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Of Woos and Woes

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"Andraste's tits!" Mae Trevelyan shouted in frustration as another onslaught of torrential downpour dropped from Crestwood's skies. "When is this fucking rain going to let up! I've got so much of this rank smelling water in my boots that I might just use it to drown the next walking corpse we come across."

"With that I am in agreement," Dorian replied. "I would have worn my play clothes had I known I'd be frolicking around in puddles all day."

"I don't mind it so much. Better than the fuckin' snow," Bull muttered, "besides, it makes my skin glisten. Right, Dorian?"

"Um..." Was all Dorian had to say.

"Ah come on. It's not that bad, Inquisitor," Varric chided, "I'm sure the sweat of Andraste's tits would smell much worse than this."

That got a round of laughter from them all.

Mae spotted a cave entrance in the distance and could make out the shape of a man. She pulled on the reins of her mount, slowing it to a walk.

"Is that Hawke over there by that cave with the creepy wooden door?" she asked.

"Sure looks like it," Varric said and as they neared the figure in the doorway, Hawke's shaggy black hair, piercing blue eyes and intense armor were impossible to mistake. "And that's the mark of the blind men painted on the door. They're ruthless and notorious smugglers. I'm surprised they'd be willing to give up their hideout to the Warden." He said, referring to the skull on the door with the red paint splashed over the eyes.

"Ruthless smugglers calling themselves blind men. That doesn't make it less creepy." Mae shuddered as she stared at the painted door.

"I've never been so happy to go inside a cave before," Dorian remarked, hopping down from his horse.

"That makes two of us," Mae said as she strolled up beside him and pulled her horse under the eaves of the cavern to keep him out of the rain. The others followed suit.

"I'm glad you guys finally made it. The Warden's in here." Hawke turned and opened the door for them to file in.

The Inquisitor and her companions traveled down the length of the chilly cave, the only sound being the steady drip of water somewhere in the distance and their own footfalls echoing from wall to wall of the cavern.

"What are you doing?" Varric asked as Mae stopped to harvest a few deep mushrooms she saw growing between two rocks.

"Harvesting these deep mushrooms so I can improve our regeneration potions. It'll come in handy if we get any wounds."

"So we'll have to drink that?" Dorian asked while wrinkling his nose. "I think I'd rather suffer from chills and fever than swallow that dreaded fungus."

Mae laughed. "The potion won't taste like fungus."

"It's the thought of it!" Dorian exclaimed, horrified.

She placed the mushrooms into a small leather pouch that was belted about her waist and pushed forward through the cave. As she neared the second door, Mae suddenly smelled the metallic scent of blood. The floor felt slick underneath her leather soles, so she reached down to touch the liquid pooled at her feet. Yep. It was definitely blood. It wasn't newly recent but recent enough to be wet and sticky on her fingers.

"I think it's safe to say the Blind Men didn't give their hideout up willingly," she said, rising back up and pushing through the next door.

She came to a sudden stop when her eyes rested on the pointed tip of a fine blade at her throat. Varric bumped into the back of her legs, his head bouncing off the cushion of her arse. She was thankful that it was the dwarf behind her and not The Bull. If Bull had been the one to bump into her she'd surely be a goner by now.

Hawke's head popped in through the doorway next to hers. "Whoa. Whoa. It's just us. Put that away," he said and Mae exhaled as the sword was sheathed.

"Warn me next time you're going to do that. You've got a nice ass and all but I'd rather not put my head up there." She heard Varric mumble behind her.

Now that she didn't have a sword at her throat, she took a look at her surroundings but the first thing she noticed was the Grey Warden. His hair was slicked back, wet from the rain and appeared as a dull brown in the glow of the torch with a few flecks of red. She mused it was probably closer to a strawberry blonde when dried. His eyes were like liquid amber with a drop of wild honey and a touch of smoldering brood. She was pleasantly surprised at how pretty he looked. She supposed he'd look more like Blackwalll, with long tousled hair and an unkempt beard but he was the antithesis of Blackwall.

He held out his hand."Inquisitor, huh."

She took his gloved hand and noticed the way his hard features softened away into a kind---almost smile. She also noticed how his eyes lingered on her face for a moment. That she was used to. Every man always stared at her, surprised that she'd be an attractive mage as if all mages were supposed to look like wild witches with warts and disturbingly long fingernails. He nodded to her staff then and proceeded to state the obvious. "I see that you are a mage."

She rolled her eyes. "Oh! Is it that obvious? And here I thought I'd been keeping my staff out of sight," she said mockingly and was surprised when she was rewarded with a laugh.

"Alright. I deserved that. The name's Alistair."

No.

She flushed and felt very stupid then, insulting the famed Grey Warden. "The Alistair? Of the fifth blight?"

"I really should get my name changed," he muttered, seemingly to himself. "But yes that was me. War, betrayal, dark spawn...lots of fun stuff and made for great stories, I'm sure. But nobody cares about that now. I just follow Warden Commander Clarel's orders like every other regular Warden."

She felt speechless.

"Well, let's not stand around by the door. Come–sit by the fire, have some stew and drink to warm your bones," he said and led them in that direction. "The smugglers who'd been here before left a lot behind so feel free to grab a bowl and help yourself. There's stew in the pot and an oddly overwhelming amount of apples on the table. Oh and did I mention the cheese wheel?"

Mae muttered her thanks and was the first to grab up a bowl and spoon from off the table. She went over to the pot bubbling nicely on the spit and inhaled the delicious scent of herbs and meat. Her mouth salivated and her stomach growled out in ravenous hunger. She took the ladle and filled her bowl as much as she could without spilling the contents. The others quickly followed her lead.

Carefully, she walked back over near the spit and took a seat.
She sat cross legged in front of the fire and greedily shoveled the soup into her mouth.

"Inquisitor? If I might make a suggestion," Dorian said, sliding a barrel over beside her so as not to dirty his attire on the cave floor.

"MmmmHmm," she murmured while chewing up the veggies and meat in her stew. The texture was tender and soft and it was the best thing she'd eaten in days.

"Eat your food a bit slower. You know—actually taste it."

"Ah, come on, Vint," Bull reprimanded him while wiping the stew off his face with the back of his hand. "It's the first good thing we've eaten in days. Leave the boss alone."

"Precisely. All the more reason it should be tasted," he said with a smug grin.

Mae ignores him, knowing he was only teasing her. It was the nature of their relationship. 

Bull snarled from his relaxed position opposite Dorian and tilted back his head to gulp up the rest of his stew.

Alistair took a seat next to Mae, while Varric and Hawke filled in the empty spaces of their intimate circle. The others chatted amongst themselves and Mae had to keep from smiling at Bull and Dorian's flirtatious banter. Varric and Hawke, she assumed, were catching up on each other's lives. She wondered how long it had been since the two last saw or hers from each other. 

Mae took a swig from her water skin and belched, causing her to get a perturbed glance from Alistair. "Excuse me," she said and he went back to sipping his soup.
"This stew is quite delicious, Alistair."

"Thank you. Its traditional Ferelden Lamb and Pea stew. Have you never had stew before?" He asked curiously.

"Yeah, I suppose you could call it that. I grew up in the Free Marches but the stew they served in the Circle usually consisted of mostly water and vegetables. And I certainly haven't had any good stew along my travels. Until now, that is. Thank you again—for the stew and a place to shelter us from the rain."

"It's my pleasure. So—you grew up in the Ostwick circle, then. What was that like?"

"Like living in a very expansive cage, I suppose. And I'm glad to be free of it."

He chuckled lightly and it was warm and rich. She rather enjoyed the sound of it.

"I've heard most circles are that way." He set his soup down, unfinished and leaned back on his elbows.

"Are you going to finish that?" She asked, nodding toward the floor.

"My stew? No, I'm full. I already ate some before now. Though being a Grey Warden makes me rather ravenous, I do fill up eventually."

She snatched the bowl up off the floor. "Well then. I'll finish this for you. Wouldn't want this perfectly good stew to go to waste."

He stared at her. "I don't believe I've ever seen a woman eat so much. Are you sure your not a Grey Warden?"

She shrugged. "You haven't seen many women then. If it helps, you can blame my appetite on this glowing mark." She raised her hand for him to see and it flickered and glowed green.

He laughed. "You are right about that." Then he looked a little closer to her mark. "Does it hurt?"

"On occasion but not enough for me to whine about it."

He laughed again. 

She downed his bowl of soup as Alistair watched in amazement. She then, took another large gulp from her water skin. "So, Alistair. Tell me about yourself. I've only heard a few stories here and there in my time. Most of them coming from Varric, which are most likely exaggerated."

"What is it you'd like to hear?" He asked.

"We could start simple. I met a woman in Redcliffe that said she knew you growing up and would make you toys. What was growing up there like?"

Mae didn't know much about the cities and villages in the south because she'd had no reason to before. Hopefully, Alistair wouldn't think her a fool for knowing next to nothing.

"I'm not so sure I'd call anything in my life simple."

She grinned. "Well, I've got no place to go for the night so I'm all ears."

And so he told her the gist of his life. How he'd grown up in Redcliffe but it wasn't all sugar and roses. Then he talked about his time in the Chantry and how he hated it. He told her of his training to become a Templar but abandoned that path when he met Duncan. Because of his admiration for the seasoned Warden recruiter, he himself had joined the Grey wardens and spent a great deal of time being mentored by Duncan. Then he told her of the first time he'd met Nelaros Tabris who was a city elf with a spunk and charisma that could charm male and female alike. He even laughed a bit when he told her about the time Nelaros had a foursome with Isabela, Zevran and Leliana. He mentioned how Nelaros let him choose to remain a Grey warden rather than be forced to rule with Queen Anora and how he'd been the most supportive friend anyone could ever have. But then he grew somber when he told the tale of the final blow that Nelaros took to the archdemon, costing him his life.

"I'm sorry for your loss, Alistair. That must be hard." Mae sympathized, resting her hand on top of his while they both stared into the dancing flames.

He moved his hand out, subtlety from under hers and pulled himself into a seated position, wrapping his arms around his knees. "Thank you. Your words are kind."

They sat there in silence for the remainder of the evening, each lost in their own thoughts while the others of their circle laughed and chatted around them. Eventually Alistair got up and announced that he was retiring for bed and that they'd all set out for Skyhold in the morning. Varric scooted in beside Mae, taking Alistair's place.

"What'd ya do to Fuzzy? I saw him all smiley with you and then he up and left all brooding."

"Maybe it's just a Grey Warden thing," she said to make things light. But deep down she was hurting for the poor man. All his life he'd only known rejection and loss. She was surprised he could still offer a smile at all.

"You might be on to something," he told her and then went in search of a bottle of whiskey. He came back and handed her the bottle. "Here. You look like you could use this."

She took it gladly and said, "Is there ever a time I couldn't use this?" Then she popped the top and took a long swig.

Chapter Text

It had been a long day for Alistair and it didn't get any better when he shuffled up to the Blind Men's hide out, soaked to his small clothes and smelling like wet dog. He combed a hand through his hair to shake out some of the droplets that were constantly dripping onto his face. Then he swung the door open and made his way down the dark, dank cave to another door. This time he decided to knock, politely. Why? He honestly didn't know and he was regretting the fact that he'd bothered to knock at all.

"Who goes there?" A rough and gravelly voice called out from behind the door.

"Just a---." He paused. "A guy?" He hit his hand against his head. A guy? Really Alistair?

The door flew open and three men stared at him menacingly. "We don't want you here. Now leave."

"What if I ask nicely?" He moved his hand to his sword, wrapping his fingers around the hilt.

"Move along. Or we'll make you." They threatened.

Alistair sighed. "I was really rather hoping you wouldn't make me do this." Within moments his sword was unsheathed and he plunged the blade into the first smuggler's heart before the others could blink an eye. He pulled the sword out, as the man fell to the floor, gave a flick of his wrist to get the excess blood off his blade and then ripped into the next guy. The third smuggler just backed away, cowering with his hands held above his face in surrender.

"P-p-please don't kill me." He said with tears in his eyes.

"Then go and don't come back here." He told him, pointing toward the door.

The man ducked under his arm and scurried off while Alistair pulled a kerchief from his pocket and wiped his blade clean. He examined it for any more blood and rubbed at the tip a bit with the cloth to make it shine before sheathing it again. He saw the smugglers had a fire going in the spit with some broth in a pot. Feeling his hunger grow he made his way back out of the cave in search of some meat and vegetables to make a hearty stew. He stopped just short of the entrance when he saw a ram and he pulled his small dagger out from the belt at his waist. He crouched low and set his sights on his target, aiming at the creatures throat. Then he whipped the dagger from his hand and it twirled through the air and landed exactly where he wanted it. The ram fell, distressed, and Alistair ran over to it. It had bled out to the point of death in those few short strides but he still needed to drain it more if he wished to have a proper stew.

Spotting a tree not too far from the cave with some low hanging branches, he hoisted the ram up on his shoulders and carried it off toward it. Setting the beast down he pulled some rope off his belt and threw it up over the branch. Then he tied the rope around the bottom half of its legs and pulled on the other end of the rope to get the ram off the ground. With its head up off the ground and dangling, it was able to drain rather quickly.

Whilst the ram was draining he stopped by the abandoned farm, only a few feet up the hill and gathered enough vegetables and herbs to fill his arms. Satisfied with his loot and sure he couldn't carry anymore, he made his way back to the cave.

Once finished with that he went back to the ram, skinned it, discarded the useless bits and gathered up the meat he could use for his stew. He left the rest for the wild animals and demons if they had a mind to eat raw meat. He chuckled to himself at the thought of demons eating raw meat.

He returned to the cave and chopped up the meat and vegetables into bite sized pieces and dumped it all into the stewing pot hanging over the spit. The savory smells began to waft up to his nostrils after about an half hour or so making his stomach growl loudly.

"Quiet you." He said.

Suddenly his ears pricked up at the sound of shuffling feet and low voices.
He listened closely and as the voices drew nearer he moved for the door, pulling his sword from its sheath. It opened and a woman, more beautiful than he had ever seen with dripping, jet black hair stood, staring down the length of his blade. His eyes roamed over her skin as pale as the two moons of Thedas, her lips full and deep red, and settled on a pair of her soft mossy colored eyes. He lowered his sword at Hawke's command and stepped aside for the Inquisitor and her companions.


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He didn't know what had come over him the night before. He spent all of the evening blubbering on about his life to the stunning Inquisitor without thinking. She must think him an utter fool. Regardless, he got up from his bedroll and went out to make something for breakfast but the Inquisitor was already setting plates with sliced apples and some berries she must have foraged outside the cave. She looked up at him, smiling sweetly.

"Well, good morning. Did you sleep well?" She asked, leaning against the table.

Alistair thought about it for a moment, debating whether or not to give her the truth. "I slept fine." He lied, while picking up an apple slice and studying it before taking a bite of the cool and crisp fruit.

She hesitated and stared at him for a moment. "Your eyes look more tired than yesterday. You don't need to tell lies, Alistair. I ask because I care."

She was observant, he'd give her that. And thoughtful to boot? She may be the death of him, he wasn't sure. "I just get these---dreams sometimes. They're not always pleasant."

"Does it have to do with being a Warden?"

"Mostly but not always." He said vaguely and took another bite of the apple. Their eyes met, then and he didn't dare look away. She was searching for something, he could tell, but what she was searching for he didn't know.

"Morning Fuzzy. Morning, Mae." Varrichad joined them, smiling and their gaze focused on his figure. "Was I interrupting something?"

"No!" They replied in unison, causing more suspicion to fall on them. Alistair watched as Mae looked away, blushing multiple hues of red. It looked very lovely on her.

"Fuzzy?" Alistair gave Varric a questioning look.

"Yeah. It's a nickname." Varric replied.

"I gathered that much. It's the why that I'm looking for." Alistair said.

Varric pointed to his stubble. "Your facial hair looks fuzzy and the name just suits you is all."

Mae laughed. "It kind of does, doesn't it."

Dorian and Bull emerged from their corner of the cozy cavern, passing lingering glances amongst each other as they each grabbed a plate off the table. Hawke shambled out last, yawning and stretching out his muscled arms. He took up the last plate and they all practically inhaled their food so they could get a start to the day.

"So," he heard Mae say as she slipped her staff swiftly onto her back and came over to his side. "Most of you Grey Wardens disappear and then I run into a dark spawn Magister named Corypheus. Have any theories about that?" She asked and he felt all the eyes in the room on him.

"Actually---when Hawke killed Corypheus, the Wardens thought the matter resolved but Archdemons don't die from a simple injury. I feared Corypheus might have the same power so I investigated. I found hints but no proof. And then, not long after, every Warden in Orlais began to hear the calling."

Hawke interjected then. "I recall that being a bad thing but I don't recall you telling me about this."

Alistair turned away from them. "It was a secret. A very dangerous one. I try to actually keep a few of my oaths to the Wardens."

"Is the calling a Grey Warden ritual of sorts?" Mae asked.

"Well...Wardens are tied to the darkspawn. We're connected somehow...and eventually that connection poisons you." He turned back to face them, his features grim and dark. "You get bad dreams.. And then you start to hear the music. It calls to you...quiet at first, and then so loud that you can't bear it. At that point you say farewell and go into the deep roads to die fighting. `In death, sacrifice.'"

Hawke's curiosity is piqued. "And every Grey Warden in Orlais is hearing that right now? They think they're dying?"

"Yes." He confirmed. "And I think Corypheus caused this somehow. If all the Wardens die, who will stop the next blight? That's what has them so terrified.";

"And then they do something desperate." Hawke filled in the blanks. "And that's exactly what Corypheus wants."

Mae's brows furrowed together, trying to grasp an understanding. "Is the calling they're hearing real...or is Corypheus mimicking it somehow?"

Alistair shook his head back and forth. "I have no idea. I'd barely even heard of Corypheus before all this. I didn't even know he was supposed to be a magisters until I started digging around. Right now, all that matters is that Wardens are acting like they are all going to die."

"One more question and then we can head out. How does Corypheus make all the Wardens hear the calling?" Mae said.

"I have no idea. I suppose it's part of what he is. Corypheus is tied to the Blight and not just a product of it like most darkspawn. Wardens are connected to the darkspawn too. That's how he seems able to control Wardens who get too close to him. And that's likely what he's doing here as well...somehow."

"So this is the wardens attempt at ridding the world of darkspawn. Seems pretty misguided." Mae said and got a grunt and sigh of agreement from some of her companions.

Alistair became irritated. "I saw what a blight did to Ferelden. If Wardens hadn't stopped it, there'd be no more Thedas." He started to pace, a nervous tick that he still couldn't control. "Warden Commander Clarel proposed some drastic things---blood magic and such---to prevent further blights before we die." He stopped his pacing and looked back up at Mae. "I protested, maybe too loudly, and Clarel sent guards who came and...well here I am."

Alistair walked over to the map on the table, gesturing for Mae to have a look. "Warden's are gathering here, in the Western Approach. It's an old Tevinter ritual tower and I'd like to investigate. Hopefully, you'd be willing to come along after our stop in Skyhold."

Mae nodded. "I'd be glad to investigate this tower with you. We'll make a day's trip to Skyhold to replenish our supplies, get a change of clothes and freshen up then head to the Western Approach."

Alistair nodded. "Sounds good to me." Then he moved forward to exit the cavern, taking the lead. "Shall we get a move on then?"

"Only if you have an idea as to where you're going." He turned to see her smirking and knew she was mocking him.

Smart ass, he thought as he moved out of the cave.

Chapter Text

Dear Inquisitor,

Dear Mae,

Inquisitor,

Mae,


"Damn it!" Cullen muttered while scratching at the back of his head. "Why can't I write her a simple letter without over thinking it."

He put quill to the paper and tried again.

Mae,

We've received word of a massive Red Templar encampment in the Emprise du Lion that you may want to look into. I am sending some soldiers with Leliana's scouts to prepare the way before you.

He deliberated for a moment as he stared at the crinkly parchment that felt rough beneath his calloused fingers. Should he add a sentiment or would that be too forward or inappropriate? But a swift knock at the door brought him out of his musings and he looked up.

"Come in." He said and he wasn't surprised to see Cassandra standing in the doorway. She had been growing bored the past week, anxiously awaiting Lady Trevelyan's return.

"Good day, Commander. I've come to seek your advice."

"Me?"

He heard her usual sigh of disgust as she pulled up a crate to sit next to him. "Yes. Who else?"

"I'm not usually the best at giving advice. Don't you usually go to the Inquisitor with such things?" He asked.

"If you haven't noticed, she isn't here to give any advice." Her eye caught sight of the quill and paper before him and a faint smile appeared in those harsh features of hers.

"Very well. Proceed with your question." He leaned in toward her so he could focus on her words and not on the letter he was itching to throw into the fire.

"Well, I've been spending some of my time with Hawke." Cullen's mouth dropped, though he didn't mean it in a bad way and Cassandra panicked. "I knew it! It's frivolous, isn't it? I've only known him for a short while and----"

Cullen shook his head. "No. No, it's not that---I'm just surprised is all. Hawke? How did that happen and where was I to have missed this?"

She wrung her hands nervously. "I feel quite stupid to be telling you this but you're my closest friend, other than the Inquisitor. I trust you with this information."

Cullen made a gesture of locking his lips and throwing away the key. "My lips are sealed."

She took a deep breath. "Things between he and I have become quite---serious. He went out of his way to give me the last chapter of my favorite book. That's when it all began..." The color in her cheeks grew redder as she mentioned the book. Curious. He made a mental note of it.

"He also keeps leaving flowers for me and even read me some ridiculous poetry." She smiled and a far off look came upon her for a moment before speaking again. "Anyway I've recently realized that I--I..." She faltered with the words and Cullen placed a hand on her shoulder.

"That you're in love with him." He finished for her. It dawned on him then, that the reason she'd been so restless was not because of the Inquisitor but her lover who was also away in Crestwood.

"Yes." She said in a whisper and looked down at her feet.

"That's great news Cassandra! I'm glad you've found love but why exactly do you need my advice?" He wondered.

"It is good news. But I have been approached by the Revered Mother about becoming the new Divine."

Cullen's face grew slack. "Oh. Are you asking me to help you choose between the two? Hawke or becoming Divine?"

She nodded. "I could really bring order and change to the Chantry and..."

Cullen pointed two of his fingers at her heart. "But what does your heart tell you? You always put duty first. Shouldn't you be allowed to be happy sometimes too? Of course I'm not opposed to you as Divine. You're a perfect choice. Who knows? Maybe if you became Divine you could have it both ways." He was rambling now and stopped himself from speaking further.

"Hmmm. Maybe you're right." She murmured.

"Have you thought about asking Hawke what he thinks?"

"I've thought about it and I should. I suppose I will speak with him when he returns."

Cullen pulled her into a brief side hug and they shared a smile and then cleared their throats.

"On another note," she said looking at his parchment, "are you writing to your sister?"

He flushed, feeling ridiculous even though there was nothing on the page that would be incriminating. "The Inquisitor---actually."

One of her perfectly defined brows pricked up in curiosity. "Just a report or something else?"

He could of sworn her tone of voice was hinting at something.

"Just a report." He said, probably a little too quickly.

"Well, when you're finished, how about a duel? I could use the challenge since the Inquisitor left me behind this time---I'm getting a bit rusty."

Cullen laughed. "You? Rusty? You're just saying that to lower my defenses."

She chuckled. "I'll see you soon, Cullen. And thank you." She tacked on at the end.

He nodded as she left the room, not closing the door behind her. He crumpled up his page he'd been scribbling all over and tossing it into the blazing hearth, he started anew.

Dear Mae,

We've received word of a massive Red Templar encampment in the Emprise du Lion that you may want to look into. I am sending some soldiers with Leliana's scouts to prepare the way before you. I hope you are well. I miss you and look forward to your return.
              -Cullen

 

He immediately stuffed the page into an envelope. Dumping a little wax and pressing his signature seal into it, he tucked it into his cloak and left his study before he had second thoughts about delivering the message.

"Commander." The soldiers at his door stood at attention and saluted him as he walked by. He returned the favor and then made his way up to the rookery to borrow one of Leliana's ravens. He pinched his nose closed as he neared the top of the stairs and the stench of bird droppings filled the air. How on earth did Leliana stand to spend so much time up here? He thought.

"Message for the Inquisitor?" Leliana asked, looking up from her work.

"Yes." He replied.

"I'll send it with the others." She said, reaching her hand out to him. She took the envelope he handed her and the other stack she had and tied them all together with a piece of twine. The ravens squawked at her when she moved toward one and unleashed it from its cage. The bird hopped out and clutched its talons to Leliana's arm. Then it took the twine in its mouth, as she whispered something to it. Cullen watched in awe as the great black bird spread its wings and soared out the window.

"There. If she's still in Crestwood, it should get to her by evening and if she's left for Skyhold, then it'll be delivered sooner."

"I didn't realize how much quicker it is to use birds." Cullen remarked and Leliana eyed him narrowly.

"What have you been using to deliver letters, if not the ravens?" She asked, a bit dumbstruck.

"A messenger on horseback." He said a little unsure of himself.

"Oh, that will never do. Please promise me you will never do that again." She said shaking her head.

While she looked quite normal to the average eye, Leliana was a terrifying woman and he wouldn't dare to defy her wishes.

"Yes. Of course." He nodded and skittered off down the stairs. He passed Solas, who was busy eyeing the wall in the rotunda. His long fingers were pulling away at his chin as his brows knotted together in concentration. Cullen, tried to sneak by without his notice but should have known better. Nothing escaped the attention of their resident elven hedge mage.

"Hello, Commader." He said, not taking his eyes off the wall.

"Uh, hello there, Solas." He replied, easing toward the door. Solas said nothing else and Cullen let out an exhale as he escaped without having to converse with him. That was a first.

He stopped in the main hall when he saw that some improvements had been made to the place. The scaffolding had finally been removed and lovely Andrastian statues had taken their place. He knew Mae Trevelayan was religious but she wasn't religious in the typical fashion. Regardless, it was very nice to look at. He also noticed that they'd removed the vines that had been hanging all over the place and patched up some of the cracked walls. Gatsi, who never spoke, waved at him as he walked past. Cullen flashed him a smile and then descended the stairs with his belt and sword jingling against his body.

He spotted Cassandra, who was already making precise incisions in those training dummies. Poor things never had a chance.

"You might want to save some of that energy, Seeker!" He called out as he drew nigh to her. "I won't be going easy on you."

She pulled back onto her haunches and turned to him. "I wouldn't expect you to. Besides, I was just warming up."

Cullen stripped off his cloak. Spring had arrived in Skyhold so the air was not exactly warm but it wasn't freezing anymore, either. He didn't want to grow over heated and would prefer a better range of motion when sparring against Cassandra.

Cassandra quirked up her brows.
"No cloak? You're taking this seriously---Good, I need a real challenge." She said and placed her feet into a defensive position.

Cullen began to circle her slowly, like a lion ready to pounce upon its prey but she matched him move for move. Finally he caught sight of the slightest opening and he lunged forward but Cassandra was light on her feet. He thought he could outdo her agility but no. She dodged to his left and then kicked her leg out to trip him up. He stumbled over it but kept his balance.

"That was clumsy Commander." She smirked and he gathered his bearings. This left him open for a barrage of strikes from Cassandra but he parried and blocked each stroke of her blade. Their swords clashed against each other in a pretty consistent pattern: she'd lunge and he'd block. She'd spin and try to strike him by surprise but he'd counter and their blades would collide again. They danced in this manner for quite a while in silence. Growing a little weary he changed up his tactics.

"You weren't kidding," he taunted, slightly out of breath and sweat pouring from his forehead. "You are rusty."

With that she kicked him in the shin and then knocked him in the gut with the hilt of her sword which caused him to drop his sword as he fell back in his ass. It skittered across the dirt and came to a thud against the wall behind him. She moved to stand above him, blade at his throat.

"That was a cheap shot." He muttered. She sheathed her sword and offered a hand. He took it gladly and she helped him up.

"You always look for a weakness in your opponent and exploit it." She said in all serious.

"Fair enough but I demand a rematch." He said while dusting the dirt off his pants and swiping again at his forehead.

She smirked. "I'd suspected you'd say that." And she squared herself up again for another bout.

Chapter Text

It was another dreary day in Crestwood and Mae couldn't wait to be back at Skyhold.

The only thing that made the trip the least bit enjoyable was the banter of her ridiculously sarcastic and witty companions and their newest addition's good looks. Mae kept stealing glances at him whenever she thought he didn't notice and she eventually worked up the excuse to talk to him.

"So, Alistair..." She reined her horse into a canter beside him. "You said all the Wardens hear the calling. Does that include you too?"

"Unfortunately yes, but when I'm talking or fighting I can almost ignore it." She watched as his whole demeanor changed and wanted to cheer him up. She also didn't want him to close up and stop talking to her because she found him to be funny and fascinating.

"So that's why you never stop talking. Things are becoming so much clearer to me now." She teased and was glad when his features cracked into his handsome smile. "And...there it is."

"There what is?" He seemed confused.

"Your smile. I enjoy your smile---not that I mind listening to or bearing with the sad moments---it's just I..." She couldn't believe she was struggling with her words like a bumbling buffoon.

"I know what you mean." He said, genuinely.

"You do?"

He laughed again and it sent the little butterflies in her stomach all a flutter.

"Trust me. I'm the king of `try to give a compliment and then end up shoving my foot in my mouth.'"

It was her turn to laugh.

"I find it hard to imagine you being awkward." She said.

"Oh, if you'd only known me during the blight."

They came upon a few corpses along their route out of Crestwood. Mae didn't even budge from her saddle. She twirled her staff twice, fierce and delicate, above her head and lighting shot forth from her staff. With Dorian's flash fire, cast in perfect synchronization and a touch of sophisticated flair, the corpses had no chance as they sizzled and melted into nothingness. The two mages were quite the dynamic duo. They exchanged smug glances with one another as the horses trotted along the path.

"That staff's in pretty good shape, Dorian." Bull piped up from behind him. "Do you spend a lot of time polishing it?"

"Ugh..." Dorian groaned.

Their mounts carried them over the craggy and slick hills of Crestwood, slipping and faltering on the moist and mossy rocks that jutted above the ground. The rain turned into a drizzle and a cool mist began to form, enveloping them in a cushy haze, and an even more eerie aura. The horses whinnied with each blind step they took, slowing their pace further.

Mae yanked on the reins of her horse to pull it to a stop and hopped down.

"I hate to have to do this but the horses are terrified and are slowing us down so it'd be wiser for us to walk if we wish to get anywhere." She said to her companions.

They groaned in annoyance at the idea of sloshing around in the muck. They held tightly to their horses reins and shuffled along, barely being able to see two feet in front of them.

"Inquisitor! Inquisitor!" She heard someone yell, probably that requisitions officer that had been assigned to this Maker forsaken place. Mae looked all around her but couldn't see a damn thing. "Up here! To your left!"

She followed the voice, praying she wouldn't step off of one of the craggy hills and plummet to her death. She slipped once as she inched forward but was caught by Iron Bull's giant arm.

"You alright, Boss?" He asked.

"Yeah. I'm fine. Thanks for that." She said.

Once they climbed the larger hill where the camp and requisitions officer was, the air cleared a bit more and they could almost see clearly again. Mae instantly darted for a dry tent once her horse was hitched and began stripping her clothes. There was a bedroll already laid out and a small chest filled with a fresh set of leggings, a simple cotton tunic and a pair of black wool stockings. Once dressed in dry clothes, she spread her enchanter's cloak over the chest to let it drip dry a little. She flopped onto her bedroll and arched her back, it crackled with the movement and she felt some tension relieve. There was a rustle at her flap and both Alistair and Varric slipped in.

"Up for a game of Wicked Grace? We've got new blood." Varric said with a smirk.

"As long as you've got some drink to go with it." She replied and sure enough, Varric reached into his back pocket and revealed a thin flask.

"Always." He winked.

"How is it that Dwarves are permanently drunk?" Alistair pondered.

"I take it you've met a lot of dwarves?" Varric's brows shot up with inquisitiveness.

"Well, I traveled to Orzammar once and had a dwarven companion that helped fight alongside us during the light. That Dwarf was literally drink all day. I'm not sure how he ever managed to wield that giant ax of his without taking off one of our heads. He was a poor bastard though--had a wife who left him in search of an anvil of all things."

"Wait a minute---are you talking about Oghren?"

Alistair seemed surprised. "I am. You know him."

Varric rolled his eyes. "Oh, I know him alright. He's drunk me under the table a few times, the little shit. I lost a lot of coin in bets with him."

Alistair laughed. "That's no surprise."

Varric shuffled the cards and had Alistair cut the deck. Mae held out her hand.

"I'll deal. I don't trust you." She said. "You cheat."

"Everyone cheats at Wicked Grace." Alistair said. "Learned that the hard way."

Varric guffawed. "I like him. We should keep this guy around."

Mae just shook her head as she divvied up the cards. They played three rounds before one of the soldiers brought in some hot bowls of a sad vegetable soup that was mostly water.

She couldn't help but laugh as Alistair and Varric made faces of disgust.

"This soup or vegetable flavored water is absolutely horrid!" Alistair exclaimed.

"Shhh---not so loud Fuzzy." Varric chided him. "You might hurt the cook's feelings."

Mae remembered Iron Bull and Dorian and wondered where they were at.
"I'm surprised Bull and Dorian haven't joined us." She stated.

Varric snorted. "I'm not. I saw them go into the furthest tent down the row together. I think they had other plans."

Mae blushed and Alistair seemed confused. "Other plans?"

"Yeah, their polishing their swords." Varric replied.

"But Dorian doesn't have a--oh. Never mind." Alistair mumbled into his bowl of soup, embarrassed.

The three of them finished their soup, chatted, played more Wicked Grace, and laughed until they fell asleep on the tent floor, completely exhausted.

In the middle of the night, however, Mae jolted awake when she heard loud moaning. Feeling light headed and groggy, it took a moment or two before her eyes adjusted to the dark and her ears could find the source of the groaning. It was Alistair.

"Alistair." She whispered, giving his arm a shake.

"Noooo." He moaned. "Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop." He began mumbling over and over again. Mae grabbed him by the shoulder and flipped him onto his back.

"Alistair!" She hissed, trying not to wake Varric in the process. He stirred and his eyes fluttered open.

"Wh--what happened? Are we under attack?" He bolted upright, knocking her away from him.

"Shhh." She placed a finger to her lips. "We're not under attack. You were just moaning a lot in your sleep."

"I was? I'm sorry. That happens sometimes. The other Warden's suffer in the same manner so they never seem to notice." He replied in a hushed whisper.

Mae felt bad for waking him. "I'm the one that should be sorry. I didn't realize it was a normal thing. Is it the Calling? Does it sing even while you sleep?"

"Even when I sleep." 

Mae searched his honeyed eyes. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. You didn't cause it." With that he laid back down on his side, facing away from her.

"Goodnight Alistair." She said before laying back down herself but there was no reply for he was already softly snoring and sound asleep.

Chapter Text

"You two have fun last night?" Alistair heard Mae ask Dorian. Her voice was dripping with so much innuendo that he could nearly hear Dorian blush.

He looked up from untying his mount and just as he thought, Dorian was blushing and stammering profusely. Bull came up behind him then and squeezed one of his butt cheeks in his enormous grasp. Dorian smacked it away.

"Oh yeah, you could say that." Bull said, winking at her and she burst into laughter.

Just then, a raven swooped down upon them and it looked as if it had a letter gripped in its talons. It snatched up the letter into its beak while gracefully landing on Mae's shoulder. Cocking its head to the left, it waited patiently for her to pluck the parchment from its beak. Once she grabbed the letter, the raven flapped away to the nearest Inquisition banner and eyed the lot of them with its beady eyes.

"Creepy." Alistair muttered, tethering his saddlebag back onto his saddle.

Mae withdrew a dagger she had tucked away in her belt and slid it beneath the wax seal and gingerly pulled the letter from its sleeve. Her eyes flitted quickly over the words and then grew wide along with her smile.

"Dorian," she cried excitedly. "Come have a look at this and tell me I shouldn't be thrilled."

Dorian slid up to her and seized the letter from her hands, his face twisted up in concentration as he focused on the words but as he neared the end of the page he also smiled.

"Oh, but I do believe you should be thrilled. The Commander has addressed you with a "dear" and told you he missed you."

Alistair scoffed. Whoever this Commander was he must not be very good with women if an "I miss you" was cause for great excitement. Then again, who was he to judge. He placed a heavy boot into the stirrup and grabbing onto the horn, he hoisted himself up into the saddle. Taking hold of the reins, he gave his horse two soft pats and whistled. The mount began to move forward at a steady gait and the other companions followed suit.

It only took a few hours to leave the drizzling wetlands of Crestwood behind and Alistair led them around the west side of Lake Calenhad. As the sun settled midway on the horizon, peeking through the white puffs of cotton in the sky, the temperature began to warm their extremities. Alistair listened while Mae chatted with Dorian and Bull about this Commander Cullen. He seemed like an interesting fellow and Alistair took it upon himself to meet the man when he reached Skyhold.

Varric pulled his mount (which was a cream and beige pony) alongside him.
"Hey Fuzzy, what was The Hero of Ferelden really like?" Varric asked.

"He was charming, hilarious, a bit wild and very brave." He answered not realizing that Varric wanted to know more than the basics.

Varric waved one hand back and forth. "Yeah. Yeah--I got that much but what was he really like? His flaws---mannerisms---love life?"

Alistair thought for a moment.
"Well, he was always kind to Morrigan. Which in my opinion is a fatal flaw." Varric snorted. "He was charismatic and able to twist words into his favor at anytime and was excellent at spinning tales, much like you. He managed to ensnare Leliana's heart with hardly any effort--"

"Now that's a true feat." Varric interrupted. "He domesticated the nightingale. Very impressive---some might consider that much more impressive than slaying an archdemon."

Alistair chuckled.

"Did anyone ever capture your interest as you slew darkspawn?"

"Hardly. But there was Nelaros' dog named Arl Howl. I took him in after the archdemon business. Closest thing I've had to a loving relationship."

"Now that's just sad. Makes the nickname suit you all the more but we'll have to do something about that other part." Varric said shaking his head.

Mae had come up to join them by this point and Alistair noticed she was listening intently, hanging on to every word he said.

"What about you, Varric? Any woman ever catch your eye?" Alistair asked the dwarf in turn.

"Just Bianca." He said shrugging up one shoulder in reference to the cross bow slung across his back.

Alistair arched a brow. "You mean to tell me you've only loved a crossbow? And you think it's sad that I love a dog?"

Mae giggled and Varric frowned.

"Fair point." Varric replied.

"Look, there's the mountain path that leads to Skyhold. We're getting close, should be there by twilight." Mae told him, pointing toward a beaten path between a patch of overgrown foliage.

Alistair's stomach was growling and he gripped at it to keep it quiet.

"Are you hungry?" Mae asked. "I've got extra druffalo jerky in the saddlebag if you'd like some. It's not much but it'll tie you over until we get to Skyhold."

"I'd love some."

Mae loosened the buckles on her bag and pulled a smaller leather pouch from within. She handed it to him and he opened the pouch, the dried meat and herbs filled his head with pleasantries as he retrieved a few pieces then handed it back. Biting off a chunk that held in his hand, he began chewing contentedly.

"Pretty good, huh?" She said and he nodded.

They continued the rest of the way in silence as the air thickened with the climb and snow began to sprinkle down upon them. They wound around the mountain along a narrow path, concentrating on guiding their horses so as not to miss a step and go tumbling into the ravine below. The path eventually widened and then inclined once more. That's when Alistair spotted Skyhold and it was magnificent to behold. They inched nearer to the fortress and the heavy gate came into view and he caught sight of a few scouts a top the battlements. Within moments the gates were lowered and they were all welcomed inside. Iron Bull, Dorian, Varric and Hawke all went their separate ways, after returning their mounts to the stables. They were happy to be home.

"Would you like a tour?" Mae asked while giving her white Taslin Strider a good brushing.

"As long as you show me the overly charming Commander I've been hearing so much about." She wasn't turned toward him but there was just enough light left in the sky to see the hint of pink on her cheeks from her side profile.

"Who's this?" Said a man with tangled black hair and a black bush for a beard from the shadows of the barn.

"This is Grey Warden Alistair." Mae said. "And Alistair, this is Warden Blackwall."

"Maker's breath," Blackwall looked at him with admiration. "You're the Warden who fought next to the Hero of Ferelden. It's an honor."

Alistair shook his hand. "Yes, well that was a long time ago. Warden Blackwall, you say? I believe my mentor Duncan once spoke of you."

"Ah, Duncan. Yes, he was a good man."

"Well, if you two are done with being nostalgic I'd like to show Alistair around Skyhold." Mae interjected Blackwall's moment of being star struck.

Alistair offered an arm, for that's what a gentleman does, and Mae took it gladly. She took him up a flight of stairs where raucous laughter and music spilled forth from, what he'd guess was, the tavern.

"This is called the Herald's Rest and in my opinion the best place to be unless you don't like to have fun." Mae told him.

She walked him to a building adjacent to the tavern which was the armory and then took him up into the main hall which was filled with gossiping Orlesians. From there she went through the first door to the left which opened up into the herb garden where he saw someone who made his skin crawl.

"What is she doing here?" He hissed.

"Who?" Mae asked a bit confused, trying to fall his gaze.

"Well, well, well what do we have here?" Morrigan said as they neared her usual place of leisure by the garden's gazebo.

"Morrigan." Alistair spat and stopped in front of her.

"You two know each other?" Mae asked as her eyes darted between the two.

Alistair ignored Mae's question. "How is it that you manage to always be in the right place at the right time? Do you have some sort of bird alarm that goes off--caw caw! The world is ending, time to go exploit everyone that has a bit of power!"

Morrigan looked at him with disgust. "At least I'm not always lurking in the shadows always waiting for someone else to take the lead. I see, even after all these years that you're the one that still needs to be drug around by a leash."

Mae stepped in. "Apparently you two weren't friends. No need to bicker. I was just showing Alistair around Skyhold and in his defense he was the one who took the lead here almost the entire way."

Morrigan cackled.

"You're just jealous she likes me better than you." Alistair added even though he knew it was stupid and childish. He chided himself, idiot.

"Only an insufferable child would need to say such things. Whatever helps you sleep at night Alistair." She retorted, unfazed by his comments.

"That's enough, you two. Come on, Alistair, let's move on." Mae urged him.

Alistair went with Mae but not without giving Morrigan one last menacing glare which only earned him an eye roll.

"What's the deal with you, two?" Mae asked once they were out of Morrigan's sight.

"She's a conniving bitch. She tried to convince Nelaros and myself to sleep with her---not at the same time---different occasions. She claimed that if we did, it wasn't necessary for either of us to sacrifice our lives to the archdemon. I wasn't willing to risk a night in bed with her and Nelaros, well, he grew to love Leliana so that's self explanatory."

"I see." Mae replied then led him all throughout the rest of the castle. She introduced him to all sorts of people, none of which he remembered their names but they all seemed friendly enough. Well, except for the elven mage who didn't seem to like him much for reasons unbeknownst to him. Finally she took him up to the ramparts and knocked on the door to the Commander's office and quarters.
A man rising one or two inches taller than him with curly blond hair and stubble stood before him. Alistair recognized him right away and from the looks of his expression he recognized Alistair too.

"You're the---" they said in unison and broke into a smile. Mae looked between the two absolutely stunned.

"I never got to thank you properly for saving my life." Cullen said, extending a hand.

"It wasn't so much me as it was Nelaros but I am glad to see you looking well." Alistair said while giving him a firm shake. Mae shifted, uncomfortably next to him and caught the Commander's eye.

"Hello, Inquisitor. I am glad to see you made it back safely." She smiled tightly and Alistair noticed that her shoulders slumped in disappointment.

"Hello, Commander. I was going to take Alistair to the tavern to get a bite to eat. Care to join us? You two seem like you have some catching up to do." She offered but he just rubbed at the back of his neck and stared at the ground.

"Another time, perhaps. I have some reports to get caught up on. You two enjoy yourselves though and don't get him too drunk." He said with the corner of his mouth pulling into a half smile.

"Thanks." Mae muttered and then turned abruptly and went down the stairs.

Alistair gave Cullen a wave before following after her.

"Are you alright?" Alistair asked, since she seemed slightly peeved.

"Yes. I'm fine. Just hungry and tired. Come along, let's get drunk and be merry." And she took his arm and smiled up into his eyes. He wouldn't dream of refusing an offer like that from such a beautiful woman.

Chapter Text

Cullen woke up with a splitting headache. The Lyrium withdrawal was becoming something fierce, keeping him tossing and turning all night and then plaguing him with its beckoning during the day. He regretted not spending time with Mae last night but he was afraid of what might happen if he let himself get too close. What if he couldn't handle these withdrawals and threw himself over the battlements? Or worse give in just once, only to have to restart the painstakingly long process again? He massaged at the back of his neck to relieve the built up tension but it wasn't really helping.

He climbed from his bed and slipped into his armor and cloak. He shoved his feet into his boots and descended the ladder into his study. His lyrium kit lay open upon it and his eyes rested onto the glorious blue liquid that was within his reach, calling to him. He strode the short distance between himself and the kit and slammed the lid closed. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, trying to shake off the temptation.

"Maker, please help me." He mumbled over and over again under his breath, like his own personal incantation. The headache grew stronger, keeping him from thinking straight and his eyes flew open and his hands reached for the kit. He pulled back the lid, touched the blue vial with his fingers, stroking the glass with his trembling touch.

"No, I mustn't give in." He closed the the box again and pulled a canteen from the drawer of his desk and let the cool water soothe his burning and aching throat. Suddenly, his stomach started churning and he braced himself on his desk to take deep and steadying breaths. The last thing he wanted was to spend the morning dry heaving.

"Just a little lyrium and this will all go away." He told himself as his hands crawled toward his kit again. "No! Dammit!" He slammed his fists into the table and then rushed out the door. He needed to leave Skyhold, be dismissed from his position for the lyrium was consuming his mind. How could he lead the Inquisition troops when every tactic was laced with a dozen justifications for taking lyrium?

He burst into the armory where Cassandra sat on a bench sharpening her sword with a whetstone.

"Relieve me from my position. I can't do this. I need the lyrium or death. I can't lead troops like this." His face was frantic and desperate and Cassandra stood, looking quite calm. She grabbed his shoulders and shook him.

"Get a hold of yourself! You don't need lyrium and you don't need relieved from your duties. You are strong, Cullen. You can do this." She said with patience and encouragement.

But Cullen was worried. She didn't understand.

"Oh!" He cried out and reached up to rub at his head. "These fucking headaches!" He roared and even Cassandra was taken aback.

The door opened and Mae was there. Cullen took one look at her and then stormed out.

He went up the steps two at a time, every vein in his body crying out for just a taste of the lyrium. Just one small injection, he told himself as he continued to climb. He reached the top and yanked the door open. He reached for the vile again and twirled it in his fingers. He popped the cork and inhaled its sweet metallic scent, feeding his insatiable desire.

Then he placed it back and went to the other side of his desk. He sat down and folded his hands and stared at it until another excruciating throb pulsed within his brain.

"Fuck!" He yelled and with a swipe of his large and muscled arm, sent the kit and its contents flying toward the door, just as it opened to Mae's tall, lean figure.

"Maker's breath!" He jumped. "I'm so sorry. I didn't---" he bent his head down in shame.

Mae came over to him and placed a gentle hand on his and set down a cup of steaming tea.

"Cullen." Her voice was quiet and soothing. "Drink this, it will help. Do you want to talk about it?"

He looked into her eyes and for once in his life he longed to tell her about the demons that changed him, the madness of Kirkwall that made him question his faith. All the doubts. All the fears he had and the pain; the excruciating, mind numbing, sickening pain. But he couldn't. Not yet.

She moved her hand up to his cheek but he slipped away to stare out the window.

"I gave all I had to the Chantry and the Inquisition deserves as much, if not more. I should be taking lyrium." He knew he seemed cold but what if she were to tell him not to take lyrium? And he died? Or what if she agreed and then he'd be driven mad? She didn't deserve to have that kind of lover.

"Cullen, you don't need to take lyrium. You're strong and I know you can do this."

He didn't turn. "Then I will try."

He felt her hand at his back but he wouldn't dare look at her, not like this. Not in this state. Not again.

"Thank you. And if you need anything else..."

He cut her off. "I--I just need some time alone to process my thoughts."

He heard the sound of her retreat and the soft click of the door as it closed.


            --------------

Evening had settled and Cullen's headache had subsided substantially after drinking an entire kettle's worth of Arl Grey, his favorite Ferelden tea. So, he made his way to the tavern to eat some Shepherd's Pie and down a pint of ale. He needed it after the day he had.

Varric was playing Wicked Grace with Alistair and Hawke and from the looks of it, he was winning. He looked up from his hand and beckoned Cullen over.

"Hey! If it isn't Curly, come have a seat and play a round with us!"

At the moment, nothing sounded better than that (except for the Pie and ale of course). He stopped at the bar and ordered from Cabot. Alistair flashed him a smile as he slid into a seat next to Hawke.

"Ready to get washed?" Hawke said then took a big gulp from his tankard.

"I think it's my lucky night." Cullen replied, knowing full well, Varric would win. Although Hawke was there tonigt and he'd never seen him play before. That could get interesting.

Varric dealt him into the round with five cards. Cullen pulled them up to his face discreetly and tried to hide his disappointment when he got a serpent of deceit and decay, an angel of fortitude, a song of twilight and a knight of roses. It was a very shitty hand.

"We betting coins or clothes?" Varric asked before Hawke took his turn.

"I don't have any coin." Alistair said.

"Clothes it is," he said with a grin.

Hawke took his turn next, drawing from the pile and discarded a knight of ages. Alistair went and discarded a serpent of avarice. Cullen picked it up.

"That's cheating!" They all yelled.

"I thought that was part of the game!" He said in his defense.

"You can cheat but only if you don't get caught." Alistair said laughing.

"Off with the armor, Curly, as penalty for cheating." Varric told him.

Cullen groaned but did as he was told.

The door burst open and Blackwall entered. He looked at the table and noticed Cullen's missing shirt and burst into laughter. Then he strode over to the bar, order an ale and pulled a stool up to their table.

"Wanna be dealt in, next round?" Varric asked mischievously.

"And go home with just a bucket for my bits again? No thanks, I think I'll enjoy watching this time 'round." Blackwall said.

"Whose turn is it?" Hawke asked, as they were all momentarily distracted.

"Yours." Varric replied and Cullen knew he'd probably snuck a card while they were all looking to Blackwall. Hawke pulled a card and it was the angel of death.

"Well, that was a sad round." Alistair said, laying down his cards.

Everyone made a show of hands and just as Cullen had guessed, Varric won. They played five more rounds and both Cullen and Alistair were left with nothing on their bodies. Hawke, only had a pair of boots but he didn't mind at all. They were all pretty gone from the amounts of ale they consumed and laughed it off.

Well, until Mae Trevelyan came in.

She stopped when she saw the three of them and her eyes grew wide. Cullen had never run so quickly from a place in all his life. He snatched up his clothes and covered his front as he disappeared out the door. Alistair wasn't far behind him. Cullen made way for his quarters and fell through his door laughing to the point of crying. Yes, a night at the tavern was just what he needed.

 

Chapter Text

Mae was thumbing through Dorian's volumes, scanning for something interesting to read. Dorian reached above her and pulled down a red volume entitled The Maid and the Magister. She took it and flipped it open and began reading aloud.

"Velarius ripped open the front of her bodice and began ---" she'd never seen Dorian move so quickly as he snatched it from her hands.

"Not in here," he hissed.

"Dorian, I'm not interested in reading smut. Don't you have some sort of Tevinter thriller novel?" She asked, turning back to the shelf to skim a few weathered looking titles.

Dorian sighed and replaced the book in his hands and pulled another from the shelf. He dropped it into Mae's arms and she looked down to read it's title: The Way of the Necromancer.

"This one's about a mage who resurrects a corpse and uses it to strike fear and terror into all his enemies. You'll have to read it yourself so I don't give away all the plot details." Dorian said mockingly. "It's very thrilling."

Mae stuck her tongue out like a small child. "Haha. You are hilarious."

Dorian smirked. "And don't forget remarkable. I'm that too."

Mae shook her head and thumbed through the pages of the volume anyway. It seemed very interesting. They had never taught her anything about necromancy in the circle. Although that's probably because, like most misunderstood magics, it was forbidden.

She thumbed back to the front of the book, sitting curled up with knees to her chest, and focused on the words of the page. She began flipping pages quickly, devouring the information as fast as she could. Dorian watched as her face scowled with concentration and then loosened up with each piece of surprising information she came across.

"Isn't it dangerous to bind spirits?" She asked once she started working through the second chapter.

"Not the ones attracted to death, no. Besides they're really just simple wisps. There's no harm in it."

"But what if one were to 'accidentally' attract a demon?"

Dorian sighed heavily. "Demons are not usually interested in death. They're most interested in the living. Are you certain they taught you anything in your circle?"

"To be honest, no. I feel like all my life I've been taught to look at the world through a spyglass, only seeing a small spot of blue when I could have set it down and seen the vast expanse of an ocean."

Dorian clicked his tongue. "It's a pity but no matter, you will learn. You now have a chance to begin anew."

Mae smiled tightly as she continued reading. "Very true. I have another question---Cassandra told me that her Uncle was a Mortalitasi and was obsessed with the dead and I was wondering if you knew of any others who might be willing to take on an apprentice?"

Dorian started chuckling. "The Mortalitasi do not take on apprentices. However, I do have a friend who would train you, if you wished---and I, of course, could teach you the advanced spells of Necromancy."

Mae noted that she was now in chapter three and closed the book gently. "Hmmm, I will certainly consider your offer." She grabbed onto the ridge of the shelf and pulled herself to her feet. "Mind if I borrow this?"

"Not at all and I will tell Josephine of my friend, have her send for him and you can at least meet him and speak about the specifics you wish to know."


"Thank you so much." Mae replied, tucking the book up under her arm. "I've actually got a meeting in the war room right now if you'd like to come along. The sooner we send for your friend, the sooner I can make a decision about further study of Necromancy."

Dorian nodded and linked Mae's arm into his own and they made their way down the spiral of stairs that trailed through Solas' study on the lowest floor. He was poring over some books when they reached his doorway but he looked up when he heard them.

"Hello, Solas." Mae nodded in his general direction.

"Inquisitor." His voice wasn't unkind but it certainly wasn't friendly. His eyes narrowed as he caught sight of her and Dorian together and then he frowned when they hovered to the title of the book she carried. "Interesting choice of study."

Mae rolled her eyes. "Let me guess, you don't approve?"

She stopped just short of his desk, willing him to speak again, despite Dorian's insistent pull on her arm. She didn't know why but she dearly loved to egg on the know-it-all elven apostate. It was fun to try to get his knickers all twisted in a bunch. She was pretty confident that he hated her as he seemed to disapprove of everything she said or did.

Solas stood up straight. He was tall for an elf and stood at eye level with her. He clasped his hands behind his back and wore a smug expression. "I'm simply curious as to why you wish to study such a dangerous form of magic. Surely, if you were to practice such magic we'd have a pride demon to deal with."

Mae laughed a weak laugh. She knew he'd deliver a pointed insult, as always. "How ironic. If you can manage not to have a Pride demon lurking around the corners of the fade, waiting to latch onto your selfish ambition, surely I could keep one at bay."

One of his light eyebrows quirked up in defiance. "The difference between you and I is that despite my pride, I can actually identify a pride demon in the fade. You, on the other hand, can't seem to even identify a simple friend from foe. You would easily mistake a demon for a friend."

Mae huffed and gathered herself up to throw another insult at him but Dorian patted her shoulder.
"Enough, no need to bother with our resident hobo. He's not going anywhere so you can continue insulting one another later. For now, we have a meeting to attend."

Mae glared at the elf, wishing she could punch him or will him away. But she knew he was here to stay and despite his pompousness, he was invaluable. Dorian continued to pull her out of the door and she obliged.

"That elf is a fucking..." she paused mid sentence when she saw Alistair's honeyed eyes looking up at her from his position across from Varric. He seemed quite bemused as a smirk placated his perfect face. He wasn't in his usual Grey Warden armor but instead wore a tight fitted, cream tunic that tucked into his simple black leathers. She tried to avert her gaze from the chiseled muscles that were accentuated by his shirt but all she could think about was how it would feel to run her hands along them. What was wrong with her,  she asked herself, knowing she shouldn't be thinking such things about someone she barely knew.

"You were saying?" he asked, trying not to laugh as he and Varric exchanged a quick look with each other.

"Nothing important," she said while distracted by those perfect eyes with long lashes and his lips. Those lips looked delicious.

Dorian yanked on her arm again and she was pulled from her reverie. "I've got a meeting to attend but perhaps we could meet for lunch?"

Alistair seemed surprised by the gesture but was more than happy to agree. She waved goodbye and made her way up the hall toward the war room.

"I saw you ogling the Warden back there," Dorian whispered in her ear.

"And you weren't?"

"I'm with Bull," he replied.

She gave him a sidelong glance. "Doesn't mean you don't notice a beautiful man when you see one. Besides, Bull would probably agree."

"True," Dorian said as he held the door open for her.

Josephine sat scribbling away at her desk and didn't bother to look up when they entered. "I'll be in there in just a moment." She called out as Dorian pulled up a chair and began speaking with her about his friend.

Mae continued on through the corridor into the war room where Leliana and Cullen were discussing Crestwood. There were no more reports about the undead after they had drained the lake and closed the rift under the old village.

"I hear the weather has become less dreary since the Inquisitor returned to Skyhold, there in Crestwood." She heard Leliana say as she closed the door gently behind her.

"Of course. It would have been too much to ask to have it stop raining while I was there." She commented as she strode over to the table.


Cullen chuckled. Mae noticed he seemed much happier today. "Have you recovered from your escapades from the night before?" Mae asked and a bright flush creeped up his neck into his cheeks.

He cleared his throat. "Very much so, yes."

Mae smirked. "Good to hear. Although, I very much enjoyed the view." She threw him a wink and he flushed further, the red blotching the entirety of his face.

"What escapades?" Leliana asked, rather curious about it.

"It was nothing, really," Cullen replied, shifting from foot to foot nervously.

"Ok..." Leliana moved on but Mae could almost guarantee she'd be pestering the entirety of Skyhold about Cullen's not so secret, secret.

"Let us begin. I do apologize that I am running late. Dorian wanted me to send for a specialist for the Inquisitor. Which had me thinking, I know a few other specialists that might be willing to offer instruction. That is, if you wish to expand your magical studies." Josephine said while scurrying in and directing her attention to Mae. She took her place beside Leliana, her quill poised and ready to write on the clipboard she always had in hand.


"Sure, there's no harm in learning more is there?" She said rhetorically.

"Well, if it were blood magic..." Cullen's voice trailed off.

"Cullen was telling us you brought back Warden Alistair. How is he?" Leliana asked.

"He's well. Speaking of which, he told me some tales about you and the Warden."

Leliana giggled and Mae was happily surprised by the sound. "I'm sure he did." Her smile remained in place but her eyes grew sad and distant. "He was a wonderful man. Anyway, that is beside the point. We must attend to the task at hand and can speak more personally at a later date."

"Yes of course." Mae replied. "So, Alistair says there is an old ritual tower here," she pointed to the position on the map, "in the Western Approach. He believes this is where they will perform a blood magic ritual to turn the Warden's into a demon army..."

"The demon army you saw in the future at Redcliffe." Leliana murmured.

"Yes, that army," Mae replied.

"Ugh, see, nothing good comes from blood magic," Cullen said with disgust.

"Well, anyway, I'm not sure how much time we have before they plan the ritual but I was hoping to stop in the Emprise du Lion beforehand and check up on our soldiers and scouts, personally. If they haven't destroyed the red lyrium by the time we get there, my companions and I will finish the job. Perhaps there will be some more people we can recruit for the Inquisition and rifts to close up."

"Sounds like a solid plan. Would you like us to send some scouts to the Approach to keep an eye out for suspicious activity?" Leliana asked.

"That would be very helpful. Thank you."

"I know there is an old Grey Warden Keep somewhere in the Approach and it would be a good idea to claim it for ourselves if it were possible." Cullen chipped in.

Mae held a forefinger to her chin and bit at the inside of her cheek in consternation. "Hmm. That would be very advantageous but do we have people to spare?"

"I know Cassandra has been dying to get out of Skyhold. Perhaps she and a few of your other companions could take on the job. It most likely has a few bandits or vagabonds taking up post that they could make short work of." Cullen said.

"Yes. That would work well. Thank you, Cullen. Is there anything else we need to discuss?" Mae asked.

They each took turns delivering reports about other missions they had accomplished and Mae listened intently, feeling more and more confident in the Inquisition as each report was told to her. Though, Corypheus may have a demon army behind him, she had the Inquisition and they weren't going to go down easy. They wrapped up the meeting and Mae wandered her way out to find Alistair, who was still laughing and talking with Varric.

"Ready to go for a bite to eat? I thought we'd just shimmy down to the tavern. The toasted cheese sandwich is quite delicious." Mae said as she sidled up to the table, hoping she wasn't being too obtrusive.

"Yes, I'm more than happy too." Alistair grinned and her stomach did one of those little flips.

"Mind if I join in as well?" Asked the familiar tenor voice as his hand rested lightly on the small of her back.

"Of course." Alistair replied, his eyes flickering to Cullen's subtle claim on Mae. He had tensed up subconsciously but then relaxed when Mae strategically moved away from Cullen.

It wasn't that she didn't enjoy Cullen's touch but she had grown tired of his mixed signals and he had no right to try and claim her. On top of that, she wasn't something to be claimed.

"Let's be off, then." She said, taking the lead and briskly walking off toward the stairs.

Lunch didn't turn out as she'd hoped, as Cullen and Alistair mostly chatted with each other. Mae thought it interesting how much they had in common, even their affinity for Mabari hounds. She yawned and tried to stay interested as she sipped at her glass of water but eventually escaped without their notice.
She wandered outside the tavern and meandered her way toward the training dummies. Her mood brightened when she saw Cassandra sitting next to Hawke. He was prattling on, waving his hands all around in large gestures, as he told her stories from his adventures. Cassandra simply stared up at him with great intrigue and admiration.

"I'm glad to see you two are enjoying yourselves." Mae said as she moved toward them.

Cassandra looked up and smiled. "Thank you for bringing him back in one piece, Inquisitor."

"I think he's more than capable of handling himself but you're welcome, nonetheless." She flashed a huge grin at her friend.

"Did you hear Cassandra's latest news?" Hawke asked, turning away from admiring Cassandra.

"I don't believe so." Mae said.

Cassandra sighed heavily. "I've been approached by the Revered Mother. She says that I'm a potential candidate for Divine."

Mae was a tad bit baffled. This sounded like it would be a dream for Cassandra. "You seem very hesitant. Do you not wish to be Divine?"

"It's not that---" Cassandra said.

"She's just worried she'd have to break things off with me or leave the Inquisition. I, personally, think she'd make a great Divine." Hawke added.

"I agree. You'd make a great Divine. Is there anyone else in the candidacy?" Mae asked.

Cassandra shrugged. "Most likely Leliana and she's more idealistic but also more than capable. Nothing has to be decided today."

"True and don't let anyone pressure you to do anything you don't want to do and you know where to find me if you want to talk again. I'm going to let you two be and grab a nap---all this travel and decision making has made me quite weary."

"Very well," Cassandra said. "Enjoy your rest."

--------------------

Mae skipped down the stairs from her quarters and made her way to the Main Hall. Dorian had reminded her that it was the first day of Pluitanis (or Wintersend) and that some of the locals from Ferelden and Orlais were putting on a play. She had slipped into a comfortable tunic made of everknit wool and some breathable gray leather pants and actually let her hair down. She had also applied some kohl liner to her eyes, and just a touch of rouge to make her look more alive. It felt good to look a bit more feminine for once.

The throne had been moved against the wall and a stage with a beautiful starry backdrop had been put in its place. The large tables had also been pushed against the wall with all the chairs lined up to face the stage in two columns.

Dorian was sitting next to Bull in the second row, whispering in his ear. Bull looked hilarious sitting in the small chair, his hulking body sprawled out across it. It was a good thing he was in the end seat. Mae gave them a wave when they spotted her and then she took a seat right in front of them.

"Do you know what the play is about?" She asked, turning around in her seat.

Dorian rolled his eyes and sighed. "Do you pay attention to anything? The propaganda has been strewn about the place for the past month."

"Well, I've been busy. I didn't notice." She replied and turned back around in her seat. People started filling in the seats behind her as she stared at the stage before her.

"Mind if I sit here?" Lost in her thoughts, Mae hadn't heard him until she jumped at the sound of his voice.

"Of course." Her voice came out as a harsh whisper, as Alistair settled in beside her.

"You disappeared earlier at lunch. I didn't get the chance to tell you how much I enjoyed the toasted cheese sandwich."

"I'm glad." She told him and then he leaned in and pointed at one of the statues of Andraste.

"You ever wonder if that's an accurate likeness of Andraste? Maybe she was ugly? Maybe she had buck teeth? How would we know?" Mae giggled, stifling her laugh with a hand over her mouth.

"I think someone must have known and besides it's a statue, how can you tell one way or the other? Do you think the Maker would have fallen in love with an ugly woman?" Mae asked.

"She must have had something wrong with her. We know she had a nice personality but no good story can be told about a woman unless she has some sort of flaw. That's probably why Varric wrote that you have a big wart on your nose in his latest novel. You look too good to be a hero of a story." Alistair said with a grin, every word from his mouth dripping with sarcasm.

Mae nudged him in the side and then the performers came onto the stage. A very short Orlesian man with a silver mask came forward and began shouting. His shout was much larger than his appearance.

"Ladies and Gentlemen! Sers and Serrahs! Welcome to the Grandiose Theater! Tonight we will take you on an adventure with two star crossed lovers, one a Templar and the other a circle mage (the crowd gasps), oh yes----a travesty indeed! We hope you enjoy the tale we have to tell. Let us begin!" The man took a bow and waddled off stage right.

A woman in a gold and sapphire mask with an embellished enchanter's robe glided onto the stage and performed her lines. She was a mage who enjoyed her life within the circle, reading her tomes diligently and learning her first spells. Mae laughed when the woman "cast" fire and hues of red, orange and yellow ribbon spilled forth from her sleeve. A man dressed in cotton and embellished with paint and tassels to look like Templar armor joined the woman on stage and they had their first interaction. The story continued and the couple eventually shared a secret kiss.

Mae could always enjoy a play–a decent love story but a part of her was deeply troubled by the way relationships between Templars and mages was romanticized. It was not a reality, at least not where she was from. Still, she could attempt to enjoy it as the pleasant story it was.

"Is that what it was like for you in the circle?" Alistair whispered, leaning close to her ear.  She shivered involuntarily at his closeness, his breath smelling like cinnamon.

"Not at all," she said darkly, "You were lucky if a Templar looked at you like you were something other than a piece of meat or something to be feared. Most of us female mages in the circle didn't get an option if you caught a Templar's eye." Mae replied tersely. She blinked away the images from Ostwick and shuddered.

She looked at Alistair who looked as angry as she felt. "Did the Templar's ever hurt you?"

She shook her head. "Thankfully, no. I did what I had to and kept myself buried in work and books and hardly left Senior Enchanter Lydia's study. The Templar's never bothered her but it was because she allowed for them to abuse the other mages who weren't lucky enough to be favored by her."

Alistair's mouth dropped. "That's absolutely horrid!"

"Shhh!!"

Alistair quieted down once they were shushed from behind.

As the scene changed before them and showed the mages rebelling against the Templar's, Mae shifted uncomfortably in her seat. For the first time in her life, she wanted to talk about the circle. She continued her story.

"Many nights I'd lie awake listening to my closest friend sobbing next to me. They would rape her, Alistair, over and over and over again and nobody ever did anything about it." She hung her head and her voice was barely above a whisper. "Not even me." She could feel the warmth from the large tear that had spilled from her eye and she wiped it away. "I'm no friend. I'm a monster."

Alistair shook his head. "You were protecting yourself. And look at what you're doing now. Closing rifts, saving villages and providing a safe haven for refugees. You're doing a lot of good." She looked back into his eyes and saw compassion there and she was surprised.

"You can say those things because you don't truly know me. I'm still selfish to the core, always doing what's best for me. I close the rifts because that's what keeps A noose off my neck. I didn't provide a safe haven, my companions did. I chose to have mages as allies because of my own hatred for Templars, despite the fact that the mages had their own flaws that are just as harmful. And I chose to force Celene to work with Gaspard and Briala through blackmail. I am not doing good nor am I what one could consider 'good.'"

Alistair narrowed his eyes. "We all must make hard decisions at times, you included."

"I'm surprised you'd want to keep up with this conversation. You served alongside the least selfish of all people. A man who wouldn't compromise his integrity so he could be with the one he loved and a man who sacrificed his life so that the rest of us could live."

"From what I've heard from Cullen, that's exactly what you did at Haven."

How could he sit there and come to her defense? "One selfless act doesn't make up for the countless numbers of times I've been selfish."

"If you really think that then maybe you should change it. Besides, not every decision Nelaros made was perfect and selfless, either. Sometimes you just have to do what you think is best."

Mae nodded in agreement. "I suppose you're right." She looked away from Alistair and realized that the play had finished and nearly everyone had cleared out, including Bull and Dorian. Servants had begun placing tables back into their proper places and only a couple Orlesians remained, gossiping in the far corner of the hall.

"Would you like to come up to my room, Alistair?" Mae asked, hoping he wouldn't leave. His presence was comforting to her.

His face became mottled with red and he became quite flustered. "Um, you know I appreciate your forward offer but I---uh..."

Mae realized then that he had taken the invite the wrong way. "Oh! I'm not asking you to have sex (he flushed even deeper at the mention of the word). Well, unless you wanted to...," she teased.

"Well—". He cleared his throat.

"Relax, Alistair. It's only dinner,"" she said, laughing lightly.

"Oh. Just dinner then." He pulled at the collar of his shirt. "Did it suddenly get hot in here or is that just me? Anyway, dinner with you sounds lovely."

Mae laughed. "You're embarrassment is endearing."

"Endearing? I'm not sure that's the term I was going for," he said as he followed after her.

Chapter Text

Alistair tried to distract himself from staring at the round curve of the Inquisitor's ass before him. He tried counting the steps and the cracks in the wall but he eventually gave up trying. Her ass was simply too enticing to keep his gaze averted. Besides, Wynne wasn't  there to notice his incessant ogling to comment on, so he allowed himself the indulgence. Her upper body was very toned and what she lacked in chest, she made up for in her rear and he desperately longed to reach out and grasp one of those bouncing cheeks. Sweet Maker, what was he thinking?

They reached the top of the landing and Alistair could finally focus on something other than his ever growing arousal. Her room was expansive. A large canopied bed with sheets of fine highever weave nestled beneath a thick coverlet made of black dyed wool, was centered against the wall across from the blazing hearth. Two simple bed stands were situated next to the bed, the one on the right holding a bottle of wine and a glass. Both had books strewn about them. A large cream sofa sat against the bannister, another book flipped open to something she'd been currently reading. The walls were lined with bookshelves, creating her own personal library and there were large glass doors that opened out onto the balcony that encircled the majority of her room. A desk littered with paper and some odd objects sat in the northern corner with a red high backed chair pushed out and covered with more crumpled papers. Alistair strode over to the doors next to the hearth and stared out at the view of the mountains.

"Please excuse the mess." She said, coming up to stand beside him.

He smiled. "This is an incredible view. Do you spend all of your free time up here?"

"Yes, every night I come out and stare up at the stars. They seem so close from up here." She said, pulling her arms around her chest to keep herself warm.

Alistair took in the stunning image of her silhouette against the backdrop of the setting sun. It cast an ambient orange glow about her as the wind gently tossed her hair to and fro across her strong shoulders. He positioned himself against the railing, facing her instead of the majestic scenery behind him.


"Are you cold?" He asked knowing it was obvious that she was by the way she held herself.

"Just a little but I'll be fine." She took two strides to stand beside him. She bent her body over the railing and relaxed her arms across it. "So, Alistair, I've heard you say to Varric that you don't have a lover but I was wondering if you've ever had sex, especially with the way you reacted when I asked you to come up here."

"You certainly don't waste time do you?" He replied with a half smile.

"That wasn't an answer to my question." She said while switching her position to a side lean to face him.

"No I have never had---intimate relations." He replied while trying to swallow and relieve his dry mouth. He could feel his heart quickening with each breath he took.

"Really? Why?" She looked like she really couldn't understand where he was coming from.

"Why do you want to know? Have you?"

"Of course. After I left the Circle, I got quite lonely at times and I had a friend with side benefits. We fulfilled each other's needs when we had a mind to."

"Oh. Well, I don't take the whole ordeal lightly. I want the person I share that moment with to be the first and the last. I want them for a lifetime." There were few things in life he felt strongly about but this was one of them.

Mae smiled up at him, adoringly. "Awww, that's so sweet. Not only are you handsome but you're so romantic! I never would have guessed."

"You think I'm handsome?" He asked.

That earned him another eye roll. "Come on, you have got to know you're handsome."

She moved in closer then and Alistair stared down into those green eyes for a moment or two. There was a great desire to kiss her beautiful lips and he reached forward to brush a stray hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear.

"What I do know, is that you're beautiful and that I enjoy the moments I spend with you." His breath caught in his lungs when she moved in even closer and traced the line of his jaw with her finger. He leaned in, just inches from her lips and watched as she closed her eyes in anticipation. He took a deep breath and...

"Inquisitor?" The two pulled away from one another and turned to the voice. "Lady Montilyet sent me up with a dinner tray."

"Thank you, Lyssa. You can just set it on the sofa for now." Mae told her as she bowed and did exactly as Mae asked. Before leaving she shyly smiled and waved then padded lightly down the stairs.
"Shall we eat?" Mae asked, gesturing toward the tray.

Alistair let out a slight sigh of disappointment and then slumped onto the couch beside her. She handed him a piece of bread and he took it and ate.

                  •••


"No! No, no, no, no, no, no." Alistair burst open the door that led through to the War room. It was early and he had been choking down some eggs and toast when he heard her shouting. Josephine was nowhere to be found and Mae sat crumpled on the floor, tears streaming down her face. Alistair wrapped his arms around her and ran his fingers through her silky hair.

"We were supposed to protect her!" She yelled. "I've failed her, even with all this supposed power. I'm supposed to be doing good—making things right." She blubbered through sniffles. Alistair pulled a kerchief from his pocket and she took it, blowing loudly, like an obnoxious goose.

Her chest rose and fell with her sobs and he held onto her tightly as her body quaked with grief. He didn't know what any of this was about but he knew a hurting person when he saw one. Alistair stared over her shoulder and saw a crumpled up letter on the floor.

"Do you want to talk about it?" He said softly in her ear.

"The Red Templars got a hold of my friend, Amara. She's dead now. I couldn't save her. I should've made her come back here. I should've—"

He didn't recall hearing her friend's name before but he was familiar with the Red Templars. It dawned on him that it was her friend from the circle, the one she carried so much guilt for.

"Shhh. You have many burdens to bear. You cannot blame yourself for the templars evil deeds," Alistair told her, trying to be comforting. But in reality, he wasn't quite sure what words were appropriate in such a situation.

She buried her face in his chest and continued to weep silently and Alistair just held her in that moment. They remained there for hours and he didn't care that both of his feet had fallen asleep. He knew what it was like to lose his best friend and not receive the comfort one would need during such a time of grief. He rubbed his hand up and down her back until hot tears spilled down his own cheeks. He wept for Mae but for the first time in all these years, he also allowed himself to weep for Nelaros.

Chapter Text

Dear Mia,

Cullen had just written those two words when the door to his quarters flew open. He was surprised to find Alistair standing in his doorway, running his fingers through his hair.

"Is everything alright?" He asked, setting his quill aside. Alistair strode over to his desk and placed a letter before him. Cullen pulled out the light parchment and read the report from Griffon Wing Keep.

"No, everything is not alright. I must leave for the Approach immediately. Mae is a mess and she will not be in good enough shape to travel with me so I'll need a few of your good soldiers."

"Yes. Of course," Cullen said as he read the last line. "A Venatori Magister was spotted near the ritual tower—huh. This is bad. Do you think the ritual has already begun to turn the Wardens?"

"I'm not willing to risk finding out. I'm leaving with Hawke now and I might borrow Cassandra and Warden Blackwall too."

"Very well. You're not taking the Inquisitor?"

"She just found out the Red Templars murdered her friend. She's in no shape to go anywhere. I spent the better half of my morning holding her while she wept. I tucked her into bed but she could use a watchful eye and maybe some comfort foods. Do you think you could watch over her while she rests?"

Those damned red templars, Cullen thought to himself, he'd behead every last one of them. "I'd be glad to sit with the Inquisitor," he answered.

"Thank you, Cullen. You are too kind."

Alistair turned and left with Cullen following after him—leaving his letter behind. He could finish that later.

Hope stirred in Cullen's heart as he hurried off to Mae's chambers in the highest tower of the stronghold. Though the circumstances were less than favorable for her, he would have an opportunity to spend more than a few passing moments at her side. Perhaps he could make up for all the times he had acted so cold toward her.

He entered her room after knocking lightly, even though she did not answer. He sidled over to her bed as she lay on her side facing away him. Bending over her still figure, he noticed she was sound asleep with the quietest snore escape her lips. Her long black, silky hair, lay sprawled across her pillow and her hands were tucked up under her head. He didn't want to disturb her but she looked so perfect lying there, her breathing even and soft. Her face was like a painted and delicate porcelain doll, a masterpiece. He reached a thumb out to brush along her jawline and her eyes slowly fluttered open. He cursed himself for being inconsiderate and disturbing her.

"Cullen?" She asked as her eyes adjusted to being awake. He sat down on the edge of the bed and she rolled her body toward him.

"Alistair sent me. I am very sorry to have woken you." He frowned.

She gave him a sleepy smile. "There are worse things to wake up to."

Cullen swallowed nervously at the comment and rubbed at the back of his neck. "How are you? Can I get you anything?"

She shook her head. "I'm not good but I'll be ok over time. Those fucking Red Templars." Her hand clenched against the fabric of the pillowcase as she gritted her teeth. "I should have been more vigilant in going after thise bastards...I should have killed every last one of them." Her voice was angry but she looked back up at him and her face softened.

"You can't do everything around here. You did what you could," he told her. "However, I am very sorry for your loss. I am going to handle Samson and his troops myself. You have my word that not a single one of those bastards will live."

She took one of his hands into her own and squeezed. Cullen's stomach flipped as he stared into her eyes. "You are always so kind. So caring, Cullen. Whatever would I do without you?" A soft smile graced her cheeks and then her eyes went back to questioning. "How are you doing? We haven't spoken much since the lyrium issue came about. I apologize for that."

He hesitated, debating whether or not to speak of the truth.

But for whatever reason, Cullen was honest for once. He knew it was stupid to divulge his feelings to someone with so much on her shoulders already, but he supposed that is exactly why he told her. Despite her rough exterior, she was the one person in his life who had truly cared (other than his sister) and constantly took the time to ask how he was doing. She noticed him even though there were a million other things she could focus on.

The weight of the heavy burden that he bore disappeared as he opened up about his addiction. How he hated himself for constantly being tempted, the way the lyrium whispered sweet nothings to him from its small glass vial. How he spent his days with never ceasing headaches that felt like someone was driving a nail into his temples. He even tried to describe the way he could feel the phantom burn of the lyrium in his veins sometimes and it brought him relief and comfort.

And she didn't judge or pity him. She just listened and his heart soared.

She sat up in the bed now, her hand still linked in his and her eyes full and wide with his tale. Cullen then, delved into the topic that had been locked up tight within his mind. He broke the chains of bondage that had been wrapped around his broken memories and let himself speak of the horrors of Kinloch. He put into words what it was like to be led to the slaughter house of lust by the desire demon over and over again. How he had let himself become a shell of a person, tormented by the darkness of his own mind. Surprisingly, he didn't fumble over any words as his speech raced on. He explained how he had wanted all the mages to die so desperately after that experience, for if they had never lived, he would have never been faced with the desire demon and all the wicked abominations.

He tried to explain how broken he'd been and how being Knight Captain in Kirkwall had helped him get through the darkest of times. Being Knight Captain continually let him keep his mind and hands busy and he could focus on being the best Templar there ever was, until what happened with Meredith. When he saw what Templars were capable of, he just couldn't be a part of any of it anymore.

He explained how, at one point, he even lost his way, doubting his faith in the Maker and the will to keep living. But then, he was rescued and brought to a higher purpose when Cassandra came to him about the Inquisition. He renewed his faith and began training the Inquisition troops, becoming resolved to be better than himself day by day. In fact, that was the entire reason he had decided to quit lyrium altogether; to shirk off the old him and begin anew.

*As he finished to catch his breath he was pleasantly surprised when soft and warm lips pressed gently against his own. He had not realized how much he had wanted this until now. How much he had needed her until now.

Her arms wrapped around his neck, one hand mussing up his hair as fingers curled into his locks. He kissed her back, hands cupping her face, showing her how long his desire had sat dormant. He didn't know what had brought something like this about and a small voice in the back of his mind warned him not to take things further, but the yearning he had for her was just too strong. They groped at each other's bodies; Cullen's new high, the scent–the taste of her sweet mouth, drowning out the hammering of his headache.

His hands glided up her back, up under her shirt, pressing firmly against warm skin, as she fumbled with his cloak. It fell to the floor in a soft thud. Without breaking away from her delicious lips, he pulled the light cotton over her head and impatiently fiddled with the clasp of her bra. It refused to bend to his will and it took far too long to get the stupid thing off.

She let out out a soft laugh and pulled away. "Here," she said while reaching up behind her, "let me help." 

Of course the clasp gave way to her nimble fingers in an instant and feeling a little stupid, he blushed, but then continued to slide the straps down the length of her arms.

Unlike him, she had stripped his chest bare with no difficulty at all and chills swept over him as her light, delicate hands explored his every muscle, crease and scar that she could find. Soon her lips were following the path her nails had traced and he shuddered with each touch.

He pulled away, his conscience weighing on him, to cup her chin in his hand. "Mae, are you sure you want this? Want me? I know you just..."

"Yes," she interrupted, "I have always wanted this. Wanted you...that is why I asked about Kirkwall. That is why I am always flirting with you. I just thought you were not interested in me and so I thought it appropriate to rein in my behavior toward you. And if you are concerned about my being vulnerable with the loss of my friend, I can assure you that your timing is perfect."

Now that he had heard this confession, he wanted to see those searching eyes of hers plead for him. But more than anything he wanted to hear her beg–hear his name come off her lips but in a gentle manner. So, he hesitated before kissing her again, staring into those mossy greens.

"Please, Cullen." She whispered with a sense of urgency.

And there it was. He had received the permission he was hoping for and a terrible but wonderful idea entered into his mind.

In one swift motion, he shirked off her bottoms and gathered her body up in the sheet. Though, he was mad with desire for her, he was also a gentleman and he would see that she wasn't cold.

Kicking the balcony door open, he bent her over the bannister, overlooking the valley below. He wanted to make her scream, to be freed from her troubles and he didn't care if all of Skyhold heard them.

"Are you too cold?" He whispered in her ear and when she nodded no, he loosened his belt and let his pants fall to his knees. His cock was throbbing with desire for her and he let it brush up against the soft swell of her ass. He reached a hand up under the sheet, searching for the round curve of her hip, then the soft inner thigh, and finally let it home to rest at her clit. She was already wet and he pulled gently at her apex and then swirled the tip of his finger in little circles, until she was letting out little sighs. He gripped his cock in his other hand, and bent his knees just a little before pushing into her. He could see her knuckles turn white as she gripped the railing and let out a pleasurable groan. He smiled at the sound and pulled out slowly, until just his tip lingered at the opening of her sex and then he thrust in again, all the while massaging her clit in a swirling motion. She let out a gasp of surprise but she clenched tighter to him and began backing herself up against him, desperate for more. He gripped tightly to her hip and began to quicken his pace. She was warm (oh so wet) and it took everything, everything he had to not spend himself in that split second. Thank the Maker for all those years of practiced self control. He went faster and harder, his balls bouncing against the soft cushion of her ass. He moaned with her as she lifted her calves just slightly, to reposition herself to take more of him in. 

"Harder Cullen!" She cried and he'd be a fool not to obey. "Oh yes, Maker yes! Fuck me Cullen, fuck me!!!" She shouted into the crisp, cool mountain air.

His breath grew harrowed and his lungs wanted to scream at him but this only made him wilder. He fingered her clit a little more swiftly and bent to nip at her neck while he continued to fuck her just like she had asked.

He was exhilarated, on a high he hadn't ever experienced before. Suddenly, Mae let out a long moan that echoed off the mountains and he couldn't hold himself any longer. He thrust one last time and groaned deeply as he spent himself inside of her, his knees almost crumpling beneath him as his head spun in a dizzy spell. 

A soft sniffling brought him back to reality and he quickly pulled himself away.

He turned her body toward him, making sure she was still warmed by the sheet, then held her tightly against his chest as tears rolled down her cheeks. 

"Did I hurt you?" He asked, concerned he'd been too rough, while running a hand over her wind whipped hair.

"No." She whispered. "I just needed to let everything out. You were perfect. I've been waiting so long for this moment. Though I do wish it would have been before these circumstances."

He sighed with relief and let out a low chuckle. "Me too."

She reached up to pull his face down to hers, their tongues intertwining in a complimentary dance. They stood there in the cold, making out like two adolescents, their hands clinging to each others bodies and Cullen chased a line of cold sweat with his tongue, down the length of her neck.

"Shall we take this to the bed?" He asked between his kisses. She gave him a light push backward and he stumbled over his feet but he took it as a yes.

She moved past him and tossed the sheet aside then sat on the edge of the bed, her legs slightly parted. He paused, taking in a full view of her. Goose flesh lined every inch of her skin as the cold air filtered in from the still open door. Her hair, wild and wind tossed, lay disheveled in loose waves about her shoulders. It grazed her small, hardened nipples and he could feel the heat boiling up inside of him again as his eyes feasted on her breasts.

Looking was not enough for him anymore. He needed to feel. To touch. To taste.

He kneeled before her and spread her legs further apart with his hands. Taking two fingers he spread the delicate pink folds of her sex and dipped his tongue into her. He closed his eyes, lapping up the sweet and savory taste of her body. She was shuddering with each touch of his tongue and heavy breaths escaped from her lungs. She began to buck up from under him, humping his face, begging for more. And so he gave her more.

His cock had begun aching for her again, pushing itself into the down feather mattress. There was another low moan; another violent shudder...and then he gave a long suck on her clit to finish her off.

He pulled away and licked at his lips, relishing in her flavor and committing it to his memory. Lyrium would no longer need to be his master. No, it was now her body he would serve. It was her scent, her touch, her taste, her voice that would be his solace.

He stood at the edge of that bed and adjusted her legs so that they were resting on his chest, making a right angle with him and the bed. He fit himself inside her and watched her eyes grow wide with his slow, steady movement. His hands trailed down her legs and then cupped her beautiful breasts as he moved in and out at a painstakingly slow rate.

"Cullen!" She shouted. "You're driving me fucking crazy!"

He arched a brow and grinned mischievously. "How so?" He asked as he pulled back.

"I need more!" She demanded and then with a chuckle, he thrust forward as hard as he could.

She was perfect, lying under him. Her head lolled back with a loud gasp and her eyes closed as she let out a little squeak.
He repeated the process again and again, intoxicated by the way he felt inside her. The way she reacted to him. The blood pulsed through his veins, begging; pleading with him to go further and deeper. He did just that, riding her hard and fast until her screams became one that never ended, intermixed with his own gasps for breath. It was glorious as he spent himself for the second time and crumpled on top of her quivering body. Catching his breath, he pulled himself off of her, rolled to the side, and gathered her up in his arms. Her chest was heaving up and down as she tried to catch her breath.
Tucking her under his chin, he kissed the top of her head and hugged her close.*

"Thank you, Cullen." She whispered into his skin. He pressed his lips to her forehead.

His heart skipped a beat with those words and he watched as her eyes grew heavy with the weight of sleep. Within a few short moments she was fast asleep, her breaths even and slow across his chest. It was there in that moment that he could admit that he loved Mae Trevelyan and he would love her until the end of his days.

 

                 *****


Night had come upon Skyhold and Cullen had never bothered to move from Mae's side or to even get dressed for that matter. The morning and afternoon had passed by quickly and after their afternoon nap, he couldn't bring himself to fall asleep again. Mae seemed full of energy as well and he contemplated fucking her again. Another idea popped into his brain and he decided on that instead. Propping himself up with an elbow, he studied Mae's face and traced designs into her skin with his calloused finger.

"How would you like to get out of here for an hour or two?" He asked.

"Out of your warm and comforting arms?" She questioned, not too thrilled with the idea of moving from the bed.

He chuckled. "Only for as long as it takes to get to the place I have in mind."

She sighed. "Very well. I suppose it would be good for me to do so."

He tilted his head to give her one more lingering kiss. "I'll make the necessary arrangements then and send someone for you." He said and gathered up his clothes.

"Wait." She said, sitting up with the sheet falling away and revealing her perky breasts again. He paused. "Let me look at you a moment." He could hear her suck in a breath. "Thank you, Cullen." She said and his brows knit together.

What was she thanking him for? He should be thanking her. He hadn't felt this good in, well, he couldn't even remember.

He smiled, the scar above his lip stretching and the corners of his eyes crinkling. She smiled back and then he quickly got dressed and was off. He sprinted down the stairs, his heart racing with excitement. He flew past Varric, who murmured something about "being a little quieter next time", and went down to the stables to fetch the fastest mount they had. He stopped by the kitchens and asked for a basket with bread, cheese and some cookies. He made one of the servants fetch Mae while he led the horse to the foot of the stairs that led to the main hall. Setting his kerchief over the food in the basket, he fastened it to the saddle with a piece of rope, hoping it wouldn't spill out along the way.

A few moments passed and he began pacing. Maybe he shouldn't have taken advantage of her when she was in such a vulnerable state. Maybe he should have...

"Are you ready?" He turned to her airy voice to find her smiling up at him. Maker, was she beautiful.

"Yes." He replied and though she was more than capable of getting up on her own, he helped her onto the horse. He hoisted himself up, wrapped his arms around her and gave the reins a tug.

He steered the horse down the familiar, beaten path of the mountains and led the horse near to his home town of Honnleath. There was a small dock, situated amongst a small misty grove, lined with flowers on Lake Calenhad. He pulled on the reins and helped Mae off the horse. She wandered for a few moments while he undid the knot on the rope to free his makeshift picnic basket. It was fairly warm by the lake and so he took his cloak off and laid it on the ground as seating for them both.

Mae was at the edge of the dock, looking like a raven haired angel amongst the gathering mist and flickering lantern light. Cullen strode toward her, his boots breaking the peaceful aura of the lake with their loud sound. He encircled his arms around her waist and she leaned into him.

"This is beautiful. Do you come here often?" She asked.

"As you know I grew up in Honnleath, just to the north a ways and I had many siblings. I'd escape to this little spot when I needed a place to sit and think."

"I can picture that."

"They always found me eventually." He chuckled slightly.

"You were happy here."

"I was and I still am." He told her. However, he didn't know if it was this place or her that made him happy in that particular moment.

"Can I ask you something, Cullen?"

"I believe you already have." It was a cheesy joke but she still laughed. "But yes."

"When you are cold toward me, is it because I am a mage?"

He sighed. "No. Though I have feared mages–well and still do at times–my coldness was never because of that. It was because I was afraid to get too close when I'm struggling so much with the lyrium addiction. You deserve better than a temperamental man like me."

She turned to face him, placing her hands on his stubbly face. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything that happened to you–the things you were put through. Nobody deserves that. And you've become so strong, Cullen. Eveb despite your faults and failings, you've pushed through and made yourself better. So, you're right, I don't deserve a good man like you."

He pulled her into him again, showering her with breathless kisses. He nuzzled her neck which made her laugh but then pulled away. He took her hands in his, intertwining their fingers.

"Mae, I'd really like to pursue this further, if you'll have me." His heart sank as her eyes grew dark and unsure.

"I really like you, Cullen but I need time to consider a–relationship." She smiled faintly and he pretended like it was alright.

"If this is because of my moodiness, I can work hard on that. I can get better and I'm sorry that you had to deal with any.."

"No, no. It's not that." Her eyes drifted away from his and she grew quiet. Her fingers went limp in his own.

His heart fell.

"Of course, Mae. Take all the time you need." He offered a tight smile to make his lie convincing.

But on the inside he wanted her to choose him. To choose him right now. His mind flickered to Alistair (he had to be the reason for her hesitation) and a root of jealousy began to grow.

Chapter Text


Mae had left Cullen at his door with a gentle good night kiss. Her mind was swirling with confused thoughts. The ones that berated her seemed to be the ones that were winning most of the battles. She needed to see one of her closest friends, immediately. It looked like that would be Dorian tonight. She hurried to his study, hoping he'd still be up doing some late night reading. She rounded the curve of his nook and sure enough, he was lounging in his red chair, perusing a rather thick volume.

"Thank the Maker!" She said breathlessly.

"Whatever is the matter, my pet?" He asked, setting his book aside.

"I've done something very bad. Completely fucked up!" She exclaimed while folding herself into a pretzel at the foot of his chair.

"And, pray tell, what is this 'bad' thing you've done."

"I fucked the Commander." She blurted out and Dorian didn't even blink.

"I hardly think that's bad, well, unless it was 'bad'--of course. In fact, I think it's about time. I've watched you two fumble over words and send confusing signals to one another for nine long months now."

"It most certainly wasn't "bad". In fact she shuddered at the thought of Cullen's hands in her body, sliding into her. She pushed the images aside. "But that's beside the point. Just last night I had dinner with Alistair and very nearly kissed him. This morning, he held me while I wept over the loss of my friend..."

"Your circle friend? Amara?" He interrupted. She nodded and Dorian withdrew from his chair and hugged her tight. "Shame on you for not coming to me first but other than that I am so so sorry for your loss."

He held onto her for a while before speaking again. She was grateful for his hug but was glad he changed the subject. He always knew what she needed most." Alistair and you had dinner last evening. Very interesting."

"I know I just met Alistair but something pulls me toward him that I can't seem to shake away. And Cullen...well you know how I feel about him. I've always been soft on him. He is just amazing in every way."

"The sex was that good?"

She smiled shyly and then smacked him playfully. "That's not the only reason I like him." He chuckled and gave an incredulous look.

She continued on, "although he is quite skilled at fucking and I'm honestly dying for more, he wishes for a relationship and I'm not sure if I do. I know I'm terrible. It's unfair to have sex with Cullen and not commit to a relationship."

Dorian shrugged and he offered no judgement whatsoever. "I don't see the harm in indulging until things play out naturally. Just tell him how you feel about it. You don't have to mention Alistair just say you'd like to get to know him better or something like that. Besides, what man in his right mind wouldn't want to share a warm bed with the Inquisitor at no cost?"

Mae's thoughts were drawn to Alistair. He wouldn't share the Inquisitor's bed without commitment. What if Cullen shared the same sentiment? She sighed. "Dorian..."

"Maybe when Alistair returns you can have them both in your bed." He laughed. "That would be absolutely delightful! You could be an ex-Templar sandwich!" He exclaimed with glee.

That would be possible in her fantasies but she couldn't imagine Alistair ever agreeing to such a thing. Cullen on the other hand...
he was a wild card, full of surprises.

"I don't know what to do. I've liked Cullen for so long and finally things have---progressed but I can't seem to get Alistair out of my head. Not because I just want to bone him but because I want to really know him. They've both been through a lot. Suffering through things I can't even begin to imagine." She explained to Dorian. "It seems just wrong to string them along."

"Yes and I still stand by what I said." He told her, leaning back into his chair and crossing his arms. "You're not admitting your "undying love" to them. It's sexual attraction and if anyone needs some tension relieved it's you."

"I think you've been spending too much time with Bull. It just seems like it would do more harm than good." Mae said.

"Depends on who you ask. It seems it would be good for you but could potentially be bad for them. If you have to choose one in the end, certainly they'll get over you in time. I doubt you'll be the worst that's ever happened to them. No offense." He tacked on at the end.

"And if I'm the one left alone and hurt in the end---what then?"

His lips curled into an affectionate smile. "You'll still have me to pick up the pieces and put them back together." He said, patting her cheek.

That brought her a fraction of comfort. She pulled herself up and gave Dorian a warm hug. She thanked him, said goodnight and then wandered her way along the battlements to think through some of the things he'd said.

Should she choose one over the other right now? That would be the more selfless route. But what if she had a relationship with Cullen? She knew he'd more than fulfill her needs. He was a perfect partner. A most loyal companion. She could still flirt with Alistair and get to know him better, right? There was no harm in that. But what if she fell in love with Alistair? If she were with Cullen, she'd have to break his heart and after what he'd revealed to her, she wasn't sure she could be so cruel.

She paced back and forth along the ramparts.

What if she fell in love with Alistair but he didn't love her back? What if she got to know him better but discovered she really didn't like him? What if he died? She'd miss out on a more than perfect opportunity. So many questions and uncertainties filled her mind all the while, cursing herself for thinking about such things when she'd lost the closest friend of her youth and there was a mad Tevinter Magister on the loose, convincing Grey Wardens to become demons. There were more important things to be concerned with.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. I see we had the same idea about going for a walk." It was Cullen who stood before her. His hair was disheveled and he wasn't wearing a shirt.

"Apparently." She said, turning to face him. She rubbed at her arms. No longer pacing, the chilly night air was claiming all of her warmth. She didn't expect Cullen to wrap his arms around her. His skin was on fire.

"Are you alright? You're skin is burning." She looked into his golden eyes.

"Just a fever. It will pass. Probably something to do with the withdrawals." He was so nonchalant about it.

"It's past midnight. You couldn't sleep?"

He shook his head. "Too many nightmares."

"Do you need to talk about them?"

"I'd rather not. At least not now." She leaned her head onto his chest, listening to his steady heart beat.

Silence.

"Mae?" Her eyes found his. "I know you haven't decided if you want to pursue a relationship but---" he rubbed at the back of his neck. "I was wondering if you might stay with me tonight---in my quarters?"

Did he really just ask her for what she desired without any sort of commitment? She took it as a sign. She'd let this all play out naturally and see where her heart would take her.

"Yes." She whispered. "I'd love to."

Cullen swept her off her feet and carried her back to his quarters. Finally, she didn't have to sleep alone.


***

Mae opened her eyes to bright sunlight. While it had been romantic to make love and fall asleep under the stars with the roof of Cullen's quarters missing, it was entirely different with the sunrise. She pulled an arm over her head to shade her eyes.

"We should really get that fixed." She commented to Cullen as he laughed.

He kissed her forehead.
She noticed the heat from last night had faded and he was back to normal. "Thank you for staying with me last night."

"You know, if you wanted to---you could always spend your nights with me in my quarters. At least until this roof is fixed. I can't imagine what it's like to sleep here in the rain."

"It's very damp." He said while slipping his feet out of bed and into his leather breeches. He pulled his scabbard up around his waist and threw on his typical white shirt with the top buttons undone.

Mae slipped out of bed too. She slipped on her own leather pants but grabbed one of his looser white shirts with ties instead of buttons, and pulled it over her head. It was rather large, coming down past her thighs. She had to roll up the sleeves.

Cullen climbed down the ladder and she followed. They spent the day together, even sitting down to play a game of chess at the end of the day. It made her think of the first time they'd ever played and he'd let her win. He didn't let her win tonight and she was glad.

They spent an entire week like this, every moment in each others' company.Well, except when Cullen held meetings with his subordinates and ordered them to chase after Red Templars. And every day she spent within his company, she grew fonder of him. There really wasn't anything to dislike about him.

Another week passed and he had moved into her quarters after she had convinced him that a room like his was going to make him catch cold and probably be the death of him. He was stuffing some clothes into an empty drawer when a knock sounded. Mae was up in the loft reading.

"Come in!" She yelled and Cullen gave her a look.

"I'm not properly dressed!" He hissed while hurriedly buckling his belt.

Mae waved him off. "It's probably just Josephine."

Cullen was in the middle of pulling his shirt over his head when they heard, "pardon me. Was I interrupting something?"

Mae snapped her book closed and hurried down the ladder. Her face was as red as Alistair's who was perched by the bannister. Cullen looked like a spooked halla after he poked his head through his shirt to see who was there.

Alistair was unreadable at first but then he placated a tight smile. "I see you took very good care of Mae while I was gone." Alistair commented to Cullen and he swallowed the lump in his throat.

Mae looked between the two but quickly composed herself. She didn't know why she had felt so embarrassed. They weren't doing anything. Well, not at that particular moment anyway.

"Yes. I---." Cullen muttered, rubbing at the back of his neck and staring at his bare feet. Mae had noticed he always did that when he felt nervous.

"Indeed." Mae replied. "Nothing wrong with two adults keeping each other company. You're always welcome to join us if you have a mind to." She replied with an arched brow and smirk.

Alistair shifted uncomfortably and gave a nervous laugh. She looked back at Cullen who may or may not have been considering the idea.

"I wasn't implying anything was wrong---" Alistair stammered. "I apologize if I have overstepped my boundaries."

Cullen, finally feeling less awkward moved to Mae's side and said, "so did you and Hawke make it to the Approach in time?" She could tell Alistair was glad he had changed the subject.

"There was a Magister there who'd already begun the ritual when we got there and then fled to Adamant fortress. Hawke and I followed his trail and scouted out the area. It is heavily fortified. It's been holding back darkspawn since the first blight."

Cullen crossed his arms and Mae could already see the cogs of his mind turning with strategy. "Yes but that was before modern siege equipment. With a few hits from the trebuchet's we should be able to get through. Come along, let's gather Leliana and Josephine for a meeting in the war room."

Mae sighed as she followed after the men. It was time to get back to business.

Chapter Text

Alistair scuffed his feet in the dirt. They were to camp in the Dales over night and he had sent himself into the woods to gather some kindling. Why--well because he wanted to punch something every time Cullen looked over fondly at Mae. It was maddening, the way he looked at her. The way his fingers tugged at her flyaway strands. The way they rested about her slender waist and hovered in the hollow just above her... His mind drifted to a place it shouldn't have.

There was a root in the midst of the path that he didn't see. His foot caught and he went sprawling. His arms fell like wet noodles, barely bracing his impact with the ground. A cloud of dust swirled into his nostrils causing a bout of sneezing.

Thank the Maker nobody had seen that.

"Alistair! Are you alright?"

Bloody hell.

He pulled himself up and brushed off the dirt that was caked onto his breeches.

Mae tried to hide a laugh behind her hand. Once gaining her composure, she wiped at his face with a kerchief.

"I'm fine. Really." He replied while snatching the kerchief from her hand to finish the job.

"Are you sure?" Her eyes still had a smile hidden behind them.

"Yes." He handed the kerchief back.

"Wait." Her hand rested on his shoulder and she stretched to remove a smudge just near his lip. Maybe it was his imagination but her eyes and thumb seemed to be lingering on his lips for far too long.

"Where's your boyfriend? Shouldn't you be getting back to him?" Alistair said. Her hand dropped to her side. It was childish. He knew this but he really didn't give a flying fuck.

"Not my boyfriend and he's probably back at camp. We're not joined at the hip, you know."

"Of course not. Just joined in the more intimate regions."

"Hmm, sounds like somebody's jealous." She teased.

"I can't imagine who that might be." He pretended to look for someone, twisting his head to look behind him. Then he craned his neck as if he were looking over her shoulder. He was beginning to enjoy himself again.

She shook her head and laughed. "You're such a dork."

"But a lovable dork that you just can't resist." Her eyes sparkled and there was no denial from her painted lips.

He wanted to go back in time then. Back to the day before he had left for the Approach. If only he'd kissed her.

Damn that servant.

"Maker, you're beautiful." A moment of panic. "Did I just say that out loud?"

She flashed him a sultry smile. "You did. And thank you---for saying that. But um..." she blushed and looked away. "I should probably head back to camp now."

"I don't mean to pry but why were you out here in the first place?"

"I needed to clear my head." She fiddled with a loose thread in her tunic, purposely delaying her moment with him. 

The air was thick with tension.

"Ok. Well enjoy your walk back." He said awkwardly in a wild attempt to clear the air.

She gave a faint smile and then turned on her heel.

His mind screamed at him to take her hand and spin her into his arms and kiss her. He stood there frozen. Come on Alistair, what's there to lose? He thought. Well, potentially an arm or a leg if Cullen ever found out about his intentions...

"Mae." She whirled back around, the wisps of her hair catching the wind and dancing away into the purple hues of twilight's masterpiece.

He swallowed.

Waiting with those hooded eyes, he could see her chest heave up and down with each faltering breath. He knew it was wrong. She was with someone. Someone that could definitely kill him. Reason told him to turn away but passion persuaded him to be bold.

Daring.

It only took two strides before he was looking down into her eyes again. They were expectant. He was so close that her fingers brushed against his.

"Yes Alistair?" She breathed, face just inches from his.

He didn't know what madness possessed his hands but they began inching up the length of her arms slowly. Her skin prickled at his touch.

With fingers skimming across her shoulder, brushing along her neck, she quivered under his deliberate touch. He loved the way her breath faltered when he rubbed his thumb along the line of her ear. He inched closer, eyes closing and mouth dripping with desire.

She let out a soft moan as his lips melted into hers. Everything fell away in that moment, his fears, his insecurities, his rationale. He was lost in the taste of her floral lips. They were soft and smooth like the petal of a delicate red rose. He slid a hand down to her waist, bringing her as close as he could to himself. She felt so small and delicate, though he knew she was more than capable of handling herself.

Her hands pressed into his chest and for a brief moment he was afraid she'd push away but instead she gathered up the fabric of his collar in her fists. Then she was kissing him deeper, harder and chasing his tongue with the warmth of her own.

With his rationale returning, he was the one to break away first. He was panting, his heart beating out of his chest.

"Mae. I'm sorry---I shouldn't have..." He looked down at his feet, trying to sort through the tidal wave of his emotions.

But Mae reached for his hand. "Don't be. I'm not. But...I should go." Her lips curved down in disappointment.

There was a burst of hope and though all of this was wrong, completely immoral, he wanted more. He wanted to fight for Mae's heart. And he wanted to win.

Lifting her hand to his lips and catching her gaze, he planted one last kiss on her knuckles.

"Until next time then."

Chapter Text

Cullen was going from trebuchet to trebuchet on the battlements of Griffon Wing Keep. He needed to make sure they were in top notch shape. This evening they'd begin their assault on Adamant fortress.

Sweat dripped down his face as he fiddled with the crank. He had already removed his heavy cloak and though it was rather unwise to have removed his armor, he had forsaken it too, in exchange for a loose cotton shirt. But even the shirt was stifling. The leather pants weren't helpful either. They made his legs extra toasty and moist. He was starting to chafe around his groin, which in turn caused lots of itching and annoyance. He wiped at the wet beads on his head. Feeling satisfied, momentarily with the trebuchets, he made for the cover of shade in the training grounds below.

He saw Alistair was sparring two soldiers. Cullen found this to be entertaining and so he sat down on an empty barrel and watched. Recruit Errol was trying his best to find an opening in Alistair's defense to take him down but was having no success whatsoever. Recruit Garin came up from behind, trying to kick out Alistair's feet from under him but somehow Alistair knew he was there and threw an elbow back. It connected with the recruits nose, knocking him backward and making him stumble over his own feet as he fell to the ground. The other recruit raised his sword but Alistair was not only a brute force, he was also agile and struck the man like a viper, quick and deadly. His pommel pounded into the man's stomach, knocking the breath from him and landing him on his back.

Cullen chuckled, hopped off the barrel and strolled over to Alistair, clapping his hands.

"That was quite the show." Cullen said, letting his arms fall to his sides.

Alistair was breathing heavily and sweat was just pouring down his face in a drizzle. He pulled at the collar of his shirt and fanned himself with it.

"Thank you." He huffed with a nod.

"You might want to take it a little easier on the boys though, we're going to need them tonight. It won't do any good to have them there with bloodied noses and bruised innards."

Alistair shrugged. "They could use a real challenge. The Wardens won't be easy on them. They need to know what it will be like."

"Yes well---" Cullen scratched at his neck. He didn't really know what else to say.

"It would probably be wise for you to get a little practice under your belt as well. You are their Commander after all." Alistair said, placing a hand on his waist and shifting his weight to one foot.

Cullen really didn't want to practice because it was so hot but then he noticed Mae waving and smiling down at him from the staircase and felt he didn't have a choice. Was he being foolish? Yes, yes he was but there was that lingering voice in the back of his mind that told him he needed to show off.

"I could use the practice. Though, I think I'd prefer a real challenge. Do you have that sort of thing in you?" Cullen said with a half smirk and then unsheathed his sword. It made a soft whisper of a sound as the blade slid out of its wooden scabbard. Despite his taunt, Cullen's heart was hammering in his chest. He had just seen Alistair take out two recruits easily.

Alistair shrugged and then readied himself, taking his defensive stance, feet placed strategically for a parry.

Cullen began to circle with Alistair in the round, trying to get a feel for his movement but Alistair was surprisingly hard to read. His eyes stayed steady on Cullen's, never giving away whether he was going to attack or simply defend. Cullen went for the offense and lunged but Alistair reacted immediately with a parry. They circled again.

"Is that all you've got Commander?" Alistair said menacingly and then led in with a full pass. It briefly caught Cullen off guard and he stumbled backward as their swords clashed against each other.

His brows crinkled together and then he went after Alistair again. When Alistair parried, Cullen withdrew but only for a moment and came back with a reprise, bringing his sword down hard on the Warden. Alistair brought his sword up to meet him. The blades reverberated against each other again and then Alistair lifted a foot to kick Cullen backward. This made Cullen a bit angry. He came back at Alistair in full force, like a bull in his charge. But Alistair was quite skilled and defended himself time and time again until finally Cullen gained the upper hand and sent Alistair's sword flying from his hand. Cullen pointed his blade at Alistair's throat and held a smug look.

"I would've expected more from you." Cullen said as Alistair glared.

He should have known better than to gloat because Alistair took the opportunity to backflip away from his sword and then come at him from the side. Before Cullen could react, Alistair lifted his boot and slammed it into the hilt of his sword and knocked it from his hand, sending it skittering off to his left somewhere. Cullen backed away and went for his sword but was completely caught off guard when he was pummeled to the ground by Alistair's body hitting him like a ton of bricks.

All of a sudden the two were rolling around in the dirt, taking jabs at one another and ripping their shirts in the process. Alistair had gained the advantage, pinning him to the ground with his hips and bringing his fist down into his nose. He felt a sickening lurch in his stomach as the pain shot through his nervous system from the blow. He wouldn't give up so easily though and made sure to deliver an elbow to his chin, busting his lip in the process, before gloved hands were ripping the Warden off of his body.

"Enough!" She yelled. "You're going to kill each other!"

Cullen rolled onto his stomach, droplets of blood were dripping from his nose which felt swollen and possibly broken. Then, he pushed himself to his feet.
Cassandra was standing between him and Alistair, looking very cross.

"We were only sparring." Alistair whined.

Cullen saw his busted and bleeding lip and was glad to see his handiwork on the man's face. Hopefully this little bout would be considered a draw to the bystanders. He pinched his nose to slow the blood flow to keep it from going into the back of his throat. Though he enjoyed combat, he wasn't particularly fond of the taste of his own blood.

Cassandra whirled around and gestured vehemently at Alistair. "That was not sparring! Look at you two! Bloody messes---This is utter stupidity! We have a battle ahead of us and you're out here doing the enemies work for them. You two should be ashamed of yourselves. Now---Go clean yourselves up!" She said while pointing them out of the training yard.

As he followed behind Alistair, he was fairly certain he heard the man murmur a "yes mother." Alistair was lucky Cassandra didn't overhear him or he might have lost an arm. Still standing on the staircase, Cullen noticed that Mae was shaking her head with disapproval. His pride deflated slightly with that but he reminded himself to make it up to her later.

                   *****

Evening had come and Cullen steeled his face into command mode. They would be marching on Adamant tonight, hoping to take the fortress by surprise.

He was up on the ramparts, looking down on his soldiers marching onward toward Adamant. He swore to himself he'd only make sure the trebuchets were functioning correctly one last time before he joined the ranks of his forces. After the assault at Haven, he had resolved to double check and triple check the siege machines, he didn't ever want a repeat of that disastrous malfunction.
As he turned the crank on the first trebuchet to make sure it was still turning easily, he felt a small hand on his shoulder.

"Do you really need to check those again?" Mae asked.

He finished what he was doing and then turned in toward her. His nerves were wracked with anxiety as he stared into her eyes. He'd faced many battles and foes before but never with someone he loved. Of course, he hadn't said he loved her aloud but he was becoming familiar with the idea of telling her at a more opportune time. It tore him up inside to think that if he made one mistake, that her life could be gone. It was hard enough to be back in Skyhold when she went on her missions, always waiting to hear whether she was still alive or not. It was even harder now, knowing that he could potentially be a simple witness to her death, a bystander. The thought that he wouldn't be fighting by her side personally, would eventually drive him mad and so he pushed it to the back of his mind, hoping to enjoy this moment he had with Mae.

Cupping her face in his gloved hands he planted a lingering kiss on her lips, then withdrew with a smile. "I do 'really need to check them again'." His brows were knit with concern as he brushed his thumb along her rosy cheek.

She sighed. "You're worried about me."

One hand fell away to dangle at his side while the other went to his forehead. He was disconcerted. "Of course I'm worried. We're about to take on a fortress of possessed Wardens and madmen, with you headed straight into the thick of it!"

"I do dangerous things everyday Cullen. It's not like I'm heading in there alone. In fact I'll have more protectors, as you would have them be believed, than I usually have when I undertake these tasks. I'm a big girl---I can handle myself."

With a sigh, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her in. "I know this. I know you can handle yourself---I wasn't saying you couldn't. It's just that even the most careful----the most astute in their abilities can fall. I just---I just want you to stay safe."

Her lips pulled up into a playful smile. "Well, if it helps ease your mind, I can tell you that I'll be very careful."

A soft laugh and sarcasm, "I feel as if all my worries have been reassured with that simple statement."

She tousled his hair, "you worry too much about me Cullen. Look at all those people." She said, urging him to turn around and see the soldiers marching out of the Keep. He nodded. He'd spent the first half of the evening watching them while he fiddled with his siege equipment. "Worry more about them. Think about who they are. Are they brothers? Sisters? Daughters? Sons? Husbands? Mothers? I'm only doing what I'm doing to protect these people---so that they can go home again---so that they're families don't have to mourn a heart wrenching loss--- So that their world doesn't burn up in flames due to the plans of a monster."

"But there are always more soldiers and only one of you." He didn't mean to sound like they were replaceable. He didn't mean for it to sound selfish but that's exactly how it came across.

"I really hate to quote that damn elf mage but like he says, 'every war has its heroes'---One would simply take my place."

While he saw her point he didn't fully agree. He wasn't talking about her heroism. But if that's the route she wanted to take, he could defend that aspect as well. "I'm fairly certain you're the only one that can close rifts."

"With the Breach closed, I'm fairly certain that between Leliana and Solas---those two could come up with an alternative plan."

Did she really believe these things?


"How can you say these things like you're expendable?" He shook his head, the other words he wanted to say not coming to the surface.

Another sigh, "if there's anything I've learned, it's that every one of us is expendable whether we want to believe it or not. When a shit storm happens, it doesn't care who it's sweeping up in its whirling vortex. It doesnt care that someone somewhere feels something. Sometimes evil triumphs and we don't have a say. Doesn't mean we don't give it our all---in fact we pour every fucking ounce of blood and sweat and magic that we have before we go down. But as I said, shit happens and sometimes the best of us end up dead. I don't mean to sound callous. I know you care for me---I care for you too but we can't control everything that happens. Besides, it may be hard to imagine a life without me right now but eventually you'd be able to move on if I met my demise on the battlefield."

She was right about some of those points in her little speech, but he didn't have to like it. There  was no point in dwelling on this, however. No point in trying to convince her otherwise. He couldn't change what was about to happen. Her truth made him want to say the words he'd been wanting to for some time now but she wasn't ready for those words. Not yet. And so he opted for the next best thing he could think of, to say.

"Yes. If you look at it that way---the big picture---we're all expendable. But in my small window---my small frame of life---you're not just a number. I don't care that it's selfish that I want you to be the one coming back from all of this even if the rest of  Thedas burns."

She offered another faint smile that didn't reach her eyes and gave him another swift peck on the cheek. "I really don't deserve you---we should go. We've got work to do." She grasped his hand and led him down to the stairs. His feet had never felt so heavy in all his life.

               *********


They reached Adamant under the cover of night and Cullen watched as the trebuchets fired, their flames leaving a puff trail of gray smoke in their wake, as they rained down on Adamant.

"Ladders up!" He shouted to his men and they obeyed his orders. He signaled his archers to fire a volley of arrows down on the fortress's watchman and so far his strategy was coming to fruition much easier than he anticipated.

The Wardens on the battlements were hurling rocks down onto his soldiers below, killing some that were pushing the battering ram. Cullen ran to the front to help. "Shield yourselves!" He yelled at them while raising his own to fend of the barrage of rocks and arrows.
They finally smashed through the front gate, the wood splintering into millions of pieces, and they were immediately swarmed with demons and swords.

Cullen slashed, parried and delivered crippling blows to his opponents. Though his Templar abilities were weak with the lack of lyrium, his adrenaline was so spiked that it nearly made up for it. He dispelled the oncoming fireball of a rage demon with his spell purge ability. The blue light didn't stretch as far and wasn't as bright as it should be but it did the job, annulling the fireball that had been thrown towards him. He rushed at it, stabbing his blade through its chest and ripping it up through the length of its body. It's scream brought him a sick satisfaction.


A terror demon came up from the ground, swiping it's claws at him but he did a tuck and roll to dodge it's grasp. He jumped back to his feet and whirled, bringing his blade across the demons neck and watched it fall to the ground. To his left, a shade was pinning one of his soldiers to the ground and he went to his assistance, stabbing his sword through the creatures back. It turned into a black pool of ichor on top of him and he helped him to his feet.

"Thank you Commander," he whispered and Cullen offered a steely nod.

A Warden scout shouted from above. "Pull back! They have a way in!"

Cullen's lips pulled back in pride as he waved the Inquisitor in. Mae entered, followed by Cassandra, Dorian, Varric, Hawke and Alistair. He would've preferred Bull was with her but he understood why she had ordered him to clear the battlements.

"You have you're way in." He said even though he figured it was dumb to say since it was a pretty obvious thing to notice. "We'll keep the host of demons occupied for as long as we can."

"All right. Just keep as many of those soldiers alive as long as you can." She turned to go and he reached for her hand.

"And please...be careful in there."

"You have my word." She said with a smile and he was left staring after her figure as she made her way up the fortress steps. He didn't have too much time to linger and worry though as a soldier came to him needing help with demons attacking the ladders. While running after his soldier he said a brief prayer.

Maker, please protect that stubborn woman and keep her safe. If I've been a faithful steward, let her come back to me in one piece.

Chapter Text

 They had fallen through a rift and entered the fade physically, Mae and her companions had fought through wraith after wraith and demon after demon, and even met a spirit who took on the essence of the Divine. Mae had also been tasked by the spirit to uncover the memories that the Nightmare had stolen from her. As she uncovered the truth held within the last memory, voices playing through her mind as if they occurred just yesterday, she became a broken and lost woman.

Learning that she wasn't the Herald of Andraste was her undoing. Sure, she swore, fornicated, practically did everything the Chantry told her not to but that didn't mean she didn't believe in the Maker himself. Though, she had never really confessed to be the Herald she'd be lying if she didn't believe she was special, chosen, a true disciple, in the back of her mind. To know the truth---that she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time---it just didn't seem right. It seemed...hopeless. With that last memory fully restored she sank to her knees, her staff rolling off into the distance.

"Inquisitor?" Hawke had said.

"Just---give me a---a moment." She held her face in her hands, doubt beginning to take the place of her faith.

Was the Maker even real? Was there a point to being a good person? Making the 'right' decision? Did life even matter? What the fuck was her purpose? What did all of this mean? That she was just a nothing in a big dark world? That it didn't fucking matter what decisions she made? That her whole person was just a big fat lie? It was...All of it...a lie.

"Mae." Cassandra whispered as she knelt next to her, placing an arm around her shoulders. "I know this is hard but don't let this sway your faith, it doesn't mean the Maker isn't real and it doesn't mean you don't have a role to still fulfill in all of this."

It was meant to be a comfort, the kind words and encouragement of a friend but it brought nothing but rage. A boiling rage.

Fuck the Maker! Fuck the demon and fuck it all, she screamed inside of her mind. Her hands quivered with the inner storm and she steadied them with a clench of her fists as she rose to her feet, knuckles drained of color. Cassandra's hand fell from her shoulder. There was nothing but understanding on her friends face as she looked back.

"We don't have time for me to sit here. We've got a demon to annihilate." She spat as she stormed forward through a watery cavern like area of the fade, making sure to snatch up her staff that was lying at the entrance. Just at the edge of the opening to the other side, she spotted the rift.

"The rift!" Her eyes narrowed, the demon she was desperate to get hold of was blocking their path. With a twisted grin, she moved toward the monstrous creature, a ball of flame sizzling and crackling in the palm of her hand. It grew brighter here in the fade, her magic more raw and powerful, but also unpredictable.

The spirit of the late divine came up beside her, she was glowing bright, becoming more spirit self with each passing moment.
"If you would, please tell Leliana, 'I'm sorry. I failed you too'."
And with those words she flared up into a light so gloriously bright that Mae and the others had to shield their eyes.

The sprit began to shimmer, lightning and sparks shot forth from her into the aspect of the Nightmare, knocking him back as she seemed to self destruct.

Mae and Dorian took this as their opening. With a spin of her staff, Mae rained down bolts of lightning while casting fireballs from her hand. Cassandra and Alistair flanked the demon, one on either side. Their swords continually bounded off the demon, it's protective wards too strong for any blade to pierce. Varric' arrows flew but when they came in contact with the ward they bounced off and tumbled to the ground.

He yelled, "Shit! Our attacks aren't working!"

"We must weaken its defenses!" Cassandra called out.

Hawke stepped forward. With a snap of his finger he used dispel which brought the demons wards down momentarily. Alistair and Cassandra got a few good blows in before it's barrier went back up and it began cackling wildly at them.

"You will die in agony!" Cried the monster.

Out of nowhere a dozen spiders descended  on them and they had to take them out while dodging arcane bolts left and right. They were becoming extremely exhausted keeping up with the Nightmare and it's minions.

"I can't keep this up much later longer!" Mae shouted.

"We have to try!" Hawke shouted back as he dispelled the Nightmare's wards once more.

Mae and Dorian timed their attacks with the others so that they were hitting the Nightmare in sync. The Nightmare aspect finally stumbled backwards and dissipated with the barrage of their attacks.

"Let's get out of this shit hole!" Varric exclaimed while rushing toward the rift. But as they all moved forward, a giant clawed leg that led up to the body of a monstrous spider demon loomed over them.

"You think you could leave my home so easily?" The demon boomed from overhead.

"Go!" Hawke ushered everyone forward. "I'll distract the monster."

Alistair stepped up beside him, "no, this is the Warden's fault. A Warden must..."

"A Warden must rebuild! That's your job!" Hawke argued. "Corypheus is mine."

Fear and panic gripped at Mae's heart. She didn't want to lose either one of them.

"Perhaps we should stay and fight?" She suggested.

"We've exhausted all our resources," Dorian explained. "We wouldn't last and we need to get back through the rift before it closes!"

Mae felt hopeless.
"I won't choose between you two. I will stay myself."

"That's ridiculous." Cassandra snorted. "We need you more than anyone. I'll stay with Hawke."

Hawke grabbed her by the arms then, his eyes sorrowful and pleading. "No, the Inquisitor needs you. Thedas needs you."

Cassandra raised a hand to his face. Her eyes searched his, wanting him to forsake this mad plan but there was something in the expression that passed between them that was of mutual understanding. Hawke gave her a tight smile and brushed a thumb along her cheek.

"Now you have nothing to hold you back from becoming Divine." She was the one to pull him into her, their lips locking with a passion that Mae couldn't peel her eyes away from. Tears sprung forth in hot streams down her cheeks as the two broke apart.

"I love you, Cassandra." He told her.

"I love you too. I will always love you." She turned away, wiping away her own tears.

Hawke ran toward the creature's leg and began yelling at the demon as he cast a fireball while simultaneously stabbing its leg with his staff blade. It screeched loudly as the limb turned to charred dust. The party ducked under the gruesome belly of the demon and hurriedly escaped through the rift.

They tumbled through the air and then landed on their bottoms. Grey Wardens were looking at them with both admiration and fear. Mae used the anchor to snap the rift closed, annihilating the remaining demons that had remained at Adamant.

The Wardens cheered once they realized what was happening but Mae felt sick to her stomach. Too much bad had happened here and she just wanted to hug her friend and cry with her. Unfortunately, there were still decisions to make.

"No demon army for Corypheus it appears," Alistair said while limping toward her. "The divine---or her spirit---was right. You know that's not how they see it though. They just saw their Inquisitor work another miracle."

I don't fucking care! And it wasn't the fucking Maker who did anything! She wanted scream. But she took a deep breath instead to regain her composure.

She steeled her face and said, "we came out of this alive. For now, that's all that matters. They can tell whatever stories they want."

Alistair frowned, his features were wrought with concern for her and he placed a hand on hers for but a moment. He said no witty comebacks. No sarcastic lines, just gave a small squeeze and let his hand fall back to his side. The gesture was kind and soothing but she wasn't sure she was the one who needed the most comforting as of now.

A scout ran up to them.

"Jim?" Mae was surprised to see him.

"Inquisitor. The archdemon flew off as soon as you disappeared. The venatori magister is unconscious but alive. Cullen thought you'd like to deal with him yourself."

Damn right she wanted that motherfucker all to herself. Good on Cullen for knowing her so well.

He continued with a hint of annoyance, "as for the Wardens, those that remained, helped us fight the demons."

A warden joined Jim in heavy plated armor, pledging allegiance with an arm across his chest. "We stand ready to help make up for Clarel's...tragic mistake."

Mae didn't really care what he had to say, she searched the faces before her, hoping that one would be an alive and well Hawke who had escaped the fade, but sadly, he wasn't there.

Varric beat her to the question of his whereabouts, however. "Where's Hawke? Did he come through somewhere?" Mae glanced between him and Cassandra, hope lingering in their eyes.

"Jim, has anyone seen Hawke?" Mae asked again, her hands clenched in anger, fully suspecting a no.

He shook his head. "I'm afraid not."

She sighed as she watched her friend's faces fall. For the first time ever, Cassandra and Varric embraced one another, sharing in their mutual grief. Such a scene was another tear in Mae's already ripped up heart.

She swallowed back another sob and addressed the crowd around her. "Hawke gave his life not because he'd sworn an oath or was marked as special but because someone had to do it."

She saw Varric and Cassandra walk away together and she was at least thankful they didn't have to grieve alone.

The Warden before her turned to Alistair. "Alistair, you're the surviving senior Grey Warden. What do we do now?"

Mae choked back a laugh. Were they all complete idiots? "You stay and do whatever you can to help! Put right all this shit that you helped contribute to in the first place! You're fortunate Alistair believes you're all worth saving, if it weren't for my trust in him, you'd all be dead. While Corypheus has taken a blow, our work is not finished. There's still plenty of demons for you to take care of." She said, earning a hint of a smirk from Alistair.

"While they do that, I'll report to the Wardens at Weisshaupt. Corypheus won't catch us with our trousers down again."

No. He wouldn't be leaving her too, would he?

"Thank you, your Worship, we will not fail you." The other Warden said and then they all began to disperse.

Mae grabbed Alistair's arm as he turned to go as well. "Please, don't go. We could send someone else to Weisshaupt." Her eyes were pleading with him.

The corners of his mouth turned down and his brows knit together. "They need to hear the news from a Warden. Besides," he pulled her into an embrace, his words grazing along her ear, "ill write you everyday and be back before you know it. I'm sure Cullen will take good care of you while I'm away."

She understood, but her heart wanted him to stay. Wanted him to be with her. She had just started to get to know him and she wasn't ready for it to all be over.

"Promise you'll write me everyday." She said while placing a hand on his chest so she could look him in the eyes.

"I promise." He said, then planted a soft and lingering kiss on her lips. She kissed him back gently, all the emotions swirling in her head kept her from truly facing his goodbye.

He pulled away. "Good bye, Mae. I'll see you soon."

"Good bye, Alistair," she whispered as his figure disappeared from sight.

Chapter Text

The ride to Weisshaupt had been underwhelming and long. Alistair stood peering up at the great fortress that was built more like Skyhold than Adamant. The last time he'd set eyes on the fortress was when he was recruited by Duncan. How long ago was that now? Five? Maybe six years?

"Who goes there?" A watchman shouted down at him from the gatehouse window. He looked like a tiny speck from where Alistair was standing.

"Alistair Theirin, Senior Warden of Ferelden."

"Ah, yes! Open the gate!" The man shouted. Alistair waited patiently while the portcullis was slowly raised with the turn of a crank. Memories, both fond and haunting came flooding back to him as he stared up at the stone walls.

"You're the Warden who fought next to the Hero of Ferelden," said an overly eager and young Warden with awe as he approached him.

"Yes. That I am."

"What brings you to Weisshaupt?"

"An urgent matter concerning the Wardens of the south. Is the First here?"

"Of course. Right this way."

The young Warden began to lead him through the courtyard and into the bailey.

"So, how have things been here?" Alistair asked.

"Quiet and dull." He replied.

"You should consider that a good thing."

"I suppose..."

"I know you probably heard me announce myself at the gate but I'd still like to introduce myself. Alistair Theirin, at your service."

"Carver Hawke ser."

Alistair grew quite glum as his thoughts went to Garret. Poor sod.

"Any relation to Garret Hawke?"

Carver's voice had a bitter undertone to it, "I'm his little brother."

"Oh." Alistair frowned. This was becoming more depressing by the moment.

"You know my brother?" His face twisted up with a mix of frustration and suspicion. "Did he do something to screw up another city? Is that why you're here?"

"No," Alistair swallowed the lump in his throat, "I'm not here for that. I first met your brother in Kirkwall and then fought alongside him for a time amongst the Inquisition but now, I'm afraid..." It was hard to get the words out.

"Yes?" Carver removed his helmet. He tucked it under his arm so he could see Alistair's downcast expression.

"I am afraid your brother is...no longer with us."

Alistair waited for the tears or anger or...anything really. The young man offered nothing, lips staying in a straight thin line.

"That's too bad," was all he said, replacing the helmet on his head.

"I take it you weren't close."

Carver's voice hardened. "I suppose you could say that."

Alistair wasn't sure what else to say as he held the door open to the Main Hall.

"For what it's worth, I express my deepest condolences."

"Thank you, Alistair." He nodded once and then led him toward a room near the end of the hall and to the right. He knocked just once.

"Enter!" A deep and booming voice called out and Carver opened the door for him.

"Good luck, Alistair. May the Maker smile down on you." He nodded once and then did an about face, going back the way he'd come.

The First was a very tall man with very broad shoulders and a long beard. Crow's feet lined the outer edge of his eyes and he had enough wrinkles to tell he was aged but not as many as Alistair would've expected for such a job. He'd never met the man before when he had lived here as he'd always been with Duncan or busying himself with tasks.

The man sat in a black, winged chair, his shining silverite armor gleamed nicely against the black color. He was shuffling through multiple reports, sorting them into three separate piles.

"Have a seat." He said while gesturing toward a chair in the southwest corner of the room. Alistair obliged.

Without glancing up from his work he asked, "What brings you here?"

"I am afraid that many of the Wardens of Orlais and Ferelden have fallen. A Tevinter Magister convinced them that there was a cure to the blight through blood magic."

"Blood magic, you say?"

"Yes. It was all very bad. Wardens turned to demons. The Inquisition came in to eradicate demons. Blood everywhere....it was all rather...messy."

The First pulled on his beard thoughtfully.

"Well that is a shame. I suppose we will be needing more Grey Wardens in the south."

That was all he had to say? Alistair was becoming quite suspicious of the man, the more he sat in the room with him.

"You're not concerned?" Asked Alistair.

"You said the Inquisition dealt with the problem, did you not?"

"Yes, but..."

"Then there is no need to continue to harp on the subject. In the morning, I'll send you out with a few of my best senior Wardens and my High Constable for recruiting."

"Well, perhaps you aren't that concerned but I am. A darkspwan Magister escaped his prison...something that should never have happened...then proceeded to poison the Warden's minds with the calling. He used their fear to make them desperate, leading them to resort to blood magic so that they wouldn't have to deal with blights any longer. Furthermore, they turned into a demon army who wreaked havoc amongst Adamant Fortress and in top of that..."

"Enough! I have told you what you must do. I cannot change what has already happened."

"But are you prepared to fight this Magister? If you aren't already hearing the calling, you will be soon.."

"I said enough and I would ask you to leave now."

Alistair opened his mouth one last time but when the First glanced up to give him a steely glare, he abruptly shut his mouth and removed himself from the man's presence.

"Well, that was helpful," Alistair murmured as the door closed behind him.

"Pssst. Alistair!" He whipped his head around to search for the whispering voice. "Over here!"

To the left, in a doorway on the opposite end of the First's office, there was just a hand gesturing for him to come over. Alistair shuffled quickly down the hall and was dragged in my the arm. The door clicked closed and a greying Warden with a large mustache and stubble was standing before him.

"I apologize for being so hasty with you. Carver told me you were here and I thought I would speak with you about the Wardens of the south.."

Alistair interrupted, "I'm sorry but who are you?"

"My apologies. I am Ser Stroud, High Constable of the First and Commander of the Grey."

"Fancy titles."

"Yes, I'm afraid they don't mean all that much these days."

"Yes. I've noticed the First seems to be rather apathetic."

"Yes. A few of the Senior Wardens and Ensigns have noticed this as well. It just so happens that while I was in his office the other day, I noticed that many of his incoming mail has carried the seal of a man named Samson. Do you happen to know who this man is."

The name seemed familiar but Alistair couldn't remember exactly why.

"I don't believe so but I have connections to The Inquisition...perhaps I can send a letter and see what they know."

"That would be remarkable."

"Since the First seemed unconcerned about the demon Wardens in the south..."

Ser Stroud's eyes grew wide with terror, "demon possessed Wardens!?! How can this be."

And so, once again, Alistair explained what happened at Adamant. Only this time, Stroud actually cared and was very concerned about the state of the south.

He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned up against the back of the chair behind him. "You are certain the Wardens are safe now?"

"I can't be one hundred percent certain but they are directly under the Inquisitor now. If they go all demon-y again I'm sure she'll just crush them with that strange glowing mark of hers."

"Hmm...things are worse than I suspected. Come along, we can discuss more of this after a warm supper and after I show you to your room."

There was a guard tower just outside the main hall and Stroud led him up the spiraling staircase all the way to the top. Two large canopy beds sat across from each other. There was nothing spectacular about the room. A bedside table garnished each bed, a very small desk was pushed against the northern wall with a rickety wooden chair. A few bookshelves lined the walls but it looked like the books hadn't been touched in years, a thick layer of dust was caked upon their covers.

"I know this isn't much but feel free to make yourself as comfortable as possible. There are a few extra tunics and undergarments if you're in need of a change. If you need a good wash you'll have to go the barracks. Unless you prefer to wash in the stream just a mile west of here. Once you're settled, dinner will be served in the mess hall. Oh and there's parchment and ink in the small desk drawer---just in case you desire to write the Inquisitor."

"Thank you, Ser Stroud."

He gave a curt nod and then slipped away. Alistair made for the desk. Pulling open the drawer he took out everything he'd need to write to Mae. Giving the old chair a shake to make sure it wouldn't crumble under his weight, he sat down into it and began to write.

 

My Dearest Mae,

I've made it to Weisshaupt, though The First seems very apathetic to the Warden predicament. I met the High Constable, however, who seems very suspicious about the First. He says he's been corresponding with a man named Samson. Perhaps, you could use your resources to uncover the whereabouts of this Samson or ask whom he might be? I'll be doing as much as I can on my end as well.

Oh, I also met Carver Hawke, Garrett's little brother. I have him my condolences but he didn't seem very sad or surprised by his brother's death. I'm sure the grief will hit him later.

One last thing---I miss you terribly already and I cannot wait until I can see your lovely face again. Try not to forget about me while I'm away.

With ardent affections,
Alistair

 

Alistair made a trifold with the letter, tucked it into his pocket and made his way to the mess hall. Carver was patrolling in the courtyard and he gave him a wave.

"Ser Carver!" The young man ran over to him, his armor clanking loudly with each stride.

"Yes?"

"I know you are not a messenger but could you do me a favor and make sure this letter is delivered personally to the Inquisitor?"

"You want me to deliver this?"

"Yes, of course, unless you're vehemently opposed then I shall have to beg you."

"No...I'd be glad to deliver this for you. I'll saddle up a horse and be off right away, Ser."

"Thank you." Alistair said while patting his back." He stared after the young boy for a moment but then continued to the mess hall. After all, he hadn't eaten anything all day and he was quite starved.


The mess hall smelled of smoked ham and aromatic cheese. Alistair's stomach growled with appreciation as he took a seat next to Stroud.

"Hello again, Alistair!" Said Stroud with a wide smile. He wrapped an arm around a much younger Warden, with black hair and eyes so brown that they were almost black. The Warden offered a shy smile.

"This is my son..."

"I'm not really his son." The young man replied.

"Yes, well, I was going to tell him that. Anyway, I've taken this young man under my wing. His name is Ser Barriston and he's our most promising and newest recruit."

Alistair stuck his fork into a thick slice of the ham and flopped it onto his plate.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Ser Barriston. I am Alistair Theirin..."

"You're the Hero of the Fifth Blight!" He exclaimed excitedly, his shyness falling away.

"No. I do believe you have your heroes crossed. Nelaros Tabris was more of a hero than I."

"But you fought alongside him. He didn't do it all alone. And aren't you the last son of King Maric's line? The bastard prince?"

He groaned inwardly. "Yes. Unfortunately."

"Why didn't you take the crown?" Ser Barriston asked.

Ser Stroud chipped in as well, "yes, I've been rather curious about that too."

Cutting his ham with a dull knife, he responded. "I know you don't know me but you wouldn't have wanted me to be a King. At least not back then. I suppose I could do the job now but it's better this way."

"Well, perhaps someday you may become King then." Stroud said.

Alistair let out a loud laugh. "Highly unlikely. I'm almost certain I'd die before Anora ever did. Besides, I hear she's remarried and is with child. Though, I am not certain to whom she is married. I'm afraid I haven't kept up with all the details of her life."

Finally getting that piece of meat cut, Alistair brought its juicy tenderness to his mouth and began to chew happily. It had a nice brown sugar glaze and it was slightly sweet to the taste.

With his mouth still full, he asked, "so what made you join the Grey Wardens?"

Barriston replied, "my father knew a Warden named Blackwall that he became quite friendly with and admired a lot. I wanted to make my father proud, so when Ser Stroud visited our small village in the Free Marches, I asked if I could join. And so, here we are."

Alistair swallowed. "Here we are."

The three men continued to laugh and talk and Alistair shared some of his favorite Warden stories, throughout the remainder of their meal. They finished eating, wiped their mouths and pushed back from the table.

"Well, Alistair, I think we're going to settle in for the evening. If you're in need of anything, be sure to let me know." Stroud said.

Alistair nodded and then made his way back to his quarters. Once there, he pulled a dusty volume from the shelf and ran a hand across the cover. The dust swirled into a gray cloud above his head and then dispersed itself throughout the room. He chuckled when he read the cover. It was by Varric and about the Hero of Ferelden. Going over to his bed and adjusting his pillows so that he could sit comfortably, he settled down into them, book propped up in his lap.

He only got five pages in before the guard tower bell began to ring. He jumped up from his bed and readied himself for an attack, unsheathing his sword from its scabbard and hurrying back down the stairs.

Chapter Text


"Have any of you seen Mae since she returned to Skyhold?" Cullen asked Leliana, Josephine and Morrigan as he rounded the corner of the war table. They were already in their respective places, waiting on him. He'd spent half his morning in search of Mae which had caused him to arrive later than he'd expected.

"I don't believe so. Perhaps she just needs a moment of respite. She does have a heavy burden to bear."
Josephine replied.

Running a hand through his curly locks, he said, "Precisely. I suppose that's why I'm concerned. I've spent all my morning in search of her and I've found no trace of her anywhere.  Though, it is possible that I'm only missing her by mere moments."

" 'Tis no need to worry about our elusive Inquisitor, for I saw her in the gardens and even spoke with her this morning. She is only taking some things I told her into consideration." Morrigan communicated.

Cullen's gaze was cynical and mistrusting. "And what exactly did you discuss with the Inquisitor?"

Morrigan squared her shoulders, "if I wished to tell you, I would have. However, it is none of your concern."

Cullen glared and she arched a brow at him in challenge.

Josephine cleared her throat. "Anyway, back to the matter at hand."

Cullen straightened his posture and bit back the snide remark that he longed to hurl at the suspicious witch. "Of course. Do continue, Josephine."

"Thank you, Commander." She went on, "any news as to why Corypheus is sending people to explore elven ruins, of all things?"

Leliana was the first to respond, "no, I suspect he keeps the reason secret, even from his inner circle."

Morrigan curled her lips into a smirk.

Leliana sighed, "let me guess, you have some ideas as to why Corypheus is exploring the ruins?"

"I might." Morrigan replied, demurely which set Cullen on edge.

"Well, if you have information we know nothing of, I would ask kindly, that you share it." Cullen was glad to see he wasn't the only one annoyed, as Leliana threw a threatening look at the witch.

"Why thank you. Asking kindly is a most gracious thing to do and if I had a desire to share the information I've gathered, I would gladly do so, however, in this case, I do not."

Cullen pounded his fists on the table, making it rattle and shake. Josephine nearly dropped her quill as she was startled, but neither Leliana or Morrigan flinched.

"What do you mean you don't have a desire to?" He exclaimed.

"Precisely what I said. I will only share this information I've gathered when the Inquisitor is present. Until then, I don't believe I have anything else to offer. I have some matters to attend to, so if you will all excuse me..."

The three advisors stared after her in disbelief as she walked out the door.

"Did she really just..." Cullen started to say.

"I believe so," Josephine added.

"She hasn't changed one bit." Leliana spat.

The three of them let out a sigh in unison.

"Well, I suppose that's it, unless either of you have something to add?" Cullen said.

Josepine shook her head.

Then Leliana said, "I have people looking into it. I'll be sure to notify you both, if anything comes  to fruition."

"Excellent. Be sure to let me know if I can be of any assistance." Cullen replied.

She nodded in affirmation. "Oh, I have not asked in awhile, Cullen...how goes the hunt for Samson?" 

He said, "We're close. I know it. Last time I heard from the men in Emprise, they had discovered more clues to his whereabouts. I'm hoping to hear again from them soon."

"Just as you offered help to me---if there's anything I can do to..."

He held a hand up in acknowledgment, "thank you. I appreciate it."

"Well," Josephine tapped her quill lightly against her clipboard, "I do believe, without Morrigan or the Inquisitor, we have nothing further to discuss?"

"Not on my end." Cullen said.

"Me neither." Leliana replied.

"Very well," Josephine continued, "then I should think, it is safe to say, this meeting is adjourned."

Cullen felt like he'd just arrived,
but by the time the war room meeting was over with, it was half past one; the time Cullen usually took out of his day to pray at the feet of Andraste. It wasn't something he remembered to do everyday (especially on the days he was so wrapped up and distracted by Mae) but he had not forgotten. So he trekked outside to Skyhold's gardens. A few of the pilgrims were sitting on benches, ogling each other and holding one another close. It was a pleasant sight to behold, endearing even.

He walked along the outer edge of the gardens, along the stone walkway until he reached his favorite room of worship. A dusty, dingy place that hadn't been touched since they'd arrived, but held the most beautiful statue of Andraste and was solitary.

As he pushed through the door, and he was surprised to hear Mae whispering the chant of light, pausing every now and then to sniffle. Cullen leaned against the door frame, momentarily, to take her into view. He didn't think she had ever looked so beautiful, kneeling there, her raw feelings bared before the feet of Andraste.


"Maker, though I am but one, I have called in your name.
And those who come to serve will know your glory.
I remembered for them.
They will see what can be gained,
And though we are few against the wind, we are yours."

Cullen recognized that she was reciting from the Canticle of Trials. He listened closely as she went on.

"Though I am flesh, Your Light is ever present,
And those I have called, they remember,
And they shall endure.
I shall sing with them the Chant, and all will know,
We are Yours, and none shall stand before us. What hath man's sin wrought?" She added with another sniffle, "what has my sin wrought?" 

Cullen moved from the doorway and knelt down beside her, then said:

"Let him take notice and shine upon thee.." she looked up at him, eyes gleaming but forlorn, and he gave her a gentle smile while continuing, keeping his eyes on her the entire time.

"For thou has done his work on this day..." she began to shake her head in a deliberate 'no', tears pouring down her face. He could tell she was wrestling with herself, wrestling with an inner turmoil that he could relate to so well. She had begun to sob, staring down at the teardrops that splattered into her hands. Cullen reached a hand out to cup her face and once again picked up where he had left off.

"And the stars stood still, and the winds did quiet, and all the animals of the earth and air held their breath
And all was silent in prayer and thanks."

And silence did surround them as he softly pulled her into himself. He began to rock her back and forth in a soothing motion. Her sobs came back down to just a sniffle. She pulled back, away from his chest, then began trying to free herself from his arms. Cullen felt confused but set her free, regardless.

"I'm sorry," she said while wiping her face with the loose fabric at the bottom of her tunic.

His brows furrowed together. "For what?"

"For being this blubbering mess before you. I'm the Inquisitor," another sniffle, "I need to remain strong."

His face softened. How many times had he felt the same way?

His fingers brushed along her knuckles, tracing the lines, the veins, and the tiny creases in her small hands. "It is not shameful to feel things deeply, Mae, as much as you would have yourself believe. And you are strong. Strength doesn't mean you can't cry. It doesn't mean that you don't feel the losses you have suffered. In fact, I believe, it is the ability by which you pick yourself up and persist. It's choosing to keep pressing on when everything seems grim---seems hopeless. It's finding your faith when you thought it was lost."

She was looking at him now, with admiration and deep respect and so, interlocking his fingers with hers he continued, "you are the strongest woman I have ever met," he pressed her knuckles to his lips and brushed them with a kiss, "and I've been in love with you for that since the day I first laid eyes on you."

He was graced with the tiniest curve of her lips, just a hint of a smile and a very faint hue of pink.

Without glancing away and much to his surprise she said, "I love you, too, Cullen."

His heart soared and a happy laugh rose from his chest as he gathered her up in his arms, spinning her in a wide circle and showering her with kisses. Finally, having his fill of her, he set her back on her feet and beamed down at her.

"Does this mean?"

"Yes." She said with sparkling eyes and brilliant smile.

Coming down from his high, he shifted awkwardly on his feet, unsure of what to say or do next. There was a moment of silence as their smiles began to fade, just slightly. Thankfully, Mae cleared the stale air.

"I'm hungry and haven't eaten for a few days. Would you like to join me for a bite of food?" She asked, setting an easy decision at his feet.

"I'd be glad to!" She reached for his hand and he grasped it happily, as they made their way toward the tavern.

 

                                                                               ------------

 

 


Cullen and Mae were laughing and over indulging in food as they played a game of Wicked Grace with most of their friends and the Warden, Carver Hawke, who had come from Weisshaupt.

The young man had arrived, sometime in the afternoon. Cullen assumed he'd come to Skyhold after he'd heard of his brother's passing but hadn't taken the time to actually speak with him. He had remembered seeing the boy from a distance, back in Kirkwall, but had never gotten to know him. He always seemed to be brooding and stand-offish.

He was no different here, in the tavern. Carver spoke to no one, except for Varric. He did spend most of his time whispering things only Varric could hear in occasion, earning a nod or brief chuckle from the dwarf.

But it was of no concern to Cullen. He focused on the card game. Josephine was the dealer this time and she seemed to be winning every single hand. Cullen tried to watch her every move to discover her tactics but just when he thought he'd figured her out, she'd end up winning again. He was absolutely stunned by the way she even managed to out maneuver Varric, of all people.

He shook his head as his cards fell to the table. "Well, I think I'm going to call it a night before I'm stripped down to nothing again."

"What a shame," Dorian chimed in. "Only sharing the good bits with Mae these days, are you?"

Cullen blushed profusely as he pushed away from the table. "No, I...I mean yes...Maker's breath!"

He was glad to know that the whole table was mocking him, as they all burst into raucous laughter.

"Well, I'm glad you're all enjoying yourselves at my expense." His face tightened into a disapproving glower.

"Yes, yes," Dorian replied, "you're blundering never ceases to entertain us. Run along now and get your beauty rest."

Mae snorted and tried hiding her laughter behind her hand and Cullen fled from the scene with as much pride as was possible for him to keep intact (which was very little).

"Commander." Scout Harding gave him a nod as he hurriedly left the tavern and made way for Mae's room.

He crossed the courtyard with just a few short strides and nearly sprinted up the stairs.

Arriving in their shared chamber a little out of breath, he kicked off his boots, threw his belt aside and shirked out of his armor. He was desperate to relax and just hold Mae in his arms. As she wasn't yet there, he chose to busy himself as he waited for her arrival. He snatched up the book he'd finished from off the bedside table and replaced it amongst Mae's expanding collection. Then, he plucked another volume off the shelf, right next to one he'd just replaced, that seemed like a promising read.

He plopped down in the chair at her desk but saw something that caught his eye. It was an unopened letter, sealed with the Grey Warden seal of valor. He contemplated opening it.

He shook the thoughts away. Reprimanding himself for even allowing himself to entertain the idea. It was none of his business. But the thought that the letter might be from Alistair, weighed on his mind. He imagined him writing romantic notions to her---the idea of it gnawed at him. So, he gave into his foolish inclinations and undid the seal, unraveling the short page before him.

He skimmed the words quickly, while simultaneously listening for footsteps on the stairs. It would look very bad if he were to be caught going through the Inquisitor's personal letters. There were important things that Alistair mentioned, things pertaining to him, about Samson. If the First was corresponding with the leader of the Red Templars, it would not bode well for the Wardens at Weisshaupt. Good to know. He made a mental note to speak with Leliana and Josephine about the matter later, then continued reading.

"Ugh," he made a sound of disgust as he got to the end of the letter. "Ardent affections? What does that even mean?" He stared at the words on the page, trying to decipher its meaning, his thoughts reading into things that weren't there.

Did Mae know Alistair's true feelings for her? Did she feel the same? Did she not only love him but also the Grey Warden who feigned awkwardness yet spoke with ease and wit?

He ran a frustrated hand through his mussed up hair but then, without thinking about the consequences of his actions, he shoved the letter into the binding of the book he had pulled and proceeded to return it, in the very spot he had got it from in the first place.

He bit his lip, contemplating taking the book back off the shelf and pretending as if he'd never read a thing, replacing the opened letter on the desk. But Mae would know he had read it and he couldn't bear the thought of her being angry with him, so he kept it hidden.

After all, what she didn't know, wouldn't hurt her...right?

Chapter Text

Mae's lips dusted along Cullen's side as he slept peacefully next to her. A little mumble escaped him as she trailed a path of kisses down his hip, to his inner thigh and finally to his cock. She swirled her tongue around the outer edge and then pulled him into her mouth, sucking deeply and slowly.

"Oh, Maker's breath," he cooed with a sleepy voice. "I am certainly awake now."

He rolled onto his back and Mae smiled against him while fondling his balls amidst her palm and indulging in the taste of him.

"Mae," he groaned while reaching under her arms to pull her up to his face. She gave one last good suck before allowing him to remove her.

Wiping away some saliva, while lying next to him, she said, "what's wrong?"

His eyes were kind, content even, and a lazy smile dripped from his lips as he thumbed the smooth skin on her cheek. "Absolutely nothing." He pushed his mouth against hers, moving slow but deliberate. Then he pulled back. "I just wanted the taste of you on my lips."

"Then by all means, don't let me impede you." She smirked.

He chuckled and pulled her back into his arms, getting lost within the scent of her skin and in the softness of her lips. All the pressures of their lives faded away as they melded together in the warmth of one another's embrace.

Mae sighed breathlessly as his stubbly lips made their way down her neck and nipped at her nipples. Parting her legs with a knee, he slipped inside of her while caressing and nuzzling her breasts. His pace wasn't as slow as the first time. It was more hungry, more desirous, more like he just needed a really good fuck. And Mae was glad because she loved nothing more than fucking Cullen. It had become one of her favorite pastimes and it was especially fun when they were banging the headboard against the wall. And loudly.

"Oh yes!" She cried out with the next thrust, hardly knowing what else to do with the feelings he emitted from her.

A guttural growl came from Cullen, which only made her arousal heighten. She twisted his curls up in her fingers and held onto him tight while matching his steady pace, when suddenly, Alistair flashed before her eyes.

What the fuck? She thoughT to herself but then she imagined that strawberry blonde hair and that perfectly long nose...and that dorkish grin. Oh, and his kisses...though Cullen's kisses were grand...Alistair's lips belonged to the Maker himself, or so she was convinced.

Instead of pushing the image away, she entertained the notion, pretending it was Alistair fucking her so hard and pulling her nipples beneath his teeth. Her mind was consumed with him as it conjured up his cinnamon-y scent, the chiseled chest with scars she hadn't overlooked the one time she'd seen him in that stream. What would that sweet face of his look like if he were inside of her? Would he close his eyes? Would he be grinning? Maybe he'd bite his lips in consternation... She imagined crying out his name over and over again. Alistair. Alistair. Alistair.

Cullen thrust even harder and Mae's hands gripped tight around his ass as she cried out, "please don't stop, Alistair," without a thought.

And suddenly everything, much to her displeasure, stopped. No more stars danced in her eyes. No more of him pressed between her thighs. No more heat against her body.

She opened her eyes to see a very conflicted Cullen before her. Sweat dripped down his brow and she went to wipe it off but he smacked her hand away.

Still breathing heavily, he said, "I can't do this. Not anymore. All the doubts, the fears..." he shook his head, "they were all true."

"I'm so sorry, Cullen. I didn't mean to..."

He glared at her, golden spheres stormy, "you didn't mean to what? You didn't mean to say Alistair's name while you fucked me? You didn't mean to use me? You didn't mean to rip out my heart and just throw it under your pillow, pretending it was there for safe keeping? I don't need an apology. I need you to stop telling me things that you don't mean. One of those things being, I love you. You never meant it and I wished you'd never pretended you had!" He got up hastily from the bed, then, and began shoving his legs into his pants.

She had no right to cry. He was right. She was a horrible monster. But he was also wrong. So terribly wrong.

"But I did--I do love you." Her voice came out just above a whisper.

"You loved the idea of me, Mae. The two aren't one in the same." He said while throwing his shirt on. "You know," he said, making for the stairway, "you were right."

She met his eyes, choking back the tears that streamed down her face.

"You don't deserve someone like me. Someone who is loyal. Someone who would die for you. I hope Alistair makes you happy and I pity him if he doesn't." Then he was gone, his echoing footfalls growing more distant with each tick of the clock that stood on her mantle.

Mae sat in her bed, naked and vulnerable, sobbing into her hands. How had she let so many things fall apart?

 

                   •••

 

"Inquisitor, we have a matter that requires your immediate attention." Josephine said as soon as Mae entered the Main Hall.

She rubbed her forehead in exhaustion, her eyes were red and puffy and she was sure she looked ridiculous, but there were other matters to attend to and she needed a distraction.

"Very well, what is it?"

"There is a Grey Warden who is demanding that you pass judgement on her, due to her actions at Adamant. There's also the matter of Erimond to attend to."

Mae grit her teeth together. She wanted---no she needed---to judge the Magister. It would feel good to serve justice to a monster worse than she.

"I'll attend to these matters right away."

Josephine nodded. "The Warden is already here but I'll send for the Magister."

"Thank you, Josephine." Mae said before taking her seat on the Inquisition throne.

It was a only a matter of moments before a brunette Warden was kneeling before her. Mae addressed her.

"Speak Warden. What brings you here to my seat of judgement?"

The woman lifted her head proudly. "I am Ser Ruth, a Senior Warden of the Grey and I am an offending Warden, one who slit a fellow Warden's throat with my very own hand, spilling her blood to allow her to become an abomination. I am a murderer and I deserve nothing but a public execution by the blade of your judgement."

Mae thought it odd that the woman would request such a thing. Willing to throw away her entire life because she made one mistake (a very costly mistake), she was only following orders. It seemed wrong to kill a person so remorseful, so redeemable.

"You shall not die by my blade, Ser Ruth. Instead, you shall be a blade at my side. Fight with me, with us, and let your nobility be penance for your crimes."

Ser Ruth bowed her head. "You show mercy where I deserve none. Thank you, Inquisitor. I do hope I will not disappoint." She said and then turned to go.

Two guards brought Erimond forth and she leaned forward in her chair.
"He will die by my sword. Just take him to the gallows."

Nobody questioned her and she followed the guards out as they led the Magister to the courtyard. They climbed the wooden platform that was made for public executions. Mae hadn't needed to use it, until now, and had previously called it useless.

"May I borrow your sword?" She asked the guard to her right and he unsheathed the blade for her.

It glinted nicely in the sun as she took it from his grasp. Raising it above her head, she asked, "any last words, Magister?"

He said nothing, only spat on her shoes and no sooner had the spit hit her boot, the sword came swiftly down on his neck, sending his head flying off the platform.

Setting her jaw straight, she handed the sword back and turned away from the Magister's bloody body without a glance back. As she stepped down the few stairs, she caught sight of Cullen out of the corner of her eye. He was looking down on her from the battlements, brooding, and already she was missing his smile.

"Lady Inquisitor!"

She looked away from Cullen's stern face to the likes of Carver Hawke.

"Yes?"

"Did you get my letter from Warden Alistair?" He seemed eager for some reason.

"No. What letter?"

"The one I left on your desk."

"I never received a letter."

He sighed. "Well, then I suppose it's good I caught you before I left. I must return immediately to Weisshaupt, it's had a bit of unrest amongst the Wardens and I need to be there in case something happens. Anyway, he wanted you to know that the First has been corresponding with a man named Samson."

"Samson?" She rubbed the back of her neck. "This is bad news. Samson is the leader of the Red Templars, men directly under Corypheus. Tell Alistair that they have traitors amongst them and to be wary."

"I will, Inquisitor."

He turned to go but she reached out for him. "And Carver, I am sorry for your loss." She could have sworn there was a hint of moisture in his eyes.

"Thank you, Inquisitor. Perhaps, when all this is done, I will hold a proper funeral for him."

She gave him a gentle smile, "that's a lovely idea." Her arm fell away to her side again and she watched him hop on a horse and ride away.

With everything that had just happened with Cullen, Mae didn't feel right going to him about Samson and so she went back to the Main Hall, in search of Josie or Leliana instead.

 

 

                      •••

 

 

 

Mae stood in the doorway of Cullen's office. Surprisingly, he wasn't bunched over his desk or staring out the tiny window behind it. Instead he was lounged back in his chair, with a heavy volume in hand, his face relaxed and calm.

Her heart was aching for him. She wanted desperately to turn back time and erase what she'd done just that morning. Where was Alexius when she needed him?

But that was the thing with broken relationships, something like time magic couldn't even repair them.

Inching in a little further, longing just to be nearer to him, the floorboards creaked beneath her weight and Cullen's head snapped up. The relaxed expression disappeared and was replaced with steel and ice. Snapping the book shut, he postured himself into a straight board, making sure to show that she wasn't welcome here, unless it was business of course.

"What are you doing here, Inquisitor?" There was no longer any softness there and she nearly started crying again.

Inquisitor. That title stung coming from his lips.

"I---I just wanted to see you and tell you that I'm sorry. That I'm so so sor..."

A hand went up as he shook his head. "No. I don't want an apology and I don't want to discuss this any further. In fact this is no longer a discussion at all. We are done Mae. My answer is final." His mouth closed into a straight line, signifying the end of the discussion on his part.

"But I am sorr..."

"No!" He shouted and stood, palms spread across the desk, book sliding to the floor, and a wisp of hair let loose, swooping down in front of his eye. "I must ask you to go."

"Please, Cullen, just listen to me!" She pleaded.

"You don't get to beg and plead! All along this has been on your terms. But this time--just this once I get a say!" His eyes were angry now, just as they were earlier that day, and he pointed her toward the door. "I just can't. I can't see you right now. Please go."

As much as it pained her to be sent away, she understood. And she would render him that kindness. After all, he deserved that. He deserved far better than her.

She took one last look him before turning on her heel to go and whispered one last, "I'm sorry," before closing the door behind her.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she realized she'd ruined something good. That she'd lost something she could never replace and it hurt. It cut like a million shards of glass in every thread of fabric that was her being, to know that she'd lost the love of an honorable man. Her feet carried her across the walkway to the main hall, pushing her to find refuge in the quiet stillness of her quarters.

Little did she know, that the strong stern man she'd left behind, was seeking solace with a wet face, amongst the palms of his hands. For though he made it seem as if she were easy to let go, moving on from her would be worse than any lyrium withdrawal.

Chapter Text

Alistair's boots clunked heavily against the stone step as he rushed out into the courtyard, right into a billowy cloud of thick smoke. A sharp inhale had him choking and sputtering as he waved a hand to clear the air. No amount of arm waving would suffice, however.

"Alistair!" It was Stroud who was shouting his name. "Alistair! Come quickly! We're under attack!"

"Is that what all this black smoke is from? And here I thought someone had burned their evening snack." Alistair uttered under his breath while searching for the High Constable.

Ice shards pummeled down from the sky on top of Alistair, clinging to his locks and making them stand on end. He quickly raised his shield above him, to protect himself from the continual frosty assault. Moving forward at a slow and wary pace, squinting his eyes, he could finally make out the gleaming blue and silver of Warden armor through the haze. He fell in line next to Stroud, readying his blade.

“There are demons and Venatori spellbinders ahead!” Stroud cried. “Let us take up our swords and fight!”

He charged on ahead, sword raised high into the air. Alistair followed suit, barreling after him like a raging druffalo. His sword pierced through a shade and it melted into a pool of ooze. Without a pause, Alistair pressed forward, slashing his sword back and forth through the air, severing limbs and heads from taunting demons. With each felled demon, Alistair gained momentum, striking his enemies down with brute force.

He wavered momentarily as one of the spellbinders cast a ball of flame in his direction, spreading across his blocking shield and lapping around the edges to lick at his face. But once the heat began to dissipate, Alistair ran for the spellbinder, running his sword straight through the mage’s heart.

Alistair tried to clear his head of all the shouting and sharp grating of swords clashing against one another as he continued rushing forward. Suddenly an elven mage appeared at his side and he turned to strike them down.

“Wait!” She cried and confusion was wrought all over Alistair's fave. “I am not your enemy!” She held her staff at bay, signifying her alliance.

“Then who are you?” Alistair asked.

“Evie Surana!” She side stepped an arcane bolt and cast a dagger of ice from her own staff in turn. “I'm a part of a rogue group of mages, determined to hunt down Venatori and those who serve their Elder One!”

“I'm Alistair!”

“I know! You fought the archdemon!” Another blaze of fire swept past their heads and then a rage demon was in their sights.

“Anders watch out!” Evie shouted into the smoky haze as the demon’s flames sparked off toward the right at an ambiguous silhouette.

“Anders? The Grey Warden?” Alistair was caught off guard by the familiar name and his wrist was singed by the grasp of the demon. Pain coursed through his entire arm, making him drop his sword.

The demon towered over him, ready to envelope him in its fiery embrace. Alistair raised his wounded hand over his eyes as he waited for more pain. But there was nothing. Feeling brave enough to peek out of his arm, he saw a very familiar face before him.

“Jowan?”

“Alistair! Yes, it is I.” His face broke into an exuberant smile as he offered a hand to him.

Alistair wasn't sure whether he should thank the mage or kill him on the spot, so he ended up just making a strange grunt of a sound as he came up to his feet, grasping for his sword on the way. The pain in his wrist had numbed to a dull ache and he felt able to return to combat.

“Sorry we arrived later than we planned. We were attacked by a group of Red Templars that were on their way here as well.” Jowan explained.

“Red Templars?” Alistair shook his head. “We can talk about all the important bits later. Perhaps when there are no longer any flaming balls aimed at my head.”

“Of course.” Jowan replied, firing more arcane bolts at the last spellbinder.

A rumble of thunder rang out across the courtyard and then a flash of lightning lit up the sky just as a few drops of rain began to splatter against their armor, making small plinking sounds against the hardened leathers and metal.

“Thank the Maker…” Alistair muttered as the air began to clear and he could see more than two feet in front of him.

Another hoard of shades filtered in through the gate and Alistair ran toward them, blinking away the rain that was pouring down his entire body. Two more elven mages, Dalish he presumed by the marks of vallaslin, were smashing some of the demons with their strange nature magic. Alistair didn't remember ever seeing magic like that before and so he decided to steer clear of them, going for the shades that had reached the guard tower instead.

Bolting up the spiraling stairs, he chased after the shades as they moved out onto the battlements. He through theand it screamed as it sank into a puddle. He repeated this process with the other four shades until he heard Stroud calling out to him again.

“Alistair! Look out for that Pride demon!” He said danced away from the claws of a terror.

Sure enough, as Alistair looked over his shoulder, he saw a Pride demon coming right for him. The five mages below had finished off their demons and were now casting spells at the feet of the ginormous demon. But Alistair knew it would be pointless to aim for anything but the head because Pride demons had thick scales that acted as tough armor.

The Pride demon threw back its head and rumbled a deep, menacing laugh before pulling out a set of electrified whips. Another bolt of lightning lit up the sky just as the demon cracked his whip across the battlements, shattering it in two. Alistair jumped out of the way, having to do a tuck and roll to avoid a broken limb. Picking himself back off the ground, he began to sprint toward the demon who was focused on eradicating the mages. Picking up speed as he neared the broken battlements, he pushed off of his feet as hard as he could. Flying through the air, with arms outstretched to grab onto the demon, he landed with a thud on its back.

It reared its hideous head and tried to scratch him off but Alistair was just out of its reach. Raising his sword high and balancing himself on the demon’s shoulder blades, he shouted, “For the Grey Wardens!” Then his blade rang sharply as it came down on the beast's head. It's shoulders slumped forward, nearly dumping Alistair, then slowly began to topple forward like a newly chopped tree. Alistair dig his heels into the shoulders and grasped tightly to the horns as it crashed into the ground.

He jumped the to the ground from there, landing on his feet. What was left of the Warden’s cheered him on and as the adrenaline began to fade, all Alistair saw was more death.

He could no longer see Stroud as he surveyed the broken walls, the smoking towers and the dead bodies littered across the courtyard. Finally his eyes saw the older man bent over a body near the gate. Alistair made for the High Constable, being careful not to desecrate the bodies of his fellow men. As he neared the man, his heart sank. See Stroud was holding the body of the young man, Ser Barriston, the one he had claimed as a son.

Alistair placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, knowing full well that the ache Ser Stroud was feeling could never be fully relieved.

 

 

•••

 

 


Gathering around the pyre stacked with the bodies of all the fallen men and spellbinders, the Wardens tossed in their torches, setting it ablaze. Alistair watched as the flames devoured the corpses in a matter of moments. Evie Surana sidled up to him with her merry band of mages (the name Alistair had given the five of them). Peeling his eyes away from the pyre, he turned to survey them all.

“This is just lovely. And to what do we owe the pleasure of housing five apostate mages?” Alistair asked with a raised brow.

“A simple thank you would suffice.” Evie grunted.

“Yes. Well then, thank you, for what it's worth.” His eye flickered to Jowan and he thanked him as well, despite all of his pure loathing for the man who had nearly killed his uncle all those years ago.

Come to think of it, he felt rather silly for holding such an old grudge over the Mage but he wasn't yet ready to let bygones be bygones.

“If I might ask, what brought you and your merry band of mages to Weisshaupt?” Alistair directed to Evie but Anders stepped forward to answer.

“We heard rumors of what happened at Adamant and that a Tevinter Magister was behind the whole ordeal, pulling Commander Clarel’s strings. It just so happened that we were already tracking a suspicious group of Venatori in the Hissing Wastes when they began to make their way here. We had planned to stop them before they reached you but we were impeded by templar's who were infected with lyrium. I believe there are more Templar’s heading this way. If you'd like we could stay and help fight them off. I've seen what red lyrium can do to the templar's when I was in Kirkwall…”

“I don't believe we will be needing your services any longer.” The group turned to find the First glaring at them. “In fact, I suggest you go back from whence you came. The Red Templar's are not evil, they are a power house, a soldier to contend with. Once the Warden’s here taste of the red lyrium’s power, we will be invincible!”

Before Alistair could respond, Anders drove his staff blade through the heart of the First. The man let out a gasp then crumpled to the ground.

“Maker’s breath!!! Was that really necessary?” Alistair exclaimed.

“Yes,” Anders replied. “Red Lyrium is bad. Anyone who thinks it's their salvation is mad and needs to be killed. I just saved your lives.”

Alistair ran a frustrated hand through his dripping locks. “I think we may agree to disagree on that one. The First wasn't threatening me…”

“Trust me,” Anders cut in, “it most certainly was a threat.”

Alistair opened his mouth to reply but snapped it closed when Evie asked on Anders sleeve. “Enough. It doesn't no good to argue about dead men. We need to begin preparations for another battle.”

“I don't think we have the numbers to fight another battle and there's nowhere to retreat to,” said Stroud as he joined in their small circle.

“What about the Inquisition?” Alistair suggested. “The Wardens from Adamant are already helping them fight against Corypheus’ army, perhaps we should join them.”

“And leave Weishaupt to fall into the hands of Red Templar's?” Stroud was looking at Alistair like he was mad.

“Have you seen the fortress?” Alistair gestured to the crumbling walls and the stacks of smoke still billowing from the towers. “And how will you defend this place? They will take it over regardless of what we do?”

Stroud pulled at his mustache. “Perhaps you are right. Maybe, if we ally with the Inquisition and defeat this Corypheus, they could help us rebuild.”

Alistair smiled, “exactly.”

Evie spoke again, “would you mind if we joined you?”

Anders snorted, “why would you want to go to the inquisition? They will just reward us with imprisonment in circle towers as soon as they are finished with us!”

“Their leader is a Mage who hated the circle, I doubt she'd allow that to happen.” Alistair said.

Anders still looked wary and grim. “If I follow you to the gates of this Inquisition and they imprison me, I will hold you personally responsible.”

“Will you blow him up like you did with the chantry in Kirkwall?” The elf with the short black hair and deep green eyes said.

“Merrill, how many times have I told you not to bring that up!” Anders hissed.

“Oh! Sorry. I didn't mean too..” She stared down at the ground while biting her lip.

“You blew up Kirkwall’s Chantry?” Alistair asked.

“It was in protest!” Anders said in his defense.

Alistair was a little wary of the Mage now. “Uh, should I be worried?”

Evie placed a hand on Anders shoulder. “Nah, he's basically as harmless as a kitten these days.”

Anders glowered at her.

“What Anders means to say is that, if you're willing to have our backs, we would like to help your Wardens and this Inquisition, if you'll have us.” Evie explained.

“Riiight.” Alistair glanced back and forth from Evie to Anders. “I feel like making a deal with five scary apostates is a very bad idea but desperate times calls for desperate measures---you have a deal.” He said reluctantly.

Evie grinned. “Good. Now, let's rest up. We've got a long day ahead of us.” She began moving toward the main hall and the other apostates followed her lead.

Stroud stood with Alistair. “Are you sure we can trust them.”

“About as much as we could trust a hungry Varghest.” Alistair said with a sigh.

Stroud cringed as he walked with Alistair toward the barracks.

 

Chapter Text

Cullen massaged the back of his neck, trying to ease away the tension that had settled into his muscles like some sort of permanent wrinkle. He had not slept one wink while in the Arbor Wilds, but he had slept hard the night of his return. As such, his muscles were now begging him for more recuperation. As he thumbed away at the knots in his deltoids, he nearly succumbed to his body’s wishes (or rather demands).

But he had work to do.

It had been three months since he had ended things with Mae but spending time fretting over her in the Wilds reminded him that he wasn't quite over the woman. She had been off fighting an army of Red Templars and savages, elves that had been left to their own devices for far too long, while he remained with the other forces. Mae was strong but he still found himself worrying for her. Afraid for her life. She had become a scab for him, something he enjoyed picking at every now and then, only to make himself bleed. It was a bad habit. One he wished he could set aside.

Sighing deeply, he began sorting through the stack of letters that had piled up over the course of his month-long absence. The majority of the letters were useless, fan mail from Orlesian noble women (and men) who had caught wind that he was a bachelor, yet again. They would all be tossed into the fire later.

At the bottom of the stack, however, was a letter from Mae. He was surprised to see such a thing but was instantly saddened by the idea that she felt she needed to write him a letter to communicate. He reprimanded himself for not being more generous with a friendship, for not being more...approachable.

It wasn't that he didn't want to speak with her, it was just too taxing on his emotions. There was no time for dealing with emotions.

Cullen pulled the letter from its envelope and began to read the beautiful swirling script that he knew better than his own name.

Cullen,

I hope I am not causing you pain by writing this to you but I thought it important to inform you that Samson is now dead. We went head to head in combat, as Corypheus had sent him to be a vessel for the Well of Sorrows, and I managed to defeat him. Perhaps you already know all this. It is quite possible that Leliana or Josephine gave you the news of his death. But, in any case, you no longer have to find the man. I should tell you that I gave him a swift death. Though he has wronged so many of us, though he should have paid for my friend’s death, I just needed him to be gone. And so he is.

Now that I am already writing to you, perhaps I can tell you that I am sorry. I am sorry that I hurt you, betrayed you, disappointed you...and you deserve someone far better than I.

I would understand if you never wished to speak to me again or forgive me but if you ever did wish to speak with me, I will be here.

Again, I am truly sorry.

Sincerely,
Mae

Good. Samson was dead. That was one more thing he could cross off his to-do list.

Cullen folded the parchment back up and tucked it away in his drawer, he couldn't process the rest of it at the moment nor did he have a desire to. He pulled back his chair and brought himself to his feet, some fresh air would do him some good, clear his mind.

“Commander Cullen,” Jim ran up to him as he pushed through the door.

Sounding more annoyed than he should have, he grunted, “what is it now?”

“A letter from your sister, ser.”

“Very well.” Cullen snatched the letter from his hand and tore it open while Jim stared at him in wonder. “Is there something else you needed, Jim?” Cullen asked, not looking up from his reading.

“No, ser.”

“Then, might I suggest you find something else to do?”

Jim looked a bit flustered. “Y-y-yes, ser. Sorry, ser.” He nearly stumbled over his own boots as he hurried off.

Cullen shook his head as he began to pace the ramparts. “No.” He whispered, while pulling at his chin.

The contents of the letter were grave. His sister explained how Queen Anora and her husband were killed during a festival in Denerim. Some madman had tossed a pitch grenade then set the entire royal family aflame. Unfortunately, her husband had been in the market during the foray. He had tried to take out the perpetrator but was killed in the process. The murderer was still not found and Mia was begging Cullen to find this assassin.

Cullen swallowed the news in disbelief. What was his foolish brother-in-law thinking?

He fled for Josephine’s office to speak with her about the letter. Perhaps she would know more of the details.

                     ***

“Cullen!” Josephine said in surprise as the door swung open with such force, that it banged against the stone wall and shook from the impact.

“My apologies, Josephine, for the intrusion but I've just received terrible news!” Cullen took two strides to her desk and waved the letter in her face.

Josephine plucked it from his hands and he watched as she unfolded it, much too slow in his opinion. She gasped, bringing a hand up to her mouth with eyes growing wide.

“Anora and Nathaniel are dead! And she was with child too!” Her eyes skimmed over the page again. “Oh, and I'm sorry for your loss Cullen.” She finished the letter and set it on her desk.

“I must go to my sister at once.” He had never made any demands of Josephine before but he wa making them now without any regard to the repercussions.

“Yes,” there was no surprise in her reaction. No qualms, no apprehensions, no demands in return.

Cullen wasn't expecting this, in fact he was preparing a speech with a million explanations in his head. He blinked.

“What?”

“Yes, of course. I'm sure the Inquisitor will survive without you for a week.” She clucked her tongue. "As for me, I must inform Leliana. We will have some planning to do.”

“Planning? For what?”

“Ferelden will be putting someone on the throne.”

Cullen stared at her blankly. Apparently he was missing something.

Alliances. We will need to form a new Alliance. It would be most advantageous if the inquisition had the King or Queen of Ferelden in their pocket.” She explained.

“Oh. I see.”

Josephine stood and snatched up her quill. “Well, Commander, you should hurry off. You have one week but then we need you back here.” She gave him a small curtsy, then bowed out of the room with a flourish.

Cullen followed at her heels, heading straight for the stables.

 

                   ***

It was silly to feel nervous but Cullen felt that pull in his inner regions that made him a bit nauseous, while he wandered the cobblestoned streets of South Reach. The Arling wasn't vastly expansive but still unfamiliar. Night had just fallen and the village square was covered in shadows except for the places where the small lanterns illuminated their corners.

His sister’s house was off to the right of the village and he steered his horse in that direction. The sound of hooves clomping against hard earth was all that rang out into the still air. Cullen caught the occasional villager peep out of their window at him, only to quickly hide behind the curtain when he tried to give a friendly wave.

“Apparently, this isn't a friendly bunch," he mutters to no one in particular.

The horse whinnied as Cullen spotted his sister’s small thatch roofed house. Yanking on the reins, the horse came to a halt, and Cullen hopped off, then tied the horse to a nearby post. He gave it one soft rub, cleared his throat and strode toward the door. He gave two swift raps. He watched as the curtains pulled back and then smoothed his hair as the door swung open.

“Well, if it isn't Cully Wully!” Mia held her arms out wide and wrapped them around her brother, who was at least half a foot taller than her.

He gladly embraced her in turn with a chuckle. “I haven't been called that in years.”

She squeezed him tighter. With her face buried in the fur around his neck, her voice came out muffled. “That's because you've been away too long.”

Another chuckle and he pulled away, grasping her shoulders to have a good look at her. Her sandy hair was pulled back into a loose braid that hung across her shoulder with a few wisps falling in front of her deep blue eyes, puffy and a bit pink due to crying, he was sure. Little laugh lines had made a permanent mark on her face, signifying the years of joy she'd endured and he was glad of that. At least she'd had happiness before today.

“I can't believe you came!” She grabbed his hand. “Come in! Come in! Let me get you some tea and biscuits! I'm sure your famished from that journey.”

He followed after her, closing the door behind him.

Mia gestured to a stool at the table as she went to the stove to warm a kettle of water.

“Are the children asleep?” Cullen asked while shirking out of his armor and laying it gently over the table.

“Yes, they went to bed about an hour ago.” She swiveled around to face him and fiddled with the end of her braid. “I can't thank you enough for coming to see us. Merideth and Maxwell will be so ecstatic to see you when they wake up---it will surely bring them comfort as well.” She offered a tired smile and a bit of water welled up in the rims of her eyes. She sniffed and turned back around again. “I'm sorry.” She breathed.

Cullen moved for his sister and wrapped his arms around her. “Shhh,” he cooed while smoothing her hair, “you don't need to be sorry. This grief...this pain...shouldn't have happened to you.”

And then she was weeping in his arms, clinging to his shirt like it was some kind of handkerchief, soaking it with salty tears. But Cullen didn't mind one bit. He was glad he could be there for his sister. He set his chin atop her head and continued to rub her back. She smelled of honey and cinnamon. They stayed locked in each other's embrace for quite sometime until Mia had finally quieted to a soft sniveling.

“Do you wish to talk about him, Mia?” Cullen asked but she just shook her head.

“I think it'd be best if I went to bed.” She pulled away and raised her apron up to her eyes to wipe away the remaining moisture that had streaked her cheeks.

Cullen gave her a sympathetic nod.

“I laid out a bedroll for you near the fire. I'm sorry it's not the most comfortable.”

“Please stop apologizing. It will do just fine.” Cullen reassured her.

Offering him a tight smile she made her way toward the back room of the house. Her voice cracked with sorrow as she whispered, "Goodnight, Cully Wully. I'll see you in the morning.”

                  ***

Of course the crick in his neck was worse than it was yesterday. And of course his sister had a Mabari that woke him with its slobbery kisses.

“Blast it! You're awful charming but I would have preferred to sleep in!” He cried, while laughing and swatting at the dog.

“Rufus! Stop that right now! Sorry Cully---Rufus!!!” Mia yanked on the giant dog’s collar and drug him away.

“Uncle Cullen!!!” His face lit up with a huge grin at the sound of his niece and nephew’s voices. He pulled himself up just in time to be pummeled by their tiny bodies.

“Umphh,” he said while falling against the floor on his back and lifting the two children into the air. “Roar! Look out for the big scary dragons!!!” He said while making them soar. They giggled and giggled until Mia interrupted their fun.

“Children, stop attacking your poor uncle and come eat your porridge.” She scolded.

“Ahhhhh, mama!! But…” they whined in unison.

She steeled her jaw with sternness. “No buts! Come and eat!" 

Their little feet scampered off to the table and Cullen stretched his arms high, letting out a big yawn.

“You should eat too.” Mia said.

“I will as soon as I've had a morning cup of tea. My joints are feeling stiff and achey this morning.” He said while strolling over to the table.

“I believe I have some peppermint and wintergreen leaf paste. I'll fetch it for you after breakfast.”

“Thank you.” He replied, sitting down across from Maxwell, who was bringing his spoon up to his mouth then wrinkling his nose in disgust.

“Could I have a spot of sugar mama?” He asked.

“I haven't got any sugar left. I need to fetch some more from the market. I do have a bit of maple syrup though.” She began to shuffle around in her cupboard for a bottle of syrup.

Cullen watched as she poured a very minuscule amount into each child’s breakfast then began to boil a pot of water for his tea.

“Why don't you sit down and I take care of the tea, hmm?” He suggested.

“Oh no! You are the guest! You mustn't lift a finger!"

“Mia…” he frowned. “It would be no trouble for me. Really….let me help.”

Sighing heavily, she shoved the syrup back where she found it and pulled out two tea cups. They were a simple black porcelain and they clanked against each other loudly as she gathered them in one hand. “You've always been the sweetest, Cullen but keeping busy eases the burden of thinking too much.”

“I understand.” He said. There was nothing he understood more, at the moment.

“Uncle Cuwwen?” Little Merideth looked up from her bowl.

“Yes?” He offered her a smile and leaned close to her across the table.

“Will you live with us foweva?” She looked so hopeful that Cullen felt terrible having to tell her he would only remain for a week.

“No, my sweet, only a week.”

Surprisingly, her eyes shot up with excitement. “Yay!!! Uncle Cuwwen’s living with us for a whooooollle week!” She squealed.

Maxwell covered his ears and gave her a nudge. “Ow! You don't need to scream about it!”

Her explosive reaction was instantaneously brought back in as her spoon clanked against her bowl. She stuck out her bottom lip and said. “Sowwy.”

There was a moment of silence amongst them. Then the tea kettle whistled, jarring Cullen from his musings. Mia poured their tea and brought the cups to the table.

“I've been curious, Cullen, how are things going with you and the Inquisitor?” Mia brought the cup to her lips and blew at the steam floating off the top of the tea.

Cullen cursed himself for having told Mia about his relationship at all. “Things aren't going.”

“Aren't going? What do you mean by that?”

“Exactly what I said. We are….no longer…” he cleared his throat and took a sip from his cup, allowing the liquid to burn his tongue, as well as the back of his throat. “together.”

Mia looked shocked. “When did this happen? Why didn't you tell me?”

Cullen waved her off. “I'm still processing, I suppose and I'd rather not speak of it. At least...not right now.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder. “Of course...but if you ever do need someone..”

“Thank you.” He patted her hand with his. “I'll keep that in mind.”

The children scraped what remained of their porridge out of the bottom of their bowls and took them to the sink, washing them, then setting them on a towel to dry.
Merideth had to use a stool to wash hers.

“Mama, may we go out to play?” They asked.

“Yes, you may, just take Rufus with you. I'm tired of having him beg at my feet.”

“Yes mama.” The two children called for the dog and slipped outside.

“How old are they now?” Cullen asked as he watched them go.

“Three and six.” Mia replied.

“Wow, it seems they've grown up quickly.”

“Indeed they have. I can hardly believe it.”

“They're good kids.”

Mia eyed the door as she thought of her children, a look of pride written in her features. “Yes, they are pretty decent.” She smiled.

“Not to bring up the sad parts again but will there be a funeral for Brennan?”

“Yes. We will have to travel to Denerim. Hoping to leave on the morrow.”

“Good. I will accompany you then.”

“I'm glad of it.” She got up from the table, carrying her own bowl to the sink and washing it up. “I must tend to the chickens out back. Feel free to make yourself at home.”

“Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all!” She exclaimed while going toward the door.

Cullen followed after her. The last thing he wanted was to be left alone to his thoughts and even worse, his feelings. Keeping himself busy with his sister’s life would keep him sedated at least for one week and he liked the idea of that.

Chapter Text

“Where’s Cullen?” Mae asked as she strode into the War Room. Though he didn't wish to speak with her, she still enjoyed seeing his grumpy face during the meetings. She would take whatever small glimpses of him that she could get.

“Nobody informed you?” Leliana said while her eyes flicked quickly to Josephine.

Josephine was unfazed. “His brother-in-law passed. He will be out for one week. You needn't worry Inquisitor, he’ll be back before you know it.”

“What! He’s with his sister...and you only gave him a week to grieve with his family?!” Mae was outraged. That man deserved more than a week to be home if he wished.

Josephine was taken aback by Mae’s sharp tone. “I thought you would need him to defeat Corypheus. A week is a generous offer in time of war.”

Leliana let out a snort. “Sounds like something I would say.”

That warranted a look of disapproval from Josephine. She turned back to Mae. “I could write to him. Tell him you've given permission for him to stay longer.”

Mae cringed at the idea of giving him permission. “No, no. I will write it myself so there's a bit more sympathy weaved in.”

“I would be sympathetic. But if that's what you wish, who am I to argue---now I would like to move on to the more important matter at hand---finding Alistair Theirin.” Josephine said.

Setting her quill and clipboard aside, she sprawled her hands across the map. “We know he went to Adamant...but we haven't heard from him since his last letter.”

“Alistair? What do we need with him? And what letter?” Mae was confused. She hadn't received a letter.

“Alistair is of King Maric’s bloodline. The last of his line, in fact. He will be crowned as King---there will be no choice this time.” Leliana explained with a small smile. “It's humorous, really. No matter how much he wrestles with his fate, it comes back around and nips him in the ass.”

“And as for the letter---I never actually saw it---Cullen brought it to our attention. Alistair must have written to him.” Josephine added. “We haven't heard word from him since.”

Mae’s heart sank. Not only had Cullen stopped sharing information with her, Alistair had gone back on his promise. He told her he would write her each day. She let out a sigh, relinquishing the distracting thoughts with the exhale.

“Should we send scouts out to look for him?” Leliana was already eager to get to the task.

“What does his being King have to do with us?” Mae asked, ignoring Leliana for the time being.

“Yes.” Josephine nodded to Leliana then turned back to Mae. “His being King is most advantageous for us.” Josephine smirked.

“How so? Because we’re friends?” Mae asked.

“No, though that will make my job easier. You are a noble. We could have a direct connection to the throne, allowing our influence to spread easily throughout all of Thedas.” Her brow shot up with that mischievous look of knowing her plan was a good one. “Not only will you be Thedas’ savior, you will be Ferelden’s queen. Your word will carry far more weight than it already does.”

“But would the nobles allow for this? Isn't it too much power in a single organization’s hands?”

“They may come to see it as that way eventually but for now, most will romanticize the idea of the Herald of Andraste being crowned a Queen. It will be a real life fairytale, something to spark hope amongst the masses.” Replied Josephine.

“I just don't…” Mae stopped mid sentence.

The door flung open and the ladies turned to see Alistair, covered in ash and soot. There were a few tears in the leather across his hip and a large gash ran down his forehead to the corner of his right eye.

Mae's breath hitched in her throat and she had to steel herself against the table to keep from fretting over him like some doting wife.

“Don't I get a say!” He exclaimed as he strode over to the table. “Oh, hello Mae, it is good to see you.” Throwing her a large grin, he turned his attentions to Josephine.

Mae just stared. She blinked a few times but no words would form in her mouth. She couldn't believe he was there and that she could touch him if she had the desire to.

“Alistair!” Josephine cried. “I am glad you are here..Ferelden is looking for you.”

“And so are you, I heard.” His face darkened and eyes narrowed. “I suppose I will be forced to be King whether I like it or not----you could at least give me a choice in a bride.”

“Yes.” Josephine flashed him a shining smile. “But we could make you an offer in marriage that would be pleasing to you. I think you will find it to be an accommodating marriage. Our very own Inquisitor is a Trevelyan. Though she isn't a Ferelden noble, she is a noble nonetheless.” Alistair’s features softened as he leaned in toward Josephine.

“Hmmm, that is certainly something to consider. I'm not sure the Chantry will like the King of Ferelden aligning himself with the Inquisition but the kingdom would not mind gaining an ally in the Free Marches. However,” he glanced at Mae briefly, “as a mage, does Mae really qualify for her noble title? And would anyone really allow a mage to rule Ferelden?” His brow flew up in question.

Mae flinched at the way he said mage, like he could never marry such a vile creature.

Josephine considered his words. “Well, a mage represents our Inquisition and though the people disliked it at first, they eventually warmed to the idea. I'm certain they would learn to adjust.”

“Whoa, whoa!” Mae finally came to, shaking off her momentary blank trail of thought. “I have yet to agree to this…”

“Inquisitor, please.” Josephine scolded.

Mae threw up her hands. “I just need time to think about it.” Josephine opened her mouth to speak but once she got another glare from Mae, she snapped her mouth closed.

“Very well, take your time, I suppose. Meanwhile,” her eyes turned back to Alistair, roaming over his body with a bit of repulsion, “ill have the servants draw you a bath.”

“Surely I don't smell that bad.” Alistair smirked.

“You reek.” Mae said flatly as she sauntered from the room.

Mae pulled open each door until she stepped out into the main hall. In any normal circumstance she'd gladly marry Alistair but this was not how it should be done. She shouldn't be forced to marry him, especially when they'd never established their feelings for each other and not when she'd barely gotten over Cullen.

Cullen.

Her thoughts went to him now and she couldn't bear the idea of him hearing of the arranged marriage. Though nothing was technically decided, she knew that marrying Alistair was inevitable. Josephine would nag her (in the kindest way that evoked much guilt of course) until she agreed.

“Mae.” She felt the smooth touch of a leather glove skim along her forearm and it made her shudder. “I missed you.” His breath was warm against her neck as he leaned in close.

As much as his touch, his voice, really every damn thing about him, made her hot and bothered, she was pissed he hadn't wrote. On top of that, he had insulted her by speaking the word mage as if it were some terrible, repulsive thing.

She whirled to face him.

“Oh no. No, you can't just show up after all this time looking like...like…” Her eyes went from his boots, to the leather cuirass that clung tight to every muscle, to his handsome (though dirtied) face  that carried a devilish smirk and she lost what she was going to say.

He pulled her in closer so she was pressed up against his body. “Like what? A handsome prince? A valiant King?”

She rolled her eyes in disgust. “More like a dirtied pig. Now let me go.” She squirmed beneath his grasp, though to be more dramatic than anything since he was barely touching her.

“You can easily set yourself free.” His smile faded as he searched her eyes. “You seem angry with me? Why are you angry?”

“You know why!” She turned and stormed off toward her chambers, she could hear Alistair’s footsteps as he followed her to the top of the stairs.

“I don't know, actually.” Alistair quipped.

Mae instantly regretted her outburst and she was conflicted now, not knowing whether to continue her foolish melodrama or to humble herself and apologize.

“Mae,” he breathed gently. “Please tell me what I've done to offend. I've just returned and I would prefer to make amends if that is possible.”

“You said mage like it was a foul word in your mouth. If you're so disgusted by that fact then why are you here?”

Alistair sighed. “That came out all wrong. I was merely concerned about...us. I don't like the idea of getting my hopes up only to have them be ruined by some other unspoken rule that I wasn't aware of. I hope you can forgive me.”

“Yes. Of course.” Her tone was short and he sensed there was more.

“Have I done something else?”

She shut her eyes and balled her fist. It was too tiring to make him guess what she was feeling so she chose to speak the truth.

“It's not what you have done but what you didn’t do. You didn't write me.” Her voice was so quiet, Alistair could hardly hear. “Before you left, you said you'd write me everyday.”

“But I did write you.” He was at her side, a hand placed at the small of her back. She could barely feel it against the light cotton tunic she wore, it was so gentle. “I sent Carver, personally to deliver it. Did he never make it?”

“Yes, I met Carver but I never received a letter. Josephine mentioned Cullen received a letter from you. Perhaps he delivered it to the wrong person.”

“Blast it! I specifically instructed him to deliver the letter to you. Mae, you have to know I've thought about you the entire time I've been away.” He grasped her waist and tugged, making her turn to face him.

He cupped her chin in his other hand and studied her eyes. “If Weisshaupt had not been attacked by Venatori, I would have written every single day.”

He didn't stray from her gaze and she knew he was speaking the truth.

“Cullen and I aren't speaking anymore.” She blurted.

Alistair seemed surprised but also pleased. “Why is that?”

“I sort of said your name while we were fucking.” She said casually, anxious to change the subject. She could only be so vulnerable for so long and she couldn't bare the thought of him fighting at Weisshaupt either. If she had lost him...

“What? You said my name?” Alistair chuckled. “While I am flattered, I can understand why that didn't sit well with Cullen.”

“Yes. I was foolish.” She said while plopping down on the edge of her bed.

“So, what made you think of me while...you, uh, were intimate with Cullen?”

“Does it really matter?” Mae shook her head. Typical. Although, why she expected Alistair to be any different from other men, she couldn't guess.

“I suppose not.” He replied with a blush while sitting down next to her.

Mae looked him over and wiped a smudge of dirt from his lip and lifting her brow she said. “Let’s get that bath drawn for you, shall we?”

“But I rather enjoy my reek.” He winked.

“Well, I don't.” She said while playfully pushing him.

“Are you going to be the one sponging me off?”

“Maybe. If you're good.”

“Oh, I'll be good.” He smirked.

Mae rolled her eyes and bounced off the bed. “I'll be right back.”


                ******

A bath was filled with cold water from the well and Mae waved off the servant as soon as it reached a nice height.

“Hey! I can't take a bath in cold water!” Alistair exclaimed.

“Oh hush. It's not going to stay cold.” Mae said while dipping her fingers into the water, letting heat from her magic warm the water. “I have ways of keeping it quite warm.”

“Of course. I should have known.” Alistair scoffed.

“Would you like some cheese to go with that whine, Alistair.”

“Well, now that you mention it, both sound appealing.” He grinned. “Now turn around so I can get undressed.”

“Really? I'm sure you have nothing I've never seen before.”

Alistair blushed. “Humor me.”

“Fine.” Mae huffed but turned around regardless.

Alistair quickly shirked out of his remaining clothes and got into the bath. It was the perfect temperature. He let out a low groan as he sank into the depths, resting his head against the side.

Mae went over to him, trying not to stare at the many scars that covered his chest but her curiosity drove her to touch them and ask questions.

“What are all these scars from?”

“Fighting the archdemon mostly. That thing was a wicked beast. It had terrible claws and awfully sharp teeth. When it wasn't attacking, it sent hordes of darkspawn after us, so I suppose some of them are from their blades as well. I've begun to lose track of the stories over the years.” His hand went up to his recent gash. “This one almost brought my death.”

Mae gasped. “Really?”

“Yes. I had miscalculated the movements of a rage demon and it came down on me, scraping a claw across my face. It loomed over me after that and I remember the heat pouring into every muscle in my body. I closed my eyes and began praying to the Maker. Suddenly, it disintegrated before me as an elven mage killed off the creature. The kind woman saved my life.”

“Impressive. I will have to thank this woman for saving the future King of Ferelden.”

Alistair's nostrils flared. “Ugh, please don't call me that. I prefer Alistair until I'm forced into the title.”

“As you wish, your highness.” She teased.

“Very funny.”

Alistair began to rub at his shoulder to loosen the muscles but Mae pushed his hand out of the way and began to work the knots out herself. A soft moan escaped his lips as his head lolled forward and Mae planted a soft kiss on his neck, driven by her arousal that was reawakened. She kept working away at the kinks until her hands trailed down his chest, hovering just below his navel. She couldn't resist touching him, seeing him squirm under her touch. It was something she'd wanted since she first laid eyes on him. She knew he would never go for sex but...

“Mae...you know I can't…”

“You can't what? Enjoy a little touching? I'll stop if that's what you want but you shouldn't feel guilty indulging in a few strokes.” Her hand slipped down further into the water, searching for his hardened length. “Do you wish for me to stop?” She purred into his ear, just brushing her fingertips along the sides of his cock.

“It's not that I wish for you to stop. I just prefer to cleanse myself. After all, I do believe it was you who told me I stunk.”

Mae laughed. “Fine. Hand me the soap and that cloth over there.”

“Why? Are you going to wash me like a child?”

“Why did you have to mention the word child? Now all desire for you has faded away. And I had all these wonderful plans for you.”

“Is it too late to take back what I said?”

Mae slipped out of her tunic and breeches, sliding off her small clothes last, then slipped into the tub with Alistair.

“Yes.” She grinned while dipping the cloth in water then rubbing the soap across it. Suds gathered in small bubbles across the top and she lifted Alistair’s foot and began to scrub away at the dirt.

“I hardly think that's fair.” He pouted.

She ran the cloth along his muscled calf. “Oh, it's plenty fair.” She said while moving up his thigh, moving in slow, deliberate movements.

“Well, I cannot say the same of you. You've made my desires unbearable.”

Mae trailed the cloth up her body, moving herself so that she straddled his waist, resting her bared curves just above his shaft. She could feel it twitch against her every now and then, heightening her desire to pleasure him. She carefully wiped away the grime from his cheeks, his forehead and behind his ears.

“There,” she said as she leaned in just an inch away from his lips, “all clean.”

She was taken by surprise when he pulled her firmly to him, covering her mouth with his in a wet and wild kiss. The cloth made a soft splash of a sound as it slipped from her fingers. She reached for his hair, curling her fingers up in his locks, pushing her tongue further in, deepening their kiss.

His hands pressed into her back with untamed desire, sliding down to grip and squeeze at her ass. She let out a soft moan against his lips causing him to kiss her more fervently. She began to rub herself against him, not too much, just a hint of a movement to send a shiver up her spine.

But Alistair suddenly pulled away. “Mae, you're driving me mad.”

She raised a brow. “Oh?” Then with a smirk, she scooted herself back against the other end if the tub.

She planned on slipping her legs beneath him, to pull him out of the water just a smidge, for she wanted to taste him but he surprised her by pulling his legs up under him and crawling toward her instead.

“It's my turn,” he growled as he pressed his lips against hers and slipped his fingers between her thighs.

Mae let her head fall back with a sigh as Alistair peppered her neck and chest with his sweet kisses.

He worked a sort of magic inside of her, knowing exactly where to flick and swirl his fingers with the most perfect of timing. He had her whimpering and squirming in no time at all. She would have spent more time wondering how and when he'd learned his skills but she was sent into an ethereal state that kept her from thinking of anything, except for how good he made her feel.

Even then, the word good fell short of her experience.

He played her like a lute until she sang for him but even then he continued to rub gently to ease her off her high note. When she finally caught her breath and opened her eyes, he was staring at her with admiration and love.

He removed his hand from inside her and wrapped it around her waist, kissing her again. The water had begun to turn cold as Mae became lost in his pleasures.

“It's cold.” She breathed across his lips.

Wordlessly he removed himself from the tub and reached for a towel.

Mae stood and allowed him to wrap it around her. She dried herself quickly and moved for her dresser for a change of clothes. By the time she'd finished dressing in her nightclothes, Alistair had changed as well.

“Will you stay with me tonight?” She asked, hoping for a yes.

“Are you sure?”

Mae went to the bed and patted the spot next to her. The coverlet wrinkles up in response.

Alistair smirked and went to her, throwing back the covers. They slipped in together, blew out the candles and held each other tight. They remained intertwined in kisses until lips finally stilled with exhaustion and they slipped into a quiet sleep.

 

 

Chapter Text

Alistair woke at the fringe of morning where that hint of orange, blues and blacks blended together in a harmonious scene tipped with the softest hue of pink. He turned to see Mae still sound asleep, her perfect lips parted slightly as breaths passed between them. Giving her a light kiss, he slipped out of bed and shoved his feet into his boots before making his way down to the gardens. He wanted to surprise Mae with a romantic gesture, hoping to make up for his shortcomings with a bit of wooing.

Deep down, Alistair knew he wanted to marry Mae since the day they'd first met back in Crestwood, which seemed so long ago now. He hadn't been able to spend as much time with her as he had wanted but now with so much out of the way, he felt this was his chance---at least until they faced off with Corypheus one last time.

Along the way to the gardens he passed by a few people in the main hall, giving them a wave and “good morning” with a broad smile on his face. For today was a good day, the kind that was so rare that he wouldn't dare spoil it.

Thankfully when he arrived in the gardens, Morrigan was nowhere to be found and he hoped he wouldn't run into the woman again for the duration of his stay. He stopped at the edge of the gardens, scanning the area for some suitable flowers, something that just screamed Mae to him.

He stood there puzzling for a moment, pulling at the beard that had begun to grow since he hadn't had time to shave.

“Good morning, Alistair.”

He nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of the voice. But gaining his a composure, he whirled around to see Evie Surana standing before him. Her pale golden locks were loosened from her braids and hung in loose waves that reached past her rear and her blue eyes sparkled brightly despite the lack of light.

“Evie. You nearly stopped my heart,” Alistair said.

She chuckled. “I am sorry. Sometimes I forget that not everyone can hear me. May I ask what you're doing out here so early?”

“I could ask the same if you.”

“True. I was exploring the grounds and thought I would check on the herbs, maybe even gather some before I leave again…”

“You're leaving? Already?” Alistair frowned. “Why so soon?”

“Oh I'm not leaving permanently. Just wanted to make a quick trip to Denerim and visit my sister before the big fight with Corypheus. It will be a day’s journey and you never know what you might face out there. I like to be prepared.”

“Oh, I see. That's good, then.” He offered a smile.

“You still haven't said why you're out here.”

Of course he hadn't been able to distract her enough to deflect her question.

“Uh, just taking a morning stroll.” He shrugged.

“Fine. I get it. You don't know me so I won't force you to tell me what you're really here for.”

Alistair sighed. “I'm sorry. It's just that it feels silly to talk about this with a stranger.”

She quirked a brow. “You'll find no judgement from me, Alistair.”

“I hope not.” He shifted to his other foot. “I was looking for some...flowers. There's someone in my life that's really special. I love her, actually and I wanted to show her how much she means to me but it's a bit early to, uh, give her a ring…”

Evie smiled. “That’s very dear of you! Come now, tell me what she's like and I can help.”

Alistair's eyes widened. “Really?” Evie nodded. “Well, she's a bit stubborn but inside she's very tender. She's also strong and I'm fairly certain she's a cheater at chess.”

Evie laughed. “I hardly think I'll find a flower that matches that character trait.”

“Yes, well, you never know.” He chuckled but then grew serious as he thought of Mae and how much he adored her. “And she's strong, not just physically but she's been through some terrible things.” He shook his head. “She still gets up and fights everyday, making impossible decisions and trying to do right by people. Sometimes I'm surprised she can still smile.”

Alistair hadn't noticed Evie wander off until he finished talking. She reappeared moments later with a single red rose.

“Here. This would be perfect.” She held it out to him and he plucked him from her gingerly, careful not to prick his fingers on the thorns.

“Yes. It is isn't it? Soft to the touch, beautiful to hold, dangerous to grasp too tightly, and able to withstand the elements. Where did you find this?”

Evie gestured for him to follow. “Right over here, there's a vine climbing the castle wall on this side.”

He followed after her to the other side of the garden and eyed the flourishing vine where many of the rose buds were still closed. Pulling a dagger off his belt, he plucked about a half dozen to take back to Mae.

“Thank you, Evie. You are a kind soul and I owe you twice now.”

She smirked. “You owe me nothing.” Placing a hand on his shoulder she gave him a pat. “I wish you luck with the Inquisitor.”

“Wha...I didn't say...was I that obvious?”

“Only because I saw you two in the main hall yesterday.” She laughed as she strolled over to the potted herbs.

Alistair laughed too. “Well, thank you for the help. I'll be seeing you and good luck with your sister!” He gave her a wave before gleefully heading back into the main hall.

He nearly sprinted up the stairs, excited to gift Mae with the flowers before she woke. As he neared the top of the stairwell and peeked over the bannister, he didn't see her lying in bed. His heart fell briefly until he felt a chill sweep over him and his attentions turned toward the balcony where a draft was blowing in from the opened doors. He went to investigate.

Suddenly his heart thrummed in his chest as he took her in sight. She was standing against the balcony railing in a large cotton shirt that just covered the curves of her behind, her elbows resting easily on the rail while she admired the view. He stood there for just a moment, eyeing the small scar on her left calf and the muscles in her thighs as she shifted from her right foot to her left.

Finally he stepped forward and placed one hand at the small of her back. “I got you something.”

She turned with a smirk. “I see. What's this?”

“My new arsenal of weaponry!” He slashed them about gently while she giggled into her hand. “Watch me smite Corypheus with the power of beauty and thorns!”

She giggled some more, then setting her face straight, she said, “No, really? Why did you pluck the beautiful roses from the gardens? Didn't think I had enough things dying by my hands, hmm?”

Alistair's face fell. “When you put it that way, I probably should have left them alone.” He mumbled something incomprehensible under his breath. “I was hoping to woo you…”

Mae’s face broke into a grin as she placed a hand on Alistair's arm. “I'm only kidding. These are quite lovely. They'll brighten up the room. And as for the wooing, that's not completely necessary. You've always managed to capture my attentions, Alistair.”

“Oh really?” He quirked a brow. “So you're saying I don't have to work to win your heart over?”

Mae took the flowers from his hands and set them in a cup filled with water. She'd replace it with a vase later but most likely, a servant would tend to it before she remembered to.

“I never said that,” she called over her shoulder as she slipped into her leather breeches and returned to the balcony, braiding her hair along the way.

She always kept a cord wrapped around her wrist and she pulled it off now to secure the end of her braid. Sweeping it back over her shoulder, it fell to the middle of her back.

“Then what exactly are you saying?” He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her in close.

“I'm just saying you don't have to try too hard. I'm pretty easy to please.” She placed a hand around his neck and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. He responded in kind, kissing her deeper until she sighed and pulled away, brushing her thumb along his jaw and searching his eyes. “See, I'm easy to please.”

Alistair’s smile continued to grow with each passing moment that she was in his arms. “On a more serious note, we need to talk about our future together.”

Mad yawned. “Not really. You know Josephine is going to handle all the details. Besides, if I think about it too hard I get all anxious.”

“Anxious? Why?” Alistair tilted his head in wonder.

“Because I really don't know how we will make it work. I doubt I would be relieved of my duties as Inquisitor. When would we see each other? My role as queen would be very minimal to what I'm doing here so I'll probably have to remain at Skyhold. On top of that, even if I defeat Corypheus, I'll still be attending political meetings, closing rifts and Maker knows what else! Don't even get me started on the heirs---they’ll force you to have heirs. The sad thing is, I don't know that will even be possible, what with your tainted blood and---and this!” She shoved her marked hand in his face. He took it and brushed kisses along her knuckles.

“You don't have to figure all these things out now.”

“I know,” she breathed, her shoulders slumping in defeat. “But in my defense, you asked me about my worries.”

“Yes. You're right, I did but let's put it aside just for this moment. For now, we will live in the here and now---enjoy what we do have.”

“And sign whatever documents Josephine shoves at us,” Mae added, a smile returning to her face.

He laughed. “Yes we will, won't we.” He tipped her chin up to look at him again and covered her mouth with kisses.

Without anything pressing on them or urgent that needed tending to, they were able to have the entire day to themselves. A much needed day of simply living, unburdened by demands and heavy responsibilities.

 

Chapter Text

After four days of travel (which should have only been two by carriage had it not been for the troublesome weather) Cullen was itching to stretch his legs. Nevertheless, dusk had fallen and the children were hungry so despite the downpour of the unusual amount of rain, Cullen hustled them into the Gnawed Noble Tavern under the cover of his cloak. Their wet boots slapped against the ground as they rushed off toward an empty booth, huddling in close to each other. Mia followed after him as he held the door open, wringing her long strands of hair out as she stepped over the threshold.

The tavern was quiet.

Only a few nobles and a couple of drunken locals lounged lazily in the booths. Cullen kept his head down and beamed straight for the barkeep, hoping to purchase a few bowls of stew and an ale to warm up their bones. Digging around in his pocket for some coin, he pulled out enough silvers to buy some bread to go with their meal. He set them down on the counter as the barkeep approached him.

“Some nasty weather out there, eh?” The barkeep gestured to Cullen’s sopping wet hair.

“Uh, yes. Unusual for this time of year I’d think,” Cullen muttered.

“Perhaps the skies are mourning too.” He looked down and frowned momentarily before looking back at Cullen. “Anyway, what can I getcha?”

He turned to look over his shoulder, trying to gauge whether he should get a bowl for each child or a singular bowl for them to share. “Let’s make that four bowls of stew, an ale, and a loaf of bread.”
After all, the Inquisition had given him more than enough coin to spare. He could afford an extra bowl of stew even if it went to waste.

“Comin’ right up,” the elderly barkeep said as he shouted the order toward the kitchen.

“Ser Cullen? Ser Cullen Rutherford?”

Cullen's back stiffened at the quiet voice. It was familiar somehow like a memory long repressed that comes to the surface. He turned. Staring back at him were gleaming sapphires. He swallowed and pressed his back into the counter, distancing himself from what he could only assume was a demon. There was no way it could be her. She could not have survived the circle’s fall, could she?

“I-I…” He couldn't get any words out as his lips trembled and his heart beat wildly in his chest.

He wanted to run or shout at the demon to leave him alone. But instead, he said nothing. Only looked on with wild, terrified eyes.

The blonde, elven beauty frowned. “I'm sorry. You must not remember me. I'm Evie Surana, a mage from the Circle of Magi. I used to..." Her voice trailed off, suddenly afraid she had mistaken this man for the Templar she once knew.

Cullen shut his eyes. “No. No. No. I must be dreaming,” he uttered barely above a whisper.

His gloved hands grasped tighter to the counter just as the barkeep approached. “Here you are!” His voice was chipper and blissfully unaware of Cullen's mental collapse.

“Ser, are you alright? I didn’t mean…” the demon’s hand lay on his wrist.

Memories flashed bright white before his eyes. Painted pink lips laughing while they taunted him with burning kisses, mocking him and everything he stood for. Fingers with lacquered pale polish scraping at his flesh, ripping his clothes, grasping his neck. Laughter that rang through his ears as teeth bit into his flesh. “Don't you want to play Cullen? Ser Cullen? Don't you want to touch me? Punish me Cullen or perhaps you're the one who needs punished.” It all came flooding back and his eyes shot open.

“No! Get away from me,” he yelled, snatching his arm out from under her.

She gasped in shock while the other onlookers stared at them in bemusement. Mia left their table, going to Cullen’s side immediately. While Cullen still eyed Evie with a horrified expression, Mia began to take control of the situation by wedging herself in between them.

“It's been a very long ride for my brother. He didn't mean to lash out at you. He just needs a bit of food and drink then I'm sure he’ll warm up to talking,” Mia prattled on.

Evie simply nodded, pulling her brown hood back up over her golden locks before backing away. Cullen finally exhaled, having been holding his breath unknowingly during his sister’s interaction with the demon---woman.

“What was that all about?” Mia whispered.

“Hey, mister, I don't know what that was all about but I suggest you get yer soup and sit down before you make any of my other guests uncomfortable. I won't be losing business to any more outbursts."

Cullen nodded and grabbed the bowls before heading back to the table in silence. Mia didn't mention the breakdown along the way but as she sat across from him with spoon in hand, she studied the light sheen of sweat on his forehead and the way he blinked several times while staring at the table. He could feel her eyes on him but he didn't know if he could explain what was wrong---what he was going through.

“I'll be alright, Mia---if you could just give me a moment…” He brought his elbows to the table and buried his face in his leather gloves, breathing in the pungent wet smell. He needed to clear his thoughts and it was the small things that would remind him of what was real. Counting his breaths, his pupils became less dilated and the knots in his stomach began to undo themselves.

“What's wrong with Uncle Cullen”, Maxwell asked between bites. “Why did he yell at that woman?”

“It doesn't matter, sweetheart. Just eat your soup.” Mia kept her eyes on her brother, her brows furrowed in worry as she spooned in a mouthful of soup herself.

Meanwhile, Cullen’s thoughts began to lessen with each steady breath he took but the sight of Surana had set him on edge and hunger was no longer tugging at his stomach. Instead, an overwhelming exhaustion claimed him.

“I think I'm going to go lie down, Mia. That way, I'll be sharp and ready to take the kids to the market while you attend the funeral tomorrow.”

“But aren't you hungry?” Lines of worry deepened on her forehead but Cullen reached across the table to squeeze her hand with calming reassurance.

“I'll be alright. I just need a bit of rest. I'll get us a room and get everything situated.”

Mia felt she couldn't argue. It wasn't like her brother to behave in such a manner so whatever had caused him trouble must have been serious. She decided it would be best to let him open up about it whenever he was ready. If he'd ever be ready.

Sliding out of the booth, Cullen flashed a tight smile at his sister before throwing down a few more coins for a room. The barkeep told him he could have the first room on the left down the hall so he marched off toward it, still shaking off the heavy feeling that had overwhelmed him only moments ago.

While Mia finished her food with her children, Evie approached with a slip of paper in hand. “Excuse me,” she said. Mia looked up at the girl as she set the slip of paper down. “Would you mind giving this to Cullen when he's feeling a bit better...I would really like to speak with him if he'd be willing.”

Mia swallowed a carrot whole and nearly choked on it. “Yes of course.”

“Thank you so much...and tell him I'm sorry, if you would...I didn't mean to frighten him. It's just...we were in the circle together.”

Mia just nodded her head while slipping the paper into the folds of her shawl. The blonde woman nodded once from beneath her hooded cloak in turn then swept out of the tavern into the downpour. Mia was left staring after her retreating figure.

 

                  *******

 

Cullen’s sleep was restless. Nightmares tugged at the seams of his dreams. He was afraid to allow himself to fully sleep. Afraid he'd attract another desire demon with his thoughts of lady Surana.

She had been the first love of his youth, always offering him kindness or a gentle smile. Sometimes she even brought him gifts. A small carved mabari figurine or slice of her cake. She even brewed a potion once that had no purpose other than that it smelled of Lake Calenhad (the best parts of it anyway). He still had it, tucked away in his desk at Skyhold.

His eyes fluttered open and he clung to those memories. The good ones. The memories that belonged to him and him alone. Not to the desire demon all those years ago, who had sought to claim them and distort them.

Squeezing his pillow tight, he allowed himself to remember those blissful moments: velvet laughter echoing through the stone halls, a flyaway strand of blonde hair tucked behind her ear as she smiled up at him, slender fingers brushing against his as he helped her palm close up fallen books, a slip of paper in the palm that was their only communication. Eventually his eyes began to close again as the realness of Evie’s person lulled him off to sleep.

 

                ********

 

It wasn't until Cullen went to step outside of the room with the children, that he noticed the folded paper on the bedside table. Plopping back down on the mattress, he carefully unfolded the page to read the contents.

Dear Cullen,

I know that I frightened you yesterday and I am sorry for that. This makes me assume things only worsened after Anders, Jowan and I escaped those cold stone walls. I can assure you that I do not wish to harm you, only to speak with you. I've never forgotten you so you can imagine my surprise at finding you in Denerim of all places. Anyway, if you would like to meet with me, I'll be in the market at noon by the flower stand. I do hope to see you there.

-Evie Surana

Cullen sucked in a deep breath. Panic wanted to claim him once more but the soft touch of small hands in his own brought him back to reality.

“Uncle Cullen, can we get candy?” Meredith looked up at him with her big sparkling eyes. “Puh wease?”

He chuckled. “I'm not sure. Does your mother allow you to eat candy?”

Maxwell stuck his lower lip out. “No but papa always did. Every time he went to the big city, he brought back cinnamon candies and apples covered in caramel rolled in nuts.”

“Mmmm.” Meredith smacked her lips.

How could Cullen refuse them candy now?

“Alright,” he said while gripping them tight and pulling them down the hall. “To the market in search of candy then!”

He marched forward as the two children shouted and giggled with glee. Cullen would be lying if he said he wasn't feeling a bit giddy himself.

As they stepped into the streets, a wave of warmth washed over them and Cullen was glad he'd left his cloak behind. The air was still humid despite the rain last night and he wiped away at the beads of sweat already gathering on his forehead. He nodded at passers-by who waved or stopped to talk with the children. A few kids kicked a ball back in forth in the middle of the street and it rolled right toward him. With a laugh, he kicked it back to a grinning kid who caught it in his arms. Cullen felt happy. Really happy.

As they neared the market, a woman decorated in jewels with dark skin called him over to her stand. She had trays filled with gold bangles, dangling earrings, feathered earrings, jeweled necklaces and fancy brooches.

“You're a handsome fellow! Perhaps I could interest you in one of my wares for the little girl or your wife?” She waggled her brows and flashed him a dazzling smile.

“Perhaps. If I had a wife and Meredith is a bit too young.” However, his eyes went to a small brooch that resembled crystal grace, Evie’s favorite flower. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to have something for her to make up for his behavior from the night before. “How much is that brooch,” he asked.

The merchant plucked the flower brooch from its place amidst hundreds of others. “One sovereign and twenty silvers. This brooch has an enchantment. Although, I am not certain what kind of enchantment it has. I have had no bad luck while it's been in my possession so I highly doubt it's anything bad.” She shrugged.

Cullen took it between his fingers and studied it. The object was pricey for its size but it seemed worth it.

“Very well.” Cullen dug out the necessary payment and handed it over.

“Thank you, dear. I do hope you enjoy.” She put the money into a small lockbox and Cullen continued walking through the town square, keeping his eyes open for a candy shop. Suddenly, the loud clang of the Chantry’s bell rang out into the city to the tune of The Dawn Will Come.

A sorrowful tug pulled at Cullen’s heart on his sister’s behalf, knowing that the memorial service had begun. The city grew quiet as villagers removed their hats, gripping them to their chest and bowing their heads. They had lost their Queen and their unborn prince. Everyone had suffered a loss that day and it was oddly comforting to know that his family wasn't the only one.

As the song came to a close, a moment of silence hung in the air before everyone went about their business as usual.

“Look! Look! There's the candy!” Maxwell hopped up and down excitedly as he pointed to a man sampling candied apple bites in the doorway of his shop.

Without hesitation, Cullen hurried off to candy shop, a smile returning to his face. He watched in wonder as the children’s eyes widened with awe as they took in the shelves lined with candies of all kinds. Popping candies, hard candies that turned chewy, sweet candies that turned sour, jelly beans filled with literal jelly, and of course, caramel and candied apples covered in nuts.

“Come in! Come in!” The man behind the counter was a mage (Cullen could tell by his robes) and he had wiry white hair and a long curly mustache that he constantly pulled at. He had two different colored eyes, one blue, one brown, and he was missing a few of his teeth. He most certainly appeared a little off but his personality was infectious.

“I've never seen your faces before,” he exclaimed to the children. “Perhaps I should have you try a bit of everything!” He snatched up a basket and began placing one of each candy inside. “These samples will be on the house,” he said as he grinned down at the children.

“Please let me cover the costs. I have more than enough coin,” Cullen stated.

But the owner waved his hands wildly. “No, no, no! Allow me! It's not often I see new faces and I could use a little extra joy on a day like today.”

“Fine. Have it your way,” Cullen said with a smirk as he leaned up against the counter.

The wiry man smiled in turn and offered him a wrapped candy as well. “You should have a sample too.” His brows went up with the offer but Cullen waved him off.

“I haven't even eaten a proper breakfast yet.”

The man frowned. “What a shame. However, if you're looking for something good, Bertie has the best fruit stand in the market and she could point you in the direction of the best places to eat. Just tell her old Al sent you.”

“Why thank you.” Cullen nodded as the door swung open. He whipped his head around to see Mia standing in the doorway.

“I thought I might find you all here,” she said through a tight smile. She had been crying again and Cullen went to her.

“Are you alright?” He asked, wrapping his strong arms around her.

“Yes. I just miss him. Don't worry about me, Cullen. Why don't you take some time for yourself while I spend time with the children. It will help with the grieving.” She pulled away and strolled toward the children. “Was uncle Cullen spoiling you two?”

“Yes!” They exclaimed in unison while showing off their latest treasures, giggling as the popping candy exploded in their mouth.

Cullen thanked Al the shopkeeper and went back out into the market. The sun was high in the sky now, so he made his way toward the flower stand. It stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the other stands with brilliant purples, blues, pinks, yellows and reds. The flowers covered every inch of the stand and it's owner belonged to an orlesian who was even more brightly colored and flamboyant than the flowers themselves.

Cullen scanned the area with his eyes, searching for Evie but she was nowhere in sight. With a sigh, he turned to go back to his sister, only to bump right into Evie who spilled the contents of her hands (cheese perhaps) onto the ground.

“Maker's breath! I'm so sorry,” he cried out while trying to dust the dirt off the cheese.

She laughed, that familiar laugh that had enraptured him so many years ago. “Just leave it. I can always get more. I don't think I want to lick the dirt off that bit, though I appreciate you trying to dust it off.”

Cullen laughed with her. “I suppose it's unpalatable. At least let me be the one to replace it.”

“How could I say no.” She grinned. “Have you eaten?”

“I have not.”

“Come with me then, my mama will gladly fix you a plate and we could catch up.” She began walking towards the alienage. “So, how are you? I can't believe it's really you!”

Cullen was honestly surprised she was still so happy to see him. “I'm well enough, I suppose. And you?”

“Very different from the scared and quiet girl you once knew but I am also well.”

“Yes. Time tends to change us, doesn't it?”

“And experiences.”

“I am in agreement with that.”

“Why are you here, in Denerim?” She asked.

“I could ask the same of you.”

“I recently joined the Inquisition and thought I'd deliver the news to my ma. She's always worried about me and there was time…"

“The Inquisition you say?” Cullen interrupted, stopping for a moment in the street.

She came to a halt as well. “Yes. Alistair asked me and a few of my fellow mages to join. I heard they were hunting Venatori and seeking to kill that wicked Magister. It was a cause I could wholly back, so I joined.”

Cullen’s lip pulled into a half smile. “Well, it looks like we'll be seeing each other often again, as I am the Inquisition’s Commander.”

Her grin was broad. “Really? Well, I look forward to working with you Commander.” Her voice dropped to a sultry note and Cullen swallowed as he picked up his feet and followed her off to her mother's house.

Chapter Text

Alistair had left Skyhold. He'd been summoned to the Royal Palace in Denerim much to his displeasure and Mae had watched them drag him away kicking and screaming---or rather spouting off a slew of sarcastic remarks and terrible puns. She refused to let herself feel too down about it so she sought refuge in the gardens with Dorian, who was also missing Bull.

Josephine had sent Bull and his Chargers on some sort of mission in Cullen’s stead so they were both a little bummed at losing their compatriots so suddenly and without any immediate problems to attend to, they were without distractions.

Mae lounged against one of the gazebo pillars while Dorian sat on the bench---”like a normal person” or so he said but she preferred the ground and the support. Flipping through the most boring book on Magic theory she'd ever read, she slammed it closed and sighed heavily.

“I am utterly bored out of my mind,” said Mae while setting the book aside and plucking a blade of grass to twirl between her fingers.

“Probably because you're reading that ancient Circle tome. Surely it’s littered with Chantry rhetoric. Perhaps when this Corypheus business is over with I can take you to Tevinter. I'm sure we have some tomes full of the dark arts and all things forbidden---much more useful.” Dorian set his own volume aside to pull at his mustache and smile down on her.

“You think everything in Tevinter is more useful yet you're always saying how terrible it is.” She grinned. “I'll admit, Dorian, it leaves me baffled at times.”

“Hush. You only say such things to vex me.”

“And why would I do that? I only have your best interests at heart.” Mae would be a liar if she said she didn't enjoy these pointless banters with Dorian.

Dorian snorted. “Is that why you're always taking me with you into battle?”

“Well, I couldn't leave my favorite behind, could I? Besides, I couldn't trust Solas to keep me alive nor trust myself to keep him alive and it would be impossible for me to help Vivienne keep that white garb of hers clean. Can you just imagine if it got dirty?”

“I'm sure she has some sort of spell to clear the dirt.” He waved her off. “But good to know that you consider it favoritism to throw me into the throes of battle. I'd hate to see what you do to those you hate. Oh wait---you just behead them, yes?”

Mae glared at him. He was referring to her response to Erimond. Though it hadn't made her feel better, she surely didn't regret such a decision.
“That's what family does. I'm glad to be of service.”

“I'm regretting ever telling you that we are cousins distantly related. However, throwing me amidst angry Magisters and inviting me along missions full of death threats does sound like something my family would do.” He sighed dramatically. “Ah, this almost feels like home.”

Mae’s loose waves shook with her head as she laughed. “We just need to add a few more blood Mages…”

“And snakes,” Dorian added.

“Snakes?” 

“Yes, it wouldn’t quite be home without the constant source for making life threatening poison.” His left brow twitched upward as he began scraping away at dirt under his fingernails.

“Oh…” Mae was seeing it clearly now. “Of course. Maybe I could convince Lace to bring some back from the Western Approach then.”

“Oh heavens no!” Both Dorian and Mae turned at the sound of the shocked voice. Josephine stood before them, clasping one hand over her mouth.

“Well good morning, Ambassador.” Dorian grinned with his usual charming smile.

“I'm sorry to have interrupted.” Her hand slowly lowered and she shuddered while blinking away the thought of snakes slithering about the walls of Skyhold.

“It's alright, Josephine,” Mae said with an encouraging smile. “Did you need something?”

“Yes, but you may not like it.” She paused and pursed her lips in concentration. “It appears that word has made it to your parents of your...impending marriage.”

At the mention of her parents, Mae's heart sank. She hadn't heard from them since she'd joined Inquisition and she preferred it that way. Though, she did enjoy her father, it was rare that he was unaccompanied by her pretentious mother.

“Did they send a letter? What do they want?” Mae caught Dorian smirking at her. Having been told all of the ridiculous stories of her mother, she could tell he was amused.

“Actually...your mother is here. In Skyhold,” said Josephine.

Mae stood faster than anyone could blink. “What!?”

Dorian nearly fell out his chair with laughter. After composing himself, he stood and linked his arm in Mae’s.

“Come along, pet. We can handle your mother together.”

“You do realize there's no handling my mother, right? Just be prepared for a lecture.”

Josephine joined them as well as they traipsed back to the main hall. “I'm very sorry, Inquisitor. I would have warned you except..”

“There was no warning,” Mae finished for her.

There was no need for Josephine to explain. Her mother must have been in desperate need of something, for there were no other reasons Mae could conjure up to justify her mother’s presence. Especially with no prior notice.

“Um, yes. You are quite right. I take it this is normal?” Josephine asked.

“Unfortunately.”

Mae realized that she was still dressed in an oversized tunic and plain leather breeches. Her hair was wild and free and there wasn't a single drop of kohl on her eyes. She sighed. Her mother would cut into her appearance first, then probably scream at her for never writing. After that would be the comparisons that berated her and made everyone else look better.

“It will be alright,” Dorian whispered quietly in her ear. “You will have my support. Just pretend it's like that time you went with me to see my father.”

“Right. Though, your father was far worse than my mother.”

“See, you're already thinking optimistically.”

It only took a few moments to reach the main hall from the gardens and Mae was glad to see that Evelyn was preoccupied with Vivienne.

Praise the Maker for that.

Vivienne caught sight of her first, casting a radiant smile in her direction, she opened her arms in a wide welcoming gesture.

“My dear Inquisitor! I was just speaking with your mother, Evelyn here, and she has the most lovely of stories to tell about you.”

Mae swallowed hard. Surely they weren't kind tales, let alone lovely. However, Mae placated a smile that didn't meet her eyes and relinquished Dorian’s arm to stand across from her mother.

“Is that so?” Mae hated these sorts of interactions. The kind where everyone wore smiles as masks over their true feelings, dancing around insults and honesty. She was good at playing along but found it rather irritating. 

“Yes, I was.” Her mother's painted lips pulled up into the smug grin she always wore. “Specifically about the time when you set off firecrackers in the gardens and gave everyone a fright. Still, it was memorable and reminiscent of your personality."

Mae rolled her eyes. “You mean that time when you first discovered I had magic and had me taken away by the hands of Templars, angry about a stupid prank.”

Evelyn's smile remained intact but Mae could see the storm brewing in her eyes.

Good. Show them all how you really are mother.

“I don't recall it being quite like that but it was an unfortunate consequence. I may have reacted in haste but it was for the better.” Evelyn ran her wine lacquered fingers down the front of her corset, smoothing out invisible wrinkles.

“You were quite right in doing so,” Vivienne agreed.

Evelyn smirked. It was familiar to Mae---the smirk of her victory at having garnished Vivienne’s approval.

Mae’s hands curled up into fists. She breathed through her nose making sure to calm herself and not do anything she'd regret later.

Josephine cleared her throat and Mae shot her a look of gratitude. The others turned their attention to her. “Would you care to have a discussion in my office now that the Inquisitor is here?”

“Yes. We might as well get this moving along---it was lovely to meet you Madame Vivienne,” Evelyn said.

“Likewise,” Vivienne replied before sweeping down the hall with an air of sophisticated grace.

Josephine led the way to her office just outside the war room and Evelyn took one of the chairs by the fireplace, angling it so that it faces the empty one next to it. Mae cringed as she saw there were no other options for seating as Josephine took her place behind the desk, readying her quill and ink for negotiations. Dorian gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder while standing regally behind her.

“So, mother, what brings you to Skyhold?”

“I've come to grant permission in your marriage to the King of Ferelden.” Her mother's perfectly manicured brow flicked up with each word she accented. “In return, I want our titles moved up in rank whilst expanding our property. We'd like an Arling and a sum of fifty sovereign a year.”

“No,” Mae said flatly.

Josephine protested, “But Inquisitor, surely we…”

“I said no. This is absolutely ridiculous! I do not need your permission to marry the King. Besides, he hasn't even proposed yet.”

“Inquisitor, please….” Josephine went on.

Mae held up her hand. “I refuse to be indebted to my mother for the rest of my life. We owe her nothing."

She felt Dorian squeeze her shoulder as her mother replied. “I'd---I mean we'd settle for thirty sovereign a year instead but we'd still want the Arling. Perhaps that would be a more suitable deal. You do wish to unite the Free Marches and Ferelden, correct? With a decent title, I could ensure that alliances stay in tact. Ferelden and the Inquisition could most certainly benefit from such a cost effective alliance."

“It's a deal,” Josephine blurted out as Mae went to open her mouth.

She promptly shut it and glared at Josephine. It took every ounce of self control she had not to blow a gasket.

“At least one of you knows a good deal when they see it.” There was another wicked smile from her mother. Yet another victory she felt she'd won.

“Josephine, how can we even grant them an Arling and do we even have that kind of money?” Mae still wanted to fight the decision even though it was hopeless.

“The coin will be no trouble at all. As for the title, I can be very persuasive. I will speak to your mother about connections she may have and with Leliana’s help I'm sure we can make the necessary arrangements.”

Mae ground her teeth together in frustration. If nobody was going to listen to her then why had she been named inquisitor for fuck’s sake? 

“I'm not even sure why I was included in this discussion if my decisions were going to simply be ignored," Mae said.

“To save face I suppose and look pretty.” Her mother's eyes grazed over her hair and outfit. “Though you're not even managing to do that today, are you? Why must you always look so drab? Even your friend dresses better than you and he isn't leading the entire Inquisition. I've raised you better than that Mae. One of great power must always carry oneself with an air of grace and class---not how," she gestured at her again. "Not how you present yourself."

Mae lost it at that comment. She stood swiftly and strode straight for her mother. Then she felt her hand draw back but before she could stop herself, that same hand shot forward, making contact with her mother's cheek. The slapping sound echoed all around her even though it happened in a split second. Her mother looked absolutely horrified as she held her cheek in her hand.

“You ungrateful child,” she spat.

“Me, ungrateful!” Mae was still furious. “You're the one who marched in here, demanded that we pay you and give you more than you deserve and for what? For your--your permission for my marriage!”

“Inquisitor!” Josephine tried to catch her attention but she continued.

“You have the audacity to show up here, unannounced and then make sure to insult me and demean me in front of my Ambassador! You are a pathetic excuse for a mother! You don't care what happens to me, you only care that you reap the benefits!” Her pitch got higher and higher with each accusation until she was nearly out of breath and her throat felt scratchy.

Evelyn crossed her arms. “Are you finished with your tantrum?”

Mae's nostrils flared but she said nothing. She was shaking from her outburst and frustrated that she hadn't been able to control herself.

At her silence, Evelyn smirked. “Good. I suggest you run along now before you make more of a fool of yourself,” Evelyn retorted as she rose from her chair.

Mae's shoulders slumped as she saw Josephine’s disgruntled expression and Dorian took her arm in his to lead her away. She hated what she'd done and hated that her mom had won again. But she followed Dorian’s lead anyway, trying to prevent further embarrassment.

As they stepped over the threshold, Dorian turned to look over his shoulder.
“I think the world would have benefitted had you been the one locked up in a circle all those years ago. Hopefully once this is all over, they still can."

Mae smiled to herself as her mother gasped in shock while she and Dorian swept out of the room.

“Thank you, Dorian,” she muttered, glad for his friendship.

"Anytime. Though I do wish I would have gotten to see the look on her face. Well done with that slap by the way, it was deserved."

Mae smiled sheepishly as they left the main hall. "Care for a drink, Dorian."

"Make that at least two." 

Mae laughed as they walked onward for the Herald's Rest, it felt empty though for she knew that wouldn't be the last time they'd hear from her mother.

 

Chapter Text

Alistair stared at himself in the full length mirror before him while servants stuffed him into fancy clothes that felt too tight and too soft. He knew he shouldn't have had complaintive thoughts about the clothes but he just didn't understand why he couldn't wear his Warden armor. He was simply getting a crown stuck on his head and would probably just have to say something about how glad he was to be King. Alistair didn't see what the big deal was and he made a disgusted face in the mirror. His features softened quickly as he thought of the last time he was here. At least he wouldn't have to do a landsmeet again.

A light knock sounded against the open door frame and Alistair’s grim face turned bright when he saw the handsome figure come into view.
“Well if it isn't my sort of Uncle Teagan!”

He twisted to look over his shoulder, warranting a scolding from the weasel-featured man attending to the buttons of his royal red doublet (or so he named it).

The Arl of Redcliffe entered the room, not much had changed except for a more pronounced beard, a few more wrinkles and some gray hairs that made him more attractive than he had been before. Alistair wasn't surprised in the least by that as he came to stand alongside him.

“It’s about time you took your rightful place as King.” He eyed Alistair up and down with an affectionate smile. “It suits you.”

Alistair let out a sigh. “I suppose it couldn't be avoided, though I'm glad I had a few years to grow into the role. Can you imagine if I'd have been crowned all those years ago? I tend to think I'm stressed now, but the amount of stress eating I would have done then…”

Teagan chuckled. “You would have been fine then just as you are even now. Eamon would have been proud. I am proud of you.”

“You really think so?” Alistair smiled crookedly in the mirror.

“I wouldn't have said it if it weren't true,” he said, placing a hand lightly on Alistair's shoulder.

“Right---and thank you. But enough about me. How are you? Is Redcliffe back in order? The Inquisitor spoke of the unfortunate events that happened there.”

Teagan shrugged. “They're in as much order as they could be.” He grimaced. “I am glad the Inquisitor took those foolish mages in, despite whether or not I think they deserve it.”

“Would you rather they be exiled?”

Teagan's eyes narrowed as he crossed his hands over his chest. “Even that would have been a kindness they do not deserve.”

Alistair knew his uncle had been jaded against mages since the first disaster at Redcliffe. Sadly, he couldn't blame him. He shuddered as he thought of young Connor and the demonic voice that had forced Teagan to do ridiculous things. Even after all these years it burned as a bright memory in his mind. He couldn't imagine what it was like for his uncle. Still, the bitterness toward the mages surprised him.

“Speaking of mages,” he continued, “isn't the Inquisitor a mage?”

“Yes. From the Ostwick Circle,” Alistair replied while the servant stuffed him into a furred cloak that was far too warm to wear at this time of year. He could already feel the beads of sweat gathering on his forehead.

“There have been rumors that you wish to wed the woman. Are they true?”

Alistair was not in the least bit shocked to hear that rumors had already made their way to Denerim. In fact, he wouldn't have been surprised if the Ambassador herself was the start of said rumors.

“Indeed. They are true.”

“Alistair,” his tone was disapproving, “do you really think that's wise? The woman’s a mage and she seems greedy for power! She's already in charge of an organization who just sweeps in and takes over anything they have a mind to without any given thought to who they may be negatively affecting. Surely, she is only after the title----another grasp for power!”

Alistair frowned deeply, the lines of his age deepening in his forehead. “You don't even know her! Mae would never grasp for a title. In fact, she's very hesitant about the whole thing---not that it should be of any concern to you. I understand your prejudices against mages but Mae---Mae is different.”

Teagan tilted his head slightly. “How so? Is she one of the level- headed mages? Does she want to restore the circles?"

“Please give us a moment alone,” Alistair said to the servant still fiddling with his cloak.

The servant looked a bit peeved but one serious, cold look from Alistair and he quietly fled from the room.

Alistair continued, “I---um---I've never actually asked her about that.”

Teagan threw his hands up in outrage. “You never thought to ask!? What if she allows mages to continue running about all of Thedas unchecked?”

“You talk about mage rights as if it's a bad thing. They should be free to roam and have a proper education! They are people! Should they be left with no checks at all---certainly not---but the old circles were a terrible solution. If they are to be restored, they need a major reformation.”

“I can't believe after all you've seen that you would side with them,” Teagan said with disgust.

“I'm not necessarily picking any sides, here.”

“This is not something you can remain neutral in, Alistair. The day will come when you will have a say in the future of Ferelden and that includes its circles.”

Alistair sighed. “I know. There will be plenty of decisions I will have to make but now is not the time.”

Without warning the palace bell clanged loudly, signifying the passing of another hour and Alistair straightened his posture and adjusted his collar. Taking a deep breath, he mentally prepared for his coronation.

“Shall I accompany you to the throne room?” Teagan asked.

Alistair gave an approving grunt as he swept out of the room. The thick cloak felt ridiculous as it trailed behind him, making a swooshing sound as it dusted along the stone floor and down the staircase. If that wasn't bad enough, the shoes they'd stuffed him in were even more ridiculous (if that were possible), and something he'd see on an Orlesian. To him, it made absolutely no sense for there to be a tight fitting pair of leather shoes with a strange sort of heel that he wore separately for one event. After all, he'd never wear them again.

Striding into the main hallway, he waited while the guards on standby pulled open the giant doors to the throne room, before gracing the awaiting nobles with his presence. He told himself to smile as he slowed his pace, coming to a halt before the Revered Mother. He felt the touch of Teagans hand on his shoulder once more before he went to slid into the front pew.

The Revered Mother smiled at him as she raised a hand over his head and he knelt before her. “Blessed be the..”

Alistair tuned her out as she went on and on with her blessings and utterances. He sort of zoned out through the entire coronation actually, only paying attention enough to say his vows to the Maker to protect the Kingdom and whatnot. Then he knelt before the woman as a jeweled, golden crown was placed atop his head. He was wishing Mae was here with him, to hold his hand and make him feel welcome---to make him feel at home. But he closed his eyes just for a moment, picturing her face cheering him on. Finally, gathering the strength to wear another smile, he stood and turned, facing his people who shouted, “long live the King!”.

 

                  *******

 

Alistair was pleasantly surprised by how underwhelmed he felt from all the attention he was getting. He was more bored than anything and his cheeks hurt from smiling constantly but it was time to sit down to a feast so the day was turning out to be fairly decent.

He sat himself at the head of the table and leaned his chin into his hand while taking in all the delectable sights before him. There were about twenty different types of cheese and he was anxious to try some of each. The mess hall was also filled with scent of herb roasted lamb leg which made Alistair salivate and his stomach grumble as his eyes took in the spread of food before him: the rolls on top of rolls, buttered potatoes, freshly pulled corn cobs, seasoned green beans, thick strips of juicy bacon, and there were multiple berry and apple pies with steam rolling off the top.

A plate was set before him filled with samples of everything. He thanked the servant who spluttered and flushed before slipping away. Picking up his fork, he dug it into one of the slices of cheese and stuffed it into his mouth. A burst of savory mixed with a hint of sweet filled up his senses and his eyes closed involuntarily as he chewed with delight. He hadn't tasted anything so good in his life.

“King Alistair.”

His eyes fluttered open, pulled away from his enjoyments, to see who had called for his attentions.

“I'm Teryn of Highever, Fergus Cousland. I thought it appropriate to make an introduction.”

The middle aged, handsome brunette with a nicely trimmed beard bowed his head and Alistair returned the favor.

“Well, it is a pleasure to meet you, Fergus.”

“The pleasure is all mine, your Majesty.”

Alistair nodded and began cutting into the tender lamb meat.

“So word has spread about the Wardens and what happened at Adamant. It's really a shame, especially after the Hero of Ferelden’s legacy and everything he sacrificed,” Fergus said while sipping from his glass of wine. “But I also caught wind of what you did. It's a good thing you were there to call them out or there might not be any Wardens left.”

“If the Inquisitor hadn't been there to lend me aid, I doubt I would have stopped anything. In fact, I'm fairly certain nobody would have taken me seriously.”

Fergus smiled. “Doubtful. You are a famed hero as well. In fact,” he leaned in close to Alistair, “Ferelden esteems you as the true hero. Most people don't like the idea of an elf getting all the credit.”

Alistair was taken aback and he stopped chewing. “You can't be serious?”

“I am.” Fergus shrugged and nodded. “There are some corners of Ferelden that take Nelaros’ name away altogether and give you sole ownership of the title, Hero of Ferelden.”

“But I didn't even slay the archdemon.”

Another shrug from Fergus as he shoved his fork into a slice of bacon. “Enough of that. I'm more interested in the subject of the Inquisitor. I hear she's a mage and a fine beauty at that.” He raised a brow.

“She is indeed both but more than that.”

He swallowed. “Oh?”

“Yes. But there's no need for me to go into all the details. Why do you have an interest in her?”

“Well, she's to be queen isn't she? And many still call her the Herald of Andraste. That would be quite the match---famed Hero of Ferelden and Herald of Andraste.” He spread his arms out in a grand gesture before chuckling and snatching up a roll. “It would be a marriage mentioned for ages to come.”

Alistair let out a loud exhale. “Don't tell me people are already…”

“They certainly are. I've already read an interesting piece of literature involving the two of you.” He laughed again. “But they seem to enjoy the concept."

Alistair pointed his fork toward the man. “What of you?”

“I'm not opposed to the idea. I think it would tip the scales in Ferelden’s favor, especially once the new Divine is put in place and we get the circles back.”

The circles again. Alistair didn't want to talk about the circles or even politics for that matter. He wished he could just enjoy his meal and swap silly stories about his early life or maybe even about the Warden. Instead, everyone was always discussing the future and what he was going to do about it.

Can't I just have one day to enjoy myself?

Alistair picked up his glass of wine and took a small sip to wash down his food.

“And what if the circles are never restored?”

Fergus’ brows knit together. “Then may the Maker watch over us.”

Suddenly, Alistair felt his stomach cramp up and his tongue go numb. Thinking it was just a matter of needing to use the restroom, he pulled back his chair to stand.

“It appears I must excuse myself. I do apologize.”

“No need, your Majesty.” Fergus stood as Alistair came to his feet.

But when Alistair tried to take a step, his world shifted and everything felt like it was spinning. His feet and hands were like lead and he stumbled into the table, grasping at it with a heavy hand.

“Your Majesty, are you alright?” He felt Fergus’ hand on his shoulder but he couldn't focus on the words he was saying.

Alistair started shaking violently and he heard someone shout, “somebody help! The King needs help!”, but it sounded far away. Before he could make out anything else, he slumped over the table and his world went black. 

 

Chapter Text

 

After debriefing his soldiers, Cullen plopped down at his desk chair to read the last two letters he received. He unrolled the parchment in his hands and read:

Dear Cully Wully,

Things have been good with the children and I since you left. Evie has been helping us a lot and she really is the sweetest. I'm glad you two reconnected after all these years. Hopefully she can mend what the Inquisitor ripped apart.

Anyway, enough of me shoving my unsolicited opinions on you.

I just wanted to say that I am well and I loved having you here. Maybe after all that business with Corypheus is over, you can come back and visit. I'll be sending my prayers to the Maker on your behalf. May the maker watch over and may you be well too.

Love,
Mia.

Cullen stood staring at the words for a few moments longer, smiling to himself. He was glad his sister had inserted her unsolicited opinion because he found himself growing to care for Evie, and even more so with the news that she was spending time with his sister. Folding the parchment back up, he slipped it into his desk drawer and opened the next letter. Scrawled across the page was beautiful script that read:

Dear Cullen,

Or perhaps I should say, Commander Cullen. Oh dear, it probably doesn't really matter.

Let me start again.

I know you never asked for an update but I wanted to write to you, so here I am, making a fool of myself on a page. Just imagine me blushing profusely as I'm writing and you'll have a clear picture of what I mean when I say fool.

I know your sister has sent a letter saying she is well and she is doing remarkably well, considering the circumstances but I'd like to stay with her for another week. Hopefully, fighting the magister without my help will turn out alright. Or at least I hope so. I hope I'm not being too forward but I don't want to lose you again not after I just got you back. Besides, my mother and sister would be devastated too so you better come back from this.

Cullen let out a loud burst of laughter after reading that line, the parchment quivering in his hands. After regaining his composure, he continued reading.

Needless to say, I wanted to tell you that I'm proud of you. I didn't get the chance when we said goodbye at the door but I wanted you to know. Not that you need that acknowledgment from me. But you're strong Cullen---the way you've powered through adversity, even without lyrium---its commendable.

My mother wanted me to send some of her sweet rolls but I told her they'd probably mold by the time they reached Skyhold. But I suppose you'll just have to stop by and visit so she can make some fresh for you. She sends her regards as do I. I wish you well, Cullen.

Sincerely,
Evie

Cullen leaned back in his chair, reading and rereading the words on the page over and over again. He smiled to himself like a crushing school boy but he didn't care. After all, tomorrow he'd face Corypheus. For all he knew, he could die so why not indulge in romantic notions?

A knock at the door pulled him from his reveries and he called out, “come in,” while stuffing the letter into his desk drawer. He leaned his elbows on the desk and rested his chin on his hands while the door swung in on its hinges. He inhaled sharply when Mae stepped through, her waving locks gathered to one side, cascading down over her left shoulder. She wore a simple blush pink satin nightdress, cut up the side to reveal her toned calves and he had to stamp out the fire that sparked at the mere sight of her figure. It was far more challenging than he thought it would be.

The satin gown clung to every curve of her body, accentuating the swell of her ass as she waltzed on in, the neckline cut low and hugging her breasts so that he could see her peaked nipples. He scolded himself before meeting her eyes. Although, looking into her eyes might have made everything worse.

It wasn't that he still had feelings for Mae (or so he told himself). It was more like remembering the taste of one of his favorite teas, but never being able to conjure the exact taste from memory alone. He would have to drink it to really bask his senses in it. That's exactly how he felt now. He wanted to have a taste of something he once loved because his eyes betrayed the rest of him, making him desire her again, like an old dog always goes to its bone.

He didn't have true feelings. It was just an old crutch, he told himself.

Had this happened months ago, he would have been angry but now–now he simply took it as it was and took a deep breath. She would always be beautiful. She would always give him a rise. But she would not have a permanent hold on him. He had moved on now.

“Mae.” Her name came out soft, a tuft of breath left lilting off the tip of his tongue.

She smiled and he felt the world shift out from under him. Every thought that had convinced him that he felt nothing, shifted with the world.

Get yourself together, Cullen.

“I'm sorry to bother you so late, Commander.” She sat herself on the edge of the desk, holding his gaze. “I just wanted to see how you were doing–how your family was doing. I'm sorry I didn't stop by sooner.”

He held up a hand. “There is no need for an apology.” The same hand fell down to his lap. “I am well.” He let out a hollow chuckle. “As well as one can be before a battle anyway. Mia and the kids are doing surprisingly well too.”

She tilted her head and offered another gentle smile. “I'm glad to hear that.”

He shifted, uncomfortable in his chair, pressing a palm to the bulge in his pants to try and stifle the unwelcome arousal. “How are you?”

“I'm well.” Her response was immediate with another smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.

“And Alistair?”

She looked away. Silence.

Why would you ask that?

“I don't know, really. I haven't heard from him in two weeks. His coronation was supposedly yesterday but I haven't heard anything more since then.”

“I'm sorry.” He meant it. He may have loathed Alistair at one time but there was no reason for it anymore. “Maybe he didn't want you to worry about him the night before the battle. Perhaps he thought it would be too distracting?"

"Perhaps," she said while playing with a strand of her hair.

She sighed and Cullen leaned forward. Like a fool, he reached for her other hand and she stared down at it. But then her eyes flicked back up to his.

Questioning. A minute that felt like hours passed between them.

I miss you.” Her voice was barely above a whisper, half choked, afraid to admit the words aloud.

His own voice was raw and husky. “I miss you too.”

She pulled her hand away and placed it back in her lap. “I'm sorry,” she said, staring at the floor.

“What are you sorry for? I've forgiven you for…”

“I'm sorry for coming here. For admitting this aloud–for everything.” She was looking at him again, a trickle of a tear gathered in the corner of her eye. “I shouldn't be here. I'm with Alistair but…” She couldn't find the words and neither could he.

They stayed there, locked in silence for a long stretch of time. Neither one speaking. Neither one acting. Neither able to look at the other.

Suddenly she was standing, wiping away a stray tear. He stood too.

“I should go.”

“Mae.” His voice was strained. Low.

He wanted to go to her. He wanted to take her into his arms one last time and tell her it would be alright. They could still be friends.

But he didn't move. Couldn't move.

She sniffled and tried to smile. “I'll see you bright and early tomorrow. Have a goodnight Cullen.”

Then she turned and she was gone.


                      ***


The wind whistled as lighting cracked like a nine-o-tails across the sky in brilliant white/blue flashes. Thunder rumbling like a bear followed shortly after. There was blood everywhere from fallen soldiers, battered mages and exhausted companions. It seeped into the ground like a warm spring rain. Despite the sickening smell of all the death and destruction, victory claimed the battlefield with a weary smile.

Cullen sheathed his blade and wiped the blood from his face. Mae had delivered the killing blow to Corypheus while his men finished off the dragon. He couldn't believe it was all over. Well, the part involving Corypheus anyway.

Looking up, he caught sight of Mae standing on a broken pillar, staring up at the scar in the sky with a tired look of triumph on her face, a familiar smirk. The wind whipped those onyx tendrils wildly against her face and old feelings of longing stirred within him. The same longing he'd felt last night. She looked so fierce, so regal, with her sturdy and war worn posture. With what they'd just accomplished, he wanted to take her into his arms and hold her tight, smoothing down her wind whipped hair and kissing her on the forehead.

“Commander, are you alright?” Cassandra sidled up to him with concern.

Pulled from his distractions, he looked down at his friend. “I am better than alright. We've defeated Corypheus and most of our men survived.”

“Yes. We’ve been victorious.” She smiled.

The right side of his mouth curled into a crooked grin. “Indeed.” He rested his hands on the pommel of his sword, finally able to relax.

Cullen’s eyes went back to Mae and she turned her head, meeting his gaze with the brilliant light of her green eyes. She offered him a sad smile before getting swooped up in Bull’s massive arms for a victory stroll. Cassandra patted him on the shoulder once before strolling toward them to join in the celebrations. Laughter and whooping rang out against the now pattering rain and Cullen couldn't help but smile too.

He had a mind to join them but a small tug of melancholy made him turn away instead as rain began to fall in a torrent from the sky. He chose to head back toward the camp further down the mountain.

“Cullen!”

He stopped in his tracks and closed his eyes. His lips pulled up into a smile at the sound of her voice. Whirling himself around slowly he came face to face with the Inquisitor. She was smiling and out of breath, her locks had become soaked and stuck to her face.

“Yes, Inquisitor?” He couldn't help but notice how exquisite she was.

Though he was surprised when she frowned at him. “I'm Inquisitor again?”

Oh.

“I'm sorry–the battle, it just–I'm sorry, Mae.”

A small smile tugged at her lips and before he could say or do anything else, she was reaching for him then pulling him in for a passionate kiss. But just as quickly as it had come, it was gone and she was standing there in the rain, staring back at him. Her eyes were searching for something. It caught him off guard and he stood there like an idiot. He blinked and studied her for a fraction of a second, trying to sort out his thoughts. She frowned and looked down at the ground while large droplets dangled from the ends of her strands.

“I'm sorry. It was wro…”

Cullen didn't let her finish. He wrapped her in his arms and kissed her hard. The heat began to rise in his body as her hands curled up into his hair, pulling him closer. Time stood still and in that moment it was if this was how it should have always been, just him and her. He got lost in the taste of her tongue, in the scent of her rain soaked hair and her soft lips. It was just a perfect as it had been those many months ago when he had his first sip. His heart was racing from his adrenaline soaked veins but his heart sank as she broke away, knowing that this was their last kiss. It should have lasted longer or maybe never happened at all. He wasn't really sure.

His eyes searched hers, trying to make sense of what just happened. 

She placed a hand fondly on his cheek, rubbing her thumb along his stubble. He watched as the rain continued to spill down her cheeks, mixing with the tears that had come. He steeled his jaw and swallowed to keep himself from doing the same, as he remembered all they'd gone through together. They played through his mind like water spilling over the falls, splashing against the rocks over and over again. 

“You know I…”, she started to say.

He cut her off, “yes, I know. I do too.” 

He had always known and she didn't have to say it.

“I think I always will.” Her voice was broken, ashamed to admit such a truth.

He couldn't speak even if he wanted to.

Her brows knit together with sorrow and his heart squeezed inside his chest. What they'd done was wrong but something he'd desperately needed. So maybe it was right. Besides, even if it was wrong, it was comforting that she needed the closure just as much.

“So, I guess this is the end,” she said.

He could only nod.

Her hand fell away from his face. “Goodbye, Cullen.”

“Goodbye, Mae.” His voice was a whisper lost in the wind as she disappeared back up the mountain.

He whirled back around and marched his way down the rest of the mountain where he found his mount and began the long ride back to Skyhold. He couldn't bear the thought of sleeping at the camp, not when she would be so close. He needed distance or he wouldn't be able to give himself the ending that he deserved.

But just as he finished mounting his horse he heard her voice again.

“Cullen!” She was frantic and he flicked the reins, spurring his horse in the direction of her voice.

“Cullen!” She cried again as she came running toward him. By the time they met, she was panting and out of breath. She bent over and placed her hands on her knees to steady her breathing.

Hopping down from the horse, he wrapped her arms around her, brows knit together with concern for she looked troubled.

“Are you going back to Skyhold?” She said between intakes of breath.

“Yes. Why?”

“Can you take me with you? I've just received word from the palace.”

Cullen cocked his head to the side.

“Alistair's been poisoned,” she said, all the color drained from her face.

“Maker’s breath! Of course! I'll take you straight to the palace myself.” With that, he helped her into the horse and they rode for Denerim.

Chapter Text

“Do you want to talk about it,” Cullen asked as he adjusted his bedroll.

Mae tucked herself in next to him, snuggling underneath her blankets and resting her head in her hands. Her back was facing Cullen. Her face was aglow in a faint orange, cast by the flickering flame she'd set in a bowl next to her bedroll. It danced in her eyes while she tried numbing her mind.

Cullen asked the question a second time, a little louder but not too loud.

Mae blinked and rolled over to look at him.
“What?” She asked.

“About Alistair. Do you want to talk about it?”

She breathed an inaudible sigh of relief. Clearly he didn't want to speak of the kiss either.

“Um...I'm not sure what to talk about…”

“Are you worried for him? Are you angry? How are you feeling?”

“I don't know.” She began picking at a loose thread on her sleeve. “I am a little worried for him but if I write a letter to Solas, I'm sure he’ll come and heal him. He's good with that sort of thing.”

Mae was really confused about her feelings. It was more than worry that tugged at her. It was uncertainty, guilt, desire, pride and an array of things that had no words that made her mind swim. A part of her wanted Cullen to hold her—no—to fuck her hard enough to make her too tired to think about feelings. It would be easier in the moment to just revert to her typical method of dealing with emotion. But it wasn't fair to Cullen and the other part of her–the new one. For once she cared more about Cullen and Alistair's feelings than her own. Because she really did love him and that meant letting him move forward. It meant letting herself move forward.

She continued picking at the thread until a good three inches was pulled free. If Dorian saw what she was doing right now, he'd smack her hand. She wished he was here right now, helping her process but he'd gone back to Tevinter.

“Do you think he'd come?” Cullen’s voice drew her out of her head momentarily. “I know you haven't been on the best of terms with the elven apostate..” He shifted a little closer, resting a hand on her shoulder.

She glanced at his hand briefly. It was warm, inviting and comforting. Images of times past flashed in her eyes as she met his. She could tell he was remembering too by the way his eyes seemed starry and far off. He inched a little closer and time stood still for a moment. His ocher eyes studied her mossy greens, searching, and unreadable.

She couldn't place what he was thinking and she was almost afraid of it.

Mae averted her gaze, eyes flickering to the floor. “I think he would. He cares about people even though he pretends he doesn't.”

“Mae?” Cullen's voice was low in her ear. The tip of his finger tilted her chin up, holding her in his tender gaze. She wanted to hide herself from it. “I know that this probably isn't the time to address this but I don't regret anything. None of it.”

Mae said nothing as his eyes still searched hers. She didn't regret anything either but if she admitted that, how could they move on? She was afraid she'd rather repair everything between them or start from the beginning. They were friends after all. But she couldn't do that. She'd said goodbye on that battlefield and it was the hardest thing she'd ever done. She refused to do again.

She squirmed out from under his gaze and rolled away. With a puff of air, she blew out the flames, cloaking her tears in darkness.

 

•••


Mae didn't speak of anything personal the whole way to Denerim, making idle conversation with Cullen stiff and a little awkward. He had mentioned Evie Surana a few times but Mae struggled to ask about her. She could guarantee the woman was better than her and could make Cullen happy and that was all she needed to know.

When they finally arrived at the Palace, she was thankful she was whisked away without having to say some sort of farewell. She only had to give a wave of her hand and a tentative smile before Cullen’s attentions were diverted.

It was almost as overwhelming as Halamshiral with nobles calling out Inquisitor over and over again. However, actually seeing their faces made it a bit more comfortable.

“Excuse me, Lady Trevelyan?” A tall man with chestnut brown hair and a charming smile greeted her in the foyer.

“Thank the Maker there's someone calling me something other than Inquisitor,” she said with a relieved smile.

He chuckled. “Fergus Cousland at your service. I assume you are here to see His Majesty?”

“A pleasure to meet you Fergus and I am here to see King Alistair.”

He offered an arm and she took it gladly. He led her down the east corridor and up a swirling staircase, etched with gold scrollwork and intricate details of mabari.

“How is he faring?” she asked, though fully expecting the worst.

“Poorly. I was there when he was poisoned.”

She gasped. “Really? Did you see who did it?”

“Unfortunately no. I have my suspicions but I have nothing convincing as of yet.”

“What I don't understand is why Alistair–I mean King Alistair–doesn't have someone taste testing everything that goes in his mouth.”

“Yes, well, he does actually and that's why I've been able to narrow my suspects down to just a few.”

“And are you on that suspect list?” She arched a brow.

“Me? No! I would never!” Fergus was shocked she would even suggest it.

“Well, you'll be on mine until you're ruled out.”

He sighed. “I suppose that's only fair. I have nothing to hide after all. And you've only just met me.”

Mae laughed for the first time in days. “You're reasonable. I like that. It's always nice to see a noble who doesn't have their head stuck so far up their ass that they can't see the facts in front of them.”

Fergus let out a short burst of deep laughter. “To put it bluntly. And I suppose it's good to see a leader who isn't afraid to speak their mind.”

“You'd be the first to say that.”

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.”

She smirked. “So, do you think you could introduce me to some of the suspects on your list a little later?”

“Certainly. Though, I do believe your Commander has already set about finding the assassin. He believes it is the same one who assassinated Queen Anora.”

“Hmm. That seems highly likely.” She placed a finger to her chin in thought. “You'll have to keep me updated on the Commander’s findings.”

“Gladly, My Lady.”

“It's Mae. We no longer need the formalities.” She gave him another one of her charming smirks as the rounded the top of the staircase.

They wound down another corridor, lined in majestic blue floral patterned walls, all the way to the end. Fergus knocked gently but there was no reply. Mae supposed he did it more out of habit than necessity as he pushed the door open.

“Here you are, My Lady.” She quirks a brow and he corrects himself. “Mae. Be sure to ring for a servant if you're in need of anything.”

“Thank you, Fergus.” She moved into the room but suddenly remembered that she needed to get a letter to Skyhold as quickly as possible. “Oh, Fergus!” she called, rushing back to the door.

He had only just gone so he wasn't out of earshot. “Yes, My Lady?”

“I need to write a letter to my ambassador. Would you mind staying a moment so that it can be delivered as quickly as possible?”

“I wouldn't mind at all.” He graced her with another smile and she rushed over to the large oak desk on the far side of the room. There was already a roll of blank parchment and a quill ready for use. Last minute, she realized she should have Leliana look into the Palace assassin too. So she hurriedly wrote:

Josephine,

I have a pressing matter for you to attend to. King Alistair is in trouble and needs healing. While I am skilled in herbalism and some minor spirit abilities, I am no spirit healer. As much as I hate to admit it, I will need the services of Solas. Could you please send him to me?

Also, could you have Leliana send in some of her agents. There's a murderer loose in the Palace and I'd rather live to see tomorrow if possible. You have my deepest gratitude.

Mae Trevelyan

She handed the letter over to Fergus, thanked him and watched him go.

Mae relaxed, sitting back into her chair, and set her quill down. She ran a hand through her disheveled hair and looked over at the large canopied bed occupied by Alistair’s body. She gathered her weary bones and carried herself over to the edge of his bed, plopping herself on the down mattress.

Alistair was in terrible shape. Her heart ached at the sight of his pale face and puffy lids. His lips were slightly parted and ashen and if she didn't know better, she would have presumed him dead.

A tear slipped down her face as she swiped Alistair’s mussed up hair out of the way and brushed a gentle kiss on his forehead.

Maker, she was tired of crying. She'd cried every night since the defeat of Corypheus and she swore she couldn't cry another single tear. Besides, it should have been a time of celebration not of sadness. Apparently, she was good at breaking her own promises to herself.

There was a knock at the door and Mae sniffed loudly and wiped away the mess on her face. She let out a choked, “come in.”

A young elven servant with tawny hair and big, silver eyes was carrying a gown over one arm and a silver platter in the other.

“Excuse me, My Lady but Arl Teagan sent me. He thought you could use a fresh gown and some dinner.”

Mae nodded as the girl moved into the room, letting the door click quietly closed behind her.

“May I ask your name?” Mae said, taking the tray from the girl and setting it on the nearby bed stand.

“My name is Elle, My Lady.” She bowed her head then offered the gown.

Mae ran her fingers along the black velvet. It was softer than anything she'd ever worn before. Even softer than the dress she'd worn to Halamshiral.

“Well, thank you Elle,” she said as she laid the dress across the end of the bed.

“I could help you into it and do your hair, if you'd like?” Elle seemed less bashful than most elven servants and Mae was glad of it.

Perhaps she could make a trustworthy friend out of her.

                          

                       ***

 


Dear Inquisitor,

Solas has disappeared. He didn't return after the final battle and Leliana has discovered no trace of him. I am sorry. Once I discovered he was gone, I took the liberty of asking Fiona if she'd be willing to travel to Denerim. After all, she was Grand Enchanter, surely she's just as capable if not more at healing.

I also wanted to inform you that Carver Hawke returned to Skyhold but he will be going with Varric back to Kirkwall. Apparently Varric wants to fix up the place. They would also like to properly mourn the death of Hawke. I might add that Cassandra would like me to ask if she could accompany you to the memorial?”

Josephine

Mae laughed as she looked up at Cassandra after reading the letter despite the disappointing news about Solas. Sadly, she wasn't surprised that he'd split and ran. “You didn't really need my permission did you?”

“No, it was a formality, of course. I knew you wouldn't refuse me,” Cassandra replied, adjusting her gloves.

Mae stood and wrapped her arms around her dear friend, holding her tight. “You're right. I would never refuse you.” She pulled away and gripped her shoulders. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m well. I've officially been declared Divine.” She shrugged as Mae’s brows flew up in excitement and she pulled her in for another hug.

“Ah! That's great news!”

“I think it's what Hawke would have wanted me to do and it's what I want to do.”

“And that's all that matters,” Mae said with an encouraging grin.

“Yes.” Cassandra looked away. “But enough about me…”

“Wait,” Mae interrupted, “when will you be leaving the Inquisiton?”

Cassandra sighed. “After Hawke’s memorial service.”

Mae tried to hide her disappointment but it was too difficult. “So soon?”

“I'm afraid so but if you really need me for something, I'd be glad to step away. I'm sure it will get very boring. I'm not one for politics.”

Mae smirked. “No, you never were but you're just and kind and you'll be the best Divine who ever lived.”

“I'm not sure about that.”

“I am,” Mae said.

“We’ll see.”

Mae began braiding her hair. “Has anyone heard from Solas since his disappearance? Morrigan maybe?”

Cassandra shook her head. “No and he hasn't left a trail to follow either. None of Leliana’s spies have found anything.”

“Curious,” Mae said. She frowned, disappointed in herself. “I should have been kinder to him.”

“You weren't unkind.” Cassandra laid a hand on her shoulder. “Besides, I believe Solas would have left regardless.”

“Do you think he was afraid?”

“I have no idea. I have never been able to figure that man out. Perhaps he just wanted to go back to his quiet life of peace.”

“I suppose.” Mae folded the letter back up and stuck it in the desk. “I take it Fiona came with you?”

“Yes. We rode hard for two days. She was eager to help.”

Mae sighed with relief. “Good. I hope she's able to help him.”

“I'm sure she will but if it's alright with you, I'm going to gather my things and make my way to the carriage. I'd like to get to Kirkwall as soon as possible.”

“Of course,” Mae exclaimed. “Let me gather few of my belongings and I'll meet you out there.”

Once Cassandra left, Mae took it upon herself to pay Alistair a visit before she went as well. His chambers were only a few doors down from hers so she flung her satchel of things over her shoulder and stepped inside his room.

Fiona was sitting neck to him and Mae was surprised to see her crying.

“Fiona, are you alright?” she asked.

The poor mage jumped, startled by Mae’s voice and she wiped her eyes with a kerchief. “Yes, I'm alright.”

She offered an insincere smile and Mae knew she wasn't alright but they weren't close so there was no need to pry information from her.

“I haven't been around Mabari in years. I think I may be allergic to them is all.” Fiona dabbed away the remaining moisture in her eyes and Mae tried not to look suspicious.

“I'm sorry. Hopefully you won't get stuck here for too long.” Fiona nodded. “How's our King holding up?”

“Neither better nor worse so far. Hopefully that will change soon. I've extracted all the poison from his blood. In a few days he should awaken.”

“Oh good. Thank you, Fiona.”

“It's the least I can do,” she replied. “If you don't mind, I'd like to perform a few more spells to speed his recovery…”

Mae blinked, surprised by the sudden dismissal. “Oh, alright then. I'm heading to Kirkwall but should be back by the end of week.”

“We will see you then, Inquisitor.” She bowed her head and Mae gave a wave before disappearing down the hall.


                          ***


The journey to and from Kirkwall made Mae almost forget why they were going and what she was leaving behind. Despite all the sadness, Hawke’s friends had gathered together and rehashed the best of memories. Even Cassandra had cried tears of laughter. But the moment of reprieve had ended when she sat down for dinner with her advisors back at Denerim. Business was business and there was still much to attend to.

“I hear Alistair awoke,” Josephine said.

“Yes,” Mae replied, “and as soon as this is over, I'd like to see him. So let's get on with it, shall we?”

“Of course, Inquisitor. I'm afraid you won't like the news however. Your mother…”

Mae sighed loudly. “What does she want now?”

“She wants a higher payment. She says that you're worth more than she originally offered and she must be compensated for it,” said Josephine.

“Maker’s breath!” Cullen cried, “how much coin does this woman need?”

“She must have expensive tastes,” Leliana added.

“No. She's just greedy. She'll take every last bit of coin we have if we let her. Did you give her that property she wanted yet? Perhaps you could give her a nice settlement in the Western Approach.” Mae smirked at the idea of her mother sweating in her lofty gowns in the dry heat of the Approach. It gave her a sense of satisfaction.

“We gave her an abandoned chateau,” Josephine said with her poker face.

Mae knew exactly which chateau Josephine was referring to and she was quite pleased.

“Well then just give her half of what she's asking for and tell her she'll get the rest once I'm married.” Mae waved a hand.

Leliana folded her hands in her lap. “Once you're married, you won't have to owe her anything.”

“Exactly,” Mae said,” and I'm hoping she'll do something foolish, like usual, and I'll earn back every last coin she took.”

Leliana smirked. “Clever.”

“What's next on the list?” Mae asked.

“We’ve narrowed Alistair’s assassin down to two suspects.” Cullen unfolded a piece of parchment, pulled from his pocket.

Mae leaned in closer. “Go on.”

“A Crow named Dareth, who was spotted by a maid in the halls just outside the dining room the night Alistair was murdered and the Arl of Redcliffe, Teagan Guerrin. Though, I'm guessing it was the hired Crow because it doesn't make sense that Teagan would want to murder his nephew,” Cullen explained.

“Then why is he on your list?” Mae wondered.

“He's the only other person who had access to Alistair’a wine. He was the one who brought the bottle,” said Cullen.

“I don't mean to interrupt but if Alistair was killed with no heir, wouldn't Teagan be King?” Leliana asked.

“And he's made his distaste for mages known, he wouldn't like his nephew marrying one,” Josephine added.

“Do we have any proof, other than the fact that he brought the wine? Did anyone else drink from the bottle? Did Teagan get the bottle himself? He would have to be cruel to poison his own nephew.” Mae said.

“I can investigate it further,” Cullen said.

“Yes. I'd like all of you to extend your resources into this. I don't want to make unsolicited accusations, especially when this will only lead to death for the culprit.”

“Of course,” the advisors said in unison.

“Good. I'll do what I can on my end,” Mae said, pulling back from the table. “I'm going to go check on Alistair now, unles there's anything more to discuss.

“Well, we've been receiving reports of rifts that still linger and there's a few disputes that need settled…” Josephine began to say.

“I'll take care of the rifts once I know Alistair is well. As for the disputes, isn't that why I have you, Josie?” Mae offered a charming smile.

“Well, yes but…”

“You'll figure it out I'm sure,” Mae said before turning away.

They gave her a unified nod and she slipped away, her mind trying to make sense of all they told her.

 

                        ***

 

“Please wake up,” she whispered softly while squeezing Alistair’s hand. She was dying to speak with him but he was asleep.

There was no response.

“I know you probably can't hear me but I'm going to talk to you anyway,” she said while tracing circles into his opened palm. “I kissed Cullen–after the battle–I needed to say goodbye. I needed to let him go. But it will be the last kiss, I promise. I won't let myself get carried away again. I also said goodbye to Hawke. I watched Cassandra weep–like really weep, Alistair. I saw his brother weep to, which was shocking to their friends. It was moving and touching and scary and hard. All of these things were hard for me Alistair. But not as hard as this. I spent too many days not knowing if you'd live or die–nothing has made me more sure of what I want in my life.” She kissed the top of his hand and crawled in beside him. She stroked his hair, brushed a finger along his sallow cheek and held him.

“You make it so easy for me to talk–to say what I feel. I haven't ever had that before, do you know that?” She chuckled softly.

“I do now.”

Mae let out a short squeak, surprised that he had spoken. Granted, his voice was hoarse and barely above a whisper but it was so good to hear him. She squeezed him tight.

“You're awake!”

“And I can't breathe.”

“Sorry,” she said, loosening her grip and kissing his cheek. “Oh,” she gasped, “how much of my prattling did you hear?”

“I think all of it.”

She smacked him lightly on the arm which made him laugh. But the laughing turned into a coughing fit.

“Ow,” he muttered once the coughing subdued.

Mae cringed. “Sorry.”

Alistair tried sitting up and Mae followed suit, making sure to fluff the pillows behind him.

“I'm glad you said your goodbyes but I'm wondering something Mae…”

“Yes?” She tangled her fingers up in his while studying his face. Some color had returned to his cheeks and his eyes were a little less puffy. His hair was still disheveled but that was to be expected.

“Would you have told me all this if you'd known I was awake?”

“I think so. You make me feel safe, Alistair and that's not something I've ever felt with someone else.”

He squeezed her hand and offered a smile. “I'm glad. I hope you know I'm always here for you, Mae.”

“I do,” she said leaning into his chest and suddenly she had an idea. It was impulsive but she didn't care.

She slipped out of his hand and jumped up from the bed. His Royal signet ring lay in the golden dish atop his chest of drawers and she snatched it up and took it back to his bed. Sitting in the edge, she took his left hand in hers.

“What are you doing?” he asked, confused.

“Alistair, I've never been sure of any commitment in my life despite the confidence I display. But I am sure of the life I want with you. I want to be by your side and give you all my love for the rest of my life. I want to be your bride if you'll have me. I love you, Alistair and I always will. So, I guess what I'm doing is asking if you'll marry me?”

Alistair laughed but pulled her into his chest, kissing her over and over again. “Yes, Mae. I would marry you a thousand times over but I have one request.”

Mae pulled back trying not to worry. “What is it?”

“No wine at the wedding.” He smirked.

Mae laughed and showered him with kisses. After the pale orange glow began to fade, Alistair wanted to know what had happened since his near death and they stayed up into the night chatting and discussing events. And for the first time since Corypheus' defeat, Mae felt overjoyed.

Chapter Text

“This is an outrage!” Teagan exclaimed over Alistair's weary exhale. “You can't do this! I am your Uncle! You're going to believe the Inquisitor’s lapdog over me?” His voice was a high shrill, the veins of his neck bulging with his protest.

“Commander,” he heard Cullen mutter from somewhere to his right.

Taking a deep breath and trying his damndest to maintain a regal composure, he said, “no. I am choosing facts over favoritism. The evidence I've been given points to you as the culprit. The only thing that gets me…” Alistair paused to clear his throat in a desperate attempt to keep from tearing up, “Is why you would kill me?”

Sure, he was only his sort-of nephew but the idea of it, well, it hurt a little. Ok, maybe a lot. Didn't he remember anything from the past ten years?

Teagan glared up at him, his mouth finally closing in a grim line. His eyes flickered to Mae whose expression was cool as she gazed back at him. He opened his mouth to speak as he pointed a finger at her, “you would unite our Kingdom with the unchecked, power hungry Inquisition and make their uncontrollable mage our Queen! Ferelden deserves better,” he spat, “Ferelden deserves a loyal King! And a loyal Ferelden born Queen! Not one who bends at the will of others–or forces her ridiculous ideals onto everyone! She captured Fort Bronach and will soon take all of Ferelden, handing it over to Free Marchers or worse, mages!” He lashed out toward her and the guards yanked him back.

A great murmuring swept over the hall like winds before a storm and Alistair stood. A solid, Ferelden King was what they wanted and a solid, loyal King they would get. “Silence!” he commanded into the whirlwind of voices. Much to his surprise, the whispers died with the harsh inflection of his voice and all eyes were focused on him. “I am a loyal King–a loyal Ferelden, regardless of what you might think. Lady Trevelyan is not the villain here. The issue we have at hand, is a matter of treason and you are the one committing the crime, Arl Teagan. The punishment for such a crime,” Alistair swallowed, “is death.”

The word tasted so final on his tongue, like onions, leaving his mouth feeling pungent for hours. But perhaps it was a good thing to have such a taste in his mouth. Strong. Unforgettable. It would serve as a reminder of the person he had become and was becoming.

Once more the throne room stirred with gasps and whispering. If anyone had misjudged Alistair to be weak, they were no longer under that guise. Admittedly, he still felt weak as he placed a hand on the pommel of his sword. Part of him wanted to lessen the punishment somehow but to do so would undo every ounce of respect he'd earned that day. Already he could feel the weight of his crown grow heavier. And the taste in his mouth grew sour.

“Chain him and take him to the dungeons. His execution will occur some other day when I'm not about to get married,” he declared with the wave of his hand.

There was some more flailing and protesting from Teagan before he was drug out of the room. Alistair turned on his heel and fled in the opposite direction. It was an awful way to proclaim such a judgement but he could no longer handle the many eyes that bore down on him. For him, this was a time of grieving. Another death by his own hand.

As he sat down on a bench in the nearest corridor, he pulled his crown from his head and set it in his lap. He pulled his face into his hands, seeking a moment of peace. Today was supposed to be the happiest day of his life. He almost expected it to be until the letter came. Damn the evidence! He breathed deep, reminding himself that one awful event didn't have to set the tone for the entire day.

Though his head remained in his hands, his heart grew a tad bit less solemn. And then it hit him. The scent of spring blooming into summer and heard the rustle of her skirts.

“I'm sorry,” she whispered, lightly setting a hand on the small of his back. “We could postpone the wedding you know.”

His heart clenched, first in fear then in desire. No. There would be no delay. He wanted something good and not for the sake of being good but because he was more certain of her than anything else in all the world. Amidst the darkness that came with ruling, she was a fire burning bold and bright and warm.

He sat up straighter and peeled off his glove so he could feel the warmth of her hand in his. “It's been postponed long enough. I want to marry you Mae. I've wanted to marry you for a long time now.”

She smiled. “Good.” She kissed him on the cheek and as she pulled back, he reached out his other hand to still her.

“Not yet,” he whispered as he leaned in for a lingering kiss. It was refreshing, having her taste in his tongue. It helped clear the staleness that he felt was lingering there with dark words.

When their lips parted, her face was downcast and sullen. “Do you need to talk about what just happened in there?”

He paused. Probably but he didn't know where to begin. “Maybe tomorrow or a day when it's less of a shock.”

“Very well. Just know that I'm here, ok?”

He nodded. He wouldn't soon forget it.

 

*** 

 

Alistair couldn't stop grinning as he rose up on tiptoes to see the large cedar doors swing open. So many faces stared back at him but he couldn't remember a single one. Because there was Mae. A beacon of light in a sea full of faces. He was drawn to her and her alone, like moth to a flame.

She stood in the doorway, draped in a dress of pearlescent white satin. It was snug yet still perfectly accentuated her tall figure. Elegant gold embellishments weaved in around her sleeves and lined the skirt until it splayed out into delicate rosettes all along the back of her train. In her hands she held a bouquet of a dozen red roses and baby’s breath tied off with a golden ribbon. And around her neck he could see a brilliant sapphire amulet sparkling in the rays of light filtering in through the stained glass windows. Her hair was simply curled and pulled back into a loose white ribbon so that it cascaded down over her left shoulder in a waterfall of black silk. He’d never seen a sight more exquisite in all his life. Maker, he'd never felt so ecstatic in all his life.

Or nervous.

Hell, he'd stood before an archdemon and pummeled his way through hordes of darkspawn. He'd even risen to the occasion and become King and didn't think he was doing such a bad job at it. But the idea of marrying Mae, it was terrifying and not because he didn't want to be with her. That wasn't it at all. There was this voice in the back of his mind that continually told him he would fail her, fall short of her expectations. Had they even really spoke of expectations? He couldn't remember. And the thought made him panic.

As she took each step down the aisle, he tried to smile but the anxiety rose in his chest and he felt tears spilling down his face.

No. I'm already disappointing her. I should be smiling. Put on a bloody smile, Alistair.

Finally she reached him just as he plastered on a lopsided grin and she was smirking at him like she knew. Taking his hand in her own, she squeezed and whispered, “breathe Alistair. It's alright. I'm not letting you get away. I love you.”

The way her hand fit in his felt more than alright. It felt like it was meant to have been there all his life. Those tormented thoughts dissipated with her calming touch and he felt his lips pull into a genuine curve. He took a deep breath and got lost in her eyes. They were the same then as they were when he'd first pointed his sword at her throat, challenging, confident and sure.

The ceremony went on as every other formal ceremony does and when it came time to say his vows, every fear was washed away with the truth of his words.

“Dearest Mae, you know I love you and I vow to be your husband and your friend. I vow to keep you warm, protect you, to have you share my bed and my leftovers” –she laughed at that– “I vow to treat you with respect and value your opinions. I vow to make you my Queen in every way and to be honest and loyal and true. I swear into the Maker and the Holy Andraste to love you until the end of my days.”

He watched as she wiped a tear from her eye and cleared her throat saying her own simpler version of similar vows. And he pulled her in closer as the revered mother finished the ceremony. Then with his heart beating out of his chest from excitement, he kissed his bride and they turned back to the crowd as a married couple.

 

 ***


His chambers felt vast in comparison to their size. The bed was like an unending sea, only full of blankets, throws and a handful of pillows. Somebody had thought it was a good idea to toss rose petals all over the bed and floor but Alistair deemed it unnecessary. Mae was undoing her braid, running her fingers through her long black locks. And he was entranced by the slow movement, the strands shimmering in the flicker of candlelight. He swallowed.

“You seem quiet,” she said, turning around to face him. There was a gentle smile on her lips. “Are you worn?”

“Not tired, exactly–no. You know how you dream up something all your life and look forward to it?” Mae started nodding her head and moved toward him, eyes fixated on his lips. “Well, have you ever felt unsure of yourself and what to do with said dream when it finally delivers itself to you?” Mae shook her head in agreement again and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, she began removing his shirt, undoing the buttons with ease.

“We don't have to rush Alistair. We can take all the time you need. If you need a day, week, month, year–hell if you never get to a point where you're comfortable with the idea of us having sex then that's ok. I didn't marry you for that.” She placed a kiss on his cheek and put a stop to the undressing. “I'm here for you–just you. Always.”

The words were warm in his soul but it wasn't the ready part that made him nervous.

“It's less the desire itself and more...the mechanics. If you get what I mean?” He felt like such an idiot not being able to make his thoughts clear. Sex was complicated and he didn't want to make this more awkward than he already felt it was.

“Ohhhh...yes...I get it.” She frowned and he was worried he'd screwed everything up. “Is it troubling you because I've had other partners? Because I can reassure you that…”

“No!” He cut her off. “That's not what I meant. Not in that way..He sighed and tried again, taking her hand in his and leading her to the bed. He sat down with her. “It's just that I've never...and well, you're experienced…”

Her eyes lit up as realization dawned on her. “You won't disappoint me if that's what you're worried about.”

“But what if I do?” He traced a line from her ear to her chin.

“You won't.”

“You can be sure of that?”

“Yes.” She lifted his fingers to her lips and kissed them. “You'll have a good teacher and we have lots of time.” She smiled devilishly at him and he felt his pants grow tighter. “In fact, we can begin with something simple–if that's alright with you?”

He nodded and then she was helping him disrobe completely, hands sliding up and down every part of him. His skin felt hot and flushed. His eyes closed. He was ready now. Every part of him reacted to her touches and he could think of nothing else. Only more. He wanted more. And just as suddenly as she'd begun, she ceased her caresses and he groaned as his eyes reopened.

She laughed a belly laugh and he loved her all the more for it.

But then her laughing stilled and she kneeled before him, running her fingers along his thighs. Nail tips barely dusting along his skin. Like feathers. He quivered under these new, intimate touches and his breath hitched. “Are you still ok with this, Alistair?”

He nodded fervently. It was nearly impossible to contain himself as she hovered over him, her sweet breath tickling his inner thigh. He swallowed and waited while his heart hammered in his chest. She took him in her mouth and everything was warm and wet and good. Almost too good.

His hands curled up in the sheets, crushing rose petals in palms. They were smooth like the sheet and her tongue. And then he was lost. His senses became a blur of familiar memories but nothing too clear. The scent of flame on candle and those damned roses. Everything was roses. Soft and fragrant and beautiful. Then he came undone, like a loosened thread.

Panting. Breathless. It hadn't taken long and he felt something about that but he didn't want to. There was something more that required his attention. All he wanted now was her. Mae. And he pulled her up and into his lap.

Feverish and full but not filled, he covered her mouth with kisses. Blindly, he let instinct take over, exploring every part of her, like one would an undiscovered world. Her breasts that squeezed in the palm of his hands, her hips that sprawled across his lap, her scar that creeped across her calf. He wanted all of her, every last inch.

And she wanted him too. She dug her nails into his skin, pulling him closer, pressing against him until he couldn't tell where he began and she ended.

Torn between fast and slow, in and out, Alistair twirled his fingers up in her hair, falling back with her against the bed.

“Ouch,” she said with a laugh as he scrambled to untangle himself from her hair.

“Sorry,” he muttered. And they laughed together before exchanging passionate kisses once more.

He rolled with her, careful this time, so he could look down into her eyes. If nothing else, he wanted to stare into those mossy greens until he was lost in their love making.

She arched and sighed as his fingers fit inside her, legs spreading wide in a welcoming gesture. With breath heavy and hands grasping his back, he fit himself inside and began to undo her at a controlled pace. He watched as she quivered, eyes closing tight. He watched as she quaked and moaned and called out to him, his name on her lips. A whispered prayer then an incantation, a spell cast over them both.

His lips found her neck as he muffled his own cries of pleasure, delighting in the sounds she made in his ear. Then it was like floating on air the feeling that came next and he wondered if it would always feel this way. If it would always be like magic. She was wet beneath him or he was wet on top of her, he didn't know which. And the smell of sex permeated his senses as she cried out, again the brightest light in all the room, clenching tight around him. And he crumbled like sand in her fist.

His head fell against her chest and she sighed happily as she stroked his hair and traced lines down his back.

The candlelight flickered as he listened to her chest heave, the sound of life and love and everything good. And when he felt like his lungs were no longer on fire he pulled up on his elbows to look at her smiling face.

“You know,” she said breathlessly, “I've heard a rumor about Grey Wardens having an unnatural stamina.” Her brow flicked up. “I'm curious to see if it's true.”

Alistair shook his head and laughed and he took her again. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't curious too.

When they'd finally had their fill, Alistair held her in his arms. "He treated me better than anyone else did, you know."

She tilted her head to look up at him. "I didn't know. I'm sorry."

"Yeah. He used play with me sometimes, bringing little carved toys from the village. A King Maric or a knight. We'd set them up with small things like rocks and pretend they were invading armies–usually Orlesians–and we'd take them out one by one. He'd read to me sometimes too and eventually taught me to read for myself. Then later on when I trained to be a Templar, the toys he gave me made me feel better when I was feeling sad or lonely. He was good to me."

"Oh Alistair," she whispered, "I'm so very sorry."

"Don't be. It's not your fault for what he's become. I only wish I could've helped him as he helped me. Maybe if I'd become King sooner than he wouldn't have been so paranoid."

"Then you'd probably be dead just like Anora." She hugged him tighter. "You cannot blame yourself for the actions of everyone else. I know it's hard not too...as a leader you feel responsible for everything–for things you couldn't even imagine possible before."

"I do feel these things." He sighed and stroked her face. "But at least I have you by my side when the feelings get too strong and I hope you know I'm grateful for that."

 

"I do know–but there's no need to be grateful." She pulled his face down to hers, lips only inches apart as she looked him in the eyes. "We're in this together, you and I." 

He smirked then kissed her and held her tight until the candlelight flickered and finally went out.

 

Chapter Text

Cullen leaned against his desk reading and rereading the letter that had been stamped with Ferelden’s royal seal.

 

Commander Cullen,

I'm not much for writing letters but my wife insisted I send some sort of thank you along with the gift.The crown thanks you for your services and loyalty. We do hope this gift is of considerable value to you. Please accept our sincerest gratitude.

P.S. The poor thing was rescued from some brutish Orlesians. I would have kept it for myself but Mae insisted you'd enjoy it more.

 

He traced his forefinger over the scrawled signature of Alistair's name on the page. He blinked a few times and recovering from the initial shock, he stared at the dog kennel before him and the small blue eyes that peeked out at him from inside it.

He sighed and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. “Oh don't look at me like that! I didn't put you in there!”

The pup whined.

“Oh don't even. I didn't ask for a dog!”

The pup whined again.

Cullen sighed and set the letter down. “Fine,” he huffed as he came around the desk to kneel before the dog. “Hmm, what should I name you? Do you already have a name?”

The dog let out a sad whine.

“Very well, let me think a moment.” He scratched at his chin in thought. He needed something very Ferelden and strong sounding. Suddenly, he snapped his finger and grinned. “I know! I'll call you Ciram! It's Maric spelled backwards so it will do just fine.”

The dog made a small whine.

“What? Maric was once King–that's makes our name kingly.”

Ciram barked happily at him and scratched at the bottom of his cage.

“What's that, boy? Would you like out of that small kennel?”

Another agreeable bark.

“Very well.” Cullen unhooked the latch and the grey and white spotted pup bounded out, splaying its paws across his lap. He laughed as he caught the dog up in his arms. “I think we’re going to be good friends.”

He smirked as he stroked the pup's back. He could certainly use a good friend in a time like this. Especially one who spent more time listening than requesting favors from him.

But before he could process any further thoughts, there was another bark as Cassandra waltzed through the door.

“Maker! What is that?” she exclaimed, halting by the door as a hand flew to her face.

“You can't honestly tell me you've never seen a mabari before?”

“I thought they were much larger. The majestic and warrior dogs of Ferelden. I swear, if that's one more thing Varric said that's not…”

Cullen cut her off. “Oh, he’ll get big one day–won't you? Yes you will…”

Cassandra made a disgusted noise as she wrinkled her nose.. “He reeks.”

Cullen let out a soft chuckle. “No worse than you.”

Cassandra gasps. “I. Do. Not. Reek.”

Still laughing, he asked, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“No.” She let out a heavy sigh, shifting from foot to foot while wringing her hands. I've just come to say my goodbyes.”

“Oh.” He frowned. “The time has come already, has it?”

“I'm afraid so. I tried to delay its happening but the Inquisitor has no more need of me. In fact, she said that she didn't even have a need for herself.”

“Well that simply isn't true,” Cullen stated.

Cassandra scoffed, “tell me about it.”

“Will she be returning? Here to Skyhold?”

“I...know nothing of her future plans. She's been rather quiet as of late.”

“Hmmm.” A stillness passed between them. Cullen had tried not to speak of Mae since her marriage and Cassandra knew this. He scratched at his pup’s ear. “How are you feeling with all the new changes?”

“Does it truly matter how I feel? I have a duty to fulfill and I will do my best.”

“That doesn't surprise me at all. But just so you are aware, your feelings do matter.”

“Perhaps they mattered before I agreed to becoming Divine but now…” Another sigh. “It doesn't matter. It's better this way.”

Sensing she wanted closure on the subject, he moved on. “Well, think you have time for one last spar with me in the ring before you don the official title of Divine?”

“Do you even have to ask?” She smirked.

"I'll take that as a yes."

He smiled as he rose to his feet. Cullen set his pup down and followed after her as she pushed through the door, rubbing the small ache in his back that had begun to settle there. It was nice to have some companionship after six months of silence. Every once and awhile Dorian would stop by for a game of chess but he'd begun to miss Cassandra, Blackwall, and Bull’s presence. All of them challenged him both in mind and physicality, which tore his thoughts away from inner turmoil. And training with the soldiers wasn't quite the same as training with the others.

He followed Cassandra down to the training yard, pulling his sword from his scabbard.

“Have you thought about what you will do?” Cassandra asked as she pulled her gloves tight on her hands and unsheathed her own sword.

Cullen took a step forward and raised his blade. “Not really. I suppose I'll go back and visit my sister. Maybe visit Evie.”

“How are you and Evie getting along?” Cassandra lunged at him and the metal clashed loudly as he defended her attack.

They slowly circled one another in the ring.

“Well enough, I suppose. Though, I'm not sure if she wants anything serious. We'd been writing letters back and forth for some time but our correspondence has become increasingly sparse.”

This time Cullen lunged at her but she blocked him per usual.

“I'm sorry to hear that. I thought you were growing close.”

Their swords clashed together again.

“I did too but it's probably my fault that there's distance between us.”

Cassandra raised a brow as she parried.

“Your words became less and less didn't they?”

“I didn't mean for it to happen that way but with the defeat of Corypheus and the Palace investigation for the Crown, I couldn't keep up. Not in the way I should've.” He was breathing heavier now. He'd almost forgotten how skilled his friend was with her blade. He had missed this more than he realized.

“Maybe you should go see her then, make her aware of your feelings before…” her voice trailed off as Cullen lunged at her. His blade hit hers, hard, and she stumbled backwards a bit just as his pommel landed a blow to the gut. She fell on her ass and laughed as Cullen began apologizing profusely.

“I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to…” She gripped his hand as he pulled her to her feet.

“Don't be,” she said, dusting herself off and picking her sword back up. She gripped his shoulder tightly. “I'm the one who brought up the touchy subject."

He rubbed the back of his neck and stared at the ground."I miss her."

"I know," Cassandra said as he met her gaze. It was one of genuine understanding and not one of pity. That was something he appreciated about Cassandra; her unwavering ability to understand someone deeply or at least attempt to.

"I'm not sure I want to stay here..."

"Then go home, Cullen. Be happy and find love again, if that's what you want.”

He smiled down at his friend and pulled her into a tight hug. Ciram had made his way down and was now happily barking at his feet. He pulled away from Cassandra and knelt down.

"You were supposed to stay back!"

He whimpered and Cassandra laughed. "He maybe little but I'll admit he is rather charming."

They laughed together until they went their separate ways.

 

***

Months had passed and Cullen leaned against a hoe as he wiped sweat from his brow. He took a sip from his canteen and watched the sun grow lower on the horizon. It painted the sky a deep orange with hints of soft pink layered into the white clouds. Being with his sister had done him a world of good and he finally felt that he could have a sensible life with his addiction now behind him. He still had his moments where he could taste that metallic coolness in his mouth and he wanted it desperately but with watchful support, he had overcome it. Of course, with the lyrium cast out of his life, he had become more forgetful and his right hand now had a constant shake in it; making it difficult to wield his sword as he once did. But he didn't regret his decision in the least and he'd found his happiness within himself, forgiving himself for the cruelty that his past had inflicted upon him and so many others. 

He still wasn't convinced he deserved any forgiveness at all, which often led him to trying to do right by the mages whenever he could. There was always an inner voice, however, that told him he could never fully make up for what he'd done. Still, he'd live the rest of his life attempting to make amends because it was the right thing to do.

“Cullen!”

He sighed as Mia called him from the open window, not ready to call it a day.

“One moment!” he called back.

“You've got something from the post! It looks rather important!”

With one last glance at the setting sun, Cullen whistled for Ciram and the huge Mabari bounded up to his side. He wandered back to the house, setting the hoe up against the door frame before slipping indoors. He was greeted by the happy faces of his niece and nephew as they offered him pies of different assortments. He kindly turned them down before grabbing the letter from his sister’s hand.

He studied the seal on the envelope and inhaled deeply. It was the Divine’s seal. He knew the day would come when he'd be needed again.

Mia wiped her hands in her apron then placed them on her hips. “Well, what is it? What does the Divine want?”

“Just give me a moment will you?” He chuckled as he undid the seal and pulled out the letter. Mia was already impatiently craning over his shoulder. His eyes sped across the page as a vague statement was written down about a netting between the Inquisition and the Exalted Council.

“What does it mean?” Mia asked, gazing from the pages to him and back again.

“It could mean anything. But most likely it's a power play. The Inquisition has done its job and now it's just an unchecked army of sorts. I knew it wouldn't be long before its formation was questioned again.”

“Well that's ridiculous. The Inquisition is hardly doing anything at all anymore.”

“True but it's name still carries a lot of weight. I'm sure Orlais isn't too keen on that.”

“I'm not sure Orlais is too keen on anything that doesn't involve them as the be all end all.”

“Precisely.”

Mia groaned heavily and squeezed his forearm. “When are you being summoned?”

“Next month. I wonder if I should check up on things at Skyhold before I go.”

Mia shrugged. “There's nothing for you there so I don't know why you would?”

“It's still my home, Mia. And there's plenty there to do.”

She crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“There's soldiers to train, paperwork to attend to–I’m sure it's piled up to the ceiling by now–and there's other important matters to attend to as well. I doubt anyone has stepped into the garden to check on all those herbs…”

“Suit yourself.” Mia rolled her eyes and went back to the kitchen. He heard her mumble something about the Inquisitor but didn't bother to ask her to repeat herself. He knew she was just annoyed that he'd be leaving again so soon.

Cullen made his way to his room in the back of the house and began packing what little belongings he'd had. He knew Mia’s shortness with him was due to her inadvertent way of telling him he should go but that she would miss him. She was funny like that, always saying what she felt without saying it at all–sort of like Mae in a way. He sighed and combed a hand through his hair as he packed away his belongings until only his sword lay across the bed, gleaming in the last of the rays from the setting sun.

He half smiled to himself as he felt it's familiar holt in his hand, turning it in the light. He secretly hoped he'd be needed again. He'd even prayed to the Maker a time or two about it. Wielding his sword for the Inquisition had brought purpose into his life–his soul. It had made him new in many ways. It had made him useful again. And he rather enjoyed being useful. As he sheathed his sword and set it next to his rucksack, he sat down on the old straw mattress and stared out the open window, imagining what new adventure was awaiting him. 

Chapter Text

Mae went to run her hands along the soft swell of her belly as she sat outside the eluvian only to be reminded that one limb was missing. The tears she had been fighting poured out of her as she realized it would be so much harder to hold her baby with only one hand. If the baby even survived. Her doubts raged full force now, believing that Solas had taken everything from her. And there were no questions asked, no moments to process. It was just a jumbled pile of information and a yank of her hand and then he was gone. It had all happened so fast that she was left speechless on her knees.

“Fuck YOU, Solas!!” She wailed at the closed off eluvian, cradling herself as she rocked back and forth. “I hope the Maker claims your blackened bastard soul!” She continued to sob until the tears clouded her vision and birthed a throbbing headache.

Solas had left her destitute and she hated him all the more for it.

Then she thought of Alistair. She supposed Solas hadn’t really taken everything. At least she still had him, though their relationship had been strained the last they spoke. Suddenly, she wondered if Solas had managed to somehow take her marriage from her too. Maybe he was pulling some strings that she didn’t know about at the Palace just as he had been all along.

Her mind wandered back to her last conversation with her husband...

Alistair, I am expecting again,” she told him as he was hunched over his desk, skimming through documents. He looked so tired with his hair unkempt and disheveled. He hadn't bothered to look up at her.

“That's good.”

“Alistair, this is exciting! Aren't you excited?” She touched his shoulder lovingly. Gently.

“Uh…” There was a pause. A pause far too long for her liking and her heart fell. “Sure.”

The word hit her like a bucket of cold water when she was already frozen. She slumped her shoulders in sadness. “You don't seem excited.”

He swiveled in his seat, eyes bearing marks of non existent sleep. “What would you have me say? We’ve tried twice already and failed. Each time I was brimming with excitement, only to be devastated weeks later. Who’s to say this time will be any different?” His gaze was long in hard and his words like venom.

How could he say such a thing?

“Alistair! It doesn't matter if the babe lives in the womb for two days or lives longer, it's still your child.”

“Mae,” he said exasperated, “I am as excited as I can be. I don't want to get my hopes up.” He turned back around, no longer leaving it open for discussion.

Not that he had to.

She inhaled sharply and turned on her heel, tears streaming down her cheeks.

No. It wasn’t Solas who had caused a wedge between them. It brought some consolation to know this. Perhaps she could fix whatever it was that was broken.

She looked at her cauterized arm, tears still streaming down her face. Or maybe, Alistair would discard her, seeing her for the deformed monster she was, incapable of making the right decisions to put their family first. What had she been thinking? Solas had betrayed her so long ago and if she hadn’t been so wrapped up in herself and her love affairs, she would’ve seen it coming. She could’ve recognized it if she’d only been paying attention.

She balled her fist and smashed it against the ground. “I’m going to fucking kill you, Solas!” She screamed out into the empty expanse of the crossroads. She regretted the outburst as soon as the shock of pain from her fit ran up her arm, making her hiss between her teeth. That finite amount of anger was the last of her energy as she curled up onto the ground, her vision blacking out.


•••


Alistair paced back and forth in front of the eluvian that he’d last seen his love wander through. He didn’t trust such an object but she’d insisted. It was hard enough opposing his wife without so much of a warning at the Exalted Council but now, now she was in danger on top of it all, carrying his unborn child! How had he become so narrow minded?

A steady hand clamped his shoulder and he whirled around to face the Divine. Cassandra’s gaze was hard and stern as she squeezed.

“She’ll come back, Alistair.” She said his name as a friend, without their fancy titles.

“How do you know?” he asked as he wiped the sweat off his brow. Though it was springtime, everything made him feel so warm and not in a good way.

“She always does. She's come back from worse.” She tried to offer a reassuring smile but Alistair could clearly see that she was just as worried as he was.

What if the baby doesn't?

He knew he shouldn't let his mind wander there but he couldn't help it. The babies hadn't been able to survive before under normal circumstances. Taking down a qunari invasion titled Dragon’s Breath sounded more like an immediate death sentence than anything else. Not to mention the mark that was becoming increasingly painful for his wife. Still, it would be of no use to him if he let his mind traverse the dark path of hopeless thought.

He stood wringing his hands as he paced.

I love you darling Mae. Please, please come back to me, he silently prayed to the Maker.

Suddenly, as if summoned by his frantic worrying, she stepped through the eluvian, in the arms of The Iron Bull, broken and bereft of an arm.

“Mae? Mae!” He scooped her up in his own arms, exchanging angry glances at her companions.
“What happened?” he demanded from them and Vivienne calmly explained everything that Mae had gone through including the increasing pain of the mark, the destruction of the Qunari plot to invade Orlais and ending with her confrontation with Solas, who betrayed them all and stands as their greatest adversary in his plot to destroy the veil.

 

•••

 

Josephine was dressed down, compared to usual, with a simple black gown and minimal jewelry. She still had her clipboard in hand but her gaze kept flickering from Mae’s missing arm to the soft swell of her belly. “Are you alright?”

“No I'm not alright,” she replied. “My fucking arm was stolen and I was completely fooled and betrayed by our apostate elf. How could I be alright?”

An awkward silence filled the room as Mae inhaled deeply. Leliana exchanged a sorrowful look with Josie and Lace Harding was the first to break the silence.

“I'm sorry,” she whispered. “What would you like to do?”


“Whatever we do, we must stop Solas,” Mae leaned up against the wall, glaring at the war table in anger, her right fist clenched tight. “Fucking asshole,” she muttered under her breath.

“He knows everyone we know. He knows how we move, how we think, how we operate. Everything,” Leliana said as she shook her head.

The door burst open and Cullen entered with five hooded figures in tow.

“I apologize for arriving late.” He nodded toward each one of them and Mae attempted to cross her arms, only to be frustrated with the one that no longer existed.

“It's fine, not like the world is about to end or anything,” Mae said sardonically.

Cullen frowned but said nothing.

“We were just beginning. The Inquisitor…” Lace began.

“I'm no longer Inquisitor,” Mae interrupted, “Please stop calling me that.”

“Yes your highness.” Lace cleared her throat as Mae rolled her eyes. “As I was saying, Lady Trevelyan–Theirin…”

“Just Mae will do,” she interrupted, agitated.

“Of course.” Lace nodded. “As Mae was saying, we need to find Solas but he already knows everything about us so remaining undiscovered by his agents while searching him out seems difficult.”


“I may have a solution to your problem,” Cullen said. “This is a friend of mine.” One figure stepped forward and pulled back their hood, revealing their blond hair and elf ears.

“We can help. My name’s Evie Surana and these are my fellow friends.” Each of the others stepped forward too, revealing their faces. Mae recognized the one as Merrill from Varric’s stories.

She gasped. “The fantastic five…”

Evie chuckled. “I take it Alistair told you about us. Though we prefer the name Band of Five, we are here to offer you our services.” She gestured to each of her companions in the line. “This is Mihris and Merrill. And these two gentlemen are Jowan and Anders.”

“The Anders?” Mae asked with wide eyes.

He rolled his eyes. “Probably. Doesn't matter. I'm here because I did not fight for mage rights just to be obliterated my some self deprecating mage who wants to right his past mistakes. I intend to live a long life after all I’ve sacrificed.”

“As do we all,” Mae replied with a nod. “I get that you're all powerful mages but how exactly are you going to help?”

In the time they were speaking, Mae hadn't noticed Merrill slip out and back in. She was standing in the darkest corner of the room when she spoke. “Hopefully with this.” She smiled up at Mae as she ran her fingers along the ornate gold trim of an eluvian.

A giddy ness she hadn’t felt in weeks pooped in her stomach as she stepped forward to touch the eluvian. “But what can we do with one eluvian?” she asked.

“We have access to the Crossroads. Though it’s not ideal, it’s a place to start. Merrill also has experience in repairing broken eluvians. Perhaps we can use this to our advantage too,” Evie replied.

Mae smirked. “Ah, yes. This is good. Well then, I suppose we better get to work and when we find that Maker forsaken elf, I will be the one to take him down.”

The room fell silent as they all exchanged dark glances with one another and slowly filed out of the room. For the first time in the months that Solas had taken her arm, she felt like she finally had the upper hand. Mae stood in the dim lit dungeon in the ruins of Haven and ran her hand along the large swell of her belly.

“Don’t worry my sweet. I’ll take care of this bastard and you’ll live a long and happy life. Nobody threatens my family or my loved ones and lives.” She patted her belly and smiled before leaving the ruined Haven behind.