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To Find Absolution

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Halfway to Cullen’s office, Zaire passed Dorian headed to the infirmary with the scout. He stopped her as she started towards Cullen’s office. He frowned at her, a mixture of confusion and annoyance. “Zaire, what in Thedas is going on? One minute I’m relaxing, considering a bottle of wine, then the Venatori light people on fire, and now I’m told I’m being sent to guard an apostate mage?”

“I’m sorry, Dorian.” She put a hand on his arm and looked up at him. “I didn’t know who else I could trust.”

His eyes narrowed. “You’ve got that look on your face again. Trust to do what, exactly?”

“We have a… visitor.” She hated that the situation left her fighting for words. A lot had happened in a very short amount of time, and the events were ones that would only serve as a distraction to the Inquisition, and that concerned her. “A few visitors, in fact.” She winced. She wasn’t even yet aware if others had also arrived along with Audra Amell and Anders. “And a lot of dogs.”

“Ah yes. The dogs. We suddenly seem more Ferelden than usual.” He shook out his robes, straightening them. “Can I assume you’ve encountered the charming Hero of Ferelden already then?”

Zaire felt a rock settle in her stomach, followed by a twinge of irritation. One she had no intention of taking out on Dorian as it wasn’t his fault. “Am I the only one unaware of her presence in Skyhold?”

Dorian blinked. “I assume she would have found you by now.”

“I’ve been in the barn.” Dorian would know what that meant, and it was a way for her to admit it without trying to say Blackwall’s name and having her voice waver.  

He put a hand on a shoulder. “Good on you.”

“Thanks.” She sighed. “I need your help guarding one of the guests, a mage that healed some of the wounded.”

“And this mage needs guarding why?”

Damnit, Dorian was always too perceptive. “He could be perceived as a threat.”

“Ah. I see.” He nodded. “You realize that the obvious conclusion here is that it’s Hawke’s husband. The one that blew up Kirkwall. Varric is still mad.”

“Shit.” She glared at him. “Do not tell Varric about this.”

“The secret is safe with me.” Dorian sighed. “Cullen can’t be taking this well. I’ll talk to him later.”

“Might be good. For now, you can start with heading to the infirmary. The only way I could keep the situation from escalating is to set a Templar and a mage on him.” She left out the part where Cullen tried to kill Anders. “A Templar of Cullen’s choice to nullify him, and-”

“A mage that not only could take down a Templar, but would without fear.” He put his hand on his chest. “Such as myself.”

Zaire nodded. “I’m sorry. I know you probably had other plans for the night, but… so did we all, I think.”

Dorian smiled and reached up to smooth his moustache. “I’ve got this. Cullen probably assigned fucking Jonathan.” He rolled his eyes. “He doesn’t stand a chance.” He winked and headed off towards the infirmary, and Zaire headed to Cullen’s office to wait.

Once there, she found the remains of Cullen’s dinner, and was glad at the least he’d eaten something before this ordeal began. On the shelf behind his desk, she saw the box that contained the lyrium. They’d had a conversation before Adamant, of him going off of the lyrium and she was getting concerned that it was a conversation they’d have to have again. If Cullen was on lyrium, he’d feel he would have nothing to fear from Anders, Zaire was sure.

What a disaster. Zaire paced the room, realizing that it felt overly warm. No doubt Dorian’s influence, as Cullen would end up just end up putting on more damned fancy cloaks to keep warm.

After a few minutes, Cullen opened the door and closed it behind him. As soon as he was in the room, he made his way shakily to his chair and sat down, putting his elbows on the desk and covering his face. Zaire realized he was shaking and she suddenly felt a pang of regret. What Cullen probably needed was Dorian, and she’d taken that option away from him entirely.

“Cullen,” she said, taking a seat across from him. “I need to know you’re okay.”

“Do I look okay?” He looked up at her, his eyes rimmed with red. “You should have let me continue the lyrium.”

“So you wouldn’t feel so powerless?” She shook her head and her palms on his desk. She traced the wood grain with her fingers. “No way, Cullen. You’re stronger than that. You don’t need the lyrium to be in charge.”

He frowned and it almost twisted into a sneer. “No, I have you to overrule my decisions.”

Zaire flattened her hands on his desk and stared at him across the surface. “You don’t get to pull that card, Cullen. You were out of line. You are not judge, jury, and executioner.” She leaned forward in her chair. “You chose to leave that behind you. We agreed to be better than that.”

Cullen gestured in the vague direction of the infirmary. “That was before that… abomination appeared in Skyhold. Clearly, Audra hid that from me, which I can’t even begin to explain-“

“Is it worse than the commander of your forces failing to inform you that the Hero of Ferelden has entered Skyhold, more than likely with the intent of rescuing her supposedly dead husband from the Fade?” She glared at him. “Because from where I’m standing, that’s a neglect of duty, Commander.”

The edge of Cullen’s mouth twitched. “Leave her out of this. I asked to be relieved from duty, Inquisitor. You, and Cassandra, denied my request. Would you like to revisit it?” He reached behind him and picked up the box, setting it on the desk between them hard enough that he rattled the contents. “Would you like me to be back on the lyrium so that I can stay in control of these situations?”

“No.” Zaire slammed her fist down, startling Cullen and rattling the half empty plate of food. “I want you to grow the fuck up. No lyrium. I get that this has dredged up some horrible memories for you. And I understand that.” She stabbed a finger at him. “But I need you to keep it together. I’m aware that Anders could be a threat, but I need you to understand that his purpose here is obvious.”

“Is it?” Cullen asked, shoving the box to the side.

“If you’d look past your own nose, you’d know that.” She took a deep breath. “Did Amell tell you that Alistair could be alive.”

He froze, staring at her. “Yes…”

“And if that’s the case, will they need the best healer in Thedas?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “One that just healed five of yours that were nearly burned alive, without breaking a sweat?”

Cullen covered his face with his hands. “He heals like that because he’s an abomination, Zaire.”

She didn’t yet entirely understand the implications of that in Anders’s case but decided to ask Hawke or Anders himself about it. “Call him what you want. He might be Alistair’s best chance at surviving.” She stood and reached out across the desk to pull a hand away from his face. “I’m not trying to hurt you.”

He yanked his hand away from her. “Then why did you send Dorian with the one person that could tell him the truth about the person I was?”

The truth of the statement sunk in, and Zaire recaptured his hand and wrapped hers around it. She hadn’t thought of that, and now that she did she’d wished she’d picked someone else. On the other hand, there was only so long that Cullen could pretend to protect Dorian from Cullen’s own past. Dorian was far more clever for that. “Do you think Dorian doesn’t know? Cullen, I’m sorry to say, but everyone knows the rumors about you. Every single mage here knows not just about Kirkwall, but that you were at Kinloch Hold.”

“Dorian doesn’t look at me like I’m the man who did those things.” He scrubbed at his face with his free hand. “I can’t lose him, Zaire.”

“Give him more credit than that. You may not like to hear it, but no one thinks you’re innocent. They follow you because they respect you and see the person you are now.”

“You mean the person who just threatened to kill an apostate in the infirmary in front of everyone?” Cullen shook his head. “Hardly a shining example.”

“Then be better. We’ve all fucked up.” Letting go of his hand, she backed away from the desk. “When you’re feeling less sorry for yourself, ask me about the guilt I carry.” She gestured towards the door. “I’m gathering everyone in the war room. Let’s get this over with. I need to know that you can keep it together, Cullen. Are you with me?”

He rose from his chair, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes. Zaire waited for him to open them. When he did, he stood straighter, and picked up the box of lyrium and put it on the shelf behind him. She could see his bearing shift to the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces, and that was what they needed him to be. Later, they would discuss removing that box entirely.

“I’m with you, Inquisitor,” he said, the crisp voice of command now back in his tone.

“Good to have you. As always.” Zaire left the room, heading towards to the war room. She trusted that Cullen would follow and started out across the courtyard.