The plush bedding enfolds me, it’s welcome warmth answered by the blazing hearth. My downy pillows are a cool and welcome comfort, yet my mind refuses to find solace this night. Try as I might, I can not get comfortable. I remember my meditations from the Circle and walk through them to quiet my mind but each time a new trouble breaks its way through.
Maybe a walk will do me good.
I throw back the covers, my flimsy nightgown doing nothing to stem the rush of cold air seeping through the windows.
I make my way over to the blazing fire, rubbing my arms to insinuate some friction. I pull my robe down from the hook by the fire and wrap its warmth around me. I don’t bother trying to find my shoes. I have a destination in mind and I do not think it necessary.
I take the candle from my nightstand and light it with a thought. Magic has its benefits. The stairs leading down from my room are dark and the single candle barely gives off enough light to see anything. I consider using magic to light my way but I don’t wish to frighten anyone I may run into.At the bottom of the stairs I fumble for the door handle.
The main hall is empty. There are no hushed whispers of the Orlesian nobles, no fire crackling in the hearth, no heated debates, and it is unsettling. I turn to face the throne that has somehow fallen to me. How did I end up here? A mage of all things. I am still astounded that these people would trust me to lead them.
A creaking noise catches my attention and I turn to follow it. I open the door leading to Josephine’s office. I hear it again, this time unsure where it came from. I stand still and the creaking is accompanied by another familiar sound. A soft, sensual moan.
Feeling like I may be interrupting something I don’t want to see, I turn and decide they are best left undisturbed. At least someone may have found peace this night. Instead, I make my way to the kitchens. If I can not access my wine cellar then I will find what the cooks have on hand.
The snow is cold on my bare feet, but within the fortresses walls there really isn’t much of it. My robe drags along in my wake collecting dirty water, but I don’t care. I just need something that will help me sleep.
If it weren’t so late, I’d try to find the ingredients for a sleeping potion, but it would need to steep and I didn’t have the patience for it at the moment.
I breathe in the crisp clean air. Again, the stillness of the night is unsettling. I pull my robe tighter around me.
“Inquisitor,” a hushed voice questions and I turn to face one of the stable hands.
I hold my finger over my lips, beckoning him to tell no one I am out here. He bows and makes his way back towards the stables. His glance back reminds me I am in a state of undress and I quicken my pace to the kitchens.
The smell of dried fruit and meat tangle in the air. It is almost nauseating. For a moment I can’t help but wonder how anyone could work in this mess but I suppose you would get used to it. I have to admit I’ve grown accustomed to the smell of sweat since this all began. Traveling with many people who have not seen water for days has become a habit of mine.
I find a bottle of decent wine, not the one I had in mind from my cellar, but one that will suffice. I pile a plate full of bread, cheese, some dried meat and fruit and decide a glass is not necessary. Not that I intend to drink it all tonight. I may have this problem again tomorrow and it will simply save me the trip.
Reaching the stairs to the main hall, I decide I’d rather stay outside. While I am cold, the chill takes my mind off of the worries that earlier plagued my mind. I turn on my heel and make my way to the battlements. Music flows out from the tavern and I make my way quickly past, ensuring I am not seen.
The air is bone chilling up here, but I decide to stay anyway. Up here, no one will see me use magic to warm my body. I find a chair in one of the discarded rooms off the battlements and bring it to one of the lower points on the wall. It is just low enough that I can prop my feet up on the ledge comfortably. I let my robe fall to my sides and the frigid air hit my skin. There is a freedom to be found in allowing oneself the luxury of being nearly naked while surrounded by hundreds of people. I know I can’t stay like this too long. Otherwise some guard will see me, but the moment is all I need.
I gather my robe back around my body, folding the excess into my lap. I set the plate on top of the folds and open the bottle of wine.
“Inquisitor,” a soft whisper, but I hear it and turn to the voice.
“Cullen,” I smile, and gesture him over. This is the first time I’ve seen him without his armor. His linen pants barely hanging onto his hips and his white tunic unlaced, showing just a glimpse of reddish-blonde chest hair.
“What are you doing out here? It’s freezing…” he pauses, taking in my robe and assuming I can only have a nightgown underneath, “and you are… you seem to…” as he fumbles for the right words, I can’t help but chuckle. His face reddens and he looks away.
“Yes, Cullen. I am in my night clothes. Don’t worry, I’m not cold and no one can see anything.” again I gesture for him to come over and he hesitates before making his way towards me.
“There’s another chair in that room there if you wish to join me,” I point to the room closest to me and he nods.
He sits his chair next to mine and I hand him the wine bottle, “Sorry, I didn’t anticipate company. We will have to share.” A smile plays at the corners of his lips and I can’t tell if he is laughing at me or with me. He brings the wine bottle to his lips, resting the rim on his lower lip as he tilts his head back. How can this man make drinking wine from a bottle look sexy? He hands the bottle back to me and my desire for him must have shown on my face because he starts to blush again.
“Uhm, I take it you can’t sleep,” his voice is soft, unsure, and when he looks into my eyes I can see his fear. It’s mild but there all the same. It hurts to see this from a man who treats me so gently. His every move, his every word a comfort, but is it a ruse? Is he playing me? I look away. I do not need his fear or his rejection.
The wind sweeps a chill over me and before I have a chance to think about it, magic washes over me to warm my skin. I don’t turn to see if he has noticed, “No. It has been a struggle most nights, since this began. I’ve never had so much to think about, to weigh on my mind. Before all this started, the Circle was a haven, no pun intended. I could study, read, write, truly do anything I wanted. Granted it was in a confined space and we were never allowed to venture far without escorts, but there were places I considered my own. A secret alcove in the garden, an abandoned tower, simple places where I could be, and be at peace. I had friends, people I could talk to, people I could reach out to when my mind became a burden. But here, it seems everyone wants something. I give so much of myself and I feel as if there is no one who truly cares to hear what I am going through, so long as duty is performed,” I turn to him then, “I had no idea, but this must be what it feels like to be a Templar. Duty before all else. Your shackles seem to be as tight as any mage I have ever known.”
I wait for him to respond. His eyes shifting from the mountains and back to me, then finally resting on his fidgeting hands. He is quiet for a moment longer. His eyes come back to me, “I had never really thought of it that way until recently. The Circle in Kirkwall would never be described as a Haven, that I know, but the Templars were bound to follow. Hawke, she is a mage, and many times she tried to get me to see the injustices going on around me but I was willfully blind to it. I was second in command and I did nothing to stop it,” his hand reaches up to massage the back of his neck, “I went through some horrifying things in Ferelden, but the one thing I remember more than Uldred’s depravity was a young charge of mine. She was brilliant. I had never seen a woman so intelligent, witty and truly powerful. She never doubted her abilities but she was always humble, never one to show off, and she had such spirit. I remember her Harrowing. She barely even struggled through. Standing in that room with her was one of the brightest moments of my time as a Templar. I remember telling a few of the others how impressive she was and you would not believe the foolish thing I did,” he laughs and it is a pleasant, comfortable, guttural sound. It makes me smile as well, “ She had heard what I had said and approached me. Mind you, I’ve spent many days in her company but I never expected her to be so bold,” he pauses and his smile wanes but only for a moment, “She tried to kiss me, and you want to know what I did?” He looks me in the eye and his smile widens, “I ran.”
Food and wine nearly shoot from my mouth as I try to contain my laughter. I can’t help but picture him bolting down a hallway, “What? What happened after?”
His eyes sadden and he stands, his arms cross over his chest as he peers out to the distant mountains, “Then she was gone. Years of being by her side and then… she vanishes.”
“Oh, Cullen, I’m so sorry. What happened,” I can only think the worst, knowing Tranquility is always an option the Circle wants to force on powerful mages.
I feels as if he won’t answer me but when he turns back to me his lip has quirked into a semblance of a smile, “Then she saved my life, and all of Ferelden.”
“The Hero of Ferelden? She was once one of your charges,” I can hardly believe it.
He takes his seat beside me again, stretching his long legs out in front of him and he reaches for the wine bottle perched on my lap, “Katarina Amell, yes, she was my charge.” He takes a large swig of the wine before proffering the bottle to me. I follow suit and offer him some of my feast. He makes himself a small sandwich and hands it back to me.
“That’s amazing. A true hero,” I know I am on the verge of hero worship when I look over to see Cullen chuckling under his breath.
I want to punch him in the arm but I resist and give him a mock-glare instead, “What?”
“It’s just, you remind me of her. Her strength, her confidence,” I must have rolled my eyes, because his eyes harden, his shoulders shift and I feel another lecture coming, “Do you not realize your role here? She saved us from the Blight, and you, you will save us from ourselves and our foolish pride,” it’s my turn to stand and face the mountains.
“Do you know what happened to her,” I ask. It is this that I worry about most. Heros rarely get a happy ending. I don’t want that for my legacy. I don’t want to be just another name for the history books. I want a life after this is over. I want a family, things I hadn’t dreamed possible until recently. To be offered it, to have it all ripped away just as quickly.
“I know she fell in love. I know she sacrificed that love for the good of Ferelden, but what happened to her after that, I do not know. I know Cassandra went looking for her and Hawke, but found nothing of either of them. We now know Varric was protecting Hawke, maybe someone is protecting her. Maker knows she’s been through enough,” the tenderness is back in his voice and it tugs at me. He loved her once, and maybe still does, but I can see he holds no illusions to her affections.
“Hawke told me she had defeated Corypheus before. I just pray we can do it again, but this time, let’s make it permanent.” he raises the wine bottle in salute before bringing it to his lips again.
We sit on the battlements drinking and talking for what seems like a lifetime. His easy banter and charm drawing me in with every word, every gesture.
Just as I decide I might be able to sleep, Cullen leans forward palms pressing against his temples. His jaw tightens and his body starts to rock, as if he can’t help it. I reach out for him but he pulls away.
“Cullen, what’s wrong?”
He doesn’t respond but it occurs to me that he is likely having a withdrawal episode. I try soothing him with words but it seems to have no effect.
“Cullen, I need you to listen. I think I might be able to help you, but you are going to have to trust me,” he nods his head, a slow affirmation.
I let my robe slide down my body and fold it over the chair. The chill hits me and a pulse of magic washes over me, I don’t look into his eyes. If he’s frightened, I may lose my resolve. I lift my gown and to my knees and approach him. When he looks up I can see the blatant terror in his eyes and it rattles me, but I can’t allow it to stop me from helping him if I am able.
“Cullen, listen to me. Focus on my voice,” I speak soothing words, as I approach him, “I am going to sit in your lap and I need you to touch as much of my bare skin as possible. Whatever brings you comfort,” a nearly imperceptible nod of his head urges me on. I straddle him and he wraps his arms around me. I call on my Spirit Healer abilities and send my magic throughout my body and into his. His face presses into my neck as he pulls me closer. His fingers spread across my back. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have his armor on, or this might never work. I run my fingers over his neck, into his tunic, down his back. My body pulses with magic as his fingers try to find my flesh, as I am his.
It only takes a few moments for him to regain himself but we do not immediately pull away. He breathes into my neck, his pulse slowing and his mind clearing. When he is finally back in control he pulls just far enough away that he can look me in the eye, “What did you just do? You made it all go away,” there is wonder in his eyes, no longer the fear.
“Cullen, I have always had Spirit Healer abilities. That was the magic I was born with. The ones you see daily are the ones I trained in and honed over time. Usually my presence is enough. I am surprised you even had an attack with me here. I didn’t know it was this bad,” I wipe away a tear that has escaped and made its way down his cheek. Without thinking he buries his face back into me and holds me tightly. I run my fingers through his hair and do the same to him. His skin is so warm and he smells of musk and sweat. I am tempted to kiss him but that was not why I did this. He continues to hold me and I can feel his hot tears running down my neck and chest.
I shift my weight, trying to gain a more comfortable position. I will let him hold me as long as he needs to, but as I shift I feel his hard length press into me. He moans and it takes everything in me not to react. This is not about sex. It is about comfort.
He lifts his hips and his cock presses into my mound. I need to pull away. I don’t want to push him into something he will regret.
“Cullen, I…” his lips on my collarbone cause me to suck in my breath, cutting off my words.
His lips begin to follow the trail his tears left on my body. I rock into him and his growl of approval sends my brain and my body into a frenzy.
“Cullen, wait. This isn’t how I wanted to start this. I don’t want you to regret this later,” his teeth bore into my flesh.
“I’ve wanted you from the moment I laid eyes on you. I just didn’t know how you felt about me until just now. No one has ever tried to do anything for me like you just did,” his lips return to my breast, but he has not relinquished his hold on me and has to stop there or let go.
“I did it to help you, to comfort you. I wasn’t looking for sex. I don’t want you to think I had any other motives than simply to help you,” his arms loosen their hold and his face is now downcast.
“I’m sorry,” his arms drop to his sides and I can see he is having difficulty deciding what to do with them now.
“Cullen, I didn’t mean I don’t want this. I just want to be sure this is what you want. I feel like in some way I have manipulated you,” his hands come back to my waist.
“No, I meant what I said. I’ve wanted you from the moment we met,” His lips find my collarbone, my neck. I can feel myself getting wet. I moan and it goads him further. He slips the dainty sleeve from my shoulder training kisses across my shoulder and upper arm.
“What about the fear I see in your eyes every time we are alone,” I know I am killing the mood but I want to be absolutely sure. It would kill me for this to be nothing more than a one night stand, or some fling bore out of necessity.
He chuckles, “I will admit, you are quite intimidating but my fears had nothing to do with your magic and everything to do with rejection. You may fear me not wanting you because you are a mage but I feared you not wanting me. I was a Templar afterall,” he sits back, waiting for my response.
Tears well in my eyes and I turn away. His hand reaches for my cheek and he turns my face back to his, “Is that’s what has stopped you? You feared I would reject you? Maker’s Breath, but we are fools.” I laugh, hearing Cassandra saying just the same thing, not too long ago.
I lean forward and when our lips touch, send out a pulse of magic that warms our bodies. He pulls away, “Did you just do that?”
My lower lip sinks behind my teeth, I have pushed it too far. I nod and his smile is a relief, “Well, that was nice. You are going to have to show me what other tricks you have up your sleeve.”