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Secrets and Love

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She scanned the faces gathered in the Great Hall. Their voices were much more hushed than they had been at other judgments. One more judgment among many, the Inquisitor had finally become accustomed to doing this. Here was another prisoner standing before her waiting for her words to punish them. No spectators were chattering loudly away for this one. This judgment was far different from the rest. This time the prisoner was her lover.

Blackwall stood at the bottom of the steps below her throne with his shoulders hunched over. The shackles around his wrists echoed harshly in the quiet hall as he fidgeted. Lady Kiara Trevelyan stared at him while Josephine tried to do as she usually did, recounting the accused's crimes, but she didn't bother for this case. Josephine had called in several favors at Kiara's request to get him away from the noose in Orlais. Blackwall made sure to state how these favors would tarnish Josephine's and the Inquisitions' reputation. Kiara couldn't just let him hang. She loved him still. He had wounded her in a way that was more profound than any blade could, but Kiara would have done far more than tarnish a reputation to keep him from basically killing himself. She was going to make sure he lived his life.

"You have your freedom." The sentence rang out in the great hall. Kiara hoped that no one could detect the mourning in her voice. She knew that whatever they once shared was now dead.

"It can't be as simple as that," Blackwall appeared puzzled as he looked up from the floor.

"It isn't," Kiara explained, "You're free to atone as the man you are, not the traitor you thought you were or the Warden you pretended to be." The thought of who he was hung heavy in her heart as the words escaped her lips. Kiara didn't know who he was, and she never did.

Blackwall, or rather Thom Ranier, paused on her words for a moment. "It will take time. You would accept that? And who I used to be?" He spoke as he began climbing the steps towards her throne. "I lied about who I was, but I never lied about how I felt."

His steps were slow, but he was getting closer.

Please don’t.

She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She had an idea of what might be coming next.

"No matter what I was or what becomes of me, right now, I am just a man with his heart laid bare. I leave it in your hands." He was now eye level with her and gazing at her face, pleading for her love.

The pain stabbed deep into her soul like a dull knife. The stab created a precarious wound. The injury could kill its intended victim if no pressure or treatment is applied fast enough. He was that knife, and she was about to pull out the blade. Kiara adjusted her posture; she was the Inquisitor, and people were watching. She would face this with all the poise she could muster.

"I will always love you, but I can never trust you again. I'm sorry." She opened the emotional wound wide, allowing the blood to spill.

"That..." he spat the word out in anguish, followed by a short pause to stand up straight. "That is fair." He continued with the strength now returned to his deep voice. "Goodbye then, my lady. You were... no, there is nothing more to be said. I will return to my post and await my orders."

Thom Ranier, her Blackwall, bowed before turning his back on her. She watched as he walked away, the noise of his chains joining the chatter returning to the great hall. She watched him just long enough to see the shackles removed.

Kiara closed her eyes, sighed, and pushed herself out of her seat. With the last of her grace, she walked over to Josephine. "Lady Montilet?" she was almost whispering. Josephine snapped her head away from the sight of Ranier’s back. "Yes, Inquisitor?" Josephine asked with concern. "I'm going to my chambers. Please don't let me be disturbed and try not to worry." The Inquisitor asked while forcing a small smile for Josephine to see. Josephine nodded yes to her.

"Thank you so much," she said as she stepped through the door leading to her chambers.

 

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Cullen sat at his desk, rubbing his temples. All of the reports were finally done and stacked neatly, ready to go for the messenger. It was late, though; they would get sent tomorrow. "It's been a long day," he said out loud as he stretched his arms out above his head.

Blackwall's real name now was Thom Ranier, and his judgment had taken a toll on everyone today. He never approved of the relationship between Ranier and the Inquisitor. As the leader of the Inquisition and as the woman that she is, she could do so much better than a Warden whose sole purpose was to die fighting darkspawn. To make matters worse, he wasn't even a Warden. Cullen was dreading what would come next once everyone hears that she gave Ranier his freedom.

"And because she was so lenient on him, he had the nerve to ask that she continue their relationship?" he thought with his teeth clenched tight. His face slackened as he tried imagining lying to her like that. He would have never hurt her. "What?!" he asked out loud, shaking his head as if he were shaking out that affection. He got up from his desk and walked out his door towards the tavern. He needed a drink, and then to rest is all. Cullen's thought we still focused on the Inquisitor as he opened the door to the Herald's Rest.

Has Kiara come out of her chambers at all today?

Most everyone in Skyhold was in their beds at this late hour, so Cullen didn't see anyone but the dwarf barkeep as he walked in. He dragged his feet toward the bar and ordered his ale from Cabot, who said nothing when he gave him his pint. Cullen sipped from his mug and leaned his back against the bar to scan the tavern once more. He had a better vantage point to see past the fireplace from this position. Now he could see a table littered with empty mugs just behind the fire, and in the only chair was Inquisitor Kiara Trevelyan.

Her blonde hair was down and in a wild state, so unlike her usual well-kept bun. Cullen had never seen her hair down before. It was beautiful. Even at the barely lit table, her hair reflected the light as if it were jewelry under bright scrutiny for appraisal. The length was gently splashing onto her shoulders in small, loose waves. "Cullen," she called to him. He was so mesmerized by yet another attractive trait of hers that it didn't register swiftly enough that she had noticed him, let alone called his name.

"H-hello, Inquisitor," he said a bit too fast.

"Grab a chair and join me," she pushed some glasses out of the way.

"I really shouldn’t, Inquisitor. It's late and..."

"Just come sit down," she cut him off, "I'm tired of drinking alone.”

It wasn't the best time for him to be alone with her considering the track his thoughts seemed to be traveling on, but he could see from her puffy eyes that she needed the company. He cared too much for her to leave her alone like this, so he sat down. For several minutes, the only sounds they made were the sounds of placing their mugs down after a gulp of alcohol. Kiara started the conversation.

"I fucked up."

Cullen spits out some of his ale at the suddenness and vulgarity of her confession. "How so?" he implored her. His brow furrowed as he managed to swallow his drink.

She looked up from her empty glass to explain. "I let my emotions get the better of me. I allowed myself to become close to someone and obscured my better judgment."

"Caring for someone is never a mistake, Inquisitor." Cullen empathized.

"It's Kiara right now. We're not working", she waved two fingers up towards Cabot, "we're drinking, Cullen."

Two more pints appeared on the table almost instantly. Kiara took a large swig from the new pint and continued.

"I'm a circle mage, always will be. I learned to distance myself from others. I made sure not to be extraordinary at certain studies, skills, or magic and not be exceptionally bad. No one took notice of me; I made myself invisible."

Cullen felt a pang of guilt for her knowing his Templar background. She did all that to keep people like him from watching her.

"And then this happened!" she exclaimed as she raised her hand, bearing the green glow marking her the only person capable of closing the rifts in the sky. "I was only there to watch and listen to the negotiations. I had no role in the mage and templar war! I couldn't be invisible anymore with this. Everyone is always watching The Herald of Andraste." Her shoulders dropped with a sigh as she continued.

"Then I met Blackwall," the tears began streaming down her cheeks as his name escaped her lips, "and I thought to myself as we became closer that he could be my Alistair. The Hero of Ferelden is my cousin, and I had hoped that he could be my rock. Like Alistair was and is for her." She was struggling through the despair to speak. "I thought that if I found a love like hers that I could deal with being seen, that I could handle this burden as they did together for the Blight."

Kiara stared at the floor, letting the tears fall onto the planks. She was far past the point of caring to try and hide them. "I should have known better. An invisible mage could never earn that same type of love."

"That's enough!" Cullen shouted. He would not allow her to think like that any longer. "The Hero of Ferelden and Alistair is a love to be envied, they are amazing people, and your cousin deserved that love, but you are just as amazing as she! You deserve that kind of love and more, Kiara!" She finally looked up from the floor with those emerald orbs glittering with tears.

"How do you know that?" she begged him.

Cullen stumbled out of his chair to kneel at her side and take her hands in his. "I just know, Kiara," he said as he gave her small hands a delicate squeeze.

Blubbering out now, "The man who supposedly loved me lied to me about who he was the whole time I was with him! How can I deserve anything when I can't even get honesty from someone who supposedly loves me?"

Cullen released her hands and gently cupped her face as he wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. "I have never lied to you," he whispered as he moved his lips to meet hers.

His lips were gentle and cold compared to her hot mouth held tight together due to crying for a full day. Cullen expected to be pushed away any second, but Kiara's next motion was tilting her head in response.

Oh, Maker. She’s returning my kiss.

Cullen had dreamed of what her lips would feel like against his and never believed it would happen, but here she was, leaning into his kiss and parting her mouth to let her tongue through. Kiara grazed his bottom lip with her tongue just enough to send a fever up the Commander's spine. He had to taste her now. His right hand moved to the back of her neck to pull her in closer and allow his own tongue deeper access. The Inquisitor moaned into him as he ran his taste buds over hers. Cullen urgently had to pull back to breathe and regain himself before she made that sound again. It was heaven to his ears, and he would lose control if she did it once more.

"I'm sorry, Inquisitor," he apologized as he stood up, taking a step back from her. With his head bowed, he said, "I don’t know what came over me, and I beg your forgiveness."

Kiara stood up and moved closer to him. "Look at me, Cullen," she demanded. He brought his eyes to hers once more. "I will not forgive you if you say that kiss was a mistake," she stated as she grabbed his hand.

"It wasn’t a mistake, my Lady," smiling from the touch of her hand.

"I would like to discuss the kiss in the future," she told him while she moved her thumb in circles on the top of his hand.

"So, would I, Kiara," Cullen said as he placed a kiss on her hand.

She pulled her hand away, wished him goodnight, and walked out of the tavern. Cullen touched his lips, remembering her feel once more before heading back to his chambers to toss and turn, trying not to relive the kiss.

Chapter Text

Cullen woke up before the light from the hole in his roof had fully hit him in the face, much earlier than usual. He had wanted to get as much sleep as possible before seeing Kiara again, but his nerves had other plans. He’d tossed and turned most of the night with the anticipation of seeing her again, had been jittery ever since the messenger told him that the party had returned from the deep roads. To make matters worse, they had only seen each other in passing a few times in the week before she left. No time for anything besides work, no discussion about the kiss.

“I hope she doesn’t hate me,” he worried out loud as he organized the reports on his desk again.

He was trying and failing to distract himself with work to keep his thoughts away from worry and to kill time before he had to head to the war room.

“Sweet Maker,” he exclaimed abruptly, dropping other parchments to snatch up the pile he needed for the meeting, “I’m ridiculous! I’ll go to the training dummies and get some real work done”.

 

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Kiara, as opposed to Cullen, woke up late and had slept like the dead. The sun had to beam in straight through her balcony before she stirred. Weeks of sleeping on the cold stone of the deep roads had left her exhausted. She was very grateful for her bed in Skyhold and never wanted to get out of it again. The sleep was very needed, but now she was in a panic to get dressed and gather her councilors' reports.

“Makers balls,” she cried out while hopping around, trying to put her trousers on, “this isn’t how I should arrive back to work, fucking late!”

She’d managed to get the clothes on and was hurriedly throwing her hair into a bun and managed to get it halfway up when she realized that she still needed to collect the necessary parchments off of her desk.

“Screw my hair!” she hissed, snatched up the stack, and violently pulled open her chamber door to begin the mad dash toward the war room.

Kiara was there in no time, out of breath, and immediately apologizing with her head down for being late.

“Don’t worry, Inquisitor,” spoke Leliana with her Orlesian accent in an amused tone, “the commander appears to be later than you.”

“What?” Kiara spat out. Now she looked up to see her spymaster, Leliana, and Ambassador Josephine Montilyet standing around the war table in their usual positions.

“Cullen is hardly ever late.” Josephine pondered in her lovely Antivan accent, “I wonder what is keeping him?”

“KIARA!” a voice from the door yelled her name. Kiara spun on her heel to look at Dorian Pavus, staring at her as if she’d just slapped him.

“What in Andraste’s name are you doing running through the great hall looking like Qunari savages have just attacked you?!” he threw his arms through the air as he crossed the distance to begin putting her hair up into a bun. “And are those clothes on? I see several buttons not done.”

“Shit! Let me put these down”, she said out loud to let Dorian know to release her hair long enough for her to set the scrolls down on the table.

She and Dorian worked together to make herself more presentable; they only took a fraction of the standard time, with Dorian handling her hair and her situating her clothes.

“Thank you, Dorian,” Kiara said with a grateful sigh.

“No need to thank me,” he waved one hand in front of his face, “it’s my duty to fix my friends' bad looks or fashion travesties.”

Leliana cut in, “Since you have fulfilled that duty so masterfully, any chance you could inquire as to where Commander Cullen is and have him sent this way?”

“Not a problem,” he was already heading back through the door, “I know where he is. I will personally let him know that you are all expecting him very soon.”

 

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Cullen stepped with his right leg with his shield strapped to the left forearm to stab his sword into the straw of the dummy. He had slowly been putting more force into each swing, and this was the killing blow, the sword sunk through to the wooden frame.

“Shit.” He exhaled, let go of the hilt, and relaxed his stance.

“Well,” said a man’s voice a few feet behind him, “someone needs to blow off some steam.”

He turned to see Dorian standing there, staring at him with arms folded. He watched Dorian’s eyes move slowly from his matted hair down to his chest. Cullen had managed to sweat through his tunic. Feeling self-conscious now, Cullen quickly put his shield down at the dummy’s base and went to recover his coat.

“What is it, Dorian?” Cullen had set his reports down on the nearby bench with his coat on top to keep them flying away with the breeze.

While looking disappointed about the coat being back on, Dorian informed the Commander that the advisors were waiting impatiently for him.

“By the Maker! “He jerked his sword from the frame and put it back into the sheath at his waist, “How long have I been out here?!” Cullen franticly grabbed everything and began to run toward the stairs that would take him into the Great Hall.

“We should have a game in the garden later.” Cullen barely heard Dorian as he swung open the door.

 

Even with Leliana and Josephine’s jests at the Commander’s and Inquisitor’s expense, the meeting ended quickly. Reports of her time in the Deep Roads were gone over, daily training, logistics, and various other necessary information when running a small army. There was nothing of immediate importance that Kiara could get done today so, she opted to rest another day. So, she’d spent more time just lounging in her quarters to let go of the anxiety being late had given her, not to mention let her heart rest from seeing Cullen again. Seeing him panting and sweaty as he entered the war room had sent her face aflame. Kiara’s face was aflame once again as she laid in her bed, imagining how much better the sight of his sweat would be running down his bare chest as it heaved up and down from excursions involving herself and a different kind of sword. She sat up in bed, surprised at herself.

“Oh, Maker, I need some fresh air. I’ll go to the garden to weed and harvest my elfroot.”

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Cullen took up Dorian’s offer to play. He was distracted through the majority of the game, thinking about Kiara’s rose-colored face when he looked at her, allowing Dorian to make several correct moves. Cullen finally had enough of his bragging and knew he had to pay better attention to take back the game.

“Gloat all you like; I have this one,” Cullen stated defiantly as he studied the board more intently.

“Are you sassing me, Commander?” Dorian asked while moving his turn on the board. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”

“Why do I even,” he cut his sentence off as he saw the Inquisitor approach the gazebo. “Inquisitor!” he greeted her as he stood up from his chair and dropped the piece he was moving.

Dorian questioned the Commander, “Leaving, are you? Does this mean I win?”

Cullen immediately sat back down and fixed the dropped piece into place; he didn’t want to let Dorian win this when he could see his victory on the board.

“Please, don’t stop on my account,” Kiara assured her friends.

This was more entertaining for her than plants, after all. The bonus being that she got to be around her Commander, without the dirty thoughts abound.

“Alright,” Cullen said as he put his hands together in front of his face, “your move.”

“You need to come to terms with my inevitable victory.” Dorian sassed as he made his move. “You’ll feel much better.”

“Really? Because I just won.” Cullen stamped down his winning piece. “And I feel fine,” he let himself gloat as he leaned back in his seat with a satisfied smile.

Dorian looked at the board, stumped but only for a moment before raising his arms slightly in defeat.

“Don’t get smug. There will be no living with you.” Dorian got out of the only other chair and walked away, giving the Inquisitor a nod and smirk as he passed.

“I should return to my duties as well.” Cullen was leaning forward in his chair as if to leave when a thought occurred to him. “Unless you would care for a game?” He asked Kiara as he gestured toward the empty seat.

“Prepare the board, Commander.” Kiara sat in the offered seat.

I hope I can remember the rules. I played a lot in the Circle, but it was ages ago, it seems.

Cullen spoke as he reset the game pieces, “As a child, I played this with my sister. She would get this stuck up grin whenever she won, which was all the time.”

Kiara was admiring his smile; she’d never heard him talk about his family, and she could tell from his face that he must love them dearly.

“My brother and I practiced together for weeks, and the look on her face the day I finally won.” Cullen paused with a smirk at the memory. The smirk dropped from his face with his next sentence. “Between serving the templars and the Inquisition, I haven’t seen them in years.” He leaned back, now finished preparing the board, and pondered out loud, “I wonder if she still plays?”

”You have siblings?” Kiara asked because she enjoyed hearing about his life before meeting him, wanting to learn more about him.

“Two sisters and a brother,” Cullen answered.

“Where are they now?” Kiara asked as she moved the first piece in their game.

“They moved to South Reach after the Blight.” He looked down at his side of the board a little guiltily and said, “I do not write to them as often as I should. Ah, it’s my turn”.

I don’t want to bore her with stories of my life, Cullen thought.

She took that as a hint that the conversation about his life was over. That was a little disappointing, but Kiara was still thrilled to share an activity with him and couldn’t help smiling as they chatted about nothing in particular for the next few moves. “All right. Let’s see what you’ve got,” Kiara said to him.

“This may be the longest we’ve gone without discussing the Inquisition-or related matters,” beamed Cullen after he made another piece move positions on the board. “To be honest, I appreciate the distraction.”

“We should spend more time together.” The words shot from Kiara's lips too fast to stop them. Cullen answered her before she could panic.

“I would like that.”

She looked up to meet his smile with hers and responded, “Me too.”

So smooth, Kiara.

“You said that.” Cullen’s smile was different now, the corners of his eyes smiled with him, and his voice dropped in pitch.

Kiara was hoping she wasn’t red in the face from just seeing this new smile. The desire to cup his beautiful face with her hand was quite strong, too. Luckily, her right hand was moving a piece when the urge occurred.

Cullen’s heart wanted to soar with joy, it wasn’t a good discussion about the kiss, but it was verification that she didn’t hate him. She wanted to spend time with him, just him!

“We should finish…. our game? Right,” He bashfully said. “My turn?”

 

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“I believe this one is yours,” Cullen admitted, relaxing back into his chair once again. “We shall have to try again sometime.”

Kiara was hypnotized by the smile she’d only seen him share with her and told him, “I’d love to do anything with you, just the two of us.”

Cullen coughed and choked on his breath.

Void, take me!

“By Andraste’s ass, I didn’t mean for that to sound like that,” she spluttered out while covering her face with her hands to hide the blushing. She put her hands into her lap. “My brain hasn’t been helping my mouth today. I’ve been thinking about you and the kiss we shared, Cullen,” Kiara confessed as she fidgeted in her chair.

“Oh,” Cullen regained his composure to look at her, “Pleasant thoughts, I hope?

“Oh, more than pleasant and very vivid!” Kiara admitted without thinking.

Now it was time for them both to blush profusely.

Does she mean… oh Maker, I wish I could read her mind. Or we could reenact the thoughts?

He rubbed the back of his neck as if that would douse the fire. “Umm, I don’t know what to say,” he damn near whispered while still rubbing his neck.

“I’ll go now. I’ve made things too awkward.” She stood up from her chair and tried to make a hasty exit when Cullen caught her hand with his right. He had to lean very far over the table to reach her hand. His left arm was propped on the table, keeping him from toppling over.

“Don’t go yet,” he pleaded, “I’m so happy that you don’t hate me for that night.”

“I could never hate you, Cullen.” She walked closer to him so he could stand again, keeping his hand in hers.

“I took advantage of your vulnerability…..”

Kiara cut him off fiercely, “No, you didn’t! I needed that assurance that someone cared for me that I could trust, and I could never fault anyone for sharing their feelings!” She looked away from his face and continued, “Everything you said and did pulled me up a lot faster than I could have ever done,” she looked back into his eyes, “so don’t show regret or doubts anymore!”

Cullen could have stared into those fresh, spring grass colored eyes for eternity, but he had to speak.

“I will do as you ask, my Lady.” He put his lips to the inside of her palm and assured her, “I will never regret anything I do with or for you” while keeping his eyes on hers, he finally let his lips plant a tender kiss.

Holy fuck, how can he go from blushing schoolboy to master of loins in less time than it takes to remove my trousers?!

Kiara panicked in her head as her whole face and body flushed with rose color.

“You better,” she barely squeaked out while slowly pulling her hand from his. “I should get back inside before I…I… don’t know.”

She turned around slowly and only managed to get a few steps between them before she realized one last thing needed to be said. So she stopped in her tracks and half-turned back to look at Cullen’s face as she spoke.

“I want to make sure we take things at a natural pace, Cullen. I don’t want you ever to worry that you’re a rebound.” She spoke kindly and confidently.

“Oh, right.” He said with a tone of surprise in his voice. He hadn’t thought of that.

“I would never want to hurt you, whether on purpose or by accident,” Kiara said, “especially when you have helped me heal my hurt” She gave him a small smile and wished him goodnight.

Cullen watched her walk back into Skyhold’s Great Hall door.

She wants a natural pace; she wants there to be a ‘we’!

You could have seen the Commander’s smile from the battlements.

Chapter Text

“I should prepare for travel then?” Kiara asked Leliana.

“Yes, Inquisitor,” she answered quickly and added, “I hope you can spare Dorian and Solas. They are both busy with research we need on Corypheus.”

“Of course,” Kiara said as she gathered her parchments. “I’ll ask Cole, Bull, and Cassandra to come with me.”

She turned to leave with a large stack of parchment in her arms, but she was stopped short by the Commander standing in her path. He looked down at her with a kind smile on his face.

“I can help with those, Inquisitor.” He gently took the leaves from her.

“Thank you, Commander.” The sad part of her duty now hitting her as they walked out of the war room.

I won’t see his smile again for a good while.

They walked side by side silently through the great hall to the door leading up to her chambers. Cullen broke the silence as Kiara reached out to push it open.

“Kiara,” he called her name and then noticed the other people in the Great Hall. There were eyes and ears everywhere. He cleared his throat and started again. “Inquisitor, I’ll give these back to you here. It wouldn’t be proper to go into your chambers.”

Kiara furrowed her brow and tilted her head slightly. Her confusion left as quickly as the realization arrived that they were eyes were on them.

I am always watched again.

“Just step into the hallway and give them to me there, Commander,” she said as she held the door open, “it would be hard for me to hold the door with those in my arms.”

“Oh right,” Cullen said.

They stepped into the alcove just before the steps leading to her room and allowed the door to swing shut behind them. Kiara took the parchments from his hands, swiftly set them down at her feet, and wrapped her arms around Cullen before he had a chance to vocalize any questions about what she was doing.

“Let me have this for a moment, Cullen.” She pleaded in a whisper as she hugged a little tighter, “No one is watching here.”

He put his arms around her to the small of her back and rested his cheek on her head.

“Of course, Kiara.” He sighed out in her embrace and wished to himself that she didn’t have to leave.

 She wished the same during the all too short minute they had stolen for themselves.

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After Kiara reluctantly let go of their embrace, they had spent the day packing the horses and bags with weapons, foods, and various supplies for at least one week's worth of travel; caches would be found at their destination. The members she asked to accompany her had been available for this mission, and so Cole, Bull, Cassandra, and The Inquisitor left early the following morning. They made excellent time considering the climb down from Skyhold usually presented a struggle, only five days instead of a full week. That left them plenty of food to properly rest for the first night of camp in The Emerald Graves. They set up their tents under one of the many canvases of beautiful trees. Kiara was hammering the last peg into the dirt for her tent when she heard Cole speak.

“The trees miss being Elven.” He was crouched down, staring up at the green leaves with his arms on his knees, keeping him balanced.

The last bit of daylight barely coming through the natural roof to illuminate the wolf statue behind him. The tents were placed around that statue as if it was the connecting piece of a circle. Kiara placed her hammer down and walked closer to their resident spirit.

“What was that, Cole?” She asked as she sat in the grass next to him.

“The Knights wanted to win,” he ran his hand over the top of the grass gently, “ but they would never change their decision.”

“It just gets weirder and weirder. Talking to trees now.” Iron Bull interjected from his position near the middle of the clearing, where he was placing wood down for the fire.

Cassandra walked up from behind her tent with her arms full of wood. She dropped them down into a pile outside of the firepit.

“What is weird, Bull?” She asked him as she wiped the dirt from her tunic.

“Cole is talking to the trees.” He replied while never taking his eyes away from the pit that he was now lighting.

“Ugh,” Cassandra grunted. She sat down on a log near the fire and removed her sword from its sheath on her waist to begin cleaning it.

Kiara extended her arms behind her to lean back, making it easier to look up at the treetops. Her eyes had to adjust to the now dark forest, but she could see some stars between the leaves. It was warm here with all the foliage, and the soft wind was pleasant on her face. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose. This area and the calmness of it right now reminded her of how she felt with Cullen. Just sitting near him, talking to him, putting her arms around him, or sharing a meal made her feel warm and at peace. They had all been silent for a minute now, just resting in their thoughts. Cole was staring at Kiara now instead of the trees.

“Cullen feels like that, too, with you.” He said to the now startled Inquisitor, who was now having a coughing fit.

“Oh, now this I don’t mind talking about,” Bull managed to chirp in his gruff voice.

“Why?” Kiara spat out between the last few coughs. “I’m sure Dorian has told you everything I’ve told him.”

“But real answers can be found in body language,” Bull said with a wide grin.

Kiara raised her eyebrows high over her now wide eyes. “I’m being interrogated?”

Cassandra’s throat being cleared broke into the conversation very loudly, so Kiara turned her head to look at her.

“Yes,” she answered her question, “ come sit with us.”

The deadpan look on Cassandra’s face convinced Kiara that she best not delay moving herself to a seat around the fire. She sat on another log conveniently placed on Cassandra’s right side.

Why am I so nervous? It feels like I’m meeting his parents!

“Soooo,” Kiara began while fidgeting with loose threads at the bottom of her tunic, “what do you want to know?”

“Who came onto who first?” Bull enthusiastically asked while leaning closer to see her face better in the fire’s light.

Kiara was blushing as she told them about that night following Ranier’s judgment. She only excluded a few details, like the tongue part. Kiara also left out how she was trying to emulate the Hero of Ferelden and Alistair when she was with Ranier. It almost felt like Bull was “reading” that from her mind even though she knew the only one able to read thoughts was Cole.

Please don’t say that out loud, Cole.

“And you care for him?” Cassandra asked a few seconds after she had finished the story.

“Of course, I do!” Kiara answered a bit too loudly.

“I just wanted to make sure, Inquisitor.” Cassandra was smiling gently at her. “I know you’ve been hurt, and I don’t want to see the Commander hurt as well.”

“Then, you aren’t mixing up the feelings you had for the man once known as Blackwall for our Commander Cullen Rutherford?” Bull questioned her.

“No!” Kiara adamantly denied.

 

“The way he walks into a room as if he always belonged there. Then the way he blushes at anything unfamiliar, how he rubs the back of his neck when he’s embarrassed or stressed. He only does that in front of his friends. His smile.”

 

“COLE!” Kiara yelled at the voice that was spouting out her feelings. He had followed her over to the fire and was sitting in the grass behind her. Staring intently at her again as he continued “reading” her feelings out loud.

 

“His loyalty to what best aligns with his morals. That he can admit when he’s wrong but tries his best not to be wrong in the first place, he admits that he isn’t perfect, making it comfortable to be imperfect with him. His honesty.”

 

“Well,” Bull cut in, “That answers what you like about him.”

Kiara just stared back at Cole, slack-jawed. She didn’t know whether to be angry or grateful for his meddling in her thoughts.

“I was helping,” Cole said before turning his stare towards the fire.

“That was beautiful,” Cassandra said in a quiet voice. She was still looking at her sword in her lap but had stopped moving the cloth along the metal.

“If we’re all done with this ‘interrogation’ now,” Kiara stood up from her log seat, “then we should eat some food and get into our bedrolls.”

“We have some Red Templar Lieutenants to find and kill.”

Chapter Text

Kiara’s companions went straight to their quarters to rest when they returned home. On the other hand, Kiara headed toward the war room to report their findings to her advisors. The Inquisitor wasn't done with work yet. She had to let them know that they’d found the location, Emprise Du Lion. She was exhausted but elated to give them some good news. They could do something to injure the forces that were against them. She would happily destroy every last bit of red lyrium she could find and rejoice when the red templars were no more.

I’ll take what joy I can find.

She thought to herself as she walked across the courtyard and ordered a nearby soldier to gather her advisors.

Kiara walked up the steps and pushed open the doors into the great hall with a flourish. She stood in the doorway to glance over the familiar trappings of what was now her home. The Inquisition glass windows, Free Marches banners, statues of Andraste, and the intimidating but straightforward chair in the back of the hall were a welcome sight. She didn’t let her gaze linger long on her throne; her last judgment had made its presence intimidating for even her. Kiara walked with confident purpose through the hall, and visiting nobility parted for her alongside Inquisition members. She nodded at their small bows and smiles but kept her thoughts on the scrolls in her arms. The Herald of Andraste was working.

She’d had only a minute to organize the scrolls when all three of the advisors arrived. They took their positions across from her. Cullen gave her a small smile, and she returned his gesture by saying, “I have good news.” She unrolled the blood-spattered scroll with the name Emprise Du Lion on it and sat it down on the war map.

“The location of Samson’s red lyrium mine,” Kiara beamed to the table. Cullen picked up the scroll to read over it.

“Fantastic, Inquisitor,” Josephine congratulated her. “I’ll send messages to the town to announce your arrival.” She immediately began moving her quill along her board of parchment.

“I’ll have my spies scout the area in preparation for you,” Leliana said as she moved pieces on the map to signify their new positions.

“It will have to be a small force,” Cullen spoke up, “we don’t want to scare them into moving to a new location, and I’ll be coming with you.”

His declaration caused all of them to look up from their tasks at him. “What did you say, Commander?” Kiara asked with her heart in her stomach.

“I’ll be joining you and your team for this, if you’ll allow it, Inquisitor,” Cullen said in a more subdued tone while he looked into her face to explain his reasoning. “I was a templar once, and you’ll be facing more than your fair share of Templars, so my expertise could be invaluable. I also have a personal interest in seeing this shutdown.” He damn near growled out, “I want to be a part of this major injury to Samson and the abomination of templars he’s helped create.”

“Well,” Kiara swallowed loudly, “I see no problem with that as long as you can be spared here.” She scanned all of their faces and listened to the Lady advisor’s approval.

“I’ll begin arranging things for my absence now,” Cullen said as he walked around the table. He stopped in front of Kiara and looked down at her dirt-covered face. “I look forward to fighting alongside you, Inquisitor. Thank you.” He said softly with a small bow of his head, then walked out of the war room.

“You should have some time to rest now, Herald,” Josephine said with her kind eyes looking at Kiara’s dirty face and hair. “You should start with a warm bath.”

“You’ll have two days, at max, to rest and pack again, Inquisitor,” Leliana told her. “We will handle everything else.”

Kiara nodded in acknowledgment, left the scrolls on the table, and turned around to start with that bath suggestion in her quarters.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cullen sat at his desk, where he begrudgingly spent far too much time, surrounded by messengers, soldiers, and lieutenants. He’d been setting up things to ensure his operations would run without a hitch while he’d be gone with the Inquisitor’s party. Orders had been written and handed down the chain. He had informed the Lieutenants of their extra duties and what should be done in case of an emergency. Ultimately, he’d set it up that if need be, they would report to Leliana.

She’s more than capable of handling anything, but I’m sure I’ve covered everything.

He rubbed at his temples as the men and women around his desk spoke amongst themselves. Some of them talked to him as well, but he couldn’t hear them. The headache was getting harder to ignore. The hours he’d spent talking at this desk hadn’t helped, and their chatter was making him angrier about it.

“You are all dismissed.” He spat out in anger as he stood up from his chair. “I’ll send for you tomorrow when I have more to give you.”

He waited for the last person to leave his office and locked the doors behind them. Sighing out loud, he leaned against one of the doors. He practically threw himself off the wood and began rifling through his bookshelf in search of a bottle. He was looking to see if he had any more of the pain drought that Vivienne had made for him.  She had seen him rubbing at his temples from her perch above the hall one day and found him later to give him a supply. It tasted like rotten fruit and nug dung but worked within minutes to dull the pain down to a tolerable measure.

I’m glad she doesn’t know what causes these headaches and maintains a kind opinion on templars. Strange for a mage.

As soon as he thought about mages, Kiara’s face popped into his mind. Her blonde hair in a makeshift bun was done without much care, grayed with what looked like ash. Mud caked on the bottom of her robes; blood spattered all over her clothes, and her face was darker with the layer of dirt picked up from travel. Her mage staff had been on her back and somehow still looked pristine.

I’m fighting alongside her soon.

Cullen found the bottle and downed it quickly. His thoughts took him to the possible scenarios for the upcoming battle beside his Inquisitor.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kiara soaked in the bath for as long as the hot water had allowed her. She had dwelled on the fact that soon she would be fighting next to Commander Cullen. It had been months since she last saw him fight and vice versa. Kiara worried about how he might react to fighting beside her magic.

He was a Templar once upon a time.

She dressed in light leather breeches, a tough animal skin tunic, a soft red scarf, and as per usual, long leather gloves and boots. Kiara didn’t bother hooking the belt around her waist this time. There was no more work for her today. She took her time getting everything on and buttoned, allowing her hair time to dry. She walked back into the small alcove in her room to look over herself in the small mirror that she kept on the wall near her bathtub.

I’m leaving my hair down. It’ll help keep a headache away.

She looked into the mirror again.

Plus, it looks too damn good to put back up.

She ran her fingers through her hair as if to comb it. The sun was getting lower, and not much light was coming in through her balcony anymore. She finished combing her hair and headed to the door. She would put off packing again till tomorrow because now it was time to go to the Herald’s Rest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sitting at the table, the giant table he brought in for himself was Varric Tethras, peering over a letter. He’d made sure that it was next to the fire in the Great Hall. It was too cold in this part of Thedas for his liking, and he needed the light anyhow. Varric had just finished writing out a reply to one of his contacts in Kirkwall. He had read over it one too many times to make sure he didn’t miss anything that needed to be said.

He sighed, finally content with the letter, and leaned back against his stone chair. That’s when he saw Kiara Trevelyan walking through the hall.

Her hair reminds me of Curly’s when it’s down. I need to write that down.

“Nice to see you looking so relaxed, Herald.” He complimented her as she got closer to his table. She smiled at him and turned her steps to meet him at his table.

“It’s just Kiara to you, Varric.” She said with a forced frown.

“And I’ve said,” Varric put his parchments in a neater stack, “that it’s hard to remember sometimes that you aren’t just The Herald of Andraste.”

Her frown was turning into a real one now. “I was Kiara Trevelyan first, as I’ve said before.”

“I know, Kiara, and I’ll try harder to remember,” Varric assured her as he stood up from the desk.

“I know how to help my image of Kiara stick better for you,” Kiara began saying before he could pick up his letters, “drinks at the tavern.” She finished her sentence by placing a makeshift paperweight on top of the stack.

“I can never say no to a pint.” He accepted the invite with a broad smile and stepped out from behind the desk to stand beside her. “I also need to come up with a nickname for you. Curly is taken, though.”

She laughed at that and touched her hair for a moment as they walked towards the tavern. “Maybe the alcohol will help you think of one.”

They walked side by side down the stairs and through the green grass of the courtyard. Soldiers and messengers stepped out of their path, slightly bowing their heads or just saying Kiara’s titles as they passed them. Even in the tavern, more bows and her honorifics said out loud to acknowledge their reverence for her.

She really never hears her name.

They grabbed pints from Cabot, the dwarf bartender, and sat at an empty table near the bar. It was darker in this corner of the tavern. Varric took the seat facing the door, and Kiara sat across from him. Anyone walking in would see Varric’s face first and might assume that he’s drinking with an average scout unless they walked up to the table, of course. Then they would sputter out the title or bow or apologize for not noticing her immediately.

I don’t blame them. Shit, I’m not used to being in the presence of someone who could change the world with a few words yet.

Just as this thought ended, he watched her chug damn near half her pint and then burp. Varric blinked in surprise and then burst out into laughter. He visibly startled her, causing his laughter to morph into tears. Kiara was steadily staring, confused, and Varric was crying at the image of the high and mighty Inquisitor burping after her ale.

“I’m sorry,” Varric said weakly while wiping tears from his eyes. “No one would believe that I’ve seen the Inquisitor drink heavily and burp.”

“Well, I’d be more than happy to see it written in your book.” She said, smiling at him.

“Oh, it definitely will be. I also want to call you Belchy now.” He gave her his best cheeky grin.

“You better not!” She exclaimed while looking a bit frightened by the idea.

“I’ll only call you that in my head.” He promised her while finally picking up his mug and taking a swig before speaking again. “We haven’t had drinks since before that damnable trip into the deep roads, and we couldn’t talk during that weird shit.” He scowled at the memory. “So, I have had to hear about the heartbreak and new romance of yours through the grapevine.” He huffed out a short chuckle and continued. “Your Commander wouldn’t tell me anything, of course.” Varric saw color fill her cheeks when he used that possessive word for Cullen.

Now, that’s new. I never saw Kiara blush at the thought of Blackwall.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been able to catch you up,” Kiara said while looking away to try hiding the blush, he assumed.

“Don’t apologize,” he told her, “we kept missing each other because of work.”

“Speaking of work,” her words hitching quickly onto the end of his sentence.

She's changing the subject, huh?

“Leaving day after tomorrow, and I need you with me for this trip. Going to destroy a red lyrium mine and….”

“Say no more, I’m in,” he cut her sentence short. “I’m always ready to take more of that evil shit out of this world.”

“I knew you would come with me,” she grinned at him affectionately. Her smile slowly changed into a tight line of worry before continuing. “Before you cut me off, though, I was going to tell you that Cullen is coming with us.”

She was leading the subject to Cullen.

Varric’s eyes narrowed in thought. “Oh. He’s fought beside you before, hasn’t he?” He asked while leaning in closer to her. The tavern had gathered more patrons with the off duty hours, and he didn’t want to have to raise his voice.

“Yes,” she answered while leaning in a bit as well, “technically. You were there! It was the first time I met him, and we just happened upon their battle.”

“What are you worried about?” Varric questioned her. “That you might set his fur collar on fire?” She snickered at that, and her face relaxed a bit.

That helped Varric just as much as it helped her. He didn’t like to see her worry so much.

“No, I’m proud of my short record of friendly fire mishaps,” she declared confidently. She looked down to stare into her empty mug, and Varric knew she would elaborate, so he remained quiet. “I’m worried what this might do to his view of me. He knows I’m a mage, of course. Still, it's one thing to know and another to see a mage in battle. Especially considering his past.”

“Kiara,” he tried to cut in, but she raised her hand to hush him.

“I also knew that one day we would fight together again, or he would see me fighting, but I guess I’m just not ready.” She looked up from the mug to meet Varric’s eyes. “What if this changes his feelings for me? I can’t go through another heartbreak so soon.”

Just as Varric was about to assure her that wouldn’t happen, the sound of someone clearing their throat made him stop. He looked to his left and trailed up from the belt, over the under armor padding, landing his eyes on the bearded face of Thom Rainier, better known as Blackwall.

Shit.

“Hi there, Hero.” Varric greeted him cheerfully. Varric wanted to keep the tone friendly and hope Blackwall hadn’t been standing there long. Blackwall’s eyes jumped from him to the Inquisitor. Varric watched her shoulders straighten as she put on her ‘I’m in charge’ persona.

“Varric,” he nodded his head toward him and turned his head to Kiara, “Inquisitor.” With a slower nod to her as well. “I saw Varric sitting over here with someone and thought I’d join, but I didn’t realize it was you that he was talking to.”

“It’s not a problem, Rainier,” she was moving to stand, “I can find work to do quite easily.”

“No need to leave, my Lady,” Kiara stopped her motion, “I won’t take much of your time. The questions I had for Varric were concerning you.”

“Oh, I was a middle man,” Varric said as he crossed his arms over his chest, “Great.”

Blackwall shot him a ‘shut up” look and continued addressing Kiara. “I wanted to ask about your next mission. The soldiers have been excitedly talking about it….from what I’ve been able to eavesdrop.” Blackwall’s eyes fell to the floor. “I am not well received anymore, so almost no one speaks to me willingly anymore. I am not stupid enough or brave enough to ask the Commander directly.”

Varric saw Kiara’s eyes shift away from Blackwall at the mention of Cullen before she answered him. “We are taking a small force to Emprise Du Lion to destroy a red lyrium mine.”

“Who is going?” He asked.

“It’s going to be Cole, Varric, and…” she paused very briefly, “the Commander.”

“Have you asked the kid yet?” Varric piped in.

“No, but you know he’ll say yes.” Kiara raised a brow and looked up. “Hell, he’s probably in here ‘listening’ to us.

“HA!” Blackwall huffed out his signature deep laugh in agreement. Blackwall collected his composure before speaking again. “From that list, it sounds like you could use another sword arm. I imagine Bull and Cassandra are still tired or indisposed by other duties, so I offer you mine.”

“You're right, Rainier,” Kiara answered courteously. “See Leliana if you need to know any specifics on what you should pack with you. We leave the day after tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Inquisitor.” He bowed slightly and turned to leave the tavern. They were quiet until they saw Ranier walk out of the door.

"I still like that guy, by the way.” Varric broke their silence.

“I know, Varric,” she smiled at him. “I still like him too. Can’t hate him.”

Varric reached out to put one hand on hers, "Nothing is going to change his feelings for you, Kiara, and if anything does, then they weren't true, to begin with." He let go of her hand after she smiled at him, then leaned back in his chair. "This is Cullen, though. Do you think he would ever say or do something without meaning it or thinking about it long and hard beforehand? If worrying were a sport, then he'd be the ultimate champion."

Kiara keeled over with laughter at how true that was.

Chapter Text

Cullen’s legs felt sore when he stood up from his bedroll. He’d forgotten how much more work it was to march through the snow. There had been snow in Haven but never ankle-deep or more.

The last time I traveled through this much snow was to get to Skyhold and before that when I was a child. In Honnleath?

He tried to recall as he stepped out of his tent. He put his Lion helm under his arm and began to make his way toward the table. He had the soldiers set one up near the tower the night before. He had brought five men with him, and they had spent their time patrolling the Inquisitor's travel. Last night was the first night that they had all camped in the same area. The Inquisitor and her party were already asleep in their tents when Cullen and his men arrived. Cullen hadn’t seen Kiara since they separated at Skyhold. He saw her now, leaning over a map on the table.

Kiara was wearing what Cullen recognized as an enchanter’s coat but in finely crafted red leather paired with matching gloves. The silver bracers would have made it hard to notice the gloves if they didn’t go all the way up her elbows. Silver sabatons and greaves adorned her legs, matching the silver pauldrons on her shoulders with a fur collar.

Her armor looks like… mine.

He was shocked to a stop a few feet away from the table. Kiara took her hands off the table and stood up straight, releasing a visible breath in the cold temperature. Cullen woke up from his shock and took a deliberately loud step into the snow. The Inquisitor’s eyes had been closed but sprung open to see what had made the noise.

“Oh,” Kiara said, surprise in her voice quickly shifted to a pleasant tone. “Morning, Commander. I’m glad to see that none of us froze in the night.”

“It wasn’t that bad for me,” Cullen told her truthfully. He had become used to cold since there was still a hole in his roof at Skyhold. “So, the others are already awake?”

“Yes, they woke up with the soldiers,” she told him, placing her hands on her hips. “I think Varric and Ranier were doing some more prep with them, and I have no idea what Cole is doing.”

 Cullen’s face betrayed him at Ranier's mention; he had forgotten that he came with the Inquisitor’s party. Kiara didn’t miss the sneer that crossed his face and smiled gently at him before speaking.

“He’s an excellent swordsman, Cullen. We are fortunate to have him with us for this one.”

“I believe that, Kiara,” he said while feeling a little angry at himself for his lack of a poker face. “It isn’t going to make me like him, though.”

That was the moment Ranier and Varric came into their view. Both were in their usual attire with only one significant change, Varric had managed to button up his shirt. Ranier had his helm on, and both men had their weapons holstered in place. Ranier with his sword and shield, and Varric had Bianca strapped to his back. It made Cullen glad that he had decided to put his on before leaving his tent. They waited for the two men to step up to that table.

“Well, I feel ill-prepared,” Kiara said since she was the only one at the table without a weapon.

“Here,” a young man’s voice spoke up behind the Inquisitor, causing them to jerk. Cole had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Cole was holding Kiara’s staff and belt in his hands. She turned around on the spot and beamed at him as she took the belt from one hand. Kiara put it on and checked the inside of the purses that hung on it. Then she took her staff.

“Thank you, Cole,” she said as she slung the staff over herself to rest against her back.

“You’re welcome,” he said while never lifting his face high enough to see under that giant hat.

“We’re all ready now.” Kiara looked at Cullen and asked, “You received a map with the route last night, yes?”

He nodded his head to confirm, and she continued.

“We’ll use the map that Commander Cullen has and leave this one here in case anyone needs to come to our rescue, but I highly doubt that will happen.” She paused briefly to look over everyone. “We know what we’re facing, but as per usual, be prepared for surprises. We are taking a less than direct path because we have people to save from captivity. That has become our top priority, remember that?” She looked at each of the three men in front of her for confirmation, beginning with Cullen.

“Yes, Inquisitor,” he told her.

Blackwall confirmed to her, “Yes, my Lady.”

“Of course,” Varric said with a small nod of his head.

“I couldn’t forget,” said Cole from where he still stood behind the Inquisitor.

She smiled a mildly violent looking smile before announcing, “Let's get to walking then. We have some Red Templars to look forward to killing.”

Cullen put on his helm and followed behind the three men.

The walk was easy enough until the snow got deeper as their route took them between hills. Ranier and Varric were at the front, Cole walked a little behind them and Cullen, walked with the Inquisitor at the back. Cullen could see that Varric was filling the silence with pestering Ranier, but he couldn’t hear the conversation. Cole seemed content to stare at them in silence. He didn’t know if he should try having a conversation with Kiara.

I’m not used to this kind of mission. Usually, I’m in charge, and there are a hundred or more men and women waiting for orders. This is oddly…personal.

He didn’t have to worry about making conversation. About three meters ahead of the men at the front, a green glow was creeping around the next corner. The growls of something not of this plane interrupted Varric’s chatter. They all stopped in their tracks. Varric, Ranier, and Cole all looked to their leader, the Inquisitor.

“You know what to do, fellas,” she said as she pulled the staff off her back.

Everyone put their weapons in hand as well and headed toward the glow. Cullen took a few steps before noticing that Kiara hadn’t moved. He looked back over his shoulder to see her twisting her wrist in the air. As soon as the twisting ended, a light green glow spread over her and disappeared as quickly as it came. Then she appeared no more threatening than a small girl with a big stick.

Peaceful aura. The spell makes her less likely to be considered a threat. I remember watching apprentices learn that one.

Then she spun her staff in her right hand as she began a sprint. Cullen ran alongside her.

The first thing they saw when they rounded the corner were two pride demons. Cole and Ranier were facing the closest one. Cole popped in and out of stealth to stab at the legs while Ranier slashed with his sword; simultaneously, Ranier was doing his best to dodge the massive whips. Varric was firing bolt after bolt at the one that was farther away. Cullen ran to face that demon.

The demon was too distracted by Bianca’s projectiles to notice Cullen until his sword plunged into one of his legs. An otherworldly roar shook the ground under him in response to the pain. He yanked his sword out and ran around to stay ahead of the whips. Just as he made it to the other side, Cullen saw a stream of ice crystals heading toward him from the corner of his eye. He put his shield up in the nick of time, angling it down where it froze the ground in front of him. He didn’t see what was firing magic at him.

“I’ll kill despair!” He heard the Inquisitor yell seconds before he heard the crackle of fire pass by him. Then he saw the despair demon fly by, engulfed in flames. He didn’t track where it went because he trusted Kiara could kill it. Cullen had to focus on killing this pride demon. He expertly maneuvered back into an offensive stance and began attacking the giant monster once again.

He swung his sword in short arcs that connected hard against the scales of the beast. It sounded as if he was striking metal, but he could see from the blood that it was indeed flesh. He maintained a constant barrage of strikes and repositioning to keep its’ focus on him and away from Varric. Cullen could see Varric, but he could only hear everyone else's fighting. His eyes couldn’t look away from the whips long enough to see where they were. He was stepping around again when he put his foot on the ice from earlier. Cullen realized too late and landed on his back. He could see the whips were coming down. Cullen hovered his shield over his face, a futile action.

Before the whips could make contact, though, they hit a translucent, green wall that hovered a few feet above him. He snapped himself up before the wall could disappear and ran out of the downward path of the whips. He’d just readied himself to strike again when the area exploded in green, and the pride demons fell to their knees.

Perfect.

He dashed toward the head and sunk his sword to the hilt at the base of the skull. Bolts missed Cullen by inches as they punctured the neck at the same time. The monster’s blood slid out and over Cullen’s sword as he gurgled. Cullen pulled the weapon out and watched the demon fall over away from him. He heard a thud behind him and witnessed the other monster die as well. The smell of burnt flesh was wafting over from the green light in the sky.

In the distance, below the light, stood Kiara. Her left arm extended toward it with the same green pouring out of her hand as if she was filling it up. The hole in the sky seemed to surge for a few seconds before Kiara snapped her wrist down and closed her palm, the hole closing just as quickly as her palm did. Then, there was no sign it had ever been there, except for the fade corpses on the ground, but those would disappear soon enough. He stared at her as she shook her left hand and then rubbed it.

Does it hurt her more when she closes them?

He walked to meet her in the middle of the clearing, the others did the same, and they all put their weapons away as they gathered together again. The five of them stood there, catching their breath. He could see that Cole and Blackwall had blood spatter all over themselves, but Varric and Kiara were clear of that. They all had a noticeable amount of sweat on their faces and necks. He saw Kiara look them all over before the corners of her mouth turned up into an approving grin.

“I get to keep these potions for now,” she said as she patted the purses on her hip.

“It was good exercise, nothing more,” Ranier said to her.

“Yeah,” Varric began, “that’s how I keep this physique. By gambling my life with demons.” The sarcasm was palpable in his voice. “I recommend it to all of my friends.”

Cullen and the Inquisitor laughed at his remark. She turned around to restart their trek, and Cullen stepped in time behind her, smiling.

Varric looked at him and said, “I didn’t know you could smile, Curly.”

“I smile plenty,” Cullen answered while looking down at him on his left. His mouth firmly set back into a stern expression.

“Color me convinced,” Varric retorted with a snort.

Cullen watched Cole lean into view from behind Varric’s left shoulder and added to the conversation, “He smiles a lot when he’s with Kiara.”

“Get out of my head!” Cullen raised his voice at Cole and looked ahead to see Kiara and Ranier. They had stopped walking.

They weren’t looking at him. Kiara was staring at the ground with more color in her cheeks, and Ranier was looking at Kiara. The expression was one of regret, but a small smile was under his beard. His chest felt tighter all of a sudden. He couldn’t identify the feeling initially, but it didn’t take him long to figure it out. Jealousy.

Dammit, can we get back to killing things?!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The battles through the mine were not any real trouble. Much like the rift before, Cullen would cover Varric, and Ranier would pair up with Cole. Meanwhile, the Inquisitor would support all from a distance. The only time that changed was when Cole had to pick the locks on cages full of people. The last cell of people told them that they had only one more to release. It turned out to be the most challenging. The enemies were more intense and numerous in this clearing. The strategy that had been working for them failed as Kiara ended up fighting one on one with a Red Templar Shadow.

Kiara blocked a lyrium arm with her staff, and the arm stuck hard into the wood. She twisted to her left, placed her back against its body, gripped her staff again with both hands, and threw the abomination over her left shoulder. The shadow landed on its back with a cry of pain. Kiara jabbed the sharpened end of her stave into its neck before it could cry or fight anymore. Without removing her weapon, she spun her head around in a panic to look for the others.

She saw Cole first. He was guiding the last of the villagers away from the fighting. Varric was shooting marksman that were trying to kill Cole or the people. Ranier and Cullen were stepping backward while fighting their enemies and were on opposite ends of the clearing. Ranier against the Templar Knight, who towered over him by several feet, and Cullen against the horror whose claws seemed to not care about the blade cutting into them.

Shit, shit, shit!

Kiara snatched a vial of lyrium out of the purse on her belt. With one swift motion, she thumbed the cork off, chugged the bittersweet liquid, and then smashed the glass on the ground at her feet. Kiara felt the surge of power immediately and used her free left hand to cast a barrier over Ranier before the knight could knock him back further. She moved her eyes back to Cullen’s position and saw that he was on the ground now, his sword no longer in hand, and he was reaching for the shield that was already in the dirt prior. The horror was surging forward, both of his knife-like fingers aimed for the Commander’s flesh.

“NO!”

The Inquisitor screamed as she finally yanked her staff from the corpse’s neck. In a pure panic, flashfire flew from the stave she pointed toward the beast. Flames covered the red lyrium riddled monster’s entire body. It had been only a few steps away from killing her Commander. The thing that was once a person released an ear-splitting scream. During its screaming, it backed away from Cullen while clawing at his face and body. The horror became panic-stricken and started running around in circles. Kiara ran to Cullen’s sword and picked it up in her left hand. She carried it in a reverse grip as she barreled past Cullen towards the panicking Red Templar. Kiara didn’t wait for it to stop running; instead, she used her mage’s staff to knock its legs out.

“SON OF A BITCH”

She screamed as she brought the sword down into its flaming back. With the lyrium still running through her body, the blade went all the way through to the cold ground, pinning it there. Kiara walked backward while spinning the wooden mage weapon between both of her hands. Once she considered herself far enough away, she immolated its writing form. A three-meter explosion of flame sent it to stillness, then death.

Kiara spun around to run back to Cullen. Before crossing the distance, she called out, “Do you need potions?!” Kiara dropped to her knees next to him while fumbling through another purse, and when she looked up from the bag, she saw Cullen’s eyes wide with terror looking at the body in the distance. She dropped the potion she’d managed to get her fingers around, and her world went silent.

Oh, no. Please, Maker no.

 “Cullen?” She said his name and took one of his hands in hers.

He blinked rapidly, and his hand squeezed hers. Kiara called to him again, and he finally looked away from the smoking body and turned his head to look at her. His amber eyes searched her face, unfocused for several seconds until they stopped on hers. She heard his breath catch, and then he spoke.

“Kiara.” His voice quivered, and he sat up from his propped position to pull her into his arms. She held him tight as he continued to speak. “All of the fire. I was back in the Ferelden Circle. I was…scared.”

“I’m so sorry, Cullen.” Kiara wanted to take him away, but she could only reassure him. “You’re not there. You’re here with me, and I will never let magic hurt you again.”

They stayed in each other’s arms on the ground, not aware that the other three with them had already finished the battle. Ranier, Varric, and Cole patiently waited.

“Stronger when she holds him.”

 Cole said to no one in particular.

Only a few more minutes passed before Kiara and Cullen gathered themselves. No one mentioned the vulnerable moment their leaders shared, and they all continued their work. Destroyed large deposits of Red Lyrium and looked for more information that could help The Inquisition. They succeeded on both fronts. They found orders alluding to Samson’s armor being more than just your average metal. They realized they’d have to search more elsewhere for Samson himself. The job was done, though, for now. They went back to the tower camp to rest one night before heading home to Skyhold.

Chapter Text

Kiara didn’t sleep well. She couldn’t stop thinking about Cullen. So there was a lot of tossing and turning, getting up for water, and attempting steady sleep. Morning came, and her mind was still not on tasks she had to handle. Talks with merchants, visiting nobles, and other handshaking went by as if she was hypnotized to go through the steps. Kiara had made it through half the day like that. Now she was in the garden, pretending to be paying attention to a presentation on rift magic. Kiara was startled out of her deadpan stare when Sera plopped down on the bench next to her.

“Shut it, mages,” Sera told them as she sat down. “Can’t you tell she’s not listening?” They looked at her with their mouths agape and then looked to the Inquisitor for guidance. “Don’t look at her. Just piss off. We have other stuff to handle,” Sera turned away from them, not even concerned with whether they did leave or not. Before they were even out of earshot, Sera asked the Inquisitor, “So, you and Cully-Wully had a scary moment?”

“Sera!?” Kiara called her name in an annoyed tone.

“What? Everyone already knows you two are sweet on each other,” she told her. “As if no one noticed all your blushing at each other.” She grinned from ear to ear at Kiara.

It’s like a knitting circle in this place.

Kiara just sighed in response to that before answering her first question, “I suppose we did have a scary moment, yeah.”

“Alright,” Sera crossed her legs on the bench, “why’s it look like you’re still having a scary moment?”

“First, how do you know about that?” Kiara asked.

“How d’you think?” She explained loudly, “Varric told the story, of course.”

“You’re right; I should have known that.” Kiara shook her head.

“I’m assuming it didn’t happen how he said it did. You know his stories, but seeing you like you are tells me that it was something,” Sera barely stopped for a breath. “So, why do you look like that?”

Kiara didn’t bother to argue with her. Sera was much more perceptive than she was polite. Without any air or minced words, Kiara explained. “I’m worried that my magic has scared him, and my heart is going to get broken again.”

Sera jumped in as soon as the last word left Kiara’s mouth, “Don’t be stupid! If magic was going to be a problem, then he never would’ve given ya the go-ahead.”

Kiara blinked at her.

“It’s got to be something else, and you won't know till you talk to him,” Sera said, aggravated as she stood up. “Figure it out quick and stop looking like that. Sheesh.”

Then Sera just walked away. She left Kiara behind with a dumbfounded look on her face. She didn’t sit long. Sera told her what she needed to do. Kiara stood up and started the walk toward Cullen’s office.

I'll quit acting stupid.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cullen flung himself back into his work. It was doing a great job of keeping him from reliving that moment in the quarry. The feeling of the heat, the smell of smoke, and crackling noise hadn’t crept back into his mind. Her eyes did come to mind, though. The feeling of her arms around him and the smell of elfroot her hair. The sound of her voice whispering in his ear. Those memories kept coming to mind.

Maker, she’s terrific. What can I do to deserve her?

He had stopped reading the report in his hand to think about her, and then a knock interrupted his thoughts. He told the knocking guest that it was open without looking up from the parchment in hand. He listened to the footsteps walk up to his desk and stop in front of it.

Still without looking up, “Yes?” He asked.

“Cullen?” Kiara called his name timidly.

He dropped the report and knocked the chair over as he stood up. He wanted to say hello as he recovered the chair, but it just came out as noises of frustration.

“Cullen, are you okay?” She asked as she stepped to the left side of the desk.

He got the chair upright again and said, “Yes, I’m fine. I’m sorry, I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

“I can come back another time if you would like.”

“No!” Cullen shouted, causing her eyebrows to raise. “I mean, no, I’m happy to see you.”

Kiara’s lips turned up into a soft smile. Her cheeks were more pink than usual, and Cullen resisted the urge to kiss one and then the other, ending with her lips. He felt his cheeks flush at the thoughts.

Stop! Control yourself.

“I thought we could talk. Alone?” Kiara said without letting her smile falter.

“Alone? I mean, of course,” Cullen stammered. “We should go to the battlements, though. A messenger or one of my soldiers walk in unannounced every few minutes.” He held an open palm out in the direction of the door to his right.

Kiara walked to the door that Cullen had gestured toward, and they walked out of it together. It was still sunny outside, and the wind from the mountains wasn’t as cold today. They hadn't walked very far away from his door as he noticed the weather. Cullen decided, in his nervousness, that the weather was an excellent way to break the silence.

“It’s a nice day,” he rubbed his neck as he made the observation.

Kiara stopped her steps and turned to face him. “What?”

“It’s,”  he pulled his hand away from his neck, “there was something you wished to discuss.”

“Cullen, I care for you and,” Kiara sighed midsentence and looked down.

“What’s wrong?” Cullen was concerned for her. He never heard her sigh before.

She brought her face back up to look at him before continuing. “You left the templars, but do you trust mages? Could you trust me?”

“I could, I mean, I do,” Cullen put his hand to his forehead and started walking again. “What happened at the quarry has given you a reason to doubt me.”

Kiara stopped walking next to him and leaned against an embrasure, “It has, and I’m sorry, but the look on your face…you were so scared, and I did that.” She had crossed her arms over her chest and looked away from him.

Cullen closed some of the distance between them to hold her arms gently, “You didn’t do that, Kiara.” She looked up at him again, eyes threatening to release tears. Cullen swallowed hard and looked away from those beautiful eyes. “The damn lyrium had been singing to me, and it was in my head when I faltered. When you saved me, all I felt was fire, and I heard a voice in my head. I was scared of where it took me back to,” he zeroed back in on her eyes, “I wasn’t frightened by you or your magic. You pulled me out of the fear, your voice silenced what I was hearing, and your eyes cleared my vision. I trust you more than I’ve trusted anyone before.”

Kiara put her left hand on his right and said, “When you’re ready to talk more about it, I’ll be here. With that answered, I want to tell you what else occurred to me in that battle." Kiara sighed and smiled at him before continuing.

"That I want to be there for you whenever and wherever you need me. I want to save this world, so I have a place in it with you. I want to be yours. If you'll have me, here I am, officially yours.”

Cullen’s heart sped up in his chest. A smile spread over his face, and he let his hands slide down to her hips as he inched his face closer to hers. “You’re mine? Even after what happened in the field?

“I’m still here, aren’t I?” She asked with her flirtatious grin, tilted up to look at Cullen’s lips.

“So you are, it seems too much to ask.” He was close enough to feel her breath on his as Kiara angled her head to the right, “But I want to-“

“Commander!”

Cullen recognized the voice that interrupted the kiss to come.

Fucking Jim!

He cursed his name in his head and squeezed his fingertips into Kiara’s hips, evoking a noise that only he heard. That made his anger at Jim even more fierce. He let go of her and turned to face the messenger.

“What?!” Commander Cullen demanded while glowering at the man.

“Sister Leliana’s report. You wanted it delivered ‘without delay,’” Jim explained.

 Cullen narrowed his eyes and lowered his face closer to Jim. The glower had turned into a death glare. Jim’s eyes went back and forth between the Commander and the Inquisitor, connecting the death glare's reasoning.

“Or…to your office,” Jim spoke as he took backward steps away from the angry Commander, “…right.”

Cullen watched Jim retreat through the door into his office and then let his shoulders relax again.

“If you need to-“ Kiara’s words were lost in Cullen’s kiss. He quickly turned around, putting his hands to the back of her neck, and pulled her mouth to his. The surprised noise Kiara had tried to release vibrated against Cullen’s lips. As the initial shock wore off, Cullen felt her grab at the clothing around his waist. She used the clothing as leverage to pull him closer in, and Cullen’s heart rate quickened. More heat spread throughout his body as it pressed against hers. She parted her lips, and he accepted the invitation. He could feel her heart beating as fast as his as he tasted her tongue, and she moaned into his mouth. The heat went straight down his body.

Oh, Maker, not here.

He pulled back from her and breathlessly said, “I’m sorry… that was…um…really nice.”

“Why are you apologizing?” Kiara asked through heavy breaths, “I’m yours.”

“Yes,” Cullen whispered as he craned his neck down again, “yes, you are.”

Their lips were on each others again. Kiara’s hands in his hair, threading her fingers in the curls, and Cullen wrapping his arms around her waist to press the small of her back to him. Not aware of any eyes on them.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Across the way, in a rookery window, two of their friends took turns with the spyglass.

Varric handed the spyglass back and said, “Good work, Buttercup.”

“Nothing to it. Inky was acting stupid,” Sera disregarded him as she looked back into the glass.

Varric put his hands in his pockets. “Nothing to it on your side. Talking to Cullen this morning was exhausting. Trying to pry his insecurities out is more challenging than picking the lock on the Empress of Orlais’ vault.”

“Shit. They’re going to suck each others’ faces off!” Sera exclaimed.

She hadn’t listened to him at all. Varric sighed, smiled, and walked away from the elf perched on the windowsill.

I will do everything in my power to make sure this story has a happy ending.

Chapter Text

Kiara Trevelyan handed over the parchments to a messenger in The Great Hall. She didn’t watch his salute; she immediately turned around to head to the garden. The Inquisitor's work was finally done for the day, and she could do something to unwind and get lost in thoughts of Cullen. She smiled to herself as she reached for the door leading to the outside when someone called for her. Kiara grimaced, didn’t even let her hand fall, and without turning her head toward the voice, asked, “How may I help you?”

“Could I take a few minutes of your time, My Lady?”

She recognized the voice now, Thom Rainier. She let her hand fall away from the door and twisted on her heel to face him. “I don’t see why not.”

“Can we talk somewhere else?” Rainier gestured toward the door out of the hall.

Kiara didn’t want to. She was still uncomfortable around him and had been looking forward to tending her plants. She wasn’t going to say no; as the Inquisitor, she had to work with him as a member under her command. Kiara assumed he wanted to go to the tavern, which made the idea a little less terrible. At least she could have a drink. She nodded yes to him, and they made their way to The Herald’s Rest in silence.

The tavern was busy as usual at quitting time, but as she walked in with Rainier ahead of her, the patrons gave them a wide birth. The people nearest to them changed from social drinking to awkward whispers. Kiara knew why and was sure Rainier did too. Everyone knew about her and Cullen. Not enough time had passed for them to forget about her romance with Rainier or how it ended. She was confident that some of the gossips weren’t kind to her, and being seen alone with Rainier wasn’t going to help stop them.

They grabbed ale from the bar and made their way up to a table overlooking the first floor. It was one of the tables furthest from others and against the railing near the stairs. Ranier sat facing the stairs so, Kiara took the only other chair. They continued their awkward silence for several minutes, just the sounds of setting their mugs back down after a swig. Kiara spoke first because it was just infuriating to sit there with no purpose.

“This feels oddly familiar, and I’d like not to repeat it, Rainier.”

 “I’ve meant to ask, could you call me Blackwall? Think of it as a title.”

Kiara crossed her arms over her chest and told him, “I won’t be doing that. That’s a dead man’s name, and you are very much alive.”

“Fair point.” Rainier looked into his empty mug.

Kiara caught a barmaid’s attention before speaking again, “Was that all you wanted to talk to me about?”

“No, I wanted to talk to you about your relationship with the Commander.”

“My relationship is none of your business, Rainier. As the man who broke my heart, your concerns about my love life are not welcome.”

“That’s why I’m concerned,” Rainier looked down into his empty mug. “It has only been a few months since I hurt you, and I want to make sure you’re not rushing into something that might not be real.”

The barmaid set down two new mugs, and Kiara smiled at her before looking at his face again. “Cullen cares for me, I care for him, and I know it’s real.”

Rainier leaned forward, setting his forearms on the table, “You thought we were real, didn’t you?”

He tried his best to look like he wasn’t affected by how quickly she had moved on, but his eyes betrayed him. They were glossed over, dark rings were noticeable even in the dim lighting, and his eyebrows were lower. Rainier hadn’t been sleeping well these last few months. The guilt kept him awake at first, but then he overheard the conversation she had with Varric. He’d pretended not to hear it, and he tried to forget it. Rainier wanted to tell himself that it was none of his business, but resentment told him to dwell on it. It changed to anger after he saw them holding each other on the battlefield. He tossed and turned many nights, accusing her of never caring for him in the first place. These last two restless nights had been a mix of sadness, anger, and guilt since hearing the news of their kiss.

Kiara uncrossed her arms as she shook her head. The mounting anger dissipated with his question and left her reeling. Moments of their courtship sped through her mind starting from the end. Kiara grabbed at the feelings she had then, which she experienced even when she was ignorant of his proper name. She landed at their first meeting, seeing him help those men defend themselves, the Grey Warden Griffon on his armor, and listening to his offer of help. One Warden could save the fucking world if pressed. With that thought, it verified what she knew all along.

She looked down into her mug this time, “It’s not all your fault. Finding out you were Ranier just pushed what would happen to us faster.”

His eyes grew wide, “How so?”

Kiara released a sigh as if she’d been holding her breath and didn’t look up before explaining. “I hadn’t been out of the Circle long, all of a sudden, I was the only person who could save the world, and then I met a Warden who offered to help. Did you know that my favorite love story is The Hero of Ferelden's?”

She looked up during this pause and saw that Rainier hadn’t moved. He stared at her with the same expression—nothing to tell her how he would receive this news. Kiara had hoped for something, didn’t know what, but maybe anything could help this be easier to say.

He needs to hear this as much as I need to say it, though.

“I put us on a pedestal and resigned us both to death because there was no way that my cousin’s story could be repeated twice. We would both die young, you because of The Calling and me for fighting the Breach and who caused it. We would die as heroes. Like Varric says, everyone loves a tragedy. I grabbed onto you because I didn’t want all of the focus on me. The story would be written about us.” She looked away from him and stared over the railing at the people on the first floor. “Then I found out you weren’t even a Grey Warden. What I had in my head wouldn’t come to pass. I was going to die alone with all of the focus on me. I fell in love with a story and was angry when it wasn’t real.”

Rainier sat back in his chair. His ale was untouched and now warm. “So, you fell in love with your own story and my lie?”

She looked him in the eyes and, with a sad smile, nodded in agreement. “I fell for Blackwall, but that’s not you for more reasons than just your lie.”

Rainier had hoped this conversation would have helped him settle on one solid feeling about their relationship, whether it was anger, sadness, or happiness. Just one to help him move on as well, but this was worse. He was everything but happy with confused melded in, and didn’t know what to say to her. Maybe he should walk away. He chewed his bottom lip, pulling in some of the hairs from his beard while trying to decide. His excuse for the conversation hit him.

“So, what makes you so sure that it isn’t the same with the Commander?”

“I know everything about him. About Cullen Rutherford, the good and the bad. He has been open with me.” Rainier wished she would look away now, but she stared unwaveringly into his eyes as she spoke. “And when I fought beside him, I realized how much I wanted to live to fight beside him again—no thoughts of stories or how we should die.”

Kiara clasped her hands together, put her elbows on the table, and let her arms fall. “He makes me want to live.”

Rainier’s chest hurt. Being with her and fighting beside her had given him those same feelings. It had all been real from his side, and she had believed it was for her then. She had never felt the same as him, though. Kiara Trevelyan hadn’t known what love was supposed to feel like since she grew up in the Circle. Rainier berated himself now for not thinking of that before. For not doing more and for not being honest right away. Now, she knew what love felt like with another man.

A better man than me.

He forced a smile and put one hand on top of hers. “I’m satisfied with that answer, Inquisitor.” Then he stood up, said goodnight, and began his way down the stairs. He’d only managed the first step when he saw the giant hat sitting at the bottom of the stairs. He sighed internally, had a fleeting hope that Cole would keep it to himself. He knew that wasn’t going to happen, of course, so he just surrendered to the idea of Cole invading his thoughts.  The hat was so large that Rainier couldn’t even see Cole’s body from this upward angle. He made it to the step just above where his legs would hit the brim.

“Cole, you’re gonna have to get up, or I’m gonna mess up your hat as I pass by.”

Cole didn’t look up at Rainier, “Remembering is the only way you learn.”

“Well,” he leaned against the railing with the assumption that this might take a while, “I’m glad that you remembered my words but unhappy that you’re using them against me now.”

“You do have other things to carry now, Blackwall.” Cole stood from the step and kept his back to him as he spoke. “Put the bodies down and the guilt of Kiara. She doesn’t want you to feel guilty for it too.”

Rainier pushed off the railing, “She has nothing to feel guilty about.” He made it to the bottom to walk past him.

“She’ll feel guilty if you punish yourself. Isn’t her not hurting more important than punishing yourself?” Cole turned to go up the stairs.

Rainier had heard him but didn’t need to respond. Cole knew he agreed. Rainier still loved her, and her happiness was more important to him than anything. He’d do his best to take in everything she said, learn, and move on so he wouldn’t hurt her anymore.

Kiara hadn’t moved from her seat, she didn’t hear the conversation between Cole and Rainier, and she felt terrible. She wanted to be comforted but didn’t feel like she deserved it anymore. She rubbed her forehead and breathed through her nose, hoping to release some stress on her own without resorting to more alcohol. Drinking alone was never right for her. Then she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. Kiara snapped her eyes up to her right and saw Cole’s smiling face.

“You deserve to be comforted,” Cole told her in a soft tone. “Cullen wants to comfort you and needs you for the same.”

She felt her throat tighten, and she sucked in a short breath. “You always help me, Cole. Thank you. I’ll go see him now.”

Chapter Text

Cullen sat at his desk again, this time in his sleeping attire. He had tried to go to sleep early tonight, but the headache kept him awake. Headaches plagued him more often as the lyrium withdrawal dragged on. He’d already downed one of Vivienne’s concoctions earlier, and she had warned him not to take it more than once a day. She hadn’t bothered to explain why and that made Cullen more apt to follow the rule. So, he sat at his desk with an empty bottle of wine, hoping to drink himself into sleep or dull the pain in his head, whichever happened after the very drunken state he was in. It seemed as though it was going to require the second bottle.

He grabbed a second bottle from the chest that sat behind the ladder leading to his sleeping quarters. Cullen was stumbling back to his chair when he heard the first round of knocking. He ignored it, believing he was just drunk and hearing things. The Commander threw himself into the chair and admired the metal wiring on the bottle that helped get the cork out when the second round of knocks occurred. Now, he was sure he heard it.

If they’re knocking, then it’s not an emergency, and I’m ignoring them.

He set the bottle down on his desk and focused on pushing the right bit of metal to open it up. Cullen didn’t realize the door was opening until he spotted it wide open in his peripherals. He wasn’t capable of considering who it might be and was immediately seething.

“Can you not take a fucking hint?!”

As the third word slurred from his lips, he saw the Inquisitor’s face come around the door, but he was too drunk to stop himself from finishing his sentence. He scrambled to get out of his chair and stammer an apology. Between the booze and embarrassment, though, whatever he said was incoherent. Kiara shut the door and giggled to herself as Cullen fumbled to gain a more sober look.

“Commander,” Kiara walked over to him and grabbed his hand to keep him from cleaning or talking anymore, “I didn’t know you knew such words!” She smiled from ear to ear at him as she tried to assess how far down the bottle he was.

Little curls hung over Cullen's forehead and ears. He was in a very loose white, long sleeve tunic that was damn near falling off one shoulder. It revealed precisely what Kiara had imagined, a barrel chest with little blonde hairs that presumably traveled down his toned abs. She also caught sight of scars that were either older or younger than the one on his lip. The desire to put her hands on his bare skin flared up. Kiara brought her eyes back up to his rosy cheeks before her hands could act on that desire.

Her hand on his had calmed him into coherent speech, “I’m sorry. I didn’t think before speaking.”

“Not thinking happens when you drink copious amounts of alcohol.”

He let go of her hand and sprawled out into his chair again, “It’s just one bottle of wine.”

Kiara picked up the empty bottle and caught a whiff from the open neck. “Shit, Cullen! Are you sure this was wine? That smell is..” she took an intentional sniff of the bottle, causing her nose to wrinkle with the upturn of her top lip, and she swiftly put the bottle back down where she found it, “aromatic.”

Cullen burst into a fit of laughter, eyes shut tight, holding his stomach with one hand. She gazed at him adoringly, listening to his carefree, deep laughs. Kiara could never have imagined seeing her Commander three sheets to the wind. For the time being, this surprise caused her to forget the conversation in the tavern entirely. Kiara half sat on the edge of his desk, the loving gaze never leaving her face as she waited for him to breathe normally again. He sighed contently when he pulled his arm away from his stomach. His eyes opened again to look at Kiara the same way she looked at him.

“I’m pleased that you’re here, Kiara.”

“Me too, Cullen,” she stepped away from the desk to kneel in front of him, “What possessed you to get so drunk?”

“My headaches are getting worse, and I just wanted to sleep.”

Kiara frowned at him. “You didn’t need to get drunk for that. I can help, but we need to move upstairs.”

Cullen’s head tilted down slightly, he maintained eye contact with her, and his scar moved with the little grin he gave her, “You’ll have to come back on a sober night for that, love.”

Kiara sprung from her kneeling position, face red from his flirting, and did her best to sound authoritative, “Clean up those thoughts, and climb that ladder, Commander!”

Cullen pushed himself out of the chair, a smile on his lips with furrowed brows, and swayed over to the ladder. Kiara watched him climb, unsure of whether or not he would make it. She wasn’t sure what she would do if he fell either, mind you.

Please, don’t fall. I’m strong, but not that strong. Explaining our injuries would be fun, though.

Fortunately, Cullen made it up the ladder and sat on the bed before she made it up. It was the first time Kiara had seen his quarters and was surprised by the hole overhead. It did allow a charming view of the night sky, which would do neither of them any good right now. She was scanning the entirety of the room when she saw Cullen sitting with his head in his hands and teeth bared. So, she wasted no more time admiring the space and undid her boot laces as fast as she could. Then she set them down gently at the foot of the bed and maneuvered onto the bed behind Cullen.

Laughing and then climbing the ladder must have killed off some effects of the wine.

The Inquisitor sat up on her knees and put both hands on his shoulders, nearest to his neck. The initial touch made him jerk. Kiara realized she should have warned him first, but she didn’t remove her hands, and he didn’t ask her to. She slid her hands gradually up his neck causing goosebumps in their wake.  Kiara stopped at the base of his skull, Kiara’s thumbs stayed there, but her other four fingers extended out to cup his jaw. She pressed her thumbs down on either side of his spine, moving them in opposite circles of each other. Intermittently, she would tilt his head from left to right and run her thumbs down his neck in an attempt to relax the muscles.

Kiara listened to his breathing become slower during the minute or so that passed. Kiara let up the pressure and slowed down her circles when she heard her Commander sigh, but repeated everything for at least another minute. Once she let go of his neck, she moved away from him and sat cross-legged near the headboard.

Kiara whispered, “Come lay your head down, face-up in my lap.”

He didn’t argue with her. Cullen slowly pulled his legs onto the bed, inched his way toward her, and softly laid his head into the open space of her legs. She took a minute for herself to admire him. Cullen had set his hands on his stomach with his fingers interlaced. Kiara could see the calluses of being a swordsman from any distance. She knew the skin of his hands was rough, but Cullen himself was gentle to a fault with her.

His eyelids were hiding the hazel eyes she loved to get lost in. Kiara could tell that his strong jaw was clenched by how tight his lips were pressed together. The messy blonde curls moved when his forehead twitched, causing creases in his skin and showing the pain that was still throbbing in his head. Kiara loved those creases when he was thinking hard at the War Table but didn’t want them on his face for pain. Kiara gingerly pushed the hair off his forehead and back. Next, she lightly ran her nails over his scalp, effectively combing out the knots of dried sweat. Cullen’s hair almost looked like his everyday style now, and his twitches were fewer, but Kiara wanted those gone entirely.

She abandoned his hair, placed one hand on either side of his head, and gently settled two fingers on his temples. Kiara kept the pressure light and moved both sets of fingers in the same circular motion. She watched his chest moved up and down with deeper breaths, and his lips parted as the seconds passed. Kiara didn’t stop moving her fingers as she leaned over to kiss him. One delicate kiss on each cheek. When she came up, his eyes were open, and Cullen was smiling at her.

“Do that again.”

“Anything to help you feel better, Cullen.” Kiara kept her eyes open this time and lingered a little longer on each cheek. Feeling his smile grow and the facial hairs slide across her lips.

Kiara wasn’t done with the last cheek when Cullen whispered in her ear, “Stay with me tonight?”

She didn’t let the surprise jolt her, but she did stop the circles as she sat up straight again. Kiara put her hands on her knees and raised an eyebrow at her Commander.

“I want to hold you, Kiara. I want to sleep next to you.” He reached one hand up and cupped her cheek. “You just being here makes everything better.”

Kiara put her hand over his, closed her eyes, and leaned into his hand as she nodded yes. She couldn’t say no to that request, and she didn’t want to anyhow. Cullen slid his hand out of hers, lifted his head so that she could stand. Cullen moved to the other side, then lifted the sheet and motioned for her to get in.

I can’t sleep in this grey, thousands of buttons atrocity.

Kiara smiled at him at the end of her thought as her hands moved to start undoing the buttons. When she was about halfway down the buttons, Cullen’s eyes reached their widest. She stopped for a moment to giggle at him.

“I can’t sleep in this, Cullen. I have a breastband on, and I’ll keep my pants on.”

His eyes quickly went back to regular size, and she saw him sigh. She grinned at his mixture of relief and disappointment as she finished undoing the buttons. Kiara took off the jacket and set it over her boots at the edge of the bed with her back facing Cullen. Then she pulled the cloth out of her hair that kept it in a bun and shook her head, letting her waves caress her shoulders. Kiara turned around to find Cullen staring at her.

His eyes went up and down, starting from her waistband and up to her golden hair. Her skin was much paler than Cullen’s and easily visible in the starlight. She didn’t have any scars as he did, and she was softer. No years of training to harden her body, and Kiara was a head shorter than him. She felt tiny in his arms and now felt naked in his gaze. The Inquisitor flushed and quickly put herself into the bed under the offered covers. Kiara didn’t turn away from him, though.

“What I was doing earlier, did it help your headache?”

Cullen pulled her into his chest and rested a cheek on her head, “Yes, it did. Thank you, Kiara.”

Kiara felt his chest heave a sigh as he wrapped both of his arms around her frame. She sighed with him, closed her eyes, and relaxed with the sound of his heartbeat. She was drifting off to sleep when she heard a voice from some far-away place say, “I love you so much.”

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Cullen woke up the following morning by himself and with a hangover headache for a change of pace. He smiled through it when he found the pitcher of water, full glass, and a note from Kiara.

Cullen,

Make sure to drink a lot of this water. Only water can solve the headache you might have today.

Never hesitate to ask me to help you with your other headaches.

I am always willing to put my hands to good use (a line of ink trails off here).

I don’t have enough ink to change that. You know what I mean.

Yours, Kiara Trevelyan

He read her letter over and over again with each glass of water until the pitcher was empty. With the pitcher now emptied, Cullen climbed down the ladder with one hand because his other held the letter with the utmost care. The Commander read it one more time, smiling broadly before putting it into the top drawer of his desk.