Chapter 1: Finding Shelter
Encircled by strong arms, face buried in the fur of a luxurious burgundy coat. His arms. His coat. Dark fur of a animal unbeknownst to me. Does it even matter now?
The creaking and groaning of wood as more and more unforgiving snow - an avalanche set free to save - now buries us alive.
Hot breath, that tousles my hair. Shivering, shaking like a damsel in distress. And maybe I am. True to this I cling to him, the man who dragged me away from enemies, fires and death. My savior. And still… so much more. Purple eyes squeeze shut. Blocking out the horrors of this world still so foreign to me. If only… If only…
My right arm hurts somewhat, from when my savior - no Cullen! - grabbed roughly to drag me to safety. But what safety is this I wonder, while the wood of our shelter groans and creaks under all the weight. Snow, so pure and beautiful… at the same time deadly. A coffin of ice.
I shudder at this dark thought, about to bury my face deeper into the fur of Cullen’s coat.
A loud crack cuts this short, instead triggering my instinct to flee. But he knows - of course he does. His arms clad in metal and leather tighten around my frame, preventing me from running, bolting, tripping over my own feet.
“Shhh, it’s over soon.” his voice is rough, imploring me to stay strong even though I can almost taste the fear he radiates too. He masks it. Almost perfectly. But I know. Know men like him. My brother had been just the same… in another life. Always protective, my anchor, my rock…
Another clash, tiniest crumbles of dirt raining down on us. Cullen swears under his breath and drags me further into the shelter. Past my tears, the fur and silverite pauldrons I glance around in fright, taking in what a tiny lamp - magical, most likely - permits me to see.
I recognize now, where exactly we are. Have been here before. Wooden walls give way to stone, thick and grey. Further dragged along into a corner, next to a cold fireplace. A bed, its headboard a bit away from the wall. There, into this tiny space he pushes me and I go down willingly. What are some spiders in comparison to crushed by a wooden roof that might collapse, anyway?
Cullen’s bulk shields me like a second wall, his larger body creating another shelter. His back turned to the room - golden eyes clouded. He is looking at me, and at the same time not. I know this look.
My blood runs colder than before as I realize, recognize. It’s dangerous. Can be. With my brother, I knew how to act. To help him come back to the here and now. But Cullen?
There is no option to put space between us so I do the only thing I can think of. Breathe flatly and stay deadly still. His lips are moving. Not words directed at me, from what syllables I can catch through all the noise above us. It's the chant of light. Verse after verse he recites, one gloved hand splayed out on the wall above my shoulder, the other digging into my bent knee to steady himself. It hurts but I don't dare to say a word. Like this he kneels before me, not blinking. It seems to take forever but then…
The noise gives way to silence. Seems so unreal, more ear deafening than the avalanche before. A few seconds pass where we listen, then Cullen’s grip loosens. A deep breath, as if he hadn't been breathing for a decade. Then a fluid rise to a stand, admirable considering the heavy armor he wears.
“Wait here. Don't move,” A command, spat rough and hoarsely. As if I would or could! His armored boots like blows of a hammer as he strides through the dimly lit cabin, his goal a window on the opposite. The only one where the avalanche had mercy, allowing the moon’s silver light to shine through.
What he sees as he looks outside I don’t know, can only guess from my memory. The cabin where we found shelter is a few hundred feet up the mountains. In the past, you had a beautiful view on Haven when standing at the door.
But Haven is no more… and soon neither will we. Because this I understand without asking, as I see how Cullen’s jaw clenches. The curse leaving his lips another evidence. Abruptly he turns, golden eyes seeming restless as they flicker through the room, landing first on the second window and the large crack bisecting dirty glass.. and then the shelf next to it.
In silence, knees tucked under my chin I watch as he springs into action. The shelf finds a new home in front of said window in mere seconds, scratching of wood and Cullen’s strained grunts disturbing the eerie silence. When it’s done he takes a step back, breathing heavily. One gloved hand runs through golden hair, which starts to curl happily.
Next he works on kindling a fire in the fireplace after a quick glance up the chimney. Honestly, I wouldn't have bothered with that. Why check if the chimney is free? Better dying in our sleep through monoxide, than… waiting for help that might never come. His movements are mechanical, I notice. Methodical. His hands tremble, but he picks smaller logs when they slid away.
But I know why Cullen does all this, keeps himself busy.
Regain control of the situation, as much as you can through tasks. Ensure that all primal needs are met. Safety. Warmth. Food. This way, a soldier, veteran can focus on the here and now. His back turned to me, I get lost in thoughts.
And as the shy yellow light catches in Cullen’s hair as the fire starts to lick along piled locks, I am reminded of the night we spend a week prior. The situation had been different. Passion instead of fear and looming death, happiness for the Herald had found allies to help close the breach. Reality so different than from the game I knew, and yet...
One moment of weakness that I allowed myself, after evading and dodging Cullen’s flirting, temptations, advances for weeks. Better not get involved with the events about to happen. Stay away from the Inner circle and the character I loved ingame… yet who had been so much more… fascinating in reality.
It’s the same with books and film versions. But oh, oh… No scene in game could do justice to the feel of his lips on mine, all that hunger and pent up desire. And even though I considered it a fling only - with Cullen making no attempt to seek me out again and me too proud to run after him - Part of me was sure that this… our night of passion prompted him to save me earlier. It’s ridiculous. And yet...
This thought prompts a faint smile but it vanishes instantly, as piercing golden eyes focus on me. Instinctively I shrink deeper into the half shadow next to the bed, my heart plummeting as his eyes narrow slowly. It’s like a bucket with icy water poured over me, washing away memories of passion and sensual kissing. Right now, this isn’t Cullen, my passionate one time lover… but a war veteran in the throws of PTSD, triggered by the attack of Haven.
One wrong word. One gesture. One sound. Could be enough to turn this cabin, that was supposed to be our temporary salvation into a death trap.
“Get up and come here!” he spats and I scramble to a stand as if electrocuted, wide eyed and breath lodged in my throat. There is no indication that he caught on the sudden fear he kindled in me, which is fed further as he approaches me with heavy steps. Roughly pulled forward as if I am a puppet, dragged toward the fire for I haven't been fast enough to comply. Tension thick and heavy, threatening to suffocate me.
“Take off your clothes!” my heart stops. No. No. This can’t be. Why would he save me, only to-
A growl rips me from my thoughts, large hands settling on my shoulders. Whirled around, my back to him. The dress that kept me covered, which clung damp from snow and heavy to my shivering form before, sags to the ground. Following suit my shift dress, falling down as do my eyelids as I close my eyes. A mockery of my memory of his hands being gentle and passionate, they are now rough and harsh. Skimming along my back and belly, and then…
He steps away just as I surrender to my fate, only to get the edge of an old mattress kicked against my ankle. My mind does not catch up fast enough - but Cullen does catch me as I lose my balance. Lowered onto the mattress, unceremoniously shoved closer to the warmth of the fire. Then a blanket is thrown over my shivering form, wrapping around my body as I twist around, looking up at him wide eyed.
“You’ll catch death when staying in damp clothes,” a hint of gentleness in his voice as he brushes past me to put another log into the fire.
“Especially someone of your condition.” Oh yes, I know why he says this. Remember that he wasn’t pleased how slender I am. Even compared to some refugees, I was considered thin. Funny, how approval on earth for my physique and strict diet to stay this way, turned to worried glances and extra bowls of broth in Thedas. Realization washes over me. Slowly. I am so stupid.
“Oh,” I croak “I… I thought you…”
Cullen scoffs and rises, throwing me a hurt look as he replies bitterly:
“Thought what? That I would force myself upon you? Is that what you think of me?!” Golden eyes narrow further and his following words are more a whisper. “So this is why you threw away my heart after you got what you want.” Then I am greeted with his broad back as he marches towards the bed stripped of its mattress, and starts methodically undoing his armor. Not sparing me another glance.
I feel his eyes on me and the fine hairs on my arms rise. I bite my bottom lip and look over my shoulder, allowing myself this. Those mesmerizing golden eyes captivate me, while he takes a sip from his ale and pretends to listen to whatever the man next to him says. My heart skips a beat. Only the counter next to me saves me from dropping the tablet with empty mugs all together. A full body tremble runs through me as I chance another glance.
He is still watching me. Like every night when he takes dinner here. The subtle touches - gentleman like, never untoward. Of course I registered them. The chit chat between us when I bring him his meals. How was your day, Hailey?
I know he is interested in me, though I don't know to which extent. And it’s dangerous. I have to repeat this like a mantra, else I would have fallen for his charms, the tempting smile within days.
I can’t. I don’t belong here. It’s difficult enough to find answers for the other barmaids and Flissa, who seem adamant to find out each and every detail about me. Good thing that I played Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2 so many times. It gives me an advantage so I don’t blow up my cover. And though I mourn the fact that I haven't played Inquisition before I got here… I know enough through trailers to… stay the fuck out of events.
Another glance over my shoulder. Just in time to see how the fabled Commander of the Inquisition places his tankard down on the mantlepiece and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Golden eyes glued to me, this irresistible half-smile emphasizing the lip scar. Oh, how I want to kiss it! He stands close to the fireplace as if to taunt me. Firelight catches in his hair like a halo - though his eyes are far from innocent. Dressed casually even to his standards tonight, by forgoing his chestplate and pauldrons.
I bite my bottom lip and quickly turn back to counter. My heart hammers so loud that I don’t hear anything else. No. I can’t. He would ask questions, even more than…
“Hey, Hailey!” my head snaps quickly and I just know that my face is flushed. Flissa gives me a knowing smirk and pokes my side, then unscrews a bottle with ale. “Girl, You’re having it bad.” she states matter of factly and her smirk only grows as I look over my shoulder again.
“Tonight is the night of victory,” I hear her say while Cullen shifts casually, then leans back against the wall, “and we should celebrate, not be all gloomy and broody!” a full tankard touches my arm, ale sloshing over the rim and dampening the sleeve of my dress. The cold sensation helps me to break eye-contact with Cullen and instead focus on Flissa. Her smirk goes from ear to hear.
“Bring that ale to your sweetheart!”
“He is not my-” My protest dies on my lips as Flissa shoves me forward not too gently.
"Hush, that nonsense. You’re both giving me a headache!” then she giggles and hands me the tankard, “Take this chance he offers you,” Flissa half whispers, “even if only for tonight. We all deserve some happiness now and then.”
My tongue feels heavy as I pick up the tankard, throwing Flissa an annoyed glance - while she gives me a happy thumbs up. As I weave my way through the bustling crowd, her words echo in my mind. Maybe she is right. I don’t know what will happen after the breach got closed, exactly. This Maxwell Trevelyan is still the Herald and not Inquisitor. I have no exact idea how we are going to get to that stronghold I saw in the trailers. But I do know… this life I live now is dangerous. Death awaits you, if you’re not careful. So… maybe I can allow myself this. Deserve this.
I come to a stop in front of Cullen, my heart skipping a beat as he gives me a confident smile.
“Here…” I hear myself say, “This ale’s on the house. I- We want to thank you for everything you did. Without you, we wouldn't celebrate tonight.”
His smile widens and I can’t help but smile too, stepping closer. He takes the tankard but discards it without a second glance, his large gloved hand catching and interlacing with mine. He opens his mouth to speak but I silence him by closing the distance and placing our interlaced hands on my wild beating heart. He feels it I can tell, one eyebrow rising with interest.
“My shift ends in ten minutes. Maybe... we can continue to celebrate elsewhere?" Yes. I will do this. Even if only for tonight.
I blink several times to regain my grip on reality. Cullen aids me unintentionally by rattling with a few pots, which he lines up at the edge of the fireplace. The pots are filled with snow and I secretly admire his foresight. Of course, we need access to water at least, if we want to survive this till help appears. Also, down to his shorts that do nothing to conceal his physique, it reminds me of how he looked like above… and beneath me. However, the admiration and desire evaporates as golden eyes flicker over to me.
“Why are you smiling?” he tries to be polite. At least I think he does. But he is making a poor job, the annoyance in his voice like cut glass.
My eyes narrow and I shift forward on the mattress, toes curling as they touch the cold stone floor.
“Why are you so grumpy?! You have no right to be cross with me!” I shot back and really manage to catch him off guard. Cullen flinches and we both rise simultaneously, although my ascend ends on height of his chest. Damn, Cullen is tall.
“I?! I have no right to be grumpy and cross?!” Done with the politeness! Cullen rushes past me so quickly that I nearly lose my balance, pulling two chairs closer with a loud noise. The tension thickens between us and I know I should be careful. But right now, I am angry. How dare he to play the wounded part! Within heartbeats I am at his side, ripping my damp clothes from his hands to lay them out to dry. Cullen bristles next to me, a low growl rumbling through his chest. But I just square my shoulders and grab his shirt next, since he obviously decides to just let it hang over the chair in wrinkles. Men!
“Exactly! You act like a child!” I hiss and now it’s my turn to be caught off guard as he does not let go of his coat, the fabric creaking a bit as we both pull at. Like petulant children. Sweet Maker! Cullen’s face turns a dark shade and I know I overstepped my boundaries. Again, apparently. But it only fuels my anger, for I know that He is the one at fault here. Cullen opens his mouth to no doubt shout at me but I am faster, ripping the coat with a quick tug from his cramped fingers.
“You whine about a broken heart?!” My voice is high pitched and I tremble, using the bundled coat to point at Cullen,
“As I recall, You weren’t the one to wake up all alone the next morning!”
In the first draft I've detailed their first night together. But after a proofread I cut it so you can imagine yourself, what exactly (and how often ;) ) it happened.
There will be passionate and sensual smut in this story. But not right away. First these two need to talk things out.
Chapter 3: Stubborn
I was entertaining thoughts of a different story... then guilt-tripped myself to continue this one.
Sorry for the delay!
The expensive fabric of his trademark coat bunches between my shaking hands. Tears have welled up unbidden, I blink furiously. Oh, how worthless I felt that very morning! All those words of adoration, the compliments whispered into my skin - till he got, what he wanted. Like every other man before…
“I left a note.” It’s the worst he could have said now and my expression shifts from fury to despair.
“Yes. 'Come back after sunset.’ ” Four words on a little, crumpled piece of parchment. But as I recite them in a bitter tone, his eyes widen a fraction.
Cullen stares at me, the silence between us colder than the air outside. His hands drop, curl into lose fists. Shoulders slumping, this tall enigmatic man realising finally, finally… how exactly this note of his lets our night appear.
“‘Come back after sunset’,” I repeat in a mere whisper, as I turn away. My eyes flick away and close. Blocking his next reaction out. Him out. He moves closer as I hug myself, my back to him. The wooden floor creaks.
“I- Maker, I did not mean it like that...” Cullen tries and I squeeze my eyes shut tighter. “I am the Commander. The troops. The Inquisition. I cant allow myself to-” he sighs and tries again, the warmth of him touching my bare back as he closes the physical distance.
“It’s not what you think. I… would have loved to stay…”
Hesitation, for a breath. Two. Then he wraps his arms around me, ignoring how I tense up, to press his lips against my nape. Warmth floods me, melting the emotional barrier I built, away. Slowly, at least. My lips press in a thin line while he slides one calloused hand over my crossed arms, letting it come to rest on my shoulder. The other splays out on my bare stomach, as if wanting to protect a future he imagines…
“Maybe it’s better this way. That things ended like this…” Almost inaudible is my reply, but just that. Now it’s Cullen’s turn to tense, then he tightens his hold. It feels good… like home, to be held in the protective circle of his arms. To be centered within his stubbornness. But I force myself to twist around, eyes glossy with unshed tears. His gaze is soft and filled with guilt, but his jaw is set in a stubborn way.
“Don’t say that,” Cullen raises his hand to my cheek, “Every word I said that night was true. Is true. Don’t throw this… Us… away, because of a stupid misunderstanding.” He doesn't beg, per se… But there is a trace of plea in his deep voice as he keeps his golden eyes trained on me. A look so intense that my knees go weak, rekindling fiercely the hope inside me. Barriers inside me melt further and further, the gleam in his eyes telling me that he notices. But…
“You don’t even know me.”
Cullen sighs at that and pulls me tighter, frustration finding its way in his expression. Thumb resting just below my eye, brushing a single tear that had fallen, away. His confidence grows, an almost exasperated tone tainting his deep baritone voice.
“Yes, yes. We already established that I am lacking social skills.” For a moment he breaks eye contact and his hand leaves my back to rub his neck, then he shifts toward me once more.
“I know, I should have wooed you properly before… well…” a shy blush adorns his cheeks and I can't help but smile at that, my small hands sliding over his bare chest.
“...But I promise, I will remedy that. Flowers-” He groans pained at that, his hand returning to the small of my back, “Maker- chocolate? Orlesian poetry? I don’t know. Just… give me a chance to show you that my intentions are true and earnest, okay?”
The exasperated enthusiasm warms my heart, seeing and hearing that Cullen is willing to fight. Golden eyes soften as he sees my tentative smile, waning himself close to victory.
But then my expression sobers up.
“Cullen…” His eyebrows rise at the way I emphasis his name, “It’s not that easy.”
I breathe deeply.
“I am… not from here.” He attempts to say something but I cut him short, voicing the truth that I kept hidden for so many months.
“I am… not from this world...”