She fell out of the fade and into Cullen’s life as brilliantly as a star falls from the sky. He hears of her before he sees her. Hushed words from Leliana’s agents rushed to him in the heat of battle. He thinks nothing of it, expects nothing, until he meets her brilliant green eyes as bright as the rift above his head as she lifts her hand to close it.
What he learns next is that she’s all power and strength and agility. The way she moves while sparring with Cassandra in Haven isn’t quite the defined prestige of a classically trained fighter, but is more of the muscle memory of a girl who had to learn to fight on her own. He’s impressed, to say the least.
She has a brilliant smile, freckles that cover her cheeks and run under the collar of her shirt, her pale blonde hair is tied in a loose bun, small strands of hair falling to the side to frame her face. She laughs as she dodges blow after blow from the seeker. Cullen folds his arms and watches the women with the smallest hint of a smile catching at the corners of his lips.
“Incredibly unprofessional of you, Commander,” Cassandra says, without taking her eyes off her target.
“I’m not staring for pleasure, Seeker,” Cullen grumbles. He hears Trevelyan laugh in response. “I’m judging you.”
“Oh?” Cassandra says, raising one eyebrow, “any critiques?”
“I have more of a suggestion, actually,” Cullen says, shifting his weight to his other foot, “go for her legs.”
“I— What?” Trevelyan exclaims before Cassandra tackles into her legs with full force, knocking them both to the ground in a fit of girlish giggles.
Cullen turns to leave with his stomach in knots and he’s not sure why.
After that he sees more of the Herald— as she’s being called now. He’s not quite sure he believes that, yet finds himself staring at her from across the war table. He’s completely and totally encapsulated by the way her fingers curl against the sides of the table, the way small strands of brilliantly blonde hair fall out of their place from the top of her head, the way she bites her lip while she thinks. It’s all so radiant, so blindingly bright to Cullen, only someone so holy like The Herald of Andraste could pain him to look at for too long.
He wasn’t raised in the Chantry like so many other Templars, yet of course his faith was strong. Through hell and high water and other unspeakable tragedies he’s endured, he’s always trusted in his own faith and nothing else.
Oh, but it wavers now. Decades of prayer and Templar training shaken to his very core as Evelyn Trevelyan, Herald of Andraste, tells him to leave, to save the rest of the Inquisition, while she stays behind to face horrors he could not yet stop to comprehend.
“But— what of your escape?” he says, sounding a lot more angry than he feels.
She doesn’t answer. She doesn’t look at him. Cullen’s heartbeat deafens him.
“Perhaps you will surprise it— find a way.”
She refuses to look at him, Maker, why won’t she look at him. Radiant as ever she takes a step towards the doors and Cullen has to stop himself from chasing after her. He instead is snapped back to reality as a woman screams down the hallways of the chantry. He pushes down bile in his throat before barking out orders to whoever can hear him, including the Herald herself.
She turns towards him one last time, flashes a beautiful, brilliant, and brave smile at him, and Cullen’s heart sinks into his gut.
She is the Herald.
He is in Love.
Eighteen hours and twenty-four minutes later, there’s still no sign that Trevelyan made it out of Haven alive and they have to stop to make camp. To say Cullen is upset would be too weak of a word. The mage— Dorian, he thinks his name is, returned first, Cassandra on his heels, the Elf rogue behind her, no Trevelyan.
He cornered Cassandra and asked her what happened, where Trevelyan was, what happened to the darkspawn. She never answered, just shook her head and tried to walk past him to a tent to lay down.
“Seeker!” Cullen bellows with all the rage and anxiety built up in his chest, “I command you to tell me where the Herald is!”
The next thing he knows is Cassandra’s fist collides with his jaw and the entire camp is staring wide-eyed at the scene.
“I don’t know!” Cassandra yells in his face, “I don’t know what happened— Commander.”
She turns on her heel and storms into a tent, and Cullen turns around with a hand on his sore jaw to glare at his recruits, “If you have time to gawk you have time to set up tents.” He growls before shouting, “Move!”
He busies himself by standing guard at the edge of the camp, head pounding from the cold or maybe it’s the withdrawals starting again. He’s weaned himself down to the smallest amount of lyrium, knowing that Leliana and Cassandra are ready to take him completely off of it in the next few days, he isn’t sure if he’s ready.
Especially now if The Herald—
He stares out into the snow, eyes burning at the sting of the cold. He will wait.
While he waits he prays. Something he does often, but never as sincerely as he means to, like now.
He kneels in the snow and he begs the maker to bring her back safely, the inquisition needs her, the world needs her, he needs her.
He stays kneeling in the snow for two hours before Leliana and Josephine come up to him with a blanket and promise that another guard is on the way to keep watch.
He begs them to let him stay, he’s fine. While they’re trying to argue with him he hears a noise.
“Shhhh—“ he whispers covering Josphine’s mouth with a gloved hand, “Did you hear that?”
Josephine looks at him angrily behind his glove, but Leliana, maker bless her, perks up and stares into the never ending white of the world around them. “I hear it too.”
It’s faint, soft steps in fresh snow and heavy breathing and teeth chattering, not a threat, Cullen realizes with relief, a survivor.
He jumps up out of the snow, Leliana following close as they venture out of the relative safety of the camp and into the howling blizzard around them.
Cullen strains his eyes against the cold, keeps his heart still, knowing what he wishes and what the truth is are probably very different. Leliana hangs on to his arm, more of an anchor for him then for her, he realizes.
And then, as if by a trick of the night, or maybe the cold, he sees a faint green light emerge from the snow and he stops breathing.
Leliana must see it too, she squeezes his arm tighter.
They watch for a moment, waiting for a clearer image of what- who it could be. Cullen feels his lungs start to burn.
Then the form falls, face first into the snow, and the shock of it forces cold, harsh air back into his lungs.
“There!” he shouts back at camp, “It’s her!”
“Oh thank the maker,” he hears Cassandra shout behind him, but he’s already so far away. He’s running full force towards her. Praying that she’s alright, praying a thank you and holding back any unprofessional emotions he might be harboring.
Its her it’s her it’s her.
Her blonde hair is almost light enough to match the snow and the updo it’s usually in has vanished, spilling her hair around her in the snow. It’s her.
He kneels down in front of her, gently picks up her head from the snow. “Evelyn?”
A slow, exhausted smile tugs at the corner of her lips, she hasn’t even opened her eyes. She’s freezing, trembling like a leaf under his hands and everything from her dark eyelashes to the tip of her nose is covered in snow, but oh maker , she’s smiling up at him and she’s alive and it’s the most beautiful thing Cullen has ever seen.
He shifts her slowly out of the snow, grabbing her waist so gently, hyper-aware of the three women behind him watching him, watching the Herald, for any signs of an emergency. He lifts her up too easily to his chest, pushing any thoughts other than her safety down into the darkest depths of his soul.
“Dorian owes me ten gold pieces.” Evelyn mutters as her hands reach up, unbearably childlike, to wrap around Cullen’s neck and she shifts comfortably into his chest. Leliana takes off her own cloak and wraps it around both Cullen and Evelyn’s shivering form as they make a careful trek back to the relative safety and warmth of the camp.
She is the Herald of Andraste.
Cullen holds her against his chest and silently mourns what was left of his holy vows. He will never be forgiven for his sins.
Not enough for her.
She becomes a regular figurehead in his nightmares then, weeks later, after Cassandra had taken the last drops of lyrium away from him. She made an empty promise that he would be okay, as a seeker she has impeccable judgement, if he were to slip—
Well, that’s what his nightmares are about.
Flashes of the Templars in Haven, wailing in pain, mutated and mutilated beyond any human recognition. Looking down at his own body and realizing he was one of them. Crushing Evelyn within his hands like paper.
Or worse, he’s back in the tower. Alone, hallucinating, screaming out for his sister, the other Templars. This dream is familiar, torture after torture that he’s forced to endure ending with the Hero of Ferelden in all her glory, plunging a knife between his ribs.
But then it’s not. Instead of the hero, it’s Evelyn. She’s frozen pale and shaking and crying. Her twin blades held towards him in fear, like he was the monster she had to endure torture from, instead of the other way around.
“Evelyn?” he says. She walks closer, trembling so violently she looks like she may drop her dagger.
“You are sinful, Templar,” she whispers, she’s so close, “You think yourself worthy of Andraste’s Herald?”
Cullen inhales, he’s so close to her everything he inhales is just her.
She interrupts him with a startled laugh. “You’re not just unworthy, you’re unrepentant, a traitor, Andraste would have me kill you, she thinks that a worthy punishment for your unfaithfulness.”
Cullen shuts his eyes, the nightmare starting to feel eerily familiar once more.
“I don’t think that's a just enough punishment,” the dream Evelyn whispers in his ear, and Cullen’s eyes fly open with realization just in time to watch her plunge her dagger into the flesh of her own neck.
He wakes with a start, drenched in sweat, sick and shaking. He empties the contents of his stomach (not that there was anything in there to begin with) and realizes too late that he missed the bucket set carefully by his bedside. He groans and falls back on the mattress, stares up at the starlight sky through the ceiling in his quarters in Skyhold. It’s spinning.
“You’re not a sinner,” the creepy kid— Cole, says softly to him one night while he stands on the battlements, watching the courtyard spin in circles he can’t control.
“What are you talking about, kid,” Cullen says, letting his head fall onto the stone wall in front of him. It’s cool against the heat of his forehead.
“Neither of you think yourself worthy of the other. She feels like she’s drowning and you feel like you’re suffocating. Feels like the same fate. Both so sad. You need her.”
Cullen can’t tell if this is another hallucination, if he’s falling off the edge of the wall and into the courtyard and hasn’t noticed yet. Cole grabs his hand and the edges of his vision grows dark.
“She is a mirror of you. She is just brighter, louder, but just as scared. She’s a feather falling from the sky and she wants you to catch her.”
Cullen doesn’t remember the interaction at all, not because Cole didn’t want him to, but because he wakes up in his bed, unsure if the encounter had even happened.
The feeling sticks, however. Evelyn returns from Crestwood a week later, complaining of her boots having holes and her feet being soaked so badly they felt like they had been burned. He notices for the first time the exhaustion behind her bright green eyes. Cullen feels incredibly guilty sending a messenger to ask for her, but he can’t think of an alternative solution.
The room spins around him and the sun setting pools light into puddles on to the floor of his office and looking at it makes it feel like an ax was shoved into the side of his head. Maker, it hurts.
Evelyn comes to his office, exhaustion behind her eyes yet a radiant smile pushing it so far into the corners no one would’ve noticed had they not been looking for it like Cullen had been.
“I’m so sorry, Inquisitor, I know you had a rough week,” Cullen sighs, bracing himself against his desk.
“Looks like you had one just as bad.” She shifts on her feet and pain flashes across the soft lines of her face. Cullen suddenly feels overwhelmingly guilty.
He closes the box of lyrium, makes plans to tell her of the situation another day and offers her a chair for which she thanks him so sincerely he feels like he may cry.
“What did you need me for, commander?” she says, looking up at him as he moves to sit on the edge of his desk, Maker she's beautiful.
“It’s not important anymore, Inquisitor,” Cullen says, honestly, shifting his weight from one side to the other, a nervous habit.
She laughs, a brilliant, beautiful laugh. “Okay, well then, I’m gonna rest here for a little while if you don’t mind the company.”
“Has anyone looked at your feet yet?” Cullen asks, flush rising in his cheeks in response to his boldness to ask.
It takes Evelyn by surprise, “I- no, not yet, I’ve been so busy. I’ll be okay.”
“Pardon my forwardness, Inquisitor but as your commander and one of your advisors, you should really take off your shoes if your feet hurt as much as you say they do,” Cullen says, quietly.
“If you’re asking me to undress for you the least you can do is call me Evelyn,” she grumbles in response as she yanks off a boot.
Cullen is filled with some unidentifiable emotion, a mix of bashfulness, embarrassment, and arousal swirling in his gut and making his cheeks turn bright red. He forgets to reply because next thing he knows Evelyn’s face is contorted in silent pain and every other emotion is replaced with concern.
He hops off his desk and kneels in front of the chair she’s sitting in and looks up at her with concern.
She gives him a soft smile. “My feet really fucking hurt. Stupid water. I would’ve rather drowned.”
“I mean I’m rather glad you didn’t.” Cullen says. “Imagine explaining that to Josephine. ‘Yeah her feet hurt so she jumped in a lake and never came back out.’ I think she would have a heart attack.”
Evelyn giggles, a small girly giggle he hasn’t heard from her in such a long time.
“Commander…” she says quietly.
“Inqu— Evelyn?” he stutters in response.
She laughs and blush rises up past the freckles near her collar and into her cheeks, “Would you do me a favor, Commander Cullen? You see you’re the strongest man I know and my feet hurt so bad and I know I was out of it but you have before and—“
Cullen laughs, “Y- you want me to carry you back to your quarters?”
“Only if it’s not an inconvenience otherwise I just have to crawl my way over to Iron Bull he said he’d carry me any time I’m such a lightweight—“
Cullen thinks about how much his head hurts, how badly the room spins whenever he stands for too long. But it’s Evelyn, and she’s hurt, and she asked so nicely and—
Evelyn squeals as he picks her up effortlessly by the waist. As if by clockwork her hands move to rest behind his neck and she settles into his chest, just like in the aftermath of Haven.
“My hero,” she mutters.
He relishes the feeling if only for a moment because the next thing he knows he’s falling backwards with Evelyn still held on tightly in his arms.
“Cullen! Are you ok?” she gasps, jumping out of his personal space too quickly.
“Yeah I—“ He contemplates lying, but takes one look at her and his battle strategy fails. “I haven’t been feeling well the last few days, I don’t think I have the strength.”
She smacks him gently on the arm. “You need to tell me these things, Commander.” She stands up, wincing as she puts her full weight on her feet. She notices his look of worry and gently pushes some of his hair back out of his face. “I’ll be okay. I’m the strongest woman in Thedas. I think I can handle walking over the battlements to my quarters. Get some sleep ok?”
He feels like he’s run up a mountainside when she leaves. The pain in his head almost unbearable as he holds back what he refuses to acknowledge are tears. He wishes he could’ve done more. He wishes he would’ve asked her to stay.
Cullen does end up telling her about the lyrium withdrawals. She takes it in stride telling him he’s brave and she’s very proud of him. He feels something warm bubble up beneath his skin and it stays there, boiling over and overwhelming him whenever she’s close to him.
Then night after night the heat spills out in a nightmare, soaks the cobblestone of his imaginary cell, the demons sent to torture him lap it up and use it against him. He’s watched Evelyn die in his nightmares more times than he can count.
It plays on a loop inside his head in the mornings after he’s startled awake. Repeats over and over like a bad hymn he can’t seem to shake the melody of.
You don’t deserve her .
She is the Herald of Andraste.
You will never be forgiven of your sins.
Some mornings after he’s startled awake by the same nightmare he can’t help himself but think of her in the flesh. How she sits with her legs thrown over the arms of a chair when she’s comfortable, the way she feels against his chest, the way she laughs, the way she smells. The way she would breathe if all of her armor both physical and emotional were stripped away, leaving only desire and want and need.
“Forgive me,” he pleads some mornings before spilling into his sheets like some flighty teenager back in the barracks of the order.
“Do you have a moment to take a walk, commander?” she says one early morning, before the sun has even risen.
“Of course, Inquisitor,” Cullen hums, throwing on his cloak and opening the door for Evelyn. She smiles her brilliant smile and he follows her to a corner of the battlements he hasn’t been to since he arrived.
She stares out as far as she can in the dim morning light, searching for something among the snow-covered mountains instead of bringing to light the worry resting right on her chest.
Cullen drinks in the sight of her, her hair falls around her face beautifully and he studies the way she almost glows with the faint light, the way she worries her lip while she’s focused, the bump on the bridge of her nose where it looks like it had been broken a long time before she was holy. He wants to count every freckle on her face and the desire building in his blood burns a hole through his armor and straight into his heart.
She finally turns to look at him, softly, shyly, like this was the first time they’d ever spoken alone together.
“You’re my advisor,” she says plainly.
“Yes I am,” Cullen says, leaning his back against the wall where she’s leaning.
“Will you—“ She trails off, begins to worry her lip again. “I need advice.”
Cullen’s heart skips a beat. “On what, Lady Trevelyan?”
“Oh shut up,” she says. “It’s 4:30 in the morning, you can call me Evelyn.”
Cullen feels blush creep into his cheeks and he looks straight ahead so maybe she won’t notice.
“I just…” her sentence peters out again, Cullen looks at her gently.
“I’m so tired, Cullen,” she whispers so softly he almost misses it.
Before he can even think, his hand comes up to hold on to her arm, he doesn’t know if he’s grounding her or himself in the reality of the moment.
Her eyes flutter shut, and Cullen’s heart breaks, “I’m so tired,” she says again. “I’m tired of being— you know…”
Cullen squeezes her arm. “Holy.”
“Yeah,” she says. “I just— I wanna sleep in, I want to eat shitty eggs like the soldiers do, I want to roll out of bed and not be yelled at by Josephine for not brushing my hair, you know?”
Cullen nods, he feels like he’s about to tip over the edge of the wall.
“Before all this I was just some nobleman’s daughter. Sent to Ferelden to wander the wilderness and repent for my sins! Did you know?” she asks, and Cullen is enthralled. He shakes his head and Evelyn looks back out to the snow-covered mountains in the distance.
“It’s a hilarious story, really. I had a friend and she was a self-proclaimed bandit and she brought me on so many adventures and we even stole from my own family,” she giggles.
“Of course they never knew I was in on it. Not until I met this boy... oh he was so sweet, a bard if you could believe. I fell in love and he found out not only was my family noble and rich but oh they were evil. He witnessed my father hit me so hard he broke my nose.” She wrinkles her nose up and laughs, Cullen does not.
“He was so upset he blew up at my father, throwing fists and curses and if he was a mage he would’ve set the man on fire I’m sure.”
“I don’t blame him,” Cullen mumbles and Evelyn smiles for a moment.
“Father didn’t know who he was, and when he asked his response was to kiss me. Then it was like all the puzzle pieces just kinda fell together for my father. He realized I was one of the bandits tormenting him, I was dating this nobody, I was wanted for stealing my own money. I was a thief and a liar and everything he believed me to be before he even had proof.” Evelyn sighs, turns around so she can lean her back against the wall next to Cullen.
“So I was sent away. He told me not to come back until I saw a sign that the maker had forgiven me for my sins.” She stares down at her hand, where the mark is. “I still haven’t found it.”
Cullen looks up at her, tears start to swell in her eyes and he has to stop himself from reaching up to wipe them away for her. His heart breaks.
“What do I do?” she asks, “I’m so tired.”
Cullen is falling, he’s fallen backwards off the edge of the battlements, into a snow covered canyon and he’s holding on tightly to Eveyln’s hand. They’re falling headfirst into the unknown and he loves the feeling.
He takes her hand in his, she looks up at him.
“Let me take care of you, Evelyn. Please?” he says, Evelyn stares at him with a blank look.
“As much as you absolutely are the strongest woman in Thedas, you seem like you could use a break. At least from taking care of yourself. Do you trust me?”
Eveyln’s hands reach up to wrap themselves around the back of Cullen’s neck, echoing all the other times that she had given herself over to him. “I trust you, commander.” She mutters quietly into his neck.
He gently picks her up by her waist and lets his heart free fall into the canyon.
He feels like a stupid teenager, hiding away some secret up in his bed, but Evelyn has fallen asleep there and nothing, not even Corypheus himself could force him to wake her. She deserves rest.
He dodges angry questions from Josephine all morning, promising that he knew that the inquisitor was okay, but just to leave it at that. Leliana raises a knowing eyebrow and Cullen looks down at his feet. She knows too much for her own good, he thinks.
When Evelyn does wake up, she doesn’t leave his room, he can hear her while he works down in his office, walking carefully around his room, looking at what little belongings he has.
Cullen’s heart aches at the potential of it. He imagines the idea of this being their everyday routine. Her in his bed so he can protect her during the day, her protecting him from himself in the dark hours of the night.
He swallows it down when she finally does emerge from his room, replaces the feeling with only professional worry, he tells himself.
It’s hard when her shoulder-length white blonde hair is a mess and she smiles a soft, sleepy smile at him the moment she sees him.
Professional feelings and nothing else.
His heart lies shattered on a canyon floor and there it can stay.
Cullen rarely leaves his office, yet when he does it’s nearly always to talk more work, more planning, it's always something more, something crucial, some new crisis to attend to.
He’s sitting with Leliana, reading over reports from her spies on Templar whereabouts. Who’s doing what, where someone said that they saw someone else. He won’t complain, however, it’s a welcome change of scenery from his own desk.
The best part about it is he feels like one of Leliana’s spies himself. From the top floor of the tower where she hides most days, he can hear the bustle of everyone else down the stairs.
Solas muttering to himself, some mages arguing over some books. It’s not quite master-spy level eavesdropping, but he likes to pretend sometimes he’s not all about battle and war and things.
“Ah, Inquisitor!” Cullen hears Dorian shout from the floor below, he pauses his reading if only for a moment. He knows Evelyn well enough to know that she likes to check in on her friends at every moment she can. He figures she must have some free time and he finds himself smiling absently. Thankful she has time to breathe among everything going on.
“I heard a little rumor about you!” Dorian says. Cullen hears Evelyn chuckle.
“Oh? Do tell.”
“Well my dear,” Dorian continues, “I’ve heard that you have a thing for strapping young templars.”
Cullen stops breathing.
“What’s this about?” Evelyn laughs.
“Oh nothing,” Dorian hums. “Just something I find rather adorable about you.”
“I don’t know how you find out the things that you do,” Evelyn says.
“My dear, I am a man of mystery and intrigue and I’d like to consider myself your friend!” Dorian laughs, “If anything, I should know every dirty detail of your potential love life.”
“There is no potential,” Evelyn sounds disappointed, “I barely have time to eat around here, let alone pine after a man I’m sure doesn’t feel the same way.”
“You’re sure he doesn’t feel the same way?” Dorian sounds so genuinely heartbroken for her, a side Cullen has never seen from the mage.
There’s a moment of silence that feels too long, way too telling to be good news. Cullen can feel his teeth ache where he’s clenching his jaw.
“I should go, Dorian,” Evelyn says, rather plainly.
“I do rather like watching you leave,” Dorian replies in an effort to make the Inquisitor laugh, it works, and it’s a gorgeous sound.
Cullen hears her laughter taper off through the hallways of Skyhold and almost like a punch to the face, he realizes how much his lungs burn from holding his breath steady.
The paper between his fingers has crumpled.
Was the mage talking about him?
He’s not young, maker no, not by any means. There’s also other former Templars among their ranks, he could’ve been talking about any of them. He is the inquisitor’s advisor, even if she did think of him in that way it—
It’s not possible.
She is the Herald of Andraste.
He can not be forgiven for his sins.
He leaves Leliana with nothing more than a goodbye, starts to wander back towards his office, all plans for the rest of the evening cast off into the void. He feels sick, prays that it’s lyrium withdrawal and not something to do with Evelyn. He refuses to spend the night thinking of her, how sad her voice sounded. He almost prays to the maker for a nightmare so he doesn’t have to think about her anymore.
Much to his dismay, tonight is the first night in decades he doesn’t have a nightmare.
She stands in front of him, dressed in a white silk gown, pressed close to the curves of her body. She’s all strength and power and curves and Cullen drinks in the sight of her. He tries to commit to memory the way the dress she wears hugs her waistline and shows her whole figure, the way her breasts press against the hem of the dress, parts of her soft skin he never gets to see because they’re always covered in armor. Maker’s Breath, she’s incredible.
Her hair falls around her face and the sun kisses her skin in a way that makes Cullen ache to reach out and touch her, but he refuses.
He knows she could be nothing more than a temptation waiting to strike at him.
She walks towards him slowly, smiling softly. All Cullen can do is shut his eyes at the intoxicating sight.
“Open your eyes, Templar,” she says softly, and when Cullen’s eyes open, she is inches away from him, reaching up to touch his face.
Her hand hovers so close to his face, he can feel the power the mark gives her thrumming under his own skin, it’s almost maddening how much he wants to touch her, hold her.
“This isn’t real,” Cullen says, feeling tears start to pool in his eyes, Evelyn looks hurt, confused.
“Cullen…” she says, and the simplicity of the way she says his name, his name feels almost too real. Like she’s not one of his demons, tempting him into a false sense of security.
Oh, but he has faced demons for much less temptation. He reaches for her waist, let’s himself touch her, the feeling of her burns into his fingertips and he releases a shaky sigh.
“This is not possible,” Cullen says softly as her hand cups his cheek gently. “I am a sinner.”
“I am not Andraste,” Evelyn sighs, pushing further into his personal space, Cullen’s body burns where she presses against him.
She leans up into him to barely brush her lips against his, “I am Evelyn Trevelyan of Ostwick,” she says against his lips, “and I am in love with a Templar.”
Cullen wakes with a start.
Shaken not out of fear, but out of the reality of the dream he had witnessed. He refuses to believe it was anything other than his own withdrawal-ridden mind playing cruel tricks on him. So he climbs out of bed and down to his office.
It’s early, the sun has barely risen over the eastern side of their hold. Cullen feels exhausted already. Thinks briefly for a moment about finding some secluded part of the courtyard and hiding away for the rest of the day. No one to bother him, allowing himself to wallow in his own selfish desires.
Maybe instead he could hide away under the guise of lyrium. Tell Cassandra he can’t work today and she keeps anyone from coming to bother him and he can lay in bed and be selfish. After all, the dream he had was almost too real.
Behind his closed eyes he sees her, tousled hair and pale skin and the way the silk gown she wore hid almost no secrets—
As if by cue, to bring him harshly back down to reality, there’s a knock at his office door. He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose to try and stave off a potentially debilitating headache.
“It’s open,” he huffs, and to his surprise he’s met with the wide, bright green eyes of the Inquisitor.
“Do you ever sleep?” she says.
Cullen sighs. “It appears that I do not, doesn’t it.”
“I- I can come back.” Evelyn says, she seems nervous, her obvious tension building up tension in Cullen’s own muscles.
“No, no,” Cullen says, “It’s alright. Did you need something?”
She shifts on her feet. “I need to talk to you.”
Cullen releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “If we need to summon Josephine and Leliana at this hour I’m sure—“
“Alone,” Evelyn interrupts.
“Oh,” Cullen says. “Of course.”
She turns quickly on her heel and out the door towards the battlements on the west. Cullen follows, trying to ignore the way his hand shakes and his heart races when he looks at her for too long.
It’s quiet for a long while, Evelyn walking along, Cullen following close enough to be hyper-aware of her posture, her body language. Like he’s sizing her up for battle. She’s nervous, and he’s nervous that she’s nervous.
What could shake the Herald of Andraste so?
Cullen brings his hand up to rub some of the tension out of his neck, digs up some courage there to break the silence. “It’s Uh— it’s a nice morning.”
Evelyn stops suddenly, almost shaken, and looks at him with her brows furrowed in confusion. “What?”
“It’s—“ All his courage shatters in her green eyes. Cullen sighs. “There was something you wished to discuss.”
Evelyn leans back against the wall behind her and looks at Cullen. Behind the exhaustion in her eyes he can see desperation, fear, and something else he hasn’t ever seen in her before. It twists his guts into knots.
“I—“ Evelyn starts and then stops, looks down at her feet. “I find myself thinking about you more than… well, all the time really.”
Her words hit him like a sword to the chest. All the blood in his body rushes to his head and he starts to feel dizzy, spots dancing in front of his eyes like they do before the lyrium withdrawls get too much and he—
He can’t find the words he wants to say, he looks at Evelyn, beautiful, brave, bright, sweet, Evelyn. She’s Andraste’s Herald, the leader of the entire inquisition, she’s faced demons and darkspawn and dragons alike, and she’s here terrified of confessing her feelings to a washed-up Templar like him.
In this moment he wants to recite a poem, a chant, tell her she’s the love of his entire life, spill every last detail of how she makes his head spin in the most incredible way, how her touch haunts him still to this day and how he wishes she would touch him again.
Of course, maker forbid this is still just all a dream and if he kisses her she’ll smile like the demons he sees out of the corner of his eyes at night and he’ll wake up as sick and as sad as he was before.
To test that theory more than anything he wants to take her hand and jump off the side of the battlements with her. Take her away from anyone and anything that could hurt her. In life or death protect her from those who wish her harm.
He’s ready to completely give up on repenting for his sins and sin for her and her alone because oh maker, he would follow her head first into the fade if she just asked.
“Cullen?” She says, and he realizes he’s been staring at her in awe instead of answering her confession.
“This— is this real?” He says it so quietly he’s not sure she even heard him.
She stands bravely, facing her fear as much as Cullen stands in front of her, facing his. “I’m still here, so it must be.”
Cullen leans in slowly, absolutely terrified of breaking her, breaking his resolve, breaking whatever illusion or mirror magic or hallucination he’s created this morning because it’s real it feels so real and he can feel her breath on his lips and the way she’s trembling reaching for his shirt it feels so real and—
An arrow strikes through his heart.
“Sister Leliana’s reports ser, you said you wanted it delivered…” Cullen turns to look at the scout, he must look terrifying because the scout looks around, putting pieces of the puzzle together. He takes a step back.
Cullen shuts his eyes. Remembers why he left his heart laying in the cold hard ground of the canyons around Skyhold.
“I will deliver these to your office right away, ser,” the scout says before turning on his heel and running back where he came.
Cullen turns back around, inhales a deep breath before opening his eyes to the inevitable disappearance of his hallucination.
When he does open his eyes he’s met with very real very sad bright green eyes.
“If you have to go—“ Evelyn starts to say, but Cullen doesn’t let her finish. Terrified of her slipping away, terrified still of this somehow not being real, he grabs her face with all the ferocity of a man who’s terrified of the woman he loves slipping through his fingers and kisses her with desperation he’s never shown.
She makes a surprised gasp under him but soon rests her hands on his waist and pulls him as close as she can, licking into his mouth just as desperately as he bites at her lips. It’s rough and it’s clumsy but when Cullen pulls away from her to breathe, he realizes the familiar look of desperation sitting behind her eyes.
She wanted him as much as he wanted her.
“I’m sorry.” He finds himself apologizing anyway. Evelyn laughs and he can feel her laughter from where their bodies are pressed together.
“You don’t regret it, right?” Evelyn asks, and it’s such an innocent and genuine question it breaks whatever steely resolve Cullen had left to keep up appearances and he just smiles wildly down at Evelyn.
“No! No no not at all.” He leans back in for another kiss, this time holding on to her waist like he’s done so many times before. But now he’s falling with her off the edge of the world. Ready to fall into the fade holding on to her because he’s a sinner but oh Andraste’s Herald kisses him like he’s the most holy thing she’s ever witnessed.
He is in love with her.
She is in love with him.