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Cullen had long since learned to ignore the opening and closing of his office doors. Between message runners, patrols, and various captains that needed his attention on a regular basis, the doors opened and shut with regularity. So Cullen barely even registered the courtyard door opening when he was hearing reports from his captains early enough one morning that the nobility in the main castle were still abed. He took note only of the sunlight streaming while he listened to Lysette detail the supply problem they were likely to have in a few weeks. It wasn't until the table by the door fell over with a clatter that his meeting was put on pause and Cullen and his captains all turned to stare at the interruption.

"Sorry! Sorry!" The interloper was already bending over to right the table only a corner had caught on his vambrace and now the whole thing was ready to topple again. "I've got it!" came the optimistic declaration right before man and table spilled to the floor in a second mess. He wore blue and silver, and Cullen had heard he'd arrived.

He sighed, acknowledging the snickers from his officers with a wave of his hand. "Go talk to the Quartermaster. See what the timetables are," he told Lysette, and shooed them from his office. Cullen leaned over his desk to get a better look at Alistair Theirin who lay sprawled across his floor.

"So this is where you've been hiding!" Alistair tipped his head back and looked at Cullen upside-down.

"How are you not dead yet?" Cullen asked, marveling at the mess he'd made on the floor.

"Ha!" Alistair pulled himself together and rolled to his feet. His blond hair was shaggier than Cullen remembered from the last time they'd seen each other, which had been . . . was it the Blight? Cullen knew he'd been there when he'd been freed from the demon's prison. He'd barely recognized Alistair then: a man had stood where he'd only known the boy, and now it seemed the boy was still in there after all. He still had that roguish look about him when he grinned at Cullen.

"I'll have you know that there are any number of creatures who cower at my footsteps," Alistair said. "At least three of them."

Cullen smiled in spite of himself, reminded of all he'd ever loved and despised about Alistair when they'd been in training together. He wouldn't have called them friends growing up, but they'd been of age and there was something in seeing someone from his youth again.

"Yes, and two of them are the furniture," he said.

Alistair feigned shock. "Was that a joke? From Cullen Rutherford?" He ambled over and held out an arm for Cullen to clasp in a soldier's greeting, which he did with a roll of his eyes.

"I hear you're our contact among the Wardens."

"That's me. What's left of us at any rate," Alistair said, his face turning somber for a moment before brightening. "But I didn't come by to talk about me. Let's talk about you! Here! Making jokes! In charge! Andraste's tits, how did that happen?"

Cullen didn't have a much of an answer. "Cassandra asked." He shrugged, long since come to terms with his own authority.

"I was surprised when Hawke told me, if I'm honest. I had no idea you'd been mixed up in Kirkwall. I was there, you know, when the Qunari attacked. We'd come up for air from the Deep Roads looking to resupply and the whole city was on fire."

"You always did have the best timing," Cullen remarked.

Alistair grinned. The years had put wrinkles around his eyes, but his smile was as young as ever. "Hasn't gotten the better of me yet."

Shaking his head, Cullen leaned back against the desk. "You're here ahead of the Inquisitor?" he asked.

"Said she wanted to secure the fort and the road," Alistair said. "Gave me an escort and a pile of messages, and here I am. Maker, it's good to be sleeping inside four walls again." He sighed, a great heaving thing, that for the first time since he'd tumbled into Cullen's office marked the weariness in his shoulders, the thinness to his face. He'd been living rough for months, according to Hawke, and it showed.

"And meals I don't have to char myself!" Alistair went on with cheer that wasn't quite genuine. "I nearly died when I went by the kitchens and saw a wheel of cheese and I didn't even have to beg, the cook just gave me a chunk, all for me!"

"Yes, it's like we feed a garrison here or something," Cullen remarked, getting another loud bark of laughter from Alistair. He had to say, it was good to hear. Good to see the creases of his face crinkle into a sincere smile and lighten some of the heaviness. He half expected another joke at his expense, but Alistair's smile turned soft.

"It's a good thing you've built here," he said. That grin flashed again. "I still can't believe they put you in charge though."

The door opened again letting in a runner before Cullen could reply.

"Well!" Alistair said briskly, pulling himself to his full height. "I'll leave you to it. We'll have to catch up later."

"Until then," Cullen nodded in farewell, and watched Alistair make it out the courtyard door with exaggerated care not to knock over the table again. He couldn't help his grin as he watched him go, and thought it might be nice to see him later after all.

At their war council when the Inquisitor returned, Cullen listened as Alistair described what had befallen the Wardens these past months. To top it off, Warden-Commander Mahariel had disappeared into the West. Alistair tried to make light of it, saying, "I told him it was a fool's errand, but he's good at making those seem reasonable." But Cullen could read the tension in his shoulders at being left behind, the shift of his armor that now rested on a too thin frame. Alistair had taken his leaving hard, and been abandoned by his order in favor of madness.

But despite all that, he had the strength to stand up to it, and Cullen, mindful of his own failings, couldn't help but admire him for it.

He didn't have time to stay and chat afterward, as it was still early. Leliana snagged Alistair instead to update her information and catch up. So it was two days later that Cullen saw Alistair again.

He'd joined the Templars in their sparring in the training rings, and from what Cullen observed from the battlements, he was schooling them thoroughly with all sorts of dirty tricks. Cullen grinned to himself and headed for the stairs. His Templars could use someone to challenge them. He was a regular enough observer at the rings that his soldiers nodded at Cullen's arrival but didn't otherwise remark on his presence.

Alistair was facing off against Lysette who was fighting with too much caution and fell for a feint that sent her on back foot. She never properly recovered after that. Alistair was fast and efficient and he wielded his smaller shield to get in under her guard. She yielded not long after with his sword at her neck.

"You've got to watch my shield arm more carefully," Alistair said, offering her a hand up. "Just because it's not as big as yours doesn't mean I don't know how to use it."

A few snickers from the onlookers made Alistair look up, and Cullen rolled his eyes when Alistair just grinned. "Here," Cullen said to Tucker next to him. "Lend me your shield."

"Is that the mighty Inquisition Commander coming to face me?" Alistair said when Cullen tossed his cloak and scabbard belt over the railing and took his sword and borrowed shield with him into the ring. "I should warn you, I'm a lot better than I was back in training."

"I seem to recall flattening you every day of the week. I think I can manage that again," Cullen said to the whoops and cheers of his men.

Alistair grinned and banged his sword against his shield. "Don't be surprised if sitting at a desk all day has made you soft."

Cullen saved his breath for his attack. Alistair was fast, but so was Cullen, and while he might have been spending more time reading reports these days, he still was out every morning with the off-watch of Skyhold's garrison as they ran through their paces, and then again at mid-afternoon for whichever unit was cycling through the training ring matches. If anything was going to make him weak it was the lyrium withdrawal, but what better way to test his fighting condition than to go up against a seasoned fighter who fought dirty.

Case in point, Cullen brought his shield up to block a midsection kick and rolled with the force of it to deflect the underhanded follow up. Their swords clashed, and steel on steel rang out through the courtyard as they battled back and forth. The Templars and soldiers shouted encouragement to Cullen and a few of the scouts were cheering on Alistair. All told, they were evenly matched, although age and experience had tempered them into different styles. Cullen had been forged against Qunari, blood mages, and demons, where Alistair had cut his teeth against darkspawn and a bloody Archdemon.

In the end, however, it was an old trick that gave Cullen his opening. He feinted left, danced into Alistair's space when he closed and used his hilt to twist at his sword while pressing his thigh intimately between Alistair's to try and hook his leg. In the process he let his knee ride high, enough to jostle Alistair's codpiece. So close together, he saw the moment Alistair recognized the move. He should. Cullen learned it from him. He danced backward and countered, but Cullen anticipated the muscle memory, battered his smaller shield out of the way, and rammed him with his shoulder, sending Alistair staggering off-balance. To his credit, Alistair kept his feet, but just, and it was enough for Cullen's blow to his shield to send him staggering again -- only it was a feint and when Cullen followed up, Alistair surged forward and sent him staggering onto his back foot. Cullen recovered quickly, but not quickly enough, and their swords clashed once more until they danced away again.

Watching closely for his next opening, Cullen frowned when Alistair started to shake, his sword point wavering. A moment later a snigger broke free and Cullen realized that Alistair was laughing.

When he'd recovered himself, he pointed his sword at Cullen. "I can't believe you tried to pull that on me!"

Helpless but to grin back, Cullen said, "I can't believe it almost worked."

"It didn't!" Alistair denied instantly, which only made Cullen grin wider because this was familiar too. The difference was, when they'd been in training, he would have been furious at this point that Alistair wasn't conceding his point. How young they'd been.

"You're not fighting back now, so the match must be mine," he shrugged the familiar words instead, getting a laugh out of Alistair.

"It was a draw at best, and only because you cheated."

Cullen snorted. "And what do you call the rest of what you were doing?"

Alistair's eyes twinkled as he joined Cullen, conceding by clearing the ring, but Cullen had enough dignity not to point that out. He nodded to the Templar captain who got his people back into training formations now that the show was over.

"Tactical maneuvering," Alistair said with not quite a straight face.

It made Cullen laugh again, because, well, in a real fight all that mattered was staying alive. Honor had fuck-all to do with battle. That was for when you had the luxury of the Maker's mercy.

"You've gotten a lot better since the last time I faced you."

This time Alistair snorted. "So have you. Andraste's tits, you hit like a Qunari."

Cullen propped up his borrowed shield and gestured for Alistair to follow him. "That's what happens when they invade. You hit back or die."

Alistair gave him a quick glance that held something serious under the humor, but all he did was shake his head with a rueful laugh. "Fuck, how did we survive to get old?"

Feeling irreverent in the thrumming afterglow of a good spar, Cullen shrugged and said, "Fucked if I know."

Cullen still had work to do but he joined Alistair for late lunch in the soldiers's mess where they talked about the Inquisition's army and steered clear of any heavy talk. The conversation wended through stories about training raw recruits and the sorts of things the young ones got themselves into.

"The worst are the ones who don't know where babies come from," Alistair said at one point. "I had one lad try to convince me that the worst he could do was plant carrots in girl's belly since it was only seed after all."

Cullen nearly choked on his weak ale. "Oh, Maker."

"I told all the women to watch out for him, and told him to stick to men until further notice." He shook his head at his recruit's folly.

"Hopefully he won't think he's planting carrots in them," Cullen said without thinking about it, and then felt heat rush to his face when the mental image followed.

Alistair made a face. "Now I'm not going to be able to not think about that next time, thanks," he said with all sarcasm.

"Next time?"

"You know." Alistair made a hand motion that made Cullen blush even harder. "Oh come on, don't tell me you still don't approve." Alistair threw him an annoyed look. Cullen wondered if there wasn't some hurt under there as well when Alistair sat back on the bench, putting some distance between them.

Not for the first time, Cullen reflected that he'd been insufferable in his youth. "I don't disapprove now," he said. "And back then," he shrugged, frowning a little as old feelings swirled. They still stung, but he could see them clearly for what they were and where they would lead. He wished he'd had someone to knock some sense into his head instead of filling it with more nonsense, but he wasn't sure he would have listened at that age. "I was a shit about it because I hated how I really felt inside. I felt sure it was a test of the Maker's."

"How you really -- you mean . . . " A disbelieving grin began to spread across Alistair's face.

Cullen felt himself blush harder, and rolled his eyes, as much at Alistair as at his own fair skin. "Don't pretend you were sleeping around back then."

"Not with Knight-Captain Kline around," Alistair said with feeling, and Cullen mirrored his shudder. Even he, with his model behavior, had dreaded the Knight-Captain. "I half thought you were going to turn out like him."

"Oh, I did," Cullen said. "You should have seen me in Kirkwall." He dropped his eyes, the sting of that time of his life was still fresh. The shame and guilt would never leave him. He only hoped he was better with his recruits than Kline had been with them.

"I heard about some if it," Alistair said mildly. "Were recruits as ridiculous there?"

Cullen took the opening, grateful for it, even if he didn't deserve such kindness, and the conversation retreated to safer topics.

That evening after the change in the watch, Cullen was working by candlelight when the courtyard door opened again. Alistair poked his head in and knocked on the doorframe.

Cullen straightened, his back cracking from being bent over for too long. "You're supposed to knock first," he said.

"Your castle is full of strange rules," Alistair said, coming in. He'd taken off his armor and wore his padded undershirt with his sword belt. In his hands he had a bottle of wine and a half a wheel of cheese.

Cullen raised an eyebrow at him. "Still love cheese, I see."

Alistair grinned. "Thought I'd come share with you. Shouldn't you be done working for the day?"

"I'm never done working," Cullen sighed. He looked around for his chair, but it was covered in scout reports, and his desk was no better. He was sure he'd had less paperwork yesterday. Rubbing a hand through his hair and to the back of his neck, he massaged the tight muscles there. He had a headache, though whether it was from straining his eyes or the withdrawal he couldn't tell anymore.

Alistair waved the bottle of wine suggestively, face open and hopeful. The change in him from the war council was discernible even in the candlelight, which gave him a soft glow. Remarkable, how he'd despised Alistair growing up. Envious of his jokes and easy manner, even as he looked down upon his lack of seriousness and dedication to the Order. The corner of Cullen's mouth pulled into a half-smile and he nodded toward the ladder.

"If you can manage it with all that, my quarters are up there."

A few minutes later, Cullen had put his desk in order for the morning and followed Alistair up.

"Did you know there's a hole in your roof?" was the first thing Alistair said. He'd gotten the brazier and the lamp lit and set the cheese and wine on the barrel that served as a bedside table.

"Yes, yes, I know," Cullen waved his hand impatiently. He liked the hole in his roof, thank you. Some of that must have come through because Alistair's brows rose and then he chuckled and shook his head.

"I would have thought you'd have had it fixed straight away. You never liked things untidy or out of place before."

"That was before I became an untidy and out of place thing," Cullen told him.

Alistair's gaze was piercing. "I never would have thought you'd leave the Order either," he said softly.

Cullen shrugged, thinking of the lyrium. How he hated it. How he craved it. How both things were true about how he felt about the Order as well. "Things changed. Things need to change."

From the way Alistair regarded him, he knew all too well what Cullen meant.

Cullen started taking off his cloak and armor. He was surprised a minute later when Alistair stepped up behind him to work the buckles at his pauldrons and cuirass, and when they were off even more surprised when Alistair's hands returned to dig into his shoulders. It wasn't uncommon for comrades or squires to relieve some of the pressure of spending a day in plate, but it had been so long and before today it wouldn't have occurred to Cullen that Alistair would offer. He let out an involuntary groan when Alistair's fingers found a particularly bad knot by his shoulder blade.

After a minute, Alistair said softly, "This would be easier if you took your shirt off and lay down." His hands came to rest on Cullen's shoulders, their warmth seeping through the fabric of his undershirt. The air thickened as Cullen imagined those hands on his skin, Alistair above him on the bed, and he swallowed hard as his thoughts flickered to their earlier conversation. Did he want -- Was he -- Did Cullen want -- He didn't know and his thoughts scattered.

Carefully, Cullen stepped out from under those hands and turned to face him. But Alistair was glancing away. "Or we could eat cheese and drink wine," he said waving toward the bed. "Cheese is always good. I found a particularly tasty -"

"Alistair," Cullen said gently. Alistair's nerves were oddly reassuring and made it easier for Cullen to capture his hand. Calloused, warm.

Alistair stilled. In the warm light, part of his face was in shadow, but this close, Cullen could see him anyway. The boy he'd known, the man he'd grown into. Care and war had taken their toll, but his eyes were bright, even as they carefully met Cullen's. They held, and Cullen knew he should say something, but he'd always been bad at words when they were close to his heart. He didn't delude himself to think it was love, but neither was it a fellow Templar down the back stairs, or a forgettable encounter at the brothel. He'd known Alistair most of his life, and today that bond of shared childhood had shifted toward the precipice of friendship. Who would ever have believed they'd be here now? The thought warmed him, and Cullen found himself smiling and giving Alistair's hand a soft, reassuring squeeze.

"I'd like that," he said simply, rewarded by Alistair's eyes widening. He didn't seem to know whether to grin or not, making faces as ridiculous as when he'd fallen into Cullen's office a few days ago.

"Right then," Alistair finally said, clearing his throat. "Cheese later."

Cullen stepped back and unbuckled his sword belt, pulling his shirt over his head next. He folded it and set it aside, then took a moment to hang up his armor. When he turned back, he caught Alistair's eyes on him and felt himself blush when they continued roving over his bare chest. Unused to the attention, Cullen nevertheless felt it stir his loins, turned on by the heat and admiration in Alistair's gaze.

Alistair audibly swallowed, his breath coming fast and in time with the beating of Cullen's heart. "Just to be clear," he said, wetting his lips. "You are suggesting that we, you know . . ." he waved a vague hand, "plant carrots?"

Like that, the tension snapped. Cullen laughed in surprise but also to laugh, and Alistair grinned at him, pleased with himself. The heat was still there between them, but easier to bear now, and Cullen felt his blush spread, unable to shake the faint embarrassment that he had to say, "Yes, Alistair, I'm accepting your invitation."

"Invitation," Alistair rolled his eyes. "You always have to make things so proper." But he was unbuckling his sword belt and pulling off his shirt and boots and trousers, raising an eyebrow at Cullen until he shed the rest of his clothes as well.

Nudity was something he'd long been accustomed to, living in barracks his whole life, but it was different with intent. Cullen let himself admire, for once, the breadth of Alistair's shoulders, his narrow hips, the strength in his hairy legs. His cock at half-mast, heavy between them. His own stirred at the sight, and he licked his lips. Desire pooled in his belly, too much, too fast, and when his eyes trailed up over muscles and scars to Alistair's face, he let out a shuddery breath of conflicted emotions. Too open, but with the desire to be seen, wanting and not wanting at once.

He cleared his throat. "That offer to work the knots out of my back first still good?"

Wordlessly, Alistair nodded.

Cullen lay on his bed on his belly and took another deep breath to settle his heart rate. Slow down. It had been so long, he didn't want to think about the last time -- His thoughts scattered when he heard and felt Alistair's weight follow him onto the bed, felt his knees straddle Cullen's hips, his weight settle on his ass. A moment later, his warm hands were on Cullen's shoulders again, and he stopped thinking and let himself sink into the massage.

Alistair had strong fingers. Where they pressed against his neck, his shoulders, where tense muscles submitted to their strength, tingles shot down Cullen's body, through his toes. He melted under that touch, his breath hitching when Alistair had to dig a thumb in painfully, but the release was sweet. Alistair's hands traced Cullen's shoulders, down his ribs to press at his lower back. Cullen groaned with a sound from deep in his chest when his back popped, vertebrae resettling.

"You like that?" Alistair asked. His voice was closer than Cullen was expecting, just above his ear, and a moment later he felt the soft press of lips to the muscle that joined his shoulder to his neck.

Cullen shivered, nodding his head where it rested on his hands. Alistair's fingers trailed up his sides to sweep over his shoulders and down his back again, a light touch that made Cullen's skin light up, waking up the pooled desire in his belly. He wanted more.

Another kiss to the other side of his neck, then Alistair's hands returning to massage his neck, one hand slipping into his hair to scratch at his scalp. Cullen groaned again at the sensation, as more tingles fluttered through him.

"You're practically purring," Alistair said with a smile in his voice.

"It feels good," Cullen mumbled.

"You're not going to fall asleep on me, are you?" Alistair gave his hair a light pull where it was caught between his fingers, and Cullen practically keened as his whole body lit up. "I take it that's a no?"

Maker, Cullen pressed his hips into the mattress, and as he shifted, Alistair's weight did as well, and that made Cullen's hips stutter again. His cock was trapped uncomfortably beneath him, and he lifted his hips, trying to get a little space. Alistair's fingers gripped his hair again.

"What was that?" he asked, leaning close again, his breath warm on the back of Cullen's neck.

It was more than he could take. Cullen said, "Let me . . . ", getting his arms under himself and flipping over. Alistair lifted enough to let him, his hands trailing to rest on Cullen's chest. He had a slight smile hovering around his lips but before he could say anything smart, Cullen pulled him down for a searing kiss. This time it was Alistair groaning, and Cullen lost no time opening up beneath him and sweeping his tongue inside his mouth. Their tongues dueled, and Cullen pulled Alistair closer until he was lying on top of him, elbows to either side of his head, skin and heat pressed against him from knees to chest.

All the blood rushed to Cullen's cock, where it now ached with need. He pressed upward, and felt Alistair's hard length against his and was wracked by another warm flood of desire. Alistair's hips began rutting against him, and Cullen lost all thought to the feeling, overwhelmed and drowning. There was no place he'd rather be.

"Alistair," he gasped when the kiss broke. Alistair's lips went to his throat, peppering shivery kisses up to his ear. "Alistair!" Cullen found his shoulders, slid his left hand down until he found Alistair's hand. He brought it between them, brushing knuckles along their cocks that had them both gasping. But Cullen knew what he wanted, and he dragged Alistair's fingers behind his own balls, shuddering as they pressed against the smooth skin between them and then his ass hole.

Above him, Alistair stared into Cullen's eyes, his own pupil's blown wide with desire, his breathing as rapid as Cullen's. But none of that stopped the grin. "You want something?" he asked, voice scratchy from kissing but no less playful.

"I want you to fuck me," Cullen said, earning a bark of laughter at his coarse language. With Alistair's hand where he wanted it, Cullen moved his own to grasp both their cocks, making a slow sweep with his fist that made Alistair's laugh cut off abruptly. He went rigid above Cullen, sucking in his belly and breathing very carefully.

"You, uh, might want to be careful with that if you want me to last," Alistair said.

Cullen grinned up at him. "So don't do . . . this?" He squeezed and stroked again, slipping his thumb over Alistair's slit where the smooth head emerged from its sheath.

"Ahhhh, Maker's balls, you're supposed to be a good Chantry boy. Fuck." Alistair's voice shook.

"I haven't been a good anything in a long time," Cullen said, keeping his breathing even and stroking again. His own cock ached at the attention, but he could keep it together if it egged Alistair on.

Except, on the next stroke, Alistair's finger pressed against the puckered muscle of Cullen's ass hole, and he bucked hard at the sensation.

"Don't stop!" Cullen said even as Alistair shifted backward, easing off.

"Unless you have oil some--"

"By the barrel. On the floor." Cullen jerked his head toward the barrel beside the bed. He rolled his eyes at the shock on Alistair's face, and twisted enough to reach for it himself, slapping it into Alistair's hand. "Don't look at me like that."

"I'm not," Alistair protested even though he was. "I just never thought you would be one to pleasure yourself." He unstoppered the little vial and poured a generous amount on his fingers, setting aside the vial afterward. "You were always so proper when we were young. Always blushing whenever anyone joked about sex. And now you still blush, but I learn that you wrap your hand around your cock like the rest of us."

His words did make Cullen blush, but Alister's slicked up finger was back at his entrance, pressing in, and Cullen no longer cared. The heat on his cheeks was matched by the heat in his belly, the blood pounding in his cock, and the intrusive stretch that burned so good.

"More," he gasped, but Alistair took his own sweet time about stretching him, and Maker help him, Cullen writhed as Alistair's finger pressed against his inner walls and keened when Alistair pressed in a second finger, his whole body shuddering when his knuckles rubbed over the tight ring of muscles.

"Fuck," Alistair panted above him. "You keep making noise like that and I'm not going to be able to last."

As if to illustrate, his hips stuttered. Cullen still had a loose grip on his cock, but he'd lost his ability to do more than one thing at a time and right now, Alistair's fingers were stretching him open. Cullen let out a slow breath and tried to find some composure. He gave Alistair's cock an experimental squeeze.

"Maker." Alistair jerked again, and his free hand grabbed Cullen's hair. His lips found Cullen's and he tried to devour him in the kiss that followed. Cullen gave as good as he got until Alistair's fingers curled and hit that perfect spot -- his whole body coiled tight, and Cullen was so close to the edge.

"Alistair, Alistair." Their noses bumped. Cullen was sweating. He needed to come, needed to be fucked. "You better -- now, or I swear by the Void --"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Alistair's movements were just as jerky, just as urgent. He pulled his fingers free, and left Cullen gaping, aching to be filled. He clutched at Alistair's arms, anything, needing to hold on, while Alistair got more oil and slathered it on his cock. Cullen watched, his whole body yearning, his own cock straining out of his sheath, as Alistair pumped himself a few times and then lined himself up.

The blunt press of his cockhead was big, too big, but Cullen needed it anyway. Alistair went slow, and even so the burn hurt, pain edging against the pleasure in a delicious friction that was nearly overwhelming when Cullen's body finally gave. Alistair's cock was in his ass, and Cullen was lighting up on the inside.

"Yeah?" Alistair asked after a minute, letting Cullen adjust. He leaned in and kissed Cullen's slack mouth, the scar on his lip. One oiled hand found Cullen's, the other scrubbing through his hair until Cullen remembered to breathe. "You're so fucking beautiful," he murmured.

Surprised, Cullen opened his eyes and found himself lost in Alistair's light brown eyes just inches away from his own. Alistair smiled, and it was sweet. Cullen found himself returning it, feeling seen, laid bare, cared for. Alistair saw him. He'd known him as a stuffy young man, an insufferable Templar. He'd seen him at his worst in Kinloch, knew of even worse in Kirkwall, and he'd knocked on his door in Skyhold anyway. Cullen wasn't beautiful, but caught in Alistair's gaze, for a moment, he almost believed it.

He surged up to kiss him. A thanks, a prayer, helpless need. Alistair kissed back as hard and fast. His hips pushed inexorably forward, and Cullen spread his legs, the better to take him until Alistair was fully seated to the hilt. Together they gasped into each others mouths, kissing lost to sensation. And then Alistair began to move. Slowly at first, rocking in and out, then sliding nearly out to the tip and slamming back in, faster.

Each thrust drew sparks across Cullen's skin. His cock was thick and heavy, his balls tight and needy. Each time Alistair's balls slapped against his, he gave a tiny gasp -- one that turned into a deep groan when Alistair found a new angle, and his cock stuttered over that spot inside that sent reverberations all the way up his spine.

"Fuckfuckfuck," he chanted.

Alistair pounded into him faster, and desire and pleasure spiraled upward in Cullen. Alistair got a hand on his cock, and that was it, two pulls and Cullen's whole body shook as he came. His hips frantically fucked themselves against Alistair as that spot was hammered and his vision whited out, hot come spurting from his dick in great stripes that painted both their chests. Alistair's pace quickened to frantic as he shoved himself in, and then he was tumbling after, filling Cullen, painting his inner walls with his come as he ground against him.

Alitstair collapsed on top of Cullen, and Cullen didn't even mind. When Alistair's head landed against his shoulder, he simply cradled it in his palm, his other arm coming around Alistair's back to hold him. Both of them were breathing hard, and after a moment, Cullen rolled them so he wouldn't suffocate. Alistair roused enough to slip himself free, and then he wrapped Cullen up in his arms and they lay together just breathing for a long minute.

Feeling daring, Cullen pressed a kiss to Alistair's temple, full of affection for this ridiculous man, grateful he was alive, grateful he'd come to Skyhold.

"Good?" Alistair said into his shoulder.

"Very good," Cullen said, kissing him again. "You?"

"Mngng." Alistair waved a hand as if that said it all, which made Cullen grin, inexplicably happy. Alistair's smile was mischievous when he turned his head, rearranging them so he was still in Cullen's arms but could see him better. "Now. You have to wait six weeks for the carrots."

Cullen's laughter bubbled up from deep in his chest. He shoved at Alistair, and Alistair shoved back until it turned into a short wrestling match that left them even more closely intertwined than before. And stuck together in places. But they were too busy kissing to care.

Alistair stayed at Skyhold for two weeks before he headed out with the scouts for the Western Approach. Cullen had come out to see them off. He gave final instructions to the soldiers accompanying Lieutenant Harding and her team, and then went over to where Alistair was doing final checks on his horse's hooves. Alistair glanced up for a moment before returning his attention to his task.

"Don't trust our stablehands?" Cullen asked by way of greeting.

"I'll be doing it on the road, so might as well start as I mean to go on," Alistair said easily. He dropped the last hoof and dusted his hands together, smiling at Cullen. He'd filled out a little in his time in Skyhold, and the pinched look around his eyes had eased. They'd finally had that wine and cheese, and then a few rounds of chess, which Alistair was terrible at, and a number of nights of good company.

"You've come to see me off?" he asked.

Cullen nodded. "It's a long journey to the Approach, but you're in good hands. Harding's our best advance scout."

"I'm just glad I won't be on the run anymore," Alistair said with his joking smile, but one that hid a deeper truth.

"You'll always have a place with the Inquisition," Cullen said in the same light tone, but one he hoped conveyed the deeper truth there as well. He wanted to promise Alistair more, a possibility of something warm and safe, but that was not the world they lived in. It wasn't who they were. Alistair was a Grey Warden. Cullen had his duty to the their cause. There was a good chance neither of them would survive this war.

From Alistair's steady gaze in return, he understood. "I'm glad our paths crossed," he said. "You turned out not half bad," he flashed a grin.

"You're just the same," Cullen said, smiling in return.

"Am I?"

"No. Better." Cullen had to swallow past the sudden lump in his throat. He was only half surprised to realize that he was going to miss Alistair when he left. "I'm glad you came," he said. "Safe travels." Cullen held out his hand, and Alistair clasped his forearm, using his grip to pull Cullen into as much of an embrace as their armor would allow.

"Take care of yourself," Alistair said in his ear, as fierce and earnest as the man himself. Before Cullen could pull away, Alistair pressed a chaste kiss to the corner of his mouth.

"You too," Cullen said. Then he let go. With a parting nod, Alistair mounted up and joined the scouts. Cullen watched them ride out, arms crossed, wondering when next their paths would cross. Once they descended the pass out of sight, he took a deep breath, put away his worry, and went back to work.