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Of Scars and Sacrifice

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9:41 DRAGON

Elisse Theirin laid alone in a large empty bed, relishing in the privacy and peace that the nighttime offered. She stared up at the sky through the massive gap in the ceiling, counting the stars as she ran her fingers through her long curly hair… one, two, three...

It was a distraction to be sure, and a mediocre one at best but it was important that she kept her mind busy, that she refrained from thinking about…everything. The record was 2,437 before she would be interrupted for one reason or another and therefore required to start over. Everyone was enamored by an undeserved title. The thought that the Hero of Ferelden would be appear in Skyhold caused an uproar of excitement and unnecessary elaborate festivities planned by the ever persistent Josephene.

That was the problem with this place. Well, this one, as well as any other, honestly. The incessant need to keep up appearances. Stand straight, do what is expected, be polite, curtsey, bow, fake the smile even though you’re dead inside. The way of a noble upbringing. Entertaining the pretentious and frilly over nonsensical drivel when there were much more important matters that needed attention. How easy it was to minimize the severity of a situation when it cost you absolutely nothing; not a coin of gold nor silver, not a bead of sweat off the brow, nor blood from the body.

3,600 days--10 years-- 5,184,000 minutes. She kept track of it all since. She went there in her dreams, not purposefully of course, but some incredibly detailed curse kept the memory fresh in her mind, reliving the horror as she slept, having no ability to change the outcome nor knowing there was a need to until the nightmare replayed itself in it’s entirety. Her plague of eternal torment.

At this point, she had learned to live with it, but never got over it, couldn’t forget and the pain never subsided. There was a hole in the world… one would think someone else would have noticed.

Elisse felt the familiar lukewarm dampness of tears sliding down her cheeks, not bothering to wipe them away as they were neither the first, nor the last for today. She continued counting, 100, 101, 102…

Despite her best efforts, she could not expel the memory from her mind, she tried magically, medicinally, hypnotically, and contemplated striking a deal with a demon in order to forget. A fine idea in theory, but since the thrall of a demon failed to work previously, she was certain it was impossible to recreate all she lost.

It was just a few moments ago that she woke up screaming his name, face splotchy with tears, gasping for breath, sweat covering her body as she trembled, beginning her routine of counting stars to calm herself down. Cullen rushed upstairs to soothe her as promised, wrapping Elisse in a hug so tight she nearly suffocated by the fur of his mantle, before he stammered apologies and headed to Skyhold's larder to get her some water. Although repeatedly insisting that it was unnecessary, he departed anyway. So, left to her own devices, she counted, trying to get her mind to focus on anything else, other than Alistair’s death. 151, 152, 153…

Chapter Text

9:31 DRAGON

Elisse grabbed Alistair’s face, kissing him passionately, her lips brushed his, a gentle sensation as she whispered “I love you” knowing in her heart, that this was goodbye. A tear, the first of many, rolled down her cheek as he wiped it away. She could tell he was worried, Riordian’s news hadn’t been the easiest to swallow but she volunteered to take the final blow, hoping against all odds that she wouldn’t have to. When they encountered his corpse during the ascension to the top of the tower, Elisse knew what needed to be done. It was her duty, and if nothing else, an honor to die for Ferelden, for the Grey Wardens, and among friends. She wrapped her arms around Alistair's torso, squeezing him tightly, she closed her eyes relishing the fleeting moment before releasing him.

She inhaled sharply, a ragged breath, and hugged both Sten and Oghren, catching them off guard. Elisse laughed as Sten complained about how uncomfortable and unconventional the human practice was. Oghren grumbled, shifting and dusting himself off as though she threw dirt at him. “That’s, ugh, nice Warden.”

Duncan’s voice resounded in her head. “As a Grey Warden, it is important to keep your priorities about you. Remember to protect those who stand behind you. Respect those who stand beside you, and defeat those who stand against you.”

Elisse’s lips curved into a small smile thinking of the mentor who saved her from Howe’s treachery. He did so much for her in so little time before his passing. Yet, she took comfort in the thought that it wouldn’t be long before she saw him, and her family again.

She burst through the door at the top of Fort Drakon, charging sword drawn in the right while keeping the left hand open for spell casting. She stood confident, ready to end this once and for all, having accepted the fact that she would literally not be walking back out.

It wasn’t long before she was surrounded by darkspawn, blocking her path to the archdemon. She casted mindblast, stunning them long enough to regain the upperhand as she began slicing through each using a combination of alternating sword techniques and spells. She charged the archdemon as it was distracted by the other mages she’d called in for reinforcements but it sensed her and swung its tail, a direct impact as it struck Elisse, flinging her back and smashing her head against the stone ground of the roof.

Her vison blurred as she peered through the red liquid running down her face to see Alistair in front of her. Her ears were ringing and his velvety voice muffled and undiscernible. He spoke rapidly, by how quickly his lips were moving. He brushed his lips against hers, a ghostly impression before he turned away from her. The metallic odor still singed her nostrils as the blood soaked her armor, permanently staining it crimson. In slow motion, she watched Alistair charge the archdemon, powerless to stop him, feeling her mouth dry as she swallowed, vision distorting and feeling faint from her headwound. She froze in unrelenting fear, not being able to speak nor think, as realization set in too little too late.

Elisse fumbled to her feet, panicked, stumbling forward, tripping over herself and nearly impaling herself on her own sword. She saw him uppercut the underbelly of the beast with his blade, each blow a precise movement as he tumbled out from beneath the archdemon moments before it collapsed. He plunged the sword into the dragon, sacrificing himself to save her, knowing there was no other way she would walk out of this battle, alive. Elisse mustered every ounce of energy she could within her tiny body and ran forth to try to stop him, push him out of the way, grab the hilt, anything! She almost closed the gap between the two of them, footfalls quickening as she screamed. “ALISTAIR, LET GO OF THE SWORD! NOW!” Her voice piercing to her own ears. Elisse watched as a glowing yellow aura surrounded him. She saw the exact moment when the laughter and light that once filled his beautiful brown eyes, fizzled out, overcome by the darkness.

The aura pulsed outwards with such force, it knocked Elisse backwards meeting the stone again with a heavy thud. She rolled her neck, sitting upright as she stared at the two bodies in front of her. Her heart hitched in her throat. Elisse ran, as fast as her feet would carry her, the clink of her heavy armor echoing, breaking the silence. As she arrived at his bleeding, broken body, she crumbled to her knees alongside him, begging him with every ounce of breath she could force out of her lungs to wake up. She tried desperately to heal him, gently shaking him, tears streaming from her eyes and down her face, her hands tremoring as she continued to pour her magic into his body until she was drained.
When she ran out of mana, she rummaged through her pack for a lyrium potion, downing the bottle of light blue liquid and carelessly tossing it to the side, shattering the vial. After each flask, her panic increased, whispering, “no, no, no.” it wasn’t until bottle number 7, that her mind registered that he was gone.

She slammed her fists on the ground until her knuckles bled. A shrill shriek escaped her lips as she screamed to the Maker. “WHY!? WHY HIM?” She leaned forward, grabbing his armor and shaking him gently. “Alistair please. Please get up.” Her hands trembled as tears streamed from her eyes. She shook him more vigorously, voice breaking as she pleaded “Please get up. I can’t do this without you.”

Babbling incoherently, she prayed, begging, and as the last act of a desperate woman, attempted negotiation. She knelt, hands interlocked in front of her, as she rocked back and forth, pleading.

“Maker, guide me in my darkest hour for I need you now more than ever. There has been a grave mistake. Please! I beg you, on my hands and knees-- I implore you.”

“This man is King and likely the only one on the face of Thedas who would ever be worthy of such a title. He stands as a defender, against all odds, fights against injustice, treating everyone with respect, even when they don’t deserve it. He has a heart of gold, and was worthy of so much more than this!”

“Please, hear my plea…” Uncontrollable sobs scattered her already ragged breath.

She screamed at the sky. “Take me instead!” Elisse stood, slowly spinning in circles, arms extended at her sides, voice breaking with every word.

“Maker! Strike me down where I stand and breathe life into him again.”

She choked through sniffles before falling to her knees whispering “If anything I have ever done has meant anything, you’ll let me fix this.”

No response ever came.

In her fit of grief, finding nowhere else to vent her emotions, she stood, turning towards the corpse of the archdemon. Drawing her sword, she stabbed it, repeatedly, casting every spell she could think of, gouging, mangling, and burning the flesh of the creature who took the man she loved from her. By the time she was finished, she was surrounded by a sea of red, the dragon nearly entirely drained and unrecognizable. Mounds of carved flesh and innards lay around the carcass, blood and various bodily fluids oozed about, a pungent odor of decay filled the air and her armor and clothes were saturated with Maker knows what.

She wept, gasping for breath, heart constricting, twisting, in her chest. Numbness followed by a rush of emotions overcoming her, anger and sadness as she felt the exact moment her heart shattered into a million tiny pieces.

Not only was she furious but she felt a revulsion that she never knew, a pure white hot rage of anger boiled her blood and burned inside her. She hated herself, for all of her actions, decisions, and words that led her to this point.

Elisse gently lifted his head and shoulders into her lap, stroking his cheek, weeping and mumbling incoherently, the King’s armor clanking as her endless tears fell onto his lifeless body. Her love was gone.

Oghren tried to approach her after a few hours, footsteps falling on deaf ears as he nearly startled her.

“I…Warden? Don’t you think it may be time to, ugh, you know, head back?”

“Leave me alone!” She shrieked, casting a barrier around her and Alistair.

In her heightened sense of emotion, she cursed through sobs at his stupidity, losing all sense of time in the process. She cradled his head in her hands, rocking back and forth on her knees to try to soothe herself and accept the events that happened, feeling his body growing colder by the minute. This was her fault. If she hadn’t loved him, and he her, this would have never happened. If she kept her distance, he never would have been so foolish taking it upon himself to take her place.

Perhaps if she wasn’t reeling from her head wound, she might have been coherent enough to register what was happening beforehand and stopped him. Perhaps she should have known and left him at the gates. Perhaps, maybe, if, possibly, all the contingency clauses and could haves didn’t mean shit because he was gone and nothing would ever be the same. The irony was, that his sacrifice, the one meant to spare her from the Warden fate, killed them both that day.

Chapter Text

9:41 DRAGON

Being in Skyhold was a surreal experience. Since she arrived, she was paraded about, people fawning over her, prattling on with incessant questions. Elisse smiled on the outside as she resisted the compulsion to flee, freeing herself from the prying, judgemental, eyes of the public. Josephine advised it was necessary to ensure that the nobles received an appropriate amount of time with the Hero of Ferelden, Champion of the Fifth Blight. It was a title that caused Elisse to bite the inside of her cheek and clench her fists, finding it both undeserved and inappropriate.

Even though she’d never been to Skyhold before, it stirred old memories, those best left buried. The close comradery reminded her of the nights at camp: the cooking pot passed around the crackling fire for dinner, smiling, talking, occasionally dancing and singing, spending quality time among those she cherished as family. Familiar faces- which never seemed quite as strange as they did before- now surrounded her. She was a foreigner amongst the people, outsiders and companions alike; she was not the same person who took part in that meal anymore. Now, she was damaged and broken.

There were days she wished she never met Alistair, begged to the Maker that his voice would stop continually resounding in her head, replaying all the sweet nothings, gentle jokes, intense conversations and now, cherished memories. She often wondered if he would have done things differently, if he knew from the very beginning that death was guaranteed defeating the archdemon. Would he have pursued a relationship with her still, would he have bothered?

In a way, Alistair was still her motivation. Whether it was truly him, or just her subconscious, she could hear his voice guiding her, preventing her from self destructing at any given moment. It was also possible she'd finally gone mad and proven earlier suspicions of her sanity true. Either way, it was a small comfort to have some part of him with her.

Elisse nodded and curtseyed, providing her parting words to the noble who chatted in her ear for the past half hour about some issue of imagined critical importance while she pretended to listen. When the chance presented itself, Elisse slipped out of the main hall and into the rotunda, intruding on an elf and his studies. The bald male looked at her for a moment, eyeing her as though he was contemplating an attack but looked away, merely pointing towards the exit. Elisse sighed in relief, slipping out the door and closing it behind her, hearing the click of the latch. She peered over the battlement, seeing all the people below, and making the split decision to sprint to the door directly in front her, intent on finding a corner of the vast fortress where she could hide.

She pushed through without breaking stride, accidentally using more force than necessary as the heavy wooden door swung open, slamming against the stone interior. Elisse briefly inspected the impact spot, running her hands against the cool stone comparing it to the wooden door. As a fortress which sat vacant for years, Elisse became accustomed to finding a caked layer of dirt or debris on her fingers nearly anytime she touched something, so she couldn’t help but notice the lack of dust. To her relief, she hadn’t caused any noticeable damage to anything. She turned abruptly and stepped forward, seeing only a silver and red blur before colliding into the cold, hard, steel of a chest-plate, her cheekbone making a dull thud against unyielding metal with such force that it knocked her to the floor on her ass. Stars speckled her vision as she muttered under her breath and rubbed her stinging cheek, not even noticing the blonde ex-templar who stood before her.

“E-excuse me, I...” Elisse focused her eyes on brown leather boots embellished with yellow and silver, recognizing them immediately.

“Warden-Commander Amell…?” A chuckle escaped his lips as she looked up, smiling at a friendly face. He extended his hand assisting her to her feet with little effort.

Elisse didn't let go as Cullen tugged her toward the opposite side of the dimly lit room. He gripped the chair with one hand and pulled it out for Elisse, easing her into it. "Sit still. Let me see that."

He stood in front of her, inspecting the marks on her face, the scent of armor wax, elderflower and oakmoss filling her nostrils. (Elderflower and Oakmoss are medicinal herbs… why would he be using them? Cullen isn’t much older than me… )

"Commander." Elisse mimicked the Inquisition salute, placing her right hand over her heart in a fist and nodding briefly out of respect for both the man and the title, but remained seated as instructed.

As Cullen inspected her cheek, Elisse reminisced about when they first met in the circle. As the only daughter of Bryce Cousland, and one of the heirs of Highever, Elisse could not be a mage. When her abilities began to present themselves--likely through some very underhanded dealings and what she assumed was a sinful amount of coin-- her father recruited someone to convince First Enchanter Irving to let her into the tower under the premise of seeing if a Templar’s daily life was something she would be interested in. Greagoir was ecstatic to take another Templar recruit under his wing, and Irving agreed to help her harness her mage abilities in secret, even going as far as bestowing upon her a false last name of Amell. The name which Cullen still used, ten years later.

The year was 9:29 Dragon. Knight Commander Greagoir greeted Elisse at the large metal double doors of Kinloch hold, commonly known as the Circle of Magi. She found the circle to be little more than a spacious prison. She approached Irving hesitantly, fearing that the farther in this circle she entered, the less likely it would be that she ever left. She trembled but tried her best to hide it, feeling the perspiration accumulating on her forehead and her underarms. Greagoir joined Irving, standing beside him as Elisse introduced herself. She hesitantly shook both their hands, biting her lip, and praying to the maker she wasn’t exposed right there.

Greagoir stepped to the side motioning for another templar to approach. “May I present to you, your companion, Ser Cullen Rutherford of Honnleath; the newest Templar addition to Kinloch Hold. You will have the privilege of working closely with Cullen while you are here. You are to follow him about and together you and he will learn the routine of the Templars within Kinloch hold.”

A tall, blonde, curly-haired man stepped forward, a smile spreading across his face as he maneuvered his arms, right hand placed on his abdomen and left hand behind his back to give a proper, formal, Ferelden bow. “P-p-pleasure. My lady.”

“The pleasure is mine, Ser Cullen.” Elisse bowed in response. Teal eyes met amber as she gazed at the man she would be partnered with for her duration here. Since finding out about her abilities, Templars made her cautious, but there was something calming about him that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Consequently, she exhaled in relief, relaxing her tense muscles.

From there forward, she and Cullen became the best of friends. Eventually, Cullen discovered her secret and despite his duty as a templar, said nothing about her abilities. In fact, Cullen did everything in his power to teach, prepare, and protect her. They would spar, moving from melee to Templar versus mage talents. In doing so, she became well versed in her warrior skills and those within the magical arts, resulting in a minor tolerance to the Templar cleansing ability.

When Greagoir was away on official Templar business, Irving set up a Harrowing, exclusive for Elisse. This was unusual, since a mage’s Harrowing generally required a full templar guard, but Irving felt confident in Elisse’s abilities. Since he was already aware of the situation, Cullen was designated as the Templar who would strike the killing blow should she fail and become an abomination. A duty which, despite a considerable amount of protesting, he reluctantly agreed to.

After emerging victorious, she continued her studies alongside Cullen, and mutual feelings of friendship morphed into youthful infatuation when she pulled him into an empty store room and they shared a kiss just hours before Greagoir expelled her from the tower permanently for her part in Lily and Jowan’s plan. It was a mere two weeks before the attack on her parents estate by Howe’s men where Duncan recruited her into the Grey Wardens. She wouldn’t see Cullen again until she returned to Kinloch Hold and the damage was already done.

Elisse stared hesitantly at the Commander. They’d been working together frequently in the war room as of late, but that was in a business capacity. The two had yet to speak of their former friendship and she assumed, by his use of her title, that he wanted to maintain the professional decorum, not interested in re-establishing what they once had.

Cullen lifted her chin upwards with his index finger, motioning her to look left and right, analyzing the severity of the injury. Elisse couldn’t help but notice that he looked a little disheveled, like perhaps he hadn't slept well the night before, but the room itself was so poorly lit she couldn't be sure. “It’s a bit red, but you’ll be alright. There’s no bleeding… worst case is it might bruise."

“I’ve had worse.” Elisse muttered. She stood, touching the fabric of his burgundy mantle, holding it within her fists momentarily before sliding her hands down the sides of the material. “At least you no longer wear that dreadful templar armor-skirt-thing and have come to your senses on acceptable attire.” Elisse removed her hands, gently tapping the chestplate that inflicted her injury moments ago.

Cullen took a step back, slightly embarrassed at her turn of phrase. (It wasn’t a skirt. It was standard Templar plate, which just happened to be one piece at the bottom… unlike breeches.) He stared sheepishly at the ground, swiveling his foot to and fro as though an insect he was intent to squash lie underneath. Somehow, he made the boyish gesture look endearing, his shyness more evident than before. “I..ugh…Y-You like it? Leliana helped pick it out.”

“I do… but in that case, let’s take a moment to thank the Maker that it’s not Orlesian!” Elisse chuckled. (Things shouldn’t be frilly and pretentious like that.) Her laughter ceased abruptly, bringing her hand to her forehead as though she physically wipe away Alistair’s voice in her head. Sighing, she ignored it, a frown plastered upon her normally delicate features, turning her attention back to Cullen.

“Thank you.” Elisse stepped aside to pass him when he gently grabbed her, the heat from Cullen’s touch radiating up her entire arm, halting her movement.

“Wait just a moment, who or what were you running from that has you bursting into my office?” Cullen crossed his arms, tapping his boot, anxiously anticipating the answer. (Do I need to inform the soldiers? Has there been an attack?)

“Oh…” Elisse giggled, covering her mouth with her hands, cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “My apologies, Commander—”

“Cullen” he interrupted, lifting one hand to stop her. “My friends call me Cullen.”

“Cullen” Elisse corrected. “Truthfully?” She sighed knowing how ridiculous it must sound, rubbing her forehead with her hand. “Nobles.” (Maker, I’m running away from nobles.) “They’re just so…”

“Pretentious?” Cullen questioned, raising his eyebrow.

Elisse nodded in agreement, remembering the words she tried to rid herself of moments ago. “And frilly too.”

“You don’t say?” Cullen smirked, relieved that nobles where the biggest issue Skyhold faced at the moment, although still a large inconvenience. Cullen exhaled. “Me too.”

Elisse smiled sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to intrude, but if you’re hiding, wouldn’t you want to do it somewhere…else? As Commander, isn't your office a bit...obvious?"

“I suppose you’re right. But there’s work to be done so when they come looking, and they always do, I have an excuse.” Cullen motioned to the stack of papers, quills, and empty ink bottles that littered his disheveled desk. As if on cue, a scout entered the office.

“Report for you, Ser!” The scout saluted, extending his hand forth, offering Cullen an envelope.

Cullen grabbed it, breaking the wax seal and giving it a cursory glance before slapping it onto the pile currently scattered on his desk. “Dismissed.”

The scout nodded, addressing them both as Commander before venturing back out the door.

“As I was saying…” Cullen smirked, confident that the intrusion of the scout proved his point.

“I shan’t keep you then.” In lieu of a bow, Elisse performed the Inquisition salute before walking towards the eastward door, prepared to take her leave.

“You could…stay. If you like…” Cullen ran his fingers through his blonde hair, tousling it in the process, shifting his weight. “They won’t find you upstairs…and they won’t look either. Nobody ever goes up there but me.” Realizing he messed it up, Cullen smoothed out his hair, his hand falling to the nape of his neck as he began to rub, a nervous habit that he possessed even in his younger days.

“Are you sure? I can hide somewhere else.” Elisse’s hand touched the door, awaiting confirmation of his offer before deciding whether to withdraw or push it open.

“Well we are friends.” Cullen declared, then tilted his head to the side, looking at Elisse. “I know it’s been years… but are we… still friends?” Cullen’s lips pursed into a frown, internally unsure if he really wanted to hear the answer to that question.

“Of course we are still friends.” (What in the Maker’s name was this man talking about? Time had passed, and they both had changed since their days at Kinlock, but that didn’t negate anything. He was still the best friend she had, the best living one, at any rate.) She looked down at the floor, avoiding allowing Cullen to see her cry.

“Then an apology is in order.” He walked towards her, taking both hands in his. “In Kinloch hold, I would be dead or mad if not for you…” He paused, averting his eyes and Elisse could see that he struggled with his words. ”When you found me, I was in a sorry state… the things I said were unkind and untoward, they would have been to anyone, but particularly you. I regret them now...” Cullen offered some semblance of a smile highlighting the scar which bisected his upper lip on the right side. “Forgive me?” He looked at Elisse, apparently inaccurately reading her reaction as he began shuffling his feet about nervously.

“Maker’s breath, Cullen!” She stared at him in disbelief. (Could he really have held onto that for so long?) “I never once thought anything about that, nor did I think less of you for it. You underwent a horrible ordeal. I have acted worse in lesser situations, myself.” Elisse laughed, pulling him closer, wrapping her arms around him in a hug. “There is nothing to apologize for and certainly, nothing to forgive.”

Taken back by the hug but not discomforted, Cullen returned the affection, leaning over considerably to reach her height. She was everything he remembered her to be. The only full blooded human he’d ever met that stood the size of an elf, her teal eyes matched those of the sea. Like her personality, they reflected an even balance of ferocity and calming, a woman capable of substantial destruction as well as peace and restoration. Her long blonde hair was divided by streaks of black throughout, parted to the left side, bangs braided down to her cheek, with curls draping her shoulders, extending to her lower back. Elisse was a survivor, and his best friend, but more than that, she was an inspiration and the real reason, he stood where he was today, as sane as he was today.

“I better leave you to your work, thank you for everything.” Elisse moved over to the bookshelf reviewing the options before her. Running her fingers along the leather bound spines, she couldn’t help but notice how immaculate everything in his office was. His shelf, organized alphabetically with nary a speck of dust clinging to his vast collection of favorite pieces. Unfortunately, to anyone other than Cullen, these books would not be entertaining. Among the works, were books about war, chess, calibrating trebuchets, The Chant of Light and training Mabari. After much deliberation, she picked the most interesting book she could find, which still sounded unappealing, and ascended the ladder to the upstairs.

Cullen was never one for material things and his living quarters proved such. The room was sparsely decorated with only a bed, and a small bureau but Elisse speculated that it wasn’t structurally sound either after viewing the wooden planks scattered about the floor in the corner and the large gaping hole in the ceiling. According to the Inquisitor, the repairs in Skyhold were completed some time ago, Elisse couldn’t understand how the Inquisition felt that these accommodations were suitable for the commander of their forces. Despite the conditions, she couldn’t help but think how very much like Cullen the entire tower was.

~~~~~~~
Finding the book she picked out completely and utterly boring, as she should have anticipated from the title alone, she tossed it to the side. “Checkmate: A Historical Analysis of the Parallels between Chess & Battlefield Tactics.” She picked it thinking that Cullen had to be hiding an inappropriate missive or perhaps a naughty drawing confiscated from one of the soldiers. She wasn’t certain why she was surprised that it was exactly as advertised.

Knowing that it would still be hours before Skyhold returned to peace, she amused herself by contemplating replacing Cullen’s reading material with a collection of Varric’s entire works. Snickering, she imagined the precise shade of crimson Cullen’s face would turn when seeing some of the scandalous titles on display in his office.

(Elisse felt the chill of the air as they approached the lakefront of Redcliffe. They walked side by side, taking in the view of water, hearing the waves crash against the shore. They chatted casually, Elisse flirting with Alistair as his nervous laugh resounded in the open space. “I… ugh, is that me blushing? Hmmm, it sure is… Wow!) Elisse shook her head, expelling the memory of Alistair from her mind.

Her brain would involuntarily make those connections from a location, a turn of phrase, a thought, anything; haunting her at any given moment, striking her like lightning, abrupt, jolting, and painful. She returned to the chain of thought, thinking she could escape him before remembering that Varric’s entire collection included one book. The story of the Hero of the Fifth Blight; “Love, Lust, and Darkspawn.” A work that she would never, ever, read. Partially because she still lived it, also because he likely turned it into some type of smutty nonsensical depiction of events since she certainly did not help him write it, but more than anything else, she didn’t need another reminder of Alistair.

Exhausted from the day’s events, Elisse dozed off only to awake to violent shaking, unaware of how long she had slept.

“Maker’s breath, Elisse, are you alright?” A look of concern plastered Cullen’s features.

Elisse sighed, wiping the tears from her puffy cheeks. For the first time since she arrived at the mountain fortress, she noticed how worn and ragged he appeared. Dark circles surrounded his eyes, his beard scraggly and uncharacteristically scruffy, his hair a tousled mess, his hands tremoring, beads of sweat trickling down his face. “Cullen, are you alright?”

“Are YOU alright?” Cullen persisted, ignoring her question.

“I..." she sighs, pushing her hair off her forehead. “I’m sorry. I should have warned you, I have nightmares. This is… my normal.” Elisse buried her head in her hands. (What in Andraste’s name did I say this time? I should have cautioned him, said something, but then again, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.) Elisse groaned. It never ceased, the sadness, the pain, the guilt, it remained an open unhealed wound, unwavering and relentless. Her nightmares kept ripping it open, doomed to forever relive her greatest failure. She wondered if Morrigan was behind the terrors as payback for rejecting her “offer”, although this would be an unusually cruel and prolonged revenge, even for her.

“Water then.” He decides. “I’ll retrieve some water for you. Wait right there.” Cullen backed away slowly, his eyes never leaving Elisse.

“That really isn’t necessary…”

“Amell, wait right there. Commander’s orders.” He descended down the ladder from his room to his office, disappearing from sight, out the door within moments.

“Dammit Rutherford.” Elisse mumbled as she laid back onto the bed, staring through the hole at the night sky. “One, two, three…”

~~~~~~~
Cullen returned a short time later with a pitcher of water, pouring it into a cup for Elisse. Glass clinked against metal as his hands shook, nearly spilling the liquid.

“Do… you want to talk about Alistair?” Cullen inquired, uncertain whether he was still at an appropriate friendship level with her in order to ask such a personal question. When she'd arrived with her party in Kinloch, he'd been absorbed with his own problems, but couldn't help but notice the distinct way she looked at the man with her. In a glance, Cullen could tell he had been templar trained, and later wondered if she had a type. He was certain, though, that she was a woman in love. He handed Elisse the water, both watching as he became acutely aware that he filled it too high, his tremoring hands causing drops to spill down the side of the glass.

In truth, she never spoke of him to anyone, and even though Cullen was among her most trusted and closest friends, that included him. “No. Do you want to talk about your withdrawal from Lyrium?” Elisse responded in turn, taking the glass from his shaky hands, sipping the water, grateful that he retrieved it despite her protests.

“No.” Cullen responded abruptly. His hand finding its usual place on his neck, rubbing the knot that never seemed to go away . “How-how did you know about that?”

“Between the symptoms, medicinal herbs, and knowing you're a former templar, it wasn't hard to figure out. I am a Healer, remember…?” Elisse’s hand glowed a smoky blue before she motioned to her temple, her index finger tapping it gently. “I’m sure you can put two and two together.”

(Heat radiated from the roaring fire of the camp. Dinner for the eve emanated the smoky char of seared rabbit. Alistair stood before her, the firelight illuminating his face as they chatted regarding templars and their dependence on Lyrium. “And since the Chantry controls the Lyrium trade with the dwarves…well, I’m sure you can put two and two together.”)

Her heart clenched in her chest as the air sucked out of her lungs, feeling like she took a punch to the stomach. Tears welled and despite her best efforts, she couldn’t blink them back.

Cullen leaned forward, removing the glass from her hands and setting it on the bureau beside them. He hugged his friend, murmuring empty comforts and letting her tears soak the fur of his mantle.

~~~~~~~
Over the course of the following weeks, they cared for one another with a sibling-like closeness. They set designated hours, alternating so that one was able to rest under the watchful eye of the other. Knowing Cullen's propensity to work without minding the time, Elisse ensured that he adhered to strict deadlines for his own wellbeing. On nights when he insisted work could not wait, Elisse, as a Commander herself, would assist with missives and minor direction of Inquisition soldiers. She sat at his desk, the candlelight flickering as she drafted strategy plans and suggested courses of action for the two Commanders to discuss in the morning before he took his final recommendations to the War Table.

Elisse's hands flourished with healing magic, easing the stress and withdrawal induced headaches that Cullen so often suffered. As a precaution, she concocted potions so that his appearances in the war room yielded little indication of the torment he suffered on a continual basis. When he would wake, disheveled, sweaty, screaming, and sick, Elisse would hand him the waste basket and rub his back as he lost the contents of his stomach. In the instances when it didn't quite make it's way where it was supposed to, Elisse would secretly take the vomit covered clothes to wash so nobody outside of the office was the wiser. On occasions where he would turn violent, thrashing about at the creatures who plagued his mind, Elisse would cast paralysis and monitor him closely. Knowing his reservations about magic, this was only after she asked for and received permission to do so. As she took care of Cullen, she couldn’t help thinking how easily this could have been Alistair, if Duncan hadn’t recruited him when he did.

When it was her turn for the nightmares, Cullen would be at Elisse's side within seconds, his hand stroking her hair in a bid to calm her as she screamed into the pillows, a gentle reminder that he was beside her. More often than not, she was too far gone into the nightmare for that to apply, his arms wove around her tiny elf-like frame as he held her in a protective hold, mainly to prevent her flailing arms and legs from causing harm to either him or herself. There were moments when the nightmare held fast, and she would attempt to cast spells in desperation. Knowing she had developed a tolerance for it, Cullen would cleanse the room of magic, dissolving any spell before it could take effect. Cullen sang a soft hymn, one he knew would ring familiar to Elisse in a desperate attempt to recall her back into the light; away from the misery that plagued her. A song intended to remind her of happier times, to calm the darkness within her heart and finally bring her some peace, even for those few moments. When the nightmare would finally pass, the pair would then recite the Canticle of Trials together.

“Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall the Maker be my guide,
I will not be left to wander the drifting roads of the beyond,
For there is no darkness in the Maker’s light,
And nothing he has wrought, shall be lost.”

After each of Elisse’s episodes, Cullen insisted that he get her water from the larder, despite her protests. It occurred to her that his continued insistence was likely for his own sanity and mental health, since they could easily keep a pitcher on hand. Perhaps he found the fresh air helpful in lulling the headaches, maybe it was something else altogether, she wasn’t certain.

~~~~~~~
That’s the course of events since her arrival in Skyhold that led her to this moment. Here, in Cullen’s bedroom staring through the gaping hole, gazing at stars, awaiting water and the impending prayer she knew would follow. Desperately trying to dispel the aftereffects of the nightmare, she forced herself to focus, specifically counting left to right, each and every single one. 151, 152, 153…

Chapter Text

9:31 DRAGON

Elisse stared, unmoving, not noticing the blood that seeped into her boots and drenched her armor. Her mind plagued with memories playing on repeat of all that they endured, from the simple to the complex and convoluted, only for it to end here. The sun faded out of view under the horizon as darkness fell around her, never noticing the difference. She didn’t speak as tears streamed down her face, tracing the Grey Warden insignia on his armor. Her rational mind said that they should move him, that there were things they would need to do, preparations which would need to be made; but she didn’t dare.

She knew what completing those tasks would mean; confirmation, acceptance, reality. Moving him would only reaffirm the notion that he would not be walking off this tower. So she sat, muttering The Chant of Light as she prayed for a miracle.

~
“It’s been hours.” Leliana whispered, finally breaking the stalemate of silence, observing the tragic scene from afar, not daring to get any closer before averting her eyes back to the crack in the stone floor she’d fixated on.

“I will speak with her.” Wynne sighed, drying her cheeks. “Perhaps she will be more receptive if I say something?”

“I wouldn’t recommend that.” Oghren grunted, making himself more comfortable by setting his two handed sword down. “She threw up a barrier… thing, when I tried to talk with her earlier.”

“As someone who helped her with the loss of her family, I can speak with my Lady.” Ser Roland Gilmore announced, genuine in his interest to assist, but quietly contemplated what he would do or say that could even remotely provide some semblance of assistance knowing that this was something entirely different than before.

Barkspawn lay on the cold hard stone, whining and crying behind them, offering no solutions but clearly mourning, himself.

“I will.” Leliana declared. “This needs to be addressed with a delicate hand. But all of you, keep in mind that it is important she knows all of her friends are here for her and that we share in this loss.” Leliana handed her weapons to Zevran before cautiously approaching Elisse, as the remainder of the party observed.

“Elisse?” Leliana spoke softly and slowly as liquid seeped in through the crevices of her boots. She advanced cautiously; not wanting to startle Elisse or give her the feeling that she was encroaching on her personal space.

Elisse sat in the middle of the large pool of blood. Due to the sheer amount, she looked like she bathed in it, her armor was covered and her hair dripped excess liquid down her back in various shades of red which caked, streaked and webbed as it began to coagulate.

“I think it is time to go.” Leliana sighed closing her eyes for a moment before wrapping her arms around Elisse in a hug. “It is important that we take care of…” Leliana thought carefully to ensure she was using the most appropriate words for the situation, knowing this needed a subtle touch. “things as soon as possible. They have potions they need to use in order to make sure he is…”She paused, contemplating this turn of phrase much longer than she had the others. “prepared.” She finished, confident that she couldn’t have chosen better. (Were there really, decent words for this situation?)

“No.” Elisse whispered, so still she resembled a statue.

“Elisse…” Leliana bit her bottom lip and pressed a fist to her mouth to keep from arguing with her, knowing that if a disagreement started right now, it would not end well. Looking down for a moment, she finished her sentence. “It’s been hours. We have to move him.”

“I said, No!” Elisse screamed as her voice broke. “Leave us alone.”

~~
“It’s drastic, but it will work.” Leliana looked back over her shoulder and seeing Elisse still, unmoving in the same spot.

“What is she waiting for?” Oghren asked, confused as to why she stared at the body for so long without a decision, a course of action, or some type of direction.

“Elisse is not of sound mind.” Leliana explained, frowning she gestured towards the bodies. “I think Elisse has lost grip on reality.”

“She will hate us for this…” Zevran glanced at Leliana before peering at the scene taking place behind her. He hung his head, sorrow filling him at what was the most heartbreaking thing he’d ever seen in all of his days. “You are aware of that, yes?”

“We cannot allow her to see his corpse deteriorate before her eyes.” Wynne whispered, shifting her weight, still wiping away tears. “It would be equally as haunting.”

“Then let’s get this over with, shall we?” Rory murmured, shoulders hunched, staring at the stone ground of the roof.

~
“My fair Warden, may we discuss something important?” Zevran held out his hand, offering her assistance to her feet.

“Not now.” Elisse stated, a stoic look stamped her features.

Before she knew it, large arms wrapped around her from behind, lifting her off the floor and locking into place as they caught her by surprise, while Zevran hastily pulled her sword from its sheath, and her staff from off her shoulder, nimble fingers working between the bodies of Rory and Elisse, essentially stripping her of her weapons.

“What the void do you think you’re doing?!” Elisse yelled, as she watched Sten and Shale grab Alistair’s body and lift him gently into the air. Despite wiggling as much as she could, she could not break the secured hold she was confined to. Confused and irritated by the nonsensical situation, lightning pulsed between her fingertips, ready to shock her keeper into releasing her. Before she could jolt him, she felt the undeniable wave of force that only a Templar cleanse ability could yield as her spell fizzled out in her hands. Enraged that templar abilities were used on her, Elisse saw it as an act of betrayal. The cleanse coupled with the fact that they weren’t listening, ignited her fury. Elisse began bucking and thrashing wildly, her short legs dangling off the floor and her shoulders locked to her sides. “Put him back!” She cried in a raspy and hoarse voice. She kicked as hard as she could, intent on digging her heel into the shin of the person behind her. “You put him back, right now.”

“My Lady, please!” Rory’s voice whispered, pleading with her not to make this any harder than what it already was. He stood firm, holding securely for her own safety as well as his, ready to cleanse her again if necessary. He's grimly aware of the irony of using an ability taught to him by Alistair to subdue her after his death.

“I demand to know where you are taking him. Put him back!” She jerked backwards, briefly missing contact with Rory’s shoulder plate. Thrusting her body about again yielded nothing. “Roland, put me down this instant. They cannot move him.” Yelling, she fought fiercely but Rory was larger, stronger, and kept dispelling her magic.

“You’ll make it real…” Her breath hitched as a lump formed in her throat. “Alistair!” She screamed his name, voice aching from the volume.

She fought, using everything she could muster to break free of Rory’s hold. Finally getting him to let go momentarily, she ran as fast as she could. Realization carved her features as she saw Alistair’s limp body be carried through the door on the other side of the roof of Fort Drakon. Elisse collapsed to her knees. Air sucked from her throat as she knelt, mouth wide open, so horror stricken that no sound emerged from her lips. Zevran attempted to wrap his arms around her and she shoved him off. Unwavering, he remained persistent. He knelt beside her, embracing her in a hug as she sobbed. Tears and blood soaking his armor as she rocked back and forth, knowing that there was nothing he could say that would make a difference.

~~~~~~~
The royal palace seemed larger and emptier than Elisse remembered as she passed through the double doors. Ornate decorations lined the walls with newly placed Theirin banners in honor of the passing of the King. Subsiding the anger that she felt at Anora, she clenched her jaw concealing her gritting teeth. (Maker, please help me to refrain from spewing venom at this vile woman, Queen or no.) Anora sat on the throne, the familiar diplomatically stoic expression of fake interest displayed on her features. Her hands interlocked in her lap, laid upon her gown, she looked every bit the impostor; sitting in place of the rightful king.

Despite her support at the landsmeet, Elisse despised her, having the gall to now act as though she remotely cared about Alistair and that his death didn’t benefit her by putting her back into the position of Ferelden’s ruler. She looked at the woman with a look of disgust, knowing that she was actually happy having her name and power restored, not caring about the cost. She was her father’s daughter.

“Your Majesty.” Elisse bowed, out of necessity, not out of respect. "I request that Alistair be dressed in proper Grey Warden attire for services. He may have been King, but he lived and died…” Elisse’s voice broke, heart re-shattering as she swallowed hard, blinking away the tears. She managed to stop crying long enough to enter the palace, and it seemed that was as far as she would get. She cleared her throat, continuing to speak despite the foreign sound of her own voice. “as a Grey Warden. It is only proper that he is seen to the Maker as such.”

“Warden-Commander, I disagree. It is important for the public to see and recognize his actions as the King of Ferelden. This cements his legacy and further enriches the Theirin name.” Anora stated coldly, showing no inclination of understanding for Elisse’s predicament.

(She was only doing this to garner public approval; a terrible manipulation of tragic events used to her betterment, establishing herself in position as an honorable Queen to the people since she was not of royal blood, herself. The nerve of that bitch.) Elisse bit her tongue, holding in her thoughts. “Queen Anora, I truly must insist that Alistair’s services not be made a spectacle for the nobles. He never held much in the means of material possessions and deserves more than Cailan’s hand me downs. Let the services be about the man he was, and not who he was expected to be because of his name.”

Anora nodded in acknowledgement and waved her off, dismissing the idea nearly immediately. “Warden, I have made my decision and what you would call a hand me down, is in fact, a Theirin heirloom.”

Elisse clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms to conceal the anger. The last thing she needed was to get into a bickering match with the Queen of Ferelden. (Was this payback for supporting him taking the throne? Was she so petty that she wouldn’t give the man, a Makerdamn hero, the funeral he really deserved?) She inhaled deeply, knowing that a calmer head may prevail, fighting every urge in her body to tell Anora what she really thought about her.

“Your Majesty… If I recall correctly, when we returned from the tower, you advised that as a survivor of the final battle, a boon of my choice would be given. Is that not correct?”

A look of worry shrouded Anora’s face, suddenly concerned with what may be asked. “It is, Warden-Commander.” Anora nodded, clearly displeased by the direction that this was taking.

“Then my request is thus…Allow me to honor his memory by giving him the service he would want. He is of royal blood and deserves a pyre. However, I will accompany him to Ostagar, then Weisshaupt as is proper for a Hero of the Blight. Let it be an intimate event, away from the prying eyes of the public, surrounded by the people who loved him, not those who wished to condemn him as the bastard prince.”

Anora stood, fingers knotted together in frustration, as she stepped forward, closer to Elisse. “This is what you would ask of Ferelden’s Queen?”

“That is all I ask…” Elisse nodded. “It is all I will ever ask. I haven’t need of money, nor power or riches.” She exhaled shakily, wiping away a tear as it fell down her cheek. Her voice was merely a whisper. “I just want to give the man I love a funeral he would desire. As the last thing I’ll ever be able to do for him; I want to do it right.”

Anora stared at the floor for a moment clenching her fists together, unmoving, as though the pattern in the stone would yield the answer she was searching for. She looked back up at Elisse before promptly responding. “No.”

Elisse shook her head, positive that she misheard. (No? What the void does she mean, no?! I thought that the purpose of a boon was that it would not be refused unless unreasonable.)

Elisse closed her eyes, clenching her fists with such force, her palms discolored white. (Maker, preserve me.) She rolled her neck slowly, ignoring the cracking and popping that it elicited, contemplating her next words very carefully while Anora’s guards eyed her with suspicion. She kept her eyes closed, fearing that she would set Anora ablaze if she so much as blinked at her in this very moment. (That fucking bitch! After saving her from being kidnapped by her own father, this is how she repays me for the one request I ever ask?) Hot, salty tears streamed down her face. Unlike most that she shed recently, these were that of absolute fury as she felt her blood boil beneath her skin.

Zevran leaned closer, grabbing Elisse’s arm, muttering under his breath loud enough for only her to hear. “I strongly suggest you give much thought to whatever it is you plan to do next, before you decide to do it.” He released her, stepping back to his previous position at her side.

Before Elisse decided upon an appropriate response, Anora spoke again. “Perhaps we could agree to a compromise?”

~~~~~~~
Anora’s definition of compromise wasn’t what Elisse had in mind. It was Anora getting her way, and Elisse having no choice but to agree or lose what little it offered that benefitted Alistair. At Anora’s behest and to Elisse’s dismay, the service remained public.

Elisse sat, rocking back and forth, quietly but persistently sobbing, her small elf-like fingers wrapped around his cold hand. He lay on the stone slab, displayed for all to see, as the public gathered mourning the slain Hero of Ferelden. One by one paying their respects to the man who saved them all.

After Elisse suffered a potentially fatal wound to the abdomen amidst the fight against the High Dragon who guarded The Gauntlet, Alistair commissioned her a new set of armor. Delighted with the craftsmanship of the resulting product, Alistair requested an identical set to the one he purchased for Elisse, save for the size. The piece was custom, perfectly tailored in traditional Grey Warden colors. The silver dragon scale chain glinted, sunlight reflecting off the metal chest plate inscribed with the Warden insignia. The plate held its position by brown leather straps, accompanied by a matching belt, boots, and gloves. Underneath, a tunic of alternating blue leather and silver scale stripes protected the rest of the body, from mid-thigh to his neck, adorned with a high collar; the entire piece embellished by buckles.

(“Haven’t you seen the uniform? It’s not only stylish, but well-made. I’m a sucker for good tailoring.”) Grief tore through her at the sound of his voice in her mind, her bloodshot eyes burning and water blurring her vision once again. Her chest tightened and she gasped for breath, resting her forehead on his hand as she struggled to breathe in a world without him. Tears slid down her cheeks, falling to the ground, dampening and darkening the dirt by her boots.

Elisse looked up, recognizing only Anora and her companions. This farce was expected to last for hours. The majority of the mourners had ignored her, but some had offered empty sympathies, as if they'd known him or the love they had shared. The manners her mother had taught and expected all her life came to the front, allowing her to offer weak and thoughtless thanks. Mostly she spoke to Alistair in an agonized whisper, begging forgiveness for everything she'd ever done that brought them down this path.

~~~~~~~
In all the time that Wynne knew her, she’d never seen Elisse so defeated. Her long streaked hair was dull and lifeless, face splotchy with kohl from her bloodshot eyes smeared on her cheeks, almost completely rubbed away from continual crying. Every companion in their normal party- save Morrigan, who was suspiciously absent- was mourning, stricken by grief over the heavy loss, although none more than Wynne and Elisse.

Fumbling with the small black box in her hands, she debated on whether she should give it to Elisse. It was what he wanted and as he intended. Surely, she could not dishonor him by ignoring his request. On that same token though, seeing her now, as this shell of a woman was enough to give her pause. (Would it only add to her misery?)

Wynne let out an exhausted sigh, and slowly approached Elisse, tapping her gently on the shoulder to get her attention. “I think you and I should speak.”

“I will not leave him.” Elisse stated flatly, her voice a whisper so low, Wynne almost didn’t hear. She peered up at Alistair’s maternal figure, certain that she too, keenly felt the hole in the world. Elisse held onto Alistair’s hand with her right, wrapping her left arm around Wynne’s waist, leaning her head against the cloth of her dress, she sobbed.

Wynne patted her head gently and rubbed her hair, as tears of her own slid down her cheeks. “I know, child. I know.” She turned, drying them on her sleeve before handing Elisse the small black box. It was leather bound and of fine quality, Elisse laid Alistair’s hand down neatly back on top of his body, before opening it, her face frozen in shock.

The box held an engraved silver band, adorned with six glinting diamonds encasing one large, round sapphire in the middle, with a small note- “I can’t imagine being without you, not ever… Marry me.”

Elisse’s hands trembled as she took it out of the box, sliding it on her left ring finger for the perfect fit. Despite the fact that Elisse knew Ferelden would never have accepted her as queen, she would wear this proudly, knowing that he gave her the only thing he had to give: his name.

Grabbing his hand, she wrapped her fingers around it, squeezing tightly before blubbering “Yes.” She lifted his hand to her face, brushing her lips against it, feeling the cold from her spell to preserve him jolt her to her core. As if the hole in her heart wasn’t noticeable before, it felt forcibly ripped from her chest. She sucked in breath, sputtering as she exhaled. She looked to the sky. “Maker, why!?” before dropping her head to her knees.

~~
Elisse stood next to Alistair staring at the sea of people who gathered around to say their goodbye. She gazed upon them, hesitant, unsure of the right words to say. (How do you properly honor someone like him?) She exhaled shakily, remaining silent for a long time as the mourners shifted and whispered. She locked her eyes on him as she addressed the public.

“It is said that anyone can be a hero… that it takes one good decision in a moment of turmoil that can bestow the title upon you for the rest of your life.” Elisse paused, her voice raspy as she tried to stop the tears. “But… I don’t believe that.”

“A hero is made by everyday decisions…” Elisse’s throat tightens as she forces air through her lungs in order to speak. “and not even the big ones, but those that seem menial… that you do, when you think that no one is looking…” she says softly, stroking his cold cheek.

“What you don’t know… is that he died saving me from the archdemon; but he was my hero long before that.” Tears streak down her face as she fights with everything she has to maintain some semblance of composure and not fall apart.

“I saw it when he still offered to give money to a sister he just met, despite her disgusting treatment of him.” Elisse’s bottom lip quivered, and she closed her eyes momentarily before continuing.

“It was there when he still fought valiantly to save the man who neglected him and the wife of whom banished him, sent to forever live within the confines of the Chantry.” Elisse spat the words at Arl Eamon and Isolde, a scowl on her face as she leered, hoping that little was left to interpretation.

“When he crawled to me in the tower of Ishal, intent on protecting a woman who was no more to him than a stranger in arms; despite the fact that he could have easily been mortally wounded.”

“It presented itself when he accepted the throne, despite never wanting it; to care for the very people who shunned him as a bastard his entire life.” She inhaled a ragged breath, knowing that he wouldn’t want a scene. Not here, not now. He would want something simple, and true. Elisse wipes her tears away, pausing to recompose herself.

“I knew he was a hero when he charged Fort Drakon to free me, despite everyone within its walls wanting him dead.” She recalled how he said that compared to that, being a templar might not have been so bad and let out an exhaustive whimper.

“Or perhaps it was when he fought to save Redcliffe, the village who maintained nothing to do with him… until they needed something.”

“Most of all, it was because he would talk to you about your problems despite having a horrible day, himself. Or offer you the last piece of cheese… even though it was his favorite. Maybe it was because he would hold you during your nightmares, despite contending with his own.” Her words spilled out of her mouth, rushed and fumbling as she tried desperately to make it to the end of the speech while still hoping that what she said resonated.

“It also could have been because he saved a single rose…” She cleared her throat, sniffling, not even bothering to wipe her tears away any longer, as she clutched the pendant that dangled around her neck “from a doomed village because he didn’t have the heart… to let it die.”

Elisse’s voice broke as she continued, the cracking making it more difficult to understand her, but she remained discernable.

“It was because he was a rare and wonderful person to find amidst all this darkness…”

She bit her bottom lip, trying to calm her empty heart which rattled against her chest. “It wasn’t the grand gesture of slaying the archdemon that made him a hero.” Elisse hesitated, shaking her head. “No. It was a collective accumulation of everything before he ever set foot on that roof; which may or may not have been noticed, coupled with the fact that he did it all anyway, regardless of recognition.”

“Alistair lived and… died; a hero.” Elisse ran her fingers through his hair, slightly tousling it as her hand fell back down to his cool cheek. “I bet if he were here now, he would call himself a nobody, wanting nothing to do with such a title; but it’s true.”

Elisse’s heart erupted with sorrow, as she brought her hand to her face, covering her mouth as her lips quivered. She mustered the will to steady her voice, and as clear as possible declared. “We were all… unworthy of his sacrifice.”

She leaned forward, resting her head on his breast-plate, precisely on top of the Grey Warden insignia, as her hair draped around her shoulders, unable to hold it back any longer, she wept.

~~~
The trip to Ostagar from Denerim was a long one; met with harsh paths, and occasional danger. Per Elisse’s boon, Anora ensured that a full Honor Guard accompanied her for the journey, as she sat in the back of the swaying wagon, unmoving, and unspeaking; keeping Alistair’s body preserved with Winter’s grasp until they arrived to see him off to the Maker with a proper pyre.

(“I just wish it would have been something worthy of him.”)

Elisse remembered those words as they looped in her mind; determined that the words Alistair said about Duncan, could never be uttered about him. They stopped frequently for food though she held no appetite; a strange occurrence for a Warden, as they were known for their ability to devour a strikingly abundant amount before being considered full. She fought sleep harder than any darkspawn, knowing that as soon as her eyes closed, she would fall into the same void that took him from her. It would consume her soul and guarantee she relived the horror once more.

She woke up, sweaty and disheveled, her cheeks puffy and her face soaked with accumulated tears. With ragged breathing, she frantically searched the camp, eyes drawn to his usual spot by the fire, only to see that he wasn’t there. She called out to him, screaming his name. She woke the entire party before Rory rushed to secure her in his arms again; preventing her from harming herself or anyone around her in her unstable state.

“My Lady.” Rory stated, keeping a calm, even tone, knowing that the slightest thing could trigger another episode. “I know this is difficult for you, but do you want to talk about how you’re feeling?”

"Light diminished, darkness eternal; the world feels on fire but everything is black," Elisse whispers, quoting a poem they had learned at the knee of their old tutor in Highever. “I understand those words now, Rory.” Grief overwhelmed her again, silently sobbing as her heart hitched in her chest, finding it the oddest sensation to be completely empty while being so full of sorrow.

~~
For Elisse’s benefit, they kept her sequestered as they prepared the pyre on the spot where she and Alistair first met. Elisse walked the battlefield, feeling like she belonged there; dead, among the rest of the Grey Wardens. She passed the blooming flowers, not able to ignore the vast contrast of how she felt inside compared to how everything looked outside. It would have been an otherwise lovely day, the sun shined brilliantly, cascading light across the open field highlighting what was at one point, beauty. Upon returning here for the second time, she found it even more haunting, a place forever etched in tragedy; echoing tales of tainted heroes, traitors, loss, and failure. Voices of the past swirl within her brain, words of caution, strategies, and introductions as she shakes her head trying to expel them from her mind. She sees memories play out before her as though she were reliving them, considerably detailed and vivid, like those in her nightmare. Elisse stopped and stared, showing no visual emotion at everything before her; mentally lost within her brain’s cloud of darkness.

Elisse sat on the corner of the ruins at the gravesite. She knew their bodies weren’t there as Duncan was never recovered and Cailan was seen to the Maker via a pyre she built herself. At the time, they honored him in the only way they could think of, making a small memorial for Duncan. She stood at the two vertically crisscrossed Grey Warden swords which doubled as the grave marker, bowing her head as she silently sobbed.

“I failed him, Duncan.” Her voice cracked, so hoarse it was unrecognizable, even to herself.

“You have no idea…” She paused, inhaling shakily. “I’m sorry.” She whispered. “I am deeply… irrevocably… sorry…” Tears rolled down her face as she rested her hand on the top of the sword pommel, whispering among the wind. “Tell him...” She paused, lips quivering as her entire body trembled. “One good thing about the blight… “ A whimper escaped her throat and she crumbled to her knees, ignoring the sting of the cold hard snow as she buried her face in her hands. “…is that it brings people together.”

~~
Elisse stood in front of his body, staring at him. A surreal experience as she felt everything yet nothing, full yet empty. She thought she would cry as Zevran escorted her up to the pyre displaying the body, but she did not. Sticks of wood assembled together formed the bed where he would forever lay his head, accompanied by Grey Warden barding with multiple red roses adorning the sides. She stared, unable to grasp the reality of the situation around her, acting without conscious.

(He would have wanted this.) She thinks, still staring. (To be seen to the Maker as the hero and Warden he was.)

Slowly, she stepped forward, each one considerably more difficult than the last. She heard nothing and saw no one, save Alistair. Fumbling her fingers, she scrambled to unhook the chain around her neck which held her Warden’s Oath and held it firmly in her hands.

As Warden Commander and the last surviving Grey Warden, Elisse spoke the parting prayer; her mind numbed as she said the words out of memorization, forcing herself to keep speaking.

“Join us brothers and sisters.” Elisse swallowed hard as her throat became increasingly dry.

“Join us in the shadows…”Her palms began to sweat, as she blinked repeatedly focusing on the corpse in front of her. “where we stand vigilant.” Despite her efforts, tears fell endlessly from her eyes, grazing her cheeks as they slid down her face. Her throat was scratchy and dry and she couldn’t find her voice to finish the thought. She couldn’t speak this, knowing that once the words were spoken, this would be final, this moment fleeting. Elisse released a ragged breath finding herself unable to produce sound from her mouth. She froze, looking into the eyes of those around her before drooping her head and slumping her shoulders.

“Join us as we carry the duty…”Zevran spoke, his voice was a whisper but silence surrounded them and his words rang clear like a bell.

“–that cannot be forsworn.” Oghren stepped forward, staring eyeline with the pyre, he tapped Alistair’s chest plate and saluted, sorrow molded onto his features.

“A-a-and…” Taking a deep breath, Wynne joined in as her voice shuddered. ”should you perish...” Wynne reached out, gently placing her hand upon Alistair’s before slowly bringing it to her lips for a kiss before laying it back down exactly in its rightful place. “know that your…”

Leliana paused, as she bowed her head in front of the pyre, a look of horror stricken on her normally delicate features. “sacrifice…”

“will not be forgotten.” Rory stepped forward, speaking clearly and laying a hand upon Elisse’s shoulder with a gentle squeeze, steadying her.

“and that one day…” Elisse heard them simultaneously in unison, the family who came to her rescue numerous times before standing alongside her today in her darkest hour, not allowing her to fall under the weight of her grief and guilt, preventing herself from crumbling under the gravity of the situation. Leliana, Sten, Oghren, Wynne, Rory, Zevran, Shale’s voices and even Barkspawn’s crying carried throughout the ruins.

“I…” Elisse spoke the final words alone. Her heart constricted in her chest, as she began heaving rapidly, rocking back and forth “shall join you.” Elisse leaned forward, brushing a gentle kiss against his lips as tears fell from her cheeks onto his; simultaneously dispelling the Winter’s grasp spell that kept him with her for so long.

She tried desperately to commit to memory the lines of his face, the off color portions within his stubble and hair, the curve of his cheeks, the softness of his lips, everything. “I love you.” She whispered, as she stroked his cheek, nose touching nose before she slowly backed away.

She cleared her throat and began “In war…” The others joined in, one voice, one family, one set of heroes, mourning the loss of a valued member, the one who gave it all to save everyone. “victory. In peace… vigilance. In death…” Elisse paused even longer, forcing her brain to send the word to pass through her lips, she hesitated knowing in her heart that this would be her final goodbye. “sacrifice.”

Flames swirled at the end of the torch as she lowered it. Inch by inch, she closed her eyes; compelling herself to push through the motions, to just-- get through it. She clutched her pendant and covered her mouth, stifling the sobs she knew would follow. A steady stream of water flowed from her eyes and she stood there, unable to move or blink, face stricken with horror and grief, she couldn’t look as she drew upon every ounce of willpower she possessed to light the wood which he rest upon. “Maker keep you, Warden Alistair, since I can no longer.”

A wail escaped her lips as her heart shattered when the fire caught. The crackling sounds imprinted her brain and the image scarred, forever etched in her mind as she watched the flames engulf him. Her body went limp as she fell to her knees in hysterics, finally letting herself succumb to the grief and darkness that her empty world now held.

Pyre Commission

Time stood still as she wept start to finish, unable to move and gasping for breath. She gazed at the pile of ash, tremoring hands fumbled as she opened her Warden’s Oath. She scooped some ashes within and sealed it physically, and magically knowing that she would always carry him with her.

The remaining ashes were divided and placed into separate urns. She took the first one, staring out across the bridge in Ostagar which directly overlooked the battlefield. Removing the lid slowly, she gazed upon the site of tragedy positive that he would want to be here with his brethren, with Duncan. She poured the ashes out of the urn as she conjured the wind with a spell. She thrust her hands forward, as a powerful gust pushed the ashes away from her, effectively scattering them along the battlefield where their fallen Warden brothers and sisters rest.

~~
Elisse carried the remaining urn on her person until she arrived at Weisshaupt, ensuring that it was properly encased within the tomb of fallen Warden heroes.

Rethreading the charms onto the silver chain, she verified that both were secure before clasping it around her neck. Never wanting to lose the rose he once gave her, shrunken, preserved and encased into a translucent pendant, nor the Warden’s oath she carried on behalf of them both; lest she ever forget the cost.

Elisse left, never returning to Ostagar, nor Weisshaupt, ever again.

Chapter Text

9:41 DRAGON

Elisse woke up to Cullen barking his orders, she surmised not even he realized how his voice echoed,  a deep inflection implying ferocity, distinction and conviction- astonishingly different than the soft, subtle whisper that he used whenever he spoke to her. She sat abruptly, wiping her tears, and recited passages from the chant to calm herself. Music filled her ears; a soft, dull murmur that resounded in her head, beckoning her. Soon the poison in her blood would be too much. She didn’t know if it was the real thing or if the Calling was being mimicked by the Darkspawn Magister but it was getting worse. As if it wasn’t enough for the nightmare to take over her sleeping hours, she heard music during waking hours, volume ranging from a low toned hum to a loud almost deafening tune varying sporadically throughout the day.

After regaining her composure, and doing her best to banish the music and terror, she shifted her weight, carefully maneuvering herself from the bed onto the floor, tiptoeing, inching closer to the ladder, anxious to find the cause for the source of the commotion.

“B-b-b-but Commander!” A terrified quiver accompanied each word. “We heard the screaming and thought you to be under attack, Ser!”

“Return to your posts. Immediately.” Cullen growled.

At the edge of the floor, Elisse peered down. Two recruits wearing standard Inquisition armor stood, trembling in their boots. She stifled a snicker, the fact that anyone could be scared of the shy, cautious, and caring Cullen she knew him to be, was preposterous.

“Y-yes Ser! Right away Ser.” The two saluted, nearly tripping over one another to leave as quickly as possible.

Cullen closed the door behind them with excessive force as the latch resounded, echoing throughout the office. He placed his head against the wood with an exasperated sigh.

Elisse tossed her armor over her shoulder carelessly before sliding down the ladder avoiding the rungs entirely and landing feet first on the floor with a soft thud. “My fault?”

“You wouldn’t believe how quickly gossip spreads throughout the barracks.” Cullen muttered, tilting his head away from the door and glancing in Elisse’s direction.

“It can’t be a surprise that people talk, nobles especially.” Elisse muttered as she eyed him carefully. Dark circles surrounded his eyes, his stubble was longer than normal indicating that he hadn’t bothered to shave, sweat gathered on his brow and she noticed the subtle shaking in his hand that he tried to hide. (So that was why he hadn’t backed away from the door.)

Elisse gently laid her hand upon his shoulder whispering softly “Take the day off Commander, I have this well in hand.”

“I can’t” Cullen mumbled as he stood upright, realizing his foolishness in trying to hide his symptoms. Neither held place for judgement as they’d both seen each other in the best and worst light. He rubbed his forehead as though he could wipe the headache away if only he’d tried hard enough.

“Why ever not?” Elisse eyed him questioningly, knowing that he would come up with some preposterous high priority item which could not wait. She walked over to his desk and grabbed a handful of missives off of the top pile.

“War council will commence in ten minutes, I have to brief the Inquisitor.” He announced, hastily grabbing the reports out of her hand as he began flipping through them.

“Absolutely not.” Elisse shook her head placing a firm grip on the papers he held, preventing them from being reorganized further. “I will go in your stead. You, Cullen, take the day off. That’s an order.” She wagged her pointer finger in his face, emphasizing her words before pointing to the door.

Cullen snarled in protest before relief relaxed his features rippling through the rest of his body as he untensed. “You cannot delegate orders to me.” His lips curved into a playful smile.

“I’m not issuing you orders as Commander, I am giving you instruction as a friend.” Elisse ushered him towards the exit using considerable effort because of their size difference. She put on her best Commander voice “No work whatsoever. I mean it Cullen. You will have detailed reports regarding all things Inquisition tomorrow. Now go play chess, take a nap, ride your horse, get out of Skyhold for a bit, but take some you time… Maker knows you need it.”

Holding his hands up in surrender, he hesitantly agreed. “Fine. You have bested me.” Reaching for the door handle, he stopped to look at Elisse before leaving.

“Don’t think I won’t be checking up on you either…” Elisse stated, determined that Cullen would have a stress free day no matter what. As far as she was concerned, if a coordinated assault attacked the castle, Cullen would still get some well-earned peace and quiet.

“Thank you.” Cullen opened the door, a loud creak filled the room before it closed behind him with a heavy thud.

“To work.” Elisse announced out loud despite nobody being around to hear her, a habit she did quite often in an attempt to avoiding the thoughts that swirled about in her mind. She retrieved the notes from Cullen’s desk and headed hastily to the war room.

~~~

 “The first order of business is a note from D. Sutherland mentioning the location of bandits stalking patrols. We have the location but he is not armed. He is offering his assistance in the matter.” Elisse summarized the note before handing it to the Inquisitor.

“Recommendations?” Evelyn Trevelyan raised her eyebrow at Elisse, no doubt curious as to where Cullen was and why she was here in his place.

“If we have the location, just eliminate them. Put the boy to work elsewhere.” Leliana advised, glancing over at Josephine who scribbled away at something on her clipboard.

Thinking of how Cullen would respond, Elisse did her best to put herself in his mindframe. In truth, he was much better at this than she was, but she felt comfortable enough with her decisions on his behalf and if he had not, he never would have agreed. “If the boy knows where they are, outfit him. It’s a minor threat.” Elisse declared staring at the map and small metal pieces which lie outspread on the table.

After minor contemplation, the Inquisitor glanced at Elisse. “I agree. Outfit him with materials and a handful of soldiers and let him handle this threat; he found it after all, he should be credited with the removal.” Evelyn leaned against the war table, placing both hands shoulder width apart looking over the ongoing operations. “The Iron Bull wishes to send chargers to Haven to check for gear, enemy stragglers and refuges who have not yet found Skyhold.”

“The only way we will bring in refugees is through our allies in Ferelden. After Haven, they are more than willing to help.” Josephine continued scribbling on her clipboard, not even bothering to look up as she checked off items on her report.

“We have no idea how many enemies remain at Haven. The Chargers had best go in numbers.” Elisse announced, confident in the course of action but noticed an unappreciative glare from the Inquisitor aimed at her.

“Use our allies in Ferelden.” Evelyn delegated to Josie. “Next?”

“I received an Inquiry from a friend regarding the assassination request. It seems that one of our agents has been removed from our employ and the assassin who did such is offering to fulfill the desired contract for a fraction of the price.” Leliana advised outstretching the parchment to the Inquisitor.

Elisse thought about it for a moment before responding. “So another assassin wishes to help? After killing one of our other assassins? If you’re already stuck with the Crows, why make things more complicated. Refuse this offer.”

“Zevran would be a useful ally. We can funnel resources to him while nominally maintaining our alliance with the Crows.” Leliana declared, as Elisse realized why the spymaster made this recommendation.

“Inquisitor.” Elisse thought of Zevran, how she hadn’t spoken with him for a long time and wondered if her old friend was doing well. Truthfully, she missed the jokes and euphemisms, as preposterous as they sometimes were. “If Zevran is the assassin in question, the Inquisition should utilize him. He is very good at what he does.” She confirmed as she reminisced, thinking of how he held her on the roof, kept her from doing something stupid in Anora’s presence and how he was the first to speak up at the services when she lost her voice.

(Elisse felt the heat from the roaring flames, mixtures of swirling red, orange and yellow engulfed Alistair’s body lying in front of her. Leather singed as the fire burned so hot it melted his armor, the charred smell of flesh and wood filled her nostrils and the horror overtook her. She shook, trembling, crying, screaming on the inside and praying to the Maker. Every vibrant red rose wilted and the Grey Warden barding burned to ash, smoldering before her very eyes.)

“Warden-Commander?” Evelyn reached out and touched Elisse’s arm, gentle but firm enough to startle her back to reality, in the war room, with the other advisors. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, Inquisitor. My apologies.” Elisse shot Leliana a look, pleading with her eyes not to tell the Inquisitor anything she knew about the situation. She figured that Spymaster or no, it was not her place to tell and as one of her closest friends, she would honor the unspoken secrecy.

“That will be all.” Evelyn declared, as she waved her hand in dismissal.

Elisse fled from the room eager for fresh air. She knew that no matter where she ran, the memories and the song in her head would follow, an inescapable truth she was unable to contend with. She shut the heavy wooden door of Cullen’s dimly lit office, with a snap of her fingers flames flickered on the wicks igniting the candles he never bothered to light.

Sitting at his desk, she wrote responses and delegations to missives and war reports making notes as to what she needed to debrief him on, desperate to get the lull hum of music banished from her mind. She immersed herself in his work, and when she was finished and everything up to date, she organized his items until scouts brought new documents. Elisse couldn’t blame Cullen for being exhausted all the time as the workload was heavy, but she found it refreshing to be able to focus her mind on something other than the things which circled her brain.

The door flung open startling Elisse causing her to look up from her paperwork.

“The Commander and I need to speak with you.” Dorian sauntered into the office with Cullen trailing just behind. “ And since I am much more interesting than whatever you’ve got there, I expect your undivided attention.” Dorian’s lips curved into a smile as winked and traced his moustache with his thumb and index finger.

“A handsome man like yourself could certainly hold anyone’s attention.” Elisse agreed as she stood up from the desk. In all reality, she knew that Dorian preferred the company of men so the empty flirtation gave her a nice reprieve with no strings attached from the daily operations of Skyhold that she’d been thrust into lately. At best, it was friendly banter and nothing more but she found it amusing if nothing else.

“That plus my wit and charm makes me quite the catch, indeed.” Dorian waved his hand dismissing the conversation further. “But if we were here to discuss my good looks, I fear we wouldn’t get anything accomplished.”

Cullen cleared his throat and chimed in. “If you two are quite finished, we have business to discuss.”

Elisse flashed a smile to Dorian before turning her attention to Cullen and raising her finger to scold him. “I should have known you couldn’t possibly take a single day off.”

Cullen averted his eyes sheepishly before shrugging. “Dorian is here to offer his assistance on a personal matter.” He shut the door behind them, ensuring that the locks were secured before he instructed one of his men that he was in a meeting not to be disturbed until further orders were given and locked the remaining two doors to his office.

A look of shock plastered Elisse’s features. Whatever this was, it must have been important as she knew that Cullen held an open door policy and never under any circumstance had she ever seen him lock the doors or instruct guards not to interrupt. “What’s wrong?”

“When the Inquisitor travelled to Redcliffe to secure the assistance of the mages to help with closing the breach, she encountered a Tevinter Magister named Alexius who had taken control before she arrived.” Cullen stated as though he were reading it verbatim off of the report the Inquisitor (no doubt) sent him on the matter.

“Turns out, Alexius sent us into an alternate future where Corypheus took control over Thedas with a demon army.” Dorian pulled up a chair and seated himself in front of the desk plopping lazily with a thud.

“The same demon army that the Wardens created.” Elisse sighed. This was bad; she knew it and partially her fault. Had she stayed with the Wardens, perhaps they wouldn’t be using blood magic to tie themselves to demons under Corypheus. Elisse understood that they were trying to stop future blights before they died since everyone was hearing the calling, including herself, but she wondered what Warden Commander Clarel was thinking agreeing to this absurd notion. That annoying music still hummed in the background in her head, like a distant tune being played so loudly in another room that you could hear it doors away.

“Yes.” Dorian nosily poked around the missives on Cullen’s desk. “But that’s not why we are here. See after Alexius sent us to future, we came back. His initial plan was to wipe the Inquisitor from existence, but since he could not go further back in time than when the breech appeared, he failed to do so, lucky for us if I do say so myself.”

“When Alexius was brought to judgement before the Inquisitor, she ordered him to continue his research on behalf of the Inquisition under the watchful eye of Dorian.” Cullen stood beside the desk with his arms crossed, an expression plastered on his features as though he expected Elisse to understand whatever it was that he was not saying.

“Ok?” Elisse sat, staring at the two men, wondering exactly what it was they were leading to here if not a solution to the Grey Warden problem.

“I theorize since the anchor-the mark on the Inquisitor’s hand- was made by the same magic which made the breach and existed long before the breech itself, the Inquisitor’s power could be used in combination with Alexius’ research and time travel would be possible.” Elisse could hear Dorian patting himself on the back in pride with those words.

“That’s dangerous.” Elisse said flatly, now anxiously awaiting the point of all of this. “But I’m not certain I follow, if the breach and the anchor was made by the same magic, why would one yield more power than the other?”

“Because the Inquisitor is a mage, a magical being tied to powerful magic with the ability to harness the aforementioned, whereas the breach is just a result of that magic and cannot be wielded or manipulated since it is not connected to one with innate power.” Dorian explained. “Not to mention, every rift that the Inquisitor has closed since this started has added to the mark. All the small ones, and the breach too.”

 Cullen stepped forward, grabbing the quill and the missive from Elisse’s hand and assisted her to her feet. He looked deeply as teal eyes met amber before whispering. “You can save him, Elisse.”

“You do make the most adorable little test subject.” Dorian mused.

Realization overcame her as she trembled, never releasing Cullen’s hands. “Why? Why would you offer me this? Wouldn’t that type of magic be wildly unstable? Of all people, Cullen, why would you ever agree to something like this, it’s a bit out of character for you, isn’t it?”

“My thoughts exactly!” Dorian chimed. “But actually, this was the Commander’s idea, entirely.”

Cullen withdrew his hands from Elisse’s as though he’d been burned, finding that knot in his neck that always needed rubbing as his cheeks flushed. “Well, if it were for anyone else, being performed by anyone else, I would not allow it.” Cullen admitted. “But, worst case, nothing changes and it doesn’t even work, you’ll be here and we’ll be fighting the good fight. Best case, you save him, save Thedas, prevent this from happening to the Wardens, prevent the conclave explosion, and the Inquisition can focus its attention on assisting with peace among mages and templars, as originally intended, should the conclave fail.”

“That’s a lot to hang on faith that something might work.” Elisse stared in disbelief.

“If anyone could do this, it’s you.” Cullen wrapped his arms around Elisse gently lifting her off the floor in a hug. “Think on it, and let me know what you decide. As a personal favor, the Inquisitor has already agreed.”

~~~~~~~

Elisse counted the stars in the sky through the opening in the ceiling, her mind running wild with possibilities. Could she really do this? Save Alistair? Save the Wardens? All the people at the conclave? It seemed such a tall order, and a considerably heavy burden to place upon one who failed the first time. If anything could ever be said about Cullen, it was that he was a man of unwavering faith, albeit misplaced.

After everything though and as much as she wanted to jump for joy and agree, she couldn’t because of Cullen. What type of friend would she be if she left him when he needed her the most. The only person who knew of the struggle he endured. Elisse assumed the Inquisitor knew about the lyrium; as leader of the Inquisition, Cullen would have definitely told her, but she wasn’t the one here in the middle of the night when his terrors took hold of him.

The fact that Cullen would not only support this, but be the one to suggest it spoke volumes to Elisse. She knew of all the trials he faced since Kinloch. He cared for Elisse more than he feared magic. She did not fail to understand the absolute severity of that weight.

(Skyhold was quiet late in the eve when Elisse walked to Cullen’s office. She inhaled a deep breath, prepared for whatever assignment she could steal from the Commander to occupy her mind. Soft footsteps scuffled against the stone of the battlements until she reached the door. Assuming he was still with his recruits, Elisse didn’t bother to knock and walked right in. Standing behind his desk, Cullen stared longingly at the small glass vial of liquid in his hands, an odd expression of pain and disgust plastered on his normally handsome features. “Put it down.” Elisse stated flatly but it would have been clear to any Warden recruit that it was an order. “I need it…” Cullen hissed, fingers trembling around the blue poison. “I need it, Elisse.” The voice rang out despite it being as loud as a whisper, the disgust spewing with each word. “Put the bottle down, Cullen. Or else.” Elisse approached hesitantly, thoughts of exactly what she could do if necessary came to her mind, although none of them good and all requiring magic. “Please… Cullen. Do not force me to use my magic on you; drop the bottle.” She inched closer to the desk, evaluating the options before her. “It sings to me. It never stops singing… I can’t unhear it.” Cullen muttered, unscrewing the lid. “Maker’s Breath Cullen! Put the bottle down. Now!” Elisse nearly shouted as he ignored her, moving the bottle to his mouth ever so slowly. Deciding that the risk was worth it, and knowing that she could heal him afterwards if necessary, she aimed and cast a perfectly placed lightning bolt to hit the glass. Just as the rim touched his lips, it shattered, blue liquid ran down his glove as shards of glass fell onto the floor. Elisse removed his glove as he leaned back against the wall, slinking down on his rear. His hands flew to his face, hiding the shame she knew he felt and the anger she suspected would follow. “Why did you do that?” Cullen roared, his voice booming within the tower. “You would undo everything you worked so hard to achieve.” Elisse stated as she wrapped her arms around him. She whispered that it was okay, that he was strong enough to beat this, that he would endure as he sobbed into his hands the remainder of the night.)

She shook her head, expelling the memory from her mind. What would have happened that night if she hadn’t been here? Would he be taking Lyrium? Would he started all over? No, how could she possibly leave him now, and after all he’d done for her as well?

(Peering over the edge of the battlements, it didn’t seem so bad. In one swift action, she could end it all, the pain, the failure, the constant torment from the recurring nightmare. She rearranged the Warden motto in her head and snickered. “In death, peace.” Elisse imagined it would feel like flying and then, as quickly as it began, it would be over. Night had befallen Skyhold and the hustle and bustle dwindled around her. She wouldn’t scream to draw attention, she’d already taken care of that by leaving a note for Cullen anticipating that he would find it once the War Council dismissed. After a considerable amount of drink, she found herself here, staring at the method of her death; a never ending drop to the bottom of the mountain. There were other ways, certainly, but she related the falling to metaphorical freedom, her forcibly removing the shackles that bind her to past decisions and mistakes. Elisse inhaled deeply, her life flashing before her eyes as she went to step off the platform. Arms snaked tightly around her waist as she was forcibly brought back from the ledge and cradled in Cullen’s arms. Her fist crashed against his chest plate, the cold metal stinging, harming her more than it affected him. “Thank the Maker you’re alright!” Cullen exclaimed breathing a sigh of relief that he made it there before it was too late. Anger filled her as she hit his breast plate again. “It wasn’t your place to do that.” Elisse whispered as tears of disappointment overflowed from her eyes. “How did you even know?” She muttered, crossing her arms. “Cole.” Cullen carried her back to his office and set her back on her feet. “Sometimes, you have to save people from themselves.” He stared at her, fully expecting her to lash out. Instead, she crumbled, telling him the truth about absolutely everything; something she never before did in the ten years since Alistair’s death started her downward spiral.)

Memories swirled the forefront of her mind, she tried to focus on the stars and lost track, getting distracted by one recollection after another; her brain never turning off. Elisse released a ragged breath as the next one replayed itself.

(The crackling of the fire behind her provided heat and cut through the silence as she stared across the docks at Kinloch hold. Her heart felt heavy even though she’d released Cullen from his confinement earlier that day after killing Uldred. His words tore at her as she begged him to remember who she was, who they were; that despite them being worlds apart as mage and templar, they were friends. Although she supposed that it wasn’t true any longer. His words were venom, poison directly to her heart and the moment she thought they shared during that kiss may as well have been another lifetime ago. He wanted nothing to do with her or her kind and in all truth, she couldn’t really blame him for it, it certainly wasn’t his fault. “His hatred of mages is so intense. The memory of his friends deaths are still fresh in his mind.” Alistair interrupted her thought process, offering her a woven blanket to combat the chill of the eve. “He will regret those words one day.” He spoke softly but with affirmation in his voice, positive what he said was true. “But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t justified.” Elisse relaxed her tense shoulders allowing Alistair to drape the material around her tiny frame. “I wish there was something I could do to help him, but he doesn’t want to see me… because of what I am.” Alistair shook his head placing a gentle touch upon Elisse’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.” Elisse turned towards him as he embraced her in a friendly hug, tears soaked his shirt as he held her while she grieved the loss of Cullen as she knew him. Wiping away the tears, Alistair’s features curved into a big, goofy grin. “Now, come with me. I have just the thing to make you feel better… cheese!” Alistair tugged her hand prompting her to follow him as he motioned to a display of cheeses he procured from The Spoiled Princess, pride beaming that he elicited a smile.)

Hearing the door latch from below, Elisse hastily wiped her eyes, not wanting to let Cullen know that she struggled over this decision after he put so much thought into it on her behalf. Doing her best to ignore the stabbing pain that shattered her heart, she banished the memories from her mind. Could she risk the man that she loves for the sake of the other she fell in love with? It was preposterous. It may not even work. Cullen was alive, here, now, and needed her help, chasing after a ghost a decade dead, one that was only a figment of her dreams, was not a sound plan. But for ten years she begged for an opportunity such as this. It had taken a long time for Elisse to realize that she could not hate the Maker and not believe in him at the same time; so she prayed. Finding that Cullen’s mantra suited her, that it was nice to take comfort in faith, when life offered little; and offer little, it had.