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Complications and Predators

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Solas watched the little dalish hunter stride off to go plan the next mission with only half concealed amusement.

“Still glad you're sticking around for the crazy times, chuckles?” the aggravating voice of the dwarven writer came from behind him.

“I suspect it will never be boring here, at least.” he allowed, as the dwarf shifted his crossbow to walk next to him.

“True. That is something we never get around here. Didn't really get it in Kirkwall, either.” They continued up the path towards the Haven encampment, the sound of the training yard echoing across the valley. Varric glanced between the apostate next to him and the Commander watching the rag tag troops practice, and looked thoughtful. “Hey Curly!” He called, seeing the former templar look up at the nickname, “Whatever happened to Snapdragon?”

Cullen visibly rolled his eyes at the dwarf, but smiled, and whistled shrilly through his fingers. A small wolf came loping in out the trees, something gleaming dully under its stark white fur. It settled neatly at his heels, giving a wide berth to the templars and soldiers along the path, Solas could feel the magic rolling of the silver and aquamarine collar it wore, old and familiar, shining as bright as the matching cuff around the templar's wrist.

And then she shifted, every runed line of what was suddenly clearly lyrium glowing bright as she stood up. A slightly built elven girl in outsized, robes, barefoot in the shallow snow, magic outshining the collar still around her neck. “Fox, where are the boots I got you?” The Commander asked, his tone wearily resigned, even as he tugged affectionately at the long braid of her hair.

“In your pack, next to the weapon oil.” She responded with a shrug, extending a hand out to the dwarf. “Master Varric Tethras, its good to see you again, now that the sky stopped bleeding.”

He bowed dramatically over the hand, making her quirk a smile at him. “Good to see you too, Snapdragon. I was half worried Curly had left you back in Kirkwall. This is Solas. He's almost as weird as you are.” He turned back to the elven apostate behind him. “Chuckles, Mistress Danae Foxfire. Curly ended up with her after her magister decided to piss off Hawke.”

“You make me sound like a parcel. I wasn't quite that helpless,” she protested mildly. “And its Fox, really. Valor and Hope are the ones who call me Foxfire, and no one I like calls me Danae.” She stepped forward with her hand out to Solas, and froze, wide aquamarine eyes looking through him. She blinked, taking a cautious step back towards her templar. “ Its, uh, very nice to meet you, Solas. I think I should go put those boots on now. Excuse me.” The lyrium runes flared bright again, fading as a small white fox bolted towards the Chantry.

“Slightly odd, even for her. She probably saw a Fade whisp she had to chase.” Varric shrugged, resettling Bianca's weight as he headed for the stairs.

“Maybe.” Cullen hesitated, looking as if he would say something more, eyeing Solas with a brief moment of suspicion before sighing and following the dwarf up the steps into Haven proper.

Solas doubted they had any idea what they had in their midst. A dreamer mage, with enough lyrium running through her skin to let her see through the veil while awake. And clearly well enough to see something of his other self. Wearing a binding collar he hadn't seen used since the days of the ancient elves. This was either going to be very interesting to observe or complicate his already unwinding plan horribly. Quite possibly both.

It was some weeks later, returning from a visit to Redcliffe, that the little dreamer approached him again. He had seen glimpses of her in passing, usually as something furred, but only at a distance, and never again as a wolf. She and the graceful Dalish hunter wearing his anchor had finally met, which had went about as well as a dalish dealing with a collared tevinter could.

Lyra Lavellan had seen the collar and immediately tried to take the Commander apart for keeping a slave. Given the nature of the binding collar, Solas suspected keeping the leash as loose as he did was the best he could manage. There were precious few ways to remove one from a mortal, even for him, which was why they had been created.

Cullen had taken every word like a blow, cringing like a beaten child. The dreamer had not. Solas had enjoyed watching her give up every pretence of being meek and submissive, turning the argument right back at the Herald indignantly. The Fox had no issue with the state of things and and no hesitation in saying precisely what was in her mind. As much as he enjoyed the company of the eternally inquisitive Lyra and the elegant, practiced grace of her movements, seeing her forced to reconsider long held viewpoints and opinions she had thought universal was entertaining.

Lyra had stalked off with Cassandra to consult with the others about the situation with the rebel mages the moment they had returned, leaving himself and the scruffy little archer to their own devices. Which of course meant Sera had made a rude noise at him and vanished for the tavern.

There was a small white fox sitting at his door as he came up the stairs, tail tucked neatly around her paws as she waited. Unsure what to expect, he smiled as reassuringly as possible, holding the door open for her to follow him inside. When the door shut, she shifted back, standing near the table with her hands fidgeting behind her and her bare feet scuffing patterns in the dirt.

“I was horribly rude before, when we were introduced. Hope and Valor were both very insistent I needed to apologise as soon as possible when I found them. I was going to apologise anyway, but I wanted to speak with them first, because I have never met someone with a fade presence like yours. Easier if either would come anywhere near here, but I can't blame them with the barely no longer bleeding hole in everything.” She said all in a rush, “So I'm sorry for my rudeness, people don't usually have so many teeth in their shadow, I was... startled.”

“What else did they tell you about me?” he asked, when the frantic babble had stalled.

“Don't piss you off, you're older and meaner than me, is what Valor said. Hope phrased it nicer, and added that not everything dangerous was evil, and not all evil looked dangerous.” The little dreamer glanced furtively up at him through loose strands of hair, still uneasy.

“Hope and Valor are rare and valuable friends to have.” he gave her another reassuring smile, one with as little bite behind it as he could manage. She smiled tentatively back, some of the tension in her posture easing.

“They've saved me more than I can ever repay. Before I came south, before Cullen, they were my only friends. Well, loyalty turned up every now and then, and there are always the fade whisps to gossip with, but... they were always there for me. Hope is the only thing I remember from before...” she gestured vaguely at the runes worked into her skin. “ Being very small, crying myself to sleep, waking to the fade and Hope with her wings around me, watching over me.”

Solas regarded the little dreamer indulgently. “She kept you safe when you were too young to realize you were even in danger.” She nodded, brightening, before tilting her head as if listening for something far off. “I'd appreciate if you didn't share details of how I can look in the fade with those who can't see it.” He suspected he had met both her friends, spirits of those attributes and personalities, although why they had taken such an interest in this dreamer was curious. He would have to ask, if he found them one night.

“That was pretty much how they thought you'd feel.” she agreed. “I'm glad I got the chance to talk to you, Master Solas.”

“Just Solas, little fox.” he corrected, and she shrugged agreeably. She tilted her head again, eyes distant. “What are you listening for?”

“The meeting's breaking up, I think. Cullen's worried about something, and he's almost to the kind of worried that means he'll start wondering where I am.” She rubbed absently at the collar, glancing in the direction of the Chantry and it's War Room. “He knows exactly where I am if he thinks about it, same as I do him, but its easier if I'm where he can see I'm safe when he worries like that.”

Solas opened the door for her as the lyrium flared and scurried out as a fox. The commander worried meant either Lyra putting herself into danger or making a decision he didn't like. Possibly both, and the Tevinter Altus from Redcliffe who had turned up shortly after they had wouldn't help. Thinking about that, he snorted. He couldn't blame the Commander for wanting to know the elf he'd rescued from a Magister's grasp was somewhere safe with another Magister taking over Redcliffe and a Tevinter mage strolling around Haven like he owned it.

Chapter Text

Lyra leaned against the stairs, watching Commander Cullen dodge balls of snow tossed by an enthusiastic Fox. When she paused, shivering, the templar gestured at her bare feet in ankle deep snow with a pointed look on his face. The white haired elf girl blinked up at him contritely, hands behind her back, and he closed the distance, cupping her face gently in his gloved hands, resting his forehead against hers.
A few moments later, his shriek echoed across the training grounds as his mage dumped both her handfuls of snow down the back of his armor and danced out of his reach. The resulting chase only ended when he skidded to an embarrassed and breathless halt in front of Lyra, realizing who had been watching them. With difficulty, Cullen gathered up the shreds of his dignity, nodded decorously at the watching Herald, and strode back to his duties.
Fox, looking far less impressed, shifted into a rather fluffy cat as she caught back up, launched herself to Cullen's shoulder, and spared the Dalish rogue only an indignant feline glare.
“Its likely to take an apology or something else truly impressive to remedy that. The little fox is very protective of her templar.” Solas stood behind her, as calm and comforting a presence as ever. “Without a method of removing the binding collar, I suspect they are doing the best that they can.”
“She's nothing like any of the mages back in the clan. None of them would ever let someone put a collar around their neck.” Lyra remarked, rubbing absently at the stylized flame running from her brow to her cheek. Behind her, Solas coughed, slightly, looking away. “I was always told death was better than slavery, and those scars she wears... I don't how she carries on.”
“She's the favorite of a very persistant spirit of hope and a rather blunt spoken spirit of valor. I believe that has much to do with her outlook. Both of them also approve rather strongly about the templar guarding her.” Solas explained, smiling at the sudden look of interest as he mentioned spirits.
“So she visits the fade and talks to spirits like you do?” Lyra asked, fascinated. She wished her keeper had told her more of all these wonders.
“Its very similar. It seems we even have mutual acquaintances there, although different approaches to them.” He smiled down at the rapt expression on her face, enjoying the attention. “But tell me, have you seen how our newest mages are settling in?”
“As far as I can tell, they aren't. Madame Vivienne is very talented, and everyone respects that, but I haven't met anyone who actually likes her. And I'm just not sure about her views on other mages. Everything she says seems fine and reasonable, but... And Dorian... he's not what I expected from Tevinter. I could like him, I think, but no one else trusts him, and I can't blame them. Cullen really doesn't like him, I think because of Fox.” Lyra glanced back out at the field and the sparring soldiers.
“The commander is as protective of the little fox as she is of him.” Solas remarked, looking very unsurprised. “Have they actually run into each other yet?”
“Sort of. He saw the scars and the collar, paled, and left without saying a word to her.” She grinned at Solas's expression. “I know, him speechless is a thing that will likely never happen again. I don't think he expected to run into someone like her here, and she's even less impressed with him than she is with me.”
“I can imagine that.” Solas chuckled. “I saw Fiona's people gathering, are you planning to make an attempt at the breach?”
“We were thinking tomorrow or so. After what happened in the time rift... I want this dealt with as soon as possible. Solas... can we talk about that, sometime? You said something odd whenI found you there.”
“Oh, what did I say that struck you as so odd?” Solas asked, unable to keep a moment of worry from his voice. What had he revealed, lost in despair in the future?
“Umm... 'You'd think such understanding would stop me making such terrible mistakes. You'd be wrong.' or something like that. I just can't figure out what mistakes you were talking about.” She started back up the stairs, managing to miss the stricken look that flickered over his face.
“I'd imagine there would be a list, Herald. It's hard to say which I could be talking about, after a year of a world like that.” He snapped, once he had steadied the ice that ran down his spine. She glanced back, looking hurt, and he regretted the comment. “I've lived a long life, Da'len. I have made many mistakes. I don't believe helping the Inquisition will make that list.”
Some of the hurt eased from her eyes, and she smiled back at him. “Will you come tomorrow to help with the mages and the breach?”
“Of course, Mistress Lavellan.” she quirked a look at him, and he chuckled. “Lyra. Given my study of the rifts, I can't imagine not being there.”

 

Lyra leaned heavily against the door to the Chantry, trying to catch her breath and take stock of the situation. She was pretty sure that had been a damned archdemon out there, in addition to the corrupted templars. It had been utter chaos out there, but she thought everyone had gotten inside before Cullen had slammed the doors shut. “Just make them work for it”, he had said, sounding the retreat. She could still hear the beast outside, the roars loud against the crackling fires and occasional house falling into itself.
Sister Leliana and Lady Josephine were in the back, their agents gathered around them while the Iron Bull was counting heads on his Chargers. Sera was with Flissa and some of the scouts who had been celebrating, as was Varric. Thrann, Adan, and Harrit, all over there arguing with that shopkeeper, near where Dorian and Vivienne were herding the mages into some kind of order. Solas was helping the boy who had warned them of the attack carry a badly wounded Chancellor Roderick. Cassandra and Blackwall were checking over the soldiers who had made it inside. Lysette was sitting with Minaeve near the door. Lyra heaved a sigh of relief. That looked like everyone...except maybe...
Cullen was pacing between his men and the door, a limp bundle of bloodstained white fur in the crook of his arm. “Fox got caught in the blast she was pulling Minaeve and Adan out of. Shifting and the barrier she threw up over them saved her from the worst of it, they said, but... She'll be out for a while.” He said as the herald approached, tucking the unconscious fox closer into his body protectively as a loud thump came from the roof, the horrible sound of claws on slate. “If it wasn't for the Archdemon, that trick with the trebuchets would have saved us. It has been an honor fighting and working with you, Mistress Lavellan.”
Lyra looked out at everyone again, and gritted her teeth. This was her clan now, her people, more reliant on her than her family had ever been. She would take herself to the dreadwolf before she would let them all die without a fight.
“There has to be someway out of this,” Lyra told him, and had her answer from Cole and the Chancellor shortly after. “Rocks won't hold a dragon for long, but... Cullen, if you can get them out, I can distract it at least. I'm the one it wants.”
Cullen mustered the troops back into defensive ranks, tucking Fox into the back of his hood, and saluted the Herald as she stepped outside.
She meant to go alone, but Iron Bull, Solas and Dorian were at her back. “We can at least get you to the siege engines and help you rig it, boss. You'll have as much of a chance as we can buy you.”

Chapter Text

When they were far enough away to have a chance, they sent up the flares, hoping. Cullen watched the mountain fall over Haven with mixed feelings. The mages and the qunari had caught up shortly after the flares went up, but the Herald had stayed behind, bait and trigger for the trap. They were safe for now, but at what cost?
He gathered up the survivors into a rough camp with what few supplies anyone had thought to grab. The Tevinter Altus made himself helpful getting wet frozen wood to burn hot enough, and Cullen clapped him on the shoulder. “We wouldn't have gotten so many out without your help and those fireballs, Lord Pavus. You're a better man than I gave you credit for.” The mage managed to look both offended and pleased, before looking back at where Haven had been with concern.
“She was supposed to be right behind us. Commander. I thought she was.” Cullen patted him on the shoulder again, Solas was staring at the same spot, a stricken look in his eyes, as everyone else milled around him. Iron bull and his men were putting up shelters for the wounded as near a fire as safe, and he went to help them as the safer choice.
They had the wounded under rough cover and were trying to assess damage and supplies when he felt the slow breathing of the fox in his hood change and a paw twitch against his neck. She shifted back slowly in his arms, still disoriented, blinking up at him with dried blood in her hair. She reached up, running a finger through his sweat tangled curls, undone from the salve he had slicked it back with. “Meo Leonis” she murmered, leaning against his chest. “There was a dragon? Where are we?” She asked, those aquamarine eyes focusing slowly.
“Safe, for now, Fox. You had me a bit worried there for a bit. You need to be more careful. You're a healer, not a combat mage.” He worked bits of the dried blood from a knot in her hair, and brushed his lips against hers. “When they carried you in, I thought I'd lost you.”
“I'll be alright, amatus. Just give me a moment.” She pressed her lips more thoroughly against his, leaned back, and took a deep breath. “How many wounded do we have?”

She was so cold. The burns from the rage demon in the mine were the worst, spilling out precious heat as she tried to follow the distant point of a fire. It hurt to move, hurt to breathe, and her mark kept flaring. Line along her back from when she landed, pain both sharp and throbbing, slashes where shade claws had gotten inside her guard. She knew she was leaving a trail of blood for any predator to follow, but couldn't make herself care. She just had to find somewhere she could rest, somewhere warm, somewhere safe. She had to find her new clan. One more step, then one more step. If she stopped moving, she wouldn't start again. She couldn't feel her feet anymore, or her hands. Keep moving. Sera pulling pranks, Cassandra getting loud with worry, Varric and his nicknames and stories. Solas. She'd promised him she'd catch up. Fierce, loyal, earnest Blackwall. Blustery, mouthy, firethrowing Dorian, willing to go anywhere but not to shut up about it. Iron Bull, deadly in battle and raucous out of it. Solas, who she had promised to protect. Leliana, her tricks and her agents. Josephine, with her easy compromises and contacts. Cullen with the troops before him and Foxfire at his back. Solas, wise, subtly snarky Solas. The image of him smiling at her as he told her about the fade came to her mind, and she made herself take another step, and another. “Solas?” He caught her by the wrists as she fell into the cold dark, eyes concerned.

 

Lyra woke, thinking of a bad dream until she saw the rough tent her bedroll lay under. The icy numbness was gone, every bruise, cut and burn vanished, not even scars to mark where they had been under the shreds of her armor. “My keeper couldn't have done this neat a job,” she mused.
“Thank you,” Foxfire responded, from a few mats away, her brands lighting the tent as she ran a healing spell over an unconscious soldier, looking as exhausted as Lyra still felt. In the flare of light, she could see Chancellor Roderick, sleeping, a freshly healed scar over his torso. “Yours were at least fresh, and you're young, strong. By the time I got to him, he's lucky to only have the scar.” She glanced over the rows of resting wounded, and rubbed a hand over her eyes. “When Cullen told me I'd be the best healer in the Inquisition, I thought he was humoring me. I didn't think he meant the only healer that could do more than set bones and heal paper cuts without herbs and bandages. Stitches and the other herb healers are a great help, but that isn't what I'm used to.” She checked on another resting form, and sat by Lyra. “Most combat mages can't do more than rudimentary healing. I'm used to that. But with the war, most talented healers either stayed where they would be protected or didn't survive the lack of combat training, and its a rare mage who can do both well.”
“As Cullen protected you?” Lyra asked, propping herself up on a elbow to regard the smaller elf.
Fox rubbed at the jeweled collar she wore self consciously. “As Cullen protects me, yes. Combat is not something I was allowed to train at before I ended up south. I've learned a few tricks over the last few years, but I'll never be at the same level as Madame Vivienne or Lord Pavus.”
“Or Solas?” Lyra asked, glancing out of the open front of the tent to the pensive form sitting at the fire.
“He's in a class of his own,” Fox muttered, following the rogue's look. “I learned most of what I can do from Hope, with a lot of real world practice. Valor, Faith, Loyalty, they all have tricks and most are willing enough to teach to anyone willing to listen. Solas has forgotten more tricks of the fade than I'll ever know. Its what he does, and he is very good at it.”

 

Lyra walked back from the out of the way spot Solas had pulled her to discuss the origin of the orb, still humming from the smile he had given her at the end. She could hear her boots crunching in the crisp snow, surprisingly not overtaken by the any new arguments among the heads of the inquisition. Good. She wouldn't have to threaten to turn the aravels.. er.. soldiers around if everyone didn't shut up and behave. For a group consisting of adults, the humans spent a great deal of time acting like children. It was silent when she got back, Cassandra the only one still watching the main fire.
“How are we set for the morning?” Lyra asked. “I know a lot of people got hurt during the retreat, will they be able to move out in the morning?”
“Will you? You were badly injured when Solas found you.” Cassandra smiled, speaking quietly as she glanced over to the other side of the fire, where the other advisors had makeshift bedrolls. In the dim light, she could see Cullen sprawled next to Leliana and Josephine in their bedrolls. Fox was tucked into the curve of his body under the worn cloak, his arms wrapped protectively around her torso. “I think this is the longest I've ever seen the Commander's pet without fur.” she mused, rising to add to the fire. “I convinced him into taking on the Inquisition troops by allowing him to keep her, giving him a place outside the Order she would be safe. I find myself increasingly glad he insisted, however odd she may be.”
“How did they end up together?” Lyra asked, keeping her voice low enough not to awaken the camp.
“As I understand it, a magister left her behind with the templars as a distraction while he had business in Kirkwall, and ended up leaving her behind. She talked Cullen into taking her under his protection, and there she stayed.” Cassandra glanced over to the rest of the makeshift camp, rubbing a hand over a slash through her sleeve, one with unmarred skin underneath. “I misjudged her, I believe, as badly as I did you. Until today, I would have told you she was a useless lapdog that Cullen looked after out of pity and base desire. The sort to run off barefoot after butterflies.”
“In your defense, I think her feet are probably currently bare.” The herald laughed, ruefully. “You also had pretty good cause to misjudge me, at the time.”
“She is no combat mage, but she fought as fiercely as she could to protect the other noncombatants. And when we got here, she saved many I would have thought lost causes. Because of Cullen's little healer, all those we got out of Haven are still with us. They should all be fine to travel by morning. Even Chancellor Roderick.”
“There might be a few less thanks coming her way for that one,” Lyra grumbled, remembering how she met the Chantry clerk.
The Seeker snorted, nodding. “That is true. He might not even thank her for it. He was very against Cullen having her here.”

 

“I've found somewhere the Inquisition can settle. If it isn't safe, no place will be. As far as I can remember from the fade, it shouldn't be more than three or four days travel from here.” Solas woke her early, pulling her away from camp again to describe the path.
“It's defensible?” She asked, staring into the mountains along the direction he pointed.
Solas looked offended, and sniffed a little. “Its a well built fortress, so I believe it is.” Lyra impulsively hugged the older elf, who stiffened in shock before unbending enough to wrap an arm affectionately around her shoulders.
She sniffled into his shoulder a bit, arms around his neck. “Thank you! I was so worried about not having anywhere to take them, we definitely don't have the supplies to stay here long while we figured it out.” The hand over her shoulder patted her reassuringly on the back, and she pulled back, a trifle embarrassed. “I should go tell Cullen we have a plan, so he can get everyone moving.”
Solas smiled at her, seeming at a loss for a moment, but nodded.“Go tell the Commander and get everyone up. I'll scout the path ahead.”
Cullen woke at her gentle nudge, carefully extricating himself from around the mage he held without waking her. “Herald,” he said quietly, sitting up and tucking his cloak back around Fox's shoulders. “What's the plan?”
“Get everyone up and moving, soon as we can. Solas fade scouted and found us a fortress a few days away. Do we have enough supplies to make it there?” Lyra asked, sitting next to him, Leliana suddenly awake next to them.
“Maybe? If we hunt along the way? It'll be close, but that sounds like the best chance we have.” Cullen mused, thoughtfully. He ran careful fingers across the tangle of white hair poking out from under his cloak, waiting for her to stretch and sit up next to him before brushing a kiss over her sleepy forehead. “Can I have my cloak or do you need it more, love?” he asked. Fox pushed the length of wool over to him, before shifting back to the thick furred fox and scrambling up to his shoulder, draping herself over the back of his neck like a scarf. “That will work. At least my neck will be warm.”
“I'll get Josie and Cass up in a bit, after I get my scouts moving.” Leliana told them, glancing at the other two still asleep.

 

Lyra set off through the path Solas led her, all of the inquisition following. Not all of it quietly, but all of it following. “This is one of those moments I feel like I've somehow ended up in charge of the biggest, weirdest, and most quarrelsome clan ever.” Just ahead of her, Solas chuckled, glancing back at her in amusement. “No, really. Except somehow I'm playing keeper without magic, and you'd have to be the hah'ren with all the ancient stories and legends.”
At that, Solas stopped short in his tracks, staring at her, somewhere between amused and offended. “I suppose I can see how you'd see it that way,” he replied after a long pause, looking back at all the hopeful faces behind them.
“So, which of us has to threaten to turn the aravels around if the children won't stop fighting?” she laughed, as much at the look on his face as anything.
“I believe that would clearly be your responsibility, Lyra.” he said, flatly, as Dorian and Vivienne could be heard sniping at each other cattily.
The herald listened for a moment, and sighed. “I think this is why the Dalish limit the mages in a clan. It's nothing to do with demons or blood magic or danger. It's because too many mages in a group won't stop fighting with each other.” She peered back, considering. “Three mages to a clan... You, Fox...and, hmmm. Dorian. She can heal and he's good in a fight. If we could keep them from killing each other. I'd say Fiona instead of Dorian, but she irritates me, and she doesn't like Fox. I don't know why, other than the whole sleeping with a human thing.”
“Surprising, considering I would think you'd have more of a problem with it, being Dalish.” Solas remarked, striding back to the front.
“He's a good man, and she seems happy. I admit, part of me would be happier if she took up with another elf, but it's not actually any of my business. And she would be the first to tell me that if I were stupid enough to bring it up. She's a good healer, though.”

Chapter Text

Towards mid afternoon, Lyra ran into Fox towards the head of the march, as Cullen dropped back to check on lagging troops. Her mismatched robes were even more tattered than usual, scorched and ripped, but she was half skipping barefoot through the calf deep snow, humming a cheerful tune to herself.
“Okay, I really have to ask. We are in the middle of the Frostbacks. My toes are going numb in their boots. Dorian whines about being cold so much Sera has offered to kill him three times since lunch. Why are you always damned barefoot?” Lyra asked, running a hand back through her rough clipped red hair.
“Boots are weird. How do you know where your feet are if you can't feel the ground?” The mage replied with a shrug. “Besides, I can do this,” she brushed a hand against the Herald's shoulder, glowing bright for a moment. Lyra felt the spell settle around her, the bite of the wind easing against her skin, warmth returning to her hands and feet. “Modified barrier spell, well, more or less. Does pretty well keeping the cold off. I do admit, I might have to heal a few less ice cuts to my feet if I was wearing something, and the damp is less than pleasant at the moment, as much as I like snow.”
“That's amazing! Teach that to Dorian before he gets murdered for not shutting up,” Lyra suggested. “Vivienne too, or she'll be catty about being left out for the rest of the trip.” She glanced ahead at the lightweight coat Solas wore as he forged ahead of the group. “Solas probably already knows that one, but I'll ask him.”
“Only if they ask me very nicely,” Fox snorted, looking highly dubious at the idea.

 

When Lyra caught up with Fox again the next day, Dorian in tow, the smaller elf was skipping along next to Leliana. “During the blight, I traveled with a mage who shape shifted much like you do, but she spent much of her time as a bird. She would never have been caught quite so fluffy,” the spymaster was saying.
“I like being fluffy. Besides, I've never managed to get the hang of the whole flying thing. Hope keeps saying I'll find my wings when I really need them, and Valor says I'll know how when I'm ready. Which is oddly the same as he's said about getting the collar off, and he doesn't tend towards cryptic as a general rule.” Fox waved the idea off with an idle hand, smiling brightly at the bard. “But I'd love to hear more of your stories about the blight.”
“Not while walking through deep snow, as nice as you are to ward the cold off me. Ask me again over dinner, I'll find you a story.” Leliana laughed.
“That sounds more than fair. Stop by when the spell wears off, I'll reset it.” Fox offered cheerfully.
“Is that why Cullen checks up on you so often when you aren't on his shoulder, and hasn't said anything about the cold?” Leliana giggled as Fox gave her a conspiratorial wink and a shrug. “You are much more helpful and polite than the other shape shifter I knew. She wouldn't have shared magic like that unless she had to.”
“I've had practice at the polite and helpful,” Fox smiled, some of the warmth leaving her eyes, more so as the Herald and the Tevinter Altus came into her line of sight. “Lord Pavus, Mistress Levallan,” she greeted them, her tone wary.
Dorian gathered himself against her obvious distrust, and dropped to his knees dramatically. “Please, oh aspect of shining beauty and knowledge, teach my unworthy but very pretty self the magical art of keeping my feet warm in this frozen wilderness!” he declared, making his eyes as pleading as possible.
She tried to keep a straight face, staring bemused at the noble kneeling before her in snow over his legs. Eventually she shook her head, her smiling returning and brightening. “I'll think about it,Altus. Try saying a few more nice things about me.”
“You're more powerful than the Archon and almost as good looking as I am,” he promptly responded, still on his knees.
“Get out of the snow, Lord Pavus,” she snorted. “I'll show you this trick if you'll walk me through flaring the barrier when casting fire through it. I can't get it to cascade quite right.” She reached down, offering him a back up to his feet.
He took the offered hand, careful of the lyrium running down her fingers. “It will be Dorian to you, Mistress Danae. I quite insist.”
“Then call me Fox, please, if we're dismissing formality, or Foxfire. No one's called me Danae since my last master, and I dislike the associations.” She watched his momentary flinch, the swift recovery, and smiled as he bowed floridly over the hand he still held.
“A pleasure to be working with you, Fox. Any preference on training ground?” He asked, looking around for a likely spot.
“I think there was a clearing over that way we shouldn't set anything important on fire in, as long as you don't mind missing part of lunch.” They wandered off in that direction, already deep in arcane discussion, as the Herald and the Spymaster exchanged amused glances.

“Commander, you are going to ask that little pet of yours to share her trick with the rest of us, aren't you?” Madame Vivienne huffed as the group settled for dinner.
“I did, in fact, ask her for you. She said she'd teach you when you asked nicely, as the Herald had already told you,” Cullen answered, checking on a hastily scribbled report about dwindling supplies without even looking up.
“Darling, I hardly see the need to go to that much trouble. She does belong to you. What would make it worthwhile to you to simply order her to teach everyone?”
Cullen gave the Orlesian mage a flat look over the scrap of paper in his hands. “If you find it that humiliating to just ask her yourself...”
“But I did ask her, just this morning, and she refused. She even had the audacity to remind me she worked for you, not me or the Herald, which is the sort of unruly behavior you really should keep in check. So I come back to you, in the hopes you will try to keep your house in order.” Vivienne said sweetly.
“The reason she emphasized 'when she asks nicely' is starting to dawn on me,” Cullen sighed, “Madame Vivienne, I don't even know where to start.”
“If you tried asking without referring to her as a Templar's lapdog, Mistress Foxfire might be more inclined to do you such favors as sharing esoteric arcane secrets, First Enchanter,” Solas suggested, a dangerously amused look in his eyes as he wandered by.
“Iron Lady, Sparkler managed to pick it up pretty fast. You could always try asking him to teach you,” Varric suggested. “Don't feel too bad. Snapdragon won't teach Fiona either.”
“Varric, darling, I don't suppose you'd be willing to talk to her for me?” Vivienne asked, “Really, given her station and life choices, I'd thought she'd be more accommodating.”
Cullen crumpled the paper in his hands, glaring at both of them before stalking off to the other side of the camp without another word.
“Why? No one she has to answer to likes you, as charming as you are. You're going about it the wrong way. Think of her as Curly's girlfriend, not his servant. He doesn't order her to do anything,” Varric snorted. “I suspect you'll have to win her over the old fashioned way. Bribe her. I'm sure you have something she might want. She used to take the long way around Kirkwall to spend a moment staring at stalls of assorted fripperies on her way to do things.”
“Bright ribbons, shiny silks, things that sparkle and sit in her hair. He buys her practical things, sturdy things, because he doesn't see where she looks, and she doesn't know he'd buy them all if she asked,” The boy, Cole, chimes in, his eyes distant, and Vivienne recoiled from him, even as her darkeyes went speculative.

Cullen found Fox at the other end of the camp, chasing a ram into Sera's bow range. As it dropped, she loped over to his side, shifting back as Blackwall went of retrieve it.
“Team effort to extend supplies out?” He asked, and she smirked at him.
“Its one more meal, at least.” she acknowledged, “Its going to get harder to find game until we actually get there. That valley has plenty of game, and they aren't used to wolves anymore.”
They stood together in the twilight for a moment, his hand automatically reaching out to toy with the simple braid down her back. “You could have mentioned Vivienne was being nasty about the request. I can't protect you from things I don't know about,” he quietly commented.
“I should mention snow is damp and ice is sharp then, as well, Amatus.” his mage sighed, leaning her head against his chest. “ Fiona's actually being nastier about it. The circle mages have words for mages that sleep with templars. Very few of those words are Maker bless. Beyond that, she seems to think I have an obligation to do helpful things for her people just because they and I both have magic. Vivienne just thinks she's better than me.”
“I left the order and took you away from Kirkwall in the hopes that particular epithet would be left behind, love. You're more than that.”
“Dogs bark, meo leonis. We don't have to listen.” She tipped her head into his caress, humming to herself for a moment before patting his armor fondly. “You don't need to remind me you like dogs, Ferelden. I love you anyways.”
He huffed slightly, before kissing her soundly. “Someday, we will get a good mabari, and you will understand.”
“Of course I will, Amatus. Let's go get dinner, I got Leliana to promise me a blight story. There's probably a dog in it somewhere.”

 

“Perhaps we've gotten off to on the wrong foot, darling. You do have such pretty hair, and I think you'd clean up reasonably well with some effort. Are those standard issue circle robes?” Vivienne approached the little elf the next day.
“They were back in Kirkwall. All my spares were in our packs in haven, like my boots, so I'm stuck with this one for now. Cullen already told me he'd requisition me more supplies when we have a chance.” She continued her half skipping slog through the snow.
“My dear, I understand your background is a little more deprived than some, but I assure you, every woman deserves something that isn't bloodstained and half burned, and you deserve at least one thing that isn't standard robes.” The Orlesian mage saw the hesitation enter the elf's steps, the way she glanced back, and smiled. “I realize not all men are at my dear Bastien's level, but even your doglord templar should have made some effort to outfit you as you deserve.”
“Madame Vivienne, can I ask where this conversation is going? Are you getting me new robes if I teach you or something?” Fox asked, wearily. “It's a much better lead up than the Grand Enchanter's last try, I will give you that.”
“Don't be silly, child. I'm getting you something else to wear regardless, you're an embarrassment to the inquisition in that mess. If you teach me your trick, I'll teach you how to make your lover buy you all the pretty things you deserve. Clearly, someone needs to take you under their wing. Men don't respect things they get for free, my dear.” The former slave took a tentative step towards the other mage,intrigued, and Vivienne reached into the pack in the snow behind her. “One of these should fit you for now, and we can arrange a visit to my tailor or something later. And we really should do something with your hair.” She began pulling assorted robes out, holding them up against Fox's small frame. A few minutes later, they had settled on a short velvet tunic and leggings under a long, elegant deep blue enchanter's coat that armored her to her ankles. “Much better. You look good in rich colors, it sets off the silver-white of your markings and hair. A nice burgundy might work as well. Or I could dress you in pearls, all pure white, make you look like winter itself. ” Vivienne approved, already hefting Fox's messy, mid back braid in one hand with a look of internal debate.
“Cullen likes my hair, we aren't cutting it or anything.” Fox warned, even as she smoothed down the new coat with half hidden pleasure.
“Of course not, darling. Hair like yours, some men can't help but see it spread over their pillows. We just need to trim up the rough ends a touch, keep it out of your eyes with a little more style.” Vivienne pulled out a handful of satin and velveteen ribbons, and restrained her amusement at the way the little scruff's eyes lit up. She braided a few that matched the coat into the long hair, pulling it up into a restrained moonlit tumble down the back of the coat. “You clean up very nicely, darling. If you ever tire of your templar, I could find you a protector in the court. Between your healing and your looks, someone would pay to keep you in style, elf or not.”
“I'll keep it in mind, Madame de Fer. Thank you for this. I'll remember it.” Fox made a graceful curtsy to the older mage.

Varric saw her first when they strolled back into the group after lunch. He whistled, pleased. “Iron lady took my advice. Always a good thing, bribery.” The commander followed his gaze and stared, amber eyes going dark. “Snapdragon looks good like that, Curly.”
“She always looks good,” Cullen responded, still staring. “Go away, Varric.”
“Do remember what I said about the chance of finding a new protector, dear child. You have the looks and the talent to command a high price, try not to throw that away.” Vivienne patted her on the head fondly, shooting Cullen a superior look as she left her voice loud enough for his ears. Fox smiled sheepishly at her, ducking closer to his side as the Orlesian swept off to the other mages.
“Having fun?” her templar asked, reaching out for a lock of hair to tug.
“Well, she figured out how to ask me nicely.” Fox mused, the sheepish smile on her face vanishing with the other mage. “I did think she was playing a longer game with that line than just trying to upset you, so we'll see. The ribbons are very pretty, though.”
“You do look well in that. And the leather will stand much better than the wool robes did. She thinks I don't put a high enough value on you?”
“Only because she hasn't seen the offers you've been refusing from Tevinter. The amounts are getting flattering, I will admit.” Fox smirked. “She said she''d teach me how to manipulate you into buying me anything.”
“You are beyond price, and not only for your looks and your talent, love. If you want something, I'll try to get it for you.” Cullen wrapped his arm possessively around her shoulders. “Within reason.” She snuggled into him cheerfully. “ My pretty, clever little fox. If I turned you loose on a circle, I'd come back to find everyone going mad and you precisely where you should be, like butter wouldn't melt in your mouth.” He kissed her fiercely. “However would I survive all these Orlesians without you?”
“Unhappily, quite likely.” she bounced off, skipping through the snow and humming.

Chapter Text

Skyhold was everything they needed, waiting just where Solas had told Lyra it would be. She settled her people into the drafty castle in the improbably warm valley before heading back out to reconnect supply lines.
Cullen found himself wandering the ancient battlements, watching his troops pitch tents in the courtyard near his makeshift office table. They had found the perfect room for planning, already prepared with a huge, ancient slab of solid wood that fit the maps like it was made for them. It even had an antechamber with a massive fireplace Josephine had promptly claimed as her office. Sister Leliana had set herself up at the top of a tower with the rookery, one floor up from the library the mages were drooling over. Cassandra had taken charge of what was to become the armory even faster than Harrit had found the smithy in the undercroft.
On the trek there, the four of them had managed time to talk after Lyra Lavellan had stopped them arguing in circles for the hundredth time, and agreed to face reality and make the fact that the Herald had been running the Inquisition since she woke up the first time official. He remained Commander of their forces, Leliana their terrifyingly competent spymaster, Josephine their diplomat, but now they stood only as advisers to the Inquisitor. He wasn't entirely sure what Cassandra considered herself now that Mistress Lavellan was formally in charge, other than a steadfast part of the Inner circle, but decided it mattered little.
The Herald had been assigned the honor of a room at the top of her own tower, although she had left without even seeing it. How often she'd actually be in Skyhold to use it and not working somewhere else was a moot point, but Josephine had already made plans to have it well appointed by the time Mistress Lavellan returned.
Above the gate, overlooking the training grounds, Cullen examined one of the rooms carefully. It had enough room for a good sized desk and some bookshelves, with enough floor space to hold meetings with his lieutenants. Enough of a fireplace to keep the chill out and burn unwanted correspondence. He could watch the courtyard from the window, enter or leave from the battlements or the bridge that connected back to the main hall. It definitely had potential as an office over working off a wobbly table in the courtyard. Optimistically, he climbed the ladder up to the second floor loft. Tall enough for him to stand, windows big enough for light but not big enough to give a easy show to people outside, with the chimney of the room below enough to warm the room. It was even bigger than the room he had been assigned as Knight Captain in Kirkwall, not that that meant much. Set up a wardrobe, some cabinets, a couple racks for weapons and armor, and of course an actual bed, and this would be the best quarters he had ever had. He could requisition the furniture with the deliveries Josie had planned for herself and the Inquisitor.
This would work well, he decided. As cramped as the tiny room he had had in the gallows had been, he had missed the privacy when he moved to Haven. He had been promised better quarters at the temple of sacred ashes, but the incident at the conclave had ended that idea. He'd ended up sharing a room in the Chantry with 3 others, each on narrow barracks cots. Luckily, Fox didn't take up much space, and the cot wasn't much worse than what they had shared in Kirkwall. She had even spent a week or so sleeping furred under the cot to convince the rest of the room they weren't going to see anything. Between three months of that and the last few days of either sharing a tent with his troops or sleeping rough by the campfire, this was perfect.
Cullen went back down, striding over to the window that overlooked the courtyard. They had set up an infirmary tent while deciding on where to actually set a permanent one up, knowing that the one constant of all their plans was that people were likely to get hurt. The herbhealers, surgeon and medics had all promptly deferred to the only spell healer available, and Fox had taken less than reluctant leadership of the project. Somehow, the Charger medic, Stitches, had ended up her temporary second in command, ever since Adan had opted to set the garden back in order instead.
He could see both of them down there, the sunlight shining as brightly off the medic's armor and her hair as it did the white canvas tent. One of the scouts was holding a bandaged wrist out to her, and she was clearly scolding him for something, a bare foot stamping indignantly at the mossy stones. Stitches, sitting at a bench next to her cutting elfroot into a bowl, laughed, either at her or the scout. Someone inside the tent tossed an apple at the scout, which he caught effortlessly with his injured wrist and had taken a bite out of before putting on a very fake show of delayed pain. Ah, trying to get out of duties and not fooling the spell healer. “But my wrist still hurts” works much better on people who can't sense injuries.
She had always been far more focused, more here, when healing or dealing with related tasks. It had gotten even better farther away from the dangerously thin veil of Kirkwall's underside or even the weirdness of the breach. His Fox still saw the world in her own way, but at least she seemed more sure about which side of the veil she was on.
All of the current tasks were well below her skill, but she seemed happily settled in regardless. Perhaps it was as much because of the lack of challenge as despite. He'd seen her work herself into exhaustion burning out deathly illnesses, felt her repair gut wounds that should have killed him with the finest lines of scars, watched her save a child crushed under a cart. Any good will for mages rebuilt in Kirkwall over those last 4 years had been her doing, her and the other healers who had stayed, who had talked him into letting them reestablish the darktown clinic with templars and guards as backup.
After that first rough camp as Haven fell, when she had worked herself into near collapse to make sure everyone would be back on their feet the next day, all his men had stopped treating her as the pet at his heels. She was cosseting them as much as he was, letting them come to her to deal with minor training injuries and scouting accidents instead of the medics or herbhealers, but she didn't have any other pressing demands on her talents at the moment. So the herbhealers worked to prepare and set up emergency supplies, and she kept as busy as he was, despite the lack of immediate conflict.
He had to admit, the increasing access to resources Josie and the Herald were arranging made things much easier. Drop a list of things he needed on the diplomat's desk, and things got done. “I need new practice dummys, training weapons, everyone needs new armor and boots, and I'm setting up my new office over the gate.” There wasn't even a discussion of whether he really needed the supplies, or if he could make do. If he said he needed it to do his job, he would get it. Well, he supposed asking for a squad of trained mabari or dragonhide curtains might be questioned.
He walked back across the scaffolding covered great hall, making a quick stop at the general supplies before moving his pack to his new quarters. Even without furniture, it would be better than the tent or the ground under his table. He finished running drills and sorting out the day's paperwork right before dinner bells sounded, giving him just enough time to wander by the white canvas tent across the courtyard and escort his mage to dinner.
Before she could go looking for the tent they had been using, he lead her up the stairs, covering her eyes for a moment as he opened the door to the room he had picked. “I've actually found a new office.”
“I think this is bigger than the Knight Commander's office in Kirkwall.”She remarked, bouncing from corner to corner and looking at everything. “It definitely has a better view!” She leaned half out the window, staring out at the courtyard.
Cullen eyed the way the new enchanter's armor of hers draped over her slender figure, the fading light from outside shining on her ribbon braided hair, and fought the foolish smile that rose. As annoyingly Orlesian as the design was, it did look good on her. “It certainly does, love. Do you want to see the very best part?”
She looked back at him, hand extended out as he leaned against the ladder, and skipped over to him, lacing her fingers with his. A quick scramble up the rungs, and they were in the loft, currently furnished with nothing more than a pile of bedding and a pair of makeshift armor racks, a pack filled with the few things grabbed from Haven under the window. “Real furniture and such is on order with Lady Josephine, but I thought... We'll have a desk and a bed and somewhere to put stuff soon. Until then, its better than the tent, at least?”
“A room all to ourselves, with this many blankets and furs? Its a cozy little nest, after sleeping on the ground all the way here, even with the hole in the roof.” She laughed, taking it all in. Cullen unbuckled his armor, settling it neatly on one of the stands by the window before walking back up behind his cheerful mage. Fox leaned back into him, eyes batting dramatically. “And whatever will you do, good Ser templar, all alone with a mage in this very private room?”
“Oh, I've had a few ideas. Most of them seem to keep ending with my fragile templar virtue at your mercy,” he chuckled, wrapping his arms around her shoulders from behind. She was just the right height for him to bury his face in the top of her hair. It always smelled of lavender and healing herbs, traces of lyrium and smoke, like an herb garden in a lightning storm. She pressed back into him, making a contented noise, and he kissed the back of her neck, loosening the embrace enough to slowly unfasten the front of her coat.
“And do these ideas of yours find me very merciful?” she teased, tilting her neck to give him better access, reaching down to start unhooking her armor from the bottom. When their hands met, she shrugged easily out of the leather he lifted from her shoulders with another kiss to her neck.
“Maker, I hope not. It's been entirely too long.” He draped her armor over the stand next to his, yanking off his tunic as he walked back and dumping it in a corner. “We haven't been really alone since we left Kirkwall on that cursed boat.” He came back to her, nuzzling into her hair as he slid his hands under the her velvet tunic, slowly tracing the cold lyrium brands that wove through soft, warm skin. “Every morning in that narrow bed, waking with you snuggled so sweetly against me, your hair under my cheek, in a room with three other people sleeping not six feet away. Knowing so well there was no place in Haven with enough privacy to take myself in hand, let alone get my hands properly on you.” His palms skirted the edge of her breasts, thumbs just against their curved underside, sliding to her back. Pressing his lips to hers, he traced along the runes down her spine, where the Litany of Andralla was spelled out, absently reciting it in a breathy whisper against her jaw.
Her fingers carded through his hair, letting the slicked down locks fall back to short, tousled curls. “Oh, meo leonis. My poor, poor lion with his soft curly mane,” she soothed, kissing the scar on his lip before nibbling along his stubbled jaw to his ear. “I woke every morning with your desire pressed against my back, your hands on my breasts, your kiss on my neck. Knowing as well as you there was no place and no time to do anything about it.” She ran a hand down his back, a lazy caress of the solid warrior muscles she found.
“Every now and then, I considered pulling you out into the woods past the walls, taking you against a tree, calf deep in mountain snow.” Strong fingers kneaded into her shoulder blades, as he kissed the skin under the metal collar tenderly.
“That would have been the moment they sent someone looking for you,” she pointed out, smiling against his chest as she nibbled down his collarbone.
He lifted his hands, gently tugging her tunic up over her shoulders. “It occurred to me every time I considered it. Maddening.” He tossed her clothing towards the pile of his own, kissing her thoroughly. He finally let himself cup those breasts that fit so perfectly in his palms, his thumbs rubbing over the hardening nipples, and sighed into her mouth.
“That is a very good word for it,” she breathed as his lips wandered back down her neck again. She ran her hands around his hips, fingers just under the edge of his belt. He bent his mouth down to her breast, smiling at her squeak. Arching into his touch, she worked his belt loose, sliding her hands into the top of his pants.
“Eager?” he teased, kissing back up to her neck as his hands wandered to the top of her leggings. “I'm alone with a mage, and she has her hands down my pants. I was warned about this sort of thing in training, you know.”
“Warned by the templar trainers or the other boys in your bunk?” she laughed, still working his pants down his hips.
“Both?” he offered, stepping out of his pants and tugging her down into the pile of bedding with him. “To be fair, I think they give the apprentices even firmer warnings against us.” He slid her leggings off as she lifted her hips for him, throwing them in the general direction of the pile. He ran his hand up the inside of her thigh to her center, biting off a groan at how wet he found her. “Oh, my fox is so very, very eager for me.”
“You are hardly one to talk,” she gave a appreciative glance down the length of his body, and pulled herself out from under him, nudging him onto his back. Fox carefully settled herself on his lap, leaning forward to capture his mouth with his erection pressed against her rump. “Now, what were you saying about my mercy and your virtue earlier?” she asked, running fingertips slowly over his chest and resisting his half hearted efforts to move her hips just the right amount up and back.
“That you are clearly the most wicked of mages and I am helpless against your wiles?” he whined, his hips rising as she shifted her weight carefully. She kissed him again, cupping a hand against his cheek before pulling back far enough to stare into his warm amber eyes. He slid a hand between them, seeking that perfect spot, watching those bright aquamarine eyes unfocus as he found it.
A small sound escaped her as her head tipped back for a moment, her breath hitching as much as his. “Helpless is clearly not the right word here, Amatus.”
“That I am hopelessly in love with the most prefect woman I know?” He tried again, and she laughed, letting him position her hips over where he wanted her as she laid her forehead against his fondly.
“Te amo,” she told him, as she sank down onto him, and it was like going home. The perfect feeling of slick, soft heat wrapped around him, being exactly where he belonged with who he belonged with. She tightened around him,clenching as he left his fingers toying where they were joined.
He tumbled her under him, barely leaving the warmth, bracing his weight onto a elbow as he rolled his hips into hers. His eyes were already going a little wild, as he kissed her with the fervor of a drowning man. “I love you, Foxfire.” Everything blurred as she moved with him, focus narrowing to her skin under his hands and mouth, that utterly perfect squeak she made when he moved just so, the desperate way she whined his name when his pace slowed. The way her eyes looked as she shattered under his touch, clenching around him and pulling him over the edge.
“I think my new quarters are going to work out well,” he commented sometime later, when their heartbeats had slowed and they curled together, half drowsing, in the tangled blanket nest. “I'll have to work from the courtyard until I find a desk, but...”
“Decided improvement,” she agreed sleepily, nuzzling into his side as he pulled another blanket over her.

Chapter Text

“Cassandra is going to kill you, you realize. And maybe me for allowing this.” Lyra groaned, as she realized just who was standing next to the dwarf in this out of the way watchtower.
“Hawke's been through enough. I wasn't going to turn the inquisition loose on him,” Varric protested. “Besides, I arranged it very carefully so I didn't know where he was, just a few places he could pick up letters. When I told him about the whole Corypheous being back thing, he wrote me that he was coming.”
“Against your express advice on the matter, I remember. Doesn't mean I don't need to be here.” Gerard Hawke extended a hand out to the Inquisitor. “Its good to finally meet you, Mistress Lavellan. I admit, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when Varric told us you were Dalish. I don't exactly have the best record with those.”
Lyra took his hand, gingerly. “I think I might have heard something along that line,” she remarked, keeping her tone as even as possible. “Something about all but one of the Sabrae clan ending up dead?”
“Yeah, the thing with Merrill's clan did not end well. Her keeper sacrificed herself to protect her first, but all the the others saw was Marethari dead and Merrill standing over her corpse.” Hawke rubbed sheepishly at the back of his neck.
“Daisy was one of ours. We didn't want to hurt them, but if it was between them or her, easy choice.” Varric explained, as Hawke searched for words.
“Kirkwall went bad, and it wasn't a great place to begin with,” he finally said. “I might have done things differently looking back, but at the time, I was just doing the best I could.”
“That's all I do, most days,” Lyra agreed. “I'll be glad to have any help I can with the unkillable Magister.”
“Anyway I can, fair lady.” the scruffily dark haired mage smiled.

“Varric, I'm going to go bring this to the Table. And Cassandra. You should probably either hide really well or stay behind me until I explain. I have to talk to Josephine about getting Hawke a room for the night anyway. Hawke, is, uh, did Fenris come with you?” she asked, searching briefly for the name.
“No. No, he's hunting slavers on the Marcher coasts. I didn't tell him I was coming here.” The mage glanced at Varric guiltily before staring at his own feet. “Fenris would give his life for mine in a heartbeat. I wasn't going to give him the chance,” Hawke remarked quietly.
“Broody is going to be pissed you left him behind like that when you go home, Waffles.” Varric pointed out. “Especially when he figures out where you went. He hates it when you put yourself in danger.”
“I know, Varric,” he sighed, not meeting the dwarf's eyes. “I'm leaving in the morning to go meet my warden friend in Crestwood. I don't need much of a room. I just wanted to speak with you and see Varric safe for myself first.”
At the top of the stairs. Lyra and Varric left him leaning on the wall, Varric glancing back apprehensively.

Once Cassandra had been calmed down, Varric headed back up to invite Hawke down to dinner. When he found him, Hawke was back in the abandoned corner by the watchtower, staring morosely out into the snow. The last time the dwarf had found the mouthy mage that depressed... “I really, really don't want to ask this, Waffles, but have you heard anything from Blondie since he vanished?”
“Shortly after we got your letter about Corypheous, Fenris went out on one of his overnight hunting runs and I found a letter sitting on his pillow when I woke up. I know his handwriting as well as your's or Fen's, Varric. Said he was as safe as he could be, he was sorry that Justice thought what he did was necessary. Thanked me for fighting for the mages despite the feral dog at my side. Told me he'd be there for me when Fen inevitably turns on me someday.” Gerard traced idle patterns in frost over the stone. “So, I don't know where my crazy ex boyfriend is, but he clearly knows where I was. I burned the letter, set up new wards, and took off before Fenris got home.”
“I knew it couldn't be good when you turned up with that look on your face.” Varric muttered, “It wasn't just shit going weird and unkillable monsters. It had to involve the complicated saga that is your love life.”
“Fen already still tells me I should have killed Anders when I had the chance. If he ever hears about this, I will never hear the end of this.”
“About that, I still don't understand why you didn't. You two spent most of that last year one wrong word away from each others throats, I'd thought you would jump on the excuse.” Varric asked, checking the wall for listeners as he leaned against the wall next to the human.
“Oh, I hated him by then. I hated the obsession, I hated the manifesto, his assumption that not helping him made me a traitor to all mages. The way he decided that his dislike for Fenris meant telling me to hand him back into slavery was okay. I'll never blame Fen for wanting him dead, but... ” Gerard flexed the tension out of his clenched fingers. “It was Justice I hated. My scruffy blond charmer, the healer with chocolate brown eyes who really just wanted his cat back? I miss him. It broke my heart losing him to Justice long before I let my green eyed brooder pick up the pieces. I still love him just as much as I love Fen. When he knelt before me, begging for death for his crime, he was Anders again, my Anders. I couldn't do it, even with Sebastian's threats.” He dropped his head into his hands, but not before the dwarf saw the dampness in his eyes.
“I warned you, Waffles. Even Isabela warned you. You have a bad habit of trying to stick your dick in crazy,” Varric groaned, even as he patted the mage on the shoulder reassuringly.
“He hid the crazy long enough to for me to get attached. At least Fenris was up front about his issues,” Hawke protested indignantly. “Isabela said I should have just bought Jethann an apartment and kept him.”
“She would say that. She loved hanging out at the Rose with you. At least he'd have spent less time annoyed at your wandering eyes. Blondie twitched every time you flirted with the templars, even before you turned your endless charm on him. Speaking of templars you won't stop flirting with, Curly's commanding the troops here.”
“Knight captain Cullen of the shy smile and the butt I could bounce a sovereign off.” Gerard chuckled, looking more himself than he had since he had walked through the gate. “How's he doing?”
“He seems happier, and he turned Snapdragon loose on the infirmary, so she's even better. She took over what was left of Blondie's clinic after you took off, did I ever mention it?” Careful of the bruise from the wall Cassandra had tossed him into before Lyra talked her down. Varric sat against the wall with Hawke.
“I missed it if you did. Fenris did say she had always been a good healer,” Gerard leaned into the dwarf, his head back against the wall. “I am, however, very surprised her templar let her into darktown alone.”
“Curly isn't that stupid. She talked some of the other surviving healers into helping, and he set up a guard rotation between Aveline's people and some of the templars he wasn't trying to get rid of. He spent a great deal of time cleaning house those first few months after Meredith.”
“Finally occurred to him that if he couldn't trust them with his little pet they probably couldn't be trusted with any other mages either?” Hawke snorted. “Might have made a difference if he had thought of that earlier.”
“I wouldn't count on that, Waffles. He read every complaint, according to Thrask. The knight Commander forbade any punishment based on taking a mages word. Unless another templar or a civilian witnessed a problem, they were untouchable,” Varric shifted Bianca to his lap. “Curly was working to make sure none of the problem children were assigned where they could get mages alone. Didn't always work, but he knew they had a problem.”
“Still funny from the knight captain keeping a mage in his room, cute as both of them are. Is she still wearing that collar?”
“That is still a thing. We have a resident Altus who's seen a couple before. He says the only way he's ever seen one removed is with a artifact that sits in the Archon's office. So its likely to remain a thing,” Varric shrugged, and restrained the wince. “Snapdragon is very insistent that nothing happened until she was able to completely convince him it was what she wanted. I asked him, and he said he knew what it looked like, but he swears he's not that much of a monster. What she and Curly have works for them, Waffles.”
“I suppose. Fenris always said she was fine where she was, Anders thought she'd gone straight from slavery to worse. Neither of them are exactly unbiased about the idea.”
“Cole said you two were over here talking about me,” a cheerful voice echoed off the walls as its' owner bounced over to sit next to Varric, a smear of dirt over her cheek. The white blond youth in the floppy hat nudged her quietly, causing a brief frown to cross her face before she laid a hand on Varric's bruised shoulder. “He also said, and I agree, the lady seeker really didn't need to be that upset with you over this. You couldn't have found the hawk unless he wanted you to.”
Varric felt the spell sink warm into his shoulder as the tenderness vanished. “Thanks for that, Snapdragon. Was the kid helping down in the infirmary again?”
“He is very good at helping me help them. I like him, even if he does worry my lion,” she shared a cheerful smile with the boy next to her. “Also, if she knows he's there, Sera doesn't prank my infirmary.”
“The Firefox is good at helping, and it helps her. When she heals, she's closer to what she was. But sometimes when she's too close to remembering, she wants to set things on fire.” Cole sat next to her, and she slung a companionable arm over his shoulders, her smile going lopsided as he spoke.
“If she switches the spindleweed and the rashvine again, I will set everything she owns on fire. Some of her pranks are funny. That thing with the pudding? Hilarious. Messing with the herb healers supplies could get someone killed.” The tiny healer huffed.
“I distinctly remember you as a meek little mouse,” Gerard mused. “Varric, when did Cullen's little shadow develop a spine?”
“Somewhere between the point she no longer need to look perfectly under Curly's control to the Knight Commander, and the point she was running a clinic in darktown, I suspect.” Varric chuckled, “Although there was at least one time she made Daisy cry before that.”
“The little bloodmage shouldn't ask the question if she didn't want the answer,” Fox grumbled, unapologetic. “She's doing well now, but asking me why I hadn't joined a clan that needed my magic when I was wearing this?” She tugged pointedly at the jeweled silver collar around her neck.
“You didn't have to tell her it would have gotten the clan murdered or enslaved, or add details on how,” Varric sighed.
“Yes, I did. The puppy had already tried telling her off gently, and she didn't get it. I made sure she understood what she was suggesting,” Fox corrected, her eyes flashing.
“That is why you are a snippy snapdragon and she's a sweet little daisy, you realize” Varric grumbled.
Hawke was glancing around frantically. “How did you know Merrill was... Just please tell me you haven't told Cullen about Merrill,” he implored.
“I didn't have to. Aveline told him first.” Fox shrugged. “Young Ser Carver volunteered to watch her and keep her out of trouble. He still sends reports to Cullen occasionally.”
“Junior and Daisy? Now that would be a fun pairing if he ever has the balls to ask her.” Varric mused.
“How often does my brother report to your pretty templar?” Gerard asked, leaning around the contemplative dwarf to stare curiously at the little elf.
“Slightly more often than the puppy sends letters to me,” she replied blandly. “On a related note, Gerry, if you bother my lion like you used to, I will not only set your hair on fire, I will tell your puppy why.”
“Oh, you're who he's writing to, other than Varric,” Gerard commented, noncommittally. “It's good for him to have friends.”
“I think he just likes checking that we both still aren't dead or back in Tevinter, really. Its a little comforting.” She glanced at the angle of the sun over the walls and rose, detangling herself from the quiet boy at her side. “I should probably go drag Cullen out of his reports before he misses dinner again. See you later Cole, Master Tethras”
“Pain links them, binds them together and drives them apart.” Cole remarked, sadly. “I can't help that. But it isn't safer alone, for wolves or hawkes. You aren't helping,” He told Hawke, who looked baffled.

Chapter Text

“Commander, how is the set up with the new infirmary going?” Leliana asked, waiting for Josephine and the Inquisitor to make it to the meeting.
“Going quite well and already better than the tent in the courtyard. And having it right off the garden is convenient for the herb healers, according to Fox. They've finally finished replacing everything that got ruined in the Sera incident,” Cullen chuckled. “But the men are getting spoiled. They are going straight to Fox with anything, including sparring bruises. I tried that with a bone bruise once, when I was still at Kinhold. Wynne gave me a jar of bruise balm and a lecture on wasting magic on frivolity.”
“I can just imagine that, and the look she would have given you. She had a lot of lectures for us during the blight, especially Genevieve and I. And poor Alistair,” Leliana laughed.
One of the scouts came in with a note, and Cullen read it with a sigh. “Mistress Lavellan and Lady Montileyet are delayed further than they planned. Josie is smoothing a noble's ruffled feathers, and our dear inquisitor said something came up with Solas. Barring further issues, they'll join us later.” He reached under the War table, and pulled out a bottle of wine and a glass out of a half hidden box. “Did I ever tell you his majesty and I were in Templar training together for a while before the wardens took him and I went to the tower? Well, I was training. He was busy being miserable and in trouble. Good with a sword, though.”
“Not surprising. Genevieve said once that you told her you stood at her Harrowing before she left the tower?” Leliana asked.
“I was nineteen, fresh out of training, and short on discretion. She had good reason to think me an idiot before she left. When she came back,” he drained his glass, refilled it, and passed a second one over to her. “ Never mind. Have you heard from her recently?”
“My love has her own mission. She'll come back to me. She would be very amused by your little fox, I believe. Not least because of how you are with her. It's adorable, Commander,” the bard sipped slowly at the wine she was given.
“I think I said some pretty horrible things about mages on my way out of the tower, without even thanking your lot for rescuing me. When they sent me to Kirkwall, I got better, somehow. At the very least I got back on speaking terms with reality. And then the Maker put Fox in my path. Part gift, part test, I think sometimes,” He stared into the glass, letting the light play over the wine.
“I've heard stories about how you ended up with her, Cullen. Many of them do not paint you in the best light,” Leliana asked carefully.
He snorted. “That's fair. I'm not certain the truth paints me in the best light some days,” He drained his glass again. “A magister came hunting a fugitive slave, one that spent a great deal of time at the champion's side. To get around the fact that the Templars had the city under martial law, he loaned another slave to the Knight lieutenant, a bribe to share around as needed. And Ser Karras was the type to take full advantage. The magister never made it back out of the city, and I found her in the Templar's room a week or so later. I think most of the worst damage was done before she was brought south, but,” Cullen set down the glass and took a swig straight from the bottle. “Like a badly beaten Mabari, one that expects a kick from every movement. She flinched from everything, she was terrifed of the other mages. Spent a month hiding under furniture as a fox, usually mine. I convinced her she was allowed to be a person, to eat at tables off dishes instead of the floor. She started sleeping on my bed as a fox instead of under it, and I let her, because it was an improvement. When she trusted me enough to mouth off instead of meekly obeying, it was a good day. I was going to fix her, figure out how to get that collar off her, and turn her loose as a happy circle mage, and continue ignoring the part of me that saw 'pretty girl who will do what I say without question', because there is a special part of the void for men who do that kind of shit.” He drank another swallow of wine. “And then, one morning after she had turned into a fairly functional person with a binding collar, I woke up with a mostly naked woman in my bed where there had been a fluffy fox. With my hands in moderately compromising positions. I decided it was just as easy to hang for a sheep as a lamb, and kissed her the way I'd wanted to. She came to bed without fur that night, and we eventually wandered to where we wanted to be.”
“Would you still put her in a circle, if they were rebuilt?” Leliana gently took the bottle out of his hands, refilling her own glass before putting back in the box under the table.
“Maker's breath, that would be a horrible idea. Maybe when she first came south, any circle but Kirkwall would have been enough of an improvement she would have been happy, as long as she was busy. The moment she got too bored in captivity...”
“She'd set everyone at odds for her own amusement?” Leliana chuckled. “I like your little fox, but I have met her. She plays her own game.”
“She's far too clever for anyone's good some days. The day she pointed out the collar tells her where I am just as well as it lets me find her, the times I walked in on her in danger from less trustworthy templars just in time made more sense. She set them up, knowing I was close enough to catch them in the act. The mages she distracted them off loved her for it.” He chuckled ruefully. “She's letting Madame Vivienne take her under her wing for lessons in feminine wiles today. I'm not sure if I should worry or just budget the inevitable shopping trip into my stipend. She deserves more than I've given her anyway.”
“I wouldn't worry too badly. I think they were planning a visit to a proper tailor in Val Royeaux in a week or so. Josie was going to go with. She's convinced Fox could almost play the Game, with the right backing and training. Mistress Danae Foxfire is very good at convincing people that she isn't in the game, even when they should know better.” Leliana finished her glass, putting it and his back in the wine box as the door opened and Josephine walked in.
“Mistress Lavellan took off for the exalted plains to help a friend of Solas's, just as I managed to convince the Viscount to wait for another day, which I suppose the meeting will have to wait for as well.”

“I'm surprised you don't have more of an issue with the admitted Qunari spy. You know as well as I do how dangerous they are, what they do to captured mages,” Dorian remarked to Foxfire, dropping into a chair and arranging his armload of books over his half of the table.
The delicately built mage already settled at the other half looked up sharply at him, setting the book she was reading down heavily onto the old wood of the table. “I am aware of what the qunari do to mages, Dorian.” She tilted her head, watching him with idle irritation. “You do remember why I am not the best mage to use that argument on, Altus?”
Dorian looked at the the other tevinter mage in surprise, momentarily confused at the venom in the title. The candlelight shone between them, reflecting dully off the markings in her skin and bright off the metal band around her neck. He winced heavily, picking up on her meaning. “Forgive me, I forgot what you were, what you still wear,” he apologized quietly. “These study meetings, they remind me of the best of home, and I forget that you did not have the advantages I did.” He pulled a bottle of dark wine out of his satchel, dug for the glasses padded in his cloak.
“I should take it as a compliment, I suppose,” she sighed. “Every now and then, I forget it myself. Cullen keeps the limits loose enough I can easily go anywhere in Skyhold, and I don't have any pressing reason to go anywhere else. The only thing he ever uses it for is knowing where I am, and one of the southern phylacteries could do that almost as well. I can't cast offensive magic at him, but I've never seriously wanted to. I'm closer to free than I could have ever dreamed when I was young.”
“Perfectly free and safe, as long as you don't look at the bars on the cage too hard. I'd say you fit in well as one of Vivienne's Loyalists, but even they have some dignity. I'm not sure what is worse, whoring yourself out to one of the jailors for a pat on the head or the fact he doesn't mind sharing you with yet another magister,” The short haired elf in formal robes hissed at them as she walked by, looking deeply offended by their existence.
“Grand Enchanter. Don't you have an alliance of rebel mages to protect and a former magister to babysit? I'm sure you have something better to do than hover over our little research project. We don't have enough room at the table or enough wine to invite you,” Dorian commented, pouring out two glasses of wine as he watched Fox's hands out of the corner of his eye, ignoring Grand Enchanter Fiona as she walked away. When the other Tevinter had gotten the flames on her palms under control, he risked patting her on the shoulder reassuringly. “She's extra bitchy today, it seems.”
“Nonsense. She didn't add anything about me being a traitor to all mages today. Perhaps she's actually warming up to me. The accusation about sleeping with you is new. I mean really, you of all people,” Fox laughed, still sounding a little bitter. “Has she met you?”
“You are a fine healer and a delight to be around. If you weren't female, I might try to lure you away from the Commander,” Dorian shrugged.
“Flatterer. If you were luring me away from my lion, it would be to try poaching him for yourself, and never mind his templar talents,” she wrinkled her nose at him as he laughed. “And Cullen knows that, by the way.”
“He is very pretty, your templar. It's good to know he won't try to break my face in the name of your honor over our chessboard tomorrow. Or with the chessboard.”

Chapter Text

“Sera, please stop being stupid. The cut was infected by the time we got back from Crestwood, and it's worse now. And I don't think your ankle is healing right either. Skyhold has a fully stocked Infirmary for a reason. We have three medics, a surgeon and a talented spell healer, all ready to help,” Lyra hissed, exasperated.
“I'll be fine, I've had worse, yeah? No problem,” Sera countered, leaning heavily against the courtyard wall, wrist and ankle heavily bandaged. She was even paler than usual, sweating heavily. “I just need some more rest. Go rescue people from the swamp without me.”
“Snapdragon will let you back into the infirmary while you're actually sick, Buttercup. She hardly ever bites.” Varric sighed, as Lyra glanced around in the hopes of finding someone else to help.
“She's a weird little mage, and she always has that creepy little thing hanging around her, talking to it like its a person. And she glows weird. Its not right,” Sera protested. “And she threatened to come to my room and set all my stuff on fire.”
“The kid bites even less than she does. It took all the healers a week of work to replace what you ruined with the last prank. Tiny said Stitches threatened much worse if you ever mess with his supplies again. Snapdragon was the only one who didn't plan on bodily harm as revenge,” Varric warned. “Besides, if you loose that hand, you'll have to find a new fighting style or find a quieter line of work. Can't even knit one handed, Buttercup.”
“No stabby sewing? No more arrow to the face? Meh,” Sera stared doubtfully at the red streaks edging up past the bandage. “If creepy isn't there, I'll think about it.”
“Hey, Bull? Could you carry Sera to the infirmary? If she bites you, you'll already be at the healers,” Lyra asked hopefully as the qunari walked by, rubbing heavily at her temple. “By the time we finish convincing her to go under her own power, I'll need to be there.”
There was no visible Cole in the new infirmary room off the garden, although Fox's gaze kept tracking to a chair in the corner like she was watching something. Lyra and Varric shared a dubious glance before shrugging it off in unison. Close enough.
Fox heaved a very put upon sigh as she saw just who the Iron bull was hauling into her domain. “Really? I... Fine. Put her down on a cot, please.” She briskly began unwinding the bandages around Sera's wrist, making increasingly annoyed sounds as the extent of the infection became apparent. “Venhedis, That's going to be nasty,” she muttered.
“She took a tumble down a old mineshaft. We got the ankle set easily enough, but I'm not sure we got all the mud out of her arm. I doubt the rest of everything we bumped into after that helped, either. It looked a little red when we got back, and I told her to come here as soon as she could,” Lyra apologised, keeping a restraining hand on Sera's shoulder as Fox gingerly prodded at the wound.
“You got back what, a week ago?” the mage hummed briefly, brushing the back of her hand across the archer's pale forehead. “That sounds about right. Sera, if you had come to me when you got back to Skyhold, this would have taken a moment and a poultice. As it is now, this will be unpleasant. Luckily, I don't have anything planned for the rest of the day.” She reached over, snagging an arrow out of Sera's quiver and nudging it between her teeth. “You're going to want to bite down on that.”
Fox laid her hand on the swollen gash, focusing as her brands slowly lit. Sera's jaw clenched as the red lines slowly receded. When the mage finally pulled her hand back, only a jagged lined scar remained, though the archer still trembled violently. Fox shook herself, an odd light in her eyes, before she reached for the bandaged ankle. “The bones are still set fine, the tendons just had weight on them too soon,” She commented absently, flaring brighter before she took a step back. “I can't painblock burning out infections, unfortunately,” she apologized in that same distant tone, patting the shaking elf regretfully on the shoulder. “Its less healing and more controlled fire. Go have a drink, get some rest. You'll be playing pranks anywhere but here in no time.”
Sera eyed the new scar on her wrist, and tentatively put her weight down on her sore ankle. “I.. Thanks, fluffball,” she tucked the arrow with the deep teethmarks back into her quiver, and managed part of a wan smile before fleeing the room.
“Practically polite gratitude, from her.” Fox was humming oddly again. She focused back sharply. “The Iron Bull is going to sit and let me fix that sprained shoulder before it gets any worse.” She pointed at the cot, and the qunari sat without even thinking about it.
A brief heat and a popping sensation later, the mercenary flexed, grinning. “Much better. I didn't even realized it had gotten that bad. You're alright, for a Vint mage.”
Fox sniffed, but smiled at him, eyes still distant. “And you don't argue with healers. Always a pleasure.” She stepped over towards the others, studying the dwarf for a moment, turning to the dalish inquisitor. Slowly, she ran her fingers over the vallaslin, and the bloodwriting almost sang with her magic. Lyra's headache vanished, and she leaned into the touch, startled when the other elf pulled away, staring at her glowing fingers. “Perhaps, you should make this your first stop after all your excursions, Inquisitor. Less chance for people to hide injuries and make them worse.”
“I do need them at their best,” Lyra debated. “I'll talk it over with everyone. And I'll send Solas your way when he gets back from whatever he's doing. Dareth shiral, Fox.”
“ As you like. I'm not going anywhere. Vitae benefaris, Lyra.” The mage walked back across the room, glancing at her fingers, dropping herself to the floor with her back against the chair in the corner. Cole reached down as she did, running a sympathetic hand through her hair.
“Cleansing fire and healing hands. They sang your praise and crowned you in glory, but it was never enough until you fell,” he whispered, and she shook her head, blinking up at him uncomprehendingly. “You''ve forgotten again. It's alright. The closer you come, the less it will hurt when you do remember,” the half spirit soothed. “Varric should tell you stories, you like stories. And maybe there will be rabbits in them. Those are the best ones.”
“I'll be fine, Cole. I'm just tired, that's all,” She said, her voice weary but present. “Thank you for not letting Sera know you were here.” She leaned into his legs, eyes shut against the lamps.
“Helping her hurt you more than it hurt her. You fought the magic, shielded her as much as you could. You didn't tell her the spell should have hurt much more, because you took the pain you couldn't block into your skin where it sings.”
“She already fears magic, fears what she doesn't understand. Why make it worse for her? Next time, maybe she doesn't come to me at all, she loses the hand. Or her life. This way, she might come sooner.”
“She thought you enjoyed it, because of what she did when the clinic was a tent.” Cole tilted his head, lifting strands of hair to braid in intricate, nonsensical patterns.
“I'm used to that, Cole. She didn't like me to begin with. Or you, and you're as harmless as I am,” she chuckled, eyes still closed. “But I'm a healer. All I can do is help as best I can.”
“He never let you help unless it helped him. He hurt them and you healed them and he hurt them again. The little wolf was death leashed at his heels, you were a tool of pain. And he made you hurt each other.They feared what the sight of you meant, and they let him put you back in the dark when he didn't need you. 5 paces by 6, the sight of your water bowl tipped over again, wet stone and dry mouth...”
“Kid, maybe Snapdragon doesn't want to be reminded of that,” Varric warned, still sitting on a cot and watching them from across the room.
“He's fine, Master Tethras. I had Hope to light the dark for me, to know it might get better. I had Valor to help me endure until it did. I have Compassion, to help me drain the poison from the memories. You're a good friend, Cole.” She tipped her head back, blinking, as Cole pressed his forehead against hers briefly as she reached for his hand. “May I be able to help you as much as you help me.”
“How much of what you went through does Curly know?” Varric asked, as Cole smiled slightly and went back to braiding hair.
“All the generalities, enough of the details. I talked him down from the idea of a one man exalted march on Tevinter. His anger helped burn out a lot of the infection festering. Just having someone on this side of the veil tell me that what happened to me was wrong helped so much those first months, when I was relearning how to be a person.”
“Protective, proud, safe and solid. The quiet comes back to him, stronger when he's holding you. You shine brighter together, like hope and valor,” Cole handed her the end of the braid to tie off.
“Thanks, Cole,” she rose, stretching sleepily, and kissed his forehead affectionately. He tensed back for a moment before relaxing into it. “I should go make sure my lion is done with drills in time to bathe for dinner. See you later, Varric.”
Cole watched her leave, and tilted his head in mild confusion. “Varric, why does she worry if the new tub is big enough? Big enough for what?”
“Never change, Kid. I'll explain later,” Varric laughed.
“No, you won't,” Cole remarked.
“Probably not,” Varric agreed.

 

“Solas! I'm glad you're back. I was getting worried,” Lyra called, rushing over to the elven mage. “I'm still sorry about your friend.”
“Thank you. I will miss her, but... It is good to be back home.” He smiled at the rogue, glancing around at the familiar walls and towers. “How have you been, while I was away?”
“Alright. Blackwall's taken up wood carving, Cassie is apparently a fan of Varric's smuttiest novels, the Iron Bull tried to hire Cole a whore. The usual level of insanity.”
“The Iron Bull did what?” Solas was hoping he had misheard that.
“Hired this pretty girl calling herself Candy to entertain our resident halfspirit. Cole's pretty happy, though. Candy danced for him, then they talked. As a result, Candy no longer has problems with her mother, went back to being named Marguerite, and is going home to live a better life. Bull seems disappointed he paid 5 royals for that.”
“I'd imagine. I'm not sure what he thought would happen.” Solas followed his inquistitor through Skyhold to his rotunda.
“I'm not sure even bull knew what he thought would happen. Sera fell down a mineshaft in crestwood and then managed to nearly kill herself with a blood infection trying to avoid dealing with Cole or Foxfire. I eventually had to have Bull and Varric carry her into the infirmary so fox could burn the infection out.”
“Burning out an advanced infection is not a common technique. Very few can manage it these days. It can also be very focus and power intensive, even for the well trained.” Solas commented, sounded almost impressed.
“I'm pretty sure that would be 'Hope told me how' if I asked where she learned it. You two and your fade stuff, I'm surprised you don't spend more time together. It left a lot more of a scar than she usually does, and Sera said it stung like heck,” Lyra shrugged. “Cole's still spending most of his time helping Fox. He says her skin sings to him in songs older than she is. She says he's as harmless as she is. And Vivienne calls her hopelessly naive to trust something like him.”
Solas snorted softly at that. “Is our dear Madame de Fer still attempting to take the dreamer under her wing and train her in manipulation?”
“She's definitely trying. She actually has both Fox and the Iron Bull in dancing lessons in what free time either has. And then she and Josephine took Fox to Val Royeaux to go see a proper tailor. Cullen went with, He claimed because he needed to go to a particular armory, but really I think he just wants to limit how much 'Orlesian' gets unleashed on her,” Lyra laughed, rolling her eyes.
“It would be good for her to get out of the infirmary for a while. She and the Commander both tend to overwork rather than properly utilize subordinates. You sometimes have the same problem,”
“No one else is sane enough to keep the crazy limited. And there are far too many mages at each other's throats,” Lyra groaned, sprawling into his couch as Solas studied his murals.
“I thought the dreamer and the Altus had reconciled their differences. They certainly spend enough time researching odd things upstairs together over wine,” the apostate commented, moving books to a corner of his table and laying out brushes.
“They are fine. If all we had were those two, you and maybe Vivienne, everything would be fine. It's Fiona and her people that are being issues. They snipe at Vivienne for not being a rebel, they make comments about Dorian being Dorian, they call you a untrained hedge mage. And according to Dorian, the Grand Enchanter is really nasty to Fox. Something about how the Commander used to be a templar.” She stretched back, watching the way her favorite lanky apostate moved, all easy grace and practiced movements, like a running wolf or a stalking cat.
“That might upset a circle mage a touch,” Solas said quietly, his attention on the walls. “If Dorian is the one telling you about Fiona's issues, I'd guess the dreamer hasn't complained yet.”
“She's odd about things like that. I'm not sure she'd notice a snub if it bit her. Insult her, she just blinks at you. Insult Cullen, Cole, or Dorian and stuff might end up on fire,”
“There are worse priorities than protecting one's friends,” Solas commented with a dismissive wave, mixing pigments.
“True. I'm not sure if the bickering is worth endangering the alliance yet, with Corypheus still out there. But you'd think, given how bad it was when I took them in, that they'd at least try to play nice with my people.” Lyra sighed, wondering at what point she had stopped thinking of Fiona's people as part of her inquisition clan and resigned them to merely allies. “You at least managed to miss the mud and misery that was Crestwood. We barely avoided a dragon, we had to drain a lake to get to a rift. There was this weird valley with cool looking statues of the dread wolf and halla. I got yelled at by a spirit of Command until I helped kill a rage demon.”
Solas stopped mixing pigments and looked back at the elven woman sprawled catlike on his couch. Her tunic had ridden up, exposing a glimpse of pale, wiry muscled belly, as she lay watching him with dark blue eyes. “You did have fun while I was gone, “ he chuckled.
“I missed you, though. You make it so much easier to dealing with the crazy humans, even when it's just that I can come and talk to you after. I'm the keeper to the weirdest clan ever, and I still say I need you to be our Hah'ren.”
“You might regret that someday, Lyra. I... am not the best at leading things. Or doing Dalish things.” He set the bowl of powdered pigments back down on the table, and walked over to lean against the couch she had claimed.
“But you have the Fade stories. You know more than any of my people, any of the proper keepers or hah'ren. Maybe they'll be stupid and won't listen, but I will. Someday we can teach the ones willing to learn,” Lyra levered herself back up to a sitting position at the end of the couch he stood by. “Fox has friends in the fade too, but she listens to the hows. Its useful, especially for what she needs, but it isn't enough. You listen to the whats and the whys. If we can figure out more of what went wrong with the past, maybe we can make now better. For all the people. Maybe this thing in my hand will mean something, in the end” He leaned in closer to her, and she reached out, lacing her fingers with his. As their skin touched, she felt him tense and then relax into it much the same way Cole often did when touched. “I don't mean to push, Solas. Without you, I'd be dead at least twice over. And you've already taught me so much.”
“Lyra, dah'len. I wonder sometimes if the Dalish could raise someone like you, perhaps I misjudged them. Perhaps they are capable of more. Fen'harel ma ghilana, perhaps” He reached out and ran just the tips of his fingers through her short red hair.
“To abandon a chance at our true history is them being misled. What do you mean if they could raise someone like me?” She leaned into his touch.
“It means I have not forgotten our kiss, Lyra.” He gently brushed his lips over hers, a chaste echo of the moment in the fade. The inquisititor tucked her free hand behind his neck, pulling him back down to press her lips more firmly into his before he carefully detangled himself from her “We have much to do, vhenan. I heard something on my way in about a rescue mission?”
“Some of our troops got captured by the Avvar. If you'd like to come along, I can leave Dorian here, and no one will have to hear about swamp mud in his good boots.”

Chapter Text

“I really hate to argue, but this seems... excessive. I love my new armor, but I'm not certain I really need a ballgown, gorgeous as it is. Cullen told me to buy myself something frivolous, but he didn't bring that much money.” Fox sighed, glancing between the other mage and the tailor, and the large pile of fabrics and parchment sketches.
“The inquisition will cover most of your new wardrobe, my dear. Our head healer needs to be presentable should a visiting noble require your services. Beyond that, consider the ball gown a gift, my tailor could use the challenge of making something suitable to your figure with the current fashions.” Vivienne's smile was dangerous, and Fox acquiesced gracefully. When they had her measurements, and had held every scrap of cloth against her skin and hair in three different lights, she found herself dismissed.
Grateful for the escape, she meandered through the market, looking at the shops. Something frivolous, she mused to herself, and reached into her satchel to count the small purse of coins he had handed her again. Something bright, something shiny, something she could pick out for herself. She was a grown, reasonably clever elf. She could figure out how to buy something like a free person.

 

Fox brushed off her new robes, straightened her posture, and stared down the dubious look the shop keeper gave her. She counted out the asked price, and the human behind the counter counted it again slowly before reluctantly pushing the fire bright ribbons and beads to her. With all the dignity she could manage, she tucked them away into her bag and stalked off. She was getting a little tired of being watched like she would either steal or dirty the merchandise if the humans turned their back. As aggravating as the condescending patronage Lady Montilyet and Madame Vivienne treated her with was, the shops she had entered with them had at least been willing to serve her. Frequently grudgingly, but they hadn't been willing to insult the nobles by kicking out what seemed like a favored servant.
The mage felt a little more sympathetic to Sera's distaste for anything elfy. She was dressed in sleek deepstrider leather robes, over velvet clothing, clean and with the gemmed silver band at her throat. She had even let herself be talked into a pair of embroidered silk dancing slippers as a compromise to boots. And she was still looked at like a potential thief, like a stray dog that might track fleas into clean shops.
She could go back, explain the issue and ask Josephine to help her buy whatever else the bag of coins would get her. The Ambassador was a soft touch. She would be sympathetic and apologetic and helpful, and wouldn't intentionally hold the problems of being elven over the mage later. Vivienne would help her without the need for an explanation, but it would cost her in favors. The iron lady had probably known precisely the issues Fox would face trying to do her own shopping, and turned her loose by herself to see how long it would take her to come crawling back for help. Cullen was still at the armory he had disappeared to when the others had told him he wasn't invited to dress fittings. He would take her to any shop she wanted, buy her anything, and be both angry and baffled that it was even necessary. He tended to forget that the elven part of her status as an elven mage was an problem outside the circle. She loved that about him, loved him more than she had ever loved anything, but...
If she walked into a shop with him buying her things, she'd look like a kept pet. The fact that was technically an accurate description, their feelings for each other notwithstanding, did not make the idea of facing the knowing leer she'd get when he wasn't looking any easier.
More irritated at herself for expecting more than anything else, Fox changed directions on a whim, heading for the one place in the city her ears would not be a detriment. The alienage was familiar, in a depressing sort of way, the tall hometree in the center sad among the makeshift tenement buildings. Everything spoke of squalor and too many people in too small a place, a glaring contrast to the shining streets outside. She let her feet carry her further in, ignoring the wondering glances the younger elves gave her fine clothing. Glinting in the dull sunlight, she saw a hand carved sign with stylized flames at the corner. Without even thinking about it, she stepped into the little shop, adjusting her eyes to the dark.
“What fine estate did you walk off of?” the dark haired scruff leaning against the counter whistled as she examined the shelves.
“I'm with the Inquisition, actually,” she smiled, “Are these all your work?” Fox picked up an intricately carved halla, running her fingers over finely sanded wood.
“Mine or my Da's. He's off helping someone fix a roof.”
“ It's well done. You don't see this technique or attention to detail very often anymore, at least not in the cities.”
“He was Dalish, but mother was one too many mages in the clan. He decided she wasn't leaving alone. You're not the Herald, are you? I heard she was from a clan.”
“No, Mistress Lavellan is a redhead. I'm just the head healer.” Fox set the halla back down, and picked up a lion. This one was definitely coming home with her. “And I don't suppose you have any carved foxes?”
“I'll see what I can find. You said you were a healer? Um, I.. Would you..” He glanced around at the full shelves of figurines and small, practical wooden items, the sparse selection of dusty herbs, and sighed. “We could trade? Any item you want if you'll look at my sister? Mum can't get enough of the right herbs to grow here.”
“Of course. Take me to her.” He led her into a cramped back room, with a small, pale child coughing weakly on a pallet. Fox nudged past the crying woman at the girl's side, laying a hand carefully against her forehead. “Shh, it'll be alright. Sleep, dah'len.” She whispered, backing her words up with a spell. “Its a form of snow fever. How many of the other children are sick right now?”
“Most of them? At least half on this side of the alienage. We lose a few every winter, but it seems worse this year. I can't get enough spindleweed and elfroot, and now Melly's down with it...” the former dalish babbled, staring between the healer and her youngest, running a hand anxiously over the flames etched over her face. “Sylaise help me, I don't know what to do anymore. I wish I could have stayed long enough to learn more proper healing from the keeper.”
Fox took the woman's hand, holding it over the child' heart. “Here. Get them to sleep first, if you can, because otherwise this hurts both of you. Feel how it channels, let it flow but gentle it,” She focused the spell through the other mage, letting her get the feel of it. “Embers wrapped in strength, not open flame. Warm them with your will, protect them.” Under their hands, the ragged breathing eased, color returning to the young girl's cheeks.
“She's better? I.. Lady healer, how can I ever repay you?” The moment Fox released her hand, the mother embraced her daughter, sobbing gratefully.
“You can help me with as many of the sick children as we can get to, so I can make sure you've got the hang of it before I leave,” Fox told her, and both the city elves looked at her incredulously. “I don't think I can get to all of them by myself, even if all the parents trusted me to try. Even if I could help everyone today, it's snow fever. It'll come back, and next winter I won't be here. They know you, you'll still be here. “

A few hours later, Fox gracefully accepted the offered chair back in the tiny shop, sipping bitter tea and attempting to pull her hair back up into some kind of order. The little carved lion was on her lap as she eyed the rest of the shelves absently.
“You did more than help Melly. You helped all of us, you taught mother how to keep helping everyone. We owe you more than one stupid carving, Lady Healer.” the dark haired boy insisted.
“And yet, one carving in trade was our agreement,” Fox corrected, “And it's just Fox, to you. Mistress Foxfire, if you insist on formality. Now, I do have more Wintersend shopping to finish, but I will be actually paying for the rest of it.”
“As you wish, Mistress Foxfire. But Ella from a couple doors down, with the twins, her husband does glass blowing. When I told her you'd come in here looking for a carved fox, she dug this off a back shelf for you,” He informed her, setting the tiny, carefully sculpted piece of clear glass in front of her. “And she won't take money for it.”
“I bow to Mistress Ella's generosity,” Fox sighed. She dug out her coinpurse and dumped it on the table next to the figurine, the gold sovereigns and silver royals gleaming in the dim lamplight. “So, what will this buy me in fair trade?”
“Like three whole shops and everything in them?” the boy touched the gold in awe. “Do you want to own an entire tenement?”
“Get me my list of presents and use the rest to buy your mother more herbs to heal with. I'm too tired to go running about to find the shiniest gifts, and having you fetch is worth it to me.” Fox shrugged, leaning back in the chair, a smile hovering at the corner of her
The boy gave her a dubious glance, eyes flicking between the pile of coins and the tired healer, before smiling shyly at her. “I'll be your errand boy today. I'm Aidan, by the way, and mum's Shayla.”

Fox tucked the last of her purchases, wrapped carefully in soft fabric, into a sack next to her over full satchel. The last few gift ideas she had could be asked of Harrit and Dagna. It had been a good day after all, she thought, as she met Cullen waiting for her outside the Alienage.
“What made you go in there?” He asked, taking the cumbersome bag from her as he ran an affectionate hand over her arm. “I've been waiting for a bit, but I didn't think they'd take me coming in to collect you the best way.”
“Curiosity, irritation, a whisper in the fade,” she smiled up at him, “I didn't mean to to make you wait, Amatus.”
“Its alright, love. I forget you're an elf, sometimes.” He pulled her into an out of the way alley, tangling his hands into her hair as he kissed her. When they parted for breath, he reached into a pocket, pulling out a jeweled haircomb and fixing her hair back out of her face. “I saw it, and it has these little snapdragon flowers on it, and I remembered that's what Varric always calls you. I couldn't resist.”
“It's gorgeous, Cul, thank you.” She leaned into him, and he tucked his arm around her shoulder.
“Did Josephine say whether we were staying longer or heading straight back to Skyhold?”
“I think we're staying another day or so. Josephine and Madame Vivienne are still getting their orders in with their tailors, and they have Lyra's measurements, even if the Inquisitor had better things to do than come with us.”
“Meaning she's staying home until Solas comes back, because she's worried he wasn't back by the time she got back from Crestwood,” Fox snorted, reaching up to lace her fingers with his. “I'm pretty sure he's fine. He's... stronger than he looks.”
“I suppose an apostate of his age would have to be. Josie is staying in the same Inn Vivienne insisted on, but she said we might want to look at the rooms before we decide. I'm not entirely sure why, if it passes Madame du Fer's no doubt high standards.” he stopped walking, feeling his mage hesitate and pull back for a moment.
“Lead on, my lion. You're forgetting how things work in the civilized world again. Beyond anything else, I think we should count ourselves lucky the Inquisition has better things to worry about than the fact we're technically living in sin,” Fox laughed, stepping back to his side with fingers still linked with his. “ I wouldn't count on us being already roomed together, Amatus.”

The well dressed innkeeper had shown the ex-templar to a small but well appointed room, before attempting to lead the elf behind him to the servant's quarters. “She'll be staying with me,” Cullen corrected, draping his arm over her shoulder protectively.
The innkeeper eyed the both the elf and the casual affection with a disgusted sneer. “This is a reputable establishment, Commander. If you must carry on with your doxie, I recommend you try somewhere else.”
“Mistress Foxfire is Head Healer for the Inquisition, not some doxie, and under my protection. If her remaining in my room is impossible,I'd expect her to be roomed at least somewhere comparable, close enough for me to respond to any danger,” Cullen retorted, removing his arm and moving to stare down the Orlesian.
“I don't know how you do things in Ferelden, but your knife eared whore, whatever you call her, will not be staying here. We are a reputable establishment.” The sneer remained, even with the armored man looming over him angrily.
“Very well then,” He growled, grabbing both their packs and slinging them over his shoulder as he stormed back out of the Inn. “I didn't expect them to be that... I'm so sorry, Fox love. I'll find us somewhere to stay tonight.”
“Maybe we should try somewhere a little less reputable. Or I could be fluffy until we're safely tucked away for the night,” Fox suggested, keeping a slightly more decorous distance from her templar as they walked down the main streets.
“I don't want to ask that of you, as good an idea as that may be. You deserve a decent room, without being my pet. There was a time when a templar traveling with a mage was automatically roomed together, at least according to my first Knight Commander. Regardless of the wisdom of that, I thought that the protection thing might still work.”
“It was a good try, love, and I appreciate the thought, I really do. But let's do this the easier way tonight, please? Here, I meant to show this off to you later anyways.” She handed him the last of the bags, and darted into the nearest alley. Moments later, a small, cream colored mabari with what looked like swirling silver kaddis trotted out, sitting neatly at his heels.
“That... You learned how to turn into a mabari, for me? I have never been quite so proud of you.” He knelt next to her, impulsivly rubbing at her ears. “And you are the cutest little mabari ever!”
The mabari rolled her eyes as much as possible, but bumped her head against his hand and licked his face.
Cullen managed to find an inn willing to rent him a room not too much further down the street, even if they did mutter something about “doglords” behind his back. He was also certain he'd gotten a jealous looks from a few other displaced Fereldens, all the better. As long as they didn't say anything that would make his mage decide that this new form was a bad idea. He was pretty sure any conversation involving excessive curiosity about her lines or the chances of getting a pup out of her would entail both her finding somewhere to sleep that wasn't in his bed and her never doing this again.
“How much extra would it run me to have a bath set up, as well as enough food for both of us? Roast meat, if you have it. And enough towels for two. The dog's as dusty as I am.” He smiled at the Innkeeper, and slid over the coins. “I think this place is half the price of the other, with a third the gilt paint.” Fox sprawled with her head on her paws, waiting until the food and the bath had been brought up.
“You seem to be having fun being Ferelden,” she commented, rising gracefully and arranging her coat on a chair.
“Tonight, I'm just another doglord with a warhound. Even better, a warhound that becomes a beautiful mage when we're alone,” He laughed. “I'll worry about the Inquisition tomorrow, let Josie know where we're staying. Tonight, we have this all to ourselves” When he had his breastplate off, he pulled her into him, kissing her fervently. Dinner was a haphazard affair, eaten with beltknives off the one plate brought for him. The lamb was well cooked, however, and the opportunity to nuzzle at Fox's neck between bites where she sat in his lap was worth it.

Chapter Text

Dorian had expected a lot of things when he came south. Snow, cold, bad wine, rampant mistrust of anything Tevinter. He hadn't expected her. Back home, he had heard of Danarius and his matched set of pets, though he had never seen them. Not invited to the right sort of parties, thank the maker.
He hadn't expected to see one of them in Haven, skipping happily along at the Commander's heels. She had glanced at him as he prepared a witty comment, those bluegreen eyes cold as they took his measure. She took his measure, one hand going to her collar absently, and found him lacking. She hadn't been afraid of him, though her templar had stepped between them protectively. He wasn't a threat to her, only someone else's problem.
Somehow, the fact she was a mage made everything about her worse. Those with magical gifts were usually freed, although it depended on the whim of whatever Magister owned them. Those who were not were jeeringly termed Incaensor, controlled danger, like raw lyrium or blackpowder. She was not only one of the unfortunate exceptions, she had belonged to a magister willing to risk her life for an experiment, for his own vanity. The kind of Magister his family pretended didn't exist when they pointed out how well their slaves were treated. Yet there she was, lyrium scarred and binding leashed, playing the cheerful pet. She clearly adored the admittedly handsome man currently holding her leash, and he her, but there was something more under the surface.

Breaking a mage like that was scandal enough, Dorian consoled himself. The rumors that Danarius had done so to a Somniari were ludicrous. Even he couldn't have been that self centered, that reckless. When Haven fell, and she stepped out of Cullen's shadow into her element, the truth shone obvious as the lyrium in her skin. A dreamer mage, with a spirit healer's training, and a permanent lyrium connection to the fade. When she worked, she dropped the pretense of the harmless pet, her aura flaring wide as she threw herself into the task of healing with every ounce of her strength.
The badly dressed apostate who occasionally watched her with a look of indulgent curiosity was distracted, worried for the Dalish Herald he watched far more intently. Vivienne and the Grand Enchanter were too busy playing dominance games to bother with Cullen's pet. Cullen himself seemed accustomed to the extent of her abilities, focusing on his own tasks with occasional glances over to check on her progress. The lady seeker, on the other hand, kept looking over at the little elven mage like she was seeing her for the first time.
Thoughtful little Lyra Lavellan came to him, suggesting he ask Foxfire to teach him her warming spell, and it was another moment of understanding. As used to seeing barefoot, barely dressed slaves as he was, the fact she had been managing in deep snow, with no ill effects, while maintaining her reapplied pretense of the cheerful, flighty pet...
Those eyes were measuring him again. The carefully civil formality barely masked her unspoken “Why should I teach you?” as Lyra dragged him over. The barely former slave had no reason to do anything for an Altus. Cullen, as increasingly civil as he had become after Haven, would never order her to do it, and she didn't answer to anyone else in the inquisition. She had no reason to trust him, every reason to avoid him. Overdramatic begging, perhaps. Humbling himself before her with every ounce of charm he had, as no magister would kneel to a slave.
She had responded with startled amusement, offering an exchange of knowledge to put them on a even footing and a hand back to his feet. A truce between them then, a fresh start. Foxfire was a great deal better versed in theory than he would have expected from even a well trained collared mage. She explained things well, although it helped that they could resort to a common language. Easier not having to translate esoteric tevene arcana and terminology while explaining a spell construct and the related minutia. They were also both fire defaults, which Dorian found obscurely comforting.
As a fire default, the base for her “little trick” was easy to understand. Without the right finesse on the modifications, though, it would take too much power to maintain. Get the finicky bits right, and while still a drain, it was well worth it in these mountains. He knew she was holding it on at least three other people, without visible strain, while practicing the new barrier cascade he had explained to her. The power differential between a Somniari and himself was far more disconcerting in person than in theory. At least she wasn't a combat mage.
Viv sweeping the little elven mage under her benevolent wing with the promise of baubles to get her way was hilarious. Fox layered her disdain under wary enthusiasm, playing the naive waif grateful for the attention. The fact Viv never did quite get the hang of the spell and Foxfire just added her to the list of people she was keeping it on was even funnier.

 

A chance meeting in the library, and their truce became a weekly study date. If he had to get up to fetch books down for her to stop the tiny elf climbing the shelves to get her own, it would be easier to share a table. If he was sharing a table with her, he might as well bounce ideas off her while she was there. She was clever, bright, well read in arcane matters, and steeped in the same culture, the same myths and metaphors. As long as he ignored her collar, it was like being back in the library at the Vyrantium circle. It was almost like back when he had friends.
He started bringing wine and pastries, because if anyone was going to have food in his library, it was him. She had no taste in vintages, but sipped at anything he brought happily enough. She laughed at his jokes even as she argued theory with him, each scrambling for passages or annotations to prove the other wrong. Even when they made her head healer and she practically moved into the infirmary, she always made it to research night if he was in Skyhold.
He had gotten so good at ignoring the collar he had forgotten she wasn't an Altus healer. He brought up the Iron bull, the horrible way Qunari treated mages, planning on moving into a story of what that brute said to him. She hadn't looked at him like that since before Skyhold. Between that and Fiona's nonsense, she had gone quiet by the end of their meeting, vanishing swiftly back to the infirmary or her templar.
The next week, he arranged his books on his half of the usual table, and stared morosely at the empty side. Time magic was looking more tempting than it should again, but at least he wouldn't need to bring an extra glass anymore.
“Look, if the Commander, the Inquisitor, and the Lady Seeker all find no fault with Lord Pavus, I hardly think a glorified clerk is qualified to claim him as a threat to the inquisition,” a familiar voice echoed up the stairs, filled with cool disdain.
“I admit your usefulness to the cause, Mistress Foxfire, but surely you, of all people, understand how dangerous it is to harbor a Tevinter magister in our midst,” came the Chancellor's whine.
“He isn't a magister. The magister is Fiona's problem. Dorian is the first thing to make me proud of my heritage in years. Go complain to someone else, Roderick, I'm already late for a meeting.” She stalked up the rest of the stairs, dropping heavily into her chair next to the other mage. “Avanna, Altus. Sorry I'm late.”
“I haven't been sitting here that long, Fox. I'm still trying to work out that translation I started last week, if you want to be helpful.” Dorian gestured with his quill.
“The mysterious origins of the asshole making Tevinter look even worse? I'm in, although my ancient tevene isn't nearly as good as my entropy esoterica,” she remarked, pulling a couple tomes out of his stack.
“I suspect that still makes you a better option than anyone else in this fortress. At least you have some idea what I'm doing. What was Chancellor Rodrick's issue?” He asked, keeping his eyes on his work.
“What isn't that man's issue, Dorian? My theory is that it's because he's a nonentity who no one really likes being around, even if he did help save us at Haven. At least he's grateful about me saving his life,” She replied, already perusing the first book. “I'm damned sure not going to let him run his mouth off about one of my friends, though.” A long moment of silence later, she looked back at Dorian. “What? What's wrong?”
“Nothing, Fox. Nothing at all.” Dorian started rummaging for this weeks mediocre wine and the glasses.
“Okay, good. I raided a tray of these little cakes on my way up from the kitchen. Hopefully they go with whatever wine stuff you brought.” She pulled a small bag out of her satchel.
“Like you'd notice if it didn't. Utter savage. I'll teach you respect for good wine someday.”

Chapter Text

“Solas, Dorian, Cassandra and I will go in first to meet Hawke and Stroud inside. While we do that, Cullen's troops will take on the walls in frontal assault,” Lyra proposed, looking at a plan of Adamant Keep. “But this is going to cost us, maybe badly, Commander.”
“All my men know the risks, as well as what's at stake. We cannot let them raise the demon army you saw in the future, whatever the cost,” Cullen told her, staring down at the same plan. “But we will do our best to minimize casualties. It was built before modern siege equipment, so we have that in our favor if we can get some trebuchets and a battering ram in.”
“I know someone in the area who owes me a favor. I can get you your siege equipment, Commander. When you leave, I'll send word to them.” Josephine assured him. “But will our troops be enough?”
“I trust in my people. And the templars you had me train out of the ranks will help with this, with the Warden mages, even if we haven't needed them for anything else.”
“The Avvar in the Fallow Mire were impressed with our soldiers. Said they were well trained. You've done as well with them as you can. If you believe we're ready for this, that they're ready for this, I'll take your word on it. Does anyone else have any ideas to keep the death count down?,” Lyra asked, looking between her advisors
“She does,” Leliana announced, opening the door to the war room. Foxfire stepped inside, gripping a bladed staff nervously before taking a breath and moving to lean over the table with the others.
“I'm going with. Some of the less incompetent healers from the Alliance signed on as volunteers too, whether the Grand Enchanter decides she needs to send more of her battlemages or not,” she announced, letting her fingers run over Cullen's once, softly. “We'll do our best to keep our people alive.”
“Fox, love, you and combat...,”Cullen told her quietly. “All it would take is one warden mage getting one spellstrike through your barrier, and your markings become a liability. As, forgive me, do you.”
“Lysette already agreed to watch me. She can templar the magic back out of my lyrium if I need her too, if she fails in just keeping them away from me. Once the manaclash ends, my magic works again,” She explained, staring at the map. “I'm not saying I should be on the front line or part of the strike team. Just close enough the wounded have somewhere to pull back to.”
“The medics might help our people come home, but a good spell healer can send them back to the fight, where they can still protect others. I'm for this idea,” Leliana pointed out. “Enchanter Wynne saved us in so many battles during the blight.”
“Anything to help us get out of this with less casualties sounds like a good idea to me,” Lyra agreed, with Josephine nodding hers as well.
“I suppose there is no way to forbid this without making an ass or a hypocrite of myself,” Cullen sighed. He reached over, enveloping Fox's hand in his own. “Fox, promise me that you'll be careful.”
“I will be just as careful as you are, meo leonis,” she laced her fingers with his, stepping closer as the others left. “If I find you trying to take down a pride demon by yourself again...”
“I almost managed it before it got around my shield,” he protested weakly. “Didn't you tell me that was one of the reasons Valor likes me?”
“I did. Valor was very impressed with you. I, however, had to put your internal organs back in order after it ripped through your armor, and was much less impressed,” Fox snorted, leaning against his chest.
“I found that part of the incident very impressive. Except for the part where I had ordered you to run while I had it distracted, and you came back to save me instead.” Cullen kissed the hand held in his own.
“The other templars had it under control. Also, we'd already had that conversation. You don't order me to do anything, its all just strongly worded suggestions. And any suggestion that involves leaving you to die if there is the slightest chance I could save you, is getting ignored. Ignored with prejudice, Amatus.” She thumped his breastplate firmly for emphasis.
“I know, love. That's why, when we get there, I'm giving the leashkey over to Lysette until we're done. Listen to her. On the battlefield, she'll be in charge of you, and I'll just be your Commander.”
“That's fair. No unnecessary risks, for either of us. We'll do this, we'll help save the world, and then we come back home, together, Amatus.”
“As you say, love. Together.” He tangled his free hand into the ends of her hair, pressing his face in the top of her head.

 

Fox skipped around her new templar babysitter to sit near Dorian as they camped with the troops in the Approach. “Don't let him break your heart, Dor. Gerard Hawke is trouble,” she advised, eyeing the way he watched the other mage. “You are far too pretty for him not to be flirting, but just because his lover isn't here, doesn't mean...”
“I can manage my own affairs, little fox. I'm not starting anything serious with the scruff, cute as he is,” the Altus sighed, reaching out to flick one of her ears affectionately.
“Just a warning. I like you, despite my better judgment. His puppy would probably kill you on principle for being a free Tevinter mage, even before he realized you were competition. I would prefer not to test whether I could put your heart back before you died of shock.” She nudged him with a sharp elbow before pulling a battered copy of “Hard in Hightown” out of her bag.
“By puppy, you don't mean, by any chance,” he ran a hesitant fingertip over the markings on her wrist, keeping his aura as contained as possible.
“I do mean him. He's been looking for Gerry everywhere, and after my response to his last letter, he'll probably figure out where to look.” She patted him on the shoulder, before tilting to use his side as a backrest while she read.
“This is truly roughing it. Cheap beer, worse wine, travel rations, and bad literature,” Dorian remarked. “And sand everywhere.”
“I wasn't going to bring one of Genitivi's works. This is far easier to replace, and it isn't that bad, really.” She hummed to herself, turning a page. “Everything else is pretty much kaffas, though. Especially the sand.” Lysette walked past, ostentatiously checking on them with a scowl at the mustached tevinter.
“You could have stayed at Skyhold and skipped the adventure. And your charming new templar. Why is she in charge of you?” Dorian asked, pulling out a book of his own.
“Cullen is busy overseeing the troops, and will be very much too busy doing that during the assault to keep warden mages away while I'm healing people.” Another page turned, and she added, quieter, “He's working on going off Lyrium, has been for a while. His templar talents are a trifle... unpredictable, right now. He's doing okay, though. I'm keeping as much of the symptoms suppressed as I can, and Cassandra's keeping an eye on him.”
“He seems very conflicted about the fact you came along, little fox. And Lysette seems to be under strict instructions to keep you in sight,” Dorian commented, patting her on the head consolingly.
“I have noticed both those things, thank you Dorian,” she stuck her tongue out at him. “And you really can't mock me reading Tethras's stuff when you sit there with a damned copy of 'The rose of Orlais', Dorian. Did you steal it from Cassandra's collection?”
He glanced around, checking who was in earshot. “Where else would I find trashy romance smut on short notice? I wasn't going to bring any of my books out to this wasteland.”
“We need to find you someone worse than I thought if you're reading her stash. Someone without a boyfriend who would murder you for being too pretty. I mean, Cullen has a brother, if you wanted me to ask.” She snorted at the briefly speculative look on his face, before he gave her a dismissive nudge.
“I am still capable of handling my own affairs, little fox. Go ask Cassandra if she wants the introduction to Cullen's brother. Older, younger?”
“Branson. Younger, not that you care, right?” She elbowed him again. “I think the seeker would scare him off, even if he did visit. She's kind of a force of nature, pretty or not.”

 

As Adamant keep came into view, Lyra collected her strike team. Hawke and Stroud headed to the front, the dark haired mage nodding to her before striding past, blowing a kiss at Dorian. Dorian smirked back at him for a moment before shaking his head, reaching out to tweak the ear of the clearly skeptical healer beside him. Fox rolled her eyes at him, before walking up behind Cullen, who was listing off last minute instructions to a bored Lysette, fidgeting with the jeweled bracelet around her wrist.
“Do not underestimate the wardens, remember that your job is to keep Fox safe. Don't let them distract you away from her, not even to protect another healer. The other healers have their own bodyguards, trust them to mind their own. And Fox has a pretty good idea of her own limits, let her decide who can be saved.”
“Commander, I have guarded healers before,” she grumbled, “I won't let your little Vint out of my sight, don't worry.”
He gave her an uncertain look, but turned and pulled his mage into a brief embrace. “Fox, I need you to come back to me,” he whispered into her hair. He reached into a pocket, and pressed a worn silver coin into her hand. “My brother gave me this before I left for templar training, for luck. Templars are supposed to have faith instead of superstition, but I kept it. I shouldn't have made it safe through the blight, or what happened in the tower, or the insanity in Kirkwall, but I did, with this in my pocket. I need you to come back safe to me, love. It probably doesn't mean much, but I'll have an army. You take the luck, this time.”
“You'll be facing an army, my lion,” she protested, “And I won't be alone.” She glanced at Lysette warily, then to an empty space near the strike team. Cullen tucked the coin firmly into an inside pocket of her robe, twining his free hand into her hair. Fox sighed, but smiled up at him as he kissed her forehead.
“No arguing with the commander on the battlefield, love. Now go join the other healers.” Cullen untangled his fingers from her hair regretfully, returning to his troops.

 

A warden threw a blizzard at them, and she dodged, tossing a shield barrier up over the wounded she was working on. The motion brought her to the 10 foot limit Lysette had set her leash to, and her collar sparked painfully. Glaring daggers at the templar's back while rubbing at the collar, Fox tried to focus on healing the soldiers in front of her and sending them back into the fray. She wasn't used to working with this short of a leash anymore.
A form in warden blue came out of stealth behind the templar's back, lunging at the healer's unprotected side, only to step into Cole's daggers as he blurred into sight next to her. Fox raised a hand as the warden rogue fell, closing the small wounds they had landed on the halfspirit before he vanished to normal sight again. Lysette turned, staring in confusion at the corpse that had appeared, shaking her head as she moved forward again, gesturing at the next cluster of fallen inquisition soldiers.
Further on, further up the wall. Heal, dodge, barrier, move. Cole a comforting blur at her side, protecting her from what Lysette missed. The templar smiting down a mage, only for a now uncontrolled despair demon to strike out, knocking her back. Despair reached out, and Cole hesitated, taking an unconscious step back behind the lyrium marked mage. Without thinking, Fox lashed out, fire erupting wildly between her friend and the demon. It felt familiar, easy, and she bore down on the magic, shaping it, concentrating it. Flames swirled bright, white and gold, even as her collar heated unpleasantly.
The demon dropped, a charred wreck. Fox strolled over to check the fallen templar, muttering under her breath and rubbing the tender burned line under her collar. Cole came out of stealth, shooting her an awkwardly apologetic look. “I understand, Cole. I can stand between you and Despair, as often as you save me.” He bent down, undoing the leashkey from the templar's wrist, looping it over the tip of her staff as he gave her a grateful smile.
“The Firefox can hold her own leash. You can help more if she doesn't pull on your chain, doesn't hurt you,” Cole explained, glancing around. “I don't want them to catch me, they'll bind me too. I don't want to be a demon.” He vanished back into stealth before Lysette got back to her feet.

Chapter Text

“Nothing is inevitable,” Solas told the nightmare, as it taunted him in elvish older than Lyra could follow. The memory of an abrasive, snappish conversation about mistakes echoed in the Inquisitor's mind for a moment. It occurred to her that she could ask the question again, but she shook off the impulse. It was not the time or the place, and she was worrying herself for nothing. This was, after all, Solas, the steady rock in her quarreling Inquisition clan. If it mattered, he wouldn't keep it secret from her.
Another whisper of ancient elven echoed, Solas frowning as he strode forward but not bothering to argue it. It was impossible, Solas thought to himself, even in the midst of all the impossibilities that filled the inquisition. He was not what he had been, but he would not have missed such a thing.
Dorian seemed shaken by simply being in the fade, clinging tightly to his staff and following closely behind the others. He could hear his father laughing cruelly. For a moment, the fog wrapped around him,and the others vanished. He was back at the estate in the middle of a party. “Welcome home, my son. We're so glad you came back where you belong. I got you a homecoming present,” His father praised him, clapping him on the shoulder. Everything in his mind screamed for him to run, but he followed meekly behind to his room. Fox knelt beside his bed, whipwelts visible over her bare shoulders, a thick chain running from her neck to his bedpost. “And after the ritual, you'll appreciate this properly. If you won't give up your perversion on your own, I'll fix you with blood magic.” His father pulled a dagger out of his belt, as Dorian tried to make himself move... Something grabbed his arm, and the vision vanished back into fog, as he found himself back with the others, trembling.
Cassandra seemed more uncertain each time the spirit wearing the divine's face spoke to them, conflicted and shaken. She wasn't sure if it was comforting or mocking, as the whispers from the dark told her how much her fault everyone close to her dying was, that if she tried harder she could have saved them. Her lover Regalyan, her brother Anthony, the divine herself. In the fog surrounding them, she could see their faces., see them dying all over again.
Gerard Hawke strode forward, trying to ignore the screaming he could hear from the fog around them. His mother, his sister, dead because he couldn't protect them. For a moment, everything else vanished, and he could see Fenris, the lyrium cut from his skin, lying still bleeding on a pile of garbage. He could feel familiar staff calloused hands on his shoulders, see the flickers of Justice blue out of the corner of his eyes. “I told you the feral dog would turn on you, and I would be there,” that too familiar voice whispered, and Gerry saw the blood on his hands, the knife he held, the pile of melted lyrium at his own feet. He shook his head, and the scene changed. Anders, free of any trace of Justice, crumpling at his feet as Fenris handed him his heart like a grotesque offering. Another change, and he stood over the servant girl Orana, bound weeping to the table with runes carved into her skin and a bowl of molten lyrium sitting next to her. Foxfire and Fenris knelt to either side of the stone table, watching him with dead, empty eyes. He threw himself backward, retching, and the image was gone, the rest of the strike team watching him as he pulled himself back up off his knees, his flirtatious smirk long gone. He followed silently after the others, wrapped in misery and guilt.
Stroud walked through fog that flickered, blighted lands that stretched out past the horizon, hallways filled with dead Wardens, familiar faces over slashed throats, cities filled with blighted ghouls reaching out. All the nightmares he knew so well. He pushed past it all, his gut churning, reciting the Warden's oath to himself quietly, a man resigned to his own death, intending to sell it dearly.
Lyra led them through the realm of fear and nightmares, ignoring the whispers as best she could. “The Dread Wolf has your scent, little hunter. You'll hand your pretty little clan of shemlin and misfits right over to him, wrapped in a bow. He'll take you, devour you, and your gods will laugh. Sylaise will watch you set the world to burn, and show you that her peace is only the ashes left after the fire is quenched.” She flinched, and the fog shifted, showing her Keeper Deshanna's corpse, the aravels burning, dead broken elven children with humans standing over them, red, corrupted lyrium everywhere.
A world of fire and ash surrounding a Skyhold that lay in ruins. The tracks of a monstrous wolf in blood, running out of a collapsed rotunda. Leliana surrounded by her dead ravens in a broken tower. Josephine half under a shattered War table, blood soaked into ruffled silk. Foxfire with eyes that burned, sleek blue markings warped to spiky red, slumped on the throne in the great hall with her bare feet tucked under her. Cullen knelt before her, his collar chained to her wrist as she ran idle fingers through his blood soaked curls, red lyrium flames etched raw into his face as the world burned around them.
A hand brushed her shoulder, pulling her out of the fog. Solas kept his grip on her as she caught her breath, brushing the merest trace of a kiss to her forehead before moving back to the others. Whatever the truth of what she had seen, she could stop it, as long as she could get past this nightmare, get them all back out.

As the massive Fear demon faltered, they made a break for the open rift behind it, only to have it slice down into their scattered midst. Hawke and Stroud stood behind her, facing down the snarling jaws separating them from the others and the way out.
“Solas! Get Cass and Dorian out of here, make sure it's safe on the other side. We'll be right behind you, just as soon as we can past this thing,” she called. At her back, she could see the glints reflecting off Hawke's staff and Stroud's sword. When she couldn't hear Dorian or Cassandra on the other side, she lunged, blades striking out as she tried to lure it out.
Gerard spun his staff, a giant fist of force smacking into the demon as it wove around the rogue, frost already coating it's scales. Stroud laid into it in unguarded moments, sword flashing. It seemed to laugh at their efforts.
“If one of us ran in, held it's attention, we could try to make a run for it?” Hawke suggested, breathing hard, checking his pockets for extra lyrium vials.
“It would be suicide for whoever distracts it,” Stroud protested, holding his bleeding side, “even if the others do make it out.”
“I'm doing it. I'm fastest and I've faced those odds before,” Lyra announced. Her clan, her mission, her responsibility.
The grey warden and the apostate champion glanced at each other. “Inquisitor, I'll do it. I have magic to help, and you have other duties waiting for you.”
“No, Hawke. This is a Grey Warden mess. I'll take responsibility for what my order is doing,” Stroud corrected, his tone resigned. By the time they looked away from each other, Lyra was already moving, blades at the ready. The demon followed her dance, and she could feel the light shifting, couldn't hear either of them anymore. This would end for her as it began, fighting in the fade.
Something large and black furred slammed into the demon as it reached for her, knocking it away. Fingers that held the merest impression of claws wrapped tight around her wrist, hauling her out of the way past the off balance monster. They fell back through the green rift, Solas cursing in elven behind her as they tumbled to the stone.
“You promised me you'd be right behind us at Haven, as well, Lyra,” He scolded. “I'm not fool enough to fall for that twice.” She got the rift slammed shut as the demon reached through after them, a chunk of demon falling severed. As her breathing slowly steadied, it occurred to her that Solas had yet to release his grip on her wrist or the other arm wrapped protectively around the front of her shoulders. She let herself carefully relax back into him, felt him press his face to her tangled hair.
Someone that sounded irritatingly like the Lady Seeker cleared their throat, and Solas let go of her with a start. Lyra glared in her direction briefly before forcing herself painfully back to her feet.

When the central rift had flared open, all the Warden mages had frozen, a stricken look on their face. Weeping, they had began surrendering without fuss, refusing to look the other Wardens in the face. Without a word, the other wardens joined them, kneeling brokenly in the blood of their own. In the sudden calm, the Commander saw a swirl of fire consume the last of the demons. As it dropped, Fox ran for him, a lightly limping Lysette trailing behind her.
“I see you both made it through relatively unscathed,” Cullen remarked, hugging Fox closer to his chest, arms around her shoulders, convincing himself of her continued safety.
“There were a few close calls, but we pulled through. Once or twice, I did turn around and there were things dead with dagger wounds out of nowhere,” the younger templar tried to explain, looking baffled. “Sometimes I didn't even know they were there until I saw them dead.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Cullen caught a glimpse of a floppy brimmed hat over a slouched figure. “Your friend I don't like?” he asked quietly, murmuring into Fox's ear.
“Cole is a good friend,” she responded, leaning back into his embrace, even as Lysette continued her report. “I don't know why he worries you so much.”
“The invisible stabbing and the rampant mindreading seem like a place to begin. If you didn't have the Litany runed into your spine. I'd have far worse fears.” He clutched her closer for a moment at the merest though of her possessed or controlled, resting his face on her braided hair. “I will give him credit for protecting you where she failed.” He straightened, eyeing the other templar still stammering out a garbled explanation. “I can manage on the way home, Lysette. Consider yourself relieved of healer duty.” He held out his hand for the leashkey.
Lysette stared at her bare wrists in horror, frantically searching for the bracelet. Fox coughed, and moved the tip of her staff, and its new ornament, within his line of sight. “She left it at the ten foot limit. There were a few times I tried to dodge and set it off. When a despair demon had her down, Cole fixed the problem.”
“I never considered... Why did we never think of that? It goes off if you're holding it, but as long as you aren't touching it... In five years, it never occurred to me to test that.” He hesitantly tapped at the bracelet wrapped around the carved tip of the slightly cracked staff.
“If it makes you feel better, I've had this collar as long as I can remember, I've been left alone trapped by the leashkey sitting somewhere more times than I can count, and I never once tried what Cole did.” She laid her hand over his, carefully avoiding the silver of the bracelet. “I can still think of all sorts of times when staying within ten feet of a staff is going to be inconvenient as anything, so you might still end up wearing it sometimes. Assuming you don't just want it back now.”
“You've been free to run since the despair demon? I... What? Why?” Lysette babbled briefly, before taking the measure of the look on the commander's face and bolting.
“Why would I want it back? As comforting as knowing where you are is, you deserve some freedom, even if it's only holding your own leash.” He kissed her forehead again, as she leaned into him. “We should go check on the Inquisitor and her strike team.”

The surviving Wardens huddled behind Stroud, most of them weeping, some just looking horribly lost. Lyra looked around, eyeing the blood everywhere, the bodies of sacrificed and slain Wardens, fallen inquisition soldiers. She looked at the battered forms of her team, the tired healer leaning on her staff between Cole and Cullen.
“Take them back to the warden fortress,” she finally told Stroud. “Until the Elder One is dealt with, the Grey Wardens are clearly a liability I cannot afford. I'm sorry for all your losses, but...”
“I understand, Inquisitor,” Stroud told her, already motioning to his people to gather. “I can only hope the First Warden will as well.”
A familiar form moved to follow them from in the Inquisition ranks, and Lyra sighed. “Blackwall. I have never doubted your loyalty. You can stay with the Inquisition, if you'd prefer.” With a grateful nod, the tall warrior moved back behind Cullen, ignoring the odd glances the the other wardens gave him.

Fox wearily saw to the strike team's injuries, humming an odd little tune that seemed peculiarly elven. Cassandra had broken her shield arm after all, Dorian had scorch marks from a reflected spell. As she fixed Hawke's cracked ribs, she stopped humming. “The puppy wrote to me. He was very upset that he didn't know where you were or why you had left,” she told him quietly.
“What did you tell him?” Hawke asked, guilt written over his face. She finished the spell, and he took a deep breath. “Thanks for this.”
“No trouble. But I don't lie to people without good reason, so I did tell him I saw you and where.” She patted him on the shoulder.
“Thanks for the warning,” he sighed, rubbing awkwardly at his neck with a wistful smile.

“May I?” Fox asked Solas quietly, indicating the claw mark over his shoulder. He nodded, and her magic settled against his for a moment, like the warmth of a distant fire, deeply familiar under the lyrium thrum. The wounds sealed themselves, healing over without even a scar. She started humming that old song again, and everything settled into place in his mind. A thousand little moments came together, fragments of a larger puzzle. He knew who she was. He knew why that particular Hope and Valor looked after this dreamer, why they were so evasive when he asked after her. Interesting and useful as Foxfire was, she was definitely a complication to his plans. Every single one of them.

Chapter Text

Gerard Hawke debated trying to hide behind Varric when he saw the figure leaning against the gates to Skyhold as they returned. Before he could make up his mind whether it was absolutely too late to catch up with the exiled wardens instead, Fenris had him pinned against the rough stone of the walls. “Are you completely mad, mage? Almost five years of hiding, and you go skipping merrily into the middle of the damned inquisition,” Fenris growled, dark green eyes flashing with temper. “They could have killed you, or worse!”
“I'm fine, Fen. Varric needed my help,” Hawke protested weakly.
“Varric told us specifically to lay low and stay out of it! You didn't even leave a note. I came home from a supply run to find our packs ransacked and you missing. As far as I knew, anything could have happened to you,” he ran a hand back through his short white hair, looking away. “I looked everywhere, Gerry. No one knew anything about where you were, until the damned incaensor told me you were here!”
“It's very nice to see you again too, puppy,” Fox snorted, rolling her eyes at the former slave. Dorian coughed, looking between the two elves like he meant to say something, but stepped back, a hand on her shoulder. Fenris spared them a brief sullen glance before glaring back at Hawke.
“Gerard, if you're tired of me, of us, just tell me.” Fenris released the the dark haired mage. “When I thought you had been taken,” he rubbed at the red ribbon around his wrist, deep green eyes looking soulfully up to Hawke's dark blue ones.
“I didn't want you to get hurt here if it went badly. I thought... I didn't think.” Gerard stepped away from the wall into Fenris. “I wanted you away from my bad decisions for once, Fen. I thought maybe you,” Hawke muttered, looking ashamed.
“Gerry. Idiot mage,” Fenris kissed the scruffy human, a hand carding up through tousled short locks. “I spoke with a Lady Montilyet when I got here. We have a room, at least for tonight. We can finish this discussion later.”

“Does he always speak to you like that?” Dorian asked indignantly as soon as Fenris and Hawke had vanished. “I expected him to say something to me, considering Gerard was still flirting until he saw him, but using that word for you...”
“Leave it be, Dor. Puppy doesn't like any mages but Gerry,” Fox sighed, a bitter edge to her usual smile. “And puppy isn't the nicest way to refer to someone whose name means little wolf, even if our master did make him into his lapdog.”
“He's always called her that. What does it mean in Tevene?” Cullen asked, tugging absently at the end of Fox's braid.
“Literally? Controlled danger. Blackpowder, raw lyrium. Enslaved mages. But it is a really rude word for them. Somewhere between doglord and knifeears rude,” Dorian elaborated. “Not that we actually have a polite word for 'even though you have just as much magic as the best of us, we're going to treat you like property.' But he of anyone..”
“Don't be silly. I'm pretty sure I was at least livestock,” Fox remarked in a far too bland tone, before her tone darkened. “Leave it be, both of you. Not even Cole can fix what was broken between us. Don't ask. Don't press. Leave it be, please.”
His grip on the end of her braid unchanged, Cullen met her eyes with an unspoken question, before pulling her into a tight hug. “One man exalted march, any day you ask, love,” he whispered into her hair.
With a shrug and an uncertain look, Dorian backed off, grabbing his pack and heading off to his own room. “I'll see you tomorrow in the library, then, little fox. Sleep well in our nice beds free of sand.”
“I'll see you there, Altus. Bring your best wine,” Fox called after him, still wrapped in Cullen's arms.
“I'll bring the good stuff when you'll appreciate it,” the Tevinter fire mage retorted, not even looking back.

Fenris pushed his mage back into what would be their room, slamming the door shut behind them. “We are going to have that damn conversation now, Gerry. It might also include the Altus you were so blissfully chatting up before you saw me.”
“Even Foxfire agrees Dorian is an okay guy, even if she kept glaring every time I talked to him. He's here to make a difference and try to make Tevinter a better place. Rebelling against the system, that Tevinter accent... I am a weak man, Fen, with simple desires.” He tried his best flirtatious wink, and winced when Fenris only scowled at him. “She told me she'd written to you. She didn't say you were here. I was just flirting, I wouldn't have actually...” Gerard dropped onto the bed and stretched dramatically. “How can I possibly make it up to you?”
“We're going to finish talking this through first, Gerry. Don't try to distract me, it has been a very long month,” Fenris snapped, pacing just inside the room.
“But that's what I'm best at, Fen,” he pouted, optimistically unlacing the top of his robes. “It always has been.”
“Is this what it's always going to be? One of us storming off, screaming at each other when we come back until we end up in bed?” Fenris stopped mid pace, staring at Gerard with an unreadable expression.
“Well, I mean it's worked for us so far, hasn't it?” Gerry suggested hesitantly. “Fen, I'm bad at this part. I've had precisely two lovers that lasted longer than it took to finish. You are by far the saner of the two, remember?”
“That remains a very sad thought, mage.” Fenris sat on the bed next to Hawke, letting the human lean into him. “Please don't ever run off like that again, Gerry. What was in your head?”
“Stupidity? It seemed like a good idea at the time, sweetheart. Kind of like flirting with the pretty necromancer on the way to almost certain doom and back again. Speaking of pretty tevinter necromancers, assuming I could get hold of a lot of good wine, what would be the chance of maybe, possible, only once...” Gerry decided to try for puppy eyes, sliding his hand over his lovers lap.
“No. No, Gerry, he will never be allowed in our bed. Ever.” Fenris moved the hand back, nudging the human a little further away from his side.
“If its a no on him, does that mean there might be someone you might allow? Because there's this huge qunari merc that sounded like he might be up for a romp...” Gerry leaned further into Fenris, running his fingers over his armored thigh.
“Am I not enough for you, mage? Is that what you're saying?” Fenris growled, moving to pin Gerard's wrists to their pillows.
“Of course you are, Fen. I just keep thinking of what it might be like. Someone else with fire magic instead of my ice. Someone the sheer size of the Iron Bull. Just think of the potential,” he lifted his still clothed hips, pressing up into the elf holding him down. “You're thinking about it too. You just don't like the idea of sharing.”
“Not one bit, Gerry. You are mine, and I am yours.” He kissed the mage pinned underneath him. “You're managing to distract me, after all.” Fenris released his wrists, running an affectionate hand over his cheek as he pulled back. “What happened to make you leave that you don't want to tell me? It has to be something for you to try threesomes as a distractions. It might have worked if you'd suggested Isabela.”
“Shit. And ewww, no. Fen, can we talk about it in the morning? It's been a really long day traveling. And as much as I love your lectures, lets have one night before we go back to screaming at each other,” Gerard pulled his feet under him, hugging his knee as he looked anywhere but his lover.
“That bad, Gerard?” Fenris sighed. “Very well. We can pick this up in the morning. And if it turns out to be something like your eternal infatuation with the incaensor's templar, I'll find somewhere else to sleep tomorrow.”
“As very, very pretty as Cullen is...” Gerard looked briefly speculative. “No, wait. Actually, I'd like to go with that one. It's better than any thing I've thought of yet. She'd set my hair on fire if I tried anything. Maybe I should ask him what its like bedding a fire default, because if I get ice all over everything... She'd probably set me on fire for asking. She's worse at sharing than you.”
“For which I'm certain he is very grateful, Gerry. You don't need to know what sex with a fire mage is like.” Fenris rose from the bed, beginning to shuck his armor off.
“He's grateful for a lot of things, from what I heard on the trip. Apparently, your asshole magister carved the Litany of Andralla into her. Painful, but useful at least. It's proof against possession, so no one has to worry about her going abomination.” Gerard kicked off his boots, and unlaced his robes further.
His armor on the floor, Fenris sat heavily back on the bed, his eyes distant. “The runes all the way down her spine?” he asked, his tone deceptively casual.
“You've seen her naked? I know you like women, but.. Was there an affair? The healer and the bodyguard, stolen moments behind their master' back, torrid secret passion?” Gerard arranged himself with his head in his lover's lap. “Story. I must hear it, beloved. Did you break her heart? Did she break yours? Did you get caught?”
“This is not a damned bad Orlesian novel, Hawke.” He glanced down to find his mage still looking up at him expectantly. “It was nothing like what you have in your head, oh idiot mage of mine. Danarius, he... He made us hurt each other. He made us hurt others. She kept me alive when he marked me, though he forbade her painblocking any of it. I held her down when he marked her, because she needed to be able to keep herself alive. Everyone else feared us, feared what seeing us meant, and we hated each other. If he came to let us out of our cages and the other was already with him, we knew it would be worse than normal. If he was angry, there was a chance he meant to use us against an enemy or a failed servant. If he was in a good mood, it was far worse.” Fenris stared past Gerry at the floor, his fingers trembling as the markings flared in sputtering fits.
“Wait, I mean he didn't... You would never...” Gerard pulled himself back up, wrapping his arms around the elf's shoulders.
“You give me far more credit than I deserve, Amatus. I have, when Danarius wanted to watch. Sometimes I even thought of it as the reward he liked to call it. I'm not proud of it, any of it, Gerard. I was my master's monster, as she was his tool to fix toys that broke before he was done.” The arms around Fenris's shoulders didn't release, the face buried in his neck, wet with tears, didn't pull away in disgust. “I told you I was his weapon. I didn't want you to know how broken I had been.”
“She writes to you. She's the one who told you where I was,” Gerry choked out, trying to sort out what he had been told. He had known it had been bad for his lover in Tevinter. He had never pressed for details.
“We write. We keep track of where the other is. We've even agreed that everything was Danarius's fault. Someday, we might be able to stay in the same room for more than a moment without feeling like we're right back there again.” Fenris let himself lean into Gerry's arms, and realized he was crying just as much as his mage was.
“You knew she was here, but you still came looking for me. She knew you'd come looking, and still told you I was here. I'm sorry, Fen. I am so sorry. I am every bit the idiot you keep calling me. I shouldn't have pushed, and I shouldn't have left you alone. I love you.”
“Gerry, Amatus, you're my idiot. I love you.” They sat in silence for a while longer, slowly relaxing into each other.
“On the much delayed subject of my idiocy. I got a letter from Anders. He still hates you and wants me back,” Gerard announced, burying his face back into Fenris's neck.
“You haven't been in any place longer than a night since you left. You didn't tell anyone where you were going. Unless he convinced Varric to pass it on... Venhedis. You should have killed him, Gerard.” His fingers clutched possessively at Hawke's hip.
“Noted. Maybe we should stay here? It's a big fortress, and they need people who can fight like us. As long as I can keep you away from either of the other Tevinters here, we can be helpful enough to stay. If there's an entire Inquisition between us and him...” Gerard suggested idly.
“I think I can avoid incidents, if you can avoid flirting with trouble.” Fenris ruffled the mages hair, taking a deep breath.
“I'll try, no promises. You should know me by now,” Hawke laughed, kissing under his lover's ear.
“I do. And its a mark of how crazy I am that for some reason, I haven't run screaming yet.”

Solas paced across his rotunda, trying to steady his own thoughts. She didn't know what she was, who she was. It was the only possible way he could have missed it himself for so long. She didn't know what she was, didn't have access to her full power. The fact the binding collar still held was proof of that.
She had always been the favorite of Hope and Valor. They had bound themselves to her, in much the same way her Sentinels and priests had been. Whenever, however she had gotten back through the barrier he had trapped all the almost god magelords, the Evanuris behind, they had obviously begun looking after her again, as they always had.
She had flat out told him, the first time they spoke, that they called her Foxfire. He had forgotten that damn nickname, the more fool he.
Sylaise Foxfire, the keeper of the eternal flame, youngest of Mythal's children, had been under his nose for almost a year. Right under his nose, almost under her own name, and he had dismissed her as a mere Somniari, as a minor complication to plans decades in the making. He had to move fast, eliminate her before she woke to her true self, before whatever went wrong with her was fixed.
Except she wasn't the same arrogant Evanuris he had locked behind the veil. She had been collared, had lived as a slave under worse treatment than any she had ever kept. She hated the magisters and their abuses of magic and power. Foxfire was still a flighty, hot tempered healer who was entirely too fond of shiny things, but she was... better.
He had had his agents track down as much of her past in Tevinter as possible. She had been deeply involved in at least one rebellion in her youth, before they had used a rare, ancient binding collar to control her properly, before they had given her over to Danarius and his lyrium experiments. Perhaps she could be swayed into helping him fix what had gone wrong. Mythal had been the best of them and his dearest friend before her murder, but Sylaise had never been the worst of her children. She had always cared for her people, protected them. She had been loved as much as she was feared, if not more, even when she had slipped into madness with the others.
Until she came back into her own, she was no threat to him, and a great help to the Inquisition that was helping the people. At her full strength, she could challenge him, or help him more than he could dream. She could see what he was even now, and had not shared his secrets.
Precious Lyra, his vhenan, his heart, wore the mark of her service, would be bound to her when she rose unless he could convince Lyra to let him free her first. The vallaslin could be undone, as one of the collars could not. Curse to that too clever June, and his inventions and crafts, and his attempts to prevent the dread wolf from freeing his servants. Mythal have mercy on the world if that Evanuris was free as well, or if he found that one of his creations held even a broken version of the healer he had tried to court by piling treasures at her feet.
The human Sylaise now followed was a variable of his own. Solas doubted she would agree to any plan that risked her love, either version of her, not for any amount of shiny treasures. And if Solas were to move against her... Any attempt to kill her out of hand would destroy his position within the Inquisition. Not even Cole, as a spirit of compassion, would understand, and it would set Lyra against him. As much as he approved of the good they were doing with Tarasyl'lan Telas, the place that holds up the sky, getting chased out of his own fortress would be humiliation beyond what he could bear.

Fox slipped quietly into the office, moments before a small wooden box shattered against the wall, broken philters of lyrium dripping down. “Maker.. I didn't hear you come in. Fox, I didn't..” Cullen slumped heavily against his desk, deep shadows under his eyes. “I swear I wasn't aiming at you, love.”
“If that's the box I think it was, I'm sure it had it coming,” She remarked, carefully stepping around the splinters of broken glass. “The spell only goes so far, heart of my heart. If you overextend yourself, it won't help.”
“Maybe I should just go back to taking it. I should be willing to give as much to the Inquisition as I did to the Chantry, Fox. They need me at my best. If that means I stay a templar...” He started to step around the desk to her, swaying uncertainly. She caught him, gently guiding him down to the floor. “And I could protect you better, love. Lysette could have gotten you killed by acting like you were still a circle mage that would run if given the chance. I could have had the wounded pull back to me, kept you safe. I should be taking it.”
“Not while doing your job properly as Commander, you couldn't. She was the templar with the most experience guarding healers out of the circle. I thought... You at your best doesn't necessarily mean you back on lyrium, Cul. We've both seen what it does to templars in the end. Even the lower dose I worked you down to in Kirkwall would eventually destroy your mind, even if it would give you a extra couple decades. We need you, not your templar gifts.” She dug her fingers into his hair, resting her forehead against his as she knelt with him on the stone floor.
“I could pull the ambient magic back out of your markings like I used to. I know it was the only time they completely stopped hurting, love.” he reached up, resting a cold hand on her elbow over a spiraled glyph. He closed his eyes, trying to focus with a pained expression. The merest flicker of white, maybe just a trick of the light, played over his palm where it touched the brands. It died as soon as it appeared, and he slumped into her grasp with a half voiced whimper.
“I would rather have a little pain and you free of the poison the chantry filled you with, Amatus. Don't stress yourself right now. If it gets bad enough, I'm sure Seeker Cassandra would Silence if I asked her to. I need you, my lion. Not your talents.” She settled his head into her lap, running magic into him to ease what she could as she ran her fingers incessantly through his hair.
“You have the poison in your system as well, my love,” He quietly remarked, a few minutes later, still mostly limp against her.
“It seems to be contained, as the philters they give you to drink are not. The puppy and I don't have to consume more to maintain what we are, and I remember everything since the ritual with no fog over it but time,” Fox told him, her hands still moving. “The ritual changed the lyrium, as ritual gave the seekers a templar's gifts without needing the lyrium.”

Chapter Text

“You look far less cheerful than usual,” Solas commented without looking up from his paint, as Foxfire passed through his rotunda from the great hall.
“It's this Grand Masquerade nonsense, that's all,” Fox paused, giving him a rueful smile. “I should know better than to be upset about it, but...” She gestured awkwardly, and Solas pointed to the chair behind her. She picked her way around his scattered books, and sank into the plush furniture gratefully. “I had my hopes up. Lady Montilyet put her foot down on Cullen's plan of taking me. She said the Inquisition didn't need any more gossip about us, that keeping our living arrangements quiet was trouble enough. Their former templar Commander living openly in sin with the elven mage head healer, and all that potential scandal. Leliana wouldn't help him talk Josephine into it either. She pointed out that she wouldn't get to bring Genevieve either. Her lover who is incidentally, out of contact in the Anderfells.” She leaned back into the cushions, watching the older elf paint the walls. “My lion is in a temper, partly because he has to go play the eligible bachelor for a bunch of Orlesian social climbers. Mostly because Madame Vivienne decided right in front of him to announce that she knew several rich, connected potential protectors for me who would be happy to take me as an escort.”
“So his choices are leave you behind and pretend you don't exist to Orlesian high society, or watch you flaunted in another man's arms.” Solas noted, stepping back and examining his mural.
“Someone I'm certain would have expectations beyond my presence at the dance, at that.” Fox snorted. “I would never put either of us through that. I just... I did end up with a pretty dress, and I wanted to see what Cullen would look like in the formal jacket they got him. I should know better than to be upset about not going. I've survived worse than a week sleeping by myself. It's not like he isn't coming back to me,” she sighed, tucking her feet up under her the way Sylaise always had when her mother wasn't watching.
He watched her a moment, rearranging pigments on his table. If he could get certain of his agents to cooperate... He smiled, turning back to the mural. “I might know someone who wouldn't expect more than a dance, who I know will be there. I'll speak with her for you.” Briala would deeply enjoy having a another beautiful elvhen woman to parade in front of Empress Celine. If it was the head healer for the Inquisition, whose own people couldn't bother bringing her, all the better. She could look better to her army of disgruntled elven spies and saboteurs and try to make her former lover jealous, all at once. “We'll see if we can get you an invitation after all.”
“That is astoundingly helpful of you. Why?” She rested her chin on her hand, eyeing him warily.
“I might need a favor from you someday, perhaps. You have been kind enough to keep secret what the fade tells you about me.” He shrugged dismissively, and went back to painting.
“It's your business, not theirs. Especially given how weird the Dalish can be about wolves,” Fox remarked blandly. “I tried to wake up this Dalish bloodmage in Kirkwall in wolf form once, got stabbed and had to sit through a three hour lecture about the dangers of the Dread Wolf, Fen'harel. Dalish are weird.” She smiled sweetly as he looked back at her. “Mistress Lavellan is much more open minded than any of the others I've met.
“Willing to consider that what she's been told her whole life might not be the entire truth?” he asked, setting down his brush and pigments, seating himself in the couch next to the chair. “Lyra is an amazing woman, but she is still bound by her people's perception.”
“She's remarkably okay with the fact Cullen and I are a thing for one of her people. They take human elf relationships far worse than the circle mages take mage templar ones. She's even nice to Sera, and Sera is pretty much the definition of the term 'flat ear'. And Cole likes her.” Fox tilted her head, taking in as much of the painting as possible.
“There is still a point where even an open mind may be overwhelmed by prejudice ingrained too deeply,” Solas warned, drumming his fingers against the arms of the couch.
“Maybe. But you can never know where that point is until you try,” Fox sighed, absently playing with blossoms of fire on her fingertips. “You do beautiful work, by the way. The style feels odd though. Familiar. Like the time I was trying to fix Mistress Lavellan's headache and touched her tattoo. Familiar, but odd.”
“It's a very old technique, but I'll take the compliment. Go console your Commander. Or let him console you. I'll do my best to get you to Halam'shiral, but I can't promise anything yet. Let's leave this as a surprise for him, if you would?” He went back to his paints.
“Might as well. I do appreciate this, Solas. Thank you.” She slid off the chair and headed for the door to the battlements. Fingers on the handle, she turned. “Mistress Lavellan is already very fond of you.”
“I have no intention of laying with her under false pretenses, Foxfire. I am also very fond of her,” he responded to the unvoiced question without turning around. The door shut, and he fought back a mildly aggrieved sigh. The more time Solas spent with that mage, he wondered how he could possibly have missed who she was for so long. The voice, the magic, the mannerisms all the same as they had always been. On the other hand, the more he dealt with her in this form, the more he felt she would be a benefit, rather than a hindrance, as long as he managed her correctly. He would have to adjust his plans, yet again.

 

When his agent made contact, Briala took the bait eagerly, leaping at the chance she was offered. On a whim, Solas suggested a few distinct changes to her escort's costume.
It was worth the wait and the effort, in the end. Suffering through the Grand duke's endless leering at Lyra in the carriage, being introduced as her elven manservant. All the endless repetitions of courtly formality he remembered from so long ago. The Orlesian game was just as easily read as it had ever been in the long ago days of Arlathan.
Lyra was elegant and graceful in flowing, low cut emerald satin, knives carefully hidden in embroidered boots. She was more than a credit to her people, to the coaching the more worldly had given her before she was brought here. Solas closed his eyes for a moment, indulging the thought of how she would have looked at his side long ago. To have someone like her beside him, as they danced around the politics of the Evanuris and their warring factions and tumultous court. It would have been perfect. She would have been perfect. He shook his head, reminding himself of where he was.
At 'Ambassador' Briala's side, Foxfire emerged, looking every bit the Evanuris Sylaise had once been. A half mask of flame painted lace gave a nod to Orlesian custom and the masquerade. Swirling layers of translucent silk shimmered around her, shades of red like glowing embers, with her waist length snowy hair braided into a complex cascade of opalescent beads like the sparks of a fire. It clung and draped over her delicate elven frame, her long ears obvious behind the mask, holding back her hair. Across every exposed line of skin, her blue-white glyphs of lyrium swirled, marking her identity in a way no mask could conceal.
Behind Solas in the crowd, he could clearly hear Commander Cullen's sharp inhale as he recognized her, the yearning in the way he hissed “Goddess of fire,” under his breath, and smiled. At least one small plan was going as it should.
Lyra was gliding through shark filled waters with her head held high and her eyes wide open, treading the measure of the game carefully. He was very proud of his little Dalish. Judging by the looks Lady Montilyet and the spymaster gave her, so were they. His vhenan couldn't quite resist wandering by him at least long enough to ask for a dance, however. It wouldn't do for their inquisitor to be seen dancing with a elven apostate or her 'servant' quite yet. Perhaps he could track her down in a quieter moment, when it wouldn't endanger quite as much.
Beyond the countless layers of chaos set in motion, the party was everything he expected. Solas leaned against a wall with a plate of delightful little frilly cakes, and let himself soak it in.
The Champion of Kirkwall was on his umpteenth tiny glass of bubbly wine, flirting outrageously with everyone. Every time he thought himself unobserved, he pulled his sullen elven lover in for a kiss, and the green eyed elf would brighten before glowering at the next noble to distract his mage.
Seeker Cassandra had apparently found a way around Josephine's adherence to the protocol that mean dresses were mandatory. She had donned a martial styled doublet that matched the Commander's in silver trimmed black, and still managed to look like she would rather be armored and anywhere but in a ballroom. Leliana seemed to be in a crowd of courtiers, cheerfully holding forth about fashion and the newest shoes, if you discounted the way her eyes flickered over everything, watching the room. Josephine was less cautious, but mingled purposefully, making sure the right people were contacted and pacified. Madame Vivienne had vanished into the crowd, holding court regally in a far corner and reestablishing herself as a court power.
The Tevinter Altus, Dorian, hovered by the refreshments, indulging himself by sampling all the expensive wines and tiny delicacies on offer. As he nibbled, his eyes kept returning to the Iron Bull, carefully manuevering around the same area. The mercenary seemed torn between stuffing his face with a selection of cheeses or keeping a watch out for Madame Vivienne and her potent disapproving look.

When Briala left to settle a few unspecified loose ends and speak with the Inquisitor, Fox took the opportunity to look for her own business. She blessed whatever weird part of her brain kept coming up with the proper responses as she worked her way through the crowd. Eventually she caught sight of familiar blond, slick backed curls above a cluster of brightly masked people, and arranged herself within his line of sight.
A glimpse of swirled ember silk and beaded white hair, and Cullen extricated himself from over eager nobles as gracefully as he could managed. “I am very glad you are here, love,” he murmured, almost unheard over the noise of the crowd. “That's a new trick.” He brushed his knuckles over where the leashkey was worked into the braids of her hair before pulling his hand back with a glance around.
“Looping it over a staff still works better, it bumps skin every now and then like this. But being openly armed isn't appropriate to a event like this.” She smiled up at him, openly eyeing the way his velvet doublet fit.
“A great deal is inappropriate at an event like this, I've been told,” he sighed, tucking his hands behind his back to resist the urge to run his hands over her. “Mistress Lavellan seems to be managing well.”
“She does. Cassandra seems rather put out at being dragged into this mess, though. I think it's the lack of armor,” Fox laughed, and Cullen quirked his odd half smile at her, the one that just furrowed the scar through his lip.
“That's because armor should count as formalwear, at least parade armor. I... Maker, I feel like a fool, Fox. You look.. divine. Like some pagan or elven goddess of fire.” He glanced out over the crowd, scowling at anyone looking too closely in her direction.
“It's apparently based off something from before the elven kingdom fell. Blame Solas. It took two servants and hours to get me into the dress and my hair done like this,” she shrugged ruefully.
“Solas got you here? I thought Vivienne had called in a better favor. I was debating between cursing her for letting me think you wouldn't be here and nominating her as the next Divine for letting me see you in that dress,” Cullen questioned, pulling her as far away from the crowd as he dared.
“She offered. None of her options were anymore palatable than the ones she offered in front of you. Solas knew someone who knew Ambassador Briala. She's still using me as a hopeful leverage point with whatever she wants from the inquisition, but all she expects is a dance.”
“I can live with that, Fox,” he smiled, even as he checked around for watchers. “I can't keep you out of the crowd for too long, or Josie will have our heads for the scandal. But I am very glad you are here.” He slid his fingertips over her cheekbone, just under the edge of the mask, cupped her cheek, and bent down to kiss her thoroughly.
“Amatus,” she whispered, as he pulled back, pressing her lips to the palm still hovering near her cheek. “I'll save you a dance. I expect you to do the same.”
“I can't... I don't... I'll try, for you. At least I know you'll be able to heal your feet when I step on them,” he chuckled, as he led her back into the noise and the lights of the party.

Chapter Text

Lyra was the belle of the ball, in the end, her entrance into the the dangerous game a success. She had disrupted an assassination plot, saved the Empress, and thoroughly discredited the Grand Duke and his crazy sister. All without ruining her dress or missing any dances with self important nobles. She had even managed to track down the right information to remind Briala and Celine of what they had once had, to think being together might be worth weathering a little scandal.

“You seem to have been replaced,” Dorian remarked as Fox joined him near the doors to the garden. She took a glass of something from a passing tray, and followed his gesture. The elven ambassador was standing cozily close to to the throne as the Empress ran a possessive hand over her face.
Fox shrugged. “I'll endure the loss, I think. She only deigned to bring me along in the hopes of making Celine jealous anyway. Between that and whatever Lyra told her, seems to have worked.” She sipped at the wine, and made a face. “Why must the wine fizz?”
“You get used to it,” Dorian laughed. “You look very dangerous tonight, little fox. Like an ancient mage queen out of a story.” he drained his glass, reaching out to tweak her ear before he grabbed another off a tray.
“Thank you, I think. I'd ask you how your evening was going, but I'm starting to think the more telling question is how much have you been drinking?” Fox asked, clearly considering taking the wine away from him.
“Less than the Iron Bull has,” he retorted, glancing over at the out of place mercenary. “He said he'd buy me dinner first before he'd collar and leash me, did I ever tell you that? And then what he said today!”
“Oh, good, you've had less booze than the qunari twice your size. That is an excellent standard,” Fox snorted, taking another reluctant sip from her glass and eyeing a plate of tiny bright colored morsels. “What did he say to you today, Dor?”
“Something about conquering me while I held his horns if I gave him the chance? He seems to think I'm just waiting to chase the forbidden, that I'd jump at the chance to bed him,” He gulped half his glass and grabbed a tiny pie shaped morsel of a plate. “Then, he told me he'd 'leave his door unlocked' for me,”
“Were you planning on taking him up on that?” Fox laughed. “Unless you want in, whether his door is locked or not doesn't really matter. If he's upsetting you, tell Lyra. She can make him stop.” She watched his eyes flick uncertainly between her and the qunari, and smirked. A quick flare ran a mild sobering spell through her swaying friend. “I'm pretty sure he's flirting, in whatever heavy handed mercenary manner he's used to. Take him up on it if you need to get it out of your system. Its less likely to get you killed than anything involving Hawke. Otherwise, I think one of those minor lords over there was staring at you.”
“Says the mage with the commander staring after her like a lovesick puppy,” Dorian sighed, eyeing his still half empty glass. “I'll think about what you said.”

“I see you managed to evade your admirers, meo leonis,” Fox laughed, skipping over to meet Cullen as he joined them in the garden.
“At least momentarily. You seem to be short an escort after Lyra's performance,” he commented as she took his offered arm.
“Not anymore,” she leaned into his side briefly, the beads in her hair clicking softly. “Although I've already had to deflect a couple offers and several requests for introductions to the Inquisitor.”
“I am glad you are here, even if I have not gotten to spend as much time with you as I would have liked. This is a chance I may never have again.” he led her back, close enough to the doors to the ballroom they could hear the music. “You asked me to save you a dance, my lady?” he asked, extending out his hand as he bowed to her.
“I did, thank you.” They swept over the paved terrace as the music played, her dress almost glowing in the lanternlight, absorbed in each other. He did manage to step once on her slippered foot, but she recovered, wrinkling her nose up at him as he apologized. “Amatus, I'm fine. That I get to dance with you here is worth a few missteps.”
“I knew there was a reason I loved you,” he whispered into her ear, his hand still warm against the small of her back.
“Only one?” she rested her head against his chest, glancing up with a teasing smile.
“I will list more for you later, my love.” As the music stopped, he offered her his arm again.

They found themselves wandering the quiet edges of the lanternlit garden, skirting the the edges of scandal with interlaced fingers. It was beautiful there, away from the looks and the whispers of the game and the crowd.
“Whatever else it is, the Winter Palace is a sight to see. I would like it better without quite so many Orlesians, however,” Cullen remarked, risking a quick kiss to the top of her head.
“You'd like most of Orlais better without the Orlesians.” Fox teased, stepping closer into him for a moment.
“That is hardly a unique sentiment, my love,” he chuckled, stepping around a shadowed hedgerow.
“Mythal's mercy, it is you,” a low alto voice whispered with sudden hope, as a tall elf in dark clothing stepped out of the shadows, pale grey eyes focused on Foxfire. In the light of the nearest lantern, the stylized flames etched golden over their face gleamed. “I've been looking for you for so long, I'd started to lose faith.”
“Do I know you?” Fox asked, her tone baffled as Cullen pulled her protectively closer. She stared back at the strange elf, trying to chase down the wave of familiarity. “I don't know who you are,” she quietly added, convinced that somehow she should. Someone from before the lyrium?
“You don't know...Of course you don't,” they sighed, sounded disappointed. “Ir' abelas, ash'ma'lin,” they apologized.
“Tel'abelas. Who are you, and why are you calling me sister?” Fox responded, still backed up against a tensed Cullen.
“Not how I was hoping this would go, the more fool I,” they ran slender fingers back through their shoulder length braids awkwardly. “I'm Rasanis, and I've been looking for you for years, little sister.”
“I... I have family?” Fox asked, her tone suddenly as hopeful as theirs had been. “I used to be Dalish?” She took a half step forward.
“It's a long, painful story, Hal'isa. I almost found you in Tevinter a couple times, I just never...” They took a step closer, staring at the lyrium brands visible on her arms, the collar around her neck, pale eyes filled with guilt. “Ir'abelas that I did not protect you as I should. You should never have been there. You were never meant to be a slave, ash'ma'lin.”
“No one is meant to be a slave, Rasanis.” she said, her head up and her eyes fierce, another step closer to them. “Rasanis... Firemist?”
“Smoke, more or less.” they shrugged. “I suppose it's fitting I found you here. Halam'shiral, the journey's end.”
“Very well, you found her. What do you want with her?” Cullen questioned, unable to resist digging his fingers into the ends of her hair, tugging back gently.
The elf eyed the casual familiarity of the touch warily, giving Fox a searching look. “That is up to my ash'ma'lin, Shemlin,” they snapped, holding out their hand to her. “I'm here now, little fox. I can protect you. I have somewhere safe to bring you if you need it.”
She moved back, lacing her fingers tighter with her templar's. “I am in no danger from my lion, Smoke. We're with the Inquisition, I'm their head healer. However nice it is to have family again, I can't take off on a whim.”
“Faithful to your duties as ever,” Smoke sighed with resignation. “Ir'abelas to your human, then, little sister. Ma'vheraan, you called him?”
“Lion hearted and lion maned, when he doesn't cut it short and fix it back,” she remarked proudly. “Valor is quite fond of him.”
“Valor would be,” Smoke muttered. “Rather than take you from your duties, I would go back to the Inquisition with you then, if you would have me. I've missed you, ash'ma'lin. You are all that I have left. Perhaps we can try to be more as we were,” they suggested in a far more conciliatory tone.
“I'd be willing to try,” Fox offered, and added, going off a strange prompting from the part of her mind translating the elven for her, “Esa'ma'lin, my sibling. It would be good to learn more of who I was before the lyrium."
“I...I can do that for you, I suspect I should go, before the nobles notice and have me thrown out by force. I will look for you in the morning when your group leaves.” They glanced around warily, wrapping her in a quick embrace as she nodded. “I can hardly believe I've found you, Hal'isa, my Foxfire.”
“That was unexpected,” Cullen muttered as the elf vanished back into the shadows as silently as they had appeared. “You have a brother?”
“Sibling, and don't ask how I know they prefer that. Cullen, if they're true, I had family once. I had something before the lyrium. Amatus, do you think...” Fox asked, still gripping tight to his hand as she leaned into his side.
“I don't know, but I'll arrange to get them back to Skyhold with us. I won't say I'll trust them yet, but we can hear them out.”
“Thank you, meo leonis,” Fox hummed under her breath, almost skipping.
“They'll still have to get past Leliana. If they're playing an angle, she'll find it,” Cullen warned, leading her back towards more populated areas of the garden.
“I know. I just... Trying to imagine myself as Dalish just feels weird and wrong,” she commented, reluctantly putting a decorous distance between them.
“ I can't imagine you with a clan either. The wilds are rather short on libraries and pastries.” he teased, his fingers tensing around hers briefly.
“I'd imagine there can't be many sweet former templars I can crawl into bed with, either.” she laughed. “I think, in the end, I'm where I should be. I would rather have you than a clan, Cullen. If my sibling loves me, they'll learn to deal with the fact I have you.”

Chapter Text

As the night wound down, Cullen made a meandering journey through the farthest reaches of the guest quarters of the Winter Palace. He had thought his rooms were inconvenient. A quick dart outside, and he followed the wall, looking for a particular window. Ah, there, right where she had told him. Second floor, up a hopefully sturdy lattice, left wide open with a familiar ball of blue green veil fire in the corner.
He carefully scrambled up the painted wood, grateful for the first time of the night that he wasn't in armor. He smiled as he climbed high enough to be certain it was the right room. She was seated on a stool before a marble topped vanity, stripped down to a sheer inner layer of the dress. A young, giggly blond in palace livery was carefully undoing the elaborate beading of her hair, chattering away at a clearly amused Fox. Feeling rather like a rebellious teenager, Cullen pulled himself the rest of the way up onto the window sill with a quiet thump. The cheerful, giggling chatter stopped with a sudden squeak as the maid looked up and saw him.
“It's alright, Kally.” Fox soothed. “Go get some sleep. It's late and I'm certain you have to be up entirely too early tomorrow. Cullen will help with the rest of my hair, I'm sure.” She dropped a couple gold sovereigns into the girl's hand. “Thank you for your help tonight. I couldn't have managed without you and your sister.”
Kally glanced at the color of the coins, and grinned at both of them. “ An' your gentleman friend was never here, m'lady. I'll swear to it.” She half sketched a curtsy. “Me an' Shian, we'll see to you if you need anythin' else while you're here, an' never mind if Briala says boo.”
“Don't go upsetting her on my account, dah'len, not in any way that would risk your position. Especially now that she has the ear of the Empress again,” Fox warned, even as the elven girl rolled her eyes slightly and bolted.
“You tried,” Cullen offered as he slid down from the window sill. “I suppose the servants are used to this sort of thing around here.”
“I think that we can safely assume you aren't the only person sneaking into a room they weren't meant to be in tonight, meo leonis. This is, as I'm certain you noticed, Orlais,” Fox shrugged, standing up from her stool. “I do still need help with my hair, though.”
“Gladly, my love.” He kicked off the soft half boots by the window, settling himself on the plush coverlet of the too soft bed. She sat on the bed in front of him, handing back the brush and half filled bowl of beads. With his hands already buried into her hair, he leaned around, pressing a kiss to her temple. “I wish I could have just brought you. It would have saved me an evening avoiding social climbers trying to get me by myself and asking about my pedigree.”
“You were a farm boy in a tiny Ferelden backwater before you started Templar training. You don't have a pedigree. Leaving aside the fact that you are a person and not a mabari hound,” she snorted, feeling him chuckle behind her.
“Oh, better a mabari than the trained lapdog some of those ladies were clearly hoping for, my love.” His calloused hands deftly unwound the tiny braids, not pausing even as he pressed a kiss under her ear. “And yet, I've spent the night either avoiding mothers trying to marry younger daughters to the Inquisition Commander, or convincing them I was too married to my work to notice them. Much as you had to avoid fools who thought they could buy their way into your bed.” His hands tightened in her hair briefly before he went back to unbraiding. “In the end, I had to sneak through what I am certain was a mile of back hallways and climb a rickety lattice to get where I should have been to begin with,” he grumbled.
“My Ferelden farmboy, with sisters that made you braid their hair and a little brother willing to help you practice swords in every free moment. You did remember to reply to Mia's last letter before you left Skyhold, right?”
“I did, for which I believe she thanks you for. I was a very poor correspondent before you started insisting I should reply to my sister's letters often enough to maintain her confidence in my survival.” His hands paused for a moment. “She wants... When the current crisis is over, I am to bring you home to meet everyone, she says. If only you weren't...”
“If only I wasn't what, Amatus?” Fox asked, leaning against the resumed steady tugs, as beads clinked together into the glass bowl behind her. A curve of silver brushed against skin, making her flinch as the collar sparked.
“Forgive me, “ he apologized, pulling the leashkey the rest of the way free of her hair. “If you weren't a mage... If you weren't a mage, you wouldn't be you and we wouldn't be here. The ban on mages or templars marrying without Chantry permission is folly,” he sighed, toying with the silver band in his fingers. “I love you, Fox. I cannot bring myself to believe that what I feel for you is a sin, that it should be hidden.”
“Whatever happened to my poor, traumatized templar that was afraid of magic?” Fox teased, leaning back as he wrapped the arm not holding the bracelet around the front of her shoulders.
“No matter what I once said, whatever I still fear of magic, I see none of it in you,” he whispered, nuzzling small kisses behind her ear. “Where do you want this?”he asked, holding out the leashkey where she could see it.
“If you would keep it for tonight, we could loop it into the end of a solid braid in the morning, low enough it wouldn't bump into anything but my coat. Maybe that would work,” she suggested, still leaning back into his chest.
“As you like.” He clicked it around his wrist, felt the magic settle, and loosened the limits automatically before sliding off the bed from behind her. Dropping the glass bowl back onto the stone stop of the vanity, he stretched out his fingers, looking around. “At least they put you up in a decent room, even if it is is in the back end of no where.”
“Even when she was on the outs with Empress Celine, Ambassador Briala had sway here. Something about the potential army of elven spies, saboteurs and assassins that fill every part of Halam'shiral outside the high quarter. Too many of us here for an alienage to contain, and most of them listen to her. I'm not entirely certain she's as good for them as she says, but she's more of a voice than most of us have. Enough that she and I were accounted as full guests, with the rooms and service expected of that,” Fox shrugged.
“And the guest suites of the Winter palace are famed with cause, I'm noticing.” Cullen peered around an ornately carved screen at the large marble tub set into the floor, already filled with steaming water. “It even already have a bath drawn. Need any help washing your hair, love?” He asked, walking around it to the racks of scented oils and soaps.
“Well, if you're offering...” She slid from the bed, meeting him around the other side of the screen. He was unstopping vials of oil to sniff curiously as she dipped a toe in the water. He offered her one and she sneezed, laughing. “We'd smell like pastries! Too much vanilla.”
“As much as I would enjoy tasting you,” he chuckled, watching the tips of her ears redden, “You may have a point.” He sniffed at a few more, sharing the most ridiculous smelling ones. When he found one that smelled right, all lavender and rose petals and summer like her favorite tea, he emptied it into the water, and watched her inhale in pleasure. She stepped out of the sheer robe she had been wearing, and he swallowed, taking in the sight of the maker's greatest gift to him. The winter pale silken hair that tumbled past her waist, the silverblue of the glyphs that swirled and bloomed in gleaming lines over all of that softly curved olive skin, the deep aquamarine eyes that saw into every part of him. All wrapped around the most amazing woman he had ever met, with his luck coin hanging on a thin chain in the shadow of her breasts. “I think,” he said when he managed to find his tongue again, “perhaps I should wash your back as well.”

Sprawled over the sheets, Cullen carefully combed lavender oil through her damp hair, eyeing the pile of sopping towels and the assorted puddles across the floor with tired amusement. “On one hand, nothing has noticeably been on fire. On the other, I'll leave an extra sovereign for the girls that have to clean up after us.”
“They'll deserve it.” She leaned back against his bare chest as he set the brush back down. “Cul, my lion, are you spending the night?”
“I would prefer to, as annoying as the idea of sneaking back to my room in the morning is. I do not like sleeping away from you.” He sat up, pulling her back into his lap and burying his face in her flower scented hair.
“Nightmares again, amatus?” she asked softly, lacing her fingers with his.
“They never entirely stopped. It's always better when I have you,” he sighed. “When we are apart... It's worse, off the lyrium.”
“I could ask Valor to keep closer watch on you when you sleep. Or I could pull you into mine more often,” Fox offered, turning to stroke his face affectionately. “Benefits of sleeping with a Somniari.”
“Just having you there tends to ward off the worst of it, my love. As entertaining as dreams of endless sparring practice with a spirit of Valor always are.” He pressed a kiss to her palm, curled his fingers against her shoulder blades. “I don't mean to worry you.”
“Ir'elasin. I'm allowed to worry about you a little, my lion. Maybe you should take your luck back.” She hooked her arms behind his neck, leaning back to look at him.
“No, I like my luck right where it is. I have you, and therefore all the luck I could ever want for.” His hands slid down to her hips, pulling her over his lap, and he smiled at the amused grin she gave him.

Chapter Text

He woke reluctantly in a too soft bed, under foreign scented blankets, but with Fox a familiar, comforting warmth in his arms. She stirred slightly, and he pulled her closer into him, nuzzling into her neck. With a blink at the pale light of early dawn, he trailed kisses down between her shoulderblades.
She stretched, arching back into him with a quiet hum of curiosity. “Cul? Wha' time is it? Do you have to...”
“Not quite morning, my love. I'll stay just a little longer.” Her next stretch was far more deliberate, pressing herself back into his hips. “Although if you are awake...” he gently flexed the fingers that had settled around a breast as he slept.
“Awake enough, Amatus,” she replied, as he slid a hand down her torso.

When the knock at the door sounded, he bit off a groan, panting against her neck. “I'm going to regret leaving that extra sovereign.”
“Lady Foxfire? Be you awake?” Kally asked hesitantly, peeking around the door.
“Just a minute, Kally,” Fox called in a strained voice. “Its not entirely her fault, my lion. Even if I do wish she had waited just a little longer.”
“Oh, I know, I know. If we could marry, it wouldn't... If wishes were horses,” He cut himself off as he extricated himself from the blankets. “The Inquisition lets me have you most of the time, as long as we stay discreet enough they have plausible deniability. I should be grateful for that.” He kissed her slowly, her face cradled in his hands, then scrambled for his clothing. The drop back down the lattice seemed higher than it had on the way up.
Kally came in with a pitcher of steaming water on a tray, suppressing a smirk as Cullen slunk out into the hallway behind her. “I know it's early, my lady, but there's a Dalish asking about you in the kitchen.”

 

Cullen noted with sour pleasure that he was not the only one wandering the halls at this hour in last night's rumpled clothing. Not even the only one from the Inquisition. Near his own room, he passed a very disheveled Dorian. “I was not aware you acknowledged this time of day existed. Where did you end up sleeping?”
“I didn't, Commander,” the Tevinter mage snorted as he located his room. “You seem very out of sorts for someone who clearly didn't spend the night alone.”
“My night was fine. The morning came far too soon,” the former templar sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “After the chaos last night, our Inquisitor announced we were leaving today, if you missed it. I expect to see you at breakfast.”
A hand waved dismissively in his direction as the mage vanished. Cullen let himself into his own room and promptly sprawled over the bed. The damp velvet finery he wore still smelled faintly of over scented bath water. He peeled it all back off, and grabbed for the pitcher of water on the table by the door. It was ice cold, but that's what he needed at the moment anyways. Ice cold water, lye soap, and the rough wool of his old traveling clothes over his skin, and he began to feel more like himself.
He was the commander of the Inquisition's forces. He was better paid, better quartered, and was doing more to help people than he could have ever dreamed when he joined the Templar's at thirteen. He had been able to pull himself out of the paranoia and madness that had haunted him after the fall of the kinhold circle, had been able to protect the most amazing woman he had ever met long enough for her to pull herself back from a broken pet to the steadfast head healer of the Inquisition. He had her heart, as she had his, and the Maker had seen fit to let them build a life together. He should be grateful for all he was given, not resentful that he could not have more, not rubbing her face in what they couldn't have.
It would have been better if they had both been allowed to stay home, in his loft with the hole in the roof no one had managed to patch yet. Trying to flex the tension out of his shoulders, he packed his things back up, laced up his sturdily soled boots, and checked to make sure he wasn't leaving anything. Without letting himself think about it, he checked the racks of oils by his own empty bath, snagging the floral one that matched what they had used last night. With it tucked away into a small pocket of his pack, he headed down to breakfast.

Cullen was on his third plate when Dorian strolled down and began picking through the scraps of breakfast for his preferred pastries. He dropped himself into the recently vacated chair next to the commander.
Working through her second, heavily laden plate of bacon and sausages, Cassandra waved from across the table. “Breakfast is far less crowded than I would have expected,” She commented.
“Because, my dear Seeker, everyone of consequence is either still asleep or having their servants bring them breakfast in bed. This meal is a sop to those of us without our own servants, who rely on the mercy of the palace staff,” Dorian grumbled, nibbling at a cold piece of flaky pastry. “Madame Du Fer, is not going to be seen down here with us peasants.” He reached over to Cullen as Cassandra turned to say something to Leliana, and tapped firmly at the silver bracelet around his wrist.
The commander yanked his sleeve down over it, suppressing a curse. He knew he'd forgotten something on the way back to his room. Dorian shot him a look, glancing meaningfully at the rest of the table, and Cullen focused for a moment.
“Not here or in her room... West side of the building. She isn't angry or frightened. If she hasn't joined us by the time we have the horses and carriage ready, I'll go get her,” he muttered to an only partially reassured Altus. “Dorian, were you going to ride or take the carriage with our fine ladies?” He asked in a louder tone. “Just wondering if I need to get your horse saddled.”
“Riding, I think. It looks like a nice enough day I'd rather risk my complexion than my sanity cooped up with Vivienne. No offense to those who are riding with her,” he added, glancing down the table.
“None taken, Lord Pavus. I might spend the day in the saddle instead myself. Fresh air would be refreshing after the excitement of last night.” Leliana waved off the comment.

Walking down the toward the stables there was a spike of pure panic through the leash key. Cullen froze, Dorian and Leliana turning to look at him. Not the mild unease or slight irritation he remembered from the Gallows, when she had made a game of letting him catch other templars bothering her, but mindnumbing fear. Without thinking, he charged in the direction the bracelet gave him, reached back for the sword he wasn't wearing, and swore. He was well into the servant halls, heading for the kitchen when the fear faded, taking on tones of indignant anger that shifted to worried irritation. A door near the kitchen led him to a small courtyard near the fishpond, Fox sat on a small bench, fidgeting with her braid, her light tunic sliced open.
“Fox, who do I have to murder?”Cullen asked through gritted teeth, noting the already bruising fingermarks over her wrist and the red line that ran under the cut clothing.
“A bit late, Commander,” Smoke remarked, appearing from the other side of the fish pond in damp leggings, a smear of something dark and wet over their charcoal wool tunic. They dropped the wiped down deepstrider leather coat over Fox's shoulders, tucking a small knife into their sleeve.
“There are other ways to deal with people than stabbing them, Smoke. Even if..” Fox dropped her chin onto her wrist, pulling in on herself. “Did you have to murder him?”
“Yes.” Smoke and Cullen answered at once, before glancing at each other uncomfortably.
“But I think he was still drunk from last night,” Fox protested quietly, uncurling enough to buckle the coat over her ripped tunic.
“Drunk or not, ash'ma'lin, he was not in the serving hall by accident. If he hadn't grabbed you, it would have been one of the actual servants. Perhaps that little blond following you around the kitchen like a lost, giggly puppy hoping for a treat?” Smoke pulled off their tunic to rinse out the blood in a trough near the well, revealing a lean torso, more scar than skin.
“Point taken, eas'ma'lin,” Fox sighed. “I don't like killing people. Couldn't we have... never mind. Anyone outside the inquisition in that kitchen, and no one cares.”
“The orlesians might not care about what he was doing, but many will care about a noble killed by an elf,” Cullen warned, glancing around warily as Smoke pulled wet wool back over their head. “Can it be traced back to either of you?”
“Doubtful. It will take several days for him to be missed in this chaos. By the time they do, all they'll have to find are fat fish and bones,” Smoke shrugged. “I haven't had to do anything quite this impromtu in some time, but I do know what I'm doing. Briala can untangle anything that reflects on the staff, actually do something useful with her time.”
“Is she going to be unhappy that the inquisition is stealing one of her assassins?” Leliana asked, leaning against the door back to the kitchen.
“She broke our deal first. I came to her three years ago, looking for information on one small sister, who has been a trifle hard to miss since Tevinter. When I heard about ash'ma'lin being here from servant gossip and not from the the ambassador...” Smoke answered, a flash of anger passing over their face.
“I suppose there really aren't that many fourteen hand elf girls with bright white hair, covered in lyrium brands,” Dorian snorted, walking up behind Fox and Cullen. “possibly fifteen hand, going by the tip of her ears,” he added, holding out a hand to estimate before tugging at her eartip affectionately. “So the ambassador told you she 'Hadn't seen or heard of anyone like that', and tried to sneak a tiny Tevinter into town under your nose. Aggravating, I'm sure.” He tousled the top of Fox's hair. “You missed the best little flaky pastries at breakfast, little fox.”
Smoke tensed at the tevene accent, visible bridling at the Altus manhandling the smaller elf and the chosen endearment.. As they reached for a blade, Fox cleared her throat. “Dorian, this is my sibling, Smoke. Esa'ma'lin, this is Lord Dorian Pavus, emma falon,” She gave her sibling a warning look, waiting for them to raise their eyebrows at her in surprise before subsiding. “I had pastries straight from the oven in the kitchen, Dor. Smoke and I were catching up.”
“I should go make sure no one's turned my hart into venison. I'll catch up with your lot later, outside the city walls,” Smoke commented, with a final lingering glance at the humans. “Commander, I expect my ash'ma'lin to be safe with you until then.” They stepped soundlessly into the shadows, vanishing from sight.
“I am not sure if they worry me more or less now, my love.” Cullen tugged Fox back to her feet, unclipping the bracelet from his wrist and working it into the end of her braid. “I apologize for not leaving this when I left. I forgot I was even wearing it.”
“I didn't even think about the fact you still had it until we were leaving the kitchen, when I felt you react to my fear.” She buried her face against his chest, letting him wrap a arm around her shoulders. “I was careless, I didn't think he'd actually... and then Smoke was cutting them open.”
“They mean well, where you are concerned, at any rate. I'll be glad when we're back at Skyhold.” he soothed.

Cullen had his black warhorse saddled and ready by the time some of the others wandered out, grateful he had decided to leave the barding at home. He readied a few of the other horses to save time, avoiding the harts that served Solas and Lyra as mounts. Almost as smart as mabari and just as loyal to those they chose, harts. And just as dangerous to handle for anyone not their rider, possible more so with the large, wickedly sharp racks they brandished.
The massive chestnut draft horse that carried the Iron Bull was meek enough to handle, as was Cassandra's grey courser. Fenris slipped past him as he led them out, collecting his piebald and Hawke's snippy gelding. Gerry was leaning indolently against the courtyard wall, batting his eyes at a remarkably unamused Dorian.
When they headed out, Lyra and Solas left first, riding close together in deep conversation. Cullen let them and the carriage pass, getting the pillion pad he had managed to borrrow settled as easily over his stallion's rump as possible. He pulled Fox up behind him as the others set out, taking a moment to enjoy her head resting against the back of his shoulder.
“One of these days, I should teach you how to actually ride,” He commented. “It can't be that comfortable back there.”
“Better behind you than in the carriage with Madame Vivienne,” she replied, hooking her fingers into his belt.
“She has a point, although she'd do better with her own palfrey,” Dorian suggested, reining in his pale grey warmblood. “You looked very comfortable at the Winter Palace, Bull,” he remarked to his other side as the mercenary caught up.
“I do my best,” the qunari grunted, focused on his mount.
“Why, you didn't knock over a single priceless statue or fart even once near the dessert table,” Dorian continued as they rode.
“That you know of,” the Iron Bull corrected, smirking at the Altus, who smiled back.
“I'm surprised you never spent time in the Tevinter Court. I'm sure they would just adore you.”
“Oh, I did once. After a while the saddle just got too heavy.” They rode further for a while, quiet in the mid morning sun. “So, Dorian, about last night...”
“Discretion is clearly not your thing, is it?” Dorian sighed, as Cullen suppressed a surprised snort and Fox snickered into her templar's back.
“Three times, Vint! Any way, do you want the silky underthings back, or did you leave them for me like a token?” the Bull asked, as Dorian attempted to hide his reddening face behind his horse's mane. “Or wait. Did you forget them so you'd have an excuse to visit again? You sly dog!”
A space of embarrassed silence later, the Altus finally answered. “If, at whatever backwater inn we stay at tonight, you choose to leave your door unlocked like a savage, I may or may not come.”
“Speak for yourself.” The qunari grinned, nudging his mount forward towards Leliana and her anderfels skewbald.
“I'm going to regret this, I believe. And it will be your fault, little fox,” Dorian grumbled, glaring over at the healer.
She batted her eyes. “I disclaim all responsibility over your love life, Dor. You can manage your own affairs, remember?”

Chapter Text

“We traveled with a hornless qunari during the blight, Iron Bull. I don't suppose you've heard anything of our Sten?” Leliana asked, as the mercenary's large horse drew abreast of her smaller mare.
“A hornless Sten who spent time in Ferelden, Red? Oh, yeah, that's the new Arishok. I've been told he doesn't talk about the blight much,” Bull shrugged. “The hornless ones are always supposed to have some destiny.”
“I'll have to write Genny and let her know, she'll be happy for him. Genevieve was very fond of him by the end of the blight, and he seemed to return the feeling as much as he could. He used to call her Kadan, although I never found out what it meant.” The bard glanced back, checking how far back the stragglers were lagging.
“Something held close to the heart,” Fenris answered, from just ahead next to Hawke. “According to the Fog warriors who took me in, at any rate.”
“Formidable warriors. And not entirely without honor. Explains that off swing you do when pressed. I didn't realize you spoke Qunlat,” The Bull questioned, as Fenris shrugged noncommittally.
“I couldn't have managed in Kirkwall without him translating for me,” Gerard proudly remarked, trying to reach over to Fenris while his horse pranced and shied. With an audible sigh, Fenris snagged the reins out of his grip, looping them over his own pommel before patting Gerry on the head.
“But he's got it pretty much, Red. It's a term of endearment for close friends. I'm surprised he got that attached to a mage. He hasn't been the most... He's a good Arishok.” The mercenary reined his own horse in, getting him further away from Hawke's skittish charger.
“Genevieve was fascinated by him, and the Qun. She used to sit and ask questions for hours and the Sten would stand there explaining as best he could,” Leliana laughed.
“Gerard was equally fascinated, for a time, although he tended to avoid the actual qunari in favor of asking me. Somewhere between the point he met an actual collared saarebas and when he almost died killing the last Arishok in single combat, he lost interest. I have yet to understand why so many mages find the idea so... Like moths circling a bonfire,” Fenris snorted, ignoring Gerry's sullen pout.
“It's very interesting to think of so different a life, and what you might be if things were completely different, that's all,” Leliana sighed. “I suppose you'd say I'd end up Ben-hassrath like you... If I was lucky.”
“You wouldn't be too out of place there, Red. Or maybe one of the priesthood, interpreting the Qun.” Bull remarked. “You like rules and figuring things out, but you're sneaky. And scary.”
“Only sometimes. When I need to be,” Leliana smiled at him, just right, and he shuddered.
“That's kind of what I was talking about, Red. You'd have found me out if I'd tried watching the Inquisition without letting you know I was a spy, and it would not have been a good day.” Bull chuckled. “You could do my job, if you were in the Qun. More likely, my boss's job.”
“In this strange game of who would we be under the Qun, I imagine Gerry and I end up dead rather fast,” Fenris commented. “Depending on how much effort your re-educators wanted to put in.”
“Most of them love their job, Broody, and they are good at what they do. You have too much potential as a weapon, and they don't like wasting potential resources,” Bull corrected. “Your mage though...” he skeptically eyed the still sulking Champion being led like a child on his first pony. “I don't think even a Saarebas collar would keep him usefully in line. Him or Dorian.” The Iron Bull glanced back at the Altus on his imperium bred stallion, smiling softly for a moment as he watched him chatting with the Commander and his healer. “Too much personality, too much fight in them. They'd find a way to make life difficult for whoever holds their leash. Re-educators tend not to put that much effort in for bas-Saarebas.”
“I can't see Vivienne or Solas tolerating life under the Qun either,” Leliana added, her tone less jovial, checking that neither the two elves on harts or the carriage were in earshot.
“Yeah, let's mark them both down as died fighting, and not mention this discussion to them. Viv would be pissed at the suggestion the iron lady could be swayed by mere qunari reeducators, and I don't need another argument with the Solas about the demands of free will against societal benefit this week.”
“So all us mages are dead, and my boyfriend is a mindwiped weapon again. As travel games go, this one's rather depressing,” Gerard grumbled. “The Arishok in Kirkwall named me basilit-an, you know. That meant I was respected, and not a bas whatever.”
“Bas-Saarebas, Gerry. Uncontrolled non-qunari mage. I do find it interesting the one bit of Qunlat you remember is the part that compliments you,” Fenris remarked with a smile, ruffling his mage's hair.
“Not all the mages would be dead,” Bull commented. “Cullen's healer is conveniently already collared, and as good a potential tool as Broody. Maybe more so, I've seen the way she can heal. Plus, she hasn't actually fallen too far out of the habit of obedience to her handler. Easiest way, re-educators work Cullen right, let him correct her hard for a few lessons, don't even need to train a new Avaarad how to handle her. With how seriously they both take duty and rules, they might even be happy once they're broken in,” the Ben-hassrath said, musingly. “She'd be a lot quieter, probably less bouncy...”
“Thank you so much to the Iron Bull, for that marvelous new nightmare to consider,” Cullen commented from just within easy earshot. “And here I was with plans to sleep tonight.”
“I'm sure our little fox can help you get to sleep eventually, Commander,” Dorian reassured him, smirking at the look Fox gave him. “I'm more worried about my beauty sleep, with such talk in my mind.”
“Dor has a point. He needs all the beauty sleep he can get,” Fox added cheerfully, taking her turn to smirk at him.
“Red started it.” The Iron Bull announced loudly, pointing at the bard suddenly enough to startle her horse.
“Me?” Leliana asked, getting the skewbald mare back under control. “I... Well, I suppose I sort of did, but you didn't need need to startle Griffon.”
“Griffon. You named your spotted horse Griffon, not Splootchy or Schmooples or Baron Snuffles? Not what I would have expected,” Bull wondered.
“I would have gone with Duchess Wiffles, thank you very much. Schmooples was my first nug. Genevieve promised she'd send me a griffon from the Anderfells when she got there, and sent me a mare out of the warden stables, already named.” Leliana huffed.
“That's adorable. She did send you a griffon then.” Cullen laughed quietly, still eyeing the Iron bull warily.
“Tell my cousin if she finds a real one I know a Dalish mage that would kill to have one named Feathers.” Gerard chimed in, as Fenris shot him a sour look.
“That would be the blood mage who was living in the alienage in Kirkwall?” Cullen remarked quietly. “The one your brother is besotted with and swears is completely harmless?”
“Why am I not surprised even the former templar Hawke is involved with a blood mage?” Cassandra muttered, riding up on Dorian's other side. “Or that Varric failed to mention it.”
“Leave Carver out of this, Seeker. Merrill is a harmless as you can get, except to flower gardens. Actually, let's go back to the game. Bull, where does weird qun invasion Cassie end up?” Gerard suggested.
“Do not call me 'Cassie', Hawke.” she warned. “What is this game?”
“The Iron Bull is telling us how each of us would end up if the qun took over. It's fun, in a depressing sort of way. More fun to hear about everyone else, I've noticed. Please tell us about qun Cassandra, Bull.” Dorian remarked.
“Cass would be fine. She loves rules and fighting, probably end up low level Ben-hassrath or mid level Antaam, perfectly happy.” the Iron Bull shrugged.
“How do I unhear this entire conversation?” Cassandra asked, making a disgusted noise as Leliana laughed. “Fine, I'll play. Blackwall, our resident warden.”
“Low level Ben-hassrath, if he got the right re-educator. Otherwise a general laborer. Someone needs to get all the holes dug and filled in again, and those dosed with quamek would trip over them and break something.”
“How about Sera, who isn't here to fill bedrolls with lizards?” Dorian suggested, sharing a grin with Fox.
“Or Varric, while he isn't here to bet on the results with certain others.” Cassandra muttered, giving the Tevinter altus a pointed look he just as pointedly ignored.
“They're sneaky, so Ben-hassrath?” Leliana asked, a uncertain note in her tone.
“You really think either of them could learn to hold their tongues, even after the reeducators worked with them? Second, maybe third time back, they'd just get dosed with quamek. Then they would be perfectly obedient, very polite menial labor, with a handler to make sure they ate and didn't crap their pants. Before anyone asks, the squirrely demon kid most of us like would just end up very dead,” the Iron Bull told them, his tone just short of a snap. After a brief silence broken only by hoof steps on the dirt road, he sighed. “Cassandra would really be the best off. Put horns on her, she'd make a pretty good Qunari.”
As the Seeker spluttered, the others began to drift further back or forward into separate quiet conversations. “I am not sure that is a compliment, Bull.”
“Of course it is, Seeker.” The qunari estimated how far back the commander had drifted out out earshot, and nudged his mount in closer to her warhorse. “So, back at Skyhold, Cullen has some of the trebuchets from the siege at Adamant left. How much do you think he'd mind if I borrowed one when we get back? Just for an hour or so.”
“I am not sure I want to know, but why would you possibly need a trebuchet?” Cassandra asked, groaning. “And why are you asking me?”
“My lieutenant Krem, sews a bit. He made these stuffed nugs with wings. I wanna see how far they can fly.” Bull smirked at her expression. “Cullen still acts like you might be his boss sometimes.”
“That... does not sound like an appropriate use of Inquisition resources,” she replied, slowly.
“Which is why no one will put you in charge of morale. Nevermind, Seeker. I'll ask Cullen when he's less sore about the whole reeducators thing.” Bull shrugged, ignoring the aggravatedly disgusted snort.
“And when do you think that will be? If I'm his boss, why can't I just say no now?” Cassandra irritably grumbled.
“You aren't really his boss anymore, but if I go over his head and ask our Lyra Boss, he'll resent both of us. I'll just ask him after he gets to loosen up and snuggle his healer for a while. He stays smugly easygoing for at least an hour after he gets laid.” The Iron Bull checked on earshot as he said it.
“You sound like you keep track. Why would you..” She made more disgusted noises.
“Spy, remember? Just because I'm running my reports home past Red first to stay on the Inquisition's good side doesn't mean I don't have to write them.”

Chapter Text

Smoke caught up around the time they stopped for a midday meal, without any fanfare, just as everyone began scattering off to stretch their legs and see to personal business. When Cullen turned around from adding wood to the campfire and checking the kettle, there was a new grey hart in with Lyra and Solas's mounts, and a tall cloaked elf had taken his spot on the log next to Fox. With a sigh, the former templar handed over the tea he had made, settling himself to the ground at her feet instead. Fox ran her fingers through his hair, tugging gently as he laid his head into her lap.
“You have your human far better trained than I thought, ash'ma'lin,” Smoke snorted, pushing back their hood to move tangled braids back behind their ears.
“Esa'ma'lin? Shut up,” Fox responded sweetly, one hand still buried in Cullen's hair. The taller elf rolled their eyes, but smiled at her.
“As you say, little sister. I've now met your tevinter noble falon,” they glanced still uncertainly over at Dorian, sitting with his own tea across the fire. “And I've been in Orlais long enough to have heard of the Lady Nightingale, left hand of the Divine.” They nodded courteously at Leliana, who smiled back with dangerous sweetness. “That seems to leave several of your new companions unaccounted for. Who's the rather large fellow with the horns, for instance?”
“That would be the Iron Bull, of the Bull's Chargers mercenary troop. They're all pretty good, but he's something else. Fun guy, when there isn't fighting. The pretty lady next to him with the armor she couldn't wait to put back on and the expression like a stormcloud is Lady Seeker Cassandra Prenterghast, who was the right hand of the Divine. Bull, Cass, this is Smoke, the sibling I learned about all of last night.” Fox shrugged, looking around for any of the others coming back.
“Well, you would have been much easier to find if you had known about me and that I might be looking. You might even have found me first,” Smoke remarked, tweaking the end of her braid gently. “Its good to meet the people who have been protecting my ash'ma'lin while I couldn't.”
“You are Dalish, then? Won't your clan want you to return?” Cassandra asked, warily. “Both of you?”
“I've been away from the clan for a very long time. Things were difficult after little sister was taken from us. In the end, it was strongly suggested that I could benefit from seeing the world. Which I took as an opportunity to rescue my favorite.” Smoke shrugged, the cloak falling back from their leather armor.
Cassandra looked puzzled, about to ask another question, but the Iron Bull looked understanding. “Clan a little mage heavy?” he chuckled. “I've heard that kind of story before.”
“Enough that they won't clamor for little sister back, especially after Tevinter had her so long.” Smoke demurred, even in the face of the qunari's raised eyebrow. “You couldn't be implying that I was a mage as well? Do I look like an apostate to you?” they pointed dramatically at their roguish leather armor and belt of daggers.
“I'll introduce you to Dalish when we get back to Skyhold. Her and her special 'elven bow',”the Iron bull laughed, clapping Smoke on the shoulder as he walked by. “Maybe you could teach her to make her staff less obvious.”
“Skyhold? Thats... a really interesting name for a fortress,” Smoke remarked, eyes going a trifle warier. “How did the Inquisition end up somewhere like that?”
“ Oh, its really old, but its amazing. Lyra Lavellan, she's the Inquisitor, she and Solas found it for us after Haven fell. They're still stretching their legs, and so are Hawke and the puppy, I think. They'll be back in a bit, and that should be everyone I want to introduce you to until we get home.” Fox sipped at her tea, missing the increasingly worried look on her siblings face.
“What about Lady Josephine and Madame Vivienne? We aren't that far from the carriage, just more willing to rough it a little,” Cullen suggested, chuckling as Fox wrinkled her nose.
“As I said, everyone I want to introduce my sibling to until we get home,” Fox reiterated, leaning down to kiss his forehead.
Smoke's fingers tensed around the end of her braid. “You mentioned a Solas led you to Skyhold? He's still with the inquisition. He's met you? Ash'ma'lin, could I speak with you alone for a moment?” they asked quietly, giving her hair one last tug before pulling their hand back under their cloak.
“Sure, let me just...” She began extricating herself out from behind Cullen, murmuring an apology. “I'll be right back, Amatus. Hold my tea?”
“Well, aren't you adorable?” Gerry almost purred as he walked back into the clearing and saw the lean elf sitting next to the healer and the templar. Smoke raised an eyebrow at the comment, noting the exasperated expressions Fox and the Tevinter Altus wore. “He might be even prettier than Cullen, Foxfire. How do you find them?”
“Esa'ma'lin, this is Gerard Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall, whose hair remains mysteriously not on fire. Gerard, this is Smoke, my long lost sibling.” Fox sighed, meeting Fenris's gaze for a moment. “Behind him is a very long suffering puppy, who as yet hasn't gelded his lover for wandering.”
“That's very harsh,” Gerry sniffed, as Fenris shrugged, giving her an almost rueful smile. “Really, Cullen spent most of the ball surrounded by admirers, ignoring you, and you start on me for flirting with your brother?”
“Sibling, Gerry. And I didn't say he should, merely that he hadn't.” Fox leaned forward for a moment, resting her chin on Cullen's head and wrapping her arms around his neck before sliding off the log towards Smoke.
“The Commander never flirts with pretty strangers right in front of her, Gerry,” Fenris remarked, as Gerry subsided guiltily. “At least it seems finding your family is going better for you than my sister's visit to Kirkwall did, Incae...mage.” he half corrected himself, and Fox twitched what could almost be a smile at him.

“I think that was the nicest thing the puppy ever said to me.” she mused, as she followed Smoke into the forest.
“I'm sensing there is a story I'm not going to like,” they muttered.
“I think I've got at least a decade of stories you won't like, oh charmingly over protective sibling. Like I said this morning, until I met Cullen, my life was a scenic slice of the void. The Inqusition is the best I've ever had it, and I would appreciate you not wading in and upsetting all my lethallen and friends. I have my life, whatever I used to be, and I don't need your judgment on what makes me happy. As nice as it is to have family, with all respect, until yesterday, I was fine without you.” Fox crossed her arms and stopped short when they were just out of sight of the camp fire. “So, rules. Stop trying to aggravate ma'vhenan. Stop thinking about stabbing emma falon for being himself. Maybe ask in general before stabbing people around me.”
“You want me to apologize for protecting you? Because I swear, that is all I intend, ash'ma'lin. Don't put me in a position where I have to choose between keeping you safe and keeping you happy.” Smoke growled in frustration, trying to gesture her farther away from the clearing.
“Again, despite the fact you feel familiar, I don't remember you. I basically met you yesterday, so pardon me if I question your judgment on my best interests.” She watched them pace farther into the woods, and took a deliberate step back towards the fire.
“How are you more infuriating now? You used to actually listen to me,” They raked a hand into their hair, swearing. “Fenhedis lasa.”
“Maybe I listened, because I trusted you, back when I actually knew who you were.” She pointed out.
Crashing footsteps and loud voices headed their way, and Smoke yanked Fox into the cover of a large tree.
“Fine, yes, I do think Thedas would be healthier under the Qun, if you push. But the war to make it happen? That'd be ugly. A lot of good people dying on both sides. So I'm hoping the invasion doesn't happen. There. Are you happy?” The qunari growled.
“Happy? No. Quite the opposite.” Another voice, familiar to both elves. Far too familiar for Smoke's taste.
“Oh, come on. I said I didn't want us to invade you!” Bull snapped.
“No, you said this world would be brighter if all thinking individuals were stripped of individuality.” the voice corrected, angrily. “You only lack the will to get more blood on your hands.”
“You've seen what the Winter Palace is like, Solas, Do you think those servants are happier or safer than the people living under the Qun in Par Vollen?” Bull asked, punching at a tree.
“It doesn't matter if they are happy, it matters that they may choose!” Solas replied.
The qunari snorted. “Choose? Choose what? Whether to do their work or get tossed into the street to starve?”
“Yes! If a Ferelden servant decides his life goal is to... to become a poet, he can follow that dream! It may be difficult, and he might fail. But the whole of society is not aligned to oppose him!” Solas insisted.
“Sure, and good for him. How many servants actually go do that, though?”
“Almost none. What does that matter? Your Qun would crush the brilliant few for the mediocre many!” Solas hissed, finally coming into sight.
“And then people feel like crap for failing. When the truth is, the deck was stacked against them anyway.” Bull retorted. “I'm done yelling and punching trees. I'm going to go glare at Hawke til he cries for telling you about that stupid conversation, so the healer can drag her sibling out from behind the tree safely.” He stomped back to the clearing, still clearly frustrated.
“Sibling, Foxfire?” Solas asked warily, hand going to his staff as the two of them stepped out to meet him. He saw Smoke, and relaxed fractionally. “Ah. Is'rana. I suppose I should have expected you to turn up eventully.”
“It's Rasanis, ma'serranas,” Smoke corrected through gritted teeth. “Aneth'ara, Solas. It's been some time. I take it you knew about Hal'isa as well.”
“It took me quite some time to recognize her, but she is her mother's daughter, as long as it had been since I saw either of them.” Solas smiled toothily at the taller elf.
“Okay, I'm lost. He knows our mother? Solas, I thought you didn't like Dalish?” Fox asked, baffled.
“He was part of the clan, a long time ago.” Smoke approximated, earning a weary glare form Solas.
“But I thought...? Nevermind, I was... There were too many mages in the clan and he was asked to go see the world, like you, right? I can't imagine that makes him too happy with your..our people.” Fox sighed, leaning against a tree.
Solas stared at Smoke, who only gave him a bland smile. “It's close enough. Your mother was my dearest friend once, close as siblings. I still mourn her loss.”
“Does that make you something like my uncle, then?” Fox asked hopefully, as Smoke coughed slightly.
“I suppose ba'isa'ma'lin wouldn't be too far off. Ask me another time, I'll tell you what I remember of your mother.” Solas answered slowly, reluctantly.
“I can see why you haven't told Mistress Lavellan about this yet. I'm sorry for pushing, Solas. Talk about our clan when you feel like it, I'll leave it be.” Fox sighed, heading back to the fire.

“You are a complication.” Solas told Smoke quietly, as soon as the healer was far enough away.
“You say that like Hal'isa isn't.” they snorted.
“No, I say it like I had her managed, safe until she remembers who she was. Which will be more difficult because of your little story, Sentinel.” he hissed.
“Thanks for going along with that, by the way. Less thanks for turning her loose on the Winter Palace looking that much like herself. I'm not the only one who was looking for her, but I was the only one who knew what she looked like after Tevinter. If descriptions of last night get back to the temple and Nydmisa...” Smoke muttered. “When Sylaise started to run mad with the others, our friendly Temple First encouraged her, made it worse. I like this sane, happy version of my favorite Evanuris, even if she's harder to protect. Nydmisa won't. She'll want the burn everything Sylaise back.”
“I'd forgotten about her,” Solas muttered. “She almost never left the temple even back then. I could free you, you realize. I am capable of protecting one almost Evanuris for however much longer she remains Hal'isa and not fully Sylaise, especially when she so rarely leaves Tarasylan'telas.”
“You keep offering, I'll keep saying no. I took the vallaslin willingly, wolf. It binds me no more than the oath I swore to die in her service. She made me Rasanis, she fixed what was never right.” they snapped, before coughing and stepping back warily. “She did call me little sibling, once, as Mythal did you before you ascended. What I've told Hal'isa is not really a lie, at the heart of it, just...”
“We'll see, Sentinel. She may feel differently when she awakens, as she may feel differently when she realizes you thought to steal her away rather than risk me, however you thought you could manage it,” Solas warned.
“You were rather the reason she was locked away so long, wolf. It seemed prudent until I realized you did know who she was.” Smoke pointed out, rubbing their wrist under the cloak.

“You, fair lady,” Smoke said to the redhaired elven woman as they and Solas returned to the group packing up the midday camp, “must be Inquisitor Lyra Lavellan, the fabled Herald of Andraste. My ash'ma'lin Fox spoke very highly of you over breakfast.” They eyed the black inked flame markings over her brow, so similar to their own, glancing meaningfully at a grimacing Solas.
“I am, which would make you uh, Smoke, Leliana said? It will be nice to have another of the old ways in Skyhold, as much as Sera will whine. I will say, I would never have pegged Fox as Dalish. Was she very young when she was taken?” Lyra asked, smiling brightly.
“Young enough,” Smoke shrugged agreeably. “She's still the sweet girl I remember, though, even after whatever Tevinter did to her.” Fox reddened from across the clearing, hiding her face behind Cullen as he pulled her up behind his saddle.
“She is a sweetheart, and the best healer I've ever met. You have a lovely hart, by the way. A swiftwind?” Lyra asked, mounting her own.
“Tirashan, yes. He's trouble, but he gets me where I need to be.”

Chapter Text

They made the next town somewhat after dusk, meeting back up with the carriage to be confronted with Josephine's carefully planned charts of rooming assignments.
“Josie, why am I rooming with Vivienne?” Cassandra asked, suppressing the disgusted noise.
“Really, my dear, you couldn't have managed individual rooms?” Madame Vivienne commented, looking offended.
“Not this close to the grand masquerade I couldn't. There just aren't enough rooms. Leliana and I are sharing, as are the two of you, and the Herald with out head healer, who I hadn't planned on originally,” Josephine explained, holding up her chart as Fox and Lyra looked up in surprise. “Besides, it looks far more proper that all we ladies have chaperons,” She continued blithely. “Lord Pavus rooms with the Commander, the Champion with his... er.. friend, Master Solas with Mistress Foxfire's brother, and the Iron Bull gets the only room with a bed he'll fit in.”
There were many shared looks as Lady Montilyet turned, Leliana turning her most formidable glare at any who looked about to vocally protest. Smoke gave Solas a dubious glance, met the spymaster's gaze with a smirk, and took their bedding straight back to their hart's stall. The bard moved her glare over to Fox at that, who only shrugged.
A couple hours later, Fox set down the copy of 'Sword and Shield' she had borrowed from Cassandra. She glanced over at Lyra and Solas, still seated by the fire, talking about the Fade. “Mistress Lavellan, I'm pretty sure lady Montilyet has retired by now. So, with your leave, I'm going to become a horrible and absent chaperon.”
“I'm sure I'll survive, Fox. Go snuggle Cullen, I'm sure he's moping as much as he did on the way up,” Lyra laughed, running her fingers over Solas's knuckles. In a flare of blue white light, a small cat shook itself, stepping out to the windowsill and scrambling to the roof. She nimbly paced across the slate, occasionally jumping dropping back down to windowsills to check rooms.
In the room next to the one Dorian and Cullen were supposed to be sharing, she decided a brief detour was needed. A clearly exhausted Dorian was curled asleep at the edge of the large bed, fading bruises visible around his wrists and shoulders. The Iron Bull's bulk dozed next to him, one hand resting on the mage's back. She stayed sitting on the windowsill, debating, scenting the air delicately with feline nostrils. Sweat, sex, but no blood or fear. Fair enough then, for now. She turned, crossing to the next room, changing back as she hit the floor.
Cullen stirred in his sleep, mumbling, a beam of moonlight silvering his short curls. As she tucked herself under the blanket, he reached for her without waking, fisting a hand in her loose hair to pull her close. She settled in against his chest, closing her eyes to wake to the Fade. Gathering her strength, she reached for a less familiar dream, and pulled.

 

The violent jungles of Seheron faded around the Iron Bull, replaced suddenly by a small cottage kitchen. He stared bemusedly at the yellow stoned hearth crackling cheerfully, the bluegreen mugs hanging in a row under the cupboard. Cullen's little healer sat at the carved oak table, a mug of tea in her hands, the leash missing from her neck.
“We've never really talked, have we?” She commented. “I hear a great deal about you from Stitches and the other Chargers, and Cole does like you, but we only cross paths if you need healing and dance lessons with Madame Vivienne.”
“This is a really weird dream. Are you a demon or... No. You wander the Fade like Solas can.”
“Just a Somniari, currently abusing my gods given talent for personal amusement. I come here, particularly, a great deal. I find it soothing. Would you like some tea?” She shrugged, tucking her feet up under herself.
“I'll pass on the Fade tea. Wouldn't mind mead though. I'm not a mage, so how am I here?” the Qunari asked, taking in his surroundings carefully.
“I decided we needed to talk one on one, so I brought you here. It's actually easier to find sleeping nonmages, oddly. You have less control over the Fade around you.” She flicked a hand, and a tankard appeared in front of him. “It doesn't need to be a long talk. I still have to go collect Cullen out of whatever nightmare he wandered into.”
“I suppose that's my fault.” Bull took a cautious sip from the tankard. “For someone who's taste in wine Dorian whines about, you have very good mead here.”
“I like mead,” she shrugged. “I'm indifferent to wine unless it's Aqua Magus. Varric passed off half a blue glowing bottle to us one Satinalia in Kirkwall, when things started to calm down. Fun night.”
“I'm trying to imagine Cullen letting you get drunk on lyrium wine,” Bull chuckled, taking another drink.
“He drank more of it than I did, but apparently all my brands were glowing brighter than the bottle for most of the night. He's off lyrium now, and it's not like we're going to get our hands on another bottle of that, but it was a fun night.” She laughed, sipping at her tea.
“What's with the mirror on fire in the corner?” he asked, glancing across from the hearth.
“It's been here longer than I have. Valor and Hope say it's nothing to worry about,” She answered, not even looking. “So, you're sleeping with my falon.”
“Your sib called him that too. What does it mean, in elven?” he took another swig, draining the tankard.
“Friend. One you'd kill or die for. We do take that word seriously. Cole, Dorian, my amatus Cullen.” She leaned forward, smiling sweetly. “I'm sure you understand.”
“I think I do. I can respect that. Dorian's a sweet guy, gentle under the bluster. We might be good for each other.” The Iron bull leaned back in the wooden chair, studying the mage sitting across from him warily.
“Wonderful. Did you want to go back to the dream you were in, or find a different one?”

She remained where she was for a moment after the qunari vanished back from her tiny corner of the Fade, finishing the mug of oddly scented tea. Across from the hearth, just in her line of sight, a cracked mirror stood within a frame of spun fire. The first time she had visited this cottage, a safe haven from the waking world, it's surface had been a solid, unmarred black. Each time she came back, another tiny crack worked its way over its surface. Slowly, more had become visible, the black sliding away like shadows from a flame. If she tilted her head right, the reflection behind the mazed spiderweb of cracks almost looked like her.
A version of her with strawberry blond hair, without collar or lyrium brands, dressed in an even finer version of the dress from the ball, with a crown of flaming embers in place of the mask. Smoke stood behind her, clad in flame etched golden armor. Another elf, just as tall, with the same stylized flame tattoo, flanked her other side in white, golden embroidered robes, holding out a glowing orb.
Hope and Valor had told her not to worry about the mirror, but they hadn't visited since before the surface had cracked that far, before what was on the other side was visible. The more it cracked, the more she could see, which she was pretty sure was not how mirrors were supposed to work.
Not for the first time, she wondered what would happen if she deliberately cracked it further. If, say, she threw one of the heavier mugs at it. Or maybe if she just put her hands to the center of the spiderweb of cracks and pushed. She didn't like the way the face on the other side of the mirror smiled when she thought about that. Best not to meddle, perhaps. Would the litany of Andralla still protect her from possession if it was another version of her taking over? If it was already inside her mind?
Fox set her mug back down, not looking at the expectant eyes in the mirror, and let herself follow a strand of dream elsewhere.

“I managed to fix that little knife eared Vint for you, Knight Captain,” a bald templar was bragging, tossing the leashkey lightly at Cullen's face. “All the lyrium, none of the backtalk. Like I've said before, Tranquil will do anything you ask them to.”
“He already had the little Vint whore doing anything he asked, Otto. She came pretty well trained. Or she was before the knight captain pulled rank and decided he wasn't sharing.” A ginger bearded templar reached behind the other one, manhandling the unresisting elven mage a bit before shoving her at Cullen's feet, dull eyed and sunburst branded. “They're no fun if they can't fight back, really. My men and I, we'd have given her back in a couple hours, Cul, we swear. Alrik's the one that broke her.”
Dull aquamarine eyes looked up at him, emotionless as a doll. “I'm going to kill you for this, all of you,” he growled, reaching back for a sword he wasn't wearing. Fox couldn't be Tranquil, she couldn't be, he wouldn't let them...
“Amatus, my fierce, fierce lion?” An affectionate whisper from behind him, hands sliding up the templar breastplate he wore. “I should have asked Valor to guard your dreams after all, at least tonight.” His Foxfire stepped over the broken echo of herself, staring down the dream templars. “You, I remember,” she muttered, and Ser Karras's beard caught on fire before he vanished. “The other, not so much.”
“Maker bless you, my love.” Cullen pulled her close, desperation in his touch and relief in his voice. “He would have tried it if he'd met you. Otto was mad. Ser Otto Alrik. He ended up dead in the tunnels under the Gallows a couple years before you came south, probably to Hawke and Anders. He wanted to make all mages Tranquil, starting with the ones he wanted to bed.”
“Pleasant fellow, I'm sure.” she flicked a hand, and Alrik and the Tranquil doll both vanished into Fade mist. “I should have snuck in to you earlier, it seems, but it's just a dream, beloved. Karras ended up cast out of your Order for what you caught him at. The other has been dead even longer. This doesn't even look like the Gallows.”
“It's the Tower, actually. Kinhold circle, in Ferelden. Lower Library, I think.” Cullen looked around, still holding her protectively close. “Knight Commander Gregoir would never have tolerated either of those two,or their 'hobbies'. He would have found them out, dealt with it. By Meredith's standards, he was a mage sympathizer, who thought mages were people. Dangerous people, but people. He was what I wanted to be when I became a Templar.”
“A good man, for a templar,” Fox agreed, running her fingers over a stack of book shaped objects. “You've become better. You were becoming better even before you left the Order.”
“You're a little biased, my love,” He regretfully murmured. “You were still one of my charges when I took advantage of what you offered. It was inappropriate, and I know there is a special part of the void for men willing to do that,” Cullen remarked, his face still nestled against her hair. “What I feel for you now is Maker given, but it shouldn't have started then.”
“Cullen, Amatus, who was climbing half naked into whose bed? If anyone was taking advantage of another, I took advantage of you. I knew you were attracted to me, and that you didn't want to act on it at the time.”
“You were still a little... broken, love,” he noted. “I could have refused what you offered.”
“I offered you anything you wanted, mostly naked in your bed, and all you did once you were awake was kiss me. What came later we both wanted, and we talked about it first.” She pulled herself from his grasp, fidgeting with a long strand of her hair. “I had more experience than you, anyways.”
“Only if we count reasons for another Exalted march on Tevinter,” he grumbled darkly, kicking at a table that dissolved away. “I have an army now, Fox. I wouldn't even have to do it alone.” Fox snorted at that, letting him catch back up as they walked through the memory of a library. “Its better to remember it like this, I think. Before the blight, before Uldred. It looks like apprentices could come running around the corner any minute, like the Knight Commander could walk out of his office and start lecturing us.”
“Are we that much trouble that we need lectures?” Fox laughed.
“A mage that crawled into a Templar's bed and the Templar who keeps letting her? We would be lectured by the First Enchanter and the Knight Commander. Separately and together. And then they would turn Senior Enchanter Wynne loose on us.” Cullen laughed.
“The healer who traveled with the Wardens and Leliana during the blight?” Fox asked, reaching back for his hand, lacing her fingers with his.
“I would have liked introducing her to you. She's the only other healer I've met close to your level, other than Anders. If it helps, I think you'd be in for less lectures than that scapegrace was.” He stepped into her, his free hand cupping her cheek. “Also, rumor says she had a thing with Gregoir, when they were young.”
“And they'd still lecture us? Perhaps we should at least do something properly worth the lecture we'd get if this was real,” she suggested, turning her head enough to kiss his palm. “Maybe better memories of this place would help, even as a dream.”
“I would be willing to try, my fox. It might even be worth the mess I'd wake up in tomorrow.” Cullen chuckled, nudging her back against the bookshelf. “Not as good as being in bed with you, though.”
“Even better idea, meo leonis. We'll play here for a while, and then wake up, before Dorian comes back from the room he snuck off to.” Her hands ran down his breastplate, and his armor vanished.
“The best kind of dream, and waking up with you? I've almost forgotten the nightmare already.” He kissed her hard, his hands cradling her face. "I used to have a thought about Gregoir's desk, by the way."

Chapter Text

Dorian strolled down the stairs, looking a trifle out of sorts, early the next morning. “Sibling to my favorite elf, I have a question,” he asked, dropping in to the seat next to where Smoke already sat. “Well, several, to be blunt.”
“Ask, then, Tevinter,” Smoke sighed, head still on their crossed wrists.
“When is Fox's birthday? I asked months ago and she had no idea. I'd like to know how far I've missed it before I figure out what to get her.” The mage reached into the bag at his feet, pulling out a bottle of dark wine.
“Early Cloudreach, if I remember right,” the elf replied. “I've found that in most civilized places, before breakfast is considered too early to start drinking, Vint.”
“Not today, it isn't. Did she learn her trick of becoming small fluffy things at will before she was captured? She's pretty sure it predates the lyrium.” Dorian popped a cork and took a large swig of wine.
“She's been changing her shape long before she ended up in your homeland. Why, precisely, is it not too early to start drinking today, human?” Smoke lifted their head to stare at the mage, tucking thier wrists closer into their body.
“Because today I got back to my own room just in time to learn my best friend swallows. Would you like to drink with me?” Dorian replied, taking another drink.
They processed that for a moment with a puzzled frown, and blanched. “I really didn't need to know that, Vint,” they groaned, rubbing their eyes.
“Misery loves company. I'd have knocked, but Cullen is grumpy enough sleeping alone I didn't want to wake him.” Dorian took another sip of his wine, eyes fixed on the hand the elf had over their eyes. “Last question. Does Fox know you have the leash key?”
“What in the void are you talking about, Tevinter?” Smoke hissed, both hands going back under their cloak.
“Rune covered silver and aquamarine bracelet, very shiny, the one around your wrist. Does she know you have it?” Dorian asked, setting down the wine.
“I know they have it, Dor, but thank you. I also know they are going to hand it over to you so you can loop it into my braid.” Fox remarked from the corner of the hallway as she finished braiding her hair. “Aren't you, Esa'ma'lin?” she added, her tone sugar sweet.
They unclipped the bracelet, tossing it onto the table in front of the human mage. “You put too much faith in the humans, Hal'isa,” they told her, as he gingerly picked it up.
“I'm sure you'll learn to deal with that.” She held out the end of her braid to Dorian.
“Am I still allowed to travel with you?” Smoke asked, visibly subdued.
“Would you actually listen if I said no, or would we find you lurking around Skyhold?” Fox sniffed, as Smoke shifted their feet without responding, not looking away from her. “Stay with us, then. You're still family,” She sighed, and they nodded, starting to slink back off to the stable. “Esa'ma'lin, Was I a blonde before the lyrium?”
“Strawberry blonde,” they told her, looking back at her oddly. “Like golden flame in the sunlight.”
“Good to know.” She bounced her braid a few times, checking that the leashkey was secure before pushing it behind her as she turned back to her friend. “Thank you again, Dorian.”
“No trouble, little fox.” He glanced over at her sibling's sullen retreat. “Family can hurt you more than anything.”
“At least they're starting this now and not blindsiding me with sudden asshole shit when I need them most.” She shrugged, taking a swig from the bottle he pushed over to her.
“That is the bright side, my friend. When did you realize they had it?” he asked taking the bottle back.
“About an hour or so after it vanished out of my hair. I was going to talk to them this morning, distractions aside.” She sat on the edge of the table, shaking her head when he offered the wine again.
“Since you're down here this early, would you take a walk with me? I need to see something that isn't snow or trees,” the Altus asked, offering his elbow as she smiled at him.
“Like a nature walk, but without all the pesky nature? Why not, ma'falon.” She took his arm, and they stepped out into the sunlight.
“ Precisely, little fox. I think I can smell a bakery around the corner. Let's avoid the inevitable inn kitchen gruel and get something tolerable for breakfast.” He smiled down at the shorter mage, then tweaked her ear at the mischievous look she gave him. “Actual food, Fox. We aren't going to speak about this morning.”
“At least we weren't naked when you walked in. Knocking is a thing, Dorian.” She snorted. “You were the one who said I should help Cullen sleep yesterday.”
“You weren't naked. I got a pretty good eyeful of him. Better than the other way around, though. I will say, you clearly have good taste in men.” She elbowed him in the side. “And friends.” he added, laughing.
“I wish you'd let me know about the bakery before we left the inn. I could have borrowed something off Cullen.” she sighed.
“I don't know why you never have money of your own. You don't gamble, you drink much less than I do, where does your...” A thought occurred to him, and he looked down at her. “Little fox, please tell me you are actually getting paid for the long hours you put into that infirmary. At least with something of a stipend.” Dorian questioned, annoyed at the baffled look on her face.
“Cullen gives me pocket money out of his, sometimes,” she replied, looking away.
“That's not the same thing. They can either treat you as the Commander's tagalong pet or they can have you as their overworked head healer, who should at least have the same pittance of a stipend they offer the rest of us.” Dorian raked his fingers through his hair as she shrugged at him, and sighed, handing her one of his pastries.
“I really don't need much, and the Inquisition already keeps me outfitted, housed and fed pretty well,” Fox told him cheerfully.
“Thus making you as well treated as the slaves on my father's estate.” He griped. “Vishante kaffas, Fox.”
“It's better than what I ever could have dreamed under Magister Danarius,” She pointed out quietly, a slight edge to her voice.
“I... I know, What he did should never have been tolerated. No matter how close to the Archon he was, how powerful or rich, there are lines that should not be crossed,” he said, hands white knuckled into fists.
“It wasn't this good in most of the southern circles, either, despite how Vivienne likes to tell it,” she added.
“And the southern mages rebelled. What does that tell you?” he snapped. “I'm sorry, I... Vishante kaffas.”
“That's what Lyra hopes for with the Inquisition, isn't it? To make things better. I don't know if we can ever make things right, but we can make things better.” Fox smiled sheepishly up at him.
“Here and back home, if I can do anything about it. For what the word of one disgraced Altus is worth.” He ruffled the top of her head, and she stuck her tongue out at him. “Unless Corypheus manages to destroy the world and make himself a god after all.”
“Well, he doesn't have the demon army from the wardens or the chaos from assassinating the Empress, so Lyra just might win this fight. Once we can find the asshole. We'll still have to worry about qunari invasions, though.” Fox commented with a nudge.
“Speaking of qunari, would you happen to know why my new bedmate woke me up at the crack of dawn to ask me what a Somniari was?” Dorian asked, and Fox smirked at him. “He doesn't seem to think you're quite as harmless anymore, little fox.”
“I have no idea why that could have occurred to him, Dor. But that does remind me. Wrists, please.” Fox ran a flicker of spell energy over his skin as the bruises vanished, reaching up as far as she could to his shoulders. He stooped a bit to help her reach, sighing.
“Little fox, I can...” he started to say, flexing the healed muscles.
“Handle your own affairs. I know, ma'falon.” She smiled sweetly up at him. “Should I get you bruise balm for Satinalia and Wintersend? Or promise no question asked infirmary visits?”
“I won't actually rule out either as a bad present, Fox. And thank you. I missed your birthday, it seems. And its almost Satinalia. I saw a horse dealer in the market on the way in last night.” Dorian suggested.
“A horse is not a small Satinalia token, Dorian, even combined with whatever you're supposed to get for a birthday.” Fox protested.
“Well, given your height, it's more likely to be a pony, really. I promise to at least ask Cullen to pay me back some of it, so it would be a joint present. Does that help?” Dorian chuckled. “I have far more experience with horses than he does. I should be able to find you something quiet enough to learn on.”
“I really don't need... okay, the pillion pad was less comfortable by the end of the day, and my fingers got tired holding onto his belt.” Fox admitted reluctantly, following the human over the town streets.
“Those aren't meant for long journeys. They're meant for nobles and Chevaliers to romantically convey their lady loves to picnics and on picturesque ambles,” the Altus explained as they walked. “The horse will probably be happier as well, even if you do weigh less than his usual barding. I don't know if I could get Whisp to let me even try.”
“Kicker is a fair bit bigger than your stallion, at least. Do I get to pick out my own?” She asked, a bit more cheerily.
“No, because letting people who have never been on a horse before pick their own is how we get people like Gerry on late gelded, barely trained four year old chargers. You, my dear, need a small horse or a large pony, quiet, well trained, ideally of Antivan palfrey stock.” Dorian insisted. “Which should end up costing less than that dress Briala arranged for you, so you needn't fuss too badly for the sake of my budget.”

Cullen could feel his ears burning as he finally snuck downstairs to the stables and ran straight into Dorian. “I, er,.. Lord Pavus, I am sorry for...”
“I should have knocked, Commander. I doubt you expected me to be awake and returning to my room at that hour. We'll forget it ever happened.” Dorian waved off the apology dismissively. “By the way, I've acquired a late birthday and early Satinalia present for Fox, so you can start those riding lessons for her.” He nodded at the other side of the stable yard, where a small golden Palamino was lipping a bit of fruit out of Fox's small hand. When the treat was gone, it nosed at her ears, tossing a mane the same creamy white as her hair. “They're getting themselves acquainted.”
“You got her a pony? Dorian, that's a bit much for a present.” Cullen protested. “I admit, she needs one, and it's lovely, but I have to pay you back.”
“Compromise, then, Commander. It's a ten year old Taslin gelding. Pretty, especially for her, but not that expensive. Three sovereigns will cover your share, and it'll be a joint present.” Dorian smiled, holding his hand out.
“How can it be a joint... you already told her it was a joint present and I would pay half.” Cullen guessed, handing over the gold coins.
“It was a selling point in getting her to agree to get one,” the Altus agreed, smirking.

 

“Ah, Mistress Lavellan, Lady Josephine. Something came to my attention today.” Dorian smiled broadly at the two, even as he led his almost white stallion out into the stableyard.
“And I'm certain you meant to bring it to ours, Lord Pavus.” Josephine smiled back at him, as the carriage was readied across the yard.
“Were either of you fine ladies aware that unlike the rest of us, our charming head healer isn't being paid for her assistance to the inquisition cause?” he asked, nodding behind him. Cullen was carefully leading Fox around the yard on her new mount, trying to get her to sit properly balanced.
They looked at each other, surprised and slightly embarrassed. “Well, I suppose it would be an easy fix to make sure she's added to the list of stipends,” the Antivan diplomat commented, making a note on her ever present clipboard.
“How are we only now... because she's used to nothing and Cullen gives her pocket money out of his pay. Of course,” Lyra grumbled. “So she's been putting up with all the nonsense running the infirmary, and dealing with Sera, for nothing but room and board.”
“Most of the stipend arrangements were set up before Haven fell, Inquisitor. Fox wasn't exactly listed as valued personnel at the time,” Josie pointed out.
“Of course she wouldn't have been. Josie, have one of your assistants get this fixed. And make sure she gets paid to account for all the time since we decided to make her head healer. How much do healers usually get paid, anyway?” Lyra asked, looking highly annoyed at herself.
“I have no idea how the Chantry arranged things in the south, but in Tevinter? More than I'm getting for a healer with a fraction of her talent. Trained spirit healers can usually name their price. We have one of the best I've ever met.” The pale grey horse nosed at him impatiently, and he reached back to pat it's forehead. “I certain she'll be happy to accept the pittance the rest of the inner circle signed on for, however.

Chapter Text

“I'm not sure what to make of you, Solas.” The Iron bull remarked as the group assembled in the stableyard, preparing to leave. “You aren't flashy like most mages. The Tevinter mages I fought in Seheron tried to scare us with what they could do. Vivienne has this little swagger, like she knows she's the most dangerous thing in the room.”
“I am the most dangerous thing in the room, darling.” She announced, stepping up into the carriage.
“Yes, Ma'am. Sorry, Ma'am. Dorian looks like he's waiting for applause after every spell. Not the quiet elven apostate, though. No frills. Nothing to give you away. Half our targets never even see you coming,” he went on, saddling his large horse.
“I shall take that as a compliment.” Solas swung up into his large hart's saddle, nudging it after Lyra's.
“If you like,” The Bull said, mostly to himself, hauling himself up into his own saddle. “The healer's even worse. No one notices she's a mage until she has a spell already up.”
“Those who possess true power have no need to brag of it.” Smoke commented, in the shadows of the one-eyed qunari''s blind side. “Someone annoyingly wise once told me no true god ever needed to announce the fact, and I've found it to be true for all forms of power.”
“Maybe. Maybe it's just that all you elves are born too damn sneaky.” The mercenary grumbled, and Smoke laughed quietly.
“That too, perhaps.” Their hart stepped out after the others, cloven hooves disturbingly quiet on the cobblestones.

 

“If your Qun is so wonderful, so fair and perfect, how does it create so many Tal-vashoth?” Solas asked, finding himself next to the Bull as they rode.
“Most Tal-Vashoth are nothing more than savages. Killing's all they know. The Ben-Hassrath are trying to lose fewer people to that sickness. I had kind of hoped we were done with this argument for a while.” The Iron bull grumbled, glaring ahead at Hawke.
“It isn't a sickness. You are losing them because they see a chance for freedom! And most of them are 'Savage', as you say, because your culture taught them nothing else. They know nothing but the Qun. So even as they fight against it, they are guided by it's principles.” Solas responded acidly.
“This argument sounds very familiar,” Fox murmured to Cullen, Smoke glancing over from where they rode beside the two.
“Freedom has been your uncle's favorite hobbyhorse for a very long time, Ash'ma'lin,” Smoke answered quietly.
“Watch it, elf. You haven't seen the Tal-Vashoth like I have. Try watching a Tal-Vashoth kill a Tamassran and her kids. Then we'll talk.” Bull growled.
“That explains why those two argue this every time someone brings up the Qun anywhere near Solas.” Cullen sighed, nudging his horse forward around the pair, tugging Fox's leading rein with him.
Bull watched them pass, and sighed heavily. “So, Solas...You go further into the Fade on purpose when you dream? Just to... hang out?
“Yes. The Fade holds a trove of memories to explore. Spirits know secrets lost to this world.” he answered, in an almost conciliatory tone.
“Yeah, but they're spirits. You can't treat them like people, Cole aside.” Bull grumbled, looking uncomfortable.
“Would not many say the same of the Qunari?” Solas asked, and Bull shot him a confused look.
“Uh. No, because qunari don't go around trying to possess people and turn them into abominations.”
“Instead, you conquer them and turn them into servants of the Qun.” Solas remarked, and urged his hart farther ahead.
“Oh, come on!” the Iron Bull protested to the elf's back.

“Ah, Cassandra. My mother has a friend who's a Pentaghast. Perhaps you know of him?” Dorian commented, as he rode up towards the front with Fox and Cullen.
“The Pentaghasts are a large clan, Dorian. I cannot know them all, not would I want to,” she snorted, checking her charger slightly.
“Enormously fat man. Three chins, four mansions, five ways to sell you out, as Mother liked to say.”
“Oh. Nevermind, I do know him. Cousin Loren, with the wandering hands.” Cassandra sighed, even as she suppressed a smile at the way Fox shifted uncomfortably in her new saddle. “I am not actually surprised he has friends in Tevinter nobility.”
“Did your family throw suitors at you, growing up?” The Altus asked, a bitter edge to his joking tone.
“My uncle certainly did, waves of them. Until I broke one's arm. Then there were fewer,” the Seeker laughed.
“I must admit, I never tried that,” Dorian mused, glancing over to find Fox wrinkling her nose at him.
“It was an accident! Well, mostly an accident.” She admitted, as Cullen chuckled.
“If you insist, Lady Cassandra. If you two were still seekers and templars, would you drag me to one of your Circles? There to languish in confinement, forced to wear those horrible ankle length wool uniform robes?” Dorian pressed, smiling at the look Cullen was shooting a almost giggling Fox.
“I am no longer a Seeker, whatever may have happened to the rest of the Order.” Cassandra sighed, watching the increasingly clouded sky warily.
“But you'd do it, even though I am incredibly charming?” He gave her his best smile with the mildly offended tone.
“Yes. I would absolutely drag you there. Without question,” She announced flatly, as he huffed a bit.
“It would be easier than you think, Dorian. Once they let you out of solitary, you could go live in the library, spend all your time researching with Fox. The two of you could keep each other out of trouble,” Cullen suggested, blandly. “You might even be able to bribe someone to sneak wine in for you, and then it would be practically the same as at Skyhold.”
“Unless whoever was commanding the Circle decided he was better off Tranquil,” Cassandra pointed out.
“True. I would recommend Kinhold Tower, over any of the Free marches Circles. I've heard things, from Knight Captain Rylen and the other Marcher Templars that joined the Inquisition rather than go rogue or take red lyrium. And I doubt you would have survived the Gallows. I wouldn't know how Orlais would be, other than Orlesian.” the Commander remarked, dryly.
“The Gallows being the Circle in Kirkwall, built over a re-purposed slave processing fortress from the days of old Tevinter?” the Altus hesitantly questioned.
“The phrase built over is misleading. They took out some of the shackles and put in a library, that's all. Didn't even redecorate.” Fox commented. “Just like the Estate dungeons back home, but with less outright torture and constant threat of vivisection. Let's assume she means leaving us somewhere nicer, like the Tower.” She leaned forward, bracing an elbow on the saddle horn, and ignoring the Seeker's raised eyebrow at the inclusive plural.
“Research project that requires our own permanent table in the Library?” Dorian laughed a little, meeting her grin. “I suppose being best friends with a Templar's pet would have perks.”
“As long as we have booze and books, we'd be the best behaved mages in the tower. Right until one of us got caught half naked bent over the Knight-Commander's desk.” She announced just loud enough, as Cullen choked, and Dorian laughed.

“Solas, I take it you've spent your life studying spirits? In my homeland, some mages keep spirits as servants.” Dorian commented, as Solas rode up beside him. To his other side, Fox slumped in her new saddle, looking less thrilled about the the journey.
“So I have been told.” Solas glanced back, finding Lyra chatting with Smoke at the rear of their little column.
“The things they can be made to be are quite marvelous, you should see them.” the Altus mused.
“The Tevinter Imperium is not the safest place for an elf,” Solas pointed out.
Dorian looked over at Fox, who had begun watching them with her chin in her hand, eyebrows raised. “Ah, yes, that. Point very taken. Do you use spirits as servants, Solas? You'd have no trouble capturing them.”
“No. They are intelligent, living creatures, and binding them against their will would be reprehensible.” he retorted, irritably.
“How much will could amorphous constructs of the fade have? They're spirits, not people.” Even as he said it, part of him thought of Cole, and hesitated. “What harm could there be putting them to constructive use, as long as they are treated well?”
“Of course. And any that show magical talent are supposed to be freed, are they not?” Solas asked, his voice going almost dangerously calm.
“What? Spirits don't have magical talent, Solas, unless you know something I don't.” Dorian replied, confused. That was never a good tone to hear in a conversation, and Fox had a look. It was very much the resigned look she got when she wasn't sure if she was amused or annoyed at someone. He had a sneaking suspicion the person was him at the moment.
“Oh, I am sorry. I thought you were talking about your slaves.” Solas shot a glance past the spluttering Altus at Fox, who shrugged.
“You know he didn't mean that. Dorian, I'll let you visit Hope and Valor, one of these nights. It might explain more than he will.” She shook her head, still looking resignedly amused.
“I'd like to be there when he meets Valor, please, Fox?” Cullen laughed.
“I'm guessing that would be very helpful, thank you, Fox. Solas, have I offended you?” Dorian questioned, hesitantly.
“If you have, why would it concern you?” the older apostate retorted, not bothering to look over.
“Because we're here working together for a common cause, and because I respect your abilities.” Dorian told him, gesturing broadly.
“My abilities as a mage, you mean.” His voice had that controlled calm in it again.
“Well. I... realize there's more to you than that,” the Altus sighed. “As much as I am in awe of the talents both you and Fox possess.”
“However much Hal'isa puts up with from you, the differences between us are not technicalities to be discarded.” Solas announced icily.
“I was hoping you and I might find common ground, that's all. That little flare you do sometime with your staff, it's redirecting ambient energy to your personal aura, correct?” Dorian tried hopefully.
“Yes, it clears magical energy and creates a minor randomized barrier to impair incoming magic,” Solas explained automatically.
“Fascinating. It's a Tevinter technique, but I've never seen anyone else in this part of the world do it, except for Fox, of course.” Dorian nodded at the healer next to him.
“The technique is Elvhen, not Tevinter.” Solas corrected flatly.
“Oh, that means we... Nevermind. My apologies, Solas.” Dorian apologized, feeling awkward again.
“But do go on about the wonders of Tevinter magic.” Solas added. “I am surprised you don't practice bloodmagic, Dorian. Is it not popular in your homeland?”
He rolled his eyes, hands tensing around his reins briefly.“While we're sharing surprises, you and the other elves here do a lot less dancing naked in the moonlight than expected. Unless Cullen knows something I don't?”
“No, but I wouldn't mind seeing Fox try.” The former templar tugged on the leading rein briefly, as Fox stuck her tongue out at them, laughing. She resettled herself with a wince, and her lover gave her a sympathetic smile.
“Tevinter lore about elves clearly remains as accurate as ever,” Solas sourly commented.
“I wanted to see one of you make flowers bloom with your song, just once.” Dorian gestured, his eyes wide and earnest for as long as he could hold a straight face.
“Your magical skill is impressive, Dorian.” Solas commented, after a long moment of silence.
“You're not the first to say so,” He replied smugly, looking optimistic.
“Would you not conserve considerable magical energy with a less... flashy... style, however?” the older mage suggested.
“Of course I would. I'd also live longer if I ate only rice and boiled vegetables, but that's just as unlikely.” He sighed, glancing between Fox and Solas. “Solas, for what its worth, I am sorry. The elven city of Arlathan sounds like a magical place, and for my ancestors to have destroyed it...”
“Dorian, hush. Empires rise and fall. Arlathan was no more innocent than your own Tevinter, in its time. Your nostalgia for the ancient elves, however romanticized, is utterly pointless. If you want to make amends for the transgressions of the past, free the slaves of all races held in Tevinter now.”
“I... don't know if I can do that.” Dorian replied, taken aback.
“Then how sorry could you be?” Solas snapped, pulling his hart a little further from the other's horses.
“Fox, let it be known I tried. I'm starting to think you are going to remain my only elven friend,” Dorian grumbled at the other Tevinter beside him.
“I was unaware you had any friends other than Foxfire, of any race,” Solas commented blandly, and found Fox glaring at him.
“Hah'ren, could we maybe try for civility with my friends? Ma'serranas.” She interposed, shifting in the saddle with a wince. With a stretch, she pulled her feet out of the stirrups, pulling them under her. “Dorian, I think less kindly of this present at the moment. I'll defend you better when I hurt less.” she hooked the bracelet at the end of her braid over her saddlehorn. In a flare of light, she shifted small, nudging open one of her new saddle bags and crawling in, the leashkey still over the saddle.
“That is cheating, Fox,” Cullen protested. “You won't get used to riding when you're asleep in a bag.” She stuck her head back out, yawned broadly, and tucked herself back in.

Chapter Text

Lyra got them back to Skyhold and took off the next day, saying something about tracking down the last of Cassandra's missing order. Solas and Vivienne went with her and the Seeker, as did a restless Blackwall, leaving the rest of the Inquisition to settle back into routine duties.
There was barely enough time to prepare a room for the new Orlesian liaison who breezed in a few days after the rest made it back, with a small cart of belongings. Leliana took one look at Celene's former Arcane Advisor, and stormed back to her rookery to begin penning letters.
The liaison herself only smirked at the bard, changing out of her Orlesian finery to a short, low-cut Chasind robe. She promptly co-opted a number of workmen and off duty soldiers, seemingly with only a twitch of a finger, imperiously directing them in the unloading of her boxes and the large, ornate mirror.
Not even the ten year old boy at her heels could stop most of the men staring when she passed. A willowy human, long ink black hair piled messily on top of her head, with cat gold eyes that seemed to pierce into the soul of all she saw. And a great deal of pale skinned curves visible in that barely there black robe, Cullen noted, restraining the urge to check guiltily over his shoulder for Fox. This Lady Morrigan seemed oddly familiar, the carelessly insolent strut, the robes of a wild chasind witch... His eyes narrowed as he watched her cross the courtyard, half his men forgetting his drills in favor as of drooling as she passed. He'd seen her before, and if he was correct about where, he needed to speak with Leliana.
But first... He smiled as the former apostate finally made it out of sight, and his men turned back to him. There were far more drills he could run them through, and eventually the lesson would stick.

“Leliana, isn't that the wilds witch Genevieve had with her when they came to the tower?” Cullen asked when he made it up to the rookery, frowning. “I admit, my memory of that day is a trifle... dubious, but those robes are familiar. As are staring down those eyes as she suggested killing me might be best option.”
“Yes, you remember her, and that does sound like something she'd say. In her defense, you were a little unreasonable at the time,” the bard confirmed, not looking up from the letter she was writing.
“Understatement of the year, probably. How much should I worry about her now?” he pressed, clenching a fist and regretting the loss of his Templar abilities.
“She isn't much more outright dangerous than Vivienne or our newest elven companion,” Leliana pointed out. “I worry more about the boy...” she murmured to herself.
“What? Leliana, what possible danger could a ten year old boy hold, mage bred or otherwise?” He asked, baffled.
“Nevermind, Commander,” she replied, shaking her head. “Just keep an eye on him, please. I need to finish writing Genevieve and some of our other friends.”

“The garden is very peaceful this time of day, isn't it?” a not quite Tevinter accented voice came from the roofed walkway that surrounded the greenery filled smaller courtyard. Morrigan turned to find a small elf in deepstrider robes watching her with large blue green eyes, youthful despite the waist length braid of snowy hair.
“It is. You would be the head healer, I suppose. Our paths crossed only briefly at the Winter Palace.” the witch tipped her head to the other mage.
“It was a bit of chaos that night, wasn't it? They call me Fox, though my sibling insists it's supposed to be Hal'isa.” Fox strolled over to the human, hand extended.
“Foxfire then, in the older elven. I almost didn't recognize you out of that costume. You did pull off Sylaise very nicely, a play on your position as healer, perhaps?” Morrigan took her hand hesitantly, glancing back to where her son sat, a book on his lap.
“Was that who I was dressed as? Solas wouldn't tell me and Briala didn't know. Sylaise is what, the goddess of healing and fire, right? I think both the Inquisitor and my sib wear her mark,” Fox laughed. “I'm mostly just grateful I didn't make too much of a fool of myself, and that I'm back in clothing I can actually work in.” She smiled softly at the bench with the quiet child behind the witch. “Yours? He's a handsome boy.”
“He is,” Morrigan replied fondly. “Have you one of your own?”
“Ah, well. If any of my masters had me bred before the lyrium, it's not a memory I've regained. I do know that Danarius was disappointed his experiment ended with me alive but sterile,” Fox remarked with only a trace of bitterness. “But tell me, are you the other mage that traveled with the wardens during the blight? The shapeshifter?”
“I am she, though I have no desire to demonstrate, much less train another at the moment,” the dark haired witch announced, rolling her golden eyes.
Fox shifted into her namesake, rolling briefly through a patch of lavender before shifting back. “I think I'll manage without either, though I've no memory of who taught me.”
“Your blood is very old, even older than the other elves. She's very like you, mother,” the boy commented, his doe brown eyes wide. For a moment, it reminded Fox of Grand Enchanter Fiona's eyes, when she wasn't being aggravating.
“Hush, Kieran,” Morrigan said quietly, as she and Fox sized each other up more carefully. “Go back to your book.”

“Dear Maker. Is that an Eluvian?” Hawke whistled, strolling in after the workmen hauling the huge, ornate mirror. “I have a Dalish friend who's spent the last decade trying to get one working.”
“A what?” Fox turned, caught sight of the mirror, and froze, staring into the sleek, black surface.
“Magical elven mirror thing, they date back to Arlathan, I think. I stopped listening to Merril, after a while.” Gerry ran his hand over the surface, watching it almost ripple under his hand. “Maker's bleeding balls, you have a working Eluvian. Lady Morrigan, this is the greatest thing since Flemeth turned into a dragon and gave me and my brother a ride out of the blight.”
“What?” Morrigan turned, staring down the Champion.
“Flemeth got us out of the way of the main horde in exchange for us taking an amulet to this weird Dalish graveyard thing. Well, terrifying old lady witch in the middle of the wilds who told us she was Flemeth, anyway. Terrifying old lady witch who can turn into a freaking dragon, if you didn't hear that bit.” Gerry smiled brightly at the new mage. “I don't argue with those. She could have told me she was Andraste and I'd have been 'Yes, ma'am'. Would have been better if I could have talked her into teaching me, but...”
“What is Mother up to now, I wonder?” Morrigan muttered to herself, frowning at a still cheerful Gerry. “She could have at least found less of an idiot to rescue,' She responded in a louder tone.
Behind them, Fox ran her fingers over the mirror like Hawke had, tentatively, waiting for the sound of broken glass. The mirror swirled under her skin, like tongues of flame, the shimmering change radiating out to the frame. She could see a courtyard with blossoming trees, and rows of black mirrors, spiraled out as far as the vision went.
A hand on her shoulder yanked her back. “How did you activate it without the passcode?” Morrigan hissed.
“I just touched it. It's humming, can't you hear it?” Fox gestured at the mirror, which had gone back to black the moment she had lost contact.
“I'm not sure that leads anywhere we'd want to visit, Fox. All those dead trees? That place gives me the creeps.” Gerard backed away, cautious for once in his life. “And I say that after having survived walking through a nightmare demon's corner of the Fade.”
“It is said the Crossroads are less than hospitable to human travelers. But if you know the way and do not linger, there remain a few open mirrors that can be reached.” Morrigan remarked with a careless shrug, supervising the mirror's journey the rest of the way into her new room.
“I really should write Merrill about that. I don't know if she ever got hers working.” Gerard commented.
“I should go remind my templar it's time for dinner, before he decides to leave his troops running drills until dark to teach them not to drop their shields and stare at guests to Skyhold.” Fox smiled, already deep in thought as she turned to leave.

 

“Shite, she's going to burn me alive!” the scruffy blond elf swore, bursting into Varric's room, leaping over the cards on the table to crouch behind Fenris's chair, nearly upsetting the drinks.
Varric set down his cards once her panicked scramble ended. Through the open door, he could hear an angry commotion from the courtyard. “What did you do now, Buttercup?” he asked. “And why are you hiding here on diamondback night?”
“Fluffball never goes near Broodybutt. You always invite Broodybutt and Icypants along to your stupid card game with Beardy the warden. So I'm gonna be here, where she ain't,” Sera explained, still crouched behind the chair.
“Didn't you learn the lesson about why pranking the infirmary isn't funny the last time? I don't even want to think about what Anders would have done if someone had tried it in his clinic,” Gerry asked, attempting to collect the cards he'd dropped.
“Shite. I ain't that swiving daft. Didn't go near the stupid supplies or weird Fluffball and her creepy pet,” the archer whined.
The Iron Bull leaned around the open door. “I thought I heard swearing. You are in here, wonderful. Sera, how did you possibly get an entire, intact beehive into Cullen's favorite training dummy?”
Hawke and Fenris shared a look with Varric, setting down their cards as well, moving to finish off the last of their drinks. Blackwall just winced, rubbing his jaw under the beard.
“I don't know. Can't remember.” Sera swiped a mug off the table, swigging the last of the ale. “What?” she asked, looking at everyone's incredulous expressions. “Things go sideways if you think too hard.”
“But it was a beehive. Full of bees. Most people would pay attention.” Bull rubbed at his horns.
“That's why most people get stung.” she smugly announced, coming out a little further from behind the chair.
“Better questions, Buttercup. Why did there need to be a beehive in a training dummy? And why Curly's, instead of the Seeker's or our warden Hero here?” Varric questioned, wearily.
“Cass is scary as shite when she's pissed, and I like Beardy,” Sera replied. “Wasn't gonna mess with their training stuff. Just forgot Fluffball gets all fwoof and shite over her Cully-wully.”
“As grateful as I am to be left out of this, Sera, why did there have to be a beehive anywhere near the training grounds?” Blackwall sighed. “Despite the polish the Templars put on him, Cullen is hardly nobility. He's a good man, who's been through more than most. He looks after his men, and so does his lady healer. She's a sweet girl, Sera, mage or not.” Still in the doorway, Iron Bull snorted as Fenris suppressed a smirk.
“Because... suddenly bees!” Sera replied, in a manner that implied those words should explain everything.
“Bull, is the Commander alright?” Fenris asked quietly, edging further away from the archer leaning against his chair.
“He'll be alright. Fox and Dorian showed up to watch us train before dinner, just in time to set half the training field aflame when the swarm rose. I've never seen a man shield bash a swarm of bees and run like that before. When the ash settled, the healer hauled Cullen back to his quarters to get him patched up. Sera's probably got another hour of healer fussing before Fox comes looking.” Bull shrugged.
“That's why I'm in here, with the only person Fluffball is scared of.” Sera grinned, and moved to swat Fenris companionably on the shoulder. He grabbed her wrist, holding her out at arm's length before dropping her. “Shite, that hurt, you arse!”
“Not as much as a face full of bees.” the former slave stood, giving Gerard a pointed look. “I have no intention of shielding you from the consequences of such a pointless act, little thief.”
“Look, uh, Sera,is it? I respect your Red Jenny and friends thing. Spite the rich, help the poor, let the little folk get their own back. My cousin Charade runs the Ostwick branch, and she's my favorite non mage relative.” Gerry remarked expansivly.
“I'm sure Junior would love to here that, Waffles.” Varric chuckled.
“I think my brother already knows, Varric. So, Sera, I adore the idea of Templars running from swarms of bees as much as the next apostate. But Cullen is mostly okay these days, and he's Foxfire's pet. I'm not sure if I'm more worried about her setting my hair on fire to get to you or just setting her brother on all of us.” Gerry shot her a falsely apologetic smile, following Fenris out.
“Buttercup, they have a point. Snapdragon gets less harmless when she's poked, and I have a manuscript in process in here I don't want to burn.” Varric scooped up his deck and started shuffling it back together.
“The Firefox is too busy to burn things. She asked me to ask Sera to never do that again.” Cole announced, suddenly visible sitting on the table. “Sera, Serrra. Say it enough and it stops being a word. Sera, Sera, Serrraa.”
“Please make it leave me alone?” Sera asked, backing up towards the wall, knocking the chair over as she went.
“You don't have to be afraid, Sera. I won't hurt you.” Cole told her, sadly.
“Please just make creepy go away? I promise to not prank any of you?” She froze, back flat against the stone wall.
“I won't stab you when you're looking somewhere else. I won't do that to your boots. Or that other thing to your arrows. I don't understand what that last thing is, but I won't do it either.” Cole tilted his head, trying to reassure the blond elf.
“Why does it keep talking at me?” Sera begged, reaching for a bow that wasn't there.
“Your bow was a tree once. A girl with a long name met a boy with strong hands there. Her body warm, leaning against the trunk, hair tangled in branches and fingers. 'Forever, no matter what.' They cut letters in the bark. When her parents took her away, he cut the letters away to forget. Every time you pull it, the part that was a tree remembers. Can you feel it then, under your fingers?” he informed her cheerfully.
“Look, could you at least not stare past my eyes? Friggin' creepy, that.” She sighed, trying to slide around the table past him. “I'll never meddle with any of Fluffball's shite, ever again.”
“You're not your eyes, you live behind them,” the half spirit spoke in a quizzical tone.
“That too. Don't do that. Creepy.” She dived for the still open door, racing for her own room, and Cole tilted his head at the others.
“Of all the ways Snapdragon could have dealt with that, this is probably the funniest.” Varric commented. “Get off the table, Kid, I'll deal you in. We'll try it again like we practiced.”
“Two pairs beats one pair. Four of a kind beats two pairs. She slips the ace of dragons into a thigh high boot, calls to the barman for another round. Blondie stares at the table, angry, always angry.” Cole started to recite, going distant halfway through.
“Focus, Kid. We're doing Diamondback, not Wicked Grace,” Varric sighed, not looking at Hawke or Fenris. “Maybe we should invite Solas in one of these days.”
“Don't. I tried to teach him Diamondback while we were traveling. Ten minutes later he'd won, and I had to head for my tent with only a bucket for my bits.” Blackwall advised. “If he's in, I'm out. What are you staring at, spiritboy?” He added, as Cole settled awkwardly into a chair.
“Golden, graceful, glittering but not gaudy. Voice delicate and delectable.” Cole commented, looking back to the cards he was handed.
“Cole, what are you talking about now?” The warden sighed, taking his own hand of cards and pouring another mug of ale.
“Sweet, soft, and silky. Her dress, and also under her dress. Are you going to talk to Josephine?” the half spirit asked, still looking at the cards upside down in his hands.
“Maker's balls! Get out of my mind, will you? You make me sound like a dirty old bastard.” Blackwall yelped, hiding behind his cards.
“Do you want to hear what she thinks of you?” Cole offered.
“No!”
“You should.” he said, as Varric resignedly took his cards and gave them back the right way. “The heft in my hands, solid strong, but curving, careful, like her. Soot, smudge on her cheek, tiny scars on her fingers, old fires, the little frown when she twists a gear so slightly.” Cole remarked, as the dwarf glanced at his crossbow in the corner.
“Yup. That's her, Kid. Now look at your cards.” Varric patiently reminded him.
“Ooh, what's in my head? Do me next!” Gerry enthusiastically offered.
“A hawk's wings in winter sunlight, glittering and fragile as the thinnest ice. If you sparkle bright enough, they can't see to hit you. You keep flying high, even as the blood you fly through freezes on your feathers, because if you land, you might never fly again.” Cole remarked, as the enthusiasm drained from the ice mage's face. “He calls you idiot, but he makes it soft. Love like a flurry of fresh fallen snow, clumping soft on lashes when you kiss. A sword between you and danger, the light that lets you know where you can fly. Land on his arm, he'd send you back into the air without leash or jesses, because he wants you to fly.”
“I... thank you? I don't think I want to do that again.” Gerry quietly said, leaning heavily against Fenris.

Chapter Text

“Dorian!” Lyra called up the stairs to the library, tucking the letter Mother Giselle had passed to her into her belt pouch. “Something's come up in Redcliffe that I'll need your expertise on.”
The Altus looked up from his book, startled, and moved to lean over the railing. “Well, that's an unusual occurance. Usually you go to Madame Vivienne for magical endeavors, if your Solas isn't available. Since he's clearly behind you painting, consider my interest piqued.”
“It's, uh, very Tevintery. I'll show you when we get there,” Lyra stalled, making sure the letter from Minrathous was completely out of sight.
“Very well then, Inquisitor. When do we leave?” he asked, putting the history back on the shelf.
“As soon as we can get out mounts saddled.” Part of Lyra regretted the need for secrecy, but his father had made a good point when asking her not to mention the family retainer waiting to talk to Dorian. The mage was stubborn, and if he'd been dodging contact this long he'd likely avoid going if he knew what it was about. She was certain that once she got him back in contact with his family, they could work through whatever silly fight had driven him from home. Family was Family, after all, and they clearly loved him to go to this much trouble.
It was hard enough being away from hers, with only letters between Skyhold and Wycome. Someday, when the world was in less of a crisis, maybe she could bring Solas back to her real clan for a visit. Neither side would likely end up thrilled with each other, but she was certain she could make it work eventually. It would at least be a nice break from the humans.

 

“Dorian, if I'd known it would drive you to the Inquisition...” the older Tevinter sighed, staring down the coldly furious Altus. “Once I had a son who trusted me.”
“You didn't drive me to the inquisition, Father. I'm here because it's the right thing to do. Once, I had a father who would have understood that.” The firemage turned his back on the magister, glaring at the clearly disappointed Inquisitor. “I'm done here, and I'll see you back at Skyhold.”
“Dorian, he's your Father. You could at least do him the courtesy of hearing him out. I don't know what could possibly come between you..” Lyra started.
“Oh? Perhaps you should. To start with, my father has never accepted that I prefer the company of men,” he hissed at the red haired elf.
“I might need you to explain that, I think.” Lyra questioned, raking fingers through her hair.
“Did I stutter? Men. The company thereof. As in sex.” Dorian snapped.
“So you're like Hawke? I never... You don't like women at all?” The rogue pressed.
“I like women just fine. Our little fox is a delightful creature, and you have your moments. I just know they aren't for me. I can admire a flower without wanting to wear the perfume. That doesn't make me a bad person.” Dorian explained.
“I suppose. Why didn't you tell anyone?” She still stood there, blocking his way to the door.
“It never occurred to me as relevant. Perhaps I should introduce myself as such? 'Hello, I'm Dorian, and I like men.' It seems the only thing people care about sometimes,” he grumbled bitterly. “I'm going to need something stronger than wine, I think.”
“Alright, fine, be that way. Why is it such a problem?” Lyra leaned back against the doorway.
“Because when you're part of a breeding program to create the perfect mage, the perfect leader, any aberration become a shameful perversion that needs to be hidden or excised out.” Dorian told her, struggling to keep the flames at his fingertips under control.
“I only ever wanted what was best for you, Dorian,” his father started to protest.
“No, you wanted what was best for you, for your fucking precious legacy!” the Altus snarled, pushing past Lyra and shooting his father one last glare before storming out to his horse.

Fox shooed the last of the scouting party back out of the Infirmary, gathering up all the supplies and setting them back on neatly arranged shelves. The door opened again, and Cole grabbed her hand.
“You need to go help him. He hurts too much, he won't listen to me.” The half spirit was insistent. “You need to go to him now, I can't help him by myself.”
Fox dumped the rest of her armful of supplies, and followed Cole to a room farther up the battlements. Lyra stood outside, knocking impatiently. “Dorian? Open the damn door. Maybe I should have warned you, but you didn't need to talk that way to your father. He clearly still loves you, he came all the damn way from Minrathous. Put down the bottle and open this Sylaise damned door!” The inquisitor turned, seeing Fox with Cole at her heels. “Maybe he'll listen to you, Foxfire. He just won't... He's being...”
“You handed Dorian over to his father? Without warning? Mistress Lavellan, why do you think he's here in the South?” the healer asked incredulously. “What in the void was in your head?”
“They're family. It's his father. You should understand, after all your sibling went through to find you! He hadn't even written home, and they were worried,” Lyra insisted. “I was hoping I could get him to go home where he belongs, at least for a visit.”
“Vishante kaffas. With all respect, Inquisitor? Get out. Go anywhere else. I can't deal with you right now,” Fox hissed, shoving past the taller redhead. As the Dalish rogue stormed off, the collared mage leaned against the door. “Ma'falon? Dorian?” She couldn't hear anything through the door, so she pressed her palm against the lock, reaching for the magic and shoving. Near molten metal popped free of the smoking wood surrounding it, letting her yank the door open.
Dorian was sprawled across the floor by his bed, surrounded by a small pile of empty bottles. A brush of her fingers found his pulse, and Fox heaved a sigh of relief. She shoved the bottles farther away from him, clearing herself a spot as she wrinkled a nose at the reek of cheap wine and cheaper whiskey.
His eyelids fluttered, his throat tensing, and she pushed him onto his side just in time, barely keeping him out of his own vomit. She set the mess on fire with an annoyed snort, an arm still protectively around his lean shoulders. “Cole, go to Cullen, please. Tell him I've got an emergency to deal with, I'm probably going to miss dinner, and I would appreciate if he could get one of the herb healers to watch the infirmary.”
“He's not going to die, now. You already helped. I'll ask Solas to talk to her, after I find Cullen.” Cole patted her on the shoulder, and slunk out through the charred door.
Carefully, she began weaving a spell, purging the excess alcohol from her friend's barely conscious body as gently as possible. “I do wish you had just come to me when you got back in a mood like this. Drinking behind a locked door never ends up well, Iseratha'lan,” she whispered. “I could kill that bitch for pulling this on you right now.”
“Can't... kill... the inquisitor, little fox,” he responded weakly, groaning. Her hands were warm and soothing on his back as he gave way to the dry heaving. “Need her... to seal all those damn rips in the veil.”
“I would rather be hip deep in demons than have you trying to drink yourself into oblivion behind a locked door,” Fox retorted, still rubbing his back, magic in her fingertips. “Talk to me, ma'falon.”
“She said she needed my help with something. I walked into that tavern and he was waiting.” He let her put an arm back around the front of his shoulders. “If I'd known, I might not have gone. Or I might have asked you along...and Bull. She was on his side, all family is everything, no matter what.”'
“Maker save us from people who grew up in happy homes,” Fox muttered.
“So it seems. Fox, I... He raised me to do the right thing. He loved me once. I knew he and mother were an arranged marriage, that they despised each other, but... He told me that blood magic was the last resort of the weak minded. When I wouldn't toe the line and be the perfect mage they wanted, wouldn't marry the harridan they picked out and live my life as miserable as they were.... when trying to keep me a prisoner in my own home didn't sway me, he started planning a ritual to 'fix' me. One with less a chance of doing what he wanted than frying my brain and leaving me a drooling imbecile.” Dorian swallowed, not looking at her. “Selfish, I suppose, to want not to spend the rest of my life screaming inside my mind. I ran, with the clothes on my back and whatever fit in Whisp's saddlebags.”
“No more selfish than not wanting to go back to being the party favor at a Magister's entertainment,” Fox remarked.
“I know how much worse you had it, I must sound...” He started.
“You had it different.” she corrected, still rubbing his back reassuringly. “Everyone has their own slice of the void served to them. It isn't a competition. Unless you're Fenris,” she told him, startling a laugh out of the Altus. “The puppy hoards grudges like a dragon does treasure.”
“It helps his brooding, I'd imagine,” Dorian sighed, face on his arms. “I must look an absolute mess.”
“You have been prettier, true, but you aren't my friend for the pretty,” Fox commented, as the other mage levered himself back up, sitting against the side of the bed with her.
“Bright, like the fish that kill you if you eat them. Can't hate you for hiding if you burn so brillantly.” Cole remarked, sitting on the bed above them and handing Fox a pitcher of water and a cup.
“Thank you, Cole.” She took both, passing the filled cup to the Altus. “Drink, unless you want the hangover of your life when my spell breaks.”
“Yes, mother,” Dorian muttered, and she elbowed him. “I should probably thank you, little fox.” He looked around the rim of his cup at the mess of his room,wincing. “Seeing my father there like that...”
“He tried to melt a snowflake because he liked waterfalls. Swallowing bile and pride as he sees his son defend himself,” Cole offered, with a slightly baffled headtilt.
“That... is one way to describe it.” Dorian held up the water cup for a refill. “Please stop looking at me like that, Cole. If you have a question, ask.”
“You love him, but you're angry. They mix, boiling in your belly until it kneads into a knot. Why?”
“Sometimes...” Dorian swallowed. “Sometimes love isn't enough, Cole.”
“Enough what?” Cole asked. “His face in the stands, watching as I pass the test. So proud I can see the tears. Anything to make him happy. Anything. Then it stopped being true.”
“Saying you could ask questions was apparently a mistake. Go back to staring at me quizzically,” he said with a sigh, letting himself lean, tense muscled, against the healer at his side.
“I'm hurting you,” Cole muttered. “Words winding, wanting, wounding. I want to help, but the hurt is all tangled with the love. I can't tug it loose without tearing it. You hold him so tightly, let it keep hurting, because you think hurting is what you are. Why?”
“Cole, dah'len, leave him be for a bit, please, as he asked,” Fox murmured, reaching up to pat the half spirit's foot.
“Mother, look what I found, hands full of herbs, and she sees the mud on bare feet, the torn dress. Always barefoot when you should be shod, tracking mud into the temple, won't sit straight. Sniveling runt, always in the way, your sister says, an arrow nocked to the bowstring you spun for her.” Cole blinked, reaching out to her. “Bits and pieces, out of place as you tried not to be.”
“It's good to know I was bad at being Dalish, I suppose,” she sighed. “Makes me feel like I missed out on less.” She laced her fingers with the halfspirit's for a moment.
“Sitting at the old magister's feet as he reads to you, sitting next to his bed reading to him. He promised, but his son chains you, hands you to the void.” Cole added, softly. She blinked up at him, thoughtful, and he shakes his head.
“It's the ones you love that can be the ones that disappoint you the most, Cole. You think if they love you, they should understand. They shouldn't want to hurt you. So you feel... betrayed. You say things you can't ever take back,” Dorian explained slowly, letting more of his weight rest against Fox.
“Get out. You are no son of mine.” Cole tipped his head the other way.
“Yes. Like that,” the Altus said with a wince.
“He wishes he hadn't meant it,” the halfspirit offered. “The Firefox is helping you better. I'm sorry.”
“I wouldn't have even know he was back until morning if you hadn't fetched me, Cole,” Fox soothed, as Cole slid off the bed. “Was Cullen alright when you found him?”
“ He understands? He's unhappy with the herald, because she said mean things about you, but he wants Dorian to be okay. He thinks about after the tower, when he'd think he was trapped there again, and his roommate stayed up with him to talk him back, and he's glad you are there for your friend. But Samson leads the red templars now, and that makes him unhappy again. He wants you to be where you are.” Cole said, looking confused. “His head was complicated, and he had a lot of paper on his desk. He told me to tell you he loves you, and Stitches agreed to watch the infirmary.”

Chapter Text

They sat there talking for some time, toying with flames at their fingertips, laughing at the shapes each could create. When Dorian's jokes turned to yawns, Fox stood. Stretching, she offered him a hand up.
Without thinking, he took it, magic still flickering over his palm. Fox dropped into a heap, her brands flaring painfully bright from the point of contact as she yelped.
“Vishante kaffas, Fox, I'm sorry,” he swore, restraining himself from grabbing for her as he scrambled to his feet.
“I'll be... alright. Just... give me a... moment,” she panted, curled in on herself. “No one's... done that recently. I forgot how much that... hurts. Fucking mana clash.” Her marks slowly flickered, dimming back down as her breathing eased. “Haven't had to wait it out without a templar in even longer.”
“That would be why you don't spar without a templar handy, and why you were saddled with Lisette during the siege?” Dorian remarked. He carefully pulled his magic back before offering her a hand up.
“I'll never be a combat mage, but my shields are getting better, when I'm expecting it,” she said, still wincing. With a deep breath, she reached up, letting him pull her to her feet.
“I'll keep my magic more to myself,” he apologized again, clearly abashed.
“You have better control than most mages, you're usually fine about it. It's just been a long day, for you most of all,” she replied, giving him a weak smile. “You need sleep, Ise'ratha'len,” she added, as he yawned again.
“I'll be alright a little longer, just...” He stopped himself, looking guilty.
“You need to sleep,” she repeated, gently nudging him into the bed and tucking a blanket around him. “Going to dream of blood rituals and unfair inquisitors?” she asked gently. When he responded with only a regretful look, she sighed. “Did you still want to meet my friends in the fade? I did promise to take you, at some point.”
“I wouldn't mind. I just... don't want to be alone right now,” he admitted quietly. “I know, how could I be lonely when I have me, but...”
“Should I send the Iron Bull in to kiss you good night?” She asked, sitting on the bed next to him.
“I wish that hadn't gotten out. He's embarrassing. It's like letting everyone know I fancy Ferelden beer. It was just one ill considered night. And then another. And now... I don't know what we're doing, I'm not sure even the Iron Bull does. It's nothing like what you and Cullen have.” Dorian sighed.
“Cullen spent a year and a half ignoring the fact that he could order me into his bed at any time, the latter half of which I spent trying to convince him I wanted to be there. I had to crawl half naked into his bed to get him to kiss me, and he still half thinks he's going to the void for sleeping with a mage under his care, leaving out the damned collar. We've had years to settle in. If you and Bull are having fun, let it play out.” Fox laughed, fluffing his pillow.
“However did I get on without your sage advice and mothering?” the Altus snorted.
“I can stop. Stopping means being asleep in my own bed with a nice warm Cullen.” she pointed out.
“No, I'm used to it now. I would be bereft without your gentle guiding hand, and best friends are hard to come by,” he yawned, reaching up to tug at her hair.
“Go to sleep, Dorian.” She cat shifted, arranging herself on his pillow, purring soothingly into his ear as she groomed a bit of hair into place.

“This feels odd,” Dorian remarked, looking around the corner of the Fade she'd dropped him into. “Not so weird as being in the Fade physically, but odd, none the less.”
“Welcome to my reality,” Fox laughed. “Odd seems to be my mainstay.” She focused a moment, throwing her arms around Cullen's neck as he appeared. He buried his face in her hair, pulling her close.
“It's good to see you're doing better, Dorian,” Cullen said, when he looked up from his mage. “Cole said you managed to worry Fox rather badly.”
“I worried myself just as badly, I assure you,” the Altus replied. “Thank you very kindly for the loan of your healer, though.”
“Oh, anytime. But I'd appreciate getting her back before bed next time, if you wouldn't mind,” Cullen chuckled, as Fox rolled her eyes. “I wouldn't want people to talk.”
“I think our dear Lady Montilyet is committed to spreading the idea that our little fox sleeps in her infirmary, all chaste and devoted to her duty. Less scandal, that way. She might even convince herself eventually.” Dorian commented, teasing.
“Do not remind me. Josie is still shooting me resigned glares for swapping rooms most of the way home from Halamshiral so you were in with Bull and I could have Fox. Not that you aren't well worth it,” he added, smiling down at his healer, wrinkling her nose up at him. “I think she and the Inquisitor actually missed why you were so okay with sharing with him instead of me,” the former templar sighed. “Hawke's a great deal more...blatant, in his affections. You actually have dignity, or the pretense of it.”
“It's very kind of you to notice how superior I am to the Champion. I also have better hair and much better teeth,” Dorian smirked.
“Really, I'd start with your ability to not grab my rear and make innuendos about my sword,” Cullen muttered. “Although I did have a highly entertaining conversation with the Iron Bull about you during sparring practice the other day. Apparently no one warned him about the joys of bedding mages in general, and fire defaults in particular. Mainly the concurrent risks to bed curtains and other nearby flammable objects.”
“If he needs me to make up fire resistant horn balm, it wouldn't be that far off from the fire resistant hair cream I already keep in stock.” Fox idly offered, as Dorian flushed. “Or the frostbite balm I have to have on hand with Gerry around.”
“It is good to see you here again, Lady Foxfire,” a deep voice rumbled. “and your templar lion as well. Care to try your blade again, human?” A tall figure in glowing gold armor stepped into sight, a massive great sword over it's back.
“I welcome any chance to hone my skill, Valor. But I think our Lady would like to introduce her mage friend to you before we get distracted,” Cullen said, grinning at the spirit.
“Friend Valor, may I introduce Lord Dorian Pavus, an Altus of Tevinter. Ma'falon, this is a spirit of Valor, who is one of my oldest friends and greatest protector in the Fade.” Fox turned to watch the two approach each other, leaning back against Cullen.
Valor crossed it's arms over it's chest, the flame etched bracers clinking gently, considering the human mage before it. “You have been studying the arts of the Nevarran Mortallisi, young Tevinter. Spirit binding and necromancy, your magic says.”
“I am, although I am reconsidering the prudence of the spirit binding as we speak,” Dorian remarked, managing to hold his ground as the large spirit approached.
“Are you afraid of me, little necromancer?” Valor asked, looming over the mortal.
“Yes. And that is one of the considerations I'm pondering.” The mage answered, keeping his feet planted to resist the urge to back away.
“An honest answer, despite your fear,” Valor commented, a trace of amusement in it's voice. “You don't dabble in blood magic, to bind the spirits you use against their will and nature.”
“I don't, no. Nor do I force spirits to linger longer than they desire,” Dorian lifted his chin, staring up into the spirit's glowing eyes.
“Good. Keep it that way, little necromancer,” Valor suggested, still looming. “He has courage enough, if pressed, Lady Foxfire. I still prefer the Templar.”
“I suspect the Firefox knew that, dear Valor,” a far more melodic voice sang out, right behind the nervous Altus. He whirled around, finding a blue glowing figure with folded wings watching him with a fond smile. “Hardly the amorphous constructs of the fade you were thinking of, young Tevinter?” It reached out, running a gentle hand over his cheek, and for the first time in weeks he felt certain everything would be fine.
It would all work out, as long as he had... “Hope, I gather?” he remarked, unable to stop himself leaning into the flame marked fingers. Even if it was a spirit trick, it was such a relief to not worry, to let himself step away from everything that could go wrong into all the ways it could go right.
It let him lean in, and he found himself sitting on the malleable ground of the Fade, a bright feathered wing arched over and around him protectively. “You try, little necromancer, you try and you learn from where you went wrong. You can make yourself better, and change everything for the better, as long as you don't give up.” Fox curled against his other side, and the wing extended to cover her as well.
“I can't shake the impression of us as baby birds, little fox,” Dorian sighed, a content smile on his face. “This is probably undignified. And clearly where you get your motherhen tendencies.
“Perhaps, but I bet you a book of your choice you feel better than you did when you got back from Redcliffe. Sometimes, people just need to know things will be okay, and Hope likes looking after people almost as much as Cole likes helping people.” She hummed, looking as blissfully content as her was.
Valor pressed it's forehead against Hope's for a moment, and paced to a more open space, pulling a sword and shield out of nothing to hand to Cullen, who was watching the mages with an indulgent smirk. “Guard, human. I've watched you in your waking world when I can. As much good as the time you spend with the recruits does them, it's letting you get complacent. You need more time sparring with partners who can actually give you a fight. Remind the Qunari he's getting fat and make him train with you more often.”
“That would get him a fight with the Iron Bull, for certain,” Dorian snorted. “Possibly not the kind suggested, however. Makes our Cole look tactful, doesn't he?” Fox snorted, as Valor sparred forcefully with Cullen.
“I would think training with Blackwall would have helped. I can take down one of the famed Grey Wardens nine times out of ten,” Cullen remarked, breathing hard as the spirit pressed him.
“The Qunari and the seeker are better challenges for you. You must be at your best, to protect Lady Foxfire where I cannot. You have the potential and the courage, as long as you do not squander it.” Valor told him.

 

“I'm curious. What exactly did Snapdragon order a crate of with her very first stipend, Curly?” Varric asked, leaning against the tavern door as the tiny elf hauled the wooden box across the courtyard. “Can't be infirmary supplies, because that goes through requisitions. And that doesn't sound like a box of wine to me. ”
“She ordered a number of books by her favorite author.” Cullen remarked, hiding a smile before he walked over and took the box from her, setting it down at the dwarf's feet and prying it open. Fox thumped the edge of his breastplate as she pulled out a book. “She probably wouldn't mind them signed.”
“Maybe? If you aren't busy, Master Tethras?” She held out a slim volume. “I had few copies I uh..liberated from the Gallows library, but they got left behind at Haven. 'Viper's Nest' was the first non educational book I ever read, that I know of.”
“I'm flattered. Is that a damned copy of 'Dasher's Men'? I didn't think anyone actually read that, and I know it's been out of print for a decade.” Varric laughed, pulling out a quill. “Buy me a round of drinks, and tell me you aren't a fan of 'Swords and Shields', please.”
“No, I'll leave that to Cassandra, since I had my own knight-captain, thank you. But I got the first twelve chapters of 'Hard in Hightown' and a copy of 'Tale of the Champion' that the Seeker hasn't stabbed yet. I'm gonna tell Gerry he can't have anymore frostbite balm unless he signs it.”
“Curly, your mage has taste in books. We might have to keep her around after all.” The dwarf dragged the box to a table in the Herald's Rest tavern.
“I am so pleased you approve.” He kissed her forehead, a hand under her hair, mindful of the rest of the tavern watching. “Blackwall said he would help me build you a shelf for the books. I will carry them up for you when we're done.”

Chapter Text

“You should probably stop blows with your shield, not your face, Lady Cassandra,” Fox remarked, mending the broken cheekbone.
“I will try to keep that in mind, Healer Foxfire,” the seeker replied with a wince. “Cole, I found a locket on my pillow earlier,” she told the boy sitting on a different cot.
“It was Anthony's.” Cole barely looked up from the pile of supplies he was sorting.
“It was my Grandmother's, actually. But it had my brother's picture in it, and I thought I'd lost it,” she explained with a small smile.
“You did. I fought a rat for it,” the half spirit said, still sorting.
“Oh? Thank you, then. It's good to have it back,” Cassandra thanked him.
“It wasn't a very big rat.” Cole finally looked up, smiling at her before tilting his head. “You're sad about the other seekers. I'm sorry they couldn't be saved.”
“That takes no magical gift to understand. But thank you again, Cole.”
“The room with the candle was never a lie. Your faith was real,” he assured her, as Fox took some of his piles to put away.
“The same could be said for Lambert or Lucius, even though they led us to destruction. A single moment of perfect faith does not make one immune to fault,” she snorted irritably.
“Belly knotted, the candle burns like the sun. No voice but my own for months. 'Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.'”, he said, looking up at her again.
“Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just,” Cassandra finished softly, startled to note Fox's voice with hers.
“It will be enough. You found Faith, not just a feeling. It was a spirit.” Cole brightened, head still tilted.
“We do not need to speak of this further. I know now of the trickery of the Seeker ritual,” Cassandra grumbled. “I told Cullen I would help him with the recruits at some point.” She slid from the cot.
“But I'm a spirit who touched a body, you're a body that touched a spirit. We're the same, but backwards.” Cole's smile faltered for a moment, looking at her face. “Breathing from the belly, cold air warmed, stone beneath me, candle before me, Maker all around. Suddenly, nothing, empty, cut, cauterized. Then caught, cleansed by a light that carries me home. You're still thinking backward, Cassandra. You don't have faith because of the spirit. The spirit came because of your faith. It's you, Seeker of Truth,” he told her, focused.
“I...I appreciate that, Cole. I hadn't...Thank you.” The seeker leaned against the wall.
“Faith came for you when they took everything else away. Like Hope came for the Firefox, when the lyrium broke her. Pain beyond belief, then emptiness, nothing but blue lyrium in the dark until the wings wrapped around her again.” Cole went on, going back to sorting.
“The Rite of Tranquility involves a brand of lyrium, I never thought... I learned recently that it is possible to reverse the Rite in mages, as it is for those seekers who succeed in our Ritual. But all restored mages returned with no control of their magic or emotions.” Cassandra said, brown eyes intent on the healer.
“How long were they Tranquil? From what you've said, Seekers are tranquil for moments before Faith restores you. I was not gone long before Hope found me, and angry beyond measure for some time after that, although I barely understood why, at the time. Few southern mages go to Tranquility willingly, and I've seen the way they can be treated. All of that returning at once, with no memory of how to master your emotions... the longer they were gone, the harder a road returning would be. Not impossible, but...” Fox set the supplies she held onto a shelf, hands white knuckled.
“It is worth looking into?” the seeker offered, as the healer nodded. “I feel the same way, Mistress Foxfire. When I learned the Seeker have always known, that they kept this and the source of our power a secret of leadership...” She slammed her fist into the stone wall without thinking.
“There are going to be any number of unhappy mages if it gets out that the Rite can be reversed without a good method of doing so, of helping those so restored. It's been used as a threat and a control for so long, even in Tevinter...” Fox gently took the Seeker's hand, mending the bruised knuckles. “Yet even so, 'The deep dark before the dawn's first light seems eternal, but know the sun always rises'. I'm sure a way will be found, eventually.”
“I didn't realize you followed the Chant. With your broth... sibling, I assumed...” Cassandra commented in surprise.
“The fact I was apparently born Dalish doesn't change that I've lived all the life I can remember under the Chantry, Imperial or otherwise,” the healer snorted. She took another pile of supplies from Cole with a smile, and turned back to the shelves. “What did you think I was before Smoke turned up and started running tasks for Sister Leliana?”
“ Vaguely Andrastian, in the same way Sera and Fenris are, I suppose. Belief without faith, effort, or any real knowledge of the Chant. I've met few elves interested enough to study the Chant, and fewer mages,” the Seeker admitted.
“Magic is meant to serve man and never to rule over him, and all that?” Fox shrugged, clearly amused. “It's a tricky little line, to be sure. The Imperial Chant pretends it doesn't exist, for the most part. But it does say magic, not mages. My magic is a tool, given to me to help people. To serve both myself and others. The more power we are given, the more we are obliged to do for those without.”
“Noblesse oblige, but with magic? Few in the Chantry would approve this stance, and not many mages, I think.” Cassandra looked thoughtful before smiling. “I think I like the idea, however. You are an odd little mage, Mistress Foxfire.”
“You can blame Cullen for a great deal of it, I'm afraid. He memorized a great deal of the Chant in Templar training, and he recites it when he's stressed, bored, or doing paperwork. I've heard far more from him than in a actual Chantry.” She smiled softly, fondly, momentarily distant.
“Under a strange bed, wrapped in fur, small as you can be. A water bowl pushed under towards you, slowly, carefully. The new templar with the shiny shiny armor and the curly hair sits, back against the edge of the bed, far enough to the side he couldn't grab you if he tried. ' Though all before me is shadow, yet the Maker shall be my guide. I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads beyond, for there is no darkness in the Maker's light,'” Cole said softly.
“'And nothing he has wrought shall be lost.' I admit my understanding of the chant is mostly interpreted as I hear it, though,” Fox admitted.
“Mother Giselle and Chancellor Roderick run sunrise services most mornings in the shrine on the other side of the garden.” Cassandra pointed out, her brief optimism dimming against the unsuprised and skeptical look on the elf's face. “Which I no longer see Cullen at, and he would certainly have told you.”
“He isn't stupid, whatever Morrigan may say about Templars. Mother Giselle has firm opinions about Tevinter, and isn't exactly thrilled about the living in sin thing. 'Marvel at perfection, for it is fleeting. You have brought sin to heaven, and doom to all the world.' The third time she deliberately changed Canticles to Threnodies Seven while staring directly at us, we tried Chancellor Roderick's mornings instead. Which went well, until Dorian tried to turn up. 'Dragons with wicked eyes and wicked hearts. On blacken'd wings does deceit take flight. The First of his children, lost to night.' was the least of it.” She waved a dismissive hand. “I have things to get done that don't involve turning up at dawn to listen to how the ancient Tevinter mages ruined everything, and why that means all Tevinter mages are evil forever. Every one sane in Tevinter knows the Magisters Sidereal fucked shit up, even if the Venatori Cultists seemed to have learned the wrong lesson.”
“I hadn't realized... I will speak to them both. You are a valued member of the Inquisition, and Dorian is helpful as well.” Cassandra sighed. “Despite the appearance it may present to have two Tevinter mages withing our ranks.”
“Until they apologize to Dorian and Krem, the Iron Bull's Tevinter-born second, I'm not bothering to show up. Not when I can hear all I want any time Scout Jim drops a load of reports on Cullen's desk.” Fox remarked.
“Understood. It would help, both with Mother Giselle and the Inquisition's appearance, if you and Cullen were at least in a formalized....”
“Seeker Cassandra? What am I? And what does that mean for the legality of any formalized relationship?” Fox waited, a fixed almost smile on her face, as Cassandra worked out what she meant and blanched. “We can't marry under the Chantry here, because I'm a mage, or home, because legally I'm still a slave. We can't even do a bonding under Dalish tradition, because Cullen's human. What we have is what we are doing. For the sake of the Inquisition, and poor Josephine's morals, we aren't flaunting it, but we aren't going to hide or give up on each other either.”

 

“I can't believe she actually lets that Vint shem get away with that.” Skinner muttered, toying with her knives as she stared across the tavern from a table with a couple of other Charger mercs. The 'back up archer' simply called Dalish shrugged in disgust, dropping her remarkably staff shaped bow on the table.
“Baffling, isn't it?” Smoke agreed, from the next table, their eyes fixed on the same spot. On the other side of the room, Dorian and the Iron Bull were apparently trying to teach Cole and Fox to play Wicked Grace. The healer said something quiet, frowning at her cards, and the Altus snorted, reaching over to tweak her long ear again.
“Am I missing some weird elfy shite again?” Sera griped, downing her ale. “Fluffball and the Tevinter Sparkler are being just as swiving weird as they ever are.”
The other elves at the table looked at each other. “You're serious.” Dalish said, blinking. “Sera... any of those girls you brag about ever mess with your ears?”
“Sure, yeah. Either fun or hurts like shite,” the archer agreed. “Like pulling hair, only more so.”
“Ever had a guy grab one in a fight?” Skinner pressed the human raised city elf, looking annoyed. Sera winced, reaching up to rub at one of her ears. “Yeah. Elven ears are fucking sensitive. Shems grab them, it hurts and its demeaning. Bad enough if she lets the one she's bedding manhandle her like that, but letting that almost a damned magister do it?”
“Its basically a trust thing though isn't it?” Rocky, sitting to the other side of the elves on a stool boosted to his dwarven needs commented. The other mercs looked at him, and he shrugged. “Skinner is never gonna trust any human to go anywhere near her, and the two of you who grew up in clans still have the boundaries up. The other mage is her Salroka, or as close as a non dwarf is gonna get, right? He watches her back, she watches his. The squirrelly demon kid too.”
“Falon, she calls him, Friend you'd kill or die for.” Smoke sighed irritably, and the dwarf smirked, refilling his ale. “She still allows the humans too much familiarity.”
“She's like a cat, though.” Cremsius Aclassi, Krem to everyone he tolerated, pointed out from the end of the table. “My ma used to say cats needed to be petted because they were halfway through the veil already, and needed to remember what side you were on. Lady Healer has the weird lyrium thing, right?. The Chief says she's a Somniari, and those are odd with the fade already.”
Sera shuddered, grabbing her ale off the table. “Don' wanna think about that magic shite.” She glanced up at her room, thinking, and headed off toward the main hall. “Gonna go see what Dagna's working on in the smithy. Then I can think about nice, squishy dwarf girls.”
As the Chargers drank their ale and headed off, Smoke still eyed Krem speculatively. “Elves used to have that same legend about cats living between the worlds, some clans anyway.”
“The more I hear about elves, the more I realize how much the Tevinter copied off them with magic.” the soldier grumbled, reaching under his armor to rub at his chest.
Smoke glanced around, lowering their voice. “Fox makes a great salve to deal with the chafing from your binder.” They told him. “She also won't make a deal if you turn up needing something for cramps or anything.”
Krem blinked at him, bristling for a moment before he relaxed. “Personal experience, I imagine?”
“Me? Smoke is Smoke, thank you very much.” They smiled wryly. “There was a time when I did have tits, however. Somewhere under all the scars.”
“Lady healer probably already knows, doesn't she? Especially given how she deals with you.” the Tevinter soldier sighed, and Smoke shrugged, still smiling. “Nice to have a healer I can trust, at least. Healer finding out about what wasn't in my pants nearly got me executed for falsifying records back in the the imperium army. They chased me right into the Chief's axe.”
“That's when I lost the eye.” the Iron Bull leaned over, from behind Krem. “They got me with a flail. Traded a perfectly good eye for a half dead vint. Best decision I ever made.” He clapped his second on the shoulder, walking back to the card game with a large mug of mead. “You should make more of those winged nugs, Krem de la Krem. I'll talk the Commander into letting me borrow a trebuchet again.”

Chapter Text

The tanned blond elf strolled into Skyhold like he owned it, as if the guard patrols were non existent. “Dear, dear Leliana,” he purred in a think Antivan accent. “It has been an eternity! When I got your letter, I simply had to visit.” He perched himself on the edge of the dining hall table, and quietly pressed two letters into the bard's hands. “I passed through Denerim on my way in. His majesty looked well, if a trifle worried about our friendly swamp witch's return here.”
“I do find it hard to believe the 'Black Shadow' of Antiva dropped everything just to visit an old friend, all because of one letter,” Leliana remarked. She noted the handwriting on the top letter, and smiled softly. “”Not that I can't find use for someone with your talents, however. If you're willing to stay for a time.”
“For a chance to experience the widely fabled hospitality of Skyhold and the Inquisition? But of course!” He smiled brightly. “And perhaps I'll get to meet the charmer you set to poaching certain kills from the Crows, as well. The tales I've heard... I might need to steal them from you.”
“Smoke is one of a kind, certainly. Their sister is our head healer, easily as talented as Enchanter Wynne,” Leliana told him, leading the former crow up to her Rookery.
“High praise after the blight, indeed.” he laughed, carefully surveying the fortress as they walked. “From the Spymaster of the Inquisition.”
“Hush, you. How was Genevieve when you saw her?” Leliana asked once they were clear of eavesdroppers.
“Tired. Optimistic. Worried about and missing you. She said to tell you that whatever Morrigan's dark ritual wrought, it was worth the extra time it gave her with you.” He shrugged, waiting for the bard to wipe the tears from her eyes before continuing. “The usual sentimental nonsense the two of you lovebirds ooze from every orifice.”
She punched his shoulder, snorting. “And how goes hunting your way through your former associates, oh famed Black Shadow?”
“A trifle melodramatic for a title, to be sure. You'd almost think we were Tevinter, hmm? After all we saw in the blight, my former rivals hardly serve as a challenge.” The assassin shrugged. “If they ever give up their power plays and united against me, it might go differently.”

 

Morrigan was avoiding him, not without cause, he supposed. A few pointed questions to assorted staff around the fortress netted him the information that the child born of the Ritual seemed normal enough, if tending to odd statements. No glowing possessed eyes, no magic gifts, no darkspawn following the old god's soul the boy was supposed to harbor.
As Leliana went back to her duties, Zevran explored. Skyhold was old stonework on ancient foundations, carefully restored by dwarven artisans still found working in odd corners. Well into the month of Firstfall, the Frostback mountains were treacherous with snow. The surefooted halfbred pony the Warden had found for him on his way back through the Anderfells had carried him up through the icy mountain passes, but even a week later and he would have had to turn back. And yet, in this small valley, it remained as temperate as a mountain summer ever was. Whatever old magic whoever had built this place possessed, it still protected Skyhold well.
Of all the places to be stuck wintering over in Ferelden, this was the most pleasant he could think of. Easily worth the red haired bard's assumption he'd be glad to run errands for her come spring as cheerfully as he would for her dark haired Warden lover. For the good of Thedas against this Archdemon riding darkspawn Magister, he might very well do his part, but being ordered about set his teeth on edge.
The food was better than he expected, both in the dining hall and the Tavern. He suspected the Lady Montilyet's need to impress the constant parade of visiting nobles trying to benefit from association with the Inquisition. Luckily, most of them had returned to their own estates rather than risk the harsh mountain winter, leaving a vacant guest room for him to claim. A very comfortably appointed guest room, at that.
He snuck his pony a bit of bread, finding the stocky little beast well tended under Master Dennet's eyes. There was an odd, heavily bearded warden there, carving wooden griffons for orphaned refugees, with a scruffily blonde elven girl chattering at him from the rafters.
“And then the kitchen wouldn't give me cakes, because Josie, oh so prim, was sending them to 'Allies'” She remarked.
“Why waste our cakes when we could send them a two fingered salute and a box of dogshit? We're close enough to Ferelden we could get plenty,” He told the girl, who snorted shrill laughter. “ You know I hate the aristocracy as much as you do. They sit in palaces, sipping wine while people starve outside their gates, while soldiers die in senseless wars over who gets the fancy chair.” He set the wood down, leaning against a bale of hay. “Still, better to have them on your side than not. Dogs, all of them, and even the primped and powdered ones have teeth.”
“Box of dog shite. Thats a good one. I figured something out the other day. I thought Josie was just kissing arse, but she's actually fooling nobs good all along. All smiles, and pleases, like them giving us their stuff does them a favor twice over, and they love her for it.” She stretched, then hung upside down, grinning.
“Milady is very adept at her special brand of warfare.” the warden mused, smiling up at the girl.
“Best idea ever! I have to steal that sometime. Maybe I find a nob, and seduce him,” She mused, waving off his startled look. “but then when he takes his pants off, I jump up and say 'I like your wife better!'”
“And the goal of this prank would be?” The bearded man asked, confused.
“He thinks he's in charge, but actually, I am! Then, I'll punch him, to make sure he gets it.” She added decisively.
“Oh, Sera. I do love you. Even if no one else does.” He picked up a smaller piece of wood and a knife, starting another carving. “How is Dagna doing?”
“My sweet precious wittle? Squishy as ever, but busy. She's trying to study that weird red lyrium, something to do with one of the red templar jerks. You gonna squeeze up to yours or not?” She swung back up to the rafter and perched carelessly. He gave her a baffled look, and she sighed. “Lady Josie. I've seen you, doing that knightly stuff.”
“Maker, Sera. No. Stay out of it.” He asked desperately.
“Awww, you're all shy. You think you can't treat her right?” she laughed. “I'll show you, just need a peach. A ripe one, 'cause if you do it right, ripe, Beardy! Down there.”
“Sera, Fuzzyhead, I beg you. Stop. Please.” He pleaded, as Zevran let himself back out with a snicker. Just because Leliana likely knew all about all that, didn't make it less entertaining.

The Commander seemed to live and breathe for his job, every moment spent either at his desk or on the training field. When he wasn't breaking in recruits, he was training himself, partnered with one of the other inner circle warriors. If he kept his men trained to a fraction of his ability, Leliana's confidance in the Inquisition forces was unsurprising. The young templar once found raving, trapped in the tower had steadied, grown well into himself, the Antivan noted, watching Cullen spar with a large, axe wielding Qunari. The Qunari himself watched everyone too carefully for a mere merc captain, and the assassin made note to himself to inquire about the oddity. The seeker of truth who lived in the Armory was a frequent partner as well, fighting like a force of nature, one Zevran would be sure not to cross. Of the warriors in the inner circle, the Grey Warden, while gifted at training the new recruits, was by far the least dangerous in single combat. On occasion, an oddly tattooed elf with a great sword would match one of the others for a bout or two, usually watched by a beardless dwarf and a scruffy, staff wielding human who bore a strong resemblance to Genevieve Amell.
It was in the garden courtyard that Zevran found the true entertainment. It was a beautiful, ordered place, with the most enchanting views. If he leaned against the right archway, he could see into both the small chapel shrine and the neatly arranged infirmary. The prettily petite elven lass in the lambswool dress almost danced around her clinic, humming as she kept everything tidy and arranged. He doubted she was his type, or he hers, but she was worth watching, at least. If he got bored enough, lonely enough over the long winter, perhaps he might try flirting, at least. The silver around her neck seemed more a collar than an adornment, but she seemed cheerful enough. Hmm, hadn't dear Leliana said something about their healer being the sister of the elusive, sneaky Dalish Smoke?
“I'm really not sure how comfortable I am finding a career assassin watching my sister like that,” a mellow, alto voice whispered in his ear. Zevran spun reflexively, daggers falling into his hands, only to find a line of cold steel already at his neck. This was far more interesting than he would have thought.
“Smoke, I presume? I was surprised to hear of this level of skill from a misplaced Dalish.” Zev smiled as winsomely as he could at the taller elf, studying them carefully. Tall, lean, with a shoulder length tumble of braided dark hair past elegantly narrow ears, pale silver eyes staring out of the fine boned features of a face some shades darker than his own honey tanned skin, with stylized flame vallaslin etched in shockingly metallic gold over their brow and down their cheeks. “Especially from one sworn to a goddess of healing.”
“Healers have the bloodiest hands, as my people say,” the Dalish shadow blinked those gorgeous mist silver eyes at him, smirking dangerously, that curved blade still pressed to the pulse point of his throat. “I may have taken that more to heart than most. But again, pretty little Crow, I found a career assassin, watching my sweet little ash'ma'lin.”
Despite all his training, Zev found his heart racing, and he licked his lips. “Oh, I assure you, assassination was not on my thoughts as I looked upon the fair healer. Or as I look at you now, despite our current position.” The Crow leaned into the blade enough to leer cheerfully at his captor's deliciously lean form, drinking in the amused hunger the movement caused in those grey eyes. “I was just saying to my favorite bard that I hoped to meet you while I was here, after all the tales I heard on my way.”
“Is that so?” Smoke lowered their dagger to the assassin's collarbone, making a show of licking their fingers and brushing the damp pads over the welt the blade's edge had left. Zevran felt the stinging ease with the mild healing spell, and batted his dark gold eyes at them, tipping his head up under the touch. “And what did those tales tell you, Black Shadow of Antiva? What do you think I am?”
“An elegant dancer of death. Beautifully dangerous. Utterly fascinating,” the former Crow purred, letting the dagger he still held press into the other elf's inner thigh, parting a few threads of wool before pulling back. “Does anything else matter?”
“You have a very pretty tongue, Banal'ras. Perhaps a few things might matter between us.” Smoke sheathed their blade back under their loose sleeve. “Would you care to go discuss them over a drink?”
“The cheap ale in that tavern or the good bottle of brandy I have in my room?”Zevran asked, already strolling out of the garden with a sultry bounce to his step.
“I'd hate to turn down good brandy,” the Sentinel mused, spending a moment watching the Crow move gracefully away before pacing along at his side.
“Excellent. Good vintages are far better shared,” he chuckled.

“I may have to apologize to our dear spymaster,” Zev murmured the next morning, tracing scars along a lean back. “I spoke in jest about stealing her dangerous Dalish. But I suspect I really must have you along, when I return to destroying the Crow masters back home, assuming you don't tire of me this winter. Assuming I can convince you to let yourself be stolen from the Inquisition.”
“I'm here more because my sister is than the Inquisition, Banal'ras. She won't give up her duties as head healer here while they need her, or while her shemlen all but Falon'saota remains dedicated to his work as Commander.” They turned, reaching up to run slim fingers along his tattooed cheek. “I'll enjoy the winter with you. Perhaps I'll convince you to stay, at least until the current crisis is remedied. We have until at least Drakonis before anything more than message birds will make it over those mountains.”

Chapter Text

“Neither of you two laugh like Tevinters,” Sera complained, sitting at the other side of the table as Varric tried to deal everyone he'd gathered into a large Wicked Grace game. Dorian and Fox looked at each other, snorting.
“How, exactly are we Tevinters supposed to laugh, Sera?” Fox asked, examining her hand.
“All cruel and stupid. Like Bwahahahaha.” She told them, leaning back in her chair and trying to look at Zevran's cards.
“Oh, no, no, no. You're not allowed to laugh like that until after you get your magister's license,” Dorian informed her, deadpan.
“I knew it! Varric, you owe me a sovereign,” she laughed, as her chair went over backwards with a nudge of an Antivan leather boot.
“I have a question for you, Sera. It's been bothering me for months,” Dorian leaned forward intently. “Do you cut your own hair?”
“Yeah, why wouldn't I?” she shrugged, stealing Blackwall's mug of ale once she got her chair back upright. The grey warden sighed, motioning to the barmaids to bring more.
“You couldn't use anything other than a rusty butter knife?” The necromancer asked, studying his glass of wine in the light.
“Oh, excuse me while I dig out my diamond studded hair cutter whatevers.” she retorted, shoving a bit of hair back out of her face.
“Scissors, Sera. The word you are looking for is scissors,” Gerard laughed, sitting with Fenris at the far side of the table from the Tevinter mages, and the archer blew a razzberry at him. “Before anyone mage gifted orders more wine, I picked up something special last time I was out on a run.” The Champion pulled a bottle that sparkled bright blue in the low light. “Way more fun to share.”
“I'll see the Aqua magae and do you one better.” Smoke grinned, and set up a bottle of iridescent liquid. “Aqua lucidis, made from wyvern venom. Drinkable by non mages in reasonable doses, really, really fun to mix with lyrium wine. Or brandy,” he added, as Zevran put a contribution up on the table.
“Is it truly advisable for the mages to mix lyrium and a hallucinogen?” Cullen asked, trying very hard not to look at the blue wine.
“Probably not,” The Iron Bull chuckled, “but I really wanna see it.” The qunari put a small keg on the table. “Chasind sack mead, the best shit ever.”
“That's not what I heard you saying the other night,” Sera laughed, already holding a mug out for mead, smirking at Dorian.
“I'm very glad it amuses you, but what I get from my affairs is my affair, thank you.” The Altus sniffed, passing his already emptied glass down across the table to Smoke and Gerard.
“Oh, I know what you get. Like falling through a tree into custard. 'Too high' Wham! 'Too fast' Wham! 'Leaves' Wham! Splat!” she gestured wildly.
“I'm not actually sure which is worse. The mockery or the accuracy,” Dorian sighed, sipping the swirling concoction in his returned glass.
“Depends on how much rest the tree's had.” Bull grinned over at his lover, who rolled his eyes dramatically.
“I can hear it singing.” Cole stared at the small glass of swirled lyrium wine being passed around him to Fox, and Gerry promptly filled another one.
“Waffles, I can think of so many reasons not to do that,” Varric sighed, hand over his face.
“Varric, this is the only way we will ever get whatever he is drunk.” Hawke pointed out, pushing the glass across the table. Cole stared at the glass with tilted head a bit longer before taking a tentative sip and smiling oddly. With resigned sighs, Fenris and Fox lifted their glasses in each others general direction, and slammed their shots back, both already glowing by the time they set the small glasses back down.
“You are both really loud right now,” Cole said, sipping at more of his drink, wide eyed. “Loud and bright and pretty.”
Cullen glanced around before pulling his mage into a fierce kiss, looking a trifle dazed when he pulled back. Fox leaned back in to him, nibbling at his lower lip, before she frowned. “Oh. Gerry, you've had your fun. We have a drunk spirit and two glowing elves. Put the damn lyrium shit away now, before my lion does something stupider than kiss the taste out of my mouth.”
“But we finally found a way to make him kiss people like that in public,” Gerry teased, but put the bottle back in his bag.
“The Commander will be fine, right?” Dorian asked, moving his glass farther away from the former templar.
“I will be fine. Just a momentary lapse of judgment,” he muttered, lacing his fingers apologetically with Fox's before staring at his cards again. The Iron bull passed out mugs of mead, and the game went on.

“Sera, I'm pretty sure I've asked something like this before, but why don't you like the healer?” Lyra asked, as Varric dealt in a new round. “You get along with plenty of mages, and Fenris.”
“She's weird. She makes the back of my head itch, and I don't have enough arrows for that.” Sera snorted, spiking her mug of mead with a dollop of brandy, ignoring the amused expression Zevran wore as he took his bottle back.
“So then, the new recruit walks into the dining hall in just his smalls, and everyone, mage and Templar alike, turn and stare at him. He's facing down the entire Tower, Gregoir and Irving are going red.” Cullen was saying, taking his new cards. “So he did the only thing he could. He saluted, turned on his heel, and marched right back out.”
“This is the shit I play this game for, really. Curly, if I put any of the shit you guys tell me in a book, no one would buy it. Real life is always so much weirder,” Varric laughed. “and you're right Smoke, mages on Lucidis are fun.”
Dorian glanced up at them, pupils blown. “Tell the dragon people on the ceiling to be less purple, please. I can't focus on my cards.” Across from him, Fenris patiently tried to remove himself from the Champion's lap as Gerry licked blissfully at his still glowing neck.
“Ma' vheraan havrasha ina'ham'ehn amelan. Isala'gara'seia'vallas,” Fox remarked, across the table at Smoke, batting wide pupiled eyes at the Commander next to her. “Banal'ras havrasha vherlin ina'lam'ehn, esa'ma'lin. Nuisa masa.”
“Ar'silras, ash'ma'lin.” Smoke sighed. “Aqua Lucidis is the mainstay of all great parties back home. Next time someone tell me how drunk one extra shot of blue wine can make my sister before I toss the hallucinogenic and more mead into the mix. She's clearly been away long enough to lose her tolerance.”
Zevran leaned into the taller elf, grinning a little foolishly. “Banal'ras is what you call me and esa'ma'lin refers to you, correct? What did she say?”
“Mostly that her human is pretty and so are you, easily flattered shadow of mine.” Smoke said, reaching out affectionately to their lover, and ignoring Lyra's snort. “Go back to fleecing him out of everything he brought.”
“I almost have his system figured out,” Cullen protested. “Him and Josie. Deal me back in, I'll win it back.”
It was a few mugs of mead and ale later that he gave up on that idea. Dorian was half slumped over the table, using a fluffily cat shaped, still glowing Fox as a pillow, Zevran half sprawled over Smoke's lap with his feet up on his own chair. Fenris had taken Gerry off to bed before his human managed to get his armor more than half off, giving a staggering Blackwall a cue to head back to his barn. Varric was still watching everyone indulgently from his seat, feet propped up on the table. Bull had leaned the back of his chair to the wall, Sera passed out on the floor at his feet. Cole was still staring into his empty cup, humming intently.
Josephine, still working on her own bottle of undoctored wine, stared Cullen down across the table, looking very smug. “Never bet against an Antivan, Commander.” she advised, and rose unsteadily to return to her quarters.
“Especially when we are dealing, hmm?” Zev mused, glancing across the table in amusement.
Cullen dropped his head onto the table, making both the mages next to him look up. Fox shifted back, sprawled over the table, and blinked at him, clearly puzzled. “Can I please... What will it take to get my clothes back before I leave this table?”he pleaded of the remaining Antivan, who smiled beatifically.
“I could think of something, hmm?” Zev laughed, as the former templar went even redder. “Oh the temptation you provide. Alistair wouldn't have known what I meant, during the blight.”
“Banal'ras, do remember he belongs to my ash'ma'lin, as drunk as she is right now. Don't suggest anything she'll set you on fire for when she sobers up.” Smoke wrapped an arm around the assassin, fingers sliding under his tunic.
“Tel'silras.” Fox muttered sleepily, eyes still wide and unfocused. “Teleolasan, esa'ma'lin, Vheraan tel'avra? Ma' vhenan, ir'lath edhis. Ir'isala edhis.” She reached out, running her fingers into Cullen's hair before carefully studying her hand before her face. “Ir'silras,” She admitted, as her sibling sighed.
“Hey, boss, you're all Dalishy. What's she saying?” Bull asked, gently guiding Dorian off the table and onto his lap, where the mage snuggled sleepily.
“Of the bits I understand? Nothing I'm willing to repeat in front of Cole.” Lyra told him firmly. “She's still a bit more than drunk.”
“Sometimes the combination of the lyrium wine and fermented, distilled wyvern venom lowers inhibitions a little bit,” Smoke grumbled. “Fun at parties. Useful when questioning mages you need intact, but I usually use straight lyrium philters with higher doses. I might have miscalculated in encouraging ash'mal'lin and the Champion to keep drinking that much after the lyrium.”
“She is barely six stone soaking wet, how much tolerance did you expect her to have?” Cullen snapped. “I hardly think a card game is the place to practice interrogation tactics!”
Bull, Varric, and both the assassins looked at each other, and broke out laughing, Zevran tossing a pile of clothing back at the Commander.
“Please put my sister to bed, before she says anything else. I didn't realize she knew half the phrases that just came out of her mouth.” Smoke pushed Zevran back into his own chair before rising to leave.

“I am never playing Wicked Grace again. Or drinking with your sibling.” Cullen groaned the next morning.
“I remember it being fun to watch you lose, though.” Fox pointed out before gulping down more water. “No more damn Aqua Lucidis, though. Or lyrium wine.”
“I do not need any help making a fool of myself in front of you.” Cullen grumbled, but pulled her close into a kiss. “I had forgotten you lapse into elven when you're that drunk. It was oddly cute, my love, even if I have not the foggiest idea what you were saying to me. Your sibling and Lyra implied it was risque?”
“I remember saying something about your dick, and wanting to have sex with you. Everything else is fuzzy as heck.” Fox muttered, going red to the tips of her ears. “Except for you ending up naked.”
“Oh, good. That would be the one thing I did not want remembered.” Cullen grumbled, going even redder. “Perhaps we could pretend last night did not happen?”

Chapter Text

“Merry Wintersend, little fox,” Dorian remarked, leaning against the door to the infirmary.
“Merry Wintersend, Iseratha'lan,” Fox laughed, and pulled a small box out from under a shelf. “More bruise balm, as promised, and a little something else.”
“Someday, I will get you to properly explain that pretty elven nickname you've bestowed upon me,” he sighed, taking the box. “A copy of the Liberalum? You do listen when I whine about the library. And isn't this sparkly?” He pulled the glass statuette of a sleeping dragon out of the padded box, admiring it.
“i picked it up months ago, but Dagna helped me improve it.” She leaned over, tapping the glass with a spell, making it light up like a reading lamp. “It should hold spell light for a few hours before it needs a new charge.”
“I feel a little outclassed, Fox,” the Altus chuckled, setting his new desklight on the cot next to his book. “I did get you a present, of course, of a fashion, but...”
“Dorian, let's remember you got me a horse and didn't let Cullen pay for more than a quarter of it,” she shrugged. “Nun'nusathe, my Sundust, is getting on fine with his Kicker. I was almost starting to get the hang of riding before the passes closed for winter.
“Your gelding was a belated birthday present, and his tack was an early Satinalia gift.” Dorian gestured dismissively. “I intended to actually get you something worthy of my regard for our first Wintersend. It's a much bigger deal back home.”
“I do remember that much.” Fox reached up to a shelf, taking down the hidden glasses as the human mage set out an elegant glass bottle. “That had better not have any lyrium or wyvern venom in it.”
“Not after the Satinalia Wicked Grace game. That was a fun, fun night, wasn't it? Sunblond Vint, as old as I am, said to be strong enough to fluster a tranquil, but it's just good wine. I thought we could each use a glass for this.” He poured them both a small amount of golden, shimmering wine. “This isn't your present. Some time ago, I found myself in contact with an old acquaintance in Quarinus. Primarily on Inquisition business, but I did ask her to look into something else for me”
“Going by the lead up, I suspect it or something along the way to it has to do with me.” Fox took a reluctant sip of her wine, raised an eyebrow in surprise and took another sip. “Whatever kind of wine this is, I actually like it.”
“Apparently my lessons on wine tasting are bearing fruit then, if you recognize quality,” He chuckled. “Given the manner you were handed over to the circle in Kirkwall and your magister's subsequent demise, I hoped Maevaris could at least clarify your current legal status back home.” He sipped at his own wine, not looking at her.
“You have my full attention then, and a considerable portion of my curiousity.” Fox sat next to him on the cot, tucking a foot under herself.
“Shockingly, Magister Danarius never legally owned you. All of his paperwork on the slave Danae was forged, and forged badly, in the two month period before she got caught up in the rebellion near Castellan Tenebris and was placed under a binding collar. The same two month period a Magister's son named Cagageus Altim was suddenly absolved of a great deal of gambling debt to Magister Danarius. Separate records exist, for a strawberry blonde elven Somniari, noted as having a talent for healing and shapeshifting, named Hal'isa.” Dorian sipped more at his wine, noting the increasingly intent look on his friends face. “Hope and Valor did keep telling you you weren't Danae. Hal'isa is elven for Foxfire, correct?” She nodded, eyes wide, and he went on. “She belonged to Magister Gaius Altim, who made very sure she would be freed at his death. He wrote his will, he made a great deal of provisions for her, he made sure everyone in his family and circle knew about it. To all accounts, he regarded her as more of a ward than a slave. Educated in one of the circles, where she passed her enchanter's exam at sixteen, talk of apprenticeship and betrothal to one of his cousins once she was of age.”
“And while he was on his deathbed, his incompetent wretch of a son handed me over to the next thing to the void,” the healer hissed, pressing a palm to her temple as a fragment of memory surfaced. “Master Gaius promised, and Gage, who couldn't even pass healing without cheating off an elf ten years his junior, had me dragged from his father's deathbed to pay off gambling debts.” She shuddered, another fragment coming to her. “Fucking Lord Altim.”
“You're a decade or so older than I thought you were, by the way.” Dorian noted, passing her a thick sheaf of paperwork. “Officially, if you go back as Hal'isa, as Foxfire, you're Laetan, free mage class. Not nobility, unless you try to follow through on that betrothal, but there are a few investments still technically in your name, and possibly a small townhouse, if you went back to claim them. And we can't pursue any action against Cagageus beyond claiming what's yours without linking you officially back to Danae and her place in the rebellion. Maevaris says he can't block anything you claim or try linking you to Danae without admitting to enough criminal action to lose his seat on the Magisterium, at least. Merry fucking Wintersend.”
“Thank you, ma'falon. I...” she flicked through the papers, before setting them down and hugging him. “Iseratha'lan, my fierce dragon boy.”
“I like that, then. Better than Sparkler. I was worried. I did go poking into all of this without asking you first, and none of it matters anywhere but home. Hawke's lover would be furious at anyone prying into his past.” He patted her shoulder reassuringly.
“The fact we both were tortured in the Castellan Tenebris really doesn't... Don't compare me to the broody little wolf, please,” she sniffed irritably. “ I wish I remembered more. Bits and pieces, here and there when something prompts them.”
“I will say, you make a little more sense with this. The education and the manners fit, more than you as a barely trained slave. I'd say it shouldn't have happened to you, but it wouldn't be any better happening to anyone else.” the Altus sighed, draining his glass.
“When you asked Magister Tilani to look into my status, Dorian...” Fox started to ask, sighing.
“I was... The archon's office has the artifact that can remove binding collars. I was hoping to set up a few lines to maybe, once the current crisis is resolved...”
She glanced at the end of her braid with the carefully wrapped leashkey. “Easier to convince the Archon to arrange removing the collar if I'm not listed as an escaped slave?” Dorian, this is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me since Cullen decided he needed to convince me I was a person.” She hugged him again, and he patted her back awkwardly.
“Your strapping young Templar would have done the same if he had the contacts. For you, he'd carve a bloody path to the Archon's office, if someone gave him a way through the unassailable gates.” Dorian chuckled.
“Not all problems can be solved with a shield bash and a sharp sword, Iseratha'lan,” she remarked with an amused sigh. “Or a large axe, despite how our warriors and Valor feel about it. How is your 'not a thing' with the Iron Bull going?”
“My Amatus is doing well, thank you, although I'd prefer you not spread it around, least of all to him. He's smug enough as is.” Dorian announced contentedly. “Between you and me, we might make a go of this for a little longer at least. Once he's done passing out mead and gifts to the Chargers, we were going to spend the day up on the battlements. He said Knight Captain Rylen was going to try talking the Commander into making it a half day training on account of the holiday.”
“I'll just finish straightening up and take the inventory paperwork up to the office to finish, then. It would be nice to spend the day with him. I'll have to remember to do something nice for Rylen, as well.”

Cullen decided to cut drills short after all, gathering up his reports from the scouts to head back to his office. It was Wintersend, after all. Maybe he could skim the reports before Fox got back from the clinic, spend the rest of the afternoon with her.
She was sitting on the edge of his desk as he walked in, in one of the new gowns she'd gotten from the seamstress Josephine had coaxed into moving to Skyhold. It was lowcut and full skirted, all pale blue velvet and white silk, with more blue silk wrapped around the silver leashkey in her braided hair. His Wintersend queen, sitting on his desk doing paperwork. He dropped his stack of reports on the table by the entrance, and locked the door behind him. “Merry Wintersend, love.”
“Merry Wintersend, Amatus.” She scooted forward, about to slide back off his desk. “I'd heard Rylen asked you to shorten training today, but I didn't expect you quite this early.”
“No, stay there.” He grinned at her. “I like the look of you on my desk.” He tipped her face up to his, cupping his hand against her jaw, kissing her fervently as he slowly trailed his fingers down her exposed cleavage, feeling her breath catch. “I could almost learn to like Orlesian fashions, my pretty fox.”
“A grand and bold statement from my Ferelden farmboy, oh Lion of the Inquisition. I'm glad you like it.” She leaned into him, nibbling along his jaw.
“Maker, if you were once a distraction in mage robes... Why any of my men give that half dressed Chasind a second glance with you around will forever be beyond me.” He shifted her back a little farther on his desk, pushing her paperwork off to the side.
“Oh, enough of yours come through the clinic at the slightest excuse, all big sad puppy eyes when they think I'm not looking.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, resting her forehead against his. “But as a general rule, they respect or fear their Commander enough not to go beyond that.”
“Your phrasing implies there are those who do go beyond that,” he noted, a dangerous look in his amber eyes.
“There are a few individuals who no longer have the privilege of spell healing for anything that isn't life threatening. I gave their names and my complaints to their Commander's second in command, as well as the herb healers, so they would know not to send them to me.” Fox shrugged, a wry smile to her face. “I didn't want to put you between being my charmingly protective Amatus and being the dutiful Commander. Rylen handled it.” She ran a slippered foot up the inside of his leg.
“If you need a problem solved, ask Rylen. I picked the right second, then.” He caught her foot as it brushed against his thigh, and slowly slid his hand up her leg, pushing the layered skirt upwards. “I think I would like to discuss something beside other former Templars, right now.”
“I have no problem with that at all,” she murmured, as he deliberately brushed his knuckles over her inner thigh and back down to her knee. He kissed her breathless again, pushing her skirts up over her waist before dropping to his knees in front of her, resting his cheek on her knee as he looked up at her.
“My very own winter fox, sitting so prettily on my desk, waiting for me. This seems like a Wintersend present that needs careful unwrapping.” The tips of her ears pinked, even as she shifted her weight so he could slide the lacy smalls down her thighs. Her fingers raked through his hair as he kissed his way up the delicate skin of her inner thigh.
“You are a wonder, meo leonis,” she breathed, cheeks flushing as much as her ears. She spread herself obligingly wider for him, as his hands slid upwards to cup her ass.
“That it impresses you just means I have not done it often enough, love.” He nuzzled into the crease of her thigh before dragging his tongue over the length of her slit.
She whined under her breath, hands still tangled in hair a little overdue for trimming. “I really can't argue with you right now, Amatus.”
“Good,” he told her smugly, repeating the trick. Maker he loved the way she tasted, the texture of her under his tongue. The way he could wring such delectable noises out of her as she fought to keep her grip on his hair gentle. He paused for a moment, looking up to meet her heavy lidded eyes watching him as she quivered under his grip. This was entirely too much fun not to do far more often. He felt it a little later as she went over, legs trembling as she pulled suddenly painfully warm fingers from his hair.
“Sorry,” she whispered when she steadied a little, moving her hands to the hard wood desk instead.
“As long as you didn't burn my hair off, love,” he chuckled, “I'll take that as a compliment.”
“I managed to keep enough control to keep it from becoming full flame, at least. I made you fire resist hair cream for a reason, my lion,” she admitted, starting to pull herself back.
He remained where he was, nudging her back open. “If my hair is out of danger, that sounds like a challenge, my fox.”
“That... We could do that,” she almost squeaked, ears and cheeks reddening again as he went back to work, slower against her still sensitive flesh.
A few tries later, Cullen eyed the scorched handprints at the edge of his desk, and his quivering mess of a mage between them, with what he considered justifiable pride. He tucked a tendril of loose hair back behind still flushed ears, and carefully kissed her bitten lip. “Still with me, my love?” He murmered against her neck.
“Mmhmm,” she agreed, eyes unfocused, brushing her lips over his temple. She took a few deep breaths, flexing her spine a little, then ran a hand down his breastplate to his breeches. Deliberately, she pulled the laces loose, wrapping her fingers around as much of his painfully hard length as she could. “I think part of this present is still far too well wrapped?”
“I can fix that.” He hastily unbuckled his armor, letting it clatter to the floor as he freed himself from the rest of the constricting leather, and slid easily into her. “My beautiful, beautiful fox.” he panted, trying to keep his pace even. “The way you look right now, the way I made you look... Maker. I was almost done before I even got out of my pants. I feel like I'm going to embarrass myself as badly as I did the first time I had you.”
“You made up for it, even before I resorted to a rejuvenation spell, Amatus. And I don't think you've left me with enough energy to even think about trying those right now.” She ran her fingers along his stubbled cheek, before pulling her hands back, bracing on the desk again. “Te amo, Cullen. You're mine, all of my heart. ma'vhenan, ar lath, ma'vheraan. Please...”
“I want to see you loose control again, my love. With me inside you, and you looking at me like this, like I'm the only thing in your world.” He could feel her thighs shaking under his hands, emptying himself in her as the desk smoked under her hands again, his name on her lips, hers on his.

Some time later, they sat on the floor where they landed, trying to convince their legs to support them again. “I think I'll have a bruise from the edge of that desk on the back of my thighs. And I'm pretty sure those scorch marks are too deep to sand out. Maybe you could replace the oak desk with one in stone, before we try this again.”
“Not a chance, love. I intend to keep this desk, as it currently is. Perhaps it will stand as an encouragement to finish reports quicker so I can spend more time with you.” He pulled her further into his lap, nuzzling at her neck. “I do have an real present for you, somewhere around her.”
“If we got up, we could open some. A few of the others had theirs sent up earlier.” Despite her mildly chiding tone, she leaned back into the warmth of his embrace.
He wrapped loose strands of hair around his fingers, tugging affectionately. “That involves actually getting up, love.”
“We could move over to the hearth, sit on that nice bearskin you ended up with, maybe even see whether you dented your armor when you dropped it,” She suggested, glancing over at his breastplate.
“You do have a point,” He grumbled, nuzzling into her neck again as she slid off his lap to fetch a pile of brightly wrapped packages. Cullen collected his armor, wincing at the scratched dent the stone floor had left. He'd have to take that to Harrit, and the blacksmith would have words for him. He put it on his chair, before gathering a few presents of his own, trying to keep one's obvious shape hidden.
“Dorian brought his present to the infirmary earlier, and sent this up with me as well,” Fox remarked, setting a bottle of wine and a pair of glasses on the hearth next to the rug. She settled herself onto the thick fur, white silk skirts spread around her, delicate silver embroidery glinting in the firelight.
“I might have to send the seamstress an extra tip. You make a very pretty picture in that dress, Fox.” He sat on the rug, pulling her back onto his lap. “Queen of winter, goddess of fire, and all, entirely mine. If there was ever proof the Maker and Andraste still cared for us, it is that you were placed in my path, at least once I was willing to take what you offered.” He pulled the ribbon bowed staff from behind him, holding it out for her to untie. “The crack your last one earned off a Warden's head is spreading in training. Dagna said this one should last longer.”
Pleased, she tilted the metal and drakestone creation in the light, amused at the carved fox wrapped around the crystal at the top. “It's perfect, Amatus. Enchanted for healing and fire, by the runes. It's almost like the crafters here have met me,” she laughed, reaching back to tug a half wrapped shield from the other side of the hearth.
He laughed, seeing the lion holding the flaming sword of mercy embossed into the face, harder checking the runes on the back. “Fire resist enchantments?” He pressed a kiss under her ear, fingering the thin braid of white hair wrapped around the grip.
“What else, my lion?” She picked up another package, smiling. “This one I got when you almost came and got me from the alienage. It's sort of for both of us.” She held up a delicate glass fox and a lion carved of golden wood. “I thought we could each have one on our desks, and...”
“I will always have a little fox here, and you will have a lion in the infirmary. Clever, love,” he chuckled, kissing the top of her head, pouring the golden wine into the glasses.
“I'm so glad you approve.” She tilted her head back, resting it against his shoulder. “The wine Dorian provided is the best I've ever had. I'm starting to suspect his lessons in wine drinking consisted of showing me what bad wine was like so I would appreciate vintages like this.”
“That does sound like him.” Cullen sipped at his glass, and blinked. “This is good. More than drinkable good,” He mused, pulling a few other packages close.
“This is for you, from Blackwall.” Fox checked a label and handed him a package before drinking her own wine “I didn't realize you two were friends. I never see him when he isn't hurt.”
“We spar together, and he is good at bringing recruits in line. He has spent too long alone recruiting as a Grey Warden, I think. I have managed to send him to you a few times, I believe,” he remarked, unfolding the paper wrapping as he adjusted the mage on his lap. “Oh, that is cute.” He held up an alert looking wooden lion, a sleeping fox between its paws.
“Put it on the bookshelf he helped you build?” she suggested, pulling another package. “Oh, Varric got me something, and all I got him was a fancy inkwell. It's the newest chapter of 'Hard in Hightown'! It's not even supposed to be available for another two months, and he autographed it 'to Snapdragon, since you're a fan and the kid said you needed stories.'”
“He isn't wrong. I used to catch you hoarding history tomes and novels, anything that wasn't arcane theory.” He reached around, stroking her leg through the silk.
“Learning theory made me more useful. History in Tevinter was a more dangerous proposition,” Fox shrugged. “Huh, Vivienne got us something.”
“A book detailing the prominent pedigrees of Orlais and the Free Marches, for you, and a Templar styled Chantry amulet for me. Joy. What's the basket under there?” he pulled it over, tucking a smaller box away into his sleeve.
“It says 'To the both of you. Dagna and Sera were gossiping in the tavern. the Chief helped us put this together for you. Open this one after, Merry Wintersend from the Chargers.' Open this after what?” Fox mused, before Cullen tugged the large basket out of her hands.
“This. Fox, I love you. I have been in love with you for almost five years now, and I have never felt this way about anyone else. You once pointed out that we should be glad the Inquisition had better things to worry about than our living arrangements, but I should have found a way that they were never an issue. I am sick of having you dismissed as my... my doxie or my pet. I am tired of fending off people who think either of us are available if they make the right offer.” Cullen nudged her back off his lap, where she crouched into the swirls of her skirt.
She bit at her lip, eyes a little wide. “Cullen, I'm not sure I understand. What exactly are you saying?”
Cullen pulled the smaller box back out of his sleeve. “I know I want to spend the rest of forever with you. Foxfire Rutherford is not so bad a name, is it?” He opened the box, offering the gilded ring inside to her. “Marry me, please?”
“I...Of course, but I'm still a mage. I thought...” she hesitantly took the ring, smiling softly.
“Not without permission but... I had a talk with the Right Hand of the Divine. Barring contrary declarations from whoever is elected the next Divine, we are allowed, given our service to the Inquisition.” He slid the ring over her finger, watching her smile tremulously at the metal. She threw herself back into his arms, kissing him fiercely.
“Meaning Cassandra decided it would be easier to let us marry than stop us living together?” Fox sniffed, still smiling.
“More or less. Summerday is traditional, and would give Josephine enough time to plan a celebration to her heart's content,” he offered.
“Summerday sounds lovely. We could invite your family, perhaps? At least Mia.” Fox grabbed the basket back, chuckling as she lifted the covering cloth. “Aww...” She cooed, pulling out a white velvet fox with embroidered blue markings and floppy silken dragon wings, as well as a yarn maned lion in knitted chainmail armor. “Remind me to do something really nice for Krem. He must have spent ages on these.”
Cullen reached in, pulling out a flask of what proved to be Chasind mead, and a wrapped plate of burnt cookies next to a bowl of little cakes, and a tiny silk wrapped pair of acorns. “Acorns?”
“Dalish, I'm guessing. It's one of the few traditions that stayed the same between Tevinter slaves and some of the clans that didn't wander as far. Oakmoss is sacred to some of the Dalish Creators, mostly Sylaise, I think. And planting a pair of trees out of the way usually didn't get noticed by the masters.” Fox leaned back into her former Templar, nuzzling against his neck.
“There's a note from Stitches that he'll cover the clinic for you for whenever we declare our honeymoon, another from the dwarf, Rocky, that Sera made the cookies, and they are bad but not poisoned.” The Commander laughed, showing his mage.
Some time later, they remembered the forgotten paperwork, and dragged it over to the hearth with them. Still sprawled over each other, they managed to finish it about the same time they finished off the wine.

Chapter Text

“Knight Captain Rylen, I'd like a word.” Cullen asked after drills were finished, gesturing his second aside.
The former Starkhaven templar eyed his Commander, and sighed. “Someone told you about the idiots your pretty healer lass banned from her clinic, then? Most of them, that's punishment enough for running their mouths.”
“Are any of them doing more than 'running their mouths'?” the Commander asked, glancing out over the departing soldiers.
“A couple might have, given a chance. Those I sent off to the Western Approach, I just didn't list why on the reports. Commander, if I may be blunt? Your Fox lass is a pretty healer that looks about the age of our lads and is sweet enough to cosset them. Not even that new shiny ring on her finger is going to stop the young and stupid making sheep's eyes at her, but fear of you and losing access to spell healing will keep them in line. Some of them were just stupider than others. And between her and the Lady Herald, anyone who starts muttering about knife ears gets reported to me thrice over by their less stupid brethren.” Rylen said, rubbing at the tattoo on his stubbled chin. “Although the sheer gall of one of your former Kirkwall lads, who seemed to think calling the healer a 'vint mage whore' would somehow make her forget you and drop her knickers for him... Stitches got him patched up enough to survive the trip to his new reassignment, once our lads had explained reality to him.”

 

“Josephine, I'm starting to dislike the Marquis and his family.” Lyra grumbled, leaning against the diplomat's desk.
“I do wish they had managed to leave before the trail down the mountain became impassable.” Josephine fretted. “They are a little more difficult than some of our guests, and all of the Marchioness's little dogs... And they brought their own servants and just will not let our people in their rooms.”
“Every time I talk to them, I'm pretty sure I can almost hear them finishing sentences with 'knife eared pretender' in their heads. Sera says their people are terrified of them, won't talk to her. Are you sure I can't just eat in my room?” The Inquisitor sighed, looking as if she knew the answer.
“Stay for the main course, and I'll have dessert sent up to your quarters.” Josephine offered, shaking her head.

“Lady Montilyet, I really must apologize. I've been so busy the last week I didn't even notice, and my idiot servants apparently can't count to twelve.” the Marchioness apologized, sweeping into the dining hall in a swirl of skirts. She held up one of her Butterfly puppies, a tiny thing in pale silver and white, all huge fringed ears and blue green eyes. “She's such a pretty, well behaved little thing, but her owner must be frantic missing her. She isn't yours, is she?”
“She's uh... mine, actually.” Dorian interrupted, reaching out to take the lapdog. “Naughty, naughty little fox, to run away like that. She was in with yours, then? Thank you so much for looking after her.” He smiled brightly at the noblewoman.
“Lord Pavus, I...” Josephine started, but caught Leliana's eyes across the room and stopped. “I think you should take your dog before she wanders off again.”
“She's usually much better behaved. I'm sure it won't happen again.” he remarked, bowing and returning to his chair at another table.

 

“Fitting, someone like you would have a rat sized bitch.” Blackwall muttered, glancing at the tiny, frilly furball nestled into the Altus's elbow. Dorian gave the warden a sour glare, and sniffed.
“I'll have you know Butterfly puppies are very popular in Val royeaux right now, and they are very loyal and clever.”
“Still fitting for a spoiled prince like you. Vint.” the Warden muttered. “Even more telling you apparently lost it for a week without caring enough to look.”
“I really wish you would stop assuming you know everything about me based on the fact I have a title and magic.” The Altus retorted, setting the little dog up on the table, where it bared delicate teeth at the Grey Warden
“And I wish you would stop referring to me as that hairy lummox to everyone.” Blackwall glared, pulling his plate away from the canine. “Must the little beast be on the table?”
“I suppose that does sound like me.” Dorian shrugged, making no move to pick Fox up again.
“You aren't much of a pet owner. And if that's who I think it it, I'm not sure if she counts as yours,” Bull snorted quietly.
“I am a well heeled, fashionable Tevinter noble. It is within the realms of possibility that I have a lapdog. I think asking the Commander to claim a seven pound, fluffy Orlesian lap dog as his might be more than love is worth, even if you think they would actually believe it of him.” The Altus said, rolling his eyes. “I'll hand her over later and claim I'm keeping my dog in my room to keep her from running off.”
Blackwall looked baffled, and Cassandra elbowed him. “If the dog was an elf, who would they look like that the Commander would claim?”
“Oh. Bugger.” He looked at the preening, offended looking ball of fur. “My apologies, Lady Healer. Why...”
“Leliana needed someone we could sneak into the noble's room to listen for a while, presumably just as a precaution.” Dorian said quietly. “Apparently Lady Morrigan was offended by the very idea, so Stitches took over the clinic for the week.”

 

“The passes back down the mountain are open again,” Cullen said, setting down a pile of reports for the inquisitor,
“Good. It's been a long winter with only the messenger birds able to come and go,” Lyra sighed. “We have so much to do to track Corypheus down. We have rumors of his people searching Elven ruins for something, Sampson is still leading his red Lyrium corrupted Templars, and everyone I talk to need something from the Inquisition. I'm not sure surviving the Conclave explosion was worth all the hassle that has come from picking up that stupid glowing orb.” Lyra lifted her hand, eying the glyphed pattern burned in glowing green upwards from her palm.
“If it would help, I could take a couple squads and check on some of the rumors near the Brecillian forest? If I took Fox and her sibling, we might get some of the local Dalish clans to speak with us as readily as they might you.” The Commander offered.
“Possibly more so, if news of this Herald Of Andraste shit has made it that far west. Even my clan is weirded out about that. They and that Antivan Leliana invited in would do best without any humans in tow, however.” Lyra advised, studying the map.
“I need to check in with the men I sent to deal with the Venatori issue in Denerim, anyway. I can make sure the elves at least make it to the forest clans safely.” Cullen countered.
“And this wouldn't have anything to do with the fact South Reach and your sister's farm lie directly on the road between here and the Forest?” Lyra asked, tracing the marked path on the map.
“It might be nice to drop by long enough to let Mia meet her soon to be sister in law and invite her to the wedding in person. It's also the only way I will ever hear the end of it.” The former Templar rubbed awkwardly at the back of his neck.
“I almost forgot you actually proposed this winter. Josie says you two are planning for Summerday, right?” Lyra laughed. “What finally pushed you into that, after what, three years?”
“Closer to five, really. The Right hand of the Divine and I came to an agreement regarding permission for a former Templar to marry a mage.” he shrugged, staring at the map. “Permission I should have demanded as part of my agreement to lead the Inquisition forces. Should the next Divine choose to annul it, we can deal with the situation then.”
“I forgot humans were weird about that. Plenty of mages end up bonded among my people,” Lyra remarked, amused. “Head out as soon as you can. Spend some time with your family before the world starts actively falling apart again, while you can. Leliana sent the assassins off on a short run yesterday, but I'll send them along to South Reach with the squads as soon as they get back.”
“I appreciate this, Inquisitor. Fox and I will leave in the morning, with any luck, and we will see you in a few weeks, barring a new crisis.” he nodded to the Dalish rogue still studying the map, and left.

Sundust stood quietly next to a fidgeting Kicker, as Cullen gave last minute instructions to his Knight Captain second. “And if... Maker, Rylen, you know all this as well as I do. Don't let anyone burn Skyhold down or let the Iron Bull borrow the trebuchet more than once. The patrols are still finding stuffed nugs out there,” he sighed.
“Aye, Commander. You just look after that healer lass of yours, I'll keep the lads drilling hard and the patrols on schedule.” Rylen assured his Commander solemnly. “Unless a pretty healer might come to her senses and decide she likes Marcher bricklayer's sons better than Ferelden farmboys?” he asked waggling an eyebrow at the tiny elf behind the other former Templar. She snorted, shaking her head. “Ah, well. Maybe when the world settles down I'll find a pretty lass of my own.”
Behind them, Kicker snorted loudly, stamping a foot. Cullen turned, seeing a sheepish looking Tevinter leading his pale stallion. “It's not that I'd enjoy imposing, but I have studied history, I'd like to see ruins, and I would very much like to not be here for a little bit.”
“Lyra or Bull?” Fox asked, looking resigned.
“Mother Giselle, really. Apparently as a Tevinter noble, I'm an undue influence on the Inquisition, again. I'd like to be somewhere else while that blows over for the umpteenth time.” Dorian reached into his bag and pulled out an old looking tome, wrapped in calfskin. “Not that either of those are being anything I'd consider supportive about the subject. I found a copy of the Asariel translations to bring?”
“The pre- Chantry version or Augustus's Notated Divine age version?” the healer made brief grabby motions before wrinkling her nose at the taller mage.
“Very well. Having a combat mage along would be helpful, I suppose.” Cullen sighed, helping Fox up into her saddle.
“Thank you, Commander. I'll try to be unobtrusive as possible.” Dorian swung up into his own, tucking his book back into his saddlebag.

Chapter Text

The sounds of clattering hooves on the hard packed dirt of the barnyard caught her attention first. A shrill whinny and an strange voice soothing a horse, and she let the breakfast dishes fall back into the basin. Still clad in a threadbare, foodsplotched apron, the sturdily built woman stepped out into the chill of the early Drakonis, concern warring with curiosity. The stiff morning breeze caught at her hair, tugging even more of her unruly golden curls out of her braid, as she squinted out at the visitors.

A pair of warhorses, one of them in full barding, stood in the yard next to a delicate golden palfrey. From the palfrey's back, a small, pale haired figure, either youth or elf, said something to the tall, broad shouldered warrior swinging down from the horse as armored as he was, making him laugh quietly.

She knew that laugh perfectly well, even if she hadn't heard it in sixteen years. “Maker bless us, Cul!”

Her brother tossed his reins to the staff wielding man on the other warhorse, and opened his arms, grinning sheepishly. “It's good to see you again, big sister.” Mia ran at him the moment he stepped away from the horse, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him fiercely.

When she was convinced he was truly there, she stepped back, holding him at arm's length while she looked him over. He looked well, despite the scarred lip and the bump in his nose, healthy and at ease with himself. “Cullen Stanton Rutherford, what are you doing with a warhorse in my yard? And what happened to the skinny thirteen year old I saw off to the Templars?”

He laughed again, even as those amber eyes went damp. “I grew, what with how they kept feeding us and all. Maker, I'm taller than you, now. I am taller than you by a good half head, and I... Oh, Mia, I have missed you.” He pulled her back into another embrace, before stepping back. “The Inquisition has business in the area in a little bit, so I thought I could drop by on the way. Surprise?” he told her, rubbing at the back of his neck.

“You couldn't have sent a letter ahead? Maker, when I saw warhorses in the yard I didn't know what to think.” She slugged him in the shoulder, and he flinched dramatically. “Branson's out with the horses plowing the west field and Rosalie took eggs to town. Can you stay and visit long enough for them to get back?”

“If you can put up our horses, you have us until the troops catch up in a week. Or we can stay at the Inn over in South Reach, if it would be easier.” Cullen offered, glancing back at the other riders.

“We've room enough for the horses, Cul, if the three of you are all you're asking for.” Mia smiled, her own eyes getting a little teary. “Stay as long as you can, we'll find room. Maker, to have all of us home again... And you, Commander of the Inquisition. Our parents would be so... If they'd made it through the blight, they would be so proud of you. Maker, I'm so proud of you.”

“You managed to keep the family together during a blight, Mia, even when Honnleath fell, got a new farm running, and still found time to keep writing me nagging letters. I'm proud of you.” Cullen slung a comforting arm over his sister's shoulder. “This is Lord Dorian Pavus, a friend who will likely get sick of farm life by dinner and take himself to town, and Mistress Foxfire, who likely spends as much time encouraging me to respond to your letters as you do writing them,” he explained, gesturing to the other two.

Mia glanced over the lean noble in over elaborate robes before focusing on the elf sliding carefully off the palfrey pony, the one with a name her brother's letters had mentioned. “And very grateful I am for that, since it lets me know you still haven't died.” His Mistress Foxfire was well dressed in a long coat of dark blue leather, with a neat braid of cream colored hair that fell most of the way down her back. And if she stood higher than Cullen's chest, Mia would eat her apron. “Come here, girl. I don't bite and I've been wanting to meet you for a long time. The way he wrote of you, pretty and clever enough to manage him was a given, and he did say you were a healer mage. He never got around to mentioning you were an elf, though.”

“Her ears hardly seemed relevant, Mia,” Cullen huffed, looking worried as he looked between the two women, and his sister flicked a hand dismissively.

“It's good to finally have a face to put to all the letters I remind him to answer. He speaks very fondly of you and the rest of his family” Fox handed her reins to Dorian as he dismounted, and stepped forward with a bright smile to extend a hand to the taller woman.

Mia grabbed her hand and hauled her into a fierce embrace. “Oh, I've wondered about you since the first time he slipped and mentioned you in a letter. You're the first he's put name to since that Amell girl in Kinhold, and he was always firm that there could be nothing between the two of them. But you... you clearly have his interest, and my brother isn't one to give up on things lightly. I've been after him to bring you by for a couple years.” She took a closer look at the elven hand she still had hold of, whistled, and shot her brother a look.

“We were thinking of Summerday, and hoped to have all of you there, if you have no objections. But I thought the best time for her to meet the rest of my family would be before the wedding itself,” Cullen explained, attempting to sound casual.

“Then let me be the first to welcome you to the family, Foxfire.” Mia kissed Fox on the cheeks, before pulling her into an even fiercer hug.

“It's Fox, really”, the healer laughed, reaching a hand out to lace fingers with Cullen, and his sister smiled at the gesture.

“Let's get your horses stabled, and then I'll make some tea in the kitchen. Maker, I haven't even finished the breakfast dishes.” She opened the door to the barn across from the farmhouse, as Dorian handed the reins back.

“I think we can manage tending our own mounts, if you'd like to get that tea started.” her brother suggested, already stripping the barding off Kicker to drape over the stall barrier in lieu of a saddle rack.

“Well, if you two will look after Nun'nusathe for me, I've both brewed tea and washed dishes before, if Mia would like help with either.” Fox offered, and both of the Rutherfords present looked at her.

“I've never asked a guest to help clean up in my life.” Mia remarked, eyeing the wool plush Fox wore under the leather coat, the silk wrapped end of her braid.

“As you said, I'm to be family now, right? Family shares in the work, and I would hate for our stay to be an imposition with three extra mouths to feed.” She looped her gelding's reins over the nearest rail, smiling up at Cullen hiding a smile and Mia shaking her head.

 

 

When Dorian and Cullen made it into the farmhouse, Fox was pouring tea as Mia sat at the scrubbed table, in the middle of a story. “So then we finally found him, tying his nappies to the top of the golem statue in the middle of Honnleath, yelling that he was Calenhad at the top of a tower.”

“You must admit, a two year old climbing a golem naked is pretty impressive.” Fox commented, wrinkling her nose up at the men who had stopped in the doorway.

“He was impossible to keep in clothing until he was nearly six!” Mia laughed, sipping at her tea. “The he decided Templars were the coolest things ever, and Mum and I convinced him that Templars don't go running naked around the village all summer.”

“Still glad to be visiting family, Commander?”Dorian asked, dropping into a chair and taking the clay mug Fox handed him.

“Ecstatic,” he replied, glaring at his sister. “Was that story necessary, Mia?”

“Fox, has he ever told you about the time he found puppies in the barn?” His sister continued, not even looking at him.
He paled. “No. Mia, not that story. Please.”

“Branson comes running in, and tells us Cul's found a litter of puppies in the barn, and he's been sneaking food to them. We get out there, and he's clutching this huge rat, with three more at his feet devouring a bowl of scraps he swiped from the chicken feed. Da grabs Cul away from them, shoves him into Mum, and lays into the rats with a harvesting fork. Cul's hollering for his 'Wilhelm', Bran and Rose are just screaming, Da's cussing up a storm, and Mum is hugging all her babies.”

“Maker. Your father killed them then?” Fox asked, taking a chair next to where Cullen was burying his bright red face between his arms and the table.

“One by squealing one. Then he tanned Cul's hide for letting rats in the barn and wasting chicken feed on them before sending him back in to clean the barn.” Mia sipped at her tea, smiling broadly. “You've a sweet girl here, little brother. And she makes a decent cup of tea, as well. Mum would have liked her.”

 

 

Rosalie turned up as the sun dipped lower in the sky, a well built girl in a pink wool dress, a tumble of light blond curls tied back with bright ribbons. She scrambled into the kitchen, grabbing her apron on the run to start helping her sister. With a surprised squeak, she skidded to a stop when she saw Fox in a spare apron, stirring the stew. “We got an elf? I though we couldn't afford help this year?” she asked, grabbing the bread off the counter to start cutting.

“Mind your tongue, Rose. This is Cul's Foxfire, or didn't you see him trying to fix some of the thatch out there?” Mia told her, pulling plates out of the cupboard.

“I'm just amazed Dorian hasn't given up trying to help yet. He's never really been the menial labor type. I'm Fox, and you must be Rosalie, the youngest?” Fox said, setting down the spoon to extend a hand.

“I saw someone fixing the roof, I thought Bran had gotten in early.” Rosalie took the hand, all flustered apologies, and started squealing when she saw the ring.

Mia nodded at her baby sister. “Summerday, Rose, and we're invited.”

 

 

Sometime after all the joyful squealing and hugging had finished, the women managed to get dinner out to the table. Someone cussed against the sound of splashing water out of the barrel, and the door banged open. “Mia, whose fancy frigging horses are in the stable? The one kept kicking the wall when I put ours in.” A blockier, softer version of Cullen, with ruddier cheeks and darker eyes, tramped in loudly, dropping half the leather harness he carried at the door and the other half on the table. “Andraste's flaming tits. Cullen? Did the frigging Inquisition get sick of your face already?”

“No. For some mysterious reason, I thought visiting my family might be pleasant,” he sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “And Mia asked me to bring Fox to meet all of you when I had a chance. Fox, love, this is my younger brother Branson.” Cullen reached out, tucking a loose strand of hair behind one of her long ears fondly.

“The famous Fox you keep writing about is a Maker damned elf? Oh... I wish Da had survived the blight to see this, 'cause you wouldn't be his damn favorite anymore. He used to say swiving knife ears is one thing, bringing them home is another.” Branson sprawled into a chair as Mia shoved the harness off the table with an irritated mutter.

“Father's old prejudices aside, Mistress Foxfire and I will be married on Summerday. If you can't accept her as part of the family, you don't need to attend. And if you're just going to take up where Da left off, I would prefer you not. I wanted her to meet my family before she became part of it, but whether she will is not up for debate. Mia, you and Rose are, of course, still invited.” He stared down his brother, straightening in the chair.

“You'd not only be replaced as favorite, he'd tan your hide again, near thirty or not, before he threw you off the farm.” Branson shifted his feet awkwardly under the table, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Don't get yourself in a knot, Cul. The way you've been writing about her, she must be something special if you want her that bad. I was just saying. Da would be ill pleased. Mum would just be happy you found someone that put up with you. And if you're waiting til Summerday it isn't because you knocked her up.”

 

Chapter Text

“Most Dalish I've met spend a great deal more time speaking of their culture and clans,” Zevran mused, arranging their bedrolls while his lover settled their mounts. When the grey hart was grazing quietly next to the small piebald pony in the lee of the rocky outcrop, Smoke ducked their head into the alcove.

“I suppose a great deal of them do,” they shrugged. A flick of their slender fingers lit the small campfire at the opening. “What of it?”

“I merely find myself curious why you don't. No interest in converting a stray flat ear back to the proper gods and traditions? Or am I just not worth the effort to polish up before presenting me to your clan?” Zev asked, his tone becoming more hurt than he intended.

“Oh, Banal'ras.” Smoke dropped into the pile of bedding next to the younger elf. “You are well worth the effort. I'm far less certain about my clan. If either of us meets my clan again, it means things have gone very very wrong. They are dangerous at the best of times, and I left for a reason.” They leaned over, pressing an affectionate kiss to Zev's temple.

“I was raised as an expendable assassin, among the infamous Antivan Crows, as I've told you before. Danger was our bread and butter, mi amor.” He pointed out, and Smoke chuckled. “You outclass me well enough, but not by that much.”

“You are remarkable for one of your people, Vherlin. Attractively dangerous and dangerously attractive,” they teased, kissing slowly along the smaller elf's ear until they shivered. “Also charming, clever, and so very loyal to anyone willing to prove themselves worthy of it, of you.” They cupped his face in long fingers, pulling back far enough to stare into his eyes. “I have never met someone quite like you, and I have been looking for a very long time, Banal'ras.”

“It can hardly have been such a long search, my dear Rasanis. We aren't so old as all that,” Zev laughed, even as he leaned into the other elf's touch.

“Speak for yourself. I'm older than you are, little shadow,” Smoke retorted, resting their golden marked forehead against his for a moment before tugging him down into the bedding.

When they were comfortably arranged around each other under the blankets, Zev unlaced Smoke's tunic, nuzzling into the warm skin. “In Antiva, the trees are blooming and the chill is gone from the air.” He slid his hands between wool and skin, trying to get the chill out of his fingers. Smoke sighed, but only pulled him closer, making sure the blanket covered him. “Indulge me in a tale of warmer times? Perhaps what your sister was like as a young Dalish apprentice?”

“Capricious. Mercurial but rarely cruel, even when... Once, one of her brother's... dogs nipped him, and he decided to see how far he could get skinning it alive, after he beat it within an inch of its life. She walked in on it, and told him to stop, called in a favor when he only laughed at her. Whatever dirt she had on him, he left her to it, and she took it in. She talked a cousin into giving her the last two kittens out of a litter they were drowning. Another pup knocked over a gift someone was making for her, and she convinced them the pup was better as a replacement gift than killed over the broken trinket.” Smoke snuggled in deeper, running a distracted hand over Zev's back as they stared at the fire. “Ash'ma'lin picked up dirt and secrets with everyone she healed, and usually used them to add to her collection of stray pets.”

“No one in your clan objected to any of that?” Zev ran soothing hands through Smoke's braids.

“No one willing to stay part of the clan. Myt...Mother, sometimes, if it was brought to her. Most of the clan thought Fox was overly sentimental for caring as much as she did. 'Sniveling runt', some of her siblings called her. And even Syl...Fox, if it happened out of her sight, to anything that wasn't hers, she'd usually let it go.” They shook their head, pulling away briefly as they cleared their thoughts before snuggling back. “You have a dangerous knack of getting me to answer questions, Banal'ras,” they remarked, fondly resigned. “I think you owe me something. Tell me something dangerous and true.”

“Very well, Mi amor. Of the last three people I slept with before you, I've killed two of them. One because I thought she had betrayed the Crows, and me with them. One because he knew I was betraying the Crows, because he helped me kill her.” He shut his eyes, leaning into the taller elf, fingers still buried in their braids. “There was a time I cared for both of them so much it hurt, but I only regret one of those kills.” Smoke's fingers ran down his shivering spine with a whisper of magic, and warmth began sinking back into his extremities.

“I was going to be bonded once, and I loved him. If I'd had to, I would have carved my heart out of my chest for him,” they murmured. “But he was in love with a pretty girl named Is'rana, with no interest at all in a whatever I am named Rasanis. Love enough to die for him wasn't love enough to keep living a broken lie for him.”

“He was a fool, then. Whatever you are is deadly, fascinating, damned good in a fight, and the oddest mage I have ever met.” Zev stretched, enjoying the spellwarmth before slowly licking a line up their throat. “I must admit, I have never met anyone quite like you either, and I have no intention of giving you up easily, I assure you.”

“You still have a very clever mouth, Vherlin,” they almost purred. “I suppose I could find a use for it.”

 

 

“By the standards of my people, I'm barely a mage at all. I have the mage gift, but I've never trained enough with it to account myself a full mage,” Smoke commented sometime later, slowly running slender fingers over stark black tattoos. “All elves had at least a trace of the gift once... or so they say.”

“In those fabled days, when our gods walked among us and all was paradise and peace, yes? I've met a few Dalish before, I've heard the pretty stories.” He rolled his eyes, even as he arched into the touch like an oversized cat. Next to him, Smoke stilled, coughing desperately.

“Their Clans and mine must have very different stories, if there was mention of peace and paradise,” they gasped, as they got the coughing fit under control.

“What stories do yours tell then, if you'd care to share?” he asked, tracing a puckered arrow scar along their collarbone.

“Everything Elgar'non's light touched belonged to our gods, and thus to us. We were the children of the sky, and our world was magic itself. Great trees blossomed into spires of crystal. Palaces and temples floated among the clouds, made of iridescent blue, sparkling crystal and endless gardens of perfect green. Where we deigned to live on the ground, every road was lit by columns glowing with protective runes, bright enough to find your way, soft enough you could still see the stars. But there was always war against something. Life was only paradise for the noble and the god favored, and being god favored could be a risk all of it's own...” For a moment, their attention was caught by a shiny burn scar wrapping over their wrist like a whip welt, before they refocused. “Sylaise's song, I... I'm speaking nonsense, ignore me,” they muttered, rubbing at the metallic vallaslin on their forehead and the thin tracery of scars under it.

“No more nonsense than what my mother's clan tried to sell me on,” Zev remarked with a quiet laugh, looking thoughtful. He reached out, gently brushing his fingertips against the golden marks. “You've said that getting this striking color is a clan secret, but you never did finish telling me why a clever rogue like you chose a goddess of healing.”

“Because Falon'din is an utter asshole.” Smoke snuffed the fire with a flick of a wrist. “Go to sleep, Banal'ras. If we get a good start in the morning we can get back to Skyhold by tomorrow night.”

 


 

Things started going wrong as soon as they reported back to Leliana. Smoke took one look at the message brought back from South reach, and paled. “Fenhedhis lasa!” They swore, and tore past Zevran and a few others down the rookery stairs into the painted rotunda. They stared around the empty room and carefully arranged painting supplies, still cursing quietly. “When I need the prideful ass is the moment I can't find a damned trace of him.”

“Solas went with Lyra to the Emerald Dales, to investigate more issues with the Red Templars.” Leliana called down from the top floor.

“Fenhedhis lasa,” They scrambled to their room, throwing things back into their worn leather pack as Zevran caught up. “Of course the wolf can handle keeping an eye on her, keeping her safe, she never leaves Tarasylan'telas. I leave for two weeks and he lets her go off with her pet humans, right into Nydmisa's reach.” Tossing the pack to the door, they shrugged their dark leather armor back on, checking the knives in all the half hidden sheathes.

“Should I go get our mounts resaddled?” Zev asked, leaning still armed and armored against the door. “If Leliana's messenger is right, the Commander and the mages went missing a day out of South Reach toward the forest. Whatever took out a skilled warrior and two mages is something I might like taking the squad or two she recommended along to deal with, assuming we can find where it or they are hiding.”

“No. I'm pretty sure I know exactly what and who happened to my ash'ma'lin. A squad of soldiers would just be in the way, and so would your pony. Banal'ras, remember when I said the only way we'd have to deal with any of my clan would be if things went wrong?” Smoke said, hesitating as they stared at the younger elf. “Things are going that wrong.”

“You think your clan took Fox back.” Zev guessed, assessing the look on their face.

“Full of righteous assurance that she needed rescuing. I won't take more humans into this, but Banal'ras, I'll explain more on the way if you'll come with.” Smoke still looked hesitant.

“I was worried you'd make me plead not to be left behind, Mi amor,” Zev smiled, falling into step behind the taller elf as they headed for the gardens.

 

 

A quick spell and a flicker of lockpicks, and the door opened, revealing the tall, ornate mirror. “Morrigan will have a fit that we are meddling with her magical trinket.” Zev noted, as Smoke shut the door behind them.

“We can deal with the shemlen witch's hurt feelings later. This is the nearest Eluvian I have access to, and we need to get where we're going as close to yesterday as possible.” The tall rogue snapped his fingers, staring at his hand until an amulet fell into his palm with a flicker of green light. It was golden and bright, shaped like a twist of flame, and he pressed it into the surface of the mirror. The glass swirled and cleared, Smoke extending a hand to the Antivan. “Last chance to back out, Banal'ras.”

“And stay to face the swamp witch's wrath? No, I'll take my chances with you.” Zevran reached for their hand, lacing fingers tight as he was pulled through.

 

 

He tried not to gawk at the terraces of mirrors and the odd, bright blossoming trees. He could see the floating paths stretching out into the distance, more terraces in the air above and below. The very air seemed as invigorating as a gulp of cold water, like a well brewed stamina draught.

“Welcome to one of the secrets of the ancient elves, Banal'ras.” Smoke looked amused at the younger elf's expression. “My people built this, a world unto itself, a place in between. Vir'uthaan, the Endless Way. Although I've heard it referred to lately as the Crossroads.”

“You always say that. Your people or my people, never our people, and I'm starting to suspect it isn't because I'm not Dalish.” Zev pointed out, tearing his eyes from the endless expanse of terrace filled sky to follow the other elf.

“Ir'abelas, Banal'ras Vherlin,” Smoke apologized with a sad smile. “It's difficult. The people are not what they were, when I was one of them. If I think of you, of them, as a separate people entirely, it hurts less.” They continued on, picking out their way to a particular path.

“You mentioned that you were older than I,” Zev quietly remarked. “It seems you know this place well.”

“I could walk the path back to Dru'an Sylaise in my sleep,” they sighed, still wending a twisting path through the mirrors and trees. “I did say I was older. I didn't think you'd believe how much older.”

“We've walked through a secret magic mirror into a place out of ancient tales, apparently on the way to somewhere out of another ancient tale. I find myself credible than I might otherwise be, mi amor,” the Crow remarked, sticking close to the other elf as he noticed movement in the shadows. “How dangerous is this place?” he asked, still feeling exhilarated and invigorated by every breath.

“To us? All does and baby rabbits, since most of the Eluvians remain locked. I suppose there's a chance one of the Varterral might take offence if you were here by yourself, but no other real danger, other than getting lost. Now, if you were human... this place doesn't like them much, I've heard,” Smoke mused.

“If the mirrors can be locked, what are the chances the one you're seeking will be locked against us?”

“They can't lock that one against me while I have this.” Smoke held up the flame amulet with a smile. “Not unless Sylaise herself resets it. And believe me, if she feels the need to lock me out of her temple, we have far more problems than having to backtrack through the Vir'uthaan. I was one of her High Keepers once, the smoke to her fire,” they admitted quietly, as they came in sight of a glowing mirror. “The other, her Temple First, is quite likely to take offence when we get there. We have never gotten on that well, I did not leave on good terms with her even by our standards, and bringing you won't impress her either.”

“Myself being a nigh useless flat ear, and all that lovely Dalish arrogance?” Zev sighed.

“Not in those words, ma'vherlin. It might actually be worse if you were Dalish, I suspect.” They kissed him thoroughly, wistfully, before stepping through the mirror.

Chapter Text

“Though all before me is shadow, yet the Maker shall be my guide. I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads beyond. For there is no darkness in the Maker's light, and nothing he has wrought shall be lost.
 

Dorian woke shivering, wincing at the bright, throbbing pulse of pain from the back of his skull. His shoulders ached and his wrists were abraded and raw where the rough rope bound them behind his back, and every time he tried to draw a deep breath there was a sharp, splintery burst of pain along his side. His robes were gone, leaving him in just his breeches, lying on his side with cold tile or polished stone under his skin. He tried to gather his scattered thoughts, piece together what had gone wrong from a simple pleasure ride outside the Rutherford farm.

“All the Maker has wrought is in his hand, beloved and precious to him. Where the Maker has turned his face away, is a void in all things. In the world, in the Fade, in the hearts and minds of man.” The recitation went on, the voice hoarse and unsteady somewhere in the dark behind the Tevinter Altus. “Lift me from a world of pain, judge me worthy of your endless pride. My Creator, judge me whole, find me well with your grace. Touch me with fire, that I be cleansed, tell me I have sung to your approval. For you are the fire at the heart of the world, and comfort is only yours to give.”

“Commander?” Dorian called, his voice a pained rasp. “Where... what...”

“Dorian? Maker, you're awake,” Cullen replied, still hoarse and tired. “They hit you hard, I wasn't sure...” He drew a deep, ragged breath. “They took Fox when they had us out of the way. I don't know where or why, but they mana clashed her hard, then laid some form of sleep spell on her. Nothing in here is glowing like she does under mana clash, and nothing but us is breathing.”

“Fasta vass,” Dorian hissed, and tried to gather his focus and draw on his magic. This was probably going to hurt even more, even if it worked. The ropes holding his wrists behind his back smoked and caught, slowly burning through from his skin out. He lit a hand as soon as the ropes dropped, flexing his stiff shoulders and prodding at the new burns over the abrasions the bindings had left. Deciding there was nothing to be done about those now, he lifted his hand, looking around the room.

He missed the dark immediately. Cullen was propped against the far wall, stripped of all his armor and weapons, half his face covered in drying blood out of a gash in his scalp. His arms were bound behind him as Dorian's had been, but one hung oddly from a clearly dislocated shoulder. Between them, filling the room, were corpses, all of them human except one, most of them in some form of templar armor. Three feet from the mage's feet lay a dead elf with the elaborate, split face Dalish tattoos and the raw sunburst brand of a tranquil, and Dorian suppressed a scream. Some of the dead templars at the top of the pile had small spikes of red lyrium growing out of their skin, although all of the ones here looked more human still than some the Inquisition had faced.

They were in what looked like a small antechamber, surrounded by intricately mosiaced, blood splattered walls. “Clearly, they aren't set up to properly receive visitors,” Dorian joked, carefully picking his way over to Cullen. “She isn't here with us in the closet of death, and they took care taking her down. We'll get her back, Commander.”
With difficulty, he managed to get Cullen's arm set back in its socket, using the remains of his binding as a makeshift sling. “Dorian... I'm not sure how much help I'll be with my sword arm like this. Maker damn it, if I'd still had my Templar talents, I could have...”

“Don't start that. None of us foresaw an ambush like that. I don't think any of us even saw the elves in weird armor before they hit us,” Dorian told him, a trifle snippier than he intended. With a thought to his still unfixed door back at Skyhold, he put his hand to the door and called fire until the lock melted out. “Well, I wanted to help find ancient ruins,” he muttered, staring out into the corridor.

“I think the ruins found us, Dorian.” Cullen coughed, hauling himself to his feet. “I think I'll have to try.” he rubbed his shoulder with a grimace.

“My healing is kaffas, Commander. Don't risk messing that shoulder up further until after we get to our favorite healer, understand?” Dorian stretched, estimating his reserves. “Besides, they left us with so much material for my specialty.” He gauged the most intact of the corpses, and reached to the edge of the Fade, encouraging whisps to come to him. Sunken eyes flickered with pale light, and three corpses in tattered templar armor rose, standing before the necromancer. “They'll fight for us, for a little while at least.”

 

 

Crystalline globes of light lined the ceiling, reflecting brightly over the elaborately painted walls, and the gilded flames shining everywhere. One wall was devoted to a mural of a throned female elf with hair like flame. Her hand was extended in careless benediction to the kneeling figures surrounding her, ringed with countless images of healing herbs and spun fire. Another held a fire winged dragon, rearing up to shelter the smaller creatures under it. Largest among the sheltered forms was a golden fox, fur flowing into a many tongued tail of flame. Dorian traced the lines of gilded fire, a half formed, insane idea hovering at the back of his mind. One of his corpses dropped, it's animating whisp's attention span gone and vanished back to the fade.

He pressed more magic out of his dwindling reserves, attracting another flighty whisp to the corpse and entreating the other two to stay longer. He needed them between him and anything lurking, without armored robes or a bladed staff to defend himself. Just as much to defend Cullen, who had twitched at the animated dead when they rose, but kept refraining from saying anything. At least he still had his magic, and wasn't entirely helpless when disarmed and injured. Fox would never forgive him if something happened to her lion.

 

 

One of the wall murals shifted, and his animated protectors sprouted arrows, lumbering after fast flickering elves in odd golden armor and dark cloaks. He cursed himself for not raising more, for trying to conserve magic.

“You should have stayed where we left you,” a heavily elven accented voice sighed from behind him, a curved blade pressing into the underside of his chin. Dorian flinched, glancing over to the Commander's equally precarious position. “What do we do with them now, Ashavise?” his captor asked in melodic elven, looking to a robed, staff wielding elf with golden flame vallaslin.

We should just kill them both. Spill the shemlen's blood into the dirt where it belongs and be done with it,” a dark haired elf, wearing the same markings in dark blue, hissed from the shadows.

Hush, Dhavieran. The Lady Sylaise has forbidden their deaths for now. As confused as she may be, it is not our place to gainsay her. The First will know what to do,” the robed female elf retorted.

Tevinter shemlin is a mage, burned through the ropes and the door.” another said warningly. “Unless you want to risk cracking his head open again, we don't have anywhere we can hold him right now.”

We can't kill them, but we still have those mage breaking tools the templars had. The ones they used on the little mage with Elgar'non's mark. Hard for him to magick himself free without magic, but he'd still be alive.” Dhavieran suggested, grinning wickedly.

First Nydmisa said Sylaise meant for them to be saved for a ritual later. They don't need to be in perfect shape for that,” the one manhandling Cullen said smugly from behind green tattoos.

 

The Altus felt himself shoved to his knees as some of the elves vanished back through the hidden door, and tensed, readying what magic was left to him to strike at any opening they gave him. He saw the armful of tools they came back with, but couldn't place their use. It wasn't until one of the ones in front of him moved and he saw the heated brand, the sunburst dipped in molten lyrium, that he understood. He screamed, lashing out in desperate panic, trying to get free of the restraining hands. The elves dodged the flames at his fingertips, grabbing hold of his injured wrists and pushing him back down. He flinched back from a kick that sent spiralling agony into his already cracked ribs, right into someone taking a rough handful of his hair. They shoved him back to the floor before tilting his head up for the elf still holding the brand. A furious roar from the side and some of the elves were knocked away from him. Dorian scrambling frantically to his feet.

Cullen stood between him and the golden armored elf, staring dully down at the angry sunburst burned into his palm. Dorian recoiled, swearing as he found deeper reserves in his anger, throwing a lash of fire at the elf still holding the brand. Another moved in from the side, and the necromancer tried to pull a whisp back into one of the arrow filled corpses.

A blade of golden light took the head from the elf's shoulders in a blur, golden as the light shining out of Cullen's eyes. He snarled at the elves in an echoing rumble of a voice, warning them off in the same melodic language they had used, and they scattered nervously.

“Valor?” Dorian asked, warily, stepping towards the warrior. He smiled grimly, bringing that incandescent sword up in a salute between glowing eyes. With a final flicker, the light faded, and Cullen dropped, exhausted, to his knees.

“I.. Oh.” he winced, forcing himself back up to his feet, fingers still wrapped around the hilt of a no longer glowing sword. “Maker help us,” he muttered, rubbing gingerly at his shoulder even as he hefted the sword testingly.

The mage kicked wearily at the dead elf, knocking the iron brand farther away. “I think I've seen enough of ancient elven ruins now, Commander.”

“We have to find Fox, before they decide to sacrifice her to that Sylaise of theirs. If they...” the ex- templar paled, eyes flicking back to the brand on the tiled floor. “Maker, we need to find her.” His fingers ran absently over the spun flames etched onto the hilt he held.

“Let's join the Inquisition, and go on a righteous, divinely inspired adventure. It will be so much fun. I'll learn so much as I help save the world.” Dorian grumbled as they moved on. He kept his breathing carefully shallow, holding his side protectively, warily glancing forward at the no longer limping warrior.

 


 

Fox sank from pain to darkness, coming awake alone in a strange room, throat raw from screaming, every line of lyrium still aching from the sustained manaclash. She remembered trying to keep shields up over Cullen and Dorian, threatening the oddly armed elves with death and fire if they killed her humans. She doubted it had done much good, but she would believe them alive until she stepped over their dead bodies. Gritting her teeth, she forced herself to sit up, letting her magic ease as much of her aching joints as possible.

She was in a large, well cushioned bed, covered with thick blankets of something softer than lambswool. Her armored enchanter's coat was gone, but the tunic and leggings she had been wearing were unchanged, not even unlaced. Fox let herself relax fractionally, and looked around.
The room was immense, bigger than some houses, big enough a dragon could stand unbent. To one side of the vast expanse of bed, she could see a huge, arched opening set high into the wall, open sky visible through it. To her other side, she could see piles of shiny knickknacks and trinkets, heaped without care or order. Past those, a large gilded wardrobe stood next to a white stone vanity, the top still cluttered with small jars and boxes. A glass fronted bookcase stood a little beyond them, near a plush couch and low table. Crystal lilies sat on top of an inlaid desk, glowing with the same light as the elaborate crystal vines that spiraled over the ceiling, illuminating the room.

Fox avoided it all, ignoring the itch at the back of her mind, and padded barefoot over the polished floor straight to the immense doors. Up close, she could see smaller doors inset into them, and reached for the handle. Locked from the outside, she noted sourly. Also inlaid with a spiraling design of fire resist runes that lit in opalescent patterns when she tried melting her way out. As she paced back around the room, she could see that pattern everywhere. Tiled into the floor, woven into the wall hangings and blankets, inlaid into the desk. She could throw all the flame backed tantrums she wanted without scorching a single damned rug. And that fiery vortex of anger and upset was sounding more and more tempting. If she wasn't trying to escape, the idea of protecting all her stuff from incidental damage would be pretty useful.

A few very abortive attempts to climb the tapestries to the open archway at the top of the wall later, Fox decided it was time to suck it up. Just because she'd never managed to get an avian form right before didn't mean today would not be the day. If the top of the tapestry was still out of cat jump range from where she needed to get, clearly flight was the only option unless she could become dragon sized.

She could do this. She had to do this. Her lion and Dorian were probably counting on her, locked in some horrible dungeon somewhere. Keep thinking about rescuing them, focus on absolutely, desperately needing this to work. Believe with all she had that this would work, and maybe...
A few hours later, she dropped exhausted and sore onto the plush couch. Today was not the day after all, it seemed. Stupid weird feathers and wings, how were they supposed to work?

There was a shimmering spell ward over a tray on the low table in front of her. It popped like a soap bubble as she touched it, revealing a still steaming bowl of soup and mug of tea, a small loaf of fresh, fragrant bread between them. Somehow, this clear and apparent interest in her comfort and wellbeing worried her even more than the locked door. But the soup was amazing, comforting and creamy. If it was poisoned, it was a very tasty poison, and she would deal with that possibility if it came up.
When she finished eating, she tested the still locked door again with a resigned sigh, before exploring in earnest. There was a rune set basin Sundust would fit in, and a brush of magic over the inlaid runes provided water of varying temperatures. The wardrobe was filled with a rainbow of elaborate silken creations, with a preponderance of flame and ember. All of them seemed to fit her perfectly, and that itch in the back of her mind had returned.

The stool at the vanity was the perfect height, and she leaned forward, staring at her reflection in the etched mirror. Everything smelled of rose and lavender and chamomile, the way she liked it, with traces of oakmoss and other flowers. Everything she would have asked for if she designed her own room with an endless budget was here, in the middle of ancient stonework and magic. That itchy feeling in her mind was overwhelming.

Mirrors. Smoke in the mirror had worn golden armor, embossed with flames. Armor like what the elves that ambushed them, oddly tall like him, had worn. That damn flame motif was everywhere in the room, she mused, and restrained the urge to throw one of the silver brushes at the mirror before her, just to destroy something.
With a sigh, she closed her eyes, filtering out all the irritation, worry, all the little skittering thoughts. She didn't trance fully into the Fade without actual sleep often, preferring to slide in on a dream, but... She opened her eyes again, staring into the flame edged mirror with the spiderweb of cracks. Fox laid her hand flat on the surface, matched to the unbranded palm on the other side.

“What are you?” she asked, staring into amused aquamarine eyes. “Who are we really?” The reflection of her past stayed silent, and she laid her other hand up against the surface as well. “Healing fire and cleansing flame, Cole said.” She leaned forward, pressing her weight against the center of the cracks. “They sang my praises, and it was never quite enough. I fell to madness and anger. We all fell, and we were bringing everything down with us. Until he tricked us behind the mirrors and veiled the way back. Locked away as long as we were ourselves.” Pressing harder, she felt the edges of the cracks splintering a little under her palms.
“Sylaise, whose fire cannot be quenched,” she whispered, and heard her reflection echo it. The last of the splintering glass melted away under her fingers, and she tumbled forward into herself.

She felt more than the click as the collar came loose, the leashkey falling from her hair. They clattered to the floor, the color of her eyes fading from the clear stones set into the silver bands. Sylaise Foxfire sat at her mirror, shaking with barely repressed anger. Locked in her own damn room with a bit of dinner like a misbehaving child? Someone was going to pay for this, for all of this. For the lies, the humiliation, the indignity.

Stalking over to the garden arch, she reached for the wings of an Evanuris, and let herself out and up. Someone in her temple, likely several someones, needed to be reintroduced to her claws.

Chapter Text

The elves weren't fighting them anymore, Dorian realized through the haze of exhaustion. It felt more like the humans were being herded through the ornate halls. He could still hear voices ahead, could make out just a scattering of words here and there. Shemlen was referring to them most likely. Something about fire and firsts, mentions of their goddess Sylaise and someone else chiming in about death and blood. Never a good sign, that. The little things you pick up from friends, he thought. With a flicker of worry, he sent a thought to the Maker, hoping Fox was okay.

Cullen seemed to be over his brief moments of tranquility and possession, wielding his new sword like it was part of him. Tired, worried, still covered in too much of his own blood from the gash in his scalp, but himself. The mage caught a quick glance of the brand over the Commander's palm, and shuddered. No matter how today ended, he owed that man an eternal debt of gratitude for that, for saving him from one of a mage's greatest fears.

The last set of double doors opened before them, leading them into a grand chamber. Somewhere between throne room and temple hall, a large, cushioned chair set on top of an altar like dais. Sprawled over that chair with an insolent smirk was a tall female elf in elaborate robes. Dozens of armored elves ringed the chamber with arrows nocked, drawn, and pointed straight at them, backed by more with staves and loose robes over the armor. A broad shouldered elf stood next to the throne, leaning on a massive spiked maul, looking annoyed and uncertain.

“You are becoming irritating, Shemlen. You have damaged our temple, killed some of my most loyal fighters, and disrupted delicate preparations for the ritual to free our Blessed Sylaise from her bindings.” The robed female drawled, not even bothering to look at them. “You stand before Nydmisa, High Keeper and First of Sylaise's greatest temple. Kneel or die.” The maul wielding elf next to her rubbed the golden vallaslin that matched hers in clear frustration, leaning over to hiss something in quiet elven that she waved off irritably. “She said we weren't to kill them, Doshiel. They don't need to die to bleed enough for the ritual, and she'll rescind the order as soon as she's herself and less confused. Assuming she didn't just mean she wanted to kill them herself to begin with.” The elf she spoke to caught himself halfway through rolling his eyes, leaning back on his weapon.

I wouldn't count on that, Nydmisa.” an alto voice the humans knew remarked from the corridor behind the dais. Smoke strolled out, Zevran at their heels, muttering Sentinels parting before them. “We have never been friends but please believe me, this will not end well for you.”

“Rasanis. You would dare come back here, after all this time? Get out of my temple, go back to those short lived little scavengers you left us for, and take your little pet with you.” The temple first looked outraged at the dark armored elf's arrival. “Leave now, and I won't...” A furious roar echoed through the temple, ringing from the open ceiling above the audience hall. Rasanis took a step back, and Nydmisa shot him a triumphant glare, laughing ecstatically. “Apparently the ritual has proven unnecessary.” She sat up in the center of the throne, raising her hands to the sky. “Sylaise, whose heat rival's Elgar'nan's light. Sylaise, whose temples rival Mythal's cities. Sylaise, whose breath rivals Andruil's spear. Sylaise, whose skill rivals June's craft. Sylaise, whose fire cannot be quenched, we give ourselves gladly to your service!” she chanted, many of the other elves joining in. “Return to us, Blessed Sylaise!”

A high dragon landed at the edge of the ceiling with a slightly clumsy backwing, snarling down. It was slightly smaller than some Dorian had faced with the Inquisition, making it still far too large for comfort. It dropped gracefully down to the tiled floor, tail lashing like a furious cat, wings furling tightly against its spined back. Almost as one, the elves dropped to their knees, putting their weapons away as the elegant beast turned furious aquamarine eyes on them. Behind the Altus, Cullen made a brief choking noise, and snorted.

“We make offering of these interlopers to you, Blessed One! Devour them, that your glory may be restored!” Nydmisa cried, gesturing wide as she leaned back into the throne. The dragon lifted it's head, blowing an aggravated line of blue and gold fire. It took a step forward, looming over the humans, the expanse of translucent membraned wings flaring out dramatically.

Cullen set down his sword and stepped forward fearlessly, ignoring Dorian's spluttered curses. That great head focused on him, opening wide enough to display a large amount of dagger like shiny teeth. It roared again, close enough to ruffle his tangled curls, snapping those deadly teeth together inches from his face. When he didn't react with more than a tensing of his spine, it sniffed at him, wings furling back as he pressed a palm between it's flaring nostrils. The tip of it's tongue slid out between those teeth, caressing him from chin to brow, flicking back in surprise as it met the half dried blood on his forehead. “We will be fine, I think. Dorian, stop panicking and actually look at the dragon.”

“What do you mean, look at the dragon? It's bigger than some houses, I can't see anything but the drag...” he stopped mid tirade. White scaled, aquamarine eyed dragon, with silver blue swirling marks that looked so much like familiar lyrium brands. “Vishante Kaffas.” She knocked Cullen back with a slightly over enthusiastic nuzzle, and swung its head over to him. A brief snuffle at his hair later, he had dragon spit in his mustache, and both of them were cupped under her wings while she glowered at the surrounding elves.

Most of the Sentinels backed away, groveling, and blue green reptilian eyes focused on the three golden marked elves by the dais. “You're still in her chair, oh mighty Temple First,” Smoke remarked, stepping farther back and bowing low.

“Oh, I will deal with you as well,” Someone that looked a great deal like Fox hissed in an icy tone, shifting back in a flare of light. “Esa'ma'lin.” She strode forward, her long hair a mass of flickering fire, sparked with tendrils of blue and white. Her robes were embers that flowed like silk, making the flamboyance of her Winter Palace costume seem tawdry, and her eyes burned like blue fire in the dim lit room. “But dear Rasanis has a point. As very sweet as it is that you decided to keep my throne warm for me, Nydmisa...” The tall elven woman scrambled out of the deep graven chair, eyes wide, a spiral surfaced orb falling out of her robes in her haste. The flame haired Evanuris twitched a finger, catching the sphere as it leapt to her hand, and frowned at her First, who crawled to her feet, abasing herself. “Nydmisa, what have you been up to?” Sylaise asked softly, incredulously, cradling the focus in the crook of her elbow. “Sitting in my throne, playing with my toys, toying with my sentinels. Not what I expected of my sensible Temple First. And now, to send shadows to ambush me, hurt my humans.” She looked up, looking pointedly around at the kneeling Sentinals, who all dropped their eyes in respect and shame. “Trying to lock me in my own room? What was in your head?”

“I sought only to restore your glory, Blessed Sylaise. The humans had collared you, demeaned you. I thought it only fitting to use them to break the last of the Dread Wolf's bindings. Rasanis would have left you to them, let you waste away in service to those not fit to scrub your temple floors.” The First reached out, trying to kiss the smoldering edge of her goddess's robes.

She bound herself, with Hope helping, to become enough not herself to get back through his prison. And her bindings would always have broken in the fullness of time. To hurry a hatching egg is to harm it irreparably, to push a fledgling too soon from the nest will only break it's wings against the ground.” Smoke said, snarling at the other High Keeper. “If you had listened to me to begin with, we might have retrieved her from the Tevinters right after they found her wandering the Arlathan forest. She could have grown up here, with those who cared most for her, until she was ready to take back her divinity. Instead...”

Sylaise held up a finger, and Smoke fell silent, dropping to their knees. “Instead, I have walked the world and seen the plight of my people for myself.” She walked past them, dropping into her throne to regard the rest of the room regally.

“Lady Sylaise, you have slept so long, you are confused, still. Your other temples have fallen, all of your people are here, now. But we are eager to serve.” Nydmisa crooned, clinging to the hem of her robes.

“No, Nydmisa. That my people have been broken does not make them any less my people. They are still elves, and they are still my responsibility.” Sylaise retorted. Smoke glanced up, a conflicted hope in their expression, and the Evanuris ignored them. “Doshiel?” the maul wielding elf stepped forward, going to one knee before her. “You know the younger Sentinels better than I, my wanderer. Think over them, who you would send out to shepherd the lost and broken. The healers, the protectors, the silver tongued. Those who would thrive being outside the temple.” She held up a hand before he could answer. “I'd like a list of names in a few days. In the meantime, send someone out to collect the mounts the humans and I had when we were ambushed, and bring us our gear. With replacements if needed.”

“I will not fail you, Lady Sylaise. Ir'abelas, that I did not stop them from stepping out of line.” Doshiel told her solemnly.

“Tel'abelas, my loyal wanderer. You have never failed me. Ir'abelas that I left them in charge of you.” She smiled at him. He nodded, looking proud, and strode into the ranks, pulling a few elves aside to issue quiet instructions. “Ma' vheraan, ma' falon, I'm sorry to make you wait.” She laid a hand over the massive bruise across Dorian's side when he was within reach, and he felt a dull popping sensation before the pain eased.

“Broken or just cracked,” he wheezed, taking his first deep breath in a while.

“Several cracked, a couple broken.” She reached up, clearing the throbbing pain from the back of his head. “I don't suppose you caught the name of whoever kicked you like that?”

“We didn't get around to exchanging pleasantries,” he shrugged, and leaned against the side of her throne. A short distance from his feet, Nydmisa tensed, glaring at the Tevinter as she opened her mouth.

“Nydmisa, Sit. Stay.” Sylaise snapped her fingers and gestured at a spot a little further back. “Pity, Iseratha'lan. It would have been very nice to know who else I have to deal with today. Since no matter what my First had to add, I specifically said not to hurt my humans.” She glanced around her kneeling Sentinels again, making mental note of the ones especially eager not to meet her eyes, and stood to check the still sluggishly bleeding gash over Cullen's temple. “Cul, I...” She bit at her lip, hand still in his hair.

“A goddess of fire after all,” he whispered. “Fox, we both knew there were pieces of your past outside your memory. We just didn't know how much.” Cullen hesitated a moment, brushing his thumb over her cheek. “And I think part of me always knew you were too good for me.”

Sylaise caught his hand before he could pull it back. “No, my lion. I'm not... Do you still trust me?” She ran her fingers over the raw, burnt sunburst over his palm, frowning at it as the angry red faded to a shiny scar.

“With my life and all of my heart,” he answered, watching her eyes fade back to her usual blue green. She laced her fingers with his, flames spinning into a cord that looped around their wrists.

“I refuse to lose you to this. My hearth is yours, my bread is yours, my life is yours.” she told him. “My beacon and my shield, my foundation and my sword,” she added, and he smiled.

“You are the fire at the heart of my world, and comfort is only yours to give,” He smiled, and the cords tightened, smoldering slightly into their skin. “I love you, I will always love you, whatever name you claim.”

“All this is yours. Join me in heaven, and sorrow no more.” She kissed him, and the cords sank into their wrists, warmth spiraling up their forearms. “Ma vhenan, ar lath bellanaris.” Cullen opened his eyes, and stared at the golden flames vining up and around their still linked forearms, a tiny sword of mercy just visible at the inside of each of their wrists. It was warmer than the moment Valor had pulled him back, and gentler. He could feel her, even when he let go of her hand, a softer, sweeter version of the way he could sense her when he still wore the leashkey, without any of the sense of control. “I name you my consort and first of my champions, Amatus. He is to be obeyed as I am.”

“No. No, I won't stand for this! This isn't you!” Nydmisa snarled, her fingers moving in a spell, staring wild eyed at her goddess standing between the humans. “If I must resort to the ritual I will!”

The smite took her off her feet in a flare of white light, an arrow that would have sank between her ribs piercing her shoulder instead. Cullen blinked at his hand, flexing his fingers in surprise. “Its been a while since I could do that.” He murmured. With a smile, he brushed white light over the the brands in Fox's forearm, watching her shiver and lean into it, the fire falling out of her hair. She grinned at him, pushing a tangled strand back out of her face as it sparked slightly.

“Cul, ma'vheraan, sit down a moment. I need to deal with this.” Foxfire cupped his cheek for a moment, tugging him further up the dais and onto her throne. She kissed him again, then turned, flexing her neck as she stared down at her First, hair flickering fully back to flame.

 

Chapter Text

"Nydmisa, this is not how I wanted to begin again here," Sylaise sighed, kneeling over her fallen first and wrapping slender fingers around the arrow in her shoulder. "What was in your head? You never would have dared speak so far out of turn before, let alone raise your hand to me or mine." With a sharp tug, she pulled the arrow back, running a nail along the wound and watching the bleeding stop in its passage. "Was I that much more fearsome and imperious?"

"Lady, Blessed Sylaise, I swear, I meant only the best for you, only your best interests. Whatever they have done to you, however they have bound you, I can find a way to fix it." The temple first begged, struggling back to her knees.

"I suppose I should blame myself. If you think any of what you have done since I was trapped is acceptable, I erred greatly at some point, I fear." Sylaise traced slowly over her High Keeper's golden vallaslin, her expression pensive.  Doshiel smothered an indignant snort from behind her, hands white knuckled around his maul. Sylaise glanced back at him momentarily, the edge of a smile flickering at the corner of her mouth, then returned to solemnly eyeing her sullenly recalcitrant follower. "The world has changed, Nydmisa. I must change with it, or we will end up worse than we were. But I cannot have one of mine so likely to turn on me."  She brushed her hand over the markings again, and they peeled away into mist, leaving thin, bleeding lines in their wake. "Take your life and freedom as a gift, and leave."

"Where am I supposed to go? Do you expect me to scrounge a living among those magicless scavengers that call themselves elves?" Nydmisa spluttered indignantly. “Those broken shadows with false vallaslin?”

"I really don't care anymore. You are no longer my problem. Leave, before I change my mind about killing you." Sylaise rose, pointedly turning her back on her former first and examining the arrow she still held. Behind her, the Sentinel mage struggled to her feet, looking around the room frantically, trying to find anyone even willing to meet her eyes.  All she could see was Rasanis smirking at her from behind the throne, and she found herself slinking from the room, hands fisted at her sides. One of the warriors opened the door just far enough as she reached it.

When she heard the door click shut behind her erstwhile follower, Sylaise lifted the arrow she had been studying, looking around at her gathered Sentinels. One of the younger archers hesitantly stepped forward, bow still slung over her shoulder, and dropped to a knee respectfully. “Fast thinking, good reflexes,” the Evanuris congratulated her, studying her face and dark green vallaslin. “I don’t know you yet, do I?”

“I… I am called Ashvalla, Blessed Sylaise.” the Sentinel explained in an over awed tone. “I was born after the Fall. We give ourselves gladly into your service, Blessed Sylaise.”

Sylaise winced a little, spending a moment searching the room for familiar faces before looking back to the young archer. “Well, Ashvalla, you did well. Consider yourself promoted to first of my archers for your actions.” She smiled ruefully at Ashvalla’s restrained squeak, running her fingers along the line of her vallaslin as it shifted to shimmering gold.  “Doshiel, Ashavise. Do either of you have any objection to my orders?”

“Never, Lady Sylaise.” Doshiel answered swiftly as he stepped forward, leaning on his maul as he went to one knee. “Do you wish us to craft armor to fit your new Champion?,” he asked, glancing respectfully at the broad shouldered Commander sitting on the throne. The elven mage kneeling next to him scoffed quietly, though she didn’t raise her eyes from the floor.

“See what you can find of the gear we had when we came first. We’ll discuss proper armor for him when things are more settled, and thank you, Doshiel. Ashavise?” Sylaise pressed, turning to the kneeling mage with traces of blood on the hems of her pale robes.

“To hear is to obey, Blessed Sylaise. I will of course do as I am directed.” Ashavise answered through her teeth.

“Good enough. Seethe a little more discreetly, if you don’t mind. Go with whoever gets sent out to fetch our mounts, and make sure they get back safe. Someone else send to the kitchens, if Evuniel has roused, and have something sent up, while someone prepares a room for ma’falon.” She instructed, gesturing to Dorian, still leaning against the throne. “And I’m certain the rest of you can find duties that don’t involve attempts to lock me in my room.” She strode back to the throne, where Cullen tugged her gently up onto his lap. “Not you, Rasanis.” she stopped them, tucking her feet up and arranging herself more comfortably. “You stay here.”

Smoke arranged themselves on one knee, directly in front of the dais. “Before you turn me into bone ash for the gardens, may I say how wonderful it is to have you back, oh Keeper of the eternal Flame?” they asked, keeping their eyes fixed to the floor.

“You lied to me. You deliberately misled me, and further took every opportunity to be an obnoxious ass, Smoke to my fire. Give me a reason not to kill you out of hand,” Sylaise announced, staring down imperiously.

“If you kill me, you have to train my replacement?” they pointed out, risking a quick glance upward and relaxing fractionally at the quirk of her lip.

“True. Breaking in new servants is always such a hassle,” she agreed, her eyes flicking to Ashvalla as the archer lingered, still awestruck, in the doorway. “On the other hand, Andruil used to say servants should be replaced at least once a millenia, to keep them from getting too familiar.” She leaned farther over an armrest, examining her nails.

“Yes, but you hate your sister, because she’s an arrow happy bitch.” They looked up at her through the fringe of their hair, trying for an appealing grin.

“It might have saved me effort if I’d let her kill you for calling her that to her face, you realize.” She shook her head, smiling down at them.

“She called you a sniveling runt first, and stopping her killing me gave you a reason to set her on fire again. Besides, you love me, I’m your favorite!” Smoke grinned  widely up at her, finding themselves back on familiar ground.

“Love is a very strong word, Smoke to my fire,” she remarked dryly. “I could dismiss you like I did Nydmisa, turn you back loose into the world.”

“That is very hurtful. The very idea pains me to the bone. How would I ever survive in this cruel, harsh world without your perfect, divine love?” They batted their silver eyes at her in patently false sorrow, sparing a reassuring grin past the throne at the waiting Zevran.

“I’ve heard not deliberately provoking Evanuris tends to improve survival odds dramatically.”  She commented idly.

“But where’s the fun in that, oh great goddess who will one day murder me gruesomely?”  They popped their shoulders ostentatiously, shifting to sit cross legged at the foot of the dais.

“What was I thinking? How could self preservation possibly compare to calling my sister a bitch to her face?” she snorted. “You should probably go make sure Nydmisa hasn’t totally destroyed your room, maybe give your Zevran the grand tour, since you brought him along.”

“That does sound like a good idea. Nydmisa is going to cause all kinds of problems, you realize . Ashavise might cause even more .” Smoke remarked, slipping into elven.

I’m aware, but I didn’t want to resume my reign with public executions. How involved were they with this side of my return, with that ritual she mentioned? Could either of them work to bring one of my siblings back if they made it to one of the other temples? ” She answered in kind, pensively nibbling at her lip.

Involved enough. I think, given their disappointment with your new policies, that will be the first thing they try. I’ll send some of the shadows I trust to keep silent out with the groups looking for your horses, have them make sure the exile has an accident before she makes it out of the forest. As for your new mage First? ” Smoke replied diffidently, still seated at the foot of the throne.

Have her watched, remove her quietly if she starts to do anything but seethe. If she can prove her loyalty still lies with me after all, so much the better. If not, we’ll still have plausible distance between their deaths, and time to select her replacement. Eliminating both the mage first and second in a day causes problems, and Doshiel is having enough dumped on his sturdy shoulders today.  But keep an ear out for any that seem too sympathetic to their side. Anyone discontented enough to speak out more openly in threat to my humans, deal with as you see fit, and get me the names of any survivors of the group that were ‘dealing’ with Cullen and Dorian, other than Ashavise. ” She added, drumming her fingers against the stone armrest.

To hear is to obey, my dear lady. What of any stupid enough to speak against you ?” Smoke noted the incredulous look on her face and chuckled. “ Your policy about the line between griping and dissent remains then, with acting against you staying its own punishment .”

My humans are mortal, more or less. Vulnerable in a way I have never been, the time before I awoke aside . I can handle myself, esa’ma’lin, as always. Go find a dark corner to celebrate with your little shadow in, I’ll see you both tomorrow.” She flicked a hand dismissively at them.

Smoke gracefully rose back to their feet, bowing flamboyantly. Halfway to the door, with Zevran tailing them, they stopped short, looking back at the Lady they served. “You...Uh, I notice you never actually contradicted the whole going to murder me someday idea.”

Sylaise didn’t bother looking back up from her careful study of Cullen’s branded palm at her second. “It’s good to notice things, Smoke to my Fire. Send Doshiel back to me if you run into him.” They swallowed, then tugged their lover out of the room with them.  The moment Foxfire was left alone in the great hall with the humans, she heaved a sigh, slumping back against Cullen’s chest. “It has been a very long day. I imagine it has been even worse for the pair of you.” She tilted her head back to rest it on his shoulder, fingers still running restlessly over his palm.

“The one directly responsible for that ended up without a head, if you wondered.” Dorian leaned forward, toying curiously with a lock of her hair as it dimmed into flickering sparks. “Fascinating trick, this.”

“Oh? Good. At least that spares me the temptation of handing the culprit over to Ghila’non and suggesting I need new boots .” the healer muttered, mostly to herself, drowsily watching the Altus play with the heatless sparks at the end of her hair. “Do you want to start asking the questions flitting through that clever mind of yours now, Ma’falon, or wait until tomorrow, when we’ve all had a chance for food and rest?”

“ My head throbs, my wrists are still sore, I’m famished and I couldn’t cast so much as a candle lighting spell, let alone deal with the sort of inquiry this situation calls for.” Dorian shrugged, still leaning against the throne, holding the dimly sparkling ends of her hair. “Morning should be soon enough, little fox, if I can still call you that.”

“Always, Dor. One of the Sentinels trying to play at silent and invisible behind a barely cracked door should be able to lead you to a room with a bed and a bath, and someone else should bring you a tray of food up. There might even be peeled grapes.” She reached up, affectionately flicking a bit of dried blood out of his hair. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

“You hate boots.” Cullen remarked quietly when the door closed behind the necromancer, a touch of brighter gold flickering in his eyes. “Who’s Ghila’non?”

“A nightmare I shouldn’t invoke, even in empty threat.” More of her hair dimmed, and she laced her fingers with his. “How long has Valor been translating for you?”

“A little while. Its blending in, fuzzy. I really should be terrified at the idea of being possessed, frantic to free myself. I should reject the very idea of who they claim you are, but… I just feel warmer, braver. Like i could take on Corypheus and his archdemon myself, with my shield arm bound.”  He pressed a soft kiss to her forehead, tucking his free arm under her knees.

“There is a line between valor and suicidal recklessness, ma’vhenan. One you and Valor both have a long history of trouble seeing.” Fox sighed, staring up at the ceiling. “Perhaps I should never have introduced you two, but… I never imagined this as an outcome.”

“You can watch that line for us. We will be fine. You named us your Champion, and we will protect you.” His eyes went solid gold for a moment as he spoke, and she traced up along the flames on his arm.

“You’re too well aligned to separate, I fear, already merging. I’m trying very hard to see this as an amplification of who you both were, rather than losing both of you, but… Oh, amatus. I don’t know what to do,” she whispered, sliding off his lap. He caught her wrist, pressing a kiss to the inside of her wrist, right over the etched sword of mercy.

“We will get through this, I swear. I love you,  Valor loves you, if on different terms.. As long as we are together, we can get through this.” He stood as well, resting his forehead against hers.

“We’ll have to stay here for at least a few days, while I get a few things straightened out here. While you and Valor get settled enough that we can go home.” Fox suggested, looking out at the hall. “Eventually… I’ll have to come back here, but I think I can delegate enough to delay it for a  year, depending.”

“No chance of you setting it back the way it was before they found you again?” Cullen asked, but shook his head, even as he saw her expression. “Forgive me. I know you wouldn’t willingly abandon this level of duty.”

Fox scooped up the orb she had taken from her former first, cradling it against her side as she laced the fingers of her other hand with his. “If it wasn’t for Corypheus, for the duties I already agreed to with the Inquisition, I wouldn’t leave here. There is so much to restore, so much I need to turn back to its proper use. Even I don’t know where to start with much of what will need to be done, but…” She looked around at the weathered ruins, the broken tiles, and sighed. “We’ll pick up the pieces, fix what we can, and find a way to begin again, I suppose. Tomorrow.” She started walking back down the familiar hallways, Cullen at her heels.

Despite managing to stroll through the increasing opulence of the halls in silence, he still whistled as she opened the doors to her quarters. “I think we could almost fit the farmhouse in this room.”

“It does have to fit me in dragon form, amatus,” she offered, a trifle embarrassed. “It was a different time…”

“I think that bed almost fits your dragon form, love. You always did like sparkly things,” he teased, gesturing at the piles of trinkets along the walls.  

“Come over here and let me get the blood out of your hair, then criticise my decor,” she retorted, tugging him over to the large stone basin. He willingly stepped into the steaming water it filled with, leaning back into her as she gently scrubbed the blood and filth of the last day back out of his hair, off his skin.  “It does seem improved from when I woke. Although if I find the door locked again when we get out of the water, I will be very irate.”

“I pity anyone who would try that, after the scene in the Hall,” Cullen murmured. “You terrified Dorian when you came in through the ceiling. It took him a moment to recognize you under the scales.”

“It took me a little to recognize the two of you. Dragons don’t see the world like we do, and I was already upset when I shifted. I was terrified they had killed you, even after I remembered who I was, after I finally shattered the mirror in my mind.”  She leaned over to kiss his forehead, ignoring how waterlogged her robes were becoming where her legs dangled into the bath.

“I admit, I’m not used to architecture built to accommodate dragons,” he shrugged, staring up at the skylight like dragon door at the top of the wall. “Are all the temples to your family built on this scale?”

“At least in the areas we tended to use. It’s very dramatic, landing in front of a room of petitioners.” Fox idly kicked a small splash of water at him, and he caught her ankle. “There was a reason we kept the ability to to take that shape as a divine privilege, I suppose.”  The door swung open quietly, and Cullen sank self consciously deeper into the soapy water as Doshiel stepped in.

“Rasanis said you had asked for me, my lady?” The tall elf asked diffidently. Fox smiled over at him with a nod, and he opened the door farther. “Evuniel has roused, and is setting the kitchens back into his preferred order. He apologizes for the poor food he is forced to send you and your guests on such short notice.”  A pair of elves in matched livery, perfect mirrors of each other down to the parts in their ink black hair, followed him in, carrying trays to the table.

“Meaning it isn’t quite fit for a high banquet, knowing him. I’m sure we will enjoy every bite, so please convey my thanks to his kitchen.” She laughed, still calf deep in the water, and smiled brightly at the other two. “Soot, Smudge, I am very pleased not to have lost either of you.”

They tipped their heads to the side like confused dogs in still mirrored motions, long ears flicking back and forward, then smiled shyly at her. “We live to serve you, Blessed Sylaise. We are honored that you remember such humble servants as us. Do you  or your Honored Champion Consort have any other requests for us?”

“Not at the moment. You did a wonderful job setting my room back into order after so long, and I am grateful for your continued service.” She assured them, and they bowed, leaving with barely audible footfalls. “Doshiel, I’m sorry that all this is getting dropped onto your shoulders all at once. Unfortunately, you’re the most reliable one left. Rasanis is trustworthy, but…”

“But setting them in charge of the temple is asking for mutiny. I understand, Lady Sylaise. Nydmisa had me running everything but the mages the moment we realized you were gone, so it isn’t as much added work as it sounds.” The warrior glanced at Cullen’s attempts to hide as much of himself in the bath as possible, and restrained a small smile. “Your new archer First, Ashvalla, is a clever girl, and she’ll manage her side of things well once she has a chance to settle in.She might even stop groveling in a decade or so. Rasanis already has his shadow scouts on their way out to find your mounts. My warriors won’t step out of line again, or I’ll know why. Your mages… Their new First...”

“I’m aware how far Ashavise stepped out of line as Nydmisa’s second, as is Smoke. When you get me the list of names I asked for, I would appreciate the name of a good second for her. One you, Ashvalla, Evuniel, and Smoke could work well with as a First, just in case.”  

Fox flicked a hand idly, and Doshiel nodded, swallowing. “I understand, my lady. If there is nothing else, I’ll leave you to your dinner.”

“I think we’ll be alright. I’ll see you in the morning, and we can start straightening out this mess.” She smiled sweetly, and the tall elf bowed out of the room.

“The two with the trays…” Cullen finally pulled himself back out of the water, grabbing a towel out of a concealed nook.

“Soot and Smudge?. I am aware they can come off as unnerving. They…. It’s a long story, Cul. Ask me again later.”  Fox sprawled over her bed, lifting the soft blankets in invitation.

Chapter Text

Dorian stretched, waking in more luxury than he had had since he left Tevinter, feeling the welcome sensation of his magic bubbling under his skin.  There hadn’t been peeled grapes on the tray on food left for him, but it had been delicious regardless, and the basin of hot water waiting in the room for him had rivaled the one at the WInter Palace.  An echo of a conversation once had on the road with Solas came to him, and he sighed. The apostate had had a point. As magical as this lingering fragment of ancient elven history was, it decidedly paralleled early Tevinter history.  The way most of the elves had clearly expected Fox to start killing them out of hand for angering her…

But she hadn’t, because no matter what she had been, no matter what this Sylaise had  done, she was still their Fox. Gentle, sweet Fox, who spent most of her time in an infirmary with a spirit of compassion. She might have a bit of a temper if those she cared about were threatened, but she never went out of her way to hurt people.

He heard the door to his room shut quietly, and looked up, to find a pair of pale elves staring at him with almost solid black eyes, holding a pitcher of water and a folded towel.  “Favored- friend to the Blessed Sylaise is awake?” they asked together, long ears flattening back against their dark hair.

“Well, I’m awake now,” he muttered under his breath. “Yes, thank you,” he said louder, gingerly reaching out for the water, setting it on a table before he took the towel, and the light tunic folded under it.  They were still staring at him with a rather expectant air, ears slowly tilting forward at him. “Was there something else?”

“Breakfast is set for the Favored Friend and the Honored Consort in the smaller Dining Hall. Blessed Sylaise is in a meeting with the High Keepers, and will join them when she can.” They informed him, unblinkingly.

Dorian washed his face and tossed on the tunic they had brought, skin crawling a bit under their patient but implacable gaze, before letting them lead him to the room. Cullen was already there, picking at a plate of food. The Altus sat next to him, glancing around to realize the mirrored elves had vanished, without even a sound. “And that isn’t creepy at all,” he grumbled, filling a plate.

“I met them last night. Creepy might be an understatement,” the other human shrugged.

“The twins?” Doshiel strode in, carrying an armload of familiar gear instead of his maul.“They… Soot and Smudge are a long story.”

“That’s exactly what Fox said last night. Er, Lady Sylaise.” Cullen commented, looking up with interest.

“Honored Consort, I am aware that the Lady goes by Foxfire when she isn’t being formal, when she’s among friends.” The armored elf dropped the pile of gear on other side of the table from the platters of food. “I’m to let you know her meeting with the rest of the High Keepers unearthed a number of problems more urgent than she expected, and she’s likely to be caught up fixing things until dinner. She asked me to deliver what of your possessions we managed to salvage, and show you around a bit, with the option to pry Rasanis out of their bed and make them do it instead.”  

“Easier to just do it yourself?” Dorian asked, snorting at the thought. “Your name is Doshiel, right?”

“Clearly, you have met Rasanis,” the warrior chuckled, running a hand through there short cropped auburn hair. “But yes. Doshiel, First of her warriors, and her Champion until last night. And apparently soon to be the Temple First, unless I can find someone else to take the job.”

“Lord Dorian Pavus, an Altus of Tevinter.” Dorian introduced himself, offering a hand. “And this is Cullen Rutherford, Commander of the Inquisition. Assuming you’d like names for us other than Favored Friend and Honored Consort.”

Doshiel shook the offered hand. “It’s good to meet you. Rasanis suggested last night that the two of you are at least partly responsible for the Lady’s um… improved good humor.”  He shifted a bit, as Cullen pulled out a chair for him. “Ours was always the best of the Evanuris, not that I’d be biased, but… What Nydmisa and her faction pulled was treason. She deliberately worked against our lady, intentionally miscommunicated her orders about you. That neither of you ended up dead was more luck than plan. There was a time when it would have meant death, not only for the ones involved, but for everyone who might have known and didn’t stop it. The great hall would have been filled with ash.” He dropped heavily into the chair, pouring himself some juice.

“If that’s the response you expected from her, how bad would it have been with the gods you wouldn’t call the best?”  Dorian asked, looking thoughtful.

“Evanuris.” Doshiel corrected absently. “Well, I was about to be killed for tripping into and breaking one of Lord June’s projects when I was 8 or so, for perspective. Luckily, it was intended as a present for Lady Sylaise, and she talked him into giving her me instead.” Doshiel shrugged. “Rasanis was one of Lord Falon’din’s, beaten near to death before our lady took them on. Although I hold that it is entirely possible they might have deserved it for something.” He drummed his fingers briefly on the table, sipping at his juice. “Lady Andruil routinely selected one of her Sentinels to use as target practice when she was bored, and once tried to take a skinning knife to a young server who spilled her soup at a party. Luckily, it was here, and our lady took immediate offense to anyone else meddling with her people.  Lord Elgar’nan turned people to ash for being in his way. Nothing Lord Dirthamen did ever left his temple, and as for Ghila’non…” He shuddered, reaching for his cup again.

“Fox mentioned that name, said it was a nightmare not to be invoked when I asked.” Cullen remarked, reaching over the table to pick his armor out of the pile.

“Mother of Monsters, though she traded the lives of most of her creations for her ascension. Her people were just more fuel for her experiments, more things for her to twist to her whims. You mentioned the twins? They were part of what she termed a failed experiment, one she was putting down the remnants of when Lady Sylaise visited her.  The last survivors of something more hive mind than not, who felt, and remember feeling the others drown, one by one. They are devoted to our lady, but…”

“But they’re creepy.” Dorian commented, and Doshiel shrugged noncommittally.

When the humans had finished eating, the stocky sentinel rose, watching them sort out the last of their gear. “Would either you two still like the tour I was told to offer? If nothing else, it should let you find your way a little better without being escorted or fetched.”

 

“I probably should have warned you about this. He practically lives in the library at Skyhold.” Cullen remarked, as they watched the Altus explore the vast cavern of a room. He seemed oblivious to them, running lingering fingers over the endless gilded bindings.

“It has occurred to him that all of this is written in really old elvhen,right. Can he even read any of it?” Doshiel asked, shaking his head.

“I am capable of figuring it out. Just leave me here, I’ll catch up.” Dorian sniffed, waving them off as he strolled through the stacks.

“I suppose this would be a bad time to mention we’ve been short a dedicated archivist for a century or so. The maintenance spells keep the dust off, but I have no idea where anything is anymore.” Doshiel noted blandly..

“Tell him that, and we will never get him to leave. He would go straight to  Fox, and she would name him the new Head Archivist and turn him loose before either of us can blink.” Cullen warned.

The tall elven warrior looked thoughtful. “If he can figure out written elven, he’d be less aggravating than most of my other candidates, human or not. The only mage trained here that want the job, no one trusts in charge of a house plant, let alone the catalogue.” He smiled at the wary look on the human’s face, raking a hand through his short hair. “If you want to go see the armory and the salle instead, we could send Rasanis back for him.”

 

“We can’t stay, you realize.” Cullen pointed out, halfway through the new Temple First’s moderately enthusiastic attempts to get him fitted for Champion armor.

“Herself explained. Your duties to the Inquistion come first. But eventually she, and thus by necessity you, will have to return. At which point I intend to have you already equipped to take up your duties as her formally announced consort, as her new Champion.”  Doshiel smiled wryly. “Lady Sylaise will be expect to prove her strength if she wants to pursue her new plans, even more so if any of the others return. Unless you’re ready for it, that leaves you as the weakness at her side.”

Chapter Text

“Your majesty,”Cullen greeted the former warden with a deep bow. “I trust my men did satisfactorily defending the palace?”

“They did. Or at any rate, I haven’t seen any more Venatori sneaking about.” the King of Ferelden leaned on the low wall, watching the soldiers drilling. “You’ve trained them well. When all this is over, I should steal you for my army, Commander.”

“I will take that as the compliment it was intended as, your majesty. But I suspect I will be kept busy for some time, even if the Inquisition succeeds and disbands.” Cullen equilivated, rubbing at the golden tattoo around his wrist.

“Aww. Don’t tell me the Orlesians got to you first,” Alistair remarked incredulously. “I expect better of you, even with as annoying as you were in Templar training.” Cullen rolled his eyes, and the former warden laughed. “You were always such a goody little stick in the mud back then.”

“And you were the troublemaker who kept screaming in the middle of vigils,” the golden amber eyed Templar retorted. “Proof people can change, I hope.”

The tawny skinned warrior clapped the taller man on the shoulder, still chuckling. “I suppose they do. I’m still trying to match the rule worshipping chantry devotee with the Inquisition Commander Zevran tells me is now engaged to a mage, and an elven one at that.”

“Some rules are worth breaking. But yes, Mistress Foxfire and I are engaged, or half married, depending on how the events during our impromptu visit to her clan are viewed. As unwelcome as some of them found our relationship, I think a couple might turn up for the wedding this summer. ” Cullen carefully commented, turning his gaze back to his soldiers.

“Zev gave me an explanation about that, but only half of it made sense. Something about her being stolen from a Dalish clan and them recognizing her and thinking she needed rescue?”

    “Less stolen, more lost as a small child, is what I gathered. Her closest sibling had already tracked her down and joined up with the Inquisition, but the rest of her assorted cousins… They saw one of the family traveling with humans, leapt to the worst assumptions, and decided to kidnap all three of us so they could rescue her. We eventually managed to get things straightened out, but only after Smoke and the Antivan turned up to rescue us from the rescue party.” Cullen explained, his tone rueful.

“Huh. Most of the Dalish tribes I’ve had to deal with, they would have just disowned her as a flat ear straight off. But they keep telling me each clan is a bit different, so…” Alistair shrugged, running a hand back through his carefully combed auburn hair. “Zev seemed amused by the entire debacle, really. Said the Dalish were so flustered about the fact your mage was openly with you, not one of them had a word to say about the fact his lover had turned up with a flat eared assassin like him. This Smoke… he..they… Zev’s clearly blissfully happy with them, which is a nice change. Don’t tell him I said it, but he deserves something good in his life.”  

“I have been repeatedly assured that he is a good influence on Smoke, as well. Or at least capable of keeping them from aggravating quite so many people. I’m starting to suspect they might have had reason to leave their clan and take up our cause.” Cullen chuckled. It had been a welcome moment when he realized that his constant irritation with that Sentinel was a nearly universal opinion, and probably the reaction Rasanis intended. It suited them perfectly to conceal their status as court assassin and Sylaise’s constant second under the guise of her careless court fool.

“I will say, when I first heard you, of all people, had taken up with a mage, I expected she’d be...well, at least a little more like..” Alistair trailed off halfway through his remark, looking awkward.

“You expected her to be more like Genevieve.” Cullen sighed, looking just as embarrassed as the warden. When the stockier human nodded, the paler blond looked away, clearly searching for words. “As infatuated as I was with Warden Commander Amell when we were both in the tower, I… Fox is as unlike her as she could possibly be, while remaining a mage. She is a dedicated healer, driven by duty, as lighthearted as she can be when no duty presents itself.  We suit each other well, despite the unlikely circumstances we came together in.” He ran a nail over the spiraled golden flames on his wrist, smiling fondly.



“Thanks for vouching for me to the Hahren, by the way. I really don’t blame her for being wary about Tevinter mages, after what you told me.” Fox followed the dark blond Antivan through the market, the walled alienage looming before them.

“I played up the fact you did spend most of a decade collared. And that you are perfectly willing to do all your healing from the middle of the courtyard, where she can make sure noone is being kidnapped and sold to Minrathous.” Zevran remarked with a shrug. “Once I made that clear, she was happy to have you visit. Apparently there is a bit of a flux going around.”

“Huh, imagine that. Cramped, crowded environment, with the lax hygiene of essentially enforced poverty, and there is a flux spreading with the spring thaw,” the healer muttered dryly. “Why, next we’ll hear they had snow fever going around last winter.” The assassin raised an eyebrow at her tone, and Fox sighed. “I see the same problems in every alienage I’ve been near, and it gets… Its all preventable. Too many people, too little space, and never enough to go around. Malnutrition weakens people, and the close quarters means anything that starts cycles through everyone. Someone doesn’t boil water enough after a long day, can’t get the right herbs to treat their bedding, can’t afford to keep a cat to chase the rats out. Flux, Snow Fever, plagues…”

“I’ve been told much the same prevails in the alienages back in Antiva, though I admit I’ve never really spent much time in one.” the Crow said blandly. “You seem to take all this very personally. From what Rasanis has said, I got the impression you were never that concerned with the welfare of people who didn’t worship you, once upon a time.”

“And I was wrong. I didn’t want to step on any of the others toes, interfere with their affairs. I didn’t think it was worth starting a war over, one likely waged on the backs of those that needed protecting the most. Sol..the Dread Wolf thought differently. Looking back… The measures he took were drastic, and violent, and I still don’t really approve, but… something did have to be done.” They walked in through the propped open gate, sitting at the bench under the Vhenadahl. “I am glad you’re taking all the recent revelations so well.”

“That my mist eyed charmer is a couple thousand years older than I? That one of the fabled Dalish goddesses is playing at being the head healer for the Chantry’s Inquisition, and bonded to a human besides?” Zevran chuckled, leaning back against the twisted tree as Fox wrinkled her nose at him. “It does change the color of our world a bit, but one must remember to take things in stride, if life has taught me anything.”

“Being worshipped doesn’t always translate to being divine in nature,” she warned, running her hands over her staff absently. “Especially not if you translate divinity to mean unlimited power.”

“Immortal, near unkillable… I am curious what limits your power does have, then, Lady Fox?” He glanced warily across the courtyard, where Shianni was talking with some of the older elves. “I have seen you heal wounds far beyond the skill of mortal mages, back at the temple. Can you bring back the dead?”

“Not even my brother can do that. I could bring you back from the very precipice of death, but once someone slips beyond that, they are gone. I could make you think I could, of course, stop your heart, wake you up again, but that isn’t really death. Whoever you’re thinking of is already too long gone.”  Fox smiled faintly at the look on the crow’s face. “As a general rule, anyone who asks that question…”

“Has someone in mind. I… it was a passing thought, no more.” He shifted one of the daggers at his belt, more ornate than the others, with a jeweled earring looped through the wrapped grip.

“I’m sorry, Zevran. I also can’t stop the tide, or do much to change the weather. Well, it’s magically possible to change the weather, but it goes very badly, very fast…” Zev looked back up at that, and she shrugged ruefully. “Dirthamon tried to clear the skies over his favorite city for a festival one day. Took all of us three years to stop the flooding, and it was hence agreed this was not a thing we would try again. Proof we are not in any way infallible or omniscient.”

“And yet, here you are, feeling personally responsible for the state of a group of people who for the most part don’t even believe in you.” He countered, looking amused again.

“Some of them do. Maybe it’s the least I can do in exchange for the generations of loyalty, using what power I do have to protect them. To be what they need me to be.”  She said quietly, tracing the runed patterns of the ancient orb held under the silver fox’s paws at the tip of her staff. “I might not be able to fix the alienage, but I can deal with the current outbreak and a fair number of underlying issues while I’m here. And once I get the measure of this Shianni, I’ll have a better idea of who to send here as a permanent healer. Any of mine should be able to keep on top of the seasonal problems, at least, and it will give us time to deal with the infrastructure based issues.”

“And you claim you aren’t a goddess, hmm?” Zev muttered quietly, watching the tiny elven mage determinedly bounce off to talk with Shianni.

Chapter Text

“Some of Rasanis’ people caught up with us earlier.” The assassin remarked as he nudged his borrowed hart over near Fox’s pony. “They had a fascinating tale to share.”

“Oh,” she asked, paying more attention to Cullen riding ahead with the returning soldiers. “Anything they wouldn’t mind you sharing?”

“Your orders about your former first were unnecessary. She didn’t survive more than a hour or so after you took back your favor. Ras is of the opinion she was relying primarily on the link to your power, and didn’t have the strength to maintain her long life on her own.”  Zevran stretched, regarding the horizon instead of the mage riding next to him. “They were less than forthcoming about how much they relied on the same trick.”

“It isn’t a noticeable draw, even if they are, even as weakened as I am by the veil. Besides, power shared is not power halved, where the Evanuris are concerned. I had wondered if Nydmisa had enough power of her own to maintain the Fade connection, but… She’s also the only Sentinel stripped of their Vallaslin without being taken under Fen’harel’s protection.” Fox sighed. “As a general rule, those that crossed us ended up dead far more often than exiled.”

“I suppose it isn’t something they’d think to worry about, until something happens to you,” he hesitantly commented, with a sidelong glance at her.

“Not even then, really. We’re a little harder to get rid of than you think. Some of my siblings managed to hatch a plot that brought mother down, and her servants survived, because not all of her was gone.” Fox shrugged. “Our exile weakened the bond, but enough of our power remained. Despite all the enchantment failing without a direct connection to the Fade.”

“If a link to your power that keep your servants youthful through the millenia, could it do the same for any new servants you take on?” Zevran asked, diffidently. “Ras suggested as much about your bond with the Commander…”

“I don’t know. Cullen’s a special case, for multiple reasons. There are fundamental differences between our sentinels and those elves that grew up in this veiled world, Zevran. You’re still one of my people, but…” Fox frowned, thin lines of fire swirling around the golden tattoo on her wrist. “I don’t know how the ritual would affect someone without mage gift.”

“Ah. I suppose that would be unprecedented.” Zev noted, glancing quietly forward up to where Smoke rode with some of the other scouts. “I… despite the risks, it might still be worth...”

“A year and a day, Zev. If you still want to swear fealty and have me try to finesse the ritual to extend your life then, we can talk about it. This isn’t something that should be decided on a whim.”  she held his gaze until he nodded, then smiled at him. “Who knows, Smoke to my fire might do something stupid enough to make you reconsider eternity with them by then.”

Zevran chuckled, and urged his mount forward to join his lover.  Rasanis leaned over as he approached, tugging affectionately at the shorter elf’s ear.

“Would it work on a human mage?” Dorian asked from a short ways behind the pair, looking fascinated. “The risks of strange rituals aside, if you’re handing out immortality…”

“Immortality at the cost of being magically bound to serve me for the rest of your life, dragon boy. Just because I prefer to keep the leash loose for my servants doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” she snorted, and Dorian laughed.

“Everything comes at a cost, little fox, although that does sound a little steep for my liking.” The Tevinter mage drummed his fingers on the front of his saddle, idly. “You didn’t seem concerned about our dear Commander being bound to you on a whim.”

“We Evanuris were never known for selflessness. I didn’t give my lion time to think it over for the same reason I didn’t explain what I was offering. I couldn’t bear the idea of continuing on, returning to life as Sylaise without him, so I didn’t give him a choice.” Fox admitted. “In my defense, he had already agreed to marriage. I just extended the length of it.“

“Little fox, you are scarier than I’m used to, some days.” The Altus steadied his mount, reaching out to ruffle her hair and take the sting out of his words. “I suppose you’re still opposed to my informing Bull about the dragon thing. He would really enjoy that trick of yours.”

“Iseratha’len… I like the Iron Bull. You two seem to be doing well together, and I’m very fond of most of the Chargers. But he is, by his own admission, a Qunari spy. Even if he’s as committed to our side, your side as he seems, sharing what I am would put him into an awkward position.” She flicked a tiny spray of sparks at his shoulder, as casually as another might splash water. “Ideally, I’d like to keep the true details of this adventure between those of us who were there, and save us all a great deal of explanations.”

“I hate to keep something like this from him, but you have a point. My best friend turning out to be one of the elven deities, who are incidentally real, is an… Well.  Doesn’t our charming Inquisitor wear your markings already?” Dorian asked, eyes lighting up as the thought occurred to him.

“Yes, which is a large part of my not wanting to let her in on this. Lyra is very...Dalish, despite the friendships she’s made. If she.. I’m afraid she’d react like Ashvalla.” Fox sighed. “If I can’t break the younger Sentinels from trying to grovel at my feet… I shudder to think of how the clans steeped in generations of tales of my ‘divine glory’ might react.”

“For an ancient goddess, you seem very opposed to any actual indications of worship.” Dorian snickered at the sour look on her face.  “And here I was thinking about converting.”

“If I catch you genuflecting, I will set you on fire, I swear.” A small ball of fire splashed harmlessly against the leather back of his robes. “How does the saying go? They who can destroy a thing, control it? We were worshipped out of fear, and awe, by people convinced we might destroy the world on a whim if they didn’t.  Any definition that named us divine isn’t far short of allowing ‘the elder one’ his claim as well.” Fox clenched her fist for a moment, trails of flame seeping through her fingers. “I’m not above using the reputation to help me protect my people now, but… not from you. I need a best friend far more than I need another servant.”

    “As you like, dear little fox. As your best friend, I must ask. Are there any other secrets lurking in your past I’m not yet privy to? Is the Dread Wolf going to hunt you down for escaping the whatever they horribly imprisoned you in?” Dorian jokingly asked, raising an eyebrow at her expression.

    “Hmm. I had a child in Tevinter before my foster brother handed me over to Danarius. By said foster brother, actually. I’ll write them when we get home, they must be nearly Sera’s age by now. I think that’s the only recent revelation about my past I haven’t shared.” Fox chuckled at the way Dorian’s jaw dropped.   “And considering you routinely argue arcane errata with him, I wouldn’t worry too much about the ‘Dread Wolf’.”

“What.” Dorian blinked at her, clearly trying to come up with a response. “No.  No. He couldn’t be. Vishante kaffas, that’s why he knows so much about ancient elves.”

“‘Learned it in the fade’ is an excuse I am going to steal for the future, but… Before this week, would you have believed any of this, let alone that?”  Fox pointed out, grinning a little.

They made it back to Skyhold just ahead of a late spring storm, rain drops splattered  across the rumps of the rearmost horses. Cole appeared the moment Fox swung down from her pony, grinning. “You’re all of you again!” he remarked happily, and she hugged him fiercely.

“You helped. I wouldn’t have known how to find my way back through the mirror without what you told me,” she whispered into his hair. “If I hadn’t found my own way back, they would have… You helped, Cole. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

   

 

Solas dropped his pack under the scaffolding, staring at his murals. Perhaps he could get a little more painted before he rested.

“How were the Emerald Dales?” Fox asked, feet tucked up under her on his chair.

He started a little at the sound of her voice, turning to regard the small elf with half concealed impatience. She was generally far more considerate about lurking in his space uninvited. “Well enough, if as sad to think of as always,” he responded a little curtly.

“The broken fragments of a lost empire,” she sighed, leaning back farther into the chair, rubbing absently at the thin scar around her neck.  “We need to talk, Uncle Wolf.”

“Sylaise,” he acknowledged quietly, stiffening a bit as he studied her more carefully. She’d freed herself from the collar after all, the tips of her hair flickering softly as she blinked impassively back at him. “I should likely offer congratulations on your reascension.”

“If you feel like it.” Sparks wove around her fingers as she waved dismissively. “It was going to happen eventually, given the nature of the self binding I used to get around your barrier.” She stared past him at the murals, taking a deep breath. “You weren’t wrong. Something did need to be done. I greatly wish you had chosen a method that hadn’t brought an entire civilization crashing down, but… Mother was the only restraining influence on Andruil or Falon’din, let alone Father.  When they brought her down… you weren’t wrong to act against us.”

Solas leaned back against the scaffolding, studying the Evanuris in his chair like she had grown a second head. “I hadn’t expected to hear that from you. I will admit, you were not…  Had the others followed your lead, I would not have had to act so drastically.”

“I looked after my own people and tried not to start wars. The fact that such a small thing might… I should have done more. I knew how bad most of the others treated their people, but I didn’t intervene unless it was right in front of me. I wasn’t willing to risk my own people, to start wars over any of it.”  The sparks between her fingers spun into a glowing thread, looping into patterns between her hands. “Just because they weren’t marked as mine didn’t make protecting them any less my responsibility, despite what my siblings might believe. Despite what I once… I was wrong, Uncle Solas.”

“It’s been a very long time since you called me that and meant it, Firefox,” he noted, warily amused. “Even longer since it was used without preceding a complaint about one of your siblings.”

“Usually Andie, since she was the once who liked trying to use me as target practice. But she was Mother’s favorite, so complaining to her never worked. I think I was hoping if you told Mother, she might actually…” She shrugged, the intricate web of spun fire she was toying with tangling into knots before she dismissed it and started again. “I’m aware my return is not part of your no doubt cunning plan. Am I allowed to know what is?”

    “I’m helping the Inquisition restore order to the world, as are you, in your own way,” he told her blandly, and she snorted softly.

    “And the fact our charming Inquisitor’s fabled mark is made of the runes that covered your focus?” Fox lifted her hands, framing him in the pattern of cord for a moment, watching his expression. “One of the Magisters Sidereal? Really, Uncle?”

    “He was conveniently placed for what I needed. I didn’t expect him to survive the attempt, only power the focus back up while trying.” The tall elven mage crossed the room, dropping into the couch nearest the chair. “Sometimes, one must use the tools they are given.”

    “I just don’t see how anything involving one of his lot could do anything to protect our people. Not that I’ve managed to plan more than a few steps toward that goal myself, but… It’s all so broken. They need so much, have fallen so far…” The patterns changed color, and she glanced upwards, falling silent while footsteps echoed from the levels above. With a few deliberate flicks of her fingers, she rewove the pattern, the color shifting back to golden fire.

    “I think the people might be beyond what can be fixed with a few healing herbs and a bit of spell weaving, Firefox. As you said, the actions your siblings forced me into were… drastic. I can’t undo what was done while the Veil stands.”  He leaned back, drumming restlessly at the arm of the couch as she stared at him, the paling she was weaving lowered into her lap.

    “Uncle, that would…. It’s a near certain death sentence for anyone without mage talent. Even those with it only have a chance if it’s taken down with care to shielding them. You’re talking about destroying everything.”  Her fingers slowed, more tangles appearing in the patterns. “We’re supposed to protect the people, not break everything again!”

    “This will protect the people. It’s the only way to bring back what we lost.” He insisted. “It will be a long road, but this is the only way, Sylaise.”

    “I don’t accept that. I can’t accept that, Solas.  I…” The fire in her hands snarled and flickered out, as she bolted up out of her chair. Irritably, she glanced upwards again, noting the flash of red hair just visible over the top railings. “I can’t… We should talk about this later, the council meeting let out and Lyra will be looking for you. There has to be another way.”

    He let her go, still drumming at the arm of his chair. That had gone better than it might have, he supposed.

 

    “Look, I’m not saying you aren’t a valued member of the Inquisition, I’m…” Lyra huffed, as Dorian kept sorting books on the shelf behind her. “It was quiet while you were off searching ruins with Foxfire. Maybe you could do something like that. Or anything that doesn’t involve me having to answer questions about my keeping a Tevinter noble around while fighting Corypheus!”

    “I won’t let history claim none of my people would help deal with the insane magister trying to take over the world. Until we bring him down, I’ll stay here. Even if the only thing I seem to be allowed is keeping this Library sorted.” He took a deep breath, focusing on the tomes in front of him.

    “Yes, because one Altus who already made a scandal of himself back home is so instrumental to fixing anything here!” Lyra hissed, and he dropped his armload of books. “How many mage schools did you get kicked out of again?”

    “Lyra.”  Fox sat on the edge of the railing, staring disappointedly at the Inquisitor. “That is entirely uncalled for. The fact you underutilize him as a resource isn’t his fault, and if you’re having so much problems with having Tevinter mages along, I’ll leave as well.”  

    The red head glared, rubbing absently at the flames etched over her cheek. “You… You’re useful, and Templar supervised. It’s different.  He’s one step under being a magister himself, and he’s…”

    “Leave him be, Lyra!” Fox snarled, the tips of her hair sparking just a touch, and the former Dalish hunter stared at her blankly, a dim flicker visible in the marks under her hand.

    “I… Alright.” Lyra said dully, shaking her head in confusion. “I… need to go talk to Bull and Sera, we were going to go to the Storm Coast.”  She glanced around herself, as if trying to remember why she was there. “Oh, and Solas. Have you seen him?”

    “He was avoiding Cole, last I saw him.” Fox remarked, in a much quieter tone, slumping back against the wall and evading the pointed look Dorian was shooting at her. “Try the courtyard.” Lyra wandered off, still rubbing her vallaslin and looking puzzled. “Well, that answers a question I wasn’t planning to ask,” the healer muttered, when the other elf was out of earshot.

“Dear little fox. Please tell me I imagined that little trick?” Dorian asked, and sighed heavily when she looked away. “That is not going to help anything. It might actually make things worse.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose! I am painfully aware of how much worse that might make things.” Fox retorted, dropping her face into her arms.

“Ah, yes. Because accidentally mind controlling the Inquisitor is clearly the better option,” the necromancer groaned, sliding down to sit next to her. “Why are we friends again?”

“I don’t know. I assumed it was the lack of better options either of us had around here,” she commented, elbowing him as he tweaked her ear. “Well, barring sudden time magic, that is a thing that just happened, so we might as well deal with it.”

“At least she’ll be in the Storm Coast for a few days. Bull said the Qunari offered her an alliance, though he didn’t seem enthusiastic about the idea.”  He leaned forward, gathering the dropped books. “I suppose at least I’m not getting dragged along the coast. I can’t stand even looking at the ocean that long.”

“Maybe they’ll run into a dragon. That would put at least one of them in a better mood.” Fox suggested, reaching for the book nearest her foot. Dorian glanced at her with an optimistic smile, and she sighed. “No, Dorian. I’m not going to show off turning into a dragon just to improve your sexlife.”

“I do hate keeping this level of secrets from him, little Fox.” The Altus took the book from her as she climbed back to her feet, sliding back onto the shelf.

“Fine, ma’falon. Maybe for my wedding party, I’ll change and hand out dragon back rides. Maybe. If you can get Krem to make me another plushie,” She offered, choosing to ignore the amused snort from her best friend.

“Promise him a dragon ride, I suspect you’ll get all the plushies you want. He is Tevinter, despite everything.”  Dorian grabbed a handful of books from a tall shelf and passed them down to her. “Dagna was asking for these, so put them somewhere you can reach.”

“Since you’re my best friend, I’ll ignore your insinuation I’m dwarf height.” She arranged them on a lower shelf. “I’ve got a letter back from Tilani. Caius is doing well, and living with Great Aunt Zofia. Better she raised him than Gage, at least.”

“It is still very odd to think of you as a mother, little fox. Especially the mother of someone in their twenties. Either a great deal of the records from tevinter are wrong, or you were about fifteen when you had him.” He grabbed an armload of books off a table, and continued reshelving.

“In this incarnation? Fourteen, actually. He dosed me with magebane.  Half the Altim family were ready to disown Cagageous over it, since I… I was his father’s bright little Somniari apprentice. He was the oaf who had failed Grand Examinations twice and gambled all his allowance away.” Dorian winced at that, and she shrugged. “ In retrospect, magister Gaius telling him that if I wasn’t an elf, he would have arranged for Gage to end up tranquil and put me in line for the seat was probably the breaking point.”

Chapter Text

She dropped into the chair next to the Qunari’s blind side, staring just as silently out into the crowded tavern. “I’m sorry for your loss, for whatever the words are worth,” she remarked after a while. “I didn’t get to know all of the Chargers, but those I did...”

“Yeah.  Saved all the crew of the dreadnought, though. Gatt said that our people named the Boss basalit-an for it, and she’s getting her alliance. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made, for the good of the many.” The Iron Bull told her, taking another heavy swig from his tankard.

“Sometimes that sacrifice is heavier than… Smoke is beside themself, convinced that if they’d gone around orders and scouted everything again with Zev, that they could have warned us about the second ambush. Skinner and Dalish were their favorite drinking friends and… They’ve never had many.” Fox ordered her own tankard of mead, still watching the crowd instead of the qunari next to her.

“Gatt said his people had it covered, without Inquisition agents getting in their way. If those two had gotten caught poking around… The Boss told them to stay here for a reason.” The one eyed Qunari stared into his drink meditatively. “You don’t usually turn up in the bar without incentive, Healer.”

“I have incentive. Just because you and I have never been close, doesn’t mean… You’re part of the Inquisition, the Inner Circle, no matter who you are to the Qun. You’re my soon to be husband’s favorite sparring partner and my best friend’s lover. If there is anything I can do to help make sure you’re as okay as you can be…” the petite elf sipped at her mead, finally glancing over at the large warrior.

“So the squirrelly demon kid asked you to talk to me.” Bull grunted, draining his mead and ordering another. She shrugged, still sipping at her drink. “Stitches liked working with you. Said he was learning a great deal, even if your talents put you in a different league.”

“He was a good medic to begin with, all on his own.  All the Chargers… you had some team. Loyal, talented… We’ll just have to make sure we win this, make their sacrifice worth something.” Fox reached into the satchel at her feet. “Dorian and I went for a ride around the fortress this morning, and we found this in a tree. Well, not just this one,” she smiled ruefully, pulling out a bedraggled, faded stuffed nug with tattered wings, “but Cole hasn’t let go of the one I patched up earlier. He said it was done flying.” She set the toy on the table between them, drawing an distantly bemused look from the qunari. “Dor’s pretty upset right now too, you realize. He’s convinced that if he hadn’t pled seasickness to avoid the coast, if he had insisted on going along, he could have pulled off some arcane miracle and saved the day.”

“He couldn’t have helped. All he would have done is annoy Gatt, even if the Boss had let him come along. I didn’t think he was that close with any of the boys, not like…” Bull tilted his head at the small healer, heaving a sigh. “You coming along wouldn’t have made any difference either, before you get that in your head. I’ll talk to Dorian later.” He went back to staring out into the crowd. “All this… I know what’s really important now. Who I am, what I need to do. Look after yourself, little healer,” he remarked quietly, draining his second mug and dropping it carelessly next to the winter faded toy on his way out.

“Copper on the lips, Dalish dead eyed beside me. He’ll come, he’ll call, he won’t leave us. Horns pointing up.” Cole whispered, cradling a new looking toy nug in the chair next to Fox. “I can’t help. I tugged on the tangle and tore it when I tried.”

Shoving her braid behind her with more force than needed, Fox sighed, scooping the faded plush back off the table before the dregs of mead reached it. “You tried, dah’len. We both tried.” She turned it over in her hands, stroking gently between its carefully stitched wings. Under the pads of her fingers, the faded fabric brightened, thin patches reweaving themselves and loosened seams tightening until it looked as freshly crafted as the one Cole held.

“You aren’t going to offer him a dragon ride this summer.” the half spirit remarked, leaning on the arm of the chair. “Or anyone else who doesn’t know. ”

“Probably not, on reflection. You’re still as welcome to one as ma’falon, should you take a fancy to the idea,” she offered, tucking her feet up under her.

“But you don’t like being a dragon. Or flying. It makes your stomach tumble, like waves under wood.” Cole tilted his head at that, petting the toy in his lap, and she shrugged, looking away. “You don’t like sitting on thrones or speaking to crowds. You never have. You thought if they praised you enough, if they loved you enough, it would make it feel right, but it never did.”

“As much as I cringe at the idea of echoing my mother, there are sometimes priorities beyond my own happiness, Cole. I can do more for my people as Sylaise, by taking up my duties,  than by anything I would … They need me, and I owe it to them to be what they need.” She idly fluffed the stitched feathers, blowing away a speck of dirt. “And I have Cullen now, which should… It will make a difference. I have to get used to flying eventually.”  The half spirit watched her for a moment, uncertain, as she stared back out into the crowd. “Did Lyra and Solas ever find that amulet for you they were looking for?”

“Yes, but it didn’t work.  Varric thinks it’s because I’m too close to being a person? He and Solas were going to take me to Redcliffe tomorrow, because that’s where the templar that killed me is.” Cole reached over the side of the chair, taking the fixed nug from her. “You can’t go, because you might yell at Lyra again.”

“But think of what I could fix if I yell at Lyra the right way enough times…” Fox muttered, smiling wryly as Cole frowned at her. “I know, dah’len. I’m avoiding her for a reason.”



“I heard you managed to get another lead on Samson,” she remarked, dropping her staff into its rack and sitting on the edge of the desk. The commander tugged the corners of a low stack of paper back out from under her, and leaned back in his chair.

“We did. Maker willing, we should be able to track him down and cripple the red Templars within the month.” Cullen’s eyes flickered with traces of golden light as he smirked up at his bondmate. “One less step between us and taking down Corypheus. I… I was hoping to go along with the team to take him down. With Sampson, its...”

“It’s personal for you, I know, beloved.” Fox soothed, sliding down into his lap. “I would ask that you take Smoke with you. For all their faults, I trust them to watch your back for unforeseen dangers. And they have a fair amount of healer training, as little use as they put it to.”

“As you like, love,” he sighed, setting down the report he was perusing briefly to slide a arm under her knees and pull her closer. “I forget that all your sentinels are mages, sometimes, even the ones that don’t use magic.”

She curled up farther on his lap, resting her head on his shoulder as he continued to work around her. “Smoke uses magic, they’re just sneaky like a cat with it. Unless it’s an emergency, you’re as likely to see them naked as you are them openly casting. Now Doshiel… Even I’ve never seen him cast anything that didn’t involve boosting that maul of his. And he referred to it as cheating when he did.”

“I knew I liked him,” the former Templar mused, and chuckled as Fox huffed at him, setting down the report again to kiss the look back off her face. “Have you managed to find a replacement second for the infirmary, yet?” he asked, hesitantly.

“Not yet, although I have a few of the herb healers under consideration. I… You’re the military Advisor. Is the alliance with the Qunari worth what we lost?” Fox slid back off his lap, running her fingers over the stacks of paperwork without seeing any of it.

“It’s too soon to tell, Fox. I might not have chosen the same way the Inquisitor did, but…  from an objective standpoint, it has the potential to change the course of the war, maybe even the future of Thedas,” he pointed out, quietly. “It’s done and can’t be changed, whatever either of us feel about it.”

“I know. I just… worry, I suppose. We’ve been lucky so far, without much more than skirmishes and our people coming out without anything I can’t fix, and then that ambush… I don’t like it.” She stared off at the window, biting at her lip.

“Not even you can fix everything at once, Sylaise,” he remarked, cupping her face in his hands as he rose, kissing her deeply.

“Then what’s the point in being me?” she snorted, but smiled softly up at him, tracing along the tattoos on his wrist as they lit under her touch. “Still settling back in well enough?”

“Well enough, yes. Perhaps a bit more reckless in sparring, enough that the Bull mentioned it as he dumped me onto my rear. Cassandra has given me an odd look once or twice, and…” Cullen rubbed ruefully at the back of his neck. “Cole is being Cole.”

“He liked you pretty well to begin with, so I’m guessing he knows perfectly well about Valor.” Fox shrugged as she headed towards the ladder.

“Indisputably, going by our last conversation. He seems… sympathetic to my situation, however, and seems more worried about you.” the Commander nudged the reports back into a tidy pile, and followed his lover to their loft.

“He thinks… and he’s not wrong, that I was happier as Fox, before I remembered who I was. But I can’t throw away duty for happiness, not when I know what I could do to help my people, even if there is no easy path forward.” She sat on the bed, smiling faintly at the stuffed nug sitting between the lion and the fox, a red scarf suspiciously like the one Skinner had worn wrapped around its neck. “It won’t be like it was before, I won’t let it get that bad. I have Dorian and Cole to keep me honest, I have you at my side,” she insisted, as Cullen joined her. “I have enough, to try flying again, to find a better way.”

Chapter Text

There was something oddly familiar about the grinning strawberry blond who trailed in with the latest summer batch of visiting nobles. Dorian found himself sneaking glances over his book, trying to place where he knew the young man from. It probably didn’t matter, but not knowing was aggravating, he thought to himself as he restarted the chapter for the third time.

“Avanna!,” a low voice greeted him, as a shadow fell over his page. “I think we’ve met. There was a house party outside Vyrantium, and we ended up talking about Soria’s third Tenets of Necromancy.”

Dorian looked up into vividly bluegreen eyes set into sculpted highbred features, and smiled a bit brighter than he intended. “You were convinced the last four tenets were just as applicable to earth magic, and we ended up spending half the night in the conservatory,” he recalled, one side of his mustache twitching. It might have been the wine, but arguing wasn’t the only thing he remembered happening in the back rows of that conservatory. “But I don’t think Augustus ever did get a word in edgewise enough to introduce us.” He set his book down and rose, extending a hand. “Dorian of House Pavus.”

“I didn’t even think about the fact we hadn’t gotten around to names until the next day, sadly,” the ginger Altus said, his smile going a little rueful as he toyed with the golden stylized flame hanging around his neck.. “Caius of House Altim, and I’m pleased to finally, properly, make your acquaintance.”

“I must say the same.  I thought of at least three good counter arguments the next morning, but I had no way of finding you. It was very offputting, I must say.” he stepped farther away from the bench, crossing his arms to stare up at the taller man.

“Well, I think I’ll be here until after Summerday, so at least if we start any good discussions, at least we’ll have some time to finish them.” Caius laughed, then pushed his hair back out of his face, biting at his lip. “Although if you’re Dorian, I have to admit I have an ulterior motive. I was actually looking for someone, and the charming Lady Montilyet told me she’d either be with you, in the library, or in the infirmary, and I haven’t quite managed to find either of those.”

The brunette Altus held onto his smile, despite the sudden rush of disappointment. “Ah, well, I can certainly lead you to both those places. Who exactly are you looking…” He blinked, an array of details assembling like puzzle pieces in his mind. “Oh. The infirmary is right this way.” Attempting to sort out a tumult of thoughts, most of which should be tossed aside at the first opportunity, he led the other Tevinter straight across the aromatic paths of the garden. “Fox, you have a visitor.”

“I do?” She poked her head out from around a cabinet, looking puzzled. “Who would… Cole, would you mind running that stack of poultices over to the Armory? It’s supposed to go in the scout packs.”  Caius froze, an odd look on his face as he heard her voice, biting at his lip again as she shut the cabinet, arms awkwardly around a large basket. “Dorian, who is.... Kai?” She dropped the basket, hands going to her face.

“Mamae!” He stepped forward, pulling the tiny elf closer. “Oh, Mother…” he sniffed a little, as she traced along the lines of his face, wonderingly.

“You… You’re so big now.  By all the powers that be, I missed so much.” She was crying, the rest of the room forgotten as she embraced her son. “Oh, my little Kai…”

“I always thought of you as bigger,” he laughed, “Mamae, I spent so long thinking Father killed you… No one believed him when he claimed you ran off, not when you left me and everything behind.”

“I would never have left you without a fight. He had me dosed with Magebane and traded me off to deal with his gambling debts. After that, when…” she gestured down to the lyrium brands. “The moment enough of my memories came back, I wrote you. But it had been so long, I wasn’t sure…”

“Mamae… You thought I wouldn’t want you back?” The tall ginger dropped into a chair when she nodded, toying with the amulet around his neck again. “I admit there were times in my life not being as openly the child of an unmarried elven enchanter would have made things quieter, but… It was never worth denying you, even when I thought you were dead.” He leaned back, still watching her as he pulled soft booted feet underneath him.

Cole walked around the table, collecting the basket from the floor at Fox’s feet. “ ‘Luckily, the boy takes after her and not that talentless hack.’ ‘Shame she was an elf, but at least her magic breeds true.   If that shortsighted fool hadn’t been so stupid, we could have married her off to a cousin and had a houseful of powerful children to bring the family back’,” He noted, his voice taking on the tones of older women.  Both the Altims flinched, wrinkling up their noses.

“Great Aunts Zofia and Zolia to the life, every time they thought I wasn’t listening in, though I have no idea how…” Caius stared at the pale boy, who regarded him with almost colorless eyes from under a heavy fringe of near white hair.

“Cole, this is my son Caius. Kai, dah’len, this is Cole, who was a spirit of compassion,” Fox introduced them, and Cole perked up a little.

“Sort of? It’s complicated now. Everything tangles, and people don’t forget me anymore.” Cole remarked, still clutching the basket, looking up to find Fox smirking at him. “You never forgot me even before, because you’re too bright, too loud in both places,” he muttered, stretching out his shoulders before taking the basket out.

“As happy as Varric is with how that turned out, I’m entirely sure how I feel about the way Cole changed. He remembers more, sees more of the shades of gray in the world, but he’s less… As long as he’s happy, I suppose.” Fox sighed, taking the seat next to Caius. “Dorian, this is the son I mentioned on the way home from the Forest.”

“Lord Pavus and I have met, actually,” Caius interrupted with a sheepish grin, and Fox’s eyebrows rose as Dorian flushed. “Both back home and when he so helpfully showed me the way here.” Fox said nothing, still watching both of them with a hand hiding a smirk. “Well, we discussed books at a party once, at any rate. Great Aunt Zofia gave me a letter for you,” he added swiftly, digging into his satchel. “And I have a bit of happy news as a pre wedding present, in so far as Father turned up dead in a ditch earlier this spring.”

Fox took the letter, shaking her head slightly. “And they say wishes can’t come true. How have you been, Kai?” she asked, reaching out to straighten his hair as she opened the letter.

“Well enough. I… I followed you into Carastes Circle, even if I didn’t manage to break any of your records. ‘Fia  and ‘Lia… I was always looked after, I always had what I needed, even if it was never the same as when I had you. And they banned Father from the estate, after… He tried to take me to task as ungrateful, that as a mongrel bastard I should kiss his hems for acknowledging me, even though Grandfather was the one that wrote me into the line of ascension. He tried to backhand me when I wouldn’t stop crying for you, and I managed to turn the gardens against him.” He pulled a seed out of a pocket of the satchel, held it in his palm for a moment, and opened his hand to give her a slowly blooming flower. “I’m really good at earth magic. Fire, not so much I’m afraid.”

“You used to make the roses bloom just by walking past, when you were little,” the tiny healer remarked, taking the flower and beaming at her son. “It’s one of the rare gifts, Kai love. I’m so proud of you, I always have been.”  She glanced back at the letter, and snorted. “Why does this letter basically sum up to ‘We’re glad you aren’t dead, please find a way to control your child before you send him home’?” Caius coughed nervously, not looking at either of the other Tevinters in the room. “‘He’s causing a scandal’? Really, you’re twenty three, if you aren’t doing something scandal worthy you aren’t having nearly enough fun.” Fox tossed the letter into the air as it dissolved into ash, and attempted to neaten his hair again. “Of course, she was convinced I was courting scandal when I kept stealing you from the nurses and nannies, so I really don’t think her opinion on that is exactly…”

“Somehow, little fox, I’m not surprised that is your reaction to the idea.” Dorian chuckled softly, still leaning against the door frame. “I should go back to my book before someone knocks it into a garden bed.”

“I’ve decided an amazing form of parenting is done by thinking about what my mother would have done or said about something, and then doing the exact opposite,” Fox muttered, and straightened the amulet around her son’s neck.  “I don’t know what Zofia was thinking. With Gage dead, you’ll have the Altim seat by the time you’re twenty five. She should be teaching you politics, not having a conniption about your present lack of discretion.”

Chapter Text

“Is this seat taken?” Caius asked later that evening, leaning against a bookshelf and smiling hopefully at the dark haired mage. “I have been warned that you’re more or less taken, but I was hoping you could tell me more about Mother.”

Dorian gestured lazily at a seat, barely looking up from his book. “Ask away, she’s a dear friend of mine. I do find it amusing that she felt the need to warn you before sending you out of the Infirmary.”

“Not just about you, apparently the Champion of Kirkwall might flirt back, but has a very short tempered lover, and I’m to avoid both of them,” the strawberry blond chuckled, raking his hair back out of his face. “I am also to avoid flirting with the striking Seeker of truth, the pretty redhead in the rookery or the sweet Lady Montilyet, and am to avoid the scruffy blond elf in the tavern entirely, ‘because arrows, Kai.’ I don’t know if I should be pleased or worried that my mother knows me that well after not seeing me for fifteen years.” He dropped into the offered chair, started to toss his feet up onto the hardwood table, and thought better of it, straightening his posture.  “She was very unsurprised that we knew each other.”

“Yes, well, your mother has never been an unobservant woman,” Dorian remarked, half hiding his smile behind his book.

“In my experience, few mothers are. Maker knows I could never get anything past her like I could the nursemaids, even when she was just on break from classes. I’m still in awe of the fact she managed to study for and ace the grand examinations at sixteen, with toddler me underfoot,” Caius sighed, tilting his chair back as he stretched. “Elf or not, she’s a family legend, even if you discount Grandfather’s nonsense.” Dorian looked up at that, intrigued, and the ginger Altus shrugged. “Grandfather Gaius was… Well he was superstitious at the best of times, but the way he used to talk about Mother… The way he always told it, he was on a perfectly routine trip through the forest of Arlathan, when he came across a tiny elven child sitting on the steps of a shrine to the old gods.” he fluttered his fingers dramatically. “She was no more than three or four, dressed in spotless white silk, an amulet of gold at her neck, jeweled bangles on her wrists and ankles, a coronet of braided dragonflowers at her brow, speaking nothing but elvhen. He and the others argued about what to do with her, and the treasures she carried, and in the end it was decided that he would take her home and the others would divide up the jewelry. Except for the amulet, which she threw a fit at being parted from and Grandfather used the last of his pocket coin to redeem for her.” Caius lowered his voice, leaning forward. “Everyone who took the baubles from her died within the next few years, as if they were cursed. The last of them spent months babbling that the smoke had eyes, that it was watching them, before being gruesomely murdered in rooms locked  from the inside.”

“That is quite a story,” the dark haired necromancer chuckled, marking his page and setting down his book, leaning forward to brace his elbows on the table. He had his suspicions about that ‘curse’, but he could go ask about that later. “So then your grandfather took the foundling into the bosom of his family?”

Caius waggled his hand noncommittally. “Then Grandfather made a pet out of her for a couple years, basket by his bed and all, until he realized she had magic, and was in fact a Somniari, at which point he basically named her his apprentice. If you got him drunk enough, he seemed half convinced he’d brought home an avatar of the only female old god, sent to test our family’s worthiness as the ‘descendants of the Augur of Mystery’.”  He tipped his chair back again at the look on Dorian’s face at that, shrugging. “The family is split between the ones that think he did at least find her lost somewhere and the ones that think he just outright stole her from a Dalish clan that wandered too far north, since Mother was too little to confirm or deny any of his stories with any assurance once she figured out our language.”

“He thought she was Razikale?” Dorian asked incredulously, and Caius shrugged again. “Maybe I should be a little less surprised he took her part over his son’s regarding the nature of your conception and more surprised your father survived doing so.”

“Cynic. Not that you don’t have a point, considering Father apparently had been going after the younger elven girls out on the estate for years, with Mother being by far the oldest of his… Going after his father’s prized apprentice was beyond the pale, of course, even without grandfather’s superstitions about her.” Caius spun the golden flame in his hands a few times, staring down at the rotunda. “But enough of my horrible family stories. This Commander whose marrying my mother, what’s he like?”

“Absolutely, stupidly, utterly besotted with her. Fox and his duty to the Inquisition are the most important things in his life, with his siblings sitting at a distant third.” Dorian poured himself a glass of wine from the bottle in his pack. “He’s off with the Inquisitor right now, hunting down the leader of the red lyrium templars. They should be back in the next week or so, certainly well in time for the wedding.”

“That is good to hear. Maybe I’ll get really lucky and end up with a pile of new mage gifted siblings to distract the family matrons from trying to marry me off for a while longer.” Caius sighed, smiling. “As much as I like children, I think I’d prefer to put off having my own a little longer. Maybe I’ll even manage to find someone I can tolerate to raise them with first.”

“You are quite an idealist, it seems.” Dorian remarked dryly, staring at his bottle of wine for a moment longer before pulling out a second glass and pushing it across the table.

“It can hardly be my fault that most of the pretty and personable people I meet happen to be male, no matter what ‘lia and ‘fia think. Maybe if they stopped trying to throw cousins at me…” He huffed, sipping at the wine. “Decent stuff, thank you. In a perfect world, I’d meet the right person, the one that made me happy and was made happy by me, and that would be the only thing that mattered. But instead there’s reminders that I have such gifts, to waste the potential to pass them on would be... “ he shook his head. “And I’m ranting about family issues, again. I should probably just go browse the gardens and spare you listening to my problems. I repeat this argument often enough even Hope doesn’t want to hear it anymore.”

“You are very like your mother,” Dorian said softly, causing the other Altus to look up at him with a briefly baffled expression. “Except with far better taste in wine, clearly,” he added, staring back down at his glass.

“It’s nice to see she has friends here,” Caius noted. “A number of her classmates from Carastes still speak well of her, and Uncle Rads was fond enough of her to let himself get named my godfather, once upon a time. Apparently her tutoring was what got him through creation, but… Mother was a rising star that never got the chance to really do anything back home. She broke records at the circle, became one of the youngest enchanters, and then came home to look after me. I think she meant to do research into the limits of healing, but she was waiting until I was old enough to be in schooling before taking up anything time intensive. She was younger than I am when…”

“My main regret is that it cost me so many years with you, Kai. If it weren’t for that… the years at the Castellum Tenebris did teach me a great deal, the years in Kirkwall even more, and dead in a ditch is a suitable end for all he did.” Fox dropped into the chair between the other two Tevinters. “And I like being head healer here.”

“Finished up with the Infirmary for the day?” Dorian asked,  picking up his book again. “I’m out of glasses for the wine unless you want to drink from the bottle.”

“That’s fine. I’m just glad you’re getting along. I’ll try to figure out someone who can manage well enough as my second so I can actually spend time with my son outside the Infirmary, since despite my pleading, Adan still said no. He likes running the garden better.” She tipped her chair back, bracing it against the railing. “But I could probably manage a ride around the fortress tomorrow, find time to fill you in on more of the family secrets.”

“Oh? Family secrets that don’t involve shame and blood sacrifice? I want to hear all of it.” Caius grinned, then sighed heavily as his mother looked thoughtful. “Too much to ask, clearly.”

“There is minimal blood sacrifice and almost no shame, really.” Fox huffed, and Dorian snorted.

“ Largely because you are absolutely shameless. He was telling me a fascinating story before you joined us, little fox. Something about who Magister Gaius Altim thought you might be?” Dorian teased, and the elven healer rolled her eyes.

“I liked Gaius, but… I did know about his theory, even if I never let him know I knew.”  She reached over and snagged the bottle for a quick swig before handing it back. “I thought it was crazy, and I still do, if for entirely different reasons.”

    “No one ever said Grandfather was the most rational man in the Imperium, “ Caius leaned back dramatically, letting his boots fall onto the polished table. The older mages shared a look, and the edges of his fitted pants began to smolder before he yelped and pulled his feet back.  “Fine, fine, no boots on the damn table. Fire mages, why is it always fire mages?”

    “Not on my table, at any rate. You nearly got dirt on my copy of the Liberallum,” Dorian muttered,  pulling the book in question protectively closer. The ginger pouted at him, and he smirked, pouring him another glass of wine. “There are rules as to how to conduct oneself around expensive and rare book, young Altus.”

    “Really? Because I was always told keeping them away from sticky, crumb filled food and large quantities of easy staining liquid was top of that list.” A voice griped from the stairs, as Fiona strolled by with a sour look on her face. “Someone mentioned the Tevinter population in the library was multiplying, like we need more magisters here.”

    “Of course they did.” Fox grumbled, but smiled sweetly up at the older elven woman. “Fiona, this is my son Caius, who isn’t a Magister yet. He’s here on a visit until the wedding,” she said, rising to place her hands proudly on his shoulders. “Kai, dah’len, this is former Grand Enchanter Fiona, the current leader of the southern mages who were rebelling and are now allied with the Inquisition.”

“Well, any friend of my mamae is a friend of mine, I suppose,” Caius remarked agreeably with the slightest touch of emphasis on the elven term, though his bluegreen eyes were wary as he stared up at the brown eyed mage. “After having her taken from me for so long, I couldn’t resist the chance to finally catch up.”

Fiona stilled, glancing between the younger elf and the young mage. “You.. you’re elf blooded then? I… I would think that would cause problems back in your homeland.”

The strawberry blond blinked up at her, bristling slightly. “I won’t say being an elfblooded bastard helped, necessarily, but I wouldn’t trade my mother for anyone, and no one has ever said anything about her to me twice. My father might have hated the both of us, but he never denied that I was his, and Grandfather wouldn’t risk not having any heir at all,” he drawled, still leaning back into his mother. “But I’m used to getting more disapproval from elves like you than humans.”

The doe eyed brunette took a step back, still glancing between the two with an almost wistful expression. “Elves like… I suppose they would. If you’ll excuse me, i need to go deal with something.”

Chapter Text

The lean vixen tumbled over the mossy ground, half a step ahead of the sleek, fast running dog. A flower vined up under their feet,and she leapt, letting it catch at his paws and send him sprawling.  The long legged, golden sighthound shook itself, and shifted back, more flowers blooming under him as Caius laughed. “More of a run than I usually get, I’d forgotten... “

    His mother shifted back as well, still sitting on the moss. “I haven’t gone running with another shapeshifter in, well.. centuries. I’m glad you inherited the knack.”

The young altus chuckled. “The older I get, the more grateful I am the only thing I seem to have gotten from father are the ears and the height,” he remarked, climbing gracefully back to his feet before offering her a hand up. “That said, is there a way to keep boots on when you shift back? I keep losing mine.”

“Not wearing boots?” Fox suggested, wriggling her bare toes in the moss. “I have managed dancing slippers now and again, but I think boots are a little beyond the spell. Could be worse, I’ve heard of people who can’t shift without losing clothing.”

“That would be horribly embarrassing. On the other hand, there are people I wouldn’t mind accidentally getting naked in front of…” He looked thoughtful, and his mother swatted his shoulder.

“Remember when I said a little scandal is fine at your age? There is a limit to that,” she snorted. “If you listen to Hawke’s stories, he met someone who could shift into a dragon, once. Scary powerful witch.”

“Now, if I could do that.” Caius mused. “I could probably bed my way through a good two thirds of the remotely attractive mages my age, altus and Laetan alike. ‘Hi, I’m Caius, want a dragon ride?’”

“Oh, you are so not ready for this talk.” Fox muttered. “Maybe in a decade.”  The twenty three year old pouted at her, and she laughed. “Not entirely my fault you’re still a hormonal brat, Kai. I’ll let you in on the powerful family secrets when I’m convinced you wouldn’t use them just to get laid.”

“What’s the point in powerful secrets if they aren’t getting us laid?” the earth mage whined, but his mother only tapped his nose, just hard enough to make him sneeze. “Fine. Priorities beyond the care of what’s in my pants, then. What’s it like being part of the notorious Inquisition?”

“Meaningful, most days. The glorified darkspawn who thinks he can make himself a god really does need to be taken down, before he makes things any worse.” Fox flicked a hand irritably as they started back to the castle. “The Tevinter he wants to bring back fell for a number of reasons, and at best… He’d make the Imperium a shining palace of crystal and glass, on a foundation of crumbling sand.  We need to rebuild from the bottom if we want it to last, make something new and better. Maybe his Tevinter needs to stay fallen.” She ran her nails across her palm, staring up at Skyhold. “Maybe Arlathan needs to stay buried,” she added in a quiet mutter, a thoughtful expression on her face.



    Fox watched Caius introducing himself to the returning members of the Inquisition with open amusement, monitoring Solas’ reaction out of the corner of her eye. The young Tevinter made a show of presenting the Inquisitor with flowers out of air,  flirting as outrageously as ever, and the old wolf visible bristled as she accepted both with a toss of her short red hair. The older Evanuris was slightly more circumspect about his reaction to the human appearing mage’s parentage, eyes narrowing slightly as he shot a pointed look at Fox, who only shrugged and smiled.  

    Cullen spared the young man an indulgent smile, arms wrapped around his fiance’s shoulders from the moment they walked back through the gates. “He seems a fine lad.” He noted, restraining the vague urge to qualify that statement with a comment about mages or Tevinters.  Rasanis and Zevran strolled by, the former keeping an awkwardly wide berth around the former Templar. The Commander watched them quietly, his fingers drumming softly against her coat. “If you knew your second used blood magic, it would have been nice to have a warning ahead of time. They managed to save someone we would have lost otherwise, and I doubt anyone but myself and their Antivan noticed the trick, but…” he remarked quietly.

    “Let’s go with I knew that they knew how, but they usually don’t use magic much at all, let alone the more esoteric techniques. Although if they felt it necessary to heal someone, that might do it. Who?” Fox asked, tipping her head back into his armored chest. He gestured at the pale, deadeyed tranquil following the group, and her eyes widened. “Maddox? Poor man.”

    “He took poison rather than betray Sampson. Smoke barely managed to purge enough of it from his system to keep him alive, but… Maker knows how he’s managing to inspire that level of loyalty in a Tranquil.” Cullen stared morosely at the branded former mage, until Fox huffed.

    “Considering your former roommate got himself exiled from the Order over the same letter poor Madds was branded for? Without emotion doesn’t mean unthinking. Sampson protected him, when the rest of the Gallows forgot he even existed. After the Chantry broke him and tossed him aside the moment he wasn’t useful anymore. Can’t blame him for responding to that.” She pulled back, drawing herself up to what little height she had. At the back of his mind, he could feel the barely restrained anger she felt every time she had to deal with someone Tranquil. Anger he knew wasn’t directed at him, but at the Chantry itself, at the rules he had once been bound by. He pushed back at it a little, thinking of the necessity of giving weak mages an easier path, of hard choices between bad options, and she snorted. “Don’t get righteous on the Chantry’s behalf with me, Amatus. They break the mages with fear and the brand, they break the Templars with duty and lyrium, and they are quick to throw away either when they’ve wrung what usefulness out of you they can. They broke Sampson long before the Elder One found him, they broke Maddox and all the other Tranquil, they damn near broke you before…”  She dropped her gaze, biting her lip, and walked off to check on the trembling Tranquil.

    At the edge of their link, he caught the image of himself, shaking with lyrium withdrawal she could barely take the edge off of, the nightmares he still woke with some nights. He saw himself in Sampson’s place, and flushed, his indignation replaced with shame and guilt. He wasn’t entirely certain whether Knight Commander Meredith had known the new pet sleeping in his room was the same creature as the new mage he was keeping a close eye on, but he was certain of what would have happened if she was aware of that and that she was in his room only for her protection. She would have found an excuse to hand Fox back over to Ser Karras and he would have been dismissed as a mage sympathizer, exactly as Sampson had, possibly with even more prejudice.  His mage’s anger softened at that, even as she gently laid a healing spell over Maddox, mildly apologetic affection replacing it.

“Trouble in paradise, Curly?” Varric asked, wandering up behind him. “Sorry we missed actually finding the red lyrium leader like we hoped, but we got those plans for his armor. And the armorsmith. What’s got Snapdragon’s fur ruffled enough to get snippy with you?”

“Maddox. Dealing with Tranquil reminds her of all the ways the Chantry is failing the people,” Cullen explained tersely, and the dwarf nodded, wincing.

“Yeah, I have yet to meet a mage who didn’t get there backs up about the whole Tranquility thing. Even Waffles, and he’s about as fluffy and easygoing as they get. Couldn’t even say the word around Blondie without getting… Well, he was angry to begin with.” Varric’s stubby fingers curled protectively around the stock of his crossbow. “And then he was crazy, possessed and angry. When word trickled down about the collared Tevinter mage living as a Templar’s pet, he was convinced… Let’s just say  he thought the worst of your intentions.”

“Everyone thought the worst of my intentions,” Cullen retorted with a weary snort. “That was what kept the other Templars from continuing to… To treat her exactly as your insurrectionist friend thought she was being treated. As far as the rest of the Gallows was concerned, I had pulled rank and taken her as my own, and was merely keeping her on a long leash. She played the obedient pet well enough to…” He shook his head, trying to dismiss the thought of how she had once been, the filthy, hate filled looks the senior mages and Thrask’s far too small coterie of reasonable Templars had given him. Worse, the knowing grins, and conspiratorial nudges it had earned him from other Templars, many of whom he wouldn’t have thought party to such things beforehand. “Sampson… After the Champion talked the Knight Commander into giving him a second chance in the Order, since he helped them with the blood mages that killed Thrask and tried to kill Carver. He… took the idea that I had taken up the habits of the worst Templars so blatantly badly, punched me in the face. Fox talked him down, explained the situation.  He was rather fond of her after that, one of the few Templars I could trust to look after her when my duties called me elsewhere. Referred to her as my ‘pretty healer in blue.’”

“Blue? Oh, the lyrium. That’s… a little less heartwarming, coming from an addict like him,” Varric remarked, and the former Templar winced. “I will say, it’s a funny thought to think of her with a grown kid. I always thought of her as being around Junior or Daisy’s age, barely more than a kid herself.”

“You are aware Carver is less than a month younger than I am, correct? He’s thirty now, the same as Dorian and I.  Fox, despite her appearance, is far closer to you in age,” the Commander noted, rubbing at the back of his neck and shoving the thought of exactly how much older to the back of his mind. What he said was true, especially if he only counted her current incarnation. “But yes, she was apparently very young when she had him. The ‘someone should have castrated the potential father’ kind of young, given that he was not.”

“He was only a year older than Caius is now, really,” Fox remarked, quietly. “But I trust my boy to have taken enough after my side not to fall into that kind of scandal. He certainly takes after me power wise, if in a different direction. He’s an earth default, not fire.”

“He seems likable enough, if a bit… He reminds me of you well enough, Snapdragon. Just a touch pricklier. Like a flower bush with enough thorns to keep you paying attention. Bramble bush. Is he staying?” Varric mused, as much to himself as to the pair he was next to.

“Just until the wedding, I think. Or as long as he thinks he can manage before the great aunts get testy about his lack of interest in estate affairs and Tevene politics, if he can find enough excuses,” the white haired elf shrugged, grinning over at her son.

The dwarf laughed at that, running a hand over Bianca’s stock. “I know that game well enough. Want me to give Brambles a few tips on the finer points of avoiding family duty? I’m a master at that game.”

“I think he’s getting enough practice already. Don’t encourage him in anything I have to answer for him learning, please, Varric?” She asked, her nose wrinkling up as she smiled. “Or at least not until I can manage plausible deniability. They’re only a few letters away from trying to demand I go home and be respectable, and I’m pretty sure I only got that much leeway because I’m with the Inquisition and marrying relatively well.” Cullen raised an eyebrow at that, and she smiled at him. “You are the Inquisition Commander, ma’vheraan. Didn’t you notice all the matchmaking mothers in Orlais? I may be Laetan and allowed to use the Altim name, but you are still a decent match by the standards Zolia and Zofia set. Of course, they would be happier if you were a mage, but they’ll let it be, especially given my age and Caius.”

“So the Altims are about as happy about the match as my brother,” Cullen snorted, and she leaned in to lace her fingers with his, shrugging. “Well, those that care for us will learn to put aside whatever objections they concieve.”