers it, grimaces, and chokes it down. Unbelievably, stupidly, sweetly trusting. Or just understanding that he’s not going to make it out of here alive and if this is a poison he may as well drink it. He, ridiculously, hands the bottle back to the servant with care. The servant looks almost baffled by the gesture. Astarion’s sure they are. It’s not like kindness comes naturally in a vampire den.

The silence that falls next is softer. The band shifts on their feet. Aurelia does too. Petras is pouting. Leon looks uneasy. Tav stands cautiously still. Expectantly. Waiting for the potion to take effect. So is Cazador, but Cazador knows how long it takes, and so after only a minute he snaps, “Your name.”

“Tav,” the drow gasps out. He seems surprised by his mouth’s betrayal.

“Why have you come?” Cazador asks. He loves to drag it all out.

“To be part of the night’s entertainment,” Tav says. It comes out thick, like it’s being strangled from his throat. He flicks a glance at the silent band, at the corpses strewn about on the floor, and meets Cazador’s eyes once more. “Though I think I misunderstood the measure of my role.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. Who invited you here? Which of my children was it?”

Cazador spits out ‘children’ like it’s a naughty word. Like it’s poison and he needs to get it out of his mouth. They are nothing to him but tools. They mean nothing, never have meant anything, and never will. If one of them were to die Cazador would merely toss their corpse to the side and claim a new spawn.

Tav flicks a betrayed look at Astarion. He’s one of only six standing on the ballroom floor now; the few vampires Cazador tolerates have retreated to the side of the room. Feeding. Blood splashed over all their finery and feeding from their feebly struggling victims as if they were dogs with bones they must crack for the marrow. Tav looks at Astarion with betrayal and uncertainty. Astarion’s bright white and obvious. He’s a beacon for all of Tav’s wrath. He’s Astarion, whom Tav would have followed anywhere.

Tav focuses, concentrates, and manages, “Pet…ras?”

Petras straightens. Preening. He’s done well tonight. Perhaps he’ll even get the preferred spawn room for once. Astarion doesn’t know if that was a lie. If Tav’s strong enough to lie like he’s strong enough to give Cazador cheek. Technically yes he’s here because of Petras. But if he had known Astarion would be here, he would have come eagerly. Seeing Astarion here is a betrayal. He knows now why Astarion was so dodgy. Why Astarion carefully navigated their conversations, why Astarion avoided mentioning where he came from or went home to.

Astarion can’t look at him. Doesn’t want to see the accusations in those dark eyes.

You were this, all along? You were part of this? Was I almost part of this?

Astarion has a terrible feeling he still will be part of this. Another body on the floor.

“Will you be missed?”

What?”

“Will anyone come looking for you?”

Briefly there’s a flash of pain across Tav’s face.

“N-no?” He chokes out. “I don’t know. No one has yet. I was… just a- a pleasure slave, b-back home, in the d- dungeons. Just another bard here. Nothing important.”

He’s fighting the serum. As much as he can. But it’s as impossible as fighting Cazador’s compulsions. Astarion remembers the days of trying his damnedest to struggle against the iron will of his master. It was always impossible to do.

Nothing important. Oh, but he was Astarion’s whole world. Astarion’s maintaining a level of composure he hadn’t thought himself capable of. How he wishes he had it months ago, to save himself this, and moreso to save Tav.

“More the pity it would be, then, to cast your body into the harbor, with no one to mourn your loss,” Cazador says. He smiles. A merciless slash in his pale face. “Perhaps you may earn your freedom, bard.”

“I do find I am proficient at earning my keep, my lord.”

Are you.” Cazador purrs, and Astarion’s skin crawls.

No no no. Don’t let him get his hooks into you.

“I am.”

Cazador gestures at the band. “Pick your instrument then.”

Pick your poison.

Tav turns his head slowly, but the eyes that rake over every musician’s instrument are keen. Astarion wonders what all Tav can play. The piano? The harp? The lute? He never asked. Gods help him, why has he never asked?

In the end Tav asks for a violin. The two violinists approach. They have the same haughty disdain all patriars and courtiers have. They look disgusted to have to hand their instruments over to some lowborn wretch like Tav. He looks over both instruments but eventually holds his hand out for the lady’s violin, and she doesn’t hide her sneer when she hands it to him, taking care not to let their fingers brush. As he always did before, Tav doesn’t let her callous cruelty get to him. He ignores it. Ignores her. He merely takes the instrument from her and returns to his spot before Cazador. He takes a few steadying breaths but it can’t stop his hands from shaking. Astarion’s whole core is shaking. His skin remains marble but everything underneath it is sick with anxiety. Tav plays a few bars and adjusts the pegs. The violinist huffs. He tunes her instrument regardless of her wordless protests. When he squares his shoulders and puts bow to strings again, it’s with a determination unlike anything Astarion’s seen the drow wear, and his throat closes.

Tav plays.

It’s a simple melody. Nothing awe-inspiring. Astarion has to wonder, suddenly, what songs a drow sex slave would ever even have had time to learn. It makes sense his playing is basic. It’s not going to be enough to save his life. Astarion’s stomach twists. It strikes him like a physical thing: he’s never seen Tav play. He’s known the man can. He’s seen the flute and even seen him with a lyre once. He had never asked to hear him play. It feels like a terrible loss he didn’t comprehend. Seeing Tav with an instrument feels so very natural. It’s Tav’s correct state. He belongs to music. Not to the night. Not to Cazador. Not to Astarion.

He belongs to Eilistraee, a goddess of moonlight and music and magic.

His soul goes to her tonight.

Cazador looks suitably bored with the simple melody. The violinists are snickering very noticeably. They think him a neophyte fool. Tav’s dark eyes flicker to them. His lips set into a thin white line. The song shifts tempo. Changes. The bow’s faster now. The notes flowing. Defiance. He wants to prove them wrong. Show them he’s impressive. It will be hard to do, because Cazador hires only the best, but Tav’s determined to do it. Astarion harbors half a hope he can. Seeing his fingers move over the strings is something. The bow’s speed and angles all changing quicker is a good sign. Tav’s expression sets into a serious one. He speeds up the song again. The violinists aren’t laughing now. The drow is proving he can play.

Then Tav takes them all- even, wonder of wonders, Cazador, who lifts an eyebrow- by surprise. He whirls on his heel to face the violinists squarely. Turns away from Cazador. It’s the height of folly. It’s something that not a soul in this room would ever dare do. There’s fierce pride glowing in Tav’s dark green irises as he faces down the violinists. Astarion can’t quite believe it when Tav picks up the tempo again. The bow is a beautiful blur. His fingers are sure and quick on the strings. Astarion has never been musically inclined but he simply cannot fathom how a person can know and remember all of those minute changes in angle and pressure and distance. Certainly not at the speed Tav is playing, anyway. The violinists look stunned. Tav is smirking. He means to win this contest of derision. His expression is full of contempt for the other musicians now.

And then, startling them all once again, Tav strikes a lingering note and starts to dance as he plays.

Astarion’s seen bards sway as they sing or perform. He’s seen some do some fancy footwork while they keep careful hold of their instrument. How in the hells Tav can move as fluidly and wildly as he is while still playing perfectly has to be some art form Astarion simply doesn’t know.

Something only one singularly devoted Cleric of Eilistraee would know, or could perform.

One thing’s for sure: Cazador’s minstrels could never. They can’t hold a candle to the stunning display Tav’s putting on. They’re gaping at him in amazement. Tav’s expression is almost smug. He’s truly in his element. His realest form. Gorgeous. Powerful. Perfect.

And Astarion realizes suddenly, with a deep cold dread, that he’s taken something achingly beautiful from the world.

He wants to scream. No, you fool, don’t play beautifully! At least then- at least then- your fate would only be death!

But he can’t say the words aloud. Could never. If he did death would not be Tav’s fate. It would be torment, days upon tendays of torture at Godey’s bony hands, and then a slow fade into the end. A wild impulse seizes him to rush to Tav’s side and tear out his throat with his own fangs. End it. End it quickly. Spare the drow the agony of this unlife. Astarion knows what Tav does not. Astarion worries that what this truly is… is an audition. Tav likely thinks that if he pleases this mad tyrant he will be the sole survivor of this blood-soaked party. Astarion knows that Cazador sees exactly what he can, what he always could: the power, the beauty, the grace, the charm. Tav is a sublime creature that will fit into Cazador’s clutches perfectly.

He can’t move. He can’t think. He can only watch, an ever-growing pit in his stomach, an all-consuming dread like he’s never known, as Tav paints the perfect picture for his fell master. The leaps and sweeping motions and smooth spins and steps. Every movement is precisely planned. Tav is a man in complete control of the gorgeous body he reclaimed from his past. This dance is wild, yet elegant and refined, like a fiery waltz he’s dancing the steps of solo- or perhaps his goddess is his dance partner, her footwork impeccable, if invisible- even as the song flows without a single hitch or missed note. It’s no wonder Tav always had a heavy coinpurse. He’s dynamic. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Astarion remembers, suddenly, the single coin he stole long ago from Tav’s pouch at their first meeting. It had always been intended as a memento. He’s kept it on him every day since, as much as possible anyway. There’s been a spot just for it sewn into the lining of his various shirts and tunics and doublets for a long while now. He can swear he feels it burning there in its place now. A white-hot burning guilt. The coin should have been the beginning and the end of it.

Now he’s watching the drow die.

At least Tav’s making it into a lovely fierce death.

He plays a sharp, challenging set of notes directly to Petras’ face. A wordless stream of betrayal and fury. How dare you bring me here to die. How dare you sacrifice me. I blame you. Petras holds very carefully still, because he’s aware of Cazador’s heavy stare, but there’s anger in his eyes. Tav curls his body away on the next upswing of tempo, back to his dance, but gods the show of defiance is fantastic. He continues on and Astarion’s lost more in the drow’s sinuous movements than he is the song; at least, he is until Tav’s next stop is facing him.

Tav’s breathing hard. Sweat dots his forehead. His fingers are steady but his eyes gods those beautiful eyes are anything but. He’s scared. Astarion can see he’s scared. He’s come to know the man so well. His heart keens. The song, somehow, has changed to echo it: he can hear every note of his own plaintive desperation being played through Tav’s instrument. Or perhaps that’s Tav’s own emotions. Perhaps their souls sing to each other, for that moment in time, before the drow switches the pace back up again. Tav moves seamlessly back into the elaborate dance. They shouldn’t be caught staring at each other like men dying.

Even if Tav is.

Tav ends the long last note on an appropriately deep bow with the violin and bow held in hands spread wide apart in deference. “My lord.”

Cazador is silent. Appraising the mark with new eyes. Eyes that glow a faint red. Eyes that are calculating and pleased. Tav doesn’t move or say a word for a minute. He’s panting with exertion. And when he finally does it’s to put violin with bow in his right hand and thrust it out toward the shellshocked musician he had borrowed it from. There’s incredible contempt in the gesture. Astarion loves it.

So, unfortunately, does the rapturous crowd. A yell comes over the hush that’s fallen.

“How much for the drow, Lord Szarr?”

Someone else cries out, “Now just one minute! I had my eye on him!”

You?” A third chimes in, voice dripping with disdain. “There’s no way you could afford such an item.”

Astarion curls his lip. That’s the nobles of Baldur’s Gate for you: the second they see something they want they throw their considerable wealth around to claim it for themselves. Regardless of whether it’s a new painting or a person’s life. Cazador, meanwhile, looks between the arguing nobles with thin-lipped amusem*nt. Tav means nothing to him; no living being does. They’re all cattle, as far as he’s concerned. The way he looks at Tav like he’s a slab of beef says as much. The only reason Cazador hasn’t slaughtered the men and women in this very room is because he’s trying to avoid undue suspicion from authority figures. He couldn’t buy off the Fist fast enough to prevent them from coming for him if all these nobles died. With the doors barred and the way guarded, the nobles must know they have no proper escape. But they know just as well that Cazador cannot harm them. They’re completely at ease, and haggling the buying price of the man who stands still as a statue before the master.

Astarion looks back at his love and nearly winces.

Tav’s hands are tightly balled fists. They’re shaking. Astarion has no idea if it’s with fear or anger. His face is a carefully blank mask, one Astarion recognizes: the drow mask, the one of complete nonchalance, the one he wears when he murders. His chin is raised, his corded neck tense, yet there’s a chilly sort of pride to his stance. He’s drow, perhaps the most prideful of all the races, and it shows right now. He won’t be cowed. Anger, then. He must be shaking with anger. Anger at facing down another lifetime of servitude after barely having escaped the previous one.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, he tries to think at Tav. I’m so sorry. This is my fault.

“I don’t think this one shall be for sale, my wonderful patrons.”

Tav twitches. Astarion’s head whips toward Cazador in shock before he can wrestle down the urge. He’s not the only one, thankfully, making his lapse normal and not glaringly unusual. Violet and Leon are also staring in surprise at the master. The nobles whine and cajole- “Please, Lord Szarr, fifty thousand for the lovely bard!”- but Cazador holds up a hand and even despite the unspoken blanket immunity they know they enjoy, the nobles go petulantly silent.

“Dufay.” Cazador calls out. The steward is by his side one silent heartbeat later. “Take our lovely guest to my study, hmm?”

Acid burns a hole through Astarion’s chest and straight to his stomach. He’s knows it’s coming before Cazador even inclines his head at him. It’s the exact kind of situation that Cazador would ask. The one that twists the knife hardest.

“Would you like to dine with us tonight, Astarion?”

“No, master.”

He can’t. He can’t watch Tav’s lifeblood satisfy his master. He can’t watch Tav’s eyes go dim, his muscles go slack, his brightness be snuffed out. He’d rather die.

“You know where to go then,” Cazador says aloud, and in his head Astarion hears TO THE DUNGEONS WITH YOU and his legs are out of his control. He’s walking. Godey will enjoy himself this night. Astarion will scream. Astarion will scream for hours on end, and he’s not sure how much of it will be because of the torture. His eyes are still his to control, though, and he glances at Tav as he goes by. Tav’s back is straight, his shoulders rigid, his neck stiff.

Astarion looks at him, and Tav does not look back.

That’s exactly what Astarion deserves.

He hears the movement of several people. He hears a concerning lack of Tav fighting back. No shouting, no struggling, no scuffling. Has Cazador charmed him? Looked into the jewel green eyes Astarion’s loved for months, merely ordered Tav to follow along, power in the words making them impossible to resist? Is Tav now being forced to walk calmly to his own death? He hears the door to Cazador’s quarters slam and he quickens his pace until he’s left the ballroom behind him and he can hear no more.

He hears nothing but the oppressive breath of the mansion and the silence of his heart.

Notes:

Well. That's unfortunate.

Chapter 37: Agonizing

Notes:

You didn’t really expect me to leave it there, did you?

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

By morning there’s more tear tracks on his cheeks than there are lashes across his shoulders.

By the next night there’s a deeper despair in his chest than the yawning hunger in his stomach.

By the third morning he’s conscious again. Conscious of the fact that he will have nothing but guilt to assuage his venomous whispering thoughts until the end of his days.

This is what happens.

This is what you deserve.

This is your punishment.

You did this.

This is all your fault.

You could have left any at time. Should have.

You knew what would happen.

You did this.

He died because of you.

You did this.

He died because he loved you.

You did this.

He loved you and you loved him and

YOU KILLED HIM.

Notes:

Oh, Astarion, you poor thing.

Chapter 38: Indescribable Agony

Notes:

One of two chapters today to finish it out!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It takes a tenday. Or maybe it was two. Maybe it was four. Astarion has no idea. Time has lost all meaning. Regardless, it takes him time to remember Tav had left him an open invitation to his room forever, and the thought ignites a desperation in him. If he can only reclaim something- anything- of his lost love’s… Something substantial enough that he can look at it and remember. Remember his lover, remember Tav’s smile, his scent, his kindness.

Remember the guilt.

He’s lost so many memories to time and torture. It never bothered him, not really, that he could no longer remember his father’s voice or his mother’s face. If he has siblings. It’s all meaningless to him now. They wouldn’t want him back anyway. Not now that he’s a monster. The memory of Tav, though, he needs. If he’s forever lost that gentle drow to his own godsdamn hubris he’s at least going to have something to remind him of what he cost himself. He won’t let Tav fade away. He won’t let time sand the memory down. He can’t let the unending passage of time take away the only happiness he can recall ever knowing.

He did this. His fault.

And he can never forget it.

It’s the first time he looks forward to dragging himself out of the manor in a long while.

He flits through the city’s streets at a quick pace. He has nothing to look for. Not anymore. There’s no hope he’ll find that sweet-hearted drow with his calming eyes. Astarion killed him. He’s gone.

But his belongings remain.

Astarion hopes, anyway. He makes his way to the Dancing Cat in silence. He eyes the little building from the front, then the side, then the back. The side is his best bet. When no one's around he scales the wall. Slips open the window to Tav’s room. He hesitates there, unsure if the invitation includes sneaking in from the window, and tests it by putting his hand through the open portal. No resistance. No innate inability to enter. Astarion sighs, his shoulders slumping with relief, and slips inside.

The room is in a strange sort of… orderly disarray. Drawers are open and clothes have been pulled from them. The bedside table drawer too, something shiny inside. The bedclothes have been turned down. It looks less like Tav lived here and more like an air elemental did. Astarion tiptoes into the room carefully. He wonders what- or who- did this. Did Cazador send someone out to Tav’s residence after all? What else could Tav have told him, under that truth serum’s influence? He’d never willingly put the proprietors at risk. Will hardly mattered against that serum though.

He sniffs the air and finds a multitude of scents, Tav’s a pang of heartache under so many unfamiliar ones. The formerly-pregnant lady he smells, as well as the stink of the infant, and possibly the husband. But there are so many more besides. More than Cazador would have sent for some lowly victim of his.

Gods above had the lady called on the Fist to look for the drow? Begged them to find him? Astarion looks around the room and he wonders. He wonders if she cared that much.

Will you be missed?

No. Just another bard. Nothing important.

The lady loved him though, didn’t she? Not like Astarion did but like a mother might. She sent for the Fist to track down her missing tenant.

Astarion doubts they had any success. He also doubts they even tried. A single missing person is a drop in the ocean and an everyday occurrence in Baldur’s Gate.

Especially with six vampire spawn roaming the night looking to steal away another life.

He crosses over to the dresser. The searchers certainly took the poor thing apart. Astarion knows he can’t leave evidence of his trespass tonight, so he leaves the drawer that’s been pulled out on the floor where it lies, but he itches to return the room to a semblance of normalcy. To put it back together and see it as Tav must have, every morning, every noon, every night, as he has, that one and only time he’d come into this room prior. To pretend that even for a little while he could have lived this life with Tav.

He doesn’t.

He does lift a shirt from one of the askew drawers and bring it to his nose.

The scent hits him like a punch to the solar plexus and he drops to his knees. Spice. Roses. Sweat. All of Tav’s smells in one potent inhale. His chest aches. He clutches the shirt to his nose and inhales again. Again.

Suddenly he realizes he’s crying. His inhales hitch and burn. His throat’s tight. He can’t do anything but breathe in Tav’s scent and weep.

Tav,” he murmurs into the fabric. “Tathlyn.”

It hurts impossibly worse to say the real name he’d been entrusted with. Astarion curls around the shirt, around the memory, and thinks of his doomed love.

His fault.

He did this.

His fault.

He killed Tav.

He killed the only thing that he ever cared about, the only person who’d ever really looked at him and still smiled, and he’s regretted every one of his mistakes ever since that terrible night. He’s relived every encounter in excruciating detail, some in trance, some in a haze of dispassionate existence. Each of them ends with a death knell of guilt: he should’ve left this time, or that time, at this moment, at that second. Each of them ends the same: Tav’s alive in his memories, and dead in his present.

His fault. He killed Tav.

He took from the world the one kind thing it had ever given him. The first person he’d truly cared for. He had led that single infinitely precious person he loved to death by the hand.

His fault.

Astarion couldn’t rightfully say how long he was curled in anguish around the single shirt. Long enough that when he goes to stand his legs wobble and refuse to cooperate. He stumbles into the bed. A puff of dust rises off the undisturbed comforter along with a fresh wave of spice and rose. Astarion remembers Tav curled up in all his bedclothes. A ball in this bed. Tucked into himself to fit properly. He’d woken Tav on accident that day but, until that night, had never understood the idea of happy accidents. That accident had ended delightfully. Kissing passionately on the bed, Tav warm and solid and hard against him, Tav moaning so many things but nothing so sweet as his name.

Gods, he misses Tav.

He misses Tav more than words. It’s a deep, pressing ache. Deeper down than his useless heart. A rent in his black worthless soul. It pulses within him like he stole the heartbeat from his drow for himself. And he did, didn’t he? Oh, but he’d give it back instantly if he only could. The world is better off with a man like Tav than a wretch like him.

Astarion stands. Uses the bed as a crutch to get around it. He has to leave, he’s made too much noise, he’s spent too long mourning his own victim, he-

He spots the open bedside table.

Something’s in it. He can still see the faint moonshine glint of whatever it is. He wobbles his way over to it, the shirt still clutched in one hand, and reaches into the drawer with the other. His fingers close around something cylindrical. Wooden. When he pulls it out his world stops turning one more time.

Tav’s flute.

The one he saw on Tav’s belt nearly a year ago. The one a halfling at one of the communes had made for him, Tav had explained with a small smile. The first time he’d realized Tav was a bard. The first time he’d ever wanted to see the man perform. The beginning of the end, the death knell, he did this he did this he did this-

Astarion wraps the old wooden flute in Tav’s shirt. He wanted one tangible reminder that Tav existed, that he loved a man he killed, and now he has the perfect one. It’ll fit in the false bottom of his personal dresser drawer back in the dormitory, the one he made when the fourth of his siblings was added, for his own scant few precious belongings. He can keep the flute, this memory of his drow, safe.

Until the world falls down.

Notes:

Yeah sorry no wasn't done bashing the vampire's feelings-

Chapter 39: Once and for all

Notes:

Second chapter for the day- don't forget to read 38!
And so we come to a close! That subjective ending I've been promising! The one maybe some of you won't like but that was my intention from the get-go. And I swear to you... I'm far from finished here. There's a lot more to come. Another oh, say, four fics worth of more in this line-up? The first of which shall be up on July 1st! Hope to see you all around!

EDIT: Speaking of!
I uh. Feel like an ass, of sorts, thinking I have enough importance for this, but there... is a rather barebones and uncertain Discord server for this ficverse and the future other fics featuring our particular Tav here (Modern AU and any random tangents I created) if anyone would like to join. It's not much, and I'll keep working on it, so it's a little bit of a lawless wasteland at the moment as well, but if anyone is interested in screaming with like-minded readers... you can find it/us here!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

He knows the moment he catches servants making up the final bed in the spawn chambers.

It’s been three months but he knows.

The others wonder aloud. Petras proudly claims it may be some lovely blonde or another he’s brought back recently. Leon snaps at him to be quiet. Dalyria’s suspiciously silent. Aurelia turns to ask Astarion his opinion but he can’t answer.

He knows who it is. He knows what has happened to that beautiful kind drow, and it tears a hole in his heart. Gods above and below it’s worse than if Tav had died. He did this. His fault. He brought Tav to Cazador on a silver platter because he just couldn’t leave well enough alone. The months of telling himself to back off, to abandon Tav, to never see the drow again, have ended in the worst possible way. Death would have been a kindness. A comfort. This is the last thing Astarion ever wanted. He’s doomed Tav to this… perverse wreckage of eternity.

This is what his love’s worth. What it’s capable of.

The very next day there’s a body on that bed. Sitting hunched over and appearing so much smaller than he truly is. Diminished. Defeated. Astarion leans against the doorframe.

“I thought you dead.”

Tav snorts. Winces. He doesn’t look at Astarion. His tone is flat. “Am I not?”

Astarion swallows back the grief. “Of a sort.”

“I wanted to be.”

“We all did.”

“And now?”

“Now you follow orders.”

Tav looks up at him and it instantly takes Astarion's mockery of breath away. Tav’s eyes, those initially off-putting eyes, jewel green and full of life, are now a vile red ring against a black sea. Just like the rest of them. There’s hatred and anguish in the way he looks at Astarion. Just like the rest of them. A little worse, he thinks, because he did this to Tav.

“I don’t know what I am now,” Tav says quietly. Full of loathing. For Astarion or for himself, possibly neither of them is sure. “I’m forsaken. My lady speaks to me no longer. I’ve doomed myself to playing music I no longer care about. And all because…”

All because of you. Because I met you. Because I fell for you. Wanted more from you.

“I understand, you know.” Astarion assures him. “If you despise me. Feel free to despise Petras, it’s actually something of a family pastime. But know you’re unfortunately rather tied to us now.”

“Am I?” Tav says softly.

“Yes,” Astarion replies instantly, in a sharp hard tone he doesn’t recognize from himself. The idea of Tav in pain still, in a terrible twist of irony, makes him ache. “Trust me, there’s no escape. Not even the ones I’m sure you’re contemplating. You think none of us have thought of it? Have tried? He won’t let you.”

Tav’s hands twitch and clasp together in his lap. He’s silent. Astarion’s mind urges him to go, to leave the forlorn drow to his own thoughts, but he can’t make his body follow the demand. He’s the monster who killed Tav; Tav shouldn’t want to talk to him, their ‘courtship’ be damned. Yet he could swear his heart’s keening loud enough for Tav to hear. As if he was waiting for it by some invisible signal, his patience is rewarded: Tav looks up at him once more with those lost, pained eyes, and says, “I don’t hate you.”

“You should.” Astarion snaps, but it lacks heat or conviction. Tav should. Of course Tav should.

His fault. All his fault. Tav’s hatred is the least he deserves. “I told you that reckless trust would get you killed.”

Tav shakes his head feverishly and his voice cracks with heartache. “That doesn’t matter. That doesn’t change anything. I can’t hate you, Astarion. I could never.”

Tav’s a fool. An utter misbegotten idiot.

But gods, is he happy to hear those words.

Cazador’s asleep. No one’s around. Aurelia and Dalyria are two floors away. Violet is in the kennel. Petras is sulking over his failure last night. Leon’s in the library. Astarion takes two steps closer. Crosses the room. Tav stares up at him. Astarion touches his face. Curves his hands over that strong jaw. It’s no longer warm. The thought is a dagger in his heart. Tav’s wide-eyed, not breathing, poised on the edge of anticipation. Astarion leans down and finally allows himself the full, bruising kind of kiss he’s been resisting for months. Letting his vampiric strength loose because those wretched useless gods know Tav can withstand the full force of his passion now.

Tav’s still completely uncertain what they’re doing. Astarion wasn’t Tav’s first kiss but he was his last. Will be his last, come what may. And even still, despite the wreckage of their relationship, Tav proves he trusts Astarion completely (lovely, lovely fool) by going pliant in his hands and Astarion rewards it. A deep, searching kiss. Drinking in the quiet gasp when he skims his tongue along Tav’s bottom lip. Pressing in just a bit further, running his tongue carefully over the razor sharp points of Tav’s new fangs- a double set- then withdrawing. Tav’s shaking under his hands. Astarion pulls away. He sweeps a lock of roseate hair behind the point of an ear and gives Tav a pained smile.

“I’m sorry.”

He sees that Tav understands his true unspoken words instantly. And worse, Tav’s warm smile is his reply, the one he’d tried for so long to lie to himself as meaning nothing special. In the end they’re finally on the same page, finally speaking the same words, even if they’re silent and said only in actions.

I love you.

Notes:

Completed on June 16th, 2024.

It's been almost a year and a half without you, Dad.
You always said my writing was something impressive. Worthy of praise and admiration. I never really shared it so I can't say I ever believed it much. But now that I have put it out there...
I wish I could have told you about all the comments. How many people loved this. How happy it's all made me. The friends I've made because of it. I wish I could tell you. You probably wouldn't have understood- and I certainly couldn't have explained the subject matter!- but you wouldn't have cared because I was (am!) happy, and you would have been proud of me.
You would have been happy.
So, for Father's Day this year... I hope my happiness reaches you.
Love you, old dude. Always have, always will.

Inevitable - Raelinae - Baldur's Gate (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)
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