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Cocktails and Cheese

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Cocktails & Cheese

Cullen and Alistair - A Modern Day AU

Chapter 8

Private Picnic


Cullen allowed Alistair to pull him along excitedly, wondering all the while where they were off to. He couldn’t help but chuckle as the Chantry came into view and he realized that’s where they were headed.

With a devious little wiggle of his eyebrows, Alistair led him up the stairs. Stopping at the closed doors, he winked at Cullen before schooling his features to one of somber piety. Opening the doors together, they stepped inside.

In the small vestibule, a white-haired Mother, bent with age, greeted Alistair by name, “Welcome back Ali; everything is as you requested.” She looked from Cullen to Alistair with a knowing smile before offering, “Andraste’s blessings upon you both.”

Alistair bowed his head reverently before suddenly grinning and scooping the little Mother up into a hug. He kissed her cheek and said with jovial affection, “Thank you, Mother Natalie, you know you’ve always been my favorite.” He set the tittering Mother back down with a wink before dragging an amused Cullen off into the nearest alcove.

Once inside, Cullen watched Alistair run his hands over the smooth mahogany wood. “Looking for something?” He asked with amusement.

“I know it’s around here… a ha!” Alistair’s fingers pressed down into the wall which emitted a faint click. He looked over his shoulder in triumph as the whole panel opened before them. “Right this way, if you please!” Alistair bowed dramatically, while ushering Cullen through the portal.

As he proceeded through the doorway, Cullen found himself in a sparsely decorated room. The only furniture was a small table and chair on one side and a comfortable looking, white settee on the other. In the middle of the space was a beautifully constructed, spiral staircase made of marble and iron which led to a room above. On the far side of the room, stood another nondescript door. Hearing Alistair approach from behind, he said with awe, “I’ve been inside this chantry many times and I had no idea, it held such secrets.”

“You’ve seen nothing yet.” Alistair chuckled, taking Cullen’s hand, he led him to the opposite door. Pausing, with his back still to Cullen, he took a deep breath and peeked over his shoulder, “Do you… trust me?”

“Of course I do.” Cullen answered without hesitation.

Turning around, Alistair let go of his hand and with a shy grin, reached into his pocket and produced a black blindfold. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise too quickly.” He mimed covering Cullen’s eyes with the strip of silk, “May I?”

With a breathy moan, it was Cullen’s turn to smirk deviously, “Now you really have me intrigued. Blindfolds in the Chantry? You naughty, naughty boy.”

Alistair laughed, “If I remember correctly, you were quite on board with Lana’s plan of not rushing us physically. I can assure you, my initial intent was innocent.” He swallowed audibly before continuing, “but with that look you just gave me; I may, in fact, have to keep this for later.”

“Hey, I was only following orders. It took all of my willpower to keep my hands off you last night.” Placing one hand on Alistair’s waist, he stepped closer, chuckling at the memory, “The sentiment was not entirely untrue though, I would hate to do anything to risk ruining this.” Cullen reached up and ran the fingers of his other hand tenderly down Alistair’s cheek.

Closing his eyes, Alistair leaned into the touch, “It’s good to know I wasn't the only one struggling.” Wrapping his arms around Cullen, he pulled him in for a lingering kiss.

Breaking from their embrace, Alistair reached up and tied the silk securely over Cullen’s eyes. “Mmmm… There you go distracting me again,” He admonished breathlessly, securing the knot. “Shall we?”

Cullen nodded then felt Alistair take both of his hands. Feather-light lips gently grazed his own before he was led forward through the door and out into the open air.

He followed Alistair’s direction—trusting him completely. He had no idea where they were going, only that they were once again outside. The soft spongy ground underfoot felt like grass and he couldn’t place the familiar scent in the air. It was flowery, sweet, and not at all unpleasant. He was led around several twists and turns before Alistair finally pulled him to a stop and dropped both of his hands.

Without voice or touch to guide him, Cullen stood perfectly still; waiting patiently. After a few moments, he felt those incredible hands drift across his back, then wrap around him from behind.

He shivered at the touch then felt Alistair’s breath next to his ear, “Are you ready?”

His mouth suddenly dry, Cullen could only nod his assent.

Alistair reached up and untied the blindfold.

Blinking from the sudden bright light, Cullen took in his surroundings. They were in a flower garden. Some he recognized: roses, jasmine, royal elfroot, lavender and crystal grace, plus others he wasn’t so sure about. They were in an inner courtyard within the Chantry. Under an ancient maple tree was a large quilted blanket with a feast spread out on it: breads, cheeses, meats, fruit, and a bottle of champagne nestled in a bucket of ice.

Turning to look at Alistair, he hoped his expression conveyed all of the awe and appreciation he felt, “You did all this? For me? But I…”

Alistair placed a finger over his lips silencing any further protests. “I wanted to do something special for you… to show you, how much you've come to mean to me. Do you… like it?”

Cullen kissed him deeply before replying, “Like it? I love it! No one has ever done anything like this for me. Thank you so much!”

Excited to investigate all the wonders laid out before them, Cullen walked over to the blanket, removing his coat along the way. “Would you like me to pour? Or would you like to do the honors.” He indicated the glistening bottle with a wink as he made himself comfortable on the blanket next to the champagne tray.

Enjoying Cullen’s enthusiasm, Alistair made himself comfortable as well, “I’ll let you pour this time, however, before you do…” He opened the lid to the basket and brought out a small container of strawberries and a paring knife. Slicing a berry in two, he popped one half into the bottom of each glass and placed the items back into the basket.

Opening the bottle, Cullen poured the bubbling treat while he mused, “First a rose delivered to my office, now a picnic complete with strawberries and champagne. My dearest Alistair, could it be that you are a hopeless romantic?”

They clinked their glasses together then took their first sips, gazes locked on each other in cautious adoration.

Setting his glass back on the tray, Alistair plucked another strawberry from the basket and brought it to Cullen’s waiting lips, “Hopeful… hopeful romantic.”

Setting his own glass down next to Alistair's, Cullen opened his mouth and savored the sweet tartness of the juicy berry. Closing his eyes to swallow, he licked his lips then gave a reverent warning, “Be very careful, Mr. Theirin, you will spoil me.”

Eyes still closed, Cullen felt Alistair crawl closer to him on the blanket. He wanted this man more than he’d ever wanted anyone. Propriety be damned, waiting seemed like someone else’s ill-conceived plan—maybe it was.

Why are we waiting?

Turning his head, his mouth found Alistair’s and his hands pulled at him insistently. The champagne and lunch forgotten; just out of range of their movements.

He melted into the kiss and rolled so Alistair was pinned beneath him. Breathless and excited, they lost themselves in the garden. Hands explored the chorded muscles on each other’s backs and arms; fingers ran freely through one another’s hair. Their mouths stayed busy as well--nipping, kissing, licking…tasting--any exposed skin was fair game.

Cullen knew that there was some reason they shouldn’t be doing this—here and now—but for the life of him, he couldn’t think of what it might be. This felt right, they felt so very right and he didn’t want to wait anymore.

Damn Lana and her recommendation.

Grinding their still clothed bodies together—moaning and writhing—wrapped in each other. In the distance, a tolling could be heard: faint, yet insistent. The sound grew louder and more distracting until—panting for breath—the two broke apart, realization of their surroundings making them pause. They may be in a semi-private garden, but they were still in the Chantry; one of the Brothers, Mothers, or Sisters could happen by at any time.

Flushing profusely, from a mix of embarrassment and ardor, Cullen tried to speak, but his words caught in his throat. “I’m sorry, that was… I shouldn’t have… Maker’s breath, you do the most wonderful things to me…” he finally managed.

“I know I'd like to.” Alistair grinned from his position beneath him, savoring the warmth and weight of Cullen’s body.

“I'm certain I would very much like you to, but perhaps… someplace more private?” Cullen looked around hesitantly, while attempting to tamp down his desire.

“You're not making it easy for me. All of your deliciousness currently has me pinned to the ground.” Alistair grinned as his hands traveled over Cullen’s tight ass.

Looking down at their bodies, Cullen marveled, “Mmmm… so I do.” Sliding the full length of his obvious erection one last time over Alistair’s equally swollen cock, Cullen leaned in for a contrastingly chaste kiss before sitting up.

Alistair lay dazed for a moment, whimpering then sighing with disappointment as he adjusted himself in his now too-tight jeans. Regaining his composure, he asked cheekily, “Hmm, was that a threat?”

“No, my dear, that was a promise: to pick this back up again later when we have a little more… privacy.”

Alistair grinned, “I will hold you to that. Now before we get carried away again, perhaps we should eat something before all of this gets cold, or warm... or whatever?”

Cullen plucked a grape from the small bowl of fruit and fed it tenderly to Alistair then followed it up with another kiss. “As you wish,” he whispered fervently.

The two settled into their lunch, laughing, joking, and talking about whatever came to mind. Their conversations were frequently interrupted by quiet moments where they’d gaze into each other’s eyes, or lean in for tender kisses. Finishing the last of their meal, they cleaned up what was left and laid back on the blanket to watch the clouds overhead. Their hands gently clasped together, they were comfortable in their quiet contemplations for several long moments.

Cullen looked over at Alistair staring up into the heavens. He loved the gentle smile that so frequently reached his eyes. Rolling to his side, he propped his head up with his hand and asked, “What are you thinking about?”

“Oh you know, the usual: my favorite types of cheeses; that cloud over there looks like a griffon in flight; if I remembered to order more rum; what did I ever do to deserve someone like you?” Alistair rolled over to match Cullen’s position, their hands once again finding each other between them.

“Like me? I’m nobody special.”

Alistair inched closer and—wrapping an arm around Cullen’s waist—pulled him to his chest, kissing him sweetly. “You are to me. I’ve never felt anything like this before. There I was, minding my own business, and then there you were smiling at me, making me believe I could have more than I had ever hoped to before. You make me feel wanted and special and… I don’t know, just alive I guess.”

Cullen smiled back at Alistair, “I know what you mean. I never thought I could feel like this: whole, complete, hell… even happy. I’ve served most of my life, fought for causes outside my own, and never really thought much for my personal happiness. Rylen tells me I am as predictable as clockwork, yet something drew me into your pub that first night, pulling me out of my usual, monotonous routine. I’ve been thanking the Maker every day ever since.”

Overwhelmed by their mutual admissions, they fell together; kisses sweet, Cullen’s hand cupping Alistair’s face, Alistair’s wrapping around Cullen’s waist, holding them tightly together. Unsure of who moaned first, the sounds brought them out of their amorous embrace. Alistair broke first and laughed, Cullen followed soon after, resting his face on Alistair’s shoulder as their giggles subsided.

“Damn… I feel like a teenager all over again. You make it very difficult to behave myself. So now it’s up to you to distract me. What should we talk about?”

“We can talk about… how much I enjoy kissing you, how soft your lips are, and what other things I’d like to…”

“Not helping!”

Alistair laughed, “Ok, Ok - you win… for now. I wouldn’t mind picking up that conversation again later though.” He winked.

“We’ll see. But for now… ask me something. What do you want to know?” Cullen looked at him expectantly.

“Fine! You’re so damn pushy!”

Cullen grinned unabashedly and waited.

“Ok, so why don’t you tell me about your time here in the Chantry? Tell me about the life of a cute little Cullen Rutherford growing up within these walls. Why did we never meet? You’re what… a year younger than I am? I know the trainees don’t usually mingle with the other kids here, but I like to think that I would have remembered you—especially working drills in the courtyard… shirtless… sweaty. Mmm.” Alistair smirked while licking his lips as he checked out Cullen’s body with a little too much emphasis.

“Hey! We’re supposed to be behaving!” Cullen pushed Alistair’s shoulder, causing him to fall onto his back with an indignant squeak, leaving them both laughing again.

Enjoying the playfulness, Cullen caught his breath and addressed Alistair’s questions, “I’m sure I would have remembered you too, but sadly, I didn’t train at this Chantry. I only transferred here ten years ago and then served for two more before I… retired from service.” Cullen lay back down to stare up at the clouds, his fingers still firmly intertwined with Alistair’s, “I’m from Honnleath originally and was older than most when I was finally allowed to start my training. At thirteen, I had to work hard to make-up for that lost time.”

“Thirteen? Why did you join so late?”

“I always knew that I wanted to be a Templar. My parents… took longer to accept that it wasn’t just a passing phase. I remember going to the Chantry whenever I had a spare moment, to watch them train—topless and sweaty, as you said—though, I didn’t take much notice of that at the time.” Cullen winked at Alistair before continuing, “I wasn’t permitted to practice with them officially—without my parent’s consent—but there were a few that humored my many questions and even left out copies of the Chant of Light, so I could practice.”

Cullen’s smile turned mournful, “There was a time when I believed there was no higher calling. That serving the Maker would be worth every sacrifice. I wanted nothing more.” He continued with a humorless chuckle, “When I was finally permitted to join, I was very dedicated. I put everything into my studies and my training. Not only did I catch up to my peers, I rose through their ranks rather quickly.”

Cullen closed his eyes as his tone darkened, “After so many battles and trials though, I began to see that not all I had been led to believe was true. I became disillusioned. I lost the joy that I once felt wearing the mantle. It eventually occurred to me that I was meant to walk a different path. I do still believe in the core tenants; I believe in the love of the Maker and his Bride, but I no longer have faith in the institution itself. Once I reached that point, I knew it was time to leave.” Cullen drew a shaky breath and let it out slowly, opening his eyes to stare back up at the clouds.

Alistair read the pain in Cullen’s eyes as he looked up to the heavens. Wanting nothing more than to replace that hurt with their earlier light banter, he decided to shift the conversation, “I hear that some Templars take certain vows when they become full members. Did you ever take such vows?”

“I took the same vows that everyone else did,” said Cullen seriously. “I pledged my life to Andraste and the Maker. I vowed to watch over and care for those who might need it and defend others who were unable to defend themselves. I did my best to serve with faith and humility.” He cocked his head in question, wondering what exactly Alistair was asking.

“Don’t some Templars also… take vows of celibacy?”

Cullen’s crooked smile began to surface. He realized where this was leading, but wasn’t yet ready to take the bait, “Some do… Others choose to marry, with permission from the Chantry of course”.

“And did you?”

Shaking his head, he replied, “No, I… never got married.” He managed to keep from laughing as he dragged it out as long as he could.

Maker, he’s more fun to mess with than Rylen!

“So then… you took the vows?” Alistair was starting to look a little panicked.

Cullen broke and laughed a joyful, full bellied, laugh, “No, Alistair, I never took such vows. If you’re worried about getting struck by lightning for corrupting my untainted soul, you’re safe I promise you.” He kissed Alistair sweetly, but pulled back before things could get heated again.

Alistair grinned, happy to have brought such a beautiful sound out of this usually reserved man. Hugging him gently, he whispered in Cullen’s ear, “Good to know.”

Shivering from the amount of promise in those three little words, Cullen directed their conversation to a safer topic, “So… your turn: how is it that you are so familiar with the Clergy here? You mentioned being raised in the orphanage? You’re a Theirin...” Cullen left that thought hanging.

“I did… and I am, but my mother, was not.” Alistair sat up, looked around, and tried to gather his thoughts. “I was brought here as a baby. My mother wasn’t able to raise me on her own; her work and frequent travels were too dangerous to take a child along.” Alistair paused a moment, “While we’re on the topic of her, I should probably let you know… my mother… wasn’t human.”

Cullen raised an eyebrow in interest. “Not human? And yet… you look very human, so that means… she was an elf?”

“Always the detective.” Alistair chuckled, then looked down nervously, “That doesn’t bother you, does it?”

Cullen shook his head, “Not at all. I suppose I can see how that might have made raising you by herself difficult.” He eyed Alistair’s ears with renewed interest, “I’ve never had an elven partner before... or even a half-elven one. It does makes me wonder… is it true what they say?”

“That you should never lick a lamppost in winter? Yes, most definitely an unwise decision.” Alistair joked, trying to dodge what he knew was coming next.

Leaning closer, Cullen blew a stream of air across Alistair’s ear and reveled in the full body shudder he got in response.

Playfully pushing Cullen away, Alistair shivered again before responding, “Now you… you just leave my ears out of this. Behave yourself!”

Cullen’s pupils dilated with that little revelation, “Yes, dear. I will obey that order… for now. I will definitely be revisiting that little treasure later though.” Cullen’s eyes smoldered with mischief.

Alistair groaned, “Sweet maker, what have I done?” Shaking his head to clear it, he tried to find his train of thought, “We were… uh, discussing my mother?”

“You said that she traveled a lot and that her work was dangerous. But I’m assuming it wasn’t because of the shape of her ears. What exactly did she do?”

Alistair paused for a beat. The topic of his mother rarely came up, so he wasn’t sure how to broach the topic of her unusual profession. It is one of legend—literally. People don’t realize that Wardens still exist, or ever really did. They are fairy tale heroes. Stories told to comfort small children from their nightmares. There aren’t many people—without the sight—that even know that there is a real need for them. Alistair decided to test the waters, to see where Cullen stood on the belief issue. He’d decide after that exactly how much to tell him.

Well, here goes nothing.

“She was… a Grey Warden.” Alistair ventured a glance, half expecting a joke or disbelief to be evident on Cullen’s face. Neither expression emerged.

Cullen sucked in a breath in surprise—in fear—his body went rigid as his own memories threatened to overwhelm him.

Shit! Shit! Shit! Hold it together, Rutherford, you’re not there anymore. Focus!... Breathe!... Damnit!!

Trying to maintain his place in the present, he held onto that one sliver of hope from long ago; the Warden that saved him. He never understood why he was the one who survived. He never believed himself worthy. All he saw were precious lives tortured… taken before their time to sate some madman’s psychotic agenda.

Initially, the horrors from that night completely broke him. He was barely coherent; forced to relive his terror from that awful ordeal over and over in his head. Slowly—and with the help of Dorian—he began to remember a single ray of hope in all the darkness he’d suffered. There was a group responsible for saving his life. They didn’t stick around long enough for him to fully recover. One blurry image stood out more than the others; an elven female, in blue and white armor with the Warden’s griffin emblazoned across her chest and a staff upon her back. Her voice—soothing and reassuring—had helped to pull him from the darkness; her magic, healed the damage that’d been done to his body. It was her image that became his beacon, the sole link to reality that he tethered to whenever he felt panic try to overtake him.

Using that visual anchor, he pulled his focus back to the present.

Alistair’s mother was a Warden and an elf. Could she have been the same Warden that saved me all those years ago? He keeps speaking of her as if she’s no longer with us. Maybe I’ve missed my chance.

Cullen always wanted to find and thank the ones responsible for saving his life, but until now, never had a means to locate them.

I wonder if there might be a chance that I could find one of the others that were there… to… thank them for this gift? I wonder if they were all Wardens, or if it was only her. Could Alistair know? Would he help me find out?

Alistair’s heart fell as he heard Cullen gasp and watched the conflicting emotions dance across face. He watched the internal battle as Cullen fought to bring his focus back to their conversation. “You’re familiar with them I take it?” Answering his own question, when Cullen’s only answer was wide-unseeing eyes, he said quietly, “Very familiar by the look on your face.”

Two pieces of information slid together in his head: the first was Cullen telling him that Dorian had been his counselor when they met, the second was Dorian’s area of expertise—PTSD and reintegrating into society.

Well… shit.

Cullen could only nod while trying to shake the shadow of a memory drifting through his vision. He did his best to ignore—or forget—the fact that he could see; immersing himself in mundane crimes instead of those from the other side of the veil. Occasionally they overlapped—like last Thursday—but that wasn’t the norm. Now, Alistair seemed to also be aware. That was unexpected and yet perhaps, not entirely a bad thing.

Hesitantly, Alistair continued, hoping that his banter would help Cullen through his internal battle, “Only people who are awakened have cause to get that look.” Squeezing Cullen’s hand, he rubbed a soothing circle on it with his thumb. “We’ve seen too much to ignore the truth, we know that this world isn’t as safe as they would have us believe.” Alistair looked around the sanctuary, trying to think of a way to reassure Cullen, “We are safe here, in this garden, if that helps.”

Cullen nodded again, pulling himself fully back into the present. He managed a weak, but real, smile. Proud of himself for not fully succumbing to his past—as he once might have. He decided to tell Alistair at least part of the story behind his reaction. The rest would come in due time, he hoped to hear the rest of Alistair’s tale first though.

“Would you like me to continue? Or shall we change the subject.” Alistair offered to Cullen, who still seemed to be trying to shake the blanket of shadows that hovered over him.

Cullen shook his head and squeezed Alistair’s hand, encouraging him to continue, “I’m ok; I’m just not used to other people knowing what I know or having seen what I've been… unfortunate enough to witness. You took me by surprise is all. Please continue. I… do want to know more about you.”

I want to know everything about you!

Alistair smiled sadly and cautioned him, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Maker’s breath, if only hearing the name ‘Grey Warden’ spooked him so badly, what will he think when he finds out the rest?

Squeezing Cullen’s hand, Alistair continued with his telling. “Traditionally, the Wardens are a secretive bunch.” He laughed quietly to himself, “So much so that they are associated with myth and legend; like a fairytale story.”

“The Grey Wardens are far from make believe.” Cullen argued Alistair’s last statement. Seeing an opening, he tried to explain, “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them. They are… everything the stories say, yet so much more, because those stories are absolutely—frighteningly—true.” There were notes of appreciation and reverence in his voice as Cullen defended the Wardens.

Alistair nodded in agreement, his eyes softened to the pain he saw in Cullen’s expression. He said quietly, “There’s a story there that I would love to hear.”

Shaking his head, Cullen sadly declined, “Not today. I’m sorry. I don’t want to dwell on so much darkness when I have so much light right here in front of me.” He ran his finger tenderly down Alistair’s cheek, “I will though, I promise you, I’m just… not quite ready.” He sighed as the truth left him. He wasn’t ready, but he would be soon… for him.

Please understand how hard this is for me!

Nodding his understanding, he smiled in reassurance, “I will be here when you are.” Alistair placed a gentle kiss upon Cullen’s brow.

Emboldened by Cullen’s apparent appreciation of the Wardens, Alistair took a breath to continue as he offered up more information, “I am probably stating the obvious at this point, but I’d rather be clear rather than leave something this important to assumptions: I have also been awakened. I suppose that may make some things easier down the road. I will be better able to understand you, when you are ready to share. And you already being aware, will save me having to hide or creatively explain certain things about me as well.”

“For her part, I agree with your mother. Taking you along on any of their missions wouldn’t have been the best idea.”

Alistair nodded in agreement, “I was only a couple of months old when my mother brought me here. When her missions allowed it, she would visit. I never saw her more than once a year and she always had her partner, Duncan with her. I don’t think there was anything romantic between them, but all the same, they felt like family to each other.” Alistair paused in realization and stifled a giggle at the truth of his next statement, “Not unlike Lana and I, I suppose.” He shook his head wondering at how he hadn’t seen that before.

“She would occasionally send me letters: in the beginning, they were small notes of affection that were read to me by the Mothers and Sisters. As I grew older, and learned to read for myself, her letters became more detailed. On my tenth naming day, my mother wasn't able to come, but I received a package containing a locket and a letter explaining the circumstances regarding my… well… regarding me actually; how I came to live in the orphanage even though I had two living parents. I understood—I tried to anyway—but it didn’t make it easier. She was…” He grinned remembering, “She was something else: tiny, even for an elf, I passed her in height even before I hit double digits. She had short mousy hair that was so dark, it could have been black, and the largest, most beautiful green eyes. I’m told she was serious and stern most of the time—she rarely let anyone in—but I only saw affection and kindness when I saw her.”

Alistair smiled as he reflected fondly, “When she’d come to visit, we would talk and laugh. She never stayed long, but the time she could spare... well those were some of the happiest days I can remember growing up. Later on, Duncan told me that she was most like herself on their visits to see me. He said that those were the rare moments when she would let her guard down.”

Alistair looked into Cullen’s eyes, then beyond his shoulder into his own past as his smile faltered, “When I turned 16, Duncan showed up alone. On that visit, he looked so sad and broken. He… asked to speak to me privately.” Alistair paused and took a deep breath, “That’s when I found out that my mother didn’t survive her most recent mission into the fade.”

Cullen wrapped Alistair in his arms, “I am so sorry Alistair.” He whispered in his ear, holding him close.

On one hand, Alistair wanted to protect Cullen from whatever horrors flashed before his eyes when he’d originally brought them up. On the other, he really hated secrets. It was the one thing about the Wardens that he always struggled with. He understood that they needed to be kept hidden from the general populace, the things they faced would fracture the brain of a regular person. It was ironic really, most of those people owed the Warden’s their lives, and they didn’t even know it.

Making up his mind, Alistair smiled gratefully before continuing, “Thank you. I… know it was a long time ago, but being here always reminds me of her and the time we never got to have together. You know, she was planning on coming to collect me when I turned eighteen... to begin my training as a Warden.”

Cullen looked at Alistair with new interest and no small amount of surprise, “You were going to be a Grey Warden?”

“I was… I am… I did actually... Join, that is. On my birthday, Duncan came back and offered me what my mother no longer could. As an adult, I wasn’t permitted to stay at the orphanage any longer and I had dreamt for so long about being a Warden; it felt like a natural progression.

“But… you own a bar? How can you be a Warden and carry on a full time job like that?”

“Let’s just say that you’re not the only one to have retired from service,” Alistair said with a small smile.

“People don’t usually just get up and leave the Wardens; isn’t that a lifetime career choice?”

“You mean like joining the Templars?” Alistair countered, bumping shoulders with Cullen playfully, before continuing, “I am still bound to keep their secrets. Though with you being one of the rare, awakened Templars—ex or otherwise—I suppose you are exempt from me having to keep all of my secrets from you.” Grinning sheepishly, Alistair laid his forehead on Cullen’s shoulder for a moment before admitting, “I really don’t like secrets.”

Pulling back, he smiled contently into Cullen’s eyes. “It’s amazing to me, as I learn more and more about you, how well suited we seem to be.” He leaned in for a chaste kiss.

“I’m glad you think so too.” Cullen agreed wholeheartedly.

Alistair sighed with the weight of his next admission. “For the time being, I am free to work as I choose, but… there may come a time when I am called to fight again; though I hope that day doesn’t come anytime soon.”

Cullen didn't like the idea of Alistair running headlong into danger, though he frequently did that himself. Realizing that there was a large piece of the puzzle still missing, he ventured, “That still seems easier than it should be, is there something you’re leaving out?”

Alistair smiled at the detective shining through the man before him, “Very perceptive, Commander. It was another gift from my mother—and Duncan too, I suppose—or, rather, the same gift. The locket she gave me was actually a symbol of her rank and title within the order. She was well reputed with the Wardens before she died and left a request for clemency, should my life take me on a different path. Duncan was there—is still there—to back up the request and I was released from my… uh… immediate contract.”

“Since she died before you joined, it sounds as if you weren’t going to have a choice to begin with. A Warden’s child already knows some of their secrets so must be bound to the same life to keep them?” Cullen surmised with concern, “So planning your exit strategy was a blessing in disguise.”

“Yes, it was.” Alistair sighed with some regret. “As I said, my mother was grooming me to come join her and had been for many years. Our plan to fight together never came to fruition, though the path was already paved for me when she died. Duncan gave me the choice, I was never forced, but at the time, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. He was pretty broken up after my mother died. I believe he needed me as much as I needed him. He needed a distraction from the loss and I needed to follow in her footsteps. To try to be the Warden she always wanted me to be.” He smiled softly then sighed sadly, “There came a point though, that I was grateful for the ability to leave, for more than one reason.”

“So you managed to leave and you came back to Denerim?”

“I did. I came back here to start over about eight years ago. It was, in all honesty, a little more complicated than that, but for now, as you said, I’d rather discuss the light in front of me instead of dwelling on darker times. We will though, I really don’t like keeping things hidden, especially from you, but some of these secrets aren’t mine to share.”

Cullen nodded in understanding. “So where was your father in all of this?” Distaste rolled off his tongue.

“My uh… sperm donor, already inherited the family legacy when I was born, he had the perfect son and perfect wife. His ‘dalliance’ with my mother was never meant to come to light. He wanted to keep me a secret to protect the precious family name. He might have also been protecting his wife’s feelings. The way I understand it, she was the one that requested for me to be raised in the Chantry. I was twenty when his wife passed away and my father finally stepped up to acknowledged me as his. The media had a field day with it, let me tell you.”

Alistair smirked mischievously before continuing, “When I came back here, I received my trust fund and the bar’s building as gift to assuage his guilt. I don’t really have much contact with him, though I get along with my half-brother, Cailan, well enough. He stops by for a drink—from time to time—just to say hi.”

A thought occurred to Cullen, “Do any of them possess the sight too?”

“That's a very good question and I'm not entirely sure of the answer. I've occasionally wondered about the circumstances that threw my parents together, but have never asked my father for his side to fill in the gaps my mother left out… Maybe Duncan knows.”

Cullen nodded, “So what about Mother Natalie? I’ve been around the Chantry most of my life, but I’ve never seen that kind of affection come from any of the Clergy before.” Cullen chuckled remembering Alistair’s playfulness and the patient affection that glinted in the Mother’s eyes.

Alistair laughed, happy to be changing the subject, “I was a bit of a prankster growing up—if you can imagine—I got into all sorts of trouble. Nothing menacing mind you, but jokes and pranks to get people to smile. They can be so serious around here, y’know? Since I wasn’t to be put up for adoption, there were a few Mothers who sort of… adopted me themselves and took me under their wings. They protected me and made me feel like this was my actual ‘home’. If I could claim a true family, it would be the ladies here. Mother Natalie more so than any of the others. She’s the only one that knows my full story. She’s the only one that I know… that is also awakened.”

“Some people are blessed with family at birth, some have to make their own. Regardless of either, ‘home’ is where you place your heart.” Cullen laid his hand over the center of Alistair’s chest and leaned in for a kiss.

“Now who’s being romantic?” Alistair teased Cullen. Looking up he noticed the sun had started to descend, casting late afternoon shadows around the garden, “We better head out soon, the old biddies like to come out here in the evenings to vent about their day. No one needs to hear that.”

Cullen chuckled, “You learned that from experience?”

“Actually, yes!” Alistair tipped his head back and laughed, “I got trapped hiding in the bushes in that far corner.” He pointed, then continued, “I’d skipped my classes one day and just when I was about to head back in for the evening meal, the sisters came out and began to talk about all the kids that drove them crazy. I heard some things about me that no-one ever needs to know! I was trapped. It was three hours later before I could break free. Missed dinner and everything. It was a mistake I never made again.” He winked at Cullen, “I found other places to hide instead.”

Laughing together, they began to pick up after themselves. Alistair folded the blanket and set it on top of the basket, “I was told to leave everything here when we finished. I think Mother Natalie just wants to make sure I ate my vegetables; she doesn’t need to know that I fed them all to you.” He winked conspiratorially, then led Cullen back the way they’d come in.

Emerging from the hidden alcove, they startled a squat, salt and pepper haired, chantry Mother. She squealed, “Oh dear Ali, you gave my old heart a start!” Catching her breath, she glanced knowingly at their hands clasped together, “Are you behaving yourself, child?”

“Who me? Never!” He grinned mischievously.

She smiled indulgently. “Some things never change, dear,” she tisked, patting him on the cheek. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You too, Mother Beatrice.”

As they headed for the door, Cullen suddenly stopped before crossing the threshold, “I’m sorry. I… can’t leave just yet. It’s…”

Alistair smiled understandingly, “Oh right! I’m so sorry. Believe me, I’ve spent enough time here to know better. Templars always check in with their boss before they leave.” Pointing his finger towards the heavens, he winked.

Cullen hesitated.

“Go on. I promise to be here when you get back.” Alistair kissed him on the cheek and released his hand.

Smiling gratefully for Alistair’s understanding, he turned and made his way up the center aisle.

Alistair watched as Cullen made his procession to the altar and knelt before the statue of Andraste.

Mother Natalie approached and threaded her arm through Alistair's before whispering, “You are looking well my dear. Happier than I have ever seen you. Mischievous as always, but never glowing as you are today. He is good to you?”

“He is. More than I ever thought I deserved.” He covered her hand with his own and smiled wistfully while observing Cullen in his prayers.

“You never gave yourself enough credit, child. Your heart is true and good; you deserve nothing less in return.” She watched Cullen light a candle at the altar as he finished his prayers, “He moves like a Templar.” She noted.

“Former Knight-Commander…”

“Cullen Rutherford?” she asked before Alistair could finish his statement.

“How did you—?”

She looked at Alistair with her all-knowing and insufferably adorable smile, “He is also a good man. Troubled and hurt by his past, but a heart very much like yours. His transition out of the chantry made some waves, but I always respected his courage. He is well known here, if not by sight, by reputation.”

Cullen approached Alistair and the Mother who had greeted them when they arrived. He felt more at peace than he’d been in a long time. He nodded, “Mother.”

“Knight-Commander,” she responded.

He stiffened at the title. Taking a deep breath, he sighed, “Not any longer I’m afraid.”

“Nonsense. Your heart has always spoken true of the Chantry, it was we that failed you, child.” She placed Alistair’s hand back into Cullen’s. “Hopefully, now you can find the peace you deserve. Alistair has been my charge for many years and it pleases me to see the two of you so content together. May I offer the Maker’s Benediction and Blessing?”

Cullen relaxed again and looked somewhat relieved, “I would never turn down the Maker’s Blessing, Mother; you have my gratitude.” He bowed his head and Alistair followed suit.

 

 

Blessed are they who stand before

the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.

Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just. *1

 

Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow.

In their blood, the Maker's will is written. *2

 

 In Andraste’s name

 I call upon the Maker to watch over his children and creations.

 Watch over their path O’Maker, give them light in darkness. *3

 

Blessings upon you Alistair and Cullen

in the name of Andraste and the Maker above.

May the chant of light carry your names to the ears of our Lord. *4

 

Raising his head at the end of the blessing, Cullen looked at Alistair who was gazing back at him with pure adoration.

Alistair’s smile turned mischievous as he looked back at the Mother, “Well, that one was… different.”

She smiled up at them both and said, “It's the Templar’s blessing, dear.” She stepped closer and said more quietly, “You have fought your own battles and have seen more than most should ever witness. I feel no shame in offering the Holy Warrior’s blessing to you as well.”

Alistair nodded, “Two non-Templars getting the Templar’s Blessing. Should I be worried that lightning will strike?” he looked around, pretending to be nervous. “You won’t get into trouble will you?”

The Mother tittered, “No more than I’ve ever gotten into trouble over your antics, child.”

Alistair laughed, his mischievous smile turned affectionate, “Thank you for everything, Natalie. What would I ever do without you?”

“For starters, you would have spent more time in the kitchens peeling potatoes or perhaps cleaning the bathrooms with toothbrushes for all the trouble you used to get into.” 

“See? I’m good for you! I keep you young and on your toes!” He kissed her forehead before leading Cullen out the door, hand clasped firmly in his own.


*1           Benedictions 4:10

*2           Benedictions 4:11

*3           Blessing from Chantry Sister in Lothering from DA: Origins.

*4           Blessing from Chantry Sister in Ostagar from DA: Origins / Modified.