Chapter 1: What potions have I drunk of Siren tears,
It’s a routine for her to slump down in her chair once the door is closed, to grab a pill bottle and pop it open. The rain outside muddles her aching headache, pounding down relentlessly on the glass window, the roof. As she throws four orange pills into her mouth, she picks up her coffee and takes a sip, her silver eyes focused on the gloomy city outside.
Sometimes she could sit here for hours, just staring at the rain.
It always seems to be raining here, in this quiet part of the city. Her office is like her second home, and sometimes it is her home. There’s a military base nearby, meaning that there are lots of people who need therapy. Being a licensed psychologist hasn’t left her with much other than a stable job, and tons of debt from years in college.
There are books piled all over her desk, with little colorful sticky notes sticking out of them where she marked. Notes are scribbled everywhere, even drawings can be seen on her desk. Resting her coffee cup in her hands, she searches around, looking at all the bookshelves in her office.
Everything is covered in dark wood, and there is no light save for candles. Her patients always need dark, calm areas to relax in, and so that’s how she’s designed her workspace. Though some mistake it for a mad scholar’s hidden alcove, what with all the books and random notes she has thrown everywhere.
There are several on her desk. The Social Animal. Influence: Science and Practice. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The Art of Choosing. And many others. There are even some on massage therapy, though she only has her masters in that.
Sorting through them all, she leans forward, her chair creaking as she takes a sip of her coffee then sets it down. The rain continues buzzing in her ears as she tries to organize her desk, but all comes to a stop when she stumbles across an open book. On the page, her eyes just so happen to scan across a specific sentence.
“And so, what happens when we die?” I have asked myself this many times, though more often, as of late, I have been thinking something else. “Where do we go when we die?” is it the ground? Heaven? Hell? It depends on your outlook on life, your religion, beliefs, etc…but what if, we go nowhere?
Despite her sleepiness, she continues reading.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. But when I was a child, I used to think that death led to somewhere we wanted to be. Weird, I know, but let me in your mind for a moment. Imagine if instead of just going into the ground, or to some place of bliss—you go to a place that challenges what you did not overcome in this life, and brings forth who you truly are.
Laying her head down on her desk, she feels her button-up tug on her shoulders. Her skirt slides up her legs a little as she kicks off her heels, letting out a sigh of relief. Her gaze finds where she was at, and she continues reading, feeling heavily tired.
Or maybe we go to somewhere where we can help others with what we know. Some people think that we are reborn anew, which I agree with in a sense. I used to be really good at telling people where things were when I was a kid, so I had thought for many years, that after I died, I would be reborn into some kind of directional leader for others.
Pretty crazy for a kid, right? I know. But think about it.
Her eyes almost close, and she skips down a few paragraphs.
And there are those who think we go to another world. Another place of adventure and fun, excitement that one did not find in the life they had. I tend to imagine these people feel unfulfilled in their current position, and that’s why they wish to go somewhere else where they would feel more—let’s say, helpful. I can’t say I exactly disagree with them, if only for hope.
Hope that maybe, we could all be more useful if just given the chance, the opportunity.
Sleep begins to claim her, and her eyes start fluttering closed as thunder crackles outside.
But the question is, “would you take that opportunity?” of course your natural instinct is going to be to answer, “yes, of course I would!” but, if TRULY given the chance, would you? It’s impossible to know, unless you somehow get thrown into a situation where you die, and end up in another world where maybe you could be of more help than you are now.
Her mind tells her just a few minutes won’t hurt, and she can’t help but fall into its trap. The words on the page blur with the fiery color of the candle, and then eventually everything goes dark. It’s not abnormal for her to be so tired that she gets lost in this in-between space where she swears she’s asleep but also awake. That’s how she feels now.
And it lingers, with that book underneath her that she can still feel the cold pages of. Surely if she just gets home, she can lay in bed and get some shut eye—but no, nope. She’s falling asleep. Her long, dark hair covers her face as she finally gives in and lays on her arms, allowing her eyes to close completely, for her body to go limp.
Lazily, in her sleep, she rubs her bare, sore feet together.
If only someone could give her a massage, how nice that would be!
It hurts, how tired she is. Underneath her eyes, she can feel the dark circles there. Knowing this, it scares her a bit when she wakes up, with someone tapping her arm. No one should be in the office, and she probably looks like a tired mess after having six appointments in one day. The person continues tapping her, yanking her out of her sleep.
Forcing a smile on, she rubs her eyes as she sits up, squinting to see in the dark.
“What is—,” she stops talking when she sees what the person is wearing. And then sees where she is. This is not her office. “Um,” the person is wearing armor, a bright shining silver, with a flaming sword on the front of it. “Well this is weird,” she ponders aloud, looking up to examine the man’s rugged features.
“Who are you?” the man asks, glancing around, “why are you in here?”
“I don’t exactly know where I am,” she admits, standing up slowly. The chair and desk are different now, made of a cheaper wood, and she comes to find that the entire environment around her is changed. Even her books are gone. “Could you tell me?” she tries to be as calm as she can, in spite of feeling very confused.
“This is the Revered Mothers office,” he informs her, and she has no idea what that means.
“You should not be in here.”
She is about to open her mouth again, when the man—no older than twenty, grabs her by her arm and leads her off somewhere. Her feet are still bare, and her heels aren’t under the desk. Her walk is clumsy because she tries to fight against him, but eventually she is led through a large building, filled with dark smoke and candles.
It’s dead silent. No talking. Laughing. Whispering. Nothing.
Only prayers, hushed from people on their knees.
Clearly, this is some place of worship, but where—?
Not a church. No, there are statues of some woman everywhere. Perhaps this is another country? But the people speak English, hmm. Everything only gets more confusing as she is led outside, and finds that there are no streets, no cars, no city lights or stores. Nothing. Just miles and miles of endless flowery fields, and waves of a dark sea where a harbor is stationed.
The man lets her go, and before she can say anything else, he leaves. He walks like a robot, like he is programmed to do exactly what he is doing. There’s a hint of pity in her heart for him, clearly there is something not right with his mind.
Looking back out at the scenery, there is a sickly calm to it all. Almost too peaceful. As though this quiet is being forced. Her bare feet rub against dirt and grass as she stands outside in the dying sun, where the bright rays of light are beginning to dip below the horizon. When a ram runs by in the distant fields, she realizes—all at once, she is no longer anywhere near where she had fallen asleep.
When someone walks by, she shouts for their attention. They tell her to hush, the woman pressing a finger to her lips as she strides toward Elizabeth. She is middle-aged, with brown hair and hazel eyes, with a very interesting robe on. It has a sun plastered around her chest, and is a mixture of burgundy and gold.
“Who are you?” everyone here only appears to care about that, it seems.
“My name is Elizabeth,” she introduces herself as nicely as possible, though this does not pull any kindness from the woman. “Could you tell me where I am? I believe I am lost,” she looks around again to prove her innocent point, cracking a smile.
“You are at the Chantry in Greenfell,” the woman steps forward, narrowing her eyes. “You are not a patient, are you? A templar? If so, then you need to go to your designated room, ma’am,” suddenly her tone turns as though she is talking to a child, “someone will be with you there eventually to give you your lyrium.”
I really wish I knew what any of that meant. Even with that dismal thought, she keeps her smile on. Greenfell. She’s in Greenfell. That’s all that matters, is that she’s in a place that doesn’t sound real. “Thank you,” she nods to the woman, then shakes her head, “but I am—not a templar-patient, whatever.”
“Are you a Sister, then?” her hazel eyes roam her up and down, “no. You are not wearing the robes. Why are you here?” her voice suddenly turns harsh, and Elizabeth feels her pulse speed up as she realizes the woman is about to do something drastic.
“I’m uh—here to help,” everyone needs help, so of course that is the obvious thing to lie about. “With um,” she tries to pull on common sense, “the—erm, templar patients? Yes? I am here to help them,” she nods confidently, even though confidence is far from what she feels, she just doesn’t want to be hanged for being somewhere she shouldn’t.
“My Child,” an older woman’s voice sounds through the air, and the woman in front of Elizabeth bows immediately. “Please, leave her to me,” the woman nods hurriedly, then runs off back into the smoky building. “You,” this old woman is dressed in grander robes than the other one, but with the same style. “Are here to help? Bless the Maker,” she raises her wrinkled hands to the sky, and now it’s starting to seem like everyone here is crazy.
“Sure,” her confidence starts to die away, “what exactly, am I helping with?”
“There are many here we need assistance with,” she speaks to the sky, it seems like. “Many that my Children cannot take care of any longer. I sent for help to Denerim months ago, and I had thought they forgotten about us,” she smiles warmly, finally meeting Elizabeth’s stare. “Yet, here you are. I hope your travel was not too rough?”
“Fine,” she lies, not sure how to explain that it was rather easy to just fall asleep and get here.
“Wonderful,” she continues speaking in a mystic, drawn-out tone, speaking softly. “Come now, my Child. It seems you are in need of some fresh clothes. We will discuss what you will do here,” the woman starts walking into the building, and Elizabeth follows, noticing the mind-numb man and another in the same armor standing on each side of the door, not blinking or moving.
The Chantry, as they are calling it, is definitely a place of worship. Nothing of the modern age though, it’s clear she is either in some lucid dream or a weird other world where technology took a giant leap back. As she makes her way through the large building, she hears coughing, muttering, sounds one might hear in a hospital.
Or a psychiatric ward.
There is incense everywhere, and it’s so thick it threatens to choke. It’s dark too, with only faint candles lighting the stone hallways. There are paintings of other women who look like the one she’s following on the walls. And a massive one makes itself known when Elizabeth is led into a room where several bunk beds are spread out, with only one window allowing light in.
There’s a misty fog, even in here. Even though there are people in here, it is still dead silent. All they are doing is praying, or reading large books that look too heavy to carry. The old woman leads her to one of the beds in the back, where only a chest that goes up to her knees sits behind it.
“The bottom one is free,” she blinks her hazy eyes, “now, in this chest, you will find some spare clothes we have. The templars seem to prefer white, so that is why they are all colored that way,” she taps the chest, her robes fluttering around her, “but you may get settled in later, for now I wish to discuss how you will help.”
“What exactly is it you need help with?”
“The templars here—they all are a bit, hmm, jumpy.”
“Jumpy,” Elizabeth muses, “going to elaborate?”
The old woman steps closer, lowering her voice. “Surely you know what the lyrium does to them,” she licks her dry lips, “we must give them a steady supply, otherwise they will go mad without it. But sometimes—there are side effects, especially when they have been through, trauma,” the sarcasm in her tone makes Elizabeth’s eyes go wide, “do you understand?”
“Not exactly,” she looks around, “can I see one of these templars, if you’ll allow me?”
“Of course,” the woman bows, then begins walking off.
Only the sound of them walking echoes through the lonely halls. The silence is starting to put her on edge, but it begins to end as the noise of people talking finally hits her ears. They aren’t things that make her feel comfort, though.
“Now, just stay still honey,” following that, a man grunts, sounding distressed.
She passes by a few more rooms, all with shut doors, and no windows.
The hallway thins and thins, stretching on, never-ending.
“Shhh, you need to take your lyrium, sweetie,” following that, is a scream.
It makes Elizabeth shiver, but she takes a deep breath and keeps going.
“What is your name?”
There’s silence after that. It makes her stop in her tracks as the old woman walks on.
“Come on,” the sound of cloth shifting can be heard from inside the room. The door is white, the color of death, just like the rest of this place is. She can’t help but press her ear against the door. “You said it yesterday,” the woman’s voice is so babying, it’s almost patronizing. “How about the first letter?”
“L—Lyrium,” the man stutters, and the woman tsks her tongue.
“You’ve already had three doses today,” the woman sighs, “I guess we can try tomorrow.”
Just as the door opens, and the lady inside leaves, the old woman that had walks off yanks on her shoulder. When she steps back, she just barely gets a glimpse of the man inside. He’s sitting on a bed, with his elbows on his knees, fingers carded through his golden hair. That’s all she sees before white blinds her once more.
“Don’t mind him,” she glances at the door, “he’s hopeless. He is only getting worse. You should tend to the ones that are improving,” but Elizabeth ignores the old woman’s suggestion, breaking free of her grasp and stepping forward.
No one stops her as she puts her hand on the handle, and pulls open the door. Metal screeches against stone, and it makes her ears bleed. Not wanting to make that sound again, or trap herself inside with this man, she leaves it open. The old woman stands inside the doorway, observing.
The man looks up at her, eyes that had once been amber find her silver ones. Now his are a bright azure, and the amber she can see had been there is now pushed aside. His eyes are glassy too, like he is about to cry. His skin is wan, his hands are shaking, and he has cuts and bruises like he’s been harming himself.
The man stares at her as she sits down beside him on the cold bed, his chapped lips parted in silence. He needs so many things, she can’t even list them off in her head. It’s a waste to even ask if they leave these patients alone, seeing as it’s obvious he’s had time to chew his nails, and bang his head against the wall.
This is it. The moment she’s been waiting for since she got her Doctorate's in psychology.
“Hi,” her voice is normal, and he blinks at the sound of it, “what’s your name?”
He glances down at her hand, laying in her lap. With his trembling hand, he just barely touches her, traces lines over the smooth skin of her palm like he is drawing. Then, she realizes he is. He’s spelling something out.
“Cullen,” she smiles as she says his name, feeling his calloused hand rest in hers.
“Mhm,” he nods, unable to speak, but the shine in his eyes tells her all she needs to know.
“I’m staying,” she looks at the old woman, “I’ll help.”
The wrinkles on her face double around her cheeks as she grins. “Bless you, Child.”
When she tries to get up and leave, Cullen holds her hand, and she sits back down.
The other patients will just have to wait, for now.
Chapter 2: Distill'd from limbecks foul as hell within,
Her words are still echoing inside his mind. “Don’t take it! It’s an addiction! It will do NOTHING good for you! Please! They are lying to you, Cullen!” and though he heard her, however that long ago, he was not strong enough to reply, having no steady stream of consciousness. He isn’t sure how long the woman was here before she disappeared, but the Chantry grew quiet after she did.
All he remembers is his fellow templars, dragging her by her arms, away. He remembers the look in her eyes, not fear for herself, but fear for others. There was a panic inside her, something that made her raw, bare feet scrape against the stone they were yanking her against. Her weak body was no match for the templars, bolstered by lyrium and superior muscle strength.
He misses her. He doesn’t recall the last time he felt an emotion, but he recognizes this one. His mind does not have the capacity to understand time yet, but he knows. There is an understanding forming that he did not possess before. Something he had before they sent him here, and locked him away to die and rot.
It’s harder now that he knows the dire situation he is in. It’s difficult to obey orders, but he still does, because he cannot do anything else. It’s what he’s been raised to do, what the lyrium makes him do. His body is a cage, and his mind is a wild animal, begging to be freed, scratching at the rusty bars.
Yes, somewhere around that time. He clenches his fists as he grasps onto this sense of time, feeling amazed he is. He holds tighter and tighter, not letting the thought go. The white-sheeted bed is cold beneath him, freezing against the thin breeches they give him to wear. The rest of his skin is cold too, though with how numb he always is, he feels nothing but a dead buzz.
But earlier, he had felt something. In those three weeks that woman, whom he can never remember the name of, was wandering around free, he had felt the gentle touch of life again. As had his other templars. They had begun to break free of their chains, the shackles placed on their minds by the Chantry.
He remembers thinking. Not about lyrium, or about the Maker, the templars, the Chantry—no, he had thought about himself. He had learned once more about the letter I, and its meaning. He is so used to saying we, for We are Children of the Maker, and to follow in his grace is to take the blessing the Chantry gives us.
“No,” he grits his teeth, squeezing his eyes shut as he clenches his fists.
He starts remembering more, the longer he holds his breath, keeps his blood flowing. In those three weeks, he had nearly come back to himself. The woman was a shining light, brighter than any candle sitting in front of Andraste could ever be.
He reminisces liking her, enjoying her company. Her smile was pleasant, far nicer than any of the other women who have come and visited him for however long he’s been here. Centuries, it feels like. He could comprehend what she was saying. Her voice was not razor sharp like the others, but sweet like honey, something smooth that eased the ache in his head.
And her eyes, they were silver, like the stars he hasn’t seen in so long.
And her hair, it was black, like a raven’s feather.
And her skin, it was pale, like the white walls he is trapped in.
And her lips, they were pink, like the flowers he used to pick for his sisters.
“Mia,” he feels an immense, indescribable amount of joy as he says her name, without even thinking it. “Rosalie,” he remembers her too, and nearly starts to cry why he realizes he forgot them. There’s someone else too. He has—had, a brother, but what was his name?
And her spirit, it was like the fighting roar of a lion.
“Branson,” that was his name, and he was just as passionate as that woman is—was.
“And I’m Cullen,” he breathes quietly to himself, scared the scary women in white robes will come into his room. He’s been trying so hard since the nice lady, the woman with raven hair and starry eyes, left him. Was taken from him.
And her clothes, they were a deep navy, like the lake he used to love.
“Honnleath,” that’s where he’s from, and he holds onto all of this, practically in tears.
Any interruption to his fragile train of thought will shatter him, so he prays to anyone out there he doesn’t forget again. It feels as though it’s been years since he’s been allowed to be himself, to remember these things that are so important to the beat of his heart. But no, lyrium should be the only thing he thinks about. It’s cold, bitter, iron taste, and how it will help him serve the—
“Chantry,” they are evil, he at least manages to connect that.
The woman in navy told him that. In whispered words. After about two weeks here, she and the rest of the world seemed to be at a conflict. Her presence was like a drop of oil in water, floating above everyone and everything simply because of the way she spoke. Over time, she got this glaze in her eyes, and she started speaking in whispers.
“It’s a trap,” he remembers that, and he remembers holding her hand, “you need to get out.”
But it was too late, the Chantry realized the woman’s plans. It makes tears streak down his overly-hairy cheeks to think what they did to her. The way they yanked her away gives him visions he does not want to think about. She was a nice woman, she did not deserve the Revered Mother’s punishment, whatever it was she ordered the templars to do.
“I need to get out,” he emptily tells himself this, but his body does not listen.
It never does. His mind and his veins are two separate beings at this point. Lyrium is his blood, running blue instead of red. Azure instead of crimson. He hadn’t known before, the mindless monster he has become, but because of her, he now knows.
He knows his name, his family. He remembers he had a favorite color too. Navy, like her clothes. He had a life, once. Before he was taken here. He tries very hard to remember why and how he got here, but only fragments of past memories of this place come into his thoughts. They are not pleasant.
The last time he was here, it was like this. He was brainwashed, soaked in lyrium until he couldn’t breathe without it. He had fallen into their trap that time, too. He remained a templar, remained locked to the Chantry and its bindings.
Looking down at himself, he barely recognizes what he sees. It doesn’t feel like his body. As he clenches his fists, it doesn’t feel like his hands. Rough. Calloused. But the woman in navy had been so soft, so gentle, so unlike the jagged witches that come to see him every now and then.
The navy woman was tentative. Unlike the others, she saw him every day. She saw everyone, every day. All the templars, both young and old, drowned and lyrium and just barely dipped in it. At some points, she took them all outside. He remembers seeing the sun, feeling its embracing heat, and squinting his eyes against the light.
The fresh air had been heaven. He remembers taking a deep breath, and not tasting chipped off paint or iron. He had tasted flowers, and nature, and everything else the outside world has to offer. And when he had been standing out there, with his toes in the grass, with his other templars, he had also seen something else.
His heart drops in his chest.
His pulse begins racing.
And her smile, it was bright, pleasantly welcoming like an embrace he wanted to fall in.
Under the sunlight, she had beamed, glowed like the Maker was showing him another path. A separate way than the darkness lyrium and the walls of his room encircled him in.
And her words, they were sweet, like the cookies his mother used to make him.
Always soothing, she was like a balm to not just him, but all the other templars as well. Her expression was like a well of knowledge, something that opened everyone’s minds enough to allow question and independent thought in.
Before those three weeks were up, and she was dragged away, he thinks about what she did. Most of her time was spent with him, and he always wondered why. Why her smile grew so much more when they met eyes.
He always felt blank, inadequate. He was not capable of giving her anything other than an empty stare, like he was stuck in the Void. Which, he is, but she seemed to understand that. Never did she pressure him to talk, or to recite the Chant, and never did she even once mention the tempting song of lyrium.
For a while, just a short while, he had stopped taking it.
He hasn’t taken it since. It feels like so long, and the pain is so intense, but—he clenches his fists and swallows hard. I don’t need it, he remembers her words. “You don’t need it, you’re strong enough to fight this,” she had been saccharine then too, like a gentle breeze on a sizzling summer day.
Fight what though? That is what he asked himself. At times, he felt like he was fighting himself, shoving against a heavy wall of temptation. The desire to lick the inside of a lyrium vial has been on his mind since she left. It was easier to ignore when she was here, and he could focus on her bright smile, her raven hair that he wanted to touch.
But he knew he would be too rough, he didn’t want to damage her. To hurt her.
He misses her.
His thoughts are jumbled, running around unorderly in his mind. Ever since she left, he’s been trying to think enough to maybe have her back. He had thought it was his fault, but the tears in her eyes were not for herself, but for him. Her last words still linger with him, inside his heart that is scarcely beating.
“I know you’ll make it out of here!” chains had jingled as the clamped her wrists together, the templars that had been ordered to retake lyrium again. “Please God—any of you, this isn’t right! You are being manipulated! They are going to use you and then—,” she had been cut off, muffled by a gloved hand over her mouth, and then she disappeared.
The Revered Mother told them all, everything was fine. That woman was simply misled, and she promised them all she, nor anyone like her, would come back again. There had been a soundless understanding then, between all the templars still left with their minds not turned to mush.
They knew they wanted that woman back.
She was good, the others were—are, not.
Good because she helped. Good because she read to them all, taught everyone how to be literate again. He cried when he held a book again, though he hadn’t realized it until she wiped his tears away for him. Her smile had been bright then, too.
Instead of lyrium, she had given them all distinct types of other potions. He remembers watching her run around, with stains on her old clothes, and herbs in her dark hair. For each and every templar, she made a special potion. She called them Dreams, and he had not understood why until the women in white came to him.
They pushed the woman he liked out of the way, and asked him when his last dose of lyrium was. He lied. For the first time in forever, he lied. That was monumental in itself. Then he was asked if he had taken anything else, and he had simply answered the truth. Dreams. He was taking a Dream.
The women in white thought him crazy, and left, with their crimson stained clothes and hands.
They all think him crazy, all but her. He’s still himself, and is starting to realize that.
Because of her, because she had faith in him.
Though he prays to the Maker every day, he feels no faith or enlightenment as he does. His words are hollow, like the mind that is processing them. He looks down at his hands again, remembering a time when he would clasp them together, and beg for forgiveness, for the strength to persevere.
Kinloch. Kirkwall. And, wait—is there something else?
He’s sure there is, but he can’t remember it. The cold touch of tears well up in his eyes though, as the demons that he forgot about begin talking to him again. Back in Kinloch, he had prayed for help. And back in Kirkwall, he prayed for help again. He found no answer, he had to fight his own way out of his own problems.
He starts panting for breath, sweating heavily. He gets the urge to pace, but he knows he can’t walk. He knows all these things, all these sad, miserable things about himself, about the man he’s become, and yet there is nothing he can do about it.
He doesn’t want to pray, he wants to fight. He wants to scream at the demons and pick up a sword to make them go away. His muscles start tensing so tight at this thought, that he swears he feels them rip. He’s so weak at this point, deprived of food and water, of sleep and his own thoughts, that he is turning into a husk of a man run on lyrium alone.
“I need to get out of here,” his voice is not his own, but he speaks them. He remembers her words, and looks around, still fighting the tears and the demons. They scratch at his mind, claw at his heart, eat away at his soul. There is nothing left inside him but lyrium, and a longing for the man he had wanted to be.
He died long ago, felt into the Void, but she has brought him back.
Given him life, a way out.
If only he could take it.
He would rip every demon's throat out to find her. To see her bright smile again. To feel they calming, cool touch of her fingers. To want to touch her long, raven hair again. To watch her skip through open fields, picking up flowers and letting them flow in the breeze. To remember that, there are other pleasures in life than lyrium.
He needs to see her.
But what if she isn’t alive?
The idea draws a whimper from his throat, like a dying animal. He shivers and cries more, wanting to beg for someone to help him. There had been a time, when he had been a man who could fight through the darkness, who would swing a sword blind. He is not that man anymore. He is not strong enough, to be that man anymore.
He can’t even move, dammit.
But he can think, and that’s better than nothing.
And finally, he remembers her lying next to him.
Her presence had made the bed warm, not because of her body heat, but because she was there. He could not feel warmth, or the touch of her skin, but he could feel the dip in the mattress, and the weight of her words.
When he had nightmares, when he screamed and cried and ripped his hair out, she was here.
She would lay with him until his tears dried, until he no longer wanted to kill himself.
To end it all, to rip his own heart out and let it bleed in his palm, to cut off this infinite pain.
There were always bandages with her, and salves. He remembers how she would heal the wounds he caused to himself, and he would try to push her away. He mumbled, but what he was trying to say was clear in his mind.
“I don’t want your pity,” he would cry and thrash like a child, “leave me to die!”
But she didn’t. Not because she didn’t listen, but because she did.
“You are not dying,” how she understood him, he had—has, no idea. “Now stay still, please.”
Her voice was always calm, quiet, soothing. There were always dark circles under her eyes, and he blamed them on himself, even though he knows she tended to all the rest of the templars too. He was the person she spent the most time with, the person she had to constantly watch and care for.
It made him sick, and he often threw up.
But she was there, patting his back, a comfort he had forgotten existed.
The most hurtful feeling in the world is not physical pain, he has realized. It is mental. It is watching the one person he saw as salvation, as help, be dragged away in chains as she cried. Knowledge left with her. Kindness did too, along with bright smiles and gentle fingers.
The women in white are harsher now, but he has not seen them since.
He was locked in solitary confinement, punishment for something he doesn’t understand.
They said they would return eventually.
Ever since they closed and locked the door, he hoped it would stay that way.
But his hope never reaches any higher power, and no one ever listens.
No one except her, the woman in navy, who for just a second—he thinks has come back to him, but no—it’s the women in white. There are two of them. The way they open the door is slow, as though he is a beast to be feared. He has to remind himself that he isn’t, even if he is left nothing more than an animal on the outside.
“Hello, Child,” one of the women, a blonde lady, greets in a babying voice.
“Did you enjoy alone time?” the other one asks, a redhead with green eyes.
He shakes his head.
They close the door, not caring for his answer. Walking on either side of him, he notices the redhead has a box in her hands. The blonde one rests her hands on top of his arm, and he jerks, wanting to shove them away. He feels claustrophobic, choking on suffocating smoke that is only a figment of his imagination.
“Now,” the blonde strokes his arm, “I know you have not taken your medicine in a while, baby boy, but it’s time for some, okay?” he shakes his head again, but they still don’t care. The redhead opens the box, and the blonde fakes a smile that makes him cry more. “Aw, don’t cry baby boy,” she wipes his tears, and he yanks his head away, letting out a choked gasp.
Her hands are not gentle. They are cold, rough, and sharp like a knife.
More tears fall, and he feels like she cut him with her fingers, his skin raw and sore.
His overgrown hair and beard don't help with that either. The woman in navy had shaved him, and it had felt like bliss, but it grew back, and now she is not here to do it again. “Maybe we should tie him down?” the redhead suggests, and the blonde nods in agreement.
He makes grunting noises as the blonde gets up, and pulls something out from under his bed. They are leather ties, colored an old brown with crimson stains on them. He can’t do anything other than watch as the blonde ties his hands behind his back, restricting his arms. She does the same to his legs, and also covers his mouth with a leather strip.
It digs into the sides of his mouth abrasively, making him want to lick his suddenly dry lips. He chokes on air and cries more, getting tears on the leather. The women shush him, but it doesn’t help, it only makes him scream as they pop open the box with Andraste carved on top of it. The song begins humming in his ears, loud and silencing, so deafening that he can’t hear himself think.
No, he tries to speak, but it comes out as a gurgle, leave me alone!
The fear is overwhelming. Cold and unforgiving. He starts sobbing so much his nose gets stuffy, and he tugs against his bonds. The women try to soothe him, but all he feels is a piercing stab through his heart he had thought he lost.
The redhead takes out the vial, readies the dose as the blonde tries to quiet him like a mother does to a crying baby. When the redhead has the lyrium ready, with the lid popped off and it held in the air, she nods to the blonde, who then pulls down the leather over his mouth enough to allow the small circumference of the glass vial past his lips.
He spits and chokes as the redhead shoves the vial down his throat, and cold, bitter lyrium touches his tongue. Immediately he starts losing himself, falling into nothingness, and his body goes limp as his mind drifts back to that of a one-year-old. He starts sucking on the vial, still crying, his subconscious knowing that licking up this lyrium is a sick thing to do.
Then, through the haze of him swallowing the lyrium, and the women in white rubbing him like he's a child, the door bursts open. It bangs against the stone wall so hard it leaves a dent, and causes rubble to fall to the ground.
“Get away from him!” the voice is familiar, but he feels too lost to know who it is.
But he does notice the vial leave his lips, and he whines at the loss. The woman, who has dark hair and tan skin, with a scar on her cheek, is fighting with the women in white. The dark haired woman is in armor he thinks he recognizes, though the song is so loud he can’t think straight.
Then he realizes he can’t breathe.
He took too much lyrium, and now it’s stuck in his throat.
Coughing is futile, there is no air leaving his lungs. This is it. He’s going to die, to lyrium.
But the woman who barged in, with brown eyes, throws the women in white to the floor. Two men, in armor he doesn’t recognize, come in and take them away. They screech and wail as they are dragged out of the room, and he barely comprehends that the woman with brown eyes is speaking to him.
“Cullen?” she says his name, but he doesn’t respond. “Maker, what have they done to you?”
Her accent is familiar, but he still can’t pinpoint it.
His head starts flying high, making him feel dizzy. He nearly falls back, but the woman holds him up straight with her strong arms. Her attention is turned to the door as another woman walks in, one with short, auburn hair. He thinks he recognizes her, too.
“At least he is still alive,” the auburn has her hands behind her back, her expression sinks in her cheeks as she walks into the room. “All the other templars are dead, or too mindless to even remember they are people,” she kneels down, then glances at the woman with brown eyes.
“He may be one of those,” the other laments, looking at him, “Cullen? Cullen? Can you hear me? It’s Cassandra. Cassandra Pentaghast. I spoke with you in Kirkwall,” she glances at the auburn, “and this is Leliana. You spoke to her as well. Do you remember us, Cullen? Nod if you do.”
“Good,” they both smile, and he can’t help but smile too, even though he doesn’t know why they are happy. The woman with dark hair has watery eyes, and she grips his leg as she lets out a stuttered breath. “He had been perfectly fine just months ago,” she massages the place she is gripping, “Maker, this is all my fault. I should have just let him join us.”
“You thought he needed help,” the auburn blinks her sea-blue eyes, “you couldn’t have—,”
“Lady Seeker!” a man, dressed in that armor he doesn’t know, runs inside, panting for breath. The white room has so much color with all these people in it. “We found another survivor. A woman. Locked down in some abandoned dungeons under the building,” he glances at Cullen for a moment, “what do you want us to do?”
“Take us to her,” the women stand up at the same time, leaving his side.
Woman. Dungeons. Locked. Survivor.
All those words fit like puzzle pieces in his mind, and he reaches out and grabs the auburn’s sleeve before he realizes. “Mm,” he makes a noise, unable to form any words. He spits some lyrium out of his mouth, making saliva and azure slowly drip off his lips. “Mm, mm,” take me with you. I need to see her. But no, they don’t understand, they just give him pitiful looks.
They leave him behind, going to see the woman. The other survivor.
Two soldiers, as they appear to be, stay behind to watch over him. They talk amongst themselves, and he barely catches what they discuss over the lyrium that’s making him twitch. “…they massacred them all,” their words blur together, “…all the templars. Makes me feel sorry for the lot of them,” the other man nods, then looks at Cullen, “…wasn’t he Knight-Commander? After Meredith died? Looks like he’s a goner now, poor guy…”
But he doesn’t care about any of that.
He doesn’t even really understand it, what they mean. Even though there are hints, fragments.
All he cares about is seeing her, because damn the Maker, but she’s alive!
Sliding off the bed unceremoniously, the soldiers gasp and look down at him as he gets on his hands and knees. His arms and legs are trembling, his bones too weak to hold him up, but he makes himself crawl like the helpless beast he is. His thin skin rubs against the stone painfully as he crawls, but he doesn’t care.
All he cares about, is seeing her.
Looking into her eyes, those bright stars.
Watching her smile, and feeling life beat inside him again.
He makes it a few feet, then he throws up nothing, and then glowing lyrium cascades past his chapped, ripped lips. His body rejects it, like his mind is, as he refuses to fall to its lure. The soldiers eventually help him up, take off his bindings before holding him under his arms, and then they try to take him back to his bed.
But he yanks against them, mumbling, trying to tell them, take me to her.
And out of some miracle, after a long pause, they slowly help him walk away from the white room.
Chapter 3: Applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears,
Too many people. Way too many people. After having people hover around her for weeks on end, this is not a pleasant sight to wake up to, even if the people are prettier. Not a word leaves her mouth as she sits up, feeling the blanket laid over her slide down her body as she does. The women standing above her gasp at her sudden awareness, almost excitedly.
“Thank the Maker,” the one with dark hair breathes, “how are you feeling?”
“Perfectly inadequate,” Elizabeth sighs, feeling her ankle throb.
“You have been through a lot, so I am going to make things clear,” the redhead begins in a strict tone. “I am Leliana,” she points to herself, the dark mauve outfit she’s wearing shadowed against the candlelight in the room. “And this is Cassandra,” she gestures to the woman beside her, “we are both members of the Inquisition.”
“Lovely,” she shifts in the bed, feeling around for any chains, “are you—nice people?”
Cassandra snorts. “Yes, we are. You are safe with us.”
“Though I fear others are not doing as well as you,” the redhead sits down on the bed, setting her hands in her lap thoughtfully. She has sea-blue eyes, very sharp and perceptive. “We were told by a Tranquil that you were helping, the templars?” the woman nods, “yes, yes she said helping. In fact, she went into great detail how you were helping.”
Feeling at a loss for a response, she scratches her head. “I tried,” she attempts to recollect what happened. “Though I believe I was locked in with a bunch of crazy nuts, a fact which I had realized too late,” looking down at herself, she realizes she is still in her navy-blue clothes, the ones that were white, until she realized the patients did in fact not enjoy the bland color. “How did you all find me?”
“We found you in a dungeon, under the Greenfell Chantry,” Cassandra informs, “can you tell us what happened there?”
There’s a titter from behind the woman, and before Elizabeth can say anything, a very short man strides forward. He has hairy arms, a hairy chest, and a hairy head, colored auburn. His face is ruggedly stubbled, and his armor—as one might call it, has daggers and knives attached all over it. He glances at her on the bed, crossing his meaty arms.
“Give her a second to breathe, Seeker,” the man chuckles, then bows his head. “Varric Tethras, also part of this wonderful Inquisition,” he sounds a bit mocking, and Cassandra grunts just from the sound of his voice. “You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you sweetheart?”
“I suppose,” she licks her dry lips, wanting water.
“Would you like a moment alone?” Leliana’s sudden kindness surprises her, and she is left speechless. Her mind still feels a little muddled, and she stammers over her words too long before something interrupts her.
It’s a scream, or a shout, something like that. It makes everyone stand on their toes. But Elizabeth is the first to react, flinging the blanket aside and jumping out of the bed. Her vision is still blurry, making candlelight glare together, but she has enough sight to see that she’s in some kind of medieval inn.
The wood floor is cold against her bare feet, and her sore ankle throbs as she limply jogs. They had her hung by her right ankle, and she can still feel the metal of the chain digging into her skin. Moving past furniture and a railing, she finds some stairs and heads down them. The sound of footsteps following echo behind her.
There’s a sort of hop, in the way she walks down the stairs. She nearly trips and falls on her face as she reaches the bottom floor, looking around to see the main lobby of the inn. There’s a bar, a fireplace, and plenty of tables to seat patrons. There’s a glowing candle chandelier hanging above, swinging ominously back and forth to the snowy wind gusting outside.
What catches her attention, is several older men, standing almost in a circle around a corner. They have ugly looks on their faces, but she rushes through them anyway, pushing them out of the way. Stuck in the corner are two people, one of them she knows, and one she does not.
“Hey, hey, hey,” her words are fast, quiet, and smooth as she gets down on her knees in front of them. “It’s okay,” she whispers, reaching out her hands, then deciding to confront the men behind her first. “What is the problem here?”
“We don’t need any of their kind, in our inn,” one of them spits, nodding to the woman.
There’s a sun on her forehead, the same color as the robes the people of the Chantry wore. Her robes are thick, cover her entire body, and she appears to feel no fear. The person who is really in danger here, is Cullen.
He’s still in only his breeches, the rest of him sweaty and covered in dots of blood.
“Just back away,” her tone is still so calm, “and we will leave.”
“Hey—,” the man at the bar, probably the innkeeper, shouts, but she shakes her head to tell him to stop. Best to just avoid a conflict. The old men around her, with ripped muscles and tattooed faces, do back away thankfully. This is when she grabs Cullen and the Tranquil by their trembling hands, and leads them outside into the snow.
Her feet sting against the cold snow, but she pays no mind to that, or her foggy breath as she gets a good distance away from the tavern. The Tranquil is strong enough to stand on her own, but Cullen is not, so he slams against the outside of the tavern and slides down onto the ground. The Tranquil remains standing still beside him, her features as blank as ever.
Elizabeth lets out a long sigh, wishing she has something to tie her hair up as she pushes it out of her face. After a few moments, the three people who had greeted her when she woke up come outside, holding bread and what she presumes are pouches of water in their hands.
“We can find another place to stay,” Cassandra hands each of them one piece of bread, and one pouch of water. Elizabeth takes one sip of cool water, then hands both that and her bread to Cullen, who is nothing more than skin and bone. He takes is gratefully. “Maybe we can go to—,”
“Let’s just head back to Haven,” Leliana crosses her arms over her chest, furrowing her auburn eyebrows. Snow lands on her face, but the snowflakes and her skin are practically the same color. “It is best if we stay on the move, anyway,” without listening to anyone else’s argument, if they even had one, she begins treading through the knee-deep snow.
Letting out another breath, Elizabeth glances at Cullen, then at Cassandra.
“You can tell us on the way,” her tone is melancholy, and it’s clear she has some kind of connection to Cullen, telling by the way she looks at him. “What happened, if you want. I would appreciate it,” she breathes out a puff of white, her skin too tan to blend in with the white wonderland around them.
“Only if you tell me how you know him,” Elizabeth gestures to Cullen.
“How do you know I know him?” her question is curious, not crude or mean.
“The way you look at him,” she begins walking through the snow, hearing it crunch under her bare feet. “It’s easy to tell,” leaning down in front of Cullen, she helps him eat, then holds his hand steady as he drinks some water, a few drops spilling down his chin.
“You read people well,” Cassandra kneels down beside her, “the Tranquil said that.”
“She is very good with people,” the Tranquil says, after an exact bite of stale bread. “She helped the templars. They liked talking to her. I liked talking to her,” she seems shy as she speaks, her voice growing quiet. “I would recommend keeping her, Lady Seeker. If not for assistance to your cause, but to help Ser Cullen.”
“I agree,” her tone is firm and assured, “you clearly had some impact at Greenfell.”
“Not enough,” she wipes Cullen’s chin for him, “I wasn’t strong enough to do much for long.”
“That was an unfortunate place you were caught in,” the darkness of the night makes the light coming from inside the tavern glow against her tan skin. “I had heard several Chantries had turned to their own accord, but I did not realize it was so—,” she stares for a long moment at Cullen, “bad.”
“You mean cruel? Inhuman? That place was a sanitorium,” Elizabeth brushes some of Cullen’s curly hair out of his face. “They were keeping the templars there for experiments. Trying to make them into some kind of puppet, I’m guessing. Using lyrium to—,” Cullen stiffens at her words, and so she lowers her voice. “—to keep them as mindless as a baby.”
“How did you make it without losing your mind, then?”
“They made me take lyrium, but I threw it up every time.”
Before Cassandra can speak again, Leliana calls for them. Beside her, is a carriage, big enough to hold them all comfortably inside. There are two horses leading it, and a man sitting in the driver’s spot. The horses neigh as they wait, and the driver smokes something that emits a grayish cloud from his lips.
Cassandra and Elizabeth stand, both of them helping Cullen onto his feet as he continues to nibble on what’s left of his bread. Once they get him and the Tranquil inside, the Seeker walks over to Leliana, and speaks with her about something not of importance to Elizabeth.
So she takes a moment to assess herself, to look down at her swollen ankle.
They had hung her there, for who knows how long. She starts remembering it all as she takes a moment to reflect, her mind no longer pushing out the bad thoughts, what she felt and saw and heard. It was like being trapped in a horror movie. With psychos who had an insatiable desire to control others.
It seemed they all had some kind of narcissistic personality disorder. Each one thought they were a mother caring for her children, and treated grown men as such. They treated Elizabeth, however, with disdain and hatred. They had seen her as a rival, someone who would take their precious baby boys from them.
Bizarre. I should write a book about this.
“I could help you with that,” Varric chimes into the conversation she didn’t know she was having. Apparently, she said that aloud. “Writing books is sort of my thing,” he shrugs, still standing short even though she is only five feet tall. “That, and telling stories, killing bastards with Bianca, and beating everyone I meet at Wicked Grace.”
“You sound like quite the character,” her smile is sweet, in spite of her pains.
“You would know,” he lets out a huff of air, “apparently you are a mind reader?”
“Where in God’s name did you get that idea?”
“Eh, from what I’ve heard, you sound like you know people pretty well.”
“I understand,” she emphasizes, “simply because I comprehend that half of understanding is listening, and so if people just listened more, they would understand more.” Making a circling gesture with her hands, she raises an eyebrow. “You see, it’s a cycle, a process of the human mind that most people don’t consider because—,”
“Hey!” the driver shouts over his shoulder, “get in, you’re holdin’ us up!”
“Tell me more later,” Varric whispers, holding the carriage door open as she gets in.
And so she sits down, for her first time, in an old-timey carriage. Now it really feels like she is in a movie, just without all the cameras and the lights. And with a lot heavier stuff to deal with. The carriage is big enough inside that everyone can sit a good distance apart on the cushions, but over time, Cullen finds his way over to Elizabeth.
He lays his head in her lap, and she strokes his hair, staring out of a window.
Leliana and Cassandra whisper to each other. Occasionally glancing at Elizabeth, and then drearily at Cullen. It is obvious they both know him. And though she is itching to ask questions, she listens to Varric when he begins talking to her, having lots to say.
They seem to be in a place, or perhaps city, called Highever. Greenfell is a few miles from here. Varric goes on to explain, in such an intriguing and absorbing way, that he once knew Cullen as well. He was a good man. He was a strong man. He was a strict, stubborn Commander. She notices a lot of was in his speech, and she wonders if there are any is left.
“What about now?” she looks down at Cullen’s paling hair, “who is he now?”
“Maker’s ass if I know,” he shakes his head, “I haven’t seen the guy in a long couple of months. But from what I see here, it’s clear he isn’t doing too well.”
“Do not let what you see be what you perceive,” she rubs his scalp, and he purrs, moaning against her leg. “He still has his thoughts, his mind. A lot of the other men did not. He clearly has some kind of extreme resistance to—,”
“He’s been like this before,” the Tranquil, who had been silent this entire time, finally speaks up. Though her eyes are still staring emptily out of the window. “He has been to Greenfell before. Under Commander Greagoir’s orders. They thought he needed to level-out,” she turns her head to coldly look at Varric and Elizabeth. “I saw him then, too. He was younger. About ten years. But things were less harsh then.”
“Well,” she soaks in this information, “that’s—,”
“I remember hearing rumors about that,” Leliana cuts in, stopping her conversation with Cassandra. “He was sent to Greenfell after Kinloch. He was deemed too unstable for society,” her sea-blue eyes look down at him, “pitiful thing. If only I had known.”
“This is my fault,” Cassandra pinches the bridge of her nose, squeezing her eyes shut. “If I had just—,”
“Now, now,” Elizabeth interrupts, “let’s stop with these if statements, hmm? Questioning what has already been done is pointless,” everyone goes silent at her words, except the wheels of the carriage, which are bouncing and rumbling against the stony and snowy ground. “If we focus on the present, that will do us more good.”
“So what do you suggest?” Leliana always speaks between the line of sharp, and smooth.
“Tell me,” she glances down at Cullen, “everything. All of what you all know.”
There is a moment of pause, as there is during difficult things to discuss. Between the three of his friends, and the Tranquil, they eventually form a consistent conversation about Cullen. Elizabeth gathers up what she can like a sponge soaking water, not believing half or more of what she hears.
But it is all fascinating, if his life could be called such a thing.
His arms tighten around her as they talk. Elizabeth never says a word, simply letting her ears listen as she looks down at the man in her lap. He has one arm around her back, and his other across her legs. His head rests on her thighs, moving every now and then as he wipes his own never-ending tears away.
He never sleeps. That’s something she notices. Even though he shows signs of exhaustion.
Then, she realizes, he is afraid to sleep.
That’s why he’s gripping her thighs, her back. He’s trying to tell her without using words that he’s in pain, and he doesn’t know what to do. There’s not much she can do, at this very moment, other than rub and comfort him as much as she can as she listens to his life story from the mouths of others.
“…I had wanted him to be the Commander,” Cassandra has tears in her eyes at this point, hours later after they began talking. “I should have just let him join,” her voice pitches higher, and a tear drips down her sharp cheekbone as Leliana rubs her back. “But from what I heard happened in Kirkwall, I had thought he needed some time to himself, before…”
“Before you allowed him any leadership over others,” Elizabeth finally joins the conversation. “I understand. There is no way you could have known what would happen,” she shifts in her seat, and so does Cullen, making sure to stay attached to her lap. “I take it you are no longer considering him as an option to lead the army you have?”
“I would,” she clasps her gloved hands together, “if he was not—,”
Never does she finish her sentence, and a heavy silence settles over everyone.
Leliana, who seems the bravest, or perhaps coldest of them all, gets a light in her eyes.
“Can you fix him?” her question runs through the air, lingering like stars in the night sky.
Elizabeth tries not to snort. “Fix?” she presses her fingers into his back, massaging in the places that will help with the headache she can sense he has. “You cannot fix people. They are not machines. Think like that, and you will be no better than those at Greenfell,” they all glance at each other in thought, “but I get what you mean. And yes, I suppose I could, given time.”
“If he—,” Casandra clears her throat, “returns to normal, I will give him the chance I should have.”
“And if he never does?” the question is a logical one, and Elizabeth asked it with no doubt or malice, but of course that is how people are going to take it. “Not to be upfront, but I am a realistic person. You must consider that he may never recover from all these traumas he has experienced,” Cullen shifts at her words, biting into her leggings, “even if I do give him the best I can, I am no miracle worker.”
Silence. Stillness. All that tells that time is still moving, is the snow blowing outside.
“You sure seem to be one,” Varric smiles, then nods to Cullen. “Look.”
Lifting her arms up, she feels Cullen moving on her lap. Even the Tranquil glances over as he sits up on his own, holding himself up. His eyes are drooping, dark and sore, but he still looks around like he can see. His gaze focuses on Cassandra, and for a long moment, he does nothing.
Then, after clenching his fists, he holds out a shaking hand to her.
The brightest smile crosses the Seeker’s face as she shakes his hand, and more tears fall down her cheeks. After a few shakes, Cassandra lifts herself off her seat, and bends down to give Cullen a hug. They embrace, and she gives him such a tight hug he loses his breath. Varric laughs, Leliana smiles, and the Tranquil looks back out of the window.
“You see that?” the short man pokes her, “that is a miracle. You did that.”
“No,” Elizabeth leans back in her seat, admiring the heart-warming sight before her, “he did.”
Chapter 4: Still losing when I saw myself to win!
The ‘mind-reader,’ as people enjoy naming her, has become so popular that the door to her small clinic must be locked at all times. No one is allowed in. No except him. Cullen, as he is beginning to remember his name correctly, though he still cannot say it. Through day and night, he sits in here, watching her work.
One person at a time.
“Now, I find it rather trivial that you were trying to do your job,” she stands up, reaching for the black, smooth wooden staff she has acquired herself since her ankle has refused to heal. “Carrying something two times your weight is not a wise decision,” she coughs, stepping back, pointing her staff toward the door, “put some ice on it,” the man stands up, “oh, and please—don’t do anything ill-advised again, hmm?”
That’s how most of her sessions end. Ever since the people in Haven have realized she can work miracles, they have been coming to her for everything. It was quickly universally realized that the Psychic, which some also call her, can do far more than treat the dulled minds of ex-templars.
The soldier leaves, clutching to his swollen knee as he limps out of the door. When he forgets to lock it on his way out, she huffs out an annoyed breath, like she always does, rushing forward to lock it just as someone knocks vigorously on it. They beg to come inside, but she keeps quiet, pressing her finger to her lips when he meets her gaze.
Despite never speaking, she treats him the same, as though he can. Sometimes he can feel like, even without words, she can understand him. Sometimes, she will even talk to him.
“Blasted people,” she curses, throwing her staff against the wall as she goes over to her alchemy table and begins pushing things around. “They never end, hm?” she’s talking to him, and after about a week, he realized she never expects a response. “Needy, needy. I need this. Give me this. What do I do about this?” she mocks her patients, picking up a pipe, shoving some gray herbs in it before setting alight and smoking it.
Slowly, she lets out a deep breath, even as the people continue knocking outside. She is a brilliant woman, but she also has downsides. Compassion is not one of her charming traits. Nor is patience. Her mind appears to think on a higher level, and thus most don’t understand that her coldness is really just her intelligence showing.
It’s rather humorous, in fact, how she calmly smokes her pipe even as people rage outside. As soon as she somehow claimed this small cabin as hers, she set it up just how she wanted it. If he can remember correctly, he is sure that Cassandra is the one who told everyone at Haven this would be the Psychic’s clinic.
There is parchment everywhere. This woman loves to write, loves to scribble down things then crumple them up, but no throw them away. “A grand idea,” she said to him one evening, “is usually the one you throw away at first glance.”
Thus, there is litter everywhere, though in the Maker’s truth, it may all be brilliance. He’s taught himself to read again, with her help, mostly by reading the things she writes. And though most of them confuse him beyond belief, he knows just by gut feeling he has somehow been blessed with the presence of a very either wise, or mad woman.
Looking at her now, he also realizes, almost subconsciously, she is quite beautiful.
There is no clear tell of where she is from. Her skin is pale, meaning she should be from the north, but her accent is nothing he knows up there. Her hair is black, like the ravens that soar over the sun and the moon, but usually only those with dark skin have dark hair. Her eyes are silver, and that—he must decide, is the greatest anomaly about her.
Sometimes he ponders, because he has nothing better to do, if her eyes were always like that, or if she lost the color at some point. He would ask her, if he had the ability. Being rendered mute and immobile is rather annoying, at the least. But he has his thoughts still.
Thanks to her, because she has kept his mind in check. Every day, she does three tests. One in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at night. He passes them all, even though he doesn’t understand their constant purpose.
There is almost an ethereal, otherworldly glow about her. During his long hours with her, he has tried his best to figure out what exactly is so different about her. It’s not her intelligence. It’s not her beauty or her dry humor that he finds rather endearing. No, it’s something indescribable.
It’s the way her eyes glaze over when she’s lost in thought, smoking a soothing herb. It’s the way she ties her hair up, and lets it down only when she’s alone. It’s the way she paces around, never exactly sure what she is doing. It’s the way she greets people, not with a smile, but with a question. It’s the way she cares, acting like she doesn’t.
Everyone, including those he used to know, do not think he will ever recover. Not fully, anyway. They talk around him like he can’t hear, like he will never be able to speak to them again and bring up what they said.
“You really want to keep him in here? Why not just sit him outside with the others?”
“Why are you still wasting resources on a lost cause?”
“Shouldn’t he be tied up?”
“Why not see if the Maker will give him a quick death?”
“Send him to the Chantry, that will make him feel better.”
Oh, but her. Her. So elegantly intellectual. There is no hatred when she speaks to people, just sarcasm. No one gets into her mind, her thoughts, she gets into theirs. Each person who comes in, and looks his way, leaves with their words unheard.
He isn’t sure how, but she knows. It’s clear.
She knows he can hear, he can think, and he can remember.
There’s always a coy smile shot his way after people leave, after they say those things that don’t make him feel offended. Perhaps, if he were not with her, he would feel disheartened. But the way she laughs, oh—he could listen to that giggly laugh all day. He tries to laugh with her, but all he can manage is a weak smile.
“How long before they break their knuckles?” she quips, nodding to the door as she slips her pipe out of her lips and sets it down on the alchemy table.
There are several tables in the cabin. Only one is cleaned off. His.
Without even saying anything, she made him his own spot in here. It’s near the only open window, in the back where no one can bother him. How she knew that claustrophobia was choking him, he has no idea. Then again, he never really does.
But there’s not just an open window. There’s a table, made of dark, smooth wood like everything else. There are several candles, all scents he enjoys, and then dozens of blank books, ink wells, and quills. He writes any time he can, making sure he remains literate.
There’s a chair, which he spends most of his time in. It’s the only chair with a cushion, colored a deep black like the clothes she wears are. There is no white. No burgundy or gold. No Chantry symbols, and no lyrium. Every potion imaginable is being experimented in here, but not once has even a whiff of lyrium found its way inside.
He doesn’t know whether it’s for her, or for him. Maybe it’s for both of them.
If she feels any fear from her experience at Greenfell, she hides it like a mask hides a person’s face. The only evidence she was even there, hung for days and tortured, is in the limp in her right leg, and the way she flinches when someone moves too fast around her.
“For God’s sake,” she slams her palm on the table, shaking the potion she was brewing.
Then she storms over to the door, and unlocks the four locks at the top, then the three at the bottom, and finally the only in the center. Just barely she cracks it open, letting in the only other sunlight that’s not from his window in the corner. Dawn is settling over the sky in an auburn and mauve mixture, along with a dense fog from the snow.
“What is—oh my! My package!” her mood suddenly shifts, and the shy messenger runs off as soon as she takes her box. Locking all the locks, she keeps her eyes on the package, stepping away from the door and striding over to his table. “This,” she puts it on the table, “is for you, my friend.”
Even though she remains in her spot by his table, she does not help him open it. A small thing, but he appreciates it endlessly. Gently, he leans forward, his chair creaking as he starts ripping open the top of the box. There are no marks on it, nothing is written, so it is a complete surprise as to what it could be.
When he finally gets the damn thing open, he feels her smile before he sees her do it.
“Chess,” she grows impatient, taking out the chessboard for him, shoving the box and its wrapping onto the floor carelessly. “A game of aptitude, acumen, and quick wit,” the chess board is thick, a few inches tall, and it is made of a polished wood. “Also, distracting your opponents,” she eagerly sits down in the chair opposite his, taking out the pieces from the box on the floor and placing them on the table.
Once all the pieces are set up, she crosses her hands, placing them under her chin.
“Now,” she tilts her head to the side, and her eyes shine in the smoky room. “White, or black?”
He’s always played white. Since his sisters always played black.
He turns the board so the white pieces are on his side, and she purses her lips.
“White,” there is that sarcastic tone she likes to use, “the path of intellect. Funny, I rather enjoy your choice. I always pick black,” she raises an eyebrow at him, “do you know why?”
If he could speak, he could guess because she likes the color black.
“It is the devotional path of the heart,” she smirks as she examines the board. “And, black always goes second. I take it you know how to play though, telling by the look in your eyes,” he nods as she grins, licking her pink lips. “Very well. Your intellect against my good intuition,” she leans back in her chair, loose tresses from her bun framing her face, “go on then, beat me at my own game.”
Shifting in his chair, he is just about to move his first piece when another knock hits the door.
“Lord give me mercy,” she picks up her walking staff, leaning on it as she hops over to the door, unlocking it all over again. “If you have any sort of minor injury, go to the healer’s clinic—oh, hello. May I help you?”
Interested, Cullen turns at her sudden change in tone. When he looks, he sees that she is speaking with someone through the crack of the door. Her voice is quiet, as is the other person’s, so he can’t hear either of them.
“Is he in here?” ironically, he does hear that line, from what appears to be a man.
“Ah, yes,” she clears her throat, “though I do not usually let people speak with him.”
“I will only be a moment,” the accent is familiar, and it sparks something in his memory.
For the first time, probably since she made this clinic, she willingly opens the door. There is a slowness to her movements, what almost seems like anxious hesitance. Though once the door is fully open, there is no stopping the person immediately stepping inside. Elizabeth stays behind, gently shutting the door as she locks all the locks again.
The man, a soldier, telling by his gait, stares longingly down at Cullen.
“Can he hear me?” the man asks, talking behind himself.
“Why don’t you ask him?” she leans against the door, tapping her walking staff on the ground.
The man presses his lips together, then approaches Cullen and kneels down on one knee. He has armor on, grander than the other soldier’s, and a shimmering sword at his hip. There is something familiar in his hazel eyes, in his brunette, messy hair. Turning in his chair, he faces the man, trying his best to keep from twitching.
“Cullen,” the man breathes out, “it’s me, Rylen. Remember me, lad? Starkhaven?”
He bites his tongue, feeling the memory linger at the back of his mind.
But—he just can’t latch onto it.
He shakes his head.
Rylen curses, running a gloved hand through his ashy hair.
“If you don’t mind me interrupting what I am sure is a sentimental moment Commander,” Elizabeth chimes in, leaning off the wall as she walks over to her alchemy table. “What was the last thing you smelt, the last time you spoke with Cullen?” she lifts scrolls and flasks on the desk, searching for something.
“Um,” Rylen stammers from the oddness of the question, “it was—like, a medicine smell. You know, that ugly stench people flinch from. We were in Kirkwall together, trying to recover from the city collapsing. There were lots of people injured we—,” he stops for a moment, but she keeps working at the table, “we had to take care of. Herbs. Concoctions. Death. Blood. It was—,” he stops, then turns to look at her, “why?”
“No reason,” she waves a bandaged hand in the air, “please, continue speaking to him.”
It’s hard to take his eyes off Elizabeth, but he does, staring down at Rylen. He has freckles on his tan face, and there’s something familiar about those too.
“It’s nice to see you,” his smile is pessimistic, even though he tries to make it seem bright. “You’re lookin’ good,” though even Cullen knows that’s a lie, he’s just a husk of the man he used to be. Only thin skin and weak bone, unable to even walk. “This lady takin’ diligent care of you, eh?”
“He is taking care of himself,” Elizabeth insists, squinting as she drips a few drops of clear liquid into a heated flask. “He is perfectly capable of living on his own. I am merely keeping him company,” that is always her retort when people mention his helplessness, but he knows without her he’d be either dead, or mindless.
“Right,” Rylen mumbles, his eyes roaming Cullen up and down thoughtfully. “I have a question for you, healer. If you don’t mind.”
“If you are going to give me unimportant titles, please use the correct one,” she grouses, clinking two glasses together. “Psychic. If you wish. If you call me a healer again, I will tell you now I currently have thirty-eight unusual ways I could kill you, painfully,” she lets out a frustrated breath, “healers are eerie. They have bloody hands and usually turn into murderers. I, am no healer.”
“Psychic, then,” he begins, keeping his hazel gaze on Cullen. “Um, do you think he’ll ever actually recover? I’ve heard rumors but—,” he trails off, shaking his messy hair, “I’ve got to know for sure. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s better than this. He deserves what I have right now, you understand lass?”
“You feel guilt over taking what was to be his, yes,” she replies dutifully, raising a bubbling flask in the air as she swirls it around. “It is a common thing to experience. Especially if he was your friend,” she holds the flask in two hands as she limps over to them, handing Rylen the flask, “here, let him smell this.”
“What?” Rylen sniffs the potion, recoiling from the smell. “Ugh, is that—?”
“Anise and chamomile, often used in medical practices,” she starts limping back over to her alchemy table, cleaning off the mess she made. “I also threw in something else. Though even I don’t know the name of it,” she glances over at them, “well, don’t let it get cold! Let him smell it, if you want him to know who you are.”
Out of hope, it seems, Rylen lets Cullen smell the potion.
It reeks like death. The smell of medicine and—
“Kirkwall,” his voice is scratchy, rough, and Elizabeth drops something metal when he speaks.
“For the love of—,” she leans down to pick it up, then bangs her head against the table as someone knocks on the door. “It never ends,” she grunts, grabbing her staff as she storms to the door. “Stop banging on the damn door! I hear you!”
“You remember,” Rylen whispers as Elizabeth yells at the person at the door, some poor soul who was not expecting her wrath. It takes a great deal of focus to keep in sync with what the man in front of him is saying. “You remember Kirkwall. Do you remember me?” his voice is full of shattered hope, something just out of reach.
Nodding, Cullen smiles when Rylen does, reaching for a blank sheet of parchment and a wet quill. He dabs it against the well, then starts writing. Rylen stands up, looking down as Cullen writes out what he’s thinking.
Once he’s done writing, Rylen picks up the parchment, and reads with his lips parted.
“Well shove a nug up my ass,” he awes, and behind him, the door slams, signaling Elizabeth has left for some unknown reason. “You’re still here, lad,” dropping the parchment, Rylen is almost in tears as he leans down and embraces Cullen, tightening his grip with each second that passes. “I missed you so much,” he sniffles, patting his back, “you’re still here though, aren’t you? Still in here?”
Rylen pulls back, keeping his hands on Cullen’s shoulders as they gaze at each other.
“That lady’s really helpin’ you, ain’t she?” he questions, and once again, he nods in response.
“I should probably be a little nicer to her then,” he sniffles more, wiping his nose and his eyes as he stands straight. “I’ve been sendin’ my men to her, though I’ve never met her personally. Seems like the quite the character,” he rests his hands on his hips, “everyone who meets her has somethin’ to say as soon as they leave.”
Isn’t that the truth. He snorts, setting down his quill inside the ink well. Rylen doesn’t stop staring down at him, tears still shimmering in his hazel eyes. There’s a long pause, where only the sound of the whistling wind outside flows through the air. Then, as if suddenly realizing something, the Commander lets out a deep sigh.
“Conclave startin’ soon,” he ponders, “this Inquisition might become a real thing.”
He nods, vaguely aware of the situation.
“Now, listen here lad,” Rylen’s voice deepens to something serious. He kneels down again, tapping Cullen’s knee pointedly. “You better get well, you hear? That’s an order. You’re the only one who can run this army. You deserve this, not me,” he chokes a little on his words, steadying his breathing, “if that lady makes you right again,” he stands up, shaking his head, “I’ll bend down and kiss her feet.”
Wouldn’t that be something to see. He snickers to himself, trying not to cry as Rylen turns and walks away, avoiding any more heartache. The same time he opens the door, two people barge inside, pushing him out of the way and blowing out several candles inside the cabin.
“No,” is all Elizabeth says, swinging her staff around.
“But you must,” Cassandra follows after her, “it is the Divine’s request—,”
“I am not meeting some heavenly woman,” scoffing, she starts sorting through the desk where all her writings are, apparently looking for something. “Simply because she wishes to meet me. I have nothing to offer her,” she continues searching, not caring for Rylen or Cassandra staring wide-eyed at her behind her back.
“Wishes to use me.”
The world turns silent, only ambiance of people talking outside slipping inside.
“I don’t understand,” the Seeker confesses, backing away as Elizabeth turns around.
“Just as she is using you for your sword,” she throws several of her writings in a roaring fireplace on the far wall of the cabin. Watching the scrolls burn, she leans on her staff. “She seeks to know what I know. Knowledge is power, and power means more people will follow her and her—,” she pauses, “Chantry. I will not step one foot close to that woman.”
“I realize you do not like the Chantry, but—,”
“It is not a matter of like or dislike. It is a matter that I would be supporting a broken system that has tortured and nearly killed me. It is a matter that I would have to bow down to a woman who thinks it is okay to raise puppets, to drug them with a raw metal, and then claim that certain qualities in people make them inhuman. I find the entire idea disgusting, at best, revolting at worst.”
Elizabeth spins around in a hurry, throwing her staff to the ground as she charges over to Cullen. Her black cloak flows around her completely, her hood slipping off her head. Underneath, she is wearing a grey dress, that goes down to just above her ankles. Her shoes are flat, an ashy color like the scrolls that are now burned and ruined forever in the fire.
“Look here,” she grabs Cullen by the arm, “is this okay to you Seeker? He is your friend, no? Don’t you care about what happened to him? About who did it?” releasing his arm, she walks around to his table, picking up the dozens of vellums he has written on. “And this,” she hands Cassandra the stack, “is proof that he is not the mindless monster you still think he is. Your friend is still in there. Do you not care that he is trapped? How he got there?”
Flipping through the writings, Rylen walks up behind Cassandra, reading in shock.
“He—He wrote all this?” she glances at him, and they meet eyes somberly.
“Well it sure wasn’t me,” she snatches the writings back, then throws them onto his table. “Now you see, Seeker? This is even worse than being mindless like the rest. He still has his thoughts. Can you imagine, being able to think, to understand, to do everything you can do with your mind now, but your body won’t respond?” she pauses, “hmm? How would you feel?”
“I—I—,” she struggles for an answer, “I don’t know.”
“Exactly. You don’t know what you don’t know,” Elizabeth seems angry now, though even her fury is relatively calm. Never does he wish to see her when she is actually upset. “You think you know, but you really don’t. You ask for my help, but you don’t really care. You don’t even care that the people you serve do this,” she whips out a lyrium vial in the blink of an eye, and it shatters Cullen’s mind.
He falls off his chair, scrambling underneath the table as he cries and shivers.
“PTSD, fancy acronym that means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” she throws the vial out of the window, then sits underneath the table with Cullen, rubbing his back. “There are certain things that can trigger it. Lots of people pretend to have it, but there is always a certain way to tell,” she glances at him for a moment, “do you think this is fair, Seeker? Do you think what your Chantry did is right? Do you think your Divine is doing the right thing?”
For a long moment, Cassandra and Rylen just glare at Cullen.
He feels ashamed. Guilt-stricken and pathetic.
But Elizabeth is here, on the floor with him, never leaving his side even at his lowest.
“So no,” she murmurs when no one speaks, “I will not chatter with your Divine,” Cassandra opens her mouth to speak, but Elizabeth raises her hand, the bandages falling off slightly. “And before you ask—no, I will not attend the Conclave.”
“Do I even want to ask why?” the Seeker’s tone is dismal, her eyes sunken in.
“All those important people in one building?” she laughs at the idea, stroking Cullen’s hair as he clings to her for comfort. “If you can’t see the idiocy in that, then I—,” she shakes her head, “I don’t even know.”
“Well, I’m sort of an idiot,” Rylen gives in, “whys the Conclave a bad idea?”
Elizabeth brings her hands together, then makes a motion of something exploding. “If I were a super evil bad guy, who hated the world and the people running it, I would be rubbing my hands together in glee right now, waiting for that Conclave to begin,” she trails her hand down to Cullen’s loose shirt, rubbing his nape, “it’s the perfect opportunity.”
“For?” Rylen’s question is met with silence, then Cassandra gasps.
“Mass murder,” the Seeker concludes, “but there are guards—securities, that ensure—,”
“Yes, yes. I am sure there is no way something like that could ever happen,” Elizabeth chuckles, “famous last words, right there. Just ask your lovely little short man friend, he’ll tell you. All good stories are the classic—I knew that was going to happen, but I let it happen anyway—it’s a wonderfully cynical scenario.”
Everyone gets lost in thought, considering her words carefully.
Silence takes over. Then, without saying anything else, Cassandra leaves. Rylen follows, after saying farewell to Elizabeth, who doesn’t say a word or make a gesture to either. Once the door is shut, she doesn’t get up to lock it, much to Cullen’s bewilderment.
“Everything I do,” she whispers, looking up at the underside of the table, “is for a reason. Remember that, will you?” she lets out a smoky breath, puffing a cloud of smoke from her lips. He nods to acknowledge he heard her, finding comfort in her cold fingers against his neck.
“Now,” she snaps out of her haze, looking at him cheerfully, “test three, are you ready?”
He nods as they both slide out from underneath the table, staying on his knees as she stands up. Test three is the hardest one. He has to walk from one side of the room to the other, without any help. He also has to balance a book on his head, and she keeps adding one every other day.
Today, he’ll have four books on his head.
“Alright,” she grabs four books, then carefully balances them on his golden hair. “Go.”
Getting one foot on the floor, he slowly gets the other, shaking terribly. Eventually, he takes a deep breath and concentrates, closing his eyes as he focuses on the weight on top of his head. He makes it about three trembling steps, with none of the books fallen, and then he frightens and jumps, collapsing to the floor as the door slams open.
“And that’s why I lock it,” she muses, “what is it now?”
“Psychic,” Rylen pants, “I have another request.”
“Wish for another insightful lecture?” she crosses her arms, one hand in the air.
“Maybe later,” he closes the door, pacing towards her. Cullen wishes he could do that, wishes he could use his legs to look into her silver eyes properly. “But—what I want—I want,” he stumbles on his words, then straightens his expression. “I want you to take my job,” he points at Cullen, keeping eye-contact with her, “make him better. Make him take my position from me.”
“You’re asking a lot here,” she flutters her hand around, “therapy can take months and—,”
Someone else barges into the clinic, and Elizabeth curses, clenching her bandaged fists.
“Sorry, to interrupt,” the shy, elven girl blinks her wide eyes down at Cullen. “But Sister Nightingale has news. Relating to the woman with a bad attitude, she said it, not me,” she shuffles backward, rubbing her lithe hands together, “um, templars have arrived, my lady.”
“Oh, right. Yes,” Elizabeth was clearly expecting this news, “how many? Six? Ten?”
The elven girl looks down at the ground, swallowing nervously.
“What?” Elizabeth scoffs, “fifteen? Twenty?”
“So far?” the girl coughs, “about one-hundred and twenty. Not counting those not in the Order.”
Choking on smoke, Elizabeth coughs, shoving Rylen away when he pats her back.
Strangely, she doesn’t like people touching her.
There’s a stretched out moment, where it seems like, she has finally reached her limit.
Then, as if collecting all her thoughts, she serenely stares down at Cullen.
“Rylen,” she clicks her tongue, “I may need your assistance.”
“Anything, my lady.”
“You may regret saying that.”
Determinedly, Elizabeth walks out of the clinic. The elven girl leaves as well. Rylen remains, almost exiting before turning back and leaning down to help Cullen up. He allows him to wrap an arm around his neck, a cocky grin spreading across his face as they waddle together.
“Here lad,” he unsheathes his sword, handing it out to Cullen, “let’s start simple.”
Looking into Rylen’s hazel gaze, he grabs the hilt of the sword, just as twilight touches his skin. The outdoors smells refreshing, sharp snow and dead grass filling his senses. He’s numbly cold, still unable to do much with his legs, and yet, as he watches Elizabeth stand on top of several tall crates, then listens to her shout to the entirety of Haven like a madwoman, he fathoms something.
He’s never felt more alive in his entire life.
Chapter 5: What wretched errors hath my heart committed,
Standing on the sun would be preferable to the cold seeping beneath her skin now. There is no light, either. No warmth. Nothing except the small flares from her smoke, sitting between her lips, emitting a gray cloud every now and then when she blows into it. There’s nothing that would make her happier, then to be back in her office.
Where it’s warm. Where rain batters against the ceiling and the windows. Where she can control the flow of people who need her help. Utter chaos is a crippling aid, when each person requires months of assistance in just mere minutes.
There is only struggle in the future she sees. Not for herself, necessarily, but for those around her. The emerald rip in the sky above isn’t what frightens her. Rather, it’s something internal, something inside people’s minds that she could, and never will be able to cure.
The unknown. It’s the root of all fear. Hence why people fear death, so very much.
“But I do not fear death,” she says to no one, “rather, I fear living.”
All the children around her turn their glowing eyes to where she stands. They are all mute, not literally, just in the fact they do not like to speak. Which, in all honesty, she has no problem with. It’s the adults that bother her, the ones who talk and never listen, who don’t know what they don’t know but they think they know when in reality, they don’t.
“Do you know why?” she asks the children, and they shake their little heads. “Good.”
Children are the purest version of mankind. They are perfect, until they are corrupted by society. Until their parents, or whoever raises and influences them, puts their beliefs and such into their mind. Lots of times, the troubles with children, end up being with those who are supposed to keep them safe.
These children are orphans though, so Elizabeth lets them listen to themselves. Raise themselves. Like Cullen, except he is an adult, with clear and strong thoughts like any other educated person. But the children, they have a chance to become better too, they don’t need someone to hold their hand.
When the Chantry, of course, wanted to dispose of them, she had laughed.
Treating young kids isn’t her specialty, but she wasn’t going to let the Chantry throw away a bunch of little ones just because they don’t recite the Chant. Or because they don’t walk right. Or because they are experiencing grief from their parents’ death. Or because of some superiority idea that ‘if you don’t follow us and our beliefs, you are worth nothing,’ no, no, no—they will not be raised that way.
“Are we going to die?” one little girl asks, sitting up in a tree.
“I certainly hope not,” she replies, staring at the ruins of a temple in the distance.
“Are all those people dead?” the same girl questions, swinging her little legs.
“Maybe,” she blows out a puff of smoke, leaning on her staff.
Her thoughts drift to Cullen. Where is he now? Is he one of those people who may be dead?
To speed up his recovery, she had given him free will to do whatever he pleased. He opted to learn how to fight again, to learn how to hold a sword, to learn how to be the man he claims he used to be in his writing.
The Chantry prosecutes her for not keeping him in chains, saying he could do anything, and harm someone like a wild animal. Even though he isn’t exactly mentally stable, she gave the Sisters a hard slap in the face by letting Cullen go off and do things on his own. Her eyes nor her thoughts never leave him though, so she’s sure, if he’s alive, he should be fine.
She stayed behind, seeing as she can’t fight, and is caring for those who also can’t.
Children. Cripples. Those too scared to even move. They are all around her, lingering.
Just in case, most likely, something happens to them, they want her to be there.
But she tells them, all the time, that eventually, she will not be around anymore.
She tells the same thing to Cullen, but his reply is more than just a frustrated groan. It seems he cares more for her, than just her ability to heal and challenge him. When she asked him what he was thinking, he never told her. Not for a while. But then she found a journal, which she has in her hands now. In it, he wrote his thoughts.
Dying. HAH. As if I would ever let her die. I’d rather the Chantry turn me brainless.
He scribbles out a few things, and his handwriting becomes messier, more frantic.
I’d rather—I’d rather. I don’t know what I’d rather. I’d rather anything happen, then her die. Why? I have no idea. I bloody have no idea. Not because I’m an idiot, either. Not because I’m unable to walk or speak. Because even if I was in my prime state, I still could not come up with a valid reason why I want her to live so Maker damned badly.
Further down, he goes on to try and draw his thoughts, but he crosses that out too.
I don’t understand. I don’t get it. What is happening? Why can’t I THINK? It’s right here…
The page runs out, and flipping to the next one, it’s clear he ripped one out.
I don’t think she understands. The—The effect, she has on people. On me. What her merely being HERE does for everyone, for me. How her thoughts influence everyone around her, influence me. How her actions change people, how they change me. I don’t understand anything anymore, except that I’m lame. But I especially, even after much thought, don’t understand why I never want this woman to die.
And she laughs at me! Always chuckling with that silly giggle of hers. I don’t understand.
And she doesn’t either, she may get everyone, get me, but she doesn’t get herself!
I try to tell her. I try to show her. I try everything I possibly can, it’s never enough. When she told me one day, she won’t need to be here, with me, anymore, I was either about to cry or flip the table we were sitting at. I managed to do neither, simply thanks to the numbness in my veins.
He goes to the next page, and there are scribbles here, in the side columns.
She cares about ME. Of all the people—ME. Someone who is not only crippled, but ill. Mentally. I’m going insane. And it’s slow and I know it and—
He ripped out the bottom half of the page, on the next one, he continues.
And I hate it. I want to speak. Just once. JUST so I can say her name. That’s all I want…
Just a moment, just to tell her…
To show her…
That I don’t want her to die. That I would CARE. The ME and HER are tied together by fate.
Call me crazy, because I won’t care. I already know I am. But I’m crazy for her.
And I love it.
He stops there, but later, he writes a list that is titled: how to remember.
There are several things. Some are crossed out.
white. Silver eyes.
-scar on left cheek.
It was the last one that caught her attention. The rest above it are fact, but that, is an opinion.
-hands are like silk.
-her touch is like ice. Good ice. Cool, calming, soothing...
-quiet. No, observant.
No—ugh I have no idea what to call it.
-taps foot when nervous.
-smokes herbs to keep sane.
-bites bottom lip when thinking.
-does and says everything for a reason.
Oh, and that caught her eye too. “He remembered,” she whispers to herself, “good.”
Flipping the page, she finds a confusing mess of his thoughts.
Do I even have the CAPACITY to think she is pretty? Do I even have the RIGHT?
No. What in the world—I have no control over my mind. That’s it.
I’m no boy. I am well aware I am a thirty-year-old man who is capable of knowing whether a woman is pretty or not. But in my sorry case, thinking so will only harm me more. And probably creep her out. Which I do not wish to do, really.
So no, she’s not pretty.
But later, he writes—
What does that mean? Only he, and only maybe, will ever really know.
The pages go on endlessly. All about her. He’s distracting himself from his pain by thinking of normal things. Which is good, Elizabeth had encouraged him to get his mind off his situation. She used chess, people he knew, writing, humor, and other things to try and help. Yet, she never thought of women. A man’s second favorite distraction, right behind sports.
Deeper in the journal, he takes on a darker tone, a more realistic one.
It shows that he’s gaining more control of his thoughts. His handwriting is improved.
I had a dream—
That’s how the entire page begins, and ends. Then, exactly nine pages later, he continues.
I had no control over it. Over what I did.
But I am glad it was not a nightmare. If it had been…
I didn’t tell her about it. But I am sure, she will find out, like she always does. I’m sure of it.
I just hope she forgives me.
Despite his apparent thoughts she can literally read minds, she honestly has no idea what his dream was about. There are ways to tell what people’s dreams mean, but no way to know exactly what they are without the person telling. But telling a nightmare from a dream is simple, especially in Cullen’s case.
He shakes when he has a nightmare. He screams and he cries, and he begs for death.
Though he never remembers any of it when the sun comes up. All he has as a souvenir is a glaze over his eyes, a look on his face that is similar to a dead fish’s. It’s a mixture of his own confusion, as to what happened in his subconsciousness, and a heavy dread because he knows, in some weird way, what exactly happened, without remembering specifics.
Dreams are the one thing he will not share with her.
Which sucks, because dreams are keys to locked doors of the mind. Usually.
Most people forget their dreams. Cullen lives in his dreams. In his nightmares. He is always in his mind. Making up fanciful realities is something he likely does, simply to escape either the harsh reality of his life or the cruel truth of his nightmares.
Writing is helping though. Looking through his journal, seeing his thoughts as they go, it’s—
“Incredible,” for a moment, she thinks the voice is in her head, then she realizes it is real.
Closing the journal, she shoves it into her cloak pocket as she meets the stranger’s gaze. They have templar armor on. Softly, she tells the children to go hide, and as they run away, she taps her foot in the snow.
“Need something?” but her question is met with silence, a sly, unwelcome grin.
“Incredible,” the templar repeats, then glances at the burning temple. “Finally.”
She sighs. “I’m afraid I’m having trouble following you.”
“Incredible,” he says it again, this time pointing behind her. “She is—incredible.”
Looking behind herself, she notices another templar, standing stiff and tall.
“Hello,” she greets, glancing him up and down.
No glaze in his eyes. Must have his mind right. About a foot taller than me, could easily grab me with how close he is. I could run, but they could cut me off from both sides if I’m not fast enough. I need to get about 2.3 seconds ahead. Unless—
“They say you work wonders,” it’s clear this man is not brainwashed like the other.
“Me?” she looks around innocently, “I’m afraid you have the wrong woman.”
“Don’t play dumb,” he grabs her by her wrist, yanking her close so his breath makes her wince.
“What is it you want?”
“With your friend?” she nods to the man behind her.
“No,” he swallows a lump in his throat, “he’s been like that all his life. Come on.”
Dragging her along, the other man follows behind as he leads her off somewhere. Her staff stays in her other hand, in her strong grip, while her smoke falls out of her lips and into the snow. It seems like they walk for miles, and she’s limping on her right leg the entire time, watching the swirling pandemonium above become larger and larger.
Before she knows it, she’s at a crossing, near what had been the temple.
People are moaning. Crying. Wailing. There’s fire burning, crackling in the distance. Emerald orbs shooting down from the crack in the sky shake the earth. There are hundreds of people, just in this one area.
But the templar that has her in his hold takes her to a quieter area, where corpses are laid.
It makes her cringe, makes her hesitate. Not that she hasn’t seen dead people, but—
The stench, it’s rancid. The sight, it’s horrid. And the sounds, make her wish she was deaf.
The templar practically throws her forward, toward a man who is crying for his mother. His legs are missing, and his hands and arms are practically missing, his flesh burning off. His armor looks like it was melded into him. His eyes are no longer there, replaced by gushing waterfalls of crimson.
Covering her mouth, she tries not to be sick, listening to the man cry.
“The healers can’t do nothin’,” the templar tells her, pushing her, “so help him.”
There is a woman kneeling by him, patting his forehead with a cool cloth as he writhes on the dirty blanket they laid him on. Reluctantly, with snowy wind biting into her face, she kneels down beside him as well. The healer says nothing to her, and she says nothing to the healer, not just because she doesn’t like healers, but because she doesn’t know what to say.
“Help him!” the templar shouts when she does nothing, unsheathing his sword. “Or I’ll kill ya!” there are tears in his eyes, desperation making him go mad. He lines his blade up with her neck, making his point clear as day.
The man, who is still crying for his mother, starts waving his burnt arms around.
“Hold him down,” she asks the healer calmly, who complies, keeping him still.
Taking out a small white cloth from her cloak, she unfolds it slowly, then takes out a bottle of clear liquid. A few drops on the cloth soak into it, making it darker. The cloth sits slightly damp in her palm for a few moments, and then she leans forward, and presses it over the man’s mouth and nose.
He bites her a little at first, but soon, so very slowly, he grows quiet.
Until he’s silent. Dead, silent.
And then he’s not moving, limp on the ground.
Blood is spilling to her knees, warm and icky. Standing up, she puts away the vial and cloth.
“What did you do?” the templar who brought her here seethes, “what did you do?!”
“I gave him all I could,” she exhales, feeling ash burn her eyes, “mercy.”
Just as she goes to pick up her staff, the man shoves her to the ground. Her ankle throbs in searing pain, making her lose her breath as her vision flashes black for a second. Grunting, she tries to reach for her staff, only to have it kicked away by the raging templar before she can. The man is crying silently, tears running down his face in a steady stream.
“I wanted you to make him better,” he grips her by her scarf, “not kill him. How could you!”
“He was going to die,” she feels her breath quicken, “at least it was painless.”
The man sobs, then gives her a hard punch right across the face.
“Great,” she cracks her jaw, lifting herself up on one arm, “guess I deserved that.”
The templar is over by his dead brother, rocking back and forth, crying onto his chest.
The mindless one is just staring blankly, his raw lips parted slightly.
Around her, the chaos continues. There is no help. No emergency system at the ready.
It takes her a bit to crawl to her staff, even longer for her to stand up.
Looking around, she concludes that, no one is ever coming to help. Everyone is on their own. All this death, ruin, and pain, will only be overcome by the strong, the lucky ones. The idea crosses her mind that she could help, but even this small area, one of probably dozens, is too big for just her alone.
Yet people approach her anyway.
She listens, because, sadly, that is what she is meant to do with her life.
They cry for help, but she is no God. No Deity. She has mortal fixes, and she gets punished for not being what the rumors claimed she was. By the time no one is yanking her anymore, it’s dark out. It was morning when she began, when the Breach, as they are calling it, had exploded and started all this.
Exactly 564 people. That’s how many she knelt down to today, how many were in pain.
And that’s just how many she was able to make it to in time.
343 of them she had to offer a clean, painless death.
Her limbs are close to giving out on her, at this point, and so are her lungs.
Coughing is futile, no matter how much she does it, all that she feels is a burning, deep pain inside her chest. It never ends, and she coughs as she limps to Haven, watching as people run by her, and scatter in the distance. The small refuge is like a glowing beacon in the dark, illuminated by candlelight and the people inside its walls.
Elizabeth is not one to ask for help. Nor is she one to drop to her knees, and pray for it.
But in this current moment—oh, she understands. The concept of praying brings hope, which is what the world around her needs right now. No one pays any mind to her as she slugs one foot in front of the other, trying to make it through knee-deep snow. Her ankle and the side of her face throb in tandem, reminding her of her pain. Her lungs also cave in, making her cough more.
One glance down at herself, and she feels disgusting.
Covered in blood, dirt, grime, and guilt. Oh, the guilt is going to hit hard, later.
Thankfully, for now, a distraction runs up to her, panting for air.
“Thank the Maker,” he hugs her, getting his dirt mixed in with hers. He’s dressed in his Commander armor, though he’s just as messy as the rest of the soldiers. “I don’t know what in blazes happened today, but I heard you did a lot,” she has no response, averting her gaze, “the Seeker carried a prisoner down to the dungeons. We have belief she caused the explosion.”
“Where’s Cullen?” her question is sudden, all at once, she remembers him.
“Um,” he stammers in uncertainty, and she knows the answer without him having to say it.
“I don’t know,” she mocks in a sarcastic tone, “no one bloody knows anything!”
Frustration boils inside her. It’s hot, painful, and annoying.
“If I were Cullen,” she ponders, talking to Rylen behind her, “where would I be?”
“Last I saw him,” he stands beside her as she leans on her staff, “he was lookin’ for you, lass.”
“Lovely,” she lifts her staff out of the snow, “now we’re running in circles around each other.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for ‘im,” he promises, “but I got things to do. I just wanted to make sure you were alright,” he glances at her face for a moment, seeing something that makes him stare for a while. “Good luck finding him.”
“Good luck with—,” she sighs, waving her hand in the air, “everything.”
He chuckles as he jogs away, and that’s gotta be the happiest sound she’s heard all day.
Breathing deeply, she brushes her hair away from her face, trying to think.
“If I were him,” she murmurs to herself, “where would I be?” Then, “well, I’d be looking for me,” she starts limping forward, “so, if I was him, where do I think I would be?” her hair gets in her face again, so she pushes the loose strands from her bun behind her ear. “I’d be—,” she thinks, walking nowhere, thinking and thinking, “I’d be—,” she stops, “thinking the worst possible thing I could.”
As anyone who is fearing the unknown would.
So, after forcing her aching muscles to cooperate, she manages to get her legs moving. There are several places where the dead bodies that are found are being kept, laid out with blankets over them. One by one, she visits them, trying to decide if Cullen is looking for her corpse on the ground, or if she should be looking for his.
The moon is now hanging above everything, so serene in such a frenzied world.
There are actually two moons, which is even more ironic. How can the world still continue when such horrible things are happening down below? That was a question she had to answer in an essay once in college. The answer is simple, but hard to comprehend.
Even though she feels guilt, pain, grief, and fear for Cullen, the stars are still shining.
The wind is still blowing.
The trees are still growing.
And people are still living.
The world continues, even as hers stops, and she arrives at her last chance.
The last place where the dead are kept.
Her eyes scan the area, seeing hundreds of people, but no blonde heads, no amber eyes.
Biting her bottom lip, her heart sinks. Then she taps her foot, quicker and quicker, until—
“Elizabeth!” her name is called, but by an unfamiliar voice.
No one should know her actual name.
Perhaps it’s not her.
“Elizabeth!” they shout again. They’re male, have a deep baritone, and sound very distraught.
She feels bad for this other missing Elizabeth, they’re putting this man in a lot of pain.
“Elizabeth!” again the man cries, and this time the crowd breaks for him as he shoves through.
“Eliza—,” he stops, and then—
“Oh. My. God,” her jaw drops, and her eyes water over, “there’s no way…”
“Elizabeth,” her name, again, on familiar lips, in a voice, a tone she’s never heard.
“Nope,” she shakes her head as he starts walking toward her, “this—is this—happening—?”
This must be her imagination. A delusion her mind has mind up because of the stress of the day. Yes, that’s it. But everything crashes and conflicts when he runs up to her and hugs her, making this all so real. His earthy scent overwhelms her, also very real. The strong arms around her, are also very real. But no—none of this can be real!
He’s walking. Running, albeit a little sideways. And talking.
“Elizabeth,” he squeezes her tighter, “I—I had thought—I lost. I lost you. I thought—,”
“Thought I was dead?”
“Yes, well,” she clears her throat, then feels cold tears are falling down her cheeks.
“I—,” he pulls away, but she reacts and pulls him closer, hiding her face.
“I’m not,” she tries to keep her voice steady, because she doesn’t cry. “I’m not.”
And neither is he. Her mind so helpfully supplies, as more cold tears fall.
They stand there infinitely, under the stars, with death and destruction all around them.
But all she can think about, is whether he can feel her tears soaking through his shirt.
Chapter 6: Whilst it hath thought itself so blessed never!
Her condition is not improving. His is. The rest of the world, is. It seems like it, anyway. With each person she helps, whether it be physical or mental, her own self worsens. Over the past few weeks she’s been coughing more, biting her tongue when she limps on her bad leg, and worst of all—not telling anyone.
He has not spoken to anyone. He can’t. It’s like something in his brain just refuses to work when he attempts to communicate with anyone but her. His legs don’t work unless he’s running to her. His words don’t spill out unless he has something to tell her.
And most times it’s not even coherent things—just, wild thoughts.
He has been trying to get better.
She has been getting worse.
Worse is not the right word, though. There was nothing wrong with her to begin with. No, it’s the backlash of inhaling too much smoke. Of making too many potions, and burning her skin when she spills the pure oils on herself. It’s the sicknesses she gets from touching corrupted blood, open wounds with unspeakable things in them.
And her mind, it sickens too. With each dying soldier crying for someone that she kills, a part of her dies inside too. He sees it. Every time. No one else may, but he does. She is very good at playing it off, backing away and pretending it doesn’t affect her, but—it does, deeply. Even the children, ones who aren’t able to see, or think because of the trauma they’ve been through, that breaks her too.
But she’s saved lives. Saved minds and hearts. It hasn’t all been bad, really.
He shouldn’t care so much that she isn’t taking care of herself. It’s not his problem. And yet—
—that doesn’t stop him from patting her back when she coughs. He doesn’t hesitate to help her walk even though his own legs are failing him. If he wasn’t scared of hurting her, he’d give her a massage like she does for others, and heal her tired muscles. If his mind was right, and his tongue worked, he’d have an actual conversation with her.
It was only in that one moment. In that one sliver of time when he feared the worst, he was able to say and do something. But now that moment is long gone, and there have been many more moments where sometimes he wishes he had the fear back inside his heart just so he could wrap his arms around her again.
Like now. When she’s just sitting there, all alone, by herself, looking as though she needs—
“Help,” someone barges into her clinic, “I need help.”
It’s become routine now. Her silver gaze doesn’t even look up from where she’s staring down at her flat shoes on the ashy wooden floor. Vaguely, she nods to a chair near her, blowing out a puff of smoke from between her lips. If he could, he would prevent her from smoking anymore of the herbs she takes simply to take off the edge of death always looming around her.
Her skin has a ghostly glow as she stands up, the black dress and cloak she always wears not quite as dark as her tied up raven locks. The moonlight and candlelight clashing together inside create an ethereal awe, reflecting off her and making it impossible to look away.
The patients are a mother and her children, three of them.
It’s the one daughter the mother worries about, brushing her child’s brunette hair back as she speaks to Elizabeth. The girl won’t speak, and never looks anyone in the eye. The two boys, on the other hand, are rambunctious and curious. The mother goes on to say her daughter was fine just a few days ago, just like the boys.
Cullen keeps watch on the young boys as they scurry around.
He foggily remembers a time when he was like that, shoving Branson around, knocking things over like they are now. While watching the boys, he watches her too, interested as she gets on her knees to be at the girl’s height.
Just watching her work is something close to a blessing.
The daughter, after Elizabeth rubs her hands, finally looks up, an innocent glaze over her eyes.
But she never says anything, and the boys remain completely oblivious. The mother despairs, hiding her blotchy face in her hands. The two brothers chuckle when they find a potion of interest, but Elizabeth keeps her focus on the girl, even as they knock over glass.
“I have an idea,” she stands up, her eyes flicking to Cullen, just for a moment—, “we—,”
“Psychic,” someone peeks through the door, “Lady Montilyet wishes to see you.”
“It is urgent.”
“Everything is urgent,” she grumbles, then waves her hand in the air, and limps to the door.
Snow blows inside as the door shuts, laying white freckles on the dark ground. The boys knock over more things, and this time, the mother yells—now irritated, with tears running down her puffy cheeks. There’s a soothing incense flowing through the air, but it doesn’t seem to be keeping anyone calm but the little girl.
For what seems like just a few seconds, Cullen closes his eyes.
He ponders where Elizabeth is now, what she’s doing. The cotton shirt he’s wearing tickles his skin as a draft breezes inside, the distant sound of the fireplace crackling in his thoughts. He digs his nails into the thighs of his pants as he senses a presence nearby, then pops open his eyes to realize it is just the daughter, silent as ever.
They just stare at each other.
And stare more.
And in the background, the mother weeps, while her sons play with things they shouldn’t. The little girl only rises to about Cullen’s knees, so short one could step on her. Her eyes are big and dark like an oak tree, just like her hair. There’s a burn scar on the side of her face, and it trails down her neck, hidden underneath her hair.
Releasing her arms from around herself, the little girl shuffles forward, then hugs his leg.
His calve muscles tighten, and his heart races as he considers he could harm her. But Elizabeth has showed him how to control his movements, his mind, and so he practices that now with deep breaths and clear thoughts.
After a while, the girl tries to climb his leg. When she can’t, he lifts her up into his lap, her dark blue dress pooling around her. Her tiny hands play with the buttons of his shirt, and everything seems so eloquently peaceful inside and out. The only eeriness is Leliana’s crows perched at the window, watching.
“It hurt,” she undoes one of the buttons, then redoes it.
He would ask what hurt, but he can’t—he just can’t, do it.
But she keeps going anyway.
“This,” she whispers, tilting her neck, showing off the burn scar.
Forcing one tense hand off of his thigh, he lightly touches her scar, and she flinches.
Which makes him flinch. He glances at the mother, to see she is lost in space.
“Did yours hurt?” when she asks, she looks into his eyes, then points to his upper lip.
He touches his scar gingerly, one of many, but this, this is his most obvious.
“Mhm,” he hums, trying to wet his dry lips.
“How come you never talk?” she undoes the same button, and redoes it again. “That lady said you talk. But I’ve never heard you talk,” she looks down at the button as she slips it through the hole again, “she said you walk, but I’ve never seen you walk. She said you fight, but I’ve never seen you fight. Are you hiding yourself?”
He looks at the mother again, hoping she notices her daughter is speaking.
“Are you scared?” the girl continues, “because I am too. You’re not alone.”
Arching a dark blonde eyebrow, he focuses back on her dark gaze.
“It hurt,” she hides her face in his shirt, “the fire on my hands hurt me. I don’t want to hurt.”
Oh. A wave of guilt and confusion wash over him all at once. She’s a mage, clearly. That was the tingling he felt earlier when they walked in. He looks at her scar again, wondering what kind of incident caused her to do that to herself. And how her mother didn’t wonder how it happened.
“You feel nice,” she wraps her little arms around him, “it’s quiet around you.”
He can barely hear her, between her muffled whisper and the howling wind outside, it’s amazing he can even understand her. But after a few long minutes, he really understands her. At least he feels like he does. He slides his journal closer to him on the table, dips his quill in a well, and finds an empty page.
Don’t be afraid of who you are, he writes, embrace it, and learn to master it.
He taps the page, and the girl looks at the journal, reading slowly.
She takes the quill, leaning over the table to write.
I am afraid, she scribbles in messy script, I don’t want to hurt my brothers.
He takes the quill from her, his other arm keeping her on his lap.
You have to crawl before you can walk, his hand trembles a little, then soon, you’ll be running.
She giggles. “I don’t like running.”
He chuckles, for the first time in what feels like forever. “It’s a metaphor.”
“What’s a metaphor?”
But he freezes. Wait, he thinks, am I speaking? Or is she magically understanding me?
He has no time to process whether this girl used magic to speak to him, or if humor got his words out, because soon Elizabeth is back, falling through the one window in the small cabin.
“No,” she slams onto the ground, causing dust to puff up around her, “nope.”
“Psychic!” outside, a voice that is likely Josephine, shouts, “please, be professional!”
“I am not an entertainer!” she stands, brushing herself off, “whoever told them I predict the future is absurd. Fate changes all the time,” her sharp gaze focuses on the girl in his lap, and she lets out a small breath, lowering her voice. “Oh,” she lifts a dark eyebrow, “she speak yet?”
Then the door slams open, and she curses under her breath.
“If this is about those nobles—,”
Leliana steps inside, blowing away smoke as it leaves the door. Josephine follows behind her soon after, the gold on her dress glowing brightly in the dark. The mother walks by Cullen, picking up the girl, holding her on her hip as she herds her sons. Elizabeth throws the woman a vial of something clear with a hue of pink in it before the door closes.
“This is about what we discussed earlier,” the Spymaster begins.
“Oh,” for a moment, Elizabeth seems complying, “no.”
“You must understand our situation—,”
“And you must understand my situation.”
“But he’s been doing so well—,”
“No! We are not speaking of this here.”
Elizabeth goes to a table, where herbs and the like are scattered about. Lighting a match, she lights a small bowl of dark green and purple herbs, an orange glow flaming her pale face before it settles into thick smoke that she breathes in.
“You are making wonderful progress,” Leliana strides up behind her, her uniform always perfectly clean and tidy, even in a messy place like this. “Surely he is fit to lead,” Elizabeth slams the bowl on the table, creating a loud crashing noise that has the Ambassador jumping, “what you have done—,”
“Is not enough,” she shakes her head, raven locks flowing around her face as she does.
“He won’t speak for Christ’s sake! I can’t even get him to walk unless I put myself in danger!”
Elizabeth had spun around, and is now staring aggravatedly at the two women in front of her.
“What would you like me to do?” she goes on, lowering her tone, “threaten to kill myself just to get him to stand? That’s abusing his state of mind, hopefully you know that,” she blows a circle of smoke out in front of her, “I have no explanation for his condition. C—Clearly it is s—some kind of um, um—emotional psychosocial attachment. Where his body will only react if—,”
“I don’t really care what it is,” Leliana interrupts, “we need him.”
“He is not ready,” Elizabeth taps her nails on the table, “just get Cassandra if Rylen is incapable.”
“She is off with the Herald, you know this,” Leliana nearly lunges forward, and Cullen feels his legs twitch as his mind senses Elizabeth is about to be threatened. “You’ve gotten him to walk and talk before, can’t you do it again?”
“It’s not that simple,” she murmurs, her eyes watering from the smoke. “He—He clearly still isn’t right, he was only functional one day a—and that was weeks ago,” she walks over to another desk, where piles and piles of vellum lay, “I mean he’s t—thinking, but not,” she groans, clearly frustrated, “he just won’t be ready now, or anytime soon, I’m sorry.”
“Well,” Josie cuts through a thick silence, “what made him normal a few weeks ago?”
“He believed I was in danger,” Elizabeth answers, “after that, well—he fell back into this.”
They all glance at him for a moment, but he doesn’t really notice them looking, or feel it.
“Why did he only care about you?”
“Attachment Disorder? Dependent Personality Disorder? Clearly it is because I have been caring for him, and he has now found a fondness in me because I have been helping him. It’s the emotional part of his brain reacting, triggering the nerves in his psyche to—to light up, so to speak. To make him—normal, as you all like to say.”
“Rylen is deathly ill,” Josie mourns, clasping her delicate hands, “we need a new Commander.”
“I can’t just make him back to how he was,” Elizabeth looks wound up, like a tight string about to snap. “I—I’ve been trying and—and between everything else I have to do around here,” she lets out a long, sardonic laugh, “ugh, I don’t know. You’re putting a lot of pressure on me.”
“Then allow me to ease your trouble,” Leliana offers smoothly, then slides her hand into her robes. With Elizabeth’s back still to her, it’s like no time passes before she’s right there, with a knife in her hand, kicking her in her bad ankle so the Psychic falls the ground.
Cullen’s body reacts without him thinking, but it’s not enough. He jerks in his seat, but—
“Leliana!” Josie gasps, backing up as Elizabeth flips onto her back, holding the redhead’s wrists so to keep the knife aimed for her face as far as she can resist it back. “What—Have you gone mad? What in the Maker’s name are you doing?”
No one responds. Not Leliana, not Elizabeth, they both just grunt, their muscles tense as they strain against each other. Leliana has the advantage, not only in physical condition, but in fighting knowledge. For a split second, Cullen doesn’t believe she would actually hurt anyone, but then the knife in her hands pierces through Elizabeth’s shoulder, and—
“Fuck,” she curses, banging her head against the floor, “god fucking damnit—,”
Then Cullen is there, yanking on Leliana’s shoulder, throwing her off Elizabeth.
His strength isn’t at its best, but he’s been training, and definitely has more than her. Elizabeth rips the knife out of her shoulder, curling towards the wound as she writhes on the floor, cursing in pain as her shoulder bleeds. Josephine runs out to get a healer, but Elizabeth stops her, saying she doesn’t need a healer.
“You’re seeing a healer,” Cullen demands, and her silver eyes go wide.
Then Josie sneaks out, leaving the door open for snowflakes to float inside.
His legs keep him standing. His voice doesn’t waver. And his heart, it races like it hasn’t in years, fast and wonderful and oh—he may just pass out from the revitalizing sensation of it. With a huff and a cough, Leliana stands up, brushing herself off and rolling her shoulder smoothly before helping Elizabeth onto her feet.
“You almost killed me,” she breathes out, her hand over her wound, crimson coloring her skin.
“But look,” her sea-blue eyes glimmer at him, “it worked.”
“You could've hit a vital vein,” Elizabeth mumbles, inspecting her shoulder.
Ignoring the Psychic, Leliana walks up to Cullen. “I know you’re in there,” her tone is simple, but strict, striking him deep. “Maybe not in here,” she taps her skull, “but in here,” she taps his heart through his shirt, and his pulse beats throughout him. “Now, we need you Cullen. I need you. Cassandra needs you. The Herald needs you. Rylen needs you. Void, the entire world needs you.”
“Don’t—,” but he cuts off Elizabeth, raising his hand to silence her, which she obeys.
“I’m here,” he struggles with words still, but they come out strong and certain. “If you need me.”
“We do,” she desperately licks her torn lips, “we all do, Cullen. Please, tell me you’ll help us.”
“I’m not exactly perfect,” he admits, “but if you—,”
“Hey! Hey now, let me go! I will kick you!” Elizabeth shouts, as two soldiers grab her, with healers guiding them out of the clinic. “Hey! Hey! You can’t just grab me like this! I refuse to see any goddamn healers! Now let me go! Cullen! Leliana! Josie! Someone!”
The door shuts, and her shouting becomes distant.
“She needs you,” the Spymaster laugh-breathes her words, “she needs you to be strong, Cullen. It’s killing her that she can’t help you. You know that, right? It’s killing us all,” a tear falls down her pale cheek, “we miss you. And I’m not going to force you to do anything you don’t think you can, but we’re running low on morale here and—,” she sniffles, unable to finish her words.
“I can,” he glances at the journal laid out on the table, “I just have to crawl before I walk.”
It’s clear she doesn’t understand what he means, but he does, and somehow, he feels that little girl somehow heard him, and she understands too. He has to crawl before he walks. Walk before he runs. Run before he fights. And he won’t be getting off his hands and knees by just sitting inside this clinic and cowering in fear for the rest of his life.
And he won’t be able to protect Elizabeth if he can’t even keep a grip on a sword.
“I’ve been practicing,” he hasn’t spoken in so long, his throat feels foreign. “But it’s not enough. Not yet. I need just a little more time, a day or two, and then I can try—,”
“So long as you try,” she clutches his shirt, “that’s all I ask. Even trying would help us out.”
“I can try,” he assures, “I promise you that. But I can’t promise you I won’t fail.”
Slowly, she releases his shirt. “Failure is a part of life. It’s how we learn, how we grow. You are just growing, Cullen. This is just another obstacle in life you will overcome. I know it. I’ve known it ever since I found you and that crazy woman in that sanitorium. You two survived because you’re strong, you wouldn’t be breathing right now if you didn’t want to.”
“How many chances will I get to fail though?” he’s trying to be funny, but she doesn’t laugh.
“That’s up to you,” she backs away, “how many times are you going to get up again?”
He smirks, clenching his fists, testing his strength, his mind—himself, am I really ready to come back from another trauma? Should I just give in? No—I can’t. Kinloch. Kirkwall. Greenfell. Meeting Elizabeth. It has all prepared me for this last, wonderful chance. “As many times as I can force my legs to move,” he looks down at himself, “which isn’t many more.”
“Then use this last chance well,” she tilts her head up, wiping tears from her cheeks.
“I will,” he hears Elizabeth screaming in the distance, “I promise.”
Silence. Long, thoughtful, almost empowering, and then—
“Oi!” Rylen jumps through the window, couching up his lungs, holding the bloody bandage over one of his eyes. “Heard you’re taking my job! Knew you could do it!” he hacks up blood and spit, his skin a sickly swamp color. “Eh, good thing too. Death is grabbing my heart, lad.”
“How did you—?” but then he sees, big dark eyes peeping over the window. And soon after, a crumpled piece of parchment, with the words: he’s talking, walking, soon he’ll be fighting. He’s not afraid. And neither am I. Written on it in messy script.
“Well,” Leliana clears her throat, “we should first—,”
“Hey!” Elizabeth bursts through the door, pointing her finger at Cullen as she holds her bleeding wound with her other. “His mind is very delicate. His bones are still weak. One action or environmental case may trigger—,” someone comes up behind her, grabbing her under her arms, “let me go! I have things I need to do! I will not waste my time with pointless healing!”
“She’s right,” Leliana points out once she is gone again, “we need to be careful.”
“War ain’t a time to be careful, darlin’,” Rylen spits, “he just gonna have to be tough, eh?”
The question is directed at Cullen, but he finds no answer, as silent as he was before. But then, after swishing his tongue around in his mouth, and listening to Elizabeth scream bloody murder in the far reaches of Haven, he takes a deep breath.
“Hand me those books,” he tells Leliana, balancing several of the dusty tomes on his head when she reluctantly hands them to him. His legs still shake when he walks, but he locks his knees, focuses his eyes, and forces himself out of the crawling stage. When Rylen asks where the Void he’s going, all he replies is; “to see Elizabeth.”
Chapter 7: How have mine eyes out of their spheres been fitted
“Now just imagine for a moment,” waving her hands in the air, she ensures all their hazy eyes follow her movements. “We’re all about to burn to death. The door is locked, there is no way out,” she paces back and forth in the middle of the circle, dead silence making her all the louder, “what do you do?”
“Easy. Douse the fire with ice magic,” Alia answers, crossing her arms over her chest.
Elizabeth takes a deep breath. “Right,” she snaps her fingers, “magic. Satisfactory answer!”
“What if no one here was a mage?” Cassandra asks, and all the mages snort.
“Then you’d all be dead,” Vivienne snorts, looking at her manicured nails.
“I’m sure you all would find a way,” Solas concludes, leaning on his staff.
“We could break down the door,” Cullen suggests, “or the wall, or—,”
The willpower it takes to resist rolling her eyes is nearby unignorably painful. There’s a migraine settling deep behind her eyes, and she tries to rub it away as all the others in the room talk, giving their opinion.
“Enough!” she shouts, “that’s it! Enough group exercises for today. Wonderful job, everyone.”
The sarcasm in her tone is evident, but it’s nothing new. Everyone in Haven, whether they have been here a day or since the beginning, know all too well that her patience runs thin. These group therapy sessions have been—trying, to put it lightly. The Herald is recruiting all kinds of people! Even people with gray skin and horns, who are about eight feet tall and like to openly talk about sex all the time.
And people with severely bushy beards, and identity problems.
And people with a preference to throw cookies at people she hates rather than talk.
And people with a superiority attitude, who refuses to get along with anyone she doesn’t like.
And then the Herald herself—Lord! The only fire that matches her temper is her scarlet hair.
And there’s of course the people here from the start. Varric, who irritates Cassandra. And Cassandra, who irritates just about everyone. And Leliana and Josie, who are tied at the hip, keeping together like some kind of secret best friend club! And Cullen, who is still recovering, who only seems to want to deal with problems through violence!
Getting them to all work together. Impossible.
But that’s the task she’s been assigned, bloody stupid freaking idiotic annoying—
“Psychic,” oh, and then there’s a bald elf who the Herald can’t stop drooling at.
“Yes?” she tries to busy herself, hoping to give him a hint.
“I wanted to discuss what you said earlier,” he ignores her hinting, scooting around so that she’s forced to stare into his stormy eyes. “About the Psychological Stages of Development? There’s something I had a question about—,”
“I can answer it!” Alia pops in from out of nowhere, her lithe body so thin she can float through the air. “I listened intently to your words, Psychic. I feel like I know everything now!” she flutters her eyelashes at Solas, “hmm, Solas? Want to ask me? I think I could answer!”
“Uh—I’m alright, I’ll just—return later,” he nods his head, then nearly runs out.
“Darn,” Alia pouts her full, pink lips. “What did I do wrong?”
“If you fancy him,” Elizabeth lights a bowl of herbs, “do not scare him away.”
“I don’t get him! I learn the things he knows, attempt the things he does, listen to everything he says, and yet he runs away from me like the plague.” Alia is the definition of a model, with perfect, long scarlet hair, bright icy blue eyes, and kissable pale skin with freckles here and there. “But sometimes he acts interested in me. What is he doing?”
“It’s called fishing,” she blows out some smoke, “he pulls out the line right when you bite.”
“So I’m a fish? Great. Here I thought I was mediocrely attractive.”
“He finds you attractive.”
“How do you know?” she sits on the desk, forcing Elizabeth’s attention.
“His pupils dilate whenever he looks at you,” she taps her foot on the ground, “and—and he stares for longer than three seconds. He looks back at you a second time when you pass. He listens whenever you speak. It’s all signs that he’s interested.”
“Stupid,” Alia grumbles, staring at Elizabeth as she puffs out more smoke, “I don’t even care.”
“Mhm,” there’s sarcasm even in her humming, and she shakes her head as the elf hops away.
Just as she believes she has finally caught a blissful moment alone, someone knocks something over behind her. Feeling her headache throb she spins around, opening her mouth before she opens her eyes.
“Why are you still—,” she stops, “oh. Commander. Hello.”
“Ah,” he scrambles to pick up what he knocked over, only to knock more things over. Once he finally composes himself, he takes a deep breath, staring straight at her. “Psychic. Hello,” he clears his throat, a sign of nervousness. “You can um—call me Cullen, you know. You used to all the time.”
“But now you are someone new,” she gestures to him proudly, “you deserve your title.”
“Only because of you,” he chuckles, dipping his head low for a moment, “ah—hmm,” he rubs the back of his neck, another sign of anxiety. Tapping her foot doesn’t make her feel any better, and when he looks at her rapidly beating foot, she freezes. “Um—,”
“I have all night,” she jokes, leaning back on the desk.
“Hah, I um—,” but he still can’t speak, and not because of his mental condition.
This is—something new, something—perhaps—hmm, definitely nervousness. But why?
“You’re nervous,” he stiffens at her words, “going to tell me something sad? Let me get more herbs first—,”
“No, no, no,” he almost lunges forward, now only a few inches away from her. “I um, I just—am having trouble thinking,” but it’s clear that’s a lie, “I am—quite tired.”
“Then perhaps you should sleep,” she offers, “you can actually die from lack of sleep, you know, but before that all these terrible horrible things can—,”
“Ah,” he lets out a short breath, “I don’t want to sleep.”
“Oh,” she tilts her head to the side, “then, what would you like me to do?”
“Nothing,” he stares deeply into her eyes. “I—I want you to do nothing. You’re always—always doing something, don’t you ever get tired? I just—I just think maybe, maybe you deserve a break. You deserve to have something done for you.”
“I don’t need anything,” she laughs at just the mere idea of it all.
“I’m not! I am not a needy person, Commander.”
“There must be something I can do for you.”
“I need nor want nothing, besides your health and happiness.”
“That’s—,” he growls, “ridiculously cliché.”
“Perhaps,” she shrugs, “but it’s the truth, humorously enough.”
“I—,” he sighs, “am not leaving until I do something for you.”
“How about you get rid of that lag in your walk?” she faces him, biting her lower lip as she examines his bent knees. “That’ll make me happy,” she taps his legs, forcing him to straighten up. “Good, now—,” his legs bend again, “nope, you’re doing it again, see?”
“I can’t help it,” he admits, looking down at her as she breathes out gray smoke.
“I can,” she groans, cracking her aching spine as she stands. “Come, want to do something for me? Take my hand,” and so he takes her hand, his calloused fingers dwarfing hers as they saunter to the middle of the room. “Now, all we’re going to do is dance, okay? Just follow my lead.”
“Dance?” he shakes his blonde head, “I—I cannot dance.”
“Well, then just follow me,” she tilts his chin up when he looks down, forcing his amber gaze to focus on her silver eyes. Resting her hand on his shoulder, he rests his on her hip, their free hands interlocking off to the side. “Wonderful, now,” she begins the first step, pushing him backward, “don’t think about anything other than moving freely.”
“That’s—,” he trips over his feet, “actually quite hard.”
“Then don’t think at all,” she sighs, looking up at the ceiling.
“That’s hard too.”
“Jesus! Fine. Then tell me, how many times have you rubbed your neck in the past hour?”
“Um,” he stammers on the question, not thinking about his legs as he moves with her, and she tries to hide her smile when he flows into the movements. His kneed bend, and then straighten, keeping their position and not lagging much. “I don’t know. Maybe, three?”
“Hah,” she licks her lips, “more like three plus twelve.”
“There is no way.”
“Oh, trust me. I was counting.”
“Why?” he asks, and they spin, his hand on her waist tightening.
“I don’t know,” she admits, “my brain just notices things like that.”
“Well,” he sharpens his tone, “I notice things too.”
“Oh? Such as?”
“You don’t like people touching you.”
“I think that is obvious to anyone,” she retorts, avoiding his intense gaze.
“You flinch,” he digs deeper, “like you are scared they will hurt you.”
“Well, I am,” she bites her lower lip again, “Leliana did stab me, you know.”
“That just means she likes you,” he chuckles, pulling her closer.
“Oh,” she blushes a warm pink when she almost moans, feeling his muscled chest underneath the thin shirt he’s wearing. Normally he’s wearing some absurdly thick armor, with plate metal and cloth and—and oh, this is so much better. Wait—no! “Oh, um—hmm, um—,”
“Oh. No. No. No. I just—forgot, what I was saying.”
“Leliana stabbing you,” he informs, staring curiously at her, “are you sure nothing is wrong?”
“Mhm,” she keeps her focus on the dance, making sure his legs remain straight when they need to be, and remain bent when they must. That’s all she focuses on. Not on the heat enveloping her from his body, no, no, no. “Um, yes, she did stab me,” her mind feels like it’s melting, “what—what in the world, is it really hot in here?”
“It’s always cold in here,” he looks around the room, “just like you like it, hm?”
“Yes,” she tries to look anywhere but at him, “I do.”
“So! How have you been feeling lately?”
Even though she knows the answer, she asks anyway. Anything to get her mind off—
“Oh,” he curses when they trip on some books, his arm wrapping around her to catch her. If she was ice, she’d be melted all over the floor right now. He is so freaking warm. Which is good, because he used to be deathly cold, but—, “I’m sorry,” he speaks in a low, smooth tone, “didn’t see those there.”
“Me either,” she giggles, wondering what the hell is going on with her.
He pulls her to his feet, and she realizes his legs are finally working well.
“Perfect,” she separates as quickly as she can, staring at his knees, “see?”
“Oh,” he snorts, “I see. So this was just another treatment?”
“Good, right?” she lights a smoke, “and you didn’t even know.”
“I had a feeling,” he rubs his knees, then his neck, then his back and—when did his muscles get so defined? Can someone really become that ripped in just a few months? Well, clearly, yes. Yes Cullen can. Good. His physical condition is improving. “Um, thank you, I guess,” he meets her stare, “but I really wanted to do something for you.”
“You did,” she blows out smoke, “I don’t have to watch you waddle like a duck.”
“Says the woman with a limp,” he glances at her bad leg, then walks forward, bends down on one knee, and inspects it. “You could’ve fixed this a while ago,” he squeezes her ankle, and she winces, hissing between her teeth. “I told you to see a healer, but no, you have some weird phobia for them.”
“I’d rather a lame leg,” she admits, blushing as she looks down at his blonde hair.
“What do you hate so much about them?”
“I have time,” he looks up at her, his fingers resting on her bare ankle.
“I—I um,” she fails to find an excuse, “don’t you have to go Command things?”
“Eventually,” he chuckles airily, “but I wish to spend my little free time with you.”
“No you don’t,” she bites her tongue for a moment, “I’m a horrible person to talk to.”
“Then why does everyone in Thedas wish to speak with you?”
“Not sure. One of those mysterious anomalies, I’m assuming.”
He shakes his head, looking at her leg again. “I know why,” he murmurs.
Her curiosity tugs at her endlessly. “Why?”
“Can’t you read minds?” he lifts up her dress, looking at the rest of her leg.
“No,” she grouses upsettingly, “that’s a—ah! A—A myth. A complete rumor.”
He keeps squeezing her leg, finding all the points of pain in her muscles. Her ankle has been swollen ever since she left Greenfell, a large gash-scar where chains dug into her flesh. It’s red, turning yellow and black, and soon it might take her entire leg.
“You really need to take care of yourself,” he sounds and looks torn.
“I am,” she insists, through her noises of pain, “trust me.”
“I don’t,” he confesses blatantly, “not on this, anyway. You have no selfishness in you.”
“Oh, oh I do,” she nods as he stands, trying to get that concerned look off his handsome—off his face. “I—I can be plenty selfish! I—I ended the group activity early today just so I could get away from everyone. That’s selfish, yeah?”
“Nice try,” he mocks, “but I know from experience you don’t have a selfish bone in you.”
“I am,” her voice pitches higher as he steps closer, “I—I mean, I can—I can be selfish.”
“Then why don’t you let me do something for you? Let someone else do something?”
She runs short on an excuse, even on an answer, her face flaming a bright red flush.
“Commander—,” she feels weightless when he lifts her up, his strength surprising her, and she’s been keeping track of his incredible progress. “You—You have things to do, I’m sure,” he holds her under her legs and her back, out of her comfy, smoky clinic, “we—we can just do this—this later, right? I—I mean—,”
“Let me take care of you,” he whispers, “just once. That’s all I ask.”
“This—I—Ugh,” she lays back in his arms, “where are you taking me?”
“Out of that smokehouse,” he answers, walking through Haven. Dusk is clouding the sky, making the Breach glow a mixture of emerald and gold. Workers are ending their shifts, and soldiers are putting up their swords. “You will kill yourself if you stay locked in there,” snow covers them both as he carries her, all the way out of the inner part of Haven.
“I’m perfectly fine,” but the fact that she coughs her words proves her wrong.
“Mhm,” his amber eyes glow against the setting sun, “you need a bath. You reek like herbs.”
“I do not reek,” she snaps, “and I do not need a bath.”
Except she does, really badly. She just doesn’t want to admit it, or figure out how bathing works here without plumbing. Using the bathroom is bad enough.
“Fine,” he gives in, “at least wash your face off, though.”
His bargain makes no sense until he carries her to the edge of a lake. When he sets her down in the fluffy snow, she stares back at her reflection in the icy water. Her entire face is covered in what looks like soot, but is mostly a mixture of smoke and ash.
“Wow,” she touches her dirty skin, “I look like I’ve been stuck in a chimney.”
He doesn’t hear her joke, not like he’d get it anyway. Frigid wind blows by as he leans down next to her, dips his hands in the freezing water, then reaches for her face. Impulsively, she flinches away, blinking openly at him when he gives her a knowing look.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” his words salve a wound inside her she didn’t know she had.
When his fingers touch her cheeks, they’re chillingly cold, but also wet and soothing. He wipes under and around her eyes, then her nose, and her chin, and her forehead. By the time her entire face is wiped down, his hands are covered in black ash, and her skin is dripping with icy water.
“I—,” she touches her clean face, looking at her stained hands, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he washes off his hands in the lake, then stands up. “It’s not what I wanted, but I suppose it’s enough.” He moves to walk away, but she reaches out and grabs his pants, unsure why she just did that. “Um,” he looks back at her, “what’s wrong?”
“You’re doing a lot better,” she can’t seem to talk about anything but him, apparently.
“I am,” he stares at her hand still gripping him, “but I am far from how I want to be.”
“But—But you have come so far,” she releases his pants, “done more than most could.”
“I had a wonderful person by my side the entire time,” he smiles down at her, and she goes fish-eyed. “And that’s why I want to be better,” he goes on, “so that I can leave her breathless, so that I can show her she didn’t waste her time and care.”
“Um,” she feels dumbfounded, “are you—talking about me?”
“Well,” he chuckles, then rubs the back of his neck for the sixteenth time, “yes. I am.”
“Oh,” she chokes out. Oh? Really? That’s all you have? “Good,” wow, so much better.
After a long silence passes, another wind breezes by, and ruffles his golden curls, along with the fur on his mantle. “It’s also why I wanted to do something for you,” he glances at the darkening horizon, “but um, I have to go now. I suppose I’ll just try again later,” he turns around, and his boots crunch in the snow as he walks away.
“Wait!” she shouts, nearly slapping herself, “um—where are the um, the baths?”
He smirks. “Over there,” he points to them, “make sure you give the water time to heat.”
“Right,” she breathes out clear, white air. “Um—Thank you.”
“Anytime,” the way the dying sun accents his features is just—
He sticks his hands in his pockets, then walks off, and this time, she doesn’t stop him with a stupid blurt out of words. Her cheeks are hot enough to burn the snow though, so that’s something. It feels like an eternity passes, where she just sits in the snow in her cloak and dress, listening to the lapping water of the lake.
“Fishing, eh?” Alia jumps out of a nearby bush, “hmm, I see it now, I think.”
“I am not being fished!” Elizabeth points at the elf, “you are!”
“Mhm,” she squints her icy-blue eyes, “because you totally don’t look like a fish out of water right now.”
Focusing on her eyes, she stops stretching them, biting the inside of her cheek. Damn this sneaky woman with her glowing hand and snarky nature!
“That was—,” she huffs out a breath, limping to a stance, “he was just being kind.”
“Kind—,” Alia giggles, “Josie bringing me cookies is kind, that was—,” she starts laughing hysterically, unable to form a coherent sentence.
“I have no time for this,” Elizabeth groans, frustrated as she storms away.
Then, about ten feet into her tantrum—
“Baths are that way!” Alia cackles further into the coming night as Elizabeth freezes, turning the opposite way to head in the right direction. “Fishing!” the Herald muses as she follows behind Elizabeth, “it’s so much better when it’s not you.”
“I am not being fished,” she persists, feeling her heart race in her chest.
“Aw, you know I’m just pokin’ ya,” Alia actually pokes her, right in the back. The elf hops around like a bunny, her large ears twitching as they walk together. “I thought it was kinda cute, actually,” she shifts in her robes, the black and leaf-green colors moving with her. “He wouldn’t be like that if not for you, right? I think that’s why he always stares at you.”
Elizabeth remains silent, walking aimlessly through the snow with Alia at her side, and then—
“Wait,” she articulates, in the quietest tone she has ever used, “he—he stares at me?”
Chapter 8: In the distraction of this madding fever!
It’s become rather easy to fall into the simpleness of routine. It quickly became clear that is the easiest road to recovery. To being to walk, and talk. To being able to lead an army, and not give away that his mind is about to pop right out of his skull.
Just like he had in Kirkwall, he hides his pain by biting his tongue. When those who care ask him how he’s doing, all he replies is fine. Which, in retrospect, he is. They certainly have nothing to worry about. And they don’t, so long as he does his job.
The only person who still cares after all these months, is Elizabeth.
They’ve become friends. Though Varric would argue it’s something more.
“I’m tellin’ you, Curly,” he lays out his hand on the table, which is shaking from Bull’s laughter on the other side. “I’m betting you ten silvers you and her will end up together one day. Working at a clinic together, where you two heal the world and have tons of adorable babies,” he leans back in his chair, crossing his arms over his rogue robes.
“Sounds rather farfetched,” Cullen points out, looking down at his cards.
“Just you watch,” he grabs an ale, and chugs down a few honey gulps. “Once our inferno of a hero stops staring at Chuckles and closes the Breach, you won’t be able to leave her side,” glancing up at Cullen, the dwarf raises an auburn eyebrow. “I mean, think about it. What will you do once this war isn’t forcing her by your side? When you don’t need her anymore?”
“I am not forcing her by my side,” he grumbles, laying down his hand when he realizes Bull has the game won already. Then he considers the question. “And I’m not sure,” he murmurs over the noise of the tavern, “it’s hard to imagine this war being over.”
But there is no denying the thought has crossed his thoughts.
Late at night, after a long day of talking with her, usually…
“…and so it’s rather vacuous,” he jerks his head up when he hears her voice, along with the sound of a door banging open and footsteps stomping in. “That if your Maker does less, he is somehow more. How does that make any sense?”
“Exactly!” Alia, who is looking brightly at Elizabeth, locks arms with the Psychic.
“This is blasphemous!” Chancellor Roderick, followed by a few Sisters, and Mother Giselle, all stop themselves before entering the tavern. “You are the Herald of Andraste, Miss Lavellan! I know you are of low elven origin, but you must understand—,”
“Lizzie,” the elf tugs on Elizabeth’s arm, “use more of your fancy words.”
“I really don’t have time for this,” she complains, staring down at vellum with scribbles on it in her hands. “I have several places to be within the next ten minutes. So if you all could just,” she shoos them away with her bandaged hand, “go back to your Chantry and leave us alone, that’d be lovely.”
After a tense moment, Giselle convinces Roderick to let it go.
They walk away, and Alia slams the door.
Right as Solas walks inside. It smacks him right in the face, making the apostate groan.
“Oh! Sweet Mythal, I’m so sorry!” she yelps, hurrying to yank open the door.
As they find a table to heal his bloody nose in peace, Elizabeth keeps to herself, focusing on her papers. She doesn’t even take a moment to look around, nor does she stop to take a break. He wishes he had the courage to go up to her and ask her to stay, but she’s long gone out of the tavern before he even realizes.
“Totally fallin,’ Curly,” Varric shakes his auburn head, “hope you know that.”
“I am not,” he denies instinctively, still staring at the door, hoping she comes back in.
Eventually, he settles back in his seat and calms down his racing heart. Just seeing her has him tight as a bowstring. He tries to focus on the next few card games, but it’s nearly impossible with Alia and Solas giggling and using magic in a corner of the dim tavern. There’s laughter and chatter all around, but it all blurs together as he thinks about Elizabeth.
And how she looked, now gathering more ash and smoke on her skin and clothes. Her hair was a wave of long raven locks, dotted with pure white snow from the cold outside. It’s dark out, but the candlelight inside had illuminated her pale skin, that’s now starting to burn from the sun. Her clothes are still the same, long, black, and thick to keep warm.
She had a dress on, a cloak, a scarf, flat shoes, but she had something new—
“…Eh, Jackboot!” Sera calls, slamming her fist on the table, “get your head out of your ass and play your hand.”
He does, not even caring what cards he lays down.
There was a bracelet around her wrist. He can see it in his mind now, but where did she—
“…nice try, Curly,” Varric takes the gold piled in the center of the table, next to some glowing candles and spilt drinks. “Might as well just go talk to her. You’re just gonna keep losing money here,” the dwarf smiles at him for a moment, and Cullen takes that as his cue to excuse himself and leave.
The tavern fades away as he stands and exits, heading outside, feeling bitter wind hit his face. Tugging his mantle closer around his neck, he looks around, hoping she didn’t get too far. The ale in his belly is making his vision blurry, but only a little, enough to make him take longer than he normally would to decide where to go first.
He goes to her clinic, but she’s not there.
He goes to the training grounds, but all the healed soldiers claim she left.
He tries asking Cassandra, but the Seeker has no idea.
He walks around Haven, feeling a bit stupid, and also worried.
Standing at the center of Haven, he crosses his arms. He’s visited every place she might be, anyplace that someone would need her. He even checked the healer’s clinic, but of course she wasn’t there.
His heart starts racing again, painfully this time.
Licking his dry lips, he glances at the Chantry.
There’s no way. But then he considers his options. And that’s his only one left.
He starts shaking as he nears the building, one foot in front of the other, climbing up stairs and then stepping over rocks. Incense is flowing out of the open doors, with the same pungent smell that had been in Greenfell.
He takes a deep breath. Calm down. But his mind is having trouble listening.
Commander may be his title now, but he does not discuss war meetings in the war room with the rest of the advisors. Either they hold it outside, or a messenger sends what he missed. He has not been inside a Chantry since—
“Just do it,” he tells himself quietly, “just—for her.”
And so he takes a step forward. Then another. And another. Until finally, he breaks past the barrier. He can’t help but tremble still though, contracting his muscles to try and stop it. Only a few people stare, and they likely just think it’s from the weather.
He chokes on the first inhale of smoke, and steps back. One more foot forward, and he’ll be inside. His vision turns black for just a second as he takes the decisive step, letting out a strained breath once he’s inside. No one can notice his internal, mental struggle.
He’s all on his own.
His breathing is deep, open-mouthed and long. He doesn’t even care if people notice. Even the slightest movement has him flinching in fear. The candles lit everywhere blind him, glaring into bright orbs like a million suns scattered across the floor and walls.
His heart beats faster, and faster, so rapid it threatens to explode if he keeps going.
But he does, looking around frantically, hoping to see her and get them both out of here.
When sweat starts dripping down his brow, he wipes it away, gives in, and asks someone he can’t really see if they’ve seen her. They direct him to the dungeons, and he actually spins around completely in an attempt to leave and stay all at once. He ends up closing his eyes and heading down the dungeons. There’s a cold draft, just like in—
“Elizabeth,” he calls out, leaning against the wall, “Elizabeth, are you down here?”
His words start slurring together, no matter how hard he tries to keep them clear.
“Elizabeth,” again, he says her name to echoing walls, walking down the endless hall where dark dungeons await him at the end. Anxiety strikes him like lightning. A headache starts pounding in the back of his skull. “Elizabeth!”
Then he makes it there, and lets out a large sigh of relief.
“Thank the Maker—,” he walks forward, then stops, “what are you doing?”
“Shhh,” she whispers so quietly he barely hears. Her silver gaze does not meet his, but rather stays on the person she’s handing a warm bowl of soup to. “Here you are,” she murmurs to the man, who’s staring down at her hands, taking the wooden bowl from her.
“T—Thank you,” he croaks out, then curls in on himself and starts eating.
Cullen remains frozen in place as she stands up, so very slowly, as though she is trying not to frighten a cat or wake a baby. Her eyes do not leave the man, even as she slips through the bars of the cell he’s locked in, skinny enough to do so if she wiggles her chest and hips in and out enough.
He’ll never not be breathless when he looks at her. Or maybe it’s the fear still gripping him.
“You must be very quiet,” she presses her finger over her lips as she approaches him.
“Why?” he whispers, closing the distance between them.
“You don’t want to frighten them, do you?” she clutches to his cloak, pulling him closer subconsciously. Her eyes search around the dungeon. “Solitary confinement. They’ve all been in here a while now,” he looks around at the inmates, noticing most of them have some quirk about them.
Some are rocking back and forth, others are talking to themselves, some are just staring at nothing, not blinking. They all remind him of himself, and he feels his brain shut down for just a second. Pity, pain and a strange need to be close to Elizabeth overwhelm him all at once.
“And why exactly are you here?”
“To keep them company. Isolation can destroy the mind. It’s a cruel punishment.”
“How often do you come here?” he looks down at her as she looks around, still clutching to his cloak. “I thought you hated the Chantry.”
“I do,” she confirms, letting him go to pace around the dungeon. Her shoes click against hard stone. “But look at this,” her hands grip rusty cell bars, as her eyes look down at the people inside. “This just—isn’t right. Damn Chantry,” she rests her forehead against a bar, “so I bring them food, water, and someone to assure them they have not been forgotten.”
“Wow,” he walks up behind her, his knees shaking slightly. “I had no idea.”
“I figured I wouldn’t tell you,” she blinks her eyes at the woman staring at her. “I know the Chantry is not a place you enjoy being inside, and I didn’t want you to feel pressured to assist me.”
“It’s not a pleasant place for you either,” he reminds her, and she snickers.
“Nothing besides sleep is pleasant for me,” she confesses, letting go of the cell bars.
And then silence settles like dust, creating a bubble of an atmosphere so very different from the bustle and fun of the tavern. He stares at these isolated people, and then at Elizabeth, unable to stop himself from smiling for absolutely no reason at all.
“What?” she notices his smirk, and the more he tries to hide it, the more it shows.
“Nothing,” he shakes his head, letting out a few laughs.
“Oh, come on,” she turns around, “you’re laughing at me!”
“Seriously, it’s—,” he lets out a calming breath, “nothing.”
Oh, but it’s something, and he knows it too. He just isn’t sure what.
“Fine then,” she pouts, facing her back to him, “leave me in the dark.”
He waits a moment, watching her a little more. Then, as if a profound light has entered his mind, he understands why he’s smiling. Why he feels so soothed, even in this dark, empty place where nothing but cold likes to stay. Where nothing but bad memories linger, and where more horrible memories are being made.
“So you feed them,” he stands next to her, crossing his strong arms over his plated chest. “But what about yourself?” he remembers how easily she slipped through the bars, which someone shouldn’t be able to do. “When was the last time you ate?”
“…a while ago,” she swallows, avoiding his stare, “don’t worry about me.”
“I’m afraid I must,” he exhales, “since you won’t do it yourself.”
“I worry. Just not about myself.”
“Shouldn’t you though? What about—,”
He reaches out to grab her arm, but she jolts away, looking up into his amber eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she looks down at the ground, covering her middle with her arms. “That was um, unintentional. It’s just a reflex,” she flicks her gaze to his just for a moment, “I’m fine. Really. How are you feeling though? Have you been taking that potion like I’ve asked y—,”
Stopping mid-sentence, they keep their stare on each other as he lightly touches her abdomen. Pressing against the dress, his fingers feel her ribs, bones poking out of her skin. He grunts and resists rolling his eyes, noticing her face heating in shame.
“How long is your while, exactly?”
“I’m fine. I swear I had like, some bread or something this morning.”
“Elizabeth,” he groans, staring at the defined features of her face. She was rather thin when he met her, but had a certain plumpness to her body. Now it’s like she’s just skin and bone, covered in smoke, tears, and blood. “You need to eat. Please,” he stares empathetically at her, “for me, then. If not for yourself. Can’t help others if you starve to death.”
“I—Fine,” she crosses her arms. “But I’m not exactly hungry.”
“Because you’ve been smoking so much,” he grabs her by her wrist, then starts leading her out of the dungeons. “It does that to you, you know. First you lose your appetite, then you start hallucinating, next thing you know you’re running around naked screaming like you have the Blight.”
“Is this from personal experience?”
“Actually? Yes. Yes, it is.”
“You? Or someone else?”
He looks at her to see her humorous smirk dying, straightening out.
“Seriously?” she breaks from his grip, her silver eyes wide in the darkness of the hallway. “You—You took drugs? You smoked and—and did all that?” he nods, and she pokes his chest angrily. “How dare you! Do you know how unhealthy that is?”
“You do it,” he raises an eyebrow, “is it not bad for you too?”
“That’s different,” she backs away, lowering her gaze.
“No it isn’t,” he tries to laugh at the absurdity of it, “you’re just like me, Elizabeth.”
“We—You—Are—I—I am not a recovering addict,” she reminds him, “you are.”
“You will be too, if you don’t quit this stuff soon,” he steps forward, reaching out his gloved hand to wipe her cheek. He shows her the gray ash on his leather glove. “See this? It’s always on you, somewhere. That’s how I know,” he steps away from her, rubbing off the ash.
“Here I thought I was watching you,” she chuckles, pushing some hair behind her ear.
“I care about you too,” the words come out without much thought, and hearing them in his voice make his cheeks warm. “I—I mean, like, about your health, care,” he rubs the back of his neck. “I care about your health. That’s all I meant.”
“Right,” she nods, “and I—I care about yours.”
“Right,” and so, that deathly silence threatens to suffocate them both again.
They stand there, avoiding eye contact, hardly breathing, and then—
“Fine,” she sighs, turning to walk the rest of the way. “Let’s just get something to eat.”
He smiles as he follows behind her, noticing the limp still in her right leg. Part of him wants to just pick her up and carry her everywhere, or at least help heal her like she does for him. But he doesn’t, and they make it to a small stand where people are giving out bowls of stew before he has time to make up his mind.
They both grab a bowl, but he takes his bread and gives it to her, to which she thanks him with a frown.
“This is yours,” she emphasizes, shaking the bread in the air. “You need to eat, too.”
“I’ve already eaten three times today,” he holds the warm bowl in his hands as he walks with her, carefully stepping down icy steps to head to the outskirts of Haven. “I learnt from someone very smart that taking care of yourself is vital to taking care of others,” he throws her words back at her, and she curses under her breath.
“How dare you use my lessons against me,” she laughs, “is this really happening?”
“It is,” he chuckles deeply, “practice what you preach, Psychic.”
“I do,” she trudges through fluffy snow, holding her stew carefully, “Commander.”
“Back to titles now?” he looks up at the night sky, at the stars and the moons. “Great.”
“You started it!” she accuses, and then plops by the edge of the lake, snow rising up to her waist. A few drops of stew spill down the side of her bowl, but she scoops it up with her thumb and licks it off. “Ah,” she sighs, looking out at the icy lake as he sits down beside her, “you know, this is probably the longest I’ve ever been outside.”
“Really?” he holds his spoon, scooping up some stew. “Where were you before Greenfell?”
“Um,” she takes a bite of bread, “nowhere really,” she chews her food, her cheeks bulging as she eats copious amounts, clearly hungry.
“Nowhere?” he rests his stew in his lap, watching snowflakes fall into the murky liquid. “Where are you from, then? Your accent doesn’t sound familiar,” he doesn’t eat much, not feeling at all hungry, but wanting her to eat.
“Um,” she stammers again, something unusual for her. “Nowhere.”
“Nowhere?” he laughs at her now, scooting closer. “You must be joking.”
“I—,” she shoves some bread in her mouth, “mmm, mmmm mmm mmmmm mm mmm.”
“I’m not joking.”
He meets her stare as she swallows the last of her bread. “I’m from Honnleath, if that makes you any more comfortable,” he watches as she scoops stew into her mouth, “that’s the definition of nowhere.”
“Honnleath,” she ponders, “sounds cute.”
“My little sister thought the same thing.”
“You have siblings?”
He nods. “Two sisters and a brother.”
“Oh, cool,” she looks up at the sky, “I had four brothers.”
“Hmm. They’re not around anymore.”
“Oh,” he clears his throat, “I—apologize.”
She just continues eating, letting silence scrape away at his mind.
“You know,” she says once her stew is almost all gone, “this is really nice.”
“No. No. No. Talking. Without—having to deal with any problems. Just—simple, plain talking.”
“Glad I could help,” he sees all her bread is gone, “and look, you ate.”
“I did,” she smirks, winking at him, “just for you.”
“Oh, I feel so honored.”
“You should. I don’t just—sit, with people like this often.”
“Perhaps if you worked less—,”
“—says the workaholic—,”
They both glare at each other, then laugh.
“Uh,” she leans back, setting her bowl in the snow. “My feet hurt,” she kicks off her flat shoes.
“Probably because of your leg,” he points out, staring at her swollen ankle.
“Probably,” she tilts her head to the side, raven locks flow down her face, across her shoulders. “But they hurt before I—,” she stops herself, letting out a slow breath.
He presses his lips together, stuck staring at her.
“Let me help,” he demands, his sword hilt digging into his side as he crawls to her feet. White fog puffs in front of his lips, in front of hers, too, especially when she pulls her legs away and breathes shortly. “Elizabeth,” he warns, reaching for her leg, “come on, now.”
“Cullen,” finally, she says his name, and the world stops. “Um, Commander, please I—,”
“Need help,” he blushes still, at hearing his name, gently grabbing her calve and pulling her closer in the snow. “You’ve been limping for long enough,” he slides up her dress, and looks at the horrid swelling her ankle has decided to size up to. Her skin is also purple and black, dotted with faded yellow.
“I—,” she sighs, leaning back on her arms, “have no excuse.”
“Wonderful,” he settles in the snow, inspecting her ankle, “now, let’s see here," glancing at her wrist, he sees the woven bracelet hanging there. "Oh, by the way, where did you get that?"
"Oh," she looks at her wrist, then twists the bracelet, "from Alia. Some kind of friendship-thingy she wanted me to have."
He smiles, lightly massaging her leg. "Wow," he murmurs after a few seconds, "look at you, making your first friend."
The cold, fluffy snowball that hits him in the face isn't much of a surprise, but it does make him laugh.
Chapter 9: O benefit of ill! now I find true
Being a psychologist does not make her immune to the darker parts of reality. If anything, it makes her more aware of what waits beyond life, what the mind comes up with and how it is affected by the trials people go through. It is a sorrowful life. Her time serving the military had shown her that.
But things were different there.
Lives were easier to save. Medicine was abundant. Treatment options were many, and often were successful. Here, there is not only a lack of science, but a lack of value for life. Often the decision favors that of taking life rather than trying to save it.
Death is not an unusual thing for her. It was on Earth. People died there, too. People died in her arms, sometimes. Not much to do when you’re stuck in a third world country with nothing but words to offer the dying, the mad or the people begging for help. In Thedas, it’s like that everywhere. All the time.
She sharpened her mind, over time, to become used to this.
And though at first glance, one thinks she is succeeding, deep down she feels no satisfaction. Her time in the military was entirely professional. The lives that were lost, the minds that fell to madness, she had not blamed those on herself. Here though, here she cares. Which is not something she is used to. Caring. What even does that mean?
As a therapist, she has to care, of course—sure, that’s her job. But there’s something here, something she feels when she sees certain people. Something she feels when people greet her, or thank her for saving someone they know. There’s something breathtaking about knowing there are people close by, that she could go to, and they would listen to her.
And thus, when lives wither in her hands, she feels grief. For the first time in her career, there is something personal etching into her heart. It bleeds when they die, or when they are too mentally ill to be saved. Her eyes water when soldiers cry for their wives, or when children cry for their mothers, and all she can do is offer a calming smile, the best she can manage, and a cloth over their mouth and nose to end their misery.
With each day that passes, each week, each month, her hands become soaked with more blood. There is no end to it, though it always seems so close. That faint thought always lingers in her mind. One day, I will be the one dying. But she never shares that with anyone, because no one considers that. Why would they? She is here to help them, after all.
And it’s easy to forget that, in reality, she is just human.
Sometimes she thinks of herself as a machine. With a list in her mind, written anew every day. Do this, this, and this, and then try and do all of this. That’s her days, and her nights, but it’s the moments in between that she remembers.
It’s Cullen’s smile. Or Alia’s laugh. Or Solas’ lectures about the Fade. Or Cassandra’s disgruntled noise of disapproval. Varric’s sly smirk. Bull’s sexual innuendos. Sera’s snicker when she’s throwing pies at people. Leliana’s deathly glare. Josie’s always joyful attitude. Blackwall’s heroism, his words of his past. Vivienne’s intelligence, and her strict beliefs…
…really, there’s lots of things. And Elizabeth thinks of them all, especially in her darkest moments. For there are lots of dark moments of the world, and the mind breaks into the light by thinking of a happier time. A warmer place. A moment stored in the files of your history that brings a smile to your face.
And really, she doesn’t need to be complaining. Her job is what she loves doing, and what she does best. But, there are moments when she feels helpless, when she feels guilty, when the darkness of the world consumes her completely.
But then, her friends pull her out. With a smile, a laugh, something simple. But worth so much.
That’s how she keeps going. By thinking of those bright, warming times, but—
—sometimes, the mind is left to itself. And it’s too difficult to remember you are not alone.
Sometimes, there is no one there to save you.
And this is when it hurts. When reality crashes down. I care. I care. She screams to herself at night, in her thoughts, rolling around in her cold bed. Often she doesn’t sleep, preferring to busy herself by reading or making potions. But the voice is still there. I care. I care. Her hands shake as she works, her mind still thinking without her. You care. You care!
Over and over. It never stops.
And who does she think of? Well, lots of people, but it always comes back to—
—back to him, and his smile.
God. His smile could make angels cry. Sometimes she looks at him, and she’ll just stare. He probably thinks she’s insane by now, but she doesn’t care. As long as she can see him smile. It’s the most beautiful thing. He has white teeth, pink lips, dark stubble, a scar on his upper lip. His eyes wrinkle on the sides when he does, and he’s just so content.
And he’s looking at her.
Sometimes she does cry. Not in front of him, of course. But when she’s alone.
The tears fall without her knowing. They just drip onto the page she’s reading, blotting the ink around. Why am I crying? She’ll ask herself, but deep down, her bleeding heart knows the answer.
You care. You care!
I care. I care!
She cares. She cares so much. And her dreams, they are what force her to see this.
They force her into a world, a universe where, her darkest nightmare has swallowed her.
Because she cares. I care. I care! I care about him.
So, her mind tests her willpower.
What would you do? That voice asks her, if you cared too much?
There’s a line she has never had to cross before. Not in her profession, not in her normal life. There’s a decision she has never been forced to make. To do the right thing, and feel wrong, or do the wrong thing, and feel right. And so, tonight, her subconscious decides to play an evil game with her.
Dreams are hazy. It’s easy to tell you’re dreaming because it feels like reality is trying to tug you back. You forget your dreams because they are a figment made up by your mind.
Elizabeth is well aware she is dreaming now, but she does not know why.
There is that tugging feeling, trying to pull her out of sleep. There is a haziness, the fog that will make sure she will forget. But there is no purpose. Dreams have purpose, they give away what people are internally thinking and feeling, even if they do not realize.
Right now, she stands in a cold place. It’s dark, and quiet.
But she can feel her lips, and how chapped they are.
Then she starts to feel the rest of herself. Slowly, all her nerves light up with this icy fake life. Curling her fingers, that coldness stays. As though her blood is not there. She cannot see herself, even if she is aware she is here, standing. Wherever she is.
There’s silence. Hurtful silence, the kind that no one knows how to shatter.
And then there’s breathing. There’s someone else here.
They’re lying on a bed, but it’s too blurry for her too see. Walking towards it lets her hear the breathing more, as though it’s right in her ear, but she cannot see anything more. The fadedness of the bed makes the person on it stand out that much more.
Licking her chapped lips, she tries to speak, but her dream won’t allow her.
What would you do? The voice is back, echoing. If you cared too much?
Then, inside the palm of her numb hand, she feels something else. A cloth. It’s soft, about the size of her hand, ripped at the edges, just like the one she uses. The one she rubs her merciful potion on to offer mercy. It’s clear, so it doesn’t show on the cloth, and smells like nothing at all. Maybe a hint of medicinal herbs.
Cullen coughs. It’s gross, sickly, like he is dying. His eyes aren’t open. He’s just lying there, not moving or really breathing. His pale chest hardly rises with his strained breaths. The veins in his skin are clearly visible, drawn lines of crimson, azure, and pure white.
Her hand curls around the cloth.
There’s a blanket laid over him. Colored white. The color of death. When she looks down at herself, she sees she is in shrouded in black. Covered in her normal outfit that’s dirty with ash and herbs and blood. Black is representative of the visit of death, but white is the sign that death has come, and gone far, far away.
He coughs again.
Her attention is taken away from the colors so standout-ish in this dream. Around her, nothing is clear. All there is, is him, and whatever kind of bed he is lying on. Leaning forward, she lightly brushes some of his graying hair away with her thumb, his skin colder than hers. It makes her flinch away, makes a tear drip down her chin she didn’t know had fallen.
You care. You care!
I don’t care. I don’t care!
Then take his life, the voice whispers, give him mercy. Like everyone else.
Droplets of tears begin staining the white bedsheets. For a long time, she just stands there, leaning over him. There is no pain here. No sense of morality, no heavy gravity that’s making her think: I can make this better. There’s just this future, laid out in front of her, and a decision she is being forced to make.
You care. You care!
I don’t care! I don’t care!
Shutting her eyes, she wipes away her tears with her free hand. They come back immediately.
They’re cold, like everything else. There is no warmth, no sliver of hope, or happiness, but—
“…don’t cry,” he croaks out, sounding so unfamiliar. “I hate seeing you cry.”
“You’ve never seen me cry,” she points out, wiping her cheeks.
“Yes, I have,” he whispers, then opens his eyes, staring into hers with a dulled amber color. “I’ve seen you smile. I’ve heard you laugh, and I’ve heard you sob. I’ve seen you sleep, and I’ve seen you when you’re awake. I’ve been here all along, your best friend,” he coughs, “your lover. The father of your child. Your husband and—,” he coughs some more, “so much more. I’d spend eternity with you, if I could.”
What is this reality? She asks herself, staring down at him, what life is this?
“But—,” he begs for breath, reaching a trembling hand out to wrap his weak fingers around her wrist. “The lyrium has finally taken me from you. I don’t want you to see me like this any longer,” he blinks at her slowly, but no tears shed from his eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you. End this, Elizabeth. Give me mercy.”
“I—,” do it! “I can’t.”
You care! You care!
I don’t care! I don’t care!
“You have to,” he wheezes, “my mind will go soon, just like my body.”
She shakes her head, her hair grazing her face. “No. No. No. You’ll be fine. I can help.”
“It’s too late, Liz,” he sucks in air, “you did your best. That’s all I could have asked for.”
“This isn’t fair,” she cries, shutting her eyes. “Make this go away.”
“I wish I could, sweetheart,” he lets go of her wrist, “but this is the end.”
“You don’t want me to suffer, do you?”
“No. No I—of course I don’t, Cullen. I would never want—,”
“Then do it. End my life, please. I’m begging you. I don’t want to forget you.”
“You—You won’t,” she sniffles, opening her watery eyes. “I’ll do something.”
“You can’t,” he tells her, “you have to let me go, love. Please, I can’t stand seeing you cry.”
“I—No. There must be something I can do to help.”
“There’s not. I know you’ll be fine without me, just keep being happy. Keeping being you. You’re such a wonderful person. I was blessed to even have met you, and I thank the Maker every day for the time I spent with you.”
“We can spend more time together.”
“No. My time is up, Elizabeth.”
Denial bubbles hot inside her, but her physical form remains freezing. “No,” she cries, clutching at the icy sheets he’s lying on. “There is always more time, time is endless,” she blabbers on, her heart racing as she stares at his closed eyes. “I can give you more time, I—,”
He sucks in a sharp breath, like someone struck him in the chest. She steps back to make sure she didn’t do anything, but no—it’s nothing but his own body, killing him. His lungs grasp for breath, but can never seem to find enough. More tears well up in her eyes, never-ending, and that horrible feeling of uselessness never fades either.
It grows, fed by—
You care! You care!
I—I do care. I care so much.
“Please Cullen,” she hovers over him as he coughs, writhing on the bed. The azure veins glowing through his once tan skin brighten, and so she takes his hand, and tries to hold it, hold onto him. “Don’t—Don’t leave me,” her tears drip onto his chest, “I—I promise I—I can do something,” she chokes on her words as he gasps, and grips her hand too tightly.
“Please,” he begs, “I can feel my mind slipping.”
More excuses are about to leave her chapped lips, but they never get a chance. He groans in pain one last time, then it all disappears at once, like an explosion happened inside his heart. He’s not dead, because he’s still panting for air, but—
—his eyes, they’re glowing with lyrium.
And his grip on her hand, it laxes.
She stares at him, wondering what’s going on. He retracts his hand back to himself, then looks at her, opening his eyes fully. For a moment, there is faith he’s fine, but—
“Cullen?” she reaches out for him, and he jerks away, fearing her.
He doesn’t remember her.
“Cullen?” she laughs at herself, because she doesn’t want to cry anymore. “It’s me, Elizabeth.”
He’s lost the ability to speak. Lost the ability to move, his body not responding. It’s clear he’s thinking, but about what, she has no idea. He has no clue who she is, and seems to think her some demon trying to harm him.
The feeling of the soft cloth in her hand comes back to her.
“I can’t,” she breathes out, “I can’t.”
You care. You care!
“I care,” she admits, tears falling down her face. “I care.”
And this is her weakness. Her darkness, sitting somewhere deep and cold in the recesses of her heart. Were he another man, a stranger, one of the many templars she’s offered mercy before, this would be so easy. It would be simple. But this is him, and—
You have to do it, that voice in her mind tells her, you’ve already waited too long.
She’s hurting him, just so she can have more time. He asked her to do something, and she couldn’t, because she cares. She cares too much and now he’s suffering, and it’s all her fault. There’s no light in his eyes. No warmth on his skin. No beat over his heart. There’s nothing, nothing to save, nothing to redeem, nothing to bring back the man he was.
Do it, the voice grows louder, you have to!
“I can’t,” she whimpers, shaking her head.
You care! You care!
I care! I care! I care!
But then he makes a noise of pain, and clutches over his heart.
His entire body moves on the bed, trying to do something it can’t. He starts screaming, clawing at his hair, making his scalp bleed, and she just stands there. Everything snaps when he starts using his blunt nails to claw all over his flesh, mostly over his heart, staining the white sheets with crimson blood.
In such a fast, sudden motion, she lifts both of her hands.
One rests at the back of his head, while the other, with the cloth on it, covers his mouth and nose. He struggles against her, crying out, using his weak strength to try and pry her off. The more of the drug he inhales though, the weaker he becomes, and the more tears fall off her face and onto the bloody bed.
“I’m sorry,” she wails, taking a deep breath, “I’m so sorry, Cullen.”
As his cries die, hers become louder, filling this hazy space. His body goes limp, and his head falls back into her hand. Carefully, she holds his skull, slowly lowering him until he’s lying back down on the bed. There’s a bite mark through the cloth as she pulls it away, where he tried to make her stop.
“Oh God,” she cries, her voice breaking as she stumbles back. “What have I done?”
You care. You care!
“How could I?” she tries to look at him, but just can’t. “Oh, God, have mercy.”
Just as she falls to her knees in the dream, sobbing into her cold hands, the rope reality has on her tugs her awake. Out of her dream she wakes, bolting straight up, papers sticking to her face from where she fell asleep on her desk. Everything is calm. Except her, except her mind, except her heart and her soul.
There are tears dripping down her face in real life.
“Oh God,” she tries to stand up, but falls, her leg still healing. “Oh my God…”
Shoving everything off her desk, metal and books slam to the ground and crash. Her tears make a mess of her makeup, staining black on her hands. Around her small clinic she stumbles, waiting for the moment when the dream turns into something she can’t remember.
But it never comes.
All that comes, is sorrow, a complete, heart-wrenching pain that makes her scream and cry.
Guilt and pain fill her so much, she bursts, crawling on the floor to her staff leaning on the wall. Her dress and cloak weigh her down as she tries to stand, leaning on her bad leg, using her staff to hop out of her clinic. Unlocking the door in a rush, she trips outside, into the snow, where the world is calm around her.
Except she, is anything but calm.
It’s the dead of night. But she wouldn’t care if it was the middle of the day, where everyone could see her and know her weakness. Nothing in her mind matters now, except pushing out this excruciating sadness that’s corrupting her heart. That’s making her choke and cough. That’s making her cry and sob and do all sorts of things she’s never done before.
She knows his schedule like the back of her hand. She knows he’s still training, even though the moons are out. Especially with all the flow of new mages since Alia recruited them. But when she gets there, wobbling and crying, those not too frightened tell her the Commander is in the infirmary.
Her heart drops.
As fast as she can, she hurries there, shoving aside healers who try to calm her.
Inside the clinic, is Cullen and Rylen, sitting next to each other on a cot. Their expressions turn worried as soon as they see her, and Cullen tries to get up, only to have Elizabeth collapse on him and push him back down onto the bed. Her staff bangs on the wood floor, and the healers step back as she screams at them to leave.
“Hey, hey, hey,” he murmurs, “it’s okay. Shhh, what happened?”
“I’m so sorry,” she sobs, clutching at his thin shirt, “I’m so sorry.”
“Ey now, lass,” Rylen rubs her back, “it’s not your fault a mage hit him with a fireball. Happens all the time.”
She shakes her head, sniffling. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”
“…he’ll be fine, my dear,” an unfamiliar, accented tone says from somewhere in the clinic. “He’s a templar, he can handle a little magic.”
“Dorian,” Cullen growls, and she lifts herself up, staring at the man.
“He’s not a templar,” she seethes, and the mage’s grin turns straight.
“Elizabeth,” Cullen grabs her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes. But she just can’t, so she closes hers. “Hey, now, what’s wrong?” he wipes her cheeks with his thumbs, “I promise you I’m okay. You don’t need to cry,” but she keeps sobbing, and Rylen shrugs his shoulders when Cullen looks at him for advice. “Please, I can’t stand seeing you cry.”
You care! You care!
Memories of the dream flood back into her thoughts. That’s exactly what he said before…
“I’m so sorry,” over and over, she repeats it, crying into his warm chest.
“For what?” he asks, over and over, but she can never reply.
For caring, that voice in her mind tells her.
And for the first time in her entire life, she cries in front of others, and doesn’t try to stop.
Chapter 10: That better is by evil still made better;
Blood. Sweat. Crying. Screaming. The faint stench of death—
—he wakes panting, gasping for air, clutching cold sheets. Subconsciously, he breathes her name, still hearing her voice in his nightmare. Help me, please! Cullen, please! And he can still hear the slash of the blade as it sliced her throat. Even as he sits up and rubs his eyes, he can feel the templars tugging him back by his arms, and a heavy weight sinking down his heart.
He let her die.
It pains him still. Makes him clutch his chest, the void feeling there. Grossly cold sweat drips down his face. He looks down at himself, at the fur covering his legs, and moves, just to make sure he’s able to. Sometimes he fears waking up and being back in Greenfell. Other times, he fears waking up, and realizing she’s there too.
His mind repressed a certain memory from that time. When she had been taken, down into the dungeons, and tortured. He vaguely thinks of it each time she limps. Even though he had been mindless then, his memories are coming back to him one drop at a time, and now he remembers her screams.
And her cries.
And the lash of the whip as it had hit her.
It was far underground. He was trapped in his own mind. But still, he heard, and now—
“Maker,” he looks around the dark tent, wiping dried tears from his cheeks.
They would have killed her, had the Inquisition not come to their rescue. And even though she endured days and days of gruesome pain, she has not mentioned the time once. It reminds him of himself. He’s never told anyone of Kinloch. Not of what happened, or what he experienced or felt. Nothing.
And now, she’s doing the same.
But he knows. He was there, sort of, just unable to do anything.
And now it haunts him. The: you let that happen. It’s all your fault.
Now he has nightmares. And they escalate, each day without lyrium, as he remembers more and more. When he wakes up, it’s as though he’s still living in them. He can feel those women’s hands on him, and see their white dresses. He can smell iron and blood, and taste it in his mouth. He can hear demons, and now—
—now he hears her, a weakness.
He has a weakness.
Back in Kirkwall, he exploited them all. It made him stronger, he thought. Getting rid of anything his mind could use against him. Lyrium and the Order became his life. He pushed away care, reason, competence, for what? To end up in Greenfell again?
He scoffs at himself as he slides his legs off the bed, elbows on his knees.
He’s caring for her.
Damn him, and his stupid heart. He can’t care for her.
And it was easy not to, when she showed no vulnerability, but lately she’s been crying…
…and all he’s wanted to do is hold her, caress her hair, and whisper it’ll be okay.
Whisper that he’s here. Forever. Always.
Because she was there for him, when he needed someone most, and now—
“—in here? Ah,” Elizabeth crouches inside his tent, “there you are.”
—now he wants to be there for her, to dry her tears, and heal her heart.
“Is something wrong?”
“That is what I was going to ask you.”
Reaching inside her cloak, she takes out a crumpled parchment. Unraveling it reveals scribbled words, messily written. He’s screaming. Crying. He’s scared. For you. No longer just for himself. But for you. He cares too. Then she raises an eyebrow and folds the note, putting it away in a pocket on her dark dress.
“Where did you get that?” he asks.
“Um,” she looks down at her leg, and he notices the little girl from several weeks ago there. “She doesn’t speak,” wiggling her leg, she tries to get the girl off. “And now she won’t go away from me. I don’t know why. And she keeps writing these—,” she takes out dozens of crumpled notes, all with vague messages on them. “It’s rather incredible. It seems she can hear people’s thoughts.”
The girl is still wearing that some, worn blue dress. Her eyes are still dark like her brunette hair, and the burn scar down her face is still the same. The only difference is a certain look on her face. Terror. Silence. Like her mind is locked and the key has been thrown into the ocean.
“I had thought that before,” he says, “she was speaking to me when I wasn’t ah, right.”
“You were right,” she hisses, “you’ve always been right, Cullen. Don’t let the stupid Chantry tell you otherwise.”
“I’m serious. You’re fine. There is nothing wrong with you. It’s them who’s not right.”
Stillness settles. The girl blinks her eyes at him, and he sighs.
“Anyway,” he clears his throat, “why are you here?”
“I figured it was about you,” she admits, then plucks the girl off her, and walks forward.
Getting down on her knees, she lifts his pants up to his knees. They’re made of soft cotton, easy to move around in. She was the one who made him wear this, and get some rest in an actual bed. Her hands lightly touch his legs, making him shiver, and then she starts massaging his muscles, soothing aches he didn’t know he had.
“You don’t need to do this,” he tells her.
“It’s my job,” she claims, resting her forehead on his knee.
“I’m well now, Elizabeth. There are others who need you more.”
“I have Evelyn running my clinic. It’ll be fine.”
“Evelyn?” he questions, staring down at her.
“Evelyn Trevelyan. She was that Tranquil at Greenfell with us,” she answers, glancing up.
“You found a purpose for her?”
“A job. I pay her good coin.”
“Why?” he winces as she pushes on a tight muscle.
“Because,” she soothes him, easing the pain. “They were going to kill her.”
“By they I take it you mean the Chantry?”
“They said there was no use for her. So, I found one.”
He glances at the girl in the background, piling dirt into a mountain. “And what about her?” he nods his head toward the child, “why is she with you?”
“I have no idea,” she confesses, “she won’t say a word to me.”
“So, you’re just letting her follow you around?”
“I don’t really have a choice in the matter.”
Looking at the girl, he relaxes the muscles in his back. “Come here, sweetheart,” he says, and Elizabeth looks at him with wide eyes. Then she goes back to massaging his leg. The girl looks his way, then gets up, her hands dirty as she wipes them off. “What is your name?” as she comes near him, he lifts her under her arms, then sets her on his cot.
“Anna,” is all she replies, playing with the furs underneath her.
“Hmm,” Elizabeth hums, “so she only talks to you? Interesting.”
“Where is your mother?” he brushes back hair from the child’s face, revealing her big eyes.
“I don’t know,” she says honestly, “the healers say the darkness took her.”
Elizabeth stiffens, her hands pausing on his leg.
“Do you know what that is?”
“It’s a disease running through Haven. It’s actually called necrotizing fasciitis.”
“What does it do?”
“It’s a skin eating bacteria. Just—don’t, go near anyone with it.”
He watches as she stands up, then walks over to a small table. The candlelight wavers in the room as she shakes the wax, looking for something. “Why are they calling it darkness?” he continues, feeling the girl latch onto his arm.
“Because it turns your skin black before eating it away,” she finds some oil, and picks it up.
“Is it always lethal?”
“Here it is.”
“Here?” he draws his brows together as she kneels back down, “what do you mean, here?”
Her expression goes blank. “Nothing,” then she continues massaging him, now with warm oil.
For a while, they all just sit there. He tries not to look at her and think of his nightmares, but he can’t. He has to look at Anna to forget for a moment. Her hair needs to be brushed. She also needs a good bath and some sleep. When she starts coughing, he pats her back, helping her get it all out.
“Who knew you were so good with children,” Elizabeth quips, her fingers digging into his legs.
“I’m not,” he tells the truth, “I believe she likes me because of the lyrium in my blood.”
“Why would that make her like you?”
“She’s a mage. Mages’ magic is suppressed when they are near a templar.”
“You are not a templar,” for the hundredth time, she groans this. “How often must I repeat myself?”
“I was,” he says, “you have to remember that.”
“It doesn’t define who you are now,” she looks up at him, her silver gaze full of intensity.
“In a way, it does,” he thinks back on his nightmare, on his craving for lyrium.
Another long, drawn out few minutes of silence. Even though she’s not saying anything, he can tell she’s readying to give him a lecture. But what he gets shocks him. Standing up, she doesn’t step back and cross her arms like she normally does, rather she takes her oily hands and cradles his head, sitting in his lap.
Her legs straddle him, her breasts warm his face, and her lips brush his ear.
“You are still you,” her voice is a whisper, shaky. “And you are not a mindless monster.”
“I used to be,” he murmurs, “before you met me, Elizabeth I—,”
“I know,” she inhales a short breath, “Cullen I know. You told me back in Greenfell.”
“What?” he snaps, pulling back to look in her eyes. “What did I tell you?”
“You are not a bad person,” she ignores his question, her expression full of somber as she strokes his hair. Her breath mingles with his, and he realizes this is the closest they have ever been. “Even after what you did. What happened. Even after all that, you—,” she stops, stroking his nape, “you are a good man. I will die before I let the Chantry convince you otherwise.”
He grabs her arm, pulling it off his neck. “I will not let you die.”
“I may,” she looks down at Anna as she coughs, “this disease is taking everyone.”
He chokes, not sure how to fight fate. “Don’t,” he sighs, closing his eyes as he leans forward to hide his face in her neck. “Don’t let it take you from me. From anyone. We all need you. The Inquisition needs you. Alia needs you. I—,” he pauses, gripping her arm tighter.
“…don’t make me say it.”
“I won’t,” she uses her free hand to cup his skull, “I won’t ever make you do anything.”
And that’s why I need you. “Thank you,” he says, his tone breaking.
Eventually, his arms twine around her. They sit there, embracing each other, for what must be hours before someone interrupts them. Anna is asleep now, curled up on his cot. The candle in the tent blows out as someone barges in. Elizabeth’s arms slip from around his neck, and his from around her waist.
“We have a problem,” Cassandra declares, breathing heavy.
“We have a million problems,” Elizabeth retorts, turning to face her.
“The Herald,” the Seeker says cautiously, shifting her weight. “The darkness is taking her.”
“What?” Cullen barks in disbelief, but Elizabeth is already off his lap, running out.
Leaving Anna to rest, he follows the Seeker, who follows behind Elizabeth’s fast limp. Without her staff, she nearly falls face-first in the snow, but eventually makes it to the healers. There’s someone at the door that’s making everyone put a cloth over their face. Inside, there are people piled everywhere.
It’s like the dead have been piled up, but they are still coughing, moaning.
Their skin is literally being eaten away. In some people, bones are visible. It’s black in those who just got it, and in others, all there is, is tainted muscle and flesh. It reeks like rot and puke. Alia is in a corner with Solas at her side, leaning against the wall, coughing into a cloth she’s holding over her mouth.
“Where is it?” Elizabeth asks, kneeling down with Cullen and Cassandra behind her.
Solas shows her Alia’s arm, where a black shadow is covering her pale skin. “We just saw it today,” he claims, “and that’s when she started coughing.”
“Coughing?” The Psychic’s mind lights up, and then her glowing eyes turn to Cullen. “Get Anna,” she demands, and he tenses, running to leave the healer’s clinic as fast as he can.
When he gets to his tent, he whispers to Anna, telling her it’s going to be okay as he wakes her from her sleep and carries her in his arms. Taking her back to the healer’s, he sees Cassandra is carrying Alia, with Solas nearly biting his nails behind her.
“Where are we going?” Cullen asks, but Elizabeth shakes her head.
“I am going to give these two some treatment,” she tries to take Anna, but he backs up.
“I’m coming with you.”
“I can’t risk infecting more people with it.”
“And what about you?” he counters, “won’t you be exposed to it?”
“We need the Herald,” she grits her teeth, “Cullen, this is not the time for this.”
He’s about to fight with her when a group approaches. There are templars, and then there’s Roderick and Mother Giselle. The two look even older now, with those grim faces on. Before even a blink of an eye passes, the templars throw the flaming torches they are holding, and burn down the healer’s clinic.
For a moment, no one can say anything.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” Elizabeth seethes, charging for Roderick. Her eyes are fully of fury, her body movements full of rage despite her limp. “There are people in there!” she shouts, about to grab Roderick by his robes when a templar grabs her. “Let me go!” she screams, cries, and he starts reliving his nightmare.
Help me, please! Cullen, please!
Chaos whirls around him. People begin screaming and running around, some running into the clinic, while others run out. How many people burn inside, he has no idea. All he can hear are Elizabeth’s screams as she struggles. He and Cassandra set down the people they are holding far away from the fire, then run back to see if there’s anything to be done.
“Burn anyone with the darkness,” Roderick demands, “before it kills us all.”
Cassandra and Cullen share a look of: oh shit.
It doesn’t seem they know Alia or Anna have it.
“You can’t do this!” Elizabeth is still shouting at the top of her lungs. “Those are people! Not all of them had the darkness! You must believe me!” her teary eyes focus on Cullen, “help me, please! Cullen, please! Make them let me go!”
Immediately, something snaps in him.
Despite knowing he’ll be outnumbered and out-armored, he runs toward her, yanking the templars’ grip on her. But he is far weaker than them without lyrium, and he quickly gets grabbed himself, screaming to her to run before they catch her again.
He knows what he would find under their helmets. Emotionless eyes. Blank expressions.
The call of lyrium is so loud on them, that he has to wince away, tugging in their grip.
Elizabeth runs to the mages and begs them to douse the fire, which they do, after some convincing. But it’s too late. Most of the people inside have stopped screaming.
The Chancellor grits his teeth, charging for Elizabeth. He takes out a dagger from his robes. Cullen struggles in the hold he’s in, shouting for her to run away, his words not reaching her fast enough.
This is it. He starts crying, cold tears streaking down his cheeks. This is my nightmare.
But before Roderick can slice her throat, Giselle stops him, grabbing his arm, taking the dagger.
“We must burn all with the darkness!” Roderick demands, madness in his eyes.
Mother Giselle shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Roderick,” then she orders templars to take him away. The templars holding him let go, and as the Mother walks by him, she pats him on his shoulder. “Go to her, Child,” she whispers, “and keep her safe.”
He nods, swallowing a lump of suffocating death in his throat.
Walking up behind Elizabeth, he stares at her hair, loose strands from her bun blowing around.
“I was too late,” she murmurs, staring at the collapsing, burning clinic.
He has no words, nothing to say to comfort her. All he does is all he can think of. Standing behind her, he wraps his arms around her waist, savoring the heavy feel of her in his arms. He nuzzles her hair, hoping to smell something other than burning flesh.
They stand there for a while. People trickle out of the clinic, and those who know them run forward, praising the Maker. But lots of people never come out, and it’s not until the building is collapsed, nothing more than ashes and embers, that those who had cared for them begin mourning.
“We have to get Anna and Alia,” he whispers to her, “before they find out.”
“Right,” she turns around, forcing herself to look away from what she stared at for hours. They are both warm, from the heat and intensity of the fire. The mages spray ice and some people pour water as the chaos settles. “Thank you,” she says through all the noise, looking up into his eyes with a hazy glare. “For helping me.”
“You almost died,” he cups her skull, cradling her face in his neck. “I wasn’t able to save you.”
“I almost died?”
“Roderick tried to kill you. Giselle stopped him.”
“Oh,” she breathes against his thin shirt, “I guess I should thank her then.”
“Later,” he tells her when she tries to leave, “we need to get to the Herald.”
Despite her internal torment, she takes his hand, and they head to where they left Alia and Anna. The latter is leaning on the Herald, pinching her large ears. The entire inner circle is standing around Alia, but it’s Solas who picks her up this time, and carries her into Elizabeth’s clinic.
At the door, she stops them all, her hands outstretched.
“Only I will be in here,” she says as Cassandra carries Anna inside.
“No,” Cullen shakes his head, stepping forward, “I—,”
“…will be helping with that,” she points to the burned clinic, “as will the rest of you.”
“Elizabeth,” he grabs her arm, watching as Solas and Cassandra step outside, walking with the rest of the inner circle to salve the misery now seeping through Haven. “What if the darkness touches you?” he touches the softness of her hand, staring at her pale skin. “What if—,”
“I’ll be fine,” lifting herself up on her toes, she gives him a quick peck on the cheek.
“I can’t,” he pleads, following her, feeling her lips still on his stubbled cheek. “I can’t let you go.”
“You have to,” she says, backing up, the darkness of her clinic consuming her.
“Trust me. I’ll be fine, okay? Just, give me some time. I promise I’ll come see you.”
Watching that door close is probably the hardest thing he’s done in his life. Not breaking it down after its locked is even more difficult. For just a minute, he stands there, then clenches his fists and forces himself to turn away. Just as he gets out of earshot, he hears Alia scream in pain, and can’t help but freeze in place.
“What a mess,” Dorian comes up beside him, “damn Southern Chantry.”
“Dorian,” he says under his breath, “what if she—?”
“She’ll be fine,” his friend grabs his shoulder, “don’t you trust her?”
“I do,” he clutches his chest, over his heart. “But—,”
“Then you have to let her go sometimes. Have faith she’ll come back to you.”
“It’s not that. I know she’ll come back for me.”
“Then, what is it?” the mage asks, his robes glimmering under the moonlight.
“What if I’m not there for her?” he muses aloud, “what if I don’t come for her?”
All the Tevinter does is smile, then wrap his arm around his shoulder as he helps him back to his tent. He puts on his armor, dons his sword, and already feels more secure. He also takes a potion Elizabeth told him to swallow when he felt anxious. Immediately, he is soothed, at least for a while.
And it’s long enough to help. The Inquisition works to clean up the mess that the Chantry made, and Cullen is surprised to see a lot of mages help as well. They all speak of Alia, and wonder where she is. Every now and then, as he helps injured to other clinics, he glances at the shadowed building that is still locked, still dead quiet.
Hours pass. Eventually, the potion wears off, and his nerves itch under his skin again.
The longer she’s in there, the harder his headache pounds. Even as he goes into the war room, finally able to, and speaks with the rest of the war council, he cannot get his mind off her. They discuss the Chantry, and what to do about Roderick. Then, out of nowhere, Leliana clears her throat and takes the attention.
“…and about the Psychic,” the Spymaster begins slowly, “I have something of interest.”
“Oh?” Josephine hums, “something good?”
Outside, cheering interrupts Leliana. The entire council looks around, then decides to investigate. Charging out first, Cullen steps out of the Chantry as fast as he can, heading through Haven to where the clapping and hooting is. He has to break through a thick crowd to stand in front of Elizabeth’s clinic, and see her there.
With Alia leaning on her, and Anna holding her hand.
“All better!” Alia smiles holding up where the darkness had been on her arm.
Now there’s just a bandage, thick and covered with blood, but no more darkness.
Solas runs forward, hugging the Herald. The elf stands there in shock, her scarlet hair nearly flaming with joy when she realizes what is happening. When Solas tries to pull away, she jumps into his arms, and peppers kisses on his face as he tries to avoid them.
Looking at Elizabeth, he sees a content smile on her face. Anna is toying with her woven bracelet, moving it around. Eventually the crowd fades away, following the Herald, heading to the tavern to celebrate.
Taking a deep breath, he enjoys a moment of calm, then walks up to her.
The smile she greets him with makes his heart skip a beat.
“You did it,” he says, almost comically.
“I did,” she acknowledges, not believing herself. “Though now my clinic is a mess.”
“I’ll help you clean it,” he offers.
“Really?” she says, shrugging. “Alright, but it’ll take a while.”
Any excuse to spend more time with you. All he does is soak in her presence as they lock themselves inside her clinic with Anna, and begin cleaning up. Evelyn is here, wiping up blood and oils off the ground. They spend a while cleaning, picking up tools, glass, herbs, potions, books, and many more things before finally everything is spotless.
“There,” she sighs, plopping down in a chair after lighting an incense.
He sits down across from her, in the chair he used to basically live in, smiling at her.
“I thought I told you to stop this,” he says, looking at the smoke going up in the air.
“It’s to clean the air,” she opens the window by her, the window he used to stare out of.
“You use smoke to clean the air?”
“And to make it smell nice.”
He scoffs, shaking his head as he looks down at himself. “You’re insufferable.”
“I can be,” she admits, turning in her chair to face him. “But look, I kept my promise.”
“You did,” he whispers, more for himself than her.
Minutes pass. They sit there, thinking, simply enjoying one another being here. Evelyn and Anna are near a bookshelf, picking out books they think the other should read. The soundless silence of them not talking somehow brings him comfort. It seems Elizabeth just attracts people who don’t talk much.
“I’m so glad,” he blurts out, looking at her, lowering his voice. “That you’re okay.”
“And how are you?” she blows on the chessboard between them, making dust fly in the air.
“Fine,” he answers simply, “Haven is still reeling. But it’ll recover. The people, that is.”
“I still feel guilty,” she says quietly, “for what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault. Roderick is starting to go insane.”
“Technically, his thoughts were logical. Destroy the disease. I can see that…”
They set up the chess board, gradually, he waits for her to speak again.
“…but I should have been able to do more. When I was there I—I felt so helpless.”
“Now you know I feel,” he leans forward in his armor, “when you do things without me there.”
“You must feel helpless a lot then,” she snickers, grabbing the black pieces.
“You already know I do.”
“Cullen, listen to me—,”
“No, you listen to me—,”
“You are not helpless!” she shouts, standing up, her chair screeches against the wooden floor.
“I am!” he shouts back at her, standing, “I couldn’t even save you from Roderick! I wasn’t strong enough to get to you in time! You would’ve died. And I would have been right there, able to relive my guilt for the rest of my life. What’s going to happen when someone with actual skill tries to kill you, hm? Someone who has a reason to take your life?”
“Then I guess I’ll die,” she grits her teeth, “but it’s not because of you.”
“Yes, it is,” he slams his gloved fist on the table, shaking off the chess pieces. “I am supposed to protect you.”
He pants for air, not realizing how tight the muscles in his neck were getting. Once he tries to move, he groans in pain, nearly collapsing on himself. He feels shame eat away at him as her expression turns from anger to worry. Within a second, she is back to her calm self, running around the table to his side.
“You need to sit down,” she whispers softly, her fingers rubbing his temples.
For a second, he thinks, then takes a deep breath.
“I don’t want my nightmare to come true,” he exhales, so close to her that only she’ll hear his desperate words. His amber eyes haze over as he stares into hers. “It can’t. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” he breaks down, falling forward enough to wrap his arms around her, and pull her against his armored chest.
“You’d live your life,” she whispers, cupping his cheeks.
“No, I wouldn’t,” he tells her seriously, and her lips part, shock rendering her speechless.
The implication of what that means hits her. Her silver eyes water up, but she wipes them before any tears fall. Brushing some hair behind her ear, she sniffles, still stuck in silence. Behind them, Evelyn and Anna are quietly reading, not looking their way. Cullen just stares at Elizabeth, at the internal conflict that’s showing through her barriers.
Sitting back down in her chair, she keeps her glare on the chessboard.
“Come on,” she sniffles, trying to hard not to cry. “Let’s play,” her voice pitches high, shattering.
“Elizabeth,” he closes his eyes for a moment, trying to ease his burning fever enough to think. When he opens them again, he sluggishly moves behind her, his bones tired and his muscles aching. “I’m here,” he murmurs, leaning down to wrap his arms around her, “it’ll be okay. I’m sorry for saying that. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just—,”
Letting out a sob, she starts crying, leaning forward, hiding her wet face in her arms.
Unsure what to do, he rubs her back, trying his hardest not to cry with her.
Chapter 11: And ruin'd love, when it is built anew,
It leaves her staring at the dark for hours. What she is staring at, she has no idea. Where she is, she has no idea. Who she is, she has no idea. Everything is blank for countless time. Nothing feels forgotten, because there is nothing to forget. There is just nothing. Which is worse than if she were on the brink of perhaps knowing why she is currently breathing.
The last thing she remembers is coffee.
Warm, comforting coffee. The smell of it. The taste.
And it starts coming back.
The desk she fell asleep on, hard and uncomfortable.
The books that poked into her arms, into her face.
Flashes fly into her thoughts, figments of a life that must be hers. A clinical psychologist. That’s what she is. Working for the military. Her name is Elizabeth. She has a cat. And a car. And an apartment that has door that doesn’t open. It takes hours just for these basic things to come back to her, and then it’s like waves of too much information slam on her all at once.
It’s like zipping back in time, soaring through headspace, back to reality.
I’m here. In this weird world. Where there are too many soldiers who need therapy. Where there is a government that is corrupt. Where leadership sucks and where everyone is either dying or crying. I’m in this weird world where there are no phones. There are no computers. No modern medicine or modern comforts. I’m in this weird world of death a—
Her thoughts stop.
—a world my mind has made up to give me some kind of sensation of purpose.
It makes sense, she had taken too many anti-depressants with her coffee.
Those four orange pills.
The pills that make her forget, for a while. That make her dream, and fall asleep for a while. The pills she often took too many of because depression looms over her like a dark cloud that just doesn’t want to leave.
And no, no one knows. No one needs to know. Because she is a therapist, who helps others.
But, the question always lingers—what if she needs help?
Who will be there for her? Herself. Surely. That’s how it’s been for years, many, many years…
“…Elizabeth,” she hears her name, but has no idea who’s saying it.
They sound comforting, though. Perhaps her mind is making them up too. For she is still in this dream, this dream of this weird world where everything is horrible but also the best it’s ever been. Here, her depression fades. Here, she can really help people. Here, she can see the world, meet people, and not just sit at a desk all day pondering why she exists.
And here, she is vaguely aware, there is someone she cares for.
Care. I care. I care! That, she remembers too, but why?
“Elizabeth,” again, they whisper her name, and this time, they touch her.
It’s warm. So warm. It wasn’t cold until just now, until their warm touch graced her. Her cheeks flood with blood, and then, she realizes after slow seconds that pass by, she is naked. There are cool sheets touching her skin, all over, and a fur blanket over top of her. There’s a soft pillow under her head, which her long, fluffy hair is covering in raven colors.
“How are you feeling?” they ask, but she cannot formulate a response.
What happened? Where am I? But she can’t make a sound, not a single noise, and so she sets out to get answers on her own. That touch, which is on her belly, makes her shiver as she flips onto her side. The warmth, which are fingers, calloused and rough, move to her hip. They trail back and forth there, making her nerves tingle delightfully.
Her eyes feel like they were sealed shut. They crack as she opens them, sticking together.
But when she finally does open them…
“…there you are,” she croaks, her voice breathy.
Cullen. Cullen Rutherford is his name. And he is the man she cares for here.
“…here I am,” he answers with a smile, lying so close his breath tickles her lips.
He’s naked too, she realizes. At least it looks like it. The fur blanket stops at his hips, covering the lower half of him. His body is fuzzy, but muscular, from what her blurry vision can depict. Everything is blurry. Even the kisses he starts placing on her neck, are blurry. There’s something foggy about wherever they are, too.
“What do you mean?”
“What—,” she stops, looking at him, “why are we naked?”
“We made love,” he whispers in her ear, “don’t you remember?”
No. Not really. But saying that just seems immoral, so she doesn’t. Instead she takes a moment to think. Just think. Trying to process what is going on. Then she takes into account the feeling of nothingness still inside her. No pain, specifically. There should be pain. There is always a hurtful ache in her heart, lodged there.
Clearing her throat, she takes a deep breath.
Then her hands find their way to his muscled chest, and she pushes.
Lightly at first, then harder when he doesn’t move.
Just as she breaks out of his embrace, she falls off the bed they were on, onto a cold, hard floor.
This is when she realizes that was just a dream.
And now she is in another bed, and this is very real.
Because there is pain. Her head hurts. Her throat is dry. Her eyes are sore. There is that hurtful ache, lodged in her heart. Everything is normal, and cold too. Her messy hair tickles her back as she sits up, rubbing her eyes, trying to get that image of Cullen out of her head. But it’s stuck behind her eyelids. That warmth in his amber eyes, that fake love she was feeling.
Looking around, she realizes she is actually in a bed, actually next to Cullen Rutherford.
It’s like some weird matrix shit is happening. A dream inside a dream inside a dream. Maybe she’s in a coma, still sleeping on her desk in her office. Or fuck it, maybe she’s dead. Because for the first time in forever, she actually feels alive. She had thought by now she would have woken up, would have gone back to her boring, everyday life.
Yet here she is, lying next to the one person she cares for, naked, in a bed.
What the FUCK?
He isn’t awake though. He’s asleep, with his back facing her. There’s something slightly familiar about the tent they are in. It’s all a blur though, a tunnel of questions. But the deep sleep she just woke up from is like freezing water was dunked over her head. All the drugs she smoked are gone, no longer hazing her mind.
And her anti-depressants are gone too, so that dullness the pills give her are no longer clogging her thoughts.
It’s like everything up to this point wasn’t real. It’s like that was all a dream, and this is real. But that’s not true at all, because she’s still here, in this weird world with this man she cares for and a purpose in life.
It’s—It’s an indescribable feeling, being so free, like she is a new person.
But she’s still her, with silver eyes and black hair.
Every part of her feels dizzy. And so she lies down, hoping to get the feeling off. Part of her wants to throw up. Another part of her wants to sleep. And another part of her really wants to know why she’s lying naked in bed next to Cullen.
There’s a thick taste of something slightly gross and heady on her tongue, and a throb of a pounding hammer on the back of her skull. No matter how much she rolls around, how much she groans and hides her face in a pillow, the heavy drag of life just won’t go away.
Sleeping isn’t even an option.
Talking seems like a lot of work.
All she wants to do is just lay here.
But then that warm touch grazes her, like it had in her dream. It’s not gentle like it was then though, it’s rough, and confused, like he doesn’t know what the hell he’s trying to grab. Then he ends up just rolling over, putting his face right in front of hers. He looks just as bad as her, dark circles under his eyes, different pigments in his skin, and a knotted head of blonde hair.
There’s also bruises all over his scarred body, fresh and purple, slightly brown in places.
What the FUCK?
“Cullen,” she says, groaning when he doesn’t answer. “Cullen, what the hell—,”
He grunts, hiding his face in a pillow as he lies on his front. “Shhh.”
“Cullen, look. We’re freaking naked in bed together.”
Rolling her eyes, she takes her pillow, then hits him with it, making him moan in annoyance.
“We need to figure out what happened,” she says, her voice deep and breathy.
“You got wasted. I tried to stop you but—,” his reply is blunt, honest, and he shakes his head as he thinks. “You just kept drinking. Then you started telling people their futures like some crazy lady. Then you and Alia decided to set the Chantry on fire with flaming whiskey bottles. Then I broke you out of the dungeons. We got into a fight and…”
He sounds like he just falls asleep, but she waits for him to continue.
“…and it got sort of violent. You kept throwing things at me. Then you got a knife in your hands and started running around naked with it. I had to detain you and keep you in here, making sure you just stayed in bed and didn’t hurt yourself. You kept going on and on about how you’re from another world, how you shouldn’t be here, and then you tried to have sex with me.”
After a long pause, she licks her dry lips.
“Huh,” she hums, not sure how she’ll ever live any of that down, “what was the fight about?”
“I’m not really sure,” he says, flipping on his side to face her, and she briefly sees under the furs he is wearing thin underwear. “I told you to stop drinking and calm down. You called me an addict and said you wish you never met me. Then I got mad, and you started crying, saying you felt bad. Then I started crying and—,” he lets out another groan, “I don’t really know, Elizabeth. All I know is I’m so tired I think I might die if I don’t sleep more.”
“God,” she breathes, grabbing her pillow, hiding her face. “Kill me please.”
“I might,” he mumbles, “if you don’t shush. I’ve heard you talk enough for a lifetime.”
Right. Keeping her lips shut, she breathes through the pillow, only aware of the rise and fall of her bare back. So we didn’t have sex. That’s good. But she did say a lot, a lot of which she doesn’t remember. And she even tried to have sex with him. Great. Not to mention confessing she’s not from here. At least he doesn’t believe her.
Despite all the embarrassment she feels, there is something so very wonderful about this moment in time. It feels clear. Fresh. That dark cloud that is normally over her head is gone, gone with the heavy sleep she got, gone with all the ranting she probably did while drunk, gone with all the vulnerability she let Cullen see in her.
For the first time in her life, she was the one being cared for.
The sensation that floods her heart is overwhelming. He did all that for me. He stayed by her side, even when she was being crazy. He tried to calm her down, tried to keep her safe. He kept watch over her, kept her in a nice, safe bed. He made sure that even though she was being a delusional drunk, nothing horrible would happen to her.
It makes her smile. The thought of it all, but it also mortifies her beyond belief.
“Thank you,” she whispers, unsure if he hears, “for taking care of me.”
“I always will,” he replies to her surprise, “even if you’re throwing knives at me.”
“I can’t believe I was so upset.”
“You were under a lot of stress. You have to take a break sometimes, you know.”
“I guess,” she murmurs, “kind of hard when everyone wants my help.”
“And you’re giving them help,” he says, “but sometimes you have to let yourself be helped.”
“Otherwise I’ll set things on fire?”
“And strip spontaneously for no reason at all, shouting: ‘love me, Cullen! Please!’”
“I did not say that,” she growls into the pillow.
“You did,” he chuckles deeply, “you should have seen Cassandra’s face.”
“No. That never happened.”
“It did. It was kinda cute, actually. Minus me having to chase you with your boobs out.”
“I actually hate myself,” she nearly sobs, but too tired to cry.
“Oh, please,” he soothes, and his hand starts rubbing her back, “don’t cry.”
“I’m not,” she says, her voice cracking.
“You sound like you’re about to,” he points out, his fingers trailing along her back.
Damn him. How has this happened? How has he gotten to know her so well, that he now knows her better than she knows herself? How has any of this happened? Her mind can’t even comprehend an answer, and so she gives up on finding one, simply enjoying the feel of his hand rubbing her back.
Then he tries to stop.
“…don’t stop,” she says, slurring her words.
“…I knew you liked this,” he softly replies, putting his hand on her back again.
“You know too much about me.”
“I might. You said a lot of things last night that I still remember.”
The curiosity to ask gnaws at her, but she can never do it. There’s just something nice about being ignorant. And if she stops bringing it up, then perhaps, over time, it will just fade away. Her eyes relax at this thought, as do her muscles, and so she sinks into the bed, falling asleep to his hand rubbing her back gently.
Up, down. Across her shoulderblades, then her spine. Down to her lower back, just above her ass, making her shiver in pleasure. He’s awfully good at this. And every now and then, he’ll brush her hair out of the way, making her fingers curl into the pillow she’s holding onto tightly.
“…for example,” he says after a while, “you kept begging me to love you.”
“Just forget it, please,” she sighs.
“Do you really want to have sex with me that bad?”
In a hurry, she sits up, but freezes once she sees the humor on his face. His hand lingers on her back, then retracts, and she settles on her knees. They stare at each other, the comical tone he had taken dies, and he sits up to be eye-level with her.
Waiting for an answer.
But there is no way she is confessing: I was begging for love in hopes you would get rid of the void of depression eating away at my mind and heart. No, no way at all. And so instead she fakes a smile, brushes some hair behind her ear, and looks into his worried gaze.
“…I mean, it was,” she corrects, “it was about sex.”
“…and now you’re lying to me,” he shifts on the bed, moving closer, “why?”
Because I’m pathetic, she hisses the words at herself, smiling at him.
“I’m not lying.”
“You are. Your voice pitches higher when you do.”
“Cullen, I don’t want—,”
“You don’t want what, hm? Don’t want to tell me the truth—?”
“I don’t want you to—,”
“Don’t want me to what? Don’t want me to think something about—?”
“I don’t want you to think less of me!”
“Why would I think less of you?”
“Because,” she says, glaring into his eyes, “I am not as strong as you think.”
“You’re very strong,” he insists, “you—,”
“I’m not,” she denies, looking down in shame. “I’m really not.”
“Elizabeth,” he whispers, cupping her face, tiling her chin up. “You are.”
Shaking her head, she remains silent, knowing if her eyes weren’t so dry, she’d be crying.
He raises his other hand, cupping her face entirely. His hold is so gentle, so different than what the scars on his skin show. Slowly, he tries to pull her closer, leaning closer to her, but she, in little bursts, yanks herself away. This isn’t right, but he won’t let her go, closing his eyes as his breath mingles with hers, I’m not good enough for you.
But his lips prove her wrong.
He kisses her like she’s the only person in the world, like this is her last day, and he’s telling her without words just how much she means to him. Helplessly, she opens up to him, her heart cracking to pieces as she starts kissing him back.
Slowly, so slowly. Like if they go any faster something bad will happen, will ruin it all.
It doesn’t feel real, so she grabs onto his hands to make sure it is, holding him tight so he doesn’t let go. The kiss becomes languid, messy and warm and wet. His tongue delves past her lips, dancing with hers, and she moans, helpless to what he’s making her feel.
Powerless to resist what he’s doing.
Defenseless to stop the noises she’s making.
His stubble scrapes her, gives her a feeling that she wants more of. His lips are soft, dented by the scar carved on his top one. There’s something melancholy about this kiss. They never separate. Never break apart. Never even take a moment for air. It’s like if they do, this will all be ruined. If they leave now, they will never come back to this one, perfect moment.
And so they kiss for hours, days, weeks, months, and years—time is nothing, not now.
It hurts when he finally pulls away, with his lips swollen, and saliva shining on them.
“Maker,” his hands slip off her face, rubbing his own in what shows as regret.
“I’m sorry,” is her immediate thought, baffled and stunned.
“Don’t be sorry,” he whispers, “I shouldn’t have—,”
“No, this is my fault,” she feels her heart race faster and faster, “I—,”
“No, Cullen, really—,”
“It was me who—,”
“I was the one who—,”
They both sigh, at a loss for words. Far better at smooching than talking, hm?
Now her head is really dizzy, and she feels like she has a fever.
“I’ll just go,” she says after a moment, sliding off the bed.
“That’s probably best,” he replies, then makes a hushed cursing sound.
Pausing her search for her clothes, she looks back at him, seeing he’s holding his head in pain. Drawing her brows together in concern, she forgoes her clothes in favor of kneeling back onto the bed, asking him if he’s okay. He insists that he is, over and over, telling her to please leave. Leave, leave, he tells her, but she doesn’t listen.
Feeling his forehead, it’s clear he has a fever.
He’s sweat-slicked, pale, tired, and looks close to puking.
“Was my breath that bad?” she tries to lighten the mood with humor.
But he can’t laugh, attempts to, but can’t. “My heart hurts,” he tells her, holding his chest.
Just as she fully sits back on the bed, about to feel his pulse, he goes limp and heavy on the bed. His eyes stay open, but he doesn’t respond. Shouting his name doesn’t work. Snapping her fingers and shaking him doesn’t either. He starts throwing up, but it isn’t gross and discolored, it’s clear and azure-colored, staining the sheets and furs beneath him as she lays him on his side.
Chapter 12: Grows fairer than at first, more strong, far greater.
He thinks on her last words as he wakes, hearing bells: ring, ring, ring.
I SWEAR. I will KILL whoever gave him LYRIUM. I WILL.
He wanted to tell her, at the time. Wanted to confess that it was himself, who took the lyrium. It was working fine, for a while—the cravings finally left, as did the headaches and the other problems, it’s how he was healing so fast. But then it all crashed, at the exact wrong moment, and now he has no idea what’s become of her.
Bells just keep ringing.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
Warning bells, he figures that out after a few moments of gathering his thoughts. All throughout Haven, they bang their blasting noise, blaring his headache beyond what he can handle. The heavy weight of his body weighs him down as he sits up, swinging his legs off the infirmary bed, staring around at an empty clinic.
This is Elizabeth’s clinic, it shouldn’t be—
“Hello, Commander,” he jerks at Evelyn’s smooth, monotone voice. “We need your assistance.”
“With what?” he asks, standing, “what’s going on?”
“Haven is being attacked. The Herald closed the Breach. Soon after, red templars came.”
“What? Seriously? They’re attacking—right now?”
“Yes, Ser,” she nods, pushing some loose blonde hair behind her ear, “they are.”
“What—,” he stops, looking around at all the dust settled, “where is Elizabeth?”
“The Psychic was taken away. They deemed her too dangerous.”
“Dangerous? How could she possibly be dangerous?”
“They accused her of trying to kill you,” she shifts on her feet, “they said they found you, close to death, poisoned by lyrium. Miss Elizabeth was the only one near you at the time. Roderick ordered she be condemned and punished for attempted murder.”
“That’s—,” he grunts, stepping forward, “did she try to defend herself?”
“Yes. I did as well. Though they would not listen, the Chantry won the argument.”
“Do you know where they took her?”
“I would recommend focusing on the current impending problem,” she advises, pointing out of the window. Fire and ash is falling from the sky, and in the distance—little lights, soldiers charging, faster and faster towards Haven. “They will be here soon. We must prepare. Your leadership will be most valuable, Commander.”
“I—,” he lets out a deep breath, “what happened wasn’t her fault.”
“I know,” she says, almost empathetically, “Miss Elizabeth cares too much to try and kill you.”
“And what of Anna?”
“I’m sorry, Ser. The little girl disappeared soon after the Psychic was taken.”
“Alright,” his voice is shaky, his heart and mind not ready. “Get to safety, Evelyn. The Chantry is probably the best building to hide in for now. And if you can, find Elizabeth and Anna for me.”
“I will try my best, Ser,” she bows, then, picking up her robes, and a book, she leaves.
He follows soon after her, grabbing the sword laid by his bed. He also finds his armor, clean and neatly piled (likely by Evelyn), near the bed. Hurrying to dress himself, as soon as the last clasp on his armor is clipped, he reaches for the sword he threw on the ground.
There’s a note, wrapped by a tight string around the steel.
And now he’s scared. Scared of being weak, and now he’s afraid. He always is.
He crumples the note, throwing it to the ground.
That was clearly Anna.
He shakes his hair out of his face, feeling the damp curls touch his forehead. There’s sweat coated on his back, sticking his pants tight to his legs and his shirt to his chest. It all disappears as he steps outside, and the chill of the night—added with the chill of fear, touches him. His vision is blurry still from sleep, the armor unfamiliar and heavy.
In the distance, near the gates, he sees familiar faces.
When he runs up to the advisors (and Cassandra), they glare at him oddly.
“You’re—You’re awake, thank the Maker,” the Seeker says, “we need you.”
“What is happening?” he questions to them all, noticing Alia is standing stunned at the gates.
They tell him everything. How between the time he passed out, and the time he woke up—the Herald closed the Breach and effectively made Haven a bleeding target. What they fail to mention though, through all the chaos and calamity, is a word about Elizabeth.
“And what of Elizabeth?” he asks, and no one answers—not a word.
“They took her,” Alia finally speaks, her tone strangely dark, “she tried to kill you. I didn’t think she would do such a thing—,” her voice cracks, “but I guess I thought wrong. I suppose it was foolish of me to get so close to her.”
“No. No. No, she didn’t try to kill me,” he insists, “she—,”
Someone bangs on the gates, taking the attention of everyone elsewhere. He is forced to grit his teeth, shut his jaw, and focus on the situation at hand. He goes out with Alia as she runs past the gates, greeted by a boy wearing a weird hate, holding bloody daggers. He explains what is going on, but it sort of flies over Cullen’s head, as he notices—in the distance…
“…Samson?” he blurts out.
“And that is his Elder One,” the boy—Cole, explains, “he wants to kill you,” he says to Alia.
“We won’t let that happen,” Cullen assures her, seeing her shake slightly. “Don’t worry.”
“I hope you have a plan,” the Herald chokes out, staring at the oncoming army.
“I—,” he pauses, trying to think—think dammit. “Yes,” but, in all honesty, that’s a lie.
But he makes one up on the spot, seeing his soldiers already readying the trebuchets. He tells Alia to help them, to clear out the red templars that are now attacking. Then he runs around like mad, directing just about everyone in Haven to do a different thing. Civilians hide. Soldiers fight. Mages stay behind, giving cover fire. Anyone in Alia’s inner circle helps with anything they can, mostly protecting her.
And then something just feels wrong, like a heavy, gross pit has sunk into his stomach.
He searches around for Elizabeth—finding no silver eyes, and no black hair. Everything is too chaotic. And then, sure enough, things have to only get worse as time slowly trickles on. He helps his men fight, finding his best officers—Rylen, who always remains at his side. They are both taking down a Behemoth when his friend brings up a heart-wrenching question.
“Did Elizabeth really try to kill you?”
“No. Everyone has it all wrong, she didn’t do anything.”
“That’s what I thought,” he pants for air, slicing through a red templar, “but the Chantry—well, Roderick, was more than happy to find a reason to get her in trouble. You ought to find her, lad. None of us have seen her since they took her.”
“I’ll find her,” he says, more for himself than anyone, “I will.”
But the more he fights on, the more his words become hollow. Meaningless. He saves hundreds of people, men, women, children, but never finds Elizabeth. He’s forced to leave the outside area of Haven as a dragon soars through the sky, wreaking havoc and destroying everything.
The stench of death is so familiar, that he doesn’t notice it until he sees the dead bodies lying in crimson-stained snow. The deafening noise of screams and crying doesn’t hit his ears, until Alia comes running up to the gate he’s holding open for her, trying to keep a straight face as tears streak down her dirty cheeks.
“They’re slaughtering us,” she sobs, running through the gate, “all of us!”
“We should get to the Chantry,” he exhales, looking up at the sky. “The dragon will have the most trouble destroying that building. Try to help anyone you can on the way,” he glances around, one last hopeful look in hopes of seeing Elizabeth.
Alia nods, wiping tears from her face. He feels pity for her—small thing that she is, barely able to handle killing a bug on the ground. Death does not go well with her, and it never has. When she runs off though, he sees Dorian and Solas coming to comfort her and help her fight, with the rest of the inner circle saving those still not in the Chantry yet.
Each step closer to the building burns his feet, makes his heart tear, his eyes water.
But the roar—the thunder of the dragon’s beating wings, forces him to hurry.
What if Elizabeth is still out here?
But no—it’s too late, Roderick is limping inside, with Cole helping him in, and the large doors are shutting for good. It’s rather ironic that their final place of salvation, of protection, is the very place Cullen has come to despise the most. He can’t help but charge up to Roderick when he plops down in a chair, his hand over a bloody stain on his robe.
“Where is Elizabeth?” he demands, gripping the old man by his collar.
“The—The Psychic?” he coughs, “we have more important matters at the moment, Commander.”
“I know you used what happened to me just to get her in trouble. Where is she?”
“She tried to kill you! I was simply protecting the rest of us!”
“You know damn well she wouldn’t try to kill me,” he growls, “you son of a—,”
“Cullen!” Cassandra shouts, pulling him back by his shoulder. “Focus.”
“No, I say let him punch the old bastard,” Dorian chimes in, “we’re all dying, anyway.”
“We can’t be,” Alia heaves out her breaths, blood staining her armor, “we can’t—right?”
They argue for a long time—too long, about what to do. All the while people run around like mad, crowded in the Chantry, making him feel suffocated. His mind blurs. He starts losing this hopeless fight, not seeing a way out. There’s a dragon. A never-ending army. Samson. Some kind of Elder-God, what hope do they have?
“…there is a path,” Roderick croaks, “taken during the Summer Pilgrimage, it can get us out.”
“But we need a distraction,” Cassandra states, “that thing will see us leaving.”
Alia suddenly bolts up, breaking out of the embrace Solas was holding her in. Standing in the middle of everything, her icy-blue eyes glow fiercely, full of power and determination. Her mark flares emerald in the darkness of the dim Chantry as she clenches her fists, her magic igniting through the air.
“He wants me?” she licks her sliced lips, “fine. He can have me. I’ll go out there.”
“And this is why we need Elizabeth,” Dorian quips, “I’m sure there’s a more logical plan.”
“We don’t have a lot of time to think of one,” Solas claims, “I will go with her.”
“Suicide party?” Sera readies her bow, “I’m down.”
“I will go as well,” Cassandra declares, “the rest of you, follow Roderick and help people out.”
Everyone silently acknowledges their role, though secretly, Cullen has trouble accepting his. Leaving Haven behind. Leaving Elizabeth and her clinic behind, leaving all these memories behind. But there is no other choice. And so he musters up what strength he has left, shouts orders to his men, telling some to go one way and others to go another.
It’s all so chaotic, and he isn’t even sure why this is happening.
Why? Why? Why? The question eats away at him, bringing pain to his heart.
“You are hurt,” Cole appears out of nowhere, “pain for her, and you—you miss her.”
“I more than miss her,” he says darkly, “I need her.”
“And she needs you. The dark has swallowed her. She cannot see, or move.”
“Can you tell me where she is?”
“They took her down,” the boy answers, “down, where it’s cold and dark, where a familiar stench of blood and iron fill the air. It makes her skin chill. Makes her ankle ache. Makes her think of you, and your screams.”
He’s sprinting before he realizes, hurrying to the stairs while everyone else is sprinting down the path Roderick is leading them on. But he’s not alone, Cole follows behind him—making them the last two left in the Chantry. All he can hear is his racing heart, his pounding footsteps, the rush of blood flowing all through his tired muscles.
It’s so dark down here—so dark, and stinks like rotten blood.
“Elizabeth,” he calls out, seeing some cells have been broken open.
No one is left.
“Elizabeth!” he clenches his gloved fists, turning to face Cole. “Where is she?”
He points to a wall just as the building shakes, the dragon making rubble crumble and the foundation tremble. His feet trip over each other from the shaking, but he makes it to where the boy is pointing. He looks down, searches around, seeing nothing but small pools of blood. And then, in a corner—Anna, sitting with a book clutched to her chest.
“Anna,” he sighs in relief, kneeling down to her height, “are you okay?”
“Fine,” she replies, “they did not notice me sneaking down here.”
“Where is Elizabeth?”
“Mommy is up there.”
He draws his brows together—two things: mommy? And then: up where?
Then he looks up, and—
“Oh my Maker,” he breathes out, stumbling back, “Elizabeth…”
“…leave me alone!” she cries, writhing on her chains, “get out of my head!”
Hung up on the wall like a morbid painting, she’s hung by chains, her hands high above her head. Her legs are dangling, swaying back and forth with the shake of the building. He steps closer to her, wary of her kicking him, but then realizes she can’t see him. There’s a bloody cloth over her eyes, ripped and torn, tied loosely around her head.
He reaches up, cursing when he realizes the chains are locked on.
Then, beside him, Cole appears, with keys jingling in his bandaged hand.
Taking them, he unlocks the chains. Elizabeth falls, nearly slamming on the ground, but he catches her. Trying to writhe in his arms, she starts flailing her arms, crying and screaming, forcing him to hold her arms down.
“What happened?” he breathes out, “what did they do to you?”
“They tried to get the demons out,” Anna says, “they said it was in her eyes.”
“Don’t tell me,” he whispers, gently lifting up the cloth over her eyes, seeing dried blood.
So much so, that he can’t see her eyes. At least not her right one, though it seems they left her left one alone. Both of them are veiny, puffy and sore. It’s painful to watch her wince as he takes off the cloth, her eyes sticking together, crusted with blood and ick. He gently tries to wipe away dirt and grime on her face, feeling the building tremble, hearing the dragon roar.
“They said I was mad,” Elizabeth coughs, “they said I killed you. Said I was possessed.”
“I am going to—,” he has to take his hand away from her face, punching the wall.
The building shakes the same time he does, falling apart, outside, the dragon cries to the moon.
“We are being attacked. We need to leave.”
“Wait, but—,” she looks down at Anna, smiling weakly, “ah, there you are.”
“I have it,” Anna says randomly, holding the book tighter, “I have it for you.”
Cullen and Elizabeth share a confused look, time ticking on as they sit there.
“We must go,” Cole finally points out, “they are coming.”
“He’s right,” Cullen grunts, holding Elizabeth in his arms. “Anna, can you stay close?”
“Mhm,” the girl nods, getting up to her feet, staying by his legs.
It’s a dreadful silence that passes as he runs through the dungeons, trying not to think of what they did to her, exactly. He has an idea. They did it to some of the people at Greenfell. Gouged their eyes out in hopes of making it so they couldn’t be tempted by seeing demons. But when he looks closer, as she opens her eyes more, he realizes they just cut her eye, maybe.
He isn’t entirely sure. There’s too much blood. And he’s not brave enough to ask.
They are the last people to leave, with Rylen waiting for them at the start of the path. Rylen picks up Anna in a hurry, then runs with Cullen up the path, up, up, up, up a horribly cold, windy mountainside that people are sliding down and falling off of. It’s terrible. A horrible sight, though to Cullen, it isn’t anything too out of the ordinary. It sort of reminds him of Kirkwall.
Just a lot colder, and with a dragon.
“Herald’s gonna drop the avalanche here soon,” Rylen shouts, “we need to hurry.”
“It’s so cold,” Elizabeth mumbles, her head falling to the side.
“It’s okay,” Cullen soothes, “you’re gonna be fine. Right? You’ll be fine?”
“Mm,” she groans, “I can’t feel my eye.”
He smacks her hand away when she tries to touch it, holding her tighter in his arms. Up ahead, Anna is staring back at them over Rylen’s shoulder, her brown hair stained with blood and dotted with pure white snow. The look in her eyes is sad, more than sad really—sorrowful, and her gaze is focused on Elizabeth.
“You’ll be fine,” he keeps repeating it, “I promise.”
“I’m so tired,” she exhales, “and it’s so cold. Why is it so cold, Cullen?”
“We’re climbing a mountain, lass,” Rylen bellows, “it’s gonna be a bit chilly for a while.”
Beside Cullen, Cole suddenly stops. “She’s there,” he says, and then—
The last trebuchet goes off, the briefly discussed plan moving in action, and Cullen can’t help but stop with the boy. Even Rylen stops. They all look as the mountain falls on Haven, crushing all the red templars there, and whatever men and women of the Inquisition were left. It’s a mind-numbing sight, something the heart can’t even handle.
He forces himself to turn, shielding Elizabeth from the wind, his lips dry and burning.
Licking them makes him think back to kissing her, to what it felt like, how warm it was—
“I like—,” she coughs, convulsing in his arms as he walks, “I like you. I wouldn’t kill you.”
“I know,” he replies breathlessly, feeling air drain from his lungs.
“But I don’t know—,” she coughs more, “lyrium. The lyrium. How? Why? Who?”
He stares down at her, his eyes going dark, desperate—he feels his heart sink.
But he has to tell her.
“Me,” he answers, averting his gaze forward, “I took it. No one made me.”
He doesn’t look at her, awaiting a response.
But he never gets one.
So then, out of curiosity, he looks—and oh Maker kill me now.
The look on her face, it’s broken, shattered, hurt, her bloody lips parted, her eyes watery.
“I’m—I’m going to—,” she takes a strained breath, “kill you.”
He’s speechless. He probably deserves death, at this point.
A response bubbles in his throat, but he stops it short, seeing a bloody tear drip down her bruised cheek. It runs down her face, cleaning away the dirt stained there, until it’s just barely hanging on. Then her body goes limp in his arms, her eyes shut, a deep breath leaves her, and the tear falls into the snow, left behind as he keeps marching on.
He glares down at her, heartbroken and in pain, but somehow his legs are still moving.
Eventually, Evelyn crosses his path, coming back down the path.
“Hello, Commander,” she says plainly, looking at Elizabeth, “I see you found her.”
“I did,” he replies, his voice cracking.
“But she is cold,” Cole murmurs, “so very cold, and now, her heart hurts.”
“His does too,” Anna speaks, and the entire world stills—reality crashing down, fast.
It’s the stress that’s killing her.
Not her injuries, or her fatal wounds—no, it’s stress. Looking anywhere but up at the sky makes her anxious, seeing everyone so dismal, so drowned in sorrow and silent. Even Varric, who is normally telling stories by the fire, is sitting far from any warmth, next to Cassandra on a crate. They have been sitting in contented silence, just staring at nothing.
As is everyone else.
Sera, who is normally jumping around with giggly joy, has taken a spot far away, alone.
Dorian, the picture of perfection, has been ruined, his emotions showing in the mess of his hair.
Blackwall, who always stands strong, brave and bold, is cowering away from himself.
Bull, the boisterous leader of his Chargers, only sits with Krem, cleaning off his axe, silent.
Vivienne, always cool and collected, looks just a bit frazzled, her fear unable to be hidden.
Cole, some new boy, is sitting with the dead, seeming to be speaking with them.
Solas, stuck by Alia’s side, has not spoken a word since she was found in the snow, nearly dead.
And then there are the advisors. In a time of desperation like this, one would think they would be the leaders to fall to. Yet people are just people, they fail, break under pressure, crumble and collapse to what they think they know is best.
Leliana, cold-hearted like she is, is intent on finding the threat before it finds them.
Josephine, warm-hearted like she is, is more concerned about caring for the sick, the wounded.
And then there’s Cullen, who she doesn’t even know anymore.
At least, it feels like it. They’ve not had a moment to speak, and with each second apart, she digs herself deeper into a dark, lonely abyss. Sometimes it’s: how dare he. Other times it’s: how could he? And more often than not it’s: why would he? But the real question that she should be asking, that’s sitting in the back of her subconscious thoughts is: how did I not see?
It’s her fault, in a way. This she knows, yet it is a tricky thing to accept.
When she woke, she snuck away from the (creepy) healers that were surrounding her, she found Evelyn, and found a spot near a small fire where she could pace back and forth in peace. Now, for hours she’s been smoking a mixture of herbs, thankful that Evelyn was smart enough to bring essentials from her clinic before it was no doubt smashed by an avalanche.
When he told her to stop smoking, she did—oh but now—
“—how could he,” she says roughly, blowing out a smoke.
“I believe he was doing what he thought was best,” Evelyn replies smoothly, her eyes empty.
Evelyn is sat by the fire, has been all along, just staring at the dying flames as the night goes on. Anna would be there too, if she weren’t sticking to Cullen like glue. For some reason the girl has decided to attach herself to his leg. Every time she looks his way, Anna stares right at her with her big, innocent oak eyes, and it kills her a little inside.
And Cullen, he kills her too, because sometimes he’ll glance her way, giving her a look that just destroys all her feelings.
But he’s stuck next to a table, with soldiers constantly approaching him, staring at a map.
Pacing back and forth is hard, seeing as she still has a limp in her leg, but it’s keeping her blood warm. There’s a never-ending coldness that is constantly surrounding her skin. Her entire body. Never before has she been this cold. But it’s really her eye that’s bothering her, wrapped in a flimsy cloth that’s tied around her head, covering the mess that it is.
The memories are awful, gruesome, and the pain…
…they had nearly stuck a knife in her right eye, trying to gouge it out, but she bit their hand.
Whoever they were. They wore templar armor, probably drugged to mindlessness by lyrium.
“That will be him soon,” she mutters, mostly to herself, glaring at Cullen.
“I think you should go speak with him,” Evelyn advises, “looking at him will not help.”
“I’m sort of hoping he’ll just come to me,” Elizabeth admits, “but he probably won’t.”
“He likely knows you are very upset with him. His emotional response is to distance himself.”
“I know that! I’m a psychologist for God’s sake! He should eventually give in, though.”
“You are very strange, Psychic,” Evelyn shakes her head, “you like him, and yet you don’t.”
“He—He—,” she tries to find the words, groaning, “he betrayed my trust.”
“Yes. But have you even asked him why? Talked to him about it?”
“No. Does it look like we have been within ten feet of each other?”
“There is your problem,” Evelyn states, “miscommunication. Speak with him.”
“Sometimes I really hate how calm you are,” Elizabeth grouses, gritting her teeth.
And yet, what Evelyn says is the truth. Speaking with him will at least solve something, if not just make things worse. Which in all honesty, might be an improvement from wide-eyed stares across the camp. For all her years studying the mind, she cannot understand her own, finding herself pacing more and muttering more things.
Her patience cracks after about two minutes.
“Fine,” she exhales, “I’ll go speak with him, then.”
“Psychic,” Evelyn calls out, “you may want to calm down first.”
“I’m perfectly calm.”
“No. You are very upset and confused. And hurt.”
“Dammit, Evelyn, I know!” Elizabeth shouts, turning around in a hurry.
Throwing her smoke to the ground, she charges through the snow, stopping half-way when she sees Cole again. He’s still in the tent where all the corpses are, and lying with them, she sees Roderick. Dead. She isn’t sure how to feel, he did a lot of bad, yet in the end, he did one thing that saved just about everyone. It leaves her feeling sick, tearing her gaze away.
Her feet crunch in cold snow, crunch, crunch, and it’s so cold.
But all her limbs are starting to go numb, shaking without her knowing.
Had the healers not stripped her of her clothes, she might be a bit warmer. But all they left her in was a loose, old shirt, and some thin leggings. The bandages on her skin itch, and she craves to rip them off, hating the feel of them stuck there. Bruises discolor her pale skin, cuts mar what used to be only perfect freckles, and now she has real scars to show her pain.
Not that she ever really wanted any.
But in a way, she’s starting to understand Cullen more, realize that each scar is just old pain.
Stuck there forever.
It makes her stop in her slog, but not soon enough, because he looks from the men he’s speaking with to her. His attention falls completely to her eyes, the look on his face dropping to something she’d say was awe in another situation. Here, it’s probably fear. What could he be scared of, though? What could she honestly do? The most she can hurt him with is her words.
And, though she really wants to, she plans on keeping her lips mostly shut.
Dismissing the soldiers from his presence, he turns to face her, and the world stills.
He’s—dammit—He’s already hurt, and she hasn’t even said anything.
They both stand there, feet apart, completely still, just staring.
The rest of the camp makes background noise, fires crackling, people mumbling (some crying), feet walking in thick snow. It all plays in her ears like a symphony, a sign the world is still turning even though it feels like the snow itself has stopped falling. The stars hanging overhead shine in his eyes as water covers them. The moon illuminates the way his cheeks and nose are slightly pink, likely from the cold, or rubbing them too much.
And then, there’s Anna.
Standing by his legs, she comes out from behind him, her face pressed against his pants.
No one moves. They all just stare, and Elizabeth has half a mind to just turn and walk away before she does something stupid. But then Anna takes charge, reaching up slowly, finding Cullen’s gloved hand with her tiny one. Gently, she starts pulling him forward, forcing him to move, one small step at a time.
“Anna—,” he sighs, exhaustion making his tone thick.
“Daddy needs to make up with mommy,” Anna murmurs, her eyes focused straight ahead.
“I’m not your—,”
Both Elizabeth and Cullen shut themselves up, not realizing how close they were.
“Anna,” Elizabeth breathes out white fog, “we aren’t your parents.”
“You look at each other with love,” the girl claims, “like my mom and dad did.”
“We aren’t them, sweetheart,” Cullen mumbles.
“Go on,” Elizabeth whispers, looking down at her, “I need to talk to him alone.”
Clearly feeling ashamed, Anna runs off, going near the fire where Bull is. Elizabeth turns her attention back to Cullen, narrowing her eyes. He makes a gesture to follow him, and so she does, looking around at the silent camp before entering a large tent.
There’s a table in here, like the one outside, covered in maps and parchment.
He’s been working himself to death.
“I’m not here to yell at you,” she says, “you can get that look off your face.”
“I have a hard time believing that,” he mutters, looking down at a random map.
“Really. I just want to talk. If you just tell me why, I’ll leave you alone.”
“Why? You want to know why? Fine. It’s because I love you.”
“There. I said it. You can leave now.”
That catches her off guard, no—more than that, it makes her think this is some kind of dream. But she pinches herself, feeling pain. Keeping his back to her, he continues prodding and poking at the map, trying to do anything he can other than turn around. For a while, she just stands there, wavering on leaving and just jumping off the nearest cliff or staying and kissing him.
“I—,” she stops, “I don’t understand.”
“I love you,” he repeats, and she shivers, “I want to do what is best for you.”
“How is taking lyrium what’s best for me?”
“I wasn’t going to recover fast enough. Not to be what you wanted me to, anyway. I wasn’t going to be able to handle being Commander, all the stress and problems, if I didn’t have a stronger body and a clearer mind. So I took it. I took it months ago and I have been since. And it was fine until—,”
“—how dare you!” she shouts, suddenly flaring with anger, “you—you can’t just—,”
“—I did!” he shouts back, turning around to face her finally. “I did. I took it. I took it for you, because I love you. Because you’re all I think about. You’re all I care about. Because all I want is to see you smile, and I know that if my condition kept getting worse it would only make you sad. I wanted to be the best man I could for you, so I took it. I took it and I’m going to keep taking it.”
“Absolutely not,” she growls, “it will eventually kill you, but not before it turns you into what you had been at Greenfell.”
“I am not overdosing like I was forced to then,” he states, “I will be fine.”
“No, Cullen. It will kill you. And I know you know this, we both saw it first-hand.”
“If it kills me, then fine. At least I’ll be strong for you while I can.”
“Taking lyrium doesn’t make you strong,” she seethes, striding forward so the distance between then is gone. Her eyes fill with water, brimming with tears as she stares into his cold amber gaze. “You staying off it is strong. You being yourself is what makes you strong. You not leaning on this drug as a crutch is what makes you strong.”
“Elizabeth,” he says, gripping her shoulders. “I can’t stop. Without it, I’m useless.”
“You’re not. I’ve told you a million times!”
“I am! You don’t know the torment I had to go through, when I heard you screaming down in those dungeons, when I was too weak to do anything but listen. You have no idea how I felt, staring at you, not able to speak when you were speaking to me like I was worth something. You have no clue, how it felt—everyday, to watch you isolate yourself, work yourself to the bone, simply because you wanted me to be better than the hollow man I really am.”
“You—I—I—,” she grunts, pounding her fist on his chest, “you have lost your mind!”
“Maybe I have,” he grips her arm, pulling her close, “but I do know one thing for certain. I love you. I love you to death and back. I’d sacrifice everything to be here for you, to protect you. And if that sacrifice is my life—my mind, then so be it. I don’t care. I don’t want to feel helpless and feeble like that ever again.”
“You weren’t helpless. You were doing fine!”
“I wasn’t. I really wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t going to get any better.”
Time passes, they stay there, staring at each other, breathing heavy.
“If you really do love me,” she whispers breathily, “then you’ll stop taking it.”
He hesitates, his eyes widening. “I can’t,” he murmurs, “it’s a part of me forever now.”
“No, it’s not. You just think it is because you feel weaker without it.”
“You have no idea the nightmares I’ve had, the horrible—,”
“—I do,” she interrupts, “I have nightmares too. Plenty of them.”
“Elizabeth,” he says deeply, “I can’t be the man you need if I’m not taking it.”
Her heart pounds so hard in her chest, she can’t breathe or even think. Her mind spins, dizzying her thoughts, making her feel like she needs to throw up. He loosens his grip on her arm over time, and she slumps her shoulders, unsure what to say.
“Tell me,” she mutters after a few minutes, “why did you stop taking it in the first place?”
“To separate myself from the Order,” he replies, “to leave my past behind.”
“I don’t know what happened to you before Greenfell,” she admits, hugging herself with her arms. “I don’t know a lot about you, honestly. But I do know you’re a good man. A strong man. You have a kind heart, a smart mind, and you give me feelings and thoughts I never thought I could have. And so, if you want to forget whoever you were before—fine,” she looks up at him, “but don’t take away the man I’ve fallen in love with. I couldn’t handle it. I—I couldn’t.”
His expression shifts, his body language slumps, and then she cries softly to herself.
I love him. I care. I care so fucking much.
The idea of lyrium taking him away, leaving his body, but nothing else—
“—don’t take it. Please, Cullen. I’m telling you not as your therapist, not as some weird Psychic or coworker. I’m telling you as a friend. As a woman who loves and cares for you, as someone who doesn’t want to see you—the man you are now—disappear.”
It’s so cold, she almost can’t take it. Her body starts shivering, her teeth chatter, and the tears on her cheeks freeze on her skin. The expression on his face is hard to look at—he’s seeing her at her most vulnerable, confessing things she didn’t know she felt until this very moment. It’s all so raw and bare that it feels a little too abraded, too rough and too much.
And yet, not enough.
“—please. Please don’t. I—I couldn’t, I wouldn’t be able to lose you, and be fine with it.”
“…and I know I sound desperate, and stupid, and crazy and weird, but please, don’t—don’t—,”
“—I won’t,” he barely says the words loud enough for her to hear, “I won’t. I’ll stop.”
“Really?” her voice is broken, “how am I supposed to trust you?”
“You don’t have to. I just have to keep my word, which I will. I’ll stop.”
“I don’t believe you.”
He sighs, looking around the tent. Reaching in his pockets, he takes out several lyrium vials, then throws them to the ground. Then he takes some hidden in boxes and in bags, finding them everywhere, piling them into a bright glow of azure. Looking her straight in the eyes, he lifts up his boot, his leg shaking before he swallows a lump in his throat, and stomps on them all.
“I could always get more,” he tells her, “but I won’t. I promise, Elizabeth. I won’t.”
“I—,” she struggles, wanting to believe him, but also not wanting to, “okay.”
There’s nothing more for her to say. Already her heart feels like it’s bleeding, as if the pain of her injuries wasn’t enough. Her eyes look down as he lifts his boot, shattered glass clinking as he wipes off the glowing liquid on the dirt. The hum of it all screeches in her ears, and she can’t even imagine what is must sound like in his.
“I want you to promise me something,” he says, breaking her out of her trance.
“What?” she asks, wiping her face, careful to avoid her torn eye.
“If I fall to these withdrawals, if not taking this weakens me, then I want you to still love me.”
“Of course I will. You think I can help how I feel? You think I can just turn it off and on?”
“Promise me,” he steps forward, over the stain of lyrium, “say you love me.”
“I love you,” she sighs, not believing what she is saying, “I—I love you. And I always will.”
“Maker,” his eyes shine over, “I can’t believe—,” he pauses, then cups her face, “I love you.”
“I think we’ve said it enough,” she sniffles, her heart on the brink of exploding.
But just because he stops saying it, doesn’t mean he stops showing it. He wraps his arms around her in a gentle, cradling embrace, his armor digging into her skin. But she loves it. Loves everything about him. And hadn’t realized until the threat of him not being him, slapped her right in the face.
They stand there for an eternity, soaking in what they just said.
What kind of love? She asks herself, what is this feeling? Will it go away by tomorrow? Will I care less for him a few days from now? Will he care less for me when he doesn’t need me anymore? Only time will tell, but she has a feeling, deep in her heart, that what she and Cullen just shared is something people look for their entire lives.
Not cheesy, romantic love, no flowers or dates, no—this love is different.
It’s a love meaning: I’ll be by your side, even if everyone is against you.
It’s a love that says: Even if you’re a mess, I’ll be there for you.
It’s an unspoken, emotional sensation that proves: I love you.
And it’s all true. She’ll be there for him, no matter what. Even if he pushes her away, even if he’s acting crazy or doing something stupid. She’ll be his best friend, his crutch, his shoulder to cry on. And, if something romantic manages to blossom out of all the madness, then she’ll deal with it when it comes to that.
But for now, she’ll just be his friend. His friend who loves him more than anything.
“I—,” she breaks the silence, clearing her throat, “should go find Anna.”
“Right,” he sniffles, letting out a soothing breath as he steps back. “Right.”
But her feet are stuck, something still feels unsaid.
“So,” she tries to speak clearly, but fails. “Are we—good? No more lyrium?”
“No more lyrium,” he tells her, honest as he can, “I swear.”
“Good,” she exhales, feeling like she never has enough air. “I’ll just—go then, leave you to your work,” backing up, she can’t seem to take her eyes—eye, off him. “But if you need me, I’ll be here. Around here, somewhere.”
“Same for you,” he says, “and Elizabeth?”
Her heart thuds in her chest, her chapped lips breaking into a weak smile.
Anna runs inside the tent, then clings to Cullen’s leg, her hair covered in snow.
“What is it?” he asks softly, stroking her head.
“They’re singing,” she says, pointing outside, “they’re singing for Ali!”
Elizabeth turns, tuning her ears to listen closely. And she does, in fact, hear singing, growing louder and louder. When she exits the tent and looks around, she notices everyone is slowly standing, bowing their heads and closing their eyes. Cullen steps out beside her, holding Anna up in his arms.
“Poor Alia,” Elizabeth chuckles, “looks like she’d rather be anywhere else.”
“The people are starting to like her,” Cullen observes, “it’s a good thing.”
And yet, there can’t help but be a pitiful feeling for Alia, now with all this weight placed on her shoulders. Her lithe body is beaten, her scarlet hair a wild mess, her icy eyes wide. Her large ears turn down as the singing grows louder and louder, more people circling around the camp, with Mother Giselle leading them like they’re a choir.
“A little strange,” she mutters, but then looks up—and sees Cullen, with his eyes closed.
He starts singing, softly at first, then louder as time ticks on.
It makes her heart warm, and suddenly, this seems a lot less strange.
He has a beautiful voice, like sweet honey on a warm summer day. Almost unconsciously, he rocks Anna back and forth, swaying on his feet as he sings to her. It makes a stupid smile spread across Elizabeth’s face. He would be such a good dad, she thinks, closing her eyes as she listens to his wonderful singing.
And then, his free hand reaches out, touching hers gently.
Their fingers fumble together, almost interlocking, but not quite—and then—
—and then he’s holding her hand.
And really, there’s nothing wrong with it—nothing at all, besides the fact that just about everyone who knows them is currently eyeing them with raised eyebrows. Specifically Dorian. And Evelyn. Even Alia notices somehow. It makes her face heat a bright red, but she can’t let go of his hand—she just can’t, it would be so wrong.
Ignoring her embarrassment, she shuts her eyes, squeezes his hand tighter, and sings.
“The night is long,
And the path is dark,
Look to the sky,
For one day soon,
The dawn will come.”
And, as corny as it is, at that very moment, the sun rises, golden and bright over the horizon.
(keep or delete and make it a slower burn? let me know! I had 2 chapters written for this, and this is one of them. I have another, where it goes...differently)
Chapter 14: And gain by ill thrice more than I have spent.
interlude chapter that is nothing but Cullen FEELS
(i am so tired right now I'm not even sure if I'll like this in the morning but I had an itch to write) :)
He’s surprised to find her, sitting alone, reading a book in her lap.
After several weeks of endless walking, he thought even she would tire out. Especially since she’s been running around like mad, helping every person that needs her. Which is essentially all of the Inquisition—advisors and inner circle included. Her help has become so widely known that just about every person at least knows she exists, even if they have never met her.
Which is why—he is utterly shocked, to finally see her all alone.
And he debates for a bit, on perhaps stealing some of her company.
Enough of her time has been taken, he doesn’t want to add onto it. Yet, a larger, far more selfish part wants to hold her in his arms and never let her go. He wants to keep her by his side, so he doesn’t have to worry, and so that all her attention will be his.
Letting out a cold, foggy breath, he steps forward, snow crunching under his boots.
Elizabeth jerks, her raven hair falling in her face as she looks at him in fear. Then, it quickly turns to relief once she realizes who it is. Settling back into her position by the fire, she rests her chin on her hand, staring down at the book.
“Finally alone?” he asks with mirth, though his tone is way too exhausted to be humorous.
“Finally,” she sighs, looking at him as he sits next to her.
“Do you mind if I stay for a bit?”
“Not at all.”
Her tone is simple, plain. Monotone, really.
“Something wrong?” he questions.
“Just tired,” she says, flipping a page in the book.
“I don’t blame you. It’s been a long journey.”
“Very. I think Solas said we’re near the castle place though.”
They talk idly for a bit. About what they’ve been doing, and what they have to do later. Seeing as she is no longer deemed a murderous traitor, the Inquisition has accepted her completely, and now her role here is vital. He knows well, even if he was just a stranger to her, that without her here, everyone would still probably be arguing and freezing to death.
“…and then, of course, I had to give him therapy for that,” she laughs hollowly, “needless to say I am never letting any of my patients near Bull when he’s drinking.”
On and on, she talks, and he listens—knowing that no one else likely is, seeing as people only come to her to be listened to. Over time he scoots closer to her, leaning back on the log behind them, feeling the heat of the fire contradict with the coldness under his heavy armor. He tries not to think too much of the headache he has as she talks, pain throbbing in the back of his skull.
“…oh, but look at me,” she exhales, closing the book. “Talking my ass off. How are you?”
“I’m fine,” he lies, “work has been a bit rough, soldiers aren’t always motivated.”
“And your withdrawals?”
“Cullen,” she scolds, “manageable is such a weird term to use. Tell me the truth.”
“Truth?” he muses quietly, “I feel like I’m about to die every second I’m awake.”
That takes her by surprise, which he expected, and didn’t really want. But what he didn’t expect, is the look on her face. Not pity or sadness. No, it’s the same look she always gives him when he’s not feeling well. It’s a slight smile, with just a hint of kindness glimmering in her eyes. Nothing too obvious, but it means the world to him.
“Taking off your armor would help,” she taps his leg, their bodies pressed so close together that she can rest her hand on the thigh of his pants. “I don’t think I’ve seen you take it off in several weeks. Have you been sleeping with it on?”
“Oh, what am I to do with you, you workaholic?”
“Help me,” he whispers, his voice cracking—his mind finally shattering, only around her. He rests his head on her shoulder, wishing they were naked, so he could feel her bare skin and not tight, black leather clothing. “I need—,” he sighs, not used to this, “something.”
“A bath, maybe?” she murmurs softly, “a nice massage? Sleep? Food? Water? More sleep?”
“I promise I’ll get right on it as soon as I can, Commander.”
He smiles, feeling her fingers card through his hair. It makes his spine shiver, he always loves when she touches his hair. The urge to fall asleep tugs at him, makes his eyes close, and yet it’s the last thing he wants to do.
“If you’re so tired,” she says, “then sleep, we don’t leave till sunrise.”
“I can’t,” he tells her, “I keep having nightmares.”
Silence stretches on. He thinks maybe she fell asleep, but then—
“—I’ve been having them too,” she admits, “that’s actually why I’m out here now.”
“Oh?” he hums, lifting his head to look at her, “do you want to talk about it?”
“Then let’s just forget about them,” she whispers, snuggling closer to him. Her fingers tap on the book in her lap. Her eyes stay focused on the fire, glowing bright from the moon hanging above. “I was thinking,” she breaks the quiet, “about what you said.”
“What do you mean?” he asks.
She doesn’t reply, rather moving to sit on his lap. Her legs straddle him, her cloak swallowing them both up as she leans forward. Her eyes are wide, bright but tired—too much work, not enough sleep. The lives she has watched fade away can be seen in the pools of silver staring at him, the underlying guilt she feels when she can’t help someone.
“You love me.”
“Really?” she inhales a short breath. “Really, really?”
“Yes,” he chuckles, lifting up a gloved hand to stroke her cheek, “really, really.”
“You can’t love me.”
“And why not?”
“Because I’m weird,” she says, pushing some wild hair behind her ear. “You’re so handsome and smart, and strong and brave and all these other ridiculously cheesy things I could list off,” she rests the book against his armored chest, her palms pressing into him. “And I’m just—me, I’m really lame and boring and I think I’m going insane.”
“I like your weirdness,” he tells her, “and in your field of work, it is no surprise you are going insane. You deal with insanity on a daily basis,” dropping his hand to tilt her chin up, he smiles at her because he knows it makes her smile—and it does, “perhaps you and I both need a break.”
“I think you’re right. Any more walking and my legs will fall off.”
“I could carry you, if you want.”
“Oh yes,” she laughs, “that wouldn’t make me look lazy at all.”
“Your leg is still not right,” he says, “I’m sure people would understand.”
“I’m also half-blind now. Should I have you see for me too?”
“Very funny. But I’m serious, Elizabeth. If you get injured anymore—,”
“—what?” she giggles, “going to give me a very long lecture about it?”
“I’ll make you go see a healer,” he threatens, and she gasps.
“How very evil. I can’t help that my job is dangerous.”
“If you didn’t make the Chantry so upset, they might not try to murder you.”
They laugh together, and he finds that this is the first he’s smiled in a long while. His fingers stroke her back as he wraps his arms around her, letting her rest on his chest. It’s not exactly comfortable, but she manages to find a place on his fur mantle to rest her head.
Then, thinking back to what she said earlier, he lets out a short sigh.
“I do love you, though,” he says, “don’t ever think I don’t.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” she replies, “what made you love me?”
He’s speechless for an answer, stuck in thought.
He honestly has no idea. Why does he love her? When did it start? He hadn’t even known until the words came spilling past his lips, and he was stuck forever with her hearing it straight from him. He expected her to leave him, then, thinking that would be the moment when she finally gave up on him.
Oh, how wrong he was.
And oh, he’s never been more pleased to be wrong.
“I don’t know,” he tells her honestly, “I just do.”
“I don’t know either,” she confesses, “but I do know I don’t want to ever leave you.”
“I might die if you did.”
“Literally? Yes. Seeing as you can’t seem to care for your own basic needs.”
It makes him chuckle because it’s true, he’s been neglecting caring for himself in favor of getting things done and leading an army. The headaches have been brutal. The craving for lyrium has him feeling sick all the time. The song ringing in his ears is making him go mad. And the pain wracking his body is snapping him in half.
But at least she’s always here, at his side, soothing away the pain, the tears, the hurt.
He gets so lost in his thoughts, staring up at the stars, he forgets she’s still lying in his arms. The weight of her just feels so natural, so right and perfect that he never wants to get up. Telling by the rise and fall of her body, she’s fallen asleep. He tries not to shift too much as he gets comfortable, praying to the Maker silently that her dreams are not filled with demons.
Like his were.
Though he doesn’t sleep, he does close his eyes, languidly rubbing her back.
He jerks every now and then, when he falls into the Fade, and screams and cries screech in his ears. He hates himself for it, looking down at her, hoping that he doesn’t wake her with his terrible sleeplessness. It makes him think, about many things.
What if I were sleeping by her side, and I hit her out of fear?
What if I forget who she is, and think she is a demon instead?
What if hurt her? What if I’m cruel? And she doesn’t run because she cares too much?
What if I’m nothing but poison for her, a weight dragging her down?
Could I ever give her a happy life, a bright future?
Will we even have a future?
Would she want one with a man like me? Broken? Ruined? Forever lost?
Would she want a husband? Children? A peaceful, happy life?
Could I give her those things? Could I be the man that she needs? That she deserves?
He doesn’t let these thoughts stay too long, and they never get an answer. All he has to do to wipe them away is think: war. War. This war may last forever, he may die in it—or, if fate is so cruel to slice his heart, she may. And if she did, then what purpose does his life have after serving the Inquisition?
The thought makes him stop breathing. The word:
For once in his life, he has a purpose.
It isn’t lyrium. It’s not the Chantry, or the Maker. It’s not keeping mages in their rooms or making sure that maleficar are running around. It’s not to keep a city sane, or to follow a leader who has fallen from grace. It’s not even to run an army, to be a Commander, to be better than the man he had once been.
No, his purpose is her. Elizabeth. And she, has no idea.
How much the very beat of his heart relies on her, how he counts his every breath, wishing he had more so he could spend eternity with her. She has no idea that he prays, every night, that death does not take him too soon from her, and that he stays strong long enough to protect her. She has no idea that he thinks of her constantly, of a future, of what awaits them later, of what might be—and she certainly has no idea that he—
“—want to be with her,” comes a quiet, subtle voice, “forever.”
Opening his eyes, he looks around, holding tight to Elizabeth when he sees that odd boy.
The spirit. Thing. Person. Whatever he is, Alia has decided he is good.
“You don’t like me,” Cole says, “because you don’t understand me. Like magic. Like lyrium. You don’t like fighting things you can’t see, that’s why you’re afraid. Why fear itches under your skin. You want to know, so you can protect, because you’ve lost so much.”
He remains silent, staring blankly at the spirit.
“And you don’t want to lose her,” Cole continues, looking down at Elizabeth as he crouches. He’s still wearing the same clothes he has been for weeks, old leathers and cloth, with a large hat that collects snow and hides his pale eyes and blonde hair. “You want to keep her safe,” he whispers, “you never want to let her go, you love her, because she takes away the fear.”
Still, he remains silent.
What does one say in this situation?
“She loves you too,” the spirit goes on, “so much. It hurts her, sometimes. Always wanting to be by your side, make sure you’re okay, but she knows that other people need her. Sometimes she worries that she will not be able to be there for you, that she will wake up and be alone—stuck on a cold, hard desk, with lonely books, and the sound of rain that never stops.”
More silence. He glances down at her, stroking her back.
“She has thought of telling you,” Cole whispers, “of the sadness, the loneliness that had left her feeling empty. But now she’s happy, she isn’t alone, and you love her. He loves me, he loves me, she thinks to herself when she’s alone, not believing it. Sometimes she likes to watch you when you’re not looking, and imagine you saying it to her, peppering kisses on her neck.”
His arms tighten around her, his eyes shifting to Cole.
“And sometimes she worries,” Cole kneels in the snow, rubbing his bandaged fingers together. “Worries that this is all a dream, that she has lost her mind, and has made up you—a perfect, wonderful happy ending. But other times she’s sure this is real, the things she feels, the pain and the love, it all mixes together and makes her feel okay. You, make her feel okay.”
He thinks for a moment, about the things the spirit is saying.
Why would she think this all a dream? That he, is a dream? That his love for her is fake?
“And she cares for you,” Cole murmurs, “so much. And you care for her.”
“I do,” Cullen whispers, “is there a reason to all this rambling?”
“I am trying to help you,” he replies, “ease the fear you both feel, the questions gnawing at your mind. Love will hurt. It always does. But know that she will always be here for you, even if she isn’t. Know that she loves you, even if she isn’t there to say it. Know that she has never been happier in her life, even if she is crying.”
“—and know that, she will always dry your tears, hold your hand, rub your neck, be the calm before and after the storm. She wants to do so much for you, with you—forever, she wants forever too. Wants a happy life, a husband, kids—and wants it all to be with you, in a place where there is no war that takes you from her, and there are no withdrawals to bring you pain.”
That’s the only word he could use to describe how he feels.
The spirit slowly stands up, looking down at Elizabeth, sleeping soundly.
“Her thoughts are hazy, she feels far away—like another world, a distant, far place,” he says, “I told you some, but not all. Others she has to say to you—has to be from her lips, her heart. But I hope I’ve helped. I hope you know there is no doubt, and that she really does love you.”
“I—I know,” Cullen exhales, his breath shaky, “thank you, Cole.”
The spirit turns and disappears into the windy night, like a snowy breeze blowing by.
He slumps, sinking down into the snow, his eyes wider now with all these thoughts and words swimming around in his mind. It makes him dizzy, but in a good way, his heart beating faster now with wild fantasies places in his out-of-reach hopes.
The word is so foreign, he’s never thought of it, was never allowed to.
His life has always been a myriad of chaos and hurt, of pushing people away. Of blood and tears, of torture and agony he thought he deserved. But she has shown him otherwise, she’s changed him to be better, gave him a chance he didn’t deserve. Gave him so much that he will never be able to give back, so much love and care, time and attention.
Simple things, yet they are the things he’s never had in his life.
And now, here he is, stuck in one short time where his life isn’t crowded with endless work and pain. He’s able to think, to hope, to have faith that maybe—just maybe, this war will end one day, and he can give her the life she deserves, be the man she wants and more.
And if he isn’t, then he’ll try his hardest to be, because there is no way he’s ever leaving her.
There’s no way he’ll ever stop loving her.
He knows it deep in his heart, has it embedded in his mind—he lives and breathes and goes on in life simply because of her. And he comes to the gravity of how much she means to him as he watches the book she was holding slip out of her hands, falling into the white snow.
Slowly, he reaches out, brushes it off and picks it up.
It’s his journal.
The one he had long ago, where he wrote all his senseless thoughts, his feelings.
The one Elizabeth gave him, told him he could write anything he wanted.
The one Anna was clutching to her chest in those bloody dungeons.
I have it, she had said—and now, he understands.
It isn’t the book she wanted, it’s what’s inside—the words scribbled all over the place, expressing his darkest and deepest thoughts and feelings. What she wanted, was him—she wanted him to be there, wanted him to stay with her forever, wanted his voice to be in her thoughts even if all she could do was read them on old parchment.
He drops the book into the snow, hugging her so tight, she wakes up, unsure what’s going on.
Nuzzling her neck, he presses his cold nose to her warm skin, smelling the faint scent of roses and vanilla. It makes him smile. Makes a tear slide down his cheek that he doesn’t want her to see. He hides his face even as she tugs on his hair, trying to get him to look at her.
“Cullen,” she whispers, “what’s wrong? What happened? Are you in pain?”
“Nothing,” he replies, with as normal a tone as he can, “nothing’s wrong, Elizabeth.”
Nothing at all, with that thought, he presses a kiss to her neck, his lips cold and dry.
Chapter 15: How careful was I, when I took my way,
The minute the baths were deemed ready for use, she ran there as fast as she could.
Though she doesn’t believe in taking breaks (likes getting all her work done at once), it’s been several months since she’s had a good cleansing. So, in the dead of night when no one was bothering her, she ran to the baths for a good soak. It’s a big room, divided in two for females and males, with dozens of large tubs and buckets and heating runes.
The water comes from God knows what, probably some magical faucet.
It’s cold to the touch, and as she turns it on, water comes pouring out into the tub below. The baths are new, so not many people are here yet. Only a few women who all seem to be friends. Elizabeth ignores them as she focuses on her bath, trying to figure out how to use the heating runes as her bath fills with gushing water.
“…have you seen him? He is the definition of handsome…”
That makes her look up from the rune in her hand, but she ignores it, looking back down.
At a random tap, the rune ignites, glowing a fiery color. Quickly she throws it into the bath, and the water begins steaming. The bath is half full, so she decides to start taking her clothes off. Undressing in front of women isn’t odd for her, she had to do it in the military, she just hopes they stop talking soon so she can get some rest.
“…carved by the Maker he is, spied on him when he was training his men…”
“…no shirt on! I saw, and his pants were hanging so low…”
“…but did you see the bulge he had, Andraste, I nearly fainted…”
A random thought crosses her mind.
Cullen was training his men earlier, without a shirt on.
Though she did not notice his—bulge, or whatever they’re talking about.
Surely it’s not about him, maybe one of the Lieutenants.
Her leggings pool on the floor, her clothes a pile of black as she steps into her bath naked. The water burns her skin, but she likes it, letting out a soft sigh. Some of the water sloshes over the sides, rising all the way up to her collarbones. Her arms rest on the edges of the bath as she leans back, cracking her neck on the wooden tub.
“…I think I might try talking to him, his voice is so sweet…”
“…bet he’s rough in the bedroom though, no way he can fight like that and not be…”
“…if anyone should talk to him, it should be me, you two are already married…”
“…so? A little indulgence never hurt anyone…”
Elizabeth snorts. It’s hurt a lot of people.
The amount of marriage counseling sessions she’s had is immeasurable, in Thedas and on Earth. It’s always: he did this thing and he doesn’t even care! Or: she did this thing and she’s proud of it! The answer is usually a lot of arguing, and drinking on Elizabeth’s part afterward. So yes, it causes a lot of people pain actually, stupid woman.
“…does the Commander already have a woman…?”
“…don’t think so, he’s so buttoned-up…”
They are talking about Cullen.
“…what about that obstinate lady always with him…?”
“…that Psychic? No, she’s too, hmm, not his type…”
Not his type? What the HELL does that mean?
And I am NOT obstinate!
Nor is she a Psychic, she is a Psychologist—but they don’t care, no matter how many times she tells people. There is a difference. Psychic is a bit of a mocking term, like she’s some kind of mind-reader or something. What she does is professional, helps thousands of people, and she does NOT READ MINDS.
“…what about the Herald? They talk a lot…”
“…no, it’s her sister I’d watch out for, dirty elves taking all the goods…”
“…doubt he’ll go for a knife-ear like her, though she is persistent…”
Ah, yes. Alia’s sister.
One of fourteen.
And she has one brother, but only the one sister is in Skyhold currently. Clan Lavellan is still off somewhere in the Free Marches. Though now that Skyhold and the Inquisition and the Inquisitor are all well known, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a bunch of red-headed elves sprinting through the gates sometime soon.
“…I have to speak with him later, what dress should I wear…?”
“…the one with the low cut in the front, he won’t be able to resist…”
“…tell us how it goes…”
“…and if he’ll let us join in…”
All the women laugh, and it nearly makes Elizabeth’s ears bleed. How dare they—no, no—deep breaths, she has no right to get all worked up over nothing. She focuses on her bath as the women continue chatting and tittering, not even bathing despite running the water. Another thing that makes her mad. Wastefulness.
They’re probably healers, she grouses sourly, reaching for the soap she left on the floor.
But as she does, pale feet show themselves. Looking up, she’s met with none other than Cassandra Pentaghast. The warrior is tall, well-built, and very intimidating. It makes Elizabeth slowly grab her soap, then slink back into the bath, not daring to move anymore.
“Mind if I join?” Cassandra asks, and Elizabeth nods in silent approval.
Next to her, is another tub. This is what the Seeker gets into, running the bath with cold water. Elizabeth doesn’t ask why. Perhaps it’s a warrior thing. Instead she focuses on cleaning off the dirt and grime on her skin, getting leaves and branches out of her hair, and just overall burning off every disgusting thing she’s got stuck on her over the past few months.
Then, as she pops out from the under the water, wetting her hair, more talking echoes.
“…bet I could be his…”
“…no, I could, he’s totally into blonde’s…”
“…are you joking? He’s a redhead kind of man…”
“…brunette all the way, it would match so well with his eyes…”
Cassandra gives Elizabeth a weird look, scrunching her nose. Even naked, the warrior looks scary. Her skin is covered with scars, long and dug in deep. Her black hair is ruffled and messy on her head, making her chocolate eyes stick out in the dimly lit room. Taking a moment to make sure the women aren’t looking, Elizabeth mouths: Cullen.
The Seeker nods, understanding.
They continue bathing in silence, ignoring the women that sound like they are closer than they are. It’s obvious that Cassandra’s irritation keeps growing and growing, and it makes Elizabeth giggle. At least she’s not the only one who finds them annoying. Carefully, she leans forward, massaging her sore leg, wishing Cullen were here to do it for her.
“…seen him naked? I’ve seen him naked…”
“…no! You’re lying…!”
“…I am not! And I must say, he is hung like a horse…”
Cassandra jerks in the bath, dropping her soap, making Elizabeth make a weird laugh noise.
But she muffles it quick enough that the women over there don’t notice.
“…he’s so gorgeous…”
“…Maker, let him be mine…”
“…he’s always so busy, when could any of us even get to speak with him…?”
“…who cares about talking, I want in his pants…”
Gritting her teeth, Cassandra suddenly stands up, glaring at the women. They turn and gasp, staring at her naked form. Even completely nude—the Seeker has no shame, standing as though she is in full armor, her eyes her sword and shield.
“Would you all shut up!” Cassandra barks, “enough degrading the Commander’s good name! Lest I throw you all off the battlements right now!” the women all shiver, then start shoving each other out of the bath, grabbing towels as they run out with their perfect, bouncy bodies. “Sweet Holy Andraste,” she sighs as she gets back in her bath, “that was ridiculous.”
“You’re telling me,” Elizabeth chuckles, rubbing circles into her back.
“Does that not make you upset?”
“What? Them talking about him like that?”
“Them not knowing,” she says, “that you and he are—?”
“—currently, nothing,” Elizabeth sighs, “he has made no move on me recently.”
There’s nothing Elizabeth hates more than feeling in doubt. Added onto things she can’t have, that she really wants. And damnit—but she really wants Cullen, and she wants everyone in Skyhold to know that he’s hers. That would be a waste of time though. Work needs to be done. There’s no room to be frolicking around, holding hands all day, then making babies all night.
As lovely as that’d be.
“He still loves you,” Cassandra insists, cleaning her leg, “he’s just busy. Especially with the ball and whatnot coming up. I doubt he’s excited at all for that trip. Can’t say that I disagree with him, though.”
“I like balls,” Elizabeth says, “I’ve been to a few.”
“Oh? Was it an Orlesian one?”
It was actually for the military, seeing as she had to learn how to ballroom dance then. But she’s sure whatever these Orlesians do is far different than simply swaying around, holding your partner with a bright smile. Seeing as no one except a select few—such as Dorian, Viv, and Josie are excited to go, she isn’t sure what to really expect.
“Anyway,” Elizabeth exhales, “I have to go. I’ll see you later, Cass.”
“Farewell,” she replies, “and thank you for that advice, by the way. Breathing helps.”
“Don’t forget the stretching. Otherwise you’ll tear another ligament.”
“I won’t. Thank you, Psychic.”
Elizabeth makes a puking noise.
“Please God,” she laughs, getting out of the bath, “call me by my name.”
“Elizabeth,” she says, “that is a beautiful name.”
“Aw,” she coos, drying herself off, “look at you, being all nice. I should tell Varric.”
Cassandra’s eyebrows rise to her forehead. “You better not!” she shouts, giggling.
It’s not a hassle to dry off, but her hair stays wet, seeing as it’s too long to really do anything else with. Then she puts back on her uniform (which was given to her by Leliana, which is literally just a tight set of leggings, a shirt, and a cloak, all black and white). Her scarf is what she likes most though, she stole it from Sera not too long ago. It’s the only colored thing on her, a deep burgundy (to match the Commander, of course).
Leaving the baths, she shivers, feeling her cold, wet hair stick to her clothes.
It’s freezing out, snow covering the keep that is still being built. It’s rather amazing, actually. It feels like she’s in some kind of video game, or a movie, with castles and kings and feasts. It’s all so medieval sometimes she forgets she used to live in a world where she studied times like these, and dreamed of what it would be like to like in this era.
Her clinic is near the healers (sadly), but Cullen insisted it would be most efficient if she worked with them. Together. It pains her every day, but she does, simply to help people. It’s located on the lowest part of Skyhold, easily accessible. Heading there now, she covers her chapped lips with her scarf, smelling the faint scent of raisin cookies.
But then, a shout from behind her.
“Ey, Psychic,” Bull roars, “come on in for a drink.”
No thanks, I’m okay. That’s what she wants to say, but she’s too far away to do so.
Forcing herself to turn around, she walks to the tavern—the Herald’s Rest, they call it. It’s bustling tonight, with worn-out soldiers and tired workers. The essence of drunk hits her in the face as she steps inside, and she can already feel something horrible is going to happen.
There is music playing, a fire roaring, and alcohol being spilt as people dance.
It’s a disaster just waiting to happen.
Her eyes focus on a table in the back, where all of Bull’s Chargers, and Bull himself, are seated. Varric and Sera are also there, along with some dark-haired woman that she isn’t familiar with. Stepping forward, her boots seem to pound in her ears, bad idea—bad idea, reciting in her ears with each inch she nears them.
“Hey, you found her!” Varric says, “Psychic, I want you to meet someone.”
The dark-haired woman who was sitting on the table slides off, her armor moving with her. There’s a blood streak across her nose, and her armor is colored with different red, tan and black colors. Her eyes are a bright ruby color, her skin pale, her hair just a shade off from being pure black.
“Nice to finally meet you,” the woman holds out her hand, smiling.
Elizabeth shakes her hand, her glove keeping their skin separate. Pulling down her scarf, she smiles back. The woman has a strong shake. Everyone seems to be grinning at her. There must be something important about who she is.
“Um,” she clears her throat, “do I know you?”
“Someone who doesn’t know me?” the woman laughs, “wonderful!”
“This is Hawke,” Varric says from the table, “the Champion of Kirkwall.”
“Cool,” Elizabeth pulls her cloak tighter around herself, “nice to meet you too.”
Hawke smiles brightly, her white teeth shining as she throws an arm around Elizabeth’s shoulder. Pushing her off to the bar, she orders them both drink, despite her reluctance not to drink. They sit together, a little too close for her liking, but Hawke doesn’t seem to mind.
“So,” she whispers, raising a dark eyebrow, “heard you saved Cullen’s ass?”
“You mean his life?” Elizabeth says in a low tone, “sort of, he mostly did it himself.”
“Good on you. He’s a good man, even when he was an ass.”
“You know him?”
“Know him?” Hawke laughs openly, “yes I bloody know him, fucked him, too.”
Elizabeth spits out her drink. “Sweet baby Christ,” she curses, wiping her mouth.
The image comes into her mind unwillingly. Hawke. Cullen. Together.
And though it makes her slightly sick, she composes herself, and takes a deep breath.
“Yeah. It was a few years ago, but man—was he good.”
“That’s—,” she stops herself, not sure how to react, “great.”
“It was,” Hawke says, then realizes Elizabeth’s discomfort. “Wait, are you two—,”
“What? No! No, we have not had sex. No.”
“Not what I was gonna say. I meant are you two a thing?”
“I kinda wish honestly,” Elizabeth admits, “but it seems everyone and their mother wants him.”
“Then claim him,” Hawke growls, “that’s what I did anyway, just gotta tease him a little.”
“And then, he’ll break. He’ll fuck you so good you’ll never want him to stop.”
“Huh,” Elizabeth hums, “I am very curious as to your relationship with him.”
“Want me to share?” Hawke asks with a grin, “because I would love to.”
And so, Hawke shares her many tales of her time with Cullen. Turns out he really hated mages back in Kirkwall. And Hawke really hated templars. It seems that resulted in many passionate nights where they had hate-sex. It’s all rather an intriguing story, but Elizabeth can’t help but feel just a little twinge of jealousy.
After about two tankards of ale, “maybe I should get him to hate me,” she says.
“Easy enough,” Hawke gulps her ale, “tell him you’re a blood mage or something.”
“Is that what you did?”
“Wonderful,” she sighs, “so glad I know this about him now.”
“I’m sad he didn’t already talk about me,” Hawke woes, “must be missing me, hm?”
Elizabeth laughs, in spite of not wanting to. Now she’s worried that Hawke is going to piss of Cullen and she’ll walk into their office one day to see them hate-fucking. It really shouldn’t bother her so much, but it does. It drives her mad. And she realizes, once her lips touch her third cool ale, that she really needs to stop drinking before she does something stupid.
“I should go,” she claims, sliding off the barstool.
“Alrighty,” Hawke says, “see you around, Psychic. Let me know if you ever want a drink.”
The noise of the tavern drowns her ears as she walks out, cradling herself in her cloak. Her hair is still wet, sticking to her clothes. It’s very cold, too, especially as she steps outside and the temperature takes big dip downwards. Her breaths are coming out quick, foggy and white, and she seems to only be able to focus on those as she walks nowhere specific.
Cullen, what a player you could be, hm? Who knows how many other women you’ve given a good time. The thought makes her sour, and then makes her hate herself more. It’s a downward spiral. Why hasn’t he fucked me? Stupid question, easy answer. Because I’m an idiot and haven’t realized how attractive he is until it was shoved in my face.
By many, many women. Too many for her liking.
I have a job to do, she kicks a rock on the ground, I can’t focus on getting in bed with him. He isn’t some prize to be gotten and then showed off. Some internal dialogue plays out in her head. Oh, guess what Hawke! I’ve fucked Cullen! Hooray! Yeah. No. But still, the thought lingers, as does the jealousy, and the possessiveness.
“—ah, there you are!” Alia’s voice rings through the night, “been lookin’ for you.”
“Here I am,” Elizabeth sighs, “something you need?”
“Why do you look so down?”
“No reason. Is there something wrong?”
“Just wanted to introduce you to my sis,” she says, “realized you haven’t met her properly.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth resists rolling her eyes, “where—,”
Cutting herself off, she watches as Alia turns, and her sister is reveled.
If Alia is pretty, then her sister is drop-dead-gorgeous.
But, unlike her sister, she has white hair. Her eyes are icy-blue though, matching Alia’s. Her body is lithe, waist slim, thighs not touching. It makes Elizabeth very self-conscious as she rubs her pants together. Her face is sculpted beautifully, accented by her long, pointy ears, which her short, fluffy white hair fails to cover.
“Hi,” she greets, smiling cutely with her pink lips, “I’m Alison. Alia has said lots about you.”
“Hopefully good things,” Elizabeth chuckles, wishing she could hide herself in her cloak.
“Only good things,” Alia winks, then turns around when someone calls her title. “Mythal, this never ends. I’ll see you two later, get along in the meantime!”
The Inquisitor runs off, her mark glowing in the dark of night. Elizabeth is stuck with Alison, stuck staring at her perfect body and fact while she stands there like an awkward stump. They start up a conversation, about Alia, then about what Elizabeth does as work here, and then the dreaded word comes out of Alison’s mouth—
“—Cullen,” she purrs, batting her eyelashes, “spoken with him yet?”
Haven’t you heard? I saved his fucking life.
“Yes,” Elizabeth clears her throat, “I have.”
“He is so delicious. I don’t know why Alia is going for that bald guy.”
“I rather like that bald guy. He’s nicer than he looks.”
“Sure,” Alison says, “but the Commander, mm. He is just too good to pass up.”
“Sure is,” Elizabeth mumbles, wishing she was literally anywhere else.
“Can I tell you a secret? You have to promise not to tell Alia.”
“Sure. I’m all about keeping people’s secrets.”
Alison steps forward, leaning in to whisper in Elizabeth’s ear. Her tight outfit hugs her small body, bright colors of white and gold glittering under the stars. The elf’s breath hits her ear as she hesitates to speak, nervousness showing in a shaky laugh.
“I kissed him,” Alison confesses, giggling.
Elizabeth pales, all the blood draining from her body.
“What?” she sharply asks.
“I kissed him. It was just a peck on the cheek, but still! Isn’t that great!”
“G—Great. Just Great. You know, I just remembered, I have to go—go somewhere. Bye.”
With that, Elizabeth runs off, her cloak flowing behind her as she clenches her gloved fists. Fury bubbles up inside her, and she uses every ounce of her willpower not to punch the nearest person. Climbing up the stairs to the upper levels of Skyhold at an alarming rate, she doesn’t stop when Josie calls for her in the hall, when Dorian asks her to come see him, or when Solas asks her what is wrong.
Heading straight for Cullen’s tower, she charges across the stone battlements.
Then, she slams open the door, making him fall out of his chair in shock behind his desk.
“We need to talk. Now.”