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Compulsion

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When she woke up the haze of sleep fell away almost immediately because she became aware of a few things. The first was that she was naked. This in itself wasn’t an unusual occurrence. It would have been odder if she had woken up in clothes. The second thing was the warm body pressed against her side. As she became more alert, she was increasingly aware of the feel of hair and muscle against her. Among other things. The third was the large, calloused hand mapping its way out over her body. It felt like no part of her was going untouched. Heated memories of waking up to her husband’s need came to her, but left her abruptly with a chill. Her husband had died a year ago and she had allowed no one so close since.

Her eyes flew open with none of the usual just-waking-up preamble. So many more things that didn’t fit. She wasn’t in her soft, far too quiet bed. What she was laying on was barely qualified as a sleeping bag. Illumination was provided by a lantern in the corner, only just visible from her angle. But she hadn’t spared these details more than a brief glance and thought to get her bearings. Much more concerning, and confusing was the man next to her.

The scar on his lip was distinct. His eyes, his hair, his body, all fit with what she had both seen and envisioned countless times before. But the scar is what really sealed the deal for her. She wasn’t awake at all. This was just another layer of a dream. A much more vivid dream than what even she was used to, but a dream nonetheless. The moment they made eye contact his hand shot down to work between her legs. Immediately she gasped before she could stop herself.

Not so shy, I guess.

“This is a dream.” She wanted to sound sure of herself but any time a dream felt this real she woke up to her husband’s hand parting her labia, her husband’s cock.

“Well this is the kind of thing I would dream up.” After a light pinch to her clit, making her yelp and squirm, he roughly pushed a finger inside her. His hazel eyes never left her dark brown ones.

“Your dream? You aren’t real.” The words took more strain to say than she wanted to admit. Part of her knew that this dream felt too real. Something was off, even though it’s not unlike fantasies she had before. She should stop his hand. But she was so slick and his second finger had slipped in so easily.

“Shall I show you how real I am? You’re the one under suspicion. Perhaps you should show me.”

With one fluid motion her shoved her legs further apart and placed himself between them. Automatically she wrapped her legs around his hips though a part of her mind said she shouldn’t. He wasn’t looking in her eyes anymore. Instead he tilted his head down to watch as he rubbed the swollen head of his cock up and down her slit. The anticipation made her toes curl as she dug her heels harder into his back. She pushed her hands against the solid planes of his chest, hands resting on the thin layer of sweat and blonde hair there.

“If you are somehow a dream, and not a gift for me from the Maker, then I must have you at least once before I wake.”

That was all the warning she received before felt him push inside of her. In one thrust his cock filled her completely but he continued to grind into her. She screamed out her pleasure, worries briefly melting underneath the pressure of sensation. He pulled out slowly and then slammed into her once again, shouting to his maker.

“Your tight cunt takes me so well. You were made for my cock.” He uses one hand to pin both her slender wrists above her head and the other is filled with an ass cheek.

His pace was his bruising and fast, unconcerned with whether or not it’s what she wanted because in that moment it’s what he needed. It’s a kind of roughness she always wanted to ask her gentle husband for but struggled to voice.

My husband. This isn’t real.

“Wait.” She tried to make the words come out between breaths and moans. His grip was too strong for her to break. “This feels too good.”

“You feel-”

“This feels too good.” It was almost impossible to think. “It isn’t right.”

“There’s nothing more right.”

He rolled her onto her stomach and covered her body with his own. When he thrust back inside her, in her favourite position, she found herself willing to forget everything and just agree with him.

With her head turned to the side she could see everything she would expect. Sword, shield, piece after piece of armor, and that coat. It added to the illusion, the not-dream. She clenched around him and he took that as his cue to move a hand between them and find her clit. The speed and strength of her orgasm caught her by surprise. The waves of her climax drew out his end too and he filled her with his hot seed. She felt it bursting inside her and couldn’t help but scream out his name.

“I’m inclined to believe that this isn’t a dream.” He shifted to lay on his side and pulled her over to be the little spoon.

“I’m…”

He kissed her shoulder and sighed into her neck.

“Sleep. We can solve your mystery tomorrow.”

The flame of the lantern danced low, not quite ready to go out. His breathing slowed first. While he was supposed to be prone to nightmares, he was not the one tossing and turning that night.

*****

When she woke again the lantern was out and the sun had not yet risen. There was still an arm slung around her waist, but the death grip had loosened. Iola shifted out of his reach and sat up. The remaining spend that had still been within her while she slept slicked up her thighs again and for a moment she felt embarrassed.

One thing at a time. I need to clean this and I really need to pee.

It was late enough in the night (or perhaps too early in the morning) that it was not pitch black inside the tent. Though it certainly wasn’t easy to see. She found her clothing in a pile near his. Her leggings and boots were an easy choice, but after some internal debating she pulled on one of his shirts. More comfortable than throwing on her bra and tank top. The next step Iola really didn’t want to do, but she was anxious to wander off on her own and try to fend for herself in her not-dream. Don’t think about the fact that you ‘woke up’ again and you’re still here. It’s just a long, weird dream where everything feels extra real including your full as fuck bladder. With no other option she walked back over to the bedroll and started to shake her bedmate awake. With caution, of course.

“Cullen. Cullen wake up. Please.” He jolted awake quickly, looking angry and startled until he saw her face. The lines on his face smoothed and his snarl softened into a gentle smile. “I don’t know where I am and I really need to pee.”

“I don’t think a dream would wake me up in the middle of the night to find the latrines.” He cupped her face with one of his hands while he teased her. Iola pulled his hand off and leaned away. Distance was a good idea. Easier to think.

“I’m sorry to wake you but I don’t know where to go.” And I don’t know who’s out there.

Cullen rose out of bed and dressed easily, no trace of the grogginess she felt. He took note of her wearing his shirt with a quirked brow, but said nothing.

“You’re going to get cold.” His cloak practically enveloped her when he placed it on her shoulders. He smiled at her surprise. “We’re at the Crossroads, in the Hinterlands. It’s not exactly the warmest place in Ferelden.” He opened the tent flap and motioned for her to exit first.

Immediately she noticed the smell. All the smells. Unwashed bodies, festering injuries, corpses, and the latrines. It was surprisingly easy to separate that stench from the others and turn her head in the right direction. If she realized she could find them by smell alone, she wouldn’t have asked. Plus they were the only sort of building away from the hamlet and near the trees. What else could they be?

“I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have bothered you if I had realized they were just over there.”

“It’s not a problem.” The ease he had with her moments earlier evaporated once he saw noticed the others awake and milling around. His features grew cold, his body language hardened and closed off. The embodiment of the intimidating commander he was supposed to be. Without another word or further acknowledgement he walked in the direction of a couple of guards who looked a little too relaxed. Iola was almost sad to see him go. She dreaded having to discover first-hand what a medieval latrine was like, but biology beckoned.

*****

She didn’t get undressed when she returned to the tent. Iola didn’t know what was appropriate, or if it was a good idea to get comfortable. Sleeping didn’t take her out of this not-dream, and neither did fucking, apparently. Why she would have an unending, all-encompassing dream about Dragon Age instead with her husband she didn’t know. As fast as her treacherous thoughts turned to him Iola just as quickly steered them away. It was a wound that was closing and not a scab she wanted to pick at in that particular moment.

By the time the tent flap lifted again at least an hour had passed. Iola had shed her boots as she laid on the bedroll. If Cullen hadn’t returned sooner she would have shed her consciousness too. But the moment he reappeared she found herself wide awake.

He smirked that smirk that drove the internet mad, which maybe set certain parts of her aflame but not at ease. Though he bent down to unlace his boots his eyes never left hers.

“I wasn’t expecting you to still be awake.”

“I didn’t know what else to do.” She shrugged. It was a weak response but the truth.

“Sleep?” His voice teased in the way that walked the line between flirtatious and condescending. Clothes were gone at the same effective pace he put them on and then he was pushing her down into the bedroll.

“Wait, wait, wait. Let’s keep my clothes on and have a talk first.” She disentangled herself from his eager hands and sat up again.

“You can have a few moments before I have you. Again.” The lack of clothing made his erection painfully obvious. Iola knew she should look anywhere else but her eyes were drawn to it like a magnet.

“I…I don’t know how I’m supposed to think clearly after something like that.”

“Good.” Again he made a move for her but she stood up and started pacing away from the bedroll. Distance. Don’t look. Don’t get distracted.

“How did I get here?” She started fiddling with one of her piercings. A nervous habit, a compulsion to keep her hands busy.

“You opened the tent and made yourself right at home.” He chuckled.

“Ha ha so funny. I mean how did I wind up in this dream where I’m in Thedas?” As if the fictional character in your dream is going to tell you that you’re in way too fucking deep with your Dragon Age obsession.

“You really don’t remember?” The humour was absent from his voice now.

“Obviously not.” Iola covered her eyes with her hands and crouched down. The foggy feeling lingered from when she last woke, only getting worse with her frustration. “If my brain wanted to give me the most weirdly vivid dream of my life, I don’t know why it’s here. If this was a lucid dream I’d just change the scene or wake myself up. But I’m still here.”

“You fell out of a rift earlier today. There were no demons. You yelled my name and had eyes only for me.” Iola let her hands drop from her face and sat on the ground properly. Cullen had something resembling a dreamy look, eyes far away, as he recalled. “I surprised myself when I threw my sword down and ran to you as you collapsed. I asked who you were. I asked why you fell from the rift. You told me that you had come here for me, to save me, and then you lost consciousness. I carried you to my tent and had a healer take a look at you. When she found that there was nothing wrong I told her to clean you up and leave you here.”

“Naked?”

“No. I did that part myself.”

“Oh.”

She remained on the ground for a while after that, unsure of what to say or do next. For a while he let her just sit in silence and digest what he told her. A very fleeting version of a while.

“Come here.”

There was no reason not to since it was just a not-dream, but she didn’t want to get even more tangled in this web.

“It wasn’t a request and I won’t repeat myself.”

She hesitated for a couple of seconds and it was a couple too many for him. He grabbed her ankle and yanked her towards him. Her leggings were shoved down around her feet and he was between her legs thrusting into her once again.

“You are mine and I will fuck you until you know it.” A jolt of pleasure shot through her when he made his claim like that. Part of her knew it would be a problem later (really the whole lack of clear consent was a problem now), but in that moment all she wanted was to feel all the ways he would make her his.

They fell asleep the same way as they did previously, with him holding her close. Neither woke again until a scout called them from outside the tent. Enough people heard the noises coming from the tent last night that the gossip had already spread faster than the blight. She drew the shortest stick and that was why she had to be the one to go wake them. The scout didn’t want to face the commander’s wrath but the message was too urgent to wait.

“The Herald has returned early and she wants to speak to you immediately.”

Chapter Text

The concept of what it meant to be a good man turned out to be far more elusive than Cullen had ever realized it could be. When he was young he thought it was as simple as intentions, honour, and duty. But just as the years aged his skin they also degraded his understanding of morality. No, degraded was the wrong word. The knowledge he has gained makes his conscience almost unbearably heavy at times, but it has also demonstrated that there are countless shades of grey amongst the world of black and white that he once lived in. The only thing degraded was his soul. The very essence of his being. It felt as though it flickered in and out of existence, barely holding on.

He has done many bad things to many people who didn’t deserve it. But there were always lines Cullen set for himself, never to be crossed. In the years since Kinloch he had lain with a handful of women and a few of men. He would bury the urge to conquer, possess, and use until it had to be buried within a hot, desiring body. With his face he knew he didn’t have to pay for it, but he usually opted to regardless. For safety and silence. Theirs more than his. Only twice had he taken mages, but his guilt over these experiences kept his cock well hidden in his pants in the presence of all his mage wards afterwards. Cullen was many things but never ignorant. He understood the concept of power imbalances, and that they weren’t in a position to refuse their superior. It didn’t take him long to figure out that it was safer to pay to fulfill his need for ownership and control than to enact it in real life. Enough lives have been ruined at his hands.

When the woman fell out of the rift and called out to him Cullen knew she was his. In the very depths of his tired being he could feel that she belonged with him, to him. Perhaps a different man would have worried it was the influence of magic, or that she was a demon waiting to corrupt him. But he just knew that he was to be the one to corrupt her. It was something he would have expected himself to feel conflicted over. He should have seen his lack of objectivity in this situation and ensured her care was in the hands of someone else. It was easily justified in his mind why it had to be him. The air of paranoia was toxic and inescapable after the Conclave. Another woman falling out of a rift would be seen as dangerous and suspicious, or an incredibly useful tool. There would be others who would want to hurt her or use her. He could guarantee her safety and protection just by virtue of his word, and even people in higher positions of power than him would be reluctant to go against the word of the infamous Cullen Rutherford.

It wasn’t right, the way he undressed her and touched her without her permission. Without a doubt it was wrong the ways he used her body when she was vulnerable and unsure of everything. But she was his in a way that defied reason and morality for him. Cullen would show her how happy she would be, how loved she would be if she remained by his side. He would make her name Rutherford, he would change her soft but flat stomach, and she would save him from himself.

First, he had to learn her name.

*****
The heavy weight of the awkward tension was almost too much to bear as Iola and Cullen looked at one another in embarrassment. Everything was going okay until he stopped short in his introduction of her and explanation when they both realized that he did not know her name. It was bad enough that he had slept in and neither of them were remotely close to prepared for the Herald’s arrival. They rushed into their clothes, neither having the luxury to even wash away the smell of sex.

“You don’t even know her name?!” Cassandra exclaimed, outraged. From the moment she saw them together she was unimpressed. “All the rumours going through the camp about you taking an unknown woman into your tent and then showing none of the professional restraint I would expect from you, and then to not even know her name?! Commander I asked you to take on this role because I thought you would-”

“Seeker. Maybe shouting at Curly in front of the entire Crossroads isn’t the best plan?”

Bless Varric. Iola hoped he would be an ally, if not a friend. He was already saving her from further humiliation, even if it was to save face for the Inquisition. Cassandra looked as though she wanted to turn her wrath on Varric, but she just nodded and lead the Commander away.

Relief was short lived. Iola turned back to see Varric, Solas, and of course the fucking Herald staring at her. Their looks could be described as ambivalent at best, and only if she was being generous.

“Um…I’m Iola?” She didn’t mean to say her own name as a question but she was wilting under their gazes.

“I don’t think your name should be a question.” Varric said it with a humour in his voice that wasn’t reflected in his eyes. They were all covered in dirt, sweat, and gore. Iola wasn’t surprised by their lack of enthusiasm but couldn’t help the anxiety consuming her.

“It’s not. I’m just nervous.” Where to even begin, and how to make them believe.

The Herald, a city elf or maybe a circle elf named Elanora, drew her staff and pointed it at Iola.

“Enough with this. What are you and what have you done with the Commander.”

“Easy there, Volcano.” Varric approached her with both hands up, but looked reluctant to go against his Herald in front of an unknown element.

“I’m a person and I haven’t done anything to him!” Iola’s anxiety quickly gave way to her temper. She was not one to take an attack without trying to defend herself at the very least. “I don’t even want to be here!”

“If she were a demon or a mage we would both be able to sense it, yet she emanates the energy of neither. She is little more than a human, albeit one clearly touched by the fade.” Solas, the voice of reason for now. They would soon have to have a conversation where she would make him sure that she could see reason as well. Iola had no intentions of upsetting the Dread Wolf.

“What do you mean touched by the fade?” Just as quickly as her anger rose up, it was swallowed again by anxiety. Varric and ‘Volcano’ looked equally intrigued and concerned.

“You feel as though the fade is in you somehow, as if it has left its mark. When word reached us last night of another woman falling from a rift I tried to find you in the fade. I could feel traces of someone new, but it was in a strange part of the fade that I couldn’t penetrate.”

“I don’t remember any of my dreams last night.” She mumbled this to herself more than anyone else.

“This is unimportant right now. We need to know why she fell out of the rift and what her intentions are.” Elanora withdrew her staff but stepped closer to Iola. She would admire the Herald’s bravery if it wasn’t being used against her. “How did you get there? How did you get here? What did you have to do with the Conclave?”

“I don’t remember how or why I ended up falling out of a rift. I remember being at home, making dinner, and then waking up-” She cut herself off. I can’t exactly say naked getting groped by the leader of your army. “here. At the Crossroads. I wasn’t at the Conclave and I swear I have no negative intentions. I want to help the Inquisition however I can.”

“And how can you help the Inquisition?” It was Solas who spoke up now. No longer at her defence, he seemed to have picked up on Elanora’s suspicion.

“I…it’s complicated.”

“What do you know?” The future Inquisitor’s eyes narrowed.

“I don’t know if you’ll believe me. But I promise I will help you however I can. It might not mean much to you, but I swear on my life. It’s the only one I’ve got so it sure as fuck means a lot to me.” Why couldn’t you just lie and make up a safe cover story like a normal person?

“You can tell all your secrets and lies to our Spymaster in our dungeon.”

“Oh fuck wait please-” Iola started to plead with no clear plan in mind.

Before she could take dig her own grave any deeper Cullen and Cassandra returned.

“Cullen has agreed to be responsible for the prisoner.” While they were not there for the conversation, the animosity in the air was clear to everyone in the vicinity.

“I think she would be better suited for a cold, dark cell.” Elanora said with an inflection of disinterest in her voice. Without her knowledge Iola’s hands began clenching and unclenching as they became clammier. She did not want to fuck with Leliana.

“I am positive that will not be necessary.” Cullen spoke with an air of finality as the two stared each other down. Iola hated the claws of jealousy that squeezed her heart in that moment. The sexual tension between the pair was too obvious for her to ignore. You played the role of fuck toy with a video game character for one night. He didn’t even ask your name, and you’re not exactly in the right headspace to get attached. Let it go. She frowned and looked away. This was seeming less and less like a dream and more like the start of a nightmare.

Eventually the Herald nodded and they began discussing the watchtowers and other things of strategic relevance. Iola wanted to hate her, but couldn’t. She’s scary as hell and not like any of my Inquisitors. But I get why this is happening. I am an intruder here. She tried to rationalize her panic and find anything to latch on to. Years of therapy for her generalized anxiety weren’t for nothing.

She had zoned out until Cassandra was suddenly next to her, staring her down.

“You do not need to hear this. Go back to the Commander’s tent and stay there unless he tells you otherwise.”

“Actually I was hoping to find a healer? Falling out of a rift is enough to give anyone a massive headache.” Her attempt at humour could not penetrate Cassandra’s emotional armour.

“Fine. I will get a scout to escort you to a healer. But then you will go to the tent.” She motioned over the same scout that had woken them up earlier. Ah yes, another person to resent me for messing up their day.

A short introduction was made between Iola and scout Andrea Vintner and then they were dismissed. The walk to the healer’s hut was silent, which suited Iola just fine after the exhausting day she had been having.

Inside there were jars with an assortment of herbs, clearly running low. Iola hoped one of those was witherstalk. Hopefully that was what they actually used to prevent pregnancy. If it was something more complicated than getting an herb, she didn’t know how she would manage it. A dream this may be, but she was a firm believer in the saying ‘better to be safe than sorry’. The last thing she needed was to find herself pregnant with the Commander’s child when he may dump her for the Inquisitor.

“Can you, um, wait outside?” She knew it was a request bound to be denied, but it was still worth a shot.

“Why?” Vintner crossed her arms, not looking particularly pleased at being asked such a question. “Don’t you just need a potion for your headache?”

“Well…”

“Can I help you with something?” The healer, an elven woman, looked annoyed at the fact that she hadn’t been acknowledged yet in her own home.

“Sorry. Yes. I need…” Iola didn’t want to spread around the Commander’s business more than it already had been. Plus she was feeling ashamed of the way she had let herself be used like that.

“She’s not looking to have any young ones running around her ankles.” Vintner saved her from an awkward dance around an actual explanation.

“Yes. That. Definitely. Please.”

The healer gathered some things and tossed them in a plain burlap-looking pouch for her. Then she started explaining how long to steep tea, how often to use it, and then asked for coin.

“I, um? Put it on the Commander’s tab?” She meant it as a joke but then realized she just added fuel to the fire that is gossip. She could have slapped herself, if it would have accomplished anything.

“I’ve got it.” The scout pulled a pouch of coin from seemingly nowhere and covered her bill. “You do owe me for this.”

“Yes, of course. Thank you!”

The walk to the tent was as wordless as the walk to the healer’s, but so much more uncomfortable. Iola was torn between her natural, sociable nature and her brain telling her to stop doing more damage and just shut up.

“You’d best do what the Seeker said and sit in there. Quietly. If anyone comes by I wouldn’t recommend saying anything or even alerting them to your presence. I’ll bring you food and steep that tea for you.”

“Can I have water as well? Sorry it’s just that I’m super thirsty.”

“You’re lucky you’ve got a pretty face and caught the Commander’s eye.” Vintner gave her a small grin that Iola couldn’t quite read and then left.

All things considered, she had earned no friends but it could have gone a lot worse.

*****

Stupid was never a word used to describe Iola. She didn’t leave the tent except to go the bathroom or grab more food and water. The tea didn’t taste amazing, but it didn’t really matter as long as it kept her one person.

Cullen did not return until late into the evening. Iola could have chewed off her own legs out of sheer restlessness from being cooped up in a small space all day. But some of the frustration was relieved at the sight of a friendly face. Or friendly-ish. She wasn’t sure where they stood but she was positive she was now officially his prisoner.

In his arms he had a bucket of steaming water and a few cloths. She jumped and just barely managed to contain her squeak of excitement at the prospect of being sort of clean. Parts of her definitely jumped at the prospect of sexy bath time (even though they were both repulsive at this point), but her ambivalence about whatever was going on here had only grown.

“We’re riding back to Haven at first light. That means we need to be awake and prepared to leave before then. I suggest you waste none of our time tonight and just let us enjoy one another. Now take off your clothes and come here.”

The desire to be clean won over her confused feelings and she obliged with no complaint. He had stripped down all his armour and clothing by the time she turned around. It was clear Cullen was just as eager to bathe. Or whatever.

He gestured with a hand extended and she took it and stood in front of him. With his height she assumed he would tower over most people, but Iola being only 5’1 he completely dwarfed her. Pun intended?

“You are going to be still and quiet while I wash you, and then you will clean me. All of me. With the cloth, and then your mouth.”

“I-”

He shushed her with a kiss. Their first kiss, she realized. How out of order have we done things. His lips were gentle against hers, his tongue much the same. It was over too soon but when he started to use a soft touch to remove the grime from her body she had no complaints. With her breasts he was extra tender, working them until her brown nipples were stimulated to excited little points. Once he reached her vulva and her thighs Cullen went to his knees and moaned into her pubic hair. Traces of his semen still lingered and he told her how much he loved seeing himself on her. With his lightest touch yet he cleaned her with the cloth and then with his tongue. It wasn’t enough to make her come but she couldn’t stop her legs from quivering as he finished with them.

As if it wasn’t enough that every nerve in her body felt as though it had been caressed. The moans he let out when she touched him almost made her sob from how worked up she was. When every bare centimetre of his body had been cleaned she returned to his massive erection, pointing right at her face as she kneeled before him. Fluid was already leaking out of the head, and she used it as she ran one hand along his shaft and one to squeeze his testicles.

“Well?” Though his voice sounded annoyed, he had that signature smirk and a darkness to his eyes that told her otherwise.

“I don’t do this that much. I’ve never really liked it. Also I’m pretty sure I might suffocate considering your…size.”

He laughed and ran his thumb across her smooth lower lip. “Why don’t you just say hello, for tonight. Then get down on your hands and knees so I can fill you with my seed.”

A small sigh escaped Iola’s full lips and he took that opportunity to push his cock between them. She could feel the head throb and taste the salt on her tongue. His hand moved to the back of her head and he guided himself in and out of her in slow, shallow thrusts. The movements kept going deeper and faster until she gagged and pushed him away by his dark curls. The only hair on his body darker than light blonde. As soon as she signaled it was too much he pulled away without hesitation.

“You will learn to suck me how I like it. But right now I want your cunt so much more.”

The bluntness of his words was pushed her so close to the edge that her body offered no resistance when he entered her. It was too slow and yet the perfect torture. When he brought his fingers to her clit she was done for. Iola couldn’t have cared less if the Herald herself heard the scream of his name echo across the camp. There was no way to feel shame when she felt so full.

*****

Even if she wasn’t worried, Cullen hadn’t forgotten the vicious dressing down he received from Cassandra earlier. He covered her mouth with one of his hands as he fucked her harder and harder. The other he used to vacillate between slapping her clit and pinching her nipples. She squirmed her resistance against him so he didn’t go too hard. The virtue of patience was something he knew well. It would take more than just one night to prepare her for all the ways he planned to enjoy her body. Her moans were in synch with the sound of their skin slapping so he couldn’t help it when he let out a loud groan of his own.

“So many people out there wishing they were the ones in here, but instead they get to hear you pleasuring me.”

He pulled out to bite down on her shoulder hard, before releasing her and pushing his cock back in. After that he wound his hand up in her hair and pulled, forcing her to arch her back further until he filled her womb with his spend. They remained that way, with him inside her until he had become soft. The longer he kept his come within the more likely it was to take root inside her.

They cleaned up again, both too tired for it to be erotic. But he felt a thrill at the domesticity of it. Though he never thought he would be allowed a wife and family, he always had a craving for it. A dull ache he tried to bury, thought he would have to ignore forever. This night she fell asleep first and he was content just to listen to her breathe for a while. Earlier she was so tense and scared and he failed to show her that she was protected. Cullen would never let anyone hurt Iola or take her away from him. His years as a templar, especially a senior templar, left him socially stunted in many ways. How to begin expressing the strength of his emotions and commitment to her he had no clue. But he vowed to learn how to be a good partner to her and make her need a future together as badly as he did. Demons falling out of the sky be damned.

*****
It took two and a half days to ride back to Haven. The pace was slow going since not everyone could ride. The Herald and her companions rode at the front with the Commander, but no one invited her into any conversation and she didn’t feel like it was a good idea to ask. Each day was started with Cullen waking her extra early for sex, followed by a quick breakfast, and then gruelling hours of riding in front of the Commander. She had heard that horseback riding would make her body feel as though she had gotten in a fight and lost, and boy were they ever not kidding. Iola was grateful for the night because Cullen would soothe her aches with a massage, and then of course with more sex. Her emotions of the situation she found herself in weren’t any less muddled, but her body felt just unreal. Plus the physical intimacy also paved the path for emotional intimacy. There was no denying that she was enjoying that too. He would answer any question she asked and shared memories with her, fond or otherwise. She knew better than to ask the hard questions, and he knew better than to push her for any answers at all. Iola made it clear that she didn’t want to delve into her background until she had a chance to do it for the entire war council. It would be less emotionally draining if she only had to do it once. For now. So her stories were few and low on details, but she could tell he enjoyed whatever she was willing to give him. It was almost sweet. But he was more than a touch too aggressive and weirdly possessive for it to enter romantic territory.

This complication was never more apparent than when she would brewed her tea each morning. Cullen knew what it was, and for reasons she couldn’t fathom objected to her use of it.

“Why are you drinking that?”

“Why wouldn’t I drink it?”

“There is no need.”

“Um? I don’t think it’s the best idea to get impregnated by a stranger when there are demons falling out of holes in the sky?”

“Are you saying you don’t want my seed? You don’t want to carry my child?” These words he said right into her ear, brushing the edge of it with his lips. It made her breath catch and a hot feeling pool down in her leggings.

She decided it would be best not to answer that for her own sake and his. Iola had no doubt in her mind that she wanted to be a mother, but she didn’t think motherhood would be offered to her in her ongoing hallucination. Also she didn’t want to outright say no to the man who held her fate in his hands. He did not ask her to stop drinking it, so she was not yet put in a position where she had to say no. I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it. For sure burn. I don’t see how I could just cross it. After the initial conversation he said no more on the subject, but never failed to convey his displeasure with a frown.

The afternoon they arrived at Haven’s gates everyone in their group almost radiated happiness and relief. Not Iola though. She knew it was time to make a choice about how honest she should be. The meeting was a cold hand that crept up to squeeze her neck whenever she thought she had gotten comfortable. Leliana was waiting for them with an unreadable expression. Anything less than a smile from her, however small or fleeting, was a bad sign.

Chapter Text

Leliana could see why the Commander had developed such an abrupt and fierce obsession with this woman. Solas assured her that it was an organic occurrence, nothing insidious involved. While everyone else was shocked (and many upset, including the Herald), she experienced little more than mild surprise. Only for a moment. There was a well-hidden side to Cullen that contained his loneliness, his despair, and his hope. It was invisible to most save for his only close friends, Cassandra and Rylen. But she would not be a good spymaster if she couldn’t uncover all the things people left in the shadows. It was as obvious to her back at Kinloch Hold as it was here in the present. He wanted someone to fill the void within himself and reassure him that he was a good man. There were worse motivations for seeking romance. She herself was in an unusual situation so Leliana had no interest in judging him.

Iola, no family name given yet, was a beautiful woman. Of that there could be no doubt. Her golden brown complexion and thick black curls made her radiate the type of beauty one would expect from a noble from Rivain. The report said she had no visible scars marring her skin and no signs of malnourishment. She was unusually small for a human, which would overshadow her appeal for some but made her ideal for Cullen. Hers was a delicate femininity, the kind that attracted men who wanted someone to protect. She had facial piercings that could ruin this particular image, but somehow managed to accentuate it. Any initial hints of personality or nature were impossible to gauge from her face for the fact that so many mixed emotions flitted across it so quickly. When their eyes met the colour drained from the mystery woman’s face and the only expression left was one of naked fear. My reputation always proceeds me.

Varric and Leliana had become acquainted in Kirkwall. It was a smart alliance which was becoming an easy going friendship. While his loyalty undoubtedly lies with the feisty elf, where it should, he did write her about the day they met Iola. Leliana was impressed with that she showed no fear in the face of a potential threat. Nora had done well in the Hinterlands and the Spymaster could find no fault with her behaviour with this new woman from the rift. However she was concerned with how the addition of this mysterious element complicated the bond that had been developing between the Commander and the Herald. Varric expressed some worry as well when he saw Nora’s reaction. What the Inquisition needed was stability. Conflict within the leadership could clip their wings. It had been too early for Leliana to intervene. A month had passed since Nora fell from the torn sky. Flirtation seemed harmless at that point. She didn’t want to be a hypocrite either. Love for her was found in danger and destiny. Now she found herself wishing that she had made the effort to steer the Herald in a different direction.

As always, Leliana was working towards ensuring success no matter what odds she might face. First she would evaluate whatever value this woman had and extract every bit of information worth having from her. She would have to be gentle in her methods considering Cullen’s attachment, but she would accomplish her goal. Second she had to determine the level of commitment there was in this newfound relationship and follow all the ripples it made. How could this be turned into a benefit for the Inquisition? While it had not come up yet, marriage was a significant way to gain allies and clout. Now their handsome Commander was suddenly off the table. Josie would have to be consulted on all this. No doubt she already had some ideas in mind too. Finally (and most importantly) she must find a way to assure Elanora some measure of happiness. She couldn’t allow her to be distracted from their cause by something as trivial as a love triangle. While she and Alistair had eventually learned how to share, she didn’t foresee all parties being amenable to such a relationship. Even if that were the case, the resulting scandal would alienate too many potential allies. At this point in time the Inquisition had little to no power and they needed every bit they could get.

Leliana turned away from the procession to head towards the chantry. When she was positive nobody was paying her any mind she let out a small sigh. Well the first time a woman fell out of a rift Leliana expected complications but the Maker provided her with solutions. There was no reason such a miraculous thing couldn’t occur twice.

*****

For this war table meeting Solas and Varric were invited. They had already met Iola and were equally curious for answers. So she found herself the centre of attention for seven different sets of eyes. Iola enjoyed being the centre of attention in the right situation, but this certainly wasn’t it. Without meaning to she glanced towards Cullen for some reassurance. She hated to seem subservient to him, but he was the only one offering protection and companionship. His face wore no expression but he gave her a small nod.

“So. I said I would help the Inquisition and I meant it.” She got down to business since introductions were already made. “I want to see you succeed and I know ways to help you achieve it. The problem is that I can’t see you believing my story, and I’m worried it’s just going to make me seem more suspicious than I must already appear to you.”

Several faces around the room hardened at that. Even Josephine was without a smile. The world they knew had been blown away without any explanation. This was after years of war between mages and templars. To say they were war weary and justifiably wary would be an understatement. This wasn’t a game to them. People didn’t just bounce back the next day and embrace a mysterious stranger with open arms. The Inquisition had not yet become a place of hope and victory. Iola hated that her non-dream was going for realism.

“I swear I don’t know how I ended up falling through a rift. I can’t remember anything past being in my kitchen cooking, watching Netflix on my laptop.” Confusion replaced anger for many. Get ready for looks of pity when they start to think you’re crazy. “I had these things you’ve never heard of because I’m from a world where Thedas is fiction, magic isn’t real, humans are the only sentient species that has ever existed, and we’ve got a lot of cool technology that lets us do things like watch funny videos of cats and cure syphilis.”

“That’s quite a tall tale you’ve got going there, kid.” Varric shared his contribution with a shrug.

“Moving past all the parts where that sounds completely implausible, I want you to explain what you mean by ‘Thedas is fiction’.” Elanora crossed her arms. Thankfully she was not looking at Iola like she had lost her mind. Which most of the others were. Iola was almost relieved that she just looked pissed. Almost.

So she patiently explained details covering the three games, excluding anything particularly spoilery about Inquisition. She basically just explained the game mechanics of the latter and left it at that. But since the events of the first two had already occurred, she tried to give as much significant detail as possible to try to show that she knew more than the average person. This included hinting at some personal things about some of their pasts. No more than a couple words were needed for the few memories she dredged up before they would each take a turn at stopping her. She found out that the Warden was a Dalish elf who wielded a bow and daggers, and Hawke was a mage with a brother in the Grey Wardens. Iola couldn’t help the slight frown at that, but let it linger for no more than a second.

“If you’re really nice and you don’t torture me and leave me in the dungeon to rot I’ll even tell you about the romance options.” She waggled her brows at that and earned a bark of laughter from Varric and a slight blush from Josephine. Cullen gave her a small smile and then stepped in.

“I don’t think any of us know what to make of your claims as of yet, but nobody will harm you.” His hand was resting on his pommel, but his grip had clearly tightened. Many voices crashed into one another at once.

“She knows too much to be free of suspicion. She’s dangerous, Cullen.” Elanora shouted, gripping the edge of the war table.

“She has been distinctly tight-lipped about our current circumstances and I want know what she can offer us about the present.” Solas said it in a mild tone of voice but Iola could easily see the threat behind his eyes.

“Iola would have to be a hell of a spy and very well connected to get this much information. And sorry kid but you don’t look old enough.” Varric wasn’t the first to tell her she looked too young to have accomplished much and he wouldn’t be the last. Between her small size and youthful appearance she could easily pass as a teenager, even though Iola was 26.

“How did you know about Marjolaine?” Leliana’s tone was as icy as her eyes.

“She could be very useful in our negotiations.” Josephine said more to herself than anyone else, making notes on her clipboard.

Cassandra just looked at her with a mix of concern and contempt. Iola hated to bring up her brother. But right now just about anyone’s past was fair game if it meant her survival. Cullen’s face betrayed no emotion, but she was sure he would be angry with her later for not giving him any sort of warning that she was about to drop a bomb like that.

“Okay, okay! One thing at a time.” Iola held up her hands in supplication. “Varric you are absolutely correct in the fact that I would have to be a bad ass spy, which I am definitely not. I’m not sure how to prove that to you or anyone besides showing you my total lack of self defence skills and not immediately running away after my awful foot-in-mouth moments. God is that even a saying here? Also I’m older than I look but that’s besides the point.”

“Leliana I just told you how I know. I don’t know what else to do you because that’s the truth. Nothing is going to change my answer because there is no other answer.”

“Here’s the thing about the Inquisition. If I tell you too much of what I know too soon, it could change the future for the worse. Some things you have to discover on your own and figure out for yourselves or you will be too weak to face what is coming. Plus if I make too many changes to the timeline, it could lead you to death instead of victory. I will help you by giving you information when it will make a difference, and withholding if that is what is necessary. As you probably already suspect I do know some of your secrets, and I promise you they will remain secrets. Like for sure I am going to keep my mouth shut on that so don’t worry.” They looked worried. Well no shit, Iola.

“I’m fully aware that nobody likes this and nobody likes me but I’m trying to do my best. Like I could have lied and made up some sort of plausible cover story considering everything I know. But I didn’t. So. Yeah. Yep.” She ran out of steam at the end of her speech and waited for someone to say something. A tumbleweed could have blown across the room.

When the silence went on too long she remembered that she had some ways to break it. “Oh. Right. I can tell you a bit about what’s happening soon. About companions you’ll meet. And Val Royeaux. You haven’t gone to Val Royeaux yet, right?”

She did as promised, plus mentioned some extra details here and there. Elanora would encounter the Blades of Hessarian on the Storm Coast but she could recruit them. Also there would be a giant fighting a dragon but she would only have to fight the giant. For now. Make sure to recruit that merchant in Val Royeaux (Iola couldn’t remember her name). It was more than enough to get them started. Hopefully things would be similar enough between the game and whatever was happening here for her descriptions to be accurate. She needed something to gain her some support. Or at least reduce the angry glares.

Varric and Solas left the war room after that. Iola had not yet been dismissed.

“For now I do not think Iola needs to be moved to a cell. Cullen, do you still wish to be responsible for her?” Leliana spoke to the others but kept her eyes focused on Iola.

“Yes. She will be staying with me.”

“Right. I will have an extra cot sent to your tent.” Josephine made another note on her clipboard, only ever looking up half the time during the last hour.

“Not necessary. But we will need something bigger and more comfortable for two.”

“Oh. Of course, Commander.”

Iola was never the type to blush often, but she felt her face burn at that. She focused down at the map, not wanting to see what the others thought of this arrangement.

“Have you not considered the implications of the Commander of the Inquisition sharing a tent with someone who hasn’t even been discounted as a prisoner?” Well Cassandra sure wasn’t going to sugar coat it.

“I think it’s a little too late for that now.” Cullen replied with that half smile and devious humour in his voice. Iola wanted to melt into the floor from embarrassment. She had no issue with public displays of affection or making a relationship known. But this wasn’t a relationship. The Commander decided he wanted her body and made that apparent to everyone in the vicinity regardless of her opinion of this whole thing. At best she was the new ‘paramour’ that stole him away and at worst she was his whore. Sex work was fine but that wasn’t exactly how she imagined her role in Dragon Age.

“Well if your companionship is going to be public then you need to have the clothes to match the role and a lesson on etiquette. Iola you will be accompanying me tomorrow. It’s a little late in the day to start working on this now.” Finally Josephine smiled at her. She was so gorgeous Iola could have melted into the floor for a completely different reason.

“When you are finished with Josephine you will come find me. We have much to discuss.” Leliana sounded amused and Iola worried that it was because she was envisioning torturing her. In all the games she adored Leliana, but to have to actually face her was a completely different animal.

“Do I need to be here for the public coronation of the Commander’s lover or can I go close some rifts?” Elanora huffed and rolled her eyes.

“Yes please let’s stop talking about me now and also always.”

If she blinked she would have missed Elanora’s reluctant smile.

*****

It came as no surprise that a scout would be assigned to accompany her to supper. And continue to shadow her afterwards. Cullen had a bunch of green soldiers to train and some trebuchets to recalibrate so it’s not like he could be watching her all the time. If she was being realistic, Cullen was likely under some suspicion now too. But all things considered it could have been worse. She was happy to find that her new ‘buddy’ was none other than Vintner. At least she already knows me and I don’t think she completely hates me. When the scout looked somewhat pleased to see her as well Iola was so relieved she could cry. It was tough being hated the most hated in all of Haven.

“Who did you piss off to get stuck with me?”

“All the right people.”

This set the tone for the evening and they bantered and joked easily at the bar in The Singing Maiden. While they munched away at shared bowls of fruit and meat (Iola was hesitant to eat anything else with her IBS) they shared stories about their pasts and for the first time since she woke up in Thedas Iola didn’t feel so alone. Andrea (for they were now on a first name basis) was the daughter or an Orlesian merchant, but preferred a life of adventure. After a short-lived stint as a bard ended by her mediocre singing voice and impatience, she joined a band of mercenaries and was with them until the sky burst open. It seemed obvious to her that her skills could be better used elsewhere, so she joined the Inquisition as soon as she caught wind of them.

“I really want to learn how to fight. Like what is the point of being in a video game if you can’t punch someone?!” Iola was on her second ale and had zero interest in trying to invent a backstory. If anyone asked she would not hesitate to tell them she was from another world. It’s my delusion and I’ll do what I want.

“I don’t think anyone is going to let you pick up a weapon until they’re sure you’re not here to fuck us over.” Andrea was on her fourth ale because her tolerance as a dwarf was much higher. Iola was overjoyed to see she swore like a sailor too. If she were willing to let herself believe, this could be the start of a wonderful friendship.

“Listen. I know you’re only getting me drunk and being friendly to try to get information out of me. It’s your job. I wouldn’t expect any less. And don’t try to deny it because I would just be offended if you actually thought I was that stupid. I just want to say that it’s really nice to pretend I finally have a friend here and I’m enjoying myself. Now go ahead and ask whatever you want.”

Andrea tucked some of her white hair behind her ear and gave Iola a genuine grin. “Smart and pretty, huh? So do you really believe all the nonsense you’ve been spouting off?”

“Oh yes 100%. This all here” she swept her hand around the pub “is the nonsense. This is my hallucination or dream or whatever because I spend too much damn time playing those silly games about Thedas. The world I’ve been describing is what’s real. Glorious science and technology. What I wouldn’t give for indoor plumbing!”

“You know Orzammar and some lucky nobles have that. Maybe not the same as what you’re talking about. But the whole of Thedas isn’t just one big shit pile.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Cheers rumble through the pub and even if she didn’t turn around Iola would have known why. The Herald stopped to chit chat with a couple of people and then weaved her way through the crowd to Varric’s table. She didn’t often have the opportunity to observe Elanora often. The woman had the thin, muscular body that was typical of elves. Her dark skin, many shades darker than Iola’s, had no apparent flaws. She was phenomenally beautiful, and definitely would have drawn Iola to her if she didn’t seem to have such an intense loathing for the other rift woman. Her straight hair was cut short into a bob. Apparently it used to be much longer, but after she fell out of the fade and discovered all the hair on her body (even her brows and lashes) had turned the same eerie green as the breach she cut it off. Even from this end of the bar she could see the light green fuzz dusting her bare arms once she pulled off her jacket. Her eyes also had turned to the same odd shade of green. Iola had been told to keep her mouth shut on the subject because Elanora was very touchy about discussing the ways her trip to the fade had changed her. The Herald was several inches taller than Iola, probably closer to 5’6 or 5’7. It was difficult to try to hide her intimidation whenever Elanora towered over her with both her height and her temper. Even her beauty could be a weapon, if she wanted it to be.

More raised voices, this time with less unabashed praise and more respect, as Leliana and Cullen made their way into the pub. It’s a good thing this place is bigger than it was in the game, because otherwise I have no clue how they would fit so much of Haven in here. The Spymaster headed straight for Varric’s table but Cullen looked around until he made eye contact Iola. A genuise pleased expression illuminated his face and he motioned for the pair to join them as he made his way over to Varric’s crowded spot as well.

“Looks like we’ve been summoned by your man.” Andrea joked as she grabbed the drinks while Iola got the food.

“He’s not my man.”

“Have you told him yet? Or the Herald? I’m sure she would be happy to resume their dance if-”

“Okay, okay fine he’s sort of my man I guess. What do you mean resume their dance?” She half-whispered the last part as they approached the table.

“I’ll tell you later.” Andrea whispered back. Then at her regular volume said “That’s what friends are for, right?”

The conversation was cut off by greetings and introductions being made. Andrea was quickly introduced to everyone she didn’t already know. Iola, of course, was not. Though she did get a nod and a warm smile from Varric. While Andrea turned away to grab an extra chair Iola was pulled into Cullen’s lap. Yes let’s just make this more uncomfortable for everyone. A hello was nuzzled into her neck and then he called out for Flissa to bring more ale. Conversation readily resumed as though there had been no break and it wasn’t long before Varric began telling one of his countless stories.

By the time she finished her dinner and started her third ale Iola finally relaxed into Cullen’s arms and accepted that she was persona non grata until she proved her worth and gained at least a small measure of the Herald’s approval. She was almost content just to listen to the stories flow, though she had to bite back her urge to comment and contribute. Andrea hadn’t forgotten about her though, and made a point of checking in with her with a casual comment or question every so often. If she could ignore the rigidity of Cullen’s armour, she could ignore the slights against her and just appreciate what she could get.

The last half of her third drink was finished by the Commander and she switched to water. She wasn’t a regular drinker so Iola had already stumbled across the line into drunk, despite the food she had eaten. Drunk Iola couldn’t stop her gaze from meandering over the Herald and her inner circle. They really did look more or less like they did in the game, though the scars and their ages were much more apparent. The only one of the inner circle there now who looked under 30 was Elanora herself. Or Nora, as she had learned the Herald preferred. She was contemplated all the golden rings in Nora’s pointed ears when she was finally caught starring.

“Did no one ever tell you it was rude to stare where you’re from?” Nora sneered.

“I’m sorry it’s just that everyone is really nice to look at and also apparently real? I’m not sure how to handle that.” Iola slurred out, unable to disguise the hint of wonder in her voice.

It was the only time she caught the whole table’s attention in a positive light that night and she missed most of it. They laughed at her drunken honesty, but it was all in friendly camaraderie. Her heavy lids had already slid shut as that thought floated into her mind and anything beyond her closed eyes was lost to her.

*****

Waves of frustration churned in her as a part of the unending tide of emotions, and there was little Nora could do about it. Her nickname was well earned. She had no idea that there was such a thing as a volcano (apparently they exist in certain parts of Tevinter and Par Vollen) until Varric bestowed the nickname upon her. In that moment she truly felt like a fiery pit and the ale was doing nothing to quench her thirst for a fight.

Nobody had to tell her when she was being particularly moody or short tempered. She accepted her nature long ago and just did her best to work what the Creators or the Maker or whatever had given her. She wasn’t always so on edge, and her passionate energy could be seen in more positive emotions as well. But ever since she tumbled out of a rift it was hard not to want to just scream all the time. The mountain of responsibility that avalanched down on her seemed to build by the day. She had only just returned to Haven this afternoon and was expected to turn right back around and head for Val Royeaux in the morning. Nora was positive that she needed some good outlets to vent her anger and allow her mind to be clear once again. The problem was that there was never any time. Sparring on the road with her companions or meditating with Solas helped a bit. Fighting demons offered a temporary thrill. Yet she could not subsist on little more than violence. How she longed to have an afternoon to herself to paint. It would be amazing just to have even one of her old friends to talk to, about anything other than death and destruction. At the very least a tent alone so she could masturbate would make a difference. It was no wonder that she had become quite the volcano in recent weeks indeed. She loved every opportunity to help those in need in the Hinterlands, but what about when she needed to help herself?

It was an accident really, turning this strange woman into the focal point of all her rage. There were just too any emotional pressure points that her mere presence seemed to push against. Suddenly Nora was no longer the only person who fell from the sky. Sure, Iola didn’t have a mark on her hand. But Nora felt a little pinprick of irrational jealousy over being a bit less unique. She knew it was unreasonable, and it seemed as though the woman was just as horrified as she was when she woke up after falling from a rift. It was within her right to be cautious and question this woman, but Nora had never really doubted Iola’s sincerity from the start. I should be an ally to this woman. We have a shared experience, of a sorts. Maybe she feels as alone as I do. But the more she saw of her the harder it became to bridge that gap.

There was absolutely no reason to be threatened by another woman’s appearance. Or the sweet, naïve air she seemed to have managed to keep, the kind that Nora was robbed of at a young age. But all these things combined with the fact that she somehow completely entranced Cullen was too much for her. It seemed as though Nora would have almost nothing to herself. Not her identity as the beautiful woman who fell from a rift. Not the affection of the Commander. No space or time to do things she loved or even just to breathe. The only thing she had to herself was the burden of being the Herald. Why couldn’t she have shown up with a mark too? Or better yet, she was the only one who had it. Then I could just disappear into the background and finally build a life just for myself.

Everyone had seen them flirt, knew of how often she stared at him, the relative ease of conversation that flowed between them. From a distance it seemed as though it was little more than a new infatuation. But none of them had been there that night. Nobody knew. She was pretty sure not even Leliana knew, because she never once hinted it the way she dangled her knowledge over everyone else.

It was the night before the Conclave. She arrived very late, felt safer arriving under the anonymity of darkness. It didn’t matter if they said mages were welcome, elves were welcome. Nora knew that people in power would never give it up unless they lost enough blood. Playing it smart and playing it safe kept her alive for that long. Once she reached the gates of the sleepy town she realized that her mind wasn’t ready to surrender to the exhaustion her body felt. So she took her excited nerves down to the frozen lake and paced along the shoreline.

The moon provided enough light that she could see the stranger who came to interrupt her pacing was handsome. He wore no armour and carried no weapon, but her time spent amongst mercenaries and then templars had shown her which signs to look for. It was in the way he carried himself, the way he walked towards her with a casual confidence. The kind of confidence that said ‘I don’t need a weapon to be deadly’. On this particular night that swagger was all it took.

That was how she found herself pinned against a tree with no pants on. It didn’t matter that she could see her breath hang in front of her with every exhale. With his tongue dancing up and down her slit she forgot all about the frost. After he made her come he continued to lap at her until she was close to a second orgasm. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted him to stop or keep going so she just yelled “Please!” From where they were situated, shrouded in the night and hidden from the moon’s rays under a tree, she couldn’t get a good look at his erection when he freed it from his pants. It sent a tingling thrill up from her toes through her whole body that she wouldn’t even know how big he was or what his cock was like until it was inside her. This handsome stranger did not disappoint. He used his large body to pound her into the tree. The angle that he rammed into her welcoming heat was perfect and she came quickly around him. After that her body was nearly limp but he kept thrusting until he was satisfied.

It was the most erotic experience in her life because it was such an unexpected shock to her system. They stepped out onto the shoreline again. Nora ran her thumb across his scar and asked for his name. The expression he gave her was tired and melancholic, even though it was under a smile. He shook his head and told her that it didn’t matter, and then turned and left for the path back to town. In that moment she decided she must find him and have him again. Once was not enough. She hoped to learn why he seemed so lost so she could kiss the sadness away. It was a curious thing, these feelings that were blooming inside her from one encounter with a man she had never seen before. Whether it was the man himself or she was just finally admitting how much she craved company, she couldn't care less. Tomorrow she would find him and she would try to find pleasure again, if not peace.

No one could have predicted how far that tomorrow would go from her plan. Nobody could have told her that tomorrow would steal away her hope for peace forever. When they met again it was obvious that there would be no anonymous encounters down by the lake. Yet she continued to seek him out, because seeing him again allowed a sliver of hope to lodge itself in her heart. A welcome pain every time the organ beat. While he never initiated this sort of light-hearted verbal sparring that they did, he never sent her away either. But she should have figured out by now, in her 23 years of life, that a happy ending was never guaranteed.

Iola fell asleep in his lap at the table. As soon as he noticed he excused himself from the group and carried her out of The Maiden as though she were the most precious and fragile thing in all of Thedas. Nora wondered if someone existed out there who would want nothing more then to do the same for her.

Chapter Text

The reprieve he had gotten from the torture of his dreams could not last forever. They both knew it. Iola hadn’t told Cullen that she knew about his nightmares, because how could she explain that she knew without telling him everything? While she told him she wanted to wait until she could talk to everyone in Haven, more than that she had been scared to tell Cullen. This version of him was very different from the sweet, shy man of the video game. For all she knew his hang ups about mages could be far worse. It was one thing for the Herald to be a mage, but to find out the woman he shared his bed with could ‘see the future’ was something else altogether. So she kept her knowledge to herself until she had no choice but to reveal it. The Commander had hinted at his difficulty sleeping but thus far there had been no problem. As they fell asleep the night before they arrived at Haven he once again called her his ‘gift from the Maker’. He must have thought this because with a warm body in his bed he was able to sleep. Their first night in Haven put an end to the relief her presence had offered him.

Though faded, the drunken haze remained when Iola awoke. She was in an actual bed in a large dark tent. Much bigger and more comfortable than what they had on the road. Yet for this change she felt no comfort. The large man next to her was jerking and convulsing in his sleep, trapped in a labyrinth of trauma. His sweat soaked the whole bed and her bare skin was sticky. His voice, normally felt as smooth and enticing as honey, murmured distressed nonsense that she couldn’t quite make out. Her first thought was danger. While she loathed to think that way, he was a soldier with PTSD and she had no clue how he would react to being woken in the midst of an episode. Iola scrambled back so fast that she actually fell out of the bed and onto her ass. She yelped but it didn’t seem to be enough to wake him.

Standing up a couple inches away from the bed, she tried calling his name a couple of times. No luck. She glanced at the closed flaps but knew that trying to ask anyone else what to do would be the wrong choice. Real or not, he had trusted her with his space and therefore his vulnerability. Nobody else in the Inquisition needed to know about their Commander's struggles. Not this early on. People would find out later and it wasn’t her place to reveal such a massive secret.

Crawling to her knees on the edge of the bed now she added the light pressure of her hand to his chest while saying his name a little louder now. “Please Cullen, everything is alright. You’re safe. Wake up.” His moaning got louder but still no response. I hope he’s got silencing wards or whatever because I doubt it would be a good morale boost for the troops to hear him now.

Getting more desperate and starting to panic, Iola shook him harder with the hand on his chest and tried to stroke his cheek with a gentle touch while pleading with him to wake. Her hand was too shaky for the caress to feel comforting. Listen anxiety, it’s not about you right now.

The air rushed out of her lungs so fast and so hard that she could make no sound. Iola was on her back, with a think arm crushed against her throat. Despite the darkness she could see the wild look in Cullen’s eyes. He’s not fully awake yet. She wasn’t sure how long it would take to change that. Especially since she could not access her own voice.

“Demon.” He hissed at her and pushed his weight down harder on her. His body settled between her legs and she could feel his erection. “Why won’t you leave me be?”

Iola wheezed and started clawing at his arm. Her tears closing up her sinuses only made it harder to breathe but she couldn’t stop them from bursting out.

“Haven’t I suffered enough?” He removed his arm from her throat to pin her hands down. In an instant she drew on breath she didn’t know she still had and shouted his name with a wail.

A light of recognition lit up his eyes and he threw himself off of her.

“I-Iola?”

She couldn’t respond at first. The oxygen rushing to her and the relief pounding in her blood overwhelmed her. The prickling feeling of adrenaline faded. Iola sat up on her elbows and looked over at Cullen’s hunched shape. He looked feral, both frightened and ready to tear someone apart with his bare hands. She brought her hand onto her heaving chest and felt the sweat collecting between the curve of her breasts.

“Cullen. I…I didn’t know how to wake you.”

His eyes followed the patterns her fingers traced. Iola couldn’t help but glance down at his throbbing member. His throbbing member? Get a hold of yourself girl. But she couldn’t. Her pussy had never felt so empty as she let her fingertips dance their way to her nipple.

“Iola open your legs.” She followed his order without a second thought.

“I need you to help me forget. I need…” Eyes wild he focused on nothing but her cunt.

Her voice came out so breathy she would have been ashamed if her body hadn’t been screaming for his. “Tell me. Tell me what you need.”

“I need you to be my whore. I need you to let me master your body.” He was crawling towards her. His own voice had become shaky with desire. “I’ll be a better man tomorrow. But I need to be…”

Iola didn’t really care how the sentence was supposed to end. She gave a vigorous nod and mumbled “Uh-huh.”

Cullen was on her in a second. With a rough jerk her pulled her down the bed by her hips and then slapped her across the face. It wasn’t hard, but he had never done anything like that with her before. His hand found the burn on her cheek and pushed the side of her head into the mattress.

“Shut up. You demon. You slut! You have no power here.”

He didn’t even use his fingers to check and see if she was ready, he just rammed himself into her. She was filled with shock at his actions, and shame when he slid right in because she was so wet. He praised her slick walls as they clenched around him, and then he threw one of her legs over his shoulder. With the height difference and his size she gave a real scream from the immense pressure, but still she didn’t want him to stop.

He slapped her again, harder this time and wetness flooded her anew. “Stay quiet. A demon like you doesn’t need to speak.”

She swallowed all her moans and instead focused on trying to shift her body to get even a little bit of clitoral stimulation. Never in her many years of having sex had she ever come without a finger, a tongue, or a toy pleasuring her clit. But now she found herself so close and desperate to fall off that cliff. The wandering of her hand hadn’t escaped his notice.

“A whore like you doesn’t get to come.”

Cullen pulled out and maneuvered them so her lower half was on the edge of the bed and he was behind her. The loud crack of his hand across her ass reverberated across the tent and then he buried himself inside her again. A finger was shoved inside her mouth and she sucked on it without being asked to. He trailed his wet index finger down her back and parted her ass cheeks. She knew what he wanted to do. The same thing all men who were attracted to her wanted to do when they saw how thick and round her ass was. In contrast to his hard and fast thrusts, he worked his finger in and out of her more gently. They hadn’t yet discussed anal play but she loved the feeling of fingers stretching her out.

She couldn’t stop the moans from coming now and she was on the verge of tumbling over the edge. Iola yelled his name. It was supposed to be about him working out his issues but she couldn’t stop her climax when it shook through her. The thrusts into her lost rhythm but increased in speed and soon she felt him empty out inside of her.

All her strength was gone so he was the one who moved them both to a position to sleep. As had become their norm, he enveloped her in his warmth. But she couldn’t enjoy his heat. Not when she had so many questions swirling around in her head. Is he okay? He just had some sort of episode and you didn’t even check to see if he was alright. Did you do the right thing? Should you have stopped him and insisted he work through his feelings? Did you just use him? Is this a healthy basis for a relationship? Is a relationship even the thing that is going on here?

Instead she nibbled on her full lower lip and asked “You do have runes or something for silence right?”

Cullen laughed at her nervous question and nuzzled her neck with his nose. “Yes. As much as I want the whole of Haven to hear me claim you as mine forever, I’d rather keep your screams for myself.”

Forever huh? There is too much we aren’t talking about.

*****

In the morning when they woke once again they experienced very different things. Cullen felt whole. Imperfect, but whole. This woman really was his better half. She provided everything he needed, and gave herself to him wet and willing. During his evening prayers he planned to thank the Maker and Andraste with every fibre of his being. When she looked at him he felt as if no one knew him better, and she accepted him. It could be nothing less than divine providence that Cullen had been given his soulmate. These thoughts collected in heat down in the head of his cock. He squeezed Iola tight and started sucking on her earlobe while he lined himself up with her still slick lips.

The full feeling of Cullen’s long erection splitting her apart had become Iola’s regular alarm clock. She moaned the remainder of her drowsiness away and the crown of his cock hit her cervix over and over. It was a strange experience but the memory of her shame last night flooded her passage with arousal and she felt the same guilt and wrongness all over again. He whispered filthy declarations of passion in her ear and they both reached their ends without much effort. Cullen guided her by the chin to accept his kiss over her shoulder before he rolled out of bed to start his day.

Iola was content to remain motionless in bed until he left the tent. Once she had her privacy she used the chamber pot (which grossed her out to no end) and cleaned up the thick drops spilling out between her thighs. It was too early for her to be awake so she crawled back into bed, laying on his side to absorb his lingering warmth. Sleep came back to her eventually, but the whole time she waited she couldn’t help but judge herself. What happened last night turned you on. You took advantage of his trauma and vulnerability. You should have talked to him instead of ignoring his personhood for his dick. This place is turning you into someone else, Iola. Is this who you want to be?

Chapter Text

The time spent with Josephine was just as wonderful as she had hoped it would be. They snacked and drank wine (Iola was positive everyone was trying to get her drunk so she would spill secrets. At best she only spilled wine on herself.) and went over Thedosian etiquette. She told Josie about her stomach issues and Josie made a note to ensure Haven had Iola-friendly food always available. She also recommended going to Adan since apparently there was a potion she could take every day that would help with that. Iola planned to ask if there was something for anxiety as well, because she was definitely missing her medication. It was pretty easy to pick up on Thedosian manners because it wasn’t all that different from when she had to go to conferences and network with professors and writers. She explained to the Ambassador that in her world she was halfway through getting a Masters degree in Literature (English technically, but it was a word that didn’t exist here) and so she had a basis for playing a less dangerous version of The Game. Josephine made a note on her ever-growing vellum on Iola that she would be useful when it came to writing significant letters and also research. Iola agreed that she would be happy to put her skills to use. After all, her degree was not for nothing and boredom was her worst enemy.

Meeting with a tailor was even better because it meant she would finally have a real change of clothes. She had been given some random spare clothes that had been kicking around the village to use in the meantime, but they were all too big for her. The Ambassador was completely professional when faced with Iola’s nudity, but did take a moment to look her up and down. Yes! I’ve always wanted to be checked out by the most beautiful Antivan. With the tact Iola expected of her she made no comment on all the marks on her body from Cullen’s rough hands and hungry mouth. In this moment Iola wished she was a mage so she could just magic away the evidence. Maybe my husband never made me cum so much, but at least he was more discreet. After an hour of measurements and negotiations on what would be necessary and the cost of it all, Iola’s wardrobe had been decided. She would receive 3 pairs of leggings, 3 tunics, a casual dress and something more fancy, 3 breast bands, 7 pairs of smalls, 7 pairs of socks, a warm coat, a pair of thick gloves, and two pairs of fur lined leather boots. Iola requested that most of the clothing be black and grey. That way she wouldn't have to worry about things not matching or being wrong for the occasion. Also those were the colours she wore for the most part anyways. The nicer dress would be a rich blue silk however. Josie insisted on at least one small pop of colour. Wow like really sparing no expense on the Commander’s mistress, huh. Iola offered to work off the cost of everything but the Ambassador told her that Cullen wouldn’t want her to worry about such a thing. She would have to make it up to him then, if it was coming out of his wage. Well it’s not like that’s going to be a difficult task.

They agreed to meet again to go over the current events of Thedas, important families, and relevant history. While it went unsaid, it seemed like the Ambassador was eager to have a well-educated woman who could serve as an occasional assistant. Whether or not Josephine believed her back story was hard to say. She asked few questions but hung on every word when Iola answered. Since Iola was aware of certain aspects of Thedas history and culture from the game, she suspected that Josephine thought she knew too much to claim such ignorance of the world. But when the Ambassador offered to help her craft a more plausible backstory Iola vehemently refused. For the most part she was an honest person and had no interest in changing that. As she told her exactly that, Josephine stared at the gold band on her ring finger for a few moments before making more notes. “Nothing for you to worry about” was all she would say when Iola inquired about it. She had told no one yet about her husband, and to her surprise not a single person had asked. The Ambassador directed her attention back to their planning and Iola was grateful for the distraction from her past.

Whether or not Josephine was a friend to her remained to be seen. Perhaps once the Herald returned from Val Royeaux. At least the Ambassador was kind to her and there was no difficulty in their conversations. Iola knew how to be patient. It wasn’t a virtue she lacked.

As much as she looked forward to that first meeting of the day she dreaded the second. It was well into the afternoon when she made her way to Leliana’s tent. She received a cold smile and a small nod as a greeting.

“Come now, Mistress.” It had become her unofficial title because no one else knew what to call her. Whether or not she agreed, it was more or less her purpose there for the time being so the name stuck. “Let us take a walk and I’ll give you a tour of the chantry.”

It wasn’t a request and Iola knew she couldn’t say no. Cullen was not there to save her. He was too busy with military concerns. It was unfortunate because Iola was positive it was a situation from which she would want saving.

*****

The dungeon was indeed cold. The wintery winds of Haven could be felt down in the bowels of the chantry. Iola was hoping if she got stuck there long enough the cold would have a numbing effect. As of yet she still felt the full strength of both punches to the stomach, the slap to her face, and that awful moment when the world fell as they kicked her legs out from under her. The stone ground, whatever it was made of, was especially cold as her knees slammed into it.

The two sizable scouts holding her (she thought scouts were supposed to be small so they could be stealthy?) were silent. Only Leliana spoke, waiting for Iola to answer.

“I’ve already told you that my story is the truth!” Anger swelled inside her but she knew it wouldn’t help. She tried to sound more meek, as passive and helpless as she felt.

The Spymaster let out a noise between a scoff and a humourless laugh. “Let us say I believe that you believe your story. That doesn’t mean you don’t have information to give. You mentioned the things to come. I want to know what you speak of.”

“I can’t!” Iola panicked. “I really can’t! You could fuck yourselves over so badly if you have the information too soon. Please! I don’t want to see anyone hurt! I don’t want to see Thedas destroyed!”

Where they were hidden, Iola had no clue. In one hand Leliana held up a long, thin dagger. The point glinted in the low light of the torches. The other hand contained a bottle of bright red liquid that sloshed back and forth as she gave it a slight shake in her loose grip. A healing potion.

“Do you know what this means, Mistress?”

Oh no. I do and I really don’t want to. “No.”

“Oh come now. I think you do. Nobody will know of our little talk, so there’s no need to be afraid to tell the truth. Spare yourself the pain.”

“I can’t.”

“As you wish.”

*****

Iola guzzled the potion in one gulp and then accepted the wet cloth from one of the scouts. The many shallow cuts sealed themselves with little more than a tingle and a strange sensation of zipping up. She cleaned the blood from the small, strategic wounds. All far away enough from her smalls that they would get no blood on them. She yelped in shock when one of the scouts began to clean the blood from her back.

“Time just goes by so fast! Doesn’t it? It’s nearly time for dinner.” Leliana clapped her hands together looking pleased. As though nothing horrible had happened moments earlier at her hand.

Total resistance was impossible. The combination of pain and fear was too much. Sure, it could have been worse. No bones were broken, no muscles torn. She still had to be presentable when she was returned to the Commander, after all. But she had had no idea when that would be. The unpredictability stoked the flames of her anxiety like nothing else. The words that leaked from her with the flow of her blood weren’t anything particularly important. Where some of the more challenging rifts are. Important agents to pick up and ways to win them over. That she would become a candidate for the next Divine. Iola refused to tell her were the other two were and received some nasty punches for that. But managed to hold so much back. All the significant information that could fuck things up. Iola tried to be proud of herself but it was hard to feel anything over her misery. I guess she and I aren’t going to be paling around any time soon.

“If you are going to be servicing the Commander then you might as well take care of all of his needs.”

Iola resisted the urge to roll her eyes. I’d really love if everyone would stop slut-shaming me. I thought sex wasn’t such a huge deal in Thedas? “What do you mean?”

“Starting tomorrow afternoon when you are done with Lady Montilyet you will spend the rest of the afternoon learning how to heal. You will mix potions and learn treatments with Adan. You will help the sisters and the surgeons tend to the wounded. And you will keep the Commander’s health concerns to yourself.” She tapped the tip of her finger against Iola’s closed lips. “You will keep all this to yourself. I would much rather us be friends than enemies. Wouldn’t you? It will make things go so much more smoothly the next time we need to have a chat.”

Iola put her clothes on with her mouth shut. What point would there be in answering? The Spymaster and her scouts took their leave as she laced up her boots. Their steps echoed all the way up the stairs, bouncing around in her ears. She knew she had to tell Cullen. Even if it meant Leliana would only make life much more painful for her later. It was better that than the possibility of another ‘chat’ happening again. She couldn’t risk the chance of her spouting off real information under pressure. While this could cause a huge fracture in leadership, keeping future events a secret was honestly more important. The fate of Thedas on literally depends on it. Plus she was sure she could force them to work together. They had to. There was no other choice.

“What a fucking shit show.” She wasn’t so sure anymore whether or not this was all a dream.

*****

When she didn’t see Cullen out in the training yard she knew that he was probably at his desk doing work. The tent flaps were open which confirmed her guess. Whatever he’s doing is probably important. I can talk to him later. She sniffled at the thought and knew she had to get out of Haven. Iola held the rest of those sniffles in until she could sob properly, alone at the dock on the frozen lake. Far enough for privacy, but not so distant that she would be dragged back under suspicion by Leliana’s scouts.

Dinner time passed, the sun set, the noise in the village behind her quieted, and she remained on the icy wood. Her ass was freezing and she would have given up all the electronics she had ever owned for a pair of gloves, but she was grateful for the frosty air clearing her mind and the space to process. Hours had passed and so had her desire to talk to Cullen. Or anyone. At first she wanted to scream the injustice of it all to the whole camp. Then she would have settled for ranting to a few people. Now she valued the silence. Since she woke up here she had gotten hardly a single quiet moment to herself. She missed being alone in her apartment watching her shows with her cat. Or sitting in a café with her headphones in working on her thesis. That wasn’t truly alone, but she had her own space and nobody bothered her. Would she ever have something like that again? Everyone had their eye on her for one reason or another. And while she couldn’t deny how much she was enjoying the intimacy she got with Cullen, he was still a little on the overbearing side. I swear the next time someone calls me Mistress I’m probably going to scream. Especially now that it’s got new, torturey memories attached to it.

“Iola? Iola!” She was so caught up in the haze of depression that she didn’t hear the distinct sound of Cullen’s footsteps. Yes, she had learned to recognize them already. A thought that would have gone onto the ever growing list on Cullen-related things that made her feel awkward if she wasn’t so caught up in her mood. “Maker! What are you doing out here? I have been looking for you!”

Of course the scouts hadn’t told him where I was. Leliana was probably hoping I would freeze to death in my self-pity, or try to run so she would have the justification she needed to imprison and torture me some more. She refused to look away from the reflection of the moon on the thick ice.

“Go away. I just need…Go away.” The exhaustion she felt at the prospect of having to explain what she had gone over in her head what seemed like a thousand times now was too much to bear. She didn’t want to look at him. He made her feel things and he would make her feel more and Iola had no clue what would come out of her mouth then.

Big hands were on the sides of her arms, pulling her up and spinning her around. The way his furrowed brows deepened the shadows on his face made him look angrier somehow. The moon cast so little light on him as he hunched down to be closer to her level. “Iola tell me what is wrong. You have to tell me what is going on.”

“I can’t. I just can’t right now. Please. I need to be alone. I can’t.” The tears came pouring out of her now. She wasn’t an ugly crier but the loud wailing and free-flowing snot made up for that. Even if she had the energy to resist Cullen’s arms her strength would never be greater than his, so he swept her up and carried her back to his tent.

They sat on the bed while she wrung out every salty tear she had in her. He rocked her in his arms and didn’t ask any more questions. When the flow of misery finally stopped he laid her down on the bed. For a quick moment he peaked out of the flaps and barked at a nearby soldier to bring them a hot bath. Then he was back at he side, stroking the tears away with a gloved thumb.

“Who?” was all he asked. Somehow he seemed to know she wasn’t upset about being taken away from her home or something else unrelated to a specific person. It must have been the force of her tears. She didn’t think it was that easy to read her. The only person who had ever been able to do so was her husband. That thought brought out a few hot tears she didn’t know she had left.

“Leliana.” Perhaps if she just gave him a name, just said one word, he could make everything go away.

“Do not leave.” He stormed off without saying anything further, leaving Iola to wonder whether or not it had been too soon to tell him. She was worked up, and seeing her pain had gotten him worked up too. Maybe that was a mistake. As soon as she stood to go find him the tent flaps opened and to soldiers brought in buckets of steaming hot water. She didn’t have to point to the corner that Cullen kept the bath in, they already knew. They dragged it out in front of the desk and poured all the water in. The two women nodded at her and left without a word. She was so grateful for their silence and discretion. Neither had let their eyes linger on her wet, red face. Looks like I’m following orders after all.

The next day she would hear all about the huge fight between the Commander and the Spymaster. Apparently he knocked over a table full of her documents and his threats could be heard across the village. The Ambassador had to step in and force peace between them and split them apart. Their fight was put on hold, until it could be done in the war room with the Seeker and the Herald to help mediate. Leliana cleaned up the mess and retired to her room while Josephine pulled Cullen in her office to talk about something. Presumably yell at him for unprofessionalism and his temper. Iola would hear this all from Andrea the next day. In the morning the scout would be transferred from Leliana’s command to Cullen’s, and act as Iola’s personal guard. Andrea told her that Cullen requested her personally, said he could tell that Iola liked her. She also told her that she would have volunteered for the position anyways, once she heard it was needed. But Iola wouldn’t find out all the details until the next evening when her friend would find her for dinner. For this night she would hear nothing more than an apology from Cullen.

When he returned from the tent her body was red from the water and his face was red from anger. He kneeled at the edge of the tub and apologized, begging for her forgiveness. She gave it as soon as he asked, telling him it was unnecessary.

“Really, there was nothing you could have done.” He frowned at that but didn’t bother to dispute her claim.

Instead they spent the rest of the night in silence. The intense emotions floating around in the atmosphere made it too much to be peaceful, but it the quiet was without a doubt a relief. Cullen washed her body and her hair with all the products he had procured for her when they arrived in Haven. Everything had sweet, light floral scents that she couldn’t place. She loved all of it, happy not to have to use the scratchy, masculine scented soap that he preferred. When she was done he dried her off and nudged her into bed, wrapped up in the large towel. He stepped in her old bathwater and quickly rinsed himself off before grabbing another towel and joining her.

That night was the first they did not have sex. Iola wouldn’t have said no but she wasn’t in the right emotional space to initiate it. Cullen rubbed her feet while she braided her hair. She wished she could just let her curls dry natural. Her hair would definitely be a disaster when she woke and unbraided it. Thick hair took hours to dry and she knew she was running out energy fast. Cullen hung their towels up somewhere and then took up his usual position of spooning her from behind. While it puzzled her and made her anxious other times, Iola that she would sleep without any sort of stress from the fade and wake with no memories of any dreams.

****

She awoke late into the morning alone. A note lay on the pillow next to her. The message was unsigned but there could be no doubting who wrote it. Scout Vintner is now your personal guard, sworn to protect only you. She’s waiting outside of the tent for you to call on her. Josephine will bring you breakfast. She has much to discuss. Find me if you need anything at all. Nothing flowery or romantic, but it made her feel warm all the same.

Iola took her time to dress and throw her unsalvageable hair into a messy bun. The idea of facing anyone right now after her experiences was daunting, but she had to remember that Josephine was not the one who hurt her. Once her stomach began to growl she knew she could procrastinate no longer. She offered Andrea a weak smile but no small talk when she requested her breakfast and the Ambassador’s presence. It took only moments for both to arrive so everyone involved must have been prepared.

“My Lady, I don’t know where to begin or what to say.” There was authentic remorse in Josephine’s voice. She was wringing her hands in front of her. There were noticeable bags under her eyes and the tiredness was written all over her face. No clipboard today. “I am truly sorry for whatever occurred yesterday. It has been the Spymaster’s job for years to keep people and institutions safe. With all the recent stress she must have succumbed to pressure and taken it a little too far. I assure you things are not normally like this”

Iola ignored the apology and the explanation. It couldn’t penetrate the bitterness and worry she felt. Instead she focused on something else. “My Lady, huh? No longer ‘Mistress’? Have I somehow been given an upgrade?”

The Ambassador gave her a strange smile and grabbed Iola’s hands. “This is part of what I am here to address. An upgrade indeed, from your current status. If you agree to it.”

She motioned for Iola to sit and brought over the breakfast tray for her. They sat at Cullen’s desk. She felt weird about it, but moved some papers over anyways to make room for her meal.

“You see, with your…unusual background and your lack of an official job or title, you are more or less adrift here. With no connections and your very specific knowledge, this puts you in a very precarious position. Of course the Inquisition offers you protection-” Iola scoffed at that, doubting very much that the Inquisition was better for her than anywhere else anymore. “but it would help if you settled into a role here. I want you to think about what it is you would like to do, skills you would like to learn, and I will make that happen. But that takes time, and I believe there is something you could do now that would be beneficial to you and the Inquisition as a whole.”

Iola put down her bowl of meat stew and looked closely at Josephine. She’s not just tired and apologetic, she’s nervous about something. My presence here has caused as much chaos as a rift. She was about to ask the Ambassador what she meant when it hit her.

“I think I know what you are going to say, and I’d really rather you didn’t.”

“My Lady-” Oh boy.

“Okay but how about you don’t?”

But she did.

Chapter Text

“I could be an advisor!” She walked back and forth across the tent at a frantic pace.

“I’m sorry my Lady-”

“Iola, please. Just drop this.”

“My apologies. Iola. Even if your information does prove useful, it will be time before you earn the trust on the Inquisition. Regardless, you have no experience when it comes to Thedosian politics or war. From an official standpoint, you have little to offer besides the limited knowledge you can give us access to. It just cannot be.”

Iola just couldn’t look at her. She didn’t want to see the look on her face as she eliminated all of Iola’s suggestions. “Why do I have to have any title or position or whatever? Why can’t I just exist? Like I’m happy to find a way to be helpful or useful, of course. But why do I need to be anything more than a person?”

“The war between mages and templars is ongoing. If one side were to find out that there was a woman out there who could give them the answers they need to achieve victory, it would make you a target. Not to mention the chance of nobles or royalty getting wind of your reputation and making an attempt to use you to their advantage. You have not exactly been quiet about your unusual origins. Few things travel as quickly as gossip.”

“I see.” Iola plopped back down on the bed without an ounce of grace.

“I guarantee you we will all do everything in our power to keep you safe. But the Inquisition is not yet in a position of substantial influence. The more we can do to tie your fate to ours, the easier it will be to protect you.”

Both of Josephine’s hands found Iola’s and squeezed to offer some comfort.

“It’s not so unusual. This is a common way nobles secure alliances and power for themselves. Besides, I thought this was an arrangement you were both happy with?”

Iola sighed. Where to even begin? “It’s not that I’m unhappy with Cullen. It’s just that I don’t even know the man. I woke up in his tent a couple of days ago and have continued to do so ever since.”

“I…see. So you do not wish to be with the Commander.” Josephine’s features had been schooled to appear neutral. There was no indication one way or the other from her voice as to how she felt about this situation.

“No that’s not it!” Iola looked away, struck by an unexpected shyness. “You know how I said there were romance options in the game? Every time I played I romanced Cullen. Even when I tried to go for other characters it just felt wrong. Especially after my husband died, I grew very attached to him. But as a fictional character. I never expected to be so caught up in some dream or hallucination that I would think he was real.”

“Ah. I had been wanting to ask you about the ring but unsure of how to bring it up. I am so sorry for your loss, Iola.”

“Thank you. I-I’ve had some time since then” But not enough time to consider something like this. Iola poked around her food but made no move to eat anymore. “If I have to be here in Thedas, there’s no one I’d rather be stuck with I guess. But this is a big ask.”

“Think of what I said before. Because the Commander has chosen to court you so openly, your actions have an impact on the public appearance of-”

“I never imagined my vagina could wreak so much havoc.” Iola rolled her eyes and Josephine allowed herself a small chuckle at that. If she had known that waking up would mean getting a second-hand marriage proposal, she would have rolled over and gone back to sleep.

“The Commander having a wife is much better for our reputation than one of the Inquisition leaders having been seduced by a strange temptress who fell from the fade. More than a few people believe you are a desire demon in a stolen body.”

“Yes, alright, I get it. Everyone thinks very little of the Commander’s new toy.” Iola could not keep the anger, the bitterness out of her voice.

“I promise you people are not usually so quick to judge one another’s romantic pursuits. It’s just that the circumstances are indeed very unusual. It goes beyond your sudden appearance and revelation of a whole new side of our reserved Commander. You know, nobody had ever seen him in the tavern for more than a couple of moments until he knew you were there. He hardly ever spoke to anyone if it wasn’t business.” Josephine sighed out her clear reluctance to continue talking and pushed forward. “You see many believed it was the Herald that Cullen was fated for. She is not one for subtly either, you see. In the right circumstances, I think you both could be excellent friends.”

“Well not in this one.” Iola muttered under her breath.

“In just over a month’s time the Herald has won the hearts of many. You appeared and ruined the imagined love story people conjured up in to distract themselves from reality. Not to mention all those out there who hoped they were the ones who would win his love.”

“Just wait until Halamshiral.”

“Halamshiral?”

“Nothing you need to concern yourself with any time soon.”

“I see.”

“So Volcano and Cullen, huh?” Just like the game. Which probably means that I am the exact wrong person for something so long term with him. If everything plays out like it did in the game, he’ll leave me for her. “Who am I to get in the way of fate?”

“You have nothing to worry about Iola. We had an advisory meeting when we noticed her infatuation. Cullen assured us it was one-sided and that there was nothing to worry about. Since that meeting neither Leliana nor I have seen any indication that he was not speaking the truth.”

Iola cringed at the mention of Leliana’s name. Well she’s a trigger I won’t be able to avoid. “If this marriage is going to upset the Herald than don’t you think it’s a bad idea?”

“Perhaps it will help her realize the futility of her efforts and she will focus her attention elsewhere. Unrequited love can be very distracting.”

Always got an answer for everything. There is a reason she was hired. “Well Cullen isn’t a lord or a noble or whatever. So it’s not like he has any power over them, right? It doesn’t even make sense that you would call me ‘My Lady’.”

“As an independent party that Inquisition must interact with the existing social institutions and hierarchies, but within we are free of them. People would refer to you as a lady as a sign of respect because you would be the Commander’s wife. I offered to petition the King for land and title after we seal the breach, but Cullen refused. He said he was born among the common folk and will die as one. His words.”

“If we’re talking about ‘his words’ why isn’t he here to say them? Like how can he plan a marriage without consulting me and then not even say a word about it to my face?” The nerve of this asshole.

“Cullen said he had some additional things to take care of today before beginning on his regular duties. You know his days are quite full. He thought it would be best that I was the one to tell you so we could move forward with the details and plan what comes next for you after the wedding. We must do a fitting of course-”

“Wow so he both believed I would automatically agree and that not even a hint of romance would be required in something like a marriage proposal? Like he couldn’t even be the one to be here and ask?” This is a goddamn mess.

“I…have no excuse for that. He seemed pleased with this plan and assumed you would be to. As I said before marriage arrangements such as this are not an uncommon occurrence here.”

“Well if he thinks it’s a good idea he’s going to have to explain it to me himself.” Iola got up and stormed out of the tent before Josephine could stop her.

*****

The wind felt extra cold today. Leliana supposed that was fitting. It didn’t matter that she was in a tent, or righteous in her need to prevent anything like the explosion at the Conclave from ever happening again. Guilt and cold weather will always find you. There was no one here she could speak with to soothe the distress in her soul. Under normal circumstances she would go to Josie, but she was adamant about being a neutral party between the two conflicting leaders. She looked down at the letter she wrote to the Hero of Ferelden one last time, before folding it up and readying it for delivery.

My love,

I wish you would give me at least a crumb of information as to where you are and what you are doing. While I am grateful you were far away the day of the blast, I find myself in need of your counsel as much now as days past.

You did what you had to during the blight. Things we know and shall never speak of in a letter. Since then I have done what I must and then some, yet still it was not enough. I’ve lost my compass, telling me which way is the path of light and what will take me too deep into the shadows. With the unimaginable becoming real I feel as though we will all have our ideals tested. My love, I believe I was just tested and I can’t tell whether or not I passed or failed. It is difficult to see past my grief at times. I wish you were here to guide me once more.

Forever yours,
The Nug Queen

Leliana passed the letter on to her favourite raven. The bird was enchanted and could only deliver letters between the two of them. The Spymaster gave Alina an extra pet on her glossy feathers and then sent her way. She could justify almost anything if it would lead to the success and safety of the Inquisition. It was a necessary evil which she understood well. The problem was just that she hadn’t realized before that morning that she could be the one to complicate her own mission.

*****

When she stomped her way over to the training grounds Iola had a rant all planned out. She lost track of her speech once she saw many of the soldiers had forgone their shirts despite the icy weather. This included Cullen, who was engaged in hand to hand combat with another shirtless man. It wasn’t that she had forgotten her purpose, it was just that she was very distracted by watching the two sweaty bodies wrestle in what quickly began to look like a very homoerotic display. Her mouth ran dry and her hands clutched the fabric of her simple borrowed dress. Then Cullen got a good punch in and the man yielded, crowd erupting in cheers. Josephine had caught up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. This is when she remembered herself and pushed her way through the loosely formed group.

“Cullen Stanton Rutherford!” She yelled over the sound of cheering. His head snapped around the second his name left her mouth. There was a predatory look in his eyes that made her body ache. Once again she had let the urge to get angry slip through her fingers.

*****

He yelled some vague instructions to the soldiers to keep training, knowing the newly appointed captains would take care of it in his absence. Cullen had business to take care of. Wife business, from the mixed look of anger and hunger on her face. Her concerns could wait. Fighting brought out a bloodlust in him that transitioned with ease to the sexual kind as he looked at her warring expressions. There was no need to wait to see which need she felt with more strength. His own need was making his pants look obscene and he was wearing none of his usual layers of armour to disguise it. The people who stood near her stepped back in the blink of an eye as he strode towards her and then scooped her up over his shoulder. His ears refused to register Josephine’s objections or the cheers from his soldiers. The only things he was interested in hearing was how heavy Iola’s breathing was and how easy it was to change that into moans as he ran an idle finger up and down her leg.

Upon reaching their tent he tossed her onto their bed. She scrambled to move the breakfast tray to the floor while Cullen removed his few remaining layers of clothing. Moments like that made him especially pleased with himself for never wearing smalls. They only got in the way. Perhaps I can persuade her to stop wearing them as well. When his attention focused on her again he noticed she had made no move to remove her own clothing. Josephine told him that he should talk to her himself, or else run the risk of upsetting her and ruining their plan. He could command soldiers without breaking a sweat but finding the words to express the depth of his passion for Iola seemed an impossible task. Despite being an educated man and an avid reader, he could not master expressing his thoughts and feelings when it had nothing to do with battle and strategy, leadership, or going through the motions to find a casual lover. So Josephine could put into words all the reasoning behind it and Cullen knew could show his woman she was loved in the only ways he knew how. If she has any doubts about this marriage I will fuck them out of her.

“Why are you still dressed?” Cullen crawled onto the bed and started unlacing her boots.

“We, uh, need to talk. About things. Yes.” Iola could never look away from his nude body, his erection in particular. She always had a dazed sort of look when she saw it that made him swell even further with pride. He knew he would get his way the moment he took off his clothes. Like how he knew her, even though so little time had passed since she woke up in her tent.

“I know there are other things you would rather I do with my mouth. I’m certain I can find another purpose for yours.”

She didn’t resist him as he pulled off her boots, though she still didn’t help him either. “No. Really. We should really talk. Like there’s so much we haven’t spoken about.”

“We have time for words later. We have forever.” He bit her thigh as he worked his way up her body to remove her dress.

“See that is exactly what I am talking about. We haven’t had any conversations about us and yet you’ve already decided that we’re going to get married.” She got up on her knees to help him with all the laces and pull her arms out of the sleeves. Cullen was glad she opted to forgo any sort of bodice or corset.

“You decided on it yourself the moment you fell out of a rift and into my arms. You are mine.”

“I don’t even remember that!” She pulled off her breast brand while he yanked down her smalls.

“It doesn’t matter. I know you belong to me, and you know it too.” She moaned at that.

Cullen flipped her with ease so she was on top of him and her face was aligned with his cock. Without any further instructions her hips sunk down to his face. He would have called her his ‘good girl’ if his tongue wasn’t already exploring her folds. When she moaned again he angled his hips so the head of his cock was pushing against her open lips. She really had to stretch out her small frame to fit across his much longer torso, but her mouth enveloped him all the same. I still need to teach her exactly how I want her to swallow my cock. His tongue found her pearl and he focused there. As much as he wanted this to last all day, his schedule had no room for any long breaks. It didn’t take long before her juices covered his face, her moans reverberating around his erection pulling him fast towards his own end.

As exquisite as he found her mouth, he needed to plant his seed in her womb. He knew she drank the tea, but there was nothing that he had heard of in Thedas that could prevent pregnancy from occurring every time. Otherwise he would not have encountered so many during his time in the circles. In retrospect, he was blessed with good luck in this one regard. He had not always been as careful as he should be, but had fathered no accidental children. No, when he became a father it would be no accident.

His hands guided her hips as she sank down on his cock, both of them shouting as the angle was so deep. In that moment he realized that he had forgotten to activate the silencing ruins for his tent, but it was too late now. She was facing away from him, making slow, cautious movements with her hips as she took him in. As much as he wanted to see her face, watching her writhe like this and push her ass against him was just as satisfying.

“You will be my wife.”

“Mmm yes Cullen!”

“I will be your husband and you will have no other man.”

“Oh god.”

“Say it.” He pumped his hips harder, willing her with his whole body to tell him what he had to hear.

“Yes Cullen! Like that.”

“Say it!”

“Yes! I will be your wife!”

That was all he needed. He came hard inside of her, not letting go of her hips until she was full of every last drop of all he had to give her. Afterward he pulled her back to lay flat on the bed and he rolled on top of her.

“Wife.” Was all he said, all he could say, as he nuzzled her throat. Iola was covered in his scent, as she should be.

“Why do you want this? If you’re doing it just to protect me, I’d rather you didn’t.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to protect you? It is my duty as your man, a responsibility I gladly take on. Have I not made it clear that there is no one else for me?”

“No actually, you haven’t. You haven’t made much of anything clear to me. What about you and Elanora?”

He held her chin in a gentle grip and turned her head to face him. He could see her eyes were full and shining, on the verge of tears. Eventually he would tell her about the night before the Conclave. It really hadn’t been anything more for him than stress relief. But for now he would carry the weight of that secret to make her sure that he is hers. “I promise you, there is no her and I. Her interest is hers alone. You are everything to me.”

“What if you change your mind? She’s this beautiful woman who is going to save the world. How can I compare?”

“You’re the most beautiful woman and you’re saving my world.” Cullen surprised himself with his eloquence in that moment. She needed him, but the years of training to keep his emotions sealed shut inside of him was difficult to overcome.

“I just don’t understand what it is about me that makes you want to ignore the fact that I’m a complete stranger who is only going to complicate things for you.”

“Everything about you draws me to you. You say you are a stranger but I feel like we know one another in a way I thought no one could. Your presence actually simplifies things for me quite a bit.” He had already said more than he was expecting. Cullen was unable to elaborate on that last part right then. But he didn’t need to because she was kissing him with everything she had.

“You’ve never asked me about the ring on my finger.”

“You’ll tell me when you’re ready.”

Iola nibbled the inside of her cheek at that statement. She looked anywhere but him for a few moments, before returning her eyes to his.

“I don’t want to make this a big deal. We do it tonight, with only the people you absolutely need to be here. If you want to have some sort of bigger celebration later, we can talk about it after we seal the breach. You made Josephine propose to me on your behalf, and I’m still really fucking mad about that. So these are my terms, take it or leave it.”

Cullen’s whole being was soaring. It was hard to imagine much else in life feeling as good as this. She was his, and would be his forever. He grabbed her hand and started kissing her fingertips. “I will always take whatever you want to give me.”

Small and quiet was exactly what he wanted. He was never one to seek out attention for its own sake. While he never begrudged that quality in any others, he was always most content when people were not expecting him to woo them with his words. All Cullen wanted was a life for the two of them and any children she would bless him with. Nothing else was required.

“One last demand. Very, very soon. If not before we…get married, then after. You and I are setting aside a few hours just to really talk. With our clothes on. Our inability to keep it in our pants around each other is part of the problem. Well it’s not a problem, but it is the reason why we’re still relative strangers despite spending a ridiculous amount of time together in these last few days. I know you’re not a man of many words, sometimes any words, but you have to try. For me.”

“For you.” It wasn’t a lot, but for the time being he knew it was enough.

Chapter Text

Why had she agreed to this? How did she end up here? It was a moment of weakness. A different, deeper part of her said It’s exactly what you wanted. There was never a question of whether or not it would happen. Even though it’s only been a year since Jay died.

Iola had worried all day what to say for her vows. Ferelden weddings were similar to what she knew, what she had done herself years ago, so she knew she needed vows. As she stood before Mother Giselle, the few attendees they agreed upon, and her soon-to-be second husband, she said her few words in the clearest voice she could manage.

“I know it’s only been a few days. But it’s been a meaningful few days. You’ve made me feel cared for, safe, and I certainly have never been bored with you.” She got the few desired chuckles she hoped for at that. Cullen gave her a small but eager smile, as though he was struggling to contain himself. I haven’t been bored because you keep fucking me into oblivion she communicated to him with a sly smirk. If I’m being honest with myself, I love hearing about his life and Thedas from him first hand. Even if some of these things are old news to me.

“I’ve never felt so connected to someone so quickly.” It hurt to share this truth, but she needed to say something sweet in her vows. “Maybe it was because of how well I thought I knew you when you were only fiction to me. But I think it has more to do with who you are. Who you are with me, to me. Without you I would be totally lost and scared here. You make me forget there’s a world of worry waiting for me outside of your tent, and I want to be the one who can do the same for you.”

Despite the darkness cast across Haven by the late hour, the shadows dancing by the light of the few candles lit in the Chantry, the silence of a village mostly asleep, Iola feels as though she has been stripped naked. It doesn’t matter that Josephine somehow managed to magic up a white lacy dress for her (one that mostly fit, despite the limited time frame she had to find one). Nor does it matter that she’s soon to have a second ring slid up her finger. She hasn’t feel so exposed in years. Not even that first night when she woke up nude under Cullen’s curious fingers. She was grateful that the only people attending their secret ceremony were Andrea, Josephine, and Rylen. Iola’s mouth ran dry as she thought of how they would start to spread the news over the next couple of days. Divorce is rare in Thedas, the Ambassador told her. Once she became Lady Rutherford there would be no going back to being just Iola. Anyone she met from this point forward would always know her at least in part as the Commander’s wife. Her first marriage had not felt so heavy and raw upon her.

Cullen’s eyes were brimming with emotion in a way she had not yet seen when he said his vows. He took a deep breath before he began, his voice had the slightest waver in it. Iola had seen a mix of feelings and moods from him in private, though even with her he kept up the air of dominance. To see him like this was as much a shock to her as she imagined it was for everyone else. She had to fight the urge to gasp or take his hands. For his sake she kept her face neutral, eyes only widening for a brief moment. The illusion of calm became more of a struggle with every word. Where is this coming from?

*****

She had made no declaration of love, but he hadn’t expected one. Yet. He could feel her hesitation in every touch they had, until he had her stimulated head to toe. In her eyes it was easy to read an undercurrent of anxiety. It was less common when they were alone in their tent, like she suggested. But he could see it return when they left their warm, quiet space. In the Hinterlands, on the road, and now here in Haven. The internal conflict was visible from the subtle shifts in her facial expressions. Even during her vows. Whether or not the others could sense this from her too, he didn’t know. He had to resist the urge to let his Commander persona fall away for her in public on a regular basis.

Now that it was his turn to speak his words for her, he found he couldn’t call on the safety of his authority no matter how hard he tried. The last time he had been so open about the storm swirling inside him was right after the events of Kinloch Hold. It was the last time because he had never allowed it to happen again. Until this night, this moment. Now he couldn’t seem to stop himself from cracking open and leaking out. Was this the kind of thing she wanted to see from him to be sure that his passion for her is real? He could never allow this to happen in public again, but perhaps when they were alone. If it was what was required of him as a husband, for her he would try.

“Iola, my love. The moment I saw you I knew that you belonged to me. The moment we spoke was when I knew that I belonged with you. I can tell you don’t believe in the Maker, perhaps not in any sort of maker, but I know the Maker sent you to me. There is no other explanation for how a man as unworthy as myself would be given such a divine gift.” She cringed a little at that. Yes, he knew she was not a fan of religion. But for all his failings and his sinful nature, he was still a devout man. It was unimaginable that he would do his vows without mentioning his Andrastian faith. But for her sake he left out any quotes he could have included from the Chant of Light. His love for her outweighed his commitment to Andraste.

“You’re everything I could ever need. You listen to me. You’re patient with me. You give me everything I ask for.” He couldn’t help but picture the wet brown lips between her legs, waiting for his kiss. And maybe a little slap. “You’re so beautiful, and I know you will give me beautiful children. I want nothing more than to spend my life holding you, protecting you. I would stitch up the sky if I could. Iola, I have never loved another as I love you. I will protect you, I will care for you, always.”

Mother Giselle went about finishing the ceremony while he squeezed his wife’s hands tight. They slid rings up one another’s fingers (temporary ones, until he had the time to replace them with something that shone properly with his love for her) and then drew closer for the traditional kiss. Part of him thought it should be something sweet and chaste, for they were in front of others and within a chantry. But a bigger part of him was little more than a beast. He wanted to claim her mouth and pour all of his emotion into it. There was a part of him that needed to show her and all others in their first kiss as husband and wife that she was irrevocably his and he would have her how he pleased. So he gave into that urge, feeling no shame as he held her against him and let his tongue dance around hers. With the height difference he had to bend a great deal and she was straining upwards on her toes. She let a small sigh escape her mouth and he devoured it, joy reaching every corner of his being. She is really mine.

What he said or did that was wrong he couldn’t tell. But for a brief moment a look of panic crossed Iola’s face when she pulled back. And she had been the one to pull back first, despite the way he tried to cage her to him with his hands holding her cheeks. They accepted their congratulations from their few guests, everyone stifling yawns from the long day and late hour. At least their words were warm and sincere. He wasn’t a foolish man. Cullen knew that everyone was shocked at the speed with which the Commander’s heart fell out of his chest into the small hands of this new woman. The looks of ambivalence, mistrust, and disappointment were easy to read in others’ reactions. It didn’t bother him much. He had what he wanted and he could still command respect and even fear with no problem. But he could feel the shame in Iola, it radiated with her every movement when she was confronted with how other people felt about their sudden relationship. However other people were not the issue now, so it must have been something he had done. He tried to smile at her, attempted to catch her eyes and communicate reassurance to her. Nothing seemed to hold her attention so much as the door leading out into the night. So he accepted the thanks for them both and excused them as he guided her to the exit.

Thankfully there were no lewd jokes about the wedding night. Their vigorous lovemaking was already a regular subject of gossip. Their departure was watched in silence. Everyone else probably already turned their minds to sleep or seeking pleasures of their own. He knew Rylen had his eye on a new recruit, though he didn’t want to take advantage of his position and didn’t know if the man returned his interest. Cullen let his mind wander to others as he and his wife walked in silence to their tent. My wife. Mine. He would worry about her mood once they were alone and he could do something about it. And then he would fuck her hard and show her how good it would feel to be his wife.

*****

When they got back to the their tent there was an unopened bottle of red wine wrapped in a bow on his desk and flowers placed strategically all over. Iola had never been one for traditional romantic gestures, so it made her feel more awkward than anything. She didn’t know if he set it up or if someone else did. If it was Cullen, she would thank him for the kind thought and then have to explain later that this kind of thing just wasn’t for her.

When she looked over at Cullen she was relieved to see he had a similar look of surprise on his face. More importantly, he was rubbing the back of his neck. An endearing gesture she never thought she would see because he was so assertive. Without meaning to she lifted her hand to his clean shaven cheek before withdrawing it. To touch him would be to acknowledge that he was now her husband.

His vows were so sweet that they broke her heart. She knew she didn’t love him. Despite the way she was drawn to him and how natural it felt to have him inside of her. Now as lawfully wedded whatever, she was sure that he didn’t love her either. It was his words that disclosed just how real his obsession with the idea of her was. ”You belonged to me.” As if she were an object he could hold. Not a word referring to the wisdom she tried to impart to him when he shared his troubles with her at the end of the day, or her sense of humour even though she was always laughing at his dry wit and tried to share her own silly anecdotes with him. Just how she was a ‘divine gift’ that would make him a bunch of pretty babies. Iola just tied herself to a man who needed a therapist, not a wife. He’s still very early on in his path for redemption. Cullen is supposed to find his own path to making himself feel whole again. Instead you’ve just allowed him to substitute one addiction for another and put your life in the hands of an unhinged man. She felt like such a fool. Life had taught her not to go after men who thought they needed a woman to save them instead of taking responsibility for their own lives. It was something she learned after the messy relationship she had just before she met her husband. My real husband. The one that isn’t here. The one you are so quick to forget about.

The anxious thoughts flitting around at warp speed in her mind were making her nauseous. Underneath that was a secret little thrill that she didn’t want to admit to. You’ve made yourself his in the way he sees it, but he’s yours too. You like the way he fucks you. You like the ways he gets possessive. And you know you want to give him those kids he’s asking for. You get wet every time you think about letting him get you pregnant. A bond that can never be broken. Iola wanted nothing more than someone she could talk to. One of her best friends to help her sort out her confusion and stop her waffling over this marriage she somehow stumbled into.

“I know something’s wrong. I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to hurt you.”

She was pulled out of her dizzying spiral of guilt and confusion by one of his large hands guiding her to sit on the bed. Kneeling in front of her he unlaced and pulled off her boots. He kept his eyes and hands on her, but made no move to remove the rest of her clothing.

“You know I meant it, what I said in my vows. I will always protect you and I will always care for you.”

Before she could stop herself, all her worried thoughts flew out of her mouth. “That’s the problem, Cullen. You think you mean those things. You say you want to protect me. But can you protect me from yourself? From myself? I think we both keep getting caught up in this like cocoon of sex. I don’t think you love me, I think I’m your obsession. And maybe I’ve let you become mine too. I told you we need to talk. I told you I feel like we don’t really know each other. A semi-spontaneous marriage doesn’t change that.”

Iola saw him visibly recoil and then tighten his fists. Surprise crossed his face for a quick moment, replaced with red hot anger as though the first had never happened. “You can’t tell me how I feel. And we wouldn’t be ‘strangers’, as you so often call us, if you allowed me in the way I allow you in. I’ve never spoken to anyone the way I have with you.”

She hung her head low at that. Maybe she wasn’t being fair to him. It was difficult to see him as a whole man separate from the game she knew. Similarly it was too easy to look at him and allow all her insecurities bubble up to the surface. They were connected, but she couldn’t and maybe shouldn’t let it be as uncomplicated as that. Plus she couldn’t let his medieval era sexism just lie.

“You can’t just fall in love with someone and know you want to spend your life with them in just a few days.” It was slower with Jay. It was at a normal pace. It was just normal. She could tell she was making it worse from the way his jaw clenched, but she couldn’t stop herself. It wasn’t just her anxiety anymore, but past trauma telling her not to trust. “I’m not the chantry! I’m not lyrium! You can’t just substitute one fixation for another.”

“You know nothing about the things you speak of!” He looked as heartbroken as she felt. “I did not know you had the capacity to be such a cruel woman. I did not realize you thought so little of me, to think I could not understand my own thoughts and feelings.”

“That’s because you don’t know me! Everyone has the capacity for cruelty, Cullen. But I’m just trying to be honest. I should never have let it go this far. You’re supposed to conquer your demons alone. If you fall in love with anyone it’s supposed to be the Inquisitor. You’re not supposed become obsessed with me.”

“You keep talking about my life as if it is merely a game. It may have been to you once, but this is real for me. Just because you do not value me, and apparently not yourself either, does not mean I am going to run into the arms of someone else. So what if I am ‘obsessed’ with you? You are mine. I-”

“And that’s the other thing! You keep talking about how I’m yours and I belong to you. Relationships are supposed to be a partnership. You don’t own me. You’re so controlling sometimes.”

At this Cullen paused, taking a deep breath before diving back in. “I apologize if I make you feel any less than you are. I’ve done that too long, with mages. I’m…I’m trying to be a better man. Whether you like it or not I have chosen to do this with you. And you have chosen me.”

At that comment he pinned her down with a stare somewhere between condescension and displeasure. She assumed his apology was sincere but it was hard to discern with his irritated tone. With his face hard as stone, and just as impenetrable, she found herself reluctant to keep fighting. Her temper burst forth but she had not meant to hurt him like that. Now she found herself missing the way he usually looked at her, his eyes full of desire and endearment. Or the vulnerability he had shown her for a few minutes in the chantry. The words she had said were necessary and true, but the delivery had left much to be desired. Self-sabotaging a marriage before it even really begins. Way to go, Iola.

“So. Wow. Our first fight happens on our wedding night. How about that for great timing?” Hiding behind humour was one of her favourite coping mechanisms. Unfortunately it could not penetrate past Cullen’s soured mood. He walked away from her and began to get undressed, knocking down every flower that got in his way.

“So that wasn’t my best or most persuasive argument…” She felt like she was back in one of her more awkward moments in her early years as an undergraduate student, only the stakes were bigger and the emotions were messier. “But you can’t deny that I definitely have some valid points. I have been trying to talk to you-”

“Have you really?” His tone was biting and it hit the mark.

“Okay yes, I’ve let myself get distracted and I’ve procrastinated more than I should. But you haven’t been talking to me either! Not about us. You just decided this thing we’ve fallen into is something huge and earth-shaking and neglected to ask me if I felt the same.”

He turned to look at her again as he removed the last of his layers. Almost in defiance of the mood she ruined, his cock stood up as though they had been whispering fantasies to one another instead of calling each other out. “Shut up. Take off your smalls but leave on the dress.”

“Haven’t we just established that not talking is our problem?”

“Yes.” Her eyes couldn’t help but follow as he stroked up and down his solid length. The head was already leaking pre-cum. His body was ready to take hers.

“So what are you doing?” She complied without thinking about it, wiggling out of her underwear as he stalked towards her. The anticipation, the repetitious movement of his hand made her lick her lips.

“I’m going to fuck you into submission. I’m going to show you what I expect from you as the wife of the Commander. I’m going to make you scream your last name over and over until I am sure that you know you are mine.” He sounded even more furious than before and there was no cocky, seductive look on his face. His eyes were as hard as his erection and for some reason it made her clench her walls against the slickness spreading out. Her hands found her breasts, squeezing through the dress. An action that did not go unnoticed.

“We were just fighting. Don’t you hate me now?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m taking what is mine.” Her earlier argument against his possessive behaviour was entirely forgotten. She wanted what he wanted too.

He rolled her onto her hands and knees on the bed as he towered over her from the floor. With the difference in size this was the best way for them to align. Cullen pushed the heavy skirts up around her waist and reached down to pinch her clit. It was painful and arousing at the same time. This was the kind of thing she would hate if anyone else did to her, but craved from her husband. He pushed two fingers into her at once and began to twist and rub in just the right way to make her call out his name. It was lucky that she was already starting to drip down her thighs or the friction would have been painful.

“That’s not the name I want to hear.” He moved those wet fingers to her ass and pushed in with the same lack of preparation. “Tell me. Are you my wife or my whore?”

Iola felt daring and dirty. She looked back at him, biting the corner of her lip. “Both.”

Cullen groaned at that and dove down to his knees to lick up and down her vulva. His tongue went between her folds, absorbing every bit of her he could and going everywhere but where she needed it. Iola bucked backwards into his face and tried to shift her position to no avail. Even without clitoral stimulation, the fingers in her ass were bringing her closer and closer to the intense, mindless implosion she needed. Muscles all over her body started to quiver.

“Tell me your name.” She would play this game how she wanted if it meant getting release.

“Rutherford!” It felt odd but somehow satisfying to acknowledge that she was indeed now a Rutherford. In this context it made her rub her thighs together to add to the excitement she felt from his order.

“That’s right, my beautiful wife. And who do you belong to?” Her ass shook with the gleeful smack he gave it.

“You!”

“What is your name?”

“Rutherford!” Later she would worry about this pattern she couldn’t seem to break. Sexing their problems away, and letting him take control over her in a way she never fully contemplated trying with anyone else before. Right then she only cared about the way his tongue finally caressed her clit. The swirling sensation that was both too much and not enough at the same time. When she was on the brink of orgasm he pulled away.

“No please!” Salty tears began to trail down her cheeks. The physical sensations with the emotional mess was too much all at once. He slapped her vulva and she almost came from the sting.

“Have you ever had a cock inside your ass before?”

“No.” She panted, gripping his fingers from inside at the very thought. Iola always wanted that but she and Jay were building up to it over time. They had never gotten so far. Cullen pulled his fingers out.

“Turn around and take me into your mouth.” She opened her mouth and let him push in until she gagged and she had to back away. He made shallow thrusts, gripping her hair and moaning with abandon. Giving head had never been her favourite thing to do, but she couldn’t deny the way his reactions evoked things within her too. Saliva started to collect at her lips, on her chin. She used to hate when that happened, thinking it was gross. Now she wanted to indulge in the mess of it all.

“You’re going to make my cock nice and wet and then I am going to satisfy myself with your tight, round ass. You are going to give yourself to me because this is what I want.” At his demands she couldn’t help but let her fingers wander down to her clit.

His head was tilted back so he missed the way she brought herself closer and closer to completion. She knew she was breaking the unspoken rules of their game, but she didn’t mind being punished. When he looked back down again he pulled himself free of her and yelled at her to turn back around. She yelped when he spanked her a couple times and whimpered when the shock and pleasure of it was over. Tomorrow she was sure to be sore.

He rubbed the crown of his erection around her soaked labia until he just slipped inside, as if it wasn’t intentional. Pumping a few times to make passage easier, he then aligned himself with her other entrance. Iola pushed back against him in anticipation but he didn’t return the motion.

“Tell me that you want this too. I need to be sure.”

“Yes! Please!”

“Tell me that you will never do this with anyone else. Tell me I am the only man for you.”

“Yes Cullen! Just fuck me.”

With clear consent, for once, he became gentler. He filled her up with patience, small thrusts to ease her muscles between every inch. Nothing between them had been so tender as this. The feeling of overwhelming fullness was in her chest as well as her ass. They both yelled out nonsense as he fit into her perfectly, to the hilt. She was not expecting to be able to take someone so large, and felt a weird sense of pride that she could. Instead of moving, Cullen remained deep inside her and lowered his body down to reach between her folds. Again his motions were softer than before, coaxing and caressing out her orgasm instead of forcing it through intense pressure and pleasure. When she came her lower half convulsed around him and finally her husband began to thrust into her like she knew he would. The almost violent, unending slamming of his hips was accompanied by curses snarled out and praise for the compliance of her body. Once her arms and legs began to shake and she knew she couldn’t take much more of his cock he withdrew to release hot spurts on the back of her borrowed dress. Iola felt strangely hurt by this, as he had been so adamant before about coming inside of her every time. I guess this wasn’t makeup sex.

His warmth disappeared while he grabbed a cloth to clean what he could from the intricate lace. Without a word he crawled past her to collapse on his usual spot in bed. Iola knew she would have to be the one to break the silence.

“This doesn’t mean we don’t have to talk about things. Especially our sex life.”

“I know.” He replied as if it were no more than an afterthought instead of a significant concern. “Do you like the things I do to you?”

Iola nibbled on the inside of her cheek, not wanting to answer but knowing it was important. “Yes. You know I do.”

“Good. Then the rest can wait.”

And with that he rolled to face away from her. No strong arms or whispered words bringing her close tonight. She couldn’t help but replay it on repeat in her mind, imagining all the ways this night could have gone better or worse.

*****

Iola couldn’t sleep after the emotional whiplash of these last few days, this night in particular. Cullen had passed out almost as soon as he pulled out of her. For the first night ever he had not held her as he fell asleep. Even after he fell to the fade he did not move any closer to her. She suspected this wall between them was in no small part to blame for her annoying wakefulness. It would probably take time and much better communication on both sides to bridge the gap that had grown between them. So in the mean time she decided to do him a favour. It wasn’t something he would appreciate right away, but she knew he would be glad she had at some point in the future. Iola sat herself at his desk and pulled out a fresh piece of paper. As good a time as any to figure out how to use a quill.

Dear Mia

I know you don’t know me, but I hope it’s okay that I call you Mia. I’m not one for formalities. I want to start by saying that your brother, Cullen, is okay. I don’t know how much he has written you or if he has told you anything at all recently. He left the templar order to become the Commander of the Inquisition. He’s working hard to do his part to help seal the breach. We’re in Haven, so if you have been sending letters to Kirkwall for the last few months he hasn’t been getting them.

That’s not only one of the reasons that I am writing you though. I don’t know how else to tell you this other than just to come out and say it. You brother is married! To me! It kind of just happened. Literally. How a woman you’ve never heard of ended up somewhat spontaneously marrying your brother is a complicated story. Not one for a letter. I know you may be tempted to pack a bag and come give Cullen an earful and see what kind of mess he’s gotten himself into. Please don’t leave the (relative?) safety of your home when there’s all these demons out and about. Wait until you hear from us that it’s safe, after we’ve closed the breach.

I can’t say whether or not you’ll get to meet me. Nobody knows exactly what the future holds. But I know that Cullen is integral to the success of the Inquisition and he will be safe. Just keep that in mind if you start to worry while waiting to hear from one of us again. I hope next time you see Cullen you kick his ass in chess.

Your surprise sister-in-law,
Iola Rutherford

Iola tried to blink the dry feeling away from her eyes as she found an envelope and put the letter in. She’d give it to Andrea tomorrow, having no doubt that the scout could see it end up in the right hands. As for whether or not she was going to tell Cullen about it right away, she hadn’t decided. Time was needed to think on what she wrote in her letter. It was true that she didn’t know whether or not she would meet Mia. Her fate here was not set in stone. There was no pre-destined path she knew of for herself. She only just begun to start questioning whether or not this was a dream. Part of her still expected to wake up at home in her own bed. Also even though they were married, she had no guarantee Cullen wouldn’t distance himself from her for one reason or another later. After the Inquisition dealt with Corypheus, she wasn’t sure whether or not he would bring her to meet his family or leave her to her own devices. Regardless of their own feelings on the matter, this marriage was at least in part for the Inquisition. Once that wasn’t a concern, who knows where they would end up. At this rate if I don’t develop better tact and start using the patience I like to think I have, I might be that reason we don’t work out.

Blowing out the few candles still lit she returned to the bed. She snuggled up to her husband’s chest. He wasn’t awake to get angry or pull away so she took advantage. An arm slung around her waist, but otherwise he didn’t stir. She knew she was no closer to sleep now than she had been before starting the letter. So she laid in the dark rubbing soothing circles on Cullen’s stomach and tried to figure out what exactly it was she wanted.

Chapter Text

The biting cold and clash of swords should have brought the comfort of familiarity, but instead only added to Cullen’s irritation. His sleep was plagued by restlessness and remorse. I shouldn’t have yelled at her. I shouldn’t have gotten so angry. The headache building added to his irritation. The soldiers today avoided mistakes as much as possible and the usual casual comradery was quiet. With each throb of Cullen’s temples he was tempted to shout at them, and sometimes he did. Everyone gave the Commander a wide berth that morning. Even scouts with important messages hesitated to pass them along. Cullen knew he was being unfair to those around him. But he earned the nickname of the Lion of Ferelden not only for his ferocity in battle. His temper was never malicious, not like a vicious stab. It was more like a blunted object or a hammer being smashed into an enemy’s skull. Just as deadly, but he tried hard not to be cruel. Not cruel like you called your nervous wife, you fool. This is all new and challenging for her. Of course she would be upset and worried. Of course she would take it out on me, the only person she could safely express her emotions to. You are supposed to be safe for her to be vulnerable with, Rutherford. That was not the way to reassure her that she was right in choosing you. You don’t deserve her or the happiness she can give you. The anger he had felt last night wasn’t wrong, he knew that. But the poor way he handled it, the lack of empathy, pushed her away.

So he tried to focus on formulating a plan. A way to get her to open her heart to him. He knew not to get her flowers. Reading her came easily to him. It was natural. He could tell in almost an instant that she didn’t like the way the tent had been decorated. Perhaps a short trip? A way to get to know each other without distraction. The world is plagued by rifts and demons. Where could you even go? He was distracted from his thoughts when a simple sparring match became a scrappy row. The weapons were tossed aside and they were wrestling on the ground. He growled in annoyance and stalked toward them. The cheers stopped the moment he approached the fighters, but they were too absorbed in pummeling one another to see that the Commander was right next to them.

“Stop. This. Now.” He yanked them apart and laid into them about the way they wasted everyone’s time. They both shrunk under his gaze. The animosity between the two dissipating under a shared fear of angering their superior.

“If you want to focus on hand to hand combat, you only needed to ask.” Cullen allowed an irritated smirk to cross his face as he removed his mantle and passed it off to one of his soldiers. “Would anyone like to help me demonstrate proper technique?”

None volunteered. Everyone knew who the victor would be. So he roped one of his Captains into sparring with him and then assigned everyone to new partners. It was not how he planned to do training today, but apparently he needed the relief of blows and blood as much as his two angry recruits did. The headache hadn’t gone anywhere but at least his mood was not so foul.

He was contemplating breaking a little early for lunch. While he seemed like a hardened, unapproachable man to most, he cared about those under his command and felt guilty for his snapping. Before he could dismiss them early to make amends one of his soldiers started pointing to get his attention.

“Commander, ser. Your, ah, mistress is watching and she looks as though she wants to approach.”

He was surrounded by sparring pairs, but could easily see his deliciously small woman waiting for him a safe distance from the fighting. Even from the distance he was at he could see the look of unsureness that she wore. Even during their first night together he could tell she was not the type of woman to be able to hide her burdens behind a mask. Iola wore her heart on her sleeve, as the saying goes. It was one reason why he could read her so well. But it went beyond that. Cullen understood her on a deeper level, feeling her soul in every fibre of his being. It was time to start putting this knowledge, this connection, into words and patience.

“She’s not my mistress. She is my wife. Lady Rutherford. You will address her as such.”

*****

When Iola woke she was soaked in her own sweat and shame. Why did I have to do it like that? We literally just got married. He’s your only real ally here. You need to be smarter about this. It wasn’t just her survival she was concerned about. She knew he didn’t deserve to be told her fears like that. After his declaration of love no less. His wasn’t a love she necessarily understood or accepted, but she knew it wasn’t fair to try to invalidate him like that. So she threw on one of Cullen’s shirts (which hung down to mid-thigh) and poked her head outside to request bath water. Wallowing around in bed, in his bed, would not make her feel better. Iola was for the most part a woman of action. She mishandled this whole situation because she kept allowing herself to put off having a real conversation with Cullen. But how could he get to know her and understand her worries if she didn’t let him? Dream or no dream (she was less and less convinced it was, but wasn’t entirely ready to let go of that yet) Iola needed to dig within herself to find that confident, straightforward woman once again and make amends. The anxiety she felt today at the possibility of forever alienating the man sworn to love and protect her far outweighed the temporary panic she experienced last night.

Once the tub was full and the heating runes applied, she added her favourite oils (lavender and something that smelled like vanilla and unknown flowers) and got to work on scrubbing herself down. She finally felt like she had the time and presence of mind to pull out that hair removal cream-poultice-potion-thingy Josephine gave her and rid herself of some of her body hair. Being half Pakistani (the other half Greek with a hint of Polish) she had her fair share of body hair, and removed all but her public hair. She trimmed and groomed that area with the small hair cutting scissors the Ambassador gave her (the request had been met with a knowing smile, she suspected Josephine had her own routine) until she finally felt like herself again. While Cullen did not seem to care one way or the other about body hair, Iola had always done her routine for herself and would continue to do so. She was glad to see that her husband appeared to appreciate pubic hair because she knew some men could be hypocritical and difficult about that.

Today she pulled out her fancier blue dress. While there was no need to dress so fancy for a muddy, snowy town such as Haven, she was hoping to dazzle Cullen into forgiving her. So what if she stuck out like a sore thumb? Iola was now the Commander’s wife and could really do whatever the hell she wanted, within reason. It wasn’t until she put the dress on that she considered the unofficial power that came with her new title. She was never the type to abuse power and that wouldn’t change now. Rather it was just soothing to know that she mattered and she could be herself and it would be okay. Unfortunately her plan of wowing her husband was ruined by the frosty reality of being up by the mountains. Iola stepped out for just a moment before retreating to the warmth of the tent. She had to throw on her coat and gloves, effectively hiding and dampening the impact of the dress. After that she couldn’t help but feel foolish and so she changed into her more humble dress. I’m good with words. Usually. I guess I’ll just have to sweep him off his feet with those.

Exiting the tent for the second time she found Andrea waiting for her with a smile. It seemed news of their fight had not been spread (he must have activated the silencing runes). That was a relief. Iola didn’t want her freak out to become public knowledge. She passed off her letter to the scout and impressed upon her the importance of making sure nobody but Mia open that letter. Andrea gave her a serious nod, but the effect was ruined by the grin on her face.

“I don’t know what you’re upset about. But things are looking up for you, honey.” The implication in her words was plain. You are safe now. You will be accepted.

Andrea went off to wherever she had to go and Iola tried to steel herself for her next task. Always hating that she was so transparent, but at least Iola’s new friend was nice about her obvious mood. In fact her brief interaction warmed her up a bit. She thought it was funny that Andrea called her honey even though they were only a few years apart in age, but it also was a comfort to hear. Right now she craved comfort as much as she needed forgiveness.

Haven was bigger than in the game, but not so large that it took her long to get to the training grounds. She stood to the side, unsure of how to approach without risking her own neck. Swords were clashing, shields banging, recruits egging each other on with Cullen between them issuing orders and corrections. To see him be so strong and in charge made her rub her thighs together in a way that wouldn’t have been totally appropriate if anyone had seen. It was embarrassing how fast she reacted to him and how little it took from him to get her underwear soaking. Soon a recruit was pointing at her and then she had caught the Commander’s eye. She stood up straighter as she heard him call her his wife, loud in front of all the recruits. The looks on their faces were a mix of confusion, excitement, jealousy (of him or her she wasn’t sure), and curiosity. He strode forward in long, confident strides and she knew she had to be eloquent now. Especially since he announced his claim in front of such a large group. Iola couldn’t help but feel pride and her own surprising streak of possessiveness over him. I will make this work.

Her husband stood tall and self-assured in front of her, but his eyes flitted back and forth across her face with distinct anxiety. Cullen was waiting for her to make the first move. It took effort now that she could see the look on his face.

“Cullen I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

The apology and explanation was forgotten as he devoured her with a passionate kiss. As if it were already second nature she rose on her toes and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling herself closer as if she could meld with him. His tongue explored her own and swallowed all her sighs. Neither of them pulled away until the cheering from the soldiers became too loud to ignore, and they both realized that they were drawing more of a crowd in. The plans to reveal their marriage with patience and subtly was definitely out the window now. But Iola couldn’t find a reason to care as Cullen pulled her close to his cold armour and barked more orders at the recruits. It was so easy to lose herself in him, but she couldn’t forget what she needed to say.

She pulled herself away from him just enough to look up at him stubbly face but not leave the acceptance of his arms. “Really Cullen, I’m so sorry. That wasn’t fair. I-” He silenced her once more with another hungry kiss.

“Not here, my love. Too many eyes and ears.”

“Oh. Yeah. Right. Um?”

“A walk?” Her Commander gave her that lopsided smirk that made her ready to shed her clothes in an instant.

“I’ve always loved nature.” She couldn’t help the huge smile that consumed all her anxiety.

“Do you not see a lot of nature where you are from?” His hand moves to her lower back as he guides her towards the quiet of the forest.

“Not really. Not like this. In the country where I’m from, a place called Canada, most people live in big busy cities. Probably bigger and busier than anything you’ve ever seen. Sure there are trees, squirrels, rivers passing through. But it’s mostly big buildings and technology. It’s great in its own way. But it’s nice to get back to our natural roots too, so to speak.”

“Technology? This is what you said exists instead of magic?”

“Yes. Science and technology. Advanced logic and calculations, powerful machines. Things that can be accomplished and explained without a hint of magic.”

Cullen took my hand, and rubbed the back of his neck with the other. “I think I might like your world. A world without magic.”

“Magic isn’t the problem. People are. You know that.” I gave his hand a gentle squeeze. He rubbed his neck again. With this Cullen, Real Cullen, it seems to be a gesture of shame rather than awkwardness or embarrassment. He gave no indication or whether or not he agreed with me, but I knew it was a conclusion that he would come to on his own eventually.

They walked without words for some time, until the noises of Haven began to sound muted. He pulled her off the path and into the woods themselves. She was grateful that there was no snowfall or wind. It would be easier to talk if she wasn’t shivering. While Iola grew up with the cold, that didn’t mean she enjoyed it.

Eventually they came up to a house. That healer’s house Cullen pulled out a key and unlocked the door. She could only assume that after Nora found it the advisors decided to limit access to it. He guided her in first, hand once again on her lower back. Every time he touched her there it gave her a little shiver of pleasure. Yes, she could no longer deny to herself that she enjoyed some of his possessive nature. Once inside she sat at a small table while he lit up the fireplace to chase away the chill.

“I’m sorry.” His back was still turned to her as he said it. Iola was surprised to be receiving an apology from him. She was the one who ruined the night. Not the whole night. She clenched between her legs when she remembered the burning sensation of fullness, the intensity she felt when he penetrated her ass. How badly she wanted to feel that again. Stop! Getting! Distracted!

“What are you sorry for?”

“I know this is difficult for you. I know this is sudden. You’re not entirely wrong. I’ve put you on a pedestal. I haven’t been considering your feelings enough. I’ve been consumed by my own desire for you. But I swear I mean it when I say I love you. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. It hurt to hear, but I shouldn’t have retaliated by hurting you.”

She was shocked, and pleased. Leaving the table Iola crouched behind him and wrapped her arms around his larger frame. “You’re much more eloquent that people give you credit for.” She inhaled his scent as she buried her face in the fur of his coat. It was a mix of sweat, dirt, and his own masculine smell. The kind of combination that might repulse someone else, but almost made her mouth water with need for him.

“Thank you for apologizing. I hope you accept my apology too. I didn’t mean to just blurt things out like that. Everything just felt so overwhelming and sudden. I question you, yes, but I also question myself. My husband died a year ago. I shouldn’t be moving on so fast. I shouldn’t be so drawn to you. When I’m close to you I feel like I can’t think straight. The times when we’re further apart I worry that I’m using you just to stay safe. Plus I have my own bad memories to deal with. I’m not saying my worries about you aren’t valid, but I have my own issues that I need to work on too.”

During my little monologue Cullen turned to face me and pulled us both up to stand. When I finished he cupped my face with both hands and pulled himself down to place a tender, lingering kiss on my forehead. I couldn’t help but feel lighter, now that I knew we had both fucked up and could still forgive one another.

“So our marriage isn’t ruined?” I was compelled to add some levity into the situation, to make the mood match the way I felt. My reward was a small chuckle and a lightning of the tension plain in his features.

“Never. My love for you is without limits or conditions. Even if you have different motivations for committing yourself to me, given time I believe we can find common ground.” There was a hint of humour in his words at the end.

“Well we have the time and space now. Maybe we should do the talking thing instead of the avoidance thing we’re so good at?” She teased him with the tone of her voice but the words were meant in earnest.

They returned to the table, holding one another’s gloved hand. “Yes I suppose we can do that.”

“So how committed are you to this wacky idea that I’m a literal gift to you from the maker?”

*****

When their absence was approaching two hours, the Spymaster sent one of her more trusted scouts to investigate. That was how Angelique found herself trudging through the snowy forest, following the clear trail left by the Commander and his wife. She had some opinions about this out-of-nowhere marriage. But she wasn’t getting paid to share those. That was why she was higher up on Leliana’s list for trust (and increased wage) than some of the more naïve gossips.

Approaching the cabin she could hear faint sounds interrupting the silence of the woods. She knew what she was hearing, but nonetheless Angelique had to be sure. For spy purposes, of course.

The windows to the cabin we dirty from the lack of maintenance, but not so unclean that she couldn’t peak through them. The intimacy she witnessed almost made her gasp, but she kept her mouth shut. Even as one of her hands snuck its way into her leggings. The Commander and his wife were both completely nude. She was sprawled down on the table, her breasts bouncing with every thrust. The Commander gripped her hips and he pumped himself into her with wild about. Each pound of his hips forward made her mewl and cry his name, begging for more. Her eyes were closed but she could see that his were open. Angelique couldn’t trace his gaze but from the angle of his head she didn’t doubt he was staring down at his wife’s face. The sounds he made were primal. Grunts, growls, and claiming her body as his. The things he said he was planning to do made Angelique blush and flooded her smalls even further. The Commander moved one of his hands to her pearl and the other to unwrap her legs from his waist to bring her foot up to rest near his shoulder. The Lady’s scream drew his own release, biting down on her foot as he held himself in place inside of her. Are they trying to make a child? I must tell Lady Nightingale about this.

The scout was rapidly approaching her own end, and knew she needed to hurry herself and get out of there before they noticed her. An orgasm overtook her as she watched the Commander finally pull his member out of his wife, still half hard. His size impressed her, but watching the thick flow of his seed drip out from the Lady’s cunt did Angelique in. It awakened something primal within herself. She made up her mind to find Rico, another scout, later. He wasn’t husband material, but he was more than adequate as a bed warmer and did she ever need cot warmed up.

Chapter Text

As Iola sipped her sour contraceptive tea, she couldn’t help but wish Thedas had condoms. It had been ages since she had to use one, since she was on birth control and had been with Jay for years. But even if condoms did exist in this world, she suspected Cullen wouldn’t have wanted to use them. They both enjoyed the feeling of his seed pouring into her. For him it meant the possibility of children, of course. Iola knew exactly what he was trying to do. But it was also an outlet for his possessive streak, a way to claim her as his. On her end she loved the thrill of irresponsibility, never having done anything like that before. It also helped her feel connected to him. Anxiety was easier to squash down when she felt safe in the arms of her new husband.

Though angry (wedding) sex with Cullen had been spectacular, the makeup sex and early marital bliss sex was phenomenal. The days passed quickly between a blur of productivity and a hot, sweaty haze of touching. Cullen had all his duties, which kept him occupied much more than he would have liked. But every time he complained or contemplated shirking his responsibilities even for a little while, Iola would remind him that they wouldn’t have a happily ever after if the Inquisition’s big strong Commander didn’t make sure every demon ass was kicked and every trebuchet wasn’t perfectly calibrated.

“You can make sure I’m all calibrated later.”

But they did make a point of making time for one another. Every day they had lunch together, every night dinner, and afterwards they would dedicate an hour just to talking and getting to know one another. Iola tried to offer a sympathetic ear and offer suggestions where she could to relieve his stress. He attempted to remain impartial by never complaining about specific recruits or favouring certain soldiers, but nonetheless he had much to vent about his daily responsibilities. She also worked on getting him to open up more about his health. Though she wasn’t close with anyone who had major addiction issues, she tried her best to remember all the psychology she knew about substance abuse to help her be patient with Cullen’s issues. Most days it wasn’t that bad. It would become worse after the fall of Haven. She imagined it was a combination of guilt and perhaps time or stress to trigger certain symptoms. It’s not like there was a lyrium equivalent on Earth, so she had to do her best to try to guess at ways to soothe him. In the week since their marriage he only had one bad night where his need to take her was almost violent. Iola still felt shame over the fact that she enjoyed his post-nightmare sex, but if it helped him find a sense of control again she had to oblige, right?

Of course he wasn’t the only one with trauma. Iola was not ready to tell him about her own PTSD or the death of her husband. But she did share more pleasant memories from her life and allowed him to get closer to her. Over candlelight and a dinner of stew they would discuss her lifelong passion for literature and learning, the neglect from her parents, becoming a cheerleader to cope with her painful teenage awkwardness, and her transition to a relatively well-adjusted adult were all fair game. Cullen turned out to be an unexpectedly considerate husband, encouraging her to talk about Jay despite her reluctance. Only trivial bits and pieces of their history were shared, but she supposed it was a good start to trusting Cullen and letting go of the past.

“He was a part of you. I want to know everything about you, inside and out. What you want from a marriage, what you wanted for the future…”

When Cullen curled up against her in bed and told her he had never slept beside another lover before, and that she was the first he had ever gotten to know, she kissed him until she felt they would collapse into one another like dying stars. It was then she began to fully comprehend that she would be teaching him how to have a real relationship after they had already tied the knot. It gave her a vague sense of dread but she managed to push the panic away for the most part. Despite his inexperience he never failed to bring up his hopes for their future together. Goals that included knocking her up as many times as she would let him and moving on to a simpler rural life. The former she knew was not a good idea and the latter didn’t really interest her. With Corypheus running amok and her inability to guess how long she would be in Thedas (there could be a way home back to chai lattes and her PS4, after all), adding kids into the mix seemed to be a disastrous idea. Plus she wanted to learn how to fight! What was the point of going to Thedas if you weren’t going to learn how to kick ass? Well, maybe only some ass. Even just one ass. She had zero fighting experience and knew she wouldn’t just wake up a seasoned soldier. When it came to farm life, she just wasn’t made for that slow pace. Iola had always been a city girl and an over-achiever. She knew that if she made it to the end of the major events of the Inquisition, they would probably have to part ways to both find happiness. It caused a small twinge in her chest when she thought about it. But it also was a relief to know she could distance herself if and when it was necessary. She tried not to spend too much time attempting to parse those feelings. It only made her anxiety well up knowing she would have to make a choice in the future that she couldn’t do anything about now.

For his part Cullen was learning to be patient with her anxiety disorder and her tendency to go a little off the rails sometimes. They also began to negotiate better boundaries, particularly when it came to his aggressively and stereotypically masculine nature. In private he could be as possessive and dominating as he wanted. As long as he understood that Iola wasn’t just going to give in because he wanted her to. But in public they agreed that a mutual partnership was better. It was what she needed in a relationship, after all she had been through in her more troubled past. Despite the way it warred with his over-protectiveness, Cullen seemed to want it as well. But there were certain things that were more difficult to reach a consensus on than others. He was happy to let her learn all about history, culture, and politics from Josephine, and without a doubt was reaping the benefits of her time learning Thedosian medicine from Adan. However every time she told him she would put those on the back burner temporarily (an anachronistic saying that served only to confuse him) to learn how to pick up a sword and use it, his face would shift in conflict and he would tell her he had to think about it. She was loathe to having to ask her husband for permission like ye olden days. But he was quite literally in charge of everything to do with swords. If he didn’t want her to ‘risk harming herself’, there was not a single other person who would go against his word.

Iola was not one to give up once she decided to pursue a goal. So she sipped her bitter tea in the tavern while she had her breakfast with Andrea, and contemplated the next course of action to take. Before the fall of Haven she would learn how to defend herself at the very least. Her grumpy ‘He-Man’ of a husband would not stop her from achieving whatever she wanted.

*****

The road to Val Royeaux allowed Nora the space and time to feel like herself again. No more annoying jealousy and emotional confusion. Just making jokes and swapping stories with her friends on the road. She could count all three of her companions as friends, even the elusive elf who seemed ready to be annoyed at someone with the drop of a hat. Once she found that he loved talking about magic and the fade, it wasn’t too challenging to break through the veneer of pride. Even though there were bandits on the road and rifts along on the way, she was still happy to just feel like a regular elf again. That’s part of what made their actual arrival in Val Royeaux so disappointing.

Everywhere Nora went people openly sneered at the heretical elf mage. As if it were such a travesty that such a person could have value. While her whole life had been full of discrimination and hate simply because of what she was, it had never been exclusive to her. All elves dealt with this terrible treatment. Every mage was viewed with terror and contempt. But as the Herald it was all about how she personally was a failure, an abomination, and a poor excuse for a saviour. Life required Nora to develop a thick skin at a young age, but the extreme social pressures and veneer of elegance in Val Royeaux was an almost unbearable weight on her already tired shoulders. When Cassandra stood up for her against the clerics and the templars she could have cried. If she allowed herself such visible displays of vulnerability anymore. Varric’s fatherly protectiveness, wielding sarcastic mockery and Bianca without a hint of slyness at any who threatened her, gave her the extra strength she needed to push forward. As much as she tried Nora could not subsist on anger alone. Even Solas’s hand at her back and narrowed eyes scanning the crowds was a show of solidarity in their shared struggle. While the mark may have felt like a curse at times, the bonds she had forged in this short period she would never trade for anything.

When Iola’s few predictions about Val Royeaux turned out to be true, Nora felt a mix of excitement and irritation. It was great news that there was someone on their side who could give them a leg up above the chaos. Nora learned to be pragmatic when it came to any sort of strategic advantage regardless of personal feelings. Her parents and their mercenary company, her family, had taught her well. Nonetheless those emotions were still present, beneath her mindset as a budding leader. That useless jealousy, the insecurity this strange woman made her feel, had yet to dissipate. Unsure of how to work out this tension, Nora shoved it to the back of her mind to dwell on later. For now she had a Red Jenny to find and some sort of soiree to attend the following night.

*****

He wanted to trace the scars that decorated her skin with his tongue. Elanora knew little beyond basic healing, so he always volunteered to heal her and teach her whenever the opportunity presented itself. Which, fortunately for the Wolf, was often. On the road through Orlais they had their share of bandits, demons, and confusion to fight through. Their leader was very much a battle mage. Instead of keeping a safe distance like most mages would do, she threw herself with vicious enthusiasm into the fray. One moment she would be gouging at her enemies with the blade of her staff, the next she would be calling down a rain of fire or shocking their bones to a crisp with a single touch. Her technique was unrefined. Solas could some influence of the years she spent in a circle, but her fighting style had a wild quality which couldn’t be learned or contained in captivity. Something about her was irresistible to him, and Fen’Harel knew he must have her to get her out of his system.

In his past he was neither promiscuous nor exclusive and committed when it came to lovers. As anyone in their youth he had his impulsive moments, but it was something he outgrew with age. With his mind focused on little but war at the end, he had little room in his heart or his schedule for any other kind of passion. Needless to say it had been a long time. He didn’t want to become fixated on the Herald, the companionship he found himself developing with the members of the Inquisition was more than he should have allowed himself. It would be easier in the long run to scratch this itch now than to let it fester like a wound. So after a night of fighting on the road back to Ferelden, he took it upon himself to make sure only he shared a tent with her to help with her healing. Nobody objected, nobody considered there could be a reason to. Nora was lonely and tired, an easy target. But when most were unused to a predator in their midst nobody was looking around for prey.

Their bedrolls lay side by side and Nora sat on hers nude from the waist up. Despite the surprise and mild discomfort from her companions, she said she had no reason to be uncomfortable with her own body and nobody could make a successful argument against that. As long as she kept it to private spaces, Cassandra wouldn’t complain about the Inquisition’s reputation. So Elanora’s considerable breasts and the angry red gash trailing from her collar bone down between them were already on display when he entered the tent. The more moral part of him argued that he had seen countless breasts before and he didn’t have to give into his desires. He knew better than to cross that line and think things would be uncomplicated afterwards. But the louder voice in his head was telling him that this was the perfect opportunity, and she would probably enjoy the attention after her rejection. So he kneeled down in front of her and let his glowing hands search her body for all other wounds before coming to the half-healed cut on her chest. An elfroot potion stopped the bleeding and started to close it, but it was not strong enough to treat the full severity.

Her dark nipples hardened the moment he placed his hands on her skin. While he didn’t need to touch her to heal her, it always helped to speed up the process. One hand was half on her collar bone and half skimming the top of her breast. The other had a similar placement except it was her stomach and the lower part of Elanora’s breast. Her face, like his own, remained devoid of any expression. When the gash was sealed up at the top with hardly a mark he shifts his hand down lower to where the damage was more extensive. With this movement he let his smallest finger brush her nipple as if it was accidental. The small gasp she made betrayed her stillness and still blank face. This didn’t change until the wound was almost entirely sealed so he used this finger to stroke her erect nipple. The delicious feeling of power and desire he felt as she began her subtle squirming while a blush appeared across her dark skin was dizzying. When there was nothing left to heal, Solas began to work on both nipples while she laid back with her eyes closed. This was going even better than he planned. Elanora was as touch-starved as he was. To see such a powerful mage eagerly writhing and moaning under his attention was almost too much to bear. Quickly he began to remove his clothing, hoping she was as impressed with his body as he was with hers.

“Solas what are you doing? What are we doing?” When he removed his hands from her her own fingers picked up where he left off. But now her eyes were open, and she couldn’t seem to settle between desire and confusion.

“Hush da’len. It is just our bodies listening to one another’s call. It is a need, like breathing.”

She looked surprised. “You…with me?”

He couldn’t help the deep laugh that escaped him as he pulled down her smalls. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I desire an intelligent, beautiful elf such as yourself?”

At this she allowed herself a small smile and he hated to admit the way it lit his heart on fire. After that there were no more questions. He used his tongue and his magic between her legs to make her climax over and over until she shoved his face away and told him she had surpassed her limit. Elanora shoved him down onto his back and sunk onto his cock with patience for nothing else. Solas always took pride in his size and his ability to bring pleasure, so it was no surprise to hear her cry out as she did taking him in so quickly. After that she rode him fast and hard. She bit down on her own fist to keep from being too loud while he fondled her breasts. When she could sense his end was near from his erratic thrusts she told him not to come inside her. Fen’Harel was used to taking precautions, but was disappointed that she would not let him have her in every way he wanted.

After they were finished he expected time to be able to hold her and smell himself on her. It seemed odd that he felt such a strong compulsion to just be close to her. But she dressed and decided she would begin her watch early, and said she would wake him later for his. For the first time in longer than he could remember, he fell into the fade with a smile on his face. While there he chose to relive this new memory over and over.

Solas woke to his tent flap being opened by Varric of all people, unwelcome sun making itself known in his eyes. He looked over to see that his lover had not returned to the bedroll and clearly hadn’t woken him for his watch.

“I see you and Volcano did a lot of hard work healing last night.” It was rare for him to feel embarrassment, but the dwarf could see he was shirtless and his clothes strewn about the tent. He remained silent while Varric laughed at him and told him the plan for the day. Why didn’t she wake me? Why didn’t she stay? His answer was a muted but distinct distance she erected between the two of them. The rest of that day she conversed with everyone as normal, but he noticed her reluctance to look at him and be near him whenever they stopped for a break. That night Elanora shared a tent with Cassandra as was her usual, and Solas found himself wishing they came across something sinister so he would have a chance to heal her again.

*****

Despite everything, Nora was looking forward to getting back to Haven. It had become something of a home to her. A feeling she hadn’t experienced in too long. She could still remember the comfort of her mother’s calloused hands massaging her scalp as her father told her a bed time story. She would watch the fire dance and create silhouettes of the rest of her family on the canvas. Young Nora always felt safe knowing there was a whole mercenary band out there that loved her, would protect her. That was home until the templars came. Then the circle was her prison, and being on the run was nothing more than survival. Haven opened its gates to her and welcomed her, despite some of the lingering ambivalence or distaste some of the people there still had over their saviour being a mage elf. She didn’t even notice the winter chill that always permeated this area so close to the Frostbacks. All she saw was a place that wanted her. For a little while she was able to forget the burden of being the Herald and her heavy cloak of trauma and pain.

The promise of familiarity and acceptance wasn’t the only thing that made her so eager for the end of this trip. The newest recruits from Orlais, Sera and Vivienne, were in Haven. When she had met them she insisted they go to Haven and get comfortable first before hitting the road with her. Nora thought it would be good to have the advisors assess them, and allow them to get a sense of the Inquisition and its people. While she didn’t feel any affection towards Vivienne because of the extreme difference in their views on mage rights, the quirky elf archer intrigued her. The moment she saw Sera she was struck by her humour, her unapologetic individuality, and a simmering attraction that appeared to me mutual. Sera was quick to dismiss the draw they felt to one another because she doesn’t ‘get nasty with elfy types’. But at the very least Nora could see the potential for a strong friendship. They both had a rebellious streak, one that she had a difficult time indulging now that she was suddenly responsible for countless lives.

They were greeted by all the advisors when they dismounted and passed their horses off to Dennet. Nora was excited to see Leliana in particular. They bonded over the weight of the darkness they carried around with them. It wasn’t uncommon to see them around the practice dummies at night, sipping Orlesian wine and throwing daggers. Growing up with mercenaries meant her skills were not limited to the arcane. She greeted Leliana with a hug first, and then Josie with a similar affection. Finally she looked over to Cullen. He stood with his face and body language as stoic as ever. It grated on her nerves but she couldn’t dismiss the spark of hope and desire she felt when their eyes met. Perhaps in her absence he had gotten over his strange fling. After all he was here and she was nowhere in sight.

“Commander.” She stuck out her hand with a flirtatious smirk. Without glancing over her shoulder Nora knew Solas was probably either glaring at her or looking stricken. Their night together surprised her. It was a pleasant surprise. She was in dire need of all those magical orgasms, even if that many in a short time span was a little too much for her. But the emotions he seemed to be struggling with afterward belonged to him alone. Nora’s heart belonged to the man in front of her, not the one behind.

“Herald. Welcome back.” He accepted her handshake with a small quirk of his scarred lip. How I’d love to feel that scar again. “Was Val Royeaux everything that was promised?”

“Unfortunately.” He pulled his hand away first but she held on as long as she was able. “I really did see an old woman get punched in the face.”

“Yes we were quite shocked by the report, despite Iola’s warnings.” Josie’s Antivan accent always made everything sound much more palatable.

“Ah. I see our resident fortune telling stranger is still conjuring up stories to keep a roof over her head?” Nora couldn’t keep the contempt from her voice.

“Yes.” The smirk vanished replaced by a stern look on Cullen’s handsome features. “My-”

“Cullen…” Josie warned at the same time.

“wife is still providing us with valuable information for nothing in return.”

As if speaking of the woman had the power to summon her, Iola left the gates of Haven and glanced around until she laid eyes on the group.

“Your wife?!?”

*****

It was as if Iola was developing a sixth sense. One that told her when Cullen had gotten himself into trouble. She was developing a habit of appearing at opportune times with a headache tonic and water when his pain made itself known while training. Or when one of the Inquisition’s few noble allies tried to corner him for something, she somehow noticed just in time to save him from them and himself. How she ended up at the right place at the right time she wasn’t sure. It was as if a gentle hand on her back and a tingle in her mind guided her to wherever she needed to be. While Iola always had a natural gift for being very in tune with the people she cares for, this was really beginning to get a bit eerie. So when her ‘spider-senses’ began to tingle, she found herself at Haven’s gate, watching a disaster unfold.

“Your wife?!?” Oh no. She picked up her pace.

“Yes. My wife.” Few things brought Cullen’s anger to the forefront as quickly as people disrespecting her. The few residents of Haven foolish enough to speak unkind words about her in public discovered that very quickly.

“You married her? As if flaunting her around the camp wasn’t enough, you had to go and marry her? You don’t just go and marry wanton women simply because they throw themselves at you!”

Nora threw her hands up in the air in frustration while Josephine and Varric inched closer, looking for ways to intervene. Iola had almost reached them.

“Enough!” Cullen roared in a way that would make less fearsome people shrink. But Iola already knew that the Herald was absolutely formidable in her own right. “You may be the Herald but you will not speak of my wife in such a way!”

They looked as though they might literally butt heads before Iola grabbed Cullen’s arm and tried to pull him back. “Hey. Hi everyone. Let’s go talk this out over a nice, soothing cup of tea.”

Nora’s laugh was bitter and her eyes narrowed. Her gaze was focused on Cullen, not deigning to look at or talk to Iola.

“Does she know you fucked me yet? Does she know I let you spend your seed in me the night before the Conclave?”

Just as fast as Iola was willing to hold Cullen back, she let him go. The Ambassador gasped, Varric muttered under his breath, and everyone else remained tense and motionless. Nora and Iola finally met one another’s gaze. Volcano indeed. She had the grace to look ashamed and remorseful, but did not back down from her truth. On some level Iola was glad that Nora was honest with her when Cullen wasn’t, but in that moment she could feel nothing but a seething hatred for the Herald, the Commander, and anyone else who knew. Iola was the first to move, storming off with no direction in mind other than away

“Iola-”

“Lady Rutherford-”

With great reluctance Iola stopped and spun around. “Nobody fucking touch me.” She glared at Cullen’s outstretched hand has he had chased after her. “Nobody fucking talk to me. This is all bullshit and I really never wanted to be here with any of you in the first place. Don’t follow me. I’m going to try to find a way home.”

With that, at least for the time being, Iola found herself a new direction.

Chapter Text

Vintner was on the job. But when wasn’t she anymore? More regard meant more responsibility, but she was glad the leaders of the Inquisition thought her fit for significant roles. Her father paid for her to have a good education and the merchant life filled in the gaps a tutor never could. She had an eager mind that begged to be used, but a spirit that craved a fight. So becoming a senior scout and personal guard to the Commander’s wife offered her the perfect chance to combine her cleverness with the choreography of violence. What more could a girl ask for?

As of yet her job of watching her newest friend offered little in the way of fighting. She spent some time discouraging drunkards jealous of or unhappy with this new union. At most it required her dodging sloppy punches and spit flying from angry mouths, then redirecting them to either a bed or a cell beneath the chantry. Perhaps now she would have a chance to pull out her daggers. Trudging through the cold winter deeper into the mountain after Iola could only lead to trouble. The heartbroken woman had stormed off to the remains of the temple. Andrea had a vague idea of what Iola was probably trying to accomplish, but the scout couldn’t see a way it would work out well for her. At best she would encounter charred, graveless bodies and throbbing spikes of red lyrium. At worst demons could have returned to the area, waiting on the icy rubble for their next victim. It was true that scouting parties occasionally made the climb to make sure the breach stayed quiet until it could be sealed permanently, and that there were no demons or suspicious people. But the Inquisition didn’t have enough soldiers yet to maintain a constant guard.

The wind bit at her round, already rosy cheeks and dried out her curved lips. The sense of foreboding rose with each step toward the ruins. At the same time her concern and sadness for her friend grew. When Andrea first met Iola, she viewed her with the same suspicious distance as everyone else. But her open, friendly nature won Vintner over faster than it should have. Putting herself under Cullen’s command to protect Iola hadn’t required a second thought. She and Leliana had gotten along well before the incident. But after what happened Andrea discovered where her loyalties lay. She understood the need to spill blood sometimes. As a mercenary and a bard she had gotten plenty of it on her hands. But even with her commitment to the cause she couldn’t condone unwarranted torture. So that was why she kept pushing herself onward in spite of her reluctance.

The well-trodden path turned red with lyrium and blood. Just around the bend. Andrea hoped she could persuade Iola to head back to Haven without delay. Nobody should spend too much time in a mass open grave.

*****
Everything was cast in an unnatural green light. Though the breach hung in the sky like a cloud there was a heavy weight that permeated every surrounding molecule. Iola’s body felt as though it was being pushed inwards and pulled apart in the same instance. Her ears picked up whispers that weren’t there, her eyes almost caught shadows dancing in her periphery. Iola was waiting for a booming voice to echo, or visions to explain why she was there. If the breach could give Nora a very public hint of what occurred, couldn’t it do the same for her? All she needed was a hint of how she got there, so she could find her way home. At some point she stopped thinking that Thedas was no more than a dream for her, because no matter what happened she never woke up.

After weaving her way around the ruins without finding revelation (and throwing up from the things she did find), Iola chose the least gory chunk of rubble she could find to sit on and waited. She had no illusions about whether or not she was being followed. Of course someone would come after her. She was unarmed, untrained, and officially a VIP in the Inquisition. Her best hope was that Cullen would not be the one to come find her. There were too many obstacles between them. They were both damaged goods, he and Nora had history, the events of Inquisition. Of course they would still be married by the end of the day, but Iola was done trying to make their arranged marriage a real one. So she would wait. Wait on this rock, wait for Corypheus’s defeat, wait for a way to escape this stupid fantasy bullshit.

It wasn’t long before the sound of footsteps made their way to her. Not the heavy footfalls of the Commander. Vintner’s grey eyes met her own but neither tried to fake a smile. She felt a little bit lighter, knowing that she didn’t have to try so hard for at least one person here.

“I’m sorry. It’s time to go.”

“I know.”

*****

Nora was sweating. It was seldom that she allowed herself the vulnerability of being intimidated by another person, but the fight she and Cullen had was catastrophic. He matched her scream for scream, hurling verbal blows at one another. Multiple people had to break them apart before the hits became physical. One look with a raised brow from Leliana and the large crowd that had appeared immediately dispersed. Cullen went off to demolish every training dummy they had set up, so Nora did the only logical thing she could do. She went to the tavern to drown herself in whiskey.

The heat and loud noise of The Singing Maiden made her feel right at home. Nobody is going to notice my stress sweating here, she sighed to herself. No matter the time of day, there were always people eager to let go of the weight of their lives for a few hours. Nora went to Varric’s usual table, not waiting for its temporary occupants to clear. But clear they did, without having to be asked. That was the norm for when any of the inner circle came to reclaim their spot. However Nora had no doubt that word of the fight had already burned its way through Haven. Nobody is immune to gossip. Especially when it involves the elf mage Herald. She forced her body to start releasing all its tension as she sunk back into the wooden chair. Tracing the nicks and lines on the table she waited for one of the barmaids to bring her a drink.

To her surprise it was Cassandra that had shown up first. Still in armour, which she rarely ever took off, but free of weapons. Rhiannon, the youngest barmaid, dropped off a half full bottle of Antivan whiskey and two shot glasses immediately after. The seeker nodded politely and waited for her to leave before launching into what Nora was sure would be a lecture. Cassandra was as though spirits of Justice, Wisdom, and Honour combined to become a person. Had Cassandra ever done anything wrong in her life? She allowed herself a smile sigh, wondering what path her life would have had to have taken for her to be like that. Her belief in fairness and what was right at least meant that Nora wouldn’t be the only person getting a stern talking to today.

“Herald-”

“Please, Cassandra, we have been through enough together that I think it’s more than okay for you to use my first name.” She managed a thin smile as she filled the two glasses, one Cassandra returned with her own subtle discomfort. While the seeker seldom frequented the pub with the rest of them, she didn’t refuse the peace offering. Nora watched her throw back the whiskey with a grimace on her face, and waited to hear own guilt be verbalized by somebody else.

*****

She had debated changing out of her armour to look less…menacing. Not her choice of word, but one she had heard often enough. Cassandra knew she was a fierce woman. She prided herself on her physical and emotional strength, her ability to lead, her passion that set her on the path of righteousness. But she knew this also turned her into an imposing figure, even to those she wanted to feel at ease with her. After some debate she decided leaving her weapons in her room was concession enough. It had been so long since she had gone a day without needing her armour that to change into something else would leave her feeling naked. The few casual clothes she owned would have to remain in her trunk for another day. For some day. She thought of the only man she loved dying in a nauseating explosion of green and decided it was time to track down the Herald.

Elanora was known to frequent the tavern in her down time. Sipping wine with Leliana at the bar, taking shots of whiskey with some of the recruits, or sloshing cups overflowing with the dwarf and whatever following he had drawn to his table. Yet it wasn’t often she left the pub unable to walk in a straight line. So when the barmaid had brought a bottle of whiskey rather than a single shot Cassandra could do little more than shrug and politely except what the Herald offered her.

“Elanora, then.” In spite of the circumstances the Herald smirked at that. No doubt she was grateful for the familiarity. Despite their need for a saviour and her lack of choice in the matter, Cassandra could see the accumulation of pressure in the bags beneath her eyes. “Are you alright?”

“Am I alright?” She raised her finely arched brow at that. “You’re asking me?”

“Please, I think we’ve been through enough together that it’s more than okay if I show concern for you.” The smiles exchanged this time were more sincere as Cassandra said Nora’s own words back to her.

Elanora sighed and swiped at the light sweat on her brow. “I should be.”

“While the Inquisition requires a certain level of propriety from someone as important as the Herald,” She watched the woman across from her grimace as the words had their intended effect. “you cannot possibly be without your own feelings.”

Two more shots were poured. Cassandra accepted the glass but let it do no more than sit, collecting cold moisture at her fingertips. The Herald didn’t hesitate to swallow her own.

“More happened here than I was expecting to return to. Much more.”

Cassandra glanced around to be positive no wandering eyes and ears had crawled any closer. Elanora did not seem to share her concern. A third shot was poured.

“I don’t know what exactly I was expecting. I don’t know why I thought that…”

“It was a shock. A surprise. To all of us.” Cassandra offered to fill in the silence.

“Why her? She just appeared out of nowhere with a ridiculous story and suddenly people trust her and pamper her despite it!” A fourth shot was downed. “And saying it out loud I’m realizing how hypocritical I am being. Again. But why her?”

“I do not know her well enough to make any sort of judgement, but I understand some of your hesitancy about her. Some. I think we both know that what happened today went beyond mere concern.”

“Ah. The pathetic elf and her impractical infatuation. I’ve been fairly obvious, haven’t I?” The fifth shot covered her deep brown eyes with a watery glaze. “Well it wasn’t something as intangible as unrequited feelings. But I guess the extent of his emotions are more fleeting than mine. Were more fleeting than mine.”

Cassandra pulled the bottle to her side as though she were going to pour another shot. Her action didn’t escape Elanora’s attention, but she didn’t try to reclaim it.

“Elanora. I won’t tell you not to feel the way you do, or not to seek…companionship. But people all over Thedas are looking to you now. You have a duty. You must learn to temper your personal life. Whether you and the Commander could have been a good match, or if he and that woman will be, cannot become your priority unless it interferes with the Inquisition. We will both keep an eye on him, make sure he is not being corrupted away from our cause. Undermining the Commander that way, showing discord to all those depending on us, it is unworthy of you. You can have this night, but tomorrow you must be ready for whatever comes next.”

“Tomorrow then.” The Herald relaxed as Cassandra slid her untouched shot back to her. It disappeared faster than it was poured. The seeker had reached her limit of intimacy for the evening, but still had one more foolish friend to admonish. She stood up and straightened her breast plate.

“Is Cullen in as much trouble as I am?”

“Oh yes.” Cassandra couldn’t help her grin at this. “He is older, he is supposed to be wiser, and he is one of the leaders of this organization. Our conversation has been a lot more pleasant than the one I am about to have. I would say that I don’t know what has gotten into my friend, but-”

“He’s gotten into someone.” It was only Elanora’s bitter tone that kept Cassandra from making any sort of comment at her sardonic joke. They nodded their goodbyes, and when she looked back before leaving the tavern she saw the dwarf had already taken her place.

Even though little time had passed from when she first entered the tavern, she was still somehow surprised by the chilly air and the daylight. Something about being amongst that kind of charged environment made it easy to forget there was a whole world waiting outside. That kind of avoidance seemed like a waste to Cassandra. She supposed she wasn’t the only one, since Solas’ aggravated gait was wearing the ground in front of The Singing maiden out.

“Seeker. Cassandra. Is she-”

“Fine. In need of a glass of water most likely. But fine.”

“Thank you.” Solas had a similar manner of speaking as Elanora. A sureness behind every word. Not a syllable more or less than required, even if the content itself lacked the usual confidence.

It was the first time the two had become alike in her eyes. Once she saw it though, she began to wonder whether or not they had the makings of a pair like the ones she adored in her hidden library. She made an imperceptible shake of her head and laid a hand on the elf’s arm before he walked through the door.

“I am sure she would appreciate if a friend brought one over to her. Just a friend. She had a trying day.” A bit of pressure was added to her fingertips, though she was sure a man as intelligent as him couldn’t possibly misunderstand.

“Of course.”

Cassandra found no fault in his words, or insincerity in his tone. No offence either, thankfully. There was something off about this man. She couldn’t tell whether it was her own ingrained prejudice making her suspicious of the elusive apostate, or something more sinister innate in him. Regardless she trusted no harm would ever come to Elanora within these walls. She saved her wariness for a different man.

*****

Home. He took a big inhale the smell of spilt liquor, unwashed bodies, some kind of meaty stew, and dirt. The sounds of glasses clinking, joyful shouts, salacious flirtations, and the stomp of drunken boots crashed into him as a wave of nostalgia. It was cleaner, brighter, and certainly more wholesome than The Hanged Man had ever been. But here Varric knew he could find a place for himself that felt right, even when the rest of the world didn’t.

There was also a welcome sense of déjà vu when it comes to comforting a friend in a tavern. Varric accepted long ago that he was the ‘dad friend’. Even before Hawke he often found himself in that role. But his identity as such solidified after his time spent helping Merrill figure out what sort of birthday gift her pirate lover would like, or distracting Hawke when the couple invited Carver into their bedroom, or making sure Anders had a steady supply of ‘donations’ so he could afford everything he needed for his clinic as well as food for himself. He was proud to say he even had a hand in nudging Hawke and Broody together, though they both seemed to have worked their hardest to mess things up and avoid the inevitable. His job was to aid them with their personal lives, while Aveline (the designated ‘mom friend’) kept them out of legal trouble as best she could. A sigh left him as he lost himself in memories of the perfect synchronicity their strange group of misfits had. But only for a moment. By the time he was at Volcano’s table he had a smile ready for her. A real one; his fondness for the kid could not be understated. For the second time in his adult life, he found himself building a new home once again.

“Hey there Volcano.”

“Living up to my name, huh?”

He winced. Her bluntness reminded him of Hawke actually, but it lacked the humour that always coloured her tone. He could match her directness. There were questions he was burning to ask anyways. Rogues were nothing if not lovers of secrets and gossip. “So you and Curly?”

“Yes. No. Not anymore.”

Everyone saw the way she was drawn to him. No beating around the bush for Volcano. But while Cullen smiled more at her and was more patient with her than most, there was no unmistakable sign of mutual affection. No licking of lips or wandering eyes. Not a single one of his fingers returned the touch of her wandering hands. Plus after she and the elf spent a not so subtle night together, he thought she was finally moving on.

“What happened there?”

“We were both sneaking around in the dark. The night before the Conclave. We found one another, we fucked, and then everything else happened.” She poured another shot. He had no clue how many she had, but probably quite a few since her cheeks were turning red and her eyes were looking glassy. “I should have accepted it was nothing more than an anonymous night. I don’t know why it wasn’t as meaningless for me as it was for him.”

Beneath his chest hair his heart broke at the dam of her eyes buckling under the pressure of her confession. For all they’ve been through so far, she’s never once cried at the shit hand that was dealt to her. Hawke cries all the time; it’s part of her unique charm. But he should stop comparing people to his best friend.

“Well, that’s shit.”

At that she laughed and downed another shot. “Yes. Yes it is, isn’t it?”

“Can you believe they got married while we were off saving the world?” Poking a fresh wound, for sure, but better to get all the toxins out now. Rhiannon brought him is usual ale and he took a healthy gulp, even though he couldn’t catch up with Volcano at the rate she was going. “Couldn’t have predicted that from Curly.” In all the years he knew him, he really couldn’t.

“Who gets married after a few days of sleeping together? Are her folds enchanted? Does she have a rune on her pearl?” Varric roared with laughter at that. Volcano never went out of her way to be funny but never failed to do so. “If so, I’ll have what she’s having.”

Unfortunately for his moody companion, it was impossible not to see the affection between the Commander and his new wife. On a surface level, it was no surprise to Varric that two attractive people couldn’t keep their hands off one another. But Curly looked at her as though her every breath was more holy than his beloved chant. The only time he had ever seen a look even close to that on his face was when he came across Cullen praying at the chantry. But it didn’t hold the fervour his eyes contained every time he looked at his wife. Iola on the other hand, strange girl she was, seemed to be so overwhelmed by her new environment that she didn’t even realize how natural it was for her to drift towards him. When they were apart she it was plain to see she was uneasy. But the second he touched her all that worry melted away. Varric saw a lot in the short time she had arrived. If he had contemplated turning their whirlwind affair into a story, he was sure now that their marriage would provide the perfect material for his next romance serial.

He let Volcano rant a bit longer and down a couple more shots before he pointed out her admirer at the bar. It was hard not to notice Chuckles’s shiny head walk into the bar, and even more difficult to ignore his predatory eyes all over her. Like Lady Rutherford, Volcano attracted her own dedicated followers. Not that she ever gave any indication that she noticed or cared about the attention. But somehow the elf had penetrated that wall. Ha, penetrated. While Varric couldn’t let go of his suspicion of Solas, he was too evasive and calm, he accepted that the elf could be the rebound that she needs.

“Wanna invite Chuckles to join us? It looks like he’s going to keel over with concern if he has to sit there another minute.”

“Ah. Yes. Okay.” It was difficult to interpret her reaction. Not quite reluctance, but not exactly enthusiasm either. She gestured him over.

“You two okay?”

“I have no idea.”

Varric wasn’t sure what to make of that but Chuckles had arrived at the table and quickly launched into his own questions. But she was less terse in her responses and began to relax back into her chair, so he supposed his mission to help her work through her demons was beginning to succeed.

*****

Despite the weather and distinct lack of conversation, Iola and Vintner took their time returning. There wasn’t discomfort between them in the silence, only within. Normal Iola’s response would be to go grab coffee with a friend and rant until her vision wasn’t so red. Then they’d catch a movie or bingewatch a show and she could forget for a while that she had any problems. Thedas Iola wasn’t sure what to do with all these emotions furiously vibrating inside her. Sure, she could talk to Andrea and she was pretty sure she could even trust her. But her role here, if she had one, was not to sow more discord in the Inquisition. Already she had done a shit job, creating divisions within the inner circle. Telling them what to expect in Val Royeaux hadn’t actually accomplished anything for them. They would have been fine regardless of her saying anything, and she wasn’t positive that feeding them important information would have a significant outcome on their victory. Not unless she changed something. Though that ran risks within itself. Iola felt as though she was floating out into the unending blackness of space, untethered and without a single recognizable constellation.

Cullen. What could she do with him? She clenched her fists at the thought of how much emotion her could provoke from her, and how deep and intense these feelings were. The thought of spending every night in the same bed with this Adonis of a man and not giving into everything he had to offer seemed impossible. But how could she? A gulf existed between them and it didn’t appear to be swimmable. In that moment she missed Jay more than ever. The attraction between them hadn’t been so magnetic, but the issues were so much smaller in comparison. Even with this huge secret now revealed, the correct path wasn’t any clearer than it had been previously. She knew a happy, normal marriage between them was impossible now, but she couldn’t disentangle herself from him either and it ached within every fibre of her being.

Her mind was stuck in more or less the same loop it had been in since she had come to Thedas. Each variation became more complicated the more new things occurred to her here, but it all came back to the same root concerns. Her anxiety was bulged and burst into new little anxieties as the cycle continued. Iola knew it was getting unhealthy and needed to figure out some sort of Thedosian equivalent of anxiety medication. She was always on edge. Laughing a little too loud at someone’s comment, jumping when someone came up behind her. Contemplating the same mess over and over without getting much farther. For every good day she had with Cullen, she knew their next fight or complicated moment was just around the corner. By the time Haven’s gates came into view she resolved to find ways to be more proactive about what was going on with herself and with the Inquisition.

It was perfect timing too, because the Commander was pacing like a furious wildcat just inside the gates. He stopped the moment he saw them and his gaze went straight for Iola’s. For a second she froze, paralyzed by indecision. But she had just decided to work on figuring things out and it was too soon to go back on that now. Once she started moving towards him again he mirrored her movement. A collision was inevitable, but neither could stop from drawing closer.

Chapter Text

“Iola.” His wife was safe. She was home. Not in his arms, but he deserved that. As long as she was here and unharmed, he could cope with anything.

“Commander.” She stopped just short of him. So close they could meld into one with a deep enough breath. The small gap between them still seemed too big. Cullen let his arms drop instead of wrapping them around her, though one of her hands did brush his on the way down. It was something he thought he could cling to, a chance, until he forced himself to meet her eyes. Pain, distrust, longing, and anger burned behind the rich brown of her gaze. A wellspring of emotion he would never be able to reach. It was nothing less than he deserved, for keeping secrets that could not be kept.

“Where…where did you go?”

“Nowhere important.” She turned her face from him and took a step back. He was overbearing, he knew. To look at, to be near, to accept after everything.

“Can we speak privately?” The habit he hated but couldn’t seem to break, drove his hand without permission to the back of his neck.

“I don’t really know what there is worth saying right now, Commander. I’m going to go take a bath to warm up.” Once again her eyes were upon him, scorching the shame even deeper into his skin. It was Kinloch and Kirwall all over again. Letting people down, ending up alone over his own shortcomings.

“I see. I’ll have someone sent to our tent.” And I’ll find myself a barrel of ale to drown in.

At this she gave him not a smile, but a minute twitch of the corner of her lip. An effort to accept his words. but the attempt caused her pain. He watch her disappear into the increasingly crowded walls of Haven. It wasn’t until she was gone from his view that he noticed Andrea standing a couple of feet behind where his wife had been. Her stony look wouldn’t give way, so he only gave her a small nod. At least Iola has one person who is loyal to her. I’m a fool.

Cullen didn’t notice all the people pretending not to watch the scene as it unfolded. He let his mind sink into his plans for the night. Paper work at the war table, as much ale as he could stomach, and then a cowardly crawl to a bed he wouldn’t be welcome in.

*****

The golden swirl of ale and the warm buzz between his ears did nothing to help. Cullen had already sunken low enough to need a chair, hardly able to keep himself standing. When Cassandra came in and shouted at him for his subpar treatment of women and his inability to keep his private life private, he had all but hit rock bottom. It was hard to imagine place any lower that evening. Unless he made another foolish decision. But that’s why he hid himself away in a room few could access.

“Cullen, I know you are not an idiot. You are an excellent leader and a better man than you ever give yourself credit for. So I do not understand why you cannot seem to keep it in your pants at inappropriate times!” Cassandra slammed her hands down on the table. Despite the fact that they had become good friends, she was one of the few people in Thedas who could scare him. Now more than ever he was aware of that fact.

“Maker! Cass I am a grown man, I am allowed to sleep with whomever I chose!” He quailed at her blunt words. She was never one to shy away from confrontation or directness, but he never anticipated they would be having a conversation like this. Their friendship never included talking about sex.

“Maybe you are an idiot. The night before the Conclave you, the leader of the Divine’s army, had sex with a mage woman you had never met before. And an elf no less! Can you not see what that looks like? A templar taking advantage of a mage. A human man using an elf. It looked like an abuse of power by one of the leaders of a peace talk! And it was. Even if she didn’t know you were the Commander, and even though you couldn’t have known she would become the Herald. And then afterwards you were not clear enough on your boundaries with Elanora. Even though we had a meeting about it! She was lovesick over you and everybody knew. I am not saying you can’t have…relations…But you are in a significant position I find it hard to believe you have so little foresight. How could you have been so reckless?”

“Worried about our reputation like Josephine and Leliana?” He scoffed. It was a deflection and he knew it. The two women needed to care about their reputation and he respected the work they did, even if he didn’t understand it. But Cullen wasn’t feeling particularly brave. In that moment anything was fair game.

“No. I am worried about you, my friend. And I am concerned for the hearts of the women affected. Your actions have consequences.” Cassandra was relentless. It was impossible to doubt why she rose so high in Thedas.

“I do not need you to tell me that! You know about that I know better than most how my actions have hurt others.” It was his turn to rise and slam his hands on the table. Of all the things people could say to him, he never needed that thrown in his face. Cullen had to close his eyes and massage the bridge of his nose for a moment, to dispel the ghost of Meredith and so many others that almost materialized behind the Seeker.

“I apologize. I did not mean to belittle what you have gone through, or imply that you are trying to hurt anyone. It’s just that I thought I understood you, but clearly there are parts of you that I don’t. If there is something you are working through, you can talk to me.”

“It’s not exactly that I am having a problem. Rather I am struggling to adjust. I’ve never been a free man. I am…perhaps not the best version of myself right now. But I am not the worst.” On that last part he was firm. He would never know if he was at his worst trying to slaughter all the mages at Kinloch, or being willfully ignorant as they were raped and slaughtered at Kirkwall. His suffering had turned him into a selfish man. For so long he forgot that he actually wanted to help people.

Cassandra’s posture relaxed a little. “I know.”

Cullen mirrored her easing of tension and plopped himself back down in the chair. “I’m sorry. You’re right.” There was nothing else he could say in response. She was right about it all.

“You are not alone. I am here for you, Cullen. I want to help you if you let me.” A strong, yet patient hand squeezed his shoulder. At least she hadn’t felt the need to wear gauntlets to see him. If she had, he knew the punch he could have gotten would knock him out.

“Thank you. But I feel alone. I don’t have Iola.” He leaned towards the ground to pick up the papers that had scattered in the heat of his scolding. Anything to avoid her eyes after his confession.

“Why did you do it?”

“Lie to her?” It was going to take him at least an hour to reorganize the reports. He sighed.

“No. I can figure out the reasons behind that. Why did you choose her? Why did you throw all caution to the wind so quickly? Why have you tied yourself to a woman you don’t know?”

“I don’t know how to explain it to you. I saw her and knew she was mine. I have never been so sure of something before.”

Cassandra looked both bewildered and concerned. “Cullen, nobody belongs to anyone.”

“I know.” He replied. But in his heart he knew that she didn’t understand. Iola and him were inevitable and infinite. She was his, and he was hers. It’s just how it was.

*****

She left a single candle lit on his desk. The soft glow it emitted left their tent bathed in shadows, but not so dark that he would bump into something when he finally returns. If he returns. It was getting past late, and there was no sign of him. Iola felt her anxiety bubbling up, but she knew that within the gates of Haven he would be fine. And she shouldn’t be worrying about him anyways. At this point they were barely even friends, since so much of their relationship had been based on sex. It was better to think about the Thedosian history and culture she had been learning from Josie and the potions Adan had been teaching her. There was enough rattling around her brain without worrying about Cullen.

It was when her mind became absorbed in her informal education that he finally stumbled in. Even from the bed she could smell his beer-drenched sweat. Ale. Ale, not beer. He hadn’t looked her way yet, instead choosing to remove his layers with a clumsy hand and heavy breath. It would have been funny to watch the mighty Commander of the Inquisition fall over while struggling to take off his boots, if the situation wasn’t such a mess. Iola desperately wished he would summon someone to fill the bath, but they were too deep into the night to be able to politely hassle anyone. When he had taken off every stitch he finally looked her way. Iola hadn’t decided whether or not she wanted to face him now or close her eyes and pretend to sleep when their eyes locked. Sighing she sat up and decided to get it over with.

“We can still share the tent… and the bed. We have appearances to keep up. We just need to keep to our own sides of the bed.” Diplomatic. Concise. Her thesis advisor and Josephine would be proud of her cool response in the face of burning, all-consuming emotions.

Cullen mumbled something to himself as he dragged himself to her. Flopping down far closer than was comfortable, he began to stroke her hair despite Iola’s objections.

“I am sorry for luh, for lying to you.” He said with a thick, slurred voice. “But there really isn’t anything there. With me and uh, um Elanora. My heeaaart is yourss.”

Iola had to use all her meagre might to push him off and stop him from climbing on top of her. “Listen, Cullen. I know you’re too drunk to process all this right now. But I hope it sticks in your head because I really don’t want to do this all over again in the morning. You broke my trust…and I just can’t handle being vulnerable to you again. It’s too much to deal with on top of everything else.”

Her speaking the word vulnerable seemed to sober him up a bit. Cullen allowed her to shove him off entirely. If logic was unavailable to him right then, guilt made up for it. He started to groan and push his crumpled brows against her arm. Mumbling nonsense and apologies wouldn't do him any good.

“I am not supposed to be here. I’m an anomaly.” That’s not the right word to explain this right now. “I don’t need to be here for the Inquisition to succeed. My presence isn’t helping you become the person you need to be. If anything I have made more of a mess.”

She knew her words were barely penetrating the fog of liquor, and Cullen kept mumbling over her anyways. But she had to vent. It had to be said out loud so the commitment would be real. “Tomorrow I’m going to start making things right.”

Sighing, Iola shove Cullen all the way over to his end of the bed. In the weeks they had been together she had never seen him get drunk. Cullen hardly ever indulged in any liquor, from what she gathered. So it was a shock to see him obliterate himself like that. It was too much like her childhood. Her father, drunk and irritable, and her mother trying to keep him together. And young Iola, forgotten and alone.

“I love you.” Her husband mumbled with his face half-burrowed into his pillow.

Hurt, but determined to move forward, Iola replied “I love myself.”

*****

Of all the people Nora could wake up next to, she was beaming from the inside out over the fact that this person was Sera. The mischievous woman joined their table shortly after Solas and made quick work of catching up to Nora for drinks. It was inevitable that Sera got far more intoxicated than Nora, but she was grateful for the silliness and company. Legs upon legs tangled together, smelling of their mixed natural odours and the sticky sweetness of liquor. The pair was semi-clothed in Nora’s bed. Not for her lack of trying, but Sera insisted she needed a real friend and not someone who would “get up in her bits when she was all out of roars”. Nora listened to her little snores and supposed it was for the best. Her love life had become complicated enough and she would never say no to a loyal friend.

She snuggled back in, making peace with Sera’s boundaries and deciding to set aside her worries for later. The sun was peaking out, so Cassandra would bang on the door to drag Nora’s stubborn body out of bed soon enough. She felt no need to pull herself up out of this hangover before necessary. Nora placed a light kiss on Sera’s temple and drifted back into an easy sleep.

*****

On the plus side, the tea Iola drank that morning was much sweeter than what she usually had. Pregnancy was certainly not on her horizon now. But that was the side where the grass was greener. The trade-off that the universe had offered her was tension. It buried itself deep into her muscles. She couldn’t shake off the nonspecific ache that seemed to emanate from every direction. It was in the early morning chill and Cullen’s distinct absence when she woke. It was in the awkward energy cloistered around the war table and the way everyone stole glances but nobody locked eyes. In a perfect world she would just huddle up to her husband, Jay, for warmth. But she continued to wake up in a shit one instead so she kept as far away from the Commander as decorum allowed. There was no way this meeting would be anything other than an exercise in everyone’s patience, so Iola thought it was as good (or bad) a time as any to start making peace.

“Herald-” Leliana began.

“Wait! Wait.”

All the stares, and a couple of glares, were focused on her. Woah is this what I really wanted? It would have been easy to back down and say nothing. But Iola wasn’t interested in an easy life.

“I have something to say. Well a couple of somethings. It’s important. So I’m just going to say the things?” Great. Really inspiring confidence, Iola.

She waited, just long enough for someone to acknowledge her. It was Nora, of all the people in the room, who nodded for her to go ahead. Not a sharp ‘I hate you but do your thing anyways’ kind of not, but a controlled, patient one. It was enough to help Iola push on.

“I want to help. But I need to try harder. Because I’m making a mess of things. I mean, the information I’m giving you is fine. I think that can make difference. That’s not the problem.” She took a deep breath, making a point of meeting eyes with the advisors, Cassandra, Nora, and the Commander last. The weight of their anticipation was almost unbearable.

“It’s me. My being here. That’s the problem. You’re all supposed to be a cohesive team. Building bonds with each other and making the Inquisition grow together. None of you are supposed to be at odds. People not trusting the Commander because of the kindness he’s shown me by making me his problem. Leliana and Cullen divided. The Herald fighting with the leader of her armies. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but my presence is complicating things. You all need each other. You need to trust each other and care about one another. Without that everything could be lost. I’m sorry.”

Her lip started to wobble. She had to blink hard to keep the tears back in. The speech wasn’t supposed to make her emotional. She didn’t think it would hurt so much. For the first time she came to Thedas, she felt completely alone. A deep breath, just one, and then she forced herself to look up and face their criticism.

But nobody did. Cassandra and Josephine shared similar expressions of compassion. The Spymaster looked remorseful. Nora gave her another nod, one that seemed to be of understanding. Looking at Cullen was the hardest. His features appeared as though they were tightly controlled, to avoid crumbling and unleashing the abyss he felt inside. If Iola had let herself cry he would have been a mess. She knew it, even if she couldn’t tell the exact emotions swirling beneath. It was too much to bear, to see how deeply he experienced emotions and knowing that she was a source of pain and confusion.

“You um,” There was a crack in her voice that no one acknowledged. “you need to go back to the Hinterlands to look for Warden Blackwall. He’s important to your success. You also need to go meet The Iron Bull and his company on the Storm Coast. You’ll have to fight a giant out there, so having extra muscle is a good idea. You’ll also come across the Blades of Hessarian. They can be an asset if you make the necklace and fight for them to aid the Inquisition. Or they can be enemies and you’ll have to kill them all. Keep an eye out for the undead. And I wouldn’t recommend taking on the dragons in either places any time soon. Please excuse me.”

Before anyone could stop her she was pushing the doors of the War Room open and fleeing. No destination in mind, just away. The cracks between them would mend, and Iola would be left on the outside. It was for the best. She couldn't be one of them anymore. She had to start figuring out her own way. Iola grabbed Vintner outside of the Chantry and told her they needed to leave Haven. Not far and not for long, just a little while. Iola went to the tavern and asked Flissa to fill them a basket of food. Then she left a note on Cullen’s desk, so he wouldn’t panic. Andrea got them horses and lead the way out the gate.

*****

Leliana couldn’t say that she was anxious about the talk she was going to get, but she wasn’t looking forward to facing the disappointment in Nora’s eyes once again. Her Herald, her friend. What was worse than hurting someone you love?

“What did she mean when she was talking about you and Cullen?” Nora’s voice was stern. Her face tried to conceal the hurt and frustration with a glare. But there was never ice in her eyes, only ever fire.

“I may have acted…rashly…while you were in Val Royeaux. In my duties to protect the Inquisition against any clandestine threats I must maintain a level of detachment so that no one may succeed in harming you or our efforts. I was not convinced that Lady Rutherford” She spared the Commander a glance and could see his furious eyes on her and his jaw clenched tight. It was surprising that he hadn't yelled all his rage at her yet. It's not like he had been quiet about, well, anything lately. “was trustworthy. So I tortured her for information and a possible confession, and then threatened to continue doing so in the future.”

Before Nora could hide the shock plain on her features and respond, Cassandra slammed her hands down on the war table.

“Leliana! This is unacceptable. We did not create the Inquisition to repeat the same mistakes too many others had made! We cannot stoop to so low as that, risking allies and our reputation. We cannot make change if we are hypocrites!” Cassandra was the moral heart, I was the sure dagger. Justinia needed us both. Perhaps she saw something in us together that we cannot find apart.

“Do not presume to tell me what is at stake or how to do my job. I earned this position for a reason, and you know that Justinia made use of almost all my talents. A Spymaster must be able to do what is necessary.” Her words were carefully controlled, to maintain her authority and hide her doubts.

“I am not saying to trust her without thought or precautions! But you must see how torturing potentially innocent people will make us lose our way. We are here to right the wrongs of our predecessors. Not to mention she has already assisted us with her predictions. We do not want to lose her help because we have violated her trust so severely.”

Finally the Herald spoke up, her voice quieting all others. “You are both right. Leliana must be able to do her work as she sees fit. But within certain bounds. If were are torturing those who have not clearly threatened Thedas and the Inquisition in way clear to us all, we are no better than the circles or the Chantry.” Her tone of voice dared anyone to speak against her. None would. “If this woman reveals herself to be a threat, we can deal with it. But she was right this morning. We need to bury our hatchets and work together if we want to accomplish anything. Our squabbles could cost us our mission.”

“Leliana. I expect you to apologize to Iola and find a better way to express your concerns over her. I consider you a friend, but it is hard to see you as such when I know you could have hurt me in the same way.” The Spymaster felt she would crumble over the loss of Justinia and her bond with Nora. It had been so long since she had a new friend, and longer still since she could allow herself the vulnerability of letting someone in. But she kept it all hidden under years of practice at controlling her emotional responses. “And I hope you and Cullen will both find a way to work together again. I thought the Ambassador was supposed to help with relations within the Inquisition as well as outside of it. But perhaps I misunderstood what your responsibilities are.”

“Commander. I will never understand why you’ve made the choices you’ve made with this woman. But if you can promise to put the Inquisition above all else, I will make an effort to be more professional towards you both.” She was ashamed, but showed a maturity surpassing Leliana’s early assessments of her. “I apologize for my own behaviour. It isn’t fair of me to act like a Creators-damned mess and then demand you all do better.”

Cullen and Josephine stayed silent through it all, knowing better than to invite more criticism to their persons. How could any of them fault her when she was right? How could they deny her when she stepped up to be a leader that none of them could seem to be? It was impossible not to admire her and be proud of Nora in the moment. Even if it came at Leliana’s own expense.

“I will be taking Vivienne, Sera, and Cassandra with me to leave for the Storm Coast tomorrow. Everything else you want to discuss will have to wait for my return.”

The Herald stormed out of the War Room and slammed the doors behind her. Everyone else stood in silence. Unsure of what to do next. The loss of Nora's respect, trust, and possibly friendship rolled over them like the saltiest wave.

The rest of Leliana’s day passed without significant incident. It gave her the chance to re-evaluate some of her plans and think of a way to prove herself worthy to Nora once again. She contemplated writing another letter to her warden, but the words couldn’t seem to come. That was how the night found her. Heavy under the weight of her doubts.

Out in the darkness she heard her name being called from an unexpected source. Perhaps this whole day was meant to be one of shame and suffering.

“Leliana.” She let herself take a quick glance around her desk and flipped over any particularly dangerous documents. Then upon turning she say the woman was already behind her. So short she would be easy to miss, if it weren’t for her presence.

“Lady Rutherford.”

“Oh don’t say my name like that. This whole marriage thing wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t forced several hands.” The woman stepped closer, hands on her hips.

“Yes, you’re right.” It wasn’t often anymore that Leliana had to admit someone else knew more or knew better than her. Rarer still that she would be put in a position to apologize. But the Inquisition had reformed in the strangest of times. “I heard your words earlier, and I understand the fault in my own actions. For that-”

“I forgive you.” Straight to the point with no interest in what Leliana was building up to. In the darkness, though her eyes and shape were different, this woman seemed to hold just as much fire as Nora. It was uncanny. For the first time she realized they shared something alike in spirit. But the Spymaster didn’t know what that yet meant.

“I...I was not expecting that. And perhaps it is more than I deserve. But I am so gracious for your forgiveness. I intended to speak with you soon. To apologize and get to a more civil-”

Again Iola stopped her, holding up a hand to cut off any sort of dialogue they could have had. At least any dialogue that Leliana could have controlled.

“Please stop. I forgive you, because I need to. I can’t move forward without it. The Inquisition needs it too. I forgive, but I can’t forget. I will never forgot. But there is something you can do to make it up to me.”

*****

She already had Harritt make her some light armour. The thought had been in her mind for a week. Iola was surprised to find that the things that would have fascinated her in her normal life were just not enough here. Learning history and culture with Josephine had been interesting enough, but helping her write to nobles and assisting with other minor duties didn’t seem like the best use of her time. It certainly had nothing in common with working on her master’s. Likewise she enjoyed learning how to heal with Adan. But at this point she could do little more than take notes, assist with making the easier potions, and bandage minor wounds. She won her debate with him over the importance of hygiene last week, and he and the sisters were already implementing it. Iola still had a fair amount to practice and memorize, but beyond that she had gone as far as she could with her current studies. No, her craving for excitement had evolved from what she previously had expected.

The next morning Leliana had gone to Harritt herself and had made suggestions for which kind of daggers would suit Iola best. Simple enough for beginners, but deadly enough to cause harm in a real fight. She had paid him extra out of her own pocket to push these ahead of all his other orders and to maintain absolute secrecy. The same day Iola asked Josephine and Adan if she could spend a bit less time with them each day. She had plans in the evenings that would keep her up late. As late as she could handle. In the evening Iola picked up the still-hot daggers with red tinted blades, a mix of drakestone and iron. Under the cloak of darkness she and Leliana met on the training grounds. Blades singing and soft limbs hitting the hard dirt while everyone else was asleep or drinking in the tavern.

Chapter Text

Solas could smell the strange aura surrounding the mysterious stranger before he heard her footsteps and heavy breath behind him. Something light, vaguely floral, not of this world.

“Hey Solas! Wait up! Please?” She huffed behind him as she jogged to catch up. Her short legs could not keep up with his long ones. There was an air about her, like a spirit radiating all around her. The bright unguarded smile she was becoming known (among other things) for in town gossip drew the same reaction from others around her. Solas couldn’t help the sincere smile she conjured out of him when he turned to greet her. If there was a spirit bound to her I would sense it. Yet her radiance is almost a compulsion. I should not feel drawn to a potential enemy, an unknown. Though he knew he was lying to himself if he thought an enigma wouldn’t intrigue him.

“Lady Rutherford.”

“Please call me Iola. Or Ms. Wise if you’re feeling kinda formal, and there’s no one too ‘official’ around. I have a whole identity separate from my husband’s last name.” She gestured with exaggeration and flourish; a very animated speaker. Her laughter didn’t completely disguise the air of nervousness that fluttered about her. Against his will Solas couldn’t stop himself from finding her endearing. It was dangerous. This woman could jeopardize everything. He had to harden himself. The elf was reluctant to harm such a unique spirit with such a strange origin, even if she was human. But there was no telling what he would have to do to keep her silent, if she did indeed know the truth about him.

“Lady Wise, then. A fitting name for one who can anticipate the future. If you can use that knowledge well.” Solas was tall for an elf, and she was small for a human. Lady Wise looked as though she could have been half elf, if she were made of this world. He had to look down to meet her eyes, his inclination towards condescension only emphasized by this fact.

“I’m trying. Nobody has made it easy for me. And I suppose I haven’t exactly made it easy on myself either.” For a moment the woman was lost in thought, fiddling with her curls. If necessary, it would be very easy to isolate and eliminate her. Physically speaking alone she posed no threat.

“What can I do for you, Lady Wise?” This conversation was inevitable, he knew. Yet a growing impatience and annoyance was making him want to walk away from her absent-mindedness. Her immediate natural shine had dulled for him very quickly, after he reminded himself of what was important. He could always deal with her later. The woman had not revealed anything yet, he would know if she had. So it was unlikely she would run to the Spymaster and reveal what she knew in the next few minutes. “I do have things to attend to.”

“Right. Yes. Sorry. We’re overdue for a talk. Don’t you think? I meant to approach you before. But you were off adventuring while I was stuck here in the mud and snow.” Her grin was wide and her laugh was unapologetic. But there was still an edge to it. “Also honestly I was intimidated by you.”

“Why would I be intimidating to you?” Eyes narrowed, he focused on even the most miniscule muscle twitch to read how serious the situation was about to become.

“I mean, you’re a powerful and mysterious mage, for one.” Lady Wise indeed.

Her own shrewd reply made him positive this was not a conversation for wandering ears. Solas ushered into his own small hut and motioned with a hard hand for her to sit down at his table. This was to be the end of his niceties.

“Speak.” The command of his voice filled the room. He would not be denied.

“You can probably already guess that I know more than you want me to. I know who you are, what went wrong, and what you intend to do.”

An impassive quiet filled the space. Solas had no intention of speaking unless it was to silence her. His unforgiving stare was making her squirm under pressure. He made no apologies.

“I want you to know that I am not a threat to you. The Inquisition needs you, and you need the Inquisition. While I think some of your actions are misguided, I know you’re a good man. I’m hoping that you’ll change your mind about certain things, and if you’ll let me I’ll show you why Thedas as it is now matters too.”

Solas wasn’t sure what to make of her statement. On one hand it sounded like a tentative truce, but her desires suggested a catch. It certainly wasn’t altruistic, if she knew her own survival was at risk. She managed to secure stability and protection within moments of arriving in Thedas. It would be foolish to assume she wasn’t capable of or driven to manipulate circumstances in her favour.

“I will never tell anyone your secrets. I’m trying my best not to disrupt things while I’m here. All I want is to find a way home. And I would like to be your friend, if you let me. You’re like a literal walking tree of knowledge. In my own world I’m a scholar. I would love to learn anything you want to teach me. And I’m sure you’re curious about what I know and about my own world. Sorry to be kind of intense and just thrust my friendship upon you, but this place is lonely and I’m tired of everyone treating me like an untrustworthy freak. You might be the only person here I can be completely honest with.”

Tears wavered in her almond shaped, hopeful brown eyes. Solas could sense her fear, her curiosity, and the deep loneliness within her. Nonetheless her authenticity would not sway him. The God did not survive unimaginable centuries to forget himself with a human.

“Will that be all?” The curiosity was undeniable, but he could make her wait. Let her sit in the anticipation and wonder whether she would incur his wrath. Solas was as still as stone while he waited for her to realize she had been dismissed.

“I see.” All pretense of friendliness drained from her face, replaced with a grayness he knew too well himself. “Well, I guess I know which way the door is. But one question, before I leave. Please?”

“Don’t you usually have lessons with the Ambassador or the healer today?” It was a dismissive statement, but also emphasized that he always knew where she was and what she was up to. She met his eyes as she nodded. His words were taken as intended.

“I’ve found other things to distract myself.”

“Yes. You and the Nightingale meeting blades in the night has certainly been the worst kept secret in the village.” Gossip is something that most easily dismiss, but was crucial if one were trying to gather intel. Solas knew that as well as the Spymaster he was keeping secrets from. Encroaching on her space, he drew so close that she had to look up to keep the conversation going as he pushed open the door.

“Right. Okay.” The door was all but closed in her face when he heard her ask her parting question.

“Have you seen me at all in the fade?”

*****

Varric eyed the two most untrustworthy people at Haven walk into a small cabin. Sure he liked to joke around with Chuckles (mostly by making jokes at his expense). And Iola hadn’t done anything wrong besides being creepy cheerfulness and hurting Volcano (even if it wasn’t intentional). But it was obvious to everyone that those two were keeping secrets big enough to make them stand out. Varric didn’t need his connections to tell him that. So far they had offered help with no requests in return. But nobody besides Daisy was that altruistic. Even Hawke went down the path she did for a reason, though she really did become a champion as time went on. Iola didn’t strike him as a human version of Merrill and Solas was no hero.

Andrea came up to stand beside him. He liked her. She was a good drinking buddy in the Maiden once she was off Iola duty. It helped that she was a pretty surface dwarf full of sass. There was a little bit of the fire he knew from Hawke in Andrea too. But he wasn’t to go down that road. He couldn’t be with Bianca, he had to leave all his friends scattered in the Free Marches, and the current woman crowding his heart and mind was even more unlikely than the first two. It wouldn’t have mattered though, from what he knew Andrea was not interested in men. Varric was happy with uncomplicated friendships. It was a bonus if he could shake loose some information about the otherworlder.

“Watching them too?”

“Of course, Scout. An author must always be observant.”

“You can’t keep calling me ‘scout’ anymore. I’ve got a pay raise and a fancy title.” She elbowed him in good fun, pushing in the direction her ward was going.

“You’re a body guard, who is now on pub duty.” Varric pulled her in a different direction. He needed a break from all the demons, suspicion, and absences in his heart.

*****

Nora couldn’t stand the sad, desperate-for-a-hero kind of in Blackwall’s eyes. He was a strong warrior and without a doubt someone the Inquisition needed. But his gaze put her on edge. Seemingly all of Thedas needed her. The last thing she wanted was individual people saddling her with the weight of their crushes or obsessions. Nora knew she was considered beautiful, ‘for a knife-ear’, yet she had largely managed to avoid emotional attachment most of the time. It wasn’t hard to find a fuck for the night when most everyone wanted the same thing. Leaving Solas behind was very specific choice in hopes that distance would lessen this strange longing he had seemed to have developed for her. The brief flash of surprise and twinge of pain on his face as she told him her plan was proof enough that Nora had done the right thing. However she missed the quiet conversation that flowed easily between them nonetheless. And his healing couldn’t be beat. But personal complications were more than she could afford. So Nora was friendly every night when they’d gather around a fire and Blackwall wanted to speak with her. She even enjoyed his company, in limited doses. They would clean weapons together and make lewd jokes. She was kind, yet distant. The only way it could be.

This night was different. Iron Bull exuded the exact type of sexual allure Nora craved. Separate from her endless heartache over Cullen and free of the creeping chains Solas and Blackwall threatened to lay on her. After battling their way across the windy beaches of the Storm Coast, they set up camp for the evening and polished off the casks Krem prematurely opened. Nora couldn’t get the fiercely alive feeling she felt when she was watching Iron Bull swing his massive axe so hard that he was nearly bursting heads. Immediately Nora sat down next to him. Iron Bull’s stories of mercenary life reminded her of the family and peace that the templars stole away from her so many years ago. Feeling the sea mist on her face and smelling his particular sweat from battle made Nora squirm in a way that she hadn’t for the last few weeks.

“So you’re not interested in my work with the Ben-Hassrath. Most people outside of the Qun would ask about that first.”

He chewed on a big hunk of meat. A group of them had gone hunting earlier, once they realized they were guzzling wine without any sustenance. Stumbling through the wet woods, giggling while they aimed their weapons on the few animals that hadn’t already run from them, the connection between the two was established. She was embarrassed to say she let herself bump into him and stared at him more than necessary, like some young bumbling human. But Nora didn’t waste energy on regret.

“I’d rather hear about life on the road than in service to religion-”

“The Qun is not just a religion.” He interrupted with a wink. Or maybe it was just a really strong blink. Nora couldn’t tell.

“Right. Sorry. It’s just that the mercenary life is home to me, even if it’s rarely settled in one place.” Nora tossed the bone from the finished meal in front of her. She had no qualms about eating with her hands like the rest of the Chargers. This was the kind of life she missed. “I haven’t really discussed this with many of the Inquisition yet, but I actually grew up in a mercenary troupe”

“Oh yeah?” Bull clapped her on the back. “What’s their name?”

Nora hesitated. She had never been the most open about her life. Even before things went bad, it was just of who she was. Space and privacy were like oxygen to her. Surely it was the wine and the feelings of familiarity that made her open up to this near stranger.

“It doesn’t matter anymore. My parents met through their mercenary jobs. My mother was an ‘archer’ like Dalish, though she was actually excellent with a real bow. But she had grown up with the dalish.” She cast a wistful glance at Sera and Dalish’s physical flirtation. Sera was always just a couple steps out of her grasp. Nora sighed and continued. “My father was a city elf who learned to get by picking locks and wielding daggers. They were all my family. I learned all about fighting and magic from all of them. But then the templars somehow found out we had mages and jumped us before we could leave for the Free Marches. I was the only one who survived. Spared only because of my youth and appearance. Times in the circle were hard for a 15 year old elf. I learned a lot from that place, though not from the lesson plans they wanted us to follow.” Nora picked her nails to stop her hands from trembling with unforgotten rage. It wasn’t her intention to sink into the shadows of her past, yet it was impossible to avoid.

“I apologize for…going on too long. I think I need cool off in the waves. Please excuse me.” She meant for the wine to help her relax and approach Iron Bull with what she wanted. Instead it only dragged her into memories best left alone. It was a survival reflex, don’t think about past. Don’t recall anything at all. Surviving the moment was all that mattered.

Most everyone was too deep in their cups to notice her sudden absence. She wouldn’t have cared regardless. Nora stripped herself bare, never seeing the point in feeling strongly one way or the other about nudity and her own body. Her feet carried her into the heavy, salty waves. The sea was never calm at the Storm Coast. But she thought it shouldn’t be a problem as long as she didn’t go too deep.

It wasn’t long before she heard feet in the sand, the rustle of clothes, and then felt the heat of a body behind her. The quiet of the steps could be misleading, but Nora had no doubts about who was behind her.

“That’s very presumptuous of you.” She said over her shoulder, with a smirk.

“What? Should I let the sea carry you away with no witnesses? Maybe I wanted to go swimming too.” Bull let out a deep, rolling laugh. The sound made her sides tingle with warmth. Nora leaned back into him.

“You know what I want.”

“I do.” He raised his massive hands to her narrow yet muscled arms, dragging his nails with a light touch against her peach fuzz.

“Behind that rock.” Without turning to face him, she pulled him towards a modicum of privacy and shoved him up against it.

“No romance then?” He chuckled, switching their places. The wet, uneven stone and spray of waves were distracting, but only for a moment. “I like a partner who is so…decisive.”

“No romance. I want something harder and faster.” Nora jumped up Bull’s body to wrap her legs around him, grabbing a hold of a horn with one hand and the tip of his shaft with another.

“Can you do that for me, Bull?”

*****

Iola cried out Cullen’s name as his tongue parted her folds and pleasure her awake. It was dark in the tent, nearly silent outside. They must be deep into the night. And Cullen deep into another nightmare. She tried to squirm under his grasp but his forearm kept her from making any progress. He called her a demon, his demon, and licked her clit just so.

“Cullen please!” She cried as he drove his tongue into her. She could see his hips pumping into the mattress. With any luck, he’d finish there first before things got more complicated. You want things to be more complicated. You crave it.

“Cullen. You have to wake up! Cul-len!” It was so fast. Her stomach began to squeeze, her trembling thighs locked his head and place, and she could feel a tingle building all the way down to her toes.

“You can’t tempt me with your sweet quim, demon.”

He spoke against her pearl. Just the heat of his breath and faint nudge of his parting lips pushed her over into the abyss. She couldn’t speak through the waves that crashed into her, over and over. Iola could hardly make herself move as Cullen climbed up her body and rolled her onto her stomach.

“You don’t control me. You can’t anymore. I’m the one with the power now, you sinful beast.” Iola could feel his stubble tickle her skin while her nibbled at her shoulders, before biting at her neck. This is what she needed to get out of her daze.

“Cullen! Commander! You need to wake up.” In a moment of foolishness she rolled over and slapped him. As if violence is the way to wake someone from a traumatic nightmare. Way to go, Iola. “Cullen, it’s Iola. You don’t want to do this.”

He pushed her back down, turning to her stomach. “You vile temptress, coming to me as my wife. If I can’t have her, and I can’t be rid of you, I’ll take this.” His voiced wavered, as if there was nearly too much in it to contain. Cullen closed her legs tight and then worked his cock down to the soaked lips of her labia.

“These sweet petals are mine.”

Cullen pierced her in both her heart and her cunt in one thrust. Iola cried out his name again and pushed her ass into his hips. She hadn’t realized he was so hurt, that he could actually feel her absence over the last week. Maybe I was wrong. But she wasn’t ready to pursue that thought any deeper when her husband was so deep it was as though he was touching her womb.

“Please Cullen.” She wasn’t sure what she was begging him for until he slipped an arm under her to keep a loose grip on her throat. Her cunt contracted around his as her climax built and he shouted her name.

“Oh Maker—Iola! Iola I need you.” In an almost surreal moment, she felt her orgasm milk him in the same moment his hot semen filled her. In those seconds, everything felt so right.

They parted with heavy breaths, each to their own side of the bed. Her resolve to distance herself hadn’t exactly changed, but something had. Iola curled up into the far corner of her bed. It was still cold. She closed her eyes and sighed as she thought about brewing tea in the morning.