Chapter 1: Vigil
Fifty-two hours since they’d carried Cullen in, unconscious.
Every one felt like a year, and Alistair never left his side.
After twelve, Leliana made him eat.
After twenty-four, the healers grew concerned. They’d healed his injuries. Perhaps the red lyrium in the Emprise had weakened him?
After thirty-six, Alistair started to read aloud from the Chant.
After forty-two, he began to lose hope.
After forty-eight, he started to pray.
At fifty-two hours, a voice rasped, “Must be bad if you’re praying.”
Alistair wept in relief and gratitude and swept Cullen’s quirked lips into a tender, messy, desperate kiss.
Chapter 2: Needed
Companion to Vigil, because it wasn't finished, I guess :)
"Maker, Andraste, anyone, please. Please don't take him. I need him ..."
Cullen didn't understand. Those words sounded out of place in that voice. He forced his eyes open to find Alistair, on his knees, tears streaming down his face, clutching Cullen's hand to his heart, praying. The kiss that followed made Cullen's heart ache.
Now, Alistair (blatantly disregarding the healers' orders) lay in bed next to him, holding him close in peaceful sleep.
Cullen kissed him softly on the lips before settling into those strong arms to rest.
It had been a long time since someone had needed him.
Chapter 3: Sorry
The tower door slammed closed as Alistair approached. Soldiers scampered in every direction.
Stomach churning with guilt and nerves, he knocked and immediately entered.
“What?” Cullen spat. Upon seeing Alistair, his face smoothed, his mouth thinned, and he returned to his work without a word.
Alistair crossed to the desk. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. And —” He tentatively pecked Cullen’s temple. “I love you.”
Cullen didn’t react. Eyes stinging, Alistair moved to leave.
Alistair turned, swept into Cullen’s tight embrace.
“Come to bed tonight?”
Alistair nodded, and Cullen responded with a hard, slow kiss.
Chapter 4: Late
Cullen sighed, lay down his quill, and rubbed his eyes. The candles had burnt low, and Alistair had climbed the ladder hours ago.
Though they hadn’t been together for long, Cullen had neglected work to spend every free moment with Alistair. He hated that now, given his workload, they’d not be falling asleep together for a while.
He extinguished the lights and headed up the ladder, only to find Alistair nodding off over Swords and Shields.
“You didn’t have to stay up.”
Alistair smiled sleepily. “I wanted to kiss you good night.”
Cullen did, and everything felt right again.
Chapter 5: Ten Steps Ahead
As Cullen lay in bed holding Alistair, he voiced one of his more frequent thoughts of late.
“During training, I’d never have guessed we would end up here.”
Alistair shrugged shyly. “I noticed you back then, you know.”
Cullen pulled away to see his face, but Alistair blushed and wouldn’t meet his gaze. “One time we sparred shirtless, and I was so distracted by how beautifully you moved that you knocked me on my ass. I was so confused. Took me years to understand —”
Cullen stopped him with a kiss.
“Always ten steps ahead,” he said with a smile.
Chapter 6: When Alistair Met Cullen ...
Welp, it only took six chapters for me to break my only two rules for this anthology: 1) that each kiss will be 100 words long or fewer, and 2) that the kisses would take place in my own canon setting/timeline.
I'm not sure where the idea for this one came from, exactly, aside from "rom-com finale." Once I started, I realized I needed more than 100 words to do it justice. It clocks in at just over 2700, and takes place in a modern setting. I hope you enjoy the corny rom-com goodness.
Content warning: This includes brief overview descriptions of homophobia (external and internalized, including implied religious implications), as well as several references to drug addiction and recovery.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Now boarding group A for flight 2394 to Chicago …” came the overhead announcement as Alistair returned to the gate.
He let out an exhausted sigh. In the bathroom, he’d splashed enough water on his face to mostly cover up the fact that he’d spent the past fifteen minutes in there crying. Because they were boarding his flight now and he was an adult, damn it, headed home, even though he’d rather —
The empty cavern in his chest gaped wide, and he had to take several deep breaths to calm himself before the sting in his eyes grew even more embarrassing. Again.
This past week had been the most amazing of his whole life, and he’d gone and blown it last night with his stupid, idiotic, romantic confession.
When he’d met Cullen online six months ago in a group for fans of his favorite video game, he had no idea the stranger who came to his defense in an internet argument would turn out to be a kindred spirit. A confidant. A friend. Someone he would grow to truly care about.
They turned out to have a lot in common — both men who had suffered greatly at the hands of the Chantry growing up, due to their sexuality. Alistair had been raised in one of their children’s homes, constantly preached to about the sinfulness of men loving men, and so had repressed and isolated himself from anyone he might grow to care for (and vice versa). Cullen’s family had been and was still kind and loving, but he’d joined the military and tried to “religion” his way out of being gay until he ended up self-medicating with various opioids and nearly died from an overdose. The game they loved had saved them both — helping Alistair to accept himself and make friends through the online community and giving Cullen something goal-oriented to focus on during his recovery.
They’d shared all of this with each other over the past several months, and when the game’s annual convention came to Cullen’s city, he’d invited Alistair out so they could officially meet and attend together.
Alistair had never taken a vacation for something so frivolous, much less had someone to enjoy it with, and the week had exceeded his wildest expectations. After their initial awkwardness — which Alistair had read was standard for people whose relationships had developed from afar — the strange person in front him soon synced with the good friend he knew virtually, and he quickly forgot they’d only just met in real life this week. The convention was a blast, and the long conversations over the meals they enjoyed the rest of the week filled Alistair’s heart and soul more than he’d ever thought possible.
And, of course, they played their game. That, too, was awkward at first, but eventually they’d found their rhythm.
“What are you doing?” he’d asked Cullen, having finally gotten used to the controller and found his bearings in the world of the game. Cullen had begun to follow him around like a little duckling.
“I’m following you,” Cullen said simply.
“Because you’re good at this part. Put me in front of a dragon or ogre, I can kick serious ass, but I’m shit at deciding on which quests to do in what order. So, lead the way.”
Alistair shoved his controller away and shook his head vehemently. “Me? Lead? No, no, no. Bad things happen when I lead. My groups get lost, people die, I get stranded somewhere without any pants …”
Cullen laughed, and it was deeper and richer than Alistair had imagined from the comparatively soulless hahahas in their online chats. “See? That sounds way more exciting than wandering around aimlessly for hours.” He handed Alistair back his controller. “Go on. I’ll follow you anywhere.”
The utter trust in his voice still made Alistair grin like an idiot.
He should have known it was too good to be true.
Because Alistair had realized over the course of the week that he cared about Cullen more than anyone else in his life. At some point during the past six months, he’d fallen head over heels in love.
Until they met in person, Alistair would never have even considered describing what he had with Cullen as love. In person, it was hard to ignore the way his heart beat faster, his stomach fluttered, and he smiled more when talking with Cullen. But he could have succeeded if not for the touching.
Over the week, they’d grown more and more physically affectionate — first a handshake, then hugs, then casual bumps or leans. Back at Cullen’s place for dinner, they played their game together or watched a movie, even occasionally feeding each other bites of food. Cullen wasn’t shy about sharing a blanket, and a few times they even fell asleep against one another, complete with mild snuggling. Until this week, Alistair hadn’t realized just how touch-starved he truly was.
Even with all that, he might have been okay. But two nights ago, Cullen casually picked something out of Alistair’s hair and then ran his fingers through it to get it to lay flat. Alistair shivered, his pulse skyrocketed, and in that moment, he wanted nothing more than to kiss Cullen.
And last night, he’d been stupid enough to confess everything.
He’d reasoned that he wanted to have that conversation with Cullen in person, not over chat — especially if an opportunity for something physical presented itself.
And he really, really wanted to kiss Cullen.
But Cullen’s reaction could only have been worse if he’d kicked Alistair out on the street.
Okay, that a bit dramatic, but only just. Cullen had backed, stepped, crossed away to the other side of the room, hands up in a defensive gesture, as though Alistair were attacking him, hurting him, when in fact that was the last thing Alistair ever wanted to do.
And then the words came, each one slicing through Alistair’s tender heart, shredding it to pieces. “Alistair, I — I care about you, I do, but — I just — I don’t know if I feel — if we —”
Cullen never finished a full thought, but he didn’t need to. If the answer wasn’t the obvious, that was the answer, wasn’t it? The air grew tense and fraught, as unnatural as the first few minutes after they’d met, until Cullen made his excuses to go to bed early.
Between crying silently into his pillow and staring forlornly at the ceiling, Alistair hadn’t slept a wink. Then this morning, Cullen made them both coffee and initiated the most awkward conversation of Alistair’s life.
Cullen liked being friends with Alistair. Cared about him. But he didn’t think his feelings were more than that, and even if they had leaned that direction, he wouldn’t want to ruin what they had, especially if it might impact his recovery. And of course, coward that he was, Alistair explained that he’d never want to cause Cullen pain or hurt their friendship, and that he wasn’t even sure if his feelings weren’t just overexcitement from the con and having finally met in person.
That last part was a lie, of course; he wouldn’t, he couldn’t risk losing Cullen over an ill-advised confession of love. But he knew enough to know what he wanted, and what he wanted was Cullen Rutherford.
An hour ago, Cullen had dropped him off at the airport; they’d hugged and said their uncomfortable goodbyes, and Alistair hated that everything seemed to have changed. Cullen asked him to text when he arrived home, and he promised he would. For now, though, for his own sanity, his phone was off; the last thing he needed was to obsess over past messages or to constantly check to see if Cullen had texted him. He was even considering blocking Cullen’s number temporarily so he could have a little break while he nursed his broken heart and grieved the loss of what might have been.
And anyway, while Cullen might have been the closest, he wasn’t Alistair’s only friend. There were several waiting back home for him to return; he’d be sure to get his fill of them as much as possible in the next month or so.
Home. He’d sleep so much better once he was in his own bed.
“Now boarding group B for flight 2394 to Chicago …”
That was his group. Alistair gathered his bag and waited in line less than patiently, both dreading and wanting to get home.
In his distracted state, he didn’t register the commotion behind him for a few moments, but he heard someone yelling, and it sounded urgent. He turned, prepared to help if needed — not that he was particularly qualified to assist other than company-mandated CPR training — but then the voice came into focus.
That voice was one he’d never forget, despite having only first heard it this week. And it was calling his name.
The crowd, most of them loitering around for their boarding group to be called in spite of specific instructions to stay seated, parted and Cullen stumbled forward, desperately searching the crowd until his eyes settled on Alistair.
Those lovely amber eyes lit up, and Cullen rushed forward. “Alistair!”
“Cullen?” Alistair shook his head in disbelief. “What — is everything okay?”
“Don’t get on the plane.”
Alistair’s stomach did some complicated gymnastics. No, no this couldn’t be. He didn’t dare hope.
He swallowed, then croaked, “W-why not?”
Cullen ran his hand through his hair, mussing up the unruly blond curls he always tried to tame but Alistair secretly loved. “I got all the way to the highway and realized … I — I tried to call you so many times, but I got your voicemail, so I had to come back. I didn’t want — I couldn’t leave it like this. I couldn’t let you leave without telling you.”
“Telling me wh —”
Cullen reached up to where Alistair held his duffle slung over his shoulder and took the bag, dropping it.Then he slid his hand down Alistair’s arm until he clutched both of Alistair’s hands (one of which still held his boarding pass) in both of his.
“I know I said I wanted to stay friends, but that’s not true. I can’t do this anymore.”
Alistair sucked in a sharp breath, eyes burning. No, not like this. Why would Cullen do it in public? It could have waited, he couldn’t even take this in private, much less in front of a crowd full of strangers.
Alistair tried to lead him off to the side, away from the attention. “Please, don’t …”
But Cullen placed a hand on Alistair’s cheek and said, “I need you, Alistair.”
Alistair’s heart stopped. He tried to say “What?” but no sound came out.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” Cullen said. “You’re smart and kind and caring and so damned sweet it makes me sick sometimes. You’re everything I’m not — funny and optimistic and loud and unapologetically you. I’ve told you things I’ve never told a single soul, and you have never once made me feel anything less than the most important person in the world. I don’t know how it’s possible that a random person I met on the internet could understand me so completely, but you do. And Maker’s breath, I need you so much.”
Cullen brought his other hand up to cradle Alistair’s face, but it wasn’t necessary; Alistair couldn’t move if he tried.
“I need you more than I’ve ever needed anything in my life. You fill an emptiness inside me that I’d assumed would always be there until I met you, and when I left you on the sidewalk and drove away, that emptiness came back and got bigger and bigger the farther I drove. I spent this whole week trying to convince myself it was just nice to finally meet you and spend time with you in person, but the moment I said goodbye to you I felt like I was leaving a part of me behind. And that scared the shit out of me, Alistair, because the last time I needed something this much it nearly killed me.”
Vision blurring, Alistair shook his head. He wasn’t worth that. If parting ways with Cullen would keep him safe, Alistair could survive a broken heart.
But Cullen’s thumbs caressed Alistair’s cheeks, wiping away the tears that had fallen. Alistair wanted to do the same for him, but he just shook his head.
“No, it’s okay,” Cullen said, smiling. “Because I could never fill that hole before, but with you … it’s like you were made for it. Like you were made for me. And I won’t ignore that sort of sign from the Maker. Not when — not when you’re here and you want it, too. Assuming —”
And for the first time since he’d started, Cullen looked away, eyes closed. “Assuming you still want it,” he whispered.
When those beautiful amber eyes opened again, they were filled with a desperation that broke Alistair’s heart. “I never meant to hurt you. I only wanted to protect us both because I only ever seem to destroy everything good that’s ever happened to me. But I promise you, I will never, ever hurt you. I love you, Alistair, and I’m begging you — please don’t get on that plane.”
Around them, the crowd was so silent Alistair could hear every beat of his heart as if it were a timpani.
Cullen released him and turned away, but Alistair was frozen. He couldn’t move or speak or even crack a joke, and he could always crack jokes.
Why couldn’t he say something, Cullen was leaving, and he needed to —
But Cullen wasn’t leaving, only reaching for something from his pocket, and when he met Alistair’s gaze again, he was holding up a piece of paper.
“But if you do get on the plane,” he said, a slight smile curling his scarred lip, “Go on. I’ll follow you anywhere.”
The paper was a boarding pass, which read:
Cullen S. Rutherford
Chicago, Midway (MDW) Flight 2394
Alistair looked back up at him, and Maker, Cullen’s hair and Cullen’s smile and Cullen’s eyes and Cullen’s face and Cullen’s love were so gorgeous his heart ached.
“Maker’s breath, but you’re beautiful,” Alistair whispered. “I love you, t —”
Cullen swept Alistair into his arms before he could finish, pressing their lips together into a kiss so amazing (passionate and desperate but so very tender and gentle) that Alistair almost didn’t notice the crowd burst into honest-to-Maker applause.
When they broke apart, just far enough that Alistair could see the unrestrained joy in those honey-colored eyes, he whispered, “You know, when I lead —”
“You end up somewhere without any pants?” Cullen grinned. “I think I’m okay with that.”
Alistair threw himself into Cullen’s arms and kissed him again. Cullen’s laugh was rich, deep, and happy as he picked Alistair up and swung him around, and Alistair decided that was the reason their second kiss was somehow even better than their first.
Cullen eventually released him just enough to bend and pick up Alistair’s bag and, with an arm around his waist, guided him to the side, away from the congratulatory but once-again-boarding crowd.
“Are we really going to do this?” Alistair asked.
Cullen turned to look at him sharply, frowning. “Do you — do you not want to?”
“No, that’s not what I mean!” Alistair cradled Cullen’s face as Cullen had his before, and Cullen leaned into it, eyes fluttering closed. The release of tension at his mere touch made Alistair never want to let Cullen go. He stroked his thumb across Cullen’s cheek. “I just want to make sure I’m not dreaming. It’s too …”
Cullen smiled, so sweet and precious Alistair leaned in to kiss him yet again. When they broke apart, Cullen lazily opened his eyes and said, “Perfect? That’s how I know this is real. My dreams are never this good.”
Alistair suddenly felt so giddy he began to laugh and cry at the same time, burying his face in Cullen’s shoulder. He’d only just regained control when a voice announced, “Final boarding call for flight 2394 to Chicago. Gentlemen?”
The airline employee grinned at them, eyebrows raised, waiting for an answer.
“What do you think?” Cullen asked. “Your place or mine?”
Alistair shook his head. “I don’t care, as long as you’re with me.”
So they twined their fingers and — hand in hand — headed for home.
This one was 2746 words, for those keeping track :)
Chapter 7: Just Say It
Back to our regularly scheduled Cullistair kiss drabbles.
“Go ahead and say it,” Cullen grumbled, gingerly lying down. Everything ached, and he was so thirsty.
Alistair fastidiously arranged some pillows. “I don’t have anything to say right now.”
Cullen laughed, then winced as his head pounded. “You always have something to say after I push too hard. So go on. Say ‘I told you so.’”
Alistair cupped Cullen’s cheek. “All I want to say is that I love you, and I’m grateful that you’re safe. Now get some rest.” He gently kissed Cullen on the forehead, adding quietly, “I’ll say, ‘I told you so,’ when you’re feeling better.”
Chapter 8: Few Words
Alistair was tidying when Cullen came up the ladder.
“Hi.” Alistair smiled but continued his tasks, humming to himself. His love was a man of few words.
Cullen sat on the bed. “I love you.”
Alistair blinked in mild surprise. “I love you, too. Where is this coming from?”
“Do I need a reason?” Cullen shrugged. “I just do.”
Alistair sat next to him, eyes stinging. Cullen cupped his cheek and kissed him softly.
“I love you so much,” he whispered, pulling Alistair into his comforting embrace.
A man of few words, but he always made them count.
Chapter 9: Reading
Cullen enjoyed reading quietly before bed.
Alistair flopped down next to him, jostling everything.
Cullen turned the page without looking up. “What?”
No response. He finished the next two paragraphs.
“Cullen, guess what.”
When he finally looked over, Alistair was propped up on an elbow, gazing at Cullen with a sweet smile. “I love you.”
Cullen returned it, frustration evaporating. “I love you, too. Now let me read.”
Less than fifteen seconds of blessed silence.
As he turned, Alistair pecked him quickly on the lips, smiling before rolling over. “Night.”
Cullen sighed. “Good night, Alistair.”
Chapter 10: The Real Problem
Cullen had barely started to complain about the meeting before Alistair identified the real problem.
And it wasn’t Leliana’s tactics (“Murder doesn’t fix everything!”), Josie’s noble friends (“What sort of ‘favors’?”), or the Inquisitor’s poor decisions (“She never takes my advice,” patently false).
As Cullen slumped onto the bed, Alistair knelt behind him, massaging his temples.
Cullen groaned in relief. “How do you always know?”
“If I told you, you’d work harder to hide it.”
Cullen’s head fell back against Alistair’s chest. “I can never hide anything from you.”
Alistair kissed the top of his head. “No, you can’t.”
Chapter 11: Deserving
A sort-of follow-up to the previous chapter, The Real Problem, but it can also stand alone.
(Also I broke my rule again. Have ~625 words instead of 100.)
Having somehow figured out Cullen had a headache without him needing to say anything, Alistair was currently massaging his temples.
As the headache finally began to subside, Cullen’s thoughts cleared for the first time in hours, and he decided, once again, that Alistair was perfect for him.
“What did I do to deserve you?” he muttered, eyes closed, head resting against Alistair’s chest behind him.
The massaging of his temples immediately ceased.
He blinked himself back to reality, feeling the bed shift as Alistair moved to sit next to him.
“What?” he asked at Alistair’s frown.
Alistair took his hand. “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that. About deserving me. It makes me feel like I’m some sort of prize —”
“I didn’t mean —” Cullen started.
“— that you have to earn,” Alistair finished, as though Cullen had never interrupted.
Cullen waited this time, and when Alistair didn’t continue after a moment, he opened his mouth to speak.
But once again, Alistair was ahead of him. “Are you happy, Cullen? With me?”
“Maker, yes.” Cullen turned his body and palmed Alistair’s cheek. “I never thought I would find such happiness.”
Alistair smiled, and the sight of it nearly took Cullen’s breath away. “Me, too.” Then his brow furrowed, and he placed his hand over Cullen’s and brought it down so both their joined hands were in his lap. “But I can’t believe happiness is something we have to earn. Lots of people are happy who don’t deserve it, and too many people aren’t who do.”
Cullen stayed silent. He disagreed, at least for himself. If they lived in a just world, he’d be eternally punished for the terrible things he’d done and allowed to happen.
“Do I help you?” Alistair asked. “Do I make some of it … easier for you?”
Cullen rested his forehead against Alistair’s. “Yes. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Alistair rubbed comforting circles on the back of Cullen’s hands. “I know I’m not one to talk much about the Maker and His plan.”
That was true. Alistair shouted his opinions from the battlements when it came to the Chantry, its treatment of mages, its treatment of Templars, its insistence on lyrium use in Templars — Maker bless him, but he could rant for hours about that. But about the Maker and Andraste, he was suspiciously silent. He never joined Cullen for Chantry services, and Cullen could count on one closed fist the number of times he’d seen Alistair pray, but Alistair never stopped him from doing those things, either.
“But what if,” said Alistair, “the Maker planned for us to find each other not because either of us deserve it, but so that we could help each other? What if He brought us together so we could both become better?”
A chill ran up Cullen’s spine, making his skin break out into goosebumps. He’d never thought of that before, but …
He liked it. A lot. Alistair wasn’t a prize to be earned; he was a Maker-sent miracle so Cullen could be redeemed.
“Please don’t,” Alistair said, as if he could read Cullen’s thoughts. Perhaps he could. That would explain how he always seemed to know what Cullen needed. “I’m not flawless. You’re helping me as much as I am you. We are equally in dire need of someone to take care of us.”
Alistair grinned, and a gentle peace settled over Cullen.
“So now that you’re feeling a little better,” said Alistair, “I need to be in your arms right now. How does that sound to you?”
Cullen took Alistair’s face in his hands and placed the lightest kiss he could manage on that smirking mouth. Then he wrapped this wonderful man in his arms and whispered, “That sounds perfect.”
Chapter 12: Want One?
Alistair smiled, handing Cullen a glass of water when he walked up to the porch, panting.
Grinning, Cullen ran a hand through his curls, free and damp from sweat. “They’re running me ragged out there.”
They both looked into the yard, where Cullen’s nieces and nephews were engaged in some elaborate game involving chasing each other and a ball. A few of Cullen’s siblings were playing still, while some had stayed in the cool house.
Alistair nudged Cullen, who was now smiling wistfully out at the children. “Want one?”
“Hmm?” Cullen’s smile stayed in place as he turned to Alistair; only then did it evaporate as he seemed to fully process what Alistair had said. “A child?” He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. “I — I think not.”
“Oh.” Alistair tried not to sound as disappointed as he felt. “You were having so much fun. I just thought you might —”
“I think I’m content with being an uncle,” said Cullen. Decided and firm. “With my job and the lyrium … I’m not sure bringing children into those struggles would be a good thing.” He glanced at Alistair. “Do you —?”
“No, no,” Alistair said quickly. “I agree. With the Wardens, I do so much traveling. Between the two of us, we hardly have time for ourselves!” His grin was brittle as he looked out at the children again. “Uncle Alistair has a nice ring to it.”
“I agree.” Cullen smiled. “I’m going back out there. Do you want to join?”
Alistair shook his head. “I like the view from here.”
It was true. As Cullen was nearly tackled by half a dozen children, Alistair could pretend for a little while that they were theirs. If Cullen didn’t see them having kids, he could live with that. He was lucky enough to have found Cullen. Maybe the family he’d always wanted growing up just wasn’t meant to be.
They stayed at Mia’s for a week, and Cullen was glad to see Alistair enjoying himself. He fit right in, and that made Cullen happier than he’d ever thought possible.
Alistair was so good with them all, especially the little ones. Rosalie’s youngest was barely four months old, and Alistair spent more time holding her than Rosalie did. He would chat animatedly to her when she was awake, rock her when she cried, and insist he was fine holding her while she slept. The only time he relinquished her was for feedings and changes, although he occasionally helped with the latter, as well.
But even while holding the little one, he managed to make an impression on all Cullen’s nieces and nephews. He joked with the older ones, nodded along seriously at the younger ones’ lengthy and meandering stories, and teased the toddlers by blocking them access to whatever was behind his legs at the time. Cullen seemed to hear a lovingly aggravated, “Uncle Alistair!” several times an hour.
Watching him with the children made Cullen’s heart ache. Alistair would be an excellent father, yet he’d so enthusiastically declared that he enjoyed being an uncle, agreeing with Cullen that they likely wouldn’t have room for more in their lives.
Still, he imagined Alistair rocking their infant, teasing their toddler, picking up their child and spinning him or her around to cries of “Papa” rather than “Uncle Alistair,” and they made his cheeks hurt from smiling.
On their last evening with Cullen’s family, Alistair sat off to the side with a wistful smile, watching all the children run and laugh as he rocked the youngest to sleep.
Cullen glanced at him occasionally, and in the glint of the setting sun, he could have sworn he saw Alistair blinking back tears as he looked down at the beautiful little girl in his arms.
Cullen made his way over, realizing as he approached just how entranced Alistair was — he didn’t even seem to notice Cullen sit in the chair next to him, so focused was he on stroking the chubby little cheek with his finger.
“Are you all right?” Cullen asked.
Alistair startled, wiping his cheek on his shoulder before he turned with a smile. “Hey. Yes, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You seem quite taken with her.”
“As would anyone! Have you smelled her?” He inhaled deeply. “If I could bottle this up and sell it in Val Royeaux, I’d make millions.”
“I mean look at her, Cullen! After all the horrific things we’ve seen, how is it possible something so precious and beautiful can exist?”
As always, Cullen couldn’t help but smile at Alistair’s enthusiasm and infinite capacity for love, even when the man broke his heart.
“How is it possible,” he said softly, “that you are such a terrible liar, and yet I still fell for it?”
Alistair looked at him sharply.
“You wear your heart on your sleeve, love.” Cullen brushed his niece’s hair with his fingers. “Why wouldn’t you just tell me?”
Alistair tucked the blanket tighter around the babe with intense focus. “You made a good argument, and I didn’t want to make you feel bad. You’ve struggled so much, you don’t need —”
“Need? No. But want? How can I not when all I’ve been imagining this week is you as the father of our children?”
Alistair lifted his gaze to Cullen’s, eyes filled with tears.
“I’ve always wanted a family,” Cullen said to his hands. “But the idea of it … frightens me. I’ve made so many mistakes, and sometimes it feels easier to give up on some things than risk making a new mess. But with you,” he said, cupping Alistair’s cheek, “I’m not so scared. You’ll be a wonderful father, Alistair, and I want to see every moment of it.”
“I love you,” Alistair whispered.
Cullen leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to Alistair’s lips, more than merely a declaration of his love.
It was a promise.
Chapter 13: Dinner
Warning: This fic contains toxic amounts of awkwardness. Brace yourselves.
Alistair paced a few times in front of the door to Cullen’s office in order to calm his nerves. Then, before he could change his mind, he knocked on the door and waited.
“Enter,” came that mellifluous baritone that Alistair could never hear enough of.
He did so, finding Cullen, as expected, hunched over his desk, quill in hand.
“Warden Alistair,” Cullen said, looking up. “Did you need something?”
Warden Alistair. So distant and formal. Ohhhh, this was such a bad idea. What had he been thinking?
“Um …” he cleverly responded. “I, uh …” Damn it, he’d practiced this! “When was the last time you ate?”
He cringed internally. That was not even close to what he’d practiced.
Cullen frowned, and Alistair couldn’t blame him. What kind of a stupid question was that?
“I ate a late breakfast.” Cullen waved a dismissive hand. “What can I do for you, Warden?”
Have dinner with me. That’s all he needed to say. Nothing more.
“You know it’s dark outside, right?” Humor, yes. Always a good fallback. “In the evening.”
Cullen looked out the window and seemed surprised. “Ah.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I suppose I haven’t eaten in a while, then.”
Alistair couldn’t help a smirk. Cullen was adorable when he rubbed his neck. “You don’t say?”
Cullen stood and shuffled some papers. “I apologize. What did you need from me?”
“Dinner,” Alistair blurted, because of course now the words flowed.
Well — word.
Maker, he was such a mess.
Cullen raised an eyebrow. “I daresay you might have more success in the kitchens.”
Alistair’s brain debated for a long moment whether Cullen believed he was an utter moron or had actually cracked a joke. Then the tiniest quirk of Cullen’s mouth gave him the answer, if not, unfortunately, anything approaching composure or charm.
He let out an unnatural, uncomfortable laugh. “Haha — ha — ha — yes, of course. I’ll — I’ll see you later, Cullen.”
And he spun around, making a beeline for the door.
He froze with a wince, smoothing his face before he turned back around. “Yeeees?”
“Did you come here for the express purpose of asking if I’d eaten?” Cullen didn’t sound offended or amused, just confused.
Alistair couldn’t decide which was worse, and his face burned in mortification. “Um, well, word around here is that you work, uh, a lot, and I thought you could …” He shrugged, giving up and wishing the Maker would strike him down and put him out of his misery. “Use some food.”
“Did you —” Cullen cleared his throat. “Did you wish to invite me to dine with you?”
Alistair laughed again, only slightly less uncomfortable than before. “You mean that remains unclear despite my suave mastery of language?”
Ah, yes. Self-deprecating humor. His best chance at escape.
He flashed his best I’m such an idiot grin. “That was the original intent, but since it failed spectacularly, maybe you can forget this ever happened while I go somewhere dark to die of embarrassment. Tell Hawke I died as I lived — making an utter fool of myself. Goodbye!”
His hand was on the doorknob when Cullen spoke. “Better a fool than a coward.”
Alistair turned in time to see Cullen, face as scarlet as the fur he wore, straighten.
“Yes.” Cullen lifted his chin. “I should like to dine with you. But only, um —” Here he dropped his gaze, rubbing the back of his neck once again. “Provided you were asking for personal reasons.”
Alistair gaped. “Yes!” He cleared his throat, and he knew his own face was on fire. “Uh … yes. I would — yes.”
Cullen smiled shyly, and Alistair thought he might die on the spot from the sheer adorableness.
“Perhaps we should …?” Cullen nodded to the door.
“Yes!” Alistair agreed. “I’m starving.”
Cullen crossed to the door and motioned for Alistair to exit first. He raised an eyebrow at him as he closed his office door behind them. “Perhaps you need someone to ensure your diligence concerning mealtimes.”
Alistair grinned. “Are you volunteering?”
Eyes twinkling, Cullen seemed to consider it. “I hardly require more duties to keep me occupied. But I might be convinced. To keep you from starving, of course.”
“Of course,” Alistair said. After a moment, he added, “You’re not a coward.”
Cullen blessed Alistair with a lopsided grin. “Nor are you a fool.”
Exchanging nothing else but smiles, they headed to the kitchens together.
Chapter 14: Home
While trying to think of various kisses and sweet moments Cullistair could share, I realized that I've never seen the infamous battlement scene with them. So here it is.
Alistair walked along the battlements with Cullen in complete silence.
That wasn’t to say that silence was bad, necessarily. Sure, Alistair had never cared for it much, but many people did, and Cullen was one of them.
They’d spent enough time together lately — lunches, dinners, walks, strategy discussions (yes, they did do some work), sparring sessions — that Alistair could tell when Cullen needed time to think. To be honest, he actually liked that Cullen was comfortable enough around him to not feel the need to make the small talk he was so terrible at; even more, he liked that he, who had always felt trapped by silence, felt comfortable just being with Cullen. No talking required.
But right now, walking along the battlements — this was not the good type of silence.
No. This was the thick, tense, confusing, so-quiet-it’s-loud silence that Alistair had always hated.
Worst of all, it was uncomfortable. And if anything could describe his relationship with Cullen, it was comfortable. With Cullen, he cracked jokes because he wanted to hear Cullen laugh, not because it was the only way to get attention, or because humor was the only thing he was good at. With Cullen, he talked not because he needed to fill the empty silence, but because he wanted to talk, and, more importantly, because Cullen was interested in what he had to say.
With Cullen, everything felt right.
Alistair had never had a real home before; he’d lived in many places, but none of them had felt like somewhere he could stay.
Cullen felt like home, and Alistair liked the idea of being with him forever.
The walk had been Alistair’s suggestion, as it always was at this time in the afternoon. Every day Cullen became so absorbed in his work that he would lose track of time, and Alistair wanted to make sure he wasn’t pushing himself too hard. That was what usually triggered his withdrawal episodes.
Usually, they each talked about the way their day had gone so far. But not today.
Because Alistair had been thinking too much lately, and this was an example of what happened when he did.
He ruined everything.
Last night he’d had a thought — a completely out-of-nowhere, idle thought — about how nice it might be to kiss Cullen. So nice. So very, very nice.
And then everything clicked into place, and he’d realized that over the past month he’d been falling in love with Cullen like the total idiot he was. A complete and utter fool.
Cullen was … well, Cullen. He could have any person he wanted — Maker knew most of Orlais and probably half of Ferelden were swooning over him — but he was busier than a Warden during a Blight and, as far as Alistair could tell, had no time for anything besides work, half-hearted eating when he remembered, and the few hours he managed to sleep.
Well, and their daily afternoon walk, but Alistair could annoy anyone into doing anything.
“Are you all right?” Cullen asked, dragging Alistair from his thoughts.
“Me? Of course! I’m feeling great! Why wouldn’t I be?”
Cullen raised an eyebrow. “For one, that was a terrible attempt at reassurance. For two, you’ve barely said a word since we left my office. And if I know anything about you, it’s that when you stop talking —”
“Everyone rejoices in the Maker-blessed silence?”
Alistair had expected a mild glare. Instead, Cullen tilted his head, his expression sympathetic. “When you stop talking, you have something important on your mind.” Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, Cullen started to rub the back of his neck. “I’d be honored if you would confide in me, but if you aren’t comfortable —”
“No!” Alistair insisted. “That’s not it at all.”
“Then what?” Cullen stopped and lay a gentle hand on his arm and said, “Tell me what’s wrong, Alistair. Please?”
Alistair swallowed as those lovely amber eyes bore into his. Then he dropped his gaze to the point where Cullen’s hand lay on his arm. Cullen’s gaze followed, and he jerked his hand away to once again rub the back of his neck as he resumed their walk.
“It’s a … nice day.”
Maker, Cullen despised small talk, hated it above all else except, perhaps, Corypheus. Alistair really had bungled things.
Which was the absolute last thing he wanted. Even if all he could have of Cullen was friendship, he would accept it because he cared about him and didn’t want to lose Cullen’s presence in his life. He needed to fix it.
“I care for you,” he blurted instead.
At that, Cullen froze. And because Alistair’s big fat mouth sometimes operated on its own, he continued. But he was also a coward, so he spoke to Cullen’s chest plate.
“A — a great deal.” He tried to grin, but with his luck he probably just looked constipated. “And I want more with you than … well.” He waved his hand back and forth between them. “More than this.”
Cullen sighed, and when Alistair looked up, his face was carefully blank as he turned away and began walking again. “I can’t say I haven’t wondered what I might say to you in this sort of situation.”
Alistair’s heart stopped. “In — what?”
“You’ve never been any good at Wicked Grace.” Cullen’s honey eyes, when he regarded Alistair, were kind, as was his soft smile, and Alistair braced himself for the worst. “I — I know.”
Those words were a shield bash to the head — he felt stunned, dizzy, and like he might vomit any moment.
“Oh,” was all he could manage. “I should go.”
“No!” Cullen almost shouted, reaching out to Alistair before stopping himself and defaulting to the neck rub. “I mean,” he corrected, more quiet now. “That is — I — I have wondered what I might say. And this …” He seemed to struggle getting the words out. “… isn’t … it.”
Alistair stood rooted in place, unable to move if he wanted to, while Cullen searched for what to say.
“You’re a Warden. We’re at war. Maker knows if we’ll both make it to the end alive, and even if we do, neither of us have long lives awaiting us after.”
At that, Alistair’s heart began to crack. Cullen was right, of course; between the Taint and the lyrium, the best they could hope for was that Cullen started to lose his mind around the time Alistair left for his Calling.
“And you …” Cullen’s voice softened as he stepped closer — too soft, too close, too intimate. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
Maybe — maybe it wasn’t too late. Heart pounding so fast he thought it might burst, Alistair smirked. “Good thing we’re both experienced at making the impossible look easy.”
“So we are.” Cullen’s smile was sweet as he leaned in, and Alistair stopped breathing altogether. “It seems too much to ask. But I want to —”
“Commander!” A voice called, and they both froze. Cullen raised his eyes to the Maker, and Alistair felt his body tense. “You wanted a copy of Sister Leliana’s report.”
Cullen executed an impressive military pivot, and Alistair shivered at the glare he leveled at the poor messenger.
“What?” Cullen spat the word through gritted teeth.
“Sister Leliana’s report? You wanted it delivered ‘without delay.’” Only then did the messenger raise his gaze to his furious commander and begin to take several slow, deliberate steps back. “Or … to your office …”
But Alistair knew Leliana. She always had her reports delivered at the beginning of the day, never in the afternoon, since the war council didn’t meet until the next morning and she wanted topics fresh in their minds. (When he’d told her he thought that was unnecessarily manipulative, she’d just smiled in that scary calm way of hers that made him want to scamper from the room.)
If this was a report from her, it was an odd one.
“Wait,” he called after the messenger, taking a step in his direction and (unfortunately) away from Cullen. “I’d like to read that report.”
The messenger, who looked ready to wet himself, flicked his eyes to Cullen. “It’s … um … it’s for the Commander.”
Without blinking or even moving anything except his arm, Cullen reached out for the report wordlessly, murder still in his eyes.
The messenger approached Cullen as one would a sleeping — or perhaps a grumpy, just-awakened — dragon. Just as Cullen closed his fingers around the suspiciously thin report, the messenger dropped it like burning tinder and bolted in the opposite direction.
“I bet Lels planted that rep —”
But the moment the messenger turned his back, Cullen tossed the report over his shoulder, grabbed Alistair’s face with both hands, and shoved him into the rampart with the force of his kiss.
Alistair let out a rather indecent moan and pulled Cullen so close that he was literally between a rock and a hard place. His knees wobbled, but Cullen held him up, cradling his face as though it were the only remaining griffon egg. They clutched each other desperately, and Cullen tasted like when the mabari snuggled against him in the barn, the time he first tried cheese, and the day Duncan conscripted him all rolled into one.
He tasted like home.
When they finally, reluctantly parted, Cullen’s lovely eyes were softer than Alistair had ever seen them.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That was … um … really nice.”
Alistair grinned so hard his cheeks ached. “Was it? I think I need more testing to be sure.”
When he leaned in, Cullen met him halfway, and they dove back into each other, kissing until Alistair’s vision darkened around the edges. If he hadn’t required air to stay conscious and feel Cullen’s … everything surrounding him, he would have foregone breathing altogether.
“What about now?” Cullen asked after they’d parted again.
“Definitely nice. Just like the day.”
Cullen shook his head, chuckling. “Shut up.”
With enough room to finally step away from the ramparts digging into his back, Alistair bent to pick up the report Cullen so casually and romantically discarded. It consisted of only two pieces of parchment. The top one read: FOR COMMANDER CULLEN’S EYES ONLY
“Why is this report so important to you?” Cullen asked, reading the second page over his shoulder. It read, simply:
It’s about time.
"I knew it!" Alistair let out a growl of frustration at his nosy, know-it-all, stabby old friend, crumpling the page in his clenched fist. “When I see her, I’m going to —”
But Cullen took the parchment from him, threw it over the side of the battlement, and pulled Alistair in for yet another kiss.
Since Alistair couldn’t imagine any other place he’d rather be, he relaxed into the embrace and let Cullen take him home.
Chapter 15: Lost
Cullen hunched over, palms flat on his desk, head bowed, in an attempt to stave off the utter despair threatening to overwhelm him.
Two weeks ago today, Alistair’s Warden contingent had returned from a routine mission without their commander. Alistair had apparently chased after a horde of darkspawn dragging away a female Warden, who eventually rejoined the group injured but alive, and without their leader. She’d awoken surrounded only by over a dozen dead darkspawn and Alistair’s shield, which was covered in blood.
Her name was Monette, and it was she who had brought Alistair’s shield to the war room. Cullen had taken it to his office where it lay now, cleaned and polished, in the center of his desk.
It had belonged to Duncan and was among Alistair’s most prized possessions. He would not have left it willingly. Leliana disagreed, insisting that Alistair must have intended it as a message of some sort, which Cullen found to be wishful thinking at best and denial at worst. His only comfort — and it was a small one, as there were far darker explanations — had been that Alistair’s sword, made of starmetal and gifted to him by the Hero of Ferelden, had not been recovered.
His horse, Griffon, had arrived at Skyhold filthy and riderless on the third day after the Wardens returned. For two weeks, Leliana’s people had scoured the area between Skyhold and where Monette awoke — the latter of which had been thoroughly searched by the Wardens, as well — but found no evidence of Alistair or the darkspawn.
And still, Leliana stubbornly refused to accept what Cullen had begun to fear was the inevitable, to the point that this morning they had fought, complete with raised voices, at the war table. He had insisted she “recognize reality,” and she had accused him of not trusting Alistair. He’d questioned why Alistair wouldn’t send a message with an explanation in the past two weeks, and she rattled off several reasons that merely sounded like excuses. Because he did trust Alistair, who wrote daily letters to him every day they were apart. He would never allow Cullen to wonder at his safety, even if he had to flag down a merchant who had never heard of Skyhold to find one of Leliana’s spies twenty miles west to send a letter telling Cullen he’d be one day late. (Even Leliana had been impressed upon receiving that message.)
This time, Alistair had been missing for two weeks, without his horse and having left his shield behind, and Cullen had not received a word.
In stark contrast to Leliana’s stubborn confidence, with every hour that passed a little bit more of Cullen’s heart shriveled and died as he worried that this time, Alistair would not be returning to him.
With a strangled shout, Cullen pounded a fist on the desk. He had never felt so helpless. Alistair had assured him that the mission was so routine that “the biggest danger will be that I fall asleep from boredom and topple off Griff because the recruits take care of everything.”
Cullen squeezed his eyes shut to keep his tears in. Why did Alistair have to be so noble? Why couldn’t he, just once, look out for his own wellbeing? He knew why, of course, and it was part of why he loved Alistair so, but that didn’t keep his heart from slowly breaking.
What grieved him nearly as much as the thought of losing Alistair was that with no body, Cullen could not properly lay him to rest. He would never be able to give Alistair the hero’s pyre he so richly deserved. Would anyone truly understand everything he had done for Ferelden and for Thedas, for the Wardens and the Inquisition, for countless people across half a dozen countries? It wasn’t right.
It wasn’t fair.
How could the Maker be so cruel? To have allowed them to finally find happiness in each other, only to rip it away via circumstance and uncertainty.
Cullen collapsed into his chair. Caressing the shield, the only significant possession of Alistair’s he had left, he allowed his tears to flow freely. If Leliana refused to cry, if Thedas would never understand, he would grieve Alistair enough for them all.
He didn’t know how long he sat, crying, weeping, sobbing for the only person he ever truly loved, when a loud knock sounded on one of his doors.
“Leave me!” he yelled. “I’ll not be disturbed!”
After a moment of quiet, in which he believed himself to be alone once again, a second pound on the door preceded the squeak of its hinges as it swung open.
Infuriated, Cullen jumped to his feet. “I said —”
“I heard you,” said a voice, thready but oh, so familiar. “I think I got a better welcome at Adamant.”
Miracle of miracles, Alistair stood in the doorway, covered in blood and grime, noticeably thinner, and leaning on his starmetal sword like a cane, but very much alive.
Cullen nearly vaulted the desk in his rush to get to the door, and thank the Maker he did, because Alistair swayed on his feet and collapsed just as Cullen reached him. Cullen caught him and sank to his knees, from both Alistair and the weight of his relief.
As he cradled Alistair to his chest, he shouted, “Fetch Sister Leliana and a healer!” He heard boots running across stone and knew his orders were being followed.
“Not injured,” Alistair said, head lolling. “Mostly. Just tired. Why does this place have so many stairs?”
“You should have told someone to fetch me,” Cullen scolded gently, checking for major wounds and finding none. He still couldn’t quite believe this wasn’t a dream.
“And ruin my entrance?”
Cullen laughed through his tears and clutched Alistair close. “Maker, I thought I’d lost you.”
“Couldn’t leave you alone.” Alistair smiled. “Someone has to make you eat and sleep.” He let his head fall to Cullen’s chest and looked up through watery eyes. “I’ll always come back to you.”
Sending a prayer of gratitude to Andraste, Cullen cupped Alistair’s cheek and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “Rest now, my love. I’ll keep you safe, and be here when you wake.”
Alistair’s eyes drooped closed, mouth quirking upward in a slight smile while Cullen cradled him and whispered sweet comforts and promises and declarations of his love until help arrived.
Chapter 16: Found
This chapter is a sequel to Chapter 15, Lost.
Content warning: Mention of/reference to broodmothers and all the triggers that come with them.
Alistair awoke to two familiar but opposing feelings.
First, someone — Cullen, he could tell, he could always tell — holding his hand and stroking his hair. It felt glorious.
Second, his stomach not so much growling as roaring, attempting to eat itself from the inside out. It felt … less than glorious.
Pretty terrible, actually. He was starving.
But the good outweighed the bad, and he kept his eyes closed to revel in Cullen’s gentle, loving touch, of which he could never receive his fill.
“Mother of Andraste, was that his stomach?” Leliana, on the opposite side of the bed as Cullen, sounded surprisingly incredulous, considering the various types and quantities of food she’d seen him inhale during the Blight.
Cullen chuckled, and behind his eyelids, Alistair felt the sting of tears. Maker, he’d missed him so much.
“Yes,” Cullen said. “Oftentimes it wakes me before it wakes him.”
“That is precisely my point. How has he not awakened yet?”
“He is exhausted, Leliana.” Cullen’s tone was oddly defensive. “The healers said that they found evidence of several partially healed broken bones, including —”
“His right arm and left foot, yes,” Leliana said, annoyed. “The healer spoke to both of us. Would you like to share more information I already know?”
Alistair clearly wasn’t the only one exhausted, since Cullen gave a sigh indicating he was exactly that. “I only meant to explain why he might be so tired that even his hunger wouldn’t wake him.”
Leliana upgraded to what Alistair called Level 2 Annoyed. “And I was merely expressing my disbelief that, having likely not had a decent meal in over two weeks, his exhaustion outweighs the sort of hunger that could provoke that noise.”
“And I am attempting to tell you that that noise is not particularly unusual when it comes to —”
“For Maker’s sake,” Alistair mumbled. “Stop bickering.”
They did, although Cullen’s hand unfortunately ceased its comforting repetitions.
On the other hand — literally — Leliana twined her fingers with his, so that both his hands were being held by people he loved.
He was so used to waking up alone after injuries that he found the attention almost suffocating.
Forcing his eyes open, Alistair found himself in the Skyhold infirmary with both Cullen and Leliana, neither wearing their standard armor, watching him silently, eyes wide and — damn it — anxious.
For them, he mustered a lopsided smile. “Anyway, you’re both right. I’m exhausted and starving.”
Cullen cupped his cheek, and Alistair couldn’t help but lean into it, allowing his eyes to flutter closed for the duration of a long blink. Maker, how he’d missed Cullen’s touch.
“How are you feeling?” Cullen asked, then, with an eye roll so gentle it barely counted as one, added, “Aside from the obvious.”
Alistair shrugged, his lopsided smile weakening. “Those two are overwhelming everything else right now. Could I get some —?”
Before Alistair even started his question, Cullen turned, holding out a dinner roll before he could finish.
On his other side, Leliana snatched the roll from Cullen’s hand. “No. Explain first. Then food.”
“What?” This was torture. Actual, literal torture. He was starving. Almost literally.
“Leliana,” Cullen quietly scolded. “He will tell us in time. Withholding food at this point is —”
“Necessary for the full truth.” Leliana turned to Alistair, mouth thin and eyes blazing. “You will receive a small piece in exchange for every answer.”
“I am not a mabari!” Alistair nearly shouted, and he dove for the roll, which Leliana easily moved out of range. He whined, “I’m so hungry …”
“Then this will go quickly,” she said. “You owe us an explanation for going missing for two weeks without a word. Cullen thought you were dead!”
“Leliana!” Cullen hissed. “Stop this.”
“I will not.” Leliana raised her chin to Cullen in defiance. Then, turning to Alistair, eyes harder than diamonds. “Explain. Now.”
Alistair shuddered. That last order reminded him of the way she’d spoken to Marjolaine all those years ago. Somehow, although then she’d been aiming her bow, she seemed more terrifying now.
He squeezed Cullen’s hand, which squeezed right back. “I — I’m so sorry. I never meant to —”
But Cullen cupped his cheeks with both hands this time and pressed a hard, intense kiss to his lips, the desperation and gratitude of which made his heart ache.
“You are safe,” Cullen whispered, forehead against Alistair’s and running his fingers through Alistair’s hair. “That is all that matters to me.”
Alistair knew Cullen meant it, but the words provided no comfort. Cullen had been through so much already, including fearing Alistair dead when he’d fallen into the Fade at Adamant.
Maybe he deserved Leliana’s torture after all.
“I was never in any real danger,” he said, gaze bouncing between the two.
Cullen squeezed his hand in both of his own.
Leliana pursed her lips and did not reward him with a bite of roll. “Your poorly healed broken bones imply otherwise. Try again. The truth this time.”
Cullen glared at her. “Leliana.”
“That is —” Alistair began, but trailed off into silence at the near-murderous look in Leliana’s eyes. Letting his head fall back into his pillow, he took a slow, deep breath in an attempt to calm his furious stomach and aching heart.
Fine. If the truth was what they wanted, he’d give it to them. But he needed some first.
“Is Monette all right?” he whispered, blinking back tears.
“She is,” Leliana said.
“Griffon arrived here three days after the rest of your Wardens. Everyone returned safely.” Leliana’s tone was cold, but Alistair closed his eyes in relief at the answers. “Except for you. Now, you will explain yourself. I will not ask again.”
He let out a shuddering breath to keep himself from losing control. “They were dragging her away, Lels,” he whispered. “I had to stop them.”
“These are things we already know,” she snapped. “And not where our concerns lie.”
They might have known, but he wasn’t sure they understood. Or rather, he wasn’t sure Cullen understood.
“Did you explain … ?” He couldn’t finish.
Leliana sighed and pressed the roll into his hand, though Alistair didn’t feel like eating anymore. “I did not. He had plenty to worry and then grieve over without needing to think about that.”
Alistair flinched. Cullen should not have been grieving him, but he’d had no choice because of Alistair’s failures.
“Think about what?” Cullen snapped at Leliana. “I knew you were keeping something from me.” Then, to Alistair, he added, in only a slightly less commanding tone, “Explain. Now.”
Alistair couldn’t help but think that the two had suddenly switched roles — Cullen was giving orders now while Leliana sat quiet and upset. In any other circumstance, such a shift would have made him smile.
Alistair squeezed Cullen’s hand this time. “Ever wonder where darkspawn come from?”
“The original Tevinter magisters,” Cullen said, shaking his head as though it were an obvious, well-known fact and not a potentially mythological explanation the Chantry had been peddling for years.
But now wasn’t the time to get into a theological argument. Alistair shook his head. “I mean the new ones. Kill one, a dozen replace it.”
Cullen frowned. “The archdemons?”
“Darkspawn don’t disappear between Blights.”
“Alistair,” Leliana said quietly.
She was right. He was putting off the explanation. But it was awful, and he didn’t want to burden Cullen with the knowledge.
But Cullen wasn’t stupid. “Where do they come from?” he asked, underlying anxiety apparent in his words.
Alistair sighed again. “They’re called broodmothers. Enormous, disgusting creatures with a dozen …” He cupped his hands near his chest in a mimic of the female part. “Teats, of a sort. And tentacles.”
“And you’ve fought these creatures?” Cullen asked, aghast.
Alistair’s laugh was bitter. “I’ve killed them. Hundreds by now.
“If they … birth darkspawn,” Cullen spat, “then where do they —” His eyes widened, expression contorting in utter disgust, and shook his head. “You don’t mean …”
Alistair nodded. No, Cullen wasn’t stupid. Sometimes he was far too smart for his own good. “We discovered the process during the Blight.” His gaze, and Cullen’s, flicked to Leliana.
“They only take women.” Leliana’s eyes blazed with righteous rage.
“No,” Alistair corrected. “They don’t care what you call yourself, as long as you have the right … equipment.”
Krem, for example, would be in as much danger as Monette.
“How?” Cullen whispered in horror.
But Alistair shook his head. “I won’t tell you that. You have enough nightmares as it is.”
He and Leliana both shuddered.
“So you saved Monette from that fate,” Cullen said, squeezing Alistair’s hand again. “Thank the Maker.”
“That still doesn’t explain —”
“I’m getting there,” Alistair interrupted Leliana. He still held the uneaten roll in his free hand. “I’ve learned, over the years, that broodmothers congregate. They nest in groups.” Glancing at Leliana, he explained while picking at the roll with his fingers. “During the Blight, when we … well, you know. We interrupted them. Lone broodmothers are rare.” He shrugged. “And darkspawn don’t always capture. That meant there was most likely a nest nearby. I got rid of most of the group that grabbed Monette, but a few got away, and I had to follow them. They could lead me to the nest.”
“What of Duncan’s shield?” Cullen asked.
“I dropped it to pick up a second weapon and didn’t have time to grab it before I followed the ones that escaped.”
“So it wasn’t a message.” Cullen spoke it like a statement, raising an eyebrow at Leliana.
“Uh, not intentionally,” Alistair admitted. “But afterward I kind of hoped one of you would figure out that the shield without me was a sign that I wasn’t dead?”
“But if it had been a message,” Leliana said to Cullen, cocking an eyebrow of her own, “it would have meant you were alive.”
“I told you he would never leave it behind willingly!”
“And I told you he wasn’t dead.”
Alistair was starting to get annoyed. “What is going on right now?”
Two-thirds of the Inquisition’s advisers stared each other down.
“Cullen is quick to fear the worst.”
“And Leliana finds secret messages in everything.”
“Yeeesss …” Alistair frowned. “I’m aware of the difference in your outlooks on life.”
Leliana speared him with a particularly nasty glare. “Cullen looked at the evidence — your Wardens and later your horse returning without you, your shield but no other sign, no word for two weeks — and worried you were dead. While I …” She blinked several times in quick succession before clearing her throat. “I assumed that you must have had a very good reason for your lack of communication. Which you have still not explained.”
Alistair squeezed his eyes closed to once again keep in his tears. He had never meant to worry them, especially Cullen. But in their shoes he’d have been just as upset, just as catastrophic in his fears, just as grieved at losing someone he cared about.
To keep them from worrying any longer, he spoke as quickly as possible and wouldn’t allow himself to be interrupted again.
“I’m sorry.” The burn in his throat made his voice hoarse. “I had no way to send a message. I followed the darkspawn to the broodmothers’ den so I could come back with the rest of my Wardens to finish them off. But I was tired and hungry, and I messed up, and they figured out I was there. I couldn’t fight everything that came at me, so I rigged up the last of my explosive grenades to cause a cave-in. Only I’m not an expert and got caught in the explosion.”
“Hence the broken bones,” Leliana said.
He nodded, eyes still shut tight, and Cullen squeezed his hand again. That, more than anything else, gave him the strength to finish.
“I only had a single weak healing potion left, which is why the bones didn’t fully heal. I’d caved in the entrance I’d descended through, so it took me a couple days to make it back to the surface. And then I had to get my surface bearings and head back here on foot.”
When he finally opened his eyes, his vision had grown far too blurred to see anything clearly. Because Maker, for those few days he was in the Deep Roads, he’d believed that he would die down there alone — killed by starvation, darkspawn, or both. He’d feared he would never see Cullen again, never be able to tell him how much he loved him. How Cullen had given him back his will to live, his sense of duty, his purpose in life.
Cullen wrapped him in his warm, strong, safe embrace and rocked him like a babe.
“I’m so sorry,” he sobbed into Cullen’s shoulder. “I didn’t see a soul on my way to Skyhold. I tried to find the paths, but there’s so much new snow, and I wasn’t able to stay on track, and I was so tired and hungry…”
“Hush, my love.” How could Cullen be so steady after what Alistair had put him through? He rubbed Alistair’s back and cradled his head in one large palm. “You’re safe now. I promise.”
“I would have sent a message if I could,” Alistair cried. “I’m so sorry. I never meant to worry you.”
“Shh. I know. You have nothing to be sorry for.”
Cullen’s arms tightened around him as he repeated those comforting words over and over. And somehow, Alistair’s heartbeat began to slow, and he calmed until he could no longer keep himself upright. When he slumped, exhausted, against Cullen, he felt lips press against his temple before strong, steady arms lay him back down onto the bed.
“You’re safe,” Cullen whispered, thumb stroking his cheek. “And that’s all that matters.”
Then, in a quiet, controlled tone Alistair recognized as his Furious Commander voice, Cullen said to Leliana, “I’d like speak with you in private for a moment.”
Alistair grabbed Leliana’s hand before she or Cullen could move. “I’m sorry,” he said to her, fresh tears welling.
Leliana, as Cullen had, cupped his cheek with one hand and squeezed his hand with the other. “No, my friend, I am sorry. I know that I pushed you hard, but I feared you would bottle everything up and that Cullen would not press the issue.”
Alistair couldn’t deny that it had worked. Though now more tired than ever, he felt as though a weight he hadn’t realized he’d been bearing was lifted from his shoulders and chest.
“You’ve always been too clever for your own good,” Leliana said, “hiding your pain behind jokes and deflecting with concerns about others in the hopes that people will forget to ask how you fare. I could not allow you to do that now. But I am truly sorry that lancing the wound hurt you so.”
“Thank you,” he whispered. For helping him open up, for holding out hope, for taking care of Cullen — well, except that.
She placed a chaste kiss on his forehead. “Now rest. I will fetch you a meal or three so you may eat when you feel hungry again. In fifteen minutes or so.”
Alistair smirked at that, and then said, “Wait. I need you both to promise me something.”
Cullen and Leliana both shared a concerned look — because of course they did — before turning to him expectantly.
“Alistair,” Cullen said, caressing his cheek, “there’s no need to —”
“Yes, there is.” Alistair swallowed the lump in his throat. “Promise me that when — if —” Oh, who was he kidding? “When I go to answer my Calling or whatever happens to me … Promise me that you two will look after each other? Don’t fight about me, please. Just …” He turned to Cullen. “Don’t let her get all murdery. She’ll need someone to be her conscience, and you’re really good at that.” Then he looked to Leliana, blinking through tears. “And he’s going to need someone to take care of him for a while. Don’t let him give up, okay? Remind him that the world will need him to keep going as long as he’s able.” He reached for each of their hands and brought them together in his own. “You’re two of the people I care about most in all of Thedas, and I want to make sure you’re both going to be all right. Promise me?”
Cullen, amber eyes shining, shook his head. “I don’t see why —”
“Yes.” Leliana steadily met Alistair’s gaze. “I promise.”
Then she glanced at Cullen, who took a deep breath and said, “Of course. I promise.”
Alistair lay back against the pillow, content for now.
“I should go find you some real food.” Leliana stood, pressed a lingering kiss to his forehead, and headed for the door. “And get some rest,” she tossed over her shoulder as she left the infirmary. “That’s an order.”
“Are you in any pain right now?” Cullen asked.
Alistair could barely shake his head no, so drained was he after everything. “Not physically.”
Cullen frowned at that, then nodded. “Scoot over,” he said, lifting Alistair’s blankets and waving at him to roll or shift in order to make room.
Alistair did, gladly, rolling to his side while Cullen lay down and adjusted the blankets. Once, they both were settled, Cullen wrapped his arm around Alistair’s waist and pulled him against his chest.
They both let loose harmonizing moans, each filled with too many emotions to express in words.
Cullen embraced Alistair with both arms, one across his shoulders and the other hanging loosely over his belly, and Alistair closed his eyes, a hard lump in his throat. Cullen clutched him tight, buried his face in Alistair’s neck, and said nothing for a long while.
“I love you so much,” Cullen whispered, his lips ghosting over Alistair’s skin before pressing against it in a kiss, the precious, desperate love of which burned like a brand. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you.”
Tears finally escaped and rolled down Alistair’s face into the pillow. He turned in Cullen’s arms, cupped his cheek, and said what he’d feared in the Deep Roads he’d never be able to. “I love you, too. More than words can describe. And you’ve given me so much. I have a purpose again and a reason to keep going. And I will never stop trying to find my way back to you. You’re …” A sob cut off his words, and he let his eyes flutter closed. “My everything, Cullen.”
Cullen kissed him then, and this one contained so much that Alistair thought his heart might burst. When he opened his eyes, Cullen’s cheeks were streaked with tears, too.
“As you are mine,” Cullen whispered. “Do not ever worry me like that again. That’s an order.”
“Technically, I don’t answer to you …”
“An. Order.” Cullen punctuated the words by tightening his arms slightly with each one.
“Fine. But I’m only following it because I’m choosing to.” Alistair smirked. “For your sake.”
Cullen’s smile was small but genuine. “That’s all I ask.” He kissed Alistair once more, this one so tender that Alistair’s stomach flipped. “Now get some rest, my love. I’ll be here when you wake.”
Alistair was on the verge of sleep when a deep grumble echoed through him. His eyes snapped open.
“Cullen? I’m starving.”
Cullen’s baritone laugh rumbled into Alistair’s chest, so warm and soft that it wrapped around him like a heavy blanket. Cullen detangled himself and reached under the chair he’d been sitting in, turning back to Alistair with a sack and dumping out its contents.
Alistair sat up straight, gaping at the dozen or so rolls now sitting in his lap. He picked up one and ate it in three bites.
“This was all I had time to grab from the kitchen,” said Cullen, smiling. “But I figured it would be enough to hold you over until we were able to get you a real meal.”
Alistair finished off his second roll and started on a third. “I love you,” he said, mouth full, moaning in ecstasy.
Cullen wrapped an arm around his shoulders and, chuckling, kissed Alistair’s temple as he reached for a fourth roll. “I love you, too.”
Chapter 17: Confidence
Should I try harder to keep the word counts low? Absolutely.
Do I want to? No! I have so much to say!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Alistair entered Cullen’s office silently and, since Cullen was still meeting with his officers, leaned up against the wall, crossing his arms to watch the Commander of the Inquisition at work.
Cullen — there was truly no other word for it — commanded the room in every way. The soldiers who served under him respected his military expertise as well as his personal experiences as a Templar. He was serious, but not unkind, and his praise, when given, was genuine and thus greatly prized.
Alistair loved to see the utter confidence Cullen exuded when in his element. But rarely did he get to appreciate it, since —
The moment Cullen saw Alistair, he smiled, and immediately fumbled whatever he was discussing.
Everyone turned in the direction Cullen looked, staring at Alistair with expressions ranging from annoyance to gently teasing smiles.
Cullen’s cheeks reddened, and he looked away, clearing his throat. “As I was saying …”
Though Cullen continued to issue orders, the damage had been done. He tried to recover, but his command of the meeting was undermined by the frequent flicks of his gaze back to Alistair, who tried not to be disappointed. Gone were Cullen’s exceeding competence and effortless confidence, replaced by the blushing, stuttering, awkward former Templar, all due to him merely seeing Alistair standing in his office.
Adorable and sweet? Of course. An enormous part of what Alistair loved about him? Absolutely. But Alistair always got to see his cute, gentle, awkward Cullen. It was the hot, confident commander side that always seemed to evaporate when he entered the room.
“Dismissed,” Cullen said finally, to a chorus of Yes, sers and a parade of officers sending Alistair knowing smirks as they left.
Alistair rolled his eyes but stayed where he was until the last door was closed. Then he pushed himself off the wall and crossed to the desk, where Cullen was still blushing and rubbing the back of his neck.
“I wasn’t expecting you until this evening.” Cullen regarded Alistair with that cute lopsided smile of his.
“I wanted to surprise you.”
Cullen wrapped his arms around Alistair’s waist, resting their foreheads against each other. “And what a delightful surprise it is.” He leaned in and kissed Alistair, who returned it.
Not well enough, apparently, because Cullen frowned and asked, “What’s wrong?”
Alistair shook his head. “Nothing.”
But Cullen pulled away, crossing his arms. “You are a terrible liar.”
“So are you!”
“Which is only one of many reasons I endeavor not to engage in that particular sin.” Cullen tilted his head and regarded Alistair for a moment before asking more softly this time, “What’s going on? Did something happen?”
Oh, for Maker’s sake. So much for not trying to show his disappointment. Now he had to tell Cullen the truth, lest he jump to the worst possible conclusion.
“You’re scaring me,” Cullen continued. “Was it something I did?”
Exactly like that.
“No!” Alistair practically shouted. “It’s not — it’s a little thing you don’t need to be worried about.”
“Then why can’t you just tell me?”
Alistair groaned in frustration. “Because you already overthink everything and …” He sighed, all fight leaving him. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”
“Hurt my feelings?” Cullen sneered at that. “I assure you, Alistair, I have tougher skin than that. I’m more bothered by the fact that you don’t trust me enough to share your concerns with me.”
Maker, how had this spiraled out of control so quickly? Especially over something so insignificant in the grand scheme of things?
“Fine,” he said in as normal a tone as possible, given the circumstances. “But you have to let me finish before you say anything, and keep in mind that I love you and this is just a little thing that you made into a big deal —”
“Andraste’s blood, Alistair, spit it out!”
Alistair winced. That was the most violent curse Cullen ever used, reserved for when he was incredibly upset or worried. In this case, he was probably both.
So Alistair took a deep breath and, as he rarely did, considered his words carefully. “I like watching you do your job, being all confident and commanding, but only when you can’t see me. Because …” he added, holding up a hand to stop Cullen from interrupting. “When you do see me, you get all adorable and cute and awkward. Which is great! I love it! But …” He shrugged. “Sometimes I just wish I could see Cullen the Confident Commander more.”
Cullen blinked several times. “If I’m understanding correctly,” he began softly, “you’re saying that you prefer to watch me secretly because when I see you I’m not confident enough?”
“Yes!” Alistair said. But when Cullen’s jaw twitched, he replayed the words in his head and heard how they might have sounded to Cullen. “No! I mean, that’s not exactly the most generous reading —”
Cullen’s laugh was disbelieving and — though he clearly tried to hide it — slightly hurt. “I see. So now I also lack the generosity to always see everything your way? Forgive me for having my own opinions and feelings which I apparently lack the confidence to express.”
Alistair threw up his hands. “This is why I didn’t want to bring it up! You’re constantly overthinking things! I didn’t mean any of that!”
“At least I’m actually thinking,” Cullen snapped, “instead of saying the first thing that comes to mind.”
“That’s not fair.” Alistair’s voice, as it always did when words hit a particularly tender spot, softened to almost a whisper. “You assumed the worst, then insisted I tell you immediately what was going on without giving me the chance to find the right way to phrase it.”
Cullen spun around, stalked to his desk, and leaned on it for support, palms flat.
Alistair followed him, placing what he hoped was a comforting hand on Cullen’s shoulder. “I haven’t seen you in a week, and the last thing I want to do is fight. I’m just …” He sighed, wanting to fix this. “Tired. You know I can barely function at all when I haven’t slept or eaten properly.” It was a small test joke, taking aim at his own foolishness, and he hoped Cullen would agree.
Instead, Cullen bowed his head and said nothing.
Alistair’s heart sank. This was not the reunion he’d dreamt about for the past several days. Why did he always ruin things?
He squeezed Cullen’s shoulder and turned to leave. Cullen usually needed to be alone after their arguments.
He was almost at the door when Cullen asked, “Do you know why I always get so nervous?”
Alistair shook his head, then turned to find Cullen still hunched over his desk, back to him. So he added, “Why?”
Cullen seemed to sigh with his whole body. “Because never in my life has the Maker blessed me with anything as wonderful as you. And I’m afraid that one day I’ll do or say something stupid and you’ll wake up and realize —” He shifted, lifting his hand to his face. “The only thing I want in all of Thedas is to be worthy of you.”
Alistair didn’t know he’d moved until he was at Cullen’s side, resting a hand on the arm covering his face. “Cullen.”
Cullen tried to turn away, but Alistair wouldn’t let him, peeling Cullen’s hand from his face and forcing those amber eyes to meet his own.
The shame and fear in them made his heart ache.
“Cullen.” He placed a hand on either of Cullen’s cheeks, cradling him like the most precious treasure in all of Thedas — which he was. “There is nothing that you can do that would make you unworthy in my eyes.”
Cullen attempted to shake his head, but Alistair held tight.
“Okay, wrong word,” he corrected. “There is nothing that you would do that would make you unworthy in my eyes. Sure, you could, say, run an innocent person through with your sword, but I know you never would. I swear to you on the souls of all the friends I’ve ever lost, and everyone I’m afraid to lose. And you’re right at the top of that list.”
Cullen’s beautiful eyes shone bright, nearly overflowing.
“I love you,” Alistair said, resting their foreheads together. “Nothing you do will ever change that. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. I’ll say it and prove it until you do.”
And he pressed the sweetest, lightest kiss to Cullen’s lips before pulling Cullen into his arms, where Cullen rested his head on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Cullen whispered.
“No, I’m sorry. All I was trying to say was that I find you incredibly attractive when you’re taking charge and ordering people around. And that I wish I could see that more.”
He felt Cullen smile into his neck. “I’ll see what I can do about that.” Then Cullen’s embrace tightened suddenly, so intense Alistair nearly started to cry. “I love you so much.”
“I love you, too. And for what it’s worth …” His voice warbled dangerously. “You’re the most wonderful thing to happen in my life, too. No one’s ever loved me enough to worry about me leaving.” He forced a chuckle. “Usually they can’t wait to be rid of me.”
“Those people never knew what they were missing. Imbeciles, the lot of them.” Cullen kissed his cheek and pulled away. “I’m glad you’re back early.”
Alistair grinned. “Me too.”
“I haven’t had a decent meal in over a week.”
Cullen raised an eyebrow. “So … you won’t be able to wait for dinner?”
“For you, love,” Alistair said, laughing, “I’ll try. Or maybe have a second dinner.”
“Let’s assume the latter.” Cullen moved to the chair behind his desk but didn’t sit. “I’m afraid I have to return to work.”
“Of course. I’ll stop by later.”
Once again, Cullen spoke when Alistair was at the door. “I plan to work on it. My, er … confidence.”
Alistair smiled. “I love you no matter what.”
As he closed the door behind him, he thought he heard a soft, “I know.”
This one was originally going in a different, much lighter and cheekier direction. But it got angsty (I does what I do), and I feel like credit for the shape of the emotions should go to Womby (Gowombat83) and this Cullistair poetical waxing:
"Cullen is perfect for Alistair because Cullen would fucking CHERISH him! And doing so would give Cullen something to live for, would give him strength, and comfort. And Alistair deserves to be cherished, and Cullen deserves all the patience and love and comfort Ali would give him in return. They would be so wholly and uncompromisingly devoted to one another. And they would each believe to the very depths of their soul that they were the luckiest man in the world to be loved by the other."
Such poetry, and a perfect description of how I see them <3
Chapter 18: Sacrifice
Cullen had spent the entire day worrying about something the Inquisitor said that morning. But he couldn’t get up the courage to ask Alistair until they were in bed, candles blown out, holding each other in the darkness.
Alistair lay with his head on Cullen’s chest; Cullen ran his fingers up Alistair’s back, feeling the goosebumps rise, heart pounding at the idea of an answer he both did and didn’t want to know.
“Can I ask you something?” His whisper sounded like a shout in the late-night stillness.
“No,” Alistair mumbled against his chest.
Knowing Alistair as he did, Cullen ignored that an continued. “This morning the Inquisitor mentioned something … about when you were in the Fade.”
Cullen could not see Alistair, but he felt his entire body tense; he knew this was still difficult for Alistair to discuss, but he needed to know.
“What about it?” Alistair’s tone was neutral — not casual, but neutral.
This did not fill Cullen with hope and confidence.
“She said …”
He swallowed. There was still time to end the conversation. What if he didn’t like the answer Alistair gave?
“She said you both offered to stay,” he forced out before he could second-guess. “She chose Hawke, but you both offered.”
Alistair said nothing. Perhaps he was waiting for Cullen to get to the question part. Cullen sure was.
Cullen’s arms tightened around Alistair, perhaps a reflex in response to what he feared the answer would be.
“Why?” he asked, so soft he wasn’t quite sure he hadn’t thought the words instead of spoken.
Alistair squeezed Cullen tighter, which was a small comfort when he responded, “I’m a Warden. The Wardens caused this whole mess. It seemed right that a Warden fix it. ‘In Death, Sacrifice.’”
It was the calm, quiet resignation of that last phrase that prompted Cullen to continue. “But what about us?” he asked plaintively. “We finally found each other. You said it was …” His voice warbled. “How could you —”
“Don’t.” In an instant, Alistair was out of Cullen’s arms and sitting on the edge of the bed. “Don’t you ask me that. You, of all people, know that some things are bigger and more important than —”
“Love?” Cullen heart nearly burst, the melancholy threatening to overwhelm the pure joy he felt at finally speaking the word aloud after everything. He reached out to caress Alistair’s back, but Alistair stood abruptly, jerking away before he got the chance.
“Stop it,” Alistair snapped. “Don’t pretend you wouldn’t have done the same thing to protect the Inquisitor or anyone else under your command! Don’t act like this somehow proves that I don’t — that I’m not —”
In a smooth, swift movement, Cullen rose and wrapped his arms around Alistair, who buried his face in Cullen’s neck and just … breathed. Shaky, shuddering breaths, but accompanied by him gripping Cullen tight.
“It doesn’t mean —” Alistair gasped.
Cullen rubbed his back in comforting circles. “I know. I’m sorry. I was just so —”
After a moment of pregnant silence, Cullen whispered, “I love you.” Though they'd discussed how they felt before Adamant, now was the first time he’d said it aloud. “And I thank the Maker that you returned to me.”
“I love you, too.” Alistair tightened his embrace. “And Maker forgive me, but … so am I.”
Cullen lost track of how long they stood there, holding each other half-naked in the dark, just … being with one another.
Eventually, he gently guided Alistair back to the bed, and they lay down as before — with Alistair’s head on Cullen's chest, legs intertwined, each holding the other in his embrace.
It hadn't been long enough, Cullen knew. They'd only reconnected a few months prior. But once again, in the darkness, he found the courage he always lacked during the time when Skyhold bustled with activity.
“I don't know what I'd do if I lost you.”
Alistair lifted his head, and in the moonlight filtering through the roof, Cullen saw his lovely brown eyes glitter with unshed tears. But he'd never seen Alistair so earnest.
“I promise you,” Alistair said. “I'll always come back to you.”
“You can't —”
Alistair caressed Cullen's cheek, and that prompted a tear to finally escape.
“You have my word,” Alistair said as he brushed Cullen's tear away with his thumb. “I will always come back to you.” Then he smirked. “And the one time I won't, you'll know, you know?”
Cullen's heart hurt at merely the thought of the Calling, but he decided to follow Alistair's now-grinning lead and rolled his eyes at the unfunny and inappropriate joke.
“Aw, not even a hint of a smile at my charming gallows humor?”
Cullen could never withstand the full force of Alistair's grin, and in spite — or perhaps because — of the topic of discussion, he tilted Alistair's chin up so their lips brushed.
It was meant to be a simple peck, but as they met, the kiss grew in intensity, desperation and fear and love deepening the connection to something far more precious than a simple meeting of lips.
When they finally broke apart, both short of breath, they rested their foreheads against one another.
“There is one condition, though,” Alistair said.
Cullen froze. “What?”
Alistair softly stroked Cullen's hair. “You have to promise to do everything you can to make it back to me. Can we agree to that? No unnecessary sacrifices?”
Cullen nodded. “I promise.”
And he sealed his vow with a kiss.
Chapter 19: Waiting
Prompt, from Gowombat83:
“You know those languid, unhurried kisses that you feel down to your toes, that heats your skin and makes you feel like you don't need air, you don't need anything but to keep kissing?"
The feel of fingers stroking through his hair sent a shiver through Cullen.
“Mmm,” he sighed. Maker, it was glorious.
He heard a soft huff of laughter. “Cull, honey, wake up. This can’t be comfortable.”
The sound of that voice launched him into consciousness. He jerked, pushing himself upright, and his eyes snapped open to reveal the sweet, grinning face he hadn’t seen in far too long.
“There he is,” said Alistair, hand brushing Cullen’s hair aside and circling his ear before laughing out loud — though quietly, as if intent on waking no one but Cullen in the darkness. “Hard at work, eh?”
He removed a piece of parchment that had become stuck to Cullen’s cheek.
“You’re adorable when you drool,” Alistair said, still whispering.
He was in his armor, squatting next to Cullen, who had, apparently, fallen asleep at his desk.
Cullen ran a hand down his face, wiping away any remaining sleep (or drool), and frowned. “Do you know what time it is?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” Alistair’s grin was a sight for Cullen’s sore, needy eyes. “Why are you still at your desk?”
“I was waiting for you to arrive. But it seems far later than midnight.” In fact, the last time he remembered checking, the hour had been one.
Alistair nodded, his eyes roving Cullen’s face the way Cullen’s were likely staring at his. His smile never wavered. “We were delayed. It’s after four. I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
Cullen smiled and shook his head. “It was hardly trouble. I wanted to see you as soon as you returned.” He ran his hands along Alistair’s shoulders and down his arms, reversing the motion, and repeating. “Maker, I missed you.”
He leaned forward, and Alistair met him halfway. The kiss was slow and languid, their mouths taking time to reacquaint themselves. Cullen breathed in the familiar, comforting smell that was Alistair, slightly marred by the metallic scent of armor and the filth of the road, and even though he hadn’t left Skyhold for a moment, he felt more at home now than during the entire month Alistair was gone.
After some indeterminate amount of time — Cullen didn’t know or care how quickly time was passing — he pulled Alistair up and into his lap, where they embraced each other fully.
“No armor?” Alistair asked between kisses.
Cullen chuckled. “I officially finished my day after dinner, so I changed. I was just writing some letters while I waited.”
Alistair cradled his face and smiled. “You’re going to have to rewrite that last one. There’s ink smeared all over your face!”
Cullen frowned, but Alistair pressed his lips somewhere near his temple and said, “Here.” He kissed the apple of Cullen’s cheek so gently he elicited goosebumps. “And here.” A soft, slow kiss to Cullen’s jaw. “And here.” The side of his nose. “And here.”
Cullen’s cheeks hurt from smiling so hard, but he raised an eyebrow. “Anywhere else?”
Alistair shook his head. “Nope, that’s it.”
He had only a moment to grin before Cullen grasped the back of his head and pulled him into another slow, deep kiss that made Cullen’s toes curl. He didn’t require food or water or air. Everything faded away except for Alistair, here and safe and in his arms, and the only thing he needed was Alistair’s mouth on his.
That was all Cullen knew — sitting in his desk chair, Alistair in his lap, unhurriedly holding and kissing the man he loved and had missed like a piece of himself for the past month — until a knock on the door and a mortified, stuttering, quickly retreating scout with a handful of reports signified the official start to Cullen’s day.
Chapter 20: Hold
Chapter 20, woo! Milestone! (Even if I've moved the goalposts a few times.) Onward to 50!
Alistair managed one look back before the Inquisitor closed the rift, imprisoning Hawke, his friend, in the Fade forever.
Cold and numb, he stared at nothing until someone pulled him to his feet — pushed, poked, prodded at his wounds.
Then a voice, deep and commanding, broke through. “I’ll see him now!” it barked, just before Cullen burst into the tent and fell to his knees in front of Alistair, grasping his face desperately.
“She’s gone.” Alistair’s voice cracked.
“I know.” Cullen pulled him close. Alistair slid off the bed to his knees and let Cullen hold him, cradle the back of his head, rock him. “I’m sorry. But thank the Maker you’re safe.”
The cold and numbness in Alistair’s chest warmed and began to thaw, and though the grief spread like wildfire, he knew, somehow, that everything would be all right, if Cullen was there to hold him.