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Can We Pretend That We're In Love

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Ashkaari Adaar stood on the battlements of Skyhold, dark blue eyes staring blindly at the snowcapped mountains beyond. She clutched a letter and a warden badge in her right hand, paper crinkling in her grasp, tears spotting the paper here and there. The wind tossed dark brown hair, grown too long these past few months in her face now and then, but Ashkaari ignored it. Internally she knew she should feel the cold of the late autumn wind, but right now she didn't know if she could bring herself to care. She'd been out here for almost an hour, not really hiding from her advisers or her friends, but avoiding people nonetheless. The lone scout who had brought the letter to her, already knowing the meaning of the badge contained with the letter, had quietly and respectfully left the Inquisitor alone.

The romance between the Gray Warden Thom Rainer and Inquisitor Adaar was well known about Skyhold, as short lived as it might have been. They'd parted ways when Thom had left to join the Gray Wardens after the Elder One's defeat, both knowing they might not see each other again, and if they did, it would not be often. They'd written, but letters were rare, and they'd both been busy with their work, him with the Wardens, and her with the Inquisition.

Their reunion at the Exalted Council had been sweet, but short lived. He'd delayed his return to the Wardens for a few weeks after her encounter with Solas, but eventually he'd had to return.
And now, she acknowledged bitterly, she would never see him again.

They'd both known there was a high probability of Thom's life ending this way. They'd parted as friends, Thom quietly breaking things off and telling her she shouldn't be tied to a gray warden for the rest of her life, self-sacrificing idiot that he was.

"Shit," she swore softly as she felt another wave of tears drifting down her cheeks. She really should go inside, she'd come out here without a coat, and while she had a hardy immune system as a Qunari, she wasn't immune from getting sick.

She heard the steady footsteps of a soldier along the stones of the battlements, though she didn’t look away from the mountains. Hopefully it was just one of their soldiers on patrol. She hoped it wasn’t Cassandra. While she dearly loved her friend, Cassandra was not the best person to be discussing emotions with.

“Ash?” Cullen’s voice sounded beside her, a few inches below her ear.

She turned her head slowly to look down at the Commander. While she towered over him, in their years of working together, they’d both gotten used to the height difference, and neither found it strange now for her to be looking down at him and for him to be looking up at her.

She didn’t answer, she merely looked at him with red rimmed blue eyes. Cullen’s amber eyes flickered to the letter and warden badge clenched in her fist. He pursed his lips, debating words, then shook his head, knowing words weren’t going to help her mood right now.

He could not cheer her up, but he could ensure she was taken care of, particularly since his soldiers had reported she’d been standing out here in the cold for an hour.

“We’re going back to your quarters, you’re going to warm up by the fire, and we’re going to have some dinner brought up,” he told her. He didn’t believe she was suicidal, but he always wasn’t sure that leaving her alone any longer this evening was a good idea. He could at least ensure she was warm and ate dinner, even if she didn’t end up sleeping. He knew grief would likely mess with her sleeping habits. It had after Haven, and Blackwall’s loss was a good deal more personal than Haven had been.

Cullen placed a hand on Ashkaari’s elbow and found no resistance as he led her back down the stairs off the battlements and into Skyhold proper and towards her rooms. He caught a servant’s attention as he led her to her room and ordered food be brought up. He doubted that Ashkaari had simple needs like food on her mind right now.

She moved woodenly, slowly tramping up the stairs with him and let him push her down to sit on the couch before the fire. Ashkaari shivered a bit at the difference between the cool weather outside and the warmth of her rooms. Cullen checked to make sure doors and windows were shut as he found a bottle of whiskey on one of the shelves by the Inquisitor’s desk and two glasses. Pouring a generous amount into both, he carried them over and shoved the glass in her hand, setting the letter and badge aside.

Finally, Ash reacted, blinking slowly as she turned her head to him again, looked at the whiskey, then back at him.

“Thom wouldn’t want to see you like this, Ash,” Cullen told her firmly.

Ashkaari snorted. “Not much he can do about it now. Those he didn’t ask to go die…he didn’t ask I give him to the Wardens either. It seemed right at the time.” Her hand trembled. “Maker, if I hadn’t forced him into the Wardens, if I-“

“STOP,” Cullen’s voice cut across her panicked voice like a whip. “Do not blame yourself for this, Ashkaari Adaar! If Blackwall hadn’t been killed in the tunnels, then Thom would have ended up a Gray Warden years ago and you might have never met. If you hadn’t made him a Warden and let him go, he might have been killed by the family of one of his men. You cannot predict the future, Ash. This. Is. Not. Your. Fault.”

There was such conviction in his voice, Ashkaari found she almost believed him. She slumped against the couch, clutching at the glass in her hand.

“Drink,” Cullen instructed.

She took a shuttering breath and knocked the glass back in one go. Cullen merely watched before knocking back his own.

The burn almost had her coughing; the bottle that Cullen had chosen wasn’t particularly high grade, but it did the trick of bringing her out of her stupor. Carefully, she set the empty glass down on the table beside the couch and turned to look at Cullen again.

He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, Ash, you’re going to mourn. That’s natural, it’s not a bad thing. But you cannot blame yourself for his fate. Thom went to the Warden’s willingly. We all knew what was at stake when he left the Winter Palace.” His eyes grew distant for a moment. “It’s going to hurt like the abyss for a while. Eventually, the pain will ease. It will never go away entirely, but it will ease.”

Ashkaari frowned. “You speak from experience.”

Cullen nodded, turning a sad gaze to her. “There was a mage, back at the Fereldan circle I was in love with. She survived her harrowing, but then she was caught helping another mage try and escape, and, well..”

“They killed her.”

“They made her tranquil,” he replied.

Ashkaari shuttered at the thought, feeling her own magic pulse through her blood a moment. The thought of being cut off from her emotions, from her dreams, was terrifying. Being cut off from her magic didn’t scare her as much anymore, it had been changed by the Mark and hadn’t ever quite been as strong since she’d lost the Mark and most of her left arm, but the thought of never feeling joy, pain, love, all those things, that was horrifying.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

“I never wanted that for her. And now that I know better now,” Cullen shook his head. “I thought it a mercy after what happened at the Fereldan towner, she didn’t get possessed and become an abomination, but she was never herself, after they made her Tranquil.”

Several moments of silence passed before Ash spoke. “Thank you, for telling me, Cullen.”

“You’re the only one I’ve ever told,” he said with a faintest smile. “But then I’ve never told anyone else what happened at the Circle either.”

Ashkaari stared down at her lap as she considered that. The quiet was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Ash let Cullen get up to collect the food from the servant, her eyes drifting to the fire.

Cullen let her eat in relative silence, the two of them focusing on their food. Cullen poured them both more whiskey. “To dull the pain for a night,” he told her.
There would be no body to bury, Ashkaari thought, but perhaps they could have a memorial service for Thom. As she felt her head begin to buzz from the whiskey, she decided that was something that could wait until tomorrow, or another day.

“You’re getting me drunk on purpose,” she mused as Cullen filled her glass a third time.

“I am,” Cullen admitted. “It’ll help you sleep, tonight at least, and I know you’re exhausted. You only got back from Denerim two days ago. You aren’t going to stop mourning and I’m not going to try and stop you, but I am going to make sure you take care of yourself.”

Her lips twisted into a faint smile as she set an empty plate on the table beside her. “Thank you, Cullen…I..it’s nice, to have someone take care of me for a change.”
His expression softened. “I’m here for you, Ash,” he told her. “I cannot ease your pain, but I can at least lend an ear and a shoulder, if you need it, and make sure you take care of yourself. Whatever you need.”

Finally, Ashkaari began getting sleepy, and Cullen helped guide her to the bed after she drank a few glasses of water and put more water and a headache potion for the hangover he knew she’d have the next day by the bed.

She fell onto her bed, still dressed. “T’kyou Cullen,” she murmured tiredly.

“You’re welcome, Ash,” he smiled faintly. After tossing a blanket over her, he took his leave.

Chapter Text

Skyhold still felt full of people many days. Their overall military force had been reduced, but those who were career soldiers, others who had no families to return to after the Breach and the Mage and Templar war, and still others who needed a start somewhere other than their original homes remained. Cullen now commanded and trained them as a peace keeping force, rather than a force needed to fight a war against the Elder One and his minions.

They went where the Chantry requested they go, most of the time. The Inqusition maintained a presence in many of the places where they'd previously set up forts, like the Western Approach, Crestwood, and Emprise De Lion, but their presence in other areas was more as a reassurance to the local populace that if something did happen, the Chantry had bodies they could call upon for help.

Inquisitor Adaar had, herself, spent the past several weeks in Fereldan, near the Storm Coast, helping people recovering from a bout of bad storms that had caused a good deal of damage through flooding or high winds along the coast. She'd arrived back at Skyhold with some of the Inquisition's soldiers two days ago, and had been relieved to remember that now back at Skyhold, she wouldn't immediately be pulled into a meeting to deal with a threat or a problem somewhere, or have to roll out of bed at 3am to rush off to some remote corner of the Thedas to deal with demons.

The truth was, while many still looked to her to lead the Inquisition, she could actually afford to take time off and to herself now. If something was particularly dire then Leliana would send a raven, but those days were further and farther in between these days. In the calm, Ashkaari was actually debating a visit to Kirkwall to see Varric to see how her old friend was doing. Cassandra had mentioned in her letter several weeks ago that she might be traveling to Kirkwall or see the Viscount. Most of Cassandra's time these days was spent rebuilding the Seekers, with some help from the Inquisition, but she visited both Kirkwall and Skyhold often enough.

Not many of the Inner Circle remained in residence at Skyhold these days. Iron Bull and the Chargers came back in between jobs for the Inquisition, Sera and Cole could be found pulling pranks on the residents, and Ashkaari and Cullen remained in their positions as leader and commander of the Inquisition, but most others had moved on with their lives.

Life changes, Ash thought to herself as she made her way down the stairs from her quarters, through the main hall, and towards the Tavern. She was actually debating relocating to another portion of Skyhold now that the Inquisition was officially a Peace Keeping force serving the Chantry. Her current quarters could be adjusted a bit and would be suitable for any number of highly ranked visitors they might receive, particularly if Leliana kept her promise and visited at some point. While Ashkaari was technically still Inquisitor, it wasn't the position it had been, and she didn't need fancy quarters anymore.

She'd been born to a mercenary and an inn keeper in the Free Marches. She'd lived a good portion of her adult life as a mercenary, sleeping on bedrolls and worse. Even after her years as Inquisitor, the fancy furnishings still made her feel out of place.

That and she was tired of climbing so many stairs just to get to bed.

Ash made a mental note to discuss it with the young Antivan noblewoman who had taken Josephine's place as their Ambassador, on Josephine's personal recommendation. Ash was particularly fond of Lady Alessandra herself. The young woman was the second born of a noble family, and had received a thorough education from her parents. She'd served as one of Josephine's Antivan contacts during the Mage-Templar war and the time of the Breach. Alessandra was well aware of many of the pitfalls and issues that the Inquisition could encounter, but she also was incredibly levelheaded, and perhaps more willing to concede to Ash that now that the Inquisition was no longer the power it had been, certain appearances could be relaxed.

She entered the tavern with a slight duck of her head, still thinking humans could do better with their doorways after all this time, and headed towards the back of the main floor where Bull and Krem were gathered, already drinking and exchanging insults based on the performance of the Chargers over the past few weeks. Ashkaari grinned as she dropped down onto the bench beside Bull, knowing it would be sturdy enough to hold two Qunari. Only then did she notice that the Commander was seated across from Bull, next to Krem, mug of ale in one hand.

"Evening Ashkaari," Cullen greeted her with a smile.

She smiled back and gave a tilt of her head as she waved at one of the servers to bring her a drink. "Evening Cullen. Been here long?" She wasn't sure why she was so surprised to see him here. Since the Inquisition had transitioned, she'd found Cullen on more than one night spending time with his troops or with the Chargers in the tavern. It was almost as if the transition had taken a certain weight of his shoulders. He still took his post very seriously, but with the threat of war and its aftermath no longer hanging over their heads, Cullen had been able to relax a little.

It also wasn't the first night he and she had spent drinking in the tavern. Particularly in the first few months after news of Thom's death, Cullen and sought her out deliberately for company in the evenings, and they'd spent many nights talking over any range of subjects, just enjoying the chance to actually relax and live in peace for once.

"Not too long," Cullen replied. "Finished up some of the paperwork related to those Storm Coast floods."

Ash cringed faintly. "Better you than me. I always hated paperwork. That's why I became a mercenary in the first place. Not that I can really do a lot in the field these days." She shrugged.

"Pretty sure you've done more than enough fighting, Boss," Bull drawled. "You've earned the right to retire."

Ash snorted. "Retire? I'd get too bored."

"So find someone to keep you busy," Bull suggested easily. He grinned as he looked between her and Cullen. "I'm sure you and the Commander could keep each other busy."

Cullen went scarlet and Ashkaari sputtered. "Bull!"

The older Qunari snorted. "Don't think I haven't see how two you look at each other."

"I-er, Ashkaari is a very good friend and I respect her," Cullen managed. "I enjoy spending time with her."

Krem looked like he was trying not to snicker as Ash sent a glare in his direction, and Bull gave them both a look that said 'I know you two better than that.' Bull gave a great shake of his head. "You find him attractive, Ashkaari," the old mercenary said bluntly. He pointed at Cullen. "And I know for all your sputtering in the early days about humans and elves and such, you find her attractive too."

Cullen looked as if he wanted the floor to swallow him and Ash didn't look much better. For Cullen, he didn't think it was entirely appropriate, given that she'd gotten word of Thom's death a bit less than a year ago, for all that Ash had mentioned they'd ended things before Thom Rainer left for the last time.

And Ash couldn't imagine that the Commander would want a scarred, one armed woman he couldn't even look in the eye without looking up.

"Bah, deny all you want, but I've been observing you two for months now, and you should stop dancing around."

"I think..I still need to finish a report!" Cullen said suddenly. "Er, Ashkaari, I'll see you later." Then he fled.

Ash shot a glare at Bull and huffed. "Well that went swimmingly."

"At least it's out in the open?" Krem tried to suggest helpfully.

Ashkaari shot him a dark look. "I'm a former mercenary and a one armed mage, and a completely different race. Not the kind of person that a former Templar settles down with, no matter how attractive he may be and no matter how good of friends we may be. Why did you do that, Bull?"

The old mercenary fixed his good eye on her. "Come on, Ashkaari, don't lie to me. You've always found him attractive. You flirted with him in Haven, I watched you."

"He also gently let me down back in Haven," Ash reminded him. "And then I got involved with Thom."

"And you and Thom both knew it was never something that would last forever, even after you spared his life," Bull said gently. He turned, putting his scarred hand over her remaining hand. "Ashkaari, my friend, you're allowed to be happy, you know? That man has watched you since before Skyhold, even back at Haven. He became your friend in those early days, but I've watched his admiration grow into something I think a great deal deeper than simple friendship, even if he hasn't said it aloud. But after the news you got on Thom, he wasn't going to make any kind of move. If anything is going to happen between the two of you, you're going to have to initiate it."

Ashkaari stared down at Bull's hand on hers, then into her mug. "I'll...think about it," she said at last.

"Chief's not wrong," Krem offered quietly. "And he's right too, that you've done a lot for Thedas and all. Maybe it's time you did something for you."

Chapter Text

Adaar decidedly did see much of Cullen over the next three days, and she was fairly certain he was deliberately avoiding her after the rather disastrous conversation with the Iron Bull and Krem. Any time she entered a room she swore he'd been in just moments before, she discovered he'd slipped out another entrance or mysteriously had to leave as soon as she entered the room. What concerned her more than the fact that he was avoiding her was why he was avoiding her.

If Bull was to be believed, it was because Cullen fancied her and was embarrassed over his feelings being so baldly revealed, or, more likely the cynical part of her mind told her, he was mortified that anyone could think he fancied a Qunari. She really wanted it to be the former, but she'd been let down so many times in her life, she suspected it was the latter.

She now sat in front of her fireplace, muttering to herself over a glass of mulled wine, occasionally moving her fingers towards the crystal for Dorian that she wore around her neck. She missed her old friend. While talking Bull could be enlightening, and she knew her friend and fellow 'Qunari' wanted her to be happy, he didn't always have the way with words for comforting her that Dorian did. She sipped her wine as she contemplated this. Even Lace Harding, Ashkaari's friend, former Inqusition scout turned spymaster, had remarked on it. Lace typically didn't remark on that sort of thing, though Ashkaari guessed she'd noticed the Inquisitior and the Commander dancing around each other months ago.

And Harding had told her just as bluntly this morning when Cullen rushed out of the room that Ash ought to do something about it.

She took a long sip of fortifying wine and then touched her fingers to the crystal, sighing lightly. "Dorian, can you talk?" she asked softly.

She heard her best friend's voice almost as if he was in the same room. "Ashkaari, darling, what's wrong?"

It didn't matter that it was the middle of the night and he might be exhausted or busy, Dorian was there for her. How she missed him some days. "I need a little relationship advise."

"Ahh, so you're finally making a move on our dear Commander?" Dorian chuckled softly, his tone fond.

He couldn't see her flush, but Ash thought Dorian would sense it all the same. "There was a rather unfortunately conversation with Bull involved the other day while we were all drinking together and Bull announced quite loudly that we liked each other and should do something about it. Cullen fled the scene."

Dorian sighed. "Oh dear. I adore my beloved, and he's incredibly perceptive, but usually he isn't quite that blunt, unless of course he thinks someone needs a kick in the pants to get them going."

Ashkaari winced just a little.

"Look, darling, you and I, and Bull, all know how you feel about the Commander. You flirted with him in Haven, and even after you got involved with Thom you were still quite fond of Cullen. You've had your time to mourn, and now you want move with the Commander. That is alright, my dear."

"He's avoiding me," Ashkaari said, letting the bitterness few people rarely ever heard from her out. Dorian and Bull were two of the few she ever fully let her guard down around anymore.

"Ashkaari, you walked out of the Fade, twice," Dorian reassured her. "You've faced down cultists, an ancient Tevinter Magister, a possessed dragon, and the entire Exalted Council. You can corner one human man and tell him how you feel."

Maybe she just really needed to hear that from someone else, but she felt a little of the tension lessening in her shoulders. "You're right."

"Of course I am, darling. Now I need to get some sleep, and so should you, my dear. Go hunt down your Commander in the morning and get your man."

"Good night Dorian, I miss you."

"Miss you too my dear Inquisitor," Dorian said as his voice faded away.

Ashkaari let the crystal drop against her chest and reached for her wine glass. There was a meeting after breakfast tomorrow in the War Room, one that Cullen could not skip. She would corner him before the meeting because she knew he always arrived early to look at the map, and then they would talk.

~~

Ashkaari rose earlier than normal the following morning, bathed as quickly as she could, and carefully dressed in suitable clothing that she knew she could dress in herself, even missing an arm. That had been an adjustment after the Council, but Ash was nothing if not stubborn enough to learn to dress and eat on her own. She made her way down to the War Room, knowing Cullen should already be there, but there would still be enough time to confront him over avoiding her before others trickled in. She slipped quietly through the large door, lessons in stealth from her childhood and mercenary days coming in handy.

Cullen had a stack of parchment next to one elbow and his eyes were fixed on the large map spread out over the table. She was almost upon him before he noticed her, his head jerking up in surprise when her shadow fell on the table.

"Er, Inquisitor, good morning. How are you?" he asked, and she could already see him edging around the table.

"Damnit Cullen, stop this," she swore. "You haven't talked to me in three days and you are avoiding me. And I have a name, you've had no trouble using it before. Why the title suddenly?"

"Ashkaari, I," his shoulder slumped then as he looked up at the taller Vashoth, "Ashkaari, I'm sorry. You are my friend, and yes I've been avoiding you. The other night with Bull was just rather embarrassing and I'd rather go back to pretending it never happened if you don't mind.."

"Why?" she demanded sharply. "Is it because you can't find yourself to love a Vashoth and you were embarrassed someone would connect you with me, I am sort of a mess and all, or because you actually have feelings for me?"

"I would never!" he straightened and glared at her. "Don't talk about yourself like that, Ashkaari. You are no more a mess than I, and you've certainly been there for me through each step of my struggle with the lyrium additional." His golden eyes looked almost pained. "Vashoth, human, elf...it doesn't matter anymore. I know I once said it did, but I," he sighed. "I care for you deeply, Ashkaari. And I am afraid that you do not feel the same way."

"You're an idiot," she informed him bluntly, stepping forward and leaning over him, looking as if she wanted to kiss him, but she didn't yet. "I'm fairly certain I'm falling in love with you, Cullen. I like you. I always thought you were attractive, and if friendship is all I can get then I will be satisfied with it, but I do like you a great deal more than that."

She saw relief flicker over his features, and hesitantly, he lifted a hand to her cheek. "Do you?" he asked softly. "Good. May I kiss you, Ashkaari?"

"Yes you silly human," she told him affectionately, and leaned her head down as he craned up to brush his lips against hers. Her arm slid around his waist and he steadied his arms around her neck, the kiss deepening a moment until they heard a pointed cough.

They didn't quite spring apart, but they did see Harding smirking at them from across the table. "Congratulations, you two, but more after the meeting, okay?"

Ashkaari looked down at Cullen, and saw his smile answer her own. "So...we'll talk more after the meeting?"

"After the meeting," he agreed, letting his fingers interlace with hers.

Chapter Text

It would be nice to say that everything went swimmingly after that, but neither Ashkaari or Cullen were foolish enough to expect life to be perfect. That first night, they stayed up well into the early hours of the morning talking. The Inquisitor and the Commander both had their fair share of personal demons, and both had lived through too much to expect that their lives would combine seamlessly just because they'd gotten their heads out of their asses, but it was a start.

"What do you want, from all of this?" Ashkaari asked Cullen that first night as they sat on the couch in her room, their thighs pressed against one another as they watched the flames dance in the fireplace.

Cullen considered her question and leaned into her side, taking a slow sip of the whiskey she'd opened earlier that evening. "Eventually, something permanent," he admitted. "I'm not expecting the whole settle down with a farm or a castle or whatever it is and raise children and all that. Our lives serving the Inquisition, even in its new capacity, will take up a great deal of our energy. And I'm not really sure if biological children are even a possibility."

She tilted her head, idly sliding her good arm around his shoulders. "Permanent, exclusive?" she suggested. "Do you want to marry in the Chantry, eventually, if we get to that point?"

"I'd like to if we decide to marry," he said, "But I don't know what your customs are. I know from Ironbull there's no marriage in the Qun, and some might say we'd be moving a bit fast if we suddenly got married, for all that we've known each other for years."

Ash chuckled at that and dropped a kiss on his golden curls. "I think," she mused, "That in our familiarity, marriage isn't all together unquestionable, but we should perhaps be together awhile first, as a couple, a few months or a year. We can revisit this conversation next year, see how we feel?"

His lips quirked. "I think I'm alright with that."

His eyes flickered towards the bed a moment and she saw him flush. Ashkaari laughed wickedly. "Something else on your mind, Commander?"

"Er, physical relations, how do we, er?" he rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean to say that.."

"You're just as adorable now as you were in Haven," she told him with dancing eyes. "Let's see where things take us. I am certainly not adverse to physical relations. I've had an encounter or two since Blackwall but that's it. I'm going to guess you're a virgin?"

"Yes," he replied in a low tone, flushing again.

"Cullen, Kadan, there is nothing to be ashamed of," Ash told him firmly. "Thing about my family, my mercenary band, is that whether or not you are into sex or not, whether you do it with one single person exclusively or many, it's no one's business but you and your partner or partners if you have them." She laced her fingers in his. "We can go at your place, my Lion. We will let things develop as they will, I am certainly not seeking the company of others, and eventually, if you decide you want to join me in my bed, I will welcome you."

Cullen gave her a relieved smile and leaned up to kiss her again. "Thank you, Ashkaari."

Other words were lost then in the soft touch of lips on lips and snuggling on the couch. Ashkaari knew that they'd take things at their own pace. There were no emergencies they had to worry about, the world wasn't ending.

They had all the time they needed.

~~ ~~~

Their lives in the new Inqusition continued on, Ashkaari spending most of her days either in paperwork, in meetings, or out on missions when the Chantry requested the Inqusition's help. For all her handicap, Ashkaari still often went out into the field to help where she could. The Mark had taken her hand, but it hadn't taken her mind or her magic. She spent as much time visiting places and negotiating on behalf of Divine Victoria as she did in the field.

Sometimes Cullen accompanied her on these visits, sometimes he didn't. There were still forces to train and to send out on patrol or mission, though as a peacekeeping force now. The need to recruit as they once had no longer existed, and many of their new recruits came directly from recommendation of the Chantry. There were many that Cullen suspected in past times would have ended up in the Templars or the Circles, and he hoped that things worked out better here than the prior organizations.

Eventually Cullen, after a great deal of thought, headaches, and Ashkaari's advice, appointed an elf who had been a former Senior Enchanter of a Circle as one of his trainers to oversee the mages in their ranks, and with their help and Ashkaari's, they began to develop training programs where the regular troops and mages learned to work together. As months and years went on, their program expanded, leading to most squads containing at least one mage who was as well battle trained as any other soldier. Some of them came from training in Fiona's College of Enchanters, a few came from the few reformed Circles that Vivienne oversaw.

It was progress, though, through hard work and effort, much as Cullen's own opinion of mages had changed, so did attitudes of many the Inquisition worked with.

"Get the public used to seeing mages among them, mages who are trained and work with them, rather than locked away in a tower," Ashkaari had told Divine Victoria and Cullen once during a meeting. "If they see mages everyday, they're less likely to be afraid of them."

Things progressed carefully between Ash and Cullen. They spent evenings together when they were both in residence at Skyhold, usually on the couch in Ashkaari's newer, smaller quarters (she'd eventually won the minor disagreement between herself and their new ambassador and she took up residence in rooms on the second floor that overlooked the gardens), eating dinner and sharing a pot of tea. Most evenings would end with Cullen quietly kissing her good night before heading back to his tower.

Tonight though, perhaps eight months or so since they'd gotten together, after they'd finished dinner and the plates were cleared away, he considered her, his eyes flickering amber in the firelight.

"Something on your mind, Lion?" she asked him.

"Aye, my heart," he said. He scooted a little closer to her, taking her hand in his and slowly began kissing her hand, finger by finger. "I wonder if you'd mind if I stayed here tonight?"

Ashkaari cocked her head for a moment, seeing the nervous energy in his gaze, and the desire too. With a soft growl, she pressed him back against the couch, catching his lips with hers.

The next morning when a servant came to deliver breakfast, they were greeted with the sight of a gray skinned Vashoth, entwined in bed with her lover, his curly golden hair pressed into the crook of her neck as they lay sleeping.

The elf smiled to herself, quietly set breakfast of pastries on the table near the couch, and slipped out, leaving the lovers to enjoy a quiet morning together.