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Both Matter

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When she dreams, buried in the folds of the Fade, she is a mage. When she wakes, cold and alone in the Inquisitor's (she still has trouble connecting herself to the Inquisitor, it will take time) bed, the magic abandons her.

Sabina pulls on her robe over her thin nightshirt. Growing up in the Marches has made her tolerance for the cold admirable. Her feet pad against the stone floor as she makes her way to the balcony, swinging open the doors and stepping into the night.

That has always been her childhood dream as well, that she could weave magic, little bursts of electricity from her fingertips. When she was quite young, maybe six or so, she had run to her mother exclaiming she was a mage indeed and miming the gestures she had made in the Fade, but no magic came flowing out. Her dark hair tied up in curly ringlets, she screamed and cried that she had magic, she was sure of it. While her mother sighed with relief she cried herself out until she was an exhausted heap on the floor. With magic being such a curse, she never could figure out why she was so upset.

Now with magic grafted on her, if not in her, Sabina thinks the whole thing bitterly awful.

But alone, in the cold air of Skyhold, she mimes the motion of electricity again. Nothing comes. She sighs and returns to bed, chasing impossible, unwanted dreams.

--

There are other impossible dreams that Sabina Trevelyan chases in her waking hours. Ones that involve the Inquisition’s Commander.

Cautious, measured, professional in his speech. Always relying on decorum and order. Before she took the title of Inquisitor, he always insisted on affixing “Lady” to her name, though she hates the sound of it. From his lips it sounds all the more unpalatable.

She knows why she hates it so. Years spent sneaking about, pretending to be anyone who wasn’t a nobleman’s daughter. Lying about her parents, her name, her age, in taverns she never should have been in. Rolling around in rented or stolen beds with men and women who wouldn’t recognize her in another context, even if they were employed in the service of her very own household. Cullen speaks with the same commoner’s voice, an accent without interruption from locution tutoring. That simple thrill of the discouraged, if not the forbidden rising up inside her. He speaks like those whom she had often taken advantage, stolen hours, evenings, in the service of pretty lies. But that is not the way she could snare him. Unlike Ostwick, she cannot not live between shadows here, the shadow of her father’s position and the cloud she precipitated herself as cover.

She wants, and where before she had wanted, she could always likewise have. But having Cullen isn’t an option.

And that is because of the other Cullen. The one who speaks in jumbled heaps of phrases between little, strangled sounds that he cannot keep back. Whose face flushes under three or four days of stubble growth and averts his eyes when she chooses to remove bits of blood-caked armor at the War Table. That Cullen is neither the Commander of the Inquisition’s Forces (a title that cannot help her in her guilt) nor an idle distraction. The desire he feels radiates off of him in those moments, but it is not one she is accustomed to handling. Not one to be deflected with clever turns of phrase and sex.

He is too obvious, too syrupy sweet and she sometimes feels like she might grow soft from drinking it in.

Even if she knows better, that he should be off limits, she wants. She is used to having. Can’t stay away.

At Skyhold he spends less time personally overseeing the new recruits, delegating much of training to trusted veterans. Instead of finding him with his men, he spends long hours confined to his office, organizing routes and schedules, hunching over his desk. He doesn’t seem the man for it. Then again, he had been a man of some importance in Kirkwall as well. His name had been passed around at parties in the Marches after the destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry.

“Anything I should know, Commander?”

He straightens his posture at the sound of Sabina’s voice, like a good child thinking he was caught out. But his desk is filled with requisition requests, itineraries, all things directly in service to his work.

“Not at present, Inquisitor.” He clasps his hands behind his back and stands at attention. Only the shift of his feet gave away he is nervous at all. Maybe a twitch of a hand against the edge of his desk. Yes, holding on as if he is afraid of falling.

“I was thinking about sparring? Care to join me?” Wicked thing really, to tempt herself in such a way, in a way she knows he could be tempted too. Just enough adherence to decorum to get him going. Not such a strange request.

“Should you take off your clothes? Change, I mean.”

He turns such a perfect shade of pink, down the bridge of his nose and across his cheeks. Just by the side of each nostril he is always pink, the cold air certainly does that, chapping away his skin. She is already accustomed to cold, if not yet the wind.

“Mm, no. It’s fine,” she waves off his concern. “If you can hit me, it’s already too late.”

“Is that a derision of my skill?”

“Not at all.” Sabina takes the hilt of his sword right out of his hands, laying the flat of the blade against her shoulder and marching out of the room, expecting Cullen to follow. “I may not be as...squishy as a mage, but it’s still not my role to be the one hit.”

“Squishy is not a word I’d use to describe you, Inquisitor.” Cullen almost sounds as if he is enjoying himself as they make their way down from the battlements.

“With those cooks Josie found for us, I will be before long!” She laughs because she knows he will laugh too, if only because it is polite. But not only because it is polite.

“I’d like to see that...I mean.”

Sabina quickens her pace so Cullen falls behind, left to stew in his own embarrassment. She does want to check if he has transitioned from pink to red, but there will be time later.

“Here.” Once they reach the training dummies, Sabina tosses Cullen his sword, careful to aim the handle towards his outstretched hand.

“And if I’m not hitting you, what is it I’m supposed to be doing?”

“Trying?” She kicks off her shoes, letting them fly until they hit the nearby tree.

“I don’t see your daggers? What are you doing?”

She shrugs her shoulders and loosens the buttons to her tunic, letting the upper flap fall open. “Dancing. And just because you cannot see my weapon, does not mean I’m unarmed. Swing.” The last word is a command, if a breathy one.

The next several minutes consist of Cullen half-heartedly trying to strike her and Sabina’s bored movements between attempted strikes. She should have known that he would not try very hard, particularly when she wears no armor.

“I will never become better if you do not challenge me, Commander. You know that as well as anyone.”

“Yes, but I am unaccustomed to training against dual wielders. Our forces rely on archers for stealth attacks.” Even though his exertion is minimal, the light activity and cold air move the blush from his cheeks all the way up to his ears.

“Right now I’m not wielding anything. Besides, not very much like dancing if I hide in the trees and pick you off at a distance. This is fairer. Now, try. Don’t you want to impress me?” She bites the very tip of her tongue.

“I apologize if you find me inadequate. Perhaps Cassandra would be a better choice? She is more familiar with your fighting style than I.”

“Maybe I want you to get familiar?” With a twirl around his side, she grabs up his sword and brings it round her back, out of his reach. As he steps towards her, she throws down a pinch of powder from her pocket and vanishes from sight. Only enough to move round to his back, pressing the pommel into the small of his back. “And before you argued that I was not armed. Now I clearly am.”

“I am beginning to wonder if you are ever unarmed.”

Cullen turns and Sabina lets the sword drop to the ground, banging against his feet. She produces one of her smaller knives from her hip, proving just how dangerous she always has been.

“Now you don’t have to wonder.” She holds the knife just millimeters from his throat. Too heavy a swallow and his adam’s apple would bob against it. She isn’t sure if she wants that or not. Not a thing he would have wanted, she suspects.

If anything, he wants a nice girl, maybe one who flushes like he does between the sheets. Perhaps one of the Inquisition’s mages, acting out some fantasy he never before dared to indulge at the Circle because it would have been so very against the rules.

And, if anything, she should leave him well alone because she knows better and he, clearly, doesn’t. It is plain enough in his eyes, even with her knife at his throat, that he is already in too deep when she has only ever wanted to dip her toes. She withdraws the knife from his neck and instead cuts away the ribbon holding her curls atop her head, letting her hair fall down in dark waves to her shoulders. That one gesture makes his eyes widen more than the knife at his throat ever could.

“I am very well armed. At all times, Commander Cullen.”

His eyes shift from hers to her Anchored hand and somehow that makes her less certain that anything at all had happened between them. Maybe she is still an illusion of her own making.