Cullen cursed under his breath at the ink blot forming under his pen, the slight tremble in his hands a clear indicator of what had caused it. It wasn't bad enough to ruin his report or make it illegible, but it still grated. He wasn't used to his weaknesses being quite so visible.
He closed his eyes for a moment, pointedly ignoring the dull throbbing in his head that had been his constant companion for weeks now. Longer, even. Since before Cassandra had declared the Inquisition in the aftermath of the Divine's death. Since before they had arrived in Haven. Since before he'd even left Kirkwall in the first place.
The sound of voices outside his tent was muffled, but he could still hear them. If he listened closer, he could probably even make out what they were saying and maybe even who was saying it. That said, it took too much effort for something he didn't particularly care about anyway, so he instead let the sounds wash over him and fade into the background.
Cullen reluctantly opened his eyes and glanced back down at the report he was writing. The ink blot was still there, the Herald's name nothing but a blur now. With a sigh, he rewrote it. Adaar. It still seemed so odd to him, thinking about her of all people as being the Herald of Andraste. After the events of the past few weeks, he should be more used to her.
Should being the important word there.
No matter what some other might say of him, Cullen wasn't a fool. He was well aware that his treatment of the Herald ever since she had joined their cause wasn't fair, that his own personal biases were coming to the forefront whenever he interacted with her and bringing out the worst in him. She had been nothing but helpful and eager to please ever since she had realized they weren't going to kill her. If it wasn't for who – and what – she was, he was certain that he would be well on his way towards respecting her for everything she'd done since joining the Inquisition.
But that was the thing about personal biases: even when you were aware of them, they were hard to fight against sometimes.
Cullen stretched and pulled his coat more tightly around him. The cloth walls of his tent didn't do much against the icy wind that was blowing through Haven. There was a part of him, a very small part, that regretted telling Josephine "no" when she offered to find him a room within the Chantry. Still, it wouldn't be fair to his men. If they could put up with cold tents, then so could he.
He blinked as a word from outside suddenly reached his ears and glanced towards the tent's wall. While he hadn't recognized the voice, he'd recognized the tone. That wasn't something simply gossiping; that had been a greeting.
It was late and only getting later. Considering just how frigid the weather had been the last few days, no one who wasn't on guard duty should be outside the walls by now. Anyone with even a remote amount of sense was indoors, or at least in a tent, bundled up in layers of blankets.
So why was someone talking to the Herald outside his tent?
With a frown, Cullen pushed himself to his feet. He flinched as his back protested the movement, and it took everything he had not to let himself stumble. He knew that he was backlit by the small lamp he'd been using for light, his shadow showing clearly to anyone outside his tent, and it wouldn't do for any of his soldiers to see their commanding officer tripping over his own two feet.
Bracing himself against the cold he knew was coming, Cullen walked over to the door of his tent and stepped outside. The wind was just as biting as he'd expected it to be, sharp and frigid. He pulled his coat a bit tighter around himself as he looked around, letting his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. One of the moons was shining bright in the sky, the other barely more than a sliver off in the distance, but it was enough of a difference from his brightly-lit tent that it took a moment for him to see well enough to make out anything of note.
A few of his soldiers were standing nearby, new recruits from the Hinterlands that he didn't know very well yet. Hutchins and... Miller, he thought that was the man's name, but he wasn't entirely certain. He needed to fix that. What kind of commander was he if he didn't instantly know the names of the people under his command?
Both of them nodded at him respectfully as he stepped out. He couldn't help but notice, though, that Hutchins's eyes kept drifting past him. Towards the lake. Almost as if she was watching someone.
Cullen nodded in return and then turned around, letting his gaze drift off into the darkness. There was a dark shadow off in the distance, standing at the edge of the lake. Tall and thin, with the unmistakable shape of horns twisting off to the side of the shadow's head.
It couldn't be anyone but the Herald.
With a sigh, Cullen started off in that direction. He had no idea what the woman thought she was doing, slipping out in the middle of the night without anyone else, but the last they needed was her to fall through the ice or get taken out by a stray druffalo that was passing by.
Cullen shivered as another icy breeze blew past him, and several choice curses that he would never actually say out loud ran rather vividly through his head. His tent might not be a bastion of warmth, but it was better than this. He was going to give the Herald a piece of his mind for going out alone in the middle of the night.
Maker save him from stubborn Qunari. Vashoth. People with horns in general.
On an intellectual level, he knew that she didn't consider herself to be a Qunari and never had. He'd heard her bite the head off of more than one person who'd made the mistake of referring to her as one instead of a Vashoth, and she wasn't much better towards people who mistakenly called her a Tal-Vashoth. She'd never followed the Qun, and even the slightest implication that she might have in the past was enough to drive her up the wall.
That didn't change the fact that every time he looked at her, his mind immediately flew back to those long years in Kirkwall. The uprising that the Arishok had led might have been years ago, but Cullen still sometimes woke up in a cold sweat from nightmares about it. Kirkwall had lost some good people that day.
And it very much didn't help matters in the least that the Herald was a mage as well. He was trying, Maker knew he was trying, but it was hard sometimes to look past that part of her when she walked around with a giant staff, electricity occasionally sparking from her fingertips without her even meaning for it to happen. There was a part of him that he didn't think would ever be able to truly trust mages without at least a hint of hesitation, especially one like her who didn't even try to hide exactly what she was.
She brought back all sorts of memories that he'd rather stay buried.
He couldn't shake the feeling that the Herald was a dangerous explosion just waiting to happen. And, Maker help him, he honestly didn't know if it was just his past fears and weaknesses coming back to haunt him or if there was actually something to it.
It had made the past few months difficult in more ways than one, that was for certain.
Cullen was only ten feet or so away from the Herald before he realized that she clearly hadn't noticed him coming. He came to an abrupt halt, more out of surprise than anything else. He hadn't seen her out in the field since that first horrible day, when she'd come running onto the battlefield like an avenging spirit with Cassandra and Varric and Solas not far behind her, but he'd read the reports and heard more than a few rumors. Sneaking up on her wasn't a bright idea, from what he'd heard, nor was it something that was easy to accomplish. She had to be very distracted to have not heard him stomping through the snow in her direction.
He took a closer look at her. Her back was towards him, but now that he was looking for it he could see the way that her shoulders were shaking just a little. It was something he was well familiar with. She was crying, or – at the very least – trying keep from it.
He cleared his throat pointedly. "Herald?"
The Herald stiffened, her head turning towards him for just an instant before she quickly turned her gaze back off into the distance. Still, it was enough. The moonlight was bright enough that he could see the tear tracks on her face, showing clearly against the light grey of her skin.
"Commander," she said calmly, and if he hadn't seen her face for himself he wouldn't have had any idea that she had been crying. That she was still crying, or at the very least trying to stop. "Can I help you with something?"
He narrowed his eyes and studied her a bit more closely.
Cullen had known on an intellectual level that the Herald was young, just barely out of girlhood. She did a good job of hiding it, most of the time, but every now and then the truth would slip through. Despite her height, made even more intimidating by the horns jutting out of her head, her movements were just awkward enough for her true age to show through. She brought her hand up and casually brushed it across her face, as if she was tucking a stray hair out of her eyes. He could clearly tell that she was trying to hide the evidence of her tears.
The Herald was pointedly looking away from him, her face focused on the distant shore of the lake, but he'd have to be blind not to notice that she was holding herself perfectly still. Like a statue. As hard and unmoving as the stone that made up the cliff walls that surrounded the area.
And as brittle.
Cullen opened his mouth to reply. A hundred excuses all flashed through his mind, some formal and some casual and some kind and some hateful – and every single one of them completely inappropriate considering the circumstances. He closed his mouth and let out a sigh.
"I could ask you the same thing," he said slowly, more than a little awkwardness in his voice. "Are you all right?"
Her head turned, just slightly, as if she was shifting in place to see him better. She didn't say anything, but he could almost hear the puzzlement radiating from her. He'd been less than kind to her so far, after all.
Cullen couldn't blame her for being caught off guard. He was almost as surprised as she was by his reply. Still, he'd said it. He'd stand by it, for better or for worse.
"I'm fine," the Herald said. He wasn't an expert on reading people by any means, but even he could tell that she was lying through her teeth.
That... hadn't gone quite as he'd hoped.
"You're supposed to be leaving in the morning, are you not?" he asked, keeping his tone as even as possible. "Back to the Hinterlands?"
He took a few steps forward so that he was standing beside her, but he pointedly focused his gaze on a dark spot on the ice some distance away. It took more than a few moments for the signs of crying to disappear, and he wanted to give her at least a semblance of privacy. She deserved that much, considering everything she'd done for the Inquisition so far.
There was a long pause. "Yes," the Herald said a bit stiffly. "I'm well aware that it's late, Commander, but I still have time to get plenty of rest. It won't affect the mission."
Startled, Cullen glanced at her before he remembered that he was trying to avoid doing just that. "Maker's breath, I didn't mean—" He cut off and shook his head. It said a lot, that she immediately thought he was berating her simply because he was speaking to her. "It wasn't meant as a chastisement, Herald."
Something that looked quite a bit like surprise of some type or another flickered across her face, and she shifted in place. To his surprise, her pale skin gained a slightly reddish tinge as she blushed. "Oh," she said quietly, and Cullen didn't think he'd ever heard her sound quite so young. "I, uh—" She took a shaky breath. "I'm sorry, Commander. Thank you for asking."
Neither of them said anything else, and a silence slowly settled over them as the moment passed. It wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as Cullen expected it to be, all things considered.
Somewhere far in the distance, a wolf howled.