Cullen cursed under his breath at the ink blot forming under his pen, the slight tremble in his hands a clear indicator of what had caused it. It wasn't bad enough to ruin his report or make it illegible, but it still grated. He wasn't used to his weaknesses being quite so visible.
He closed his eyes for a moment, pointedly ignoring the dull throbbing in his head that had been his constant companion for weeks now. Longer, even. Since before Cassandra had declared the Inquisition in the aftermath of the Divine's death. Since before they had arrived in Haven. Since before he'd even left Kirkwall in the first place.
The sound of voices outside his tent was muffled, but he could still hear them. If he listened closer, he could probably even make out what they were saying and maybe even who was saying it. That said, it took too much effort for something he didn't particularly care about anyway, so he instead let the sounds wash over him and fade into the background.
Cullen reluctantly opened his eyes and glanced back down at the report he was writing. The ink blot was still there, the Herald's name nothing but a blur now. With a sigh, he rewrote it. Adaar. It still seemed so odd to him, thinking about her of all people as being the Herald of Andraste. After the events of the past few weeks, he should be more used to her.
Should being the important word there.
No matter what some other might say of him, Cullen wasn't a fool. He was well aware that his treatment of the Herald ever since she had joined their cause wasn't fair, that his own personal biases were coming to the forefront whenever he interacted with her and bringing out the worst in him. She had been nothing but helpful and eager to please ever since she had realized they weren't going to kill her. If it wasn't for who – and what – she was, he was certain that he would be well on his way towards respecting her for everything she'd done since joining the Inquisition.
But that was the thing about personal biases: even when you were aware of them, they were hard to fight against sometimes.
Cullen stretched and pulled his coat more tightly around him. The cloth walls of his tent didn't do much against the icy wind that was blowing through Haven. There was a part of him, a very small part, that regretted telling Josephine "no" when she offered to find him a room within the Chantry. Still, it wouldn't be fair to his men. If they could put up with cold tents, then so could he.
He blinked as a word from outside suddenly reached his ears and glanced towards the tent's wall. While he hadn't recognized the voice, he'd recognized the tone. That wasn't something simply gossiping; that had been a greeting.
It was late and only getting later. Considering just how frigid the weather had been the last few days, no one who wasn't on guard duty should be outside the walls by now. Anyone with even a remote amount of sense was indoors, or at least in a tent, bundled up in layers of blankets.
So why was someone talking to the Herald outside his tent?
With a frown, Cullen pushed himself to his feet. He flinched as his back protested the movement, and it took everything he had not to let himself stumble. He knew that he was backlit by the small lamp he'd been using for light, his shadow showing clearly to anyone outside his tent, and it wouldn't do for any of his soldiers to see their commanding officer tripping over his own two feet.
Bracing himself against the cold he knew was coming, Cullen walked over to the door of his tent and stepped outside. The wind was just as biting as he'd expected it to be, sharp and frigid. He pulled his coat a bit tighter around himself as he looked around, letting his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. One of the moons was shining bright in the sky, the other barely more than a sliver off in the distance, but it was enough of a difference from his brightly-lit tent that it took a moment for him to see well enough to make out anything of note.
A few of his soldiers were standing nearby, new recruits from the Hinterlands that he didn't know very well yet. Hutchins and... Miller, he thought that was the man's name, but he wasn't entirely certain. He needed to fix that. What kind of commander was he if he didn't instantly know the names of the people under his command?
Both of them nodded at him respectfully as he stepped out. He couldn't help but notice, though, that Hutchins's eyes kept drifting past him. Towards the lake. Almost as if she was watching someone.
Cullen nodded in return and then turned around, letting his gaze drift off into the darkness. There was a dark shadow off in the distance, standing at the edge of the lake. Tall and thin, with the unmistakable shape of horns twisting off to the side of the shadow's head.
It couldn't be anyone but the Herald.
With a sigh, Cullen started off in that direction. He had no idea what the woman thought she was doing, slipping out in the middle of the night without anyone else, but the last they needed was her to fall through the ice or get taken out by a stray druffalo that was passing by.
Cullen shivered as another icy breeze blew past him, and several choice curses that he would never actually say out loud ran rather vividly through his head. His tent might not be a bastion of warmth, but it was better than this. He was going to give the Herald a piece of his mind for going out alone in the middle of the night.
Maker save him from stubborn Qunari. Vashoth. People with horns in general.
On an intellectual level, he knew that she didn't consider herself to be a Qunari and never had. He'd heard her bite the head off of more than one person who'd made the mistake of referring to her as one instead of a Vashoth, and she wasn't much better towards people who mistakenly called her a Tal-Vashoth. She'd never followed the Qun, and even the slightest implication that she might have in the past was enough to drive her up the wall.
That didn't change the fact that every time he looked at her, his mind immediately flew back to those long years in Kirkwall. The uprising that the Arishok had led might have been years ago, but Cullen still sometimes woke up in a cold sweat from nightmares about it. Kirkwall had lost some good people that day.
And it very much didn't help matters in the least that the Herald was a mage as well. He was trying, Maker knew he was trying, but it was hard sometimes to look past that part of her when she walked around with a giant staff, electricity occasionally sparking from her fingertips without her even meaning for it to happen. There was a part of him that he didn't think would ever be able to truly trust mages without at least a hint of hesitation, especially one like her who didn't even try to hide exactly what she was.
She brought back all sorts of memories that he'd rather stay buried.
He couldn't shake the feeling that the Herald was a dangerous explosion just waiting to happen. And, Maker help him, he honestly didn't know if it was just his past fears and weaknesses coming back to haunt him or if there was actually something to it.
It had made the past few months difficult in more ways than one, that was for certain.
Cullen was only ten feet or so away from the Herald before he realized that she clearly hadn't noticed him coming. He came to an abrupt halt, more out of surprise than anything else. He hadn't seen her out in the field since that first horrible day, when she'd come running onto the battlefield like an avenging spirit with Cassandra and Varric and Solas not far behind her, but he'd read the reports and heard more than a few rumors. Sneaking up on her wasn't a bright idea, from what he'd heard, nor was it something that was easy to accomplish. She had to be very distracted to have not heard him stomping through the snow in her direction.
He took a closer look at her. Her back was towards him, but now that he was looking for it he could see the way that her shoulders were shaking just a little. It was something he was well familiar with. She was crying, or – at the very least – trying keep from it.
He cleared his throat pointedly. "Herald?"
The Herald stiffened, her head turning towards him for just an instant before she quickly turned her gaze back off into the distance. Still, it was enough. The moonlight was bright enough that he could see the tear tracks on her face, showing clearly against the light grey of her skin.
"Commander," she said calmly, and if he hadn't seen her face for himself he wouldn't have had any idea that she had been crying. That she was still crying, or at the very least trying to stop. "Can I help you with something?"
He narrowed his eyes and studied her a bit more closely.
Cullen had known on an intellectual level that the Herald was young, just barely out of girlhood. She did a good job of hiding it, most of the time, but every now and then the truth would slip through. Despite her height, made even more intimidating by the horns jutting out of her head, her movements were just awkward enough for her true age to show through. She brought her hand up and casually brushed it across her face, as if she was tucking a stray hair out of her eyes. He could clearly tell that she was trying to hide the evidence of her tears.
The Herald was pointedly looking away from him, her face focused on the distant shore of the lake, but he'd have to be blind not to notice that she was holding herself perfectly still. Like a statue. As hard and unmoving as the stone that made up the cliff walls that surrounded the area.
And as brittle.
Cullen opened his mouth to reply. A hundred excuses all flashed through his mind, some formal and some casual and some kind and some hateful – and every single one of them completely inappropriate considering the circumstances. He closed his mouth and let out a sigh.
"I could ask you the same thing," he said slowly, more than a little awkwardness in his voice. "Are you all right?"
Her head turned, just slightly, as if she was shifting in place to see him better. She didn't say anything, but he could almost hear the puzzlement radiating from her. He'd been less than kind to her so far, after all.
Cullen couldn't blame her for being caught off guard. He was almost as surprised as she was by his reply. Still, he'd said it. He'd stand by it, for better or for worse.
"I'm fine," the Herald said. He wasn't an expert on reading people by any means, but even he could tell that she was lying through her teeth.
That... hadn't gone quite as he'd hoped.
"You're supposed to be leaving in the morning, are you not?" he asked, keeping his tone as even as possible. "Back to the Hinterlands?"
He took a few steps forward so that he was standing beside her, but he pointedly focused his gaze on a dark spot on the ice some distance away. It took more than a few moments for the signs of crying to disappear, and he wanted to give her at least a semblance of privacy. She deserved that much, considering everything she'd done for the Inquisition so far.
There was a long pause. "Yes," the Herald said a bit stiffly. "I'm well aware that it's late, Commander, but I still have time to get plenty of rest. It won't affect the mission."
Startled, Cullen glanced at her before he remembered that he was trying to avoid doing just that. "Maker's breath, I didn't mean—" He cut off and shook his head. It said a lot, that she immediately thought he was berating her simply because he was speaking to her. "It wasn't meant as a chastisement, Herald."
Something that looked quite a bit like surprise of some type or another flickered across her face, and she shifted in place. To his surprise, her pale skin gained a slightly reddish tinge as she blushed. "Oh," she said quietly, and Cullen didn't think he'd ever heard her sound quite so young. "I, uh—" She took a shaky breath. "I'm sorry, Commander. Thank you for asking."
Neither of them said anything else, and a silence slowly settled over them as the moment passed. It wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as Cullen expected it to be, all things considered.
Somewhere far in the distance, a wolf howled.
Cullen let out a somewhat strangled cry as someone touched his shoulder, pulling his attention back to the present, and he jerked his head around to see who was behind him. His hand flew down to his side, resting on the hilt of his sword, before he recognized the person standing there.
"Herald," he said, doing his best to hide just how surprised he was to see her there.
They'd both said some things that they weren't proud of when she had decided to take the rebel mages into the Inquisition's fold, and both of them had been going out of their way to avoid the other since then. If he was honest with himself, Cullen had been starting to worry that they had irrevocably broken the tentative comradery they had been working on building.
Of course, that had been back in Haven. When Haven had still existed. After everything that had happened the last few days, well, perhaps he wasn't the only one who had regrets.
The Herald wasn't doing a very good job of hiding her concern as she looked down at him. "Commander," she said quietly. "Shouldn't you be trying to get some rest? It's a bit cold to be standing out here all night."
Cullen blinked in confusion before slowly looking around. It was clearly much later than he'd realized, and there wasn't much movement in the Inquisition's makeshift camp other than some of his soldiers and Leliana's scouts moving around the edges of it. He'd stepped up to one of the fires to warm his hands, and then... then...
... well, he didn't actually remember the time passing, now that he was trying to think about it. Which most likely was a bad sign. He hoped that he wasn't going to have another spell. The withdrawal process varied quite a bit from day to day, but the last thing he needed was a bad period when he didn't have somewhere he could easily hide.
"Commander? Cullen, are you all right?"
His gaze snapped back up to meet hers. Their interactions had evened out since those early days, save for the tension caused by her decision to choose the rebel mages over the templars, but both of them had been careful to stay behind a wall of formality. She'd called him Commander Cullen from time to time, but he didn't think he'd ever actually heard her refer to him simply by name.
It probably wasn't the time to think about, though, not when the Herald was staring down at him with unabashed worry on her face. She looked like she was a few seconds away from running to find Cassandra or Leliana, and that was the absolute last thing that he wanted just then.
"I'm sorry, Herald. I'm just tired," he said, reaching up to run his fingers through his hair. He was normally careful not to touch it, to keep the pomade he used from being disturbed, but that was one of the many things that lay buried under Maker knew how much snow back in Haven. There hadn't been any hiding his curls for the last two days, and between that and the ever thickening stubble on his face, he knew that he had to be quite the sight.
The Herald gave him another worried look. "Are you sure?" she asked, and he had no idea how to read her tone of voice. "You look—"
Cullen raised his eyebrows when she trailed off. "I look what?" he asked dryly. He could only imagine what word she had planned on using before changing her mind.
To his surprise, her face flushed and she looked away. "Never mind," she said, her voice almost vibrating with embarrassment. "It's nothing."
He stared at her for a moment before glancing back towards the fire. The logs sitting around it that people were using for seats had been full the last time he'd really noticed his surroundings. They were empty now, the fire still burning but much lower than it had been earlier.
"Have a seat, Herald," he said, gesturing towards one of the logs. "I'm fairly certain you're not supposed to be out in the cold either. Not after everything you've been through the last couple of days."
A flash of sheepishness darted across her face, there and gone so quickly that he almost thought he was imagining it. Then she nodded. "I won't tell if you won't?"
Cullen let out a quiet bark of laughter before he even realized he was doing it. "Deal," he agreed, walking over to sit down on the log he had gestured toward himself.
After a moment's hesitation, the Herald sat down beside him.
The camp was surprisingly quiet around them, a sure sign of the late hour. There were some quiet murmurs coming from another fire some ways off, where the unmistakable figures of The Iron Bull and his Chargers were sitting, and he saw a few bluish green flashes at the far end of the camp that was clearly magic of some type. None of the soldiers or scouts on guard duty seemed worried about it, though, so he forced himself not to react. The camp was full of mages. Of course some of them would be using magic, especially considering the circumstances.
"A bronze for your thoughts?" the Herald asked softly, a hint of amusement in her voice that Cullen didn't think he was imagining.
He glanced over at her. She was staring intently at the fire, her gaze not turned towards him, but he had the distinct impression that she was still somewhat watching him.
Cullen gave her a half-hearted shrug. "It's been a long few days."
She glanced at him then, the corner of her mouth turning upward into something that looked suspiciously like a smirk. "It's been a long few weeks."
"A long few months," he countered.
The Herald nodded. "A long few years."
Cullen snorted. "I can't argue with that," he agreed, giving her a wry look. "Although I expect it's been more years for me than it has been for you."
The Herald shot him a grin. It was weak, nothing like the bright, sunny smile that he'd seen a few times from a distance when she'd been talking with her some of her closer companions, but it was more than he was used to seeing aimed at him. He couldn't help but smile back, although he knew his was much weaker than her own.
He almost didn't want to ask the question that was on the tip of his tongue, because he knew that it would kill her smile. Still, he was the commander of the Inquisition's forces. He was one of the ones who had to ask the hard questions, whether he liked it or not. And considering just what would happen if things went badly, well, it was time to ask.
"Do you really think we're going to find a new home for the Inquisition this far in the mountains?" he asked, careful to keep his voice barely above a whisper.
As expected, her smile faded almost immediately. She glanced around, as if making certain no one was within earshot, before meeting his gaze. "Solas thinks so."
Cullen shook his head. "I didn't ask what Solas thinks," he said matter-of-factly. "I asked what you think."
The Herald hesitated, just for an instant. If he hadn't been specifically watching for it, he might not even have noticed. Then she nodded. It was uncertain at first, but it grew stronger as she kept nodding, almost as if she was trying to convince herself.
"I trust Solas," she said, and she sounded as if she meant it. "If he says we're going to find a place to call home, then I think that we will." She paused. "Hopefully sooner rather than later."
He snorted at that, although there wasn't really any amusement in it. Not considering the circumstances. Then he glanced away from her, focusing on the slowly shrinking fire in front of them. "We only have so many supplies," he said. "If there's nothing there then—"
"There is," she said, cutting him off. Her voice was firmer than it had been just a moment or two before. "We'll find it. I have faith."
Cullen's gaze flickered back towards her at that. He knew that she believed in the Maker, although she wasn't particularly devout considering the Chantry's usual stance on anyone who wasn't human. Cassandra had been the one to tell him that, her eyes wide with shock and hope in her voice for the first time since the Temple of Sacred Ashes had been lost, amazed that the Herald wasn't a complete nonbeliever. Still, it was the first time he'd actually heard her refer to it even obliquely with his own ears.
"Faith in the Maker?" he asked curiously.
The Herald nodded. "Yes," she said simply, "but mostly faith in us. In the Inquisition." He thought she was done and opened his mouth to speak, but then she pressed on. "We're not done yet, and I refuse to believe that it's going to end this way."
Cullen didn't know what to say to that. He stared at her in silence, more surprised than anything. He didn't know what he'd been expecting, but that hadn't been it.
She flushed again and looked away from him. "It might be childish," she said quietly, "but I'd like to think we still have a chance at a happy ending."
A few sparks jumped across her hand, flying from fingertip to fingertip. Cullen flinched despite himself, even though he knew it was nothing but some minor accidental magic.
The Herald sighed. "Sorry," she muttered, the frustration in her voice easy to hear. "That's probably a sign that I should try to get some sleep. My magic always starts to act up when I'm tired."
Before Cullen could say anything, she'd pushed herself to her feet. With him still sitting on the log, she towered over him. It wasn't very often that he felt small, but this was one of those times. Cullen didn't particularly like it, if he was honest with himself.
Clearing his throat awkwardly, he looked up so that he could at least see her face.
From the angle he was looking at her from, Cullen could see the dark shadows under her eyes that had been hidden before, making her look older than he knew that she was. The orange glow of the fire made her dark red hair look almost like blood as it pooled down the side of her face and over her shoulder. Her horns curved behind her, dark as the midnight sky.
She looked terrifying, like the monster he knew she had been named by the Chantry. But there was something else there too, just under the surface. He could only catch a glimpse of it, but he could see the woman that had caused so many people to join the Inquisition. The woman who had thrown herself wholeheartedly into a cause that she only half-believed in herself and turned it into more than any of them had ever imagined it could be.
Cullen felt a soft pang in the center of his breast. It felt almost like the sparks that he'd just seen flickering across her fingers.
"Goodnight, Commander," the Herald said, giving him a nod. "Try to get a little rest? I expect tomorrow's going to be another long, hard day."
He nodded back at her. "I expect you're right," he agreed, pushing himself to his feet as well. It took everything that he had not to grimace as his back protested. "Goodnight, Herald."
She turned away from him and started in the direction that the tents were in. After a few steps, she stopped and glanced back over her shoulder. "I do have a name, you know," she said.
"Most people do, Herald," Cullen replied dryly.
Her eyebrows rose. "I told Sera that you had a sense of humor," she said, her mouth twisting into a grin. "She didn't believe me."
Cullen felt the corner of his mouth threaten to turn upward, and he carefully stopped it. It took more effort than he'd expected to keep his face expressionless.
The Herald shook her head. "Fine, be that way," she said. "Goodnight, Cullen."
She turned and started walking again. This time, she didn't turn back.
Cullen watched her walk away until she disappeared between the tents, her shadow melting into the darkness. Then he allowed himself a small smile. "Goodnight, Adaar."
Cullen glanced up from the paperwork he was working on and raised an eyebrow at the runner who'd just burst into his office. "Can I help you with something, Benson?" he asked curiously. The young man was usually one of his steadier runners, and it caught him a bit by surprise to see the obvious worry and concern on his face as he stood in the doorway.
"It's the Inquisitor, sir," Benson said, lowering his voice. "They just arrived back."
If anything, Cullen's eyebrows rose even higher. He glanced behind Benson at the night sky that was visible through the doorway. "Be that as it may," he said, "it's late enough that I'm certain she won't want to meet with her advisors until—"
"She's hurt, sir," Benson cut in. "Seeker Cassandra asked for me to find you. There's a meeting in the Inquisitor's quarters."
Cullen went still, and he did his best to pointedly ignore the pang of worry that suddenly shot through him. "Hurt?" he repeated, straightening up so that he wasn't leaning down over his desk. "What happened? This was only supposed to be a short trip to the Hinterlands and back to check up on things."
Benson was already shaking his head. "I don't know any details, sir," he said. "Seeker Cassandra merely told me to come find you."
"Thank you, Benson," Cullen said, quickly putting a few things away that he didn't want to risk leaving out in the open. "Have you told anyone else that the Inquisitor is injured?"
"I'm not crazy, sir," Benson said, shaking his head. "The Nightingale would make me disappear if I started spreading rumors like that."
Cullen opened his mouth to protest. Then he thought about it. "Quite likely," he agreed. "Don't act like anything is out of the ordinary."
Then, without another word, he swept out of the room.
It took all of his willpower to take his own advice to heart. Part of him wanted to go rushing towards the Inquisitor's quarters to find out just what in the Maker's name had happened. If anyone saw him running through the halls of Skyhold, though, the rumors would start flying before he was even out of view.
Still, the five minutes that it took to get from his office to the bottom of the Inquisitor's tower felt like they took a lifetime.
Cullen checked as he opened the door that led to the Inquisitor's quarters and found Varric standing there with a scowl on his face and Bianca in his hands. "Varric?"
"Sorry, Curly," Varric said, bringing his crossbow up so that it wasn't pointed straight at Cullen. "The Seeker thought we'd better be safe than sorry until Nightingale and Tiny are sure they've rounded up everyone involved."
Cullen stared at him for a moment. "Involved?" he asked slowly. "Varric, what happened?"
Varric grimaced. "I think the Seeker and Ruffles should fill you in," he said. "Who knows? Maybe you can convince Flicker to actually listen to them."
"Flicker?" Cullen repeated, not even trying to hide his confusion.
A hint of amusement made it ways onto Varric's face. "Her Inquisitorialness. You know, because of the whole electricity thing? I thought about Sparks, but that's too close to Sparkler, and—"
"Understood," Cullen broke in, cutting Varric off. "Am I allowed to go up?"
Varric stepped to the side so that Cullen had room to slip past him. "Go on up," he said. "Tell the Seeker nobody's getting past me and Bianca."
"I'll do that," Cullen said, not even trying to hide his confusion. Then he all but dashed up the stairs.
He thought that he heard Varric chuckling behind him, but he didn't pay it any mind. He'd learned a long time ago that it was best to ignore the dwarf most of the time.
By the time he made it to the top of the stairs, Cullen could feel his side burning a little. He pointedly ignored it, though, as he saw a grim-faced Blackwall standing just outside the Inquisitor's quarters. The Warden gave him a gruff nod and stepped off to the side so that Cullen could get through the door.
Without even acknowledging him, Cullen walked in and let the door shut behind him with a bit more force than was warranted. Then he let his gaze quickly move over the room, taking everything in.
Adaar was sitting at the foot of her bed, her armor off and her undershirt hanging off her right shoulder. There was an ugly-looking cut at least six inches long going from her shoulder down towards the breast band that was peeking out a bit. It wasn't actively bleeding, only seeping a little blood from time to time, but there was a dark tinge to it that Cullen recognized instantly as poison.
Josephine was standing nearby, a surprisingly furious expression on her usually calm face. Cassandra was pacing back-and-forth a few feet away, her scowl potentially dangerous enough to kill on sight.
All three of them looked towards him the moment the door slammed behind him.
"What happened?" Cullen asked, his hands clenching at his sides.
Adaar rolled her eyes. "Nothing I couldn't handle," she said, glancing over at the other two women with a scowl. "Everyone's overreacting."
"Someone tried to kill you within sight of Skyhold," Cassandra said curtly. "We're not overreacting."
Cullen froze, fury rushing through him with such force that he almost felt as if he couldn't breathe.
"The important words there are 'tried to,'" Adaar pointed out, glaring at Cassandra. "The poison they used barely even affects Vashoth. And their aim was horrible. They didn't even try to hit something vital."
Cassandra glared right back at her.
Josephine sighed, reaching up to rub the bridge of her nose. "Be that as it may, Inquisitor, I believe—"
"I'm fine!" Adaar snapped, cutting her off.
"Within sight of Skyhold?" Cullen repeated slowly, not even trying to keep his voice calm. "What do you mean, within sight of Skyhold?"
The bickering immediately cut off as all three of them turned their attention back towards him.
A startled look appeared on Adaar's face as she looked at him, as if she'd just actually realized he was there, and she self-consciously pulled her undershirt up a bit more so that her breast band was covered.
If anything, Cassandra's scowl grew even more deadly. "It was in the refugee camp that's formed outside the walls," she said. "A few men tried to assassinate her."
"Bull's done more damage when we were sparring," Adaar muttered under her breath. "It hardly counts as someone trying to kill me."
Josephine sighed. "The people involved apparently take offense to a Qunari leading the Inquisition."
"Vashoth," Cullen said, more out of habit than anything. He knew how much Adaar hated being called a Qunari. His voice overlapped with Adaar's as she said the same thing.
He pointedly ignored the way that his heart fluttered, just a bit, when she shot him a surprised – but pleased – smile. He also did his best to pay no attention to the flicker of amusement that darted across the faces of both Cassandra and Josephine. He wasn't a complete idiot. He was well aware of some of the gossip that happened behind his back when he wasn't in the War Room. He just... chose to ignore it, at least as best as he could.
Then Josephine's words actually sank in. Or, at least, the tense that they were in. "You said they take offense," he repeated, glancing at her. "They're still alive?"
"Some of them," Cassandra said coolly. "Not the one who stabbed the Inquisitor. Blackwall took care of him. But the others, well. We are working on it."
"Some have been captured," Josephine said smoothly. "Leliana and The Iron Bull are making certain anyone else involved joins them."
Cullen suddenly understood why Varric and Blackwall were both standing guard outside Adaar's quarters. Part of him, a surprisingly large part, wanted to immediately go join them. After perhaps sending all of his soldiers out to help with the search, and assigning any left over to guard the Inquisitor's quarters as well.
Still, that wouldn't be nearly as secretive as he knew they needed to be.
"Is there anything you need me to do?" Cullen asked quietly, trying his best to focus his gaze on Cassandra and Josephine. It took more effort than he expected to keep from looking back towards Adaar, just to make certain she was truly fine.
Cassandra snorted, glancing over at Adaar. "You can try to make her stay here," she grumbled, glaring daggers at the Inquisitor. "At least until we are certain it is safe."
Adaar glared right back. "I'm fine," she repeated again. She stood up, and Cullen suddenly became very focused on looking at her face and nowhere else as her undershirt slipped lower off her shoulder again. "It's barely even a scratch."
"A scratch?" Cassandra repeated incredulously. "Someone attacked you with a poisoned blade, just outside Skyhold itself, and you call it—argh!"
With a somewhat strangled cry, Cassandra threw her hands up over her head and stomped over to the door. She threw it open and stormed out, leaving it open behind her. The rest of them stood there in silence for a moment, staring as she disappeared down the stairs. Her stomping footsteps echoed through the tower.
Then Adaar cursed under her breath, turned her back on them, and stormed off towards the balcony.
Cullen flinched as she wrenched open the door, walked out, and then slammed it shut behind her.
Josephine sighed. "I will talk to Cassandra," she said. "I will leave it in your hands to keep the Inquisitor here until Leliana says it is safe."
He turned and shot her a somewhat incredulous look. "How do you suggest I do that?" he asked wryly.
She gave him an innocent look that he didn't believe for an instant. "You're the commander of the Inquisition's forces," she said. "I'm sure you'll think of something."
Then, without another word, she turned and headed out the door. He saw her stop just outside and murmur something quietly to Blackwall, who nodded at her in return. Then the Warden turned and pulled the door shut, leaving Cullen standing along in the Inquisitor's quarters.
Cullen reached up to rub his suddenly aching head. He wasn't particularly surprised to see that his hand was shaking, just a little. He focused on it for a moment, willing it still, before giving up. Adaar knew that he'd stopped taking lyrium. He didn't have to try to keep hiding it from her.
With a sigh, he walked over to the balcony door. He hesitated in front of it for just a moment, wondering if it might be wiser to leave her be for now. Then images of the Inquisitor freeclimbing down the side of the tower flashed through his head, and he grimaced.
He wouldn't necessarily put it past her to try something along those lines. At least, if she was frustrated enough.
Steeling his courage, Cullen opened the door and stepped outside. The night air was cool but not freezing, a slight wetness to the air that he suspected meant snow was coming. Neither of the moons was particularly visible in the sky, a small sliver far in the distance the only hint of them. The stars shone like diamonds, though, glittering in the darkness.
Adaar was standing at the far end of the balcony, staring up at them.
Cullen slowly started towards her, careful to make as much noise as he could. The last thing he wanted to do was startle her. Still, he was fairly certain she knew he was there, judging by the stiffness of her shoulders – one of them still half-bare.
He frowned. "Aren't you cold?"
Adaar stiffened a bit, but she didn't look back towards him. "Not really."
Cullen didn't believe her for a heartbeat, but he didn't call her on it. He knew her well enough to know that wouldn't do any good. She could be stubborn when she wanted to be, and when her hackles were up she would take almost anything as a challenge.
Without saying anything, he stepped up beside her and leaned against the railing. His kept his gaze focused on the stars twinkling above them.
After a minute or two, Adaar relaxed somewhat and leaned forward as well. She put her hands on the railing beside his. She was so close that he could almost feel the warmth coming from her body.
"They mean well," he said softly.
Adaar sighed. "I know," she admitted reluctantly. "I know."
Cullen hesitated for a moment before slowly moving his hand over to rest on top of hers, clasping her fingers lightly. She squeezed back.
A part of Cullen was fairly certain that the world was on fire. He was surrounded by darkness, and he could hear screams echoing around him. Sweat poured down his face, burning against small cuts in his skin.
There was a pounding in his head that he couldn't ignore no matter how much he tried, and he could barely think through the pain. His entire body ached as if he'd just come out of a three day battle. He felt horrible, worse than he had in years. All he needed was a drop or two of lyrium, that's all. Just a tiny mouthful, and he would be fine.
He was vaguely aware of a shadow leaning over him, and he knew that he should recognize the voice that was saying his name. But he didn't. His thoughts were hazy and scattered, jumping away from him whenever he tried to form them into something that made sense.
"Cullen, can you hear me?"
Someone touched his face with their hand, pressing it against his forehead. He leaned into the touch, willing it to make the pain in his skull lesson. It might have been his imagination, but he would almost swear that it helped some. He closed his eyes, breathing in the familiar scent of electricity in the air. He knew that scent, he knew that he did. It was... it was... damn it, he knew that scent and he knew that voice and if he could just think for a moment then he knew he could put it together.
And then icy cold water splashed on his face.
Cullen's eyes flew open and he jerked upward into a half-sitting position. His head still pounded and he felt like death warmed over, but awareness flooded back into him.
Adaar was sitting beside him, wide-eyed and holding an empty cup in her hand. She looked at him, then at the cup, before casually sitting it back down on the small stand beside her.
He blinked a few times, trying to get his hazy mind to cooperate. It took him a long moment to realize that he wasn't in his quarters at Skyhold. He was in a tent, a cot underneath him and a light blanket half-hanging off of him onto the ground.
The Western Approach. Adamant. They were traveling back towards Skyhold, two days out from the battle that had cost them so fucking much.
Which still didn't explain why the Inquisitor was in his tent in the middle of the night.
"Adaar?" he asked weakly, frowning a bit at how rough his voice sounded. He reached up and rubbed his throat. "What are you doing here?"
Adaar gave him a casual shrug that he didn't believe for a heartbeat. "I heard you thrashing around in here," she said. "I thought that I should wake you up before anyone else heard."
Cullen flinched at the thought. Then he gave her a thankful nod. He'd gone out of his way to hide the fact that he'd stopped taking lyrium from his soldiers. The last thing he needed, or wanted, was for them to find out now. They'd just made it through a massive battle. They needed their commander to be strong, not broken.
He clenched his hands into fists. Damn it. Maybe he should start taking the lyrium again after all. If he was going to be this feeble without it, to the point where he couldn't even sleep through the night, then he was—
"Do I need to get Cassandra?" Adaar asked quietly, cutting off his stream of thoughts.
Cullen glanced up at her, more than a little surprised. "Is it that obvious?" he asked, grimacing. He reached up and ran his fingers through his sweat-soaked hair, not caring for once that his curls were most likely going in every direction. He'd worry about that later.
Adaar snorted. "I think that I know you fairly well by now," she said, reaching out to rest her hand on his shoulder. Despite the thin shirt he was wearing, he could almost feel it burning against his skin. "Do you need me to get Cassandra?"
He hesitated for just a moment. Then he shook his head. "No."
"Are you sure?" she asked.
He wasn't, not really. Cullen wasn't going to admit that out loud, though, not for anything. He just nodded. "I'm certain."
Adaar raised her eyebrows and studied his face for a moment, as if she was trying to determine whether or not to believe him. Not that he could blame her. All things considered, he honestly trusted her opinion more than his own. If she truly thought that he needed to speak to the Seeker, she would go wake her up whether he liked it or not.
That was part of what he loved—
Cullen quickly cut that line of thought off before it had a chance to move forward. There was a time and a place, and this very much was neither of them. He was starting to think that maybe he'd never get there but, well, that was life.
"Would it be safe to assume you're not going back to sleep any time soon?" Adaar asked, tilting her head a bit.
He blinked a few times before turning his mind back to the present. "I think that would be a good assumption," he said with a wry chuckle. "Who needs sleep?"
She gave him a tired smile. "I know the feeling."
Cullen smiled back at her for a moment before her words sank in. Then his smile faded as he studied her face, narrowing his eyes a bit as he focused on her. There were shadows under her eyes that he didn't remember being there, deeper and darker than a single late night could explain away.
Adaar shifted uncomfortably at the sudden scrutiny.
"Why were you outside my tent?" he asked slowly. "It has to be the middle of the night by now."
There was a long pause. "I was out for a walk," Adaar said, more than a little defensively.
There wasn't much light in the tent, just some dim moonlight slipping in through the flap at the front. It was too dark for him to know for certain that she was blushing. He could almost hear it in her voice, though.
"A walk," Cullen repeated slowly. "A few hours before dawn."
"That's right," she shot back.
He was tempted to push more, but then he thought better of it. As bad as Adamant had been for him and the Inquisition's forces, what Adaar had gone through had to have been at least ten times worse. Cullen couldn't even imagine what it would have been like, being in the Fade in person. It was horrible enough for him as it was, with nightmares and demons ruling over his dreams at night. To actually be there was beyond anything he could even imagine.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked awkwardly.
Adaar glared at him. "Do you?" she shot back.
Cullen flinched and glanced away. It was a fair barb, all things considered. That didn't mean it didn't hurt.
After a long moment of silence, Adaar sighed. "I'm sorry," she said softly. "That was cruel."
"It was a valid point," Cullen pointed out ruefully. He glanced back at her, not surprised to see her doing her best to avoid his gaze.
Shaking his head, Cullen reached up to massage his temples. His head was still pounding, and suspected that he was running at least a light fever. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last, but he had to admit that the timing was less than ideal. If there was ever a time that he needed to be strong, this was it.
"You look exhausted," Adaar said suddenly.
Cullen let out a quiet huff of laughter and glanced over at her. She was looking at him again, a somewhat sheepish look on her face. "So do you."
She didn't even attempt to argue, which said quite a bit. Adaar simply nodded. "That's what not sleeping does to you, apparently."
He snorted. Then he groaned, pressing into his temples again. "Don't make me laugh," he said, trying to keep his voice light. He suspected he didn't succeed particularly well considering how Adaar's eyes narrowed.
"You should try to get some sleep," Adaar said matter-of-factly. She reached out and pressed against his chest, all but pushing him back down onto the cot.
Cullen opened his mouth to protest. Then he thought better of it. He honestly couldn't think of a single time someone had won an argument against her in the year or more that he'd known her, and he was well aware that he wasn't going to be the first. Not when he could barely think straight as it was.
As if she could read his mind, Adaar shot him a weak smile. "I'll stay here," she said. "Just until you fall asleep."
He was already shaking his head. "There will be rumors."
Adaar shot him an amused look. "Cullen," she said matter-of-factly, "there are already rumors, and you damned well know it."
Then she leaned in and pressed a kiss against his forehead. It burned like flame against his skin, and he suddenly didn't have it in him to try to make any more protests.
Cullen woke up to the sound of whimpering.
He pushed himself up into a sitting position, blinking into the darkness as his eyes adjusted to the dim light coming through the window. Then he frowned. Adaar was sprawled out on her side of the bed, tossing and turning.
Without thinking, he started to reach out towards her. He froze before he touched her, common sense winning out over sentiment. She might still be getting used to only having one arm, but she could still put him ass over teakettle if she chose to do so. And he knew from past experience that would be her first instinct to being shaken awake.
"Adaar?" he called out quietly.
She whimpered again, the motion under her eyelids making it clear that she was dreaming. It was probably just a dream, no demons involved, but even if that was the case he hated to see her so clearly hurting.
Cullen sighed and braced himself. Then he reached out and touched her shoulder, shaking her for just a moment, before rolling out of the bed and ducking down the moment his feet touched the floor.
Adaar sat straight up, her arm swinging wildly.
She stopped almost as quickly as she had started, her eyes wide. "Cullen?"
He straightened back up, resting his arms on the edge of the bed as he eyed her. "Are you all right?" he asked, not even trying to hide the worry in his voice.
Adaar sighed and dropped back down onto the bed. She brought her arm up to cover her eyes. "Damn it," she muttered. "Did I wake you up again?"
"It was your turn," he said, giving her a half-hearted shrug before climbing back into the bed beside her. He pressed a kiss against her cheek.
She didn't even look at him.
Cullen pressed another kiss against her cheek before moving down to press one against her right shoulder, just on top of the scar from a failed assassination attempt when they'd first arrived in Skyhold. Adaar still didn't look at him, but he could see her mouth twisting upwards into a small smile.
"I could have hurt you," she said quietly, her eyes still covered by her arm.
"I used to spar with The Iron Bull, remember?" Cullen pointed out, trying to keep his voice as light as he could. "I'm sturdier than I look."
She uncovered her face at that and glanced over at him. "I know," she said, giving him a shaky smile. "Believe me, I know."
Cullen leaned forward and pressed a kiss against her lips, now that they were easier to reach. Adaar hesitated for just a moment before kissing back, her hand reaching up to tug at his hair.
It took more than a little resolve to force himself to pull away and break the kiss. Adaar started to follow him with her mouth before realizing what she was doing and reluctantly stopping. "Why did you stop?" she asked.
"I love you," Cullen said softly. "You know that, right?"
She stared at him for a moment, an unreadable look on her face. Then she leaned forward and kissed him again, a quick peck that was over almost before it began. "I know," she said, smiling at him. "I know."