Her dreams are different since the world turned blue. Heavier, quieter, a haze of memories that never happened, faces she cannot place, places she cannot name. It's easier to sleep now. It's harder to wake up.
His dreams are different from hers. He doesn't scream much anymore, not since she became blue. He still dreams, and she can tell his dreams are not at all like hers - her dreams are new and callow, glimpses of blue and white and feathers, still a child of summer who barely understands pain; his dreams are old and weary, flashes of grey and purple and claws, too many scars and edges that fray with the years she hasn't known yet. But he lies still longer than before, and breathes deeper, and he doesn't scream as much anymore, and at times she wonders if any of this is still true when she's not there, the scent of blue nestled warm between his arms.
She wakes up in a daze some mornings, not sure where or how or why, and it takes his fingers on her hair, his voice gently calling her name against the mist that clouds her world to bring her back. He's always watching her when she wakes.
"Sleep well?" he asks, every morning, and it's not a lover's courtesy anymore, as it used to be. He needs to know, now.
She nods and asks him the same question in return. He does not answer, but his lips take from hers all the haze and all the questions the night has laid over them, and when he breathes life back into her, she is ready to take on a new day.
There is a song in her ears now. A distant drum, an echo of something immensely sad and impossibly old, a lament she cannot begin to comprehend, but that sometimes brings her to the brink of tears. Rhia swallows them back, dryly, and closes her eyes, hums a different song to drown out the one that rings in her thoughts night and day.
Cullen teaches her that. He teaches her a number of tricks: close your eyes, swallow twice, crane your neck, rub your temple, press one finger to your eardrum, to your nose, crack your knuckles, clean under your nails, pick a scab, deep breaths, clean your blade, clean your room, write a letter, punch a wall. And songs. Nursery rhymes, tavern ballads, sea chanties, prayer verses. Mostly prayers. It works, most of the time. But sometimes it doesn't work at all, and it's too much, and she breaks down.
She cries in the war room, once.
Cullen is on her in a second, his arms around her smaller frame - so much smaller than him, no matter how much she trains, and eats and punches at training dummies- safe and solid, protecting and proud, she hears in a whisper. She feels flustered with the way Leliana and Josephine lower their heads and pretend not to be there, guilty with the way Cassandra stares at her like with - helplessness? disappointment? fear? - but, most of all, she fells sad. Tears of a grief that wrings at her heart run freely down her face, even as she stares at the scars on the back of Cullen's hand, and she doesn't even know why.
"The first months are the hardest," he mutters against her temple, her hair catching on his lips, but he only kisses it gently back down. "You grow used to it," he promises her again.
He says this of so many things. You grow used to the dreams. To the song. To the thirst. The chant of void and loneliness rings on at the back of her head, the beating of drums carries through her ears, through her blood, through her bones. She wonders if growing used to it means that it comes to hurt less, or if she just comes to not care for the pain.
She wonders if anyone held Cullen the first time the song made him cry.
He makes lists for everything since she started taking the lyrium. Not the usual lists - not his tasks for the day, not simple orders and requisitions. Names. Places. Dates. References she doesn't understand. People she'll never know, paths of his life that she'll never have crossed. People she has known, places they have been to together, small conversations she had forgotten about, things she's said to him in the privacy of their bed, a sketch of her profile in chalk.
It breaks her heart, the way his face falls when she asks him, one day, "Should I start making lists, as well?"
He's angry. He blames Ser for not telling her before she could make her choice. Blames himself for hiding his concerns for his own health from her, too. Blames Cassandra, and Barris, and the Order, and the Chantry. He blames the Maker, a blasphemous curse that comes out with bile before he has time to regret it. He does not blame her.
Rhia thinks of her life, then. End of the world aside, it's been a fairly dull one, so far. Growing up, taking the sword, swearing her vows, becoming the unwitting hero of songs of unwavering bravery and heroic deeds that she's yet to be worthy of, in spite of herself. She's made friends, but she doubts many of them will last, once her purpose is served. She's made enemies too, but those too will eventually forget her. She's been to places and smelled the grass and walked in the rain, but she's much too young to say she has lived a life yet, and what if the life she ends up living is not worth remembering anyway. What if she doesn't even live to be old enough to forget.
But there's one thing she does not ever want to forget, and then it dawns on her.
"Will you forget me, too?"
Cullen does not smile, but the way he looks at her makes her heart flutter, the same it does when they kiss. He takes her hand, and plants his lips to her palm, and says a silent prayer against her fingers. His body shifts, and then his mouth is seeking hers, and his hands tighten around her waist, and whatever answers she seeks are lost in the fever of his skin against hers, and she bites another scar into his heart, that he may never forget.
She starts a list too the next day, but there's only one word she can think of to write down. For now, it's enough.
Ser tells her of faith, warns her of comfort and silence. Barris gives her a small book of prayers bound in red-dyed leather, says it belonged to his former Knight-Commander, a good woman with a good heart, she never meant for any of this to happen, but then she too became red. That it will be in good hands with her. Rhia thanks him, but makes no promises.
She prays, but not for that kind of comfort. She prays for strength, of arm and soul and mind. She prays for guidance, for clarity, for purpose. For a heart that knows the right path, and does not stray. For a flame that burns for Andraste's mercy, not the Maker's wrath. She prays, but not for herself.
She prays she's made the right choice.
Cullen prays in silence. He prays in verses too, in the makeshift temple they've built in the garden; but after enough time standing in the shadows, watching him in silence, she can tell from the broken cadence of his words, the strained lilt of his chanting, that he's not truly praying - he's just drowning the song with noise. The thought worries her for a moment - the song will never leave her again - but at this point her concerns are moot. She touches the ragged scar over her arm where no arm would even be now if she'd had no defenses, and knows the sacrifices are worth it, in the end.
But around her, he prays in silence. His arms around her waist, looking out the battlements, words whispered against the back of her head. His hand on hers, sitting together by the fireplace, pleading eyes watching her fall asleep on his shoulder. His mouth sealed with hers, her legs around his hips, a prayer for her soul breathed into her even as his body teaches her of pleasures less sacred. A gentle kiss over her fingertips the first time she loses track of her words, forgets what they were talking about just a moment ago.
Ser asks her, once, why she won't pray over the song. She'll try everything - the rhymes, the chanties, counting stars, counting the tiles on the ground, drumming her fingers against the sheath of her sword, punching into the Bull's hands until her knuckles are raw; and sometimes she'll just give up and let it take over her, crying huddled against Cullen's chest until it dries out of her. She has no certain answer to give, but the memory of lips moving silently against her temple when he thinks she's asleep remains with her. Cullen does not pray for himself either.
The Maker does not answer our prayers, they've always taught her in the Chantry. Still, Rhia thinks, that does not mean he doesn't listen.
She drinks the life from his lungs, and the taste of him is intoxicating in her mouth. Her throat is constantly dry now. There is a rasp, an itch, sand on her tongue, a thirst that permeates her every thought. His kiss does not sate it, but his mouth is still the first place she'll look for relief.
He kisses her with a hunger she didn't know before either - deeper, stronger, heavier, his tongue laving over hers, his teeth biting at her lips like he could eat her raw, and often Rhia wonders if it's him or if it's her that has changed.
Before, she was a child. She'd never been kissed, she'd never unclothed before another man, not even her brothers, not even the other recruits in the Chantry where she'd received her Templar training. But now she's a woman. Now she has been kissed, and bedded, now Cullen has travelled through every inch of her body as she has his, and she can walk around their room with her breasts bare in front of him, and maybe that makes him hungry. Maybe loving a woman is different from loving a child. Maybe his sweet chaste kisses back when they first started this dance changed when what they have together changed too.
Or maybe it's just her. The possibility doesn't escape her, and the question haunts her every time he touches her a certain way, with hesitation in his hands and uncertainty in his eyes. Every time he brings her hands to his mouth and breathes so deeply into them she's afraid he'll choke. Every time his kisses linger, and linger, and his lips refuse to leave hers even as they breathe in shallow gasps.
"Can you taste it?" she asks one day.
He stares at her for a long, heavy moment with a look she cannot read, and says neither yes nor no, but leans his head in to kiss her again, and this time, for the first time, she refuses him.
"Cullen," she calls, as he averts his eyes, swallowing dry. "Cullen, look at me."
He does, for a second, and his eyes are a pool of emotions she cannot unravel. Then he's looking at her mouth, her cheeks, the scar on her chin, anywhere but where she needs him to be. There's clear sadness in his eyes now, and regret, and Rhia feels for a moment like she deserves to burn for putting it there. But then he smiles and touches his forehead to hers instead, and looks into her eyes again, so deeply that she may never be able to look away again.
"I never questioned your heart," he says, again, and the words ring old and dusty now, from another life that was not hers.
From a life that was not blue.
- An Oath -
"I made you a promise," she says, and Cullen stares at her like she's made of fire.
She shuts the lid on the philter, turns the key in its lock, and places the case in his hands. He holds it cautiously, reverently. Like the touch of it might set him on fire too. "Are you certain of this?" he asks, as if she could have any other answer. "It could be dangerous."
She nods, brushing her hair aside, like they're discussing war in a distant country, not her survival. Her sanity. "Divine Victoria is determined to see the Templars-"
"Rhia," he interrupts, setting the case aside to hold her face in his hands, make her look at him. Truly look at him.
She sighs, and it's a shudder she cannot hide. "I'm not sure this is safe," she answers at last. "But I am certain it's what I want."
The look on his face is not at all what she expects - he is not happy, he is not relieved, as she imagined he would be. He is tired, and worried, and something else she cannot name.
"Will you help me?" she asks, stepping in closer to rest her head on his chest. She is a child still, she thinks to herself, who cannot face this fear without his hand to pull her through the haze of blue.
He does not answer in words, but his arms come around her, safe and solid, protecting and proud, and she can feel his lips stretching into a smile against her forehead. There's a drum in her ears, but this time it comes from his heart.