The sky’s torn asunder and Evelyn Trevelyan can’t close her eyes without seeing the dead, and somehow it’s not the pulsing rift in the sky that drives home the truth. It's horrible, to be sure. It bathes her dreams in sickly green and throbs in her palm like a second heartbeat.
Someone tore a hole straight to the Fade, but it doesn’t feel like the end of the world.
Not until a templar smiles at her.
He’s the only one Evelyn can’t come to terms with. Leliana was the easiest—she’d accept anyone she could use, and the mark on Evelyn's hand makes her very useful. And Cassandra only cares about justice. As long as Evelyn is willing to help her restore whatever order she can, she’ll ignore that the help uses magic and power instead of a sword and shield.
But the templar—and no one can convince Evelyn he’s not still a templar when he walks like one, stands like one, breathes like one—she sees him in her restless dreams, too. Because he has power here, influence and a growing army and his own terrifying force of will, and templars don’t smile at mages.
Not the honorable templars, anyway.
Even worse, the man doesn't stick to harmless smiles.
Evelyn's world, already filled with demons and terrors, now holds an even more baffling horror--a templar who leans into her personal space to regard her with earnest respect, as if he can mask what he was and what he stands for behind the title of Commander.
She's known templars who hide their hatred. Back in the Circle there was one with a rakish scar bisecting one eyebrow and trailing down his cheek. He had beautiful blue eyes framed in thick black lashes and laughter like midnight—dark and seductive.
Whispers traveled from apprentice to apprentice, warning them not to trust his pretty eyes or his too-easy laughter, but some sheltered fools always think that whispers are unfair and people are more decent than gossip paints them.
Evelyn tries not to be a sheltered fool anymore.
But if there's hatred behind the Templar's smiles, she can't find it. And that's what she calls him now, in the silence of her mind…the Templar, as if it's a title, as if she can build a wall between them by refusing to think his name. Especially when his smiles grow warmer, his eyes brightening when she steps into the war room, as if he's genuinely glad to see her.
He rests his gloved hands on the table and leans in to hear her reports, close enough that she can see the fine lines around his eyes, lines that deepen when he's giving her those absolutely-still-unwelcome smiles.
She tries to deflect. With short answers first, and then with dry sarcasm, but that was a mistake. The Templar's laughter isn't the darkness of midnight. It's a sweet spring morning, soft at first but getting warmer by the second, even when she makes him the target of the sharpest side of her tongue.
In fact, if she didn't know better, she'd swear he likes the sharpest side of her tongue.
And as if that isn't bad enough, he starts touching her.
It's probably not the first time. Surely she's touched him before—a handshake, or a brush of fingers. He's constantly shoving papers at her to sign, though less lately, now that she thinks about it. Josephine's been the one standing next to her, demanding the signature of the Herald of Andraste.
Maybe that's why she can't remember any particular touch. He's been avoiding touching her to the point that she can't remember until the first time she can't forget.
It's after a long trip to the Storm Coast, one where she comes back drenched and shivering and convinced she'll never, ever feel dry again. She wants to crawl to her quarters and change, but the fact that she just recruited a mercenary crew—led by a Qunari spy—is something that shouldn't wait.
Cassandra and Leliana agree about not waiting. What they don't agree on is what to do about the new recruits, and freezing water drips from Evelyn's hair down the back of her neck while they debate the merits and risks and exactly what sorts of reports will be winging their way north.
That damn drop of water keeps going, a trickle of ice down her spine, and she's hoping no one asks for her opinion because she's not sure she can give it without her teeth clattering together. That's a picture to inspire confidence—Andraste's chosen, blue-lipped and stammering because she doesn't have the wits to come in from the rain.
And that's when he touches her. Though it's not him, at first, but his cloak with the huge fur collar, and it's warm when it settles around her shoulders. Warm from his body, she realizes, which means that the Templar generates the sort of heat that lingers, the sort she can feel through her sodden robes. And it's huge on her, enveloping her, forcing her to remember how intimidating he seemed the first time he loomed over her.
"You need to dry off," is all he says, but it's a low rumble, and his fingers curl around her upper arms as he says it. He rubs, slowly, trailing from her shoulders to her elbows and back up, as if he's going to rub warmth back into her numb limbs with his own two hands.
But he doesn't. He releases her, leaving her with his cloak and his warmth and the fur tickling her cheeks, and she's never been close enough to smell him, but that must be his scent clinging to it. It's as complicated as he is—hints of the oil the soldiers use on their swords, and the campfires they use to fight the bitter cold. And beneath that, incense, a scent that reminds of her of the Circle, and the chapel there.
The association should chill her, but it doesn't. Because the templar with the beautiful blue eyes and dark laughter and dangerous scar—I got this trying to save a templar brother from an abomination, he'd whispered, not hiding his hatred so well anymore—he hadn't been the sort to visit the chapel and smell like incense. He hadn't been the sort to pray.
The honorable templars hadn't smiled at mages, but they'd done all those things. They'd had faith.
So does Cullen.
Evelyn was right about his name.
Once she thinks it, she doesn't stop thinking it. She tries to correct herself the next time they're bent over the war table. Cassandra and Leliana are talking to Josephine, hashing out the implications of allying with mages or templars, as if they have the influence to convince either to join forces with the rag-tag Inquisition.
Cullen—the Templar—leans forward, his big fists braced on the surface of the table, his brow furrowed. He's not weighing in because everyone knows where he stands. With templars, because he was one, is one, will always be one.
That's what she tells herself, as she stares at him until magic crackles just under her skin. The Templar, the Templar, the Templar.
She might as well call down lightning and put them all out of their misery, because when Cullen—Maker help her, he'll always be Cullen now—looks up and crooks his lips upwards in the smile that seems to offer reassurance even though the set of his shoulders and the stress in his eyes proves he has burdens enough…
She doesn't see a templar.
He's a man. A man with honesty in his eyes, and she knows the difference now. Knows it from hard experience, knows it in her bones. Knows it so well that Blackwall's warm smiles make her feel skittish and wary, because he has beautiful eyes and seductive scars, too, but he also has secrets.
Of course, Blackwall doesn't want to want her. He just wants to take her, in ways she'd probably understand better if she had spent more time listening to the apprentices whisper. Sometimes she's tempted to help Blackwall along in getting to the taking, but mostly out of curiosity. Or comfort. The nights might not be as chilly and endless with another body in her bed.
Ignoring a few secrets might be worth that. Blackwall's older. Experienced. If she has to fumble through it, she might as well pick a man who won't be fumbling with her. That's what she tells herself, anyway. That Cullen—the Templar, blight it all—would fumble. Because he's honorable. And devout. And faithful.
Andraste's flaming sword, she's in trouble.
Once she starts thinking about fumbling, and experience, everything starts falling apart.
It startles her, the first time she realizes that Cullen's older. Maybe not as old as Blackwall, but those lines around his eyes aren't just from too much smiling. Cullen's lived more years than she has, and he's lived them harder.
He's seen pain. He's had power.
Maybe he's known love.
Not that he looks at her with the same appreciative lust that Blackwall can't seem to hide. Even Sera and Iron Bull flirt with her more readily. Cullen only seems interested in asking if she's slept, if she's eaten, if she's wounded, and if she's made up her mind to reach out to the Templars.
He's still touching her, though, and maybe that's why she keeps reading too much into it. She's catalogued his touches—fingertips on her forearm, to catch her attention. A squeeze of her shoulder to encourage. His big hand splayed low on her back when he's asking when her last decent night's sleep was.
Sera teases her about it once, after Cullen stops them on their way back from the Hinterlands to tell her to eat before meeting the war council. His hand lingers so long she swears she can feel the heat through her armor, but when he catches Sera staring he clears his throat and strides away.
Sera shakes her head as they head to the tavern. "Tosser can't decide, eh?"
At Evelyn's blank look, the elf makes a gesture so arcane—and vaguely obscene—that she doubts even the whispering apprentices could have provided context. "You know," Sera continues, making an even more alarming—and intriguing—gesture with one hand. "Whether he wants to…you don't know, do you?"
She doesn't. And Sera cackles and proceeds to explain. And demonstrate. With words, and then gestures, and then, while they're waiting for dinner, with a peach she snatches off someone else's table. Evelyn curses a too-active imagination and fights to control her expression, because the Inquisition doesn't need a blushing Herald.
Which is all for naught, because the next time Cullen catches her to ask if she's reconsidered allying with the templars, she has a hard time focusing on his words. She keeps seeing Sera and that flaming peach, and she's still not entirely sure understands, but some new, confused, desperate part of her wants to know whether Cullen does.
She barely hears a word he's saying, and has to fake agreement to cover the fact that she's wondering if Cullen would fumble, or if he would share Sera's experience, her enthusiasm for devouring soft, sweet things.
Just the thought scrambles her wits, which is probably why they end up marching for Therinfal Redoubt to solicit aid from templars—templars, of all people.
Though considering Sera's feelings about mages, that might have been her plan all along.