Cullen hadn’t seen Fenris in four years but recognized him immediately when he came to Skyhold. His hair was slightly longer than it had been back then but the most obvious change was that Fenris seemed more relaxed.
“Hey Broody”, Varric said. “What brings you here? Thought you were hunting Slavers up North.”
“That’s why I’m here”, Fenris replied. “And which is why I asked to speak with the Commander”, he gave Cullen a nod. “But it’s good to see you Varric.”
“You, too Broody”, Varric said and patted his arm.
“Fenris”, Cullen greeted him. He felt a little awkward. Back in Kirkwall he and Fenris had barely exchanged any words at all.
“Commander”, Fenris replied. “Thank you for agreeing to help me.”
“Captain Rylen’s letter indicated that it was an Inquisition matter as well”, Cullen said as they walked across the courtyard towards his office. Captain Briony joined them at the foot of the stairs that led to the battlements.
“Indirectly it is”, Fenris replied. He ran a hand through his hair which Cullen found momentarily distracting. Fenris had been a tantalizing fantasy back in Kirkwall. Always around Hawke, always out of reach. Cullen had told himself that he had been merely admiring beauty because there had been no way around the fact that Fenris was a very beautiful man.
“They are slavers, preying on people coming to join the Inquisition from the Orlais side of the Frostback Mountains.”
“Why Orlais?” Briony asked. “It’s stance on slavery is the same as Ferelden’s.”
“The civil war in Orlais makes it easier for them to operate. Ferelden has the resources to investigate random disappearances and claims of slavers operating within its borders, Orlais doesn’t.”
“And you think they have a camp somewhere here?” Cullen asked.
Fenris nodded. “I’ve been following their trace since Tantervale. The Lord Chancellor is concerned about the tales that escaped slaves bring but since they are mainly Orlaisian elves he didn’t think it was his duty to do anything about it”, Fenris sneered. “But since they’re kidnapping people right off the chemin dux pelerins they have to have a camp in the Frostback Mountains.”
While he was talking Fenris’ fingers made a line from the Minater River all the way down to the Frostback mountains, the route he had followed most likely. It wasn’t a straight line. Cullen saw him skirting around Jader and Cumberland as well as skirting around the Imperial Highway.
When he looked up he found Fenris’ eyes on him. Involuntarily Cullen found himself blushing for no reason at all. He was reminded why he had tried not to pay too much attention to Fenris back in Kirkwall.
“The Frostback Mountains are Avarr territory”, Briony said. “They don’t like strangers.”
“They may be Avarr”, Cullen countered. “We could send soldiers to protect the pilgrims, at least until we found the slavers.”
“Loranil would be a good choice for the scouts”, Briony said. “He’s familiar with the Dales and the foothills of the Frostback Mountains on that side.”
“You have a Dalish elf working for the Inquisition?” Fenris asked.
“More than one”, Cullen answered. “Although it’s less motivated by religious fervour than pragmatism. Corypheus makes no difference in who he’s slaughtering.”
“Magisters”, Fenris said under his breath, a look of utter disgust on his face.
“I’ll accompany you if you don’t mind”, Cullen said.
Fenris gave him a critical look. Cullen could imagine what he saw. While he hadn’t been in better shape four years ago, he certainly had looked better.
“You’d do me a favour”, Cullen added.
“Fine then, if you think yours duties can spare you for a week or so.”
“You think we’ll find them that quickly?” A week wasn’t a long time to search for someone.
Fenris smirked at him. “I know we will.”
They left the morning of the day after tomorrow. Cullen had managed to avoid Dorian and Fenris meeting even if Dorian had pouted somewhat when Cullen had asked him to stay out of Fenris way.
“Fenris? The Fenris, Danarius’ ex-slave who ran away, evaded him for none years and finally ripped his head off?” Dorian had looked as if Fenris was his favourite legend come to life. “He’s practically a legend back home. The slaves are shaping him into the biggest hero since Gaharel. And the magisters threaten their children with him, should they not behave. “Eat your vegetables or the Glowing Elf will come and rip your head off. And you want me to avoid him?”
“He doesn’t like any mages, much less from Tevinter”, Cullen suspected that Dorian was less interested in Fenris because of what he had done and more because he was also from Tevinter.
“Fine, fine, in the interest of not ending up like Danarius I will stay out of Fenris’ way. But you, Commander”, he had wagged his finger in Cullen’s direction. “Owe me.”
“I owe you for saving your life”, Cullen had replied dryly. But then he couldn’t help asking, “Did you know him?”
“Fenris or Danarius?”
Cullen had shrugged.
“I never met Fenris and Danarius and I didn’t move in the same circles. He was the kind of man who used blood magic to brush his teeth”, Dorian’s disgust with blood magic had coloured his voice. Cullen had caught himself thinking that maybe if given the chance Dorian and Fenris would get along after all.
“Good thoughts?” Fenris asked, interrupting Cullen’s daydreaming.
“Just thinking”, Cullen replied. He and Fenris were the last two people awake from their small scouting party with Loranil and Harding having already gone to bed. The last two days had been hard, more so on Cullen than the others. Scouting wasn’t his expertise and he was aware that he could easily be a liability to the others.
He and Fenris sat in companionable silence for a while until Fenris said, “I guess none of us ever thanked you for letting us go back then.”
“When – “Cullen started to ask but then he realised what Fenris was talking about. “Meredith. You don’t need to thank me for that. I only did what was right.”
“Still, thank you”, Fenris said with a small smile and Cullen felt his face heat up again. Probably just the fire.
“Do you miss it? Kirkwall, I mean”, he asked suddenly.
Fenris shrugged. “Some of the people I knew there, yes, but the city itself? Not the least.” He looked at Cullen. “Do you?”
“Maker, no”, Cullen shook his head ruefully. “Not even when I thought what I was doing there was justified. I’m from a small village and trained at an even smaller monastery before joining the Ferelden Circle. I hadn’t even been in Denerim when I arrived in Kirkwall. It was a shock.”
“I like cities”, Fenris replied. “The anonymity of the masses makes me feel safe. Even if Kirkwall was never particularly safe”, he added dryly, promptly followed by a yawn.
“You should go to bed”, Cullen said. “I’ll take the first watch.”
“Good night then, Commander.”
“Cullen”, Cullen said before he could think about it.
Fenris smile was worth it. “Good night, Cullen.”
The next day led them ever deeper into the Frostback Mountains with Harding and Loranil at the front and Cullen and Fenris at the back. Harding was using the time to ask Loranil about the Dalish and he was more than happy to answer.
“Strange times bring the unlikeliest people together”, Fenris commented after watching them compare their knowledge of Elvish culture and history for nearly the whole day.
“Not so unlikely once you get behind the facade”, Cullen replied. He couldn’t help but sneak a look at Fenris. The sun was setting fast and gave him a golden shimmer than made him even more attractive than usually.
“Fair enough”, Fenris tilted his head slightly to concede Cullen’s point. “We should stop here for the night. If the slaver’s camp is as close as I think it is, we need to make sure they don’t see us coming.”
“Do you think they could be Avarr?” Cullen asked after he had called Harding and Loranil to stop.
“At least some of them are”, Fenris replied. “But if I have to guess I’d say not exclusively.”
“Avarr are hard to predict”, Harding added. “Some trade with the lowlanders, some don’t. Some admit strangers to join their clans, others don’t.”
“But Orlaisian elves wouldn’t trust them”, Loranil said. “Especially not city elves. I’d say they have at least one elf amongst them.”
“There are no Avarr amongst on the other side of the Waking Sea”, Fenris told them. “Too conspicuous. The group here only brings the elves to the coast where they hand them over to the smugglers that bring them to Tevinter, so I’d guess a contact person from Tevinter is part of the group as well.”
“How many people are talking here altogether?” Cullen asked.
Fenris, Harding and Loranil exchanged a couple looks and then Harding said, “Between six and ten.”
When Fenris saw Cullen’s sceptical face, he added, “A group of that size can easily lead thirty elves through the mountains to the coast. Fifty if they have a mage. Sixty if it’s a blood mage. Trust me”, he said with a humourless smile. “I have experience with this.”
“Good that we have a templar with us then”, Harding said.
Cullen didn’t quite have the same confidence in his skills, not without the lyrium.
“If your skills with the bow anywhere close what the other recruits say they are, you could deal with these slavers on your own”, Loranil smiled.
Harding blushed while Fenris and Cullen both had to hide their laughs behind their hands.
“I’ll take the first watch”, Harding said quickly.
“I’ll keep you some company if you don’t mind”, Loranil replied.
Cullen and Fenris decided that this was their cue to leave. They bid the other two good night and crawled into the hastily set up tent.
“You didn’t tell me that the Inquisition was a matchmaking service”, Fenris said dryly.
“That part is usually done by Josephine, not me”, Cullen defended himself playfully. “You were right though, strange times do bring people together.”
“True”, Fenris said. “But not who I meant earlier.”
Suddenly Cullen was very aware of their close proximity and of Fenris’ eyes looking directly at him. “I...uhhh.”
“Would you mind?” Fenris asked calmly.
“Mind what?” It couldn’t be what Cullen hoped it was, could it?
“This”, Fenris said and pressed his lips to Cullen’s. It was barely a kiss at all and yet it made shivers run down Cullen’s spine. He cupped Fenris’ face and returned the kiss as it deserved to be returned.
“Maker”, Cullen sighed when the kiss ended. His hands were still gently cupping Fenris’ face. “You are so beautiful.” There was so much reverence in his tone that it made Fenris blush. “when this is over, will you come back to Skyhold?”
“I wasn’t going to”, Fenris replied, “But now I will.”
“Thank you”, Cullen whispered against his lips.