Encircled by strong arms, face buried in the fur of a luxurious burgundy coat. His arms. His coat. Dark fur of a animal unbeknownst to me. Does it even matter now?
The creaking and groaning of wood as more and more unforgiving snow - an avalanche set free to save - now buries us alive.
Hot breath, that tousles my hair. Shivering, shaking like a damsel in distress. And maybe I am. True to this I cling to him, the man who dragged me away from enemies, fires and death. My savior. And still… so much more. Purple eyes squeeze shut. Blocking out the horrors of this world still so foreign to me. If only… If only…
My right arm hurts somewhat, from when my savior - no Cullen! - grabbed roughly to drag me to safety. But what safety is this I wonder, while the wood of our shelter groans and creaks under all the weight. Snow, so pure and beautiful… at the same time deadly. A coffin of ice.
I shudder at this dark thought, about to bury my face deeper into the fur of Cullen’s coat.
A loud crack cuts this short, instead triggering my instinct to flee. But he knows - of course he does. His arms clad in metal and leather tighten around my frame, preventing me from running, bolting, tripping over my own feet.
“Shhh, it’s over soon.” his voice is rough, imploring me to stay strong even though I can almost taste the fear he radiates too. He masks it. Almost perfectly. But I know. Know men like him. My brother had been just the same… in another life. Always protective, my anchor, my rock…
Another clash, tiniest crumbles of dirt raining down on us. Cullen swears under his breath and drags me further into the shelter. Past my tears, the fur and silverite pauldrons I glance around in fright, taking in what a tiny lamp - magical, most likely - permits me to see.
I recognize now, where exactly we are. Have been here before. Wooden walls give way to stone, thick and grey. Further dragged along into a corner, next to a cold fireplace. A bed, its headboard a bit away from the wall. There, into this tiny space he pushes me and I go down willingly. What are some spiders in comparison to crushed by a wooden roof that might collapse, anyway?
Cullen’s bulk shields me like a second wall, his larger body creating another shelter. His back turned to the room - golden eyes clouded. He is looking at me, and at the same time not. I know this look.
My blood runs colder than before as I realize, recognize. It’s dangerous. Can be. With my brother, I knew how to act. To help him come back to the here and now. But Cullen?
There is no option to put space between us so I do the only thing I can think of. Breathe flatly and stay deadly still. His lips are moving. Not words directed at me, from what syllables I can catch through all the noise above us. It's the chant of light. Verse after verse he recites, one gloved hand splayed out on the wall above my shoulder, the other digging into my bent knee to steady himself. It hurts but I don't dare to say a word. Like this he kneels before me, not blinking. It seems to take forever but then…
The noise gives way to silence. Seems so unreal, more ear deafening than the avalanche before. A few seconds pass where we listen, then Cullen’s grip loosens. A deep breath, as if he hadn't been breathing for a decade. Then a fluid rise to a stand, admirable considering the heavy armor he wears.
“Wait here. Don't move,” A command, spat rough and hoarsely. As if I would or could! His armored boots like blows of a hammer as he strides through the dimly lit cabin, his goal a window on the opposite. The only one where the avalanche had mercy, allowing the moon’s silver light to shine through.
What he sees as he looks outside I don’t know, can only guess from my memory. The cabin where we found shelter is a few hundred feet up the mountains. In the past, you had a beautiful view on Haven when standing at the door.
But Haven is no more… and soon neither will we. Because this I understand without asking, as I see how Cullen’s jaw clenches. The curse leaving his lips another evidence. Abruptly he turns, golden eyes seeming restless as they flicker through the room, landing first on the second window and the large crack bisecting dirty glass.. and then the shelf next to it.
In silence, knees tucked under my chin I watch as he springs into action. The shelf finds a new home in front of said window in mere seconds, scratching of wood and Cullen’s strained grunts disturbing the eerie silence. When it’s done he takes a step back, breathing heavily. One gloved hand runs through golden hair, which starts to curl happily.
Next he works on kindling a fire in the fireplace after a quick glance up the chimney. Honestly, I wouldn't have bothered with that. Why check if the chimney is free? Better dying in our sleep through monoxide, than… waiting for help that might never come. His movements are mechanical, I notice. Methodical. His hands tremble, but he picks smaller logs when they slid away.
But I know why Cullen does all this, keeps himself busy.
Regain control of the situation, as much as you can through tasks. Ensure that all primal needs are met. Safety. Warmth. Food. This way, a soldier, veteran can focus on the here and now. His back turned to me, I get lost in thoughts.
And as the shy yellow light catches in Cullen’s hair as the fire starts to lick along piled locks, I am reminded of the night we spend a week prior. The situation had been different. Passion instead of fear and looming death, happiness for the Herald had found allies to help close the breach. Reality so different than from the game I knew, and yet...
One moment of weakness that I allowed myself, after evading and dodging Cullen’s flirting, temptations, advances for weeks. Better not get involved with the events about to happen. Stay away from the Inner circle and the character I loved ingame… yet who had been so much more… fascinating in reality.
It’s the same with books and film versions. But oh, oh… No scene in game could do justice to the feel of his lips on mine, all that hunger and pent up desire. And even though I considered it a fling only - with Cullen making no attempt to seek me out again and me too proud to run after him - Part of me was sure that this… our night of passion prompted him to save me earlier. It’s ridiculous. And yet...
This thought prompts a faint smile but it vanishes instantly, as piercing golden eyes focus on me. Instinctively I shrink deeper into the half shadow next to the bed, my heart plummeting as his eyes narrow slowly. It’s like a bucket with icy water poured over me, washing away memories of passion and sensual kissing. Right now, this isn’t Cullen, my passionate one time lover… but a war veteran in the throws of PTSD, triggered by the attack of Haven.
One wrong word. One gesture. One sound. Could be enough to turn this cabin, that was supposed to be our temporary salvation into a death trap.
“Get up and come here!” he spats and I scramble to a stand as if electrocuted, wide eyed and breath lodged in my throat. There is no indication that he caught on the sudden fear he kindled in me, which is fed further as he approaches me with heavy steps. Roughly pulled forward as if I am a puppet, dragged toward the fire for I haven't been fast enough to comply. Tension thick and heavy, threatening to suffocate me.
“Take off your clothes!” my heart stops. No. No. This can’t be. Why would he save me, only to-
A growl rips me from my thoughts, large hands settling on my shoulders. Whirled around, my back to him. The dress that kept me covered, which clung damp from snow and heavy to my shivering form before, sags to the ground. Following suit my shift dress, falling down as do my eyelids as I close my eyes. A mockery of my memory of his hands being gentle and passionate, they are now rough and harsh. Skimming along my back and belly, and then…
He steps away just as I surrender to my fate, only to get the edge of an old mattress kicked against my ankle. My mind does not catch up fast enough - but Cullen does catch me as I lose my balance. Lowered onto the mattress, unceremoniously shoved closer to the warmth of the fire. Then a blanket is thrown over my shivering form, wrapping around my body as I twist around, looking up at him wide eyed.
“You’ll catch death when staying in damp clothes,” a hint of gentleness in his voice as he brushes past me to put another log into the fire.
“Especially someone of your condition.” Oh yes, I know why he says this. Remember that he wasn’t pleased how slender I am. Even compared to some refugees, I was considered thin. Funny, how approval on earth for my physique and strict diet to stay this way, turned to worried glances and extra bowls of broth in Thedas. Realization washes over me. Slowly. I am so stupid.
“Oh,” I croak “I… I thought you…”
Cullen scoffs and rises, throwing me a hurt look as he replies bitterly:
“Thought what? That I would force myself upon you? Is that what you think of me?!” Golden eyes narrow further and his following words are more a whisper. “So this is why you threw away my heart after you got what you want.” Then I am greeted with his broad back as he marches towards the bed stripped of its mattress, and starts methodically undoing his armor. Not sparing me another glance.