It started – as all things do within the Inquisition – at the war table.
The advisors of the Inquisition, with the help of Seeker Pentaghast, were continuing their debate on the ‘how to’s and ‘is that really necessary’s for the Inquisition’s journey to Halamshiral to deal with the threat on Empress Celene’s life. It felt as if they’d been standing around the blighted table all day, though they’d only been arguing about the subject for a few hours. The advisors all had different opinions of how the events at the Winter Palace should pan out. Cassandra had just scoffed, stating that she was done with their petty bickering and would cease discussing the situation until the Inquisitor’s planned return at the end of the week, as nothing else was being done while they sat around and yelled at one another. She’d been the first one to leave, the three left standing around the war table giving each other shamed glances. They were the highest ranking individuals, outside of the Inquisitor herself; they shouldn’t be squabbling like brats.
While they did not always enjoy the Inquisitor’s ‘get-your-shit-together-so-help-me’ stance on the majority of their issues, it often helped them think of the best compromise for any given circumstance. Hence their lack of continued fighting after Cassandra’s leaving.
“I have a few messages to respond to, I’ll be in the rookery should either of you need me. Goodnight, Commander. Josie.” Leliana dipped her chin before slipping out of the large ornate doors, leaving the Ambassador and the Commander of the Inquisition standing before the decorated map. They shared a glance, Josephine giving Cullen a small smile.
“Do not worry yourself, Commander, Inquisitor Trevelyan will be back by the week’s end. Leliana’s scouts having been keeping me updated on the group’s progress. They’re making good time from the Plains.” She paused, hand still over the tablet she never seemed to be without. “Is there anything you require? For the pain?”
The Commander of the Inquisition would never fully understand how so many people could care about his well-being, but he welcomed it. In the Order, it had always been: ‘As long as you’re not possessed and not too far gone from the explicit torture you experienced, you’re good to go.’ So having these people at his back, looking out for him, no judgment… it was a nice change of pace.
“I appreciate your concern, Lady Montilyet, but the pain has not been unbearable for the last few days. Just headaches, as normal.” Though, if he were truly being honest, the headaches had been getting progressively worse and he often had to fight the dizziness that threatened to overcome him. Whether it be in his office going over reports, overseeing the recruits in their newly renovated training yard, or standing about the war table with his fellow advisors. He would feel the bout of sickness drive harshly from the base of his skull all the way down to his toes, and it took all of his concentration to keep the pain from showing on his face. He was not always successful, but Leliana and Josephine never said anything. Cassandra would always know when to be around, however, probably at their behest and concern.
“As you say, Commander.” The Antivan bit her lower lip, a moment of letting the pleasant mask drop. “If you are unable to make it back to your quarters – those stairs can be quite troublesome in the dark, you know – I heard from a little bird that the Inquisitor keeps a spare key to her quarters in a vase of flowers beside her door. And it just so happens that the early morning workers were given the morning off for all their hard work, so no one would be around to see you make your way back to your quarters in the morning.” Josephine picked up the rest of her things, making one last mark on her tablet before heading towards the war room double doors. She turned to look at him, an eyebrow quirked with a small grin. “Just something I heard, of course. Goodnight, Cullen.” With that, the dark-skinned woman closed the heavy doors with a soft thud behind her.
Maker’s breath, the women he worked with were absolutely frightening. He was glad that he was on their side, and not at the mercy of their ire. (Though, it often felt as if he was. Contesting opinions and all that.)
The former templar stood alone in the too-quiet room, hands flat against the hard wood of the table as he waged a war within in his mind. He and hi- the Inquisitor had been seeing each other exclusively and privately for many months now, and he often caught himself thinking of her, worrying about her when she was away from Skyhold for weeks on end. They did not see each other often even when she was present at their base of operations, for the Inquisitor was their leader and was needed for more than just passing time with the Commander of her army. They stole time when they could, and should they ever have the time for such… intimate moments, they were always spent in his quarters above his office, with the Inquisitor leaving at first light to resume her position as the leader of the Inquisition before anyone else woke for the day.
Those mornings were simultaneously the best and worst mornings, for he got to wake up beside the woman he cared deeply for, but then she was gone with a quick kiss and a sad goodbye – which was upsetting for them both. But this was war, he had to remember, so he treasured the little time they shared when the opportunity presented itself.
The Commander groaned, covering his face in his now shaking hands. Cullen couldn’t fathom Raleigh’s reaction to him sleeping in her personal quarters, in her bed. He had never stepped foot in her bedroom before, and he didn’t want to disturb probably the only place the Inquisitor had for herself in all of the chaos they were immersed in. Yet with how much worse his withdrawals had become over the last few days, he did wonder if he would be able to make it up the countless stairs to his office. He probably would just pass out at his desk, for the short shot up his ladder would prove to be too difficult should the dizziness overtake him.
But Leliana and Josephine had gone through the trouble to make sure that Cullen could have this opportunity, to not push himself further than absolutely required. He had to guess that they could read him better than he previously thought, which he should have known. They were the best at their positions for more than just their pretty faces.
Well, if Inquisitor Trevelyan wasn’t expected back until the end of the week, it couldn’t hurt, could it? She’d never have to know, and even if she did find out, she’d more than likely be understanding. She was too good, in that aspect. Too good for him, for all his mistakes and faults, but he was too selfish to push her away.
He loved her, he’d known that for longer than he’d ever admit, but he was too much of a coward to tell her.
Cullen checked to make sure all the markers were where they belonged, making a few more notes on his own list before exiting the war room himself, being as quiet as he could manage in his armor. He passed through Josephine’s office, taking the small candle that had been left on her desk. The Antivan had probably left it for him to light his way, she was far more considerate than her political façade would lead on.
The main hall was empty, quiet, as the military advisor made his way to the lone door to the right of the dragon maw throne situated at the end of the hall. The memory of hearing that the Inquisitor had taken on a high dragon in the Hinterlands had caused his heart to skip a few beats, the fear and worry rushing through him before the pride set in: Inquisitor Trevelyan was an amazing strategist and even better fighter, despite her lack of battle experience when she first began working with them in Haven. The first few months had been pretty rough, everyone knew, but it had worked out. Raleigh was stronger now, more than just physically.
He had to shake his head free from thoughts of her, making his way through the door which lead to her quarters. The stairway was still amass with materials and construction, but the path was clear enough for him to make his way to her door. He had to keep a hand on the rail, the headache ringing loudly in his ears as the tiredness caught up with him. He often felt older than he really was, and it didn’t help when Raleigh would tease him for being nearly ten years her senior. At least then he could laugh, but when the lyrium withdrawal drained him as it so often did, he felt like curling up into a ball and never moving again. He preferred to laugh, it was just more difficult when the pain was too much.
The vase that held the spare key stood on a small decorative desk next to the Inquisitor’s bedroom door. He didn’t have to root around in the soil much before procuring the key and unlocking the door with more hesitance than he liked. He was just going to sleep in her bed, it’s not like he was going to throw a party in her quarters and invite all of Skyhold to join him. He closed the door behind him softly, turning the lock to keep anyone else out and finding him in her room. The gossip already spread through the ranks like wildfire, he didn’t need any more rumors being whispered like the plague when there was too much to be done.
Maker, they’d really gone all-out on her quarters, hadn’t they?
Cullen used the candle to light the small fixture beside the bed, taking in the extravagant decorations around him. He’d never had anything so fanciful, being a templar for most of his life, and seeing such things always took him by surprise. The windows, drapery and even her bed were lavish, all of the furniture done up in the style common in the Free Marches, though a little altered from the architecture he saw in Kirkwall. Her room was probably more Ostwick-oriented, given her origins. It was quite pretty to look at, he would admit, though it was not even close to being the most beautiful thing to come out of the eastern Free Marches. That position was reserved, in his strong opinion.
The candle nearly slipped from Cullen’s hands, and he had to put it down on the nightstand in order not to drop it from his shaking hands. Maker, he was a mess, and he felt at least three times worse. He felt even more ridiculous for getting caught up in the furniture of all things, and he set to disrobe as quickly and quietly as he could, the throbbing in his skull making it more difficult to see in the dim lighting. He draped his furred cloak about the back of the desk chair, setting the pieces of his armor carefully on her desk as to not disturb the papers scattered about. It left him in a tunic and his trousers, losing those after a thought and folding them neatly in the seat of the chair. All he had left on was his smalls, which made him blush furiously when he remembered the game of Wicked Grace he had been tricked into playing right before the Inquisitor left for the mission she was currently on.
The tired blond padded slowly over to the canopied bed which took up a decent portion of the room, the size a little excessive in his opinion, but the soft material of the mattress seemed to pull the pains from his bones as he laid underneath the covers, tucking the dark material up to his chin as he buried his face in the too soft pillows that still held her scent from nearly two weeks ago. Being surrounded by the smell that was strictly Raleigh, it gave Cullen a comfort he desperately needed. Maybe it was all in his head, but he felt at ease for the first time in weeks, since the last time the mage had shared his bed, head resting against his shoulder with her arm thrown across his chest. He remembered the shy smile that had crossed her face, freckled cheeks pinking as she offered to massage his back after their multiple bouts in bed. He’d nodded, unable to form coherent words as his face flushed. He remembered how her skin had felt against his own, soft and warm and applying pressure to all the right places. She had used magic to warm her hands to further help seep the pain from his back and shoulders. Raleigh had asked permission, of course, as to not put Cullen into an unwanted state of mind from the idea of magic being used on his person. He had told her his experiences, at Kinloch Hold and in Kirkwall, and she was more than understanding. It near drove him mad sometimes, how open she was with her heart.
Raleigh Trevelyan was too good of a person to be mixed up with a man like Cullen, but his heart warmed whenever she smiled at him, whenever she caught his eye across the war table during one of their many strategy sessions. Not only was she the light that the people needed during these dark and horrible times, but she was the star that kept him in line, that reassured him of the way home when he got lost within himself. Even before they had expressed their mutual attractions, she had been a beacon of hope to all she came across and he had deeply respected her surprising willingness to jump into the fray headfirst. She wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine – that’d be more cause for concern than anything – but her determination to see this through to the end after being involved by mere chance was something to be respected, for most would never think twice about diving head first into a giant mess that only seemed to get more and more disconcerting as time went by.
Maker’s breath, he loved the woman. He was so fortunate to have her presence in his life.
Cullen fell asleep easily for the first time in far too long, the smell of his love a gentle reminder that he wasn’t alone, that he didn’t have to fight his demons on his own.
He woke to complete darkness, a small panic settling in his chest as he reoriented himself with his environment. His mind backtracked to before he fell asleep, to picking the spare key from the vase of flowers outside the door, Lady Montilyet’s smile and kind words. He took several deep breaths to calm himself, sinking back into the mattress with a sigh as he internally scolded himself for his slight panic. He was safe here, there wasn’t any need for worry.
When the bed shifted behind him, his heart stilled in his chest.
“Andraste’s blessed tits, if I knew you’d sleep this hard in my bed I would have invited you up here ages ago. Good to know.” The warm, sleep-filled voice was spoken sluggishly into his shoulder and the Commander turned his head, his eyes soon adjusting to see the half-lidded eyes of the Inquisitor staring back up at him. He could even make out her slight smile, and his heart returned back into a normal range as she nuzzled her cheek against the skin of his shoulder. “Hello, Cullen.”
“Inquisitor. You’re back well ahead of schedule.” She snorted at the use of her official title, the arm she had wrapped around his waist tightening for a moment, before relaxing again. He turned into her embrace, their legs intertwining beneath the sheets as he rested his hand at the curve of her bare waist, thumb rubbing circles into the warm skin there. She bumped her forehead into his, a childish giggle escaping her as he touched a particularly sensitive spot. He loved her laugh, it was too beautiful, too sweet. “When did you get in?”
“A few hours ago. We had to get the horses settled in, and Dorian’s was being especially difficult. He does not have the best luck in mounts, let me tell you. I came up after walking Sera to her quarters, and low and behold – I had a former templar in my bed, all rumpled and sleeping peacefully. My wildest dreams come true, that.” Her voice was soft and warm, pressing kisses into his skin whenever she paused. Her long dark hair was splayed out on the pillows, the ends of her bangs tickling the perpetual stubble on his face.
“You weren’t expected back until the week’s end, or was this a ploy put on by our resident Ambassador and Spymaster?” It would be something they would do. Outside of the light teases to Cullen about his relationship with the Inquisitor, Leliana and Josephine never spoke of it to respect their wishes of keeping it as quiet as possible. They must have seen how much their separation was taking a toll on them both, and could have easily arranged to have Cullen think Raleigh’s return was later than planned, and have the world around them shift so that the two could spend more than a few hours alone. He was sure the two could have moved Haven before the attack, if given the opportunity and the manpower.
“We weren’t, but we made really good time – clear weather all the way. It was quite nice, not being ambushed every other hour by Venatori or bandits or random demons running amuck. I may have asked Leliana’s scout to smudge our arrival time a bit, and of course nothing gets by the Left Hand, so here we are.” She paused, the dim light allowing Cullen to see the dark whiskey color of her eyes as they stared into his own, concern written in the downward arch of her brows. “Is that alright? I know you don’t like the unexpected, but I thought it would be nice to just have time for us. I feel like I haven’t seen you in months, and it’s only been a few weeks. You’ve been… relieved of your duties for the next few days under the guise of an intense bout of stress-related headaches, and the healer’s will not accept anything less than a few days of mandatory bed rest.” She bit her lower lip, more worry bleeding into her expression. “Of course you’re more than able to return to duty if that’s what you wa–“ the Inquisitor was quickly silenced with Cullen’s lips pressed onto hers, the younger of the two swiftly adapting to the new plan of attack.
She liked this strategy. It suited them.
When they finally broke apart, their ragged breathing matched in tandem. Cullen’s hands cupped Raleigh’s face lightly as he took in the sight of her full, parted lips and eyes that echoed the want he felt stirring in himself. In their tussle, she had climbed atop his body with her thighs settled comfortably atop his hips, hands gripping the sheets on either side of his chest to keep herself upright. He was in awe of the way her thick hair fell in loose waves in front of her shoulders and down to the small of her back, preferring it loose and free to the normal tight braid she kept it in. He tucked a strand behind her ear, giving her a small quirk of his lips as she nuzzled into his palm.
If the Maker took him at this very moment, he could pass on happy. This is what he wanted, for the rest of his days.
“I believe I’ll need the assistance of a well-trained spirit healer to help me with my ailments, for they are too much to deal with by any ordinary means.” Her own hand covered the hand which framed her face, kissing the calloused palm lightly with a smile. Maker’s breath, she was beautiful. Maybe he was dreaming? These moments between them always seemed too good to be true, it would only make sense.
“As much as this spirit healer would like to assist, her first order of recovery is to get some bloody sleep because I know you hardly sleep enough as it is, and Leliana mentions in her letters that you sleep even less when I’m gone. Unacceptable, Commander.” She flicked his nose playfully, sticking her tongue out akin to a child as he lightly swatted at her offending hand. “Unlike a certain someone, this one has been riding a moody mare for more than half a day and would like the chance to sleep in her ridiculously soft bed until well past sunrise.” She grinned down at him, laying her body down across his front so their chests were pressed together, leaving a lingering kiss on his lips before ungracefully flopping to his right. She was right, as always. As wonderful as it would be for them to be intimate, he was still rather exhausted – as was she from her journey back to Skyhold. His arm stretched underneath the pillow that Raleigh laid her head upon, the mage more than happy to move to his chest to press her ear to his skin, the steady beat of his heart a reassurance that he was well. He took the time to pull the mass of blankets atop them, letting his cheek rest against the top of her head as he let out a contented sigh. Their free hands clasped together beneath the sheets, the former templar giving her hand a squeeze before dropping them across his mid-section.
Raleigh was soon snoring softly, out like a small flame after a long day of riding. The soft, “I love you,” that breathed through her lips sent Cullen’s head in a tizzy before a warmth filled him from the depths of his chest and spread throughout all his limbs. Whether the confession was purposeful or not, he knew it was genuine and made a mental note to tease her of it in the morning after they woke. She’d blush and stutter through her words, denying it before rolling her eyes and bluntly stating her affections for him. He could see it in his mind’s eye, and he chuckled lowly at how disgustingly adorable the two of them had become.
He wouldn’t have his Inquisitor any other way, nor she him.