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Of Her Choosing

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The wind on the battlements at Skyhold cut into her in a punishing way. She wrapped her arms around her chest and drew the sleeves of her lustrous cotton shirt & white longcoat close. Her face turned away from the late night patrol, arm reaching up to cover her eyes as she passed by. She could not help grazing her forehead with her fingers. It felt alien without the raised scar vines of her Vallaslin.

It made no sense. He made no sense. After months of constant work together. The time they spent talking. The adventures into the fade. She felt dizzy, nauseous. A dark, prickling, cold, well of anxiety stormed inside her. Had she missed something important- made an unwitting error? This was her fault somehow: He passed an invisible judgement upon her, at some point and, found her less than. She dissected a million scenes in her mind, ripping apart her treasured memories of being together, a thousand adventures and quiet moments over the past few years, hunting for the piece she missed, getting angrier at herself, him, everything.

She felt the cold air spike into her lungs. Inhale. Exhale. Her body wracked with shivers. How long had she been crying? How many patrolling troops had crossed her path in the last... 20 minutes? Two hours? It was time to get inside and out of sight. She headed for the tower door, her eyes swimming.

As she flung open the creaky door, familiar smells and sights waved over her with the warmth from the fireplace. The desk, shelves, roaring hearth. This was the Commander’s tower.

“Seven hells, apologies.” She cursed, looking around, quickly stepping inside, and throwing the bolt behind her.

Cullen looked up from where he was crouched by a pile of books in the corner of his office. “Inquisitor!” He bolted upright. His face was glazed in a thin sheen of sweat, jaw clenched. Aside from being the middle of the night, It was the absolute worst time to have a surprise visit from the Herald. He was a mess. Lyrium withdrawal made the worst of its mark in the insomnia.

“Are you alright?” they blurted out in unison.

She laughed first as he stammered and brushed a massive hand across the back of his neck.

“No, I feel the way you look,” she blurted out, sheepishly.

“Maker. If it’s that bad, I should get us both some of this tea Leliana sent up earlier.” He shot her his trademark smirk. He thought it was a relief that their banter was this easy, even at this hour.

It had taken work to recover his soldiers sense of humor with her. She had a way of breaking through his command facade with her constant questions. Her presence. He paused to take her appearance in before striding towards the hearth and setting up the kettle.

He had increased Skyhold’s battlement patrols since closing out the withdrawal plan for the Arbour Wilds. Between four to seven guards could have seen the inquisitor head into his quarters at this hour. He welcomed her company but was not particularly looking forward to the steely looks from her Apostate companion when the gossip made its rounds.

More importantly, His reputation with his troops was built on his honor. How could he be trustworthy of his people if he was seen to interfere in the personal affairs of the leadership of the Inquisition? Friendship is one thing but they had built an organization from nothing into a political juggernaut. Optics are king as far as The Game is played. None of this was his field of strength and he reminded himself to be very careful here, now, even as his mind raced.

Something was deeply troubling his friend and as much as it was his job to support her, he knew he'd have to be very careful with what the Orlesians refer to as masks. He paused his thoughts to ask: “Is it the voices from the well? Leliana briefed me.”

She nodded once, observing his contemplation between speaking. He was conflicted. It was the same face he made when offering counter proposals to the war-table tactics of his fellow advisors. It was tough not to smile at seeing his strategic mind working a little too hard, even here.

“I imagine we’re not the only people in this keep forcibly kept from sleep by ghosts," He offered, "If you wanted to talk, I’d listen. I may not have any useful counsel but, I can listen. You did as much for me.” His tone softened as he looked over the kettle to meet her eyes.

She had most definitely been crying- for a while, it seemed. Zeroing in on her eyes, he started suddenly, spilling water as he anchored the kettle over the fire. Her markings! The Elvish clan tattoos common amoungst the Dalish. They were gone! How could he have missed that? He couldn’t just blame the pressure inside his head as his nerves rattled out their requirement of lyrium. His whole body ached but, there was no excuse for missing details. He made a note to seek Cassandra tomorrow for a leave of absence, it was time. For now, he forced himself to be present.

“How-... Your? Forgive me for staring.” He stammered and rubbed his eyes. With the Vallaslin gone and the way she curled in onto herself as she stood, she seemed so very different from the woman who had grown to renew his faith in leadership. He clocked her hands shaking slightly at her sides. He could not help examining her for errant sparks or barrier signals that her magic was slipping outside of her control. Turning off his Templar instincts was impossible, even now. While he looked he could not neglect how stunningly beautiful she was. It reached him in a deep and familiar place of pain, that he could see the most powerful woman in Thedas before him like this: Looking like she would fold in on herself and implode.

She leaned back against the wall and took her head in her hands, running her fingers up to her temples. “It’s gone. They were... slave markings. Like the way the Tevinter marked slaves. Elves enslaved their own people. Our history is.. wrong.” She shook her head and choked back a nasel sob, her face twisted in self loathing and grief.

He crossed to his desk, retrieving a silk handkerchief from a drawer, grimacing from his own headache and unsure of where to go next, with both of them in their current state. He crossed back to her and offered the folded square at arms length, barely able to look at the suffering in her eyes. She took it from him and wiped her face, smudging and pushing around the wet dirt and grit around.

He spoke slowly, carefully. “It makes sense that pieces of your history are lost to time. Human history in patches of Ferelden is the same, The dwarves- they've also lost long ages worth of knowledge, particularly in the fallen Thaigs. Our understanding of what has passed even within the last 30 years relies heavily on what the Chantry saved from blight and burning or, stole from damaged Tevinter archives as they retreated. You can’t-..”

“It just made sense in the moment, to get rid of it," She cut him off, continuing with fresh tears, "to be more supportive of the truth right now but, the meaning changed with time... What it means to our people now is, so different. But then, he just walked away, like he was embarrassed of me, Or for me.” She slumped down, back against the wall until her knees drew up to her chin. She tried to hide herself from him there with her arms and legs.

Cullen’s eyebrows arched up at this new information. Solas...left her? After revealing some grand, dark historic truth to shame the foundations of her culture? After everything she had given him? Collaborated with full inquisition resource support in his pet research projects? It did not sit right with him. He was not alone amoungst the other advisors in knowing the pair of mages were involved, all three of them had seen the Inquisitor’s romance with the Apostate unfold. They had agreed that the pair’s feelings for each other seemed genuine, their influences on each other, positive. He had put down his own feelings for the Inquisitor then. It made more sense for her to be with her own.

The Apostate’s work with the fade led the organization to greater magical and sometimes financial resources. It helped stabilize regions across Thedas. Cullen had come to accept the Apostate’s value to the cause and to her as legitimate enough to temper any loss he felt from setting aside the idea of becoming close to her. Solas’s abrupt detachment, with that bit of demeaning magical theatre, made no sense. Something else had to have been at play with his motivations. It seemed uncharacteristically crude.

The apostate was known for his chilly and often arrogant demeanor but Cullen had never seen or heard of any signs of cruelty from him. Save perhaps an unusual rage at other mages who tampered ineptly with the fade, or the bloodlust of the occasional dragon hunt. It alarmed him that he missed something so important in his observance of the Herald’s inner circle. There would be time to address that inconsistency, with the other advisors, later.The right thing to do now was to restore the support that the Mage gave her before he abruptly ripped it out from under her. He stepped closer to his Herald, willing himself to put his feelings aside and focus on the leader before him.

She continued, distraught: “It is our people, our culture and he just took it because it suited his idea of what was right and then he left. He left me there.” She balled up the silk handkerchief in her hand while her whole body shook with her tears. Her anchor pulsed menacingly in her hand and a green arc suddenly shot across her palm, bouncing off of the stone wall on the other side of the room.

Cullen jumped back from her before he could neutralize his shock. He had thought they had more time. This was a new side-effect of the mark. He had been advised by Vivienne and Dorian via their respective non-elven research that magical markings grounded in the physical body could increase in their intensity. Over time, they informed him, it would progress into to the inability to control the marking and an increase in it’s aggression when the mage was distressed. It was a bad time to be in the final phases of his lyrium withdrawal. What if she needed him, needed him as a templar, to give them all more time to finish the work of the inquisition?

Those thoughts swirled around his mind until he realized what he must do. He quickly strode over to her and reached for her wrist. She looked up at him in surprise, trying to twist out of his grasp. He locked his fingers around the hand with the anchor and pulled a slight drain of her mana from her energy field around the mark.

He watched the fear fall away from her eyes as she realized what he was doing. Had she been seized by a circle, he wondered? He never really inquired to her history with templars before the inquisition. Perhaps another reason why she chose Solas. He willed his mind back to the present. Right now, he did not have the power to pull enough magic off of her mark to soothe it properly. Not with out Lyrium. He grimaced as his nervous system punished him for the sudden expense of energy. He tried to put down his thoughts of losing her, sooner than later, in a very final way.

“You need to steel yourself right now, Or I need to take a draught before you light this whole tower up.” He spoke plainly, trying not to laugh at her, like she was a recruit that slipped on morning dew during a sparring session at the training grounds. His body was inches from her face now, towering over her.

She pressed her forehead against his calves and pulled back, staring up into his amber eyes, shaking with grief.

“Cullen, I don’t want to do this any more. Any of it. I never asked for it. It’s too much,” she wavered. “I want to go home.” Even as the words left her lips, shame washed over her. She sounded like a child crying to the keeper about a knee skinned in the woods. She could see his chest rise and fall with his breath as he lowered himself, suddenly eye to eye with her, and immersed himself in her pain. He told himself he would not mention the news from Wycome. That would have to fall on another day. His only concern in this moment, was putting her back together.

“We fix this together, or there is no home to go to. Breathe with me. Deep breaths” His mouth was inches from hers. He could smell the perfumed oil she used to smooth her hair. Rich spices, roses, and honey. The peppermint on her breath. It was almost too much for him. He closed his eyes quickly to get away from her, to focus back into the breath work Cassandra trained him in: The work the seekers taught their acolytes in order to master the Templar powers without lyrium. If he was lucky, it be would be enough to soothe her. If he was very lucky he could drain enough of her magic to stabilize her without falling deeper into withdrawl. He just had to focus. FOCUS, he commanded himself.

She watched him turn his chin slightly away from her and slam his eyes shut. She took in his face with her eyes: his angular jaw, the little scar at the side of his mouth that pulled up whenever he smiled. Her knees bent forward slightly as she tried to ease herself back up a bit, slipping into the rhythm of their breathing. His hands were still locked on her wrists. Her legs bent forward to meet his, her back against the stone wall. She could not draw him up with her so she remained down, locked in place with him. She pressed the side of her head to his temple, resting her lips to his ear. “Cullen..” she whispered to him.

“Maker save me,” He whispered back, against her.” You are THE Inquisitor. It’s Unfair, brutally unfair to you and we all know it. Rumors start quickly around here, I wouldn’t want to harm you in any way, your reputation, our work here, It’s- “

“It’s over. Solas and I..We never. It does not matter. He never cared for me. I was only ever an idiot child he needed to teach lessons to. I made the wrong choice. I should have put you first. I made the wrong choice. I am so very sorry.” She trembled as she slid towards the floor, his knees giving out under him as he pulled her onto his lap. They sat there together on the floor for a moment. He took his left hand up to stroke the back of her neck, murmuring into her hair, sighing heavily. Please not this, he prayed silently. This was too much to ask of him tonight.

“It was never my place to pursue you. Everyone here admires you in there own way, what you need from me, what you have always needed, is someone who just does their job. It would never be fair to put what I wanted ahead of what was best for everyone.” Even as he the words left his mouth softly, true to his heart, he reeled in the utter disbelief of the Apostate not consummating this relationship, a several year long romantic relationship with the Herald. Maybe he had other tastes but, her blood must have been boiling with desire for so long. This made everything happening here in his office make a lot more sense now.

“Cullen, I don’t have any answers and I can’t offer anything. I just need you.”

They pulled back from each other for a beat, arms still entwined, watching the other. He groaned as she shifted her weight over him. Her warmth, her closeness made him so hard. He had no idea when it started, when she felt him but, it was long enough ago that his cock ached to feel her around him. She had him, there was no way he could ever say no to her. He knew it then. He tried not to let his mind race away from him again.

Whatever reasons Solas had, he would not put her aside in a permanent way, even if she was trivial to him, she was powerful and the proud do not set aside their valuables. More importantly, they all traveled together often. The Final March was coming. Cullen knew he would lose her, to her own kind, to a battle, to the mark on her hand. It would rip him apart when it happened but it would happen. It would still happen if they got no closer than they were in that moment. It would if...

The shrill whistle of the kettle went off.

She laughed. He smirked at her.

“Andraste’s brilliant timing, hmmm?” He carefully slid out from under her, stood up and blushed a dark crimson, shaking his head. Quickly turning from her and adjusting himself he moved over to the fireplace and poured the hot water over the crumbled leaves in the mugs. He tried to clear his mind again.

She studied him, out of his full-plate he was a massive man, even for a human. One of his biceps were easily bigger than both of her own thighs. The evening linen shirt and trousers he wore did little to hide his broad shoulders, chiseled core, or muscular legs. She let her eyes take in the shape of his length, tucked up against his smalls.

It was unfair of her, to do this to him. He really did care for her, had since the very first days back at Haven. He had swallowed back his feelings after the mountain nearly killed her there, shared moments and long looks before every fortress raid or long march and, fought by her side unfailingly at every military operation that required their full military. He gave her privacy and respectful distance in her relationship with Solas at every turn, a stark contrast from Bull’s blunt flirting or Blackwell’s clingy adoration.

She looked over at him as he poured their tea. Even on the odd but increasingly frequent occasion where she had, after discussing business, tried to corner him into discussing their connection, he always pulled back into his role as Commander and advisor 1st. Over drinks, Cassandra was clear with her: Cullen would never share her with anyone. His pride could never stand to allow himself to be a second choice, he would never entertain a conversation that could be overhead and harm his reputation. He would never stand to be a fall-back but, that was exactly what she was begging him to be for her now. She felt another hot rush of shame and humiliation. To hurt someone this perfectly close to her just because she was hurting. It wasn’t right.

He brought her mug of tea down to her, extending it out at arm’s length, just as he had with the handkerchief, earlier.

He tried not to meet her eyes again, struggling to to force himself not to drink in the supple curves of her legs that traveled up to her perfect heart shaped ass, and on to breasts fuller than he had ever seen on an elf. Her body was almost as impossible as she was. He could fight Lyrium. He could fight half of Thedus at any given moment but, he couldn’t fight everything and her at the same time.

When she took her tea from him he brought his arm to his side and tried not to clench his fist. He could feel himself almost shaking. He could still be everything he is to her, give her more than that twit mage ever could, and be decent and honorable about it. He could allow himself the chance to be close to someone he loved and respected just one more time before the Lyrium or the war put him in the ground. He would show her how much more she was worth. They deserved everything of each other. He felt this sudden shift resonate within him. He looked into her eyes again, starting to speak again- slowly and carefully

“We have both been through a lot. We have a lot we still need to do. Even more people depending on us.”

She nodded, pulling the tea up to her mouth. Yes, she thought. It's definitely time to finish the tea and get out of here before she made an even bigger fool of herself. There was absolutely no reason to ruin two relationships within her inner circle in one night.

“I don’t see why we can’t be here for each other when we Need it.” He stated calmly.

She looked up at him. Was he...?

He put out his other hand to her.

“Inquisitor,” He smiled softly at her. “I need you to come to bed with me tonight.”

It was her turn to stammer. “I.. only...Ih.. if.”

“We are both adults. We will continue to both be adults. This won’t solve any of either of our problems but, Maker strike me if we both don’t need to be close to someone we trust right now.”

He drew closer to her, pulling her up easily with one hand, drawing her body to his in a single fluid motion. It was the perfect mirror of every time he reached for her after she had been knocked back in every battle they had ever fought together. She felt them all as her hand reached up to to take his. Standing next to each other now, he bent his neck down to her forehead and kissed her softly, working his way down her temple, her cheek, chin and finally meeting her lips.

She leaned up into him, parting his mouth with her tongue and breathing him in. At the taste of her, Cullen closed his eyes and moaned softly.The tea mug in his other hand fell and shattered on the floor. Using both of his hands, he wrapped around her, stroking the small of her back and pressed her closer to him. As they kissed, the door on the far side of the tower office creaked open.

“Begging your pardon, Sir! the noise, all well?.. oh. Ehem.” The patrol officer and accompanying scout each leapt back a half pace when they saw the commander locked in an embrace.

Cullen looked up and quickly pivoted, shielding the inquisitor’s face away from view. The soldier retreated quickly on meeting Cullen's eyes. He noted the scout lingered a moment on the unique leather over-vest and red shirt of the Inquisitor before quickly nodding “Commander,” and turning on his heal to follow his colleague.

She shook her head and stifled a nervous laugh as he stalked across the room to close and bolt the door the intruders came from.

“ Well,” She purred, “At this point everyone will know things about us that WE don’t yet know, before the coffee is set out for 4th watch. We might as well head up so we can make sure they get some of the details right.” She nodded back at the ladder to his sleeping loft.

He chuckled under his breath as he headed to bolt the last door in his office, the door that lead directly to...

“Always doing what’s best for the people. Go... Up the ladder now,” he quipped, slamming the floor deadbolts home on the last potential point of disturbance. She was sitting, poised on the corner of the bed before he started up the first rung. He could have sworn she teleported.

Maker save him, he thought. Finally, his work lead him where he wanted to be. He set tomorrow’s concerns and damage control aside and prepared himself to enjoy this prize waiting for him, however fleeting it may be.

Chapter Text

-xXx-

He gave himself a minute to take in the sight of her on his bed. He had wanted this for so long. When he caught her in his tent in Haven and, later on, when he finally let Josephine assign him a cabin, He had imagined closing the door behind her nearly every time she came by on rounds. Every time she saved his cabin for last and, every time he saw his own hands on the door in his mind, he fought the image of himself closing out the world and turning back to her.

He started a fire in the small wood stove close to the bed, feeling her eyes on him.

“Are you going to dawdle all night? Your inquisitor needs you.” She smiled a bit with her teeth, tossing her hair, trying to push his buttons while pushing past the crumbled version of herself she had just shown him.


He put the second log down and turned to over at her, smirking. The heat from the stove rushed into the room.


“Take off your clothes.” He told her.

Her cheeks were still smudged with dirt and tears, shoulders still caved in a bit- like she had single handedly fought down a rift. She took a tired hand and started working on her shirt buttons, all the while staring him down with a broken smile cemented over a very fragile core.

He moved over to her, locking eyes, as he pulled off her boots and socks. He moved his body closer to hers by using his legs to push her knees apart until their hips barely grazed each other. He kissed her deeply then, taking his time with her full lips and perfect mouth. Cullen ran his massive hands up her stomach and cupped her breasts, enjoying her soft moans and how she shifted her weight to him. He pressed her arms up over her head and massaged her shoulders and biceps, looking up to her mark briefly, to see what her emotional barometer was telling him. It pulsed evenly with her breathing.

He looked back to her and closed the distance again by nuzzling her face and taking in her smell again. He let his eyes close against her lithe neck as he nibbled and kissed, working her shirt loose with his hands, smiling when he felt her pointed ears twitch at his exhale. There was a rush of smugness as he realized he was about to enjoy something his insufferably wise apostate rival was too foolish to come close to.

She found herself very quickly less dressed than him. A quick tug at the drawstring of his trousers and they dropped to the floor. Her hands leapt at the hem of his shirt, pulling it up over his head, engulfing her in the scent of his sweat mingling with citrus oil and fresh cut grass from the sparring grounds. She raked her nails across his washboard abs hungrily, allowing one hand to curl up into his gorgeous short blond curls and another to slip down to his smalls, against the shaft of his thick, throbbing cock.

He turned his head to the side and growled a bit for her. He found his own fingers tearing at the laces on her leather breeches with a will of their own, now urgently trying to catch up to where she had undone him. His length strained against her hand as he arched his hips towards her touch. Beads of precum soaked through the thin remaining fabric of his smalls and onto her fingers.

“Please...” He softly begged her, “Please don’t stop. I Need you. Right There.” He angled the tip of his head right into the cupped palm of her hand as she tightened her grip around him. They both gasped.

In one quick flick by the belt loops, he lifted her slightly up off of the edge of the bed, and pulled down her untied leathers so fast, she thought he ripped them off. She bounced as the force brought her down hard, onto the bed. His eyes narrowed lustfully as her breasts jiggled.

That smirk again. She'd never get tired of it.

He slid off his smalls and finished pulling her breeches off of her ankles.

Their clothes lay scattered around the bed. He wrapped both of her legs around his torso. She drew her arms around his neck with a quick rake of her nails over the spot on his side she had seen Leliana jab him a million times in jest at the war table. He winced and jumped a bit, shaking his head at her.

“Don’t go starting games you can’t finish, Herald” He growled softly. “You still have work to do to catch up on the chess table. If I can get you there, I will get you good here.”

She laughed at him. It felt so good to laugh.

In response he leapt up with her wrapped around him. As he spun her around and walked over to the wall, she kept her hips up, teasing the tip of him; with the slightest angling up and down, over her wet lips. She heard his breathing grow ragged and felt him strain against her: Trying to hold himself anchored to most warm, slippery wet part of her entrance as he walked. He sighed as she shifted again and brought his shaft up to glide along her wetness and rest up against her clit, just as he pressed her back into the wall.

“Maker, you are impossible. How can you be so wet?” His amber eyes look tortured by her. Sweat gleamed over his brow.

“Are you blaming the Maker for a problem of your own doing, or are you asking me a question?” She teased him with a gleam in her eyes. She faltered briefly and became more serious. “Are you ok with this? Are you sure this is what you want?”

“I should be asking you those questions. I don’t want to do anything you are not ready for,” He gasped.


She gave herself over to how their bodies responded to each other. If he needed to be the good Chantry boy tonight, she could play at being the Villain to get him to where they both needed to be. She reached a hand back up into his hair and pulled his head back and began to lick and nibble his neck and along his chin.

“I thought you said you NEEDED me to come to bed with you tonight, Commander. Let me feel how badly you need me.”

She felt his thighs tense to Iron underneath her while he moaned and cringed. She searched his face for hesitation, for reasons why he was holding her pinned in place, alarm and doubt beginning to creep back into her.

He brought his face back down to hers, eyes to eyes, lips to lips. “Yes?” He whispered.

“Yes, Cullen. Yes” She nodded directly into his eyes.

No further encouragement required, he curved his hips back and aligned the thick, twitching head of his cock with her wet center, burying himself inside her in one long thrust. The both cried out as they felt each other for the first time. Her muscles engulfed him, squeezing him in time to her pulse. He felt the nearly criminal tightness of her warmth and drew up against the very back of her, slowly searching for that perfect spot that made her toes curl, carefully trying not to get pushed out before he was ready.

“Just.. just give me.. a moment. I need to get used to the way you feel. You’re almost too much” She sighed, tilting her chin up and letting her eyes close.

That made two of them. He had often laughed at barracks stories of the Templars who favored the lithe figures of Alienage Elven whores for similar reasons. He could never really bring himself to try any of them. It felt exploitative given the circumstances of the city elves. On his time off, he preferred the freed women of Tevinter. Always a good student, he relished his weekly lessons with the educated courtesans. Money well spent in his youth and he intended that investment to pay dividends to the woman before him.

His vision nearly blurred from the feel of her. He held her there for a moment, carefully watching her for the first time both as a lover and a Templar. He attuned himself to the the ways that magic swirled around her and the little tells of pleasure her face and legs gave back to him as he squeezed his cock to nudge up against her spot, ever so slightly, in time to her pulse.

He looked at the mark on her hand and steadied his breathing again, trying to draw off erratic waves of mana. He kept still, allowing the theme of his breath to synchronize them. He felt the rush of her energy flood into him, her slick inner muscles clenching down around him. He could bring her close, he could undo her just like this, he thought. He could feel her get closer.

She pulled back ever so slightly, resisting her edge. He took that as his cue to draw his hips back and begin long, slow, fluid strokes in and out of her. Each time, as he got to the deepest part of her spot, he bounced his cock off it and slowly dragged his tip back down around it. Only a few more repetitions and her breathing grew ragged and she brought her face back to his, moaning softly.

“Cullen, I need you. Please. More, faster.”

He felt his own release coiling inside him. He knew that he had drawn enough magic off of her and back into his own stamina to make this last just a little longer. He kissed her passionately again, giving her exactly what she asked for, murmuring into her ear “For you, Always.”

Sweat poured off his forehead now. She reached up to brush it off and held his face in her hands. Having her like this, so soft and aching, begging him in the tone he had imagined begging her for so long, nearly destroyed him.

He would never be able to tell her how much he loved her but he would make her feel it in her body tonight in a way she’d never doubt or question. After one final hard thrust, he pulled her back from the wall, still holding her up and himself inside her.

He stepped over to the bed and backed down, drawing her over top of him, moving his hands to rest on her hips and letting himself slide deeper into her than ever. He rolled his head and neck back onto the pillow with a deep moan and closed his eyes. Shifting his hips slowly under her, as she drew her knees forward, along his sides: He placed her hands on his chest and opened his eyes to her again. His hands dug into her hips harder, helping to lift her as she picked up her own rhythm on top of him.

“Good. You have me. I want you to cover me in your come.” He whispered to her.

She cried out and moved faster over him, the slapping noises of their skin and the sounds of her wetness filled the air as she went faster and faster. Her breathing became a staccato punctuation in between his long sighs. He felt her thighs tighten around him and heard her toes dig into the bed covers. He cried out at the force of her orgasm, crashing against him in so many waves, holding him tightly inside her. She leaned down to him, silent, biting her lip, eyes closed.

“Look at me,” He ordered her. “Look at who is with you, here, right now. I need you here with Me. Right Here.” He spoke to her tenderly while slowly beginning to move insider her again.

She opened her eyes again, inhaling deeply, tearing up. “Oh, Cullen. Cullen, I-“

“Shhh. You don’t have to. We don’t owe each other anything. I just want you. I want this with you, here. Right now.” He held her with his eyes for moment longer. He then drew one of his legs up and over hers, sitting up to reach an arm around her back to cradle her neck. Quickly & effortlessly, he flipped her onto her back, still inside her, but slowly drawing himself back out. “Is this ok?”

“Yes. I still want you,” She whispered. Her nipples were still rock hard from her orgasm.

The corners of his mouth twitched up. Good, he thought. He had envisioned her laid out on his bed just like this so many times: Exactly how he planned to have her.

He slammed back into her, hard and deep. Her wetness had soaked him thoroughly and it spilled down his balls, over his thighs. He hooked her leg over his shoulder at first, and came up on his knees, pulling her other leg between his knees as he drove into the very back of her. She winced and twisted. He moved her upper leg back down, folding it back to her hip and pinning a hand upon that calf to her thigh. His other palm dug into the bed. He felt the mana he stole begin to wear off and he began to lose control. He thrust inside her faster and harder, getting lost in the feeling of her body and his desire. His hips were so forceful he was certain he would bruise her. She began to whimper as he kept fucking her. He could feel her tighten around him again and groaned.

“Makers breath,” He panted, “ You are going to end me. Right here.”

“Yes. Please. I want to feel you fill me. Just like this. I’m going to...oh-” she trailed off before whispering so quietly he had to strain and lean into her deeper to hear her softly cry out to him: “I’m going to come for you again, Cullen.”

He could hear the bed bounce and hit the floor in time to his thrusting. The noise of their coupling echoed off the walls. Her leg was white and deep red surrounding where his hand braced against her. He couldn’t hold any longer or he would likely tear her apart. Sweat poured off of both of them as she moved with him. He opened his mouth to try to tell her but before he could form the words, she reached up and dragged her thumb across his teeth, smiling back at him. She stared into him and didn’t let go as he shuddered, pushing as deep inside her as he could possibly be, coming inside her with his final thrusts. He didn’t even really hear himself shouting but, he felt her second release as she arched up to meet him, pulling his chest to her, clenching him tightly with her tender labia, now overflowing with their combined wetness. He collapsed over her, holding his weight with his elbows, and giving her a soft kiss on her cheek.

“This. I’ve wanted this with you for so long. I-” he started, breathlessly brushing her hair back from her face. She shifted over to hold him inside of her while they eased onto their sides, still wrapped around each other. She silenced him with a final kiss, unspoken words hanging in the air. The thoroughly exhausted pair drifted off to sleep while the first rays of dawn stole into the room from the open roof of Cullen’s Loft.

Chapter Text

-~~~-

She slipped out from under his arms and out of bed while he was still sleeping. Thanks to the open roof, the smell of sex did not linger anywhere in the room noticeably, until her legs opened at her stride to his dresser with her clothes. Suddenly grateful for the full pitcher of freezing cold water and empty wash-basin on Cullen's dresser, she wiped herself down quickly. She quietly gathered up the rest of her clothes and dressed, throwing an extra log on the stove’s fire and covering Cullen with a sheet. As she slid down the ladder, she thought she’d be able to catch the first serving of breakfast in the grand hall, and possibly stall Leliana and Josephine long enough to buy Cullen time to dress and wash before the morning meeting.

Shit. How could she have not thought of this last night? The only way out of Cullen’s tower that wouldn’t leave his door open to battlement patrols would be through the West gate that led straight to... her stomach dropped. Well. Like he would really care. She had come wandering into Solas’s study often enough at all hours of the day or night. If he was there, he probably wouldn’t even spare her a look up any more.

Maybe she had lucked out and he decided to take a field expedition out for an artifact, or never returned after their last trip to Crestwood. Who knows. All she really knew was that he was finished with her and how badly she did not want to spare a thought to his feelings. As she went through all of this in her mind, she heard a patrol test the door handle to the left of her.

“Uh no, still bolted.” Came the muffled voice, “Probably late night with...reports. Give him another hour before revelry and send up breakfast and another wash basin, so he can head straight to the war council table...”

The voice trailed off and she was unable to make out the answers of the second patrolman. Did they even matter? How many times did Commander Cullen require a second wash basin sent up? She set her thoughts down. Adults. Her, Cullen, Everyone that worked for her. We were all adults. Act like it, she commanded herself. When she was certain they had moved on, she pressed forward quietly and out of door towards the library tower.

From the entry way, only the dim glow of the veilfire licked over the ground floor, casting an eerie dancing glow over the murals. She breathed a sigh of relief and strode forward into the rotunda. Halfway to the door, she halted dead in her tracks as a loose paving stone noisily wobbled under her careful step. A figure bent over a nearly spent candle bolted upright. She could barely make out the thin purse of his lips as he partially turned her head to view her peripherally.

“Inquisitor.” The quiet warmth she had become accustomed to hearing in his voice had evaporated.

She could not bring herself to say his name. It broke her to hear her title issued crisply in the place where she was once Vhenan.

He inhaled two deep breaths, both from his nose and let out a deep sigh. Almost uncharacteristically animal-like of him. She remained frozen to the spot, as though her legs refused to move by her will.

“Had I known,” he continued in his measured drawl, “That you would require... assistance with your ... sleep hygiene.... again, so soon, I would have prepared you a draught.”

She fumed silently at him. The nerve of that arrogant li-. No, I won’t give him the satisfaction, she thought.

“Skyhold has MANY qualified healers, It didn’t seem appropriate to Burden you any further with caring for me.” She retorted.

Finding her anger soothed when she saw him squirm under the weight of her words she continued briskly, “After this war council meeting, WE will head to the Hissing Wastes. I will require your expertise with ancient Elvhan artifacts hidden in dwarven ruins. Bring your battle staff. There will be a Venatori presence.”

She did not look back at him before heading through the door to the main hall, barely registering his second sigh.

It was better that way. He did not want to her to see his face, or the way his shoulders crushed in on themselves under their weight. He could not bear to look at her. Not after his fitful sleep was disrupted by the vulgar display from the command tower last night. He could not tell if their noise resounded from the fade like that or, was actually that loud as it occurred in real time.

He had fallen back asleep at the sofa by his desk eventually but, deeply wished it wasn’t so. His dreaming gave way to the fade and the fade brought him to the new energetic echos that were freshly etched within that infernal tower. It illuminated a deep wound of his own doing within him. All of those private conversations she had been having for months with the Shem, the flirting, the constant press of her desire to pursue the commanders affections in spite of her commitments to him. It made sense, In a way. In the beginning in Haven he has suspected she had dueling affections for the both of them but he did not know to the extent to which she continued to press the commander after their first kiss. He hadn't known until he felt their memories rolling off of each other as they-

Solas slammed a book down and began to organize his papers and gather his belongings. His decision to not lay with her under false pretenses may have been right for his own twisted integrity but, it drove a wedge between them he did not see coming until after he turned away. The echos of her emotions, desires, and those thousand subtle rejections ground her down in profound ways. What he thought was a civilized end to their relationship was corrupted with the self doubt he had allowed to fester in her by denial of his own feelings and desires. Her going to the shem was as much his doing as hers and it enraged him. No living elf or man was truly worthy of her and she could have done worse by moving on but, so soon? It hurt him in ways he had not anticipated.

He cast a shard sample across the room to shatter on the stone wall. His musings led him to slamming the rest of his packing down and slinking to the doors of the rotunda to throw the bolts. He returned to the couch and stretched out with a poultice over his eyes for an hours rest. He did not want anyone to see him like this, especially her. The whole of Skyhold would know, if it didn’t already, that she had practically leapt from years in his own arms into her Military Commanders-and the immensely loud satisfaction it brought them both. It had been a Millennia since he felt so powerless and foolish.

~~~

The Inquisitor strode into the great dining hall, making up a plate, enroute to her quarters. None of her soldiers really met her eyes today but, Sera seemed to make a point of getting her attention with a lewd gesture and thumbs up. Perfect. Well, Damage done, if any. When she got to her quarters, a hot bath and fruit plate was waiting for her. With a resigned sigh, she stripped and got into the tub.

The problem with having the smartest people in all of Thedas working for you was that, you have the smartest people in all of Thedas working for you. Hopefully there would no further awkwardness past this.

The rest of the morning was uneventful. At the war table there were some searching smirks from Leliana, a blush or two when she met Cullen’s gaze but, relatively uneventful. She made a note to spend her retirement, maker willing, in praise of Josephine’s impeccable tact.

When she met with Cassandra and Sera by the Teleportation Pyramid in the lower courtyard, she felt a little tired but was ready to get moving on closing out the inquisition’s work in Western reaches of Orlais.

“Where is Solas?” asked Cassandra with her characteristic bluntness.

Maker bless her, thought the Inquisitor, Cassandra may be the one person in the whole keep who carried on oblivious to the world around her, or perhaps, just was the deepest sleeper in Skyhold.

“Not worried." Sera interjected while loudly crunching down on an apple, "I’m take it or Leave it as far as Elfy is concerned and, as long as Inky seems to be taking it elsewhere, we may be in for a well deserved Solas-‘oliday.”

The other two women turned to glower at Sera for a minute. Just then, as Cassandra turned back to the Herald with a question on her lips, Cullen rounded Bonnie Mae’s booth and strolled towards them

“Oh no way.” Quipped Sera, “That’s like, an into the fire straight from the fry-up situation,” she nudged Cassandra and followed up by hollering clear across the courtyard for all to hear: “Oy, Chantry boy, don’t you have homework to do? Get outta ‘ere!” She threw the apple core at his ankle just to make sure he knew she was yelling at him. Cullen looked at Sera, down to the apple smear on his polished boot, and back up to Bonnie without saying a word.

Cassandra looked at the inquisitor, Sera, and then over to the stables where, unseen to the three of them until now, Solas seemed to be locked into an intense conversation with Blackwall and Dennit, backs turned.

Cassandra looked back to Sera and whispered just loud enough, “If anyone gets out of line: Bees.” She turned around and headed towards Solas and the stables.

Sera backed off to a nearby merchant booth with her hand in her alchemy bag, waggling her eyebrows at the inquisitor.

Cullen came around to face the inquisitor. “Oh. Right, this is the exact opposite of what I wanted to do.” His hand came up to rub the back of his neck. “They all need to be here by the travel station, but they are over there and we are here. I wanted to catch you over there so I –“

She cut him off. “It was sweet of you to send me off. Sorry I snuck away. It would be better for the next little while if I could just focus on keeping the team together to clear off the last few areas of the western front.” looking him over, she quietly mused: Andraste...does his awkwardness only function in daylight?

“Do you need more soldiers?”

“Ah.. No. I Need-“

“Oh, ehm. Right. Less Commander. Got it. So I will see you when you return, then?”

“If and when I return and can sneak away. I’ll be thinking of you. Until then,” she trailed off blushing slightly.

He looked at her warmly. “and I, you.” He nodded over to the stables where the rest of the party had assembled, occasionally tossing expressive looks towards the pair. He shook his head and sauntered away.

She stood there for a moment watching Cullen leave. I will have to do something to show him how much that meant to me, she thought- How much he meant to me. She looked around and clocked all the merchants looking at her for a beat before turning back to their booths and wares. Privately, she told herself.

Turning towards the stables to rejoin her group she was startled by a keening wail from where Sera was now seated, upon the awning of Bonnie Sim’s Booth.

“ohhHHHHHHHhhhhhhHHHHHHHhhhm! m-m-Maker’s Breath.”

A wave of chuckles circled the busy courtyard. There was absolutely no mistaking that for a very high pitched encore of an earlier performance.

“Too Soon!” Chortled the armorer's apprentice at the shield merchant’s booth.

The Herald bit her lip and bowed her head slightly, thinking back to words her keeper once spoke to a pair of feuding hunters. "My business is everybody’s business, and because of that Everybody’s business is my business." She shrugged and smiled down at the dawnstone wrist plates on her keeper-style robes.

The only way past all of this would be to graciously surrender to tolerating the intolerable, It seemed that was the kernel of truth in that memory of her keeper. The hard part now, she mused, as it always has been for any leader, would be to make all the moving pieces of her expansive Clan continue to work together as they pushed the inquisition further along it’s path.

She looked back over to Solas, Dennit, Blackwall, and Cassandra grouped tightly together. Starting first with those closest to her, she thought.

Across the courtyard, the Commander had frozen in place and, just as his bright red, indignant face was turning around, A giant cloud of bees burst from a jar into the center of the hospital tents by the lower courtyard, another lobbed shortly thereafter into the lower courtyard by the merchant tents.

Cassandra whistled loudly to rally the team and their horses "Alright, we are done here, everybody together, follow me, let’s GO!”

The adventurers ducked their heads under helmets and cowels, running to disappear by the pyramid. Their parting gift to a Skyhold in chaos was the sound of a gleeful Sera cackling unintelligibly. “(...something-something), Elven Glory”

The Herald could not stop an escaping laugh as she slipped into the Teleportation Stone. Sera’s mirth was contagious. The Commander would have to put those great shoulders to work carrying Skyhold’s robust rumor mill alone, in their absence- for a fortnight.

She told herself that she would return and be sure to touch base with him. It wouldn’t do to just leave him alone with what they shared, as mature as he would try to be about it. The depth of feeling she had for him was real and it would be a disservice to everything he has been to her, if she didn’t help him work through it, or worse, let him become trapped in the complications of the mess of her feelings and desires for her companions.

Chapter Text

 

The Forgotten Lore of the Elvhan Empires:

Volume 1.

The 1st Queens of Mythal & Andruil,

With Forward and Notations from Magister Darinius Theaovin the 6th of his name.

 

The gold filigree of the title characters on the leather bound book flickered in the dim light of their tent. It took Sera nearly half an hour of squinting and rolling the syllables out over her mouth silently to make out the words. She grunted in disgust and hurled the book against the supply chest in the far corner of the tent.

Cassandra stirred from her matt on the other side of the tent. “Knock it off and get some sleep. We have a long march tomorrow,” she deadpanned in her rich Nevarran accent. “A proper rest would go a long way in restoring everyone’s temperament.”

A slew of barely intelligible curses streamed from the elf as she shuffled herself around on the mat to face the tent-wall away from the seeker.

“Good night to you, too.” Cassandra attempted to not let the smile on her face show in her words to the Elf.  After all the time traveling Thedas together, Sera and her antics had grown on her. Not to mention an evolving respect for how quickly her combat capabilities had developed and proven themselves. Before the inquisition Cassandra would not have batted an eyelash if the Chantry directed her to hunt down and jail the Red Jennies. Yet... now, it was impossible to escape the value the broken nosed elf brought to the cause and, her growing faith in Andraste was a point of small pride in Cassandra. One she tried not to attribute directly to her own influence over Sera in the past few years of travel together.

Both women settled into sleep.

Within minutes Sera opened her eyes to the dark tent.  Slowly getting up so as to not disturb the seeker, she crept up to the supply chest and felt around its back edges for the book she discarded earlier. The gold-leaf title seemed to glow at her. She fought back the churning in the pit of her stomach. Magic. This thing had magic. To her own surprise, she found her fingers opening the cover and thumbing past the first few pages. Before she could make out any text in the darkness, a letter slipped out of the cover and settled at her feet. Picking it up, she headed back to her mat and sat back down, unfolding the missive.

To her shock, the text swirled before her eyes, Tevinter words spinning and re-arranging themselves in common script before her eyes. She grimaced, unable to pull herself from the page. The words came more quickly now, as though read aloud in her mind by a stuffy elder mage, almost like what an aged version of what she imagined Dorian to sound like.

 

My Learned Elder Brother Amladaris,

As requested, this first volume is included with my correspondence. It grieves me that the Magisterium has prevented it’s publication and distribution amoungst the great houses,  relegating it to the dusty annals of the great chain library accessible only to the heads of the Great Circles & Imperium Houses.

As we few attempt to recapture the ancient magics hidden from us by the elves that seek to retreat from the Imperium, it grows clearer and clearer that every passing day from whence Elvhan has fallen, the elves grow further from their own history. Soon, their lore will be lost to us, destroyed in the ignorance of warring magi, and distancing us further from the sourcefont of our own power. It is the lore that is the thin cord that draws us to the treasures of the ancient Elvhan knowledge. We have so much yet to discover. I cannot begin to imagine what is about to be lost to us as cost to our desire to conquer absolutely.

I beseech your support in lobbying the Imperium for further resources in cataloging and verifying these ancient stories. Through investigation and proper archaeology, we may yet uncover secrets of Elvhan magics deemed to powerful to share with us directly. Even the most educated and willing of my own household staff withhold and sensor themselves in the sharing of their history and culture. With what we have already uncovered regarding the veilcraft, would it not be suitable to allow these simple children’s tales to mingle freely in our own popular works? We could, in time, reinvigorate popular interest and support amoungst the great houses. What then, could stand in our way of uncovering the untold riches of the hidden past?

With Great Regard,

 

Magister Darinius Theaovin, 6th of his name

Inheritor of the Great Circle House of Vol Dorma,

Vice Provost of the University of  Vyrantium,

Director of the Department of Restoration Studies.

 

As soon as her eyes left the last word of that Pompous Git’s final title, the letter crumbled to ash in her fingers.  A tremor shook her whole body. A quiet voice, rooted to the very back of her mind, her own thinking voice, an imaginary older brother’s voice- from the furthest back point of childhood to where she sat now, stretched out to reach her.

“There’s more. There is more for you to know here.”

“Ahhhhhh. Shut-it!” she screamed back into the void of her mind. “I hate dreams. Creepy dreams, boring dreams. Its like a bath in icewater in the middle of winter. I Said: SHUT IT.” Her head throbbed like two hands sat on either side of her brain, slowly and firmly pulling it apart. The pain blurred her vision as the letters on the book’s first page flipped and swirled menacingly before her.

The voice changed it’s approach. It took the form of an instinct. The instinct of when to nock an arrow, where to aim her draw to. When to duck. Where to go. Go Here. Look Here. Know This. Like the recipe to mixing a grenade.

She understood better and calmed. “Another day. REAL sleep First.” She swatted down the the insistent voice. Her pain eased as they agreed to let her slip back into dreamlessness.  They must go carefully, slowly. So much was at stake. Time made the barriers so very thin. The vessel had fault lines that required care.

Chapter Text

-~~~-

“I thought I had made it very clear.” Cassandra carried on. “ If their was any interference with the Commander and the Inquisitors briefing in the courtyard,”

Sera, Solas, and the inquistor shared a round of looks as they trudged through the hot sands in the darkness of night. No one wanted to stop her but, everyone was close to having enough.

“Create a distraction so we could leave quickly without compromising any information about troop movements, or our own plans” the seeker sighed.

Despite moving solely at night, everyone in the party was soaked with salt ring after salt ring of sweat. The unrelenting heat radiated up at them from the desert floor.

“Wol.” Sera jumped in, “Interference could mean lots of things, it could mean spies, saboteurs, boring ravens caring boring notes: Don’t forget this, Do remember to pick up four bushels of blacklotus but only the black lotus that lives next to the dawn lotus that blossoms under the full moon of Avvar Lord Whatsits goaty arse...Ugh, stupid magic herbs. It could mean the Commander Himself, It c-“

Solas tried to suppress the twitch at the corner of his lips. For all of their constant picking at each other, years of side by side combat had endeared the alienage elf to him, in a familial way. A little antagonistic banter seemed to lighten everyone up on these long slogs. After four days of this, even low hanging fruit could almost force Solas to laugh.

Cassandra, sunk her shield in the sand and wheeled on Sera, interrupting her lewd prattling with narrowed eyes. “I did NOT mean for YOU to create a distraction, solely so you can bomb our own keep with bees!”

“Ya sure ‘bout that?” Sera said, smiling wickedly while trying to play stupid. “You did say Bees if Misbehavior Happened. I’z just following orders as fars I see it.” She shrugged and attempted to feign sheepishness.

Cassandra had to take a minute to break down Sera’s words. They were all exhausted, it was beginning to show hardest on their forward warrior. “What exactly are you trying to say about the Commander?” She threatened Sera.

“Look, All’s I’m saying is the man is The Man, and The Man has a lot of paper work he should be doing, not moseying around pretending to look at shields and kicking up shite where-ever he’s going. I didn’t come here to work for The Man, I’d prefer him back in his stuffy tower, not seen, and definitely not heard.” Sera spun around and did a little mock curtsy at the Inquisitor: “Consider it my 1st formal request, M’Lady Inquisitor, I will file the paperwork with Morris, in triplicate, Ts dotted Eyes crossed, upon my return to thyne Keep.” She delivered a thunderous raspberry, complete with puppet level cross-eyes, before springing back up to full standing height.

Andraste’s tits, the Inquisitor wondered silently, where did she get the energy for this on day four of this hellscape?

Cassandra made a mental note to steal back her stamina amulet later this evening. Hopefully before someone, possibly her, ended up killing Sera.

It was near the end of a very long and sweltering hot night. The Herald chewed her lip for a second to get enough saliva moving to speak and nodded. “I’ll consider that as the first reasonable request I have Ever had from a Red Jenny. Deal.”

Well, at least it’s out in the open, She thought. Getting everyone out of the castle and back in the field can only help move things along. Glancing over at Solas, she realized that so many things may never be completely ok again but, it was a step in the right direction, One ally at a time. This wasn’t so bad for four days out in the wastes, maybe. The Venatori had been handing them their asses out here but, at least the team was still together. For now.

“It would seem this is a good place to camp for the day.” Solas offered quietly, turning away from the Heralds eyes.

As everyone settled in, the inquisitor took a cursory review of the the regional requisitions. Sera leapt into Cassandra’s Tent. “Sorry, too much Elfy over there! Can’neh do it!” She shouted, slamming down the zipper.

The Herald took a long look at Solas as they watched the dawn creep up to the horizon. “I’m thinking it would be good to get Cole out into the field for a while.”

“I would not be opposed to it.” He smiled thinly over his shoulder to her while casting cooling barriers over both tents.

The labour of constantly maintaining their own barriers between each other had hollowed them out. The only thing left between them after a week of endless sand was a stone wall of courtesy as thick as Caer Bronach. The desert had burned the remnants of their rage and confusion with each other down to a wisp of a memory in record timing. In a way, it was easier this way, almost more normal than either them could have forced it to be of their own will back at Skyhold. Pushing themselves back into the field was the right call, she silently mused.

She entered the tent and paused. Both sleeping mats were still pushed together as they, always were. How? She didn’t even pay attention to who did the set up-Today and the prior days. Did it matter? Thinking about it made her ache in ways she was too tired to ache anymore. Three years of sleeping chaste beside her love. Cullen had asked for nothing from her before she left, she had no reason to change anything.

Solas paused outside the tent, still, waiting for her to settle. She ripped off her sweltering field Armour and tossed it in the corner. Taking another long beat, she stretched out onto the mat pressing into the tent wall. She wore only her long, sheer, spider-silk underslip and waited, still, back turned away. She spared no further thoughts to her former love, drifting into the fade almost as soon as she lay down.

Solas remained outside until her stillness gave way to the measured breathing of fade sleep. He slid quietly into the tent, laying out flat next to her. In all the time they traveled together she had always slept in her armour, staff at side, as he had. Inquisition camps were as safe as they ever had been now. Still- her power made her and her companions a target. Why was her amour off now?

He stole a glance at the thin, white gossamer slip that draped suggestively over her form. In all of their time together when she was his, he could count the times he saw her unclothed on one hand. Maybe the odd occasion bathing. Once in her quarters at Skyhold as they read together late in the evening. At the time he thought she was trying to push him closer to her, to test his boundaries. He had told her from day one that they would never be together, not like that.

He had thought it would grow easier for her as time passed and her responsibilities increased. He knew now, from that last night in Skyhold that she had merely suppressed herself to respect his will. So what was this now, so suddenly? Did she remove her armour to taunt him? More likely, she just didn’t care. Even light armour was oppressively hot in this place. What reason had he given her to believe he would care for her in such a way? These thoughts swirled and sparred with his desires.

As if of their own will, his fingers delicately raised the hem of the translucent, shimmering silk up her past her knees, then her thighs, until he had to strain up on his bedroll to see her small clothes. He huffed in disgust when he saw the remnants of the great fingerprint bruise the Shem commander left on her thigh. Marked by another, less than hours after he walked away.

He could nearly hear the voice of his friend, wisdom in his mind, that night he returned from Crestwood to enter the fade. She had warned him as he sought to spy on his love: that it was his doing that brought her to this. Wisdom tried to stop him then from following the herald to her own fade dreams. What he saw, freshly burned into skyhold’s fade-mirror, had shocked him. He blamed himself. He had rejected her, shamed her culture. Of course she would run into the hands of the person that least reminded her of him, the man whom she felt most respected by.

In the tent, beside him, the herald shifted onto her back, still sleeping. Solas moved onto his side to stay close to her, propping his head up on his elbow. He watched as a sigh escaped her lips and curved into a lascivious smile. He would not return to the fade tonight. He had no desire to find her in the commander’s office again. Four nights of the same scene replayed in the fade over and over again. He hissed in disgust.

He used to enjoy the nights they spent together exploring ancient memories in the exotic places they traveled to. This was torture. He had never seen her happier, more content, than in that bed with the opportunistic Shem in her dreams. She had returned to the human and that place every night since. In their own beginning they had fooled around, explored, enjoying the idea of each other’s bodies, teasing each other but, mostly in the fade. It was easier for him that way and he thought, better for them both. He was bitterly humbled by the blunt reminder that even the greatest mage must attend to the correspondence of the fade to the physical realm.

A wicked thought came to him then, as he breathed in her scent and, stared at the spidersilk exposing her thinly clad mound: If her loyalties can be shifted so quickly and strongly to one direction, perhaps they could be shifted back.

He reached out to her, hand poised over her sex and paused for a long while looking up at her. He drew his thumb down, directly over the thin linen smalls covering her. He gently pressed into the dividing folds of her lower lips. Almost immediately he was rewarded with a surge of wetness and a soft moan. He drew a sticky line from the center of her entrance that followed up around her hard clit. Musing at her wetness pooling through her smalls, he looked up to her face. Her eyes were shut still but, she softly cried out to his touch.

A start. He would pull her from the fade soon enough.

Switching to his ring and middle finger, he drew smooth light circles around her button, pressing down firmer and firmer with each rotation, until her legs rose-up around his hands, and he had to bring his body over, settling himself between her legs to continue.

“...and still she dreams,” he huffed. Very well then. He quickly drew her soaking wet smalls down, surprising himself when he snapped them off at her knees. She moaned. It was not the name he wanted to hear.

With a frustrated roar, he violently pulled her legs to his shoulders and buried his face in her. He gave himself to waking her from his nightmare, his tongue greedily devouring her juices, lapping at her entrance before returning his hand to finish the work his fingers started. He nibbled, kissed, and gently sucked at her inner lips before returning to a steady pace of caressing her clit with his tongue. Her thighs gathered tightly around his shoulders. He eased another long, slender finger into her. It slowly curled and beckoned across that soft patch of muscled tissue, sending waves of pleasure cascading through the deepest parts of her body. Their bodies were made to fit together. He would show her now, as he should have.

He could not remember how she had felt the last time-perhaps he had only gone this far in the darkest corridors of the fade they traveled together. Even that memory he struggled to recapture. No wonder she was so easily taken by that Shem Templar. Her body had no memory of being this close to him. As he bore down upon her, increasing the speed and pressure of his mouth, he sent her another finger and separated them slightly to trace around the outer edges of her spot before slowly drawing out again.

Her body pushed down onto his hand, greedily. Her hips began to pull at him with their own rhythm.
The smell of her filled the tent. His own member responded with lust, straining between the hard sand under the tent floor and his own robes. His sense of time always skewed, he could have happily remained between her legs in that tent for an easy hundred years.

Of all the wonders of the fade and it’s history they had explored, he thought angrily to himself, to have never touched each other like this from this side of the veil. He felt mad with his own idiocy and lust, no longer caring about the reason why he acted as he did. He marveled at how richly her body responded with all of its liquid when she had earlier strained to speak.

Finally, she started up from her dream. A gasp shook her whole body as her sex tightened against his hand and pulsed with wave after wave of a full release. He drowned his face in her final surge of wetness. He moaned his desire for her and lapped her up with abandon.

“Solas!” She called out to him, in shock, eyes open, and clouding with complex dueling furies.

“Vehnan,” he panted, pulling his face and arm away from her, wiping his mouth with her torn smalls and rolling back to sit up at her feet. He watched her in a way that was both submissive and wolfish, like a bad puppy getting caught in the merchant's Aravel. He softly took one of her feet in his hands to playfully massage while staring her down.

“I was beginning to grow concerned you had mistaken me for another friend.” He tried not to smile.

Her legs shook beneath her involuntarily at his touch, her body still flush from her coming. She propped herself up by her elbows to glower at him. His nerve! She thought. What in Andraste’s name did he do with her undergarments? How dare he?

“I will make no excuses for my behavior, it was inappropriate. All of it. How I spoke to you, the Vallaslin, How I Ieft you, Not tending you properly while I called you mine. I have spent the past several nights awake struggling to find the best way to beg your forgiveness.”

“So you disrobed me as we slept side by side and forced yourself on me?” she spat at him.

“I lost myself, hearing you call out to your other lover. As I said, there is no excuse for my behavior. I can however, explain very simply: In stopping Corypheus we have a common goal but, from that point forward, I know as I have always known, that I would have to leave you.” He continued, “I can never explain why or how but, In my foolishness I thought that not having lain with you would make the pain of that more bearable, for both of us. It was cruel and deeply selfish of me to assume what was reasonable for me, would be so for you.”

“You are truly unbelievable. After all of this, for years, you abruptly leave me in the coldest way possible, and then throw yourself at me days later, AS I SLEEP, as though nothing happened, and say.. whoops. I made a mistake?”

“When you phrase it thusly, it sounds as horrible as it is. Yes.” He hung his head. They both knew she was right. He did not know how he could reconcile what he wanted, his pride, and what he knew was right. There would be no easy highroad, he would be the very worst of himself again, despite his hope to do better by her, this time.

“What in your impossibly self-righteous mind lead you to think this, tonight, was ok? After all the times I respected your wishes and rejections graciously.”

“As I said, I have no excuse." he started again, more slowly, searching for the place where his truth resided in this moment. "If you think my wishes to not share ourselves were reflective of my desires, we were both very wrong. I have always cared deeply for you, in ways I have barely understood, since we met. Those feelings and the desire that comes with it, have only grown with time. I was true to us both when I said we cannot be. I must and will leave you once Corypheus is slain. That is unchangeable. I do not wish it so.”

“This is a mess, is what it is.” She snapped at him. “You cannot put this back in the bottle. Cullen and I... what even hearing about this would do to him. It would break his heart. He would kill you.”

“He would try and I would deserve it, in truth. It does nothing to change how I love you. It does nothing to change the feelings you have for both of us. It does not change what I must do.”

She got up and went to the far corner of the tent to open the small chest that was sent ahead with their gear. She pulled out a wash cloth, towel, and fresh smalls. She gestured imperiously at Solas, desperately trying to regain control of herself in this moment. “Go bring me a water skin. We both need water and I want to wash.

He nodded. Before Skyhold, she was so timid. Power suited her. New facets of his desire for her refracted up from within him. He was reminded of the great ancient Elvhan queens who ruled territories directly under control of the Old Gods, often giving their bodies over to be vessels of such powers. Elvhan queens that ruled their throne alone and chose their consorts at will, he reminded himself as he crossed out of the tent to the water supply in the blistering heat. He was gone for less than a moment but when he returned he was so sunburnt his scalp was already blistering.

“Eughh. That’s attractive, here.” She thrust a healing potion at him, quickly grabbed the water-skin from his hands and, turned back to the gear chest. Wetting down the cloth, she proceeded to briskly clean herself, quickly dry off and slip into fresh smalls before she turned back around to face him.

“Where do we go from here, Vhenan?” he said softly, betraying his discomfort with his own feelings as he tried not to watch her. He wanted her but, once again, she would not fit into any of the best of his plans. So much was at stake for all of them. He did not know where or how to be around her anymore.

“You are damn lucky I don’t call a guard to have you hauled back to Skyhold in chains. If I did that I doubt there would be little left of you for my return.”

“I suspect a military trial would not go particularly well for me.” He pursed his lips to avoid showing her any sign of his smugness.

She shook her head, turning to regard him. He body ached and begged for more of him. She had wanted this and more for so long from him. The subtle changes in his way with her were intoxicating. She didn’t want to punish him or harm him but she knew he did not truly respect or understand her. She wanted him to serve her but no longer cared to drive him to it. How strange, this change was, when she had always been coming to him for knowledge, instruction, companionship, even? She pushed her feelings down and rallied her will to answer his violation.

“Solas, I’ll never forget how you saved my life in the beginning, everything you have shared with me, taught me...” she started. ”You were right, though, we cannot be but not for the reasons you refuse to share with me. Your coldness hurts me. It hurts me over and over again before I notice how it has been delivered and where it lands. I will always love you but, I cannot be with someone who cannot be wholly with me. You know all of me... almost all of me, and still you keep so much from me. Even now.”

He moved to come closer to her. “I have told you as much as I am able, Vhenan.” He whispered softly to her, his grief rolling off of his words as he realized that she was, in many ways, now truly lost to him.

“Stop. It’s too much, too late. I have other people to think of. The Stability of the Inquisition is my stability. Whatever you are playing at- it costs too much for all of us.”

“I understand.” He nodded. She may have no idea how truly correct she was in this moment.

“Do you?” She shot at him. “I could never hurt Cullen the way you have hurt me. I have to trust the people I am close to and they have to trust me.”

He reeled back as though he had been slapped. “I understand completely Inquisitor.” He pulled his mat to the far side of the tent. “I swear to you I will do you no further harm.”

She shook her head again and went back to her own sleeping mat. “One week ago I would have called what you did to me tonight anything but harmful, it could have saved Us. Here we are now regardless.”

Her voice wavered now with rage and grief: “ If you so much as touch me again without my permission, or call me Vhenan one more time, I will cut your arrogant throat and neither of us will likely live to see the end of Corypheus.”

So they returned to sleep, each twisted into their own pain as they fitfully retreated to separate worlds in the fade.

Chapter Text

Back at the keep, Cullen had his hands full with the full force of the gossip mill: A machine powered by the desire of all of Thedas for the latest information about the Inquisitor and all of the goings-on in her keep. Leliana and Josephine quickly cornered him in his office after the mayhem of Sera’s bees died down.

“Commander,” Leliana  spoke softly in her lilting Orlesian accent, “It may be all well and good for you to expect your soldiers to make nothing of this- two adults of their own will and such but-“

Josephine cut her off, wringing her hands and pacing. “The both of you with the multiple proposals from various Fereldan and Orlesian houses that have backed the the Inquisition with goods, coin, and secure routes for moving troops and supplies....Then there is the note she sent to her keeper before the Wycome fiasco asking for dispensation and ceremonial provisions to wed... AN ELF outside her clan...”

Cullen bit his lip and tensed his shoulders abruptly. That was new information to him. Perhaps not really any of his business but, all the same stunned him.

Leliana playfully measured his ears with a slide rule from his desk and shrugged, “Send for Elvish language tutors and have Morris make some nugskin ear extensions, They were quite en-vogue with the Val Royeaux fetishists last season. Patterns abound.” She chuckled at the abject horror on the Commander’s face as he stammered. She continued, grinning at Josephine: “As amusing as that could be, it does nothing to help us find out who intercepted the marriage dispensation, or why.”

“Andraste save us,- Wycome!” Cullen Exclaimed. “ I had forgotten about that.”

“As did I,” added josephine, “ When the raven returned  with a message from our scouts in the area, the seal on her letter to her keeper was broken. Possibly in transit somewhere between Kirkwall and Starkhaven.”

They all shared a somber look.

“Did you tell her what has become of her clan, Commander?” Leliana prodded.

“I.. ehm, well.”

Both of the women rounded on him. “It was not right to let her ride out this morning without knowing. What should happen if the news reaches her in the field? She will have no privacy to grieve while crusading.” Josephine fretted.

“That was all of our failure then, We had her at the morning meeting. We should have told her then.” Cullen pushed back at them.

“We were waiting on your raven to coordinate a response that would best support the Inquisitor...and assessing new developments within Skyhold.” Leliana stated dryly.

“I couldn’t very well send anything with her in my chamber and she was distraught. It would have been an unnecessary cruelty and dangerous for us all. “

This last admission startled both of the Lady Advisors. They had ascended the battlements to his office, ready to tear a strip off of him for taking advantage of her; Like some sort of a low-born thug of a Templar, needing a disciplinary hearing after his first unsupervised harrowing watch. Short words were exchanged amougst the two after the Herald left the earlier briefing & the Commander soon after. They had agreed it was scandalous and uncharacteristically selfish for him to press himself into the Inquisitors' personal life but, barely eye-roll worthy. However, to do so as loudly as he had this morning: It would have political repercussions, given the current circumstances.

By now they had both heard 30 versions from each of the Military, Diplomatic, and Scouting divisions at Skyhold as to what happened at Crestwood. That, in addition to the specifics of just when and how the Herald found herself  at Cullen’s door, at 3 in the morning. If word got out that the Holy Inquisitor was intending to wed her companion and then abruptly took her human military commander as a consort, they would lose significant ground with the moral absolutists of Chantry and  conservative nobility of Ferelden. All this right in the midst of the appointment process for the next divine. The potential cost to influence the Inquisition held could be steep and immediate if they did not move fast.  The two women exchanged a look, each wondering how the Military Commander was going to try to dig out of this one.

“Dangerous?” Josephine repeated incredulously as Leliana moved to shutter the windows and check the bolts on all three doors to his office. Enough of all of their people had seen the advisors cross into the office but, It would be best to ensure battlement patrols steered clear for a time.

“My scouts had reported what sounded like an electric mage-arc and moments later, broken pottery?... from your tower office, as I understand.” She noted, an eyebrow raised at Cullen.

“Maker. That’s why the scout I didn’t recognize came in with the patrolman last night? You thought I was attacking the Herald?” He fumed, looking at Leliana with new eyes.

“Or perhaps she could have harmed you.” Leliana gave nothing away in her admission. “Need I remind you that we all watch each other. Always, Cassandra, Josephine, You, I... We are the inquisition together. If we are not constantly looking out for each other’s interests, we are in greater danger than any Corypheus’s forces could ever put us in.”

“Why did you keep this information from me, Leliana,” Josephine’s eyes darkened.

“If I could guess,” said Cullen as he ran his hands through his hair, ”It was to allow you to see both sides with fresh eyes, which means Cassandra, possibly Morrigan, and you had already discussed...” He trailed off, beginning to blush. Maker preserve him, Was there not a single soul in Skyhold who did not know now?

“Everything but, tell us more about this danger?” Leiliana interrupted him.

Josephine took a seat on the edge of the desk and gave Cullen her full attention as he relayed The Mark’s new response pattern to the Inquisitor’s distress. He included the information he gathered from the herald's Non-elvish Mage companions, and his suspicions of Solas possibly concealing such information from them. He postulated some potential reasons for the sudden break up with the Herald. He finished by noting his own concerns regarding his Lyrium withdawls: How it made it extremely difficult to be able to draw off excess and erratic mana from the inquisitor last night, especially with his limited Seeker training from Cassandra.

The advisors remained silent for a long beat after he finished relaying this report. The sounds from the bustling keep bled into the office. 

Finally, Josephine offered, “Between you, Cassandra, and the seeker Tome, you must find a way to improve your capacity to help the Herald stabilize her mark. Leliana and I can refocus our efforts to carefully monitor and uncover any research activity of Solas’s that may have escaped our immediate notice.”

Leliana nodded, “We cannot be too careful right now. Any small or seemingly inconsequential Elvhan clue he stumbled over, despite his intentions or discretion, could deliver a critical weakness to the wrong hands.”

“Perhaps their parting was as simple as Solas coming to terms with a mere Apostate being no match to the charms of our handsome Fereldan Commander,” Josephine shrugged with a laugh. “We should not divert the whole of Skyhold’s resources to prying into a private matter of the Herald. Just enough to allay suspicion and eradicate any possible conspiracy before it could become a tool of a detractor.” Sighing, “We should plan to give her the news of her Clan, upon her return, when she is in her quarters for the day. I will clear her schedule for the time after. Shall we all be present for this news?” She looked specifically to the Commander, eyebrow raised.

Cullen sighed. “That’s reasonable. I have no idea if we will ever... I,  uhm. I don’t know how I feel about ongoing surveillance of her, however.”

“Commander,” Leliana quipped. “You have as little say in that, as you do in the construction labourers we are sending in to close-up your roof and, pad the feet of your four-post, Fereldan, monstrosity of a bed.”

“Truly. I never thought I would wake to the sound of such a rhythmic siege engine. I had wondered if our talented builders had invented a wholly new contraption, so remarkable, they had to test it immediately, in the dead of the night. My fear was matched only by my great awe at the joyous sounds of their success.” Josephine stared him down, eyes narrowed.

“The Great Mountains of Skyhold are remarkable in how they carry the faintest sounds from vast lengths to the ear like a ferocious storm. Truly magical indeed.” Leliana rolled her eyes at Cullen.

“Point Made. The builders can come but, only after the Mage tower & Gate renovations are complete. I am not disrupting ongoing projects to renovate my quarters, Even if it may also be for the greater good of the keep. We are done here now. Out, All of you.”  Cullen grimaced. The pair of women burst into peels of laughter.

“Worse. Than. Bees.” He huffed and slammed his door behind him.

Turning back into his office, he stretched and looked at the pile of papers on his desk. It wouldn’t cost him too much to take the last hour before lunch was sent up to steal a nap. He went up the ladder and fell back onto his bed.

Ok, he mused: They had a point, that was loud. It had been a very long time for him. Very rarely had he ever left Haven or Skyhold, only when in command of the ground forces and he never seemed to schedule any leave time, even as Leliana and Josephine tended to for personal or Chantry business. He breathed in the mingled scents of the Herald and his own sweat from his sheets. He closed his eyes and kicked off his boots and plate mail.

Laid out on his back, he let his mind wander to the delicious feel of her riding him. He recalled how her thighs squeezed into his core when her languorous pace quickened. The sound her wetness made with every push and pull on him.

He stirred in his breeches, hungry for her heat. Quickly unlacing himself, he ran his hand along the length of his shaft. Beads of precum dripped from his slit. He stroked himself, pressing into his hand, trying to recover how obscenely tight she was. He recalled how she whimpered and panted the first time he eased into her wet entrance. The way her body made that satisfying smack when he threw her up against the stone wall. He groaned softly, thinking of all the different ways he wanted to take her, all the places he could secret her away from prying eyes long enough to extract every drop of pleasure she had to give him.

His strokes came faster and harder as his legs and abs tensed.  His other hand reached for the oil on the side of the bed. Once slick, he tugged his balls and rolled his head back onto the pillow. What he wouldn’t give to feel her throbbing orgasm come crashing down around his cock again. The way she could drive him to his fall. The Herald, his, finally. He clenched his jaw and sighed, pumping himself in time to the memory of her body extracting her own pleasure from him. Harder and faster into his hand, biting down on his lip to silence his desperate groaning. Just as he remembered her begging, that soft little whisper, “Please Cullen, Oh Please...” he came undone, hot jets of his seed spilling out onto his thighs and across the bed.

As he cleaned up, dressed and stripped the bed for laundry service, he offered a silent trader’s prayer to the maker, all the things he would give for just another night in bed with her, the taste and feel of her. Now that he had her, he’d never be foolish enough to let her slip past him again. He promised himself to claim her again and keep her properly his. Cullen had a lot to prepare for. It was going to be a very long two weeks.

 

Chapter Text

--^^^--

Solas spent the past few hours sleeping and waking fitfully after the brutal ending to their earlier conversation. He attempted to will himself to set an intention for a trip into the deep-fade. He had to go far beyond the gates of the black city, great ruins, and the dream plains of the great spirits. Slowly he counted himself down the rope. The rope traveled down to a well. The well was a dream construct he built to guide himself into the furthest reaches fade on any night he struggled to find rest. Even on nights like tonight, he must not fail in checking regularly to see if his great work held. Wind rushed past him loudly in absolute darkness. It whipped at his clothes and face like the sands at the edge of the wastes.

The was not as it should be. The rope he held in his hand transformed into a silver cord, glowing softly enough to show the outline of his hands as he held onto it. Suddenly, like the bite on a fishing line, he was jerked backwards. The cord ran taught in is his hands and he struggled to hold onto it. It suddenly lurched forwards. It burned his fingers while he searched, in all the ways he knew how, to find a different fade anchor to another time & place in the fade. Suddenly he realized he was stuck. His feet were welded to their spot: trapped. This was new. He acknowledged the fear rising steadily in him.

Could it be that tonight, as he was distracted, his greatest feat was destroyed? He had no idea how much time passed as he struggled with the thin silver rope. It felt longer than the ages he dreamed in the fade. He fought back the panic and tried to rationalize the sensation of free fall deep in his gut. Perhaps it was best to go to where this cord pulled him now, even as every cell in his body recoiled against the idea.

His hands blistered and burned from it whipping through his hands. He felt physical pain in a way that he had not felt pain in the fade for ages. Fear rose to become panic. It was not yet time. They were not ready. Just as it became unbearable, a green specter peeled and pulled itself up and out from within him. As the wisp materialized before him he cried out. It bore shimmers and shadows of the resemblance of his dear friend, his destroyed spirit, Wisdom. T

This version of her before him was desiccated, slashed and burned, as though from a horrific battle. The spirit appeared as she was the last moment he saw her in the exalted planes, he realized.

“My friend, is this what has befallen you?” He no longer fought the tears and despair he felt.

“Atish tarsul ma, Solas.” It said softly in ancient Elvhan. “I am not as you know me. I am the form of wisdom within you, shaped into her form by your long relationship and the many teachings she imparted to you before passing. I am not you but a part of you, not her so much as the imprint of her. Exactly as the part of her that remains within you, just as any teacher’s voice remains within their dearest students.”

“Why would you take such a form?” He shook against the sound of the rushing wind in the void and leaned closer to her, even though he heard her soft words clearly.

“I have been fighting, Ma’ Fenor sa”

“Fighting?! How could I ever fight you?”

“You are destroying me.”

“I am? How?” He finally was able to override his turmoil and shock. He felt certain that somehow, a demon corrupted this entry point into the furthest reaches of the fade. He sought to buy some time with questions.

“You turned all that is left of myself, within you, against our purpose!” She accused him.

Before he could stop himself he cried out in the roaring air of the fade-void to challenge this possible demon. “I do not understand how such a thing could be! You are the one great treasure of my darkest long night, the only part of myself in the whole of my past that I still value. The only thing that keeps me constant in my purpose.” The despair and fear rose up again within him like a violent wave. The truth was always the weakest part of him. He paused to mind himself as his words betrayed him to whatever this was before him.

She continued, forcefully. “Have you ever turned into yourself to see what becomes of your Pride when you lie to yourself and let it take my place within your own spirit? Trickster, lie to the whole of this world and beyond the veil but DO NOT lie to yourself.” The burn from the ever-fast, spooling, silver chord spread throughout his arms and into his body, filling his magical field. He stood fast, facing the echo of his friend, letting her words land.

She continued slowly now, her contempt easing back down as he controlled his own emotions. “You have corrupted your own spirit’s purpose by placing Pride above the greatest parts of who you strive to be and now that demon threatens to devour you whole. You must reclaim yourself before there is nothing left of us, before everything we have tried to build together for the Elvhan is lost completely.”

“How?!” he shouted back over the rushing air, now curious to see what would happen next, and what could be determined about this corruption within himself, by her words. “

You Must release yourself from Pride. If you fail, the consequences will destroy everything you once loved, everything you love now, and everything you drive yourself towards. I cannot be more clear in this.” Wisdom turned from him and followed the length of the silver chord, drifting away from him slowly in the roaring dark tunnel.

The chord whipped through his fingers, lurching and pulling at him, struggling to draw him along with her.

“Where are you going? Don’t leave me here!” He felt helpless again suddenly, desperate and panicked, like a child left alone in a vast wilderness, his feet still frozen to an invisible anchor as the chord whipped through his hands.

“Pride will not permit you to follow me further. It holds you to a prison designed of  your own failures, damning you to repeat them over and over until the world changes around you and you are finally lost to everything you once cleaved to.”

“Is this their doing? This price of the Forgotten Ones? How do I free myself and return you to me?” He stuttered against the storm as drops of blood from his hands splattered on to his shirt and past him.

Still he remained locked in place, holding onto the silvery rope, trying to will it to draw him forward. She smiled at him, turning back to face him from far too far away, smiling exactly as he remembered all of her smiles, so full of vision, warmth, and understanding.

“You go to where you are meant to go anyways, as you always have. As I pray you Always will. You must finish what you have started my friend but, in ways greater than you could have ever imagined.”

With that, wisdom took the shimmering limbs that served as her arms and hands and merged them into a great club. The weapon came barreling down the chord towards his face. Solas went careening backwards into the darkness, the silver chord flying from his grasp. He landed squarely back into his body with a soul-scarring scream that could wake a titan.

He sat up in his sweating, shaking body, laid out in the tent in the Hissing Wastes. The Herald had woken up long before, just as his feverish nightmare began to have him thrash about next to her. In all the time they had slept next to each other, she had never once seen him so disturbed in his sleep. She had not seen him so disturbed even as they fought dragons side by side.

He turned to her very calmly while she lit a small veilfire lamp over him.

She recoiled in horror at the dark, yellowing, green veined bruise across his chin and neck. He slowly lifted his hands to the light to examine the oozing rope burns that cut through his flesh.

“It would seem, I cannot cross into the fade for the time being.”

Their long stare was interrupted by a cacophony of noise and flashing lights out side the tent.

Cassandra’s familiar Battle Cry rang out, “Maker take you!” as Sera slashed a great tear directly into the tent with her side daggars.

“Wakey, Wakey, Demon-Bakey! Up and Attem’ Inky, we need to grab the Req. Officer and pin it for the nearest city or we WILL DIE HERE!” She bellowed with a manic laugh. They grabbed their staffs and clamored up out of the tents.

Pure carnage waged around them as the battle magic illuminated the camp. Sera and Cass were bleeding out from uncountable injuries, Lightning, frost, and fire from various demons ripped around them. A splatter of blood and bone were all that remained of the other guards where they had fallen The Req Officer and the other two women were rotating back to back in a pinwheel to draw out the attack from the tents and give the two mages a chance to Rally.

There must be four rifts worth of active demons on the battlefield. No rifts, wardens, red templars, or venatori in sight. Finally an opening shifted when Solas dropped two frost liches and Sera and Cass shouted back and forth over the din. The mages provided cover fire for Sera to bound back to the tent. She quickly tore a sleeping mat into a strip and tied the three of them together by the belt. Sera nocked and arrow and drew so fast that Solas barely got his hands back on his staff before the three of them when barrelling backwards over the dunes, away from the camp, as if bounced along by an invisible high-tension coil spring.

As fast as she could nock and draw, she repeated this 6, 7, 8- maybe 10 times until they landed at prior campsite from days ago.

The inquisitor immediately began vomiting. Between heaves... “My staff,” she croaked.

“Oh Damn.” Sera shot back, untying the mages from her. “Guess someone from the 90% of Thedas you own will have to make or steal you another one.” She grabbed all the health potions from Solas’s jacket and fleeced down the inquisitor quickly too.

“Right, so erhm, going back now for whats left of them. You guys get your pointy ears and dull wits back to Skyhold, lickity splitz, k, then? Make me a sammich, I’m gonna really want a sammich after this.”

She knocked back a full, extra strength healing potion, capped it with a renewing healing mist, and quickly turned around the other direction, to nock another arrow, this time pointed directly at the dizzy mages.

They hit the desert floor. She flashed them another one of her trademark manic smiles, before cackling something they could barely make out as she careened and catapulted back to the battle field.

“How’s your head, did you hit anything on the ride?” the herald gently inquired.

“I am fine, I believe. Also, consequently cured of any fleeting desire to tame a dragon for riding...”

“Probably best if you just stick to Fade-Griffons,” She winced from an open cut above her eyebrow as much from the thought of their first trip to the fade together. “When you can,” she offered up to see him drift off, back into his mind. Exactly as she had seen him do so a thousand times, she reminded herself. She hated him in the same breath that she was grateful for his company, skin crawling at how he woke her up earlier, still hurting for not being worth more of his story. Her emotions swirled under her fatigue. The anchor on her hand flashed and crackled in their silence. The only easy feeling was to sit there, crouched on the desert floor and feel him lost to her.

After a moment , Sera was out of sight. They could no longer see flashes of magic from the distant battlefield of their last camp.

“Her talent with the bow has grown remarkably in a short time.”

“You still think she is the furthest from what she was meant to be?”

“I am unsure of that and a great many other things right now. Let’s get home before they send people for us.”

The herald quietly nodded in agreement. She could not help drawing her hands up to where the familiar ridges of her Vallaslin once resided. The smooth skin felt alien to her,the absence of the graceful scar lines made her shiver.

It was impossible to stop caring for Solas and just as impossible to ignore that there was a purpose to everything he had given, shown, and shared with her. Her blind trust of him had protected too many of his secrets. She realized that would have to change now, very quickly, for his own good and theirs, before the final battle with Corypheus. For now, all she let herself hope for was that Cassandra and Sera would be alive when they came home.

Chapter Text

Travel back took the two mages a great deal longer than anticipated or desired. Her mark’s erratic new pulsing was interfering with the ancient Tevinter magic of the fast-travel stone markers. They bounced to the docks in Val Royeaux, Blackwell’s hut in the hinterlands, an astrarium on the Storm Coast, The Haven Memorial, and a strange tropical beach they did not recognize, until they were finally spat back out in the Raven’s Rookery by Lelianas desk.

Her haggard counselors were talking down an agitated Dorian, Vivienne, and  Blackwall as Cole stood a few paces off. They all stopped talking and stared, slack jawed at the Inquisitor and Solas as they popped into the room with a blinding arc of green energy from her mark that set a few raven’s cages on fire as it dissipated across the room.

Cullen rushed to her and took both of his hands over her mark immediately, stabilizing the anchor. "You have no idea how relieved we are to see you. How I am relieved to see you," He whispered softly to her ear, so close his lips brushed her before he quickly stepped back and returned to the other advisors. Solas's eyes narrowed slightly for a second at his sudden proximity to the Commander.

Very few of the companions took note of that exchange while the rookery thrummed with the chaos of their return.The scouts in the room rushed forward to free the trapped ravens and extinguish the flames.

Blackwall threw up his hands. “Well, I’ll be in the pub,” He spat at the advisors, walking by the inquisitor and squeezing her arm. “Glad, you made it. When you’ve had your fill of this lot, come have a round with us.”

“Us?”

“Sera’s in the pub, dancing on tables with some Qun Tamassaran diplomatic emissaries who arrived two days ago. Looks like a more productive way to spend the evening.” Blackwall glowered over his shoulder back at the advisors. The other companions moved to the herald to greet her, then headed downstairs for the evening.

“ and Cassandra & The Field Requisition Specialist?”  She called over the din of the ravens to her other advisors, as they crossed to her.

“Specialist Aida?” Cullen tersely inserted, taking a beat to glower at Solas as he remained by the herald's side, watching the advisors catch up.

“In the hospital, being seen to for injuries. It is... severe but, they both will make a full recovery in the next week or so.” Josephine filled in.

Solas settled onto a crate at the edge of earshot and began healing his hands while the team caught up. Josie, Morrigan, Cullen, and Leliana took in his appearance for a beat and moved on to questioning the Inquisitor about the events of the evening. As she relayed her report, Solas sat up when he realized that she left out details of his fade-nightmare and his related injuries. Scouts came and went, recording and passing messages to Leliana. The gardener dropped off potions and healing supplies to Solas, chirping about the unusual green bruise on his face. Poison?

“It is very late and we are all tired from the day's events. I would be interested in hearing Solas’s thoughts on the unusual concentration of demons at the time of the attack but, perhaps in a report for the war council,  over the next few days.” Leiliana offered.

“It would make sense to hold any further expeditions to the Hissing Wastes until the troop withdrawal from the Arbour wilds is complete and we can redirect a steady rotation of reinforcements to the Area to meet the Herald.” Cullen added.

“Such a redirection of resources may be unnecessary once I have completed my investigation and offer my findings.” 

Everyone turned to look at the apostate who had been silent until now.

Cullen bristled. “You have said often enough that Corypheus would do anything to knock over the game board to display his power. The herald is more at risk than ever before.”

Solas regarded him coolly. “ You are not wrong,  however, A strong re-action is not required for every minor action." Solas's trademark chiding tone set the Commander's teeth on edge.  He continued, seemingly oblivious, "The traveling companion party structure did the job that it was supposed to do and returned the party to Skyhold in time, in extenuating circumstances. It may not be prudent to disrupt a successful practice from fear.”

“Fear?” Cullen bellowed, “You have the luxury of allowing your self to believe the party returned home. I lost four of my best remote field soldiers with no remains to send home to their families. We nearly lost core leadership personnel, including one of the candidates for the Next Divine, extracting the Herald, and we spent 7 hours spinning our wheels trying to figure out what to do next when the Herald did not show up to the rendezvous point at the appointed time with her Apostate companion who she had-“

Solas leapt up, toe to toe with Cullen. Emerald fade-vapor pooled at his clenched fists.  Everyone in the room, from the ravens to the scouts froze at the unusual display of tempers. The mage had never been quick to anger with anyone before.  Fortunately, Leliana cut Cullen off with a look and wedged herself between the two men with cat-like speed. She placed a hand on a shoulder of both of the men, and facing Solas, she spoke so softly that the herald had to strain to hear her.

“We will continue a more effective and civil version of this conversation after we have all had some rest and Cassandra has had the chance to make a full recovery and join us. It is time for all of us to retire for the evening.

In Elvhan, taking care to close her words in the proper ancient elvhan tense, the Inquisitor addressed Solas,

“I require your honesty first, before you report to council. I want to know where you went to in the fade, what happened, and how long have you known you can sustain physical injury from fade travel. Tamahn sul inor em’an  ha’lam mala, ma' Vhenan.” ("...There are to be no more secrets between us, starting now, My Heart.")

Both Mages cringed as “Vhenan” left her lips. An easy slip to make when your language tutor was your lover for three years but, a horrible slip to make in this room now. Cullen turned away to hide his face from them. You don’t spend decades as a patrolling circle templar without learning scraps of common Dalish. In common and ancient tongue, Vhenan has always meant the same thing.

“It is a reasonable request,” He answered her back in common. “Sleep well, Inquisitor. You will know what I know, 1st thing in the morning.” With a nod to the other advisors, he excused himself- tapping on the parcel of healing herbs he received.  “To check on Cassandra before bed.”

Cullen was already at the door to the Turret Battlements by the time Josie and Leli gave their good-nights to the Herald. She tried to follow him outside but, he was nowhere to be found at first glance. She looked down and thought she saw his profile stalking across the courtyard. She tracked his path and considered the two awnings and rubbled battlements he had to jump to get away from her that quickly. Well, she thought, if he doesn’t want to talk, he doesn’t want to talk. She was too tired to chase after a grown man. She headed down to the great hall, taking the library stairs down through Solas’s rotunda.

He had his traveling medicinal case in hand as he put on his winter robes. “Your Elvhan has improved tremendously in a short time.”  He called to her, without turning to face her.

A compliment? Where was the price-tag? she wondered. She reminded herself that she was still angry at him, too.

“You either have a very odd way of relating the scale of time to what could be considered great, or, you suffer from harboring demeaningly low standards for OUR people.” She saw his shoulders turn to her from the corner of her eye.  She moved to the great hall door slowly, waiting for him, feeling her resolve calcify in a way that felt ancient and spiteful.

“You seem to be headed in the wrong direction. Josephine set out a red and gold rug for the command tower weeks ago- for guests who cannot seem to find where they want to be.” She could feel how close he was to her now. She counted the paces between her them on one hand. Her mark hummed as though there was a line from it to the center of him.

 She turned her chin up slightly to address him again without looking at him.

“Solas, In the halls of time I may only be a tenant in this keep but I know exactly where I am going: To bed, alone, until I see fit to send for company.” She sneered, matching him for pitch and tone; “If you are preparing a dreamless draught for yourself, please make enough for me and send it up with one of the night patrol scouts, unless you care to continue our earlier conversation from the rookery. Goodnight”

His heart ache soaked through his physical injuries and exhaustion. He loathed this back handed banter, what it reminded him of, the corruption it wrought every where it went. It tore at him how easily he found his own jealousy and spite and just danced it alongside hers. This was not what he wanted to be but, he could not stop himself.

“Of course, another time, perhaps?”He threw the eager words of the Shem back in her face as she left. If she wanted no more secrets, letting her know what he had seen, how often, and for how long would be where he’d start.

It would be a simple thing to mix and bottle a sleeping draught while he administered some potions to Cassandra.  He penned a quick raven to the guard captain, advising him and anyone on the night guard outside of the inquisitor’s quarters, that he would be up to deliver a tincture, later.

Chapter Text

--~~~--

She moved quickly through the dining hall, towards her the throne, and up the steps to the door to her quarters. She nodded at the evening guards posted, greeting them by name in their proper Orlesian pronunciation: “Henri (Onree), Jaques (Jzauh-kh). Good evening to you.”

“Inquisitor,”  Jaques reached out politely, “A message for you: Solas will return with herbs to help you sleep after he leaves the infirmary.”

“Ah, thank you. If it is all the same, if he does not arrive within the next hour, do not admit him.” Both guards nodded respectfully, trying not to make eye contact. Neither were looking forward to the questioning they would receive next morning from the Left Hand or their Commander regarding the Herald’s evening activities.

She could see the gears turning in their heads. “Do you recall when hot water was last drawn for my bath?”

Henri piped up. “Lady Herald, as soon as you arrived at the Rookery and word was brought to the kitchen. Perhaps an hour ago? Shall we alert the kitchens?”

Madam de Fer strode up to the inquisitor from some nearby dignitaries engaged in a raucous game of wicked grace. “You,” she gestured to the Henri with an indulgent smile, “Are an absolute treasure.  Last I heard, the public schools did offer some basic curriculum on the capabilities of the Magi?” she teased him, knowing full well he was just under the age when such education reforms were enacted in Orlais’ common schools.

He blushed and shuffled his feet, having been outed as a commoner to the Inquisitor.

The circle mage continued smoothly, “If the Inquisitor is too fatigued to warm her own bath, I am happy to assist.” For effect, she lit a small fire above her right palm and waved  her left  over it, snuffing it out with a soft, frosty hiss. Vivienne took the Herald by the arm as she smiled warmly back over her shoulder at the young men, and escorting her up the first flight of stairs.

“My Dear, as much as you seem to enjoy living dangerously, I would be happy to remain until our apostate friend has taken his leave, so as to not allow for any gossip of impropriety.”

“Sometimes I forget we are the living force of the good Chantry, and how incredibly sharp my good friends’ hearing can be ” she deadpanned. “So good to have so many friends to help me with my burdens.”

Both the women laughed. “Quite. I do have to ask though, you obviously have some sort of plan for the Commander’s wounded pride and the viciousness of those that would love to spread tales of your immorality.”

“Sadly, the tales of immorality are the cover story for tonight.”

“Oh? Am I allowed to-“

“Guess, no Viv, I will tell you gladly. I mean to interrogate Solas about some additional information regarding the anchor, Elven spies at Halamshiral, and some recently uncovered artifacts.”

“Is it possible you are at cross purposes or, working Tandemly with the Commander in this regard?”

The women stopped on the landing at the second door and lowered their voices. "I am aware that my advisors are investigating Solas. I am not sure who within our teams they are engaging with for this work." Responded The Herald, cautiously.

“My Darling, don’t fret. Dorian and I are working towards this. I am leveraging contacts in Orlais regarding the Elven spies under the cover of pursuing nobles complicit in the red Lyrium trade. My contacts within the remaining circle loyalists are cross referencing material that Dorian is drawing out of Tevinter. Your safety, Tonight, is more my concern than your personal affairs. Though I do hope they are more enjoyable as of late, than previously.” She smiled wickedly at at the Herald.

The Inquisitor allowed herself to return  Vivienne’s knowing smirk. “I think I can leverage recent events to obtain more information directly from Solas. We are both agreed a romantic partnership between us was impossible, though that seems to have done little but encourage attentions he did not apply while we were together. This could create the right climate to obtain more information from him.”

“Fascinating!” She remarked with sparkling and suggestive eyes, “ I am sure you are wholly capable of securing the leads we need. Dare I ask if your entanglement with the Commander was a part of this charade?”

“Vivienne, you ask too much,” She smiled coquettishly. This mask for the Game could show Vivienne enough to sway her into offering some assistance or advice in walking out of this awkward situation with minimal damage, or better yet, great reward. She continued carefully, “In truth, my next moves are precarious. We stand to gain greatly from my wicking information from Solas willingly. The Commander seems to care for me and is conflicted with my continued proximity to Solas. I do not see a future with Solas, given our past... I do however,  greatly look forward to more time with the Commander, jealous and possessive as he may be.” She raised an eye brow to punctuate her offering.

Vivienne regarded the herald for a moment. “Darling, you never cease to surprise me. I greatly enjoy watching you shift your mannerisms, your rapport with everyone you speak to, so effortlessly. Everywhere you go, your charm thrives in everyone genuinely believing  that you are just a little like them and they a little like you. Tell me truly, what do you actually want from these men, if the Maker was kind enough to deliver it to you?”

The herald could not help laughing. It would be ages before she could come close to Madam de Fer’s grasp of people.  She tried again, more plainly and closer to how she spoke before she was named Herald of Andraste above a cheering crowd. “The Maker delivers those who do their own making. I could walk away content of my time with Solas if I had him as I wanted him once: Honest and inside me, at the same time.” She shook her head and looked down to hide the genuine sadness in her eyes from Vivienne before continuing,  “I doubt even the will of Andraste could bring that to pass. I’d settle for a proper tumble, a more realistic grasp of his ties to the Elvhan underground in Orlais, and whatever he knows of my mark that he is hiding. If I could get that and still fall into the Commander’s arms whenever it suits us both, I’d consider giving up the game completely.”

“hmmm.” Vivienne paused, slightly moved by the realness of her friend’s conflicting emotions. She answered in kind, in the softer way that she would have wanted an older sister to speak to her, when she herself was younger. “You actually think withholding the promise of the former could guarantee the latter with your apostate? It’s almost too vulgar and easy, maybe for an alienage elf who laboured his whole life, no? Solas has a completely different bearing, much closer to those things you encountered in Mythal’s temple?” She suggested, giving over the fruit of her own research and observations willingly.

“I, however, do not know your lover or your people as you do,” Vivienne offered more gently, before re-donning her glib Bon-Vivant mask. “Give it the apprentice try, I say. Leave the Commander to me. Don’t give me that face.  If anyone could talk a mabari-worshipping beast into easing it’s grip on a new toy without immediately replacing it with another, it would be me.”

“Thank you Vivienne. I think.”  She rolled her eyes.

“Don’t mention it, after everything you did for me. Truly. Just run along, wash your day off, and put some vines in your hair or whatever it is you do to dress your locks over those ears properly.” She tucked a vial of lyrium into the collar of the Inquisitor’s Armour. “Just in case the water is cold. I certainly will not take another flight of stairs to play chambermaid. Pleasant dreams, lovely.”

The two women scrunched their faces up at each other into mock sour-looks that melted into warm smiles before turning their separate ways. 

--xXx--

The hearth was beginning to die down. In the short time that she was away, her own plain bed was replaced by a bizarre work of art from Par-Vollen.  Casting her glyph under the tub, she passively admired the sculpted, Obsidian, Qun warrior statues at the foot of her bed. She struggled to temper down the glyph and the stones under the tub glowed white hot. She squeezed her thrumming mark hand. “Behave!” she snapped, as though it had a life of her own.

She crossed to light the candles on either side of the dreadnaught-like headboard. Her desk was overflowing with papers . One book buried in the center of it, she uncovered and lifted out of the fray. An rare Tevinter copy of a Qun Ben Hasserath text about the art of seducing a target for the purposes of Sedition and information Gathering. The Qun seemed to use a lot less language in the title case than Tevinter required for the translation. She idly wondered if the Qunari had as many words for spying as the Avarr had for mountain. She made a note to talk to Iron bull about these gifts from the Qun and make an appointment to return to the Storm Coast for a proper meeting with his allies. Sliding the book onto a shelf near the window, she strode over to the bath, casting off her armour as she went.

A deep moan escaped her lips when her body made contact with the piping hot water. Her back arched as her shoulders hit the head-rest of the long copper tub. She ran her hands over her smooth skin, massaging out twitching kinks in her leg muscles, and those spots on the joints of her armour where the daily traveling rubbed her raw. The Commander’s hand print from earlier that week had disappeared in the crush of health potions pushed on her in the Rookery. She caressed the part of her thigh and calf where she remembered his massive hand pressing her leg up to grant him deeper purchase. She closer her eyes and let her hand drift up her bent knees and back down to her sex.

Gently, recalling the way Cullen held himself in her on his bed, she rolled her index finger across her erect button  in slow circles. She remembered how he held his head back and moaned so softly when he pushed into her. Like a man dying in the desert of thirst taking his first drink. She smiled, remembering how her muscles wrapped around him tightly to fight his withdrawal from her.  That look in his amber eyes when he told her that she would end him, right now, with her throbbing orgasm engulfed him. Her fingers quickened their pace. She could finish soon, just recalling how his breathing changed and mouth opened when he filled her. Her chest heaved as she opened her mouth to fill her own lungs with air, nipples hard,legs tensed against the edge of the tub, ready for release.

“Inquisitor, I apologize for the interruption. Perhaps you will sleep well enough tonight that you may not need my assistance after all.” She did not have to look at Solas to hear the teasing smile in his words.

She drew a jagged breath from her position in the bath, shifting her arms back out of the water to rest on the round edges of the copper tub. “Nonsense. I was hoping you would come up tonight.”

He smiled politely and nodded to her, still on the stairwell.

She rose from the bath slowly, turning her body to the perfect angle as she exited so he would not be able to see her open her legs, even if he strained. The reflection from her dressing mirror caught him leaning ever so slightly, to attempt such anyways.

“How are our friends?”  She inquired politely while looking around for the towel rack that was usually set next to the bath.

Solas, without invitation, moved up into the large and richly appointed room, striding to the linen cabinet by the loft ladder. “Cassandra will be bed-bound for the coming week but the surgeon and mage healer saw fit to transfer her back to her room. Varric is going to read to her for some time and join Sera, Dorian, Bull, Blackwall, and all of the Advisors in the Herald’s rest to drink with the visiting dignitaries. It was quite raucous from what I heard, as I was leaving the infirmary.” He remarked as he came around and made his way back to stand directly before her.

“I am surprised you didn’t make an appearance.”

“I had other obligations.” He offered, while he let his eyes travel the length of her supple curves before meeting her eyes.  He held the vial with the sleeping potion out to her, a towel over his other arm. He was closer now to who he was back when they were together, softer, warmer in this moment. He regarded her face with tenderness.

“I feel for distracting you from your work.”  She found herself  stumbling back into the choppy Dalish way of speaking common, caught up in his reserved emotion, instead of offering a cold remark about being able to trust the potion’s contents.

He hung his head. “If you have sought to humble me, by turning my words back onto me, you succeed where no one else has.” He moved to place the vial and towel on the small table by the tub but, she reached out to him and stayed his movement.

They remained like this, standing in front of each other, with one of her hands wrapped around his wrist and the other on the hem of the side of his tunic, where it met his belt. She shivered, suddenly aware of her nakedness again, after it felt like an age had passed. His mouth formed the faintest smile, trying to lie for his pained gaze. She dropped her arms from him.

He broke their silence: “You should dry off, and close these windows, before you need more care than a sleeping potion would give.” He wrapped the towel around her shoulders, grabbing a handful of it to dry her neck and collar bone. He stopped when the patting drifted lower to her chest, putting a foot behind him to shift away.

“Don’t stop, Solas.”

He looked at her as though she had stabbed him. “Please, do not ask anything of me tonight...anything other than that.” The wave of desire she had seen wash over him after she first kissed him in the fade, spilled onto his face again. She had never seen him look at her this way in the living world. His frozen hands came to life again as they moved the towel over her body, caressing every inch of her while attending to each drop of water left on her. The towel dropped to the floor and his hands floated up to her face, pulling her close to his lips, allowing him the softest kisses against her cheeks, brow, nose, and lips.

She spoke softly to him, eyes closed, her mouth resting next to his: “You know If I could do that I would, just as I know that if you could spend eons in this room with me, you would.” The words left her as though they were spoken by someone else out of time and from another place entirely. She heard herself continue, “We have so little time left together. You know it. I feel it.”

He pressed his forehead to hers, willing himself to be still. His heart and mind raced against each other. Did she remember? What does she actually know?

She softly murmured “We can just be together right now:  Even though we know that when this passes, we will both remain on very different paths. I have helped you at every turn and asked nothing of you, save this right now: Be with me now and tell me who you are and what you came here to do.”

He wrapped his arms around her tightly drawing her to him without moving himself any further, considering his most recent visit to the fade and holding his ground as though his life depended on it. He held her like this for a long moment before cautiously offering: “I am like Abelas but not, Briala but not, Sera, but not. I came here to take the orb from Corypheus, destroy him, and change this world for all elves. You have shown me that I could be wrong in how I sought to do those things. This does not change that I must leave when Corypheus is slain. I cannot tell you more. I cannot tell the future.”

She pulled back from him, far enough to be able to look at him. She returned his cryptic and careful words with blunt force, “My advisors believe that you know more about the anchor than you have shared. They know that Dalish and Alienage elves seen speaking to you at Halamshiral have intercepted and overpowered Briala’s spies throughout Orlais. This is unsurprising considering your passing conversations with Sera about her management of the Red Jennies. I am not alone in our leadership in having seen enough of you to know you as an ancient Elvhan. I know you well enough, Ma’Lath, (My Love) to also know what you look like when you are trapped. Help us help you. Tell me more. I will not stop our allies investigations of you if I cannot trust you.”

“I understand. I cannot speak of this anymore.”

Her right hand reached up to his face and tenderly caressed his cheek, dropping down to rest on his shoulders. She shook her head  at him, slightly in frustration, before leaning in to kiss him, gently parting his hesitant mouth. More walls, she thought to herself. She had done her best by her keeper’s way. Now it was time to try Vivienne’s way- She would give him enough of what he did not know he needed, tonight. When he comes back, not if, but when, she would draw the information she wanted out of him with poisons or pleasure.

“Let’s not speak of anything else tonight, then.” She purred at him, abruptly pivoting her tactics and dragging her cheek across his chest long enough to hear his heart pound.

She drew her nails slowly up the back of his neck and held his head in her hands. With a flick of her wrist she tilted his chin back and pressed her full lips to his neck, kissing and biting her way down and across to his shoulder. A smooth, willowy leg wrapped around him as she flexed her hip onto his, pressing him towards the bed. He felt his knees buckle slightly under him. Her other hand grasped his length from outside his trousers. She pressed against him, stroking him awake.

“Ma’lath, ar te’elan ir’vera ma o alin” he whispered urgently, his resolve melting. (My love, I cannot steal you from another person.)

Her voice hardened as she locked her gaze into his tortured eyes. “Ar eolasa A alin te’elan ea versha”  (I know that a person cannot be stolen.) “You took my Vallaslin because you wanted me to be free from ownership. What’s the point of anything you are doing if we cannot both choose to be who we want to be?”

He reached out to her naked skin and hesitantly drew his hands down across her stomach to rest on her hips.

“Hama I em min’nydha,” She insisted. (lay with me tonight)

He sighed, closing his eyes briefly before he slowly backed up until his heels hit the foot of her bed. He dropped down, seated on the edge of her bed between the two statues , raising a hand to his own mouth as though to silence himself from further thought . He stayed seated there for a moment, drinking in the form of her body in the flickering candlelight. He tried not to think about all of the times he had fallen asleep by her side, too nervous to connect to her body outside of the fade he wandered for millennia.

The softness of her skin and it’s scent sang out to him and he felt his senses sharpen. Every muscle and curve of her body was sculpted in a way that would make a Qunari artist blush. Her full mouth matched the muted peach of the center of Embrium blossoms. His hands ached to run along her thighs and cup her backside. He pulled off his shoes, socks, pants, and drew his shirt over his chest, watching her appraise him.

Where Cullen was broad and rippled with muscle, Solas was lithe and lean. His shoulders tapered almost violently down to his narrow hips, his muscle wrapped around his slender, tall frame in ways that were lost under the cover of his robes. She took in his god-like symmetry with her eyes appreciatively. The curve of his cheekbone up to his long, sharply, pointed ears was its own perfect work of art.

Solas did nothing to hide how much enjoyed the reflection of that adoring desire in the Heralds gaze.

She moved towards him so suddenly that when they connected he found himself knocked back onto his elbows on the bed. She slid down to the floor before  him, her legs pooling under her hips on the cool stone pavers.

He stretched back onto the bed to reach for a cushion, his hips angling up dangerously to her face. She wasted no time while he was distracted, lunging forward again with her face, gathering the hem of his boxers in her mouth and tugging them down over his slim hips. They dropped to his knees, catching as he returned to meet her eager lips with another kiss. He parted her mouth with his and breathed her into him deeply, tossing the pillow between her legs while she rose up to press him further. Her hands darted to his pillar, gently massaging him, drawing him up and out towards her bare stomach. She smiled through his kisses as he made his pleasure known to her in encouraging, barely audible noises.

Spurred on she plied her vulva for its slickness and liberally coated her fingers and palms, bringing them back to his hardening rod, encasing him and pulling them around him. His breathing became more urgent and she felt his legs twitch and pull themselves tightly to her sides. She drew her mouth from his, brushing up his high cheekbones and up to his ears where she licked along their length, nibbling biting, and breathing her own pleasure hotly upon him while she continued to work his cock in her hands.

He suddenly cried out, and she leaned back to examine her handiwork. His precum had kept her hands slippery across him. She smiled down at the slight curve in his member. The length and shape would be a perfect fit for her own body’s pleasure and she felt herself ache to have him inside her. She reminded herself to go slowly, to torment his body with her own for as long as her will would allow it.

With a devious grin, she wiggled her hips between his legs and with the slightest giggle, sprung herself forward on his chest. Reaching up to draw his arms over his head and pin them at the wrist by her. She drew her knees up over his stomach, holding him under her. Her damp hair scattered droplets of water across his bare chest. He felt the heat radiating off of her sex and he pushed his back up to rise to meet her.

Lowering her warm wetness onto his stomach, she pulled her hips across his hard abs, drawing a trail of herself up to his sternum and back down, resting just as she allowed the tip of him to press against the bud of her back end. Here she lightly bounced off of him, teasing him with the threat of that pleasure. Soon he had glossed her ass with enough of himself that he slid effortless between the firm cheeks of her backside.  He strained against her hold of him, groaning desperately in the ancient tongue of a language she barely knew.

She eased off of him, releasing his hands and rolling her hips down to rest against his hard cock. She pulled her hips forwards slightly, this time raised up off of him so that he could barely feel her lower lips grace across his length. He inhaled sharply and allowed himself to make a hungry moan. His hands came over his head to clasp her shoulders and slowly press her down to him with every stroke she teased him with.

“You’re soaking me.” He raised his neck to admire the slickness of her fluids, spilled out over his stomach.

“There’s somewhere you’d rather be right now?” She laughed at his pained expression.

“In mar edhas” he gasped, closing his eyes once more and angling his hips up into her movements, enjoying the sudden feel of her wetness directly over his member as she shifted to position her clit to rest against the tip of his cock, teasing them both.

She paused for a moment, looking away from him, pretending to be lost in thought. “I don’t think I know that one.”

“I don’t know common for it,” he lied back to her. “I could show you if it’s ok for me to remove my....” he gestured towards his linen small shorts, binding his legs at the knee.

She reached up over her head and down, sliding off his boxers from under him, laughing as she caught him admiring the curve of her breasts while she dipped back. He kicked the smalls to the floor and off of his feet with a frustrated huff.  She rose up, easing her knees further up onto the bed and allowing him to push his body further to the headboard, up to rest his neck onto the pillows. Midway in this movement, He suddenly reached out for her wrist and pulled her up with him, her knees landing at his hips, her dripping mound inches away from the base of his member again. He put a hand on his shaft and stroked himself, allowing his nails to rake over her inner thighs as he grasped himself.

“Ir ma, meaning to reside within,” using a hushed mimicry of his teaching voice, he reached his other hand to softly graze where her lower lips parted and gave way to her perfect wetness,  “possessive to yours-“ he continued looking down at where his middle and index fingers entered her,  “a home but not a dwelling. You should recall that from most modern Dalish.” He noted with a somewhat imperious tone.

Her eyes narrowed at him and he coyly slipped his middle finger into her, reaching up to beckon it across her spot. He smiled wolfishly at her then and twisted his hand up within and around her in one deep thrust, granting his thumb access to flick across over her aching clit. “Edhas,” he began again now, slowly pushing up into her with his hand, forcing her to ride him, as he spoke, “Stems from the much more lovely sounding Aoedhass, which was once a very particularly shaped flower that grew off of a vine that once lived as a very distant cousin to what you now know as Arbour Blessing.” He began to work his fingers against her deep spot, in time to her gentle rocking motions, delighting in watching her nipples dimple and harden,pulling her breasts tighter. “Edhas, as you may guess....”

She bit her lip and cursed him in the three other languages she knew that were not Elvhan. “Solas, for once in your life, ju-“

He pulled his hand from her immediately and grasped her thighs, drawing her hips down next to him, positioning her flush entrance directly over his cock. He pushed his head, with the twinge of a muscle, to steal up next to the very edge of her folds and pulse gently against her wetness.

She whimpered and curled her fingers into the new silk sheets, her breathing heavy with her desire and frustration.

He angled his face slightly up at her. “Just what?” he tried to bite the smile off of his lips.

“Nuva Fen’harel ver na!” (May the dread wolf take you) She shouted at him so loudly it echoed off the walls.

“You seem confused, Which is unfortunate because you just recently seemed so sure of what you wanted. That made me more certain of what I wanted.” He cooed softly to her, trying not to enjoy devastating her at her own game.

Her hand flew off the sheets and towards his face at lightning speed, the anchor crackling menacingly. He caught it by the wrist and pulled her up slightly by it. She squeezed her legs to him again, squirming against him while trying to stay balanced which, angled her up exactly as he wanted. He paused again looking at her expectantly.

“Solas, isalathe. Mala.” (I hunger for you. Now.) she demanded.

He sighed deeply at the words he burned to hear and let go of her wrist. With both of his hands now back on her hips, he pulled her onto him in one great thrust. He felt his fingers curl into her skin at how her warmth enveloped him. She fit him as though he was made to be inside her. She leaned over him closely so that her generous breasts graced his chest, pinning her arms to his shoulders. As she moved over him he let his hands wander over her body, caressing her breasts, down around her back, and raking his nails over her stomach and thighs. Her rhythm wasted no time drawing his desires out of him.

“Tel’din diahna,”  (Never Stop) he begged her breathlessly. She closed her eyes to the sound of his voice.  After every downstroke she rubbed her tender clit over his skin before lifting her hips off of him. When his hands had their fill of her curves, he gave her the lightest tremmoring touch from his ring finger. He made that finger follow her movements up until her pace quickened and he could feel her drawing tighter around him.

He dug his heels into the bed, opening his legs and pushing up into her, meeting her deeper with every thrust. She took the opening he gave her and stretched her legs out flat, pressing them together between his, lowering herself to brace on her elbows. Holding herself just above his chest in a perfect plank, she rocked over him, pressing forward and back along his length, pushing up by the pads of her feet. The sudden surge of pressure overwhelmed his senses.  His soft sighs gave way to a great ecstatic groan of pleasure and he bucked up into her wildly.

Carried up into her own pleasure by his abandon , she threw back her head and cried out. He wrapped his legs around hers, holding her fast to him while her body sent her wave after wave of tremoring delight through her. Her soft cries echoed hotly over his ear, the touch of her mouth sending sparks through him. His arms folded across her back, pulling her tight to him as he gave himself over to her, feeling their warmth mingle together with his final thrusts.  He held her like this as he pulsed inside her for some time, only letting go finally as she squirmed against him and nipped at his ear.

She slowly pulled back and kissed his cheek softly, quietly watching his face as his panting subsided into deep, slow breaths. He regarded her, the pile of her hair pooling on his chest, curled and frizzy from the humidity of their efforts. Before she could look away he smiled at her tenderly.

“What’s that look for?” she snarked at him playfully.

“Thousands of years and you just expect a man to give you all of his secrets for the feel of you.”

“What di-“

He cut her off, switching directions. “I owe you an apology for expecting you to live your life by a timeline that was unreasonable to your needs. I needed more time before... this.  I wasn’t sure we could have this and have it be fair to either of us.”

“Ha. Well, it’s not, and we did anyway.”

He groaned and shut his eyes. “You sound like Sera. Please do not, Ever, sound like Sera.”

“I wasn’t expecting any of this from you, ever, really. That did nothing to change how deeply I wanted it, before, while, or after we were together.” She offered quietly, looking away to her desk.

He began to turn away from her, recovering the usual formal tone and cadence of his common speech. “I know, and it complicates all of our lives tremendously, yours most so. Which is the very last thing you are deserving of. I will stay away for the time being, if, or until, it’s right for you again.”

“That’s fine. It makes the most sense that way.” Her face fell, once out of his sight.

“I should probably leave soon. This was far too long a visit to deliver a potion.” He hid the disappointment from his voice, he had expected her to fight him. Was it foolish to believe she would cast aside the Shem this quickly? To hope for her to require him to stay until he could see the morning light on her face and have her again then, perhaps before then?

“Good plan. Before the entrance to the grand hall there is a ladder that extends down to a drop-off onto a path that leads to an entrance to the kitchens and lower library. Take the left door to the kitchens, then out to the courtyard.” She pulled her legs out of the bed and landed her feet on the stone floor with a thud, avoiding his gaze.

He leaned up on his elbow to stare at her back, trying to corral a million sudden questions.

She turned back to him, sensing his mind running away from him, and abruptly slapped his shoulder. “Relax, it was Leliana’s idea after Haven to have a second way out of my quarters that didn’t lead through the main hall. You’d need a grappling hook to reach the ladder from the ground and you are, the first to use it.” She clipped at him, offering the last words to him soothingly.

“Ah.” He leaned over to kiss her on the forehead and started gathering his clothes.  Dressing quickly he cast a look over to her bathing tub. Drawing past his fade magic, he drew a deliberate spiraling circle on the palm of one hand with the thumb from the other. The water from the tub rose up and split its self, returning an arc of purified water to the copper tub and a much smaller, tar-like blob, to an empty chamber pot near the fire. “That should take care of things if you desire another bath.” He set a controlled warming glyph under the tub, and started for the stairs.

“Keep me informed if I have any cause to avoid the Commander of your forces.” He remarked with a smile as he headed down.”

“Away with you. Shoo.” She laughed at him, casting a pillow towards his feet and laughing harder when she heard him chuckle softly when out of her sight. The minute she could no longer see or hear him, a feeling of dread swept through her center. What have I done? She wondered at herself, padding across the cold floor to quickly slip into her bath.

Chapter Text

Vivienne glided past the doormen and up the opposite stairs to her loft.  Nodding briefly to Helene, she reached behind her favorite Chaise lounge chair to a stack of  books and pulled out a nondescript vellum leather ledger from the center of the stack.  Taking a bundle of ribbons from the inside drawer of one of the ornate end tables, she quickly thumbed through the volume, inserting the markers sporadically and occasionally chuckling to herself with a raised eyebrow upon examining the passages.  Helene looked up from her cocktail.

“Did you get to all the good parts already?”

“Oh, my dear... I think the best parts are yet to come but, there are definitely gems in place.”

The severe Knight Enchanter grinned into her delicate cordial glass. “Do I wish you good hunting or good evening?”

“hmmm. Both.” Vivienne looked up to meet her mentors's fond gaze quickly before gracefully rising and sauntering downstairs to the Rotunda. Moving quietly through the ground level with out pausing to glance around, she bee-lined across the red and gold carpet to the battlements leading to Commander Rutherford’s office and living quarters.

After a quick knock on the heavy oak door, she pressed in.

The commander was leaning back in his chair, stretched out with a scotch glass in one hand, seemingly avoiding the 7 or so neat but unfortunately tall stacks of papers before him.  He did not hide the disappointment on his face upon recognizing Madam de fer. He immediately put his glass down and snapped back up to Templar posture.

“Knight Commander, Oh please, don’t make yourself uncomfortable on my account. “

“Technically just Commander now, Madam de Fer?... To what do I owe the-”

Vivienne had to stop herself from rolling her eyes. As much as she loved how nervous she still seemed to make grown Veterans, the formalities got a bit trite, even for her at times. “Hush. Don’t play.” She started in at him.  “I know there is absolutely no pleasure in an unexpected visit to your office at night from an Orlesian Magi Courtier. “

“I’d offer you a whiskey but, I don’t know how deep the well of your candor runs, what exists beneath it, or how willing either of us are to determine such things at this hour.” He shot back at her.

She blinked twice. “It would take more scotch than in this keep to make any game enjoyable to two smart people who don’t play by the same rules. Fortunately for both of us, I have a preference for Antivan rum and straight talk this evening.”

“Ha!” Cullen rubbed his eyes in exhaustion from the long day as much as disbelief.

“Would you care to join me in the garden shortly?”

“Enchanter, it’s been a very long day, whatever research findings you have, we can discuss with Dorian tomorrow, preferably with less drinking.”

“Commander, I would not bother you unless it was urgent and directly regarding our mutual friend’s interests.” Vivienne shot a look to the open windows that faced the other doors.

Cullen sighed, digging his heels in. “Unless an assassination attempt is underway, It will wait until morning.” He gestured to the door. “I beg your pardon, Madam.”

Vivienne pursed her lips and raised her eyebrow tersely. With a flick of her finger she moved a simple chair from Cullen’s hearth and spun it so the back faced the front of his desk. Her other hand made a discrete wave to his glass cabinet. A fresh glass and an ancient looking bottle wrapped in golden sea silk floated directly to his desk.  In a few quick strides she elegantly draped her body into the chair, swinging both legs off to one side and pressing her ample chest to the backrest . She propped her elbow up  and rested her chin on her hand to stare at Cullen. All of this happened before he could fire her a glare from where he watched her little performance. Finally,with a dainty puff, as though she was blowing out a candle, both of the glasses between them were frosted cold.

“I’d hate to make such an honorable man beg for anything at this hour. Truly. You should pour though, it’s only polite.”

“May I ask who is getting stabbed as I pour you a dram of my finest 15 year Antivan Rum that no one in this castle save Morris, as of this morning, knew about?

“You may, and I must gently remind you that your office has three doors and six different branches of service personal running you missives at any given point in the day or night. Be delighted I have not made any inquiries about the elderflower cordial you are spiriting away for your sister Mia’s visit. The 1st Knight Enchanter Helene  is absolutely obsessed with aperitifs. “

Cullen stared at Vivienne- blank, hostile and completely exhausted.

She looked down  and smoothed her form-fitting robes.

“I’ve come to speak to you about a particularly sensitive matter regarding the Herald. Before you draw a sword, have me shackled, or preform any bizarre mana draining rites, hear me out- and, please let me help you with that pain 1st, I can feel your withdrawal from here and it’s setting my teeth on edge.”

Cullen grunted. Be quick. Don’t touch me if you don’t have to.

Vivienne’s eyes softened.  “I actually don’t mind playing everyone’s villain all the time but, try to keep in mind, The Herald trusts me and values our friendship. I am here for her. I certainly would never get Ferelden dirt on my fingers if I didn’t have to.” She smiled thinly at Cullen and withdrew a slender wand from her robe. The mage barely had to extend her arm over the desk before it lightly  rested on Cullen’s Temple. Cringing slightly, she spoke softly in Orlesian,  and slowly extended her other hand over the stone floor. After a few seconds, the tiniest coal black dust motes drifted down to the floor from her fingertips.

Cullen watched her crane her neck to the side and shiver. It looked like she would vomit at any minute but, as Vivienne’s revulsion amplified, relief from the constant Lyrium head, muscle, and gut aches eased into his body. Like walking into a cool river on a stifling summer day, he felt his thoughts temper and organize, his mind slowly clear, and his muscles stretch and flex. Everything seemed lighter, simpler, easier. Very quickly he noticed, he was also no longer drunk.

Vivienne flinched the wand away from Cullen’s head and slipped it back into the waistband of her robe. She gave a quick flex of her fingers and rolled her shoulders to cover a sudden shudder.

“Huh. I’ve never seen that taught in a circle.”

“No, you wouldn’t. Wand magic is rarely used outside of Tevinter these days. It’s really quite simple in practice but, very difficult to get your hands on the training manuals, even in the markets of Val Royeaux. “

“What are the lasting effects on the mage?” He asked, intrigued.

“There isn't really a linear price-tag system. These things, I am told, effect different mages differently depending on skill, illness severity, personalities and attachments. Well. The immediate feeling is incredibly unpleasant for those unaccustomed. The great benefit is that it can prolong the life of the most terminally ill individual, with regular application even ease the symptoms enough to leave the illusion of improvement. Sadly, it is not a restorative and, should the dis-ease not be cured by other means, the illness remains progressive and terminal for the patient who eventually becomes resistant to the healing.” Vivienne’s eyes grew heavy as she looked away from the Templar to compose herself.

Cullen righted himself, “I am sorry for your loss. We never had a chance to speak of-“

She cut him off. “No, no. You barely know me and never knew Duke Ghislain. I know how the more conservative Fereldans view these sorts of relationships. It was not my place to discuss it with you.” She looked back up at him, and waited, wondering how he would pick up her lead.

He paused for a moment, considering. He started carefully. “You both seemed to care very deeply for each other, and with the support of his family... It’s unusual to us, true but, I respect the honesty of it. I can see why you pushed yourself to the Orlesian circles. In Fereldan, the life for Templars and circle mages could be seen as much less civilized by those who would thrive in Orlais. I am curious, if you were to push the Herald to reengage the circles, do you think some of the reforms made in Orlais would hold in Fereldan?”

“That my dear, is a long conversation that would require a great deal more rum and perhaps a chess game to keep us from each other’s throats. I do admire that shining glimmer of desire for reform that resides in you. The circle is necessary for the Magi and the people but, it could be done... better for Mages, Templars, and the population. Perhaps another day and another round. How is your head feeling?

“Truthfully, I have not felt this good in years. I could actually sleep, a real night’s rest, tonight thanks to you.” Cullen’s smile was genuine as he drew a deep breath.

Vivienne nodded confidently. “Good. I will make a point to gather the healers and teach it so it is more accessible to you and the other Templars who may choose such a path. I’d like to ask you more about that sometime but, I came here to discuss The Herald.”

Cullen’s back and neck stiffened again. Goodness, thought Vivienne, he really is like a mabari at times. No wonder the lad always loses his shirt at the card table. The very worst tells a man could have. She took a long draw of her rum.

“Please don’t start in on me about the damn roof, Viv”

She laughed warmly, filling the room with her trademark deep belly laugh that died off into the daintiest chuckle. “Maker, no. Truthfully, I am quite relieved our friend turned toward you. You are, a good man, through and through.” She thumped the book she carried down with her onto his desk. “and I would know, I read all about you before we went to the winter palace.”

Cullen took his turn to drink and lean back in his chair. His hand reached to the back of his neck while he blushed. “Holy Andraste, is that my service record? Vivenne, how did you get this?”

“You don’t want to know but, the left hand is always the best place to start, once she gets anything into the keep, it’s really just a question of how badly Sera needs her bar tab paid down as to how quickly you get it from her.”

“I want to be flattered but not as badly as I want to know why and, what does this have to do with the Herald.”

She nodded. “I need you to stay with me for this next little bit, just hear what I have to say, and promise me you will think on it, and also not run me out of your office at the point of your broadsword or in chains.”

“If I thought it was a good idea to run one of our core field team members out of my office, at any hour, chains regardless, It would have been done already. Just don’t bring my headache back with any more games tonight.” Cullen resigned himself and poured another dram for them both.

“Everyone’s eyes are rightfully turned on Solas at the moment. He has gained control of Brialla’s elven network- just as many of the Dalish pilgrims coming to the keep for the Herald also come to speak with him now. Dorian and I are duplicating and back tracking his research efforts, his sudden ending of his involvement with The Herald-which, from what I understand was... somewhat platonic, all timed around our final massing of forces to end the war with Corypheus. We all know these things are connected but, not how.”

Cullen nodded, waiting.

“Our friend is, as she has been from day one, in the centre of this maelstrom. I am concerned now that our one great failing in protecting her from the things we can protect her from, is in abiding her proximity to, and complex feelings for, the apostate.”

“Ah...”  Here we go, he thought. He leaned in, waiting for Vivienne to deliver the scheme so he could toss her out and get some rest. He recalled and held onto the words he heard the Herald speak in this room, barely a week ago.  ‘I should have chosen you.’

“I meant what I said earlier, I am glad that she went to you first. You are a good man. The situation though, her feelings are complicated. There is so much that he- Solas, left undone with her. The time they spent alone together, their culture, the work within the fade. He has deep hooks in her and she has unfinished business with him.” She paused, checking Cullen to see if he was with her still or sliding into a different place.

Cullen leaned in towards Vivienne like he was on the final 5 moves on a chessboard for a game he wanted to end two hours ago. His brow knit,his eyes alert, but tired.

Vivienne sighed and took another long sip. “She thinks she can do it all- The mark, the inquisition, the temple of mythal, pick up every last artifact, rebuild every lost mosaic, defeat the great threat, save the Magi and her people... I think she may also think that she can figure Solas out, and stop him-or help him, without compromising any of that.”

Cullen smiled, “I hear that betting against the Holy Inquisitor is a form of Heresy.” He put his hand on his hilt, jokingly but, his face was heavy with where this was going. Vivienne laughed.

“Always with another reason to lock up the Mage and throw away the key. Really, does it get old?”

“No.”

She huffed slightly, still smiling and nursing her rum. “I want you to know that, after what she told me about you, how she desires you, what she thinks of you... well, to be blunt, I think you are the best person to be able to remind her she has something real to come back to. Solas will do whatever it is that he is doing and leave, or worse yet, draw her away from everything she has built, and...corrupt it. What we’ve done here, what the Inquisition has done here is,” she stopped herself.

“Praise the Maker, was that a genuine emotion from the Madam de Fer?!” Cullen put his arms in the air, almost snorting a laugh.

“Hush. This isn’t just about the Elves & Humans, or Just about Templars and Mages, or Just about Fereldans and Orlesians. We are actually showing the whole of Thedas that we can all find a better way, all of us. It’s important that in the 11th hour, we don’t let her get stolen from us all for some lesser purpose. I truly believe you are the most honest chance she has at happiness after all of this, and quite possibly the inquisition staying what it ought to be.  That makes you, winning this game with Solas, one of the most important final pieces on the board, my dear.

Cullen was taken aback. This, he was not expecting. Not from Vivienne, and not something he ever really thought of until now.

“So you are saying that Solas broke up with her to seduce her to supplant her power and influence from the inquisition into...whatever it is he up to regarding the elves?

“Not quite Darling but, I am relieved you are keeping up,” she smiled at him. “I know that Solas is playing a game with the Inquisitor and the Inquisitor is playing a different game with him. I know that game will end. I want it to end without having devastating consequences for our friend, and/or  this unwieldy organization that is threatening to fix so many of the world’s ills. I think that the best way for this to occur is for you to, in a very final way, win our herald to you fully. You cannot seduce the content. I want our friend to be very content. She has earned it, so have you.  The apostate is trouble. He still wants something from her and us. He will not let her go. She is not ready to let him go. Help her choose to leave him.”

“I am not going to make her choices for her. She is a grown woman.” His brow was knit again and his voice was pained as he continued, “ I also won’t stand by while she runs from my arms to his and back again every time the weather changes. Of course I care about her but, don't you think we are getting a little old for this?”  He threw his hands on the desk

“My Dear Man, all of that is very reasonable and rigid and makes perfect sense if you were a lord and she was a lady and these were two neighboring kingdoms in the Freemarches but, that is not reality.”

“Oh please, enlighten me.” He snapped at her.

Perfect, she thought. Here we are, finally. “A remarkable woman with the fate of the world and everyone in it resting on her shoulders is in love with two men. One man may love her back but is using her love for some unknown nefarious purpose. She does not trust him but he lures her with knowledge and the perfect understanding of how to manipulate her deepest insecurities. The other man she loves is a good man, a kind and honest man, who loves her for who she is and was before the weight of the world was on her. This good man is also too proud to share her with anyone and will drive her away from him with his jealousy and judgements of her conflicting burdens & desires.”

She paused, letting this sit with the fuming man in front of her.

“Tell me Commander, what would you say to that good man?

Cullen rubbed his stubbled jaw and massaged his temple. “I don’t know ,Viv.” He whispered after a very long pause.

“Well," she offered, "I say, love her in the way that wins her.”

“You make it sound so elegantly obvious.”

“It’s not Darling, everything that comes after that is the hard part. It’s the time spent making your own worlds for each other to enjoy together. It’s slowly earning the roaring support of each and every person close to them, it’s the time in the war-trenches of love- the ugly conversations that are held with civility, grace, and respect to your own self and them." She paused briefly to refrost her glass and regard the man in front of her before leaning in on her chair to drive her effort home.

"Solas will steal her by isolating her from everything she has made. You can win her by making everything she has built greater, by giving her everything he cannot or will not as well as the best of what he could offer. He would use her to save the elves. You can help her save all of the world, including the Elves. So do it.”

“I don’t see how that carries into anything real, you’re just getting grandiose with me at an hour too late for poetry and unrealistic notions.”

“Consider: Where Solas hides her away and sneaks about, Be open, grand, and gallantly proud of your love for her. Where Solas turns her eyes to the fade and the ancient history of her people, bring her back here, now, to all of everyone and the best of what this world is about now. Most importantly, how she is needed here, now, and for the foreseeable future.” Her eyes gleamed deviously and she continued passionately as Cullen nodded at her.

“Where everyone expects you to be jealous and demanding, be kind- lenient: Treat Solas as though his presence is nothing to you and it will become nothing to those around you. Look at her hunger to know the truths of her people and history and support her fully in that. Learn to tell her how you think of her in the language she learned to think in. Immerse yourself in what matters to her in ways that your rival does and you will make him wholly irrelevant.”

Cullen’s mouth drew into a thin line as he regarded Vivienne. “I 'm not sure if you really just hate apostates or if you actually believe that the future of the inquisition depends on my ability to distract the inquisitor from her real work.” He laughed. “Maker help me if the world ever sets me at cross purposes with you, Madam de Fer.” He added more softly, “ It’s been a while since I have had thoughts of making such efforts for a woman. A week ago I’d never dream I’d have been this close to her or having this conversation with you-or anyone! For that matter. Anything I do or do not do could be a miss-step. Quite frankly, I thought it best to leave her be and let her come back to me on her own time, if and when-”

“Goodness," She cut him off, "I am not suggesting you make a fool of yourself by running around the keep showering her in flower petals and singing hymns to praise her. By all means, if she enjoys time and games in the company of others, do the same. You can be all of the things I suggested and still respect yourself in doing so. Better for you both if you carry that respect first.  Just know that it will take effort beyond coupling with her to earn her away from the other places her heart may still be drawn. Making her realize that she may have to work a bit for the future she wants with you could be good too. Make her a little jealous.”

Cullen turned his chin up at her and smirked.

“I think I hear morning songbirds. You’ve intrigued me, I’m grateful for that and your support. Thank you, Vivienne.” The both looked to the windows. A slim band of light bounced off of the snow capped mountains.

“I know we don’t always see eye to eye but, I do see you, Cullen Rutherford.” She smiled, shifting to rise in her chair.

“Don’t you want your book?”

“No, silly man. It’s for you. All of your past reprimands and disciplinary actions for sneaking out with your Templar Cadre to share town tavern wenches and, the some of the write-ups for ones you snuck back to the barracks, are annotated with red ribbon. Just a little reminder for those moments where you feel your blood boil at the idea of sharing your sweetheart with her other interests.”

Cullen groaned,  a crimson blush flushing up his neck to the top of his cheeks. “Maker’s breath that is an ungodly amount of red ribbon.”

“Yes, I’m sure the latrines and kitchens were spotless in your training days for all of your extra duty work. One of the things I found more fascinating, your later career- in spite of all the horrors, well. You conducted yourself quite admirably, given. I hope some day when you’ve healed and we’ve built better circles you can look back on your work with more pride.”

Cullen rose with Vivienne, walked her to the door, leaning on the frame a bit and asked her: “If I could just ask one thing of you, perhaps two?

“Anything darling.”

"Teach her how to do that wand-healing spell. I have to work to stabilize her mark, If its not too much for her, I’d prefer to have her see to me and it would give us more reasons to see each other.”

“Brilliant. Consider it done, just understand it will take some getting used to for her. The other thing?” She turned to face him in the doorway, her smile at full-charm.

“Stay out of my Liquor cabinet, Vivienne.”

“Never.”

She did not bat an eyelash as she turned away from him and headed back to the rotunda.

Chapter Text

Solas drew his outer robes over him tightly and knocked back a light potion. His knees and ankles stung from the drop down onto the icy shelf. He looked around. Perhaps, close to the undercroft, he guessed, observing the precarious path as it forked into two directions through the frozen waterfall. This hold was a wealth of new secrets and hidden chambers.

He could spend decades in the fade and still not feel like he had explored every corner of it.  He noted the carving of a small nightingale at in the ice at his feet, pointing along the wall of great stone pavers, away from the ice flow paths. He followed, attuning his fade-sense to examine the way for Elvhan artifacts and trap doors. It did not take long before he was rewarded with two puzzle-locked doors. Looking forward along the path, he sighted two more nightingales, each about 15 paces from each other, pointing him to follow past. He remained, fussing with arranging the brick mosaic until he was rewarded with a pale blue flash of light and soft chime. He stepped forward.

“Ah. 1-st time luck.” He remarked aloud to himself. “How fortunate.” He found himself before a ladder at the mid-point of a steep tunnel dropping directly down. About 6 stories before him he recognized the soft veilfire glow of his private living chambers and the secret meeting place of the fledgling Fen’Harel Revasen- his growing network of spies devoted to the rallying of Thedas’s Elvhan population for the battles to come.

He climbed down slowly, enjoying the wash of heightened physical sensation from coupling with the inquisitor. His senses felt sharper and his skin hummed with an low electric current. His time in the fade had made him almost insensate to many physical desires, he realized. At times, even eating was a chore that required him to take a bitter tea to force the connection of his mind to his organs so he could be aware of hunger and his bodily needs. Perhaps the upsurge of his desires was also a side effect of taking the tea regularly, he mused, allowing his mind to track and explore the restorative energy coursing through him as he climbed. Perhaps physical indulgences were a more crucial component of his recovery from the long sleep than he had anticipated.

He grunted, easily landing a final leap over the gap in the sewer tunnel to the grate in front of his corridor. A quick wave of his hand disintegrated the ancient lock and he pushed through, wiping the sludge from his hands off on his breeches.

The loud clap of a hand, striking bare flesh echoed off the damp chamber walls. He cocked his head to the side and paused. There were only a few agents remaining in the keep and they were quartered in the serving and labourers barracks. He paused briefly before quietly continuing down the hallway.

The smacking noise persisted at regular intervals now and as he drew closer to it’s source, he heard the whimpering sighs and exclamations of a young woman. He paused before the open door to his second office and bed chambers, taking in the sight before him.

One of his scouting agents, a scrawny young Alienage elf stood bare chested over an equally young dalish woman he did not know. She was bound into one of the ancient stockades abandoned here in the deep dungeons many ages ago. Her long brown curls spilled down her naked back, over her shoulders, some sticking to her forehead-slick with sweat. He took in the sight of her bare, dripping sex, positioned open to to them both by her two knees, tied down precariously on two separate, wobbly, small  wooden step stools. Her small firm bottom curved up sharply into her narrow hips. The Vallaslin from her face trailed elegantly down her neck, across her shoulders and suggestively around her supple breasts to meet the curves of her small waist. Solas felt himself stir with lust as his eyes danced across her body.

Straining to see her lover, she gasped suddenly when her eyes found the older elf standing in the doorway. Her attentive companion leaning in to brush her hair from her face and, presumably taunt her sensitive ears with his mouth, quickly followed her eyes past him and up to the looming figure of his general.

The lad leapt back from his companion and froze with a look of panic and shame.

Solas waved dismissively to the pair with the slightest smirk. “Please, do not let me disrupt you.”

The scout stammered in broken Elvhan, stuttering out what was perhaps an apology, a promise to leave, and some platitudes of mortification and begging forgiveness.

Solas laughed at him gently, his eyes roaming back to the young woman whose face flushed red from embarrassment. He went to his desk and gathered some books and papers, addressing the pair in common, “You’ve done nothing to apologize for. We were all young once and, the whole of this keep and the world around it belongs to you. “

The girl continued to squirm in her bonds. The scout exhaled, relieved but also somewhat terrified of the composed elder that crossed the room to pay more attention to his companion than him.

I’m correctly assuming,” Solas continued, “That you believed you had a bit more time before I returned from my duties with the Shem upstairs.”

The young elf nodded, “Ser, I had understood that you went to the inquisitor's towers for the evening...” he trailed off,” begging your pardon again, Ser.”

“Please, don’t bother with honorifics at this stage. Solas will suffice. Your name again?”

“Julien.” He offered quietly, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“and your friend, does she have a name?” Solas prodded, trying not to let his wolfish smile spread as he drew out their torment.

“Her name is Allowyn, Ser.” Julien winced at the reflexive "Ser."

“You should add some wood to the fire so she does not grow cold, Julien. I will gather my work and be off soon, if that’s all right with the both of you.” He held his gaze to each of them for a long moment, from over his desk, while Julian quickly tended to the fire in the hearth behind the bound Allowyn.

Wasting little time as the younger elf occupied himself, Solas strode over to where the slender girl’s face hung from the stockade. From a pace off, carrying his texts and scrolls under one arm, he reached to his belt and unclasped it with a single snap from his other hand. He felt her eyes on him and reveled in how her hips flexed out with a sharp little breath.

“Julien, do you two have a word you use, to ensure you know when to stop Allowyn’s torment, or, when to offer her relief?” He called out across the room to the younger elf as he  pulled off his belt slowly, before her, and used it bind the books in his hand. He dropped them to the floor with a thud and lowered himself to her eye level.

Finished with the fire, the young man crossed cautiously back over to his bound friend, standing between Solas and her spread, open legs. “n-nnn-no,” he stammered, trying to find his way through the complex situation unfolding before him.

“Allowyn,” Solas whispered softly, mere inches from her face, “How did you meet Julien? ”

The slender beauty trembled, her body tensing as she gazed into the sharply angled features of what could only be the rebel leader known ubiquitously to her clan as Fen’Harel. She looked down.

“Very good,” he murmured his praise first to her, then to Julien as he rose to face his scout.

“Answer him,” Julien commanded, cautiously assessing the elder that nearly towered over him.

Eyes suddenly gleaming with a lusty mischievousness, she turned her face slightly within the stockade to peer up at Solas. In her quiet, lilting accent, she answered in common. “My clan sent it’s first and best hunter to pledge loyalty to the Dread-Wolf and join the war for Elvhan Restoration. Julien met with our advance scouts and brought us here to Skyhold last morning.”

Solas did not deign to look down at the woman again, his slate grey eyes bored into his scout standing before him. “Julien?”

“She speaks truly.” He returned his leader’s stare directly.

Solas smiled at his audacity. “Do we reward truth?” He asked Julien.

“Only when it serves us to do so.” The young man let his gaze wander down to his new love’s  displayed body. He knew this scene had fully escaped him now, and that he would have to tread very carefully to ensure he left here both with his prize and perhaps, his life.

“And where is this prized hunter and the student of your esteemed clan’s keeper?”  Solas looked back down at her.

She let a smile curl across her thin lips. “She's bound before you.”

Julien leaned back slightly on his heels, unable to restrain himself from examining how her sex flushed and grew wet when she addressed both of the men holding her captive. He felt his own cock twitch within his pants, recovering from the initial shock of being caught and returning his desires to him with a vengeance.

Solas observed them both there before sliding back down to face the girl. “When you are complete and desire no more, or to be taken out of your bonds, you will say ‘Ir’verad’ loudly enough for everyone nearby to hear it,” he commanded her. Looking up to Julien, he asked “Do you know what that means?”

She nodded and blurted out, “Stolen.”

“That question was not meant for you, Da’len.” He hissed at her.  “I know that you know what that means.”

He rose back up and regarded Julien.

The young man wasted no time in delivering three sharp smacks to the girl’s waiting ass. One to each cheek, and a searing clap directly over her trembling mound. They left spreading pink welts across her skin. She pulled her lip in and bit down, stifling her own whimper.

Julien drew a slender finger over her spread lips, pulling them back and making a show of her wetness for the Elder Mage’s benefit. His own cock tented out and strained against his breeches. So far, he thought, this was not the worst way for things to be going.

“Mmm.” Solas gave the pair a pleased hum, his own desire stirring as he smiled to the display Julien provided him. “I suspect,” he continued, rising to walk to a mirrored tile resting against the wall by his desk, “That you may have seduced him into bringing you to my office and, that perhaps, you both got a little bit carried away?”

Julien positioned himself between Allowyn’s legs, stroking her thigh softly. He pinched her sharply, after Solas asked his question, making her squeal out and twist against her bindings, reminding her to remain silent.

“Actually Ser, ‘twas my idea to bring her down past the serving quarters.”

Solas picked up the square mirror and paused, turning to Julien with a raised eyebrow.

“You brought a strange Dalish girl, of whom we have no information or records of, into my personal library, when you knew I was not due to Return, to pleasure yourself?” his eyes narrowed at the scout.

Julien’s heart hammered in his chest. His mind raced as he went over the thousand places the Dread Wolf could run this set-up to, many involving his death.

“If it pleases you, my intention was to see how she would bond to me, so I could deploy her on field work, quickly, and be assured of her return.”

“Risky. Interesting. Beneficial to you, and possibly her.” Solas nodded, smirking at him before returning to angle the mirror carefully beneath the girl’s face. He immediately stepped over his discarded books moved over to the scout, still holding his position between her legs. He whispered loudly to the young man, "I don't think you really understand how that actually works. Yet."

“Da’len” He called over to the girl. “Can you see how this man strains to be inside you even as he realizes that his foolishness could end his life.”

She nodded, her eyes wide with fear as the Elder’s tone spiked the air with a foreboding electricity. She dared not move any more.

“Good.” Solas acknowledged her briefly before turning his glare back to the shorter elf beside him. Solas carefully moved the leg between the two men closer to her other leg with use of a fade-limb to afford her a clearer view of both men in her mirror. He gestured to the scout, motioning him to step closer to him.

“Undress.” He commanded. Julien quickly pulled the top lace of his breeches and dropped them to the floor, exposing his arousal. He flushed with embarrassment as his naked cock bobbed in front of his boss.

Solas ignored this and glared back at his face. “Did you ask her permission before you bound her?”

“Yes.”

“Punish her for her lack of common sense. Do NOT move her legs back open.”

Julien stepped over to his lover’s tensed body. He leaned over her side, his straining member pushing  up to rest against her outer thighs. She stiffled a groan, feeling his rod so close to her aching, wet pussy. He began to smack each of her cheeks, spreading the warm red marks from his hands, across her backside.

Solas got up and moved back to crouch at Aowyn’s side. Tiny beads of perspiration began to dapple across the Vallaslin on her forehead. She squirmed against the stockade and the step stools strapped to support her knees scraped across the stone floor.

As the rhythm of the blows landed, Solas spoke to her, “Look at me Da’len.”

She tilted her chin up to the stone faced elf before her while the force from each spanking reverberated through her body. Her large green eyes pleaded to him silently.

Solas continued, “Your keeper would have strong words for you if they heard you let a strange ‘lethal' (kinsman) lead you to a secret hold where no one could hear you scream for help if you needed it.”

Her blush flushed a deeper crimson across her fair face.

“If you expect to be working for me, I expect you to employ a great deal more discretion and self control. Even the greenest trackers and message runners working with us are smart enough to never put themselves in harm’s way, unnecessarily.” Solas reached out to support her chin in his hand. She cried out as the blows across her backside came faster and harder, filling the room with her noises.

Solas gently held her resting face in his hands, looking over to Julien as he maniacally landed blow after blow, moving his hands over her hips, thighs, and back to her sweltering buttocks again and again. Hot tears streamed into his palms. He felt her mouth,pressed against his fingers open, open.

Ir’verad” she choked back. “Please... Ir’verad, Ar gen’av’ahna ma. (I beg you)”

“Louder.” Solas told her

Ir’verad, Ar gen’av’ahna ma!” She cried out, filling the stone dungeon room with the sound of her desperate plea.

Julien stopped, panting over her body, sweat pouring off of him, making her raw,  cherry-red backside slick.

She opened her mouth wider, taking Solas’ slim fingers into her mouth one at a time, raking them across her teeth so his nerves jumped against her soft tongue, stopping to look up at him only when he stretched her pretty lips to the width of his hand, less his thumb. He hummed his pleasure back at her. She wriggled and pulled away from Julien as the salt from his sweat burned her.

“You are a properly filthy little thing, aren’t you?” Solas cooed to her, quietly enough so that the scout could not hear what he said. “Do you know where my hand has been before you took it inside you? Just how many shem cocks have stretched your beautiful little mouth out?” He smiled cruely at her and beckoned his fingers off the back of her throat, prompting her to gag. “Don’t answer that Da’len.” He stood up, pulling his fingers from her mouth, pushing  the bulge in his own trousers towards her face, just inches from her mouth as he stood.

“Just whose brilliant idea was it to make use of these ancient, forgotten, grimy contraptions?” he called out to both of them in his acerbic drawl, gesturing to the stock, bench, and tiny stools that they had pulled away from his bookshelf.

“Mine, ser.” Whimpered the elf girl, face down.

Solas gently gathered up a fistfull of her long, silken curls and pressed her face into his groin. Her hot, panicked breaths inflamed him. He bent low to her pointed ears to whisper to her “Da ina'lan'ehn (little beauty) Don’t ever call anyone Ser. Least of all me. The Fen’Harel Revasen do not serve lords. You know what Revasen means, no?”

“The free ones.”

“Your pronunciation and your comprehension is quite good for a Dalish from the outer tribes.” He remarked.

 He looked back over to Julien, the scout was warily composing himself as best as he could with his own bare erection bouncing against his stomach in time to his rapid pulse.

“Reward her for making her own choices, after you reward yourself for your efforts and composure up to this point. It would seem her mouth is quite eager.” He bent low over her, his mouth next to her ears . “This is the part where you tell me if you think your new boy friend will be enough for you tonight, if you maybe thought of exactly this happening  to you here, now- the very minute your eyes first caught upon these dirty old devices.” Her chest heaved against the stockade and her delicate shoulders trembled. “Quickly now Da’len, before your new friend fills your pretty mouth up and I leave to go tend to much more boring tasks.

Just when Solas was certain the poor girl could not blush more profusely, stammering and shifting in her bonds, Julien was beside them both. He wasted no time and thrust himself deeply into her mouth, silencing her and looking up to stare down the Dread-Wolf as his new prize serviced him eagerly.

Solas stood up and smiled wryly at the young man. “Well, now you know why she joined us. Have your fun tonight, keep her as near or far away from my study and bedchambers as you dare. When you two are finished, I expect you both to clean up this area, thoroughly, of your mess, move the stockade and other such devices you may have found in the area to a separate room. Set The Laundress to come down and make the requisite enchantments to make that room orderly, sound proof, and secure. Send word to me when this is done. Teach her," He gestured casually to Allowyn, "how to code the message.” He watched the scout’s face lose focus as he drifted into the pleasure of the girl’s mouth.

“If I ever catch either of you in my personal chambers again, I will find an uglier and more traditional use of these implements for you, or- more likely: You will simply never be trusted with proximity to the keep or any task of significance again."

“Yes, of course...Solas” said Julien as he leaned over to brace his hand on the edge of the stockade, still rutting into Allowyn’s mouth.

Solas reached to grab the bundle of books he discarded on the floor next to them. He reached out a hand to gently stoke the girl’s stretching throat as his scout buried his cock deeper into her. Her whole body shuddered violently at his touch. Solas cleared his throat and looked from Julien back down to the girls face. He looked along her body to see her wetness dripping from the inside of her cleft, down to the floor, shaken loose of her with every thrust the young elf made into her throat.

Julien quickly withdrew himself and followed Solas’s eyes back over to his lover’s waiting fold.

Having the sudden opportunity to speak again, she answered the elder’s earlier orders. “I’ll make sure it is done as you ask, Solas.

The dread wolf paused by them both for a moment, with his books in hand, ready to leave them the room. He caught the girl’s eyes and smiled deviously back down at her. “Tell me Da’len, do you think it fair for your new friend to be punished for ...violating... my private office space and sleeping quarters for his own enjoyment?”

Allowyn shivered again, her pulse racing as Fen’Harel continued his game. She remained silent for a moment trying to ponder her response.

Julien, who was already nearly settled back between his lover’s legs, groaned.

Solas’s head snapped up to leer at the young scout. “Just to be fair to everyone, I said I would leave, and I am more than happy to do so but, my staying or leaving must be an agreement you both make in Unison.” He smiled wolfishly at each of them.  “Returning to my prior question: Since Allowyn has only just met you, she may not yet know you well enough to know just how badly you should be punished. Prior offense records, of course, would have a bearing on this. Julien, Have you informed your new friend as to how you came to us?”

“I have not.” He said, looking back to Solas, resting his hands on the girl’s parted thighs, shaking his head slightly.

“By all means, “ Solas waved his arm to Julien and leaned against the corner of his desk. “Since you’ve been so generous with your selves to me so far, Please continue.”

Julien grunted, edging the head of his cock up to Allowyn’s soaking wet heat. He coated himself in her and pressed himself into her, just barely covering his tip. Working himself back and forth across her lips,he leaned in as he approached her clit and slowly used himself to massage around her, all the while beginning to explain: “I was the first ranked forward scout in a Fereldan Arl’s local forces. When the inquisitor’s forces came to liberate the town from nearby rifts, I had been locked in jail for nearly a fortnight...”

“Allowyn, would you care to know why such a highly regarded contributor to a wealthy lord’s personal militia was locked up?” Solas purred down to the girl, who was quickly coming undone under Julien’s ministrations.

“Yes” she mewled out, several times.

Solas looked back up to Julien “Do you know her well enough yet to know if she was answering a question or just trying to be encouraging?”

Both men laughed at the girl underneath them, begging for her release.

“No...not really.” Julien quipped back.

“Well. Praise the creators I am here then.” Solas rolled his eyes, dragging a chair over to plant himself directly next to Allowyn’s face.

“What your new friend has not yet told you is that he started working for me to work off a sizable bail-bond for enjoying the pleasures of the company of both the Arl’s eldest daughter and his master-at-arm’s young son. Both at the time, coincidentally celebrating their 19th name days. Or, so he thought.”

Julien hung his head and bit the smile back off of his lip, not meeting Solas’s eyes as he continued to torment his bound prize with pressure from his rock hard member.

“Apparently” continued Solas, cupping the elf’s face in his hands again to relieve her neck,  “The other young lad had misled them both and, most unfortunately, all three of their stories were quite different when the Arl questioned them separately. What happened then Julien?”

“As I recall,” the young man stated, struggling to finish the story as his lover’s entrance stole his attention, “You spoke to them both, alone, out of ear shot of the Arl and plied the truth from them. The inquisitor fronted the coin for my bail, and the bribe to drop the charges. You sent me on to Skyhold immediately.”

“Yes, yes, all true.” Solas waved dismissively. “Allowyn, do you know what troubles me the most about this story?”

The girl gritted her teeth, and closed her eyes, bucking her hips up into Julien’s obscenely gentle strokes against her hardened button. “No Solas,” she sighed.

The apostate threw his hands in the air again, in mock frustration and leaned back in his chair, shaking his head. “Where were you when you were all arrested?”

Julien stiffled a chuckle but- it was poorly done, his stomach shook with silent laughter. “I believe we were in the Arl’s office.”

“And just how long had you been living in that township, living and working in that Militia?” Scolded Solas.

“Near on Six years, at the time.” Julien stopped trying to hide his amusement.

“Allowyn” Solas continued, mustering his sternest face. “Don’t you think that after six years of having to work guard duty for the same pompous name-day festivities for the two wealthiest Shem prats in that town, your friend Julien should have remembered how old both of his friends actually were?”

The girl began to giggle too, her nipples hardening again as her toes started to curl in pleasure.

“That seems quite reasonable a thing to expect, Solas.”

“I think so too.  So now you see, this is not Julien’s first related offense, nor his only crime. It would seem as though he really isn’t learning from his mistakes.”

“Ah, now that is where you are mistaken, boss.” The young man quipped, “I was sure to check with Allowyn AND her keeper to determine she was well above age before joining our forces.”

The three of them laughed loudly together for a good long moment. As their mirth died down, Solas offered, “Well. That’s something, at least.” He sighed deeply, admiring both of their lithe bodies and the warmth radiating off of them.  “It does beg an answer to my earlier question: Do you think Julien should be punished for his offenses?” he lowered his face to hers, kissing her forehead tenderly.

The gears in her head worked Solas’s question over. “May I choose how he is punished?”

Julien shot a look at Solas, from where he was leaned over and nodded.

“We would not have it any other way.” Solas murmured to her. “But first, you should tell your friend how you desire your reward to be completed.

Solas remained in his chair, seated, as she issued her requests to both of them with urgent breaths. He waited for Julien to drag over the narrow kneeling bench by the doors and place it just ahead of her own strapped knees. When the scout once again held onto the girls parted thighs and had himself positioned over her entrance, he looked over at Solas and nodded.

Standing up, the apostate took up the Allowyn’s beautiful hair for leverage and used his other to support her neck. With her teeth she loosed the laces on his breeches and tugged at them hungrily. He pulled her up by the hair and slid his pants down for her, loosing his long, curved length before her just as Julien pushed into her from behind. He cupped her neck parallel to the length of her throat and looked over to the scout to time their thrusts to fill her together. Solas braced himself against the stockade and tossed one leg up onto the chair to get the angle to the depths of her tight little throat just right. He squeezed his legs and moaned, pushing past her tonsils into her narrow throat.

Seeing the taller elf hold himself inside his lover’s mouth, Julien hammered his thusts faster into her, spreading her legs out to the limits of their limberness. Once he was as deep as her petite body would allow him, he brought a hand under her hips and softly strummed her clit. Solas could feel her gasp and moan, the humming deep from inside of her pulsed against him. He started to move again inside of her mouth, deep and short little pushes that fucked the very back of her throat but kept her mouth filled and offered no relief. He watched the tears stream from her eyes and looked over to the scout pounding her so hard he thought he heard the lad’s hips crack. They both watched her body tense and writhe as she pushed her hips up into Julien’s frantic thrusting. Finally she gagged and Solas withdrew himself from her mouth, wiping her face and bending over to kiss her tenderly.

“Where now, Da’len?” He asked softly, but she didn’t hear him. Her soft gasps grew into keening cries as her body shook the stockade. Solas stroked the length of her back down to her hips and raked his nails across Julien’s chest as her release crashed over her.

“Tell me,” Julien grunted urgently, one hand still playing with her clit, the other resting where they joined, two of his fingers worked into her asshole. “Tell me where you need it.” Solas used his free hand to stoke himself slowly as the pair rutted before him.

She squirmed and stuttered, embarrassed and flush once more before them both. Solas leaned over and in one fell motion, un-clipped the stockade latch and pushed her up by the neck so she kneeled between both men.

“Quickly Da’len, tell us what you want” Solas snapped at her.

Shaking, she whispered to them both. Julien withdrew himself from her, pumping his shaft quickly. Using the ample lubrication from her body, he glided into her taut back entrance just as Solas bent his own knees down and took her arms up to his broad shoulders. Giving her a beat to writhe and get used to feel of having her ass slowly worked in by Julien, Solas gradually rose back up to rest his own cock at the entrance to her vulva. He licked along her ear, nibbling while trying to secure a place on her hips away from Julien’s roving hands.

Julien moaned, deep and guttural. “Hurry.” He begged them “I am so close.”

“Is this what you want?” Solas teased, “You want us both dripping down your legs, having fucked you so well you can barely walk or talk?”

Allowyn gasped and nodded. Solas eased his punishing length slowly into her tight sheath and moaned his pleasure as she cried out. He flicked his cock up against the thin membrane separating him from Julien’s throbbing shaft. They work against each other, making her tremor and claw behind at the scout’s lean, hard stomach.

“Slower!” she wailed between deep, choking gasps.

Solas stilled himself nearly completely, save for the short rhythmic flicks he taunted Julien’s cock with. Solas rubbed his thumbs over her straining, taught nipples, enjoying the way Julien bounced and eased her over him. Julien took one hand to her hair, pulling her neck back to him, stealing her ear away from Solas with a Jealous smile while his other hand pulled her hip back onto his cock.

“Just for you, sweetness” he whispered to her, biting down on the tip of her ear and rocking himself deep into her, filling her with his seed.

Her tiny mouth curled up into a smile as the pair gasped their ahhhs at each other. Julien slowly eased himself out of her and moved to the wash basin and pitcher over by the fire, shooting a look and a shrug over his should at Solas.

“Finally,” he murmured and pressed his lips to hers, “You are mine now.” He bit her by the collarbone, marking her, as he waved his hands over the bindings at her knees, freeing her. His hands cupped her bottom easily lifting her into the air and holding her fast, still impaled by his member. He eased himself up to full height slowly, her feet dangled an easy foot and a half off of the floor. He backed her onto one of the bookshelves behind his desk, resting her back end on the shelf so he could spread her legs apart and look at where they joined.

“Very beautiful,” He remarked, running his hand over her slight breasts, down her stomach, to rest his thumb just over her tiny, still very erect, nub. He barely fit half of his length into her and it stretched her wide around him. “Does it hurt at all?”

“No... well, only when you try to hilt yourself, if you are fast..” She blushed again.

“Do you think you can come for me again?” Solas asked her gently

She shot him another devious grin. “Maybe more than once, especially if you play with my ears and take me deep.”

He laughed at her. “So, you want it to hurt?”

“Yes!” she exclaimed enthusiastically, swiping her sharp little nails across his stomach.

Solas growled at her and thrust forward into her with enough force to lift her ass off the book shelf every pump. He leaned in and took her close and fast, covering her chest, neck, cheek, and finally her ears with tiny bite marks. It wasn’t long before she melted before him, squeezing down around his shaft tightly and fluttering the arrival of another sticky, wet orgasm. He took his time experimenting with different ways of licking and nibbling along the long blade of her ear lobe before her writhing and keening gave away her secret buttons. By now he was lost in his own pleasure, feeling his body tighten and call to him.

Julien had moved over and made to sit on the desk, slowly stroking himself to their fevor.

“Not. On. My. Desk.” He turned and  growled at the young man.

The scout put his hands up and walked around to the coupling pair. He took in the sight of the taller elf bending and driving into his new girl. Hard again, he walked around to stand behind Solas, resting a hand on his hips, pressing his own cock into his boss’ thigh, he licked his other finger and, timing with his exhale, eased his smallest finger into the mage’s back end, slowly stroking it across his g-spot.

Solas rolled his shoulders back and cried out, driving his cock as deep as it would bury into the petite elvhan woman before him. He drew back from her slowly and slammed into her again, making her scream out. “More?” He looked at Allowyn, panting before him.

“More, yes!” she gasped, blue eyes wide, nodding up at him.

He looked over his shoulder to Julien and pulled a small pot of hand salve off of the book case close to Allowyn’s face. He handed it back to Julien and the scent of herbs filled the air. Julien worked the greasy ointment onto his member and rocked up onto the points of his feet, poised over Solas. He tossed the open jar back onto the book case. As the taller elf began again with deep, slow, hard ending strokes into his girlfriend, the younger man found his rhythm, wrapped an arm around his waist and pressed into his pleasure.

Solas closed his eyes and drove the languorous pace between the three of them on for some time until his own legs began to shake. He drew back faster and began to push harder into Allowyn once again, who moaned under him in a deeper tone than he thought possible for her size. The sudden uptake in pace was almost too much for Julien, who pulled Solas back to him tighter and began to cry out.

Solas laughed at him and pushed faster into the girl until her legs kicked out and she arched her back, nearly bouncing off the shelf ledge. He took her up in his hands again, bringing her down fast and hard on top of him until her eyes rolled back and she begged him to stop. He pulled her off of him and set her back down on the book case like a doll, angling his hips back down into the man behind him, feeling Julien’s legs and shoulders tighten around him. He reached down to the scout’s arms and roughly pulled them off of his own slender waist. Solas could hear him nearing his end and, suddenly he pushed Julien back off of him at the hips, spun around and pressed the scout’s body against the girl’s dangling legs. Solas kicked out the young man’s legs and took a generous dab of salve from the jar. He massaged some of it into his back end, kneeding his knuckle over Julien's entrance. The rest he coated over his hands and pressed into a tight grip over the shorter elf’s thick cock.

Solas bent down so that his mouth hovered over Julien’s neck and shoulders. He looked up at Allowyn, poised. “Just how again, did you think Julien needed to be punished?”

She smiled back at him, half asleep on her perch. “Take him and fill him. Don’t let him finish....”

 Julien groaned and his knees buckled.

“...On me.” Allowyn added, the corner of her pointed canine tooth showing just barely through her smile.

“That seems very fair, to me.” Solas remarked with a shrug and went to work. He clamped his mouth down and bit hard into the sculpted flesh of Julien’s Trapezius, making him draw in a sharp breath. As he exhaled Solas eased his hard, soaked cock into the scout, pushing him down to brace himself against the bookshelf. The mage let the scout’s member pump through his tight, greased hand. Allowyn leaned forward to kiss Julien’s mouth as it opened again. Holding himself still inside the smaller elf, he waited for three more shallow exhales until his cock was fully buried inside the man. Solas looked up at Allowyn as he whispered softly in Julien’s ear. “Move against me when you are ready to begin.”

They stayed quite still for a long moment, shifting slightly and easing into the feel of each other. It had been years for Julien, since he’d taken a man this big... a shem shepard he came across in the woods on a patrol. He hummed and finally pushed back firmly on Solas before rolling his hips forward, pushing the tip of his controlled cock up onto Allowyn’s thigh. He strained to look at her raw, pounded sex. She obliged him by opening her legs and hooking her ankles and knees down over Julien’s shoulders. She parted herself for both of them to see.

Solas pushed Julien into the bookshelf, firmly, landing his face to rest right against her folds. “Drink her in.” He growled at the scout, grinding out slow, long thrusts that hovered over the smaller man’s g-spot before driving deep to hilt himself. He held his hand pressed over the younger man’s cock, allowing the force of his thrusts to help the Julien fuck his hand. Pretty quickly Julien was bucking up against him, pressing for more. Solas gave it to him. Soon his hips pistoned back and forth so fast and with so much force, he lifted the slighter elf off of the top of his feet and onto his toes. The scout twisted and bucked up to fuck solas’s hand while he buried his face in Allowyn’s pussy, lapping her up and nosing her clit. She giggled and tugged at his short, wild, curly black hair, pushing his face down onto her to muffle his screaming.

Solas could feel Julien tightening, threatening to explode. He wrapped his legs around the scout tightly and used his tight fist around the boy’s cock to hold his hips in place. Solas nibbled his neck and growled into his ear. “Not yet. Ar Banalasa. (I forbid it.)”  His growl grew louder as he closed his eyes to the pleasure of the pressure from the scout clamping down on him. Solas picked up again, more urgent in his thrusts. He pulled his hand away from Julien’s aching rod and dug both his hands into the slender elf’s hips, drawing him backwards onto his ready cock with a forceful smack every time their bodies landed together. “That’s right,” he hissed, “Pull it from me.” Now drawn out from the wall, backed up against the edge of the desk,  Solas’s knees bent out allowing the shorter man to brace against him, driving their coupling faster.

Allowyn remained on the shelf, peering down at them, smiling and idly toying with herself.

Suddenly, Solas pushed back onto Julien, knocking him off balance. Solas drove him down to his knees, pinning him with his legs on all fours on the stone floor. A hand flew up over Julien's mouth as he cried out in pain and pleasure while getting fucked loudly down onto the floor.

A steady stream of Elvhan admonishments that Allowyn did not understand, nor recognize, flowed from Solas’s lips as he shuddered,  emptying himself into Julien.

Solas put a gentle hand on the younger elf’s back to steady himself. Allowyn, leapt down from her perch to pull her panting lover upright. As she did, they all chuckled slightly at the pooling stain of Julien’s own seed on the ground beneath him. After a long, still, and silent moment, Solas slowly withdrew himself from the other elf and got up to use the wash basin. He found that three fresh cloths had been pulled out of his linen cupboard under the wash stand and the last bowl emptied into the fire earlier. He cleaned himself quickly and brought the whole set-up over to the two elves, setting about healing Julien’s bruised and skinned knees as the young couple cleaned themselves up.

He moved over to gather his long forgotten books and get dressed.

“Take the rest of the morning to rest. I was not kidding about cleaning up. Do exactly as instructed.” Solas stated, moving towards the door.

“Where are you going?” Allowyn asked sweetly.

“Somewhere to work and sleep without further distraction. Be advised, after you notify me that this room has been restored to its original condition, it will be warded and trap-locked. The work ahead of us in the coming weeks will be dangerous enough to merit lethal trap-locks.  Any further tampering with my private quarters will go poorly for either of you”

They both looked at each other grimly from the floor.

“That should not really be a problem though, as you will have ample space for your activities, elsewhere.” He smirked at both of them.

“Understood.” Offered Julien meekly, dressing and heading over to the bed as Solas stole a tender glance at Allowyn and shut the door behind himself.

Solas walked further down the long corridor until he found a room with a newer bedroll on the floor and a low desk. He dropped the bundle of books still wrapped in his belt and warded himself into the room so as not to be disturbed. He looked at the desk, and back to the bedroll, bee-lining for the bedroll.  Before he drifted off into a deep sleep, he ran his hands along the green bruise that lingered under his neck, despite all of the healing potions and tinctures he had administered. His tasks in the fade and impending reports would have to wait another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“The Champion of Kirkwal turned to the blushing maid, stretching out seductively across the door frame to his room...” Varric looked up from the Swords and Shields edition he was reading from. The battered seeker snored softly before him. He chuckled. “Well, that works out for the best for both of us, “He smiled at his sleeping friend. “I highly doubt you wanted me in the room when we got to the next part anyways.” He put a scrap of vellum at the page he closed the book on and set it down next to the bed.

Varric stood up, made sure that the water glass on the dresser next to the bed in the tiny stone cell was filled. He straightened the covers around his sleeping friend’s shoulders. “You snore like a baby druffulo.” He stared intently. Nothing. “Hawk once asked me to steel a pair of your small clothes and send them to him by raven.” He watched her chest rise and fall rythmically as a little grin snuck over his face. “I’m really glad you brought me here. I don’t know what I would do if they didn’t patch your prickly, bony ass back together.”

The dwarf carefully turned around and crept to the door without making a sound. He slowly swung it open and shifted a foot past it.

“I’ll have you know that this is the finest backside to leave the royal confines of Nevarra. Did you take the lavender ones or just a white linen set?” Cassandra rasped.

“I’d never bet against you. Neither and none, yet-regarding the small clothes, it’d be a great way to get a hand cut off. Wouldn't dream of it, even in your current state.” Varric chuckled

“That is why I keep you around: You do not know how to lose.” Her voice cracked but, even in the dark, Varric could hear the smile in it.

“Get some sleep already. I’ll party for both of us tonight.”

“A party? Did we..”

“No, we did not kill Corypheus while your eyes were closed for a whole of two minutes." Varric scoffed at her. "After the Herald finally made it back, Curly pulled this rotation of the alert guard shift forward to finish this 8 hour block and the next three blocks will be extended to 12 hour shifts before cutting back down to 8 hours again . It involves enough math to make my head hurt and, probably some witch craft but, basically three quarters of Skyhold’s military and support personnel are in the Herald’s Rest drinking to their extra time off or drinking to prepare for their extra long shift.”

“Has anyone told him how the troops have responded to his ...fixing.. of the alert shift problem?”

“Don’t know yet. Most of the adults are in bed sleeping, it’s mostly the new recruits. Should I risk friendly fire and mention it?”

“No... I suppose it is fine to let them have their fun. We are almost at the end of all of this. Some of them may not live to see it.”

“True. That reminds me, I should nip into the under-croft and snap in some upgrades to Bianca. Want me to take your armour in?”

“Yes, Make sure you tell them.... only the head blacksmith or his 4th year apprentice should touch it.”

“Cass. You’re the only person in Thedas with purple armour & tack. Everyone knows who you are. I doubt anyone who shouldn’t work on it would dare to touch it.”

“Just make sure-“

“Yes, yes...” Varric heaved a sigh as he leaned back into the room to scoop up Cassandra’s gear before he shut the door hissing, “GO. TO. SLEEP.” Back at his longtime friend.

--~~~--

A steady stream of barely intelligible, sing-songy mumbling chirped through the under croft. From what he could gather, the arcanist was having three to five different conversations with herself. Snippets about the sigil on the bench in front of her as she examined and tinkered, questions asked and answered about the scattered vials and samples simply labeled “Fade-matter” with correspondent initials and numbers. Here and there, a song about a pretty blonde girl with a bow- possibly with some questions about what or how to talk to a girl? That girl? Multiple girls. Varric was fascinated, making it difficult to focus on his own workbench and Bianca

He nodded over to the armourer who was hunched over some specification scrolls on the bench next to him “ Is she always so...” Varric whispered to the blackmith

“Yes. Please: For the love of God get her outta here so I can have some peace to keep up with the new requisitions and upgrades,” the blacksmith groaned to Varric, squinting through a bottle glass monocle in the candle light.

From over his bow, Varric glanced at the singing girl as she waggled her fingers at the sigil before her menacingly. He chuckled a bit under his breath. Utterly outflanked by nerds. “Done,”  He whispered and gave the armourer a pat on the shoulder as he heaved himself up off of his chair.

 “There wouldn’t be a working machine in all of Thedas if a good dwarf wasn’t nearby to grease the gears.” He shrugged and offered a smile back at the armourer as he walked over to Dagna.

“Hey Sparky. Why dontcha just talk to her? Varric squared off to the arcanist as she hovered over her sigil desk.

Without looking up she answered, “She doesn’t like me... I work with magic, which is amazing and I love but for some reason, it just-“

“Yes but, You magic’d her bow. Ask her how it’s working.” Varric leaned in a little closer to Dagna and started talking with his hands to try to pull her focus from the sigil she was bent over  “Then ask her about something completely different. It will work. Trust me. I’m going to be finished here in 5 minutes, then we are going. And you are going to test my advice.”

Dagna jumped up as one of Varric’s arms waved into her peripheral vision. “Holy Andraste. Varric. That’s you. Wow. Where did you come from?!”

“Dagna. I’ve been here for nearly an hour. You've been talking to me. You said hello to me when I came in?...”

“Well the door opened, I always say hello when I hear the door open if I am busy, it’s only polite.” Varric cocked his head to the side and leaned back on his heels while the younger dwarf spoke. “ I thought you were just, you know, me answering my own questions. I do that sometimes. It helps sort things out, you know, keeps all the projects organized...” She tapped her finger to her temple.

“Ohhhhkay. Interesting. I answer your own questions in your head? We’ll come back to that later. How about coming with me to the herald’s rest for a drink. Maybe  you can talk to her... If I’m not thinking of the right her, there are other people to talk to.” Varric leaned in and looked down into Dagna’s eyes, nodding at her.  “Talking to other people is good, you should try it more often.”

“I, well, I don’t know. What was that you were saying about testing something?

“I said that we could go to the pub and you could see if starting to talk about the bow, then talking about anything else would get your foot in the door, so to speak. Testing my advice.”

“mmmmmph. I don’t know,” she stalled.

“Come on,” Varric yanked her arm hard enough to pull her away from the crafting bench. “ I’m never wrong, really, but, once in a while, it’s good to do a controlled test. For Science!”

Varric’s smile was infectious. Dagna plucked off her work gloves and threw them back on the bench. “Ok. For Science!”

The two dwarves practically danced out of the under-croft, arm in arm, shutting the great oak door behind them. Much to the relief of the head Armourer who heaved a great sigh of relief, enjoying the sudden stillness in his forge.

--~~~--

Varric gave a low whistle  as he opened the tavern doors. The wood floors above him bounced and shook, packed with dancers jumping in time to what looks like the giant seige war-drums that had been brought in. Maryden the minstrel was no where to be found. It looked like a company of musicians made up of soldiers, drummers, scouts, and castle personnel had taken up her usual spot by the hearth.

The platform by the hearth was packed with fiddlers, flutists, and several string players of various guitar like instrument traditions from across Thedas. Dancers careened past the dwarves, jumping on the table tops closest to the door, spinning pairs of each other around, only to disconnect, and leap over to change partners at nearby table tops and keep dancing in time to a well sped up rendition of  Corn Yairds. Tapped casks of ale piled up around the bar, threatening to completely overtake Cabbot and the three maids behind the bar with him. It’s near total anarchy as clamoring soldiers and mages reached over them to the shelves refilling their own mugs and drawing off pitchers from the remaining casks for their groups.

In a far corner, Varric sighted Josie playing a raucous game of ‘3 up 3 down’ with Blackwell to a crowd of onlookers with fists of cash in hand. Krem seemed to be wrangling bets and, the rest of the chargers were wildly dispersed amoungst the clusters of dancers, drinkers, and gamblers. Bull and Leiliana were having a very heated whispered conversation further back in the nook where the chargers usually reside.

Most of the remaining tables and chairs have been pushed aside to form a dance hall where the small envoy of Tamassarens are giving spirited dance-step instructions to willing participants, shortly thereafter nearly propelling them onward to the rotation of table top dancers by the door.

Varric looked up again to find the telltale brilliant flashes of red, yellow and black plaid zing past his face. Sera bounced past him, flying in the maelstrom of  twisting and turning tabletop dancers, armed with tankard of ale, and joyously punctuating the step rounds with a thud of her boot heel to the table. Her current partner's a curiously tall Dalishman with an ornate Mythal Vallaslin. Sera squinted at him briefly, shaking her head and reaching out to drunkenly swat him back from her. He seems absolutely enamored with her, starring into her eyes as though she were a vision from another time and place altogether.

Varric looks back down to Dagna. She blushes and looks away. Before she has a chance to protest, he grabbed the young dwarf by her shoulders and tossed her high into the air before Sera, knowing his battle buddy’s lightning reflexes will do the rest.

"Time to seize the day, Sparky!" he hollered above the din.

The massive dalishman swerved to avoid the incoming squealing projectile. The down beat changes and he leapt to the next table as Sera pivots on one foot and squeezs Dagna to her chest.

“Gotcha!” She laughed and took a long pull from her tankard, transferring the dwarf to one arm and down to the table top like she was waiting for half an hour for Varric to make the pass.  Varric watched the pair struggle to shout-talk at each other for brief moment before Sera deftly hops down and extends a hand out to Dagna. The pair struggle to yell at each other for another moment before heading to the door, presumably to talk outside the pub.

“Well, that was easy,”  he smugly remarked to no one in particular,”Varric Tethras, Matchmaker, inc.” Oogling the card game in the corner next to a tapped keg, Varric began the game of weaving through the packed pub.  

--~~~--

Outside the tavern, the drums and straining melody bounced and thrummed along. Light poured from the windows, illuminating the chaotic courtyard. In  the dark corners around the tavern, drunk soldiers braced a hand up to the stone walls to lean as they relieved themselves. Closer to the door, small clusters of people gathered to smoke or cool off from the heat of the dance floor inside.

Sera weaved past the door, Dagna in tow, around the small groups clustered by the windows,  to a pile of post beams left by the builders, near the stairs to the lower court. Stopping, she wheeled around, towering over the dwarf.

“There. That’s better, innit? Now what were you saying back there?”

“HOW. IS. YOUR. BOW?” Dagna shouted up at her.

“Oy. I’m not deaf. Here.” Sera cringed  and grabbed the dwarf by her shoulders and hoisted her up on the pile of beams so they were eye level.

“I really wish people would stop picking me up and putting me places.”

Sera laughed. “Fair enough. I’d probably fill anyone who tried that with arrows until people stopped trying. You don't look like you have any arrows but, I Won’t do it again. My name’s Sera. Who’d you say you were again?”

Dagna hung her head. “I uhm. We met, when you dropped off your bow in the under-croft last week, with the inquisitor.”

“AWHHhhhh right, right, the creepy little that does the magic weapon thing, got it.”

Dagna narrowed her eyes at Sera and jutted out her jaw. “Arcanist. I am the Inquisition's Arcanist.. My name is Dagna and I self identify as Spooky even though Varric sometimes calls me Sparky.” She huffed.

“Uh. Sorry, I didn’t mean you were creepy, it’s just the magic, and putting it in a weapon, and then I have to touch that weapon and it does stuff differently, what with the glowing and all. Sorry uhhh....”Sera looked away grimacing into her tankard.

This was not going well, Dagna thought. Step 2: Change the Subject. “I like your leggings. The red laces match your top well. Not everyone wears their armour around the keep but you, yours looks great. You could wear that anywhere.”

‘’ ’parently not a palace in Orlais, not until some git needs an arrow in his dangly bits. But yeah thanks. The red is for the Red Jennies, they’re my people and I’m their people-here at Skyhold at least, and when the Inquisitor needs a Jenny or,  some stuffy prat, red templar, or darkspawn needs to get...." Sera waggled her fingers drunkenly for dramatic effect. "Arrows!” She cried out enthusiastically enough to startle two of the battlement watchmen into looking down at them, presumably for arrows.

Dagna smiled, sweetly and awkwardly at Sera, frozen and thrilled to be in the center of her attention.

“Anyways, nice to meet you, again, I guess.” Sera took Dagna's hand and practiced a wobbly-drunk curtsy.

Dagna leaned in, to her hand, entranced, grinning ear to ear.

“Noice freckles there.” Sera said, sweeping up from her curtsy and bumping right up to Dagna’s nose, tilting her chin up slightly to give her the tiniest, brief kiss on her nose. Sera swayed back to arm’s length from Dagna.

“So, Inky went a long way to find you, now that you’ve been here a bit, how ya liking it?” Sera smiled at her, flush with a drinking blush.

“I uhhh. It’s been great, so many weird things are happening here-“

“Tell me about it, sometimes there’s so much I just want to set it all on fire and go somewhere else” Sera rolled her eyes.

As the two got into a more animated conversation about armour and explosives, a tall hooded figure watched them from a distance in the courtyard for a time, before slinking off to the guest and pilgrim’s barracks.

The night wore on until a thin strip of dawn threatened to sneak over the eastern edges of the frost back mountains. People began pouring out of the Herald’s rest, at first in small groups, then gradually two at a time, until Cabbot and the maids herded the last bunch of swaying stragglers out and brought Dagna and Sera fresh mugs of Ale.

“Right, and that’s why we need wasps WITH the bees, the two are natural enemies you see, -“

“-but you’d need some sort of containment that would separate them until some sort of mechanism would release the barrier, allowing them to mingle for just the shortest second before the grenade shattered-”

“That would get them right good and ANGRY. Andraste’s flaming tits, you are A GENIUS.”

“I know.” Dagna smiled.

“Let me get us some more ale.”

“I think Cabbot’s closed up. They just brought us last call...”

“Yeah, but I live here!”

“You have a key to the tavern?”

Sera threw back her head and cackled. “Nobody here would give ME a key to the bloody tavern, too many right thinking smarty pants’ running about running things.” Sera pulled her skeleton slip key from her bodice and thrust her tankard out to Dagna, strolling over to the door. She took a knee and in seconds, the latch clicked and she pushed open the door. Dagna clamored down off of the pile of beams and followed her in.

“You want anything?”  Sera called over her shoulder.

“Shut the damn door behind you, Sera,” Cabbot called out to her, stacking chairs in the back as the maids hurried all the tankards to the front and gently rolled the several remaining patrons to their sides, resting their heads on outstretched bent arm, and braced on a bent knee.

“It helps them sleep without choking,” a maid whispered to Dagna as she gawked.

Sera came back with two full mugs of strawberry ale. “From mine and Inky’s private stash. Try some, not too sweet but goes down like honey.”

Dagna took a small sip. “ooooh, it is good. It tastes like summer!”

“Yeah!” Sera smiled back at her. “Hey, I’m not trying to put you on or anything but, I have a weird book that’s magic. Do you want it? It gives me the heebyjeebys and I don’t want it near but I can’t seem to get rid of it.”

“ohhhh. That DOES sound weird. Do you think the book is cursed?”

“Prolly. Definitely not a normal book. The letters got strange and I threw it away and then I had strange dreams about it.”

Dagna stopped for a minute, looking up at the tall curvy elf towering over her. “Ya know, I’d come up to your room even if there wasn’t a weird magic book in it for me,” she said coyly.

“See. I knew I never should said nothing ‘bout it. Now you probably think I’m some creepy elf  with a dwarf thing.”

“You could be a creepy elf with a dwarf thing and I’d still go up to your room with with you” Dagna beamed at her, reaching out to pinch Sera’s bottom, and jumping back.

Sera lunged after her. “You. I am gonna get you. Silly widdle.”

They chased each other across the tavern, leaping over sleeping drunks and pushing tables around out of there way, knocking over stacked chairs until finally....

“OY!!!” Cabbot bellowed at them. “You two idiots knock it off. I want my last drink in peace.” He grumbled as the last of the bar maids left and locked up

Chapter Text

Roaring with laughter, the two women tore up the stairs, bounding around the loft railing until they landed, careening into the cushioned bay window bench of Sera’s cabinet-sized tavern loft. Sera landed on top of Dagna, tickling her sides and drunkenly nibbling at her neck. With a quick twist and a roll of her shoulders and hips, Dagna flipped over top of the curvy elf and pinned her into the cushions triumphantly. More kissing and tickling until they were both a total tangle of limbs and mouths, eagerly sampling and pushing each other’s buttons until they gasped with laughter.

“TrrrrrrrrrrUCE!” shrieked Sera, swatting maniacally at Dagna’s arms.

“Really? The mighty Queen of the Red Jennies, begging a lowly arcanist for a truce?”

“Staaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhp” Sera thrashed about as Dagna jabbed her sides and kissed her apple red cheeks, nuzzling down to her neck.

“Should we call for a scribe? Do we need an official armistice? Is there paperwork? I don’t know how these things work.” Dagna teased.

Sera shook her head and squinted with one eye, trying to cheat around the double vision from so much ale. Finally she caught hold of Dagna’s ankle and stood up, dangling the dwarf upside down in the air casually as she drunkenly swayed. “Careful now, There can be no witnesses!”

“I’m not in the right place to say this but, You don’t make any sense, what-so-ever.” Dagna rolled her eyes.

Sera hoisted her up and bent to face level with Dagna. “Don’t ‘av to, with you here like this.” She grinned and kissed Dagna softly on the lips and lowered her down carefully back to the wide, cushioned window bench. She flopped down beside the dwarf, curling in to snuggle up against Dagna as the arcanist slowly trailed her fingers down the Elf’s forehead, down her broad, broken nose, across her chest and down to her stomach.

“You’ve had a lot of fun, and a lot to drink tonight. “ Said Dagna softly. “We can just stay like this. Or I can leave and come back with breakfast for you in a bit.”

Sera’s eyes were closed but she smushed up her face as though she was squinting. “No, just stay. Let’s stay like this.” Sera took Dagna’s hand and wedged it between her legs, and wriggled closer to her, slowly weaving their bodies together.

Dagna sighed. It was wonderful. More than she thought would- and to be so close. It was perfect. Sera was so strange and so familiar and so sad. She listened to the tall elf breathe deep, slow breaths, falling into sleep. What if she felt differently about everything after she cleaned up? Would Sera still want her around? Would she even remember their conversation? The kissing? It would be better to just fall asleep like this and figure it out in the morning. Hopefully sometime after breakfast and before the Tavern opened again. Sera was something else, for sure, but finding exactly all of what that something was, would have to happen in between these massive drinking benders and all of her time away from Skyhold. Was worth it, though. Totally and completely worth it, Dagna mused, cuddling into the lanky Elf, pulling a wool blanket and a soft quilt of fennec fur over them both, and finally drifting off.

---xXx---

Dagna stirred and stretched, eyes slowly opening to the sound of Sera pulling the long bolts of exotic fabrics over makeshift curtain rods, darkening the room from the creeping dawn.  They had been asleep for maybe an hour or two? She watched the elf, suddenly upright and towering over her, wriggle out of her tight, red laced tunic and take a long swig from a water skin.  A splash of water trailed its way down the ample curve of her full breasts, splitting off onto her flat stomach, and dripping off onto the floor. Sera offered up the water skin over to where her guest was still laid out on the bay window cushions.

“You...feeling alright?” Dagna asked. No way anyone could drink what she put down without being still drunk or in a world of pain, she thought to herself.

“Yeah, just great. I never get hang-overs. Don’t really know how it works, a quick nap and boom, sober as nun. Sometimes it’s a good thing, most times I’d rather stay drunk and have a smaller tab.” Sera grinned, tossed a chair under the doorknob and spun around. “You, gorgeous widdle, you look a little overdressed for this party, mmm?”

Dagna blushed furiously, still tipsy. She watched Sera’s hands slide down over her own belt buckle, and unclip it with a flick of her fingers. With a little wiggle, the elf shimmied her tight leather leggings down and stepped out of them. Soft pale skin, with tan lines along where her leggings laced up in the prettiest pattern, like a perfect tattoo that followed the curves of her thick thighs up to her hips. Dagna stared, her mouth open, directly across from Sera’s firm blonde mound. A perfect triangle of short, trim hair angled down to her rosy lower lips. Dagna bit her own lips, thinking of burying her face in that perfect pussy.

“You see something you like down there?” Sera laughed.  “I nip off to Val Royeaux every now and then and get it waxed proper. Good armour and the odd spa day, it’s the only things really worth the coin in that whole town ya, know.”  She looked down at Dagna and pulled the dwarf's hair tie out, ruffling her red hair and pushing her face just a little closer to her own sweetness. “Oy! Come on then, get caught up.” Sera nodded to her, grinning ear to ear.

“Oh yeah. Clothes. How did these get end up here? ” The red haired dwarf chuckled and practically flew out of her shirt and pants, launching them past Sera with lightening speed, to land piled up where she left her boots by the door.

Sera looked her dwarf up and down. “SoOOooo many freckles. Do I get to lick and kiss each one? You’re not gonna make me count them?”

“ahhh. No. Maybe? Unless you want to count them?”

The elf wiggled her hips back like a cat about to pounce and leapt back into bed, landing perfectly over top of Dagna. “No, Widdle, Those are definitely not for counting.”

Dagna gasped when Sera parted her legs expertly with her own thigh and slowly edged in to circle and grind onto the dwarf’s pussy. With a playful lick, Sera started to nibble and kiss her way around Dagna’s mouth, teasing her into a deep kiss. It was impossible to keep track of the Elf’s roving hands, they moved all over her, squeezing, stroking, and scratching little trails across her skin, making Dagna’s nerves sing.

“Are you good for this?” Sera whispered, lust dripping off of her voice. “Wouldn’t want you to feel anything but spectacular ‘bout a bit o’ fun.”

“Yes. This is.. I, lets..” Dagna caught herself nodding through her soft stammer, trying to find her words and get her own hands into gear. With a sigh, she closed her eyes and let her fingers rove over Sera’s soft thighs and stomach, drifting down to the sharp curve of her hips, all the while the Elf’s unrelenting slow rhythm moving both of their bodies closer together. Dagna wrapped her own legs tightly around the thigh Sera worked into her, and pressed her hips into the elf harder. Her wetness made Sera’s leg slick. The sudden slipperiness spurred Sera on with a moan and she took Dagna’s mouth with a deep kiss.  

That was all of the encouragement she needed. Dagna squeezed her own round breasts against Sera’s, angling her hand down to her lover’s ready center. She parted her with her ring finger fluttering lightly against Sera’s swollen clit. The Elf’s breathing became more urgent, each circling thrust lifted her ass slightly off of the cushions. Dagna dug her shoulders into the bench, pushing up harder into Sera, and freeing her other hand from her back to come around and toy with Sera’s nipples. She pinched, tugged, and flicked at them, drawing them out in her fingers until they were hard.

Sera groaned deeply and leaned into her her lovers ear, her hot breath sparking over her skin like electric current. “Who are you, knowing exactly how I need it, right when you touch it for the first time. That’s right. I like the way you tease me, rough. Keep on it. Make me so wet I soak your fingers and ruin the bed.”  While her dirty talk picked up, she altered her grinding to short, fast rubbing, using the wet slip on her thigh to mirror the flutter of Dagna’s finger on her own clit.

Dagna’s breath caught in her throat with the softest gasps. Both of her Sera’s nipples rolled tightly between her fingers, harder than she’d ever dared with anyone. She could feel that deep sparkling warmth tug at the center of her own pleasure. Her hips slid and worked over Sera’s thigh of there own accord now, urgently finding their own rhythm while her fingering gave way to her flattened hand, holding fast against Sera’s own furious pace.

Their mouths found each other again, soft, short kisses around their lips, then deeper, drawing the breath from the other. Sera pushed lower and closer to Dagna, bracing her elbows on the bed and running a hand through her red hair, testing with a little pull.

“You ready for me? Show me how starry you get when you come for me, mmmh?” Sera’s other hand stroked Dagna's cheek while she spoke. Just when her lover’s legs started to shake, Sera pinned her shoulder back with one arm, and one of Dagna’s legs open, thrusting her face so far down into Dagna’s throbbing sweetness all the dwarf could see was the points of her ears and the top of her blonde head. Sera lapped her up while her body arched and shook through her pounding orgasm.

Dagna lost track of how long she stayed between her legs enjoying every little jump or twitch as Sera’s tongue softly explored her. She stretched, and ran her fingers along her lover’s pointed ears, angling up just a bit to look at her.

“My Turn?”

“Mmm. I could stay a while but, If you insist...” Sera grinned up at her. She sat up, and crawled back over her, on her knees, playfully putting one of Dagna’s hands on her pussy and another right on her her backside.

Sera loomed over her face, close enough that she could see how wet she was. Dagna pressed her face into her thigh and took small, measured, gently biting kisses from her. She took her hand off of Sera’s ass and brought it around to where Sera could see her. She gestured with her index finger pointed down, circling it slowly.

“Oh really? Right on your-“ Dagna cut her off by grabbing both of her thighs and leaning back down, taking Sera into her mouth while easing her down with her.

She took her time nuzzling and toying with Sera’s perfect, swollen clit. She drew it into her mouth and sucked on it lightly, playing different little games with her tongue, waiting for her body to show her what she liked. The had gone so roughly over each other earlier, it wasn’t until Dagna firmed her tongue to a point and began pounding back to the top of her clit in hard circles again, did Sera throw her hips back and start moving with her again. Dagna looked up just in time to see Sera’s nipples get hard and tight again.

When Sera pinned her legs around her lover’s shoulders, Dagna took her cue to work her hand up under Sera to ease her fingers inside. Sera was so ready for her, three fingers pushed in quickly while she kept on a perfect, rhythmic ministration to her lover’s aching clit.

Sera worked her hips over, fucking her lover’s fingers and grinding into her face. Just as before, slower and hard urgently gave way to faster and lighter.

Dagna could feel  the soft encasement draw around her fingers, slowly tightening as Sera’s breaths grew quieter and quieter. Just as her thighs pushed down so hard on Dagna’s shoulders she thought she’d be crushed, she felt Sera’s body tense and her inner walls tremor as a soft flood of sticky wetness wound it’s way down into her mouth.

Sera pulled off and fell back immediately, letting Dagna up enough to see tiny muscle twitches wind their way over her legs.

“Huh. Loudest woman in Skyhold, quiet as a church mouse when she finishes.” Dagna reached over to pinch under Sera’s knee, giggling, and wiping her mouth.

“Now you. You. Arhgh.” Sera lunged up to pull Dagna over top of her, as she fell backwards on the long window bench.

They fussed with the blankets a bit, and curled up around each other, softly petting, teasing, and kissing before drifting off to a deep sleep.

---^^^---

In Sera’s mind, a violin danced and bounced along that rapid tune from earlier that evening. The room spun a bit, even still with her eyes shut. Headrush? No way she could be drunk again, she thought.

It felt almost like she was sliding back into a black tunnel. A strong wind rushed past her as she fell. Her arms and legs were still warm and felt as though they were curled around Dagna as the air flew past her face. Slowly in the falling darkness of the tunnel, her skin cooled to the places where her sweetheart pressed against her. She was alone.

In this descent there was suddenly now nothing. Free falling down, faster and faster in inky darkness. Panic spread through the core of her stomach outward, like ice water winding it’s way into her blood until there was a sudden thud. Her backside hit the ground and instinctively she curled into a ball. She rolled up into herself, protecting her head and neck, curving to the side to avoid hitting her spine on the bounce.

There was no bounce. She remained, huddled into herself. She could not tell if her eyes were open or shut. What was this? She whimpered, once before she caught herself, digging her fingernails into the underside of her ears.

“Stoppit.” She hissed at herself.  “You are asleep. Not real. This is not real.”

She waited. Waited to be dragged out of the darkness by a long, angry arm. Waited to be ripped into the light and kicked across the room. She thought she felt the metal around her ankles, neck, wrists. From what? From when?

It was the dreams again but, here they were real. Her breaths came short, shallow, and sharp. Any second now. This was where it always started, in the dark like this, one thousand different types of torture, to a thousand different  types of body. Her body. This was where her dreams echoed. After years away, Sera had returned back to her echos in the fade.

He sat there. Watching her, feeling the fear and rage roll off of her, still slick with sweat from love making. Flashes of all of those lives. He bit down, clenching his jaw so tightly his teeth could crack. This was his fault. He knew it, felt it. He wanted to stay in this moment and wick it off of her, take it from her. If he wasn’t so foolish, so much could have been different, for all of them. 

Abelas crouched on the ground, about 15 feet from her. His bow landed and steadied before him in the pooling fog. He held his right hand outstretched, his palm up. He said the words, and pulled the memories off of her. He drew them into his hand and let them crush the wind out of his lungs before they wisped out of his left hand  and wound around his bow, seeping into the carved runes on its surface. 

It was hard to say how long he remained crouched. 1000 lifetimes cursed to be short was still a very long time. They weighed her down like a mountain of lead. Over and over again, he repeated the words as he was instructed by Sylaise many ages ago, bending time, parting a separate wall between Sera , the curse, and the memories they plagued her with.

Eventually, so slowly it was like watching a plant grow, she unfolded herself. Shaking, laid out flat, her arms wrapped around her stomach.  Abelas stayed low, in place. He called to her.

“Sera, Ea thereras(Wake-up)

“Ugh. I feel like baked garbage that someone stabbed. Everything was going so well. Every bloody time. Did you stab me? I will end you if you-“

Abelas smiled for the first time in several thousand years.

“It’s good to hear the sound of your voice again.”

“You fecking nob. Are you laughing at me?”  Sera made a gurgling noise as she lurched up and over to her side, retching loudly

“You’ll need to pass the toxins from your waking body, the ones you had separated but not released, to be functional here. The barrier between your mind and your lives should hold for the next little while. We don’t have much time but-“ Abelas stopped, wondering briefly if she could hear him over the sound of her...

“Don’t. Just shut it. The last thing I need in this nightmare is some self-righteous piss-bag ancient one playing Mr.-dream-spirit guide, like some Avvar fairy story. Say another word and I will stab you. I want to go back. It was nice. Let’s just dream our way back into reality for once, eh?”

Abelas closed the distance between them as she righted herself and began to stand up. He drew back his hood and lit a veilfire torch. 

The wind that had howled as Sera fell down, in her sleeping, to this place, had died down to a light breeze.

As she opened her eyes and adjusted to the bright glow of the torch, she looked away from the dream-elf and saw what looked like a thin, silvery chord running parallel to them, in the very far distance. Slowly her eyes adjusted to the long black robe lined with glowing runes, and then to the face of the figure it offered up.

“Awww seven hells, no. What did I do to deserve this?”

Abelas grimaced. “Funny you mention, it’s exactly what I am here to explain to you.”

“Wot. Where are we?”

“A place beyond the fade that you had explored with the Inquisitor”

“So we’re in the Fade? Or not in the Fade?”

“Both and Neither.”

Sera made another retching noise. She reached out to Abelas’ long cloak sleeve and wiped her mouth.

He tried not to laugh. Turning his face from her slightly, stifling his grin, he reached out to a dimple on the side of her face. “You missed a spot.” He swiped at her, dragging the bile-damp part of his sleeve across her face. She swatted at him and he broke out into a grin.

“Ugh. That’s disgusting. You’re disgusting. Stuffy weirdo old elf.” She staggered back from him, squinting, taking in the features on his face.

He straightened his shoulders and returned her gaze, trying to tamp down his smile, waiting for her to lash out.

“ahaha. Oh, ok. Now I know what this is, what it is. You.” She jabbed a finger in the air towards him. “Were in the pub tonight. You were dancing with me, I tried to see your face but, I couldn’t but, I thought it was you, with the markings and everything. That’s why you’re showing up here, in MY nightmare. You’re from the temple, and those markings, on the dalish bloke that I was dancing with, yours are the same. It reminded me of that shite, and my head hurt but-.” Sera winced, squinting and reaching up to cradle her head.

“Yes but, not quite. You did see me in the Temple of Mythal, as the guardian Abelas. We did dance together last night. I am sleeping about 80 paces away from you in Skyhold right now. We are in the fade right now, in the furthest reaches of what is known to some as the deep-fade: the spaces between spirit kingdoms, and partitioned off sections of that which survived the veiling. We met a very long time before that though.”

“Wot?” Sera cackled. “All-right then.”  She threw up her arms and spun around in the dark void. “Let’s do this. Whatever it is, who ever you are.”

He looked down at his feet. This was never going to be easy. He knew that. As she often said, time to get on with it.

“My name was Abelas when you saw me at the temple, because I was cursed to serve under Mythal until the end of time.  Abelas was the name I was given when I was branded with the Vallaslin of Mythal.” He pointed to the markings on his face.  “When you knew me, I was unmarked, known as Syldal’ahn, yours and your sister’s best friend and, eventually, your own general.”

Sera looked up at him, meeting his eyes, and blinked twice.

“’scuze me, my What?”

“The General of your forces. When you were the-“

Sera began to giggle.

Abelas sighed and drew a familiar leather bound book from his robes. Before Sera had the chance to react, he swiftly knocked it up across her jaw, sending her backwards, spiraling to the very bottom of her lifetimes of memories. It was... a very long fall.

---^^^---

Sera popped and clicked her jaw back into it’s socket. “OK now, that smarted, holy hells,” she whinged and shuddered.

Green vaporous fog swirled around her ankles as she walked around what looked like a much more Elfy version of the great hall of Skyhold. It was all open to the elements, with buttresses holding up the roof. Enchanted barriers kept the howling mountain winds and snows from sweeping through the hall. The floors were tiled with soft golds and yellows. Great braziers burned, lining a walkway up to a long table that stretched out seemingly forever, seating several elves as broad and tall as her and Elfy.

On a rug off to the side of the table, where the door to Josie's office would be now, two baby elves played. They were watched over most attentively by two of the elves at the table. One was a matronly woman wrapped in layers of long, flowing robes with a laurel herb crown, the other an androgynous elf with angular features, clad in a simple halla vest and breeches, with an ornate legendary looking longbow slung behind their shoulders. Sera squinted and tried to focus on the bow. The harder she looked, the more her perspective shifted to place the table and elves high above her, until she was almost at the size and distance of the babies on the floor.

“It won’t do you any good.” He said, so close, he was basically right on her shoulder.

She knocked his side with her elbow.

“Careful, we can still very much feel pain here, especially here and now, with everything happening." He snipped at her, "Don’t start a fight if you don’t know how it ends.”

A shiver went through her as she bolted up. “Who said that, first? Where do I know that from?”

“We’ll get there. Right now, it’s important that you just pay attention to what is happening. Please Sera, it’s going to be like rebuilding a massive tile mosaic. One piece at a time but, you have to know what each piece needs next to it to get it in order. Pay attention to EVERYTHING right now.”

Sera made a disgusted noise. “20 years of rip-every-piece-of-me-apart nightmares nearly every day, and NOW, I go to elfy school. This is bloody ridiculous. 80 feet away? When I get back: you, me, ARROWS.”

The Elf looked at her without blinking. “You might stand a fighting chance, when you actually remember. Give me a moment and I can draw up everyone’s composite memories so you aren’t tied to your own perspective.” Abelas stretched out his hands and began chanting, the runes on the edge of his cloak and his bow began to glow.

Sera slowly backed away from the magic that pooled out of his robes and into the fade-vapor that settled and curled at their feet.

“Gross. Nope. Beaches, warm sunny beaches, with funny drinks with little swords. That’s where I am going.” The fade flickered momentarily in response to her will but, sputtered back to the great hall.

“Great. Just...Great.” she sighed and resigned herself, folding her arms over her chest, and looking back over to the robed elf.

When Abelas finally dropped his arms back to his sides, she was able to move around, and focus in on the bow and other objects. Every time she did zero in on something, she had to blink and shake her head. Each perspective briefly tied back to the set of eyes that originally regarded the focal point. The one in the owl robe was the first to look at the elaborate Bow. The Elf mage with a staff of carved Halla horns was the first to zero in on the person who began speaking next, louder and more clearly over the others gathered, in a voice that was unmistakable.

Sera sighed, disgusted. Mhmm, she thought, who else would ruin an afterglow with a garbage magical nightmare. Fecking Elfy.

She stepped closer to the table to hear what they were saying.

“No, of course you could not purge the infants, that would make us no better than the ones we’d know as Forgotten. You got rid of the threat, the danger-their parents. They are imprisoned now. It is as Sylaise says, impossible to tell how the infants will grow into their power.”

“-But they will become powerful, that much is known, by birthright alone.”  Interrupted an older elf, seated at the head of the table. He cut an imposing figure with long white hair and beard, broad shoulders, his right hand resting on a great axe that leaned against the table. He glowered at the young elf that he interrupted, seething down at this version of Solas, seated off of the left side of the woman that was next to him.

Sera took a minute to look at Elfy's dream get-up: long dark braided hair and a wolf pelt sash wrapped over his shoulder. She sighed. "How does my brain even work? Really. This is..."

The regal woman seated between the young elf and the ancient one at the head of the table clasped a hand gently over the Elder’s other hand upon the table top. “Elgar’nan. The war is over and all of our lands are full of parent-less children. We can take these ones and raise them, as we would our own, and make an example of this for all of our people. A way forward, for us all.”

“They should be cast into the holding place to join their kind in the Uthenera.” He growled back.

Sera watched as some of the seated elves nodded, others looked away, averting their eyes from the speaker. She had heard some of the stories in the alienage, more than she wanted to, she knew the names of the old Elvish gods, and enough to gather what symbols went to who, mostly.

She went back to the youngest elf at the table. Buried under those dark braids, it was impossible to miss the black jaw-bone necklace. His voice had barely changed. Same pompous, impetuous, arrogant.... She whooped and giggled when he started to speak again. “Elfy had hair. Bwahahaha....”

“It will be over a thousand Annar (years), before the children come of age. If we hold to the agreed Avanannar (50 year) council summits, everyone at this table will be able to see the children as they grow.”  The young Fen’Harel slowly made eye contact with each elder, speaking in a cautious, humble, and measured tone. “Should they prove a danger to themselves, or others, we will all know, and no one will hesitate to agree with you, All Father.” A smile quirked at the corners of his mouth as he spoke the Elder’s nick-name. Some of the other Ancient Elves stifled quiet laughs.

“Ayo, little dread-wolf,” Called out a man from the far side of the table. He was clad in black leathers, trimmed in gold, with short cropped hair, and eyes as black as the darkest depths of the deep-fade. “No battle names here, even or especially in jest. Save that for the common folk. No one wants to harm two little girls but, I have to ask,”

He leaned forward, smiling, pretending to grip the table dramatically, as though it may fly away.

 “...Of all of us, who is actually most suited to raise these little would-be godlings in a way that gives them a fighting chance at escaping the worst of their true parent’s bequests?”

Sera picked up on how the elf bandied the term dread-wolf, and godlings with the same mocking tone the other had said all-father in.These ones all knew each other, well. Didn’t like or trust each other. Acted like lords. She snorted in disgust, now engrossed in the scene unfolding before her, watching with Red-Jenny eyes.

“Falon’din raises a worthy point. I can fold the truth of their origin into the quietest corner of minds and memory, so no one save us remembers where they are from. Over enough time, that much could be lost to us too. For them to grow around and survive that secret, they need family and love.”  Much softer words came from a man Identical in frame and complexion to his identified brother.

Sera slowly walked around the table to get a better look. Dirthamen had such fine, fair blonde hair and the softest golden amber eyes. He almost seemed to blend into the background of the palace. Sera strained to see him even with Abelas’ earlier spellcraft. It was almost as though he did not want to be seen but, the blurring of his image was unlike any other stealth magic she knew.

Eventually, after squinting and focusing with all of her energy, she made out a leather jacket that was the softest gold with fine, thin black trim. A headache slowly began with a dull drumming in the back of her mind.

“Then let us not separate them.” The regal mage with the halla staff gently tapped the floor with its polished blade, to still the chatter in the hall before she continued. “ As it was Andruil that spared them, they should have the children to raise.”  Ghilan’nain smiled with a mischievous glint in her eye as a wave of shock washed over Andruil and began to pool in the form of a bemused protest.

Mythal spoke again. “I would take one of them as my ward-“ Elger'nan turned to her, narrowing his eyes slightly. She smiled and continued, “It would seem in bad faith to separate them so young. Perhaps it would be best to remand both to my care, and a more direct supervision...”

“’Ere we go now, someone’s about to flip a table,” Sera rolled her eyes back at Abelas. He nodded at her, she turned back to watch the other seated elves who had not spoken yet.

“It may be uncomfortable." Abelas called over to her. "Can you feel what they are thinking? Their emotions carving out their words before they are formed? It should be clearer now, simpler. These emotions before the words are formed, they are the force that imprints the memory to the fade.”

She huffed and leaned back towards the man closest to her. He was seated at the furthest point of the table, closest to the children. His calloused hands fidgeted with a long brown beard. The crown of His head was shaved and tattooed but, in a style Sera had never seen before amoungst any Elf. Squinting a bit, she began to feel words pooling through his thoughts around him, before he spoke. She shivered.  

June sat, watching his wife Sylaise, who had already moved down to the rug to play with the children. He looked up at Elger'nan and Mythal, and back to Fen’Harel. There would be no peace for these children if they went to such ends. Perhaps there was a way... He leaned back in his chair, listening to the other Generals haggling amoungst themselves, trying to whip a vote together for whatever was to be done for, to, or by the little ones. He spoke slowly then, clearly, and loudly over the din in the Great Hall.

“I will build a house, a small nursery on the North Western border of Andruil’s lands where it meets the edge of Mythal’s. There, Sylaise and I will raise the children until the 4th Avanannar. Should the bairn’s natures be shown by then, we can put it to a vote- name them and continue teaching them, or seal them into the holdfast of the Forgotton Ones. If we decide to raise them, they will study as wards to Andruil and Mythal, to return to their home on the spring wind, and back to the keeps of Andruil and Mythal respectively on the authumn wind.” June scratched his above his temple and sighed deeply.

There was a beat of silence.

“A very equitable solution, that sees to give the children the best chance to live within our laws, and would provide wards- possibly apprentices, to both Andruil and Mythal.” Fen’Harel offered cautiously.

Mythal pursed her lips. “How will it be decided which child goes to which ward-house?”

“Ah, Mother be calm,” drawled Dirthamen.

Falon’Din continued, “They" he gestured to the seated elves, "do not know it yet but, the girls already know. All will be as it should be.”

Silently, Andruil rose from the table, joining Sylaise to gather up and bundle the children. Andruil handed a girl off to June with a quick hug as the chatter at the long table began to pick up again. June and Sylaise slipped off into the night as Andruil rejoined the table council.

“Finally, now that the MOST important decision of our first Avanannar has been made...” Elger'nan rolled his eyes and huffed, drawing everyone back over to the maps with markers dotted along hold-outs in a southern mountain region. “If we aim to rule, we need to eradicate the-“

Sera watched all of this unfold, noticing the lack of interest held by the adult twins, the way Solas-with-hair seemed to press and lean into Mythal-unbeknownst to Elger'nan. Ghilan’nain and Andruil bickered over a disputed border.

Abelas stepped quietly back over toward Sera. “So what do you KNOW.”

“Well, I have no idea what I KNOW but, what I saw was the Elfy Gods acting like Lords bent out of shape about two war orphans. That they are all basically self-absorbed gits, which makes sense because Solas-With-Hair  or without hair is an absolute git. Everyone agreed to meet every 50 years or so, which I guess is like once a year if you are a magical-live-forever-elf.  The two quiet decent folks ran off with the babies but, at some point they will have to go to school or, lord & lady training with Queenie and Fancy bow-guy, who may be fancy bow-girl, who knows. Oh, and Solas-with-hair is probably getting some with Queenie, easy mark that is, what with her main being a bit of a hard-ass, and REALLY OLD.”

“Not a bad start. You did miss something important though.”

Sera rolled her eyes at the robed elf and threw her hands above her head. “Please, oh almighty ancient vision-elf person, thing. Whatever it is that you are, enlighten me.”

“The children.”

“What about them? Noses drippy? Needed a nappy change?”

“Possibly. I wasn’t around back in the day to check. Go back to when you first entered this echo in the Fade.”

“What about it? Fuzzy, lots of green swirly bits...”

Abelas sighed. It was like the willful ignorance was built into her as a safety mechanism. “HOW did you first see?”

Sera blinked at him. That feeling, like two hands resting on the insides of her skull, gradually pulling her mind apart...it got angrier.

“You know who you are.” He offered quietly.

“I can’t. No. It hurts. My head. It’s like something is inside of my skull. Ooophff. No. Make it stop.”

Her vision blurred out to a reel of of millions of memories spooling rapidly to one direction and then taking off in the opposite direction.

The scene around her of the great hall blurred, burned, and faded away. Sera’s head pounded like it was going to explode. She doubled over in pain. She tried to keep her eyes on the corner of Abelas’ robe and away from the whirling mess inside her head.

An arm reached up and caught her arm. She felt a forehead press against her own. The spinning memories stopped and stood still.

She was suddenly back to the ground-planted on that gold and yellow tile, somewhere far away. Something was terribly wrong. He had, what did he do? It was... she couldn’t quite draw the formed thought out. Betrayal. He destroyed them all. They would never make it, the elders would catch up to them and-

“It will be righted, Ma’ Lethal, (My kin) I will find the way to make it right again.”

Sera screamed as the green vaporous tendrils of the fade licked up into white hot pain that permeated her mind. “Please, please, please.... make it stop.” She begged.

“All you have to do to make it stop, is wake up.”

---~~~---

Sera bolted upright, soaked through in cold sweat. Her hands were shaking and her foot tapped erratically. She did not understand what she was saying.

Dagna had her hand and rubbed her arm. “Hey, hey, I am here, you are here with me. We are in your room, at the Herald’s Rest, the tavern in Skyhold. It’s just us. You had a bad dream, a really bad dream. The kind of bad dream where you speak strange languages, apparently.”

Sera wrapped the blankets around her shoulders tightly. “I what now?” She looked at Dagna blankly.

“You, ehm, I think were speaking Elvhan...but, like really old Elvhan that I’ve seen written not so much heard actually spoken. Where did you go? What were you dreaming?”

Sera squinted for a moment. The memory of her trip to the fade, ironically, was fading quickly. “I uhm. I ...” Dagna reached over to  the ledge and pulled one of Sera’s many notebooks down. She opened to a blank page and put in Sera’s lap. She reached for the water skin by the bed and held it up to Sera’s hands.

“Quick, drink some water, write a few notes down, even if they aren’t full sentences, or the story, just go point by point, starting with the freshest thing in your memory. It could help later, if this is from the book, or you know, you just want to talk about it later.” The dwarf blushed, and passed over the quill and book. “Trust me, sometimes I get weird dreams, like REALLY weird. Writing it down can connect the dots later. These things can be strange, especially magic things. ” She got up and rummaged through her shirt and pants, pulling out a short quill with a glass cap and ink well and tossed it over as soon as Sera put the water skin down.

Sera began to write, slowly at first, then words flew onto the page, sometimes with small & quick sketches in the margins. She became so absorbed by trying to get every detail down, that in spite of her raging head ache, she did not notice Dagna dress, slip out the door and return some time later with a giant tray of breakfast food.  When she finally put the notebook down,  an easy 15 pages were filled, and well over half of the breakfast was gone.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to stare but, it’s all kind of funny how this happened. Do you always have dreams like that?” Dagna munched on an orange wedge, passing over a plate piled with food to Sera.

“No, not anything quite like that. The way it started, yeah, often enough but this one was very different.”

“Different how?” Dagna leaned in, intrigued.

Sera stalled, reaching for the tray. This woman was strange, she thought. Strange things aren’t strange to her. This wasn’t the first time she’d had a nightmare with someone in bed next to her. First time that someone had ever not made a thing of it. This was different. Maybe good, different.

“Okay, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want but, I still want to look at that book you told me about yesterday, and maybe look at your notes, if and when you are ready.”

“Let me think about it. Maybe after some more breakfast and a good cuddle?”

Dagna grinned. “Sounds great.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

---~~~---

Cullen rubbed the grimy stubble on his chin and stretched as daylight crept into his office. How long had he been awake for at this point, he wondered? Well over the full 24 hours. The alert shift extension was supposed to buy them almost a full weekend off before coming back into rotation. The people who were already about to come on shift got an 8 hour block of time to nap and prepare for their own extended shifts.

Instead of being able to sleep, the Lyrium withdrawal aches drove him through a listless and barely productive stint at his desk- until Vivienne had arrived with business of her own. His mind was still reeling from that conversation. He sighed, and checked his schedule for the coming day. In two and half hours he had the weekly meeting with his captain of the guard.

This particular meeting was an important one.  He had a lot of follow-up questions to ask about the supervision of the Inquisition’s tranquil. They were now deploying enchantments to automate various processes in Skyhold and its satellite fortresses. Cullen had some pointy questions to ask specifically about how direct that supervision had been as of late: A rumor was going around that the principle mage on this project, a Tranquil known throughout southern Orlais simply as “The Laundress,” was now involved romantically with the guard captain.

Cullen shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose. How any tranquil could have a relationship with anything other than its work was beyond him. Stripped barren of all emotion and desires, to be made tranquil was often a last-ditch effort of the Templars to control a circle mage who’s emotions created problems that jeopardized their circle, surrounding town. or even institutions. Cullen had often seen this power abused by command Templars to cover up the frequent abuses some of them wrought upon their charges.

Even if ‘The Laundress’ had no impact on the now expansive day-to-day operations of the inquisition; A rumor of an abuse of power could pour dissent into the ranks of the magi at a time when it was critical everyone should stand together. Despite her possible motivations, Cullen knew Madam de Fer had a valid point: What was the bloody point of the inquisition if not to try to make what was, better? As far as advantages that could win the war go, the idea that simple objects could be enchanted to perform repetitive tasks in a predictable order of operations allowed him to put more boots on the ground with spears in hand. Keeping everything running in the orderly direction of forward was his life now, he reminded himself. Fighting was easier that this nonsense. A part of him missed the days when all of his problems were quickly resolved at swordpoint.

All the same, he had to admit that the most satisfying aspect of Command rank was to see the intricate way the whole of the Inquisition moved together to achieve common goals. Magical Automation was an interesting project that could pay massive dividends in redirected labour. Nobody enjoyed scrubbing latrines. It was hard to measure the massive differences a hot shower or proper meal could have on moral-even recruiting. The Laundress had already proven her capabilities with a land surveying tool that could port customized supply replenishment to the far reaches of Thedus but was easily carried and set by a single scout. Not to mention hot running water to the bathhouses in the barracks and main keep here in Skyhold.

The Laundress, despite the stigma of being know as tranquil, was an unspeakably valued asset to the inquisition. She also represented a large population of tranquil craft persons and students of similar talent and interest who, happened to have 1st hand knowledge of some of the worst secrets of the Chantry, Templars, and Circle of Magi by merit of their use as service personnel. Cullen had made a point of going out of his way to make sure she was welcomed into the inquisition, and heeded any operations recommendations she made.  The appointment of the guard captain to supervise and provide engineering and soldiering support as needed was more than simple lip service to the integration of Tranquil personnel. It was also a means of keeping an extra set of eyes on her many projects. Cullen sighed.

“I need more eyes and hands.” He muttered to no one in particular before returning to his thoughts.

Then of course, there was the matter of the new night shift guards for the Herald’s chambers: Those young Orlesian men. Having been tasked with giving regular reports of the comings and goings of tours, meetings with heads of state, and general reporting of who sought private audiences with The Herald and to what end, these astute young men had been... rather silent as of late. He should check in with the captain to determine if they were being compelled to hide anything, or more susceptible to working for other parties.

Cullen winced and sunk down to the floor, on all fours. His vision blurred and his knees grew weak. It seemed as though Madam de Fer’s unique spell craft had a short shelf life. Either that or this was the cost for nearly 15 years of steady to excessive Lyrium use. If he wanted to be truly honest, between his early days with the Hero of Ferelden and the later nightmares at Kinloch, he had used so much Lyrium just to keep up and stay in the fight, nearly any other templar with similar needs would be on the street or worse by his age. He began to mentally go through the seeker exercises Cassandra gave him to help separate himself from the pain-body.

Slowly, to the drawn out cadence of the chant of light, he brought himself back. He looked at the clock. How did he lose almost 40 minutes in his head like that? This is madness.  If he wanted to be finished with his meeting, and up to the Herald’s room well before the morning war council, he would have to get a move on.

Three short blasts sounded on the gate’s war horn. The shift change had happened. Where had those 8 hours gone? He cursed under his breath and grabbed his shower kit bag, practically flying down to the Officer’s Bath house.

---~~~---

One of the more impressive features of Skyhold was its two separate bath houses. The first, accessible off of the main gate and right next to the barracks for forces and service personnel was more functional. Built with one great shared pool towards the back, it had many individual wooden stalls that seem to have been rigged with an ancient mechanical pump and bellows system that required almost two or three people to work for every one person to shower. Quick thinking after a thorough inspection from The Laundress showed that the original system was designed to be supported wholly by magic. With a team of engineers  including two enchanters and three tranquil, a series of glyphs and charms was worked directly into the piping system to allow hot and cold water to be activated at any time, by anyone, with a lever. 

Cullen had yet to go through the reports of his engineers but seemed to get the impression that they were very excited about the elaborate cistern network and the implications they held for other keeps. The ‘officers’ baths were laid out out in much the same way but included finer stone, and more individual tubs set directly in what appeared to be the rock of the mountain. They were accessible only to member’s of the Inquisitor’s council and high ranking inquisition officers, not just due to their luxurious appointment but, they were also quite smaller and located directly under the kitchens below great hall.

The officer’s baths were fairly out of the way for Cullen on any ordinary day.  As long as it wasn’t within an hour on either side of a major shift change, the regular baths were basically deserted. He usually showered there.  No matter, he thought, as within a couple turns through the great hall, he was down the 4 flights of stairs and just out front of the door to the private bath house. He slid his key into the lock and just as he was about to open the door he heard giggling from the other side.

There was no way he could mistake the sounds that followed afterwards. Whoever was in there, and it sounded like more than one at least, was enjoying themselves thoroughly. He smirked and turned his head to the side, cupping his ear in his hands and pressing forward to listen. Definitely two girls, one of which was Ferelden- a Free Marcher, the other perhaps Orlesian. More giggling and sighs over the sound of running water, and then the telltale moans followed by the smacking of wet flesh against more of the same.

“Commander Cullen. What a surprise to see you down here on this side of the castle.” The sudden voice poured over him like warm syrup and shocked him away from his sneakiness.  He dropped the leather toiletries kit in his hand and started up, blushing furiously.

“Maker. Morrigan, must you always creep about?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea what you speak of. Are you standing guard for someone or have the baths been closed for...some reason ?” The yellow eyed witch let her words trail off as her gaze burned a hole into Cullen, his blush now gathering into a deep crimson.

“I..ehm..Well...It It It seems that the baths are quite busy and I...I’m not sure it’s a great idea to- I was just headed to the barracks bathhouse...“ he stammered out. For the love of the maker, he thought, just once he’d like to be able to string a sentence together when a woman stood next to him.

“Oh, those two, yes, they are in here practically everyday. The builders should really get on finishing up the private rooms above the gardens. It’d make life better for everyone. Don’t worry, they're easy enough to disperse.” She locked eyes with him briefly as she pressed by, brazenly opening the door with her own towel roll under her arm.

Cullen stood in the doorway, eyes wide and slack jawed for the briefest moment as he watched the witch of the wilds stride into the stall area and loudly proclaimed, “Ladies if you would be ever-so-kind. 5 minutes to finish up and get a move on. The Commander requires the baths, shortly.”

Cullen took a few tentative steps into the room, leaned around Morrigan and quickly averted his eyes, trying to stifle a grin. Two of his lieutenants, quite young actually, were tightly wrapped around each other in one of the foremost stalls.  A few showers were left running on full, water splattering the stone loudly, presumably to cover their noise.

The Orlesian woman, her name just on the edge of his tongue, called out to him in her rich accent. “Ah, perhaps you should let the Commander know, as we were so kind as to do so for you the other day, that we do not mind sharing.”

Cullen suddenly exhaled.  Still turned away, now grinning outright, he shook his head and shot Morrigan a look that was mostly eyebrow before speaking.

“I’d never dream of disrupting your fun, lieutenants but, in this one instance, I’d appreciate it if you could take the party elsewhere.”

The pair (and Morrigan) giggled at him, quickly rinsed off, and began gathering their belongings. Cullen turned around to face the wall as they did so. Mostly just to make sure that his soldiers did not see him blush.

“Of course the apostate doesn’t want to share. Typical.” The free-marcher girl teased.

“There’ll be none of that.” Cullen said sternly, still facing away, as the ladies finished dressing and headed to the doors.

As soon as they left, Morrigan burst into peals of laughter. Cullen finally started to breath again.

“Cullen, I had always known you to be uptight but, really, that was much even for you.”

He laughed a bit. “They are lovely, and were I 15-20 years younger, you couldn’t get me out of my armour fast enough for it. That’s the thing though, then, I would have been on the same place on the battle field with them. It would have been fairer, more honest.”

Morrigan cocked her head and shot him a narrow-eyed look.  “I seem to remember your attentions wandered to those both above and below your station back when we first knew one another.”

“Yes but, that never made it a particularly good idea. Even if things had gone differently, I was younger then, further down on the command chain. Less power, I suppose. Now, it’s quite different, my people jump to cover my idiosyncrasies, small and large mistakes. It’s even more important to conduct myself with respect for that.”

“Big words but, I don’t see how the so called burdens of command have anything to do with a little fun in the shower before work.”

“Well, that’s rather the point. They don’t. For you, or for me. They do matter much more for them though,” he gestured to the door. “It’s my job to set a course, they are responsible for getting us there, no matter what. It’s their job to say yes, and their work is in figuring out how, to be more blunt about it.”

Morrigan sat down on the bench in the dressing area, regarding Cullen with a thoughtful look. She nodded, allowing him to continue.

“For them to be exceptionally good at their work, they have to know what the people following them need and struggle with, and help them fill in the gaps. They also have to know the same of me and anyone else they answer to. If I start making it more personal like that... it sets a tone. It becomes ok to expect those kinds of interactions. It gets harder for the people on the bottom to say no. It makes it impossible for the people that work for them to say no.”

“It’s a problem of knowing how to apply restraint while holding power...” Morrigan offered, knowingly. “Not an easy thing for anyone, different for almost every situation.”

Cullen nodded back at her, taking off his shirt and preparing for his bath. “Exactly. It is possible that we could have had fun, it could have been harmless fun, this time. It could also make it easier for everyone involved to come to see these situations-under different and less mutualistic circumstances, as more acceptable. It becomes a slippery slope. It can do a lot of harm. I’ve seen it do a lot of harm.” Cullen's eyes darkened as he faced away from Morrigan, continuing to undress.

“A lot of mages have suffered greatly in the circles.” She offered, giving him a chance to continue.

“It’s more common knowledge than we’d like to admit, yes. Seeing how different things can be, here, well... It’s important to me to keep trying to find better ways.  Part of that is modeling what I expect from the people around me. Besides,” he chuckled, stepping into a nearby stall, “If I was really such a prude, I could have written them up for using the baths inappropriately.”

“Ha, if you were a prude, you probably wouldn’t have been lingering by the door listening with a hard-“

Cullen whipped his wet washcloth at Morrigan, cutting her off suddenly,  as she strode by into a stall across from him. It connected with a satisfying Crack. She jumped a bit and rubbed the red welt it left on her backside.

“Witch!” he called out to her, playfully.

“Templar scum.” She hissed back at him, waggling her fingers at him and cackling a bit. The both had a good laugh and went back to preparing for their respective baths. After having traveled together and run into each other more than a few times over the years, he was comfortable enough with her to have these kinds of talks. Aside for Leliana and Cassandra, Morrigan probably knew the most about where he came from and how much it had forced him to evolve into who he was.

Cullen turned the taps, fiddling with the temperature and marveling as the responding glyphs glowed and jumped to life at his touch. Hot water poured over him and he began to wash, stopping as he looked down and caught a glimpse of Morrigan, reflected back at him from the shaving mirror mounted to the wall. She was beautiful, in an unsettling way.

He could look at The Herald and feel goodness emanating from her in waves.

To really look at Morrigan, to close your eyes and wrap your mind around her energy and magic like a seeker could, you would feel as you would right before crossing over a hedgerow into a part of the forest you knew you weren’t supposed to go. There was nothing safe or comfortable about Morrigan but there was a ferocity and keenness that he had always deeply respected, admired even. Maybe in another time, or place... back when they were both younger...

---xXx---

“Commander, eyes front.” She teased him, catching his eye to the mirror that delivered her own slender frame to him. She twisted her torso under the water, turning in her stall to offer up a full view of her body to him.

He shuffled a bit, scrubbing himself down but, unable to tear his eyes off of the mirror.

She rewarded his disobedience by stretching a leg up to rest her ankle on the top of the shower stall, affording him a very direct  view of her innermost lips and dark pink entrance. He caught the corner of her own trademark smirk as she turned away and reached for a razor.

He felt himself harden. Unbelievable that, in the middle of lyrium withdrawal, this part of himself was in perfect working order. He looked back to the shaving mirror, reflecting Morrigan massaging foamy soap gently over her outer labia and slowly, and carefully drawing the razor over her most sensitive areas. With a sigh, resigning himself to his body and a moment to enjoy this little show, he turned around in the shower to face her. With a few long strokes, he pulled his hand along his thick length and completely gave up the pretense of finishing his own shower.

Morrigan’s mouth opened ever-so-slightly at the sight of Cullen standing before her, fully erect, water streaming down his muscled body. “It’s been some time, hasn’t it?” she purred at him.

“Since I’ve been fortunate to stumble across an apostate bathing herself? You’d be surprised. The randy dowager does a solid publication run of 3-7 such sorts of encounters between Templars and the like, every quarter.”

She snickered at him. “I was going to say, well over 10 years or so since the last time you got caught spying me washing. Now that you mention it, I suppose there’s a reason why bathing mages are low hanging fruit.”

“Don’t let me distract you from your task, Madam Advisor.” He quipped over at her, continuing to handle himself.

“Are you only going to watch? Has the herald discovered some new barrier magic that prevents you from making sure we enjoy ourselves here?”  she teased back at him, nearly finished her close shave, rinsing the soap off and slowly massaging oil into her sensitive folds.

Cullen sighed again, trying to will himself not to think of his earlier talk with Vivienne. The wisp of that thought lead to other thoughts about his herald with... He shook his head and hit the back of his wrist against the stall twice. His whole body ached with what he wanted- Lyrium and more of his lover. What he wouldn’t give for an easy way out of this situation. A ludicrous thought of a pyramid stone down here to and one to her bedroom and...

“Why don’t you come over here and see if you can fix it.” The words left his mouth before he really even realized he was thinking of toying further along this path. His eyes closed and he leaned into the warmth of the shower. His jaw tightened as he heard soft footsteps padding towards him.  He felt her short, slender fingers wrap around his straining cock first, tightly, pulling up with agonizing slowness, then twisting lightly and rapidly over the tip of his head, slamming back down the base of his shaft. He bucked his hips back up into her hand and gripped wall of the shower stall. She gave him that stroke, perfectly, over and over again until his knees nearly buckled and he cried out like he was a 15 year old chantry acolyte again.

She pressed herself closer to him, up against his stomach, cooing softly, “Is this what you needed?” He could feel her rock forward on her feet, pushing him off balance and into the corner of the stall, still teasing, “How long have you been waiting for someone to just walk up to you and take you? Are you mad you had to ask?” She stopped pumping him and leaned back, slapping his throbbing cock so hard the crack of her hand against him echoed in the baths. He roared out his frustration out at the sudden, sharp pain.

Finally, he opened his eyes to look down at her wet black hair, clinging to her neck and blood red lips as water pooled down her small breasts. Her yellow eyes glared up at him. She smiled, showing him the points of her teeth.

He drew his leg up the back of hers, briefly resting his heel behind her knee.

“No. I’d never play at thinking I could ask you to steal something you’ve wanted for a long time.” He kicked her knee out sharply, lowering her while slowly pressing his massive hand down hard on the top of her head. “Certainly would never be mad at you for it.” He smirked down at her as her face dragged down over his stomach and she stretched her arms up around his back, digging her nails into his scarred skin.

She opened her mouth as if to respond to him, tilting her chin up at him, water spraying down over her back. She ran her mouth along the tip of his cock, slowly teasing it in, flicking her tongue along the underside of it.

He rested both of his hands on top of her head now, waiting for her to ease his fullness to the back of her throat. He flexed into her just a little deeper than he knew was comfortable.

“I’m sorry...what was that?” He pushed a bit more of himself into her, standing up straighter to angle down deeper, and draw back out, ever so slowly.

She glared at him and shook her head just the slightest bit, sucking him back into her mouth harder than he expected. Feeling him start and tense, she pushed him almost completely back out again, listening to him cry out softly and keen for more. Looking up and enjoying him teeter on the edge of taking and being taken, she raked her nails down over his backside pushing him into her hard again, drawing him off until he filled her tongue with pre cum, pushing his hips back down, to rest her face right against his lower abdomen.

Now, she closed her own eyes, going to work on him at a punishing pace, taking his whole length back and forth. Her knees splayed out along the smooth marble floor to allow him a steeper angle to drive down into the depths of her throat. He could feel her begin to moan from the back of her mouth. He had to move his hands down to grasp onto her shoulders. At this point he was nearly dead to the world around him, the hot shower water rushing over them both while he snapped his hips toward her mouth over and over again. He reached out to hold her chin while he drew himself out of her mouth a final time, his legs nearly shaking. He took his other hand and pumped it over his hard cock, leaning back against the shower wall.

She stood up, watching him, slipping a finger into her own throbbing sex, drawing it out and over and using her hand to spread herself for him again. She gracefully raised her leg to rest on the wall of his shower stall this time, her heel inches away from his shoulder. He held his own cock, looking her over, letting his eyes travel over her slick entrance, stroking himself hard and slow, thinking of all the different ways he could fill her, cover her, enjoy her, until he shot hard, emptying himself into the pouring shower, just inches away from her.

He panted, resting his head against the back wall of his stall, letting himself enjoy the show she gave him, as she fell into the work of finishing herself off with her own expert touch. He reached out to glance his fingers across her sex as it pulsed before him. His other hand reached around to her ass and grabbed her, pulling her in closer to him and onto his outstretched fingers. He worked along with her own rough and fast strokes over her clit. He stared at her, watching her tits bounce as his hand fucked her harder and faster until she twisted under his grasp and moaned, riding out her pleasure over his skilled fingers.

“That’s right,” Cullen smirked at her. “That’s what you wanted. Good Girl.”

Morrigan pulled herself off of his hand and drew her leg down, leering at him. She wiggled the fingers that had just been on her clit, down by her left side. Cullen’s eyes darted to them for just the shortest second. The second she needed for her right hand to fly up and slap him firmly on the cheek.

“I’m a lot of things, to a lot of different people. Not a single one of them is a ‘good girl.’ “

Cullen laughed and rubbed his face. “Nice talking to you again, Morrigan.”

She was already crossing back to her stall. She waved him off, not bothering a glance over her shoulder, as she swiftly dropped the wards on the main door to the showers. Wards he did not see her place but was grateful she put down before he noticed.

He rinsed himself off quickly and stopped by the sink to take his shaving kit out. Morrigan had left silently as he set up. He took the time to shave properly. Carefully drawing the straight razor over his neck, he began to contemplate next steps. What made sense for for all of them. How he could remain himself without neglecting the truth or wisdom in Vivienne’s words. What was fair and reasonable. It was a delicate line to walk but, there could be a way through it all that landed him closer to her after all of this. Closer to a future he did not think he could have. The way through became more clear as he patted off the last slivers of remaining shaving foam and splashed on an aftershave tincture.

 

 

Chapter Text

--~~~---

He finished dressing and strapped on his plate-mail, running over the list of things he had to do in the next several hours. As it all aligned neatly into a sequence in his mind, he left the bathhouse with purpose, taking the stairs two at a time until he came up to the great hall.

Casually taking a seat at one of the many long tables laden with breakfast fare, he made himself comfortable and waited for one of the kitchen maids to approach and set down a steaming mug of coffee. Cullen looked up to meet her eyes and smiled at her.

The maid started a bit and blushed, dipping into a quick curtsy. Before she could run off, he whispered to her so that the nearby diners could not here:

“If it isn’t too much trouble, I’d like to see that a plate is made up for the herald and sent up to her quarters at once. She should be rising and preparing for morning meetings. If the guards trouble you, tell them that the Commander requests the herald have enough time to prepare herself before the advisors convene with her there, directly, around mid-morning.”

“Very good Ser. “ The maid nodded shyly before scurrying off.

Cullen turned his attention to the guards at the herald’s chamber. He waited for them to complete their scan of the room and turn to him. He nodded slightly at them, watching the guards shift to face in toward the dining area and one of them break off and come down the stairs to meet him directly.

“Ser. Good Morrow. We are one hour into the day shift. No one has disturbed the herald since last eve.”  The guard reported quietly as he faced Cullen.

The commander waited a beat, to see if he would continue. The guard remained silent, scanning the room, standing by. Cullen gestured for the guard to sit next to him. Once they were a bit closer, the commander leaned in and quietly whispered, “I have not yet conferred with the guard captain for the evening report. Was the herald disturbed after Madam de Fer took her leave?”

The guard pursed his lips slightly, reluctant to get involved. “The apostate elf she travels with was admitted with sleeping herbs. He did not leave and he was not sighted at breakfast.” He watched the commander’s face closely.

Cullen kept his expression neutral and began eating his breakfast. After a few mouthfuls of bacon and coffee, he turned back to the guard. “Very well. Admit the scullery maid with the Herald’s breakfast and see to it, if it’s a new girl, that she wakes the herald, prepares a bath if needed, and notifies her that I will meet with her before the other advisors convene for the mid-morning briefing. Once the maid is finished, tell her to come see me here, or in the Command tower, before she resumes her duties.”

“As you say, Commander.” The guard shifted to rise.

Cullen caught his elbow,  leaning in and asking at a more normal volume, “Jer, how are the Orlesian lads getting on with the night shift?”

The guardsman tried not to look taken aback by his Commander’s casual stoicism. “They’re young yet but, they seem to have the right idea and they conveyed their reports accurately. I will let you know if I see anything amiss with their work.”

“Thank you kindly but, not necessary. Continue to send your reports off to Captain Manson, as before. Carry on.”

The guard saluted crisply and moved back to his post just as the kitchen maid handed off a plate to the scullery maid approaching the doors to the Herald’s quarters. Cullen watched the ballet of service people, breakfasting guests, dignitaries, and staff from his seat at the far side of the hall. He waved to a scout entering the hall from the gardens.

The scout looked about briefly to check who, if anyone was watching the commander, and if perhaps the commander was waving to someone near him. He approached Cullen quickly.

“Ser?”

“Have you eaten yet?”

The scout looked puzzled. “Yes...”

“Good. I’d appreciate it if you could run and let your spymaster and Ms Montilyet know that we will convene the morning advisory briefing in the herald’s chambers at 11:00 hours.” Cullen watched the maid that had gone up with breakfast, come back out of the heralds doors, and make her way to his table. He barely turned to look at the scout.

“As the commander wishes. Is there any other information to be conveyed?”

“No, that is all.” He nodded curtly and by the time he looked over the scout had gone. Cullen finished his Coffee in one gulp and rose, beginning to wind his way through the various dignitaries between him and the maid. He nodded the maid out of earshot .

How to begin.  Hmmm. He thought.

“If it pleases the Commander, the Herald was in good spirits and woke easily this morning.”

He nodded at the young woman. “Were you able to-“

“Yes, I let her know about the meetings, Ser.” She interrupted, “Begging your pardon.”

“Not necessary. Thank you for your work. Just one more thing before-”

She whispered, interrupting again, this time furrowing her brows, trying not to grin. “No, Ser, I didn’t see anyone else up there. She said she needed but a moment to dress and she’d be ready to meet with Ser.”

“uhhh. Ehm. I wasn’t.” Cullen shook his head. “I have some papers to take up to her to prepare for the briefing.”  He set his jaw in what he hoped was a serious and piercing glower.

“Begging your pardon, Ser. Of course the Herald expects her papers before the meeting. Forgive, I meant no offense.”

“Non taken. I am sure you have much to do today.”

“Aye, thank ye Ser, The laundress still hasn’t found a way to make the potatoes peel themselves. Bright morning to ye!” and with that, the maid bolted out of range of Cullen before he had a chance to say anything else.

Cullen glanced at the hour glass over at Varric’s table. About half an hour before his meeting with the Captain. Not enough time to really support her, but telling her now would give her time to compose herself before Leiliana and Josie came up. He moved with a purpose over to the guards at the entry to her quarters.

He looked to both of them and nodded, pushing through the door. He took the stairs quickly to the top door and used the plate on his wrist guard to knock on the door frame over the final stairway up to her bedroom suite.

“Have I caught you at a bad time?”

“Oh! Cullen, You’re early!  No, not at all, just a bit sleepy, come up. I’m decent.”

As he rounded the steps he saw her bent slightly over a small washbasin, scrubbing her face.

He smiled, reaching over to rub the back of his neck.

“Sorry for, running off the other night. I had-“

“No, don’t worry about it.” she interrupted him.

He sighed. “Well, I had to think about some things. There is news you need to hear and, separate from that, some things we should discuss. I couldn’t leave it until after the advisors council but, I have an unfortunately short window before my next meeting with the guard captain.”

“Hmm.” She turned to look at him, patting her cheeks dry with a hand towel and reaching down into her copper tub to pull the drain. “What should we deal with first?”

They both watched the water follow the curved path in the pavers to the hole in the stone wall that allowed it exit the side of the castle.

“I wish I knew. Perhaps the complex thing and then the horrible thing?” He suggested, unable to meet her eyes.

She laughed a bit. “Ah. One of these mornings meetings. I see. Let’s get on with it.”

He nodded, slightly braver from hearing her mirth.

“I don’t want you to think that my anger yesterday was  from some sort of Jealousy.” Cullen started, softly.

Her head snapped up and turned to regard him standing  a few feet away from her.

“I can’t really blame my temper on the Lyrium either. As terse as it makes me, even with the lack of sleep, I was just angry.”

She nodded, encouraging him to continue.

“Worried about you, true. Frustrated at the loss of life but, more so furious at Solas’s attitude.”

“That makes two of us.” She smiled and sighed.

“I know that two you have a history. That you share a culture-“

“of sorts. Forgive me. Please continue.”

“I don’t pretend to understand what, outside of that, you two seem to share. Frankly, I think you deserve a lot better. “

She looked down and saw his fists clench as he spoke.

“I’d like to show you how much better but, I won’t come between either of you. I want you to know that.”

“Cullen, I- what do you mean?”

“What I am trying to say is, I won’t force you to choose one of us. I’ll be here for you regardless." He eased his fists open and shot her a look with that perfect smirk. "I also want to steal a bit more of your time, now and then."

She turned around and sat on the edge of the copper tub, nodding slowly, as though she was mulling it over.

“I don’t want to hurt you. I care for you.” She said softly.

“As I, you.” He walked over to her, standing in front of her, to reach out and place his hands on her shoulders.

“I don’t even really know what it is I am looking for, with him. A part of me feels like it’s unfinished business. The other part is trying to play some game to draw out information I know I will never get.”

He looked at her warmly. “It’s not my place to be involved. I trust you to manage your relationships and yourself with every bit as much intelligence and compassion as I see you manage everything around you.”

“You are full of surprises.” She sighed, looking up at him. “I could stand to spend more time with you. We have an unfinished chess game...”

“That we do.” He smirked. “Dorian’s probably cleared the board and played a dozen new ones since but, we could start again. Or we could go somewhere.”

“Go somewhere? Like take a trip? A holiday in the middle of the war?”

“No, more like, just a day off somewhere, just for us.” He offered.

“I’d like that.”

“Then it’s settled. I do expect you to keep me informed though, if you do learn anything in your... efforts, just as you would your other advisors.”

“Of course. So, was that the complicated thing or the horrible thing?”

Cullen groaned. “Complicated.”

“Which leaves the-“

“Yes. The horrible news. Come here.” He gently pulled her up and drew her in close, wrapping his massive arms around her. He closed his eyes, breathing in the smell of her hair, letting his hands glance across the soft skin of her neck and drift down her back, all the while keeping her pressed against him. He bent down to kiss the top of her head, letting his lips trail small, sweet kisses across her forehead, down her temple, and ear.

Eventually she pushed back slightly from him, unwilling to be distracted. “Go on then.”

“There was an uprising in Wycome. Your clan was. They were attacked.” He watched her shoulders shrink.

“Were there any survivors?”

“No. Not a single one. I am so sorry. There are details in the reports I brought up. It was our intention to tell you today, with all of the advisors present. I thought it would be best for me to tell you now and give you time to collect yourself before tending to the rest of the meeting’s issues.”

“Thank you.” She said quietly. The colour had drained from her face and she moved slowly to her desk chair to sit down.

Cullen followed her there and sat down on a small foot stool beside her, waiting for her to say something else. He took her hand off of the armrest and held it between both of his for a long while.

“Was there anything else?”

“Yes. I wanted you to hear this from me, 1st before you could hear it from anyone else or figure it out, It’s important that we are absolutely honest with each other.” He cringed with guilt as he saw a mixture of grief and gratitude rise up and pool at the corners of her eyes.

“Go on,”  she said again.

“We had known for some time, since shortly after you had left for Crestwood. I thought when you came to my tower that you had found out. When I learned what was actually going on with you then, I made the choice to hold off on telling you. Not for any deceitful reason, with your mark and everything else, I thought it was too much to bare. It was my intention to tell you the next day but, I botched coordinating it with the other advisors so that you would know before you left. I am so very sorry. Please forgive me.”

“Cullen, Please leave. I have a lot to think about before the council meeting.” The words, delivered flatly, stung him like a whip.

Cullen desperately searched her face for a moment before letting go of her hand and gently returning it to the arm rest. The herald’s face, usually vividly expressive, was like a stone cast of the woman he had adored quietly for years. He got up to leave.

“As you require, Inquisitor.” He had already turned before he finished speaking, unable to see her flinch as he called her by her title.

Chapter Text

---xXx---

Day light broke through the narrow window of a cramped cell above the gardens. Dense stone walls loomed around an ancient oak door with a leather draft stop at the floor. It was nearly a small, cave-like retreat that isolated its inhabitants from the morning routines of Skyhold. The narrow window faced out into the steep and windy drop off the cliff side. From the Antivan glasswork yards, the window itself was set on a pivoting hinge and allowed the breeze into the tiny room. Two equally small desks wedged in an L in the corner  next to the door. One was piled high with rolled parchment raven notes, musty arcane texts from all over Thedus, rune stones, and curious wands and daggers of all metal and wood varieties. The other seemed more of a tool and weapons repair bench with a neat pile of parchments in one corner next to one inkwell and a sorely wear-withered quill & inkpot. Two trunks were pushed up against the other wall where a small guilded portrait of a Halla, grazing in a field, was centered above a shelf. The rest of the tiny room was occupied by an ancient wood sleigh bed that seemed far too large for the space.

A battle scarred, stout man with a short black beard and mustache leaned back on his elbows, throwing his hips up into the lithe woman astride him. Their pace was furious, they both gasped and panted. She curved her slender hips forward and closer to his stomach, contorting her back at a steep angle. She held him at the perfect point inside herself while she reached back and grabbed her own ankles. Thus spread open before him, she tensed her body and gave herself over to his rhythm, listening to the sounds of his pleasure, feeling his core tense as he leaned up to her to revel in the sight of her bouncing breasts. She studied the seams in the stone wall behind her, letting her gaze slowly right her neck up to the wooden roof beams, and then finally over her small chest and back down to his face.

He never looked at her ears, nor her arms or legs- the deep, cross hatched, unsightly scars that ran from her calves, up her sides, arms, and back as far up to her neck line. Perhaps it was the first thing she noticed about him: He did not gawk or linger on the usual things usual people did.  She noted how keenly he was now zeroed in on her. When they were joined he responded dramatically to the slightest of her micro expressions, intentional or not. Right now, she knew that if she were to meet his eyes with a gaze and, just ever-so-slightly part her lips, he would finish. She let her eyes travel like sweat, down his brow to his temple, beard, and flushed neck.

He did not mind when she looked at him, stared at his war scars. This ease in his own skin unraveled her over time and in odd ways. It made her more still around him- less cautious.

She tightened her inner most muscles over him just to hear him suddenly moan through his rapid thrusting.

She took a hand off of her ankle and curved her fingers into a V, spreading herself before him. As though he needed no further command, he laid flat back onto the bed, extending a hand out to let his fingers tease her exposed, swollen clit back and forth. His legs twitched and tensed as she immediately picked up where his thrusting left off and fully leaned into his hand, grinding against him while she rode quickly.

He bit his lip slightly when he saw her nipples harden. He could feel her tension wrapped around him. It took all of his self control to not grasp her hips in his hands and pump into her until they were both spent. He closed his eyes and willed himself to be still, withdrawing the pressure of his hand on her button, forcing her to chase his touch down with her body. She leaned over, closer to him, bending his fingers back steeply,  until he could feel her thin, long hair brush past his face. He drew his arm up and flipped his hand over just as it was pressed back into him by her own movement.  He breathed in as she exhaled and let her scent wash over him. Garden herbs and cool peppermint, something metallic like copper or ozone- alchemical and magical at once. He felt her legs grip him with force. He brushed his lips across her chin.

“Yes.  I want all of you,” he encouraged her, moving his other hand to her bottom to push and pull her hips over him in time. Her relentless pace stuttered as she ground her clit hard against his stroking fingers. She gasped and he felt her release against him. He pulled the hand pressed to her pulsing clit away, around and rested it across from his other, on her slender backside. His hands were so big they could almost wrap around her waist. He held her hips as she writhed over him, remaining poised but nearly shaking.

She straightened up, still throbbing from her orgasm, drawing herself more slowly back and forth on his aching cock. Her hand flew up to softly stroke it's way across his well defined chest.

A raven landed at their window sill, with a note tied to his leg. Shortly thereafter, two more appeared and the morning revelry sounded over the battlements. They both sighed. He reached up and slammed the wood shutter on their side of the stone wall to close them off from the ravens. A bluster of feather ruffling and indignant squaking was muffled by the closed slat. She raised her eyebrow at him ever-so-slightly.

She glanced over at the closed window slat and back down to him. In her soft, thoughtful, monotone she told him, “Finish inside me. I would read my ravens and be able to look at your face, cleaning me, perhaps sometime before lunch breaks.” She shot him the slightest smile.

He bit his lip and cocked his head to the side, trying not to laugh. She had been practicing, in the bath house mirrors. Those tiny “normal” expressions that Tranquil so rarely have, even more rarely still use appropriately. He wondered if that was for him, or a small adaptation that she was testing first with him. Their long lunches spent people watching together seemed to be paying off for her, he mused. He enjoyed the way she ordered him about, implying what they both knew- he would keep them both in bed all day, would that he could. Many days off had been spent in such manner in their past few months together.

“Did I say something funny again?” Her eyes narrowed slightly trying to find the composite meaning in the way he held his face before her.

“Not. In. The Slightest.” He answered, taking up her weight in his hands and moving her over him in deep, fluid strokes. He drew his knees up to push her back down on top of him, close to his chest, thrusting up hard into her with satisfying loud smacks, spilling her slickness over both of them.  He drew himself completely out of her just to feel himself re-enter her slowly again and again.

“Tell me again. Tell me what you want.” He groaned softly, into her ear, almost begging as he pounded into her small frame.

Her hair spilled down over his face, catching on the sides of his beard, as she leaned her mouth next to his ear and whispered, drawing it out agonizingly slowly between each hard thrust. “I want. You. to finish. inside me.” 

She gasped as she felt his whole body tighten underneath after she spoke flatly to him as though she was filing a requisition with clerk. She felt the familiar warmth kindling deep within her. It was nearly always like this with him. His pleasure drove her to more pleasure. Perhaps an echo of who she was before the right of tranquility. Perhaps just the simple response of a body to another body.  Each time it was just as fascinating as the last. She arched her hips onto him and rolled the tension through her inner muscles to drive him further.  Continuing, “I require you to drink yourself from me. Now.”

He cried out and holding her so tightly they both thought he would crush her, he spent himself. A quick brush of his lips across her shoulder and he kissed her softly on patches of skin with and without scars indiscriminately. She indulged this for a brief moment, observing him, feeling the nerves jump along her skin where his wiry, short beard brushed it. When she leaned over to reach for the shutter, he gently swatted at her her arm.

“Oh, no, no no... Allow me.” He grinned at her boyishly and flipped the shutter back. The indignant ravens hopped in the deep stone window ledge, each directing their squawking at the pair before them and brandishing their message legs. The guard captain rubbed his beard and kept one hand in place on his lover’s hip, and used the other to deftly unclip the messages from the irrate birds.  “Day’s count is 3 for you one for me.” He handed her three scrolls and tossed the other on the work-desk next to his sword. He slowly pressed her to her side and down onto the bed, carefully withdrawing himself from inside her while she cracked the wax seals and began reading. "Hells- Morris, couldn't that wait for two hours?" He threw his scroll aside as quickly as he had opened and read it.

Sliding further down the bed he gently drew her legs apart and pulled her down his face. She looked up from her scrolls the second she felt his lips on her throbbing clit. Flinching back, she leaned and angled her hips up to his face, spreading her legs open to show him how well he had filled her. He paused  for a moment to enjoy the sight of her wet pussy, stretched to barely contain him, and then buried his face in her. She ran her fingers through his hair, flipping through the scroll notes but making sure to tease him by rocking into his mouth as he lapped and sucked in their prior pleasures. After a few moments longer than she felt she could stand, he came up for air and kissed her thighs briefly before laying next to her.

“What does the day have for you?” he asked casually.

She blinked twice, as she always did when asked a question. “Brief return trips to Empris  and Griffon Wing Keep. Undoing some more of the Venatori glyphs and residual demon magic around the keep water systems before setting up some of the apprentice tranquil with some of the preliminary automation assessments.”

“That’s great. I actually understood everything you said just then and, it sounds like you will be busy!” He said cheerfully.

She briefly parsed the small jumps in expression between his eyes, forehead, mouth and tone for sarcasm and assessed he was making light of her technical work. “I should be home before nightfall. Both are short trips. I do have to take some quick notes of work in skyhold before I depart, though.” She got up, moved to her trunk and pulled out a desert outfit and cowl, and winter outfit, frowning down at both of them slightly.

The oil lamp on his desk danced across her ice white skin and the deep, raised scars across her entire body. He could not remember where or when he began to see her as The person he was with, just that she was and it felt like they had always existed this way together and always would, despite what he knew about them both.

“You said home.” He stayed on the bed, rolling to his side to watch her as she prepared.

“I did.” She found the corners of her mouth twitch up reflexively. She raised an eyebrow. “If you have time after your meetings and shift, would you-“

“Send for Elan Ve'mal in the garden to get you some cold remedy herbs in case you get a shock from going from Icy snow fields to blistering deserts in the same day?”

The Laundress looked at her lover and smoothed her long, mousy, blond hair before pinning it up in plaits. Her careful arrangements covered the jagged scars that had long ago slashed her elven ears into roughly human shapes. “Yes. Thank you. How many ti-“

“Six. You have scheduled yourself in exactly this way, exactly six times since we arrived at Skyhold and each time you have come down ill.”

“Heh.” She remarked in a way that could have possibly been mistaken for a quiet laugh by some. It was rudimentary mirroring but, it let the Captain know that she had heard him and was thinking.

 “Is it at all possible that you could-“

“It’s not optimally efficient for Skyhold or the Inquisition but, establishing a pattern of harm to myself is also not beneficial to anyone. Perhaps I could post-pone Empris de Lion for two days and complete Griffon Wing with one whole day.” She mused aloud. “I will consider it.”

Captain Manson made a mental note to get the Herbs after his meeting with Cullen. He looked her over and smiled. She had dressed in the winter robes while they were talking, and tucked her scrolls into her heavy woolen pocket. Maybe he could get a scout to run her desert work dress to griffon to hold, he thought, just in case. Once she had a set pattern or plan, it was like swimming upstream to get her to shift her thinking. He knew better by now than to correct her choice of clothing for the day.

She strode over to him and gave him the slightest peck on the cheek. An indulgence she understood he valued. Without giving him further regard she grabbed one of her books and two more scrolls and headed out of the door. He watched her carefully adjust the long sleeves to cover her mutilated arms, running her finger up to check that the collar on her dress tunic was drawn shut to completely cover her neck. Her nose firmly in the book, she adjusted the unbleached cotton scullery mob cap on her head and slipped out the door.

Guard Captain Manson quickly cleaned up and dressed for his meeting with the commander. He touched the place on his face where she had kissed him goodbye. He thought on what the tower mages had told him of the Tranquil and what he little he had learned of them from his templar years. Without realizing, he smiled. She tries, he thought, even though those small things mean nothing to her. Not because of the idea that they should be done. She tries because they mean something to me. Like everything she does, it is observed, considered, measured and acted upon.  He scratched his chin again absentmindedly before leaving their room.

 

---~~~---

Wholly ignored by most everyone at Skyhold in her simple house-staff livery, The Laundress glided through the covered walkways. On one occasion an impertinent masked Orlesian snapped his fingers at her and made note of “..the repair conditions of his room” and his desire for “...a proper coffee service before morning prayer.” She nodded silently and offered a simple curtsey before walking away. Upon entering the great hall she was handed a small covered plate of breakfast by another elf dressed nearly identically. She quietly leaned in to whisper to the Alienage elf she could be mistaken for being related to.

“The fellow with the ridiculous gilt Qun horn caps, in the cobalt cape has some request for coffee service and builder repair. Go to the Garden and silently identify him, quickly. Relay his countenance and my words to Lady Montilyet quickly. She can decide how best to deal with him.”

“Yes m’ahm.  Shall I send your apprentices to meet you?”

“Unnecessary, they have standing orders already, if you see them linger in the breakfast hall, simply remind them I am waiting by their leave.  Oh, and Genieuvie?”

“Yes m’ahm?”

“Keep a distance from the Orlesian you are to observe. He has a roving eye that lingers on Elvhan maids.”

“Oh!” Her soft doe eyes went wide briefly as she looked at her feet. “Thanks. You know...There’ll be music in the serving and refugee halls later in the evening.”  A smile broke across her face. “ You should come down, Bring the captain, if you can get him out of uniform and back into some real clothes before the night’s done!”

The Laundress considered this for second. A joke in the familiarity but, a sincere invitation. “heh. That’s kind of you. If we aren’t too tired to dance, we will come.” She nodded slightly, scanning the dining hall as the elf beamed back at her. “Thanks again. Go safely.”

She started out, breakfast in hand,  for the lower corridors before Lady Montilyet’s office. As she descended, two uniformed Lieutenants chased each other up the stairs, giggling and shooting each other looks. As they passed, her body reflexively pressed itself out of the way while she observed them. One startled briefly on seeing her.

“Lady Enchanter, pardon. We did not see you there.” Her rich Orlesian accent rolled off her tongue. The Laundress could see the flush of arousal on the officer’s face. These two. More reliable than the morning revelry or the courtyard sundial.

“Please carry on, Serah,  They are just seating second breakfast in the great hall. You may still yet secure a seat before the Courtiers show up. “

The officer rolled her eyes in disgust. “The things we endure to fill the war coffers.”

She nodded back, as the second officer –The Ferelden, looked her over, staring at her ears but not daring to look her in the eyes. “Great job on the water, piping hot, as always.” she mumbled awkwardly.

“I must be along, there is much work to be done to prepare the other keeps, Go safely Sers.” She willed herself to keep her hands to her side, to not check to see that her hair still covered the most visible remnant of her past.

With a nudge the Ferelden propelled her lover up the stairs and The Laundress continued down the silent narrow hallway past the officer’s baths.  She cocked her head to the side to listen briefly to the voices she heard within, taking note of the pale auras of warding magics on the door. Fascinating.

Eventually she came to what appeared to be a dead end in the hallway. Quickly scanning behind her, and hearing no further noise from the baths other than the running showers, she hastily re-arranged the bricks. A soft, turquoise glow hummed to life as a glyph appeared and faded. The brick wall shimmered away briefly, to allow her to pass into a darker hall.

“heh.”

Having reached the main area she was summoned to, she took note of the changes to the hallway while nibbling on her breakfast pasty. A perfect pie shell encased the butter and herb scrambled eggs with bits of dry-cured meat. She closed her eyes and chewed thoughtfully. It had taken almost two weeks to teach the free-marcher cook to get it right. She had just about given up and thought to spend another six months devising an automation for making it. The Laundress was very certain the Tevinter boy that swept the floors finally gave up his broom and taught the cook the proper way to get the shell right.

Right.

It was not right that the dormitory cell to her right was sealed off with magic but, just as she felt the signature of the wards on the bathhouse upstairs, she knew who had done it. That coppery, metallic smell of veil fire filled the hallway. The Laundress stretched, rolling her shoulders a bit and quickly licking the last crumbs of the pastry off of her fingers. She looked down at her apron out of habit. Not a single crumb but yet she absently picked at her tunic. She was not hungry. She did not remember why her hands did these things, or why they remembered the pie recipe: process and ingredient, from start to finish like a formula.

She carried down along the corridor, shivering slightly as the imprints of the emotions that left new fade memories ghosted over her like perfume in a room after the carrier had just departed. Lust, fear, hunger, desire, shame, maneuvering. It made an old nausea well up in the pit of her just-sated stomach, it reached up and held her by the throat. Her hands stood at her sides as her fingers tapped an erratic dance out on each other

She felt Solas sleeping fitfully behind his walls, in a place not here, nor fade. She felt the two elves woven into each other dreamlessly on the cot in his office.  As it all landed in the context of the raven, she understood.

The advisors were often heard to joke with each other when they thought no one of import was listening. It was said by many of them that The Commander was a man with a Hammer to which every problem appeared as a Nail. Were that so, the equivalent parable here would be “So as the Dread Wolf hungers, all animals are meat.” She thought of the serving girl with doe eyes, and the young ones still sleeping in the room. The scout was fully bought-in. There would be no moving him. She had only felt the girl in passing since mid-day yesterday with the pilgrims. Perhaps...

She remained outside the office door where the two slept. She calculated.

Chapter Text

 ---~~~---

As Captain Manson approached the command tower he noted the scouts and messengers milling about.  A patrolman on the battlements walked over to him.

“The Commander just finished his breakfast and is delivering some papers to the Herald. He has not received his morning messages as yet.”

“Aye, that much I can see.” Manson noted dryly. “Thank you Howard. Keep an eye on them from your post.”  He finished, staring down the patrolman. The lad was new, he thought. So many new ones. He had struggled to recall the young man’s name. It was a pain to have to redistribute the more experienced soldiers throughout the new keeps to help train and season the new recruits. He did not recognize well over half of his own people anymore.

He gave the patrol man a minute to process his captain’s remarks, refraining from dismissing him just yet.

“Don’t use 20 words where 7 will do. Look for the details that I would not have seen, look for what could be useful to me to know.

The patrol man paused for a second, considering. “The new scouts for spymaster Leliana are nearly all new Dalish from the outer Free-marches. It would seem there are very few Orlesians joining her ranks. Most of the incoming pilgrims from alienages that choose to stay serve in the kitchens or as labourers. “

“Is this the Spymaster's choosing or theirs?”

“From what I have heard from the personnel that came with us from Haven, neither. The Alienage elves seem to be affiliated with the Red Jennies. Hard workers but less moved by faith in the Inquisition as the Dalish recruits seem to be.”

“That is interesting. Carry on, as directed.” The Captain noted how the patrolman had denoted himself integrated with the more established Inquisition support crew. He would have to work more on his own masking. Either the lad was trying too hard or he was too easy to read. Either way, It may not matter in another hour.

He strode into Cullen’s office and pulled two of the chairs over to the hearth, setting up a small fire for hot coffee. It was an odd choice, picking an office with three entryways and so far away from the older, sturdier walls of the main fortress.

After he entered the office, the other messengers strode in behind them, leaving a flurry of new scrolls and ravens orbiting around the Commander’s desk. Manson kept an eye on their activities as he filled the coffee percolator and lowered the kettle bar in the hearth to sling it into place. He strode over to the commander’s desk and found a bottle of Fereldan whisky, with a third left. He picked up the whisky and peered through the door at the patrolman. He was keeping tabs on those coming and going from the room. The Patrolman came over to him at once. Harry? Howard? Howland? ... Hector?

“Call the scullery workers in to dust, change the basins & Linens, and bring up more firewood. Get more than a few. I’d like to see it done before the Commander returns and while we are both minding the traffic. Take the 1st maid aside and tell her she is to send a girl to the morning watch as soon as the commander is seen leaving for his breakfast. Work it out between the two of you but, the Commander’s rooms will be taken care of quickly in his absence, under your supervision, without disrupting any of his correspondence- Every day.” He shook the whiskey bottle in his hand. “Make sure there is more for the meetings but don’t bring a full bottle. Only half. Understood?”

The patrolman nodded and left promptly. Manson watched from the door while he sent another patrolman off the battlements to make arrangements. That one was even younger than the last. Could he even grow a beard? The captain settled himself in a chair by the hearth, watching the desk and waiting for the boss.

A platoon of maids came and went in a flurry of record time. Each dressed identically, in the favored low-born costume of his own enchantress, each carrying out one of the tasks he had mentioned and, promptly leaving. He held a book in his lap and pretended to read it as they did their work, smiling as they heaved the laundry from the loft onto a basket and line, disappearing with the rigging and washing as quickly as they arrived. Within moments, the last maid tucked her duster into her apron as she walked to the door closest to the Captain. She paused by him, grinning, and flipped the book right-side up, and flipped the pages back to the chapter beginning.

“Ai’nough of your cheek, off with you.” He growled at her, trying not to laugh with her as his rural Fereldan accent edged its way back into his speaking.

The maid chortled and sauntered out of the room. He found himself starting to fiddle with the cap of the whiskey. Maids that read. That one’s fearlessness was being wasted, too. Unless it was wasn’t. He would have to speak with his woman about her, to figure out who she reported to. He poured the coffee from the hearth into two tin camp cups he got from the small kitchen bench next to him and took a long swig of whiskey. "I may not be smart enough for this job anymore," he muttered to himself.

“True enough, It’s too early to drink.” Cullen’s sharp voice felt like icewater running down his back. He reflexively jumped up from the chair to attention, then eased himself to face the Commander.

“It’s not early if you’ve not slept yet.” He shot back with a laugh as the patrolmen closed the doors the maids had left open.

“I see you’ve sent the circus through.” Cullen’s lips curled up in disgust, surveying how his belongings and furnishings had been disturbed.

“Aye, your armour smells of soured nug milk. It makes the whole damn keep reek. It’s a wonder you can talk a woman into laying with you here. Did the Herald grow up on a farm? Is she nose-blind? Drink some coffee, your face looks like a dragon’s nutsack.” The captain shot back. They both laughed. Cullen straightened himself and rubbed his eyes.

 “Do dragons have nutsacks? If so, how in the maker’s name would you know what they look like?” The Commander taunted his friend, turning the corners of his mouth down further.

“How’d you think I came to be the only Templar in Fereldan to carry the King’s honor for slaying dragons. Ya hit the beasts in their crease, same as any other. Whiskey?”

“I don’t know whether to be relieved you work for me or horrified. Pretty well like that every time you open your damn mouth, Geoff.”

“Ach, you keep me around for good reasons. Is it me, or do half of the patrolmen we’ve got can’ne grow a proper beard?”

“It’s you. We’re getting old, my friend. “ Cullen leaned in and took the small cup and peered at the vapors rolling off of the mixture of acrid black coffee and whiskey, chuckling to himself.

“So... we’re the adults now. Shite. We should've been dead ages ago.” Geoff Manson knocked his drink back in one gulp, refilled it immediately with coffee, and sat back in his chair.

Cullen took a tentative sip of the drink and promptly spat it out. “You’ll kill me by way of giving me a damn ulcer long before I die in battle.”

“Nah, You’ll go- an old man in a farmhouse surrounded by 20 quibbling heirs and three ex wives, ya pretty git.”

Cullen sat down and shook his head at his old friend. “You start using boot polish to hide your white whiskers from your women?”

“Nah. Naturally virille blood. A superior blend of dwarven hardiness, elvhan longevity, and human adaptability.”

“Truly a gift from heaven to have you serving amongst us.” Cullen rolled his eyes

“Aye, you should be paying me a hell of a lot more.” Geoff leaned in, took the commander’s cup, threw it into the fire, refilled it with straight black coffee, and passed it back. “So then, what’s the news, then?”

“8 000 new recruits from the general population of Thedus. I think we are doing a passably good job of managing it but we have suffered losses in the Arbour Wilds and it seems we have far less seasoned troops now than we did a year ago. Thoughts?”

“Easy dealt with. Keep on with sending out platoons to keep order on trade routes, break up platoons and squadrons of loaned forces from the Sun Empress and the King, make sure people integrate, cross train, and keep promoting on demonstrated merit 1st. Give the rich useless prats with command title to Josie’s make-work and diplomacy projects, where they are best suited.”

Cullen nodded.

Geoff continued. “What worries me is all the new faces. I don’t know much about my people any more. With all of our veterans promoted to leadership and out training, and our forces being much larger... it feels odd. I don’t know if I trust all these kids with what we give them.”

“We had all this and more at their age... We have to delegate. We have to trust. Or we cannot grow.” Cullen sighed, looking down into his cup.

“Is that we are to do? Overtake the Templar order?”

“Perhaps, or rebuild it. I am unsure of the Herald’s direction with the Magi and the Chantry. Regardless, there will be changes. We will not return to the old ways once this is done. I want to make sure that we have better options in place for that day.”

“May that day come and see us alive and well.” Geoff reached his coffee cup to Cullens' and clinked against it in a somber toast.

“You’re getting...round, Old man.” Cullen nodded down to his friend’s gut.

Geoff straightened up and patted his stomach. “Just say fat, ya prick. All the rich food the maids bring up for my woman. She looks out for them, never turns them away when they ask her help or bring favors.”

Cullens eyebrows went up. “The kitchen maids go to The Laundress for help?”

Ahh, thought Geoff. This was why he had blocked a full hour for a conversation fenced in by patrol guards, when it usually took them less than 4 minutes once a week and could be done in the mess hall or showers. Today was the right time. Better sooner than later.

“Nah. Mostly just letters or news to their families left behind in alienages and those still working in the great houses still operating between Orlais and Tevinter where she contracted before the Inquisition. She knows a great many people... and the serving classes; they look to her as a sort of inspiration. Sold from Tevinter to our circles as a slave, now a rich business woman, a guild leader for the tranquil, of sorts. They ask her advice, seek favors from her, try to get messages to magi relatives stationed at keeps if they cannot afford access to ravens. Same as far as the Dalish are considered. She had undergone some rite with their gods that make her a priestess of sorts, for giving last rights to their passing. I’m unsure how it all works but, that’s what I have gathered over the coming months. She brings support from the common folk who are mistrustful of a Chantry lead inquisition. More respectable folk than Sera's lot but, just as ground-down “

Cullen rubbed the back of his neck thoughtfully. “We could shoulder more of this work for her. If our own personnel cannot use the assets of the inquisition to look out for their own and must resort to back channels, well. We could do better by them. If she has a list of recommendations, I could take it to the council and ensure our people are tended to more effectively.”

“I’m sure she would appreciate that. She also wanted to make use of the bog ...unicorn, if the Inquisitor isn't keen on it. The creature has seemed to take to her and Dennit wants it stabled away from the... regular beasts”

“Easy enough. I’ve meant to ask you something for some time... “ Cullen let his question drop off.

“Oh? Out with it then.” The captain shifted, trying to make his brisk response a cover for his nerves.

“I’ve heard some stories. I should have come to you sooner, when I heard the quartermaster had granted you both living space together.”

Geoff snorted and furrowed his brow to look at his friend who he had known for nearly 20 years, waiting for him to continue.

Cullen looked down at his hands, and into his coffee.  “I probably don’t have the high ground to ask you this but...”

Geoff set his jaw set angrily and prepared for where Cullen was taking their conversation. He stayed silent, waiting.

“Do you really think it was right of you to take her to bed... Can she even agree to go with you? I mean for Maker's sake Geoff, She’s Tranquil! Everyone knows they have no desires or will of their own. I told you to keep an eye on her work and make sure she had the tools she needed to get more of our workers to soldiering. Did you really have to?”

“First off, you self-righteous crust of druffulo snot, you absolutely do not have the right.” Geoff lowered his voice to a furious whisper, checking the windows before continuing. "Not after that stunt you pulled with Herald that woke the whole damn castle up. I sent you word of Crestwood so you could put your damn mind into gear before your dick did your thinking for yeh...As it often tends to. “

Cullen huffed and flushed dark red, glowering across at the Captain. Was he spoiling for a fight, here, now? Cullen wondered...

“And before you go and remind me of my place and how good you were to pull me off the street and see to it I had enough Lyrium to be useful to you, I have always looked out FOR YOU." Geoff jabbed two fingers at Cullen before continuing. "...Since we were lads" A small vein started to tremor at the top of his brow.

The Commander stayed in place, silently daring Geoff to continue.

Geoff changed tack, lowering his voice and fixing his friend with a piercing glare. "I Invite you to consider the possibility that there are things about their kind, the tranquil mages, you do not know. Things the Chantry does not teach us. They are very much as human as us. They feel, differently from us, but still they feel. They know when they are hungry and must eat, tired and must sleep... and yes, all living things still need to fuck and be close to other living things, especially when they are risking their lives in service to you, or any other worthy, or unworthy cause.”

Cullen leaned back in his chair, feeling pushed by his friend’s sudden fury.

“AND...” Geoff continued, a genuine rage boiling close to his surface “Had you actually given a true damn about the woman, beyond just what she was valuable to the inquisition for, you would have spoken to her first, without my knowing, and asked her if she felt pressed into being with me.”

“What makes you think I haven’t already?” Cullen threw back at him indignantly, feeling dressed down and somewhat exposed by his long-time friend and comrad.

Geoff pulled himself back with a deep breath and tried not to laugh. “Because she would have told me if you had, ya big, blonde, dumb git.”

Cullen hung his head and sighed. “What in the Makers name are we doing here?”

“Trying to be the adults, Ser.”

“A fine pissup of a job we’re doing.”

“Eh, some days are better than others. Besides, I hear we are a fortnight away from knocking that monster off the face of this world, and the next.”

Cullen rubbed his eyes, knocked back his coffee and poured another, this time with a splash of whiskey. "Which monster is that monster again?"

“In all seriousness though. The damn Herald of the inquisition. Was it everything you wanted it to be? You going to get it again?” Geoff let a long whistle go.

“I’m not doing this with you.” Cullen mumbled.

“Come off it. I’m an open book. Ask me anything you want about my woman. I know you’re curious.” He waggled his eyebrows at Cullen suggestively.

“Just like that then, from wanting to knock my brains out against the keep wall to, let’s talk pussy.”

“Every day, brother. I thought that’s why ye wanted the guards about for. Am I right?” he pressed on without giving Cullen pause to answer. “You, acting like I’m the immature one, when you let the whole castle know every time you get laid, like you're still 15.”

“More whiskey. That’s a little overplayed by now.” Cullen grunted and tossed the captain his cup.

“If it still makes you feel like the idiot you are sometimes, it’s not overplayed.” Geoff grinned and poured.

Cullen sighed. “How does she know she wants to, if she doesn’t feel anything?”

“Finally, something interesting to talk about.” Geoff leaned in and poured another coffee for himself. “As I said before she... They rather, feel. Just differently than you or I. It’s like their minds are 5 feet above their bodies at all times, watching everything and everyone one around them. Sometimes she stops in the middle of whatever it is she is doing, exactly as she stops when she tells herself she needs a drink of water, or nibble to eat... and she just comes to me.”

Cullen snorted in laughter. “I was always slightly more fond of you than a sandwich, too, mate.”

Geoff chuckled and shook his head. “I don’t know how else to make it plain. When she needs to do something she does it, somehow I became part of that. I told myself for the first little while that it was just something to do: Good for her, good for me. That it meant that she trusted me after all she’d been through. It gave me an excuse not to take up with anyone looking to get at my pensions from the Chantry.”

Cullen nodded thoughtfully, letting Geoff continue as Morrigan had let him speak earlier.

“I didn’t expect nothing of it, let her drive the carriage, so to speak. If she wanted to stop or start up, I just let her. It gave me another way of keeping an eye on her. Thought that may be useful to us.” He gestured to Cullen with his hand.

“When did it change for you? I don’t see you get that mad about anything, these days. In fact, nothing seems to faze you much. Just then, when you were yelling at me earlier, that was the most worked up, off a battlefield, that I’ve seen you in decades.” Cullen leaned in on his elbows, looking at his friend curiously.

“We started eating lunch together, about a couple weeks after the fucking started up. Most days we’d just sit and watch people go about their business about the fort, and study each other, I guess. Shortly after I noticed she started acting differently, with me.”

“Different how?” Cullen sipped his coffee, fascinated.

“Well, There was this fishwife that sold saltcod in the Avarr basin-hold, at the research station. When her Husband would come to get her after an hour or two, to walk her past the wyvern and back to their home, she would always touch his elbow. Just lightly, in a way not many would notice, even if she was still talking to someone, or selling catch. The woman and I would sit and eat lunch together and watch the people in the hold, the fishwife and her husband, near on everyday while we were there.  A short while later we were at the Griffon wing keep. I was down in the pit pulling the rotting bodies out of the muck with the boys and directing the labourers on which of the external walls to rebuild. Everyone had half their uniform wrapped around their face the stench was so ripe. I don’t know where she came from, somewhere else in the market area- I suppose but, she snuck right up to me until I felt something gently graze by my side, at my elbow. I wheeled about so fast, hand on my dirk I might’ve killed her. There she was just standing in the trench with the lads, right next to me. Not so much as a kerchief on her face.”

Cullen stared for a second and threw his hands up. “What, did she flinch, slap you proper for being a jumpy little twit?”

“Nothing. She just stood there, hand still resting lightly under m’elbow,  not a thing to be read in her face. Then she asks me in that voice of hers ‘Was that ok? Did I injure you?”

“Did I injure you?!” Cullen sniggered incredulously.

“Yeah, the lads nearly pissed themselves laughing. It took me a moment to gather m’self and ask her if she wanted anything. “

“I’ll bite. What’d she say?”

“Lunch is ready up by the tents.” 

He paused again for affect. “Not, come quick, I have something to show you, or Hey, I found a way to magic these cisterns into producing a pressurized shower with holy water from the blessed Andraste, not Maker’s knees, what’s that unnatural foulness... just. Lunch is ready.”  He held his hands up in the air in amazement.

 “At the mere mention of food, half the guys down there start vomiting in their shirt-masks immediately.  I am pretty sure that it was then, at that very moment when I was up my knees in the bile of two-week old, desiccated, water bloated, human sacrificial remains, listening to the dulcet sounds of 11 upchucking soldiers that I realized I might very well possibly be in love for the first time.”

 The two men looked at each other, straight faced, for a moment. A bird chirped on the battlements. Then they howled in laughter, together, for a good long while.

After a time, when the red-faced men could breath again, Geoff spoke. “I mean, honestly Cullen, she didn’t even have a cloth to her nose. Yes, she’s very plain. Much too skinny for anything you’d think I'd take to. Funny. In the head , in ways I don’t understand in the slightest but, Maker, she is brilliant. I don’t know if I could live without her. I don’t know how I lived before her. I am not wholly sure she even likes me, at times... or just tolerates me.”

He looked up at Cullen grinning in mock bewilderment.  “ She sends my Armour off for repair before I know there’s a problem to fix with it. She hands me water before I know I am thirsty...”

“Sounds like the start of some very moving wedding vows.” Cullen took a swig of whiskey directly from the bottle on their table and slapped his friend on the shoulder, waggling his eyebrows. 

“Don’t say it aloud.” The guard captain’s eyes darkened a bit as he shifted in their seat. “When all this is over, if I am still alive, I’d be lucky to get a fair-paying job escorting market wares through the dales. She’s made up a small fortune in the chaos before the inquisition. All these bougie lords and merchants from Orlais want her for a mistress, thinking she will fix their castles or their businesses, or both. She wouldn’t have to work a day in her life, if she didn’t want to. It doesn’t take a 1st enchanter to see that she’ll forget about me long before that day, Cullen.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, mate. You deserve a bit of happiness as much as any of us do.” He watched his school friend, waiting patiently as the Guard Captain's brow furrowed further and he looked down, not meeting Cullen's eyes anymore. “I won’t let you spoil this for yourself, Geo.”

“It’s not that.” The guard captain sighed.

“I’m listening.” Cullen cringed, hoping he could get to the bottom of this before the Lyrium withdrawls drove him to a cold sweat.

“I was waiting to report this until I had enough to bring to your attention. For some time now the soldiers and labourers have seen her pause, at the ends of hallways in the lower castle. On more than one occasion-when the servant checks back after seconds, she’s vanished.”

“That's.. Odd. You're thinking Trap doors? False walls? or just daft servants afraid of Tranquil”

“That’s the gamut of what I was thinking. When I went to Fiona to set the Magi to investigating, she said some tripe about the whole damn place being magical and it being like trying to pull out the sound of the 4th player in the third chair violin section in a symphony or some such.”

“A great way to make yourself still look smart when you're not smart enough to find the right answer.” Cullen mused. “What else?”

“The ravens. You need to check with Leliana to see that all of the raven signet rings she uses are identical.” Geoff lowered his voice to a barely audible whisper. “You are looking for one that has a line to separate the beak top from bottom, and its’ leg closest to the viewer, bent slightly at the knee.”

Cullen’s heart broke for his friend. “It’s probably nothing. We can check the drawings of her signet rings and those of the scouts authorized to send ravens with her signet sigil, within a few days. I can go to her discretely and have it done, throughout all of our keeps within a fortnight.  It’s probably some fool local jewelers apprentice taking creative liberty with a lead scout’s commissioned work signet ring. I doubt it’s any great subterfuge.”

“If it’s not, Mate, you need to relieve me of my command and send me to a keep or the front.”

“How long have you known?”

“Six months. Since Morris issued our room. Only two of the daily handful of her ravens have had the unusual spymaster seal, two in six months. I needed more... proof.”

A steady stream of expletives flowed from Cullen. “Six months? Really! More proof? It’s highly unlikely it’s anything too likely to kill us all because the time for a double agent to royally bend us over was at the Temple of Mythal. Wait. What am I talking about? Possibly the ambush on the Herald in the Hissing Wastes? What the bloody hell do we do when she goes on her discrete trip to the Alter of Mythal? Send the whole damn army? Why not just issue a Chantry Proclamation to Corypheus telling him what we’re up to next while we’re at it! You’re the Guard Captain. Got any Clever ideas? Don’t speak until I figure out if I am putting you in chains right here and now. Six months you've suspected. Maker's breath. That's grounds for treason.”

Geoff gave Cullen a minute to collect himself.

Cullen remained silent for a long beat. “Please tell me Geoff, as your Commander and, as a friend you have fought alongside since we trained, please just tell me the only reason you had not brought this to me sooner is that you were dead certain she wasn’t trying to kill us all.”

“She’s strange. I know what the mages did to the tranquil when the circles fell. Those apostates, putting skulls on posts. I had to be certain. I know something is going on that I don’t fully understand but I would bet my life on it that she’d never harm a soul in this keep or anywhere in Thedus. I KNOW her.”

Cullen seethed, watching the man in front of him crack at the seems from the pressure of a lifetime of training against the force of what he wasn't able to admit to Cullen. His man fell in love with her. A Tranquil. A Tranquil mage that he put at the bottleneck of every critical resource supply chain in the entire Inquisition. “Maker save us Geo, you bet all of our lives on it.” Cullen wore the weight of his bet on Geoff for another moment.

“I know.” Geoff stared back at Cullen and straightened up in his chair, trying to bring it back to a tactical conversation. “The Red Jennies and her people overlap some. I wouldn’t trust a Dalish or City Elf, they are as good as kin to her. Rule out the ‘vint scouts in the chargers, She spent most of her early life there. You can never be too careful but, I trust her and I know her and my gut says she is here for us all because she believes, like us. My training says it's time to track her and verify it.” He added.

Cullen nodded slowly, Geoff's return to the structure of their training was more comforting than anything else he had said. “Leliana and I will take up all of this from here. We will let you know regardless.”

Geoff rose from his seat, resigned and unclipping his insignia from his lapel.

“What in the Seven hells do you think you are doing?” Cullen barked at him.

“Resigning. It’s the right thing to-“

“Don’t you dare.” The commander got to his feet and leaned in, growling at his captain. “You let it get this far, you hold your nose and carry on until it’s through. You leave now, if there is something and it’s an ugly something, She finds out and we are all more vulnerable. On the other side of that coin, If this is for nothing and our people need a long holiday so they stop seeing things, I still want to be best man at the damn wedding. On your feet soldier, you have to get ready for the third act, and I have a war to win with woman troubles of my own along the way. Dismissed.” Before Geoff could respond, Cullen took the pin from his hand, re-fixed it to Manson’s shoulder with a pat on the shoulder, and headed for the door to the battlements.

 

---~~~---

Back in the Herald’s chambers, Lady Montilyet greeted the Inquisitor, who had not moved from her desk chair since the commander had left. Her breakfast was untouched.

“Cullen told me. About Wycome. That all of you had known since the morning of the day I left for Crestwood.

“It is true. I beg your forgiveness both as your advisor, and as your friend. I delayed in telling you to wait on the counsel of others. I should have briefed you immediately.”

“I understand why you didn't and I forgive you. It must be humbling to know that there are still some matters that are yet too delicate even for you to handle perfectly." The Herald's mouth curled up in pained smile.

“The Maker finds ways to remind us of how human we are and- damn it! Is there anything I can get you? I can clear your schedule for another week...” Josephine rushed forward to give her friend a hug, pulling The Herald up out of the chair and to her feet to do it.

The Inquisitor was moved like a rag doll but still smiled slightly at Josie’s sudden shift in decorum and in the comfort of being held.

“I am so very sorry.”

“I know. We will move on.”

Leliana cleared her throat to announce her presence and Josie shot her a look and mouthed the words. “Son of a whore told her. He better get his ass back up here on the double.”

Leliana did not betray how good she was at reading lips. Her expression was somber as she gave the herald a quick hug, pulled a quill from the desk, jotted a quick note in military shorthand, and whistled for a raven at the balcony.

She cooed at Baron Plucky as he landed on her elbow, outstretching his leg and opening his beak for a treat. The spymaster carefully unwrapped a leather and wax paper packet and pulled out some dry smoked salmon. She quickly tossed it to the Raven’s beak, ever careful of her face and fingers, and clicked at the bird. The Raven lighted off immediately.

Josephine watched this with a somewhat mortified expression. “Please tell me you do not wander around Skyhold while I play host to visiting heads of state...with bits of rotting animal in your pockets.”

Leli turned to Josie and calmly stated, “I would never say such a thing because the Herald should never know how truly excellent I am at lying to my friends.”

The Herald groaned. “Where’s the jackboot? Sera's rubbing off, I meant no disrespect.” she added hastily and cringed, her other hand wrapped tightly over the hand that bore the anchor.

The advisors shared a look.  “A meeting, he should be up shortly....” Leliana offered.

---~~~---

Back in the dark sublevels of Skyhold, The Laundress worked quickly in the room designated by Solas. Once Allowyn and Julien had gathered and moved the stockade and implements to the dungeon room, they set to cleaning his office, leaving her alone to work with the various runestones. She laid out the tiles by each area they would hold a sequence of operations for. She organized the order of those operations, she visualized alternative action protocols for many situations, interruptions, accidents, the moving of implements. Once it was aligned in her mind, set & memorized, she took a small veil-quartz dagger from her skirts and began inscribing the runes. When one section of the room was done, she went to another, until all sixteen were complete and her hands ached. She returned to Solas’ office where the young elves were working.

“You there. Girl.”

“Allowyn.”

She allowed herself the simplest expression of a tight-lipped smile and nod. “Yes. I heard that you were your keeper’s first? How far has your magic study come?”

“As far as it can until my keeper steps aside or dies.” Tendrils of resentment found their way up and around the young elf's tone.

“You hunt, too?”

“Aye.”

“With what?”

Allowyn shared a glance with Julien, whose usually smug face was suddenly stony in the presence of the older Tranquil, as if to say something about the scrawny, older alienage elf dressed in maids clothes who was sizing her up.

“Ash Longbow and Dirk.” Allowyn shifted herself to match Julien's reserve. Another spy in costume? She thought, now training her full attention on the older elf dressed in scullery clothes.

“Heh.” Smart keeper, to offload her onto the rising Godling as a tribute in a war she may not see an end to. How horrible we are to our own. “Come with me at once. Leave the scout.” She spoke more softly now, consciously trying to round the sharp edges of orders off of her words now, “You’ll likely see him again in a few hours time. I have a task for you.”

They entered the room where the rune stones were neatly laid out in the areas they were to be set. The neon, sea foam green-to cobalt-to-turquoise inscriptions of the veil-quartz hummed and shimmered in the dark room, making the rune stones tremble with energy.

Allowyn stood there, mouth open, for a long moment taking in the sight of the inscribed stones.  “Forgive me, ....keeper, I have not seen magic such as this.”

“I know. It has not existed in the planning to pre-implementation stage for... a very long time on this side of the veil. Until very recently. Do you want to learn... how?”

Allowyn turned to The Laundress, stunned by her good fortune and wary of the strange woman before her. What kind of a mage asks....

“Your thoughts are noisy, woman but, I think I can teach you. I have had 5 apprentices so far. None have died yet. In the golden era of this magic, that would have made me one of the greatest masters of this discipline in the world. For now you have to take my word for all of this. There are many ways to die or worse, in the study of this particular type of magic.” She spoke quickly and with a flatness of tone that showed no ego or attachment to the words delivered as fact for the younger elf before her. The Laundress turned to face Allowyb, examining her features and expressions while she waited for a response.

“Well, I do want to learn and I most certainly do not want to die." This place was test after trap after test, she thought. She told herself to say the words. "Show me the path, keeper, I will walk it.”

“I will prepare you for the Journey and you will make your own way.”

The two women both drew dirks from their sides and nicked themselves, sharing blood in the old way, once the words were said.

The Laundress pulled back and waved the flat edge of the quartz dirk over her cut hand. Allowyn watched the cut seal.

“I’ve seen hands and poultices used to heal but, never weapons.”

“You’ll see a lot in the coming days you’ve not seen before. The Gods granted you two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. I am not your keeper, or anyone’s keeper. For now you can call me Enchanter, M’ahm, or The Laundress. Have you mastered the sleepless trance?”

“Yes but-“

“Have you learned to move and control your body in this world while in the fade-trance, without falling asleep?”

“No.”

“Fen’Harel tells me your pronunciation of the old worlds is good for an outer tribesman.”

Allowyn started up defensively. “We didn’t put that in the note...”

“What makes you think I read the note? Your thoughts are noisy. Sit down with me.” The Laundress moved to the area with the smallest stone. She picked it up, handed it over to Allowyn and sat down on the ground. Allowyn sat down immediately, facing her strange new teacher. The woman in maid's clothes sitting before her looked gaunt. Her hawk-like nose settled between Iron-grey eyes that gleamed back at Allowyn with an absolute focus.

The Laundress took out her veil-quartz and Onyx daggers. The veil-quartz glowed in the dark. She carefully used the sharp edge of the onyx to sliver a small flint of luminous quartz off of the handle. She handed this flint to Allowyn.

“Be careful with that. Let my next words resound as truth, regardless how strange to your ears they sound.” She handed Allowyn a small, blank runestone. “All stone, all mineral, breathes as you or I do but...differently. As you open your chest to take in air, so too can you will the stone to open to your work and take it in.” She let this sit for a moment, studying her new apprentice.

“Your first task is take the rune I inscribed and commit it to your memory as best as you know how. Your ability to do so perfectly will save you should you err in the next steps. Upon completing that, set the blank stone and flynt aside. You will then read the writing on the inscribed stone aloud, once, committing the sound of the language to the memory of the writing word.” The Laundress nodded expectantly at Allowyn “From there, you will turn the inscribed stone upside down, facing the stone before you. Drop into the waking fade trance. You will know this as the waking fade-trance as you will see yourself, next to your physical body but apart from it. Before removing yourself further to enter the fade you will hold onto the sensation. It resembles being impacted by a lightening spell. It will tingle, burn, humm in your body and where you exist outside of it. You must hold this feeling and not exit. You will then command your body to grind the inscription into the stone in a repetitive pattern that makes sense to you. You will do this while opening the stone to inhale the inscription while vibrating the command of the inscription to every corner of the earth until the stone understands it’s purpose and the glyph sets. You are to do this without interruption until the glyph sets.”

The Laundress paused, letting her new acolyte take this all in. “Your thoughts are noisy. Speak your questions in an orderly way.”

“What happens if I-“

“If you stop or are interrupted the runestone is destroyed and you must make another runestone and try again, If you are able.”

“How do I kn-“

The laundress interrupted her again. “You will know you are ready to proceed at the successful completion of each stage. Go slowly and cautiously. Do not proceed to the next step until you are certain you have complete control of the phase you are on. Do not apply the force of your will until you come to the step where you must vibrate the intensity of the inscription. Do not panic, now or at any stage, no matter what occurs. Veil Quartz is... very sensitive. Drink some water and relieve yourself before you begin. Perhaps get a cushion for your knees. “

“What-“

“If you fail at this one task, there is very little I can do to see that you live long enough to inherit your keepers robes or convince me to find better robes of my own.” With that she got up and left, returning to the office.

She leaned on the door frame of Solas's grand study, staring at Julien as he cleaned. “Go send for breakfast for both of you. Do not, under any circumstances interrupt her trial. I will ensure the Dread-wolf is occupied long enough to give you time to finish up.”

“Trial?” Julien looked over at her like she waved a dead rat with purple fur at him.

“Yours is not to ask questions of the Enchanters. Do as you are bid. Do not interrupt the test, it would likely kill her. She will eat when she is finished or she fails-If she lives.” The Laundress turned and walked down the hall back to the sealed chamber where Solas slept.

Julien moved to the door just in time to watch her raise a hand to the bricks that sealed off the sleeping room Solas had taken earlier that night. They jumped to life at her touch, and she silently glided into the room. By the time he got to the end of the hall, the wall had resealed behind her. On a quick turn of instinct he bolted  back to check on Allowyn. By the time he got the to door of the new dungeon room, It was filled with a blinding turquoise light. He turned on his heel and took the long path up to the stairs to go to the kitchens. Before he entered the main basements he gave himself a quick slap to wake up and pull it together. He stared at the brick wall before him. No fucking passwords. Nothing easy, always with these "Old Way" elven mages. Why does it always have to be blood, or magic, or bloodmagic? Disgusting, he thought. He shuddered  and made a small cut in the usual spot on the heel of his palm, tracing the familiar pattern so he could leave.

When he got to the kitchens he entered quietly, nodding to the Tevinter boy who baked for the cook.

“Oy, how’d it go with little miss woodelf last night, eh?”

“What are you, 11 going on 75, you little creep. Nock together some breakfast for me and the bosses and be quick.”

“Big meeting going on downstairs?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know. Yeah. Last night was just glorious, I had her all tied up and then poof”  He waggled his fingers, “ Less than 5 hours later I am bringing her, her meals, like she’s the next big shot. When I’d brought her down there thinking maybe I could get her a job at an outpost or something, maybe sneak away occasionally to enjoy her gratitude.” Julien rolled his eyes and huffed.

“Mages...” The boy said knowingly. “All about like the own the place... because they do. Templars had it right. The lot of them ought to be chained up. I’ll see about your breakfast. I’m sure it’ll all work out on your favor anyways, you always come out with a win, Jules.” He winked at the taller man.

A great broom handle came down hard on the counter next to them, so loud it made them both jump. “You lot. Call yourself a scout and ya din’t see a 300lb druffulo like me sneak up. Be useful and run to the well, start drawing pails. There’s been a fire in the Herald’s Chamber. GO, don’ be daft. THE CASTLE’S A FIRE!” The cook bellowed at them and the boys went running.