Cullen has had three soul marks over the years. It wasn’t something he had ever mentioned to anyone because doing so would require talking about why his soul marks had faded and changed and that was a subject he preferred to steer clear of. It was not unheard of for a soul mark to fade or change but for that to happen one or both bearers of the mark had to have changed so fundamentally as to render them incompatible for a soul bond together.
Given that the first time his mark had faded and was replaced by another was just after he’d been rescued by the Grey Warden who would become the Hero of Fereldan, Cullen wasn’t surprised that it happened. Whoever he had been before he’d been subjected to Uldred’s torture and torment, well, that man was gone forever and when he had been able to think clearly, he had just hoped his former soul mate found someone worthy of them. If he’d had any surprise at all about it, it was that he apparently had a new soul mate. He had never tried to find them himself or took advantage of any of the Mark Brokers in Kirkwall though. Given what he’d known of himself the time, he had never been sure he’d wanted to know his new soul mate.
The second time the soul mark faded and was replaced by a new one did take him by surprise. It had happened in the aftermath of the destruction of the Kirkwall Chantry and the battle against Meredith. He’d first noticed something was happening the day after Seeker Pentaghast arrived in Kirkwall and spoke to him. In the days that followed, the mark he’d worn since Kinloch fell slowly faded into nothing and the day after he accepted Cassandra’s offer to join the fledgling Inquisition and gained her assistance in getting off lyrium, a new mark appeared right where the others had been – on his chest, just over his heart.
He’d stared at it for a very long time, in the mirror of his cramped cabin on the ship taking them to Fereldan. It was an intricate design, far different from the more simplistic patterns of his previous marks. There was something of a bird about and… he’d snorted at this… something of a lion too. He’d have contemplated it further but the ship had rolled and his nausea and claustrophobia had raised their heads. He’d dressed quickly in his new armour and escaped up onto the deck and didn’t return to the cabin again until they finally docked.
He didn’t forget about the new mark in the days that followed but he didn’t dwell on it either. Not only did he have too much work to do to spend time thinking about who his new soul mate was and whether there was any chance he might ever meet them but the gut-wrenching effects of the lyrium withdrawal were an effective dampener on such thoughts.
Not that either stopped him from running his fingers over the mark at night when he was trying to sleep. He’d seen a few soul marks over the years – barracks living will do that – but he’d never seen such an intricate one before. From what he knew of the marks, the more complex they were, the more those bearing them had gone through and thus, the more compatible they were. He understood that from his point of view, taking Kinloch and Kirkwall into account, but the level of detail surely indicated his soul mate had gone through their own troubles… and significant ones at that. It made him wonder how they could be so compatible when he could barely handle his own problems but maybe that was the point?
Mostly though, he didn’t think about it, especially after the explosion at the Conclave, the creation of the Breach and the discovery of the Herald of Andraste. Ellana Lavellan, First of Clan Lavellan, was not what he’d ever expected, especially after she shed the fearful, angry captive façade. The very reluctant wearer of the title of Herald of Andraste was wry, droll and very prone to rolling her eyes at the shenanigans of the shemlen. But she was also compassionate, intelligent and quick-witted and, as she’d put it, more than willing to extended her duties as her clan’s First to a somewhat bigger and much odder ‘clan’. Cullen would privately admit that he would not have been at all disappointed if Lavellan had turned out to be his soul mate, even though she was a mage and he still had his difficulties with that, but he knew she wasn’t. There was no pull towards her and she had something… complicated going on with Solas that he was not inclined to inquire too much about.
He was not, in any way, expecting that pull to come when the Tevinter mage Lavellan had met in Redcliffe strolled into the War Room so insouciantly. He covered his surprise with a glare then looked down at the map on the War Table, completely missing the quick startled look the mage gave him. When he looked up again, the Tevinter mage was talking about the defences in Redcliffe castle and Cullen lost himself in the discussion about how to gain access in such a way that the Herald wasn’t placed in excessive danger.
It wasn’t until much later, after the discussion was done, the decision made and the Herald had left with the Tevinter mage and her chosen companions that he finally had a chance to stop and think about what he’d felt. If he was right, the mage was his soul mate. He let out a soft laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. There was some irony there, he was sure, though he wasn’t really in the mood to appreciate it. A former Templar who had… issues with magic and a mage from a land where magic ruled. On the outside, it wasn’t exactly a match made by the Maker but surely the soul mark couldn’t be wrong?
But it wasn’t until after they were safely ensconced in Skyhold, that he found an answer to that question. He’d almost thought he was wrong about that pull he’d felt towards the Tevinter mage – Dorian – since their paths had hardly crossed at all in Haven. And the few times they had, Dorian had given him an indecipherable look and skittered away as fast as he could. Cullen had been halfway to convincing himself that he’d been wrong about that moment in the War Room in Haven when the door to his office banged open and Dorian barged in.
“This is really intolerable!” the mage snapped, his voice full of frustration and confusion as he started pacing back and forth across the office.
Cullen set aside the report he’d been reading and looked at Dorian. Once again he felt that pull and he knew he’d been right. Not that he knew what to do about it really. He’d never expected to be soul bonded to a mage, let alone one from Tevinter. While he was certainly more sensible and open-minded about mages these days, the old wounds from Kinloch still lingered and he was desperately afraid that he would accidentally hurt Dorian in some way.
“What is?” he asked as calmly as he could manage.
Dorian shot him a sulphurous look. “Don’t tell me you don’t know.” He yanked off the strange not-quite-a-sleeve that he wore on his left arm to reveal a mark exactly like Cullen’s on his bicep. “This!”
Cullen swallowed hard then in careful deliberate motions, he pulled off his gloves and greaves and the rest of the armour on his torso. He undid the laces on the shirt he wore underneath and pulled the collar aside just far enough to reveal the matching mark on his chest. He looked up to find Dorian watching him with another of those indecipherable expressions. The man hesitated for a moment then he came over as if drawn against his will and his fingers brushed against Cullen’s mark.
For a moment they froze like that then Dorian whirled around and started pacing again. Cullen let go of the collar of his shirt and watched Dorian with confusion. The man looked… upset.
“Dorian? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong?” Dorian half-yelled. “This is ridiculous! It can’t be.”
Cullen reached out and grabbed hold of Dorian’s hand the next time he passed by. He half-expected Dorian to wrench his hand free but instead the man came to a halt and bowed his head. With the physical contact now established, Cullen could feel the bond starting to settle in and as it did so, he got an inkling of the welter of emotions coming from Dorian. He blinked as he felt the tenor of them and drew in a breath.
“Dorian,” he said softly, his thumb rubbing softly on the back of the mage’s hand. “Please tell me what’s wrong.”
Dorian was silent for a moment. “Men can’t be soul mates,” he said, his voice little more than a whisper. “Not… not romantically.”
Cullen frowned. “Yes, they can. The King of Fereldan… King Alistair… his soul mate is the Hero of Fereldan, Aedan Cousland.”
Dorian stared at him. “Romantically? Openly?”
Cullen nodded and gave a huff of laughter as he remembered the letters he’d received after they’d settled in at Skyhold. Alistair’s letter had been tentative, as though he wasn’t sure Cullen would even remember him, let alone remember they’d once been friends. Then, after Cullen had written back positively, the letters had become rambling and ridiculous and full of things Cullen was fairly sure he probably shouldn’t know about. Still, it had been nice to know that he hadn’t burned all his bridges from those days.
“Very much so,” he said.
“Doesn’t he… have a Queen?” Dorian said dubiously.
Cullen snorted. “Yes and apparently Queen Anora thinks they’re ridiculous but likes them both.” He held up his spare hand. “I have no idea what relationship the three of them have beyond Aedan and Alistair’s soul bond and frankly I don’t want to know.”
Dorian frowned and stared down at their joined hands. “So…”
“Men can be soul mates,” Cullen said. “Women can be soul mates. Leliana and Josephine are soul mates.”
“Not in Tevinter,” Dorian said after a long silence.
“We’re not in Tevinter.”
“Yes, all the snow and freezing cold did give that away,” Dorian said with some of his normal acerbity.
“Maybe if you actually wore some proper clothing,” Cullen teased.
Dorian ignored the sally and his eyes narrowed. “You’re nervous about this as well.”
Cullen sighed. “My mark… has changed twice.”
Dorian gave him a piercing look that told Cullen without words even being needed that he knew what that meant. Then Dorian surprised him by not commenting on that but instead looking away. “I… never had a mark. I…” His voice broke. “I always assumed it was because of my… deviant nature. Then… this mark appeared. Not long ago. Just before the Breach appeared.”
“That must have been when mine changed,” Cullen replied. “And there is nothing deviant about you, Dorian.”
The mage smiled wanly, clearly attempting some of his usual flirtatious manner. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Commander.”
Cullen ignored that. “Cullen,” he said firmly.
“Cullen. It’s my name. My… my soul mate should use my name.”
Dorian’s eyes widened and there was something soft and vulnerable lurking in them. “Cullen,” he said in a tone so gentle it almost brought tears to Cullen’s eyes.
Cullen swallowed past the lump in his throat and used their still joined hands to draw Dorian close. He cradled the mage’s face with his free hand, his thumb brushing along Dorian’s cheek. The look on Dorian’s face was heartbreaking and Cullen silently vowed to ensure that the mage never, ever doubted that he was wanted again.
He leaned in then and pressed his lips against Dorian’s in a gentle kiss. The mage made a soft sound and returned the kiss. That was when the soul bond truly sparked to life within both of them. They both gasped into the kiss as the connection between them formed and bound them together. Cullen pulled Dorian tighter against him as he was surrounded by bright intelligence and fiery passion. Dorian came willingly, melting against him and assuaging any negative thoughts Cullen might have had about how Dorian was perceiving him through the bond.
When they finally parted, the bond dimmed a little but stayed steady between them, the rumble of thoughts and emotions on both sides welcome but quiescent. Cullen rested his forehead against Dorian’s and closed his eyes. The bond felt like… an anchor in the storm, a solid rock he could brace himself against, a shelter against the slings and arrows that life threw at him. From what he could feel through the bond, Dorian was experiencing something similar. It made Cullen wonder whether he might have weathered the storm of Kinloch in better shape if he’d found his soul mate back then, before it happened.
The thought and its associated regrets faded in the reality of Dorian’s presence in the back of his mind. He’d learned long ago that ‘what ifs’ were pointless and what he had right now was far too precious to dwell on ‘what ifs’.
“I… never knew,” Dorian said, his voice full of wonder.
“Neither did I,” Cullen replied warmly.
“So few people find, let alone marry, their soul mates in Tevinter,” Dorian whispered. He hadn’t moved from their current position and didn’t seem inclined to any time soon. Cullen felt the same. “Not… not at my social level. It’s considered gauche and provincial. You marry for advantage and rank. Love is for children. Soul mates are for the lower classes who don’t know any better.”
“Sounds terrible,” Cullen said.
Dorian gave a soft laugh and wrapped his arms around Cullen. “It is. I loathed all of it. I just… never thought I’d have any other choice.”
“You have me,” Cullen said, shifting just far enough to look at Dorian’s properly. He let a smile quirk his lips. “We take soul mates pretty seriously in Fereldan, you know.”
Dorian’s smile was fragile and beautiful. “Do you now?”
“Mmhmm,” Cullen replied with a nod. “Guess you’re…” His voice broke a little then wobbled when he continued. “Guess you’re stuck with me.”
“Sounds terrible,” Dorian said with a smile that made Cullen laugh. “I might need years to get used to it.”
“Is that so?” Cullen said with a grin.
Dorian nodded. “Maybe the rest of our lives.”
Cullen didn’t let the hesitancy he could see on Dorian’s face grow. He leaned in and just before he kissed Dorian again, he said, “I can live with that.”
Dorian laughed as Cullen kissed him. He knew that there were a lot of very heavy discussions to come in their future since Dorian deserved the truth from him about his past but with the soul bond thrumming, strong and bright, between them, for once he faced that task without fear.