Actions

Work Header

Cosette

Chapter Text

Ariane strode through the hall, fingers pressed to her pounding temples. She had been alerted not long ago to handle a matter, a meeting of sorts, someone they believed she might get somewhere in calming him down. Turning towards the room they had left the guest in, she tried to imagine what kind of person would be better seen to by her and not any of her advisors, Iron Bull, anyone but her. She wasn’t the most patient of people, and this felt like a task for someone else. Bursting through the door, she cringed as she turned towards it, catching it before it slammed, glancing back, unable to think of anything to say. Ariane expected the usual old angry humans that they usually dealt with, this man was not old, not human, and, though she hated admitting it even to herself, he was handsome. That was just before he opened his mouth, apparently more than a little angry at being passed off onto other people, and more displeased to see the staff at her back.

“Wonderful. Another mage, this place is crawling with them.’ He muttered to himself.

“So, are you actually going to stay and help, or are you planning to leave and find someone else?” he spat, louder.

“I can help. Assuming I actually meant to leave, I don’t have that luxury, I’m the Inquisitor, Ariane.” She said, as pleasantly as she could manage, in case he was important.

“I heard whispers that Hawke had been this way. I need to know if she’s still here or if I’m still chasing her shadow.” He grumbled.

“She’s not here at present. Stay the night and I’ll do my best to track her down.” She said, hoping that might appease him.

He slammed his hand on the table, turning away in a huff, a few moments passing before she realized he had been thinking it over. “Fine. One night and then I take off to find her.”

Ariane had someone fix him a room, hunting down the one person who might be able to tell her what just happened, Varric.


 

“Someone who knows Hawke, elf, grumpy? No question about it, that has to be Fenris.” He told her, scraping his chin in thought. “Bet I know what he’s after. Hawke was the only one who really seemed to know how to talk him down, they were close for a while, but she ran off with someone else. I imagine he’s looking for her to try and change her mind, that or he’s looking for a fight, can never tell with him.”

“Oh good. Well, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear he’s staying overnight.” She mumbled, frowning.

“It might be a good idea to keep an eye on him, but probably not too close. He doesn’t really like mages, and won’t like being bothered by one.” He grunted.

This kept getting better and better still. First, getting stuck with someone so volatile in the first place, then, he doesn’t like mages, and now, stealthily having to shadow him, when stealth had no place being used in the same sentence with her. Ariane picked up her pace, trying to determine where he had gone, but without being seen, no possible way to understand just how strangely the night would go once she found him, her cover inevitably blown.


 

Fenris slammed his hand against the wall, just barely missing her, leaning in closer, piercing stare fixed on nervous honey-toned eyes. For the first time in who knew how long, her knees shook, unsure what to expect from him, what he might do.

“Why were you watching me?” he barked angrily.

“I was…curious is all.” She lied, swallowing hard.

He took a step closer to her, reaching for her, intending only on making sure she couldn’t weasel away from him until she gave him serious answers. His eyes flickered to her lips, the bottom quivering nervously, swearing under his breath, he hadn’t meant to frighten her.

“I’m sorry.” He snorted half-heartedly, pulling away.

Maker, she was a weak-willed girl after all. No chance to register what she was doing, she curled her hands against the loose material at his chest, yanking him towards her. His eyes widened, staring down at her as her mouth brushed his, lightly at first, then harder, not letting him go. A string of expletives looped endlessly in his thoughts, his hands coming to rest on her waist, pulling her closer. His eyes sliding shut, forgetting what he had been so upset about, following the curve of her hip to her knee, drawing it around his side, leaning into the wall with her, threading her fingers through the back of his hair. They slid along the wall towards the bed, falling with her, staring down at her once more, trying to find a sign of disapproval as he picked at the buttons lining her blouse.

“Let’s make this clear. This doesn’t mean I like you.” He sighed, mouth pressing against her neck.

She tipped her head for him, moaning quietly. “The feeling is mutual.”

Fenris hastily peeled the cloth off her, lofting a brow when she kicked off her boots, pulling her pants to follow. He sat up, mimicking her actions, until none remained, her light eyes sweeping down his body, as his did her. His tattoos caught her attention, a mixture of scars along her golden skin catching his. He tossed his gauntlets to the pile on the floor, stretching against her side, nibbling her shoulder, taking his time to cover every inch of her he could reach. Going up the side of her neck, he swept her pale blonde locks to the side, teeth lightly scraping the edge of her ear, tongue slowly dotting the point. Ariane reached for his hand, directing it between her thighs, his fingers caressing her, circling a few times, sliding back to feel her deeply. Her eyes closed, her breath stopping for just a few seconds, moving over her, ready to have her the minute he was certain she was prepared. Something about her that was far too familiar, that he hadn’t been able to pinpoint, but which he also couldn’t resist. This would change nothing, it hadn’t before, and it wouldn’t now, as he had said, she had one day to find Hawke for him. It almost upset him when the thought crossed his mind that it could also be one day for her to change his mind.

He pulled his hand free, his mouth hovering by her ear as he struggled to fit into her, even after his preparations, it felt no easier. She whimpered softly, lifting her hips as though that might help, a sharper whine echoing in his small room, biting her earlobe, he shook his head.

“I despise you…” he tried to convince himself. Patting her thigh, he continued. “Wider. It might help.”

Ariane had no reason to listen, to give him anything, but there was something about such a seemingly honest answer. Probably the first person who didn’t treat her like she was anything but ordinary, and she liked it, her legs drawing further apart at his words. It helped, forcing through completely, sliding his arm around her back, holding her tightly to him, trailing the line of her throat, down between her breasts, moved with every deep breath, lips folding around her nipple, sucking gently, his rough thrusts making it a challenge not to bite by accident. Shivering with excitement, she tried to counter him, managing after a bit of trial and error.


 

Ariane glanced out the window, the sun fully set by now, sitting up to find her clothes. Fenris watched her back, holding her arm, pulling her back down next to him. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

“I thought I’d leave, you don’t want someone you hate lingering, do you?” she questioned with a soft chuckle.

He frowned, rolling her on top of him. “The night isn’t over yet. I think I can put up with you until morning.”

Leaning down, Ariane mouthed the curve of his neck, biting firmly. “Oh, you can put up with me? Here I thought you looked like you were actually having fun.”

Chapter Text

Ariane stared out the gate, smoothing out her robes, waving to the others, Solas, Cole and Blackwall joining her shortly. They’d be leaving shortly, but there was the matter of resupplying before the journey, a disgruntled voice calling to her.

“You weren’t thinking of leaving without me, were you?” Fenris huffed.

“No.” she answered simply, nodding off to the side to speak with him alone for a moment. “I’ll be honest. I knew where Hawke was. I just…don’t completely know where she is.” She sighed.

“Do you or do you not know where she is?” he asked, crossing his arms defensively.

“She’s in Crestwood. We’re heading out in a bit, but no one could actually point out the exact location of the meeting point. It might involve a bit of wandering aimlessly.” She admitted guiltily.

“Fine. She knows to expect you, that’s enough for now. How long will it take to get there?” he asked irritably.

“About 3 to 5 days. We’re on foot this time, so that’s assuming very few interruptions along the way. “she told him honestly.

He paced back and forth for a minute or two before coming to a stop in front of her once more.  He raised an armored finger accusingly, looking very much like he meant to say something to her, though he held back, leaning in slightly, glancing around. “I’m coming with. I don’t trust your choice in company, so I’ll stay with you. Any complaints?” he asked, less of a question and more of a challenge, in her opinion.

“Only because you don’t trust them?” she teased, somewhat pleased with the increasingly frustrated look on his face. “I doubt you’ve forgotten what I am. You wouldn’t rather share a tent with Cole and Blackwall?”

He narrowed his eyes at his, his brows drawn together tightly. “Shut up.” He said.

She shrugged teasingly, waving him along. The signal that preparations were done given, it was time to move out. Solas leaned in, speaking quietly to avoid attracting his attention. “Is he bothering you?”

Chuckling quietly, she shook her head. “No, he amuses me.” She told him.


 

Ariane helped the others set up camp at the end of a full day’s travel. They had made better time than she thought they might, her only real complaint being the burning in her legs, kicking back lazily by the fire. Solas wandered off on his own, not offering an explanation, but she shrugged it off, guessing at the reasoning, it hadn’t concerned her.

“You’re just going to let him walk off alone?” Fenris asked.

Blackwall watched until he disappeared from view. “He does that. He’ll come back in the morning.”

Ariane pointed to him. “What he said.” She exhaled, kneading her calves with a pleased groan.

After a bit, she retired to her tent, too exhausted to do anything but lay on the bedroll. The tent flap opened, and she once more found herself on the receiving end of a disapproving noise. “One bed?” he questioned.

“Naturally, I sleep alone.” She answered casually, wondering if he would take the hint.

“Not tonight you’re not. Move over.” He grunted.

Ariane didn’t complain, it wasn’t as though she had never had to share sleeping space among her clan. Only that she preferred the luxury of a bed to herself. Fenris turned his back to her, propping his head on his palm, idly shifting to find the most comfortably position on the uneven ground.

“So help me, if you snore…” he warned her.

“What will you do, complain more?” she countered, unthreatened.

He stayed silent, a good indicator that he hadn’t expected to be called out in such a way and had no retort planned, nothing coming to mind right away.

“Those scars. What are they from?” he changed the subject.

Ariane sighed to herself, shedding her robes, her fingers slowly brushing over them, not answering directly. “How about this. Take a good look and see if you can guess.”

Fenris curled his lip in disgust at the suggestion, turning to face her after a time. He bent closer, following the path her fingers had taken along her scars, examining each one carefully. Few were immediately obvious, his touch pausing on one just a short distance from her left breast, crossing onto her side. “Some kind of blade. Sword, most likely, though it could also be a dagger, I guess.”

Twisting to scrutinize it for herself, she nodded. “Sword. Got that one when I was eight, wandered away from the clan, wanted to see what it was like. Ended up getting cut, blacked out and woke up back in the camp, no idea how I survived it.” She explained.

Her right hip bore a smaller mark, shivering slightly as the cold metal reacted with her skin, raising goosebumps where he touched.

“This one has to be a dagger.” He said, completely sure.

“Nope. Arrow, got that one in the Hinterlands, actually. When we were still at Haven.” She said, closing her eyes.

There was one he couldn’t recognize, the only other scar visible on her front, long boots obscuring her legs, where he had noticed a few little scars, likely not combat related. This one forked, a thin line of red marking the edges, contrasting with the golden tone of her skin. “What’s this one…?”

Ariane didn’t need to look, she knew which one he was looking at, just under her ribs. “Magic. All magic has a cost, and sometimes I pay for it. That was my own fault.” She confessed.

He wanted to know the story, curious about what had happened and if it hurt. He ignored that curiosity, covering up mild concern with gruff words. “Pssh. Must not be very good if you can’t even aim.”

Fenris realized he was still close to her, almost close enough to lay his head on her, pulling away as if she had burned him, his nose wrinkling in bitter disgust. Turning away from her again, he crossed his arms, focusing on the furthest corner of the tent he could find.

“You never told me why you’re so eager to see Hawke. It’s been a few years, hasn’t it? Varric filled me in, a little.” She told him honestly.

“That’s not for you to know.” He said. “Now get some sleep, I’m tired and I don’t trust you not to do something stupid.”

He had concerned Solas, at the very least, but she didn’t mind. To others, he might have seemed entirely rude, disrespectful, brash, among other things. There was a certain vulnerability to him buried under all the things he tried to show, like a wounded animal trying to play off a severe injury. He wouldn’t have bothered asking if he wasn’t at least, slightly interested, there was no point. In some ways, she could understand that attitude, and again, she found herself thinking it was simply nice to know someone who didn’t feel they had to treat her like she was important.

“Alright, alright. You win, I’ll go to sleep.” She said, stretching fully before curling up loosely. “Good night, Fenris.” She said, burying her face in her pillow with a groan.

He must have turned, prodding the back of her head, an arm reaching around her waist. “Don’t get any ideas. It’s cold and you’re on the blanket. I still think you’re awful.”

Had he really wanted it, she would have rolled off the bed long enough for him to retrieve the blanket, but not being sure if he actually realized that or not, she opted not to say anything. Pulling her tighter to him, he buried his face in her hair, some manner of buffer between the thin bedroll, the ground and his head, the only pillow under her. Ariane moved slightly, pushing half the pillow back towards him, taking it without complaint, his breath warm on the back of her neck. Even without the energy or desire to do anything, it was still enough to make it a challenge to focus on sleeping. If the rest of the trip went this way, five days sounded like a nearly impossible thing to survive.

Chapter Text

The next two days of travel had been difficult. Irritability had set in, the weather changing from bitter cold, to warm and almost pleasant, and then chilling rain now. Beyond that were many rifts on the way, demons, bandits, wolves and far more bears than there should have been. Even a dragon, luckily it hadn’t spotted them, but it could have gone south very quickly, Blackwall sneezing as the creature swooped by, though it seemed not to hear, that or it simply hadn’t cared about their presence. Ariane was more than willing to admit, she knew nothing about this particular area, but Solas had insisted it was rich with history, and suggested they set up camp. It was still not dark, and they had at least a good hour or two of light left, the deciding factor being a nearby spring, reminding her that she was sweaty, dirty, caked with blood and grime from the last two days spent fighting and travelling through varied terrain.

“Okay. We set up camp, and then I’m going for a bath. It shouldn’t need to be said, but so help me, if anyone peeks, I’m not unarmed, and I will spark first and ask questions later.” She huffed indignantly.

“Solas will probably take off, and Cole’s too innocent to peek. I don’t particularly want to fry, so I’m not going to move.” He said.

Fenris appeared to be waiting to hear the reason he wouldn’t look, though the man offered no such excuse. Being fair, he didn’t know him well, and perhaps he assumed he might actually watch her. Kicking back while the rest set to pitching the tents and starting a fire, not volunteering his assistance. He had no desire to help mages with anything, even if he happened to be reliant on one for a bed. As expected, the minute things were dealt with, Solas once again wandered off, Cole and Blackwall heading for their tents, if the previous nights were any indicator, they’d spend awhile engaged in awkward attempts at conversation before the sparse words would be replaced by snores. Fenris glanced up when she stood up, heading for the stream, not looking his way. As much as he wanted to find everything unpleasant to add to his list of reasons why he didn’t like her, it pissed him off more to find that she was actually tolerable company. She hadn’t even been remotely irked by his insults, not like Anders, or even Hawke herself, and he wondered for a time if that somehow made her different or if it was an act.

Examining himself, he frowned. Unsure how he had let it escape his notice, he had gotten dirtier than he thought, considering he hadn’t once offered to help with the fighting or any of the preparations. Complaining under his breath, he stood up, heading for the spring as well. He went further downstream in the vain hope he might be able to ignore her presence completely. He undressed in silence, kneeling by the water to carefully wipe away the spots of caked dirt on his clothing, laying them out to dry when he stepped into the water, sinking to his shoulders. Sighing in disgust, he slowly pushed aside nearby reeds, looking through the narrow space. Her back was to him, marred golden skin beaded with droplets of water racing down her spine. Without meaning to, he followed those drops, cursing himself silently for his curiosity. It wasn’t as though he didn’t know what she looked like, or that he even cared to, there was just something in his mind nagging him. She began to turn, and he ducked out of the way, brows knitted together in anger, directed to himself. If she noticed he was there, she didn’t show it, further angered at how good she looked like that, sunk to her hips in somewhat shallower water, her hair plastered to her chest, just long enough to keep her modest.

Finally disgusted with himself, he turned away from her, quickly washing away the sweat and filth before crawling out. Hastily pulling his pants on, he tied them, grabbing the rest up, shuffling back to camp, laying the rest of his still damp clothes out by the fire. Moving in to the tent, he ducked under the covers, trying to silence his thoughts, mostly focused on her, though he hated that. He wasn’t even sure what he would say to Hawke, whether after the passing years, he was still furious with her about leading him on the way she did, or if he still held out hope the time had changed her and her mind. The Inquisitor had no need to come into the picture at all, except that he had unintentionally allowed things to go further with her than they ever had with Hawke. Part of him wanted to pretend it never happened, in the event he managed a reconciliation, the other part of him wanted her more, in the hopes that it would piss Hawke off completely. Leave it to him to have let himself be lured in by the one thing he hated most, only for her to drop him when a mage became a promising option, a blood mage, nonetheless. In a sense, it was almost poetic justice that he had bedded another mage, his intent to simply use was going well, but there was the matter of how damned agreeable she was. It didn’t bother her the least that he had said the things he did, or done what he had to her, and he was willing to bet that if he said he wanted nothing more to do with her, she would smile and say ‘okay.’ As if there was nothing remotely bothersome about it, she would take it so easily.

Fenris hated that. He hadn’t handled it well, even without things going that far, why should she be okay with it? No, it was supposed to hurt, to be agonizing, not taken so casually like a comment about the weather. She made him so mad, and she didn’t even have to be in the same space, though now she was, dressed in her smalls, her robes presumably laid out by the fire to dry as well. Ariane said nothing to him, curling up under the blanket, as though he was nothing more than a figment of her imagination. Being ignored only upset him more, rolling to face her, drawing her close to him, seeking some kind of acknowledgement. He brushed her hair to the side, biting the curve of her neck, breathing out softly with his words.

“Don’t ignore me when I’m right here…” he grumbled.

She placed her hand over his, guiding it up under her bra, kneading her breast lightly, pinching her nipple. She closed her eyes, still quiet for a time before she finally spoke.

“Did you like the view?” she puffed out softly.

He stopped for a moment, the knowledge that she had noticed him troubling, considering how uncoordinated and obvious she normally was. He pressed against her briefly, trying to decide if he should answer that or ignore it, there was no decent answer, if he said no, it would not only be a lie, but if he said yes, it would be admitting that he found something actually pleasant about her, and neither were things he wanted to say.

“It was alright, I guess.” He sighed.

She turned in his grasp, leaning in to silence him with a kiss. That impertinence was annoying, and he wanted to push her away, it felt like something far too intimate for what little was between them, and yet he didn’t, drawing her closer, crushing her lips under his, nipping, bruising, his tongue sweeping against hers. He broke the kiss long enough to protest briefly.

“I still don’t like you, and I’m not staying.” He grunted.

“I never said you had to do either.” She replied, gasping when he pulled her back for more.

He offered a quick glance to the tent flaps, moving over her slowly. Backing away from her mouth once more, he placed a hand over her mouth, finding her ear.

“Don’t want to wake the others up. Stay quiet, alright?” he asked.

Ariane nodded, opting not to make a sound, a silent agreement that she would do her best. Her long hair often rested along her shoulder, the perfect place to stake his claim on her without anyone being the wiser. He brushed his lips down the side of her neck, biting into her shoulder, gently sucking the mark.

“This means nothing…” he said, trying just as much to convince her as himself.

“Naturally…” she said, her voice almost a whisper.

Chapter Text

He stared daggers at the back of her head, irritated at the pleasant way she engaged in conversation with the mage. She hadn’t even looked his way once since they woke up, and she knew that he disliked being ignored. According to the maps, they were close to Crestwood, meaning they would hopefully find Hawke before the end of the night. Fenris only had to put up with her refusal to acknowledge him until then, and this woman could do whatever she felt like for all he cared. For now, he found that he very much cared, reaching for her arm, drawing her back to his side, Solas glancing at her curiously, though she shook her head slightly. He shrugged, turning back to the path they were following, not prying into her business.

“After all that I’ve done, you still ignore me?” he whispered grumpily.

“Now you actually want my company? I thought you were eager to part ways.” She answered quietly.

“Your attention is mine until then.” He began, nodding towards Solas. “What’s with him? Do you like him?”

She held back a soft chuckle, shaking her head. “You’re confusing. You hate me, and yet you demand my focus. You don’t care what I do as long as Solas isn’t involved? Forgive me for not following your logic.”

Fenris shot her a look, verging on offended. “I’m just curious. I don’t care about the answer.”

She smiled to herself, shrugging. “I enjoy his company. He tells the most interesting stories.”

He seemed to misread her words, angrily turning his ire to the ground, kicking a clod of dirt out of his path. “So you do like him.”

Ariane sighed quietly. “Not in the way you think. Though I’m not sure why I should discuss those matters with you, when you won’t tell me why you’re so interested in finding Hawke.”

Fenris glared at her once more, grumbling under his breath, finally deciding to tell her. “I don’t honestly know. I don’t know if I want her back or if I want her gone. I don’t know if I can have either of those things.”

Brushing her hair from her face, she thought it over, trying to decide on whether or not to say anything on the matter, and if she did, what she should say. “Well, either way, I need her around. She knows things I need to talk with her about, important things. I’m guessing she’ll be coming back with us and staying around for a little while.”

He frowned at her words, his general appearance troubled, more than it had been all morning. “Then I guess I’m coming back as well.”

Ariane figured that he would be glued to Hawke’s side, a fact that didn’t bother her at all. If he chose to have nothing more to do with her, that wasn’t her business, and life would move on as it had before he showed up. She handed off the map to Blackwall, wondering if he could make any progress towards finding this cave she was supposed to head for. Glancing back to Fenris for just a moment, she stretched slowly, her muscles stiffening uncomfortably.

“I’m not about to say you can’t.” she said.

Adjusting her course when Blackwall pointed out the direction, they changed paths, silence falling for a while, a storm rolling in, her arms covering her chest with a frown. It would have to rain now, when her dark robes were too dirty to wear. Pulling her hood up, she devoted her attention to watching where she was going instead of on him, the idea of having to circle back a dozen times just to find the meeting place frustrating.

“Should be up ahead.” Blackwall said, tucking the map safely in his coat.

Sure enough, just a little further down the trail, Hawke stood under the entrance, out of the rain. Smiling at first, it faded away and she palmed her face, a reaction Ariane had to imagine was due to the extra company. The group followed her in, and she cringed at the damp, slimy water dripping from the roof of the cave, the path lined with deep mushrooms, things she also found unpleasant. Like some manner of sea beast crawling up from the ground. Hawke guided them in to meet with her Warden friend, Fenris pulling her back to talk with her away from them.


 

As expected, Fenris and Hawke both followed on the way back, a strange tension between the two, walking at opposite sides from each other. She gathered it hadn’t gone well at all, neither even willing to look at each other, even as they made camp for the night. Hawke took up the small space left in with Cole and Blackwall, turning in early, without so much as a wave. Fenris crawled in her tent, and she heaved a sigh, thinking perhaps Solas had the right idea, getting away from this mess for the night. He stuck his head out after a time, waving her in, sighing again when she followed, she sat off to the side, in case he wanted the blanket.

“Aren’t you tired?” he asked, his words clipped.

“No.” she told him.

He reached for her, slowly drawing her down with him, covering her up. Strange for him to be so gentle, though she didn’t feel like asking about it. Curling against her, he finally brought up what had happened while she met with Stroud, skillfully managing to block out the ever louder arguing.

“She didn’t even apologize. Said Merrill meant everything to her, can you believe that? A blood mage, and not a very bright one at that, means more to her.” He complained.

Ariane placed her hand over his when his arm draped her waist. That was when she realized it, he wasn’t so much angry as heartbroken at that moment, and it might have been that she was the only person he felt he could talk to. For that reason alone, she vowed silently not to make any jokes or to tease him at all.

“I’m sorry, I know that’s probably the last thing you wanted to happen.” she said, unsure what else to say.

“Am I truly that bad? I have to be preferable to a mage…” he grumbled to himself.

Knowing he hadn’t meant her, she chose to ignore it, shrugging. “I don’t think you’re all that bad. I don’t know this girl, so I can’t offer anything meaningful, maybe love is strange.”

“What do you mean, ‘maybe’” he huffed.

“I mean I’ve never actually been in love. I have no idea what it’s like.” She admitted without hesitation.

Oh, she definitely knew what it felt like to be infatuated with someone, there was in fact someone she never tired of looking at, but whether there was anything else there was a complete mystery. He most likely had already discovered her inexperience with physical relationships as well, but nothing that she worried about, as Inquisitor, surely there were more important matters to handle than how well she performed in bed.

“I don’t believe you.” He said irritably.

“Why would I lie about a thing like that?” she asked, biting her tongue to avoid saying something that might only make him feel worse.

Fenris pushed her hair away, tracing the reddened mark on her neck in silence, taking a deep breath. One thing he didn’t entirely dislike about her was that she hadn’t pushed him away, hadn’t rejected him as spectacularly as Hawke had. Laying his head on the back of her shoulder, he squeezed her tighter, frowning.

“Go to sleep. I still don’t trust you not to burn the tent down, I’m not going to be able to get to sleep until you do.” He groused.

Taking that to mean he was done talking to her, she closed her eyes, trying to relax enough to drift off, though the tension had left her stomach in knots, unsure if she even could sleep, best just to pretend she was exhausted and eventually fake being asleep so he wouldn’t have to lose out on rest because of her. She was wrong. Five days here was easy; the way back was certain to be much worse…

Chapter Text

Days had passed before they reached Skyhold again, and full glad was she to see the gate. The endless bickering and long, tense silences had only gotten worse, followed naturally by nights curled up next to the increasingly grouchy elf, filled with complaints, longing, and eventually, inevitably, the promise that he would leave. The minute she was in the perimeter –the safety of the walls they said were hers, she veered off her initial course, heading for the tavern. Awful ale sounded like just the thing to thwart her pending headache, and as fate would have it, she wouldn’t be alone here either. She must have been muttering under her breath, taking the seat pulled out when she walked by, glancing up to see who had been so kind.

“Commander. I don’t see you in here very much, finally found yourself a bit of free time?” she asked jokingly, a smile drawing up the corners of her mouth.

“I vaguely recall a certain someone reminding me that carving out the time to relax is important.” He said, taking a quick drink.

She shrugged, her smile becoming almost coy, a finger tracing the rim of her mug when it arrived. “Oh? And who was this ‘certain someone’?” she questioned, knowing full well who it was.

“You might have seen her around. On the shorter side, long, golden hair, beautiful. A little on the bossy side at times.” He joked.

Now this indeed was a nice change of pace, far more relaxed than usual, shedding that usual ‘all business’ demeanor he usually had. Not to mention this was one of so few opportunities they had to sit and talk about anything aside from work.

“I thought for sure a trip across the map would be all fun and excitement. Now I’m just glad to be back.” She groaned.

Cullen tilted his head, his eyes nearly squinting as he examined her face. “You have the look of someone less than well rested.”

She rolled her eyes, nodding. “No, sleep and I are no longer on speaking terms.”

The two sat in silence for a time, finishing their drinks. She propped her elbow on the table, her palm up and open. “Come on, Cullen. I don’t want to turn in just yet, entertain me. You win, you decide the reward. I win, I get to pick, sound fair?” she offered.

He hesitated, but clasped his hand against hers after a moment. After a short count, she strained and struggled against his firm grip, every advantage lost within seconds before regaining it once more, the constant back and forth interrupted when he happened to look at her, her eyes fixed on his, she quickly looked away, her hand relentlessly pinned to the table. He let up, but didn’t let go of her hand, seemingly lost in thought for a time before he finally spoke up again.

“I think I’ll need some time to consider this reward. I’ll let you know when I decide what I want.” He said with a smirk.

She frowned, the feeling of eyes boring into the side of her head catching her. Glancing up, she noticed Fenris had found his way in, staring at her, hunched across the table, her hand in his, both laughing, both smiling. Rolling his eyes, he took a seat nearby, waving down someone. Cullen said nothing, but his look was mixed, the memory that he and Varric were acquainted in Kirkwall reminding him that he had probably had some experience with him as well. They nodded politely to each other, but that had been the extent of their acknowledgment. Ariane wanted to ask about what he might know, but how could she with him right there? Sighing quietly, she stood up, easing her hand away, pausing long enough to answer him.

“I’ll be waiting to hear what you settle on.” She mumbled, excusing herself.

Ariane quickly strode back to her room, closing the door quietly, despite how irritable she was beginning to feel. Courtesy demanded quiet, and she did too, her headache barely gone, drumming just beneath her temples. It had little enough to do with him, and everything to do with the way he continued to confuse her, the dislike was fine, she could live with that, even that he wasn’t planning to stay was fine, it was his life, he could lead it however he saw fit. What she couldn’t live with was the back and forth, from not caring to caring far too much, and then the agonizing tension, a situation it seemed she would be enduring for quite some time before things might have a chance of returning to normal. She heard the quiet sweep of the door opening, and without thinking it through, she turned away, staring out the window.

“What do you want now?” she growled.

“Only to say that I didn’t mean to make you feel like you had to leave.” Fenris grumbled.

“It’s past my bedtime. It was fine.” She said.

She heard the muffled steps of his approach, felt the increasing warmth nearing her back, all signs he was getting closer. He put a hand on her shoulder, gently turning her towards him, a bottle in his hand, a guilty look on his face, the kind she hadn’t really seen before.

“If you’re still interested. I thought this might suit you better…” he offered by way of explanation.

This certainly felt like a trick. He was never quite this thoughtful, especially not to her, she knew that and accepted it for what it was, she was what he hated most, it made sense, and this, this left her fully suspicious. Unwilling to let the mood pass, she accepted his offer anyway, taking a seat on the couch, Fenris joining her after a moment, curling his fingers in her hair.

“What’s gotten into you?” she asked, her brows knitting together in emphasis.

“I…just thought you liked this.” He mumbled quietly.

“I didn’t intend to drag you through this conversation again, but why do you care what I like? All this talk of hating me, and how you’re not staying, but now you are because Hawke is staying, and I’m afraid I don’t understand why any of this matters now?” she sighed, palming her face.

“The way you looked at him.” He began. “In the tavern, I thought…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if you looked at me that way. Even she never did that.”

There were no words to be found to say the things on her mind, to express her concerns or her fears about the matter, her mind simply blanked on her, finding her gaze fixed on him, she quickly looked away, mentally berating herself for even considering it momentarily. This was, at least for her, the one area of her life that was blissfully uncomplicated, a simple arrangement with nothing more meaningful than a hand –among other things – when needed, that had always been her understanding, and now even that was different. She should have known better, nothing ever stayed the same, only seemed to get worse, like a fact of being alive.

“I can’t do that. I respect your feelings on the matter, but something like that, there has to be more to it than this.” She tried her best to explain.

Fenris reached for the bottle, setting it on the floor, laying against her gently, his fingers twisting in her hair, drawing her closer. Giving her a quick kiss, he sighed, watching her quietly, as if trying to memorize the way she looked, or if he was seeing her for the first time.

“I…want to stay here tonight. With you.” He said, none of his usual marks of distaste present.

Turning her attention to the large bed, she gave a half-hearted shrug, unwilling to stir up anymore arguments for at least a few days.

“I suppose if that’s what you want, who am I to say you can’t.” she mumbled.

Her words had barely left her mouth before he sought them once more, gentle kisses turning hungry within moments, his hands leaving her hair to dip under her shirt, content to enjoy how warm she felt against him. The whole night had already taken a strange turn that she hadn’t anticipated, and his continued presence made it difficult to think, giving in as it seemed she always did when it came to him. There was always the possibility that this was a trap of some sort, or that he might have had too much, or…and she disliked the idea intensely, he could be trying to hurt her. If that was the goal, then perhaps she should be a little more cautious.

Chapter Text

Ariane awoke the next morning, unable to sit up, the reason fairly obvious after a moment. Once the morning fog had lifted enough to register anything, she noticed Fenris’ arms locked around her, his head resting against her chest. Unusually peaceful in appearance, as though he had finally relaxed for the first time in ages. He nuzzled her breast lightly, stirring after a bit, his eyes fixing on hers. Mentally, she began a short countdown until he would let go, sit up and complain that she was too close or something ridiculous like that. Fenris let go almost immediately, though instead of saying anything, he moved a little higher, his hand brushing against her cheek, lightly pressing a gentle kiss on her lips. That settled it, the first break in the action of the day, and she was going to make some inquiries, something had to have happened, something she was unaware of, there was no way he had suddenly warmed up to her.

Moving to get up, he quickly pulled her back, drawing her against his chest, his arms circling her stomach this time, squeezing her tighter.

“I have to get to work, seriously. As much as I wouldn’t mind staying in bed a little longer, I have matters to see to.” She mumbled.

Ariane freed herself from his grasp, smoothing out her clothes and sweeping a hand through her hair, trying to appear presentable. Not looking back, she tugged her boots on, making her escape before he had a chance to hold her up any longer. The more she had thought about it, the more she was convinced he was actually plotting against her now, a chance to get back at Hawke in an oddly convoluted plan to get closer and then, what then? She wasn’t certain of the specifics, but it felt like a trap, so it had to be, right? Besides, Hawke wouldn’t be around forever, and when she left, he had already sworn so many times that he wasn’t planning to stay, and she only needed to avoid getting close until then. What was supposed to be next anyway, they had gone to Crestwood, and after that, her mind had gone fuzzy on the details. Investigating something important, what was it? She paced in front of the door, mentally revisiting the conversation over and over in the hopes it would jog her memory.

“The Western Approach.” She mumbled to herself.

“What about it?” she heard a voice behind her.

She jumped slightly, noticing Cullen had seemingly materialized out of nowhere directly behind her. It took a lot of focus to hold onto her line of thinking, a sign that perhaps she had been working too hard and would benefit from taking a deep breath.

“That’s where I’m supposed to go, investigating the Western Approach.” She confirmed.

He nodded once, examining the reports in his hand, coincidentally on the very same topic. “Yes, it looks like that’s what’s on the list as well. I’m also told our invite to the Winter Palace should be secured soon as well, so it would be beneficial to try and hurry, but be thorough, of course.” He said “That reminds me, I was told to see to it that you get these.”

Cullen handed her two envelopes, neither marked with a name or addressed to her in anyway. She moved to open them, but he put his hand over hers, calling her attention to his face, seeing the subtle way he shook his head. So she was meant to open them in private, something no one else was meant to see? Not exactly a surprise, she often found herself receiving several dozens of these, almost daily. Some were thinly veiled death threats, the odd one or two being proposals from people she had never heard of, most being ‘promising leads’ that usually turned out to be nothing of great use after all. If she had to guess, one was going to be a threat, and the other, another useless lead. Ariane gestured to the door with a smile.

“Heading this way too?” she asked.

Cullen gently pushed the door open, holding it for her before following, both nodding to Josephine on the way to the war room. For the first time, she was secretly hoping this particular session would last much longer than they normally did, and she was personally willing to investigate even the least promising of leads if it meant she could keep busy if for no other reason than to pre-empt the trap she anticipated. At the second door, he again held it for her, going around to the other side. Ariane hunched over the edge of the table, supporting herself on her palm, examining the map in silence while she waited for the usual briefing and other matters that required her attention. She eyed the Western Approach on the map, the coloring alone suggesting it was a desert, probably far hotter than she was used to, and of course all that sand in places she never knew existed for weeks after, that sounded like no fun. Necessary, but still, not a thing she was eagerly awaiting.

“Now is a good time to mention this, we have incoming reports of rift activity still in the Hinterlands, and some in the Fallow Mire, I’ve managed to assign some men on each to keep the demons at bay until you can see to them. It’s up to you which matter feels more pressing to you, Inquisitor.” Josephine said, her quill poised to write.

Naturally the Western Approach was the priority, though at the same time, the rifts posed a danger to people in those regions, the Mire was less so, few enough people there as it were. The Hinterlands were near enough to deal with before things became unmanageable in the other situation.

“I’ll see to those in the Hinterlands, go to the Approach and then swing back for the Fallow Mire. I assume by the time I finish up there that the invitation should have arrived, so we should stand ready to depart for that as well.” Ariane instructed authoritatively.

It appeared there wouldn’t be as lengthy a session as she had hoped, pondering to herself what she could do to avoid heading back to her room right away, and not a single thing came to mind. She would instead need to head back and prepare her things for travel, it seemed they would be away for a decent amount of time. If Hawke intended to meet them there, it would be some time before she at least had to mentally prepare herself for more arguments between Fenris and her. There was no way she’d be able to convince him to stay behind and wait, and she already knew Leliana would insist he go with anyway to keep him pacified, but more so they wouldn’t have to deal with him, probably.

Chapter Text

They had finished matters in the Hinterlands, and were on the way to the Western Approach when they decided to stop for the night. It was a long trip, and it hardly mattered how pressing the situation was, they could hardly keep walking without rest. Ariane had planned ahead this time, packing a spare tent for Fenris, so he would have no reason to share with her, part of her attempt to foil any ideas he might have gotten. Solas, surprisingly had decided to stay at the camp for the night. When she made small talk, he had revealed that he had already thoroughly explored this area, and he doubted there was anything new to be found that he hadn’t already seen. In short, she guessed it no longer interested him to dream here. Blackwall had left right away to try and find something for dinner, and she had brought Cole in the hopes he might do his mind trick to tell her if Fenris was up to anything strange, though he had turned in right away.

“Spirits shouldn’t need sleep…” she sighed, her cheeks puffed in a pout.

A bundle of nerves, she couldn’t think of eating like this, deciding to head for bed. Zipping the tent closed as a precaution, she curled up in her blanket, closing her eyes. Reminded of the letters, she sat up, rummaging through her bag, taking out the first one, hastily slipping her finger under a gap in the edge. Pulling out the paper inside, she examined it before she read even one word, plain paper, nothing special, unlike the kind Josephine used when trying to call in favors, or appeasing nobility. What did that mean? Not someone who flaunted wealth, if indeed they had any, not a threat, those were hastily scrawled on scraps of paper, but not a proposal either, those came on lavish papers. Spots of ink bled through the paper, a sign that it was written with pauses, not long, or the spots would have been larger. Someone was carefully considering how best to word it. Opening the folded paper finally, she read through it in silence, the lack of more than a candle to read by made it a challenge.

“Inquisitor,

I debated sending this for some time, but I think it best you tell him to leave before things get out of hand. When I met him, he was bitter, but with time, he was thoughtful, funny, sarcastic at times, vibrant with life. He blames me for letting him think I loved him, but I couldn’t help what I felt, he won’t listen to me on the matter, and I’m certain, even after I leave, he won’t be satisfied with the answers I’ve given him. He won’t listen to you either, I’m sure of it, but at least… don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t let him believe it’s more than what it is, whatever that might be.

Regards,

Hawke.

P.S. Don’t worry if he’s around, I don’t think he can read it, he was still trying when I left, he may have given up.”

It was confusing, was it for her benefit or for his? More importantly, he was the one who had said there was nothing more to their relationship than a physical urge. There was no concern about making him believe anything except that she was alright with that. Curiosity compelled her to reach for the second letter, looking over the envelope, neatly sealed, as though someone had taken great care to ensure that it was just right. No name, no indication who it was from, only that single observation without opening it. Turning it around, her finger poised to open it, the zipper came up and Fenris crawled in. Ariane quickly put the letter away, but not before he picked up the letter from Hawke, his eyes narrowed, looking to her for a moment.

“This is her signature. I would recognize it anywhere. I spent so long learning it…” he said with a frown.

Ariane looked away, she hadn’t expected company, the entire point of making sure he had his own space, this wasn’t at all how she saw the night going.

“Yes, well, she saw fit to write. It’s…not really pertinent to the task at hand.” She said, hoping he would let it go.

Fenris stared at her, and for a moment, his expression was pained, like it hurt him somehow. “Read it to me.”

She shook her head, reaching for it, but he pulled it away. Sitting down, his free hand slid around her waist, pulling her to sit between his legs, his chin resting on her head, holding it just far enough away that she couldn’t reach it. “Please…”

She gave in, faster than she meant to, regretting how easily he had gotten to her when she had been trying so hard to keep him out. “Okay, give it to me, and I’ll read it…”

Fenris hesitated, bringing it close enough for her to grab it, taking a deep breath, her vision swimming as she struggled to put the words on the pages to voice, shakily delivered as though concerned he might not react well to what she had to say. The paper fell from his hand when the last words left her lips, and he leaned against her, silent, limply laid against her back. He curled his arms around her waist, squeezing her to him tightly, shaking his head, though she could only feel it.

“Do you want me to leave? Am I bothering you too? She said not to let me believe this was more, but there’s nothing here, right?” he asked.

He was vulnerable, more than she had seen from him. She frowned, trying to figure out how best to answer his question. “I don’t love you.” She said, feeling him tense. “But I could, maybe. Someday.”

Moving beside her, he gently pushed her down, and she thought she knew where this was going. Fenris buried his face in the curve of her neck, a hand resting in her hair, keeping her close. “I don’t love you either. Not yet.”

Something about the way he said it made her want to laugh, it was almost like a lover, whispering sweet nothings to her, except it was anything but, a quiet, anti-confession, of sorts.

“Yet? Do you plan on falling in love with someone you barely know? Someone who represents what you hate?” she asked, biting her lip to hold back a slight smile.

“Does anyone actually plan on falling in love?” he questioned.

“I suppose not…” she admitted.

Fenris pressed a quick kiss to her cheek before returning to his resting spot, sighing. “Get to sleep. You know I can’t sleep if you’re awake.”

Chapter Text

They were nearing the end of their journey to the Western Approach, one last night of camping, and then the morning would bring about an unpleasant trek through the sands to find this place that Hawke had planned to meet them once more. It was strange, but Ariane almost looked forward to the silent tension, the oddly meandering conversations doing little to improve the mood, too hot, everyone was in a foul way, with the exception of Cole, who was far too innocent to be ill tempered, she imagined. The long time spent walking was especially painful today, her legs aching so strongly, the pain shot up her spine, stopping between her shoulders Without ample rest, the last bit of walking would be too much, and the respite would give her a chance to mix something up to ease the aching. For that reason, mainly, as selfish as it was, she gave the order to stop and make camp. It would do good for everyone, surely, not just her, Fenris actually pitching in to help for once, likely because he also wanted to rest up, though he wouldn’t say.

When everything had been set up just right, she took a seat by the fire, fishing out a selection of plants, taking the time to grind them up finely, a bit of water from her stores turning it into a fine paste. She set about to massaging it into her legs, hissing out slowly at the way it flared up at the lightest touch. Ariane held it up in offering, but the others declined, either too proud or too stubborn to admit they had to be just as sore as she was. Shrugging it off, she gathered her things, crawling in to retire for the night, unable to reach the spots that hurt the worst on her back, but unwilling to ask for assistance, deciding it was far better to just stretch out and try to sleep it off. Predictably the tent flap opened, and Fenris wandered in, taking a seat away from her, staying silent in a manner that meant he was thinking about something, though she felt no need to pry. It felt like forever before he even looked her way, let alone saying anything.

“Take it off. The robes, I mean.” He said.

Frowning, she relented, peeling them off slowly, wincing at the discomfort the simple action caused in her whole body. She said nothing, though she was fully willing to admit, at least in her mind, that she was more than a little curious about what his intentions for her were at that moment.

“Lay on your stomach…” he told her.

Again, she did as she was instructed, burying her face in the pillow to muffle the soft sounds she let slip. There was nothing again for a time, silent, not even the sounds of his breathing could be heard. It wasn’t until she felt him sitting over her hips that she even knew he was still there. Ariane expected even that to hurt, but to her surprise, it was as though he weighed nothing, his weight pressed to his knees on either side of her. Tipping her head to the side to take a deep breath, she caught the glimmer off his gauntlet as he reached down beside her, grabbing the small ceramic bowl, resting it between her shoulders long enough to remove them. They were certainly sharp, and it wouldn’t take much effort to hurt her if he left them on, and he was trying to be cautious around her, though he imagined it was the first time he had genuinely considered her in such a way.

“Stay still.” He huffed.

It was difficult, every instinct told her to first pitch him off and then turn on her side, but she continued to do as she was told, doing her best to remain still. Feeling the soothing coolness of the mixture dropped onto her exposed skin, she sighed, a pleasant contrast to the heat trapped there. He was gentle, unexpectedly so, carefully kneading it in all along her spine, her shoulders, even her neck, taking his time to rub out the knots. She didn’t have to look to tell he was focused on her, the sensation of his gaze burned into her, though she wondered what he looked like as he did. Was it the almost perpetually grumpy look she had grown used to, or that strangely exposed look he had taken to lately, the one that said he was open in a way he was unfamiliar with and didn’t quite like? His hands paused between her shoulders, a muffled moan causing him to hesitate.

“Did that hurt?” he asked quietly.

“No, just the opposite, it feels quite pleasant…” she said, her words buried in the thin material of the pillow.

“It’s not like I care. I’m only paying you back for the use of the tent.” He said.

“Of course.” She murmured

Eventually, his hands came to a full stop, and she felt him move away, a small sense of sadness at the pleasing massage coming to an end washing over her for a moment. He stretched out beside her, though he said nothing, guessing there was no dignified excuse he could come up with so quickly. It was sweltering out, and he couldn’t use the excuse that it was cold, and this night seemed to be one where he didn’t want her to get the idea he cared, despite such a thing reinforcing that idea. Sighing to herself, she turned on her side, her arm raised in offering, in case he wanted to get closer to her. Fenris gave a sound that was clear disapproval, but he moved closer, allowing the loose embrace anyway, his head resting against her chest with a contented sigh that furthered the mixed signals he had been giving lately.

“Are you comfortable, I can move or something if you would prefer?” she asked.

He shook his head slightly, his arms moving around her, squeezing her slightly. “I’m fine.”

“Worried about tomorrow, or what? I’m a little confused about this whole back and forth, if I’m being honest.” She said, unable to keep herself from blurting it out.

“I’m not worried. She won’t change her mind, she never does. What’s confusing about this, you know I don’t like you, I know you don’t like me, it seems clear enough.” He muttered, nipping at her skin lightly.

That was what he said, but it had to be different, there was nothing clear about those moments when he was vulnerable, when he did things that weren’t the mark of a man who truly hated her. This began with him saying he didn’t like her, but somehow, time had muddied the waters, and she was beginning to wonder if he kept saying that to convince himself more than her. He wanted to despise her, needed to, and somehow, she suspected he was finding it a challenge to keep it up. Even so, what he actually thought, what he felt, and what he wanted might well be different things entirely, and she would never know. What he was like before all this, that was what she wanted to know, Hawke had mentioned many things that seemed so unlike him now, and it was hard to imagine. It wasn’t like he ever opened up about himself, though being fair, she didn’t either, what was the point? The end of their time together was surely coming up, no need to confuse things any more than they already were, right?

“I like you fine. I said I didn’t love you, not that I didn’t like you.” She mumbled, sleep tainting her words.

Fenris glanced up, about to say something to her, until he noticed she had fallen asleep already. Sighing to himself, he leaned up, kissing her gently before returning to her chest. “I like you too, stupid girl…”

Chapter Text

“How are you holding up?” Solas asked.

They were very nearly to the place they were meant to meet again with Hawke, and the heat was already getting to her. Fanning herself with her hand, she sighed, pulling her robes up a little higher in the hopes of a slight breeze that never came.

“I’m fine, thank you.” She rasped.

Fenris said nothing, refusing to acknowledge it, even to himself, but he was enjoying the view, at least. Not the desert, he could care far less about that, his attention drawn to the way those robes hugged her curves, wondering how it escaped his noticed just how form fitting they were. He could get used to a sight like that, though that consideration made him curse under his breath, upset that such a thought had even crossed his mind. The only upside to this was the oddly pleasant realization that he hadn’t been as concerned about seeing Hawke again as he normally was. Frowning, he looked down to his side, reaching for the store of water he had thought ahead enough to bring. Picking up the pace to match hers, he silently pushed it into her hand, shrugging at the questioning look she gave her.

“What’s this?” she asked, more wondering why he was giving it to her.

“It’s water, obviously.” He said as though it should have been obvious.

“I mean, why?” she persisted quietly.

He didn’t feel like admitting he was concerned for her, though he had to say something. “It’s all that panting. It’s driving me crazy.”

Ariane looked at him, smirking a little, lofting a brow. “Is that so? Well, it’s going to be awhile before we set camp.” She teased, relishing the accusing look he gave her.

“Are you going to take it or not?” Fenris huffed quietly.

“I suspect I might later.” She said, giggling.

He frowned, about to pull it away, though she finally took it, genuine gratitude on her face as she took a sip before handing it back to him. “Thank you, really.”

“There she is.” Solas observed.

Turning her attention to the structure, she sighed, frowning a little. She was relatively sure things would be set back again, but it had to happen. Joining up with her and her warden friend, they walked in together, the man in front of them ruffling Fenris’ feathers with his attitude. Ariane, on the other hand, the minute she realized the wardens present couldn’t be saved, reached for her staff without hesitation, far kinder to kill them out of mercy then to allow them to suffer this way. The others followed suit, focusing more on the demons, except Fenris, who went straight for the man, kicking him down. Too busy to pay attention to that, though none failed to notice the sounds of distressed cries and heavy blows. When the fray had ended, Hawke glanced her way, nodding towards him as if to silently tell her to stop him. Ariane returned her look, wondering if she wouldn’t be better suited to stopping him, to which she sighed, approaching him.

Looking away, she didn’t want to watch, and yet she couldn’t say why. The man eventually managed to hobble away, and she was surprised that Fenris hadn’t outright killed him, pleasantly surprised, though he did mangle him a bit. Her hand ran up and down her arm, ashamed she hadn’t had the guts to step in, her hand flickering, casting patterns on the material of her robes. Looking at the map, she found a spot near a small pool of water, perfect for washing off the awful film of the desert. For that reason, after the group parted ways once more, they made great time to the campsite, getting set up in record time before she made her way to bathe. Clothes discarded on the bank, she sunk in, displeased with how warm it was, although she hadn’t expected anything less. Minutes after she got in, the sound of scattering clothes caught her attention, quite surprised when Fenris moved in beside her, washing off the blood before he turned to face her finally.

“He bothered me, and I didn’t like the way he threatened you.” He muttered quietly in explanation.

“I…appreciate it. I’m not sure anyone has ever stood up for me like that.” She admitted.

His eyes slowly drifted lower, watching the beads of water rolling over her body, stepping closer to her. His hands fell to rest at her waist, his brow pressed against hers for a split second before he kissed her, gentle and quick.

“I didn’t want to see you hurt. It’s not like I care or anything though, don’t get the wrong idea.” He said.

Ariane was beginning to believe it was nothing more than an act. It would have been believable if he had never done anything that resembled kindness towards her, but he had, more than once, and his insistence that he didn’t care for her at all only felt like an excuse at this point. She slid her arms around his neck, trying to draw him in for another kiss, though he resisted, something on his mind, it appeared.

“I want you, I don’t want to stop at just kissing, not tonight…” he said quietly.

Tilting her head with a curious smile, she couldn’t help but ask the question burning in her mind just then. “Are you actually asking my permission? Are you sure the heat didn’t get to you?” she teased.

In truth, he hadn’t really needed to, from the start, it had always been mutual, though usually with the affirmation that the reasoning was never personal interest in each other. Something was changing, little by little, though she couldn’t quite place what it was, or what it meant. Relenting finally, he lowered his head once more, eyes closed, finding the soft warmth of her lips easily, leaning into her, against the bank, a mostly solid ridge of flat, smooth rock and silt. Normally they might retreat to the somewhat more private quarters they had been sharing, but at that particular time, she didn’t care, besides, the others had likely already turned in for the night, if she stayed quiet, would anyone really notice?

Chapter Text

The trip back was becoming exhausting. It was fine at first, with only the sweltering heat to contend with, a problem that was solved by the collective group steadily wearing down to the least amount of clothes they could while maintaining a proper amount of modesty, a noticeable drag in the pace when the sun was high overhead. Ariane felt compelled to call it for the night, if only to seek out a spot of shade to cool off in while they camped, but against her current fantasy, she pressed on, glancing back from time to time to make sure her companions were still faring well enough for travel. Things became strangely tense, around the time the trip became almost unbearable. Initially, it was an ambush of wild beasts that held up the progress, nothing serious on its own, but it seemed to be a common occurrence after that, rift activity halting them not once, but three times.

 

Finally anticipating an end to the distractions, they had once again been surprised by an attack, this time, a group of stray Venatori, which should have also been no problem, but between the overwhelming heat, exhaustion from so much fighting before their arrival, it had been far too much of a challenge. Enough had been enough, and her mounting frustration triggered an otherwise normal overcharged burst of magic, contributing to a victory, ultimately, however, it had a side effect it didn’t occur to her to try and avoid.

 

“Still holding up back there?” she asked, wiping her brow.

 

“Looks like it, what about you?” Solas answered.

 

“I’m alright, just need some time to recharge.” Ariane mumbled.

 

Her attention fell on Fenris, largely unintentional, still working to process what was going on between them. She half expected the usually look, somewhere between grumpy and mild interest, caught off guard when she noticed he was glaring at her, like he was disgusted with her. The only thing she could think of that might have upset him was the magic, but he had known from the start what she was, and had seen her use magic on multiple occasions, why would that bother him now? It made no sense to her, but she figured she would learn soon enough. By the time they had managed to clear through all the hold ups, it was approaching a no friendlier evening, nearly time to set camp for the night, but not quite. No point in trying to discuss anything with him while they were travelling, he was the type who only seemed to want to talk about serious matters when they were alone, or else when she was hanging back and only in irritated whispers then.

 

When they reached a location that appeared to be slightly more hospitable, with a source of somewhat fresh water, they set up camp, prepared to sit and talk for a while, until Fenris beckoned her away to speak in private. Following without a word, she stopped when he did, crossing her arms protectively, her weight shifted to one side, head tipping to the side, waiting for him to explain. He paced back and forth, ruffling his hair, nothing but quiet aggravation for a time. It was like he had no idea how to say what was on his mind, finally stopping, glaring directly at her again.

 

“So what the hell was that all about back there?” he growled.

 

“Magic, obviously, or were the robes and the staff not enough of a clue? You knew what I was, I seem to recall you complaining about it the first time I met you. ” she answered defensively.

 

She couldn’t help who she was, and wouldn’t apologize for what she could do. Had she been anyone else, perhaps she’d be wary of it too, but she was cautious, always took the time to focus and aim carefully, to avoid hurting her allies, so she couldn’t see where the problem was.

 

“I know it was magic, I’m not an imbecile. What I meant was ‘I need to recharge’? Seriously, you blew everything in one moment, I thought you had better control over yourself than that.” he huffed.

 

That was something she was familiar with too, occasionally, her own mindstate was enough to change the amount of energy that went into her magic, it was common enough, it had happened to just about every mage she had ever encountered, even the oh so amazing Hawke had likely experienced it, probably in front of him as well. It was honestly no big deal, but for some reason, it was bothering him.

 

“What’s the problem,, I didn’t lose control, and I didn’t exactly hurt anyone I wasn’t aiming at, did I?” she asked him pointedly.

 

Fenris could see she didn’t understand, and he was in no mood to explain it. He shook his head, opting not to answer as he stormed back to the camp. It was confusing, but if he was unwilling to explain it, there was nothing she could do to fix it, right? She walked back, sighing to herself, it had put the thought of sleep far out of her mind, instead, sitting by Solas.

 

“I’m surprised you haven’t left yet.” Ariane commented.

 

“I had no plans to leave tonight.” he replied.

 

She was restless, and she needed to clear her head, at least if she had any hopes of sleeping at all. Standing once more, she reached for his arm, pulling him to stand. He seemed confused by the gesture, but went along with it, only offering her a questioning glance.

 

“Let’s go for a walk, I’m not tired yet.” she said, the only explanation she was willing to offer.

 

At that, he relented, following her slow pace at her side, letting her lead. Fenris would probably be upset about her choice of company, but he was already mad, what did it matter? Besides, it wasn’t like she had anything more serious planned than walking and more pleasant conversation, with someone who saw the world through different eyes. Looking back one last time, he again surprised her, no scathing glares or evening mildly troubled fidgeting, in fact, he wasn’t even looking her way. Had it really troubled him so much that he wasn’t even willing to look at her? She tried to remember the things that Varric had told her, way back in Haven, about Hawke and her friends, about the mages he traveled with before, in case that held a clue. Hawke had once had his heart, and she left him for a blood mage, Merrill? Blood magic was frowned upon, but she had a feeling that wasn’t quite it.


That conversation held little interest for her, and it wasn’t until she actually met Fenris that she bothered to read the book, and it all seemed so blurry in her mind, but she recalled there was at least one other mage, though the name and details escaped her at the moment. It was worth wracking her brain a little more if it meant possibly figuring out what had actually happened to make him step back from her so much. Ariane had thought she was beginning to understand the situation, but it was clear she was no closer to figuring him out than she had been when she first stepped into that room in Skyhold.

Chapter Text

“Not again. Never again. I can’t go through this another time…” Fenris thought.

 

He frowned deeply, watching her from the stables. It was about as far away from her as he could bare to be while still being able to keep an eye on her. He was still angry, oh, he was seething, only that he was slowly beginning to suspect he had overreacted just a little. Fenris heard a strange bellow next to him, raising his hand almost defensively as he turned. The elk at his back nudged his hand demandingly, and he relented, petting it gently. It reminded him she was Dalish, a fact he frequently managed to forget, unlike Merrill, she didn’t bring it up, except when asked about it. It was almost as if she barely noticed she wasn’t human most of the time, and people treated her much like she was the Empress Herself, instead of a lesser being. It had been a few days since they returned, and she had minded his space, a thing which made his feelings harder to identify. He was glad she wasn’t trying to seek him out, but at the same time, he was angry about that too. Whether it was because he felt she owed him something or because he actually was beginning to miss her presence, he couldn’t say.

 

He leaned a little closer to the elk when he noticed something dangling from its neck. A small, wooden piece threaded in a rope, helpfully indicating the beast was named ‘Oliver’. Such a normal name, had she named him? He expected if she had to name anything, it would be some obviously Dalish name packed with lengthy and convoluted meaning. Oliver inclined his head into his gentle petting with a pleased snort. Dividing his focus, he turned away, though his hand didn’t still as he did. A girl who was, by all rights, not entitled to anything in human standards, who had surely been mistreated as most elves were, and a mage at that. A mage elf at the head of an institution like this, with people acquiescing to her whims gratefully and without question? This always felt like a dream. She was everything to everyone, whatever was needed. Herald of Andraste to the faithful, and Inquisitor to her friends and enemies, striking fear or inspiring hope just by existing .

 

Among her company were the oddest assortment of people who also should have no reason to work together. The Qunari mercenary and his band of misfits, from what he understood also including a Tevinter, an elven apostate and a reject from Orzammar. Then there was the Spirit in human flesh who hadn’t possessed anyone and had the regrettable ability to be able to read minds, it seemed. He had, of course. It was uncomfortable to hear what he was feeling stated so openly. She kept company with the noble hating, trouble making alienage elf, probably Ariane’s version of Merrill, except nothing like her at all, and so crude . It was like Isabela and Merrill had fused into a single being, and had managed to be even worse than either.

 

Mages. Too many mages, to say little of the fact that the three she was closest to were probably the worst. Vivienne was talented and had no problem with the Circle or Templars, but her attitude was awful. She was a bitch, and she knew. She just didn’t care. Solas as well, who stuck to her side in the least offensive way that still managed to get to him. They had common ground, of course. Often he had heard them holding conversations in their shared tongue, and it troubled him that he had no idea what they were saying. What if they were flirting? Fenris huffed a heavy breath, trying to ignore that question from repeating in his mind, instead continuing in his observations. There was yet another Tevinter here, the magister Dorian. Well...he had said before that he wasn’t a magister, but when did mages freely admit to anything.

 

Ariane kept a Warden as well, Blackwall, the man whose beard was probably full of crumbs and twigs for as long as it was. There was also the Seeker and the Dwarf. Varric, he knew well and there was nothing new to say about him, still touching Bianca in weird and uncomfortable ways, still stretching the truth and writing books. The Seeker was apparently the one who had caused him to turn up missing after Kirkwall anyway, having taken him prisoner and interrogated him on what happened. It must be something she was known for, as the stories pointed to her taking Ariane prisoner and interrogating her as well. Then, there were the humans she kept even closer, Leliana, who he vaguely thought was familiar, the chantry assassin, who he had guessed probably had a much more impressive kill record than anyone else he knew. The Antivan ambassador, Josephine, a refined woman who seemed quite unlike any Antivan he had chanced to meet before, including the Crow. Lastly, there was Cullen, the very same one who had once graced the Gallows with his...Templarness. No longer was he Knight-Captain, but that didn’t stop him from being a thorn in his side. He saw the way he looked at Ariane, and the way she looked at him, heard the increasingly playful conversations between them.

 

It was wrong. He had no business flirting with her, she was the Inquisitor, and he was a jerk. Well…alright, he had changed, but that changed nothing. He still had no business pursuing her. It was almost like she had a way of making people forget they were different at all, so much so that they willingly worked together, regardless of circumstances and background. And where was she now, the most important person in Thedas, at least for now? She was kneeling by the tents of wounded, administering medicine and healing where she could. Why couldn’t she be doing something awful so he could continue to tell himself he didn’t want to be around her? Sacrifice a child, or maybe stick to basics and try to summon a demon or use a little blood magic. Anything to match up to what his mind thought she should be doing. It would be so much easier to hate her if she was an awful person.

 

As it was, his mind was being very uncooperative. More than the desire to despise her, he wanted her to cross that yard and smile at him, to reach for his hand and tell him how much she missed him. He wanted her to apologize for letting him ignore her, and explain how sorry she was, and how she would do anything to make it up to him, if only he would forgive her and things could return to how they were before. That wouldn’t happen, she was too nice, respecting his space and avoiding him so he’d be more comfortable. He huffed another irritated breath, turning back to the beast, frowning.

 

“So...Oliver...if you were me, what would you do? Should I just forget what happened and go talk to her?” he asked, expecting no reply.

 

Hawke kept a Mabari, Ariane kept a stable full of everything from horses to the strangest looking nug he had ever seen, one of several odd nugs, in fact. He had no idea if any of them would be able to understand him, let alone care to offer any meaningful feedback. It took him by surprise when it bellowed out a short grunt in reply. Sighing, Fenris patted his nose once more, bending to grab an apple from a nearby bucket, taking a second one for himself. Offering it up, the elk snatched it from his hand, bending to eat.

 

“It bothers me a little that you seem more composed about all this than I am…” he said. “Fine. I’ll go see her.”

 

Taking a bite, he left the stable, crossing the yard slowly. He had no idea what to say, where to begin, and more than that, he didn’t want to speak so openly. First thing then, convincing her to go somewhere more private to talk...

Chapter Text

Ariane snuck away to the semi-private hall leading to the war room. Things had become busier lately, and when the stress of constantly being flanked by people vying for her attention was too much, she came here, where the only people who usually passed by were her advisors. Today was a bit different, a note clutched in her hand, left where she would find it easily, though she hadn’t been quite prepared to read it yet. Part of her worried it was yet another thing that needed her attention, lest Thedas fall to pieces, or something a bit more ridiculous. It was barely afternoon before she had already been swarmed with three marriage proposals, two angry letters demanding she duel to solve some problem she was not personally involved in, and four offers of land she neither cared to have or had the means to run. Josephine had said it was best to politely refuse, and as far as she knew, she had. Cullen had cautioned that the more present the Inquisition was, the more good she did, the more it would happen. If it wasn’t people trying to become her best friend, it was rift activity, or further waiting on word for what came next. Honestly, she was exhausted, but it couldn’t be helped, there was little room for relaxation, and if she was exhausted, she had to imagine the others were moreso. Cullen rarely seemed to sleep and when he was awake, more often than not he was besieged with reports and training, and assigning soldiers to tasks all across Ferelden. Josephine had recently requisitioned more candles, which said she was, pun absolutely intended, burning the midnight oil with her letters and requests.

 

Leliana, she had little enough opportunity to encounter on a regular basis, but the fact that no one was trying to kill her and nothing had fallen apart said she kept busy as well. She raised a hand to massage the back of her neck for a moment, taking a long, slow breath before she decided she could read the note now. Unfolding it, she tilted her head curiously. The handwriting was unfamiliar to her, not the usual flowing script of Orlais, or the neat, but brief style common to Ferelden, this was scratchy, scrawled with an uncertain, shaking hand. It was strangely charming in its unfamiliarity. A simple note, quick, instructing her to meet the writer in the gardens after dark. Not a bad idea, at night there seemed to be no one there, a quiet, peaceful place that almost felt like another world entirely. It was one of her favorite places, colorful, calm, like the awful things outside the walls never existed. It gave her a sudden burst of energy, wondering who she was supposed to meet, the will to face the rest of the day until that time.

 

------

Ariane peered around the door, trying to catch a glimpse of anyone. Thanks to the foliage, that wasn’t working well. She held the note, stepping out slowly, glancing down the open halls. She jumped nervously, feeling a hand on her shoulder, spinning around to see who it was.

 

“Did...you leave this for me?” she asked, realizing it sounded like a dumb question.

 

Fenris looked away, nodding. “I’m sorry, I’m not used to writing.”

 

Looking at it again, it made sense. Hawke’s letter had said he had been trying to learn to read, and from what she had learned in conversation with Varric, he had been a slave in Tevinter, he likely never learned to write. It was a simple note, certainly, but it was touching to realize he had put in actual effort to write it, for her. It felt like it had been so long since she had seen him last, although it hadn’t been more than a week or so. She had a decent idea of what he had went to so much trouble to seek her out for, that being yet another point of conversation with Varric. She turned her gaze to her boots, dropping her head, knowing it had to be brought up.

 

“Listen, I know why you were upset before, I--” her words interrupted abruptly.

 

He leaned in, kissing her in a way that she was sure was meant to shut her up, though it didn’t feel any less welcome. It bothered her how much she missed the contact, or perhaps how familiar he had become. He let go quickly, though he didn’t move away from her.

 

“I was angry. I was...it wasn’t your fault, not really. I just...want you to be less reckless.” he mumbled, frowning.

 

No, he had a few good reasons to be bitter about mages. She may have served as an extension of the events in Kirkwall, with her decision to ally with the mages. But she never denied that magic could, and often was misused. It was just her experience that gave her hope it could be different. In her clan, there were never templars, never anything more than her Keeper to watch and guide her. Fenris though, he had seen the worst of it and any hope he might have had of being more accepting of it probably died with Hawke’s rejection and Anders’ solution to the problem. That he was still willing to be around said he was at least trying again, and if he could do that, others could too. They just needed to see a mage who could resist temptation and not do something incredibly stupid with their gift.

 

“I didn’t know. Had I known what happened, I would have done better. I’ve told you before I pay the price for my magic, the truth was that I let my emotions get the better of me, and my spell backfired, I caught some of it. Enough to be unconscious for several days. I know very well that magic is dangerous. It isn’t bad to be wary of it.” she explained, her expression darkening briefly.

 

The thing that worried her most was not knowing what the anchor could really do. She had seen it close rifts, open some, she could wield it in a way to swallow her enemies, but by that logic, why couldn’t it backfire and explode around her as well. She knew what she could do before it, but this was new, unpredictable, and had more than once woke her up in a panic. He ran a hand through her hair, tilting her head to look her in the eyes. Maybe it was due to how close he had allowed himself to get to her, but he saw no evil in her eyes, no wicked intent, just a young girl who knew enough to fear losing control. Huffing out a heavy breath, he dropped his hand, reaching to slip his fingers between hers, leading her out into the open.

 

“I…” he began, hesitating, looking to the ground as if what he wanted to say was written there. “I don’t hate you. I’m not saying I like you!” he clarified immediately. “I was thinking...Hawke isn’t going to stay forever, she’ll go back to Merrill, and I’ve got nothing better to do...I might...might stick around for a little while.”

 

Her face felt hot, a soft fluttering erupting in her stomach, unsure what to think about the news. It was just a possibility, but to hear him say it even as a possible outcome made her feel strangely. She squeezed his hand gently, nodding once in affirmation.

 

“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like...and...for the record, I don’t hate you either. Honestly, I never did…” she murmured, the last words almost too faint to hear.

Chapter Text

Ariane sat up slowly, sweeping her hair from her face. This wasn’t her room, it took a moment to remember where she was and how she ended up here. Looking to her side, the sweeping trails of Fenris’ lyrium tattoos swam into view, laying on his stomach. It seemed strange to consider such a thing, but he had a lovely back, strong shoulders, his back smooth and well-muscled, save for the etched markings along his body. He groaned sleepily, squeezing his pillow closer, burying his face in it. That was right, he summoned her to the garden to talk, said he didn’t hate her, and he might stay. They stayed up for awhile, before they went back to his room, and she fell asleep. Had he moved her? Last she recalled, she was sitting on the floor with him. He really had changed since he arrived, that was the kind of thing she would never have guessed him thoughtful enough to care about. She slipped carefully out from under the covers, reaching for her boots, placed with care by the wall. She jolted in surprise, feeling his arm circle her waist, drawing her back to him.

 

“Are you awake?” she asked quietly.

 

Fenris gently pushed her hair to the side, trailing kisses down the nape of her neck, his words vibrating along her skin, sleepily rasped.

 

“I am now. Don’t leave yet…” he mumbled.

 

Her head dropped to her chest, biting her lip softly. Cullen had helpfully informed her on the way through the hold that she should make ready for Halamshiral the next morning. Saving the Empress was very important, but then...Fenris had long since discovered how easily it was to distract her, and damned if he wasn’t already close to throwing her schedule off.

 

“I have t--” she began, gasping as his hand slid under her blouse, teasingly wandering up her abdomen, slowly inching higher.

 

“Are you sure about that?” he asked, tongue sweeping the ridge of her ear.

 

Ariane tensed, her skin prickling in goosebumps, all but melting at the feeling. She managed to creep a few inches back towards the edge of the bed before his other hand clasped her waist once more, drawing her back again, gently pressing her down.

 

“Mmf...I suppose I don’t need that long to get ready…” she mumbled.

 

He grinned, a look she hadn’t seen very much of, but which she very much wished to. Straddling her waist, he bent over her, nipping at her neck, slipping the buttons down her blouse free. Usually, she was content to be the less tactile of them, but this close, she could hardly resist. Her fingers traced the curves and lines along his hips, up his chest and back down, slow and appreciative. Fenris suckled the mark he left on her neck, thoughtfully brushing a finger against it.

 

“It looks good, maybe I should cover you in these…” he murmured.

 

Reaching back, she unhooked her bra, pulling it away slowly, a cue that he could do as he wished. He rolled his hips against her slowly, nibbling the space between her breasts, biting, leaving one more bright red mark, seemingly pleased with the result.

 

“This is enough for now. Enough to let anyone fool enough to try anything know that they can’t have you.” he huffed. “I may not love you, but that doesn’t mean I want anyone else to think they have a chance.”

 

About to answer, he pressed a finger to her lips, shaking his head. Reaching between them, he unlaced her pants, stopping there, waiting to see if she would follow his lead. Far from disappointing, she raised her hips, undeterred by his weight against her, wiggling side to side in an effort to push them down with her panties. Fenris obliged enough to move, just a bit, tugging them free at her ankles. He moved off her, turning onto his back, pulling the leather laces loose, struggling to hurry out of his own pants. Drawing a breath of relief, he returned his focus to her, resting his palm against her side, his thumb sweeping along the scar raised over her hip. Ariane was getting impatient, it seemed, leaning into him, nipping and pulling his lower lip. Her tongue pressed in, kissing him deeply. Fenris moved over her, trying not to break the kiss, his fingers wandering, touching every inch of her he could reach. For the first time, she paid attention to his expressions, noticing the way he flinched and cringed when she touched him. She gently pushed him away, to his surprise, her usual smile fading for a frown, not a look she often, if ever wore.

 

“If this isn’t something you like, you don’t have to.” she mumbled.

 

His brows lowered, prodding her forehead firmly. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

 

“Your face, it just looks like you’re not enjoying this.” she explained.

 

He glanced down, her hand still resting flat on his chest. Gripping it, he held it in place, in case she tried to move away. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.”

 

“I am worried about it. I can’t help it.” she said defensively.

 

His head dropped, like he was trying to decide how best to deal with the situation. Part of him still didn’t want to let her any closer than she had already gotten to him, and even Hawke had warned her not to let him believe there was anything between them, right? There was little point in telling her anything that might be mistaken as him wanting her to know anything about him. The other part, it was almost a need, Hawke hadn’t bothered to try to understand him, had pushed him away, and it had felt so cold. Ariane didn’t feel that way, she was...like being in the sun on a warm day, that was how she felt. She was...he didn’t want to put words to it, to accidentally give her meaning.

 

“It hurts. Don’t think about it too much, I wouldn’t still be here with you if it wasn’t something I wanted.” he told her.

 

To cut off any further concerns, he kissed her again, harder, but not too hard. The goal was to silence her, not to cause her pain. He leaned against her fully, dismayed at the sudden loud knock on the door.

 

“Ari, you in there? Curly says it’s time to get going.” Varric called through the door.

 

She hurriedly parted from the kiss, frowning again, her brows knitting in mild irritation. “I’ll be ready to go in a few minutes.”

 

Fenris rolled his eyes, watching her slip away from him and grab up her clothes. He supposed nothing he could say would delay her departure any longer, instead watching her dress in silence, gripping her shoulder when she was about to stand. He drew her close enough to speak quietly, his words whispered in her ear.

 

“I don’t know how long you’ll be gone, but you better come back. Don’t burn down the palace either.” he told her.

 

Her mouth twitched, curving into a full grin then. “My, Fenris...that almost sounds like you’re worried about me. Are you feeling ill?”

 

“It’s nothing like that, just...shut up and get out of here.” he huffed.

 

Ariane stood finally, heading for the door, sweeping her hand through her hair with a quiet sigh. In truth, she wasn’t exactly looking forward to this at all, but there was no more delaying it. It wasn’t just the formality around it, or even that she had no idea how to act in the presence of such powerful people, but also stopping an assassination plot of this scale seemed not quite as easy as taking on a demon army in her mind. At least with demons you knew every one of them was a target. Killing every human in Halamshiral was, on the other hand, frowned upon and therefore, not an option. Even the infamous Hawke was sitting this one out, though as far as she recalled, her family name was a big one, not like she wouldn’t have warranted an invitation, at the very least.



Chapter Text

Ariane wasn't exactly having the best of times here. It was a blessed rare occurrence these days to meet humans that openly disliked her. Here in the Halamshiral, it was only too obvious. It was a bad time all around, right down to the outfit. He hated it, it was uncomfortable to wear anything that wasn't loose and easy to move in. This wasn't particularly tight save for the chest and hips, but it felt different, restrictive. Cassandra didn't seem to be having a good time either, but surprisingly, Dorian looked right at home.

 

“I'm curious. Why would they think Solas is my servant, I'm an elf too? Are elves even allowed to have servants?” She asked.

 

“I suppose some might. This place isn't exactly like home.” Dorian shrugged. “Have you noticed he doesn't seem like he's having an awful time?”

 

“I did…he explained it, but honestly, I’ve forgotten why in my efforts to not die.”

 

“Are you surprised it's crawling with assassins? You were warned.” He said, taking a sip of his wine.

 

How he managed to continually find time with all the running around to find a drink was probably something of a talent. Not one she had, unfortunately. It was to try and look as far from suspicious as possible and the need to rest that kept her from finishing her hunt for the culprit. Not only that, but after that dance, her feet were absolutely killing her. Fenris should be happy enough though, the palace was still (mostly) intact. It was nice to see everyone out of Skyhold though, Josephine had found her sister, Yvette and was engaged in conversation, but she looked exasperated. Leliana looked like she belonged in these places, but she was well versed in the grand game. Cullen, on the other hand was miserable. He hid it well, but she'd been around him long enough to see past the polite facade he wore. Surrounded by nobles, all pestering him for attention was not only a source of annoyance for him, but dreadfully inconvenient for her. He had no privacy, which made discussing the situation difficult. When he did speak, it was the quietest he'd ever been,, scarcely above a whisper. At some point, it moved beyond simple conversation to being groped openly. It was the first time she found herself grateful for the way people treated her. Ariane wouldn't try to be polite about it, if someone tried that here, they'd find themselves eating a fireball. There was an opening to continue, and she had a feeling she knew exactly who was behind it. Certainly Corypheus was involved somewhere along the line, and both Gaspard and Briala had dirty hands, even Celene herself wasn't innocent in the matter, but it was someone else, someone that had somehow failed to come up as a possibility. Florianne was definitely the guilty party, with the way she tried to pass the blame elsewhere. Ariane gestured back inside with her head.

 

“Let's go grab the others and get this over with. I'd like to not be here as soon as possible.” She sighed,

pinching the bridge of her nose. “I have no idea what I'm doing, political situations aren't my specialty. Assuming we don't die, I have no idea what to do.”

 

“Then guess. They’ll get over it. Probably.” He suggested.

 

Ariane grabbed his glass, offering a quick apology for downing it. She set it off to the side, making a beeline for Cassandra after they rounded up Solas. She wanted to hurry up and get this business over with, after using so much magic already, it felt draining on her, but there'd be more to come. A day to just rest would do wonders. Cullen would probably advocate on her behalf if she mentioned it, Josephine and Leliana were more than capable of handling most problems that came her way for one day, surely. The group wandered through the last place they had left to check, making idle conversation between scuffles.

 

“You know, he keeps looking at you.” Dorian said.

 

“Solas?” Ariane asked, shooting through a corridor in a wave of magic. “Either way, that seems a random bit of information.”

 

“It isn't me. I'm focused on the task at hand.” Solas said.

 

“I didn't mean him. I meant our dear commander. Every time you enter the ballroom, he watches you.” He clarified.

 

“That's easy. He wants help. I can't exactly drag him to safety without attracting attention, so the best I can do is to hurry this along.” She said.

 

Cassandra slowed to a stop, calling to her quietly. Pointing to a door, she signaled for quiet to listen. It sounded like something was happening on the other side. Throwing caution to the wind, she opened the door, dashing in. The others moved to follow, in time to see her freeze abruptly in her steps. There was a group of mercs waiting, ready to fire on her, and at the center of it all, Florianne, staying only long enough to gloat over the presumed victory, unimpressed by Ariane's sarcastic remarks on the matter. Once she made her exit, Ariane sprang to action, weaving skillfully around the arrows, opening the rift lingering in the middle. Cassandra and Solas kept the defenses up, Dorian and Ariane focused on offense. As a team, they made short work of demons and humans alike. Ariane stopped to help one of the men left behind, presumably in the hopes he might die. Far from telling him off, she offered the man a job. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, taking a few deep breaths before pointing to the direction she was going.

 

“We need to hurry. It's going to be a problem if she gets back before we do.” She sighed.

 

“Are you holding up alright?” Solas asked.

 

“I'm fine, it's just a little fatigue. I'm not used to having to use this much. It's exhausting. Come now, no more stops, if anyone gets in our way, mow them down.”

 

“I'll lead for now then. I can clear us a path if needed.” Cassandra offered, rushing ahead when Ariane stepped aside.

 

With her forcing the way clear, they reached the ballroom quickly. Ariane gestured for them to stay behind, striding across the room with purpose. Cullen stopped her just a short distance from catching up to her.

 

“You're back… are you alright?” He asked, looking her over curiously. “What's the plan?”

 

“I'm fine.” She said. “I'm going to have a friendly chat with the grand duchess.”

 

“There's no time for that.” He disagreed.

 

“Watch me make time.” She said, shooting him a wink as she gently stepped past him.

 

Calling her out in front of everyone proved to be more stressful than it went in her mind, the feeling of all eyes on her, boring through her was completely uncomfortable. On the other hand, it ended well, and hastened her meeting with the Empress, Briala and Gaspard. The others had said it didn't need to be the empress she chose, but Gaspard hardly seemed a good option. Briala in the equation probably seemed suspect, but if they really still had feelings for each other, it was the best option. A little prompting, and Celene was back inside making the announcement. Slinking away when she could, she was met with Morrigan, the woman who gave her a key earlier. The empress was pawning her off on the Inquisition. Not that she wasn't useful, only that she knew next to nothing about her. At best it was a thank you, at worst a total inconvenience. Her grace and patience were about at their limit, but she managed a smile, and the best welcome she could manage. When she turned to take her leave, she took a deep breath, letting out her breath slowly. Thinking she'd finally get a moment to relax, the sound coming up behind her said otherwise. Ariane straightened up as best as she could, sighing again when Cullen smiled. That was not his “I'm sorry, but you've got more work” look.

 

Ariane slumped against the balcony, her posture matched. Looking her over, he still seemed concerned about her condition. He loosely held her shoulder, though he couldn't bring himself to look her in the eyes for a time.

 

“I'm alright, I promise. I'm just a little tired. It was more taxing than I imagined trying to figure this out.” Ariane admitted.

 

“I understand, believe me.” He sighed. “I was worried for you.” He said.

 

“I'm glad someone was. I could tell not many were happy to see me.” She shrugged.

 

The music swelled inside, audible as clearly outside as if they were still inside. Cullen pulled his hand away, and the cold air replaced the warmth immediately. He moved out of view, and she turned, curious to know what he was doing. He held his hand out, a slight pink washing over his face. Nodding to the door, he smiled.

 

“Cullen, what's going on…?” She asked quietly.

 

“I'm sure I'm not very good at this, but for you I'll give it a try. Would you care to dance?” He asked, a hint of nervousness in his tone.

 

Before she had a chance to really lend it any thought, she was already stepping closer to him. She put her hand in his, at first finding that she was no better at this than he was, but after a little trial and error, it became easier to match his steps. He was tall, and she had to look up, curiosity compelling her to. This was perhaps the closest they'd ever been and it occurred to her he was vastly different from elves, though to some extent Ariane always knew that. He wasn't simply taller, but broad, more muscular than the men in her clan, but gentle despite that, like he was concerned about hurting her. She couldn't tell, but it seemed like he was making the same assessments of her. The music faded away slowly, and he didn't move, his throat bobbing slightly. He moved a hand to her hair, fingers threading through her waves, bending to close the gap. Her heart leapt into her throat, hammering harder when his lips brushed hers.

 

Ariane wasn't sure how to react initially, her hands coming to rest on the front of his jacket, fingers curling slowly in the material. Growing bolder, he deepened the kiss, his arm wrapping her waist, firmly but not uncomfortably so. Moments into fully relaxing into the situation, the door opened, a voice calling to her.

 

“Inquisitor, it seems we can leave. All matters that can be handled tonight a--” Josephine stopped abruptly. “I'm so sorry. I'll go say goodbye to Yvette again…”

 

Once she went back inside, Ariane pulled away guiltily, looking to him to see if he was as bothered by it as she was. Perhaps a little embarrassed, but not shaken by it.

 

“I…wow, I'm actually not sure what I was going to say…” she mumbled.

 

“Was… that was alright, wasn't it?” He asked, suddenly nervous about it.

 

Ariane licked her lips slowly, thinking about it seriously. There wasn't much to think about, really. It was just a kiss, right? He wasn't asking for anything, not pushing for anything more. Fenris crossed her mind with a tinge of guilt, but even that faded. He'd insisted multiple times that they were nothing, he might stay. Still, to him, she wasn't exactly important, staying, possibly, but he had no real feelings for her…

 

“Of course. Despite my concern , I did enjoy it. Had I not, the return trip might have been awkward.” She said with a quiet laugh.

 

Cullen smiled brightly at that, though his gaze drifted distractedly to the door. Sighing to himself, he pointed to it. “Speaking of that. We should go…”

 

They walked out in a polite hurry, a few steps between each other, at her insistence. People would talk, and not in a good way. People always talked anyway, but it wasn't a good idea to give people a reason to question the legitimacy of the inquisition at this point. Hopefully after this night, it was slightly more tolerable that the leader of such a powerful institution was an elven mage. Of course saving the Empress out of the way, that left her to figure out the demon army next...

Chapter Text

Thanks to needing time to plan, Ariane was busy right away after returning to Skyhold. It was a full two days before she had time for anything besides sleep and then returning to the war room to discuss the current status of matters at Adamant and how they intended to deal with it. They had no solid conclusion by the third day, but they opted to take a day’s break so they could return with fresh eyes and minds. Ariane made her way to her room, intent on relaxing in the bath for a time, until a hand grasped her arm when she entered the door.

 

“Are you avoiding me?” Fenris asked, wasting no time.

 

She shook her head, denying it immediately. “I've been busy. This time I don't have the luxury of waiting forever. I need to ready myself right away.”

 

He nodded once, seemingly satisfied with the answer. He gently pulled her to him, his hand loosely grasping the back of her neck, planting a kiss on the top of her head. She was heading for the bath, so it wouldn't hurt to give her a proper welcome before letting her go. His hands moved lower, slipping the buttons free from the fastenings, letting it fall naturally. Slowly, he reached back to undo the clasps of her bra, pushing her back as he did. Ariane didn't complain, her hands cradling his shoulders, kneading the solid muscles appreciatively. He fell back to the bed with her, his hand easily dipping under the band of her trousers, her hips immediately raising to his touch.

 

“I… might have missed you. A little. It's no big deal.” He muttered.

 

His free hand slipped the button free, trying his best to get them down with just one hand, unwilling to stop just yet. They were interrupted last time, this time, he had no intention of letting anyone or anything get in the way. Frustrated by how long it was taking to get her undressed, he gripped the edge of her panties, tearing them away, pleased with the way she gasped. She reached for his clothes, but he deflected her reach, shaking his head.

 

“Not yet. Not until I'm done with you.” He told her.

 

Her body quivered, biting her lip anxiously as he teased her closer to her finish with just his fingers, biting and sucking bruises over her chest and in between, and it struck her that something felt different this time. She couldn't quite figure it out, except to say it had been close to a week already since she'd left. The traveling was the longest part. He moved higher, nibbling her earlobe, his fingers slowing to a stop.

 

“That didn't take long.” He whispered teasingly.

 

Her face lit up a bright pink, the blunt way he said it almost making her wonder if she should be concerned about it. Fenris stole a quick kiss before moving away, tossing away the tunic he wore. Her eyes wandered along the freshly exposed lines of his chest and abdomen, expertly etched in muscle, without being too much. Instead of leaning down to meet her like she had come to expect, he grasped her ankles, bending down. He let her legs fall over her shoulders, her face the brightest he'd ever seen, scrambling to try and pull back from him self-consciously. He gripped her thighs so she couldn't get away from him, probably new for her, new to him too, but people here talked freely, and it didn't hurt to test out what he'd overheard. Fenris hesitantly moved a hand away from her, his fingers grazing her gently, enough to get her to relax a little, until his mouth touched her, unsure how to react to the strange feeling making her thoughts vanish almost immediately. Her hips lifted unconsciously to him, trapping her lip with a soft whimper. He glanced up at her for an instant before his eyes closed, tongue sweeping against her in varied speeds and pressure, sometimes pointing and sometimes flat, making it impossible to predict his pattern or get used to it. Her heels pressed against his shoulders tightly, like she was trying to beg for more, taking that as a good indication that she was enjoying it. Ariane gasped and panted, louder than he could recall her being before, her head heavy against her pillows, fingers digging urgently at the sheets. Minutes later, he traded his fingers for his mouth, rough skin dragging against her, eager to push her just that last bit past too far. She quivered, trembling legs loosening against him, her shaking hand clasping over her mouth to mute her cries. He pulled away, letting her down slowly, her chest still rising rapidly while her breath steadied. Moving to stand, he worked quickly to get his pants off, his clothes pooling at his feet. Stepping free of them, he stretched out next to her. His fingers traced her scars slowly before drawing wide circles on her skin, watching her silently. The thoughts racing through his mind made him uncomfortable. He already admitted to missing her, and that was startling to him. If she knew half the things on his mind, would she think it frightening as well? That was it then, maybe it was better not to say anything about it then. He'd keep it to himself and be glad for what little was between them. Once she had ample time to come down, he reached for her, pulling her up gently. Drawing her back to his chest, he settled her knees comfortably against the bedding, his thighs pushing her legs apart. Ariane glanced back curiously, unsure what he was doing. His arms folded around her waist, keeping her to him as he trailed kisses down her neck, stopping between her shoulders before reversing his direction with soft nips.

 

“What's going - Ah! - on with you?” She asked jokingly.

 

Just as he said. He actually missed her. That aside, the idea of her being around so many people who would surely understand that getting on her good side meant a lot left him irritated. If anyone should get her focus, it should be him, he was the only one who actually took her into consideration. Not completely, but he cared enough to let her know she was only convenient before they'd done anything. Fenris wasn't sure if that was still the case, but he knew this was what he wanted. Close enough to hold onto her, to keep her close enough to watch. Yet he was willing to admit the idea of being caught like this didn't concern him as much as it usually did. It wasn't his problem, if someone was stupid enough to walk into her private  quarters. They'd certainly get an eyeful, spread apart and filled with him as she was. Biting back a groan in the curve of her neck, his hold moved to her hips, pulling her against him faster, harder.

 

“You're imagining things. What funny brains you have.” He huffed.

 

She was gorgeous, flushed a pink that complimented her skin well, beaded in sweat, fingertips pressed urgently against the backs of his hands, careful not to dig in with her nails, lips parted. Her head tipped back, resting on his shoulder, eyes squeezed tightly shut. All for him, because of him. When the hell did it happen? That he actually cared how she looked or why? When  did it become more than just relieving stress? Part of him hated the idea of having a vulnerability like that, too easy for her to hurt him, he was giving her a kind of power she knew nothing about, and maybe it was fine as long as she didn't realize it. He released a shuddering breath against her ear, feeling goosebumps raise along her skin. Bringing a hand lower, his fingers slipped against her, slick with arousal. He learned long ago that the way she reacted to it was something indescribable in the way she squeezed him tighter, her hips jerking against him. Her head dropped to her chest , trying in vain to stifle her gasping moans. She pulsed around him, and he couldn't hold on anymore. He slowed, not quite willing to stop, even after he had nothing left to give, only letting up when she whimpered, overstimulated. Fenris carefully lifted her off his lap, leaning over her, he peppered her face with brief, light kisses.

 

“I'm going with you this time…” he said, his tone inviting no arguments on the matter.

 

“I… you're not going to let me refuse, are you?” She sighed.

 

“No. Of course not.” He agreed.

 

“Does it have anything to do with Hawke going?” She asked hesitantly.

 

“No. Do I really need a reason? It has nothing to do with her and nothing to do with you.” He lied.

 

“I'll clear it with the others…” she mumbled, reaching for her pillow, pressing her face against it appreciatively. “I don't know what will happen.”

 

“Didn't I hear you're going to destroy a demon army? I'm sure that's what's going to happen.” He grunted.

 

“You know what I mean. It could always go wrong, maybe someone dies, maybe I die. Maybe we all fail, and Corypheus finally gets his way. I'm not immune to failure.” She mumbled.

 

“Whatever.” He sighed. “Just make sure you prepare yourself well enough. Don't do something stupid.”

 

Ariane frowned at that, grasping the pillow a little tighter. Good thing he hadn't asked about Halamshiral. Certainly every bit of it would be seen as stupid, it sounded bad enough to her already, overextending herself, letting herself get caught off guard by an obvious trap, getting noticed by Morrigan, kissing her Commander, she didn't regret anything that happened there, the mission was a success, but still, it could have gone smoother. Of course the worry about Adamant was entirely due to the strangely sick feeling in the pit of her stomach when she tried to imagine how bad it would really be compared to the limited reports. She rested long enough. Getting up, she stretched with a groan at the slight ache throughout her body.

 

“Gonna go take a bath. Don't suppose you want to join me?” She asked.

 

Fenris stared at her quietly, thinking it over for a few moments before he finally nodded, moving to join her.

 

“A hot bath sounds good about now.” He admitted.

Chapter Text

Ariane was gone in the morning, and he wandered off to find her. There was something he meant to discuss with her, but it wasn't exactly urgent in his mind.

 

“Which one are you looking for?” Varric asked with a grin. “Hawke or our Lady Inquisitor?”

 

“None of your business, last I checked.” He replied, not bothering to look.

 

“Too bad. I happen to know where they are.” He said, shrugging.

 

Fenris frowned, heaving a sigh. Folding his arms across his chest, he turned finally. “Fine. Tell me.”

 

“Funny thing, I heard you've been telling everyone off lately. Blackwall, Solas, Bull, hell, even Cole .” Varric mused. “Sounds a bit like you're actually jealous. Could it be you found someone you like more than Hawke? You never acted like this over her.”

 

“You're imagining it. I'm just trying to figure out when we're actually leaving.” He said.

 

Varric chuckled to himself. “Oh? Is that so? Hawke is in the yard practicing with some of the mages.”

 

“And Ariane?” He asked.

 

“Well, that's the first time I've ever heard you say her name.” He teased. “She's in the garden with the Commander.”

 

Not giving him a chance to elaborate, Fenris set off immediately. It bothered him that he couldn't identify what part of that one statement bothered him more. That he was trying to get closer to her or that she hadn't told him off yet. Jealous? Right. There was no reason to be jealous of anyone here, least of all over her. He paused for an instant, racking his brains. Had he really never once said her name before? Not a concern, no need to give her the impression he was trying to try for more than what they already had.

 

“Pshh. Not like I love her. Who cares what she's doing” he muttered under his breath.

 

He left through a side door, spotting her immediately. They sat across from each other, both smiling. From the looks of it, he was reading a letter to her, and to his surprise, whatever it was about has her looking pleased, happier than he'd ever seen her anyway. He took two steps closer, unable to convince himself to go any further than that.

 

“I'm glad you're writing home more often.” She told him.

 

“I don't know if I would have, if not for you…” he admitted.

 

“You should! You have a family that… that cares about you.” She tripped on that one word.

 

Fenris tipped his head, wondering what about that statement made her look so distant so suddenly.

 

Cullen frowned, reaching to rest  a hand on her shoulder. His thumb brushed the curve comfortingly, sighing some as he set the letter down.

 

“I wish I could say something to make it better for you. Perhaps if we get some time, we could… if you wanted, I mean…” he sighed, unsure of his own words. “Maybe we could make time to go.”

 

“You'd really go with me? What about your work?” She asked.

 

“Family is important, you reminded me of that. I couldn't let you live without getting a chance to say goodbye. It might be dangerous for you, of course I'd go.” He said firmly.

 

Biting her lip, she hung her head, nodding once like she was worried she'd cry if she said anything right away. Collecting herself, she swallowed hard.

 

“Anyway, what else did Mia say?” She asked.

 

“She wants to visit sometime. Says she misses me, and they don't want me running off before they see me again.” He laughed.

 

“Great! That's the best news I've heard in sometime.” She said cheerfully.

 

Fenris couldn't decide what they were talking about, why his family might come to visit or why he was offering to go with her to see hers. The Dalish didn't usually get along with humans, that was just a dumb idea.

 

“Not going to talk to her?” Varric asked.

 

Fenris jumped, unaware he had followed him that far.

 

“It can wait.” He grunted.

 

“I'm guessing it just hit you that you don't know anything about her.” He observed.

 

“I suppose you're here to bore me with stories?” He asked dryly.

 

“Just the one. Even you have Varania. She sent someone to help her clan and they were all killed, by local humans. She's been so busy she couldn't even go pay her respects.” He said.

 

“I see.” He said.

 

“You really don't. It wasn't typical close family with distant relatives. It was her mother, her father, and her brother and little sister too. All gone because her calling was too great and too heavy to handle it the way she wanted. Family is something Cullen knows a lot about. He lost his parents too, while he was in training. He's seen her struggles firsthand from the start. She trusts him.” He explained.

 

“Why do you assume I care?” He asked.

 

Varric gestured to the hands he had since clenched into tight, shaking fists. “Because I can tell it's bothering you. I've known you how many years now? I know how to read you. Be as prickly as you like, but don't try to fool me.”

 

“Why would I care about this?” He asked, flaunting an open palm towards them.

 

“Dunno. Maybe you're in love.” He shrugged.

 

“Now I know you're crazy.” He snorted, turning to leave.

 

“Ah! Varric, Fenris! Do you want to join us?” She called happily.

 

“‘Course, Ari. What's going on today?” Varric asked pleasantly.

 

He took a seat immediately, though Fenris seemed reluctant to, finally sitting across from Varric, between Cullen and her. Cullen gestured down the hall, signaling with his hand that they would need more. The soldier delivered some drinks, another setting down trays of what he could only guess were steaming vegetables and some kind of mystery meat that was brown.

 

“It's such a nice day, we thought we'd eat outside, discuss matters here for once. Leliana was off grabbing the reports, and Josie was bringing desserts she got from a Rivaini trader.” Ariane explained.

 

Varric glanced to Fenris, barely containing a smirk. It was as though he was silently challenging his earlier reactions to seeing them together. He shot his an almost sour look. Conversation picked up again when Leliana and Josephine arrived, though it hardly seemed business related at all initially.

 

“Have either of you gotten any good news lately?” Ariane asked, idly munching on an only slightly dirty carrot.

 

“Yvette attended another salon, swears her art lessons are paying off, and I hear she might finally be working on a painting.” Josie looked apologetic, hanging her head for a moment. “Of...you. Standing against an orgy of blood mages. Holding a fireball.”

 

Ariane blushed faintly at that, waving her hands anxiously. “I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to encourage her.”

 

“It's fine… at least those expensive lessons are actually paying off…” she sighed.

 

Leliana held up a letter, her expression unusually bright. “I got a letter from Neria. That's the Hero of Ferelden.” She clarified. “She's getting married soon. To King Alistair.”

 

“Didn't you say before that he couldn't marry her?” Ariane asked incredulously.

 

“He finally got tired of being told who he could and couldn't be with and said he was going to marry her even if he had to step down. Apparently, they value him as a ruler these days, so they relented. Wardens have trouble having children, and they're not really sure it'll happen, but they're going to try.” Leliana said.

 

“Oh, that's so wonderful. It's great to hear about these things, gives me a reminder of why we're doing this.” She sighed.

 

Cullen reached for the reports, reading through them quickly. He took a sip, setting them back down.

 

“So all were waiting for are the siege weapons to breach the walls?” He asked.

 

“Yes, my contact says it should be only a few days before they arrive. Leliana and I have made arrangements so you can leave immediately once they arrive. Stroud indicated that the situation is still a problem, but it's been a slowly progressing matter, we should arrive just ahead of the worst of it.” Josephine said.

 

Cullen turned his attention to Ariane for a moment, his expression serious. “If I might make a request, I'd feel a lot better if you'd requisition some sturdier armor for this occasion. Your robes may be more comfortable, but they won't protect you from everything we’ll face there. Normally it would be an easy matter to ensure your safety, but my men will be busy with the opposition on the walls, and tearing a path for you…”

 

Ariane sighed, giving in with little argument. She didn't want to jeopardize the mission for the sake of her own personal comfort. “I...understand.”

 

Fenris huffed at that, taking a drink. “Hawke will be there, the Warden, and I'm going too. Wear what you want, I'll keep you safe.”

 

She flushed a deep pink, unsure what to think of such a statement, let alone how to respond to it.

 

“As that might be, it is a sound idea for her to wear something sturdier. Even with extra help, it may not be possible to keep an eye on her at all times.” Leliana said.

 

Fenris kept his focus on the table, though his hand discreetly came to rest on her knee, his fingertips drawing slow circles up from her knee, up her thigh and back down. Her tongue wetted her lips slowly, trying not to react to the comfort of his touch, instead, picking at her dinner. He had been acting strangely lately, and it certainly didn't seem like him to want to touch her so publicly like that. This wasn't the right place to question it, content to enjoy it, despite her curiosity.

 

“I should check the stores as well, I want to make sure we have enough supplies for this, I gathered extra herbs for the occasion.” She said, trying to keep the focus anywhere but to him.

 

“I’ll talk to Fiona and Helisma, see if they have anything for demon-related injuries as well, just in case.” Leliana added.

 

“That's a great idea. Thank you.” She said gratefully.

 

She forced herself to stay still, fighting the sudden urge to slip down in her seat with a far too obvious sigh when his hand purposely inched higher, teasing a slow trail against her over her thin trousers, before returning to rest on her knee like he'd done nothing out of the ordinary. Leliana and Josephine excused themselves first, to get back to work, Cullen following reluctantly after them, like he wasn't looking forward to leaving so quickly. Varric on the other hand, hung back purposely, waiting to see how long it would take for him to get annoyed with his continued presence. Turns out it wasn't long.

 

“Don't you have something to do? Polish your crossbow or something?” He grumbled.

 

Polish? She's mostly wood, I don't want to hurt her.” He said with a frown. “I suppose I could go. I imagine you two have a lot to talk about.”

 

Varric finally left, chuckling to himself as he left. Ariane tipped her head curiously, her brows drawing in confusion. “Did you want to talk about something?”

 

Fenris shook his head. “Not really.”

 

“Is there something you'd rather do?” She asked.

 

“Me? No. I guess if you had something you wanted, I'm not that busy.” He sighed.

 

Ariane bit back a giggle. It was only too obvious what he was trying to do. He had led things in a specific direction, but he was leaving it up to her if it continued that way or not. That seemed to be the closest he was going to get to asking her after the last time. That was what she got for picking on him too much, probably.

 

“I can think of something, I'm sure.” She said.

 

She stood up, intentionally keeping her steps slow, until he grabbed her sleeve, tugging her along the path back inside. Varric was probably right, talking to her was probably the best idea, but because it came from him, he didn't feel like it, that and if he chose to be honest, he wasn't sure what he meant to say, and wasn't ready to figure it out just yet.

 

 

Chapter Text

Adamant. Had time really gone by so quickly to be here already? Ariane frowned, adjusting the straps on her new armor. The air alone was thick with intent so wicked it twisted her stomach. Of course she had already known blood magic was involved, but that didn't prepare her for the heavy scent of it hanging in the air. On Cullen’s instruction, her and her chosen few of Solas, Bull, Varric and Fenris waited for the signal to move in. Hawke had left ahead of them and was presumably already inside with Stroud. This place wasn't going to be kind to her, the threat of wearing herself out was real enough, to say nothing of having to fight in such close quarters. Good thing they packed a lot of supplies, no one was getting out of this without injuries.

 

“Hey… I had something I wanted to say…” Fenris mumbled.

 

“What is -” she began.

 

The door down, she rushed in with the others, relatively protected in the flanked formation they discussed. She spun her staff, spells flying faster than she'd ever had need to use them before.

 

“You were about to say?” She asked.

 

Fenris shook his head, busy cutting through demons at her back.

 

“It can wait.” He said.

 

“Now would be a good time to bring up anything important. Never know what might happen here.” Varric called over the sound of bolts firing.

 

“I said it can wait.” He repeated.

 

“The walls, we're having trouble holding them. If you can clear them up, we'll have a shot at helping you.” Cullen said, gesturing upward.

 

“Clear them off? That's all?” She asked with a grin. “You ask for so little.”

 

“Don't be reckless.” He told her sternly.

 

Ariane was already trying to find purchase on the rocky, damaged wall. She had spent a fair bit of time climbing old towers and buildings in her childhood, this was nothing to her.

 

“Find a way around, I'll meet you up top.” She called to the others.

 

“Get down and go around!” Fenris grumbled. “You're going to hit the heavy resistance if you go up that way.”

 

“Not if I take ‘em by surprise.” She argued.

 

Ignoring the warning, she hefted herself over the wall. The first thing they could hear when she disappeared from view was her surprised grunt, the impact of something loud and then an explosion. She yelped before peeking over the wall, her hand pressed to her arm, blood seeping through her fingers.

 

“Clear in this section. I told you I'd surprise them.” She huffed triumphantly.

 

The group ran ahead to catch up with her. Cullen shook his head, signaling the men could get up that way. Ariane didn't see the problem, one small injury that she could worry about healing later was a small price for getting a clear path. The soldiers fighting here all had families and people who loved them too, losing even one was no option in her mind.

 

Hawke met up with her first, and together they moved on to the next trouble spot, a pride demon at the front, not the only opposition, just the biggest. They stood back to back, circling together to cover each other's blind spots.

 

“Mage, to your left.” Ariane warned.

 

Hawke made a sweeping gesture with her staff, flinging him off the wall.

 

“Big guy's coming for you, watch the whip.” She said.

 

A high drift of ice blocked the path in front of her, buying her time to fire up a stronger spell, aiming where its head would be. When it crashed through the thick ice, she let go, a direct strike that saw it stumble blindly away from her. Before she could continue her assault, Bull’s large form surged past her, smashing into it, a flurry of bolts piercing. The demon’s body slid apart from itself  at the middle, both halves falling in opposite directions. Fenris shook the blood from his sword with a disgusted sigh, before turning his attention to her.

 

“You were injured. Is it bad?” He asked.

 

Ariane shook her head. Not really, I'll be fine, this armor stopped the arrow from going through further, it's hardly more than a small cut.”

 

“Pretty heavy bleeding for a ‘small cut’” he said, his tone almost scolding.

 

“Nice to see you too.” Hawke interrupted.

 

“Didn't see you. Guess you really look small compared to her.” He grunted.

 

They exchanged glances, uncertain if it was a straight dig to Hawke or a backhanded compliment wrapped in an insult. Opting not to waste time figuring it out, they pushed to the final holding point along the ramparts.

 

Solas hung back, keeping barriers up while the rest tackled the demons and possessed wardens, arguing with Ariane over whether or not to patch her up while the chance presented itself.

 

“Take the bracer off and let me at least wrap it.” He demanded stubbornly.

 

“No time. We're not done yet, and it barely hurts.” She said, though the way she winced when he grabbed the arm betrayed her words. “Fine, but be quick about it.”

 

Solas waited for her to remove it, coating the wound in crushed elfroot before bandaging it up, sighing to himself when she pulled it on again, tightening it against his advice.

 

“It'll slow the bleeding, I was a healer for my clan, I know what I'm doing.” She said.

 

With the last waves out of the way on the top and her arm patched up, they headed for the main area to try and put an end to matters before they had a chance to get much worse. Unfortunately, it seemed luck was not on their side, Erimond there to greet them. Ariane put a hand to her brow with a groan. Of course it had to be him. Hindsight was always 20/20, she should have made sure he never got away the first time.

 

“You again? You didn't crawl back to Vyrantium with your tail between your legs when you had the chance?” Fenris growled. “I won't make that mistake this time.”

 

All hope for a peaceful resolution fled when he called the dragon to him. Even as that Warden Commander seemed to doubt him at least, she did nothing to stop matters.

 

“So I see. I had hoped that beast died in Haven, but I guess that would be asking too much…” she sighed. A rift opened in the center of the yard, a giant pride demon emerging before she had a chance to formulate any kind of plan, the dragon complicating matters. This was too close, there was nowhere far enough away to attack safely, and between the pools of red lyrium the dragon spewed and the crackling electricity, she panicked. Raising her hands, a too strong blast of fire engulfed the demon, small embers of it wisping back, falling to rest on her face, though she didn't let up. Her left eye welled with tears, trying to soothe the sudden sting. She squeezed it shut, falling back when it lashed out. Hawke backed away, helping her to her feet. Leaning in, she spoke quietly.

 

“They’re leaving, go after them. We'll catch up in a bit. Don't let them get away.” She told her.

 

Ariane nodded, retrieving her staff before she rushed off, palm flattened to her eye as she did. Stroud reached her first, yanking her back in time to avoid taking a direct hit from the archdemon.

 

“Th...thank you…” she mumbled.

 

“Don't thank me, it's a Warden’s job to help those in need. Once upon a time, they remembered that too…” he sighed. “Your eye, is it bad?”

 

Ariane shook her head. “Not the first time, it'll be back to normal in a few days, it just stings. Clarel is going to get away at this rate…”

 

She ran ahead, the clanking of metal and chain mail telling her he was keeping up fine. Stroud fell back to keep a group of demons off her, giving her a chance to continue her pursuit. They were on a bridge, Erimond fleeing from Clarel’s anger at being betrayed, and she had to bite back a giggle at the way he balled up with a whimper when she struck him. Things appeared to finally be going her way, until the dragon returned, all but Fenris catching up in time to see her lash out at it one last time with the last of her energy. Erimond escaped in the chaos. Ariane turned to chase after him until the bridge began to collapse. She struggled to outrun it, scraping desperately at the falling stones. Fenris arrived too late, trying to pull her back, cursing under his breath when she fell away.

 

“Ariane!” He shouted, backing away before he fell with the last of the bridge.

 

Unwilling to believe after all the stories he'd heard of her that this was the last he'd ever see of her, he rushed back, deciding to help the few wardens who had turned to help them and the soldiers, not his first choice, but the wait would drive him mad if he did nothing.

Chapter Text

Ariane knelt on the ground, glancing up on occasion. Stroud, Hawke and the others were still trying to wrap their minds around being in the Fade physically, with the exception of Solas, who seemed quite pleased for the most part to be there. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she took a deep breath, trying to get her bearings. Scratching marks on the ground, she studied it a few moments longer before standing again, brushing her hands together.

 

“What are you doing?” Hawke asked.

 

“Trying to chart us a course to get out of here.” she replied quietly.


“Is there even a way out?” Stroud asked.

 

Ariane shrugged, pointing to a rift in the ‘sky’ that seemed impossibly far away. “I have no idea. I’m running purely on hope right now...If we can make it to that rift, maybe we can get out that way. I might be able to open it, best case scenario? We get out in one piece. At this point, as long as the answer is ‘out of the Fade’, I don’t care where it goes.”

 

“I’m with you there, Boss.” Bull agreed with a grunt.

 

They followed a narrow trail that almost resembled a path, if only just, a group of spirits floating just ahead. Hawke drew her staff, but Ariane raised her hand to stop her, her other hand raised to press a finger to her lips.

 

“Not just yet. They haven’t noticed us yet, they may not attack if we just walk by. Not all spirits are dangerous, let’s avoid a fight where we can…” she instructed.

 

Pausing long enough to rip a section of the lining from the extended cape of her armor, she fastened it loosely around her head. The injury wasn’t serious, but the constant twitching of the tiny muscles aggravated it. It impaired her vision a little to be down to one eye for the moment, but it was much easier to control herself if she wasn’t focusing on discomfort. They walked slowly past the spirits, who paused to look, but made no move to attack as she suspected. She stopped a fair distance in, pressing her fingers together, unsure where to go from there. Solas stepped ahead, it was clear he wanted to observe a little more carefully so he could really get a feel for the place, but knowing the others didn’t share his fondness for it, he sighed quietly, leading the way further in. Occasionally, the progress ahead was interrupted by demons and hostile spirits, hardly a challenge. In fact, it was suspicious how easy it was, especially when her stomach was doing flips, nerves on edge.

 

Against her better judgment, she stopped paying attention to her surroundings when she noticed a figure up ahead. Stroud and Hawke readily engaged the woman in conversation, but Ariane couldn’t say who it was supposed to be, not until the name ‘Justinia’ came up. This was some manner of being that took the form of the Divine? The woman she had initially been suspected of murdering. Even now, she didn’t look familiar, striking not even the most remote of memories in her mind. When the debate became more about what it was, even after the woman said she wanted to help, explaining that the domain was that of the Nightmare, she saw fit to interrupt finally.

 

“Whatever she is, it shouldn’t matter. If she wants to help, we should let her. We know nothing of what we face, even if this being means us harm, we might still glean something useful. Let’s withhold our judgments for now…” she said.

 

“Thank you, Inquisitor.” Justinia said.

 

Spirits and demons knew many things, whatever the reason it knew her title was, she didn’t care. They had to move through as quickly as possible, not simply because it was a danger to be here like this, but because lives were in danger just outside.

 

“Perhaps now we can move swiftly, let’s not linger.” she said.

 

“I’m afraid it is not that simple. The demon took something from you, your memories. Before you can leave, you must get them back.” she said. As if reading her thoughts, she raised a hand. “Even if you don’t want them back, it has to be this way.”

 

Frowning, she stared down the wisps guarding the glowing orbs of her lost memories. “Of course. What’s a little delay…”

 

In an attempt to hasten their escape, the entire group helped. It was a simple matter to tear through in moments. Despite suggesting she’d rather hurry on, she stared anxiously at the orbs, like the idea of recalling the things she had forgotten was troubling her.

 

“What’s wrong?” Varric asked.

 

“I don’t know if I want to remember what happened. What if I did it after all? What if I’m not the person people want me to be?” she asked breathlessly.

 

“Then we deal with it together, remember? We’re not here just because you’re the Inquisitor, or Herald of Andraste. We’ve stuck by your side because we’re friends. ” he reminded her.

 

Ariane looked to Solas and Bull to confirm the sentiment, to which they nodded as well. Taking a deep breath, she slowly gathered the fragments, collapsing when she’d absorbed the complete memory. Bull lifted her easily with an arm around her waist, setting her back on her feet. She clutched at her head, nails biting in slightly along her scalp.

 

“Those were...Wardens...what reason would they have to kill the Divine? Mages or Templars might have made sense...but Wardens?” she muttered to herself.

 

“They wouldn’t . Not alone.” Stroud said. “She said the calling was the work of a demon, is it not possible Corypheus was controlling them even then?”

 

“I don’t know...it sounds reasonable, but I can’t say for sure…” she said with a frustrated sigh.

 

“It doesn’t exactly excuse them either.” Hawke growled. “Possessed or not, they murdered the Divine.”

 

“Let’s save the arguing until after we escape, please.” Ariane groaned. “Wait, where did she go?”

 

Solas pointed ahead. “She went on. We can catch up with her.”

 

As before, they fought through enemies barring their progress. They didn’t pause again until a loud voice called from seemingly everywhere at once. First, it began by taunting the others, though they opted not to give it the satisfaction of getting too upset. Hawke appeared to be the only one goaded even slightly.

 

“Killing this thing will be an absolute pleasure .” she rumbled.

 

His statements towards Solas had her thinking. Why would he refer to him as Trickster? What victory was he referring to? Before she had a chance to ask anything about it, the demon decided to speak directly to her.

 

“You’ve failed them all. Your clan lies in ashes. I wonder what went through their minds in their last moments. Did they hate the child that left them at the mercy of those shems?” it taunted.

 

Her fingers curled loosely into fists, but she kept walking, refusing to give in.

 

“You were meant to be happy with Rasha, but admit it, you’re glad he’s out of the way so you don’t have to be tied down. Your family gone, you can carry on with whoever you like without punishment.” he continued.

 

“Rasha?” Solas asked curiously.

 

“My betrothed. When I left, it was uncertain if I’d return, so it was called off. If I came back, it was meant to happen as intended…” she mumbled guiltily.

 

“One without a heart such as yourself has no right to be happy. You’re hoping that one leaves and the other realizes you’re worthless. You know you can’t possibly be what everyone thinks you are, you know you’re going to let them down. Part of you is still hoping for a way out so you can escape before they figure it out…” he chuckled.

 

Ariane hung her head, finding it harder to keep moving. She couldn’t tell if he was right or not. It had been so easy to ignore at first, but the more he talked, the more confused she felt. Logically, she should ignore it as the others managed, and continue on. If it was right about her though, what did that mean? She had felt a little guilty about Rasha at the very least, he was nice enough, a good match for her and yet she could never claim to like him, let alone love him. Even Fenris, she liked him plenty, but part of her liked the promise that he would leave eventually so she didn’t have to risk discovering she simply couldn’t feel anything more for anyone. What happened if she was an anomaly who couldn’t feel love for anyone? She must have stopped completely, a hand coming to rest on her shoulder with a reassuring squeeze.

 

“You’re letting him in your head. Don’t let him psyche you out. He’s wrong, we know it. I hope you do too.” Hawke said quietly.

 

She didn’t know if he was wrong. That was the problem. Still, at her words, she managed to push it back far enough to continue on. Slowed by doubt, she fell behind for a moment, slogging through another wave of demons before spotting more of the lost memories. Ariane moved to retrieve them, this one pertaining to how she escaped from the Fade before. Not Andraste, but the Divine Herself who saved her, at the cost of her own life. Looking back on it at that particular time, it felt completely like a mistake. Saving someone like her. Minor fear demons swarmed them, and reluctantly, she recovered her will to fight, helping to tear through faster. A barrier was the next thing to try and hold them back, tied in with the life energy of spirits, demons and other creatures that stood against them.

“You must ready yourselves. The Nightmare waits ahead for you…” the woman said.

 

Ariane looked over her shoulder, checking the readiness of her friends. They signaled it was fine to go on ahead. There was no way to know that this was the start of a sort of decline.

Chapter Text

It felt like the battle took forever, everyone struggling with injuries, gashes and tears from claws and fangs, barely holding together. Iron Bull, Solas and Varric taking the first chance they could to escape through the open rift. Hawke pressed her palm to her leg, tears through the thick leather of her breeches. Ariane stopped short of leaving, glancing back. The Nightmare remained unmoving, it was best to treat the injury while she had the chance. She knelt in front of her, her fingers searching for a dagger Leliana sent her with, worried she'd be left defenseless if she used too much magic. Her left hand yanked the cloth from her eye, still closed, reddened marks from the flecks of ash not going out immediately.

 

I'm sorry, I'll replace these.” She mumbled apologetically, cutting away the leg of her pants above the wound. She replaced the blade, packing the deep gash with a mixture of herbs before tightening the cloth around the wound. “It should hold until we get back to Skyhold…”

 

“I'll help her to the rift, My Lady. Please go on ahead.” Stroud said.

 

He draped her arm across his shoulders, supporting her around the waist. It didn't seem like a matter to be terribly concerned about, he wasn't struggling to help her. Ariane took a few cautious steps towards the rift before the Nightmare rose again, blocking the path. She gritted her teeth, reaching for her staff, until Hawke spoke up.

 

“Both of you, go. I can distract him long enough for you to get away.” She said.

 

“You're hurt. People still need you. What would Merrill think when she gets the news? You go, I'll stay.” Ariane insisted.

 

“No. This is a Warden’s job. I’ll stay behind.” Stroud disagreed.

 

“Only a Warden can end a Blight, right? You're needed too.” Ariane began. “I...I think he was right. Maybe I've just been looking for a way out. A way that doesn't end with realizing I'm no hero. If they discover it wasn't Andraste who helped me out of the Fade the first time… no, if I die here, the Inquisition can remain strong enough to help.”

 

Get out of here!” Hawke growled.

 

“No.” Stroud refused. “Inquisitor, choose me…”

 

“What if we both stay? We might have a chance at winning…” Ariane suggested.

 

Hawke pulled free of Stroud’s hold. Standing tall, she straightened up. It looked like she was going to leave after all, Stroud following to make sure she got out. At the last second, she pushed him out, turning back.

 

“Your turn.” She said gruffly.

 

“I won't. I'll fight you if I have to, I can't make him hurt over losing you again…” she pleaded.

 

“He’d be far more hurt if you didn't come back.” She said with a laugh.

 

“You're mistaken. There's nothing between us. He's said as much himself.” She insisted.

 

“You’ll find out on your own. You don't need me to spell it out for you. Get out of here!” She ordered.

 

Ariane gripped her staff, widening her stance to be as hard to move as possible. Hawke put her staff away, hanging her head. Finally, finally  she was giving in. Hawke closed the distance between them, throwing her arms around her. Leaning in, she spoke so quietly she had to strain to listen.

 

“I'm so sorry. I hope you can forgive me.” She whispered.

 

“ I understand…” Ariane murmured.

 

“No… you don't.” She said.

 

With one sweeping gesture, a heavy force she couldn't see impacted with her, sending her easily through the air. Landing with a heavy groan, she looked up in time to see the rift closing. How could it slip her mind that she was a force mage? Rising on shaky legs, she brushed herself off, about to try and rip a no a new rift, until a Warden addressed her. Choose what to do with the Wardens? How could she when her head was filled with guilt, trying to come up with a way to save Hawke.

 

“Wardens… Wardens are the only one's who can end a Blight…” she mumbled. “Stay… help us…”

 

They filed away to make arrangements, and Ariane faced the spot she emerged from, staring at the mark on her hand intently. She was interrupted again, a hand gripping hers loosely.

 

“My Lady, don't. It's already too late. She's surely gone by now.” Stroud sighed.

 

Varric was the first to reach her, shaken by the news. The others circled her slowly. Fenris stepped closer, staring at her almost coldly.

 

“Did I hear correctly. You left Hawke to die?” He growled.

 

“I… I didn't, I tried to…” she muttered uselessly.

 

He gripped her collar, lifting her enough that her toes foundered, trying anxiously to touch solid ground. Through his armor, his body began to glow, his hand phasing through her chest, fingers grazing her heart, but not yet hurting.

 

“Ari!” Varric called.

 

Immediately, the three had their weapons drawn and pointed towards him.

 

“Let her go, you don't know what happened…” Stroud advised.

 

She shook her head. “D...don't. He's right.” She gasped, fighting for air. “Do it. If it will make you feel better, do it.”

 

“Hawke forced us out, she saved our lives, we were going to stay behind, but she wouldn't allow it.” Stroud explained loudly, hoping to get through to him.

 

His grip tightened around her hammering organ, her lips paling visibly now. The gold eye she fixed on him, half closed, was shimmering with tears that wouldn't fall. Her body was laced with deep cuts, claw marks from the looks of it, bruises forming along her face and neck where she'd been tossed around. The others bore marks as well, varying in severity from scratches to gaping wounds. How bad off was she to volunteer to stay behind? Fenris glared at her with complete disgust, pulling back from her. He let her go, not bothering to help her up. Solas and Varric moved to help her up, steadying her while she struggled to catch her breath.

 

“I'll wait in the carriage. Someone else can take my spot, I'm not sitting anywhere near her.” He spat.

 

Stroud looked troubled, stopping her again.

 

“I must make my departure, I have to report this to headquarters. As much as I'd like to make sure you get back safely. Be careful, if you intend to keep such a person at your side. He's a danger to you.” He said.

 

“Safe travels, I'll take your words under advisement…” she whimpered.

 

“Come on now. You need rest. I'll tend your wounds as best I can before we leave. It's a long trip back, you should rest while you have a chance to.” Solas said.

 

“Come on Ari. Don't worry about him for now. He needs time to cool off. Even for as tense as things have been between them over the last few years, to have her gone so permanently and so quickly must still be something. He likes you, he just isn't the type to say that so easily… he's gonna come around.” Varric said.

 

“It doesn't matter, does it? There wasn't anything there, If this is the end, I won't beg him to stay. I knew what this was from the start.” She sighed.

 

Solas helped her up into the high seat, Cullen falling in on the other side with an exhausted sigh, palming his face tiredly before he noticed him patching her up.

 

“Maker’s breath, you look like hell. Are… you going to be alright?” He asked.

 

It finally hit her. She sniffled once, her lip quivering, the palm of her hand came up, furiously wiping at the stream of tears flooding her cheeks, wincing as the salt stung at her burn. She shook her head slowly.

 

“No, I'm not sure I will this time…” she admitted.

 

Whether it was the pain, losing Hawke, or the idea of messing things up irreparably with Fenris, maybe even a combination of those things, she couldn't say, only that her heart felt like it was breaking. Cullen glanced to Solas, wordlessly trying to figure out what to do at a time like this, how he could help matters. He gestured to her with his head. Finished bandaging her injuries, he moved away. Cullen took the hint, switching sides to sit next to her. Hesitantly, he put an arm around her, drawing her to his chest. Honestly, he had no idea if it would help at all, or make her feel even worse. Ariane grasped the edges of his mantle, crying openly, the soothing warmth somehow only making her feel more willing to be seen like this. Frowning, he patted her back nervously.

 

“I… uh… it's going to be alright.” He said in what he hoped was a comforting tone.

 

Even after Haven, he hadn't ever seen her cry, it was a new experience for him, one he had no idea how to handle, but he was trying. He nearly made the mistake of asking where Hawke was and how much longer until she'd be ready so they could leave, if not for the look Solas sent him, shaking his head as though he read his mind.

 

“Thank you…” she managed between sobs.

 

“Don't worry about it. You never need to thank me…” he told her gently.

Chapter Text

A week had passed since the return to Skyhold and Fenris wouldn't even look at her let alone talk. Varric insisted he'd get over it soon enough, but for once it was looking like he was definitely wrong about it. It was hard to carry on with work like this, her chest felt tight with nerves, and she couldn't bring herself to care about the lingering pains from the battle at Adamant. Ariane barely slept, the nightmares too much to deal with on top of everything else. Guilt sunk into every fiber of her being, wishing she could redo it, that Hawke hadn't stayed behind.

 

“Inquisitor?” Josephine asked, concern in her tone.

 

“Hm? Oh… yes, sorry. I was just thinking. What did you need?” She asked.

 

“I asked if you had a chance to look over some of the requests we received. The bigger one's require your approval, as you know.” She reminded her gently.

 

“Oh yes, right, right. I haven't yet, but I have time to look them over now…” Ariane mumbled behind a yawn.

 

“You look exhausted, haven't you been sleeping well enough?” She asked, handing over the stack of pages.

 

“Would you sleep well if someone died because of you?” She countered.

 

“This is about Hawke, isn't it? I've read the reports… I'm very sorry.” She said. Getting up to get her something to drink, she returned, reaching a hand out to her brow. “Maker, you're burning up too. I hadn't realized but it seems you've lost weight too… I'm afraid this is rather serious after all…”

 

“It isn't as bad as all that. Please don't worry about me. I ate yesterday and I'm not hungry today.” She said. Seeing the surprisingly severe expression on her face, she quickly accepted the drink, fidgeting anxiously with the glass. Josephine returned with a tray of bread and a small brick of cheese from Orlais. Ariane didn't like that look, and it was with great reluctance that she added ‘having a snack’ to her itinerary. She'd said before that she used to be a bard, and getting on the wrong side of such an otherwise sweet woman seemed a regrettable choice. “Thank you.”

 

“Of course. You simply must take better care of yourself.” She lectured with concern.

 

Ariane made a sound in the back of her throat as she picked at the bread. Splitting her focus, she reached for the top request, reading through it carefully. The door opened, but she didn't look, trying to pay attention to the task set for her. She passed it across the table to her.

 

“You can approve this one.” She said, yawning again.

 

“My, someone sounds tired.” Cullen said, patting her shoulder sympathetically. “How much do you have left today?”

 

Ariane held up the stack, waving it slightly. This was the last business of the day, and she was in no hurry to get to her room. Josephine got up to go and fetch something from her desk, the door closing behind her. Cullen sat on her other side, unable to look at her suddenly.

 

“Something on my face?” She asked quietly.

 

Ariane set the second off to the side, intending to arrange them in two piles.

 

“No… it's not that. I just...well, I've thought of what I want for my reward.” He mumbled.

 

“Interesting. I wonder what it could be to make you that shy. Your face is turning a new shade of red.” She commented, setting her page aside. “It's kind of cute.”

 

He smiled awkwardly at the praise, staring at the backs of his gloved hands with a sigh.

 

“First, I must ask… Fenris, is there something between you two? I'd rather not impose if there is.” He asked.

 

Ariane felt a sharp pain in her chest, doubling her efforts to focus. He'd said many times that there wasn't, and he clearly wasn't interested in changing that, not when he was avoiding her like she was the statue of Fen’harel in her clan's’ camp. Honestly, she didn't know what result she was hoping for. She knew better than to expect him to rush in and tell her he missed her. Maybe she just wanted to talk?

 

“No. Not particularly.” She said, attempting to mask the way she felt about such a statement. True or not, it stung to say it. “What's on your mind.?”

 

“Oh, good… ah… not that it's good, it's just…” he stopped, shaking his head. “I want you to go somewhere with me. Um… just you and me.”

 

Ariane nearly dropped the papers, tightening her hold on them. She licked her lips anxiously. She did say he could pick what he wanted…

 

“Just the two of us… Cullen, is this a date?” She asked.

 

“I… yes.” He admitted.

 

Her hopes didn't necessarily matter in the end. She could want what she wanted, but it seemed fairly clear that all the waiting in the world wasn't changing Fenris’ mind. Guiltily, she nodded once.

 

“Fine. Whenever you like, I'll ready myself to accompany you.” She agreed.

 

“Yes, well… I thought as much… wait… you will?” He asked, mildly disbelieving he'd heard correctly.

 

“I said yes, didn't I?” She said with a laugh. “One question first. What do you recommend I wear for this outing of yours?”

 

She doubted he would outright say where he intended to take her, but knowing what to wear would give her some idea. He seemed to be lending the matter some thought, so she resumed her reading while waiting. Setting it aside, she started in on another, wrinkling her brow. She wasn't going to authorize anyone for this kind of situation. It sounded like a petty squabble that would resolve itself without the inquisition interfering.

 

“I think you can wear something light. It's not nearly as cold there…” he finally answered.

 

“Oh, away from the snow? That sounds nice…” she sighed, genuinely excited by the idea of warming up somewhere else.

 

Then again, she supposed she'd never been on an actual date before, it felt a little like her nerves were twisting up on her. Josephine finally returned, examining her stacks the moment she sat down. It was easier to understand her system than she expected, unless somehow the most ridiculous requests comprised the actual acceptance pile. She eyed the tray, putting her hand over the page she was reading.

 

“Inquisitor, respectfully: eat. Those will wait a moment longer so you can finish that first. If you pass out, you won't be the one listening to all the complaints. Not at first.” She sighed.

 

Cullen examined her closer at her words. She did have the look of one who hadn't slept very well, and he could see her concerns, Ariane appeared a bit on the thin side like she hadn't been eating lately. She grumbled under her breath, her eyes glued to the papers while she resumed picking at the offerings.

 

“She has a point. You need your strength. Whether or not you think so, you're the most important person, not just here, but in many places across Thedas right now. You can't take care of matters if you're not up to snuff.” He added.

 

“You too?” She sighed. “If you both insist on lecturing me, I suppose I have no choice. This is under great protest.”

 

“Acknowledged, and ignored.” He told her.

 

“I'm sorry. I mistakenly believed I was in charge and made the decisions around here.” She replied sarcastically.

 

“Every decision but this one and very few others.” He said.

 

Ariane set her paper aside, choosing to ignore the topic in favor of the continued distraction, a reason to ignore the snack a little longer before she realized she actually was hungry, and she'd just been too upset to eat. Staring at the plate for a moment, she grabbed the bread, scarfing it down without concern for how she looked at that moment.

 

“That's much better.” Josie praised. “Shall I send someone to bring you something from the kitchen?”

 

Ariane nodded enthusiastically, not stopping long enough to give a proper response. Josephine stepped out into the hall once more, returning quicker this time.

 

“She'll be in with it momentarily.” She updated. “I was told Varric wished to speak with you when you're done for the day.”

 

“I'm nearly done sorting these. I need to do a little shopping anyway, I can catch him on my way.” She murmured.

 

Cullen reached for her rejection pile, reading through. Mostly he was curious to know what she deemed unreasonable, and he had to agree. Some were outrageous enough to get a laugh from him. Considering her history of taking on even the most menial tasks, most did seem outlandish. There was even a request for a sample of her hair, not signed with a proper name, just from “a sincere admirer.” Assuming she meant to fulfill such an order, there was no way to get in contact with the author, save for possibly assigning Leliana’s people to track the sender, far too much trouble for it. Four marriage proposals, all promising a trade off of various land holdings, wealth and influence, no place she hadn't already secured all the power she could hope to ask for.

 

“Hm. Sorry, Lord Laurent of… ah, Val Royeaux. Of course. Better luck next time.” He muttered under his breath, tossing the stack in a crumpled heap to the floor. “The Lady clearly has no interest in your family's money or textile empire.”

 

Josephine sighed, fetching the balled up paper from the floor, throwing it away properly. Ariane forced a laugh when she set down the last paper, pushing the pile to the other end of the table. She picked them up and headed back to her desk to work on writing out the necessary paperwork to see them done.

 

“How about tomorrow night?” Cullen asked when she reached the door.

 

Well, he certainly didn't feel like wasting any time. Ariane smiled slightly, nodding slowly to him before she left. Varric wasn't far off, just down the short hall by the wall. Seemed like that was becoming the place to find him most times. She saw the look on his face, coming to a stop in front of him. Waiting quietly for him to say what he needed, he said nothing at first, looking her over. She looked like hell, a reasonable response to all that happened in just a short time. Despite that, she was smiling, something she hadn't done since before they left. Not that he had seen, and oh yes, he paid attention. Old habits die hard, they said.

 

“You look pleased. Something happen?” He asked conversationally.

 

“You might say that.” She said with a shrug.

 

“Care to tell your old friend?” He asked.

 

“Old friend? You make it sound like we've been spending time for ages. I'm not that old.” She mumbled.

 

“You know what I mean.” He huffed.

 

Ariane shifted nervously in place, clasping her hand against the back of her neck. Her fingertips explored the span of her nape slowly, biting her lip. She had no reason to lie about it, but there was still a gnawing sense of guilt washing over her.

 

“I… have a date tomorrow.” She said finally.

 

“Hm. Finally came around? That's good news.” He said approvingly.

 

“It's… not with Fenris.” She said quietly.

 

“Oh. I see.” Varric said flatly. He didn't look like he was judging her for it, but his opinion was still etched in his face. “I meant it. He does care about you. If you knew him like I do-”

 

“But I don't, do I?” She said. “I don't know him at all. He never told me anything, not really. How I feel doesn't matter. It doesn't change the fact that he won't even look at me. I did something he can't forgive. He was ready to kill for her. I could never equal her. How long am I expected to cling to the decaying corpse of what was? It's not doing me any favors.”

 

“Funny, but all I heard is that you care about him too.” Varric observed.

 

“Let it go. I'm not fool enough to beg for disappointment.” She said, her voice breaking slightly. “How can I tell him anything if he won't let me near him?”

 

“You know, you're right. No reason to try.” He said, completely serious.

 

“I… I see.” She said, pressing her fingers to her eyes to avoid crying in the hall.

 

He wasn't going to stop her from going out, she had her reasons, and it wasn't like she didn't deserve it for how much shit she already had to deal with, saying nothing of what was still to come. He wasn't about to drop it so easily. Maybe he could get some sense through to him before it really was too late. He knew he loved her, knew he was too stubborn and too scared to tell her. Obviously he was looking for a way to keep her away. Hawke had hurt him, he wasn't eager for a repeat, but that's exactly what could be waiting for him if he didn't act quickly. Maybe she wasn't aware of her own feelings, but it was clear she loved him too. Was he the only rational one around?

 

“Well. I suppose you should get going, not that you're not always a sight to see, but you'll probably want to find something nice to wear.” He reminded her.

 

“Oh, right!” She gasped. “I'll see you around, Varric…”

 

Taking the opportunity to leave, she dashed out. He'd have to give it some thought. Pulling this off right would require a pretty solid plan. He'd written enough to know this was definitely just the thing to change his mind...

Chapter Text

Varric knocked on the door, not waiting before he pushed it open. Fenris looked up from the desk, quickly crumpling up a piece of paper and throwing it away.

 

“What do you want?” He snarled.

 

“To tell you how much of a jerk and a fool you are.” He said.

 

“I don't want to hear that from you. Hawke was your friend. Why aren't you more upset about this? That girl let her die. She did nothing.” He argued.

 

“That girl did all she could. I didn't have to be there to know that. If she could have saved her, she would have. Even if that meant damn near killing her and dragging her out.” He said bluntly.

 

“How can you be so sure?” He asked quietly. “How can you know without a doubt that's what happened?”

 

“Because I know her . Fresh from being suspected of killing the Divine, didn't know what the hell was going on, she didn't waste a second trying to save the world. She could have taken the easiest courses all along but the damnedest thing is she could never resist doing whatever she could to help out. That girl doesn't know the meaning of giving up. She doesn't quit, and she doesn't leave people behind.” He said, crowding up behind him. “That girl is suffering because of you. She loves you and you tried to kill her. You stopped talking to her and she stopped caring. I saved the best for last. Do you know where she is now?”

 

Fenris hung his head. He didn't know anything about her, never cared to ask, didn't want to listen enough to find out. He didn't want to care about her beyond the shallow connection they had. Bringing feelings into it was complicating something simple, something that had no need to evolve into more. That didn't erase the curiosity he felt. As much as he was trying not to care, he did want to know where she was, what she was doing.

 

“Where?” He asked finally.

 

“Right at the gate with the Commander. About to head out to Maker knows where, because she's convinced you don't want anything to do with her.” He said.

 

No, that wasn't the truth. He knew very well he wanted to stop her. That wasn't in his plans. He'd made too many mistakes. If a Templar , former or otherwise, would suit her better, who was he to stop her. It wouldn't be his fault when he turned on her.

 

“She's right. I don't.” He replied with a shrug.

 

“That's a lie and you know it as well as I do. I'll tell you what. You don't even have to talk to her, but come out with me. Look at her and tell me you don't care if she goes off with Curly.” He challenged.

 

See her off? He could do that much without caving. No problem. He'd seen her probably hundreds of times, all her different expressions and gestures, could practically tell exactly what she was thinking just by the way she carried herself and the look in her eyes. He gestured to the door, following him out. It was a short trip to the front gate, thanks to the location of his room. His chest felt heavy and he realized he must have been holding his breath. He'd seen her in robes often, but never in a dress. It stopped just below her knees, black with red trim, flat heeled boots that matched. Her hair was pinned up in a wavy ponytail, loose tendrils escaping. She was…he didn't want to put words to it, but his mind completed it for him. She was absolutely radiant. Without meaning to, he took a few steps closer, ignoring Varric’s quiet chuckle. He could guess the look of smug satisfaction on his stupid face.

 

A twig snapped, and she looked the very picture of a startled halla. Turning quickly, she met his gaze, biting her lip quietly. Fenris stopped, holding back, unable to carry on the few feet it would take to stand in front of her, to tell her to change her mind. Cursing himself, he tried to will himself to forget everything stopping him.

 

“Are you ready to--” Cullen stopped. “Maker’s breath… you look...I...I mean you're...beautiful.”

 

Ariane turned away, and he could see the nervousness in her posture. It should have been him. Should have, but it wasn't. Was it reluctance he was seeing, or was it just his wishful thinking?

 

“If you want to stop her, I'd say you're about the only one that could. Now’s your chance.” Varric murmured.

 

Oliver ambled out of the stable, next to a horse. The soldier bringing them over. Cullen carefully held her waist, lifting her in an effort to help her out. When she was seated, he mounted the horse, pointing a direction. Fenris gave up in that moment, and he could have sworn the beast gave him the most accusing look. That had to be in his head, no beast was that smart. Not even a mabari, he was sure of it.

 

“I've seen what you asked me to see. I've got something better to do.” He huffed.

 

He started back for his room and Varric sighed. He knew that look, knew in that moment exactly what he was planning to do.

 

“So you're running away? Everyone has to stop running at some point. I don't see what's so complicated about this. You like her, she likes you, just tell her. I guarantee that she's not going to turn you down if you just… take that chance. She isn't Hawke, and right now, now you have nothing and no one in your way. If you keep putting it off, that could change. Do you really want to give up a chance to get what you want, what you deserve just because you're too damn stubborn for your own good?” He growled. “I swear it's like babysitting with you two. Bunch of children.”

 

“Stop. She's better off without me here, I've overstayed my welcome. Remember, I was only here for Hawke, now that she's gone there's no reason for me to stay. Besides, you'll have an easier time with only one child to look after.” He said.

 

“Tell me then. If that's how you feel, why were you writing this?” He asked, holding up the ball of paper. “Ariane--”

 

“I said stop. There's no need to read that. When did you even grab that?” He muttered.

 

Varric pretended to throw it, slipping it in his pocket. One way or another, he'd figure this out.

 

“Fine. If it makes you feel better, leave. I guess I'll be the one helping her drown her sorrows when she finds out. Who knows, might even need help cheering her up, I guess that's what Cullen is for. Hope you don't mind thinking about how you lost the girl. Again. ” He said with a shrug.

 

“You can't lose what you never had. Both of them were just foolish hopes. By the way, shouldn't you have told Merrill already? I imagine she'll have something to say about this. You don't have time to worry about what I'm doing.” He said.

 

He had an idea. Distance might do him some good. Really, how long would he stay away once he had time to regret it? Give him time to cool off, think it over. Maybe he'd even get back before he had more than just a date to worry about. Too long,and there might even be a ring in the way, and that was a messy situation he wasn't sure he could fix. At least he hadn't ever been able to fix it in his own life. Instead of arguing longer, he threw up his arms, turning away. Not like he couldn't get a letter to him, regardless of where he went. Between himself and Leliana, he'd be easy enough to track. He'd do just as well seeing if she'd part with someone to tail him anyway. At the very least, he could keep Ari posted on where he was. He could hope she was in for a better time wherever they were headed, some good might make the blow a little less painful…

Chapter Text

Cullen helped her down, tying up the mounts to a sturdy tree. Ariane stared out at the scenery, fingers pressed together in front of her.

“I thought I'd been everywhere, but this place… it's lovely.” She breathed.

“You like it? I'm glad to hear it… I was worried.” He mumbled.

How anyone could fail to appreciate a place like this escaped her. As he said, it was warm. There was a small river twining through a ridge of trees, the lushest she'd seen since she left her clan. The light hit the water just right, glistening almost magically. For a moment, it felt so much like home, if she didn't know any better, she'd half expected her Keeper to rush out to welcome her back. Turning to face him after a time, she frowned. He was already busy setting up the tents, and she hadn't even noticed. In truth, she hadn't realized they'd be out overnight, not that she minded. It was nice to get out and away sometimes.

“I could have helped, you know.” She said. “I've learned a thing or two since I've been here.”

“I know. You're… really something else.” He said quietly. “It's not much, but I was concerned. Josephine said you haven't been eating well, or sleeping. I thought maybe getting away for a bit might help. You might say I understand a little…” he stopped, chuckling nervously. “You can be in charge of the fire later on, how about that?”

Ariane laughed too. Very few came as well equipped as she did, after all. It was hard to be concerned with anything beyond this small place, like the problems of the Inquisition had simply melted away, and this was the extent of the world. Of course she knew better, but the fresh air and the smell of flowers and trees filled her senses. She sat carefully, lying back in the grass, resisting the urge to close her eyes. As pleasant as it felt, she didn't want to miss anything. It didn't stop her from wondering about it though.

“Why?” She asked simply.

“Hm? Why what?” He murmured.

“I'm curious why you'd waste your request on something so easy?” She said.

“It wasn't easy, trust me.” He admitted nervously. “I wonder if I could… can I be honest with you?”

“I wish you would. I'd hate to think you'd lie to me.” She teased.

He kneaded the back of his neck anxiously. “The truth is… well, I like you… have liked you for a while now. Maybe I've misread something… but I got the impression you might...possibly feel the same?”

Ariane closed her eyes. She couldn't help it, it was the only way to sort her thoughts on the matter. It wasn't as simple as whether she did or not, not to her. Of course she liked him, but she'd never stopped long enough to question how much, what the exact extent of her interest in him was. Then there was Fenris. She didn't miss Varric’s presence at the gate as well. How he managed to get him to do even that much was a mystery. For a moment she thought he might even say something. That he didn't, kept his distance from her, it said everything to her. He really was done with her, and it killed her to realize that. It was stupid to keep waiting, wasn't it? If that was the case, why did it feel so wrong to be here, the Elder One was still a threat, there were still rifts, and she was out on a date. Would Fenris even care?

“Ariane?” He asked quietly.

“I'm sorry. I was just thinking.” She said. Frowning slightly, she said the first thing that came to mind. “I like you too… I hope that's enough for now…”

He stretched out across from her, nervously reaching for her hand. “It's plenty. More than I expected. I thought… I suppose it doesn't matter now. I brought you out here so you could relax. I'm not doing a very good job right now.”

He was being honest with her, she couldn't keep it to herself, though she couldn't say why she felt compelled to tell him if it really didn't matter.

“What you asked before. About Fenris, I mean. There… well, there was something there once.” She said nervously.

“I know. I read the reports. Things got a little tense at Adamant. We don't have to talk about it, I'm sure it's been bothering you more than you care to admit. Look, I'm not even asking you for a chance, I don't want to put you in that kind of position. Just think about it. I… I'd never hurt you, you deserve so much better. It kills me to see you hurt like this, and seeing you cry… I never want to see that again…” he said.

Ariane squeezed his hand. Adamant was a trying place and not all of it had to do with Hawke and Fenris. What that demon said was still weighing heavily on her conscience. It had her second guessing everything. Maybe she'd always been glad to get away, to worm out of being bonded to someone she felt nothing for, and away from always running at the first sign of trouble. What was to stop her from running again if things got too tense?

“You want a chance right? I think you don't realize how dangerous that is. You don't know if I'll bail on you, you can't know for sure that I won't only hurt you.” She said with a self-deprecating grin.

The light dancing under her eyelids disappeared. Curiously, she opened her eyes again, her heart racing. His eyes were fixed on hers, close, closer than she had realized. She couldn't read him, couldn't tell what was on his mind, nothing. There were no tells, nothing written in his expression.

“I'm not afraid to be hurt by you. I can't ignore this. I want to see where it goes, and if the end of that road ends with us going our separate ways, so be it. Maybe it doesn't work,maybe I was too late, and there's only room in your heart for him. I can accept that, but not without knowing for certain.” He told her.

Mythal save her, he was nervous, she could practically hear his heart pounding. Maybe she'd regret this, but it wasn't as though he wasn't giving her a way out. Fenris had made it very clear how he felt. The memory of her heart slowing like that hadn't been enough to push her away but that had been his declaration. She'd never match up to the memory of the woman he had fallen for and lost before he ever got started. She reached up, pulling him closer. His hand moved to hold her cheek, kissing her back. It scared her to realize there was any feeling behind it. Her life seemed to revolve around options in that instant. She wasn't happy with the option of being tied to someone she didn't love. Fenris repeatedly said he didn't love her, and she liked the idea of being with him, and now that he wasn't an option and a new one had presented itself, a good match, one she had no complaints about, it troubled her to accept it because she was hung up on the one that really wasn't an option anymore. Would it just be better to stop listening to her thoughts and accept this as the right choice? She broke the kiss, taking a few moments to catch her breath.

“You really don't know what you're asking for. If this is really what you want, I'll see it through, but it may be short and painful. I don't want to hurt you either.” She began.

“I'm not asking for marriage, Ari. If it eases your mind… if he changes his mind and I haven't changed yours, do what you must. If he doesn't, I'm not going anywhere.” He interrupted.

Gods that wasn't fair to him at all. She had no right asking such a thing of him or anyone else. It was doubtful she could even put him out of her mind long enough to give this a fair chance, and that was being presumptuous enough to assume she lived through this at all. Then again, the afternoon was barely underway, and there was nothing indicating the state of matters back at Skyhold. She stood once more, slowly as if that made any difference at all. Glancing to him, she pointed to a line of trees.

“If it's alright, I'm going to take a walk. I want to get a better look, and…” she trailed off.

“You have a lot on your mind. I understand. Just be careful, alright?” He asked gently.

“I will. I won't be gone too long.” She assured him, taking off before he had a chance to answer.

Chapter Text

Fenris set up camp, as far away as he could get from the keep before he had to admit even he needed a rest. The lack of a tent didn't bother him particularly, he'd found an empty cave and managed a small fire. He was making the right choice, he was sure of that much. No need to be tied to anyone for any reason, he was free to make his own choices, and those choices didn't have to include some halfwit mage. He stretched out on the ground, huffing when his brain kept thinking of her. How many nights had they spent traveling, curled up together? He could practically still smell her hair. Frowning, he looked at his clothes. They'd spent a lot of time together, she'd better not have ruined his clothes, he didn't want to have to find new ones to be able to get her out of his head.

Didn't really matter anyway. Dressed like she was, they were probably out somewhere far away, hell she'd probably already fallen into his bed, an accident , she'd probably say. He'd never put much stock in what Anders ever said, but he was at least right about one thing. He was sure that Templars were filthy. That shy routine was bullshit, and she was too naive to see it. She was probably at his mercy at that very moment and it served her right.

It pissed him off. He had no right to touch her, even as his mind reminded him that he'd made his choice. She wasn't his concern, not his problem. She was better off and so wasn't he. He didn't need someone who thought they had any control over him, that he'd just lie down and let another mage think they were in charge. More importantly, he couldn't give that dwarf the satisfaction of even thinking he could be right. Then again, he hadn't thought this out very well. He didn't want to go back to the mansion, but he didn't particularly have a ton of options. Maybe he'd just wander around until something felt right.

So what if he liked her? That meant nothing. If she really felt the same way, she wouldn't have gone off so quickly with someone else. That was all the proof he needed that she wasn't any different from Hawke. She wasn't exactly stupid, she had to know what he wanted to tell her. She knew and she didn't want to hear it. Knew Hawke was in the way and she took care of it.

She doesn't leave people behind

Was it even a remote possibility that she didn't want Hawke to stay behind? That couldn't be right, that would mean she intended to stay. The Warden had said as much, but there was no way she would have stayed behind willingly. His heart hurt at that thought. He saw the condition she was in, she'd taken one hell of a beating. She meant to die? What reason would she have for that? She was needed, no one else could do what she could. Everyone managed to agree on that one point. Without her, the world would end. Why would she stay?

Hawke. It wasn't possible that she meant for Hawke to live for his sake? She had Merrill, had made it very clear that she wasn't going to leave her, that she felt nothing for him. All he had was her, and she was going to throw that away? What a fool. No… he was wrong. If he had any sense, he'd go back, wait for her to come back and tell her he knew she didn't leave her behind on purpose. He could just tell her. No. Cullen was there for her now, he'd missed his chance. Why would she even think it over. He'd hurt her, on purpose, wanted her to suffer. Of course Cullen seemed the better option. She didn't know any better, she was only seeing the nice act he put on for her.

He wasn't going back. He'd already lent this too much thought as it was. He made his decision, he'd stick to it. He had more to sort out than he thought, and plenty left to do if he meant to continue coming up with reasons why she wasn't as good as everyone said she was. She was supposed to head into the Arbor Wilds soon, a place he'd overheard had a life of its own. Maybe it would swallow her in and keep her there and he wouldn't have to think about her again. The great Inquisitor that let a demon army trample her? That place would tear her apart. Good riddance.

Fenris heaved a sigh, holding his hands out to the fire. It was getting colder already and the sun was only just starting to set. If. If she came back, maybe he could at least go see her. Just a quick peek to make sure she was still in one piece. That was all. Sure she knew other magic, but even he remembered she was really just a healer, and what good was that to keep her alive? A few fireballs and some ice cubes weren't enough to protect her. Cullen surely wasn't planning to tag along to watch her back. No, she liked her mages, and they'd get her killed just as quickly as if she went alone. Maybe there was no reason to go at all. He had no desire to look at corpses.

“Why don't you come out. I know you're there. Varric must really think I'm stupid to believe I wouldn't notice you.” He called out irritably.

No one came into view. This one was better than the last one he'd sent after him, at least.

“Fine. Just listen then. Whatever you were asked to do? Go ahead. If he wants to know where I am, tell him. I don't expect him to leave me alone.” He said.

There was no hiding from Varric Tethras. That was a fact he had come to learn very quickly. He didn't know when to leave well enough alone. He wasn't going to let this go because he loved her? Fenris froze at that. In his mind he'd always clarified that it was only a thought, a consideration. There was no thinking about it this time. He ran a hand through his hair with a frustrated sigh. He loved her. What the hell was that even supposed to mean? He left so she could… so he could forget her, and it wasn't helping. Now it was simply too late. He'd stick to his plan then, as pointless as it was. Varric would surely let him know when she returned, if she returned. He'd go check on her and see for himself that she was alright, and that would be it. He'd leave again without a word. No regrets, no hurting over it. She made her choice and he took too long.

“Better off anyway.” He muttered to himself. “Last thing I ever needed was a mage trying to chain me down.”

He tried again, spreading out on the ground. It was hard and uncomfortable. Still, he'd slept in worse places, he could sleep here too. He didn't need anyone, least of all her.

Chapter Text

A few days later, Cullen and Ari returned, deciding to stay a bit longer than planned. They split just outside the gate, Cullen offering her a quick kiss before they went in. Varric watched her when she walked in, and she stopped guiltily in place.

“You two seem cozy.” He commented.

“I guess.” She said with a shrug.

“You've got time, right?” He asked. Not waiting for the answer, he waved her to follow, heading for her room. “Let's talk.”

She sat at her desk when they got in, immediately reaching for the piles of pages stacked there. Varric sat on the couch, saying nothing about her instant attempt to distract herself.

“What did you want to talk about?” She asked anxiously.

“It can wait. How was your trip? What did you two do?” He asked conversationally.

Ari knew better. It wasn't so much curiosity about how she liked it so much as what was going on. She opted to answer it differently.

“Well, you know. I can't just do nothing. I made a bow and some arrows out of wood. Hunted and cooked a ram. Gathered some medicinal herbs, reminisced about home.” She paused, giggling to herself. “Gave Cullen a lesson in Dalish culture. Taught him about our pantheon. I had a lot of fun, I'd almost forgotten how good it can be to get away from everything for a while.”

“Well, sounds like you kept busy. Couldn't help but notice you and Curly seem to have gotten closer. I'm curious just how close.” He said nonchalantly.

Ari straightened the papers, setting them aside. Her face turned a deep pink, though she stared directly at him for once. Her fingers idly probed the small mark on her arm, a lingering reminder of Adamant. It no longer hurt, but more and more she found herself kneading the forming scar.

“You're asking if we slept together, aren't you?” She asked bluntly.

“I didn't say that, specifically.” He shrugged.

“It's true though. You want to ask.” She muttered. “Whether we did or didn't isn't particularly anyone else's business.”

Supporting her head on her palm, she began to read through the top paper, managing to get through it before he answered.

“You're right. It really isn't. You are my friend. Talking is what friends do.” He said.

“I suppose it makes no difference. Fenris probably didn't even care that I was gone. I've accepted it.” She said.

“Yeah… about that.” Varric began. “Fenris left the same day you did. He's in the Hinterlands for now. I'm not sure where he plans to go just yet.”

Ari felt a pain shoot through her chest at the news, getting better at swallowing away her feelings convincingly. It was agonizing, but anyone would be hard pressed to tell.

“Has he now? He said he was going to leave many times before. He was only staying as long as Hawke was around.” She said.

“So you don't care?” He asked.

She decided to try, knowing he'd probably see right through the lie, everyone did.

“No, not really. It's his life, he's grown. It's neither my business, nor my place to tell him he can't.” She said.

Varric opted not to call her out on the lie. Instead, he wandered over. Picking up the pile of papers she wasn't looking at yet, slipping the half completed letter at the bottom. Feigning disinterest in the business, he set them down, backing away. He sat back down, looking around the room.

“You should decorate this place. It's too plain for someone like you.” He commented.

“Someone like me? What does that mean? Because I'm Dalish or is it because I'm the Inquisitor? Varric, I thought you of all people would never treat me differently…” she sighed.

“It's not that at all. I just think this dusty setup doesn't suit a lady. You like flowers, and yet I don't see any. No pictures, no personal touches of any kind. It's like you just let Leliana and Josephine in here and didn't want to hurt their feelings.” He chuckled.

Ari set down a small pile of finished papers, looking around. He did have a point. Nothing in here was really put there by her, save for her robes and a staff she rarely used. Even now it barely seemed like she lived here at all. It was that way in Haven. Maybe a few personal touches wouldn't be terrible. She shrugged the thought away, grabbing the next page. Her eyes widened, the messy scribbles immediately recognizable. She hadn't read through it at first, enough of a glance to know it cut off in the middle like he had been interrupted, or just gave up. He used her name, she was so used to being ‘you’ or ‘mage’ it felt strange to her. Typical, he couldn't just say that he had a lot on his mind and wanted to talk. It just said basically that there was a lot that needed to be said. The end was just ‘even now, I miss…’ and it cut off. If she had to guess, he missed Hawke. He couldn't blame him, it was her fault she was gone, after all. It wasn't like he'd forget her overnight, it never worked that way. If it did, her family, her clan would have been the last thing on her mind by now. Fenris might well be an afterthought too, instead of being the one thing always on her mind.

“This is kind of pointless, isn't it? He's not here, clearly he doesn't intend to have this conversation of his after all. Why would you give me this?” She asked.

“He was writing that the day you left. Even then he wanted to make things right between you.” He explained.

“Yet he left. I shouldn't need to point out he's not interested in sorting things out anymore. Look… I won't deny I have feelings for him. I can't afford to be distracted by his absence. Morrigan paints the picture that the Arbor Wilds could very well kill me. I don't want to die because of some inability to focus on my safety, the safety of my people. Cullen and the others shouldn't be the only one's they turn to. I'm the Inquisitor. It's my responsibility. I haven't been doing a good job lately, and I can't…” she stopped, wiping her eyes. “I can't keep hoping he's just gonna walk through those gates and things will be back to normal. There are some wounds even I can't fix. “

“So… you've finally written him off?” He asked.

“No. It would be so much easier if I could…let me get through this and… I don't know. I don't know what I'm wanting, I don't even know what I'm expecting to happen. “ she said with a shrug.

“Then tell me this. Do you love him?” Varric probed.

“I… I don't know…he made me feel something. That's all I can say.” She said. “Maybe I do.”

“And Cullen? Do you love him?” He asked.

“I don't know that either. I've always kind of liked the way he looked. He treats me kindly… it's a smart option…” she mumbled.

“I didn't ask if it was smart, I asked how you feel about him.” He repeated.

“I like being around him. I don't know if I love him. I need time, I can't… I don't…” she foundered helplessly.

“Okay. This should be easy. How do you feel about me?” He asked.

“I like you. You're funny, and I like listening to your stories. You're possibly my best friend, and in a way, I love you. The same way I love Cole, and Bull, Josie, Leliana… I love all the friends I've made.” She said, certain of her words.

“Well at least you're sure of that much. I'm curious why it's difficult with them…” he said.

“Because I'm afraid. I might not make it, then it wouldn't matter. If I love either of them, someone gets hurt because of me. If I love Fenris and he never comes back, I get hurt. Then do I just… try to make a life with Cullen and hope I can eventually give him the kind of love he deserves? I know so much about him, we've spent so much time together. I know nothing about Fenris, he wasn't particularly the type to share anything.” She sighed.

Varric wandered over to the bookshelf, browsing through the books. He picked one down, setting it on the desk. The book he had written about Hawke, about Kirkwall.

“Read it. There's a great deal about him in there, not just that, but other matters that can help. You asked before about the red lyrium in the temple? Anything I know about it is in there too. Hell even Cullen is in it. Might not help you think at all. Maybe it will. “ he said.

“I could at least do that…” she said. “Thank you.”

Varric waved his hand, smiling kindly at her. “Don't need to thank me.”

He headed for the door, stopping when she called out to him again. “Varric?”

“Ari.” He said.

“Was he always that way?” She asked.

“Not always. He was at first, but he warmed up. Smiled. Told jokes and everything. I really hope you get to see that side of him.” He said. “Trust me. He's gonna come back. If what you want is to be with him, I'll help you make it happen. If what you want is our commander, instead… then I'd say that's the easy path. You've already got him. It's just up to you to decide what your heart really wants.”

Ari stared at the cover of the book, fingers thoughtfully tracing the edge. “We still on for the game this week?”

“Wouldn't miss it. It's nice to clean house regularly.” He joked.

“I'll be sure to bring some extra luck this time.” She groaned.

 

Chapter Text

Cullen brushed his fingers through her hair, looking at the letter. Ari brought it to him, always concerned about being honest with him. He liked that about her. She stared out the window quietly, leaning into his touch with an appreciative hum from time to time.

 

“I'm sorry. I'm sure this can't make you feel good.” He assured her.

 

“I'm more concerned with you. It's been three days since you've had a decent night's sleep…” she said.

 

Ari turned to face him, grabbing a wet cloth. She wiped it softly against his brow, her other hand smoothing his hair.

 

“I have you taking care of me, I couldn't be in better hands. Tell me, who takes care of the healer when she hurts?” He asked.

 

Ari put the cloth back in the water, reaching for a glass of cold water, mixed with crushed herbs. She held it out to him, holding back a giggle at the face he made. The medicine was effective, but very bitter.

 

“It's not as bad as all that…” she lied. “I’m impossible to keep down, remember?”

 

He sighed, setting the glass down, pulling her down next to him. It had been like this since the trip, when she first discovered his problem. She'd never treated someone for lyrium withdrawal, but between the herbs she had used and her presence, it was slowly improving, but not yet better. He wrapped an arm around her waist, his touch not wandering, always mindful of her comfort.

 

“You surely have nine lives. I'm more of a dog person, but I'll make an exception for you.” He joked.

 

“I happen to find cats charming.” She said.

 

Cullen closed his eyes, squeezing her lightly. “I'm curious. Have you given any thought to what you want to do once this is over?”

 

“Not really… this has become my home, I don't have anywhere to return to…” she said.

 

He leaned closer, kissing her cheek, mildly surprised when she turned to meet his lips. It surprised her too, though she dismissed it perhaps as being so familiar that it was a reflex. It distracted him for a few moments, unwilling to be the one to break it. She pulled away finally, unable to discern what the feeling was behind it.

 

“What about you?” She asked quietly.

 

“I wonder if you might be interested in helping me run a clinic. You're a damn good healer, and the only one I know with any experience in these matters…” he explained.

 

“I have to ask… what happens if…if…” she trailed off.

 

“My offer doesn't end, regardless if we're together or not. You have a place with me. A purpose, if it's what you want.” He sighed, resting his head against hers. “I'm enjoying your company. If it must end, I'm content to have your friendship if that's all I can have…and if he comes back, and you choose him...I suppose he's welcome as well. I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope it's with you at my side.”

 

He truly was too good. Being with him would be a smart match. If she just committed to him firmly, she was sure he'd spend his life making her happy. For now, this trial was enough. She didn't want to let it get any more serious than it already was until she was certain of what she wanted. He had given her a way out anytime she wanted it, but without Fenris around, it was harder to decide what to do. Ari turned to face him, her head pressed to his chest. His heartbeat wasn't as forceful as it had been. That was a good sign, he was calming down now.

 

“I'll do it. If you think I can be of some sort of assistance to your cause, count me in.” She agreed finally.

 

“I'm happy to hear it. Perhaps when we return, I'll start looking into locations.” He murmured.

 

“Wait… you're coming with?” She asked.

 

“Absolutely. Not just me, but Josephine and Leliana intend to come with as well. Unfortunately, it seems like it's taking awhile to get ahold of everyone who plans to be there. With just our men, I fear we'll have far too much trouble pressing in where we need to get to. Last report I received said the place is already crawling with infected people…” he explained.

 

“I don't know if I'm comfortable with that. What if something happens? I can't treat red lyrium infections. If something happened… I couldn't…” she sighed.

 

“Don't worry too much. Josephine is just going to handle the nobles, she's not going far in. Leliana will venture in a little further to direct her scouts, and I'm not going far in either, just enough to keep any heavy opposition off you.” He said, kneading her shoulder soothingly.

 

“I said no. I won't allow you or anyone else to get hurt because of me.” She said firmly, more angry than he'd heard her speak before.

 

“What is this really about?” He asked quietly.

 

“I've lost one family. To lose another would kill me. And you…” she stopped, shaking her head.

 

She lost Fenris too, she wasn't sure what she wanted, it was true. If something happened before she could make sense of it, there was no forgiving herself for that.

 

“Do you really think I want to let you go at all? If there were any other choice, I'd take it. That bastard isn't giving us any choices this time.” He argued.

 

His words trailed off, ending with a yawn. Whatever she gave him had long since dulled the discomfort, and it was starting to make him tired.

 

“We can discuss this as a group another time. You need your rest.” She urged gently.

 

“You're staying still, right?” He asked.

 

“Do you still want me to?” She countered.

 

“Yes… don't go…” he said.

 

Ari nodded once, trying to get comfortable. Varric was sure to get the wrong idea if he saw her leaving in the morning. This was something she couldn't exactly explain to him, Cullen kept it as a need to know subject and she was going to respect that. Still, she wondered if he'd imagine she made her decision already. Far from it, she'd been trying hard to think on it but with everything going on, she was getting nowhere. If he came back, if he wanted to be with her, would she go running to him without thinking? And if she did that, would she be able to accept hurting Cullen? He said he'd be fine with her choice, but she knew better. If she chose Cullen, would Fenris ever forgive her for it? Would he accept that she'd made her choice to help him? She couldn't imagine he wouldn't be upset at her insistence to stay around him even if she decided not to be with him. Would he actually go with? It was turning into a lot more to consider, and yet it all hinged on several big ‘ifs’. If she made it back, if Fenris came back at all. If Cullen made it back. If the inquisition could survive Corypheus. Part of her liked not having to rush off. She was no great battle mage, and the idea of dealing with a mess like this terrified her. The rest hated the delay, she wanted to leave now and deal with it, just get it out of the way and put it behind her. Ari yawned, she'd never realized how soothing it could be to listen to someone like this. The easy sound of his breathing and the gentle beating of his heart was relaxing. Was it this way for everyone? She'd always been the first to sleep, it was a strange experience. Unable to fight it, she dozed off, uneasy thoughts ceasing in favor of the numbing lure of dreams.


 

Varric looked over the update. Fenris had moved locations, still in the Hinterlands at least, but further away. He chuckled to himself, Fenris was getting quicker. Already realized he had someone tailing him. Interesting. He was to let him know when she returned, wanted to come back and check on her. He probably thought he'd get to leave after, but not if he could help it. That was the perfect opportunity to get them talking, while there was still time. Ari had been spending an awful lot of time with Cullen lately, and he had a hunch that her insistence her affairs were no one's business, it was a front to cover up her own feelings on the subject. He wasn't completely sure they'd been together, but he supposed that wasn't much of a problem. He was certain he could still make it work. That didn't completely erase his curiosity on the matter though. If it wasn't physical yet, then why was she in his room at nights now? Some might argue it was none of his business, but they'd be wrong. They were both his friends, it was only painfully clear they wanted each other, it shouldn't need to be so hard to make it happen. It felt like they were trying to sabotage his efforts and resist it. That was hardly fair. He intended fully to keep his word, however. If Ari said she wanted to be with Cullen, he'd back away and leave her to it. Granted it was probably hard to think in a situation like this, he had assumed she'd decide by now. All in all, he guessed there was no real rush on it, aside from his own itching need to know. Oh, this was going to make one hell of a story. Everyone knew the Warden had no trouble falling for Alistair, even before he became King. Hawke had ignored all advances in favor of Merrill, maybe a good romantic knot was what her story needed. Torn between two love interests, unable to decide who to choose. He was already imagining adding in an epic duel for her heart. He supposed it didn't need to happen. Storyteller’s privilege. Hm. Maybe that's why his romance novels didn't sell. Something to consider. Needed more drama. At least Cassandra would be excited about it, he had no idea her taste in books was so terrible. Andraste’s ass, these nobles took forever to get ready though...

Chapter Text

Ari walked the halls, grumbling to herself. The Empress and Briala had promised support for this, she understood she must be incredibly busy, but this was the fate of Orlais at risk too, not just Ferelden. If it was, it would be understandable to not want to be involved in anyway. No one was willing to accept her word that she didn't want them with either. What was the point of being the one in charge of no one listened the one time she decided to directly order something? She just wanted to ensure as few casualties as possible and it felt like no one was backing her up. On top of this mess, there were reports filtering in of strange activities going on elsewhere, matters definitely worth her time but which she didn't want to risk getting involved in while Corypheus was still a danger.

 

“What's on your mind, sunsh-” Varric began.

 

“Don't finish that. I haven't made any decisions yet, I'm too busy trying to think this through.” She growled.

 

Well, she was certainly in a bad mood. She had to be under a lot of stress to react like that.

 

“Wasn't going to ask you anything like that. Just curious what has you so upset?” He asked.

 

Waiting . I'm always waiting for something, someone. I'm so sick of waiting all the blasted time. Josie says she's still waiting to hear back from all those damned nobles I worked so hard to help. Celene got everything she wanted, and she's too busy to come out.” She muttered.

 

“I get the feeling that isn't everything.” He commented. “What else?”

 

“Leliana once told me there was a good reason she wouldn't join me in the field. I naturally apply that to Josephine and Cullen as well. I told them I didn't want them coming with this time because they're needed here. I even said I'd order it if I had to. Do you know what happened? Leliana laughed. They said they were coming with and it was final. I may not be very old or experienced but I'm not a child anymore, I refuse to be treated like one.” She seethed.

 

“Look, I don't want to add to your anger here, but the truth is, they're all much better at killing than you are. It's natural to worry, but I would trust them to know what they're capable of, what they can do to make it less of a struggle for you.” He explained.

 

Ari took a deep breath, gusting out a heavy sigh. He was right, she knew that much, but it didn't make her any less concerned on the matter. It did absolutely nothing to end the wait, either. Her siblings were the patient ones.. They could wait for hours just to catch a rabbit, not her. She was always restless, an unfortunate trait for a healer. She'd stuck to it dutifully, but waiting for any sign of improvements was agonizing at times.

 

“Go for a walk, clear your head. The fresh air will help.” He suggested.

 

She paced small circles, pressing her hands anxiously to her brow. Nodding, she gave in, her arms dropping loosely to her sides. It was something to do, keeping busy. That was important at times like this, keep going no matter what. Ari headed out of the hall, towards the gate. All things considered, it was a warm day, bits of snow melting, pooling in puddles in the dirt. She stepped around the muddy spots, waving to the guards on her way out. A fair distance out was a ridge she liked to sit on and think when things felt overwhelming. Good a place as any to go, it might help her calm down. Ari slowed to a stop, lying back in a patch of grass, taking a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she let her mind wander, vividly recalling days like this before the Conclave. The smell of the fire, Ada and Faron on either side of her, regaling her with tales of their latest hunt while she patched up their scrapes, anything to feel like she was pulling her weight. The sound of arrows whizzing by. Ari’s eyes flew open, rolling in time to miss getting hit by another. She glanced to the trees, rushing for them, weaving in and out to make the shot that much harder. The robes said human, hood drawn down to make identification that much harder, but the arrows, and the careful tracking of her movements said Dalish. This was one of her kind, and she could feel the ill intent with every shot. An assassin? Why would a Dalish elf want her dead? She'd upset a great many people, if the daily threats said anything on the matter.

 

“Who sent you?” She called out.

 

No answer, as she expected. The idea of hurting them should have crossed her mind, protect herself, report it. Leliana would make adjustments to the security measures, Cullen would increase patrols outside the gate. It made sense, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. This person couldn't have many arrows, and she knew very well that making a decent one out of wood took time, time that wasn't available right now. She could wait it out and subdue the assailant when the opportunity presented itself. When the sounds stopped for a few minutes, she took her chances, prepared to try and get behind her attacker and knock them out. Trying to sneak out, a thin branch snapped under her steps, and she swore under her breath. An arrow flew towards her, barely moving to avoid what might have been a serious injury. It tore through her robes, digging into her shoulder before burying itself in a tree. Ari whimpered, the wound stinging. Not poison, it didn't burn like any she'd experienced. A type of root she was familiar with, one turned to when protecting the clan, meant to irritate the wounds inflicted, to make it unbearable and incapacitate someone long enough to take them out. Sylaise, it hurt like hell, the tear in her flesh aching enough to make her have to fight to stay conscious. Her vision blurred and swam, swearing she heard a voice calling for her, saw a figure rush in front of her. The sounds of fighting was the last thing she heard before hitting the ground, her head landing with a solid thump. Ari couldn't quite tell how much of what she felt was real, and how much was in her mind, conjured up by her head trying to compensate. Her body felt weightless, her back warm. Someone was carrying her? A simple injury like this wouldn't kill her, but the thought crossed her mind that maybe she'd died, maybe she was being guided to the other side. Not that that would be terrible, maybe her family would be waiting. That sounded good to her, if she wasn't still needed, there was still so much to do and she couldn't think of that just yet.


 

“Ari, are you awake?” Cullen asked quietly.

 

She groaned softly, struggling to sit up. Her head felt like it was trying to split open and her shoulder hurt, the sudden pressure of trying to use it for leverage inciting a wave of pain through her whole arm. Letting herself fall back gently, she examined her bandages. Good work, but she doubted it was treated correctly. Few humans ever lived long enough to observe the effects and learn to treat it.

 

“Blight Laceflower. It's not tainted, but it was discovered after the worst of the Blight passed. Should have been treated with a mix of Greyweed, Cliff Laurel and crushed Embrium seeds.” She mumbled. “Hurts like hell, feels like it's tearing from the inside out…”

 

Cullen pressed a cold cloth to her brow, wiping beads of sweat from her face and neck.

 

“I'll fetch a healer when I'm certain you're alright to be left alone.” He said.

 

Ari gestured to him for help, wincing when he pulled her upright. She started to shake her head, but stopped when she saw the look he gave her. She laughed, though it only exacerbated the pounding in her head.

 

“I guess you have your answer. You take care of the healer when she hurts.” She tried to joke. “The assassin...did you…?”

 

Cullen shook his head. “Still alive. I thought Leliana might be able to get something useful from her. If she's to be punished, that falls to you.”

 

For some reason, that left her feeling relieved. She couldn't place it, but there was something familiar in those shots, though perhaps she simply was grasping at straws, needing that connection. It was sloppy to get sentimental like that, another injury that could have been avoided with a little caution and a clearer head.

 

“I understand Merrill is Dalish. Is there any possibility she sent her after me? Would she blame me for Hawke?” Ari asked.

 

Cullen cleared his throat, looking away. He knew something, something he didn't want to tell her.

 

“What? What is it?” She asked.

 

“I'm certain it's not Merrill. We have a few leads, but nothing is certain yet. I don't want to upset you without having anything solid to go on. I've been told any change in your condition could cause you to black out again. “

 

“At least that much is correct. Perhaps I give them too little credit.” She sighed. “How long was I out?”

 

“Only a few hours. I'd call that a victory. This time it wasn't days, like before.” He teased.

 

“I could use a drink. Feels like I haven't had a drop in days.” She said.

 

He turned, grabbing a cup off the stand. He was told she might be thirsty. Her appetite wouldn't be back for a few more hours at least, but it was important to give her as much as she wanted. He didn't know these things, he wasn't about to question it. Ari loosely held the edge of the cup, not trusting herself to hold it steady without his help.

 

“Thank you…” she said.

 

“I've told you before, you never need to thank me. I'm just glad you're more or less alright.” He said with a smile.

 

Ari slid over a bit, turning her gaze to the empty space. “It's your turn. Stay with me?”

 

He looked around the room, moving to lay next to her. She looked plenty awake at the moment. Without any explanation, she laid her head against his chest. He gently brushed his fingers through her hair, not bothered by the silence between them. He liked watching her, and if she felt safe like this, he was glad for that. She'd hate it, but perhaps it was best if she didn't go anywhere alone until her safety could be assured...



Chapter Text

Ari had tried to go see the prisoner for herself, but Leliana told her to hold off a little longer. She'd seen so much already, good and bad. How could this be any more of a shock to her than any of the worst of it? Ari could tell Cullen knew something, but it was becoming obvious that even Josephine was involved. She was usually so easy to talk to, and on this matter, nothing she tried would break her silence on the matter. Even the guards wouldn't let her through, “Just following orders” was all they'd tell her. Leliana had many secrets, a necessity of her position, but for all three to keep a secret from her was troubling.

Ari went into the records, sitting while she sorted through them. Cullen was obsessed with keeping them organized, and it was the first time she found herself grateful for the meticulous system. Finding anything related to the Dalish was easy, and compared to the other topics, it was rather small. She muttered to herself while she weeded out anything she was certain had nothing to do with it.

“Dalish, Bull’s Chargers…this isn't it.” She said. “Dalish recruit, Exalted Plains…doubtful.”

She had initially thought Merrill might be the one, and despite certainty that the look she'd been given meant that wasn't the case, she grabbed the file anyway. Small as it was, with only one letter in it, she read through it. She'd never met the girl, but she sounded sweet, very understanding. Far from blaming her, it seemed she actually blamed Hawke for being reckless and not considering how she would feel. Ari frowned, putting it back in the folder. They had adopted an orphaned child from the clan she'd been leading. Hawke never mentioned a child. Fenris probably hadn't even known, or perhaps he did and never told her. Ari pinched the bridge of her nose, acutely aware of the ache in her shoulder. Had she known, she'd have fought much harder to get her out. Even if she had been made to leave, Stroud had offered to stay behind, they could have both gotten out. She put that thought on the back of her mind, Varric would know how to get in touch with her, family was important, and she wanted to do something to try and right the loss. She stopped, frowning. The Wycome incident...Josephine had reminded her a number of times that she felt awful about it, and shamed that her diplomacy managed so little. There were mentions of red lyrium being involved, and that all of her clan had perished. Nothing new there, but to put it so plainly and in so few words on a piece of parchment… like they had no meaning save for a few sparse words...it hurt more than she could say.

“Duke Antoine has been run out of the city…” she read quietly.

So the bastard responsible didn't die, didn't suffer for what he had done.

“Red lyrium has been taken out of the city, can't find a way to destroy it…” she continued.

No longer a threat to the nobles in the city, hooray for them. That did nothing to make up for the loss of her clan, or even to acknowledge the elves in the alienage who perished as a result. She'd never seen Wycome. The clan moved shortly after she left, but she hated it. If it were up to her, she had spent a number of nights thinking of different ways to take it off the map. Vivienne said she was from there, and for just a moment, she hated her for it, as though she were somehow involved. That place was poisonous to her, made her feel things she wanted no part of and… what was this? She hadn't seen this one before…

“May be survivors after all. Don't tell Lavellan until we have more to go on. I'd hate to get her hopes up unnecessarily. We can't treat it, Don't even know the first thing about it really. Varric would know more, but he says no one knows about it. It's a death sentence as far as we’ve observed, and exposure isn't advised. We have to back away for now until we figure something out. If they last long enough, the Inquisitor deserves the chance to see them. At a distance of course, we can't risk her turning into a monster…” -L

Leliana? She was keeping something from her. If she had to guess, some small number of her clan, her family had survived the battle, only to suffer from exposure to red lyrium. They didn't want to tell her because they might die before she could see them? Usually reports were signed off by all who had read them, an acknowledgment policy. Only Leliana had signed this one. This was what she needed. It didn't give her any hints on who tried to kill her, but this? She was furious. Others would insist she wait, take the time to cool off and calmly, rationally discuss it then. There was no waiting for this. She wanted answers and she wanted them now. Grabbing the file, she left the room, turning to go up the stairs. Leliana glanced up from her work, smiling.

“What do you-” she began.

The heavy smack of the file hitting her desk filled the small room. Her face betrayed nothing of what she thought on the matter.

“Why didn't you tell me?” She asked. “I spent all this time agonizing the loss of my family, and you kept it from me. Do you know how many times I wished I could see anyone again? Even those I wasn't close to? Do you know what it feels like to read this and know you kept this from me?”

“I wouldn't keep it from you if I didn't know what it was like to have to kill those you love.” She murmured. “You know as well as I do that there is no cure for red lyrium. Varric tried. There's nothing.”

“I know that. But… it's my family… I deserved to know, at the very least. Now I'll never know. I won't know who got away from the fighting. I won't have a chance to say goodbye to the last of my family...they deserved better than to die like that.” She whimpered.

Leliana frowned, reaching for her. Ari weakly struck her shoulder, unable to stop herself from crying. She squeezed her gently, letting her get it out however she needed.

“I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I should have… I took your choices away from you.” She sighed.

“I didn't need this…” she cried.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Leliana let go. “The prisoner. I'll arrange for you to see her. I can promise you won't be happy about it. But you should see for yourself…”

“Dalish, I already know. I could tell from the arrows. I'm not sure what else there is to know about her.” She said.

“I have a feeling you'll figure it out when you see her. I made sure not to tell anyone else what I've found out, I dug into it as much as I was able. In a few days, I expect you'll have another guest. My men are currently hunting the one responsible for sending her. I'd ask you hold off on visiting until he arrives. She won't be harmed, but she is in chains. It's necessary to keep her that way.” She explained.

Already she had figured out who sent her? It wouldn't kill her to wait just a little more. She had to know who did it. Ari needed the chance to look into the eyes of the man who wanted her dead, enough to send a very specific message.

 

Chapter Text

Ari pulled her bandages off to get a good look at the progress. It was healing nicely, though she made no move to fix it. Cullen asked for lessons, for this clinic of his.

 

“What do you see?” She asked, leaning closer to the light.

 

He examined it closely, looking at her after a moment.

 

“No sign of infection. The skin is healing nicely. Looks like the little nick in the muscle is healing as well. Less red around the edges.” He said after a few moments.

 

“Very good. Do you want to try bandaging it today?” She asked.

 

Cullen pulled his gloves off, sweeping his fingers in the salve. He gently coated the mending gash in it, reaching for the wrap. He rolled it loosely at first, though she was quick to instruct.

 

“No, tighter. It'll slip off if I move my arm. I can take it.” She told him.

 

He unraveled it, pulling it tighter this time before pinning it up like she showed him. Once it was secured properly, she pulled her tunic back on, offering a small smile.

 

“You're a quick study. Anyone would be lucky to have you tend to them. Soon, I'll show you how I mix up the painkillers and the mixture I make to help you sleep.” She said.

 

“I'm willing to learn that too, but if it's all the same to you, I'd still prefer you give it to me. I've… gotten used to having you close.” He admitted.

 

Ari laughed a little at that. “Are you planning to cuddle up to all your guests?”

 

“Just you.” He said. “If I may be so bold.”

 

There was a knock at the door, Leliana leaning in with a triumphant grin. She didn't bother to comment on the lesson, certain the news she had would be more interesting than talk of herbs and remedies.

 

“Can I assume you've found him?” She asked.

 

“We have. He's waiting in the main hall for your judgment as we speak. You're going to like this.” She said.

 

Ari stood up, glancing back questioningly. Cullen nodded, following her out. She pushed the door open, immediately flinching at the words that greeted her.

 

“Place is run by a filthy halla shagger.. I should have known.” He sneered.

 

She lowered herself to sit on the throne, looking him over quietly. This man wasn't familiar to her. It wasn't surprising that he knew her. Everyone seemed to know who she was these day. Looking to Josephine for something to go on, she cleared her throat, meeting her gaze.

 

“Inquisitor, this is Duke Antoine of Wycome. I don't think I need to remind you of his crimes.” She said.

 

“You…so you're him then.” She said.

 

“You took away everything I had!” He shouted, spitting at her.

 

“Only after you took everything from me . All you lost was your land, your home, a title. Petty material things. It wasn't simply my family you ended. You took many families away, and you look at me and see filth? I look at you and see the shit people wipe off their boots. I already know what I plan to do with you, but I'm curious. Any last words?” She growled.

 

“I would have thought you liked your little present. For one so fixated on family, I'd say I got my revenge regardless if you kill me or not.” He laughed.

 

She gripped the armrests so hard her fingers hurt. Looking up, she pointed to him.

 

“Keep him shackled, bring him to the execution grounds. Leliana, I need to see her, now.” She instructed.

 

The soldiers holding him led him outside, Leliana waving her, Cullen and Josephine to follow. She hadn't told them what she found, she said. Then this was in case she couldn't handle it? Or in case something went wrong? They stopped in front of the cell and Leliana opened the door for her.

 

“However tempting it may be, don't get too close. She's infected…” she said.

 

Ari ignored the warning, squatting down in front of her. She only had to draw her hood back part way before she realized exactly what the Duke had meant. The partially finished vallaslin told the full story. She remembered it well. The girl was handling it just fine, until there was an attack. Called away in the middle to help defend the clan, and after that, there was too much else to tend to to finish it… she recalled the way she lamented the unfinished markings, thought others might see her as weak, despite all her assurances that she was anything but. The girl looked up slowly, honey eyes frightened, her skin marked with a slight red glow that hailed the first stage of infection. Nothing growing from her yet.

 

“Ada…do you remember me? Can you speak?” She asked quietly.

 

“You're not real… you're dead, gone… no one is left, you can't be real…” she muttered faintly.

 

“No, Ada, remember? I left… the Keeper asked me to go to the Conclave, I'm real… do you… do you know what you've done?” She questioned.

 

“Where am I? I'm… Ari I'm scared…” she whispered faintly.

 

“Inquisitor, I really must ask you to back away, if you get infected…” Leliana cautioned.

 

“I'm not leaving her like this. She's my sister… I can't let her suffer this way…” she said.

 

Leliana reached for her blade, preparing to go in and help, thinking she meant to end it for her. Cullen held her back, shaking his head.

 

“See that she's given food and water. If you can, bring her a better bed. She's good with a bow, but she can't pick a lock and there are guards. Unlock her shackles. I have to look into this. I can't just give up. We have time until we leave, I'm going to look into trying to fix her.” She explained.

 

“There's no cure! She's dangerous…” Leliana insisted.

 

“It's early enough. If anything can be done, now would be the time to try. If I have any chance of fixing this, it has to be now. We've seen what happens to those with more serious cases. They weren't themselves, I don't think they were even in there anymore...if that's her fate, I'll accept it, but not until I've tried everything I can.” She said.

 

“I'm not sure about this…” Josephine admitted. “I don't like it.”

 

“That's her family, it's a slim chance, I admit… that's no reason not to let her try. I can't agree with you on this. I’ll stay with her when she's here, to make sure she doesn't put herself at too much risk.” Cullen suggested.

 

“Absolutely not. Risking both of you is even less of an option.” Leliana argued.

 

Ari straightened up. This was going to require a lot of persuasion. Thankfully, thanks to watching Fenris in action, she was certain she could at least fake it convincingly.

 

“If you don't let me try, I'm leaving. You can deal with Corypheus by yourself, and I'll take her and go. At least if the world ends, I'll be with her when it happens.” She said firmly, unyielding.

 

Leliana was willing to bet she was bluffing, but the risk was too great. As much as she didn't like the idea, she chose to back down.

 

“Cullen stays to watch over you. I want a full guard in addition to minimize the risk to your safety. You will still get plenty of rest, and have regular breaks. We leave when everyone is in place, regardless of her condition. Is that acceptable?” She relented.

 

“Yes, yes, of course. Whatever it takes. I need to go deal with our prisoner first, and you have arrangements to make.” She said.

 

She couldn't wait to tell Fenris the news. Infected or not, this was the best news she'd gotten in some time… right. She couldn't get ahold of him. Even if he was willing to talk to her, she didn't know how.

 

“On second thought. Let's not kill him just yet. I might be able to get some answers out of him.  How he managed to expose her, what he did to get her to listen to him enough to come after you. I think he wants you to kill him, so the answers we need can't be found.” She said.

 

“If it's the only way. He's not a guest, don't extend any courtesies that aren't necessary. I'm trying to send a message.” She said.


 

Fenris stared at the note left on the table. Squatting in an abandoned house, why did it always turn out like this? He hadn't noticed the spy slip in to leave it behind, this one was very good. He struggled with the words for a time, reading through it several times to make sure he understood it. Still hadn't left yet, but the girl seemed to miss him. He missed her too, more with each day, but he still wasn't ready to face it. He told himself he wouldn't come back until she did, and he had to know he could resist seeing her until then, he wasn't going to rush in on an impulse. Varric said she was still spending plenty of time with Cullen. If she got away, that wasn't his fault. She had plenty of time to tell him if something had changed. She specifically said she didn't love him, yet . That couldn't have changed already. He was making excuses and he knew it. The idea of loving someone like her was a thought he wasn't sure he liked. The minute he accepted it and got comfortable, surely she'd change, and it would be Danarius all over again. She'd find a way to hurt him, use him as long as she could, and he'd be struggling to get away all over again. He couldn't be fooled so easily by that sweet act. He hated the constant back and forth. Why couldn't he just stick to one feeling. It should be as simple as he either loved her or hated her. This was too confusing, he wanted it over, to have her back already. He needed to see her, to know how she felt, and maybe then, he could make up his mind and decide what had to happen. He'd lost enough sleep over her since he left. Besides, she was probably just fine without him. If something had happened, Varric would have told him. He had time to sort it all out before she returned. He was right, it shouldn't be this hard, and really, he couldn't understand why he couldn't just suck it up and go back now. Surely he could suit her much better than Cullen of all people, he could keep her safe, could make her happy...then again, he'd proven the bigger danger to her after all. Maybe staying away was the right thing to do, he'd only end up hurting her again.

Chapter Text

Cullen sat across from the cell with the guards, watching her work. She wiped her sleeve against her brow, eyeing the selection of plants in front of her, several scattered bowls of water and powdered roots in front of her. He couldn’t begin to imagine what any of them were for, what they might do or if they’d even help at all. He guessed if it was one of his siblings, he’d be trying too. She seemed to be talking herself through her process, something he learned she did when she was having trouble concentrating.

“No...no, that’s not right. Freeze the Inkberry first, then crush it… mix with Rock Rose petals...No, not that. Wyvern blossom…” she mumbled.

Ari was trying hard to help, but the stress wasn’t helping any. He knew he should ask her to take a break, but she seemed on the verge of finishing the mix, and he didn’t want to risk throwing her off, not just yet. She felt around for a bowl, hastily adding in a pinch of powdered elfroot, and just enough water to turn it into a thin sludge, not appealing in anyway. He’d long since learned to ignore the taste if it helped. He hadn’t really taken the time to look her over, but aside from the partial markings, and a slight difference in height, they could very nearly have been twins. He couldn’t really tell, but considering she had said ‘little sister’ in their talks before, Ari seemed to be the shorter of the two. She grabbed a flattened stick, carefully trying to pry her mouth open, having already demonstrated a strong resistance to cooperate with her.

“Open up...Ada, I need you to swallow this...please…” she begged.

The girl eyed her seriously, clenching down harder. Ari shook her head, pressing a little harder, still getting nowhere. Tossing it back to the floor, she straightened up, more serious than he’d seen her before, almost severe. He’d almost consider it motherly, if he hadn’t known better.

“Ada, open up now. Don’t make me have to fight you for this.” she said sternly.

Ada shook her head, looking away. Ari swept her hair back with a sigh of frustration. Her hand shot out, fingers squeezing her nose tightly, cutting off her air. Ada finally opened up with a gasp, but she didn’t let go, reaching for the grey sludge, pouring it in her mouth. Against her wishes, she swallowed it down. Letting go finally, the girl hunched over, coughing quietly before she leaned back. Ari felt her forehead, seemingly satisfied with that much at least, brushing her hair out of her face, she stood up, bending to grab her up. She set her down in the bed, giving her one last look before gathering up the remainder of her ingredients, too dangerous to leave with her, she said.

“I won’t know anything for a little while. Go ahead and lock it...I’ll take a break.” she sighed.

Cullen was glad he didn’t have to try and talk her into it. She was at least taking her arrangements seriously enough. One of the guards locked the door, three in total staying behind, the other three leaving, only required to stay for her protection. Her shoulders sagged, a slow breath escaping as she matched his slow steps. He didn’t know whether it was relief that she was still alive, or just thinking of how much work was still ahead of her to try and keep her that way.

“Where should we go?” he asked, trying to take her mind off it. “Anywhere you like.”

“I am in need of…” she stopped, sighing. He was trying to help her feel better, and this was supposed to be a break. Gathering more supplies could wait, she wasn’t particularly low on her stores at the moment. “Can we...if it’s alright, could we just go back to my room? There’s a place there I haven’t showed you yet.”

“Alright...you have my curiosity. Let’s go see this place then.” he said quietly.

Ari took the lead, heading towards her room, not more than a step ahead of him. She was in no rush, it would still be there. She rounded the short hall, ascending the stairs to her room. She still hadn't decorated like she meant to, unsure what to add. It certainly felt like home, but she had nothing personal. Perhaps eventually that would change, but for now, she could do nothing for it. She paused by a door, opening it quietly. Cullen waited, thinking she ducked into a closet to grab something. When she didn't come back out, he looked in, noticing a ladder. He glanced up, catching a glimpse of her before she disappeared from view. Cullen climbed up after her, noticing a bed roll, a lantern, and some books, the only things of note on the wide ledge. There was some kind of art on the wall behind them. She stretched out, waving him over.

“Come here. This spot is perfect.” She said.

He asked no questions, he trusted her, the result of all these months working together. He laid next to her, watching where she pointed. The sunlight filtered through the windows just right, the patterned glass making spots of light dance on the wall just below.

“Is this what you wanted me to see?” He asked.

Ari pointed just a little lower, to the balcony. Just on the inside, on the floor of the stone was a nest. She reached back, pressing a finger to his lips, the sound of chirping filling the room. She whispered faintly to him.

“They moved in early this month. The sound of the ladder startles them a bit, but after they calm down, they sing… it sounds so happy. I like to think it's a sign that things will get better…” she explained.

It was no wonder she hadn't shared this place. She didn't trust anyone not to frighten them. Too much sound and they'd leave the nest, abandon the babies, and that hopeful song would vanish. Ari turned to face him, messy waves in her face. He smiled, brushing them away, stopping when her gaze fixed on his. His thumb brushed her cheeks, leaning in to kiss her. Her breath caught, hands falling to rest on his arms, not pushing him away, but more holding him in place. He could feel her heart beating faster, unsure if it was nerves or something else. This was a problem. Not being here like this, with her. Though it had everything to do with her. He swore he'd let her go, no complaints, no issues if she decided she'd rather be with Fenris. Promised her so she was free to choose what her heart wanted most. He was fine with it at first, but now, now it was hitting him fully. He loved her. If she said she wanted out, he wasn't so sure it would be easy to let her go, not anymore. He had to tell her. Not to burden her further or make her feel trapped, but she had to know. He didn't even expect to hear it back, didn't want to unless it was the truth. He hated the idea of losing her to him. Fenris didn't deserve her. Not after the stunt in Adamant and not with the way he'd seen him act around her. He heard the way he spoke to her before and she deserved better than that. Better than someone who caused her pain and made her cry. At least he wouldn't abandon her when she needed him most. She broke the kiss to catch her breath, her face flushed a deep pink, lips red, slightly swollen from the pressure of it. He wanted that look to himself, no one else. He had to tell her. The timing was all wrong, this was her moment, she was at peace, he couldn't ruin that for her right now, not like this. She'd go back to check on Ada soon enough. He'd be sure to tell her soon enough. Fenris wasn't around, maybe he wasn't planning to come back and there was nothing to worry about. He wasn't taking his chances on waiting around to find out.

“Had enough?” She asked quietly, laughing.

“Never.” He said.

His fingers ran through the back of her hair, supporting her head from being pressed against the wood, leaning to meet her again. Maybe they should get back, give her an out if she wanted it.

“What's on your mind?” He asked.

“At the moment? I'm pleased to report not much. I think it was a good idea, taking a break, coming here.” She admitted.

“Well… I'm pleased to hear that.” He said.

Ari grinned, playing with his curls. She tilted her head, gazing up at him.

“I really like your hair.” She said.

“Oh? Well, I'd say that's progress. I like… “ he stopped, resisting the urge to spit it out right there. “I like your hair too. Very… springy.”

Maker he felt like a fool. He felt like he was just stumbling through everything he did around her. Ari smiled, kneading the back of his neck gently.

“Don't be so nervous. I'm not going to eat you…” she murmured.

“I can't help it. Before you, I… there was no one. This is all still very new to me. I'm worried I'll upset you somehow. I don't want that…” he admitted.

Ari pulled him down against her, her hands moving to rub his shoulders. As expected, he was tense there too. He carried a lot of tension along his back and shoulders, like the weight of the world was his burden.

“I doubt you could ever upset me. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly easy to bother.” She chuckled.

She put up with Fenris for months, and stuffy, pissy nobles besides. Dealt with the situation in Orlais and the Chantry’s nonsense. She had patience to spare if she could smile at all after all that. Maybe she was right. If she was saying that, it was time he stopped holding back around her...

Chapter Text

Ari opened the cupboard where she stored her supplies, put in the dungeon by Josephine so she didn't have to rush back and forth. Cullen reached to examine a particularly interesting flower, though she was quick to smack his hand away.

“Don't touch anything on this shelf.” She said.

“What do they do?” He wondered.

“Those are all poisonous. Some to the touch. You have to be careful.” She murmured.

“Why do you have those here? Don't tell me after all this… you're going to…?” He asked, worried.

“No. I'm not going to kill her. Those are for emergencies. I know how to use these in safe amounts. This, for example.” She picked up one of the plants. “Hellebore. A little will have you throwing up, too much, and you'll die. It's a very fine line between just enough and too much. If you wish to learn about those, I can teach you that too, but I'd ask that you worry about that later.” She said.

“How is she, after that last round… any improvement?” He asked quietly.

“She's alive. That's the important thing. Her color is improving, no fever. I still see signs of infection. I'm treating the symptoms, but I can't tell whether I'm touching it at all…” she admitted with a sigh. “Leliana says the only thing she got from Duke Bastard is that she didn't ingest any. He chained her up and left her by it. Not very close by how slow it is to progress. My guess is that he didn't know what he was doing. I hate saying this, but I'm grateful for his stupidity. It's buying me enough time to try different things, and I'm optimistic that the lack of current exposure might be dulling the effects.”

“I'm glad to hear that much. Had he known what he was doing, I'd be concerned. We both saw what happened in Haven, I'm not sure I could stand what that would do to you…” he said quietly.

She hung her head, trying to block out the inevitable sound of screaming that ran through her mind, the smell of smoke and fire and all the bodies she remembered when she thought back to it.

“You never told me. How did I get to the mountain camp? I can't remember that much.” She said, distracting herself.

“We found you, just as you passed out. You were freezing. Mother Giselle took care of your injuries, a few cuts and bruises for the most part. She was concerned the cold might have affected you.” He explained.

“That wasn't what I asked. How did I get there?” She repeated

Cullen looked away. “I carried you. I thought for sure that you wouldn't make it. I just remember the way you felt. You were cold to the touch and limp.”

Ari thought that was it for her too, honestly. Not the first time she thought that. Probably not the last. “Are you alright? You look like you have something more on your mind?”

He frowned, hesitant to say it now. He had it all planned in his mind, it seemed like a good time, but in the moment, he wasn't sure. He must have been suspiciously quiet, not realizing how close she had gotten, her hand testing his brow worriedly.

“I'm not feeling ill.” He mumbled. “i have something to say, and this may be all wrong, I'm not asking you for anything… I just… need to get it out.”

“What is it?” She asked. It had the feeling she thought something was wrong. “You can tell me anything…”

He took a deep breath, glancing around anxiously. “Ari, I…” he groaned, closing his eyes. He just had to say it, right! “I love you… I'm… I'm in love with you.”

Ari let go of the cupboard door, staring at the stone. It was well he wasn't asking for a response. She wasn't sure if she could even speak at all in that moment. Even now, she still wasn't sure how she felt. No, that was an excuse. Hiding behind her sister’s condition to avoid having to think about it. The Arbor Wilds had served just as well before that.

“I'm sorry to say it like that, no warning. I'm sure it's a lot to add to your stresses…just think about it, don't say anything until you're sure.” He said. “I… your sister needs you. I'll help you carry whatever you need.”

He imagined she wouldn't say anything about it right away, but at the same time, that silence made him nervous. After a time, she smiled, reaching for a few supplies, handing a few to him, carefully arranging the rest in her arm.

“You're right… I need to check on her.” She took a few steps, biting her lip lightly. “Thank you…”

Cullen didn't want to know what she was thanking him for. Maybe it was thanks for helping out, or thank you for giving her time, but in his mind, that thank you could have been a thanks for telling me that. Maybe it was an answer in a way. He knew he should just wait for her to tell him plainly, but it was maddening to wonder what the response would end up being. She got ahead of him, peering into the cell. Sleeping, thankfully, it was something. Ari regretted having to wake her up for this, but perhaps she'd be more cooperative today.

“Where do you want these?” He asked quietly.

“Here is fine.” She said. Ari could sense his tension, offering him a gentle smile. “I'm not upset, if that's what you're thinking. On the contrary, I'm happy you told me. I just need to focus on this right now. When I have time to think it over, I'll give you a proper answer. Until then… you don't need to avoid me, or even hold your tongue.”

He set the bowls down, wondering how it so often seemed like she could read his mind. Things could continue normally. She didn't hate him for it, that was good news at least. She had a point, her sister’s care should come first.

“Come. I'll show you what I'm going to try today. You can help me out, if you like.” She offered.

Cullen moved a little closer, matching the way she sat on the floor. Ari put the tools in his hand, explaining as she went along.

“The juice from these berries will replace the water today, it'll keep her temperature normal. Okay, good. Now we need the seeds from these, they can be added whole. I'm working on the theory that red lyrium functions like a parasite, if that's the case, this will definitely help. The pods, you have to carefully cut open, and scrape the lining off. It's the slimy part. That should help restore her appetite. She's not eating well because her body isn't telling her she's hungry, this will fix that.” She explained.

“And these leaves?” He asked.

Ari looked away, trying to keep that expression of professionalism on her face. “It's for the flavor. It won't help much, but perhaps just enough. Normally I'd only do it for the children of our clan, most past that age learn to deal with the taste. I'm hoping it might make her less resistant to it…”

“How long have you been at this?” He asked.

“Oh… perhaps around twelve years? Before I received my vallaslin, by many years. I've been studying this since I was a child myself. It was a hobby then.” She said, thinking back carefully.

Cullen handed the mixture to her to look over. He had no idea if he did it right, only that he did what she said. Ari studied it thoroughly before admitting he had done well. Going into the cell, she gently shook Ada awake, helping her sit up when she struggled.

“How are you feeling today, any better?” She cooed.

“My head hurts…but I don't feel all the aches right now…” she said.

“Will you take this for me?” She asked, holding it out.

Ada struggled to reach for it and Ari was quick to help her, supporting it in her hand while she tried to bring it closer. She managed to get it down alright, her nose wrinkling preemptively until she noted the less bitter flavor.

“Thank you…” she mumbled, sinking back down.

It was mere moments before she curled back up and fell asleep, exhausted from her struggle. Ari left the cell, moving to let the guard lock it once more. She was prepared to go back to her studies, hoping to find a clue, until Josephine quickly descended the stairs.

“Inquisitor, we have word. The Empress, Briala, her forces and those of the nobles we secured are on the way to the Arbor Wilds, we are to meet them there.” She announced.

Ari glanced back, clearly torn between keeping her word and staying to help. Promising she would go didn't make it any easier to leave her behind. Pointing towards the cell, she looked Josie in the eyes.

“She better be here when we get back. If anyone does anything to hurt her, I'll kill them myself, with my bare hands if I must.” She growled.

“You have nothing to worry about. She’ll be in very good hands while we're away.” She assured her.

Gesturing to a passing soldier, she stopped him. “Since you're going that way, please round up Solas, The Iron Bull and Cole, if you would.” She said. Glancing back to Cullen, she frowned. “Sorry, I know the soldiers are your business. Didn't mean to step on your toes.”

He shook his head quickly. “You're in charge, your orders are above mine, technically.”

“Then, will you also inform Varric I need to speak with him before we go?” She asked.

“Right away, my lady.” He said, rushing ahead.

“I don't think I'll ever get used to that. Before, the only time I gave anyone orders was when it was urgent, if someone would die if made to wait…” she sighed. “Anyway, once I see Varric, I'll be ready to leave.”

“Is it important?” Cullen asked.

“I think so. Just a few questions and a favor.” She said.

“I'll meet you at the gate then… I have something I need to do really quick as well…” he said.

“Very well, is get it done quickly. Gonna be a long trip.” She said with a weak smile.

Chapter Text

Varric looked up from a letter, examining her for a moment.

 

“Finally time to get going?” He asked.

 

“Yes. I was hoping you'd keep an eye on my sister. From a distance, just… make sure no one hurts her…” she asked.

 

“I can do that. In exchange, I’d  like to know what you've come up with so far.” He said.

 

“For Bartrand? I can only treat the symptoms so far, but I think she might be improving a little… I'll write it down for you…” she offered.

 

“I didn't mean him. You and Cullen have been practically inseparable for over a month. Have you changed your mind about him?” He asked.

 

“I'm still not sure. I wanted to give him a fair chance. I feel badly that he's still on my mind all the time. I've told Cullen I'm going to help him, and he says we don't have to be together for his offer to stand, but… I don't know, I can't help but think maybe something's there too. That can't be possible, right?” Ari asked anxiously.

 

“Are you asking me if it's possible to have feelings for two people at once? That sounds like a question best saved for Bull. The man loves different people every night, sometimes several at once.” He joked, laughing. Seeing the confusion on her face, he sighed. “It is. If that's really the case though, if that's the answer you arrive at, you know you'd still have to choose, right?”

 

“I know… I'm not sure if it's that way, not yet… but I know I still have to choose regardless. I'm used to fixing the pain, not causing it…” she sighed.

 

“Well, I believe Leliana wanted to speak to you before you set off. It's two weeks out, I'm told. You've got plenty of time before you get back, I'm sure you'll be a little closer to your answer before you get back…I might seem hard for pushing you like this, but it's just because I care. I don't want to see you get hurt, and I don't want you to settle on anything because you think it's the best option. You have a chance to go with your heart, not everyone gets that chance. Make the best of it.” He said, patting her shoulder.

 

Ari nodded, smiling. “I know. At first I thought you were trying to complicate things, I see that you're trying to help now. That's why I come to you…”

 

“Get going. You want real answers, right? Go get them.” He said gently.

 

Rushing off again, she found Leliana in the yard, planning their arrival with her spies. Catching sight of her, she waved them off to wait outside the gates with the others, loading up supplies in the carriages. She waved her to follow a short distance, away from other ears.

 

“I heard you found something.” Ari said.

 

“Not just something. What we needed. I'm both surprised and not…” she said.

 

“I assumed when the Duke was brought to me, he was the one…” Ari admitted. “What else do I need to know?”

 

“Much more. This goes back all the way to Halamshiral.” She said. “It's a fair bit more lengthy and planned than I thought.” She told her.

 

“I don't mind. Let's hear it.” Ari said.

 

“You remember the Grand Duchess? I believe she's currently still of use to us collecting information. In her plot to assist Corypheus, her brother was blamed.” She began.

 

“Yes, but Gaspard was only exiled, had I not intervened, he'd be dead…” Ari interrupted.

 

“I know. It seems he held a grudge against you for that. He took some small group of chevaliers loyal to him and scoured any leads he had. It was hardly a big enough force to attack here, but in true Orlesian fashion, he tried to strike where he could. We received a number of reports, scouts, spies, even some few soldiers had been killed in the field on simple missions. We assumed they were simply caught off guard, perhaps by Venatori. Then, that letter you found? It was a correspondence between myself and a spy code named Rouge, R, in letters. She was injured not long before, and I pulled her from duty. She had trouble remembering certain bits of information, and I felt she wasn't ready to go back. Anyway, I eventually let her go back, and I thought things were going well. She was tracking Antoine for us, keeping an eye on his movements, should the few remnants of your clan perish, as they did. When I called for her to bring him in, I found from another of my agents that she was killed. I didn't think much of it until the Duke mentioned something peculiar. Rouge was keeping mission notes on her, still couldn't remember them. This is against the training, can compromise our safety here. Gaspard got ahold of the notes, and was able to find the Duke. It seems they shared a common hatred for you after their encounters. This is where Ada comes in. She made the regrettable choice to come out of hiding to look for supplies and food, and was taken hostage. They did not realize her value at first. Gaspard managed to convince Antoine not to kill her. They won her over with food and care, and she eventually mentioned your name. At which point he again meant to kill her. Gaspard saw an opportunity to win back favor, thought to possibly strike a deal with Corypheus by taking you out. Antoine followed his orders, chained her up and left her near the remnants of the red lyrium cleared out of Wycome. Fed her stories about the imposter wearing her sister’s face, and that she could avenge the real Ariane’s death by killing the fake.. When Antoine was brought in, Gaspard must have fled, we saw no trace of him, did not even see his involvement at first. When we return, I will begin a hunt for him, if you wish.” She explained.

 

Ari needed a bit to process the information. She helped spare him. That should have counted for something. Instead, that one act of mercy led to the entire chain of events. It hardly seemed possible, how could someone be that unhappy to escape with their life?

 

“I feel responsible for this… if I had pulled Rouge from the field and kept her off it…” she sighed. “How is she, your sister? Is there any improvement?”

 

“Ada seems to be calming down. She's doing a little better, but I don't think I'm touching the infection. I'm not giving up. I'm hopeful the Wilds have something interesting to offer. If not, there are still a few options I haven't tried… I'm not giving up on her. This is my calling, what good am I if I can't help her?” She mumbled.

 

“You done a lot of good. You can't dismiss your skill so easily because of one case. Because of you, people that barely survived Haven and the journey here lived. When our own healers were stumped, I saw you helping. I counted at least ten that should have died that lived because of you. You focus more on your failures than your successes. It's not a bad thing. Keeping those losses in mind make you more cautious. You know you're not perfect, and that drives you to improve. If you always managed everything you tried, those losses would cripple you.” She explained.

 

“I… perhaps you're right.” She said. Gesturing to the gates, she hung her head. “I'm going to go get comfortable. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I'm terrified. I don't know what to expect.”

 

“Of course. Please take the time to rest while you can. I'll be along shortly. I believe Cullen is already settled, I think you'll be safest with him. I'm the event of any interference, he's the best bet.” She suggested.

 

“Do you anticipate an ambush?” Ari asked apprehensively.

 

“We've received no indication, no sign of trouble. Still, it's best to be cautious. There are a number of threats we face, and we can't afford not to be cautious. We can take no chances with your safety at this point, not when we're this close to stopping Corypheus. I once heard you say we're like a family here. I would be lying if I said I didn't want you to avoid coming to harm, even if Corypheus was not a threat. If I had a little sister, I'd like to think she'd be like you. I'll do anything to ensure you stay well protected. I swear that to you.” She said, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes. “Now go on. Let's not keep anyone waiting.”

 

Ari rushed ahead a few steps, turning back for just a moment. “Thank you. For everything. In case I don't get the chance to tell you later.”

Chapter Text

Skyhold’s gates came into view once again. He hated it, being back. Varric's last letter mentioned something about the Arbor Wilds, and he couldn't read it properly, but he assumed she was back. He stared at the guards as he came through. They didn't stop him, only acknowledged him enough to decide he was no threat. He scanned the yard for her, wondering if they were hit harder than he expected, seemed like there were many less people than usual. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Varric going through a door. That must be where she was. He sighed, following after him, just one quick look, that was the agreement.

 

“How's she doing?” Varric asked.

 

“She's resting right now, sounded like she was in a lot of pain earlier though. Cullen left us with something to give her for it before he left though. Seems to be doing better now.” One of the guards said.

 

“That's good… some rest will do the poor girl well.” He sighed.

 

Fenris wandered closer, he peered in the cell. Her back was to him, but he could make out her hair clearly.

 

“What the hell is she doing in there?” He asked finally.

 

Varric glanced back, hiding a grin. He had a feeling he wouldn't stay away long. Held out longer than he expected, well over a month.

 

“She's not back yet. Should be there or close to it by now anyway.” He said.

 

“She's right there. I'm not blind.” He said.

 

“Right. You haven't heard about that yet. This is Ari’s sister, Ada.” He said.

 

“I thought you said her family was dead, you lied to me.” He grumbled.

 

“Didn't think anyone survived. She showed up out of nowhere and tried to kill Ari. Ari had her set up in here while she takes care of her.” He said. “She's infected.”

 

“Then why are you in here?” He asked skeptically.

 

“She asked me to look in on her. Make sure no one was hurting her.” He said. “Come with me. We should talk.”

 

Fenris crossed his arms, heaving a sigh. If she wasn't even here, he should just go. He couldn't read half the stuff he wrote, maybe he could find out what actually was happening while he'd been gone. Varric headed for the tavern, taking a seat upstairs, away from others. Cole usually hung around up here, and people preferred to avoid him. He was away, but no one else bothered to look up here. Fenris sat across from him, begrudgingly accepting a drink when Varric ran down to get them.

 

“I'll get right to the point. I have reason to believe Ari loves you. She practically said as much before she left.” He said.

 

Fenris flinched, he hadn't expected to hear that right off. She told him she loved him? He'd spent many nights wishing he didn't want to hear her say just that very same thing. He took a drink, shrugging it off. She might not even come back. It wasn't like she was going to walk right in and tell him.

 

“So?” He sighed. “Why are you telling me?”

 

“Because. She thinks she might feel the same for a certain former Templar. They've been spending a lot of time together, and she doesn't seem to want to discuss It too much. She thinks you're not coming back.” He said. “It's not too late. You really can't wait any longer. If you want to be with her, you have to tell her. Win her over.”

 

“What makes you think I want -” he began.

 

“Oh stop already. I'm so tired of the excuses. Quit worrying about how she'd just hurt you. She isn't like that and you know it. Now do you love her or don't you?” He interrupted.

 

He'd rarely had a chance to see him that upset. It surprised him a little. Put on the spot like that, he sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He wasn't sure he was ready to say out loud, but he knew he'd just call him out again.

 

“Yes! Okay? Yes, I love her. I've loved her for a long time. Since…” he stopped, shaking his head. “Since well before Hawke died.”

 

“There. Doesn't that feel better?” He asked.

 

“No. Why would I feel better? It doesn't change the fact that she's out there with him . I had her. I let her go, I hurt her. You really think she'd forgive me for the way I've acted? It's no wonder she chose him. He probably treats her better. I doubt he does half the things I could, but he can't be perfect.” He said.

 

“Take it a bit more seriously.” Varric chided. “You haven't lost her yet. You're acting like you can't at least tell her how you feel. She's confused right now, and maybe hearing it will give her a little clarity.”

 

“What if it's too late. You say it isn't, but you don't know for sure?” He asked.

 

“Then whose fault is that? You've had all this time to tell her, and you kept saying it could wait. If you had told her right off, you wouldn't be in this mess.” He said.

 

“I don't know the first thing about any of this crap. All this talk of winning her back like I know how to do that. You saw how I was with Hawke. I made things worse than they had to be.” He said, calling down for another drink.

 

“You don't think I could help you out a little? Look, there's every chance it might not work. Maybe you're right and she chooses Cullen. But what if you just give it a shot. What if it works?” He said.  “I have a feeling that she's just been hoping you'll come back, she misses you.”

 

Fenris rolled his eyes, unsure why he was even considering it for a moment. He wasn't exactly in a successful relationship, his advice could easily be dismissed. Ugh. Maybe he was on to something.

 

“Fine. Whatever. Just know if you're messing with me, I'm going to kill you.” He sighed.

 

“No you won't. You like me too much.” He said.

 

“How long do we have to pull this off?” He asked.

 

“How the hell should I know? Two weeks to get there, two weeks back, they won't travel at night, probably a few days to deal with whatever they have to do. She's probably already set up in a nice camp already.” He guessed.

 

“She's probably burned it all down, her and the mages.” He huffed.

 

“She only brought Solas. Morrigan went with for her ‘expertise ‘ but Vivienne and Dorian are actually still here.” He said.

 

“Miracles never cease.” He sighed.

 

“Ari never really takes Vivienne out. I hear she complains a lot. Dorian chooses to stay behind at times as well.” He pointed out quietly.


 

God's it was dark out and it was sweltering. Ari hated the heat, it made her feel sluggish. Apologizing profusely, she peeled her robes off, slumping in her seat. They were a few hours away, according to the last update. Too dangerous to go outside, best to stick to the barely there path and hope nothing was curious enough to investigate. Cullen drew the velvet curtains across the small windows. The last thing she probably wanted was to be spied on by the guards. A strange sound had her quickly latching the lock, closing her eyes tightly.

 

“I don't like it here. I don't care that we're not quite there yet. It's too humid and I don't like those sounds.”

 

They weren't going anywhere for a few hours, no sense in roasting. Cullen unhooked his armor, setting it aside, shrugging off his mantle. Far too hot for metal and heavy cloth. Matching her, he kicked his boots off as well. They could be up and dressed before it was time to move, no need to worry about being caught underdressed. Besides, he was willing to bet they weren't the only ones overwhelmed.

 

“Can't you do anything? We're almost down to skin as it is. Can't exactly take that off.” He complained.

 

Ari nodded slowly, looking around the small area. “I can, but it may actually be unpleasant at first…”

 

“I don't care. I'm begging, just do it.” He sighed.

 

Ari stared at her palms briefly, sweeping them across the inside, a thick coating of ice crawling across the walls and ceiling. She was right. It was too cold now. By the quick drips of water falling, it wouldn't be so cold for long. Her skin erupted in goosebumps, breath clouding. He held out his arm, tugging her closer when she took it. Holding onto her, his hand quickly brushed along her arm and side, smiling a bit.

 

“It won't be this cold for long, right? I'll keep you warm until then. “ he offered.

 

“I'm sorry. I'm not very good with these kind of spells, I feel like I always overdo it…” she murmured.

 

“Well, you might need that. You never know what you'll face. You might be better off not holding anything back.” He said. “Ari? Are you feeling alright? You don't look so well…”

 

She shook her head, waving her hand. “I'm fine. I think it's just the heat. I feel a little strange. I'm not sick. I brought some supplies, if I was I'd already be treating it.”

 

“I promised I'd keep you safe. It's not because it's my job. I want to protect you. Make sure you tell me if something happens, alright?” He asked.

 

“I will.” She said. “I keep thinking...tomorrow could be my last day. I don't know what's out there. I know this could be my last night. Perhaps i'm just worrying myself. A good night of rest might be what I need. I don't know if I can fall asleep.”

 

“I'm here, I'm not leaving. I don't know if that helps, but I won't let anything happen.” He said, gently twisting strands of her hair between his fingers. “Get some rest if you can.”

 

Ari forced a laugh, trying to relieve some of the anxiety she was feeling. “Really? Anything? You're a better man than most.”

 

He looked away, swallowing nervously. “Well, I mean we…I still notice, of course… it's just that I prefer to leave things to your pace, as always.”

 

“I know… I appreciate the way you treat me. I know it wasn't much…” she sighed. “You’re under a lot of stress too. I shouldn't add to it.”

 

“What on earth are you saying? You don't… you do so much for me. I don't ask because I don't want you to feel we have to…” he said. “We didn't have to.”

 

“It's perfect now.” She said, gesturing to the slightly thinned ice. “Just right.”

 

“Are you sure you're alright?” He asked.

 

“No. I'm not sure what to do.” She mumbled, leaning against his shoulder. “I have an answer. I'm just not sure you want to hear it.”

 

He gently squeezed her shoulder, kissing her head. “I want to know. Good or bad. I have to know.”

 

This could be it. That was the one thought echoing in her mind. The last chance to say what had been on her mind for days now. The last chance to tell him.

 

“I do love you.” She sighed, her eyes squeezed shut. “But… I love Fenris too. I like being with you, I've enjoyed this trial.”

 

“But you're not ready to make a decision yet. I understand.” He said. “Let me prove it to you. I'll show you I can make you happy. I can be what you need, what you want . Just like you, i'm not giving up until I've got nothing left to give. If you're so concerned about tomorrow, we can do whatever you like. If it's what you want. But only if it's what you want. We're both coming back from this. Trust in that.”

 

“I don't know. If it's going to be this hot the whole time, that might be what does me in. I might not even reach the eluvian.” She sighed dramatically. “I can't do it captain, I'm not gonna make it!”

 

Cullen chuckled at that, shaking his head. “Well, ice melts, love. You'll have plenty of water, at least.”

 

“Ahh. That's true. I hope I don't waste all my energy melting ice for everyone.” She laughed.

 

At least she was smiling again, laughing genuinely. He hoped she was feeling a little less nervous about the morning. If nothing else, he was feeling a little better about it too. It wasn't what he expected to hear, but she loved him. It was hope, maybe with a little more work, she would forget all about Fenris and he wouldn't have to wonder what might happen if he ever decided to wander back into her life...

Chapter Text

Fenris rolled his eyes, for about the tenth time in the last hour. His ideas were all so cheesy and frankly, embarrassing. Ari wasn't some snotty human noble, she didn't need candlelit dinners and he certainly wasn't dressing up for the occasion. Too much like trying to be someone he wasn't. Ari accepted him as he was before, he didn't understand the need to go so far to catch her attention now. When he'd tried to think of her a little more before, it made her suspicious. If he was going to do something for her, it should be on his terms.

 

“So that's a no on the outfit then?” Varric asked with a sigh.

 

He certainly would have had a much easier time helping Curly out. Still, Fenris needed a reason to stop with the grouchy attitude all the time and admittedly, he had been through a lot. Too bad, really. Getting Cullen to recite terrible Orlesian poetry would have been hilarious. Fenris was a stubborn man, all his best ideas were being shot down faster than he could fire on someone.

 

“Of course it's a no. I'm not doing it. Not for all the coin in Thedas, and not even if you brought Danarius back and delivered his head on a platter. Silver or otherwise.” He huffed.

 

“Andraste's ass, but you're a picky one.” He sighed.

 

His head on a plate. Maybe he was onto something there. Fenris was decent at tracking, not to mention he might be more successful at getting something useful than Leliana had been. He was a grumpy elf, but he had a silver tongue where it counted.

 

“There might be something  you could do,right up your alley. Ari might actually appreciate it more than a nice night out with all the frills.” He said.

 

Fenris leaned forward, cocking his head slightly. “ Now you have my attention. It better be good this time.”

 

“Ari has a prisoner that isn't being very cooperative, has information on the guy that sent her sister after her. He's a slippery bastard. You manage to find him and bring him back in one piece before she gets back? You'll get noticed, might even be just enough to get her back.” He suggested.

 

“So you want me to talk to this prisoner, find this jerk and bring him back? Why not just kill him myself?” He asked.

 

“That's the tricky part. You kill him yourself, she gets denied her justice, the revenge she needs . You bring him back, she can do whatever she likes with him, and you get to be the hero.” He said, finishing his drink. “Up to you, I guess. Unless you're rethinking the fancy dinner and flowers. I'm sure you'd look so cute all dressed up.”

 

“You know I won't kill you, but I'm not above punching you, dwarf.” He grumbled. “What's he like?”

 

“Shithead noble. Lost everything when the others ran him out. Down three fingers as I recall. Didn't lose any of that attitude.” He said.

 

“I need ten minutes and a bottle of wine. The good kind.” He said.

 

“Interesting. Above treating the woman you love to a nice night, but this is your taste?” He chuckled.

 

Shut up already.” He growled. “You said you'd help. Make it happen. I don't have forever, you know.”

 

“Okay, alright. I'll go see what they have in the back and I'll toss the guard a few sovereigns to look the other way for a bit. They don't much care for him anyway.” He said.

 

“Meet me down in the dungeon. I know how these types work. If he knows where he is, I'll find him. If not, I'll at least know where to start.” He said.

 


 

Maybe there was less to worry about than she thought. The forest wasn't the problem, it was all the infected that slowed them down. That and the heat, it was just awful. Morrigan looked to be the only one not bothered by it. They'd made it quite far in and so far everyone was holding their own. Cullen and a small force of soldiers were working on wearing down Red Templars and what appeared to be Grey Wardens. Well…it couldn't be helped anymore. She'd saved who she could, these wouldn't be the first Wardens she'd had to kill, even just this day. Ari nodded her head towards them, and the group rushed to help. Ari raised her hands, biting her lip. No good, they were too close, she couldn't risk hitting anyone, and if she tried and held back at that last moment? That was an injury that was bound to slow her down. What good was she doing now? She couldn't get in close enough to be of any use with healing, and fighting wasn't an option just yet. Ari quickly patted her hips, feeling the dagger Leliana had given her. She hated how up close and personal it felt to kill like this, but it was an option. No one should get hurt because of her inaction, never again. Ari weaved between Solas and Bull.

 

“Borrowing your back, Bull.” She said quickly.

 

“You got it, Boss. Go for it.” He said.

 

Holding his shoulders, she pulled herself up. Reaching for the dagger, she jumped off, pulling a Warden down by the neck. She landed hard under him, but the fall stunned him long enough to find a gap in the armor to strike.

 

“Good job. No hesitation that time. You're getting better.” Bull said.

 

“Thanks but I don't want to be a better killer…” she said.

 

“Sure don't seem to mind killing dragons and creatures.” He laughed.

 

“That's different.” She said, pulling herself out from under the Warden. “It's hard to explain, but it's just a bit different…”

 

“She has a point.” Solas added.

 

The last enemy down, Cullen moved from behind his shield to help her back to her feet. The rest went on to keep the road clear for a few moments. He sighed, watching her quietly.

 

“Why did you hold back?” He asked.

 

“I didn't want to risk hurting anyone. I tried to tell you, I'm not very good at it…you saw the scar before.” She mumbled. “I can never find the right balance, I either put too much in or hold too much back…”

 

He put his hand loosely on her head, nodding. “I know it's hard. You have to come back. You've got a better chance of that if you don't hold back. We can keep our people safe, but once you go further in, we won't be able to help… you have to do what you must. I don't fear what you can do, and you shouldn't either. If it comes to your safety… hold nothing back.”

 

Ari stared at her hands anxiously. Her focus had been healing, she knew basic control of her magic, but one too many close calls had made her nervous about the kind of power it would take to clear the way through this place and reach the eluvian before Corypheus, who still had far too sizable a force to tackle with just five people.

 

“I understand...whatever it takes.” She sighed.

 

“Go on. Let's not keep a would-be God waiting.” He said.

 

Ari nodded, turning back. She managed a few steps before she stopped. Holding a hand to her mouth, she ran into the bushes. Cullen rushed after her, finding her not far in, hunched over.

 

“I knew it. You're not feeling well after all… is it… did you get too close to Ada?” He asked.

 

Ari shook her head, unable to speak at first, groaning into her hand when she stopped.

 

“No, the symptoms don't match. It's just…” she stopped, waiting a few moments. “Just too hot here. And these plants, I've only read about some, I don't know everything they can do. Perhaps something here is emitting some kind of weak poison.”

 

“If that was it, why wouldn't it be affecting anyone else? And you can't say it only affects elves. Briala’s people are fine and Solas looked fine. If it's not exposure to lyrium, what else could it be?” He asked.

 

He frowned, raking a hand through his hair. He'd seen a few mages in the Circles he served. He remembered seeing many in this condition, back when he wasn't confident enough to confront those who caused it. He hated asking such personal questions, it felt invasive. “The Dalish… do they do anything about…mages? I… I don't mean to be indelicate, but… I hope you know what I'm asking.”

 

Ari squeezed her eyes shut, breathing slowly. She was holding matters up enough without having to stop.

 

“No. My clan didn't find it necessary.” She mumbled.

 

“Have you…Maker, I'm so sorry to even ask…” he sighed. “Have you...recently?”

 

Ari frowned at that, shaking her head. “No. I assumed it was just because of the stress.”

 

He glanced away, hanging his head. “I'm sorry. Are you alright now? I don't want to leave you like this. If your fine to go on, we can… we’ll talk about it more on the way home, alright?”

 

“I'll be fine. I can't stop because of this.” She said, swaying slightly as she stood up. “I'll meet up with the others now, in fact…”

 

“Is there anything you need from me? If I'm not needed for combat, I'll feel useless waiting at the camp doing nothing… I could try and find some of the plants to make something for it?” He offered.

 

Ari shook her head. “I left my bag in the carriage. Elfroot, ginger, peppermint, and a little water. It's all in there…I hate to even ask…”

 

“It's the least I can do.” He said, barely able to offer her a smile. “Remember. Whatever it takes to come back.”

 

Ari nodded again, wishing she hadn't. “I'll be fine. I promise. I won't let anything stand in my way of getting through. Corypheus won't win as long as I still stand.”

 

“Good, I'll see you back to the others, I don't trust this place. I know that wasn't the last of them.” He said.

 

Sighing, he raised his shield again, walking a little ahead of her. It was a short distance to catch up with her group, waiting for her out of concern.

 

“Good. You're alright. I heard you run off. I thought something might have caught up with you.” Solas said.

 

Ari took the lead again, walking slowly at first. Cullen pulled him back for a moment, keeping his voice low so she wouldn't hear him.

 

“Keep an eye on her. I suspect she might be…” he trailed off, glancing away. “Just make sure you and the others keep her safe.”

 

Solas said nothing at first, looking over at her, then to him. “Really?”

 

Cullen shrugged a shoulder, sweeping his hand against the back of his neck. “Maybe.”

 

“Don't worry. She's a strong girl, I trust her to hold her own.” He said. “We’ll watch over her. Go on back. I feel strangely about this place. It feels alive. Get back with the others. Safety in numbers, right?”

 

“Alright…” he agreed.

 

Solas caught up with Ari and the rest, hearing Cullen’s slow steps in the other direction. Ari picked up her pace, her expression not quite determined, more like she was trying not to think about it. They were nowhere near done here, and not thinking about how she felt had to happen on the go.

 

“I'm sorry. I'll try to move faster while we have the chance. We have yet to see Corypheus or that dragon...maybe we actually got here before him and we have a chance to get a decent head start.” She groaned. “We can do this.”

 

Bull rolled his eye. “You weigh like twenty pounds , get over here.”

 

“I weigh a hell of a lot more than that, thank you.” She said.

 

He grabbed her waist, raising her up to his shoulders. “You said we need to move. Hold on if you need to. If you feel sick, turn to the side.”

 

Solas chuckled at the sight. “It appears we’ve found something here after all. A new definition of ‘riding the Bull’”

 

“Don't quit your day job.” He sighed. “Sometimes I wish you were funnier. It would make all that spirit crap less creepy.”

Chapter Text

Once they had safely escaped Corypheus and his pet across the bridge, Bull set her down. Before she bothered to say anything, she ran ahead, kneeling by a water feature, winding through the yard. She whispered something under her breath, but none could really hear what she said, hastily dunking her head in the water, sitting up with a sigh.

 

“That's… a little better.” She said.

 

Morrigan wandered ahead to examine a platform. Ari decided to follow, unsurprised when the stone shifted and glowed. They'd already discovered Corypheus wasn't after an eluvian at all, but a Well of Sorrows. Solas helpfully pointed out that the path ahead seemed to be the right way.

 

“So… we just appease Mythal and go in?” She asked.

 

“It says something here…” Morrigan mentioned.

 

“I'm aware you call yourself an ‘expert’ on elven things, but now might be a good time to mention that I'm Dalish? Between my clan and Solas I'd say I'm a bit more than decent at my own language. Just a thought.” Ari sighed.

 

“Inquisitor, I am here to help, there's no need to -” she began.

 

“Yes, I know. Do forgive my lack of pleasantries. I'm not feeling my best and I'm leaning more towards irritable the longer this trip becomes.” She sighed.

 

“How is your head?” Solas asked.

 

“Feels like it's trying to split open. Combined with everything else, I feel like I'm dying.” She said.

 

“Maybe we don't waste time with this magic crap and we get going the way they went?” Bull suggested.

 

“No, that's not an option. This is easy enough to understand, and I would not wish Mythal’s displeasure over failure to announce my intentions.” She disagreed.

 

Ari eyed the stairs warily. Bull made no move to offer to cart her this time, and there was concern about burning through her physical energy so quickly. Solas bent to lift her, carrying her up the steps before depositing her in front of the door. She seemed mildly impressed.

 

“Hm, I was unaware you had any muscle. Does a Fade expert have need of them often?” She asked.

 

“To get the best of it, one must often use physical strength to reach obscure places. A little is necessary.” He said dismissively.

 

In truth, it seemed a little suspect. No mage seemed to need any beyond raising a book or a staff, and most were rather out of shape in her observation. That and the way he reacted to certain things here made her more than a little curious. He was always open about most things, but now that she thought about it, he wasn't very open about himself. Gesturing to the door, she forced a smile, covering her curiosity.

 

“I like these doors. It might even be a simple magic, but it's beautiful…” she said.

 

“Indeed. Who can say how long this place has stood unnoticed by the outside world. To witness such a thing is a unique opportunity.” He told her.

 

A scattering of enemies stood in the way, there to distract if nothing else. To allow Samson and his forces to get away.

 

“This is wrong… I don't like fighting here…not in this place…” she mumbled.

 

“We can handle it. You stay back.” Morrigan told her.

 

A human telling her what to do? It was such a common thing, said out of concern, she knew that. Normally she'd listen, why did it feel like it was burning in her chest now? Had this place incited some primal instinct? Or perhaps it was Mythal herself, answering her call with the strength to forge deeper in?

 

Ari made a small circle with her hand, intending only a few sparse lightning strikes, just enough to help. The minute she let up, something was wrong, far too much to it to turn out right. She could feel the crackling energy all around, like it was swallowing her.

 

“Move! Come back towards me!” She shouted.

 

Hesitant to leave the fight, they reluctantly rushed back, in time to avoid the rippling wave of energy that broke through, hundreds of bolts striking all at once, the ground smoldering at the impact points. Gods, the sound of screaming, and the smell of burning flesh was not good. Her stomach churned violently, to say nothing of the visions of the past flashing in her mind. Something shook her, and she snapped out of her thoughts.

“The fight is over.” Solas pointed out.

 

“Yes… but the struggle is just beginning. I'm sorry. There's a door there. Shall we see where it goes?” She asked.

 

“Wouldn't it be faster just to follow the bad guys?” Bull asked.

 

“Faster. Not better. Not wiser . I wish to follow the path before me. I trust it to be the right thing to do.” She frowned, shaking her head. “I promised I'd make it back. That I'd hold nothing back. It's time I stop thinking it's just me that I have to worry about now. I'm supposed to be a leader, let me lead. From here in, stay behind me, no matter what we face. It's the only way I have to know I won't hurt you.”

 

“Well. Someone finally found her big girl robes.” Morrigan teased.

 

“Says the woman who struggles to find a proper shirt.” She laughed. “I bet Celene didn't mind.”

 

“Oh, I'm certain not, but her mind was always elsewhere. Just as mine is.” She agreed.

 

Ari peered around the wall quietly. “No sign of enemies. Just looks like more rituals. I'd guess the way in won't open unless I finish them. Let's take a look. Plenty of soft dirt around, I'm certain I can plot the path beforehand. This will be quick. I've seen no sign of the other elves here, they must be below. It is well we didn't take the easiest option, or we might be fighting them now.”

 

“I applaud your thinking. Well done.” Solas said.

 

“I've no wish to fight without need. Whether the gods still listen or not, I cannot say, but a little respect is good for the soul.” She sighed.

 



 

Fenris headed back to the gate, a small pack slung over his shoulder.

 

“Leaving already?” Varric asked.

 

“I told you. Ten minutes and a bottle of wine. I got his last known location, as well as several places he used for shelter previously. I'll be back soon enough. If I'm on the right track, and I'm very certain I am. He's not that far away. I should be back in plenty of time.” He told him.

 

“Amazing what you can accomplish when you start getting serious.” He joked.

 

“Shut up. I'm not doing it because I want her to care. I'm doing it just to prove I can do what these fools couldn't.” He snorted.

 

“You keep telling yourself that. I'm sure it won't be long before you believe it.” He sighed.

 

“I already do.” He said.

 

“Still a terrible liar. I'm going to go check on Ada again. It would be good if she's gotten better. Ari needs all the good news she can get.” He sighed.

 

“See you around.” He said, pausing a moment longer. “If she's awake, I saw these little fruit things in the kitchen. You should give her one, they're not bad.” He suggested.

 

Fenris turned around, heading for the stables. Ari had once left permission for him with the horse master to use them as he needed. Might as well use it, it would cut the travel time almost in half. He reached on the basket, grabbing an apple, holding it up. There was that strange bellow again, Oliver jumped the fence and snatched it from his hand. He patted his head lightly.

 

“What do you say...up for a little hunt? Shall we go catch something for your mistress?” He asked.

 

Oliver knelt down at that, and he climbed up, riding out the gate. Once again he was impressed by just how smart he seemed. Dedicated, he'd give him that much.

 

“I wonder. If he had a horse, do you think she'd like that too? It would have to wait until after she dealt with him I guess. I won't make you carry some fancy jerk.” He said.

 

Oliver snorted at the conversation, shaking his head energetically. He assumed that was some sign of gratitude for considering how he felt, probably. How much time had he spent around Ari that he was beginning to feel he was just like her? She probably liked cats. Must be a mage thing, Merrill seemed alright with cats and Anders was crazy about them. No, he didn't want that, it was bad enough she was a mage at all without making her more like them . A dog. She needed a dog, especially if any assassin, even if it was her sister, could get that close to her without noticing. A dog would do just fine, something strong that could watch her back when no one else could be around, but likeable enough for her. He laughed.

 

“Maybe not a dog, she already has a big dumb one following her around. Doesn't need another one. Then again… maybe it would keep him away too. Where the hell does someone even find a dog here. Ferelden is supposed to be full of them and I haven't seen anything but wolves around here.” He sighed.

 

Oliver seemed to lose interest in his conversation, instead picking up the pace so suddenly he had to hold on a bit tighter to avoid being pitched off. At least they were still going the right way.

 

“What's gotten into you so suddenly?” He asked.

 

The beast bellowed, jumping across a small stream, before turning to drink.

 

“I see. Not the sturdiest thing, I guess. Fine, we take a break here, but only a few minutes. She could come back at any time, and how would that look? She'd see you were gone and probably cry. You don't want that. Trust me.” He explained. “When we find this guy, no matter what I tell him, don't get mad, alright? I don't mean it. Sometimes we have to lie a little to get what we need. If what she wants is revenge, let's make sure she gets it.”

 

Oliver looked up for a moment, snorting quietly before returning to the water. How much of that did he actually understand, and how much was just him trying to tell him to shut up so he could relax for a moment? Was he even thinking anything at all? Maybe he was still giving him too much credit, though that seemed increasingly unlikely.

 

“I'll admit it, at least to you. Maybe she is different. Not like Danarius or Anders, or even Merrill at all. She's not so bad.” He muttered.

 

Fenris heard a sound coming from some nearby bushes, his hand hovering over his sword warily. At least it wasn't a human sound, nothing he couldn’t handle. Still, might be worth investigating, no point in leaving something possibly dangerous out here where stupid people could get hurt.

 

Chapter Text

Fenris came out of the bushes, staring at Oliver, his pack squirming.

 

“Did you have something to do with the little thing I found in there?” He asked.

 

Oliver glanced up from the stream, snorting quietly, finally turning back to him. He knelt down again, taking off when he was safely seated.

 

“Playing innocent, are you? I'm onto you.” He said. “Come on now. Clever or not, we need to keep going, the place we're looking for is just up ahead.”

 

His pack moved again, and he smirked. “So…I'm guessing you don't like the Templar much either. That why you're helping me?”

 

Oliver glanced back at him, it was a strange expression in his eyes. It seemed pretty neutral. He wasn't as good with animals as Ari was, but on a guess he realized it probably didn't matter one way or the other to him who she picked.

 

“You still get spoiled either way.” He sighed. “Hold on. There is a horse. Really from what Varric said, I expected a fairly sizable force. Chevaliers, he said.  Something must have happened. He's alone.”

 

It would have been so much easier to just kill him now. He knew the kind of things men like were motivated by. Fenris took a bit to secure his pack to Oliver’s saddle, testing them a few times to make sure it didn't pull it too tight.

 

“Keep it safe. I'll be back.” He said. “I will need this, though.”

 

He rummaged through the saddlebags, wondering how anyone could manage any length of trip without a saddle, grabbing a bottle on his way in. He sat at a small wooden table, kicking his feet up.

 

“Take it your former Grand Duke Gaspard.” He said pleasantly.

 

Oh, it was definitely forced, but he had to. It was killing him every moment that he wasn't killing this bastard. He reached for his sword, until he saw him pouring glasses.

 

“I sought you out because it seems we’re both very angry at a certain woman.”

 

“Why should I believe you. How do I know you're talking about the right woman?” He asked.

 

“Inquisitor Lavellan.” He said seriously. “Right enough for you?”

 

He reached for the glass finally, taking a seat across from him. It didn't stop his suspicion, but he had his attention at least.

 

“What did she do to you?” He asked.

 

“What didn't she do? You know mages. Can't resist ruining everything. I went along with it for a while. Even kept her bed warm for a few months. She said she had information on my wife. I thought if I got close enough, she'd tell me. I found out she had her killed so she didn't have any competition.” He explained, sobbing convincingly. Taking a sip, he shook his head. “She prefers humans . Found someone new, someone else to use up. Then, she tried to keep me around, but I got away. Wasn't going to serve a bitch like that.”

 

“I knew she was cold. I didn't take her as being that cruel. Still, you can't have went through the trouble of tracking me down to drown your sorrows with your better.” He said. “What is this really about?”

 

He shrugged a shoulder. “Can't help but notice you have no one around anymore. You need an ally, someone who knows about her. What she does, where she goes. I have a plan, but as I said, she has a taste for humans, and I don't quite fit that description.”

 

“How would I even get in the gates?” He asked.

 

“We don't. We go in through the side. There's a spot in the hall with a gap wide enough to squeeze through. You go through, I'll go in the front gates. No one any wiser.” He explained.

 

“I'm not going without knowing your plan. She'd most certainly want me dead now.” He argued.

 

“She won't. Not at first. You offer her what she likes. Take her to bed, that's not a bad bonus even for you. Gets tired after a few rounds. You wait until she's asleep. Not that hard to kill anymore, don't you think? You get your revenge, and a decent lay. Someone else , someone human gets put in charge, smooths everything over. You get your title back. Might have another shot at the throne. You look like a man who knows his way around politics well enough to pull it off.” He explained.

 

The thought of him touching her made him want to throw up. If she had to have someone else, at least her taste wasn't this bad. Some broken down entitled shit, he didn't like it one bit, and he knew she wouldn't go for it either.

 

“You're really alright with that?” He asked. “You'd be doing me a great service. I could tie her up, let you have one last go before I off her?”

 

Fenris shook his head, the only thing he could do to avoid saying the wrong thing, or saying anything. Gaspard finished his wine, pointing outside.

 

“I've got a horse. I'll send it in with you. I doubt it will fit through the wall as well. Draws attention. Let's get going. First, that thing, then...Orlais.” He laughed.

 

He headed for the door, saying such things left a bad taste in her mouth, and a strangely intense sense of guilt. She wasn't like that at all. He was still willing to bet she'd at least tried him out. But she was better than this, he'd reduced her to the kind of woman found in the Rose. Made her sound like she cared nothing for anyone but herself, like she never left her chambers. Hell, he'd lied about Hawke too. The one thing keeping it up was knowing it led to a result she wanted, and that she might never have to know the things he'd said about her. Maybe if she did, the backup would soften her anger a little. Fenris returned to Oliver, waiting for Gaspard to get on his horse, already a bit uncoordinated. Not the most observant either. Managed to slip in just enough medicine in it to make him feel a little off. Maybe think he drank more than he thought, or perhaps more potent. In a perfect world, he'd have enough time to get him back, have the guards waiting to lock him up and get the rest ready before she got back, but he was working the assumption he didn't. For now, he'd have to settle for bringing him back, leading the guards to him and getting out of the way before her return. The rest could wait. He wanted to see the look on her face when she noticed he had come back. Cullen treated her better, he could admit that much, but what could he really do for her that he couldn't?


 

“I knew it. I had a feeling something was off about that woman. I don't know why she wants it so badly.” Ari ranted. “Abelas has the right of it. If destroying the Well is the best way to protect it, that's his choice. He's been here protecting it longer than we have, what right does she have to interfere?”

 

“Are you saying you’d rather it get destroyed than saving a piece of elven history?” Solas asked.

 

“No, I'm not saying that's what I want. I'm just saying if it's going to be used, it should be with permission, and perhaps by someone we know will respect it, a guaranteed benefit. We let her steal the power, it's just one more thing taken from our people, something stolen in a bid for power. Isn't that the very thing we came here to stop?” She questioned.

 

“There's truth in your words, I don't deny that, but we're nearly there, and you should save your anger for what surely lies ahead.” Solas cautioned.

 

“I know. Samson had a head start. There are still battles being waged all around us, and I have not seen his body. He yet lives. I went through all this trouble to get this far. I don't plan to kill him unless I have no choice. Cullen knew him better. If there's anything of him left to be saved, he has a better eye for it. We deal with whatever awaits us, and then, we deal with Morrigan.” She sighed.

 

“There's something weighing on you.” He noted.

 

“You were right. I saw the way they fight. I used to think Andruil herself guided Ada’s bow. Seeing them in action, there's an elegance and grace we stumble towards. My people are truly as children, stumbling to imitate our parents. I wonder if we would ever have found a place half this alive…I can't let her ruin this.” She mumbled.

 

“If it comes to it, you said you don't want it destroyed if you can help it. You don't want her to use it. Could you do it if you had to, knowing what you do?” He wondered.

 

Ari stopped, palm flat on the door. “If I had to? I don't know that I'd be the best candidate to do so, but I would. I'd do the best I could to use it the best way. The right way. Even if I had to discover what that was first. Come. Let's not keep our foes waiting any longer. I have it here, if it works, this should be easy enough. If not? I hope we survive long enough to leave Corypheus without an option.”

 

Thanks to the Sentinels, they'd managed to avoid much of the fighting entirely. Somehow, Ari still looked ready to drop. She felt things more deeply than most, he had realized, and what few fights they'd been in had left her nearly drained. It was fortunate their goal was so close by, he didn't know how much she had left to give before it was too much. At the very least, she'd need a few days to rest up if things went as planned. No doubt Cullen would be worried. He was already worried before they reached the Temple, imagine what the reaction would be to her collapsing.

 

“Exercise a little caution. Fire and lightning require more energy than simple ice spells. Try that, it will slow the drain on your energy.” He suggested.

 

“Don't worry about me. I'm going home. This isn't where my story ends. I'll do whatever I must.” She said.

 

Pushing open the door, she felt for the rune, her fingers circling it like a good luck charm. Dagna was great at what she did. Hopefully, she was right about this.

Chapter Text

Ari was still out cold when the group made it back. Leliana had been thorough in her interrogation as to what happened. She'd received the same story more or less from everyone, with a hint of bitterness from the witch. She expected as much, they had history, and never particularly got along well.

 

“Again, just the facts this time, lose the attitude.” She said.

 

“As I said, something was different about her, by the time we reached the Well, it was just one last fight. She did something and broke his armor, they knocked him out. She said she wanted him brought back. Barely made it up to the Well at all. The girl was exhausted. The Inquisitor managed to sweet talk the elf into letting us use the Well. He took off, and we argued over who got to use it. I told her I had the most qualifications to use it and would willingly pay the price. “ she explained.

 

“Keep going, I know that's not all. What happened.” She insisted.

 

“The girl got mad and said I wasn't the only one. She said Solas was overqualified, but that she knew he wouldn't want it, and insisted she was more qualified, and beyond that, said she still believed Mythal lived, and it was no burden for her to be bound in such a way to her. I tried to get her to reconsider, but by the time I thought I made progress, she just walked in. As I told you already, she absorbed the power in it, and then Corypheus showed up, angered by the loss. We fled into the eluvian, and she dropped. I think she knew the fight was over, at least for now, and her body simply gave up.” She said, shrugging. “A little rest is all she needs.”

 

“Just like that? You're going to put aside your anger and continue on aiding her?” She asked skeptically.

 

“Do not forget, this is a creature that threatens my existence as well. If I didn't offer what knowledge I could, I would be remiss. For now, I simply intended to use the time that she spends recovering looking over the library and spending time with my son. If that's all, I do still need to make sure he's been studying while I was away.” She said.

 

“Fine. I have other matters to look into.” She said.

 

Josephine had been elbows deep in paperwork for hours now, and Cullen had worked faster than she'd seen him, signing and filing reports and issuing new orders to free up the time to keep watch on her. They'd talk about that too, how a healer would be best to watch over her, even with the extra training she'd given him.

 

“I know how you feel about her, but this feels like something else entirely. She just needs rest, she's not exactly dying. Why is this so important to you?” She had asked.

 

It was her business, and he hadn't wanted to tell her, but it should be said. Besides, if she still felt a healer was needed, they would have to know so they didn't…

 

“Ari’s…” he sighed, sweeping his hand through his hair. “She's not alone .”

 

“She never was. We're all here.” She said quietly.

 

“I mean she's…” Maker this was harder to say than he expected. “Pregnant.”

 

“Your certain?” She questioned.

 

“I am. I've seen it before. It's not just that she's… ill frequently, but there are...other signs. I asked one of the healers before, and they say it's different with every woman, I didn't mention her name, but I asked plenty of questions.” He admitted.

 

Leliana sighed. He was acting strangely too. Insisted she not be taken to her own room, and that a bed be put in his office. Wouldn't say why, only that it was best that no one went in her room while she was out.

 

“Cullen… did you? Is there any chance this child could be?” She asked.

 

He shrugged, sighing. “If what I was told was accurate, it's...possible. If it isn't, I imagine there's only one other person whose it could be.”

 

Cullen wasn't ashamed to admit to himself he didn't want him coming back. Telling him was the right thing to do, and Varric would be the best one to find him. Maybe he'd still get lucky enough that he wouldn't have to worry about him being responsible enough to come back.

 

As promised, Ada was alive and as well as could be hoped for. Got about as much of her strength back as she was likely to without getting rid of the infection completely. Once Ari was awake and on her feet again, she imagined she'd want to get back to treatments, although, if she truly was bound to the will of an Elven God, if the Well truly spoke to her as Morrigan had told her it should, who could say how it would affect her. Would she still be the same girl?

 

“Do you want me to take watch for a bit? You could probably stand a few minutes to stretch. Maybe get something to eat.” She offered.

 

“I'm fine. I want to be here when she wakes up.” He said stubbornly.

 

“I understand that, but… how about this. You still need to eat, but think of her too. She's been out for a while now, fought through the Arbor Wilds, no rest, no food. Don't you think she’ll be hungry when she wakes up?” She asked.

 

He sighed, looking at her for a moment. It didn't really look like she was going to wake up in just a few minutes. She had a point.

 

“Alright. I'll be back quickly.” He sighed.

 

Leliana sat on the edge of the bed, fixing her hair, sweeping it out of her face. “He's very dedicated. He loves you. I'd say you're a lucky girl, but I'd imagine it's not easy, is it? I've watched you. Know you're trying to focus on him, but I'd imagine your heart still wonders, right? I know how that feels, a little. Remember I told you Neria’s getting married? For a while, I thought we might… I loved her, would have done anything for her. I could never manage to tell her, I waited too long, and she chose him. I knew she loved him, and he cared deeply for her. You didn't see the best side of him, he's really a lovable idiot. Never fails to make people smile. He's good for her. I wasn't confident enough to fight for her. I think no matter what you decide, you're going to be fine…”

 

Ari whined quietly, turning her head. Cullen came back, setting the trays down. Noticing the slight movement, he seemed hopeful.

 

“Is she waking up?” He asked.

 

“I'm not sure, actually. Could be. Ari? Are you awake?” She asked.

 

She groaned at the noise, her eyes opening slightly. “I am now… you would not believe how loud it sounds in my head right now…Cole said I wouldn't want all these voices in my head, but I didn't trust Morrigan…”

 

“Can't say I like the idea of this for you, but I admit I don't trust her either. She's changed but I don't know that she's changed that much.” Cullen admitted.

 

Leliana helped her sit up, pointing to the tray. Cullen handed it over. Ari looked like she was about to try to get up, but the tray on her lap made her reconsider. The smell was bothering her, but it felt like she hadn't eaten in weeks, she could tolerate it to make that pain stop at least...Leliana smiled, standing up slowly.

 

“I'm going to go speak with Josie for a moment. I'll come back, hopefully with something sweet.” She said.

 

“dessert before dinner? What's the occasion?” She asked.

 

“Oh… no particular reason.” She lied.

 

“I… was thinking.” Cullen said when she left.

 

“I know. I know what you must have had on your mind. We didn't have a chance to talk about it. I didn't consider that you might want to know.” She sighed. “The Dalish don't have the same concerns with magic that humans do, more than two in a clan and one gets shuffled off to live with another, that's it. I didn't quite imagine I'd end up...like this, but I suppose I should have thought about it a little more.” She mumbled.

 

“I don't mean that. I… don't really mind the idea.” He admitted. “I just think… maybe we should tell Fenris. I don't know if he'd come, if it would even reach him, but he should know.”

 

“You're right, of course...I just wonder what happens if that's a problem. I haven't been able to stop my feelings, but I can't help but remember what happened at Adamant… I'm not worried for myself. I'm very well protected, but now I can't just worry about myself, can I?” She mumbled.

 

“If he shows up, if it makes you feel safer, I'll go with you. He won't hurt you, I won't let him.” He offered.

 

“I'm not sure he would, he was angry then, hurt. Still...I'm not sure.” She said.

 

“Think about it. If you want to do it alone, and you decide later you want me there. Just call, whatever I'm doing will keep.” He said.

 

“Thank you. It's kind of you to offer. I'll let you know, if and when he decides to show up…” she agreed.

Chapter Text

“Look, it's important. Can you get the letter to him or not?” Cullen asked impatiently.

 

“Hm…nope.” He said.

 

“I know you know where he is. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't necessary.” He said. Mumbling under his breath he added “Trust me.”

 

“I really don't think it's going to reach him.” He said.

 

“Why not? We get letters all over Thedas every day. I doubt he's far enough away to reach.” Cullen sighed.

 

“No, it's not that he's too far to reach.” He hummed, pointing just outside the gate. “More like he's too close to make it worthwhile.”

 

Cullen palmed his face with a sigh. Of course. He just had to show up now. No. He was here before, seated on Ari’s most favorite mount? For him to be with Oliver meant he'd been back once before, no one reported seeing him since they returned, so he'd been back while they were away. Whose horse was that with him though? Not one of hers, he'd recognize it. Fenris dismounted a few feet in front of him, and Oliver ambled closer, nudging Cullen's hand.

 

“Traitor.” Fenris muttered.

 

Oliver huffed pleasantly at the attention before walking himself back to the stable, Dennett letting him back in without a word. Had a mind of its own, and he'd long gotten use to just letting him back in. Fenris nodded to the horse before pointing to the hall.

 

“I brought a gift. Might want to send someone to pick it up. Check the broken wall. It should be coming any moment. Would hate for him to get too far.” He said. “On that note, if someone could tell me where Ariane is, I'll be out of the way.”

 

Cullen glanced to Varric, gesturing for him to make himself scarce. He sighed, but wandered off without an argument. He'd been waiting for just that moment, and now he'd have to completely improvise that part. All this work and he still never got to have any fun.

 

“She's resting. I'll take you to her. It seems you've somehow come at an opportune time, she has something to tell you.” He said, a note of annoyance in his tone.

 

“I can manage on my own. I know where her room is.” He said.

 

“Never said she was in her room. She's in mine. The Wilds took a heavy toll on her, and I thought it best to keep an eye on her.” He replied.

 

“What happened to her?” He asked.

 

“Mostly just pushed herself too hard. No rest, no food, used too much energy, take your pick. No, it would seem it was the Well of Sorrows that brought her down.” He told him. Realizing he was probably confused, he elaborated. “It was the source of power Corypheus was after, hidden away in a temple devoted to an elven God. Ari knew the risks, and drank from it anyway. Decided it was better in her hands than someone she didn't know well enough to trust.”

 

“What risks? Is she dying?” He questioned.

 

“No. We don't know, but it could be worse than that. The guardian of said well said she'd be bound forever to Mythal. She seems to believe she exists, and if she's right… who could say what might be asked of her.” He sighed. “We’re here.”

 

Cullen pushed open the door, taking note of the way she smiled, struggling to sit up. He moved closer, stepping to the side. Close enough to intervene if he tried anything, but not in the way, in case she wanted to allow him closer. Fenris frowned, noting the way she looked. Barely able to get up on her own, like someone or something had really worked her over good, except he could see no sign of bruises or cuts. It really had been that she just collapsed.

 

“I wasn't sure you were ever coming back.” She murmured.

 

“I wanted to make sure you made it back alright.” He admitted, taking a few steps closer.

 

Acutely aware that he wouldn't be allowed as close as he wanted to get, he pulled the pack off his shoulder, holding the whimpering satchel out to her. Cullen looked at her questioningly, relenting when she took it. Heavier than it looked. The strings were untied and loose, and for a moment, she thought it a minor miracle he hadn't lost it, until she pulled the open edges further apart. A small brown ball rolled out, having tried to free itself.

 

“You can thank Oliver for this. I only fetched it. Seems it was abandoned. You like caring for weak things, and they don't get much scrawnier than this one.” He sighed.

 

She couldn't help but notice the usual irritated tone in his voice was absent. Without that, harsh words seemed to lose their power. Ari gently nudged the creature, and it turned towards her, trying to bark at the offending digit.

 

“It looks like a mabari. Kind of small, probably the runt.” Cullen commented.

 

“That's alright. Some said the same of me.” She laughed weakly. “I was the smallest in my clan. My brother used to say it was because magic made you short.”

 

“Your other gift should be in the cells by now. He'll keep until you're able to go.” He said nonchalantly. “I hear you had something you wanted to say as well?”

 

Ari’s smile disappeared, absently staring at the sheets. She groaned uncomfortably, her head throbbing slightly.

 

“Are you-” Fenris began.

 

“I'll be fine. It's quieter than it was before. Maybe it's not going to be so bad.” She said.

 

“Quieter? I don't understand what's going on.” He said.

 

“That…that can wait. This is more important.” She winced. “It was actually Cullen who thought I should let you know. I'm pregnant.”

 

Fenris had no idea what to say, part of him wanted to tell her that wasn't a problem, part of him was, even now, afraid of what she must think of him after the way he had acted. As much as Varric had tried to teach him, he couldn't stop himself from saying something stupid. He stared at Cullen, crossing his arms.

 

“Really. You talked her into bed so quickly after I left? Just couldn't help yourself, could you?” He huffed.

 

“I… that's not…” he seemed to reconsider, he wasn't likely to trust what he might say. “Maker, give me strength.”

 

“Don't be upset with him. I'm not a child…my decisions were my own.” She said.

 

“So you admit it might not even be mine. Coming back was a mistake. You're not different at all. Never happy with what you have, doing stupid shit to gain more power so someone else doesn't get it. This was stupid.” He said.

 

Fenris slammed the door on his way out. Ari bit her lip, trying not to let it bring her to tears again, mostly because her head already hurt, adding crying to it would only make it worse.

 

“Should I go after him?” He asked with a heavy sigh. He didn't want to, but if that was what she wanted, he would. “Say the word and I will.”

 

“Don't. It has to be his choice. If you or I go after him, it'll only reinforce it in his mind that we're not going to give him a choice. I can't force him to stay.” She murmured.

“Unbelievable. I made sure you couldn't find a way to screw it up again, and you found a way.” Varric laughed, no humor behind it. “If I didn't know any better, I'd say you're trying to sabotage this. I can't force you to be happy, but damn it,  I'm not going to let you off that easily.”

 

“What are you going to do, have me thrown in a cell too?” He growled.

 

“No. You're free to go if that's really what you want. We both know if you leave again, you're going to come back again. It's a cycle with you. What's it going to take for you to put away the past and just try ?” He asked, shaking his head.

 

“I don't know why I said that. I didn't want to say those things. I didn't want to walk out…I just…” he shrugged helplessly. “I think she's afraid of me. Why else would she need him around?”

 

“Moral support? Maybe she was bracing for you to leave again. She's a strong girl, been through so much and barely stopped to think about it. Her body can handle the abuse, her spirit won't break under the pressure, but you're breaking her heart. She's no kid anymore, but even you know she's barely as grown as she wants to be seen as. Are you really surprised? You're aiming for the one thing she can't protect.” He muttered.

 

“It might not even be mine. I wasn't gone that long…” he mumbled.

 

“Longer than you think. Long enough for a vulnerable, confused girl to wonder if she was waiting for nothing. Maybe she just had to know. Maybe she wanted to find out if he could even fill the void you left. What happens if you leave now, and when the time comes, it turns out to be yours, and you're nowhere to be found? Are you just going to quit, let another man raise your child because you thought you knew all the answers?” He asked, staring at him.

 

“What do you want me to do?” He shouted.

 

“An apology would be a find start, if you can manage even that much. Leave if you must, but you should at least give her a chance to get out of bed. Take her for a walk, ask her how she feels and decide from there. Like I said. No one will stop you if you leave, but shouldn't you know that much before you go?” He suggested.

 

Fenris looked up at the door. It hadn't opened yet. He might have a point, if he was wrong, surely something should have happened by now. She deserved to know he didn't mean what he said. He hated waiting around, and the idea of being there to watch them together made him mad. He had nothing else to do, nowhere else he wanted to be.

 

“Fine. I'll say I'm sorry. I'll… I'll stay. Only as long as it doesn't cause me any problems.” He shook his head. “I'll stay. Besides, if it could be mine, I should be around to make sure she doesn't do anything stupid. She doesn't always take the best care of herself, after all...I can't expect him to do it all, not when he forgets to take care of himself too.” He finally agreed.

 

“You know… when this is all over, she's going with him. He's not so bad. Even said if she decides she wants to be with you, you're welcome to follow. He knows she can do good things. You could be a part of that too. It doesn't have to be you all by yourself anymore. Think it over.” Varric said.

 

“He said that. After everything, he would let me go with just for her sake?” He questioned.

 

“Her happiness is important to him. Her abilities and attitude could help others. He wouldn't let others who could benefit from her knowledge die, simply because she might like you best. Maker knows why. Always so sour. A smile on occasion wouldn't kill you.” He lectured.

 

“I said I'm staying, I'll work on it, okay!” He grumbled. “I'd swear you were my father if you weren't a dwarf. And if I remembered my parents.” Fenris complained.

 

“I often think the same thing. If you were my son, I'd have put you over my knee ages ago. Stubborn ass.” He muttered.

Chapter Text

Josephine helped her up, letting her lean against her side, her hands holding onto her arm firmly so she wouldn't slip. She wasn't ready to be up and about by any means, but she insisted she should at least tend to her sister. Ada wasn't going to improve any without help, after all. Taking the steps slowly, far slower than she liked. Stopping in front of the cell, the guard opened it to let her in, helping her to the chair by the bed. Ari put her hands on the sides of her head, hunching over. She squeezed her eyes shut. It was getting clearer, easier to understand, but with that clarity, it grew uncomfortably loud. It almost would have been worth letting Morrigan have it just to see how she handled it. She wasn't quite accustomed to the nagging aches and pains that had come with her current predicament, but the lingering ones from the fighting were worse.

 

Ari forced herself to move closer, the chair scraping against the floor with the slight movement. She reached out, checking her vital signs first. Strong pulse, no fever, no obvious signs of distress. All good, except she could still see no change in the infection itself. Cringing with the renewed sound of talking in her mind, she struggled to listen and still focus on her sister. It was something she heard that made her bolt up. It was a possibility, one she hadn't thought to try, but it was still a risk. Ada was a sweet girl normally, and she doubted she'd blame her for trying. Still, the healing wasn't always better than the hurting.

 

“Josie…can you help me to the cabinet please?” She asked. Turning to one of the guards, she frowned. “As for her care, I'll need her food stopped, save for a little stock before the rotation change. Triple her water intake. What I'm going to try will leave her severely dehydrated if she doesn't drink enough.”

 

“Understood, I'll note the changes as well for the next shift.” She said.

 

“Thank you.” Ari mumbled.

 

Josephine helped her stand once more, leading her the short distance to the cabinet. “When you're done, I think it best if you get back. You're barely standing as it is. It's much too soon to push yourself beyond what's necessary.”

 

“I know. Believe me, if not for her, I would never have gotten up so soon. She needs me.” She groaned.

 

Cullen wandered in, frowning apologetically. Josephine originally only stepped in because he had work to see to. It had taken her from her own work, but in truth, she was glad for the break.

 

“I'm free to take it from here.” He sighed.

 

“Good. See to it that she gets back to bed safely when she's finished.” She directed.

 

“Of course.” He said.

 

Josephine excused herself, Ari pushing off the wall to lean on his offered arm. She looked carefully at her stock, grabbing a selection of leaves and roots, staring at them thoughtfully before closing the door.

 

“Are you sure you want those? ” He asked. “Aren't those the wrong ones?”

 

Ari shook her head, biting her lip. “I know what I'm doing. I think… I think this is what I'm supposed to try.”

 

Cullen seemed uneasy at the idea, leading her back to the cell. Ultimately, he trusted her to do the right thing, whether or not it seemed a good idea at the time. Once she was seated, she waved him to watch.

 

“You may someday need to know exactly how this goes. I want you to be sure you know it.” She said. “It's very important that you add in no more than two leaves of this, one of this kind.” Pointing to the roots, she kept eye contact, making sure he was paying complete attention. “Rotbane. Whatever you do, never use the tips of the roots. That's a slow, agonizing death. Only the top.”

 

“Are you sure this will be alright?” He asked again.

 

“I'm certain. It looks bad, I know. I won't let her die so easily in my care.” She said quietly.

 

Reaching for the water, she stirred it a few times, enough to make it drinkable. Ari nudged her awake gently, waiting for her to sit up before offering it to her. Ada no longer tried to fight it, swallowing it without complaint. Brushing her hair back, she gave her a gentle hug.

 

“This won't feel so good. It's best if you relax. Ada… I'm so sorry.” She sighed.

 

“You can be sorry later, if this doesn't work and it was for nothing.” She said, lying back. “I trust you. You look like you need rest too. You don't need to be here for this part, I'll be fine.”

 

“I'm willing to stay if you want me to…” Ari offered.

 

Ada looked around her to Cullen, pointing to her. “Excuse me, you there. You look pretty strong. Can you get her out of here, carry her if you have to. She's stubborn.”

 

Cullen looked unsure what to do. He couldn't just order her to leave, but if her presence was upsetting to her, wouldn't that just make matters worse?

 

“Come on… I know you want to stay, but you should rest. If you're that bored, I'll find something for you. There's plenty of books?” He suggested.

 

There wasn't much point fighting to stay if it wouldn't help at all. She let him help her up, the guard locking the door behind her. He kept his steps slow, letting her take as much time as she needed to manage the steps. He got her safely back to her temporary bed, before he headed for the door.

 

“I'll come back. I'm going to bring you something to eat. Maybe I can find something you'd like when I get back.” He said. “I'll try not to be long.”

 

“I'll be right here, I suppose.” She sighed.

 

His footsteps faded down the wall, barely getting comfortable before one of the side doors opened. Ari closed her eyes, listening to the quiet sound.

 

“Hello, Fenris.” She said. “I thought you were gone.”

 

There was silence for a time, long enough that she thought she imagined it. The bed sagged slightly when he sat down, watching her a little longer.

 

“No…” he said quietly. “I'm planning on staying this time.”

 

Ari tried not to think about it too much. He said that, but if he left again, she didn't want it to feel as badly as it had last time.

 

“Why?” She asked.

 

“I missed you.” He admitted. “I need to know… I know the situation, I see it for myself. I need you to tell me...do you still feel the same about me as you said you did back then?”

 

Ari shook her head slightly. “No… I'll say the same thing I told Cullen. I love him. I love you too. I'm just not sure what I'm going to do about it. You see… the truth is, at first, I know you were using me. I was using you too. I lost my family shortly before you arrived. I was beginning to wonder if I was just starting to give up, if I could feel anything at all. I had to know. Being with you, it answered that for me. For the first time since the Conclave, I felt alive . I didn't want to get close to you. I wanted to be okay with you leaving, you stayed… and I started getting used to you. I got scared. I didn't think I could ever match what you wanted.” She took a deep breath, hissing it out slowly. “Then you left, and I couldn't stop thinking about you. You didn't come back, and… I started wondering if I should just give up. Cullen was there to let me know it was alright to feel that way…”

 

Fenris sighed, reaching for her hand. He squeezed it loosely. “I'm sorry. I've done nothing but hurt you and treat you badly. I'm not expecting you to forgive me. I just wanted you to know I regret it.” He eyed the door, no sign of him just yet. Good. He bent lower, kissing her firmly, his hand slipping into her hair. It was quick, but enough to hopefully prove he meant the things he said. He found her ear, keeping his voice low, only for her to hear. “I should have told you sooner. I love you. I have for a long time now, I've just been too damn scared to say it. I'm going to prove it to you. I'm going to take you away from him. However long that takes. He can't keep you.”

 

Ari listened, unsure what to think about the sudden announcement, let alone come up with any kind of intelligent thing to say about it. He didn't seem to care if she was silent, slowly letting go of her hand, leaving the same way he arrived. Not long after he left, Cullen returned, setting the trays down, hers on a stand next to her, a book beside it. He could see the difference in her expression from when he left, knew something was off. By the way she acted, he was betting he could guess exactly what it was.

 

“So, what did he have to say. Has he finally managed to tell you?” He asked. He had a feeling he would eventually, either out of actual feeling or some strange sense of jealousy. Based on how he acted before, he figured it had to be the latter. “He didn't hurt you, did he?”

 

“I'm not hurt. Just lost.” She sighed. “He says he's staying. That he's sorry, that he loves me. I feel like every step I take in the right direction, I get pushed back two. He kissed me, and I couldn't tell why…”

 

Cullen moved to sit by her, looking her over as if someone him touching her at all might mark her visibly. “I'm here for you. I'll listen if you need to talk, I'll just sit here if you want silence. Whatever you want, you have only to ask.”

 

Ari sighed again, unashamed to admit she needed him. Gesturing to the tray, her face flushed slightly. “Maybe this is childish after all, but after dinner, I could use the company. I… would really like it if you read to me. I like the way you sound, and I'd rather hear your voice than all these other ones.”

 

He grinned, laughing quietly. “Is the great Inquisitor asking for a bedtime story?”

 

Ari shrugged, nodding. “I guess I am.”

 

He brushed her hair out of her face, looking in her eyes. “Hmm. I don't know, around here, nothing is free. I think it's going to cost a heavy price for that.”

 

“Oh? What cost. I need to be cautious of being asked to pay anything these days. I don't know if you heard, but I took a Well from a stranger, and the price was pretty crazy. I doubt you want my eternal servitude. What are you after?” She joked.

 

“Actually I was going to ask for eternal servitude, but it appears I'm too late for that. I suppose I could settle for a kiss.” He teased.

 

“Just the one?” She wondered.

 

“No, of course not. One per page sounds fair.” He told her.

 

In truth, he'd have done it just because she asked, but he hoped this way might help take her mind off all the stresses of the day. That, and maybe it was helping her reach a decision a little easier.

 

“You have a deal.” She laughed. “I hope it's a good story.”

 

It didn't help take her mind off what Fenris had said, how he acted, but it did help her stop fretting over how her sister must be feeling at that point, that and getting her strength and energy back enough to finally get out of bed for a short, unassisted walk were the things bothering her the most. Honestly though, she was curious about the prisoner she'd heard about. It hadn't occurred to her to look while she was tending to Ada.

Chapter Text

Her feet hit the floor, dark out. It was colder than usual. The pain felt numbed, almost gone, and she would have been grateful, had she known why she had started walking. The only hint she had were faint visions flashing through her mind, unable to control her own body. Perhaps it would have been alarming, if she wasn't still trying to shake the sleep from her mind enough to think it through seriously. It felt like she walked forever, the sun already high up by the time she came to a stop.

 

“Unlike you to leave alone…” a voice said.

 

“Morrigan…” she said. “I didn't have much choice.” Looking closer, she recognized the appearance of the alter. “Now I see. This was no random occurrence. This was Mythal.”

 

“I'm not sure if I believe that.” She sighed.

 

“What's going on? Why did you come here of all places?” Fenris asked.

 

So even he had followed. Ari waited to answer, half expecting others to pop out of the bushes. When no one did, she wasn't quite sure how best to answer that.

 

“When I drank from the Well, I was warned the cost was being in service to Mythal forever. Solas told me it was a mistake, but I disagree. Until now, it was just voices talking to me, this is the first time something like this has happened… perhaps this is an introduction of sorts…”she explained.

 

“Of all the fool things you've done…this is definitely the worst. What would you do if she commands you to do something awful? If you can't say no, you would have to watch, unable to stop. What if she asks you to kill everyone in Skyhold? Are you really okay with that?” He asked, upset that she hadn't thought it through.

 

“I couldn't see that happening. That's not justice. That goes against what she stands for.” Ari said with a smile. “I'm sorry, but I'm told they want you to wait outside the grounds. I'll be alright…”

 

“I'm not going anywhere. Whoever you hear can deal with that or deal with me.” He grumbled

 

She searched the air as if the answer was to be found there. “You can stay, if you put the sword away and keep your hands to yourself.”

 

“I'm calling it. This is a trick.” Morrigan said.

 

“No...look. Here she comes…” Ari said, pointing to the yard.

 

A figure began to materialize, a woman standing in front of her. Human, though that didn't necessarily mean something was wrong. At least she was hoping it wasn't.

 

“You seemed so pleased in the temple, girl. You've gotten so good at blocking out the voices, I thought the only way I'd get to meet you was to formally request this little meeting. Imagine, a goddess waiting for a meeting with the Inquisitor.” She laughed.

 

“Mother?” Morrigan asked.

 

Ari took a step closer as though looking for something. They said Mythal was locked away, but hadn't she heard she was slain?  No, that's the only way it made sense for her to be human. Like a spirit sometimes could, Mythal must have escaped with her essence only and sought a vessel. It just so happened that the vessel she chose appeared to be Morrigan’s mother. Ari couldn't help but have a good laugh at that.

 

“I really should have let you drink after all. Imagine never being able to disobey your parent.” She giggled madly.

 

“This really is not the time, Inquisitor. Although I find myself glad you did…” she admitted.

 

“Have you come to steal my body?” She asked, raising her hands aggressively.

 

“I'm here to have a little chat with her. You never did know how to be civil. If you'd be so kind as to show her how it's done?” She asked.

 

Reaching out, she grabbed her, holding her steady, her other hand covering her mouth. It felt strange to her, a strength that hadn't been there before in her body, power that wasn't hers.

 

“Such a good girl.” The woman praised.

 

“Have you abandoned us? Haven't you heard the prayers, the desperate plea for help? Did… did you not hear my cries for justice?” She asked quietly. “Why now did you choose to show yourself?”

 

“Oh, have you never heard that we get what we need only when we need it? You needed to stop Corypheus, I gave you options. You chose to wield my power for your own, and I've brought you here to get what you need. You wanted justice, and you have the means to take it. She glanced over her shoulder to Fenris.

 

“Have you not told her what you've done?” She asked with a grin. “Modest, at least.”

 

“What is she talking about?” Ari asked, finally allowed to let Morrigan go. “What did you do?”

 

He sighed, staring at the ground as though he didn't want to see her like this.

 

“Varric told me what happened to your sister. Who was responsible for it. I tracked him down and talked him into coming back. Then I told the guards where he was coming in at, and they threw him in a cell. I did it for you…” he said.

 

“Don't you see it? Ever since you set foot in that Temple, I've guided you to what you wanted, what it was you needed. Ultimately, you made your choice, but I have not been absent. Your sister may yet live because of the Well’s knowledge. You've tasted the kind of power I gave you. That is a sample. I have yet one more gift for you, if you prove you can rise to the challenge. It is not only me that benefits. You serve me as I need you, do as I command, but in exchange, think of the knowledge and strength you get in return, the power to change everything at your fingertips. Do not despair.” She explained.

 

“Am I to believe that this is coincidence?” Morrigan demanded.

 

“Not at all. Honestly, there was a time I expected you would assert that will of yours and take it without any concern or understanding of what you were getting into. I think you've met someone who can overcome that stubborn side of yours. Besides, your job should be to take care of my grandson. Stop hunting for ways to convince yourself he's better off without you.” She said.

 

“What of Ariane? Do you not care what you could be doing to her ?” Fenris growled.

 

“Please. I have no interest in harming the child, and perhaps you've failed to note how cautious she is? I have need of her, she is my servant, it would be an oversight not to protect her, as the last hope for my will to continue. It will be fine.” She laughed. “Now… I think I've satisfied my curiosity. I'll leave you with my gift, and be on my way. Then I believe you should return before people worry. You need to rest up, gather your strength before the magister decides to act.”

 

As quickly as she had appeared, she was gone, like she had been little more than a figment of her imagination. Morrigan pointed to the sky, a strange shape growing larger the closer it got.

 

“It's a dragon . Why am I not surprised that's her boon?” She sighed.

 

“It isn't hers. It is the guardian of this altar, I'm told. Stay back, I think I can handle this alone…” she said.

 

“You can't fight that thing alone, it'll tear you apart!” Fenris protested.

 

“No...we don't need to fight. I understand what to do. Injuring it will make it weaker...let me try first, at least.” She said.

 

The dragon landed, the ground shaking violently as it did. It's roar was piercing, jagged teeth exposed inches in front of her, and she didn't back down, didn't raise her hands in defense.

 

“Get back, idiot!” Fenris shouted.

 

Ari put a finger to her lips, not looking away. “I can handle this.”

 

“I'd listen to him. This thing is no animal you can reason with, back away and we’ll subdue it together.” Morrigan suggested.

 

Ignoring them, she reached out, her hand pressed flat against its throat, calmly and gently. It stared into her eyes, growling aggressively, though it was fewer and far between, the longer she stood there. It was a trick she learned from her brother. Don't react negatively, clear your mind and approach calmly and without fear. Share your intentions. He'd never tried it on anything larger than a wolf, and in her case, only a sick and frightened halla that had been attacked. In a normal circumstance, she didn't expect this would work, but if this was a guardian of Mythal, surely it could feel her will written on her soul, could sense she meant no harm.

 

“I mean you no harm. All I ask is for your help. Help me face down my enemy, and will ask no more of you. Her skin began to glow with the same strange markings she first saw at the Well, like a pact. The beast took flight once more, seemingly in agreement with her. Her strength began to fade away once more, and she swayed dizzily. Getting back wasn't going to be as easy as getting here had been. Ari managed a few steps before Fenris stopped in front of her, his back to her when he knelt down.

 

“Don't mistake this for acceptance. I'm upset about this, we will be talking about it, I'm not letting it go so easily. I just can't have you collapsing on us. You're useless like that, so hurry up and get on.” He grumbled.

 

Sighing, she was too exhausted to argue, her hands falling to his shoulders, leaning against his back. He reached behind, his hands anchoring her legs safely before he stood up.

 

“Hold on tight, if you fall off, I'm not going to feel bad for you.” He said. Taking it slowly, he rolled his eyes. “I'm not going to drop you.”

 

“Did you really track him down for my sake?” She asked quietly.

 

“I did. Thought it might make you happy.” He mumbled. “You're smiling more these days. I just…kind of wanted it to be for me for a change.”

 

Ari leaned in, kissing his cheek. “Thank you…”

 

“Stop distracting me…” he said quietly.

 

Morrigan sighed to herself, pointing up to the sky. “I'll go scout ahead, lest I get sick watching anymore of this…”

 

Without waiting for an answer, she had already took off, not far ahead, but far enough away to make sure they didn't run into any trouble.

Chapter Text

This should have come as no surprise. Corypheus finally vanquished, a proper celebration was in order, right? Ari kicked back between Varric and Bull, knocking back glass after glass on some stupid bet to see who could drink the most. Ada cheered her on on the opposite side of the table, Cullen and Fenris watching, maintaining a certain uneasy distance from each other, but otherwise about as civil as she could ask for. Josie and Leliana were engaged in conversation, laughing in a way they surely had no chance to do before. Solas even seemed in better spirits, sampling a dessert from the kitchen, for once without the usual less than enthusiastic expression. Vivienne and Dorian were across the room, pointing to certain people in a way that definitely said they were comparing opinions on someone. Cassandra and Blackwall quietly sat to the sides, setting their shields down. Cole was busy observing the festivities curiously.

Who knew it could feel like this, the kind of slow, easy peace settling in little by little, and the relief she felt at no longer having to point herself in the direction of the next enemy blocking her progress. Morrigan and Kieran sat by themselves, her reading to him. Right, that was something to think about. Would that be her, in time? Reading to her child as well, trying to pass on the same things she'd learned as best she could? All things considered, she probably shouldn't have accepted the challenge, but she wasn't more than an every so often drinker as it was, it was probably not a problem just the once.

Ari tapped out, eager to get a look outside. What a view that was too, not a single injured recruit in sight, the healers exchanging relieved congratulations in the yard, the prisons were said to be empty now as well. Things had really worked out for the best, hadn't they?

“Come on, this was your victory. You should be in here celebrating with us!” Varric called.

“Ahh, I'll be in momentarily. Just a bit longer to enjoy this fresh air. To think it could look so beautiful out here…” she sighed happily.

Her hand felt like it was ripping open out of nowhere. The Breach was gone, it hadn't hurt like this since the beginning. She looked down, her hand flaring strongly, glowing brighter, like it was building up energy, but the flow was blocked by some invisible wall. This was all wrong…

“Solas…something bad is happening…hurry!” She called out.

There was no answer, the conversations were deadly quiet, no sounds to hear. This was a trick, it had to be. One last prank to get back at her.

“Sera, did you put everyone up to this?” She asked.

Still no answer. Her heart started hammering anxiously, legitimate concern freezing in her veins. Too quiet, something was definitely wrong. Afraid to know the answer, she headed back in, covering her mouth to avoid screaming at the sight. It was horrible, the worst she'd ever seen, it had only been a minute or two, no one had slipped past her, this wasn't possible. Looking around, it just got worse the more she hoped it wasn't real. Bull and Varric were slumped over the table, blood seeping between the spaces, Cole lifeless and cold on the floor. Solas had fallen to the floor, the treat still in his hand, oozing a familiar colored concoction, poison by the look of it. Cassandra and Blackwall lie face down, stabbed with their own swords. Dorian and Vivienne had dropped their glasses, more poison? Sera’s body was on one side of the room, her head on a platter in the center of the table. Fenris and Cullen too, was there no one alive? Ada! She wasn't where she had been, maybe she escaped? Her eyes fell to the throne at the end of the hall, her sister's body broken, neck hanging to the side at an angle.

“This is your fault. You were too weak to save them. Just like you were too weak to go back home and save your own family when you were needed.” A voice called.

Ari spun around, backing away slowly.

“You're dead. This is a dream, it has to be. Ada was the only one who survived…” she whimpered.

“You really think a bunch of worthless shems could kill me?” He asked.

“Did you do all this?” She asked.

“This? You did it. Just like you skipped out on me, left me and the others for dead, they died because of you.” He said. “They're not the only one's to suffer because you were too weak to be of any help. Isn't that right?”

He looked back, smiling. Rasha was never like that before, he was always the first to try and explain what went wrong and how it could be fixed next time. That patience was why he was chosen for her to begin with. Another figure appeared next to him, a gaping wound in her chest, arms shredded up, armor mangled too.

“You left me to die, I clawed my way back to you. You could have come back for me, but you didn't . It never crossed your mind to try and help, did it?” Hawke asked angrily.

“That's not true, I wanted to go back. Stroud said it was too late…I can't believe you made it this far like that… I can fix this, I can...I know it. Come with me, it's not too late…” Ari pleaded.

“You can fix this? Is that what your whole life has been? Just ‘mistakes’ you thought you could fix? There's no fixing any of this. What's done is done. Everyone is dead because of you...how can you fix that?” Hawke asked.

“I swear I had nothing to do with this!” She sobbed.

“I warned you that you were meddling in affairs you knew nothing about. You stole that from me, and look what it's gotten you.” Another voice said.

Ari looked for the source, backing up nervously, hitting something solid. Before she could turn, she was raised off the ground, spun face to face with Corypheus.

“I killed you. You can't be here, I made sure of that…” she growled.

“You've forgotten my aspirations. A god cannot be slain so easily. How many fools thought they'd killed me before? A dozen? A thousand? I've lost track. Removing the Anchor didn't work before, you needn't fear me trying again. I merely came to watch it tear you apart from the inside out. Your ‘friends’ wanted to watch you suffer and die as well, how could I deny them that after what you did?” He asked mockingly.

Her arm began to split, the pressure to much, as he said, it was tearing her up. This really was the end, this was it.

No...something was definitely off. This wasn't right at all, all she needed to do was snap out of it, wake up…

Her hand shot out, feeling something strange, an odd growling snapping her out of it. Her hand sparked angrily, rolling to pin it underneath her. It scared her more than anything, she'd never had a demon come so close to her in her sleep before, the thought that one more moment might have been too late, and there'd be no saving her, no saving the rest of the world either. The energy pulsed in one strong explosion, leaving little more than a smoking crater where it's head had been. Not smart, she was already too weak from using too much before, she felt completely drained now.

There was a rustling behind her, Morrigan appearing at her left, Fenris on her right a second behind. She looked upset for some reason.

This. This is why I tried to warn you away from staying here for the night. I told you I could sense the malevolence here, but you wouldn't listen.” Morrigan said with a sigh.

“What was I supposed to do? She had already fallen asleep, she needs the rest, your own mother said as much. I wasn't going to risk running into a situation we couldn't handle without her. I'm not a mage, how was I supposed to know?” He argued.

Ari pushed herself to stand, wobbling closer to him. She stood on her toes, hugging him tightly.

“Let's not argue right now… I'm just glad you're both alive…” she said.

“You were the one at risk. I went to go look for something that might help you get back on your feet quicker and he went to look for water. It was foolish to leave you unguarded. I apologize.” She said uneasily.

“No...it's my fault. I keep pushing myself too far, between that weakness and the stress, I made myself easy prey. A weak mind is a mage’s biggest weakness. I need to do better. I'm not going to let it happen, not as long as I'm alive. No more. No one else dies because I'm afraid of hurting people.” She sighed. “We need to get back. I need to check on Ada. I'll worry about getting my strength back after, then I must ready myself to face him at last. He's coming sooner than I'd like, I don't have a lot of time to prepare.”

“You can barely walk, you need to rest.” Fenris mumbled. “I'm still willing to carry you the rest of the way.”

Ari frowned. “Fine. Starting when we get back, I'm doing it by myself then.”

“This is the part where I remind you that you're an idiot. What do you think all those people are for? They're there to help. You're not in this alone, quit acting like it's all on you to finish this.” He scolded.

“For once, I agree with him.” Morrigan added with a shrug. “They can still help without dying on your watch, let them do their jobs. ‘Tis what I would do.”

“I just...don't want to see those things again. I...I can't.” She trailed off. “No more will die. I mean that. Whatever it takes.”

“You're really upset. Must have been one hell of a dream.” Fenris said. “The Templars surely would have been of more use to you.”

“My people don't have Templars and it worked just fine as it was.” She huffed. “I didn't ask to be a mage. I didn't ask to be the Herald. I didn't ask to be made Inquisitor. I'm doing the best I can with what I was given. If that displeases you, I wish I could be sorry, but I'm not. I won't apologize because what I am capable of makes you uncomfortable…”

“Why do you think I'm still here? If I couldn't deal with it, I'd have left you here with the witch. I'm here because I don't want that for you.” He sighed.

“I feel like this is getting personal. If you've got this, I'll go continue my search and be back shortly.” Morrigan said, walking away again.

“I know how you feel about it, and I'm not sure you wouldn't have liked to see me shoved in a Circle, were they still an option. Or worse yet, branded so I can do no harm, feel nothing, forget what it's like to really live.” She argued.

Fenris walked closer, not stopping even when she backed away, stuck between him and a tree. He remembered that look well, the first she'd given him when he found her watching him. Clearly she didn't understand at all. Perhaps a demonstration would make it clearer. He reached up, gripping her chin just enough so she couldn't look away. Staring down at her, he leaned in, gently biting her lip, taking advantage of her surprise to kiss her, her head tipping back slightly. His left hand snuck around her, resting on her lower back, pulling her closer to him. He broke from her when he felt her breath catch in her throat, giving her a moment to breath.

“I didn't say I love you just because I could. You don't know how hard it's been to admit it even to myself. I love you. Doesn't that tell you I accept what you are and what you can do? I may not like it, but I don't want anything to happen to you. I'd kill the fool who tried to take that away from you.” He said. Ari opened her mouth like she was going to speak, but he put a finger to her lips, stopping her. “I know. You're with the Templar, and you're not sure, I know. I already told you, he can't have you. Whether you realize it or not, you're mine. Yes. Yes, I'm jealous. Every moment I see you with him I hate it, but I suspect fighting him for you is exactly what the dwarf wants. He thinks I can't help but fight. I won't give him the satisfaction. You want civility? You'll get it. I'll make you see.”

“That's quite the restraint. I admit, I wasn't sure you had any, I've never seen this side of you.” She mumbled.

His lips hovered by her ear, brushing her hair back, barely above a whisper. “You have no idea. I have great restraint. I want you, right here, right now, but until you say you only want me, I won’t act on it. When you do, I won't hold back…”

Ari shivered, suddenly very interested in her boots, her face hot. It was strangely embarrassing to hear such a thing said so easily, so bluntly.

“I...we should go. When Morrigan returns, I mean.” She said, tripping over her words. “I'm going to shut up now. Apparently my tongue doesn't work.”

“Really? Seemed like it was working fine when I checked.” He said, smirking at the look it earned him. “Ah, speak of the devil.”

Morrigan returned, tossing a small glass flask to her, walking away. Ari moved to follow, Fenris stopping her long enough to let her get situated once more.

“Drink that. It's not going to be enough on it's own, I mixed up several doses for you. Three days, and you should be back on your feet. I could have you back in a day, but that much isn't safe enough in your state.” She instructed, not slowing or even looking her way while she spoke. “I checked ahead, we’re perhaps several hours out from Skyhold, we’ll make it back before nightfall.”

“Thank you. I appreciate this.” She said.

“'Tis why I was sent to you, after all. I don't require appreciation for something so simple.” Morrigan told her.

Chapter Text

True to her word, when the gates came into view, Ari slid off Fenris’ back, slowly making her way towards the dungeon despite protests against her attempting it alone. She ignored calls asking where she'd gone, trying to block out the sounds to focus only on what she was trying to do. Morrigan went off to see to her own matters, Fenris heading for the tavern. Who knew how long she'd take, he didn't want to draw attention by waiting in the yard like he was begging for someone to stop and try to talk to him. Varric was and exception, and for the most part, Ari was the other. He didn't like or trust anyone else enough to care to strike up a conversation.

Ari expected to see much the same of her condition, doing better, but no change in the red lyrium. It shocked and upset her to see she wasn't there. Rubbing her eyes and blinking a few times, she looked again to make sure she was awake. She took a few steps, standing in front of the one guard there at present. She smiled pleasantly, betraying her anger. Her hands curled in the sleeves of his uniform, lifting him slightly, unsure how she mustered the strength in the first place, knowing it couldn't all be hers. She slammed him into the bars, staring up at him.

“Where is she? What's happened to my sister?” She growled.

“I swear, she's unharmed, please put me down… I'll explain!” He told her.

She frowned, realizing how she reacted, quickly setting him back down. “I'm so...so sorry. What were you saying about her now?”

The guard took a deep breath, hunching over for a moment. “While you were away, she was bedridden completely, sick nearly the whole time. A few hours ago, she stopped, said she felt well enough to stretch for a bit. I asked the Nightingale to accompany her for a bit, the Commander was busy trying to figure out where you'd gone. He worried someone came after you again. Not just that, but Leli- the Nightingale suggested she might want a bath, and she offered to help her out. They should be back shortly…”

“She was the one who said she was dangerous, that I shouldn't get close because she was infected...I don't understand what changed her mind.” She sighed.

“Right! About that. Good news. Whatever you did made her throw up a few small pieces of lyrium. Best as anyone can figure, it wasn't ingested like she was told, but it spread internally from the outside. Unlike what we've seen before. Usually it spreads inside out, for some reason this worked backwards. I don't know how you did it, but she's getting stronger already. I think you fixed her…” he said.

“I wish I could say it was my idea...it was as she said, the Well saved her…” Ari realized.

“Ah. There they are. See for yourself, my lady.” He said.

Leliana walked with Ada back down the steps, her clothes discarded for something that definitely reminded her of home. It was obvious it wasn't made by elven hands, but it was very convincing, if she had to guess, it was probably Orlesian, the material plain enough for daily wear, but not without the obvious touches, beading on the trim and bits of silk around the waist. Her hair was wet and smelled like lilacs. As he said she was freshly washed, and she was looking much better. Ari bit the inside of her lip, taking the few steps it took to throw her arms around her, relieved when she returned the hug happily. Looking up, she had to fight to keep that pleased expression, remembering the way she looked in the dream, vaguely asking if it was ever a possibility that she could be made to break her own sister's neck and leave her like that. Her mind and heart said no, but those weren't the parts she had lost any control over. She quickly let go as though she worried she might hurt her at any moment. She patted her shoulder, forcing a smile.

“I have to get back to it. I'm relieved you're alright.” Ari mumbled on her way out.

She needed the rest, but it wasn't what she wanted. Certainly it seemed like a terrible idea to be around anyone else at the moment. Sighing to herself, she walked back outside the gate, recalling a tree with warped but sturdy branches, enough to support her without breaking at least. Comfortable enough to her that she could catch a nap without fear. It wasn't long after she managed to climb up and get settled that she heard someone. She didn't have to look to know if was Cullen. His voice was familiar to her.

“There you are. What are you doing up there?” He asked.

“Trying to sleep.” She said.

“If it bothers you to sleep that close to me, your room is as you left it, birds and all.” He said gently.

Taking her chances, she looked down, quickly glancing away at the visions imposed on his face.

“I swear, it's nothing personal, but I need you to leave. I can't be around you or anyone else right now.” She told him.

“At least tell me what this is about… I'm willing to accept it, but… I want to know. If I can help, I want to.” He said.

“You really don't want to ask. You say you don't fear me, that I'm nothing like what happened to you in the circles. Could you say the same and mean it if I was?” She mumbled.

“You're not-” he began.

“I couldn't control it. I had to leave, I was summoned. The choice to refuse was no longer mine. I met Mythal. Then…I had this terrible dream that everyone died, I think I killed them. I saw Rasha, and Hawke. Corypheus, after if killed him, alive and well. I was very nearly possessed. I'm not safe to be around. I can't live with it if I hurt you or anyone else. I can't stop myself from seeing it, the way you looked. The way Ada and Fenris looked, everyone, even Cole, dead because of me. I'm afraid. What if I do something I can't prevent?” She said.

He looked away, thinking about the things she was saying. He wanted to do right by her, and he knew she was stronger than she believed. He knew how she felt about the friends she made here, and he couldn't bring himself to even consider that she went through all the trouble to save Ada only to kill her.

“Ari, come down here. Let's go back, get you in bed while you have the chance to rest up. I'm not afraid to be beside you. You won't hurt me, I know you.” He said.

“I can't…” she sighed.

“You can. Please?” He asked.

She stayed silent for a time, finally nodding. Leaning back, she hung down from the branches, holding on tightly to lower herself enough to drop safely.

“This is a mistake…” she mumbled.

Cullen simply smiled, reaching for her hand. Bringing it up, he kissed the back of her hand, squeezing it reassuringly. “Don't think about it. You're going to be alright. You told me once about your gods, and you said Mythal was like a mother. You said she protects the people and delivers justice where it's demanded. I don't believe someone like that would ask you to kill without reason. I think it more likely that demon got in your head, made you question what you're really capable of. It isn't who you are.”

“It wasn't just now. It was in the Fade at Adamant too. The Nightmare got in my head so easily. Said I was happy to get out of my betrothal, that my clan cursed me when I left them to die. What if it's true? I wondered if I honestly didn't care about any of it. I thought maybe I'm really just here because I'm obligated…” she admitted guiltily.

“You've had chances to get away. You never had to stay and help. Leliana once said Cassandra mentioned she told you it was fine to leave, even though it would have ensured the end of the world. You didn't know her, she took you prisoner, you had no reason to stay and help. You stayed because it was right, not because you had to.” He said, stopping in front of the door.

“Do you want me to stay? I'll keep an eye on you while you rest if you're still concerned.” He offered.

“Yes. If something happens, anything, I want you to be the one. Stop me at any cost, promise me.” She insisted urgently.

He closed the door, pulling her in for a quick hug. “If it comes to that… I won't like it, I won't want to. You have my word, if you become a danger, I will. It's going to be alright…”

“I hope you're right. Could you… maybe ask one of the healers to come up? I had something I wanted to ask.” She asked.

Sure. If it's private, I can stay out here while you talk to her.” He offered.

“Yes… maybe it's better if I'm alone for it.” She said.

“Alright. Just go rest, I'll bring her.” He said.

Chapter Text

“She looks happy to be up and about.” Cullen said quietly.

Ari sat next to him, legs dangling off the edge of the cold stone. Most seemed to agree that as long as she didn't push herself too hard, it still counted as resting. She stuck to it without complaining, content to watch her sister explore the yard. Ada wasn't willing to slow down, far too eager to make up for all the time she spent stuck in a cell. That was how she remembered her, always on the go, smiling. She was never the type to shy away from people, and she'd already stopped to chat up just about all her friends. Vivienne seemed to be the only one who gave her pause. Ari had a good guess why. Too opinionated, they surely had conflicting views on mage treatment, simply because she'd always leapt to defend her against anyone she perceived as being fearful of magic. That developed shortly after her magic did. Funny how her ‘little’ sister did more for her than she tried for herself.

“She is. I'm glad she's not upset with me. I didn't want to keep her in there, but it had to be done. Everyone's first memories of her should be like this, not reviling her because she was ill. I know what that's like, being judged before they get to know you…” she sighed.

“Are you feeling any better?” He asked.

“Not really. I'm trying to trust in myself, but it's hard. You're not over what happened, are you? I feel like it'll take a long time.” She replied quietly.

“No one says you need to get over it now. Anyone that does is frankly, not someone worth your time. Go at your own pace.” He said. “I swore I wouldn't ask, but I'm a bit curious. How did it go with the healer?”

Ari stared at her feet, kicking them back and forth slowly. “Was alright.” She mumbled. Pointing to her stomach she shrugged. “Everything is alright. Got a bit of a lecture though. Apparently she felt like I'm not eating enough. Said I need to eat more. I told her that was horse shit. Eating for two is just something humans say to justify eating more. My mother ate regularly, and look at Ada. She's strong, smart, friendly. Isn't that what people want for their children?”

“Well...I'm glad to hear that it's going alright, at least.” He said.

“i should ask Morrigan how she made that medicine. It's really helping. I feel like I'm almost back to normal already. She said three days, but I haven't felt this good in some time.” She switched the topic hopefully.

“You're the best judge of what's too much. I won't tell you you can't do whatever you like, but it might still be beneficial to rest up while you have a chance.” He suggested.

“All things considered, I am still feeling like I could use a little more sleep. It's harder than I thought, adjusting so I don't sleep long enough at a time to dream. I think I have it almost exactly to the minute though. I've been meaning to review the book from the teacher you and the others arranged. I've been considering giving it a try if it comes to it. Corypheus deserves every bit of harm I can offer him. This is not something I say lightly. “ she muttered.

“Even in judgment, I've noticed as much. You rarely resorted to death. Isn't it hard to find the good in some people?” He asked curiously.

“At times. Not everyone is beyond redemption, I try to be fair, but sometimes they make it very hard to look past all the wrongs.” Ari admitted uneasily.

Something touched her shoulder and she jumped in surprise, glancing back over her shoulder. Ada stood there giggling to herself. She was fast, and quiet, that much a trait she never got. Sneaking about was a comical affair for the most part. It was well she wasn't a spy like Leliana’s people.

“What brings you up here?” Ari asked conversationally. She reached for a glass of water, taking a sip.

“You've been avoiding me. I see why now, I've come to see you, to thank you again for your help. I would be dead without you.” She said. Directing her attention to Cullen, she smiled. “This is him, right? The father of my niece or nephew?”

Ari quickly turned her head, water spraying against the wall to avoid choking on it. She glanced between them, her lips moving, unable to form even a basic reply. It wasn't that she knew about it in the first place, word and rumor both flew quickly here. Few knew that detail, however. Cullen saved her from herself, holding out his hand.

“My name is Cullen. I lead the military aspect of the Inquisition. It's good to see you on your feet.” He said.

Ada was usually very sharp, and it was a mild surprise that it worked to distract her from the initial question. She shook his hand, opting not to introduce herself. He'd been with her while she visited, he probably knew more about her by now than she normally might say.

“Ma serannas. It feels good to be able to be up again. Very nice to meet you.” She said. Lowering her voice, she leaned a little closer, holding a hand to her mouth. “She's not quite as open. If she gives you trouble, I can help. It's a sister's job to embarrass her siblings, after all.”

“You'd better not be talking about me.” Ari grumbled.

“Not at all. It's that strange elven girl you should tell that to.” She shrugged.

“Sera’s up to something…” Cullen sighed. “Why am I not surprised. I swear if it's another prank…”

“Knowing her, it probably is. Last time, she put something in my tea, my tongue was blue for three days…” she said, kneading her brow at the memory. “At least she didn't decide it was a good idea to try to give me a tattoo.”

“Please don't remind me. Where she gets these ideas…again I think you have the strangest friends.” He told her.

“She sounds like a lot of fun. Reminds me of Faron a bit. Remember that time he put the lizard in your bed? The look on your face was priceless!” She laughed.

“As I recall, I was terrified.” Ari said flatly.

Ada frowned slightly, taking a seat by her. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring him up. I like remembering him. I feel like it's better to recall the good than forget them…”

Ari nodded, moving to stand. It was like it knocked the breath from her lungs, crying over it wasn't in her plans, but admitting it hurt was harder. She forced a yawn, pointing to the door.

“I understand. I hope you don't mind, but I'm feeling tired, I think I need to rest up a little longer.” She excused herself, going back inside.

“It makes her sad. She's not going to sleep. I didn't mean to upset her. However, now that she's out of earshot, I wouldn't mind knowing what's going on.” She said.

“I'm not sure it's my place to say.” He mumbled.

“I'm not going to tell her I asked. You're together at least, right?” She persisted.

“Technically…” he sighed, kneading the back of his neck. “For now…”

“What do you mean?” Ada asked.

“Well, she likes someone else, not just me…I can't help but feel like I'm not getting through to her. I feel like she's getting more distant. If she really wants him more, I swore I'd let her go, that I wouldn't stop her…” he told her.

“You really love her. That's very sweet.” Ada said. “I think Rasha made her a little wary. Don't get me wrong, he was skilled, and friendly. Patient, kind, handsome. He would have been a good provider. She felt badly that she didn't feel anything for him. Ari never wanted to be with him, but she still tried to accept it. If she says she loves you, she must mean it, there's something there, she feels it. She just...holds back. This other guy, I have to think she means that too. It may not seem fair to have to go through this, but you seem very nice, I think she'll come around when this is all over.”

“I've been thinking about this a bit. Trying to decide what's best. I'm not sure either. I don't want her to feel like she has to be with me, but I'm not sure she'd actually tell me if she felt otherwise. She doesn't like hurting people…” he shrugged helplessly.

“I can help. I'm a lot better at getting her to open up than she realizes. I'll see how she really feels, and let you know.” She offered.

“I don't know, that seems a little sneaky for my taste…she's always been very open with me before, I don't want to make her think I'd be less than honest with her.” He refused.

“Then…I'll ask for my own curiosity. I haven't seen her in a while, it's time we caught up anyway.” Ada said. “Tomorrow though, she should have time to think. I made a mistake bringing up our brother so suddenly.”

“Should I check on her?” Cullen wondered.

“Not just yet. Give it an hour or two first. Sometimes people just need to be alone. She got that from our father.” Ada sighed. “He'd seen a lot of combat too, injuries, things he didn't like thinking about, but if he had to, he used to go off alone to sit by himself. Mother used to tell us not to bother him at times like that. She'll like that you gave her space.”

“Thank you. I appreciate the advice…” he said, standing up slowly. “I suppose I could go see if there are new reports, it would be a miracle if there weren't.”

“Sure gets busy around here. Even the Dwarf seemed busy, though he mentioned a game coming up soon. I wonder if he'd let me in on it. I'd like to learn it…”she wondered.

“If he suggests the removal of clothes if you lose, tell him where he can stick that deck.” Cullen grumbled.

“Oh! I see! You lost.” Ada giggled. “Was Ari there? What did she say?”

Cullen hissed out a breath and nodded. “As I recall she reacted much like you are. Being fair, she had a bit to drink that night.”

“Oh dear. That's asking for problems. Too much and you'd hardly think she was the same girl at all. Just between us, there was this one time she got her hands on this Dwarven ale she got off a surface trader. Had one cup, and as we'd gotten used to, we were attacked. Ari could barely stand, but that didn't stop her from wiping out at least a dozen of them before she finally passed out.” Ada sighed. “I'd say it was a one off thing, but we found out it's whenever she hits a certain limit, regardless of what it is. Thankfully, as long as she knows what it is, she knows when to stop. It's things she's never tried that are the biggest risk. Worst part is she didn't remember doing it, we decided not to tell her. ”

Cullen mulled it over a moment, weighing it out in his mind. Realization hit him when he came up with the perfect idea. “Change of plans. I need to go see Dorian for a moment. Strategy for the upcoming fight.”

“Take care then, I'm going to go practice on those straw targets in the yard. I'd hate to get rusty now that I can finally use my bow again.” She said, scuttling down the side of the wall before he could respond.

Those two really were so much alike. Strange, the ease at which they climbed practically flat surfaces so quickly.

Chapter Text

The worst was happening. They'd been in the middle of a discussion about what to do next. Corypheus was no longer interested in waiting around, a new Breach hovered ominously in the sky and there was no more putting it off. Before anyone could say a word, Ari ran off to face him, Dorian, Solas and Bull in tow. Cullen, Leliana and Josephine were left dumbfounded, the sheer force making it nearly impossible to send support, save for a few men and women who had managed to follow. That much was almost inspiring, rushing off to follow her without orders to do so, even though it was dangerous, knowing it could well end as Haven did. Josephine and Leliana rushed outside to try and keep an eye out for her, while trying to keep everyone calm. Cullen made his way to do the one thing he could think to try and help, to pray for her safe return. Fenris, troubled by being left behind, waited with Varric in the yard, close enough to see her if -- when she came back. Despite being nearly complete opposites, both had one common thought on their mind, the safety of Ari and her unborn child.

Fenris raked anxious hands through his hair, vaguely noticing it was getting longer, cutting it hadn't crossed his mind, too much of a bother. There was a chance it wasn't his, he knew as much, yet he couldn't help but think about the matter. He'd never thought about children, even when he still held out hope for Hawke changing her mind. Hell, he'd never even considered marriage. Largely because of his lack of memory about himself, even now it was troubling, all of it gone. It was getting easier, unwittingly content to make new memories here, good and bad. He didn't remember his parents, had no decent examples of fathers who weren't complete assholes that he'd encountered in his travels. He knew nothing of children, had no idea what to do with them. To know he might now be a father bothered him. He hadn't even managed to tell Ari he loved her until after he'd already had a hard enough time not killing her. For what? Out of anger and hurt at the loss of a woman who never appreciated him, who so casually treated him the way she had, who was to say a child would be any safer around him. He couldn't do it, wasn't sure if he wanted to try. He didn't want to give up on her, not after he'd swore he'd stick around. Losing Ari now was not an option, but the idea frightened him. He liked the idea of having a way out, she wasn't like Hawke, nothing like Danarius, but what if she became like them? He didn't want to be tied down to her and know he couldn't leave again. If it was his, he'd have to think about the future, something he didn't like doing. Not that Ari wouldn't make a fine wife, but he wasn't ready, not for that, and not for this. It was still months down the road, certainly, and maybe it wasn't his at all. Maybe he wouldn't need to worry so much about it. Really? What could he teach a child? He could barely read and write, knew precious little about the Dalish way of life, he couldn't contribute meaningfully to that. What was he supposed to do? Sit around and be useless unless something attacked? Ari could do that too. He had nothing to pass on, if indeed he ever owned anything to begin with. Then there was ‘after’ the mysteriously vague ‘after’. She'd already made up her mind, she was going to help Cullen, regardless who she chose. He was welcome, he could go. To do what? What the hell did they expect of him? Then he'd have to put up with Cullen on a daily basis, that much was like that now anyway, but suppose he agreed. What was to stop him from trying to get her back? What if everything did go well, then there was always a chance this could happen again. It was hard enough to think of one child, what if she had more? What about her sister? Would she even want to be involved in any of this? What would Ari do if she left, surely she'd give up on the idea to go where she went. Would what he said or felt in any of it even matter to her? He had no plans, no idea what he wanted to do after everything was said and done, but if he did and it didn't match what she wanted, how would she react? That was assuming she lived through this, and if she died...he didn't want to think about that. If the kid was a mage, and Cullen was actually the father, that was just begging for trouble. Templars weren't exactly what he would consider the best option for father's either, he was sure of it. Didn't matter how nice he seemed, eventually they'd both be dead at his hands. He didn't really mind before Hawke, got tired of fighting her opinions on the matter and sided with her anyway, but Ari was different. He didn't want her to get hurt. Mage or not, he wished she could just see that he was a danger to her…

Cullen finished his prayers, heaving a sigh. She wasn't at her best, better, sure. He might not worship her gods, but he hoped for her sake that Mythal would watch over her. What if the baby? What if she came back and something happened? He had to admit, however small the chance was, he was hoping it was his. He hadn't had much experience with children, hadn't really gotten to know his nephew. He had come so far from who he had been, she'd helped him change for the better, and now…now it could be that she was giving him a child. Certainly the library probably had resources to look into, and he'd been saving what he could for the clinic, there'd be plenty of space. Plenty to do with all her animals when it was old enough to walk. Fenris had brought her a puppy, they could grow up together. Someday his family could come to visit too, it would be a good beginning. If she said she wanted to be with him, he supposed it would be a good idea to propose. Would that prove how devoted he was to her and their child? The circles had fallen, and he had a feeling whoever became Divine wouldn't put them back in play as they were. As a former Templar, he shouldn't consider such a thing, but if they did and it turned out to be a mage, perhaps they could do things the way her people did. No need for chantry or circle involvement. Far enough from a city that people had no reason to look into it too closely, but close enough to get whatever was needed quickly. That would be the perfect location, and Ari could watch over it's progress, guide it safely. Even if she didn't pick him, Fenris was still welcome, however tense it might be. Yet, he didn't find the idea of him being with her much as it was, and he liked it less if he continued thinking it was his. Someone who had proven as dangerous as him being around his baby didn't sit well with him at all. If it wasn't, he gathered Fenris might feel the same way. Cullen palmed his face, thinking it over. If this had any chance of working out, they would have to learn to at least be civil with each other, and that wasn't likely to happen until they dealt with the situation at hand. He wasn't planning to fight him, he was good, perhaps one of the best, but that meant nothing to someone who could so easily circumvent all his armor if he got too close. No, it had to be settled without fighting, words were the right weapon for this. Ari would surely be upset if they started shouting at each other because of her. It would have to be private, away from Skyhold without her around. Sneaking about wasn't his style, but until she knew what she wanted, they had no choice but to consider the future, what that meant for both of them. Boundaries established and compromises made, Maker willing they could manage without trouble. Then again, if she didn't go with Fenris and the child wasn't his either, perhaps there was still no need for him to be around at all, he'd probably run off again. Perhaps if the Maker and Mythal would both watch over her, she'd come back unharmed. Everyone, especially Ari herself could use a bit of good news and a reason to celebrate...

Chapter Text

Night was well underway when the sounds had finally died down, and figures loomed in the gate. Anxious at how long it was taking, everyone had readied themselves for the worst, lines of soldiers and spies in full gear, Cullen, Josephine and Leliana keeping watch on the walls. Fenris and Varric had moved to the stairs in the hopes of seeing over the crowd, and those she left behind did what they could to prepare if Corypheus decided to storm the hold. Instead, it was Bull who arrived first, carrying the Inquisitor in, unconscious now and worse for the wear, Dorian following behind. The three of them had been through a lot, evident by the blood seeping through garments, cuts, bruises and perhaps even broken bones they bore, if the way Dorian held his arm said anything. The crowd parted to let them through, no time for questions, not yet.

“Solas is absent, I see.” Josephine commented somberly. “I wonder if he was lost.”

“More likely he just wandered off.” Cullen replied with a shrug.

“We should check on her.” Leliana suggested.

“Not yet. Let her rest first. Recall that all previous attempts to close the Breach left her unconscious for days. She had to do that much alone this time, she needs the rest.” Cullen disagreed.

“Just as well, I suppose. If he's really gone, we’ll need a few days to arrange everything for the festivities.” Josephine said.

“I recommend a heavier guard than normal for the next few days as well. We have no way of knowing if he has remaining followers who may try something. Even if he is gone, if they're aware, they may try to retaliate to avenge him. Those who aren't on first watch can rest for now until the rotation changes.” Leliana suggested.

“I think that's for the best. My lieutenant can arrange the new rotations so the others can rest up for now…” Cullen said with a nod.

Bull returned, leaning against the wall near Varric, grinning. No need to ask if they were successful then, that was the look he saved for the best fights.

“That good, huh?” Varric asked, not looking back.

“You missed out. It was great!” He said. “Should have seen it. Dragons fighting in the sky, spells flying everywhere, boulders falling all around us, the sky howling with energy, you could feel it!”

“She gonna be okay?” He asked curiously.

“The boss? Oh yeah. The mark started acting weird about the time she used it to shoot him out of existence. She's sleeping it off with that Vint shit Dorian gave her. Might have a hell of a hangover in the morning, but the witch left something for her. Get her back on her feet a little faster.” He explained. Drawing a line with his finger along the left side of his throat he circled it. “Gash across her throat, too shallow to kill her, might not even scar, only stopped her for a moment. Seriously, it was awesome.”

Fenris pointed to the gate. “The bald mage. He didn't return with you. He die?”

“Hm? Solas? Nah, he found something, but it was smashed to bits, looked like he was going to cry. Assumed he just needed some time alone.” Bull said.

At least she'll have some time to breathe.” Varric said.

“Not her style. She mentioned some urgent reports in the Frostbacks and others coming out kinda by the Storm Coast. Said if they were that bad that they'd request help so frequently while Corypheus was a threat to the world it had to be big. Said she'll be leaving in about a week to look into it.” Bull said.

Varric smiled at that, rubbing his hands together. “That's what I like to hear. This is going to be a big book. I'll make sure I'm ready to tag along.”

“I'm sure as hell not staying behind. She's reckless.” Fenris sighed.

“I'm sure that's the only reason.” Bull said sarcastically.

“Don't mind him. He thinks he can lapse back into denial.” Varric shrugged.

“I can tell. Besides, no need to make excuses. We're all going. Even Vivienne said she'd tag along. She never wants to go anywhere.” Bull laughed.

“Really? Even Leliana and the others?” Varric asked, that much he wouldn't have guessed.

“Nah. Cullen said he'd go with, making sure she got there okay. Can't stay away too long, after all.” Bull said.

The face Fenris made at that news said everything he didn't. He didn't like the idea of him going with for any length of time.

Bull kneaded his shoulder with an appreciative sigh, amused by the reaction. “This is why you don't bring feelings into it. I find it's less complicated that way.”

“I don't recall asking for that bit of advice. I'll handle my own business.” Fenris grunted.

“He means to say that doesn't help him win over someone who has feelings on her mind.” Varric clarified.

“Are you just going to tell everyone my business?” He asked.

“Hmm… I might. It gets more tempting every time you talk.” He admitted.

Rolling his eyes, he crossed his arms, walking into the hall, muttering under his breath, barely audible complaints fading down the hall.

“Where are you off to?” Varric called after him.

“None of your business, dwarf.” He shouted back.

Varric glanced up with a pleasant smile. “Well. Things’ll start calming down after a bit. How about a drink? Nothing saying we can't celebrate early.”

“Hell yeah. Sounds good.” He agreed.

The two headed for the tavern, now emptier since many who had filled it had turned in, presumably to await the end of the world passed out in their beds. Fenris on the other hand, quietly snuck into her room, pulling up a chair by her bed. He was glad she was alright, it hardly seemed possible for her to survive, let alone largely unharmed. He hissed a quiet sigh, sweeping her hair out of her face, his other hand reaching for hers. Her hand twitched slightly at his touch, but aside from her breathing, she was largely unresponsive. He'd be more concerned if he hadn't already known she was simply out cold.

“I hope you can hear me, because I'm not going to repeat myself when you're awake. I'm glad you're back. I worried, I thought I'd never see you again. I shouldn't have doubted you, but even you have to admit, someone like that? It didn't seem likely anyone could kill him and keep him down for good. I don't know why you didn't ask me to go with...maybe you just don't trust me to have your back, and I guess that's my fault. Wherever you go, whatever you feel you have to do, I'm going with. Take me with you, I worry less when I can keep an eye on you…” he told her.

Hesitating, he moved his hand from hers, setting it loosely on her stomach, frowning.

“I'm not sure if I can do this. I don't know, and I'm certain it's a mistake to ask that of me, but if it is mine, I'm going to do my best. I have no fucking clue about any of this…” he said. “I just thought I'd let you know. I know you need your rest.”

He stood up, turning to leave. Glancing back, he sighed. Bending quickly, he kissed her brow. She probably hadn't heard anything he said, and if she even knew he was there, she wasn't likely to remember it. Probably better that way. He left the room, the door closing quietly behind him. Just outside the hall, Cullen stood a short distance away, kneading the back of his neck.

“We need to talk.” He said finally.

“I know.” Fenris said. “Good a time as any. Tavern, top floor?”

“Lead the way.” He said.

Should be empty enough by now, and maybe things could go smoother than either anticipated in a more relaxed setting. This was a long time coming, but he'd already promised he'd be civil, and he knew this new Cullen wasn't given to bouts of anger and suspicion the way he used to appear to be. He supposed he'd improved a little as well. Hawke was never one to attempt diplomacy where a well aimed fireball would suffice. Ari wasn't like that, if there was a way to reach a beneficial compromise without weapons, she chose to take it where she could. Maybe it was time to try her methods. At least if she did find out they spoke like this at all, she'd probably be pleased it didn't end up in fisticuffs.

Chapter Text

“Of course he's here too…” Fenris sighed.

 

He reached for the bottle in front of him, taking a long drink. Some part of him expected this would have to happen, it was still unusual to be sitting across from him like they were actually close enough to go out drinking together.

 

“So…” Cullen said, unsure how to begin. He settled for the obvious, unable to start off with Ari. “I'm sorry about Hawke...I know you and she had a history… she was…”

 

“I've come to realize she wasn't as great as I made her out to be. Another in a line of people that were just using me.” He said.

 

“To be perfectly honest, she always seemed rather...abrasive. Ari told me she had a child. Well, adopted a child. Said she wanted to help Merrill after what happened. I made sure she received the money and supplies she wanted sent out. I don't remember her that well.” He admitted.

 

“She's an idiot. A blood mage that talks to demons. I never understood why Hawke kept her around, much less how she could fall in love with someone like that.” He told him.

 

“Ah. I suppose it's a miracle she wasn't discovered. The Knight-Commander would have been overjoyed, I'm sure. Might have pushed for the alienage to be purged as well. I realized far too late that she was wrong.” Cullen mumbled.

 

“I never wanted to support the mages. I wonder if things would be different now if I had just left Hawke to deal with it by herself. Would I have ever felt anything at all for Ariane?” He wondered.

 

“I thought the same thing. I told her as much, after my time as a Templar, I grew resentful towards magic. It took a long time to admit I wasn't seeing the full picture. I wasn't comfortable with having mages around the camp at first either. She was just so passionate about the cause it was...infectious. Now I hardly notice there's a difference anymore. I never thought I'd see a day like that…” Cullen said quietly.

 

“Do you really love her? I don't intend to back down regardless of the answer, so you know.” Fenris asked.

 

“I do. I would do anything for her…” he said, staring at his cup before taking a drink. “I could ask the same of you.”

 

“I wouldn't be trying to take her from you if I didn't. I am trying.” Fenris told him.

 

“I know.” He tapped his fingers on the edge of his cup, half expecting her to walk in any moment.

 

“Yet I hear you're okay with me tagging along on this little venture of yours. Could it be you like her so much you're willing to keep me around just to be near her? How do I know you wouldn't keep trying?” Fenris asked.

 

“I need her help. That assistance is worth all I have, and I maintain that if I can't be with her, even if it means living together with you, I'll do it.” He said.

 

“And the conditions, I suppose that would be ‘stay away from her if her choice isn't you?’” He asked, taking another drink.

 

“I have no quarrel with your presence. As it stands, I've prepared to offer you a job as well. Few are as gifted in battle as you, it wouldn't be a stretch to say you'd serve well as a protector of sorts. If she does want me over you, I'd expect you to respect her wishes. If the child is mine, i would ask you not to interfere with that either. I don't see that as being a problem.” Cullen said, waving down the barkeep for another round.

 

“I suppose that's reasonable. That goes both ways, I don't want to catch you trying anything, and I mean anything. What's mine is not yours, I don't share. I'll work with you if you make it worth my time, but I will not hold my tongue while you drool all over her. Do we understand each other?” Fenris asked impatiently.

 

“We agree then. She's the one thing we make no exceptions for.” Cullen said. He held out his hand, completely serious. “I'm a man of my word, I trust you are as well.”

 

Fenris stared at his hand quietly, giving it one final thought. Was he really sure Ari would choose him, did he really want to have to put up with him every day, and was this a direction he was fine with his life going in. Was she worth that much to him? Closing his eyes for a moment, he took a breath, shaking his hand.

 

“Very well.” He agreed.

 

Silence fell between them, both willing to let conversation fall by the wayside in favor of salvaging the mood over the newly delivered round of drinks. In the silence, they heard Varric below, lamenting the lack of fighting.

 

“I was so sure those two would trade blows if they had to be in the same space together…” he sighed.

 

“I don't think they're going anywhere just yet. You might still get your wish.” Bull said sarcastically.

 

Cullen and Fenris exchanged glances, both rolling there eyes almost at the same time.

 

“Was he always that way?” Cullen asked.

 

“Yes. And he gets more annoying when he doesn't get his way...unfortunately.” Fenris groaned.

 

“So you mean the only way to shut him up is…” he stopped.

 

“Give him what he wants or go away.” He agreed.

 

Cullen palmed his face, not quite believing he was even considering it briefly. Ari wouldn't appreciate them fighting for any reason, least of all for her sake. He imagined it might be useful. At times where the soldiers had disagreements, sometimes it was best to let them work it out.

 

“One hit each. No weapons. Then we just make it look good?” Fenris suggested quietly.

 

Again, they matched eyerolls, sighing as though it required gargantuan amounts of effort. Groaning, they stood up slowly.

 

“You're certain this will work? And what of Ari when she finds out?” He asked.

 

“I doubt he'd tell her. Not and make the blown up version he intends to write any less important.” Fenris frowned.

 

“And the bruises? She's not stupid enough to miss those.” He questioned.

 

“Not the face then.” Fenris said with a shrug.

 

“I can't believe this. Grown men scuffling for the entertainment of an overgrown child…” Cullen said, annoyance clear in his tone.

 

“Enough talking. Let's see what you've got then. Are you any good without a sword?” Fenris taunted.

 

“I could ask the same of you. What can you do without using those marks of yours?” He asked with a grin.

 

Fenris looked over the edge, making sure he wasn't watching them. He was smart, he'd know it was staged for his benefit if he saw. He swept the table clear, glass shattering loudly on the floor. Stepping closer, they stood chest to chest, pushing back at each other evolving into pushing each other, before Cullen finally stopped holding back, pulling back before landing a solid blow against his stomach. He stepped back, trying to catch his breath, strong enough to knock the wind out of him. Once he had recovered, he rushed him, aiming for the same sensitive spot, dropping him to a knee, sputtering and coughing. He waited for him to stand again, dumping the table on its side as he approached again. Before they could make it very convincing, resorting to loudly exchanged insults and barbs at how the other was inferior, the barkeep nodded to Bull to go toss them out. Varric looked as though his nameday had arrived early and with it, the best gift he'd ever gotten dropped right in his lap. Bull smirked knowingly at them, dropping a hand firmly to each of their shoulders, marching them back down the stairs, quietly encouraging them to continue to grab at each other on the way out. They obliged, dropping the act the minute the door closed safely behind them.

 

“That was a decent show. When's the second act?” Bull asked jokingly.

 

“That was insulting.” Fenris grunted.

 

“Good to see we can agree on other things.” Cullen added.

 

“Still. You made his day. The Inquisitor doesn't have to know, although I'm sure she'd understand. She seems the type who makes a point of being understanding.” He said.

 

“She does at that…” Cullen agreed.

 

“Well. Good talk boys, my drink is still waiting.” He said pleasantly, turning to head back in.

 

When he was out of earshot, Cullen looked at Fenris, shrugging. “Turns out you do have quite a punch.”

 

“Not so bad yourself.” He said. Frowning again, he brushed his hand through his hair slowly. “She trusts you. The question is...do you deserve that trust. Can I trust you? Do I let my guard down and risk a blade in my back?”

 

“I offered you something meaningful. It wasn't easy, I've made it no secret I don't much like you. But she does. I'm planning to at least try to get along for the good of others. If you find I'm undeserving of your trust, at least take that to heart.” He said.

 

“Prove it then. Prove you have her best interest at heart. Come with. You have a capable second, I'm sure. Make no mistake. I will win her over. I don't need tricks to do it. If you intend to keep her, then we compete on equal ground.” He said.

 

“Maker, you're really serious.” He said. It was true, with Corypheus gone, perhaps his Lieutenant could handle matters for a time. He could be spared for a while. He'd heard Ada intended to go as well, and she said she could help. Fenris seemed to have Varric in his corner, it would be equal. If he stayed back, perhaps Fenris could draw her attention away, and he could do nothing from here. “I'll go then. It's been some time since I had a proper challenge as it were. I'd hate to get rusty sitting around here.”

 

“One last thing.” He added.

 

“What?” Cullen asked.

 

“Don't hold back. I want to win knowing you gave everything you had. I'm not holding back anymore.” He said.

 

“Of course. I never give less than my all.” He said. “I have arrangements to make, I suggest you prepare as well. If I've learned anything it's that the simpler the matter should be, the longer it ends up taking. I'd plan on at least a month in both locations. Maybe longer.”

 

Fenris nodded, walking away. He didn't have anything else except what he wore and his sword anyway, he was, as ever, ready to leave when the word was given. It made him wonder, when all was said and done, would he have something for his own, something bought and paid for by actual work, finally a true moment to stop feeling like he had to look over his shoulder. Danarius was long dead, Hawke was no longer around to use him. There was actual time to consider the future. Could he be content to live with him, Ari, possibly her sister, and a child? Maybe it was time to get serious. If it was his child, he should begin thinking of doing the right thing. Despite his complaints that she wasn't a fancy dinner and flowers kind of girl, if that was the direction he had to go, it should be memorable, at least...

Chapter Text

Ada set a cup of tea down, watching her quietly. It looked like she was beginning to wake up.

“Is that lotus tea I smell?” She mumbled, refusing to open her eyes.

Ada leaned closer, sniffing it once. “Seems like it. A little weak, I'd wager.”

“Give me a moment to sit up. Weak or not, I'm drinking it.” Ari groaned.

Surprisingly, it took far less effort to sit up than she imagined. However long she was out for must have done wonders. Hell, she hadn't felt this good in a while. Conscious thought slipping back, she frowned, staring into the cup when she reached for it. Something was different. Not entirely unpleasant, but the one thing she could recall was Solas walking in through the front gate and a strange feeling towards him. The first time she'd ever felt a strong need for distance. She had no reason for it, he'd never hurt her, hadn't given her any reason to make her uncomfortable enough to want to be away from him. Stranger still, the voices were growing fainter, little by little. It was a very slow process, so slow she wondered if it was just that she was finally adjusting to it.

“Odd question. Has Solas done anything unusual while I was out?” She asked.

“Which one is that one?” She asked.

“The elven mage. Acts way older than he should?” She mumbled.

“Oh. No? I heard he hasn't come back yet. Been about almost three days since you got back.” Ada told her.

Three days and still nothing? He'd never been gone that long before. He surely wouldn't have left without so much as a goodbye, at least she thought they were friends. Friends weren't supposed to bail out without a word. Ari exhaled slowly, pressing her palm to her eye in thought. Sipping her tea slowly, she slid her legs off the edge of the bed. Damn it was cold. Someone must have taken her boots off, it hadn't occurred to her the floor would be freezing, an unnecessary and unpleasant shock to her system.

“Oh to be somewhere warm right now…” she sighed. “I'm going to finish this, find my boots and get ready to set out.”

“Come on, you only just got up, you've been out for a bit, give yourself a chance to wake up first. Whatever’s going on will keep for a little longer.” Ada said gently.

“No use waiting. It's a long enough trip, if I need a nap I'll catch one on the way. Otherwise it can wait until I'm done…” She said.

“I suppose I can't stop you. I'm ready to go whenever you say.” Ada said.

“Ada… I can't ask you to go, it's dangerous. You're only recently back on your feet…” she refused.

“Ari, I'm an adult. I can make my own choices. I'm going whether you say I can or not. I can help you out, you know I can. I'm going and that's final.” She argued.

Ari smiled, setting her cup down. Circling the bed, she tugged her boots on slowly. Good to know she wasn't the only stubborn one in the family. There was no keeping her out of it if she'd already decided on it.

“Very well. If you're going, at least make sure you're gear is in good condition. How's your bow?” She asked.

“Damaged, but not beyond repair. I'll fix it before we go.” She replied.

“No need. Sometimes I find interesting weapons in my travel, I found a bow, and because it reminded me of you, I held onto it. I did not expect you'd ever get to use it though...I'm glad for my foolish sentimentality now. It's down by the forge. We can go grab it, then, if our travel arrangements are prepared, we’ll get going. Sound good?” Ari asked.

Ada smirked, chuckling to herself. “Whatever you say Lady Inquisitor.”

“Mythal save me, not you too.” Ari complained. “Well…I suppose it'll have to work for now. These things go easier with one person giving the orders instead of everyone doing as they see fit…I don't like the chaos.”

Ada followed her out, looping her arm in hers. They hadn't walked like this since she was a child, perhaps something familiar would put her more at ease. It might have been a challenge for anyone else to tell, but she could feel it, the slight relaxation in her arm, a small smile on her face. She was always more of a nurturer than a fighter, and it made her feel good to be needed.

“Ahh, I should enjoy the attention while I can. It won't be too long and it'll be a little one that needs you more. You can be honest, are you looking forward to it?” Ada asked curiously.

Ari reached for the door, pausing to consider the question. It wasn't as though she'd never considered it, she certainly liked children, or even that she wasn't alright with it now, only that it wasn't great timing, and it was complicating her feelings a bit. A child should have both parents, and she knew regardless of what she wanted, she'd pick the father.

“I am. It's been a long time since I've seen a baby, and it seems most of the families I'd met in the area have fled to safer places a long time ago. I suppose it's sooner than I expected, but I'm warming up to the idea quickly.” Ari admitted.

“I thought you might.” Following her in, she stopped behind her, waiting for her to retrieve the bow and hand it over safely before she chanced asking. “Cullen seems a fine man. He’ll make a good father, I can tell.”

Ari couldn't bring herself to tell her it might not be his. It was mostly fear that she wouldn't understand it and might disapprove. It was a miracle that Ada survived what happened, and another that she lived through the infection, a chain of circumstances so seemingly impossible, she couldn't help but be amazed. If even one thing had gone differently…

“Yes, I think you might be right about that..,” she agreed absently.

“I know. He's quite a catch, isn't he? Not bad looking for a human, seems nice enough. It's quite plain he cares very much for you. I admit, I'm surprised you'd go for someone who wasn't Dalish, but at least he's a decent one.” She said.

Ari bit the inside of her lip, waving her to follow, intent on going to the gate. It wasn't like she was saying anything she hadn't already considered a thousand times. Maybe if it was that obvious? He was nice enough, and he treated her well enough, and he was handsome. She'd already told him how she felt, it should have been easier to just give in and be with him. It was probably something awful about her that she couldn't do that much. She couldn't, not while Fenris was still firmly set in her heart and her head. One or the other had to get out first, she didn't like regret, didn't want to spend the rest of her life wondering what could have been if she had chosen differently.

“You're right…” she agreed.

“A child on the way, the big bad monster slain, I guess this must be the part where all that's left is to propose and then comes happily ever after, like the stories, right?” She asked.

Ari almost missed a step, gracelessly wobbling to regain her footing. That seemed a little quick. Marriage had been in the equation for a while where she was concerned, and she didn't quite like how she had avoided it the first time. It would have been better in her mind to find a way out of it without death being involved. Sure, she didn't dislike the idea, but that was too permanent. Getting married now seemed like a bad idea, a guaranteed way to make her question her choices all over again. Not yet.

“It's far too soon to think about that. Perhaps when the world stops needing me, I can think about it a little more. Ah, look at that, everything ready to go. Go on ahead, get settled in. I'm going to check everything again. I don't want to take off and realize I've forgotten something.” Ari sighed.

Ada knew better than to push her luck at that particular moment. She drew the line on that subject, it would get her nowhere to keep asking. Finding a seat, she watched out the window, watching her examine the supplies, making sure everyone was present and ready to go. She stopped, accepting a piece of parchment from one of the soldiers, reviewing it slowly. She made a face when she handed it back, less than excited about whatever it said. Knowing her, it was probably updated reports from wherever they were headed, and the news wasn't to her liking. Ari gave a nod, speaking, though she couldn't hear what she was saying, everyone filing into their places quickly. Finally, she hopped into the front carriage, Cullen climbing in behind her. Good, they probably had plenty to discuss now, all according to plan. The scenery began to pass quickly, the gates out of view faster than she expected. It was smart to travel this way with the number of people. Going by foot in a group this size would be hard to coordinate and would take far longer. It hit her that she hadn't exactly asked where they were going and what exactly they were going to do, but it was a bit late now. Whatever they were doing, it likely wasn't going to be anything harder than dealing with Corypheus had been, from what she'd heard around the Keep. Then again, she hadn't even asked about travel time, not that it mattered beyond a point of curiosity. Besides, the longer it took to arrive, the more time those two would have to talk. He mentioned someone else she liked, but she hadn't seen anyone else near her that might catch her attention. At least she hadn't paid more attention than normal to anyone she'd looked over in the ranks. What was the name…Solas? Maybe she asked about him because that was the other guy? Unlikely… he was probably still around. She wasn't quite that lucky for ‘the other man’ to be out of the picture. Whether he was on the trip as well or not made no significant difference, she could still practically guarantee that Cullen would come out on top. Ari must like him more if she was having his child. This other guy couldn't compete with that. Then again, neither had been very straightforward, and she couldn't help feeling like she didn't have all the pieces needed to solve this mystery, there was something neither of them had chosen to tell her...

Chapter Text

Taking watch was a necessary evil. She'd slept plenty over the last few days, and it had been with that in mind that she was pacing the campsite slowly. The rifts in the area had long been closed, with no reports of new ones, and the Inquisition had maintained a presence here for so long already, that a guard seemed unnecessary. Mainly it was just an excuse to stay up where others might have insisted she get some sleep. Many had opted simply to sleep in the carriages for the night, save for one lone tent pitched nearby. Originally it was set up with her in mind, and in a strange way, with Cullen in mind. She had no problem sharing her space if it was helping, but since she intended to stay out for a while, she assumed he might fall asleep, and waking him up by accident was no great impossibility.

Fenris had seemed to come to enjoy the times spent travelling, the camping not a bother to him really. With that in mind, she said nothing when he opted to crawl in for the night. Ari took a seat on a log by the fire, kneading her shoulders with a sigh of relief. Didn't take much lately before soreness found its way through her body these days. There was a sound far off in the distance, too far to be a concern, but it was unusual enough to have her trying to figure it out. Bigger than a bird and smaller than a dragon, she'd wager. It could have been a fox, they made a range of unusual sounds. Not that she could say such an almost haunting noise was among them. Maybe a wolf, but it sounded unlike any she'd met, including the demon-y ones.

“There's nothing out here worth worrying over...you should sleep.” She heard just behind her.

Ari glanced back, wondering how she had gotten so distracted as to not hear his approach. At least the sound of the tent opening up.

“I'm not really tired. It's nice out here. I mean, look at this view...really, I have no idea how long it will be before I get to see the sky this open and clear…” Ari murmured.

Fenris glanced up for a moment, raising a brow. She had a point. The sky was a brilliant black canvas, dotted with glowing stars, he didn't find himself looking up at the sky very often. Ari moved, catching his attention.

“Are you in pain?” He asked, watching the way her hand pressed against her neck. “the ride here wasn't great.”

“Oh...no, it wasn't that. Just a little sore, I'll be fine. Everything is just...sore.” She admitted quietly.

Fenris took a few steps closer, taking a seat next to her. He gestured to the vest she wore, opting out of her robes in place of loose, but comfortable gear. The sleeves of an undershirt showing, there was no reason she might refuse to take the vest off. Ari sighed, loosening the ties and slipping the clasps free. Slipping it off, she draped it over her lap, it felt strange, she knew where he was going, and it wasn't like he hadn't before, only that it seemed long ago now.

“I suppose asking you to lie down isn't going to work this time…” he mumbled.

Fenris moved to sit on the ground, holding his hand out to her. Ari accepted it, holding onto it for support while she moved to sit. He tossed his gauntlets off, bare hands dropping to her shoulders. Ari bit the inside of her lip, closing her eyes slowly. He had barely touched her and her skin rose in goosebumps. His hands were warm, gentler than she recalled. She shivered, the feeling racing through her spine. It had to be that she was simply more sensitive. More to pain, that much she knew. It made sense to go in the opposite direction as well, probably.

“Let me know if I'm hurting you...I can ease up if it's too much…” he said.

No, just the opposite, the aches in her neck and shoulders were already melting away. Slipping forward unconsciously, his hands traveled just under her shoulders, carefully massaging a slow path down her back. An involuntary moan slipped out, he reached up, gripping her shoulders firmly, almost too tightly. Pulling her closer to him, he sighed, shaking his head.

“Don't...it’s hard enough to hold back. I don't think you understand that.” He mumbled. His fingers trailed the side of her neck slowly. “I'm not one for words, you know that...you’re a beautiful woman, and worse still, I've already had a taste, you can't expect me to keep holding back when you react like this…”

“I’m sorry...this was a mistake, I should…” she trailed off, prepared to go further out, to put some distance between them. “I'm still on watch.”

Fenris held her in place, unwilling to let her go just yet. Some part of her must have wanted to stay, based solely on her reluctance to simply pull away and leave after saying that. He brushed her hair back, twisting a lock between his fingers.

“Why. I get that you’re his, for now. I'm curious. If you're reacting like this, why isn't he taking care of you?” He asked.

“I'm not ready. I tried the one time, it was...I mean it was fine, there was nothing particularly unsatisfying about it, I just...it felt strange, maybe it was too soon.” She admitted quietly.

That solved nothing. Even one time meant it was still possible. Even worse, it sounded like her symptoms came about long after he was gone. That didn't mean it couldn't possibly be his, only that it seemed more likely it wasn't. Regardless how she might feel, she was bound by some convoluted code of her own making, she wouldn't choose him if it turned out to be Cullen's child. In a way it seemed as much a desire to be responsible as a punishment for herself. He wasn't about to defend how quickly she tried to move on from him, but at the same time, it was partly his fault. Had he been honest from the start, decided not to leave, or maybe not to stay away for so long, she wouldn't have felt like she had to. It didn't mean he was any happier about it. That still meant that she hadn't actually slept with him in a while, and yet they still shared quarters? He almost felt a little sorry for him for just a moment.

“He doesn't mind?” He asked.

“He says we can go at my pace, but I wonder if that's fair...I feel like if I said I'd be with him, I should be thinking more about what he wants instead of what I want…” she said.

“Not really. If he cares for you half as much as he claims to, he won't ask that of you unless you say it's alright with you. I will say he’s at the very least not going to risk you being angry with him just to scratch an itch.” He told her.

“I’m doing the same thing to you…” she sighed. “I'm hurting both of you because I'm afraid of hurting one of you.”

Fenris leaned in, mouthing the curve of her neck, his fingers tracing her hips slowly. “What makes you think I wouldn't have you right here if I wanted to?”

She gasped, squeezing her eyes shut tightly. Her hands reached to cover his, not trying to move them, but not holding them down either, more of a reflex.

“Because that's not who you are either...you want to, but you won’t unless I'm all yours, isn't that what you said?” She replied.

Fenris let go, nodding in agreement. “I did. Not much longer now until we both know who your future really lies with, right?”

“That's true... I already asked...I saw a healer back in Skyhold. I thought maybe there was a way to find out. I was able to figure out that the baby is alright. I saw the note on my desk before I left. The fight with Corypheus didn't hurt it. Just as Mythal said.” Ari told him.

“And? Was she able to tell you?” he wondered.

“She said it was very likely it was Cullen’s, as best she could determine from what little I could tell her, but that it was possible it was wrong. That I’d know with certainty when it was born.” She sighed, tossing up her arms.

“If you believed her, you would have told him. You have doubts? Or...you’re hoping it isn't...seems to me you already know what you want. Who you want…” he breathed

Putting it to words wasn't an option in her mind. Yes, she'd choose him in an instant if that too didn't feel wrong. To say she wanted to be with him wasn't a lie, the problem was what would happen a few months down the road. If indeed the healer wasn't wrong, she'd have hurt Cullen needlessly and would have to break it off with Fenris to make it right again. How could something that felt this right also feel so badly?

“I...I should get going.” She mumbled nervously.

Fenris grinned slightly, patting her hip once. “Afraid I’ll notice? Too late for that…” he said. He lowered his voice to a whisper, continuing. “And to think, I barely touched you…”

Ari hid her face in her hands, blushing all the way to her ears. Scrambling to her feet, she turned her back to him, her vest tossed haphazardly over her shoulder. Maybe this was one thing best not shared. How with little more than a brief massage, she'd made such a fool of herself. His touch had wandered nowhere truly private, and yet...right, maybe it wasn't because it was him, but instead just because it has just been a while, and her nerves were just registering more than usual. Yes, of course that was what it was. Once he returned to bed, if no one else was up, a quick wash would be a good idea. Who knew the next time they'd be camped close enough for one?

“Will you be up for a bit yet?” She asked quietly.

“No, really I just got up to see how you were doing. Thought for sure someone would have relieved you by now.” He said with a shrug.

“I think I have a while longer yet. Cassandra is supposed to trade off with me soon. I'll go back to bed then.” She told him.

“Go on. I can take watch until then. I imagine you’ll want to get a bath in before bed.” He said.

“I don't want to wake him up…” she mumbled.

“Then take the tent. I'll stay out here, I don't care. Besides, you said it yourself, the view is nice.” He suggested, pointing to the sky.

“Are you sure? I don't mind staying up, really.” She said.

“I wouldn't offer if I minded, obviously.” Fenris muttered.

“Right then...I'll just go…” she murmured slowly, as if giving him time to change his mind.

When he didn't, and in fact said nothing at all in the way of suggesting he was going to, she sighed. Heading off towards the lake she glanced back again, not even looking her way. Not angry, she could tell that much, only taking it more seriously than usual. Ari was beyond tired of being stuck in a bed, and it wouldn't be terribly long before moving around easily was difficult enough without having to travel around relatively unforgivable terrain. It was like she was little more than a caged bird at times, more than eager for a chance to stretch her wings, and everyone was more concerned with stuffing her back inside. Ari looked around once more, checking her surroundings before peeling her clothes off, washing them off quickly before wading in. Moving to sit on a flat rock ledge, she sunk down comfortably, exhaling slowly in a hissing breath. Too much to think about, not that that was anything out of the ordinary, only that questioning herself was getting to be a tiresome occurrence. She could see limitless options laid out in her mind, and it was nice to have plenty of them, only that the smart thing was to try and predict the consequences as well, and that was always where her mind blurred out and gave up. Right now, it was best to focus more on what needed to be done when they arrived then what to do in her own life. That too was becoming more common, putting everything else before having to make any real choices for her own life. What the hell was she doing. Here she was throwing herself headlong into anything that presented itself just so she didn't have to give anything else real thought. She was being selfish. Using her own hangups as a reason not to seriously make any effort with Cullen, and to keep getting just close enough to Fenris to convince herself she had to hold back from him. Well, it might be the least responsible of all her options, but it was the one that felt the most reasonable. Now it just came down to explaining it. With several more days of travel ahead of them, it looked like changes might have to be made if things went as poorly as she expected. Heaving a heavy sigh, she quickly submerged herself long enough to rinse out her hair thoroughly, washing up as best she could before getting out. Ari redressed, deciding her clothes were better off drying out naturally this time. Wouldn't be much further and she suspected they would begin feeling the faint rumbles of the ongoing earthquakes, and not much beyond that when they would have to continue on foot...

 

Chapter Text

Ari woke early, quietly slipping away from the camp. Cullen was sure to be awake by now, and it felt best to say what was on her mind before she lost her nerve again. She hesitated by the door, biting her lip. Taking a deep breath, she opened it and stepped in. Closing it behind her, she felt a wave of guilt at the smile he had for her.

“There you are. You didn't come back last night, I thought maybe you fell asleep out there.” He said pleasantly.

Ari clutched her arms nervously, she could feel it slipping away from her, losing her will. Hanging her head, she stared at the embroidery on the edge of the seat, wondering if it would be easier if she didn't look at him.

“Something's wrong, I can tell. What's wrong..?” He asked quietly.

Worried, he moved closer, hesitantly sliding an arm around her, when she didn't pull away or ask for space, he knew it must be fairly serious. Her head dropped to his shoulder, a small whimper a sign she was trying not to get too emotional. She grasped his sleeve, sucking in a slow breath.

“I don't want to hurt you.” She said finally. “I thought about it for a long time before I went to sleep… in fact I think it kept me awake…”

Cullen had a feeling he knew where it was going, and his stomach dropped completely. He didn't particularly want to hear it, but at the same time, he did. He had to know, if possible to find a way to fix whatever the problem was.

“It's alright, I'm listening…” he assured her, gently brushing her hair. “Whatever you need to say.”

“I'm not being fair to you or Fenris. I can't do this. I can't make a decision until I know for sure. I don't want to give the wrong impression. Don't get me wrong, I've been content, I've made memories with you I hope I never forget… only that I don't want to keep hurting you both if I can help it. So… for now, I choose no one.” She said quietly, her voice trembling in her throat.

Ari was shaking. Saying it wasn't easy for her, and he knew it wasn't something she was taking pleasure in. She finally looked up at him, eyes welling with tears. He didn't like seeing her cry, for any reason. He leaned closer, stopping. Ari closed the gap, kissing him for only a moment. Like she was trying to ease any pain he felt because of her. It wasn't working, but it was her. Even now, like this, he could feel her pain for an instant.

“There's nothing I can do, is there?” He asked quietly.

Ari shook her head. “I'm not saying it's forever. It's just...I don't want to make a decision I'll regret, or worse, that anyone else will. I just want to be clear. I still… stand by what I said. It really, really isn't you.”

“Will you still stay with me? It doesn't have to be together, I've...gotten used to having you around.” He asked.

“I wouldn't do anything to compromise the progress you're making. I'll stay as long as it helps, there's enough space here, I'm sure it'll be alright…” she murmured.

“I won't pressure you. I won't beg you to stay, I want you to make a choice you can live with, you'll get nowhere being hounded about it…” he said.

Ari nodded slowly. She stood up, her hand resting on the door. There wasn't much left to do, save for checking to see when they were leaving. Stopping briefly, she rested her head against the frame of the door. This was a bad idea, but at the same time, Fenris knew already, why shouldn't he?

“I won't know for sure until the baby's born…but the healer seems to believe it's yours. I don't want to raise your hopes, in case it isn't… but I figured you should know.” She mumbled.

He understood then. Ari wasn't choosing this because it was what she wanted, she was doing it because it was the best option she had. If she wasn't going with her own heart, he wondered what that would mean. Wouldn't she be unhappy whatever the choice was? The conversation with Fenris came flooding back in his mind, their shared rivalry. That was something. If they were all together regardless of what came next, the only solution was to keep at it. Give her a chance to reconsider. Cullen knew he cared about her happiness, and he could only assume the same of Fenris. Use the time to show her that she could do the right thing without having to settle seemed a good idea. If he really thought about it, he could live with it if the child wasn't his, and he'd keep his word. He'd keep his hands out of raising the baby, but that shouldn't mean she should have no choice but to give up on her own desires because of it.

“Have you told Fenris yet?” He asked.

“Not yet...that was going to be my next stop if we weren't taking off for a bit.” She said. “Don't worry, I intend to come back before we set out. Unless...if you'd rather I don't, I can ride in a different carriage. I don't mind…”

“No, it's fine. I hope you believe me when I say nothing between us has changed...I still care about you, still...love you. I can keep it in check.” He assured her anxiously.

“Thank you…I feel like I worried for nothing. You're so understanding… I don't deserve that. Not for the way I've treated you.” She said with a weak smile.

“You've done nothing worth beating yourself up over. You're making a hard decision, that takes a strong person. You're not as awful as you believe.” He said.

“I'll go now then.” She pushed the door open slightly, not looking back this time. “Wish me luck. I hope he takes it as well as you did.”

“You don't need luck. Still...good luck.” He said, watching her leave.

It served nothing to try and hurt her, Fenris wasn't completely unreasonable, surely he'd reach a similar conclusion. Perhaps when they set camp, it might be worth another chat to see where they were, whether or not they were still on the same page. He wouldn't call him a friend, but he'd already made the offer, and he didn't want to go back on it, and encouraging him to give up now wasn't the right thing to do. If anything it was cowardly, asking for the easy way out. He had to make that decision for himself, whether or not he bowed out. If he was right, he wasn't about to give up either. If anything he might try harder, warm her up to him a bit more in the hopes she'd pick him. If neither could sway her, it was strange to think she'd really essentially let the baby be the deciding factor. Maker, things were complicated. It always felt like others had it much easier. Straightforward, fall in love, get married, raise a family. In that general order, but he didn't particularly dislike the way she did things, it was different, but it had done nothing to change how he felt for her. At the very least, he could be glad she hadn't claimed a love for anyone else. Imagine if she was more like Bull. with her heart, and his drive, that was a frightening thought. Different people every night, but in love with all of them. By now she could have made her way through half of Skyhold. No, one rival was more than enough to deal with. He had a feeling Solas’ continued absence was weighing on her mind as well. Ari had lost her family, save for her sister, lost Fenris for a while, to lose one of her friends, one of the people she considered her new family, that had to feel bad too. She kept a lot to herself, rarely complaining about the things eating away at her thoughts, it was a challenge to guess how heavy the weight on her shoulders truly was, and how much of it all she managed to bear without problems anymore. Shaking his head, he reached for the newest reports, left tucked in a small fixture on the inside of the door. Reading through it quickly, he sighed. He'd managed to let it slip his mind somehow. He wondered if Varric knew they were heading for the Deep Roads. He vaguely recalled him mentioning a few times that he hated caves, and of course the Expedition in Kirkwall. He hadn't cared enough at the time to look into what happened too closely, though it did seem Hawke had returned with less people than she set out with. Curious. They'd have to be very careful, Ari wouldn't handle a more permanent loss half as well as Hawke could shrug them off, it would destroy her at this point, at least that's how it seemed. Best to pass along that information, so the others would use a little more caution as well.

While he was thinking, the door opened, unsure how much time had passed while he sat with his thoughts, but Ari was back. He could see no bruises or marks, hadn't heard any shouting, and she certainly didn't look very unhappy. He could guess it went fairly well then. He didn't get to ask.

“He took it better than I thought. I honestly thought he'd be more upset. Also we’ll be leaving shortly.” She said.

Ari held out a bowl, noticing she had two carefully balanced on one arm to use the door. She set hers down when he took it, shrugging slightly. “I don't know what this is, specifically, but I guess Dorian made it?”

“Well, if others ate it, I'm going to hope it's safe and take my chances.” He sighed.

Ari glanced up, already starting in on hers. “No, it's fine. Actually not half bad.”

At least her appetite was back in full force. Felt like she'd been unable to keep a lot down recently. That was a good sign. If he didn't feel like he was starving, he might have offered his up as well.

“Didn't you go to the Deep Roads once?” He asked.

“Yes, with Varric. Valammar, I think it was? As I recall, he hated it. Mostly Carta, but I saw some darkspawn. Solas blocked off the way they were getting in. I was pretty happy to leave it behind. It's getting better this time, isn't it. Deep Roads, darkspawn and massive, horrible earthquakes. Wonderful stuff.” She said with mock enthusiasm.

“How could it get any better?” He asked sarcastically.

“Could be demons. Bull doesn't like demons, Dorian has a problem with the Storm Coast, Varric hates caves and the Deep Roads, and Vivienne hates dark and dirty places. Basically mostly everyone will hate it for one reason or another.” She answered seriously.

Cullen palmed his face, hanging his head. “Not too late to turn around, is it?”

“Yes. Besides, if I can do something to help, I plan on it. At least you’ll get to go back right away. I won't be so worried with you safe.” She said.

“Ahh. About that.” He mumbled. “I already decided to stay. I'm not leaving.”

Ari let her head fall back, thumping on the sturdy wooden edging of the seat. “Fenedhissss…”

“Please be careful. You won't help anyone if you knock yourself out.” He warned.

“Gods, give me strength…” she huffed quietly. “Fine. Just...don't die.”

“I'll try not to. I'm more worried about you and the baby. Not exactly the greatest place for anyone, let alone a pregnant woman. I'm not certain it wouldn't be cursed or something if it showed up too early.” He sighed.

“I have no intent to be there long enough for that to happen. It's fine.” She said in a way that sounded more like she was hoping that was the case. “Anyway, we should finish breakfast and get comfortable. Lot of ground to cover today.”

Chapter Text

Ari was exhausted. Three weeks of the least comfortable roads to travel on, ending in a walk, a trip down a rickety lift, getting knocked out of the way of a giant, falling boulder and almost immediately after, a battle with an ogre, and an explosion. Understandable that they wanted to find a solution quickly, but it was more than she was prepared to handle for one day. Slumping down behind a row of crates, she caught her breath finally. Not the most private of camping places, but it was enough. Tents were set up all over, and she'd eventually turn in, but right now, she needed a moment. She dropped the hilt she held into her bag, drawing her legs up to rest her arms on. Renn stopped by for a moment, holding out a flask of water for her.

“Harder to come by down here. You look like you need it more than I do.” He said simply before he wandered off again.

Not even a chance to thank him. There'd be an opportunity later, perhaps. They certainly were vigilant. One by one she watched her companions shuffle off to bed, while they shuffled off to the next area to keep watch for stray darkspawn. Ari took a sip of the water before tucking it back in her pocket. She actually wanted sleep, but the unusual atmosphere, filled with air that smelled different, felt different, and the occasional rumbles were more than enough to keep her up.

“I take it you can't sleep either?” Fenris asked.

“Not so much, no. I didn't imagine it would keep you up.” She said, patting the ground next to her.

He raised a brow, but sat without questioning it too much. It had been about three weeks since her unexpected announcement, and he'd not had much chance to spend time with her since. Ari held out the flask to him in offering.

“Should you be drinking?” He asked.

“Just water. Renn gave it to me. I don't mind sharing.” She said.

He eyed it for a moment, shifting his gaze to her before shaking his head. “I don't need it. You keep it.”

He sighed, flipping his hair out of his face a few times. He really should bother to get it cut when a chance presented itself. The Templar was looking uncharacteristically unkempt as well, but he supposed being busy left very little time to worry about it. Without warning, Ari scooted closer, brushing her fingers through his hair slowly. Reaching for her pack, she pulled out a length of black string, setting it across her knee.

“What are you doing, exactly?” He asked curiously.

“I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. My sister...I mean Ada… we’re only a year apart, but I loved taking care of her hair. It's just been a long time since I got to.” She explained quietly.

He didn't know why, but Cullen crossed his mind. Had she done this for him too? Did he even know that? Instead of asking, he decided to stay quiet and enjoy the attention, as unusual as it was. The feel of her nails lightly scraping along his scalp was unexpectedly satisfying, and when she stopped, he was a bit disappointed. She tied his hair back, out of his face. Glancing at her over his shoulder, he sighed, unwilling to let her down. He shrugged a shoulder, gesturing to it.

“Well? How do I look?” He asked.

Ari smiled, brushing a strand out of his face. Her eyes met his, and she found she couldn't look away. He had expressive eyes, and it surprised her that she'd never actually paid much attention. Snapping out of it, she nodded approvingly.

“You look great.” She said finally.

He smirked, not missing the faint blush painting her cheeks. So she really did like it. Maybe he'd keep it like this a little longer. He liked that expression, seeing it more often wouldn't be so bad. He reached for her hand, trying to get her to turn around. She did, though it seemed a little hesitant as though she wasn't quite sure what to make of the request. He swept her hair up into a neat handful, an almost guilty tone in his voice.

“I'm not as practiced as you seem.” He admitted.

She handed him another length of string over her shoulder. Ari said nothing and he wondered if it was a strangely misplaced trust she was conveying in that quiet. She'd look nice with a braid, but he didn't really know how to make that happen. The best he could hope for was just to try for something simple. After a bit of experimenting, he managed to pin her hair up in a lopsided bun. Whatever. It looked okay, not like he really had to worry about it. No, that wasn't right. What if the baby was his, what if he had a daughter? She was busy with Inquisition business, he'd probably have to learn it. Cullen at least had sisters, as he had heard. He probably knew how to do all that crap.

“I can't really see it, is it okay?” She asked.

She turned to face him, and he cursed himself in his head. The idea had been to give her space, while trying to help her realize she could do what she wanted. That was the agreement and yet he didn't think better of it until he'd already moved. It wasn't until he already felt her lips under his that he realized he was screwing up. He thought to back away and get out while he might still be able to convince her she imagined it. That went out the window when her hands came to rest on his shoulders. This wasn't him winning, after all she temporarily swore them both off, yet this was where it all began, with one kiss and an agreement that it all meant nothing. Still, he was very aware of where they were. Sighing, he broke the kiss, quickly moving to close off the one opening to her little hiding spot. He seemed to reconsider it by the time he turned around.

“I know I said I'd wait...you’re not mine yet, but you're not his either. That's good enough for me…” he sighed. “I have to know what you want.”

Ari shrugged helplessly. Maybe it wasn't right or fair, but it was never easy to resist him. Impossible to say why, but something about him had her giving in far too easily. She swiped her tongue against her lips slowly, pressing her hands together anxiously. Then again, being unattached should have meant it made little difference one way or the other.

“This is what I want…” she mumbled nervously.

She had no idea how long he had waited for her to say that. She was fire, and while he once feared getting burned by her, he was more than willing now. Fenris gently pushed her back, spreading out beside her.

“Comfortable?” he asked quietly.

“About as much as I'm likely to get…” she said.

“Not exactly the best of places, but I can make it work. I think it goes without saying, we should be quiet…” he suggested.

Ari nodded, feeling a sense of nervous tension she hadn't felt in ages, his touch both familiar, welcome, and somehow foreign at the same time. Whether it was because it has been several months since they'd really done anything or it was still just a misplaced sense of guilt was too hard to determine. That soon melted away when he bit at the back of her neck gently, his hands circling her loosely. She turned to face him, his hold shifting to her backside, her head tipping back appreciatively, exposing more to him. He tugged at the band of her trousers, wordlessly signaling that he wanted them off. Ari blindly fumbled for the strings, working them down, mildly taken aback when he managed to untie and unbutton her vest and remove her blouse before she managed to get her bottoms off completely. Fenris yanked them off, seeking out her lips, gently biting. His hand slipped between her thighs, deepening the kiss to keep her quiet. He had to have missed her, he was noticing things about her he tried very hard to ignore before. She smelled like sea salt layered over something else, something sweeter, softer and a bit curvier than he recalled. Her heart raced already, faintly panting. Her hips raised to his hand, barely keeping it together already. His other hand traveled higher, circling her nipple slowly, stopping when she whined uncomfortably. She reached out, trying to untie the tightly drawn strings. Interesting, still plenty mild, but it was rare for her to act so forward. He supposed it made sense if she'd really gone a while without doing anything, and while he knew very little if anything about carrying children, that probably explained away at least some of how sensitive she was. He broke the kiss, gasping to catch his breath. Twisting free of her, he gave in, quickly untying his pants, peeling them off, the rest of his attire following shortly after. There wasn't much of a breeze down here, but the cool air felt surprisingly good. She bit her lip lightly, fixed on his eyes.

“Tell me if it hurts, okay?” He asked quietly.

“I will…” she murmured.

Fenris watched her, still amazed he had missed so much about her before. The interesting contrast in color between her skin and the way her body flushed, glistening with sweat. The familiar pattern of her scars had changed very little, save for a lengthy one across her shoulder. What he hadn't noticed were the marks across her body, tiny, dark circles to draw his focus. She had one barely noticed among her extended vallaslin, right between her breasts, another gracing her left hip and one to the right of her navel, a final one just below the new scar. Some might find her flawed, but he had never thought her anything less than beautiful. He didn't expect to ever fall for her, but she was incredibly attractive to him.

“How is it you look better every time I see you?” He mumbled, more to himself.

Ari blushed at the praise, looking up to the canvas covering above them, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Fenris loosely grasped her legs, bringing them up and apart, directing them to his sides, kneading her calves gently. He leaned over her, his hands on either side of her head, staring down at her. Anticipating the kind of sounds he usually enjoyed hearing from her, he kissed her again. Slowly working into her, he swallowed away her moan, making a conscious effort to go easier on her than her normally might. He never really held back with her. Hadn't wanted to at first and later, he'd simply gotten used to it. Ari had never complained about it, and if anything, kept up with him, regardless of how roughly he handled her. Mostly he gathered it was a means to separate himself from it, so he'd have no need to think about her or the way she made him feel. Now, here, this was different. Everything out in the open, he found himself hoping she could somehow sense the thought and feeling behind it. Ari raised up to counter his easier pace, though it seemed more of a challenge for her than usual. He shifted his balance to one side, holding onto her hip, helping her. He broke the kiss again, just long enough to nip down her throat and back up.

“Doing alright?” He questioned. “You look uncomfortable…”

“I'm fine, it doesn't hurt.” She whispered.

“Can you hold out a little longer?” He asked.

Nodding her affirmation, she said nothing at first, listening intently. She thought she heard someone walking by, but it might have been debris falling again.

“I can hold on as long as you need.” She sighed.
Drawing him back again, she reached behind his head, twining a strand of his hair around her finger, sucking back a groan at the sudden shift in his pace, faster, but not really harder, his hand moving from her hip to grip her backside. Without being able to see the sunlight, she couldn't tell whether it was day or night, no clear indication of how long she'd spent tangled with him like this, only that it felt like forever already, and only now was he starting to show signs of stopping. No complaints by far, but she guessed he wouldn't last as long as he usually had simply because it has been longer for him, let alone far longer. He tensed and flexed above her, chest rising and falling faster, he ground against her harder like he couldn't hold back anymore. She grasped his shoulders tightly, arched up against him. Taking a chance, he abandoned her mouth again, biting her earlobe gently, huffing out a strained breath that made her shudder.

“I have to…” he sighed “Just a little more.”

Ari closed her eyes, biting the inside of her lip. Holding him closer, he buried his mouth in the curve of her neck, biting and sucking to silence himself, for once trying not to leave marks on her, knowing she wouldn't like the questions it might invite. His body trembled when his end shocked through him, halting against her tightly. He lowered her legs first, drawing back from her after a few moments. Fenris gave himself a little longer to relax before he recalled that they weren't alone here. He handed her clothes to her, dressing again. He kept his voice down, keeping an eye out for her.

“Sorry about the mess…” he said faintly.

Ari checked herself curiously, slowing her dressing for a few seconds. Nothing to wash off with here, but the silver lining was that she didn't have to worry about children, at least.

“Don't worry about it.” She said. “I...I’m not sure that was a great idea.”

“Still worried about Cullen?” He asked.

“I didn't want to give you the wrong idea.” she said.

“Is that your way of saying ‘this means nothing?” He wondered.

“I can't say that. It would be a lie. It hasn't meant nothing for a long time, right?” She murmured.

“I hate getting emotional. It feels uncomfortable. I'm not repeating this again. I've come to realize I never loved Hawke. I just didn't want to be alone. I love you. Do you understand? You are my first real love. I would go to any lengths to protect you. That's why I don't want to let him have you. If I have to wait a few more months for you to say it, I will. I stand by what I said, You're mine. Do what you feel you have to, just don't be reckless. Don't die on me. A world without you in it isn't one I care to experience.” He told her.

Ari focused on her hands, trying to process what he was saying. This was the same man who repeatedly claimed he didn't care about her, wasn't going to stick around. To hear these things was both somehow exciting and strange, almost surreal. She meant more to him than Hawke? How was she supposed to respond to it. Her lips moved, her brain coming up with nothing, like her mind had simply begun to fizzle stupidly.

“Don't. I don't want you to say anything. Not yet. Just remember that.” He instructed seriously.

Don't die? That much she could probably do, at the very least. She was finally feeling backed into a corner enough to put that training Cullen and the others had obtained for her to use. The first time she'd ever felt compelled to use it, and she had to admit it was both stronger and less taxing than her usual spells, and being bound to Mythal had given her an unusual proficiency for spirit and storm magic she hadn't had before. Not dying was probably the easy part now.

“Oh! Here…” she said suddenly.

Before he could question it, she grabbed his hand, bringing it to her stomach. He stared at her for a bit, about to ask what the point was until he felt something.

“What is that?” He asked cautiously.

“It's moving. I'm glad. I was actually concerned after our entrance. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful Valta pushed me out of the way, getting crushed under a boulder isn't ideal. Just that I thought maybe something might have happened.”

“Cullen caught you before you landed. I guess even he can be useful at times. I don't think he squeezed you tightly enough to hurt it.” He said, rolling his eyes.

“I suppose it was an unnecessary worry...but still… it doesn't dampen my excitement in the least” she said.

“You should rest then. Kid’s got a legend for a mother, needs to be strong to keep up with you.” He said.

“I guess that's true.” She sighed. “I have a promise to keep. I should get back to Cullen.”

Fenris frowned at that. “Why? If you're not with him anymore, why go back? You said you weren't sleeping with him.”

“I'm not. It's just... I shouldn't discuss it without his permission. Just trust me. It's business. “ She mumbled, heading towards the makeshift door.

“I feel like I should be concerned. Against my better judgement, I'll take your word for it. Either way, get some rest.” He grumbled.

Ari gave a quick nod, crossing the camp for his tent. He was already asleep, though it didn't look like a very easy sleep. He had kept his word, a second bedroll spread out a short distance from his, near enough to feel her presence, but not too close for her comfort. She stretched out, hugging her pillow to her face. Even if she had told him the truth, who was to say he'd even believe it anyway?

Chapter Text

Fenris watched her in silence, slowly trailing his fingers along her arm. They'd been down here for what felt like forever, weeks? Maybe months? Impossible to say, but they'd made camp deeper in, by a source of clean water, split oddly by a flat wall of rock. He managed to convince her to stay the night with him, though he could sense how guilty she felt over it. Something her sister said in passing to Varric reminded him of how it felt to see her talking and laughing with the Templar. Recalling how long they'd known each other before he had arrived, how much they knew about each other. He never cared to know about her then, had no desire for her to know more than she needed to about him. Hawke hadn't cared to ask, too invested in the blood mage. It felt strange to try and make conversation with her now, but that was the agreement. Ari would stay, and they'd talk. Her head lay comfortably on his chest, hair dripping against his skin, fresh from a bath.

“How did you get into this mess?” He asked quietly.

If he was going to listen to advice offered from the Dwarf, he might as well start with that. Ari sighed, her arm tucked against his side, like thinking back that far was upsetting. Her eyes closed slowly, thinking it over.

“My Keeper asked me to go. Said she wanted me to attend the Conclave and report back when it was over. She told me the future of Templars and mages was meaningful to us to make sure we avoided trouble if it worsened.” She said finally.

His hand shifted to her side, a strange desire to protect her from herself. Thinking about it bothered her in a way he had never seen from her.

“I didn't remember what happened there until Adamant.” Ari said. “There were Wardens, and I heard the Divine call for help. Maybe I should have ignored it, but I couldn't. When I went in, she managed to get Corypheus to drop the orb he carried, it seemed important, so I picked it up, and that caused the explosion and gave me the anchor. I ended up trapped in the Fade with Justinia, and...she gave her life to buy me time to escape. Where...I was promptly captured by Inquisition soldiers, and thrown in a cell. Varric later said Solas kept me alive. Cassandra accused me of killing the Divine, and...I guess in a sense, I did. Had I not gone in, she probably would have died, but it was because of me that everyone died. That explosion killed everyone. If the Divine hadn't decided my life was worth hers...she might still be alive. When they said Andraste delivered me from the Fade, that I was her Herald...I believed it. I didn't understand why she would choose me when I held no belief in the Maker or Andraste. I admit I started to…”

“You didn't try to go home?” He asked.

“I wanted to. I missed the forests, the halla, my siblings. I wanted to go home desperately, everything, no matter how insignificant was suddenly something I needed. Even the bad parts, the run ins with humans, packing up and leaving in the middle of the night to avoid attention. All of it. The Breach was a major threat. I was the only hope for closing it, and I knew if I didn't, they would suffer too. I didn't feel I had much choice.” She explained.

Fenris ran his fingers across her side, watching the way she curled closer to him. Sometimes he forgot that she was just a girl. She had feelings like anyone else, and he could imagine being thrown into something like this was frightening for her. She had no fear of humans, had said so before. Still, to live the kind of life she had before this, and then to be surrounded by them, nothing familiar. He could understand that a little. The markings had stolen his memories, very few had returned and stuck, in a way, he envied her. A family she knew and was close to, a way of life lived freely, everything he had forgotten. He couldn't remember his father, probably long dead, his mother dead too, and his sister the last of his family too, they at least had that in common.

“You're nothing like her.” He said, pulling himself from his thoughts. “Hawke, I mean. The more I think back, the more I see I was just convenient. I'm not certain she understood I didn't want to be ordered about anymore. Yet whatever she said, I did. Simply because it was her that told me to. I even killed for her. She knew my hatred for mages at the time, and still managed to talk me into helping them. I was disappointed at first, to see so many at Skyhold. I admit, your system is working well so far. Yet for all I've said and done to you, you kept smiling, you never asked for anything, never told me to do anything for you. I've felt it finally. True freedom, no one to order me around, no need to keep looking over my shoulder...hell. Hawke liked you, and even after her warning, after that Warden’s warning...you didn't push me away. I treated you terribly, I almost killed you...for a bitter memory I wasn't seeing clearly. Why didn't you hold that against me? Why didn't you blame me?”

Ari finally opened her eyes, looking at him in that way she had. Her head tipped slightly, wet strands of hair tickling his throat.

“I'm a healer. I don't just see the physical wounds, I knew you hurt. I wanted to help. Even then, I trusted you. I was sure you wouldn't go through with it, but I was willing to accept it if you did. I failed you, failed Hawke. I thought if I had just tried harder, I could have saved her. I thought maybe if she escaped, you had a chance of changing her mind. I wanted you to be happy.” She murmured.

“Stupid.” He sighed. “I wanted you. I tried to tell you, but the timing never felt right. I was relieved to see you. I thought when you fell, that was the last time I would ever see you. It killed me...then you did the impossible and survived, and I was glad. I heard that Hawke died, and I got angry. Not with you, not really. I was angry that I would never get to tell her. To explain that I hated how she treated me, I despised the way she led me on, let me believe she might care for me, and that she was wrong about you. To try and warn you away from me was no courtesy for your benefit, it was a way to keep trying to make me miserable, to ensure I felt I had no options but to keep chasing after her.” He said, bitterness twisting his features. “I hated her.”

Ari giggled softly, her breath ghosting his chest, cooling the wetness on his skin almost pleasantly.

“What’s so funny?” He asked.

“I recall you said before that you ‘despised’ me. You went through a lot of effort to let me know you didn't like me at all and you didn't want to stick around. Yet...now you’re here and you say you love me. When exactly did that change?” She asked.

Fenris frowned at that, shifting nervously under her, looking anywhere but at her. He squeezed her firmly, like he was concerned she would vanish if he wasn't holding on. “When that bastard threatened you. I realized he could really hurt you, and as much as I didn't want to care if he did, I couldn't let him touch you. It wasn't just that. I credit Tevinter with ruining my life, I thought he might somehow change who you were, spoil you. I didn't want his filth to ruin you too. I only pulled away from you after that because I didn't want to care about you. I wanted to keep convincing myself I hated you.”

“So that's why…” she said quietly. “I wondered why after all you said that you would stand up for me like that…”

Fenris’ fingers unconsciously brushed against her stomach, his thoughts shifting again without meaning for them to. She hadn't said as much, but he still got the impression she wanted this child to be his. She said she loved Cullen too, that she had no real complaints with him. Ari wasn't the type to care about it's lineage, where most might see an elf blooded possibly mage child as a problem, she wouldn't care. It wasn't for that reason. The only thing he could think of being that her heart had chosen him, and she wanted to be with him and do what she felt was right. A father...yeah. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad after all. His mind was made up. He already knew losing her would crush him, but he hadn't realized that keeping her would bring him to this conclusion. Still too early to bring it up. Not until he could manage it on his own.

“I know. I'm huge, right?” She mumbled nervously.

His fingers stilled, glancing down for just a moment. “You're fine as you are. I am concerned about you fighting like this though. You're holding up alright, but it's dangerous. If it was just you, that would be different. Are you sure you wouldn't rather stay here and let the others finish this up?”

“And miss a chance to see a Titan? If it gets harder to keep up, or too dangerous, I'll come back and wait. I want to see for myself what's causing the quakes. If the Dwarves themselves have no memories of such a creature, think about it. Being among the first to witness something lost to the ages? That's exciting.” She said eagerly. Frowning slightly, she shrugged a shoulder. “I apologize. Perhaps Solas rubbed off on me more than I thought.”

“That guy again. I swear.” He grumbled. “Are you sure there was nothing there?”

Ari bit her lip and he groaned. “No, we never really dated, and I honestly never felt anything for him. Although there was something in the Fade, I still can't decide if it was real or a strange dream.” seeing the look on his face, she quickly shook her head. “nothing like what you must be thinking. Just a kiss. You were my…”

Fenris raised a brow at that, not that he didn't believe her, he absolutely did. Only that it surprised him a bit. He once had that same conversation with Hawke. He couldn't recall anyone special in his past, Varania had mentioned no one, and as a slave, he doubted Danarius would have allowed that. He had no one then either, holding out for someone who would never care about him. Ari was for him what he was for her, but thinking that way, to waste such a moment on someone who didn't love her, who she didn't love at the time either seemed almost wrong. Instead of saying that, he decided to ask about something else.

“I've only ever heard you speak Elven around him. Don't most Dalish use it more often?” He asked.

Merrill and her clan peppered their speech with it. It was annoying at best then, but he was curious.

“I don't know about that. In my clan, we spoke both our own language and the common tongue, but that was because my clan traded openly with humans at times. We fought more often than we dealt with them, but decent ones had little problem. Why do you ask? Do you...want me to speak it with you? I'm given to understand you know a bit of Tevene and a little Qunlat...unless Varric made that up, I guess…” she said. “I don't know much of either save for what little I picked up from Dorian and the Iron Bull.”

“I picked up some. Your mercenary would surely know it better.” He admitted. “I picked up a little from the clan in the mountains...not enough to understand much, but...I do like your voice, I'm just curious how it sounds coming from you. That's all…”

“For the record, it wasn't just with Solas. Except usually it's cursing. Cole can read people, he knows a fair bit I suspect. On the other hand, Sera knows none. Ahh...but I suppose that's not important.” She said. Leaning closer, her lips hovered by his ear, quiet, almost too quiet. “Ma ane ma nehn…”

He was right. He had no idea what she had just said to him, but it did sound more pleasant to him than it ever had with any other elf. Maybe it was just because she was important to him. It seemed it would ruin the moment to ask about it. She just smiled, closing her eyes again.

“I remember one time Solas told Sera our people could sometimes feel the rhythm of the language. It's possible you don't have to understand it to know what I mean…” she murmured.

That was probably as much of a hint as she was willing to offer. Replaying it in his mind a few times, the way she said it, it wasn't bad, then it was...sweet? It was driving him crazy was what it was. He had never desired to share anything in common with the Dalish, although he could very well have been taken with his family from a clan, he certainly didn't know. At that particular moment, he wished he had paid attention, at least picked up enough to know what exactly she had told him. Cullen had probably picked up on some during his time around her, if not directly from her, maybe from the one who left. Asking him was absolutely out of the question, but then… Ada was her sister, and while they hadn't spoken much, she didn't seem to have much of an opinion about him either way. Though he had no idea if she'd even explain it to him. Now that he thought about it, it seemed questionable to him. She was spending an awful lot of time with the Templar lately. Strange how Ari hadn't looked into it. Probably trying to have both of them. Disgusting.

“Aren't you worried about your sister?” He asked.

“No...I know what's going on already. I'm trying to ignore it.” Seeing the look he gave her, she heaved a heavy sigh. “She's very interested in getting to know him. She hasn't quite figured out that you're...she thinks I'm going to marry him. Soon.”

“How did she get that idea?” He complained, wondering if Ari had said something.

“She knew I was dating him at the time, and guessed the baby is his. From there she just figured we'll get married and live somewhere quiet to raise a few kids. She likes stories, so many end that way, surprisingly.” She mumbled. “It's hard to change her mind once she's made it.”

“That sounds like someone else I know.” He said, staring right at her.

“I'm not...I am like that, aren't I?” She admitted quietly.

“Yes. You are.” He said flatly.

Ari tried to hold back a yawn, failing miserably. “Forgive me. I'm getting tired...tomorrow we’re going down deeper. Hitting an area that no one seems to know…”

“Sleep then. I'm going with and you know how I feel about you sleeping before I do.” He reminded her.

“We’re surrounded by rock, I can't really burn the ground down.” She replied sarcastically.

“You could burn the tent down with us in it.” He said.

“Ah. Fair point…” she agreed.

Leaning up, she kissed his cheek gently, before burying her face against his shoulder. “Good night…”

Fenris moved to hold her closer, kissing her forehead, opting not to say anything. He'd never tell her, the real reason had always been because he liked to watch her a little longer. He'd spent years wondering what it was like to fall asleep with someone in his arms and to wake up next to them. It was just better than he expected.

Chapter Text

The camp took notice of the group's return. Bull carrying a strangely dead-eyed Ari, covered in blood, streaks of clean trails down her cheeks suggesting she had cried. Ada was the first to reach her, relieved to see she wasn't the source of all that blood. Cullen arrived soon after, quick to demand an explanation. Bull set her down and she stumbled off, crawling into the first tent she encountered, uncaring whose it might be.

 

“Might want to give her a bit.” Varric sighed.

 

“That doesn't help, what happened?” Cullen asked.

 

Bull and Varric exchanged glances as if silently debating who should have to be the one to say. Valta saved them the trouble.

 

“Everything was fine at first. It was a bit darker down there, but it was going well. We were making great time, good progress. Then...she started getting anxious. Said she was being warned, that it was too dangerous ahead, that death was the only thing waiting. She wanted to come back, but Renn kept going, and I followed, she said she couldn't let it happen again, whatever that meant. For a while there was no trouble. Out of nowhere, something attacked Renn and...well, he died. It was...almost fascinating. I've never seen anyone move as quickly as she did, this whole time I've noticed she rarely fights, I can't even say with certainty how many were there, but it was over very quickly. We went to check on her, and she just curled up on the ground and started sobbing...I’m honestly not sure what happened. “ She explained.  

 

Ada hung her head, scraping a hand through her hair. “She's never liked death. Doesn't accept it very well. Likes it far less when she's the cause. When I say that I mean she used to cry when we were told stories about Falon'Din. She refused to speak to our brother for almost a whole month when he brought home a rabbit he killed. He thought it was because he shot one of its eyes out, and maybe it had been too much, and she did end up eating with us too, but it turned out it was because he killed it to begin with. Said it wasn't big enough to hunt, that it wouldn't have much to eat anyway, and that it was unfair.”

 

“I personally have seen her kill without this reaction on a number of occasions.” Fenris said.

 

“Most would kill if threatened. It's complicated. She doesn't seem to feel as bad if provoked into it. If the Shaper explained it accurately, I don't think it was the killing that bothered her.” Ada said.

 

“Right. She recently lost many of her friends. We lost a number of men in our old location, and someone she considers a good friend left without a word. If there was nothing she could do to save him, I'd gather that only made it worse.” Cullen added.

 

“I'll take her place for now. I don't know that she'll go anywhere for the night, at least.” She said.

 

“What about her?” Cullen asked.

 

“She won't refuse the company right now. Might like to talk. I'm guessing the offending party are all dead? They'd be the one's she would otherwise turn away.” Ada said.

 

Fenris glanced to the tent. Not that he cared less for her because she wasn't Ari, knowing her safety was important to her, but he wasn't going back down there without her. Bull and Varric decided to follow, Cassandra opting to join as well. With a group like that, she'd be just fine. Cullen seemed to have the same idea. They exchanged tense glances, wordlessly waiting for the other to try and stop it.

 

“Do you mind?” Cullen finally asked with a sigh.

 

“Why does she sleep with you?” Fenris asked instead of answering.  

 

He looked away, kneading the back of his neck. Honestly it would have been much easier to say they were sleeping together, but that was a lie. This had the feel of that tavern brawl all over again. He wasn't about to back down without getting what he wanted. On the other hand, that he was asking meant that Ari hadn't told him. He was actually jealous, and of him. Such a strange feeling, to know he was in some way threatening to him. Keeping his voice low, he pinched the bridge of his nose with a groan.

 

“This really is none of your business. If you must know, I have...a condition...that she’s been treating for months now. She just gives me medicine and keeps watch. After I go to sleep, she goes to bed. Satisfied? It used to be in the same bed, but at her insistence, it is no longer that way.” He said. “I hardly think this is the more pressing matter. If you do, I have to question your priorities.”

 

Fenris stared at him seriously for a moment.  That was...almost sad. So much for that. Was he even really trying? Perhaps he had given up? If not, maybe he just needed a reminder that he didn't want him to give less than his best. He hadn't gotten her back yet, he shouldn't relax so much.

 

“You're right.” He relented finally.

 

Uneasily, they both moved to enter the tent, surprised to see Blackwall had somehow beaten them. He sat on the other side from her, the conversation failing for just a moment.

 

“I didn't know him very well, but he was Legion, remember? He came here prepared to die. He'd be upset to have you dismissing that sacrifice like that.” He said.

 

“Yet if you were the Warden you claimed to be, you might also have died down here. I just... accept that? If I can't save my friends,what good am I?” she argued.

 

“I was ready to accept my death. Andraste's ass, I killed people for money. I didn't deserve to be spirited out of prison and given my freedom, but that didn't stop you. I don't care that you have trouble with killing. That's a damn good thing and rare these days. Don't you ever feel bad about that.” He lectured sternly.

 

Fenris cast a curious look to Cullen, wondering what exactly he was talking about.

 

“That happened while you were gone.” He whispered.  

 

It was quite a fair point. Both he and Fenris had killed enough for several lifetimes, and with an ease that should have given them pause, it never once occurred that it might not be a weakness at all.

 

“Above all else, do no harm. That's the oath healers take. There's really nothing stopping us but our own conscience. Mine...just happens to be quite strong…” she mumbled almost guiltily.

 

Maker the girl should have been Andrastian. She belonged in a Chantry the way she acted. Fenris crossed his arms, more a barrier against how strange it felt to interrupt.  

 

“That reminds me. That Orlesian bastard. Have you decided what you plan to do with him, or is he just going to rot where he is?” he asked.

 

Ari looked up finally, an almost dark expression crossing her face, the kind none had ever seen from her. She swept her thumb under her lower lip in thought, grinning. It was curiously terrifying to see such a look on her face. Even Cullen shifted nervously. At that particular instance, she felt more frightening than Leliana.

 

“Oh...I will hurt him. I have plans for him. He won't die, not right away.” She said. Raising her brows slightly, she continued.  “Josephine spoke to me when she explained I had to judge our prisoners.  She said death may even be more merciful. It would be a mercy to kill him, and that's the problem. I must seek justice for Ada.”

 

“Anything to do with Mythal?” Cullen asked curiously.  

 

Her fingers trailed the fabric at her knees, like the texture was soothing to her. It was unlikely she'd ever be a Keeper now, but she wanted to try and keep to the old ways for Ada, and for her child.

 

“Mythal, All-mother, protector of the People, watch over us, for the path we tread is perilous.” She sighed. Waving a hand, she added after a moment. “Let fly your voice to Mythal, Deliverer of justice.” She is firstly known as the goddess of justice, born of the sea and taking the form of a dragon. The All-mother is also the goddess of love, and motherhood. She is the counter to Elgar’nan, the father, patron of Vengeance. They say she was the one to calm his anger. She is nothing to fear. You have nothing to fear from me.”

 

Blackwall seemed interested in the story, as did Cullen, always mildly fascinated by the things she shared with him of her culture. Maker knew Sera didn't care for it, and Solas was more interested in talking with her than him. Fenris, though, it was like he was thinking about something else entirely.  

 

“Anders.” He muttered.

 

Cullen knew him too, perhaps not as well, but he's had dealings with him in Kirkwall. Only later did he hear about Justice. Varric had explained that the mage said it twisted inside him and became Vengeance instead. If Mythal and Elgar'nan were separate entities, all the trying in the world wouldn't change it for her. As far as he could tell, the power of the Well and the goddess’ will were external influences, not possession.

 

“It isn't really the same in this case. She isn't an abomination. I believe there's nothing really inside her, save the knowledge she gained from the well. It's... like listening to someone else talking, not something compelling her like demons.” Cullen explained.  

 

“I am right here. You can talk to me.” She said quietly.

 

“Well. I've said my piece. If you'll excuse me, my lady.” Blackwall said.

 

“Yes, thank you for speaking with me. I feel a little better now. Do have a good night.” She said.

 

“You too.” He added, waving as he squeezed past the others.

 

“What's the real reason you spared him?” Fenris questioned.

 

It must have sounded bad, he wasn't around for it, and certainly he only heard ‘killer’ and ‘freed’ in all of it. Cullen left the choice to her, even as he wasn't sure she has made the right decision.  

 

“He's a good man. He made a bad decision,  I felt he deserved a second chance. He's never personally hurt me, and he fought for a cause he never needed to join with in the first place. I don't regret letting him live.” She replied.

 

“I would not have been so merciful.” Fenris snorted

 

“I believe most people have the capacity to change. You have. Cullen has as well. In fact, just about everyone I've grown close to had changed in some ways. I'm not so sure about Sera or Vivienne...but they're set in their ways, and aside from an unwillingness to be open minded, all the pranks and Madame de Fer’s political scheming, they're not inherently bad, just...different.” Ari explained patiently.

 

She wasn't wrong about that either. He had changed. Without thinking about it too much, he managed to become at least a slightly better person. Truthfully he never really had a problem with Cullen before, it wasn't until he got involved with her that he really started disliking him. Well, a little before, when he first noticed how close they seemed to be. He was different too, warmer, not quite friendly, but not completely unlikable. Varric hadn't changed a lot, but he seemed to have settled down some, at least he didn't live at the tavern between outings. That was something, anyway, however minor.

 

“I think you're forgetting something important.” Cullen said.

 

“What's that?” she asked.

 

“You’ve changed too. Do you remember when you first showed up? You did what was asked of you, but you didn't talk much, you were withdrawn, almost resistant to letting people in. Aside from business, I'm certain at first you only talked to Solas, and half of that was elven.” He said with a laugh.

 

“I know the first time I spoke at length to anyone was with you. Something about...right, what the inquisition could accomplish.  You were the first person I remember seeing that didn't give me that look.” She sighed.

 

“I admit I wasn't sure you could help at first, but I was willing to believe you weren't responsible. Mage or not, you just...didn’t seem like a vicious killer. I'm very glad I was right.” Cullen told her.

 

Fenris noticed the way her fingers scraped at her knees suddenly, her eyes narrowing uncomfortably. He moved closer, squatting down beside her, concerned.

 

“What's wrong? Were you hurt?” he asked.

 

Ari forced a smile, shaking her head. “No, I'm alright. It's just…” she winced slightly. “someone keeps kicking. Hard.”

 

“It's not time yet is it?” Cullen asked worriedly.

 

“No, I don't think so. I don't think we've been down here for…” she paused, counting in the air. “four months yet anyway. Then again, I'm not even sure Valta knows how long it's been.”

 

“They should be back soon. It might be best to hurry from there, just in case.” Cullen suggested.

 

“Valta said it won't be much further. The Frostback Basin isn't very far to travel. I've got plenty of time, nothing to worry about. Trust me.” She mumbled.

 

“What exactly is in the Frostbacks?” Fenris asked.

 

“What else. The Avvar.” Ari replied with a slight smile.

 

“Oh no. That sounds almost as bad as facing darkspawn in the Deep Roads. I think it's best if we return to Skyhold for a while…” Fenris said.

 

“Do you really think I'm capable of sitting around that long? What happens if something really dangerous becomes a threat because I didn't act quickly enough?” she disagreed immediately.  

 

“The better question is are you really going to carry a baby around if it's that dangerous.  Even you must realize how stupid that sounds.” He sighed. “What about you? You can't possibly agree with this…”

 

Cullen shrugged a shoulder, frowning. “I don't, but it really isn't my decision. The best I could suggest would be assisting where it was possible. She's never gone long enough to pose a problem…”

 

“You're both fools. Either it's contagious or you two are just made for each other.” He huffed.

 

Fenris walked away, pushing past Cullen to leave. Ari seemed less bothered by his quick leave than usual, sighing.

 

“He just needs a bit.” She said. “In a perfect world I would go back and wait. I can't risk the possibility of something like Corypheus happening again because I need to take it easy…”

 

“I understand. I don't like it...Andraste preserve me, I hate having to watch you walk into danger like that. But...I know it has to happen. I know it must be you. I wish it were not so.” He admitted quietly.

 

“I don't enjoy it...I'd like nothing more than to not be needed and just focus on family, on Ada and this child. To have nothing to do besides that than to help others...right now, that isn't an option…” Ari said, dropping her head to her hands. “That's my dream.”

 

“I hadn't realized you felt that way. This is really stressing you out…” Cullen mumbled.

 

He hesitated, moving to sit by her. Reaching for her hand, he gave it a light squeeze. “I'm...not trying anything. I just want you to remember that before anything else, I'm your friend first. I would consider it a failure if I couldn't do this much for you when you needed it.”

 

Taking a deep breath, she slumped over, laying her head on his shoulder. “I know you don't like it, but I don't think I can hold it in anymore. Could I…”

 

Cullen let go of her hand, slipping an arm around her shoulder comfortably, nodding. “Whatever you need. If you feel like crying will help you feel better, go ahead.”

 

“Thank you…” she murmured.

 

“What did I say about thanking me?” he asked quietly.

 

“I never need to…” she said.

 

“That's right.” He sighed, rubbing her arm lightly.

 

Ari buried her head against his chest, barely managing to muffle the sound of her crying. Just outside, Fenris raked a hand through his hair, frowning. He had to be the cause. He was too hard on her, worse than that, after everything that had happened, he had tried to make decisions for her, made her cry. Maybe he really was trying to sabotage things for himself. He wouldn't be surprised if he had just pushed her back to him again. Apologies weren't his strongest suit, but he had to, she had to know he didn't mean to be an ass...

Chapter Text

“Stop…” Fenris said, halting her steps.

 

Ari had been quiet, suspiciously quiet for the last leg of the trip. The object just a short stretch ahead, he guessed based on the look that it was a heart, with lyrium flooding through it. The heart of the Titan? She glanced between it and him like she was hesitant to stop now, this close.

 

“Something wrong?” She asked.

 

He eyed the others in the group, quick to make themselves quite fascinated with the stones lining the path. Reaching for her hand, he drew her a short distance away, this wasn't a matter for them to concern themselves with.

 

“Private then...I see.” Ari mumbled.

 

“It's...well, I don't think it's anything bad…” he sighed.

 

So even he could get nervous like that? She'd kept it a closely guarded secret that that very demeanor was part of what drew her to Cullen in the first place. Someone so sure of himself in absolutely everything except, it seemed, talking to her. To know that Fenris could respond like that was somewhat endearing.

 

“I'm listening, please speak your mind.” She encouraged him quietly.

 

His eyes fell to her hand, squeezing it impulsively, not even remotely uncomfortable. He searched the air as though there would be some answer emblazoned in it.

 

“I'm sorry.” He said after a time. “What I said was wrong. I...heard you crying. If I hurt you again, I swear it was not my intent…”

 

She wanted to say he had no part in it, that it was just the events of that day that had caused it, but she couldn't. Why was it so hard to just say it was fine?

 

“You said we were made for each other…did you mean that? You realize he feels like he can't really stop me, right?” She said, a small hint of frustration buried deeply in it.

 

“No...I didn't mean it. I've made it no secret, I don't want you with him…the last thing I want it for you to feel like I'm trying to push you to him… it was a foolish thing to say, and I was frustrated by your lack of consideration for yourself. Yes, you're the Inquisitor, but that shouldn't mean putting the problems of the world before yourself. You kept busy long before I showed up, and I know you don't rest longer than you have to. Have you ever taken yourself into account?” He asked, matching her tone.

 

“Until you left, I took my breaks with you, where I could steal the time to do so. After, well… I spent a few days in the forest with Cullen, as I'm sure you knew. You we’re there when I left. Since then…? No, not really, I guess.” She admitted, kneading her brow. “Maker, you have a point.”

 

Her eyes widened the moment that one word left her mouth, clasping her free hand to her mouth like she'd committed an unforgivable crime. Fenris laughed at that, the reaction catching him off guard, though he supposed it was to be expected, next he was almost certain she'd rush to explain herself. Predictable, but in a way he had grown fond of, though it made precious little sense to him.

 

“I...well, most of the people I spend time with say it, I think it's just...it slipped.” She mumbled.

 

“I didn't say anything.” He said. Sighing, he met her eyes for a moment, his expression verging on embarrassment, laced with irritation. “I thought it was...ugh. I liked it, alright?”

 

It was her turn to laugh at that. He frowned, glancing over her shoulder, no one in the immediate area, not close enough to snoop into their business. He glared at her, pressing her back against the cold stone, kissing her, a flurry of teeth and lips and tongue, not painful, but rough in a way that was both familiar and wanted. Ari gasped in surprise, the sound vibrating in her throat, hearing footsteps, he backed away, trying to steady his breathing. Her face was a telltale faint pink, pretending to be fascinated in the worn rock not far away.

 

“I hate to interrupt, but I think something's happening, I thought you might want to get a closer look.” Valta said, trying to control her growing excitement over the latest discovery.

 

Reminded of the task at hand, she felt a renewed sense of curiosity towards the newness of it all.


 

Several hours later, they resurfaced, all immediately taking a deep breath to enjoy the fresh surface air. Varric looked mere seconds from kissing the ground. On Valta’s word, when questioned about why she didn't come back, Ari simply shrugged and insisted she had no idea what happened to her. It was true, even the insight she might normally gain from the Well provided nothing, and really, why should it? Thanks to the almost blinding brightness of the morning sun, the enjoyment of their return was cut short. Cullen had that look like he was about to approach her, but if he couldn't be bothered to put in the effort, he'd take the opening. Fenris quickly picked Ari up, hauling her easily back to the carriage he had previously occupied alone. Ada gave Cullen a curious look before it finally connected for her. She hadn't seen them together very much, a few moments here and there, but by the look on his face, it made sense.

 

“I believe the right thing to say at a time like this is...well, shit.” She said quietly. “Am I to understand that's him then?”

 

Cullen nodded somberly, sighing to himself. “Fenris, yes. I think I've all but lost her…”

 

Ada gave him a stern look. “With that attitude, of course you have. Take a page from our book and be persistent. If you give in, she's going to think you're not interested anymore. There's still a few tricks in my book, and I might know just the thing.”

 

“What do you expect me to do? I think it's pretty clear that I don't interest her as much as I might have once.” He said.

 

“Let me work out the details. I'll tell you now, I'm not giving details. It's best that way.” Ada said.

 

“I have to ask, why does it matter so much to you? I thought it wasn't acceptable for the Dalish to be involved with a human?” He questioned.

 

“Who's going to kick us out? It matters because I've seen the way you look at her. More than that, I've seen the same from her, the smile she saves for you is one I haven't seen in a long time. My happiness has always been her concern, I'm not letting her turn down hers a second time.” She told him.

 

“You mean Rasha? I've heard very little, I admit.” He shrugged.

 

“She was sworn to him, possibly the perfect match, well versed in the old ways, a great hunter, handsome. Kind, even funny. Even the older women stared at times, and he loved her. Wanted her in the worst way, and he would have been good for her. Ari didn't want him, swore she had no feelings for him. I tried very hard to help spark something  between them, to make their marriage bearable for her, but then the Keeper decided to send her to watch your Conclave, and she only too happily left to board the boat. Since she was expected to return, he died waiting for her…” Ada told him quietly. “You said she loved you, that she freely admitted to feeling something for you tells me I shouldn't give up yet. You can't know how much those words mean.”

 

“I do know. That's why it hurts like this. It's like I'm watching her shrink in the distance and I can do nothing to stop it. I'm not ready to give up on her just yet, but I don't know how much fight I have left…” he sighed.

 

“Well, as I said, get comfortable and I'll take care of the arrangements. By tomorrow evening, you'll be on your way to making her forget all about what's his name.” She said confidently.

 

“Fenris.” He repeated.

 

“Yeah… him.” She mumbled.

 

Truthfully, she had come to the conclusion she simply had no taste for elves, it happened on rare occasions, but seeing the way he made off with her, seeing her fail to put up a struggle said she had been completely wrong. It was entirely possible Cullen was right and there was little point in trying, but if nothing else, she'd exhaust the options before giving up.  Shaking it off, she rushed off to make the plans before settling in for the ride. Amazing how much influence was extended to her simply by virtue of being related to her. That and how cheap it was to bribe the right drivers? Interesting. At least most of the work was done, all that was left was to get her in the right spot at the right time, and all would go as planned...

Chapter Text

This was perfect, except by perfect, it was awful. At some point during the night, they'd gotten separated from the rest of the group, and this close to the mountains, the weather had quickly gotten worse. It was freezing, snow falling just outside. Ari buried her face in her hands, thinking it through carefully.

“I can fix this. I see a few trees, I can gather wood and start a fire…maybe I could…” she stopped with a groan, stepping out in a string of muttered curses. Sinking to her ankles in a layer of snow, she glared at it accusingly. “I'm sick of snow.”

Cullen had a sinking feeling that this was her sister's handiwork. The one thing casting doubt on it being that he couldn't picture her seeing freezing to death out in the middle of nowhere as a good thing. She was a smart girl, surely this wouldn't strike her as helping. He followed her quickly, reaching for her arm. The last thing that would help was getting split up out here, or to have her fall and break her neck. It hadn't been long, and yet she was already shivering. He gestured to a cave, a good place to at least attempt a fire. There was no point in sacrificing their means of leaving just yet. Ari changed her course towards the shelter, frowning at the sight. They'd just gotten out of the ground, this was a little too reminiscent of being there, but she kept her complaints to a minimum.

“I'll be back, I'll gather --” she began.

Cullen draped his mantle over her shoulders, turning back before she could finish. About to ask, he seemed only a little more certain than she did. “Just wait here. Try to stay warm. I'll go.”

It worried her, both that he had left so quickly, and being left alone. Who could say with certainty what might be out here? Thankfully, her concerns that this might be a bear den were quickly put to rest. It was hardly big enough for that. Ari tugged the edges closer, closing her eyes in an attempt to appreciate the warmth a little more. It smelled like him, the sort of spiced, musky scent she would know anywhere, but there was more. The smell of burning wood that reminded her of home, presumably he had spent time by the small campfires in the Deep Roads, but that didn't dampen the familiarity of such a thing. If she lent it a little thought, she could recall all the way back to when she was a child, listening to stories of the Creators, the fall of Arlathan, the Imperium, and those of the Dread Wolf and his trickery. Back then, she couldn't bear to be apart from her mother for long, even for a story, as much as she liked hearing them. A sudden sound called her back from her memories, jolting slightly. Cullen had returned, all manner of sticks and branches, even a few large pieces of wood scattered on the ground. Ari busied herself arranging them as best she could recall, holding out her hands. Why wasn't it working? Fire was the most basic of spells, and there was no reason it shouldn't be working now.

“Are you alright?” He asked.

“No I'm not, something is definitely off.” She muttered. Attempting a variety of different spells, she realized nothing was working. “I can't…”

Cullen searched for anything out of the ordinary. Far from any Circle, he was doubtful anything would be blocking her in such a way. Nor did he see any markings or visible wards. By the time he checked again, she had her back to the entrance, trying again. He moved to sit by her, managing to get a small flame going where she had failed. Smiling at the look she gave him, he shrugged.

“We can't all use magic, you know. Normal people had to find other ways.” He said. “I hope it helps.”

“Won't you be cold without this?” She asked quietly.

“I grew up in Ferelden. I'm used to it.” He told her. Glancing away, he sighed. “I wish you worried about yourself even half as much as I worry for you. I...do think you don't concern yourself as much as you should.”

“Cullen...you know I can't just turn around and go back…” she said tentatively.

“You could. You won't, but the option is there. Although I'm not suggesting you do that, only that you consider not doing more than you have to.” He said, absently draping an arm around her.

This was nothing new for him. No harsher than winter anywhere else in these lands, but from the sound of what she had shared before, she was used to warmer climes. Yet she didn't like the heat either, he had to wonder if the Marches had been to her taste at all. She curled a little closer, clearly trying not to seem as affected by it as she was. As he recalled, there were a few blankets in the storage compartment, and the storm hadn't kicked up enough to prevent him from braving it once more if it would help. Reluctant to disturb her, he let her go, leaving before he had a chance to regret it. Ari caught herself before she slipped, watching over her shoulder curiously. Having moved closer to the cave, he didn't have far to go, and was back before she had the chance to make any inquiries, grateful when he let her back once he had sat. He carefully draped the blankets around them, keeping her close. It honestly was to share what warmth he could offer, though to deny he wasn't enjoying it at least a little was a lie he couldn't manage.

Thanks to the fire and the copious amounts of snow, there would be plenty of water, though he could do little about rations, the intent to resupply at the hold delayed now. He definitely didn't agree with the method if this truly was Ada’s plan, but he imagined she was right about one thing at least. Good or ill, he guessed that Fenris was far from her mind at the moment. Fairness applied, he was probably on her mind most because she was relying on him to keep her from freezing to death. He had to ask, and part of him hadn't wanted to, but he needed to know, to find out if it was even still worth trying.

“Ari...I was wondering…” he managed.

Her eyes searched his, interrupting his hunt for the right words. His eyes were a color she'd never seen before, and they'd always fascinated her, the way the lights and shadows made them darker, and at times an almost molten gold. She could guess what he was trying to ask, and yet she couldn't be sure of the answer herself. Maybe it was best to figure out the answer for herself as well. Turning just a bit, she kissed him, the contact bare and light. His hand came up, threading her hair hesitantly, as though unsure if it was real or a trick, some spirit messing with his mind. She leaned into him firmly, falling back with him unintentionally. His arm wrapped her waist, trying not to push her away. She tasted like apples, her skin raised in goosebumps, though whether it was his doing, or the sharp air he couldn't say. Slow to part from him, her gaze connected with his, an expression hovering somewhere between fascination and pain locked there. She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. The whole point of her choice was a vain hope her feelings would fade, but it only served to prove it hadn't.

“Yes…” she said quietly, no elaboration following.

He could pick up well enough on the rest of the sentiment. She did still love him after all, but it made things no easier for her. Still left with the knowledge someone was going to get hurt. The way she bit her lip told him she had something more on her mind. Brushing her hair out of her face, he guided her to look at him, opting not to say anything.

“I...well...it's cold. I have no right to ask this, but would it bother you if I slept with you tonight? You're surprisingly warm…” she mumbled faintly.

“As if I'd let you freeze.” He said kindly. “It should be marginally more comfortable in the carriage, but perhaps not as warm…”

Cullen gestured barely to the fire, unwilling to let go of her, for the moment it seemed she wanted to be close, and he wasn't particularly feeling like moving away either.

“I can't figure out why my magic isn't working...if I could, I'm sure I could help…” she sighed.

“Don't worry about it too much right now, I'm sure everything will be fine in the morning.” He assured her.

Except for as good as the night had gone, somehow the morning managed to be worse. Cullen had the misfortune of waking first, hands bound behind his back, everything sore like he'd been on the losing end of the worst sparring match he'd had in ages. Ari was nowhere to be seen and that was troubling. He had no need to ask where they were if the painted faces leering at him were any indication. He strained at the ropes holding him, unsuccessfully. Maker, if this was his current condition, he shuddered to think how she ended up, the thought of what they could be doing to her sickened him, he'd heard tales of the less civilized of the barbarian tribes roaming these mountains, frightful things. Mostly concerning human women, both wealthy and poverty stricken, but that didn't mean they would have no interest in her. The mark alone had been a point of fascination for a number of dangerous people and groups, that could well be enough.

“What have you done?” He growled aggressively.

“The dog is awake, and so it barks…” one muttered.

“You will be silent.” A more decorated man said, rising from his seat on a flat rock “We have done nothing but spare you from death. You put up quite the struggle. Your woman fares slightly better for the moment, though she has yet to regain consciousness. We took your supplies as payment. The Thane is looking her over at the moment.”

“You'd better not hurt her, so help me.” He threatened.

“Or what, dog? You can do nothing like that.” The man laughed. “The woman stays, you’re free to go.”

“I'm not leaving without her, we came here on business, we leave together.” He said.

“The woman stays.” He repeated emphatically.

“You'd really be stupid enough to threaten the Inquisitor? It doesn't matter if I leave, others will come. Far better that you return her to me than face an army.” He said seriously.

“The Inquisitor…” a woman whispered.

Surely they'd figured out they were missing by now. Might have even tracked down the carriage. From there, he hoped the snow hadn't wiped away any trail. He never expected to think such a thing, but even Fenris would be a welcome sight right now. Instead, there was a bright light from a tent nearby, visible through a gap in the overlapping straw and fur. There was a brief, cut off shout, then silence. The group exchanged curious, uneasy glances, going to investigate. Whatever they had seen was upsetting, and Cullen felt his heart race. It wasn't Ari that made the sound, but he feared a repercussion he could not prevent. Testing his bonds again, he felt a sharp edge, possibly a stone. Working the rope against it, he felt it weakening. The group had not taken notice, and he managed to free himself safely. Cautiously approaching, he saw bodies on the ground, snow dyed red with blood. Peering in, the one they called Thane was almost shamefully preserved in what appeared to be stone. Ari appeared to be asleep, bound on a bed of furs, but otherwise unharmed save a few cuts, scrapes and bruises. Whatever happened couldn't have been a result of her doing. Even accounting for Mythal, he was doubtful she could have managed this much without being awake and focused. Someone had intervened, but he could find little evidence as to who could have gotten in without notice. Cullen left long enough to hunt down his weapon, tossed aside with his shield in some haphazard heap of collected goods. Returning, he cut through the layers of rope, intertwined with leather straps. Obviously they had taken precautions with her. Then again Cassandra had her in shackles and rope, so perhaps it was related to the Anchor, a curiosity and a source of apprehension. He gently prodded her, hoping to ease her out of her sleep instead of frightening her. The sound of angered voices outside said that wasn't likely to happen. He slashed through the back, lifting her over his shoulder in the hopes of sneaking away unnoticed out the back.

“They have to be here, keep looking.” A voice called out.

He stopped, he knew that voice. Looking back to check, it was not simply Ada, but everyone, tearing a path through their captors.

“Over here!” Cullen answered.

Gesturing down a path, she nodded towards the carriages, theirs hitched behind another.

. “Take her and go, we’ll catch up in a bit. Bull thought it a good idea to check the camp for anything useful first.” Ada instructed.

“Not yet. How could you do that?” He asked angrily. “You put your own sister at risk, I thought you cared.”

Ada seemed surprised at the accusation, frowning. “This wasn't my idea! I instructed the driver to change course, yes, but I intended a short detour to one of the places our clan stayed…”

“Truly?” He questioned suspiciously.

“Of course! I would never send you here alone. It's no secret these mountains aren't friendly, and I would not risk her safety just to try and help. We can discuss this further later, there's more on the way, take her and go.” She hissed.

Cullen took her warning, getting back to the relative safety of the carriage. It was far too much to hope she wouldn't realize anything had happened, beyond that she should know. He had a host of questions swarming in his mind, and yet the moment she started to wake up, he found himself only considering how grateful he was for it. He didn't have much of an opportunity to inquire about her condition. Sparing him only a brief glance, she nearly hurled herself into his arms, trembling uneasily.

“I don't like this place. I can feel it, it isn't friendly. Perhaps it is the work of a demon? There's something dangerous lingering here…” she mumbled.

“You're safe now…” he assured her quietly. “Did you...do you remember doing anything strange?”

“I felt someone watching me, I tried to find the source, but I couldn't. It felt...familiar.” She said. “You're tense...were you hurt?”

Ari scrambled to pull away in case she was causing him pain. He quickly pulled her back, the comfort of her presence outweighing the hurt it inflicted. The door opened and she flinched nervously until her sister peered in.

“We’re off course by about an hour, they say we'll arrive in just over a day.” She said, about to leave, but not before looking again with a pleased smile. “We found a mess of blankets, fur and leather, looks like. Might as well get comfortable.”

This wasn't her plan, but from the looks of it, it had helped despite the mix up. If even a problematic situation like this could help, it was as good as a sign from Mythal. Let's see the glowbug beat that. Ada tossed them a blanket, closing the door so they could leave quickly. Cullen draped it over her, rubbing her back lightly. He stared out the window, as if half expecting an ambush, relieved to see only the camp disappearing from view. He was doubtful any difference was actually made, but if nothing else, it felt good to be needed for a little while.

Chapter Text

The smell of cooking fish was one Ari never liked. Thankfully, she didn't have to deal with it, left to relax in a hot bath a kind soul had offered. This was the last place she expected such a luxury, but it was welcome all the same. Stretching out lazily, she draped her legs over the edge. Curious, her hands came up, beads of water trailing down her wrists. It had been some time since she thought to test it. Focusing, she could feel the energy, a promising sign. Small, controlled wisps of fire danced along her fingers, carefully maintained. Whatever was stopping her was out of the way now, but it still made no sense. Why wouldn't it work before? Shrugging it off, she went under long enough to wash out her hair, emerging slowly. Wiping her eyes, she tried to blink away the water still clouding her vision. Something touched her shoulder and she jumped with a squeal most unbecoming of her.

 

“It's only me.” Fenris said.

 

“Not hungry then?” She asked.

 

She wouldn't have wanted it even if she was starving and it was the only thing available. Never could get past the smell, to say nothing of the taste.

 

“I don't like fish.” He said.

 

“I don't either. I thought I'd try my luck later and see if I could find something better. I saw some bushes earlier, might have berries.” Ari suggested.

 

Resting her head on the edge, she closed her eyes. There were no words to describe how good it felt, like a warmth that eased her aches and soothed her bones, but so much more than that. He said nothing, perhaps he had left? Thinking that, she gave another lazy stretch, startled again when she felt something brush her leg. It was embarrassing just how jumpy she'd been lately. Sitting up fully, she opened her eyes, mildly surprised to see he had gotten in with her. Not exactly the first time, and she certainly didn't mind, it was just unexpected.

 

“It feels good, doesn't it?” She sighed.

 

His arm snaked her waist, drawing her closer. Circling her loosely, his head resting on hers.

 

“I have no complaints.” Fenris said.

 

“No? Not even one?” She teased.

 

“A warm bath with a beautiful woman? Why would I complain about that?” He replied.  

 

“I've found no shortage of beautiful women in this place. Though I can't claim to have shared a bath with any of them.” Ari laughed.

 

“Oh? Would you rather I leave? Perhaps you'd prefer someone else's company more.” He countered.

 

“Don't you dare.” She told him.

 

It was strange enough with someone familiar to her, how awkward would it be, sitting across from someone she didn't know as well? Or worse still, imagine having to share with Cassandra? She was a good person, sure, but still intimidating. Imagining her scowl made her cringe.

 

She smelled different. It wasn't her, not the familiar scent he had gotten used to, or the smell of the sea that had became natural for a time, this was different. He wasn't sure how he felt about it, but he gathered there weren't a ton of choices here. He traced her markings down her throat, following the intricate designs along her collarbone, feeling her shiver. So there was something to that, something about the feeling that she liked. Good to know, though he found himself wishing he knew what part of it was pleasant. He didn't mind exploiting her weaknesses like this. Brushing her hair aside, he nipped her neck lightly, feeling the way she melted in his hold. He had refrained long enough. Leaning closer, he bit her neck, sucking the mark, leaving a bright red spot where her collar wouldn't hide it. Ari brought her hand up to check, feeling his mouth brush her fingertips.

 

“I get the feeling you enjoy this.” She observed.

 

“Never let it be said you weren't right on occasion.” He said, his words muffled against her skin.

 

His fingers trailed her sides, down her hips and back up, following her thighs on the next venture down. He watched her eyelids flutter closed, relaxing slowly.

 

“I'm curious. What's on your mind...I have a decent guess…” she murmured quietly.

 

“You think so, but I'm certain you'd be wrong.” He told her. He wanted to leave it at that, his thoughts were the one place she wasn't allowed, then again,he had to wonder if letting her in would make any kind of a difference. Varric had said that she might like the kind of frilly romantic things he was no good at. Maybe it was worth a try. To even consider such a thing was unexpectedly embarrassing. He nibbled her ear, trying to focus on anything but that. “I'm thinking that you're the most frustrating, amazing and fascinating woman I've ever met. That you're confusing, and you're terrible, beautiful...I couldn't imagine myself holding anyone but you.”

 

She bit her lip, not expecting to hear anything even close to that from him. She wanted to disappear, certain she had turned a very new shade of red. He didn't give her long to consider it an option, whimpering softly, his exploration aimed a bit higher than she anticipated. Encouraged by her response, he decided to continue, just to see how long she'd let him keep going before it was too much for her.

 

“Your eyes were the first thing I noticed, I enjoy the way you looked at me, all your different expressions. I'm certain you've never noticed, but I can feel it under your skin, the way your heart beats faster, the little whir in your veins, it's different than others. You feel more alive than anyone I've met…” he murmured, twisting his wrist slightly, appreciative of the ease with which he could turn her into a shuddering, sobbing mess. “I like the way it feels to have you in my arms like this, the sounds you make, the best is the way you say my name when you're breathless…”

 

She turned her head blindly, finding his lips with an ease he had come to expect from her, it seemed he'd found her limit after all, a feeling of urgency to the pressure she applied, like she was trying to stop him. The Inquisitor, famed Herald of Andraste, with people coming from all over the world to kiss her ass, couldn't handle very much personal praise. Now that was unexpected. The image she struck, living in a fortress, throne and all like some kind of queen, people rich and poor throwing themselves at her, trying to gain favor by volunteering for the most mundane crap, and he was the one seeing this side of her. He'd obviously lost his mind, completely gone for her. He let her go for just a moment when she parted from him, breathing unsteadily, though it was plain she was trying to maintain that image of composure. Failing miserably, but trying. Guiding her towards the edge, she laid her head on her arms, he stopped on the curve of her hips, arching against her slowly. Finding her ear once more, he decided to test her responses just a little more.

 

“I can keep going. Shall I tell you what I think of you like this?” He whispered teasingly.

 

Ari shook her head, gripping the edges so tightly her knuckles turned white. “No, I think I'm alright.”

 

He laughed to himself, smiling. At the least, he was certain it was one question she wouldn't ask again, judging by the look on her face. She buried her face in her arms, sucking the curve of her wrist in an effort to quiet herself. The room filled with the sound of violently agitated water probably said plenty, as much as the faint mewling cries she couldn't hide by half. He hated to think of such a thing at a time like this, but he was pleased it worked out this way, considering how aggressive Hawke was in everything she did, he had to imagine it wouldn't have been as enjoyable as this. Polar opposites, Ari was softer, warmer, and beyond that, she seemed to find her pleasure in letting him take his however he wished, it was a strange type of freedom he had never thought of. He was certain she had something she'd like more, but the way she was, he doubted she'd ever bring it up, let alone ask.

 

“So, you were curious about what my thoughts were. It's fair that I should get the same, wouldn't you agree?” He panted, nipping at her shoulder.

 

Ari glanced back at him anxiously, licking her lips. “I...I'm not so sure I could.”

 

“I'm sure you could find a way.” He said.

 

Snapping against her harder, she sucked in a deep breath, exhaling slowly, her head raised just a bit, like she was considering it, thinking of her words carefully.

 

“Ar aron thu ma dera em, ar aron ma dhava...Ar lath ma on’ala la’var ma ane…” she sighed.

 

She was clever, a way to say it without him having any real idea what she had said. He could sense an urgency to it, verging on desperation in her tone, but he had a very good guess at the reason for that, already nearing again. His hands left her hips, following her spine up to her shoulders, down her arms and back up before he settled again, folded around her gently. That look on her face troubled him. How had she seen him to this point, looking that surprised that even he could be affectionate at times. Yet another thing he would have to show her. He couldn't picture being the type to smother her in kisses, in jewels and shallow flattery, nor did she seem the type to want that. That required thought, what a girl like her would actually want, what would make her happy. Why was that such a difficult thing? It had to have something to do with how she didn't seem to think of herself at all if she could help it. It didn't make sense that someone could ignore their own needs for so long. She had to want something, and he was going to figure it out.

 

A tingling shock burned through him, his thoughts leaving him, the sound of her calling for him, gasping and panting branded in his mind. It could have been impulse, but then again, maybe she had done it on purpose. He wanted to regret saying that, but he couldn't manage, not like this. Her hand clasped her mouth, trying valiantly to avoid calling attention to them, his blunted nails scraped her skin, pulling her tighter to him, a sound outside forcing him away far quicker than he intended, believing he might finally get a chance to enjoy her presence a fair bit longer. Ari sunk back under the water, not particularly keen to be seen like this by just anyone.

 

“Are you still in--” Ada’s inquiry was cut short. Pressing her fingertips to her brow, she closed her eyes, turning away. “Mythal’enaste, Ariane. What are you doing?”

 

“Please don't ask me that…” she mumbled.

 

“Someone has to watch out for you… are you getting nervous? I'm sure that's understandable, but this isn't the way…” she said gently.

 

Fenris slid an arm around her shoulder, finally deciding to intervene. “Would it be at all surprising to know that Cullen is the ‘other party’ here?”

 

“What is that supposed to mean? That can't be--” she started to ask.

 

“It's true. I'd been seeing him for months before anything ever happened with Cullen...I thought…no, I suppose it doesn't matter what I thought now…” Ari said.

 

“You told him you love him…” she mumbled.

 

“I do, that was no lie...just that...Ada, can you just let it go for now? I'm not ready to explain this...I'll tell you sometime soon. When I figure it out.” She sighed, staring at her palms like somewhere in her pruned skin, there was a script to follow. Unfortunately there wasn't. “Wait for me outside? I should get out anyway…”

 

Ada gave a slight nod, struggling not to run out. Ari waited a few seconds more, stepping out to hunt down her robes.

 

“She's bound to be disappointed. I can't fix that. She's old enough to know that things don't always work out like a fairy tale. Love is apparently not as straightforward as either of us believed. At least I've never heard a story like this…” she shrugged.

 

“Isn't the southern version of Andraste kind of like that. Married, but somehow still considered the bride of the Maker?” Fenris asked.

 

“I suppose so. I'm not well studied in the Chantry. Ironic, I guess. Still, I've been compared to Andraste enough for my life. I'd rather not risk punishment. I'm superstitious that way…” she admitted.

 

Fenris finished dressing, watching her seriously for a moment. Ari froze, meeting his gaze briefly, unsure what was behind it.

 

“I've lent this plenty of thought. When we return to Skyhold, I'm going away for a little while. I will come back, as soon as I can. I can't tell you why, only that I swear I won't keep you waiting long.” He said.

 

Ari frowned slightly, nodding. “I understand. It sounds personal, so I won't ask questions. I can't imagine business here will take long…”

 

“Don't rush. You get reckless when you hurry.” He told her.

 

“I'm not sure I could, even if I wanted to.” She said, shrugging. “We...should go, I don't want to keep the Thane waiting.”

 

“Not after last time. This man is a fool if he thinks I'll let him take you hostage.” He growled.

 

“I'm given to understand this one is a woman. I'm not sure that precludes the possibility of being a hostage, but it might lessen it, at least.” She explained. Going for a laugh, she batted her eyelashes, making a face. “Can I help it if humans find me gorgeous?”

 

She shrugged it off after, finding it ridiculously exaggerated even for that being the intent. It worked though, drawing a slight chuckle from him. He followed behind her, not quite surprised to see everyone still gathered around the fire, talking and laughing. Even Ada had returned to the conversation, too engaged to notice their departure. Fenris gestured towards the bushes with a raised brow. Reading his silence well, she nodded, following him. Ari didn't know about him, but she was starving. Just about anything sounded good right then.

Chapter Text

It was several nights before Ada called her on her silence on the matter. Ari promised to tell her once everyone else had gone to bed, Ada sat staring at her across the fire, arms crossed expectantly. Well, there was no practical application for this now, but it wouldn't hurt to improve her storytelling anyway. Clearing her throat quietly , she closed her eyes to lend it a bit of thought.

 

“Keep in mind I'm no Hahren Sileal, but I'll do my best to explain.” She sighed, raking her hair back.

 

“Please do, I'd really like to know.” Ada said quietly.

 

Surprising that what she was objecting to was more acceptable than what she was pushing for, but...now she was just delaying.

 

“Alright...I've got it. Once upon a time, there was a Butterfly, she had a family she treasured more than anything. She wanted to spend the rest of her days with them, would have given anything. Then one day, the Butterfly was told she would wed a Halla.” She said.

 

Ada interrupted as was her habit, something she met with the same patient smile as their Hahren had when she would interrupt his stories to plague him with questions.

 

“What was the Halla like?” She asked.

 

“Oh, he was magnificent, praised by all. He had the finest fur any had seen, a set of horns that made him the envy of the rest of the herd. His call could captivate any who heard it. The Butterfly tried very hard to feel the same way as the others, but she knew that a halla was no fit for a simple Butterfly. The Butterfly's teacher bade her to fly away, far from her family. A task that would aid everyone. The Butterfly was the only one capable of flying so far so quickly, and so she did, heart aching for the family she had to leave behind. Then one day, a bird carried to her the word that her family was gone, all destroyed, even the majestic Halla.” She said, hanging her head at the memory of the day she found out.

 

“So what did the Butterfly do?” Ada asked, arms unfolded finally, palms flat on her knees. “Where did she go?”

 

“The Butterfly had been sheltered in a fine castle, filled to the brim with people of all kinds, the center of attention, and yet she felt nothing, save for a crushing loneliness. Mired in her old hurts, it felt like she was a shadow of her former self. Like she was dead, but her body didn't know. She tried everything, made friends where she could. She began to wonder what could fill the hole left in her heart, but back then, she was content to watch the Lion, though she couldn't see that going anywhere either.”

 

“Tell me more about the Lion!” She pleaded eagerly.

 

“Ahh, alright, alright.” She said gently. “The Lion was a powerful beast, his proud roar unchallenged, regal in a way, the others were quick to obey his orders. Over the months they'd spent working together, they forged a strange friendship. Together, alone, she found he was shy, kind, but uneasy in her presence. The Butterfly valued her new friend, felt like she could tell him anything, and she did. Anything and everything. The Lion listened patiently, and began to tell her things as he grew to trust her. The Butterfly couldn't imagine more, a Lion and a Butterfly were too different, surely. The curiosity was still there, but it remained just that. Then, one day a Mouse introduced the Butterfly to a Hawk, and she could not imagine what that meeting would unleash.”

 

“What happened? Did the Hawk catch her attention? What about the Mouse?” She asked.

 

“Ahh, the Mouse told her to keep the Hawk’s visit a secret, and the Hawk flew away, to await the Butterfly’s arrival. Then, a Wolf arrived, on the trail of the Hawk. The Wolf paced in his den, unable to relax. The Butterfly had been told by the Mouse that she should watch the Wolf from afar, but his senses were far too keen. He caught the Butterfly spying…” she sighed, recalling that meeting vividly.

 

“Did the Wolf get angry? He didn't hurt the Butterfly did he?” She asked apprehensively.

 

“No, he didn't. In her mind, she knew a Butterfly was no match for a Wolf, as always, too different. Desperate to try and patch up the hole, for a moment, at least, the Butterfly pleaded with the Wolf to capture her. He did, in one moment, he ripped away her wings, told her it meant nothing, that he hated her, and wouldn't stick around after he found the Hawk. No longer able to fly, the Butterfly walked beside the Wolf, leading him to the Hawk as she swore she would.” She told her. Right, Crestwood…

 

“Did the Hawk leave with the Wolf?” Ada asked softly, frowning.

 

“No. The Hawk told the Wolf off. Said she loved a Bat, and there was no room for the Wolf in her heart. The Hawk even tried to warn away the Butterfly, but she hadn't felt so alive in a long time. She wouldn't listen. Slowly, the Butterfly began to realize something was changing. The Wolf was beginning to grow on her. The Wolf had said he didn't want her, and the feeling frightened her. They spent more and more time together, though neither could say they knew the other well.” Ari recalled.

 

“What happened next? That can't be the end…” Ada said.

 

“It isn't. One day, the Butterfly found out the Wolf left. As time passed, she felt the emptiness returning. The Lion could feel her pain, and stepped in to care for the Butterfly. She started to feel something familiar, curious how that could happen. The Mouse said it could be possible, but she would have to choose. With the Wolf gone, it seemed obvious. Still, she hoped the Wolf would come back. The Butterfly had to know, and she tried to move on, but all the love she had come to feel for the Lion didn't stop her from missing the Wolf. She kept seeing the Lion, reflecting on how different they were, trying to figure out why she couldn't get the Wolf off her mind. Then...the Wolf came back, displeased with the development. She stayed with the Lion as she promised, but one day, she decided the best way to make such a choice was to swear off both. Her feelings hadn't changed for either, and it wasn't easy, both gave her love, wanted hers in return. Both very different in how they displayed it for her. As much as she tried to avoid it, both had a way of drawing her back, the choice proved to be too challenging for the Butterfly, still struggling to make sense of the mess she had gotten into…” Ari said, looking away guiltily, finished with the makeshift tale.

 

“So...you're saying you loved the Wolf first? That the Lion came later? That means…” she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Cullen might not be the father of your child?”

 

“Yes…” Ari admitted, palming her face, fully expecting her disgust with the situation.

 

“I wish you had told me sooner, I feel like a fool for the way I acted. I thought Fenris was interfering, that he was trying to steal you from Cullen…” she muttered.

 

“Well, I won't really know with certainty until the baby is born...I intend to pick the father. If what you really want is for me to be with Cullen, I suppose you should keep hoping it's his. I've said it before, I do love him, but Fenris has been important to me for a long time, I'm not sure I could forget him so easily...I don't want to hurt either, and I can't have both. I know that, I just… it's selfish, I know, but I want to delay that as long as I can. I don't have much longer as it is…”Ari told her.

 

“I won't stop trying. Cullen is a good man, if there's even a slight chance of convincing you, I'm going to take it. For your sake though… I could at least try to get to know Fenris. There's a possibility he could be my brother, right? I should make an effort.” She muttered.

 

“I'm not sure if marriage will ever be in his plans. That's...alright with me. I'm not sure I'm marriage material as it were.” She said, offering a defeated smile.

 

Ada sighed heavily, tossing her hands up. “No bonding? Next you'll tell me you intend to convert to the Qun.”

 

“Well… Bull did once tell me I'm not very different from a Qunari in the way I think. It might not be so bad. Except I'm probably too accustomed to my freedom by now. I'm not keen on ending up like the rest of their Saarebas.” She pointed in the air, punctuating her thoughts unintentionally.

 

“Thank the Creators, I thought you were serious. I've already lost you once, I don't want to lose you to conversion too…” she said.

 

“No, I'm more excited by the idea of retiring than extending my workload until...who knows how long. I don't know how long Qunari live, but I know how long we live, and I don't want to work that long.” Ari huffed.

 

“Imagine if nothing had changed. If we still had our immortality. You'd literally be working forever.” Ada laughed.

 

“Oh no. I'd live so long they'd forget why I was there, and make my grand escape.” She said dryly.

 

“You'd end up in an endless cycle of being important to someone else all the time until you spontaneously combusted.” Ada said, seriously this time.

 

Sighing louder, heavier, Ari nodded in agreement. “Probably true. Maybe with an eternity to practice, I'd learn to say no.”

 

“That much I doubt highly.” Ada said. Moving to sit by her, she hugged her lightly, brushing her hair out of her face. “I appreciate the story...the explanation I guess. I had it wrong, I see that now. Like I said, I'm not ready to give in just yet, but I understand at least. I'm curious why you didn't trust me enough to tell me before…”

 

“I thought you might hate me. If you knew what I'd done, you might think far less of me. I didn't want that.” Ari confessed.

 

“You're my sister, it would take far more to make me think poorly of you. I tried to kill you, and you defended me, made me better...who else would have done that?” She mumbled.

 

“Did you know I threatened to run away with you and let the world go to hell if anyone hurt you? That's how important you are to me. You're the last of our family, I'd protect you with my life. There's nothing I wouldn't do to keep you safe.” Ari said, squeezing her protectively.

 

“I don't want to hear that from you. When you say that, I know what that means. Swear to me no blood magic, no demons. No matter what. I want your word!” Ada demanded severely.

 

Ari exhaled slowly, nodding solemnly. “I promise. With great reluctance, I might add. I’ve never once considered it before now, I hope you realize that. I've no desire to be executed or worse, made Tranquil. I just thought...if I could keep you safe, it would be worth it.”

 

No. It's not worth it. It won't ever come to that. I expect you to keep your word on that. If you break your promise, I'll never forgive you, ever.” Ada said. “Now...I think we've had enough fuzzy feelings for one night. I'm going to bed, you should too.”

 

Ma nuvenin.” She said sarcastically.

 

Ada let go of her, holding a hand out. Ari took it firmly, thankful for the help, heading slowly towards Cullen's tent. All things considered, she kept her promises once she made them, and this was one she had no problem keeping. He was continuing to improve, so there wasn't yet a reason to stop at present.

Chapter Text

The deed was done. Hakkon slain, Ameridan found. Too dark to attempt a slow shuffle back down the mountain just yet. Instead, the Thane was gracious enough to put them up for the night, a woman bringing her a plate of dried fruit, nuts and salted, dried meat. ‘For the pup’ she said.

 

“Pup. That's adorable.” Ada said.

 

“I rather like it too…” Ari agreed.

 

“I'm more interested in why you were glowing.” Varric said.

 

“Those marks? They showed up after the bit with the Well. I haven't seen them glow like that since…probably since then, but I don't usually look myself over very often.” Ari shrugged. “Or should I feign being appalled that my face has a weird glyph on it? Between the Anchor and all these scars, I’m not terribly upset about the rest of my body being marked, especially if I don't see them most of the time.”

 

“I'd just be glad it's not demons.” Varric said with a shrug.

 

“I'm ecstatic.” She sighed.

 

“Picked up another name too, not a bad trip. Shall we start calling you Lady Herald Inquisitor Ariane First-Thaw Lavellan? It's a long one, but I'm sure it'll catch on.” He laughed.

 

“I don't like it. Too pretentious. First-Thaw sounds pretty cool though. Kind of wish that would stick more than anything. Apparently thanks to retracing Ameridan’s last steps, I inadvertently added myself to history. That scholar intends to publish the findings. So much for hoping i'm forgettable.” She complained.

 

Ari quickly set the bowl down, suddenly too hot to the touch. She blew against her hands, shaking them furiously. “Fenedhis…”

 

Ada snickered under her breath, though she was quick to scurry to her side. Her palms were red, and hot. “You have to be careful…”

 

“As if I just tried to set myself on fire on purpose…” Ari huffed indignantly. “I happen to have excellent control. Usually…”

 

Ada frowned, glancing back to Cullen. Former though he was, it was to her benefit to have someone who might be capable of suppressing any errant spells. He caught the look, unwilling to explain why he wouldn't be as useful as she imagined he'd be, he shrugged, nodding to the silent question.

 

“I'll ask Cassandra to go with as well…” he sighed.

 

Ari didn't use lyrium, the Seeker wouldn't be able to harm her at least, but they had much of the same function without the same requirements. Mostly it piqued his curiosity. Her offensive magic was comparatively weak, and as she said, expertly controlled normally. It seemed like somehow she was losing that control, to even her confusion. Not working, working without using anything, even the Anchor itself had since undergone changes, though he had no complaints about a protective barrier. He certainly liked not getting hit because of it. Solas was the best they could get to an expert on the damned thing, and he had wandered off to Maker only knew where. If it was the cause, it would have at least been nice to know for sure. He didn't enjoy having to entertain the possibility that it could somehow change her, to say nothing of what it could be doing to the baby.

 

“Are you sure we shouldn't set off tonight?” He asked anxiously.

 

“I don't know about you, but I don't want to fall to my death because it's dark. Also, there's Storvacker to consider. I happen to like her. If she's to come with us as a new agent -- your agent, I might add, we can't simply leave her behind.” Ari said.

 

Somehow, he was hoping that she forgot about that part. They'd have to shuffle around the seating arrangements a bit, but room could be made. He pitied the driver. At least it wouldn't be but a few hours until they'd be on their way back. Looking her way again, she seemed more focused on taking in the scenery. Over the time they'd spent here, far longer than they imagined, it almost seemed she'd grown fond of the place, taken with the barbarians and their way of life. Maybe the community feel had her reminiscing about home again, there were some similarities he could see at least. Varric was the first to excuse himself, Ada following shortly after. Sleep was probably a fine idea, but she didn't look ready to turn in, and left with Fenris as well, he found he wasn't very tired either. He eyed the red mark, fading on her skin. He was no fool, he knew what it was, how she got it. The question was if it was worth one last attempt to sway her mind. Oh, this could go wrong so many ways…

 

“I wonder if I could borrow you for a moment.” He said, gesturing to her hand.

 

Ari glanced down, realizing he probably needed what little light she could offer. It had come in handy in the Deep Roads, at least it was useful in more than one way. Slow to stand, she nodded, her right arm looping his for support, and to avoid an accidental tumble down a cliff. He walked slower than normal, occasionally glancing back, finally stopping when the camp was out of view. He sat down, helping her down, thanks to their conversations, he knew this much would be welcome. He stretched out with her, pointing up to the sky. It was dark, possibly ominous if not for the bright little pinhole stars in the sky. Excitedly, she gestured to a particular cluster of stars.

 

“There's Fulmenos.” She said.

 

“I wasn't aware you knew that much about stars.” He commented.

 

“I didn't before. I just thought they were pretty. I've come across a surprising number of readings on the subject. There are varying accounts of the story, but my favorite is the one that suggests it was one of the Tevinter old gods, punishing a bad jester. I'm not sure why, but it made me giggle.” She explained.

 

It wasn't that he wasn't interested in the lesson,but rather the growing sense that this was his last chance that made him act. He turned, hovering over her, mumbling a quick apology, he kissed her, burying his hand in her hair. He couldn't judge by just this, she'd never really seemed to have a problem with this much. Her hands came up, but she reconsidered, concerned she might accidentally hurt him too. Doing that felt a bit more intimate than he was used to, more than he was usually comfortable with, but it was all he had. He broke the kiss, fluttering light smacks down her neck. Really, marking one's territory? It felt ridiculous. He wanted to know if he had given up? This should show he hadn't. Nuzzling the curve of her neck, he bit firmly, hearing her sharp intake of breath, and then a faint sigh. More of a reaction than he'd gotten from her in some time, but he wasn't sure whether it was an actual sign or not. Letting up, he could see it, illuminated by her own hand. He was content with that. Honestly even if she insisted on going further, he wasn't sure he could. Not when he worried he might hurt her, at worst, he'd feel awkward enough having to explain the sudden urgent need to get her to a healer. Shaking it from his mind, he cut off any uneasy conversation by diverting the topic quickly.

 

“So...Fulmenos…” he mumbled quietly.

 

“Huh? What about it?” She answered.

 

Perhaps he'd caught her completely off guard, seemingly forgetting just that easily what they'd been discussing just moments before.

 

“Right...the less funny version is that it's an old God striking down the lost city of Barindur. I remember Solas once told me he'd seen it. Buried in ash, I thought it strange, but I'd swear I dreamt of it soon after...I've never been that far. Only as far as the Tirashan…” she told him.

 

“How would that even work?” He asked.

 

“I'm not sure. Sometimes I just experience things I can't explain…like...with you. I've never been to a Circle, and yet when we spoke before, I saw rows upon rows of books, neatly stacked in wooden shelves, stone walled rooms filled with beds and wooden chests. My best guess is just that some people resonate their memories so strongly, it can be felt, observed…” she tried to explain.

 

“I've never heard of that before. Maybe Cole, but this doesn't sound much like that either.” He said.

 

“I confided in my Keeper once, she said it may be a form of sympathetic magic. I have no idea what that means. “I get nothing from Ada, but we've rarely been apart, we share many of our memories. And Fenris, I suspect I get nothing from him because he doesn't remember much.” She shrugged.

 

It quickly turned into a sudden struggle to sit up. She looked uncomfortable, but it didn't seem urgent. Still, it was better to play it safe, get her somewhere more comfortable just in case. Cullen rose to his feet, helping her up again.

 

“I...should apologize again. If I made you uncomfortable…” he trailed off.

 

“It was surprising. I would have stopped you if I didn't appreciate it.” She said.

 

Mostly, it was on her. She couldn't simply shy away from him forever. If Ada got her wish, she'd eventually end up with him, and it served no one to keep him back while that was still a possibility. Although, she had a sneaking suspicion it could have been different if he had been so forward from the start instead of always worrying where her comfort began and ended. More than that, she was hoping Fenris wouldn't try anything once he had a chance to see. She was anxious enough with her magical dysfunction and whether she'd be able to make it back without issue, a fight would only worsen matters that much more...

Chapter Text

Ari sat wedged between Cullen and Cassandra, glancing uneasily between the two. Cassandra was no Templar, but she had to wonder if this was even remotely similar to how it felt to be hauled off to a Circle. They weren't quite ready to set off yet, Ada and Fenris swapping places with others to join the already almost too packed carriage. A small price to pay, at least Storvacker would be relatively comfortable all by herself. Wiggling slightly, she quickly discovered this was the worst place to be. Neither were very bulky on their own, but accounting for armor, there was hardly any room to breathe, let alone try to relax. Unsure how it was meant to work, she cautiously reached to hold their hands. She wasn't a Templar either, had never met one before the Inquisition, how they suppressed magic was a mystery.

Cassandra raised a brow, staring down at her hand, but chose to say nothing. Ada giggled quietly, amused by the awkward sight. The back storage laden with parting gifts, they began the slow trip back to Skyhold. The silence was far too much, but she could think of nothing to talk about.the next few days went much the same, more unbearable than the day before, until the gates finally disappeared behind them. Most were quick to return to their usual haunts, with Cullen leaving to try and deal with the presence of a bear in the Keep, Cassandra left to offer reports to Leliana and Josephine, leaving Ada and Fenris there with her. Fenris frowned, glancing to her sister before he chanced pecking Ari on the lips briefly.

“I wanted to stay a little while, make sure you'd be alright here. If I want to get my business taken care of, I have to go now…” he sighed.

“I understand. I'll see you when you return.” She said.

“You're just going to leave her like this? This could be your fault, you know!” Ada barked.

“Ada...it's fine. He said he's coming back. I believe him. It's not like I'm disappearing in a moment. “ she told her.

Fenris hurried off, borrowing Oliver again on his way out. Ada gave her a serious look, crossing her arms.

“Are you certain he's coming back? The way he rushed out of here, looks like a man running away.” She said.

“It's alright. It didn't feel like last time. Right now, I'm most interested in getting a bath and laying down. My...everything hurts. I'm not sure I'm meant to be traipsing the mountains for that long.” She hissed, lifting her legs slowly, one at a time.

“I...maybe I shouldn't say anything but perhaps it's best not to use your room. What happens if it goes off while you sleep? I don't want you to get hurt.” She said delicately.

Her way of saying ‘I don't want you to burn the room down with you in it.’ She guessed. That was one hell of a familiar statement, even if it was said differently.

“Fine. I'll find a different place to rest. I'm set on that bath though. Unless you have a problem with that too.” She complained. Seeing the look Ada gave her, she threw her arms up with a sigh. “Fine! I'll use the showers then.”

“I'll bring you something clean.” She said, apparently satisfied with that.

Cullen and Ada crossed paths a short while after, eyeing the fresh robes she held.

“I'm sure Ari wouldn't mind you using the bath.” He observed.

Ada looked him over curiously. His hair and the fur on his collar was wet, sticking up. There was a story there, but she didn't have time to hear it.

“It's not for me. Ari's in the showers right now, I'm bringing these for her.” She explained.

Cullen's eyes shot open, arms unfolding. Rushing off, Ada tailed him worriedly.

“That's where the soldiers go. I'm not sure I want to see the collateral damage…” he explained on the way.

They stopped short, hesitantly walking in. Just inside, several soldiers were frozen in blocks of ice, another, completely undressed, rushed out, nursing a broken, bloody nose. Embarrassing for him that he'd rather streak the yard then face her.

“I brought your robes…” she said quietly.

“I'm here as well, just assessing the damage…” Cullen warned.

He loved her, but risking surprising her in completely the wrong way at that moment seemed the most unwise option.

“I'll thaw them out in a bit…” Ari said. “I didn't mean to hurt the other one. I reacted without thinking, it was a reflex.”

“Don't worry about that. I'm sure it was deserved.” Cullen sighed.

The water shut off, and her marked hand reached out slowly. Ada passed her clothes to her, waiting for her to come out. She snuck past them, snapping her fingers on the way out. The ice crumbled, a line of shivering soldiers almost dancing in.

“I suppose the dungeon is safe enough…”Ari muttered to herself.

“Why?” Ada asked.

“Stone and metal won't be harmed as much.” She shrugged.

“Wait, what?” Cullen questioned.

“I'm going to rest up in the dungeon.” She clarified.

“No. That's not right. I still have the bed in my office. If you really don't want to use your room, that's at least a better option than the dungeon.” He said flatly. “It'll be easier to get help if you need it.”

Ari opened her mouth like she was about to say something. Shaking her head, she gave up, apparently past the point of arguing the matter any longer. Following quietly, they took her usual path instead of his. She stopped, narrowing her eyes curiously. Cullen glanced to the walls. Solas had occupied this room, kept busy by the look of all the art on the walls, they hadn't been there when they arrived.

“These are nice.” He commented.

Ari gestured to one in particular. “This one is new. It wasn't here when we left.”

“So...what then? Solas came back to put that there and left again?” He asked.

“I suppose that must be the case. Nothing is out of place, no sign that he was ever here at all, save a few scraps of paper and these…” she mumbled. “Let's just go…”

Cullen nodded, prepared to leave until she stopped abruptly a few steps after. She whimpered, hunching over.

“Are you alright? Should I get someone?” He asked anxiously.

“No, not yet.” She hissed through her teeth. “Don't make that face. You're getting your way, aren't you? I'm not going anywhere for a while.”

He reached for her hand, her grip firm. He led her the rest of the way, fussing over her until she insisted rather loudly that she was fine. Reluctantly, he took a seat at his desk, keeping an eye on her like she was seconds from turning into a monster. That wasn't it, not really, but that's how it felt to her. He grabbed a stack of papers from the corner of his desk, trying to focus instead on that. Shuffling the top page to the bottom, he didn't do much as glance up, though it was apparent he wanted to.

“Ari…” he said quietly.

“Yes?” She breathed.

“I love you. I'm sure it's not the best time, but I don't know if I have any more time to wait.” He said. “I have no idea if it makes a difference now, but...I just wanted to get it out now. I'm not Fenris, maybe that's a problem for you, but I swear to you, I'll figure it out. You'd be well cared for, I'm certain I'd eventually make a decent husband. I could be a good father. Whatever it is you want, whatever you need, I would do anything to give that to you…”

“I love you too.” She said, scratching at the blankets in an effort to ignore the discomfort. “I…wait, what exactly are you trying to say?”

He cleared his throat nervously, surprised at just how dry it felt. “I'm saying, whether that child is mine or not...I want to marry you.”

She sat up quickly, not quite sure how to react, though she regretted the action immediately, slow to lie back down. A thousand thoughts cluttered her mind at that moment. It felt like she'd never be able to untangle them all. Did she accept, she'd known for some time he was the safe bet. A match she'd be a fool to refuse, though she'd done that very thing already. Fenris meant a lot to her, more than was comfortable at times, she hadn't managed to decide anything. She still loved them both, each for different reasons, logic said Cullen was a better choice, he'd not let her down before, and put her first. His feelings had been plain and unwavering for a long time. Her brain said Fenris had already left once, had tried to end her life, there was no guarantee he wouldn't leave again. There were no promises that his feelings for her wouldn't change, maybe down the road, he'd decide he was tired of her. Her heart was on a different page, however.

“I…” she began.

“Just think about it. Don't pressure yourself into answering yet.” He said.

Ari nodded, unable to answer verbally, curling up loosely, she draped the pillow over her face, groaning into it loudly.

“Are you certain you wouldn't like me to get someone in here?” He asked worriedly.

Ari shook her head, the pillow obscuring much of the gesture, though he relented eventually. Uncovering her head, it looked as though she realized something, though her expression gave no idea as to what.

“I need my bag, the one with my tools, not the medicine, I'll need Gaspard brought up from the dungeon, and I need time alone in that unused room down the wall.” She instructed.

“Is this really the time?” He wondered.

“Now is the best time. I'm just waiting otherwise. This way I'll be doing something constructive with my time.” She said.

“Very well...I'll make the arrangements.” He sighed.

“Ma serannas. You honor me.” She replied, glad he hadn't asked her intent for him.

Truthfully, as much as she felt it needed to be, she wasn't as thrilled about it as she thought she should be. That was half the reason she hadn't simply ordered someone to do it. It had to be her, as much a punishment to herself as to him. The wall nearest the gate would do just fine, he couldn't be allowed to die quite that easily, after all.

Chapter Text

Cullen stood outside the door, a guard on the opposite side, two more at the other exit, just in case. She said she needed to be alone for this, but he couldn't help but be concerned. He had been brought in bound only at the wrists with rope, and his worry was that he'd get loose and hurt her. There was a horrid shout that made him shift uncomfortably in place. The sound grew weaker until it was merely a faint, muffled groan. If it was just a transgression against her personally, she would have been more merciful, but being the last of her blood, he knew hurting Ada meant a fate worse than mere death, surely. Ari stood by her oath as closely as could be helped, and he had to question what this was doing to her more than him. He didn't give a damn about him, he definitely deserved whatever she was doing to him. She bore plenty of guilt as it was, heaping more onto it all was asking for a complex, surely. The guard next to him stepped anxiously to the side, drawing his attention. He didn't know where she was in that room, how close to the door she was, but by the thin pool of blood seeping under the door, he could only guess it was excruciating. He hoped it wasn't hers, and resisting the urge to look was difficult. Just when he felt he needed to check, to see for himself that she was alright, the door opened slowly. Ari hung her head, wiping her brow slowly. That wasn't the look of someone who felt good about what they'd done.

 

“How --” he began.

 

She shook her head, sniffling slightly. “Please don't ask.”

 

The guard saluted her, trying to decide if he was meant to do anything more.

 

“Orders, my lady?” He asked.

 

“I want him tied to the tree in the yard. It's not going to be easy, but I'd like to make sure he gets just enough food and water to survive.” She said.

 

“You want him alive? Whatever for?” Cullen asked.

 

He'd been certain she intended his death, albeit slow and painful, so it was a mild surprise to hear that command.

 

“When he gives up, I intend to leave him bound outside the gates. The creatures out there will end his misery. Until then I want him to see who it is he's pissed off. Who he wronged. That's what I've decided.” She said.

 

The guard stepped in to remove him as asked, failing to contain a sharp gasp, returning quickly to the wall, throwing up at the sight. Cullen frowned, looking at her seriously.

 

“Ari...what did you do? How bad is it?” He asked.

 

“Justice is never easy. I gave him no less than he deserved. If you must know, I can explain it, but I'd really rather not.” She mumbled.

 

Peering in, it didn't seem as bad as the reaction, but the room was dark, and the once proud man was slumped over. Choosing to help, he went back in, hauling him out. Immediately, he wished he hadn't. His mouth strained at unforgiving stitches, the slight part between his lips revealing she'd cut the tip of his tongue, also stitched up. No sense letting him bleed to death, he guessed. Glancing down at his hands, he noticed his thumbs were missing as well, cauterized along the cuts.

 

“I'm going to regret asking. Why did you cut off his thumbs?” He asked.

 

“So he could never properly hold a weapon. There was a moment I thought to make him serve Ada, to have to spend the last of his days looking at the woman he nearly destroyed. I don't like the idea of slaves, and I don't intend to pay him. This seemed the next best thing.” She explained quietly. “He lies. He got a liar’s punishment. His mouth will never deceive again, and his hands will never destroy another life.”

 

As terrible as it all looked, it made an unfortunate amount of sense. Even he had trouble denying that it fit. The Ari he knew wasn't capable of this, and the expression on her face, the look on her eyes said she hated herself for it. She had executed a prisoner on at least one occasion, and he recalled the way she locked herself in her room after, the faint sounds of sobbing heard through the short hall to her room. The other two guards came through, briefed on the orders, they helped carry him down to the yard. Trying to put her in a better mood, since she appeared to be alright otherwise, he shrugged a shoulder.

 

“Was there anything else you wanted to do, or were you wanting to return to bed?” He asked.

 

Ameridan was Dalish. He found room to nurture other beliefs in his time. The first Inquisitor, the legacy she had to live up to. She supposed she needn't have resisted the gesture for so long. That, combined with the way she felt led her to ask, one thing she never considered.

 

“I need to speak to Mother Giselle.” She said.

 

He seemed surprised to hear that. This was a good day for her springing unusual things on everyone.

 

“I'll fetch her.” He said.

 

Ari leaned against the wall, thinking better of it. She walked back towards the office, returning when he came back with her. Waiting outside to give her some privacy. He'd only observed her speaking to chantry members if it was necessary until now. He wasn't quite sure if the Dalish had a way to seek forgiveness , but it was clear to him that was what she wanted. He knew that simply because he could no longer keep track of the number of times he'd done the same thing. It took a fair bit longer than he normally took, but that was likely because she was unfamiliar with these matters. When the Mother finally left, it was with Ari in tow, leaning on her for support. He had no chance to ask about it, and this time, it appeared to be rather urgent. He followed them down to a quiet room, where the door was closed on him, Giselle walking back towards the garden.

 

“What's going on?” He asked, halting her steps.

 

“A blessing, I should imagine. She asked to be brought to the healers. She said it was time.” She said kindly.

 

“I...should I go in?” He asked, suddenly unsure what to do with his hands.

 

“She wished to be alone for now.” She said.

 

He knew there was a chance it wasn't his, but she said the healer believed it was, and it felt strangely wrong not to be there with her. He'd respect her wishes, but that did nothing to change the fact that he wanted to be there. Sighing heavily, he turned around, heading for the yard. Fresh air probably wouldn't change how nervous he felt, but it was the best idea he had at that moment. That too, he found himself regretting, ending at the steps in time to see Fenris arriving through the gates. Oliver parted from his side with a pleased snort, returning to the stables on his own. He paused to look at the former Grand Duke for a bit before he reluctantly turned his attention to the anxious Templar.

 

“What?” He asked simply.

 

“It's Ari. She's in labor.” He mumbled.

 

Fenris cursed under his breath. He had gotten back quicker than he expected, he thought for sure a week at least, he wanted to get back before this. It threw off his plans a bit, imagining she'd probably be too exhausted to appreciate it fully. No matter, he could still figure out how to make it work. Pushing a medium sized pouch out of sight, he stared at the castle in thought.

 

“Which way do I go?” He asked.

 

“It doesn't matter. She asked to be alone.” He sighed.

 

“Such a stubborn woman…” Fenris muttered.

 

It wouldn't be long now. For the time being, neither was in any position to sway her mind. He gestured towards the tavern.

 

“No point waiting around here. Let's have a drink. I'd say Varric should buy a round while we're there. Expectant fathers only.” He said.

 

Was that a grin? He was definitely grinning, and that was unusual for him. maybe he'd finally warmed up to the possibility? Either that or it was simply that he might weasel the Dwarf into paying for drinks. Not a lot of options. Pacing a ditch in the yard wasn't going to help matters. A little suspicious, he watched him for a bit.

 

“Why?” He asked.

 

“What? Did you think I hate you?” He countered.

 

“Actually, yes. That was the impression I got.” Cullen replied, following anyway.

 

“I have no problem with you as a person. I just don't like you, and only then because you happen to be after what I want most.” He said. “If you recall, I took your side quite often back in Kirkwall. Supporting the mages seemed a fool’s errand.”

 

“So what? We're friends as long as she doesn't choose me?” He asked, taking a seat across from him.

 

“I wouldn't go that far. Maybe someday, but not now. Not by a long shot. You're alright . Though you're completely right. “ he said.

 

He held up a hand to the bartender, before pointing to Varric, a signal to put it on his tab. He was preoccupied with writing something down. A pile of coins stacked in front of him, Fenris laughed quietly.

 

“I wonder what he's up to.” He commented.

 

“Plotting to teach Storvacker how to play Wicked Grace?” Cullen guessed.

 

“That will come later, I'm certain.” Fenris said dryly. “I'd guess he's running a pool. See? He's writing down names so he knows who paid in. Fitting, since he's paying for the drinks anyway.”

 

“What could there be to bet on?” Cullen sighed.

 

“Knowing him? Whether the baby is yours or mine, and probably the time.” He shrugged.

 

A parchment ball dropped to the table, and they glanced up, Sera leaning over the edge, watching him write. Cullen opened it curiously. Amazingly, Fenris had gotten it right, though there were also other places to guess whether it would be a boy or a girl. Apparently, the split was pretty even, about half for him, half for Fenris, and almost all of them pinned it as a girl, by morning, at varied times. He sighed, tossing it back to the table. At the bottom was a crude drawing of Ari topless, with dragon wings for some reason, and what he could only guess was supposed to be her shooting some kind of overdressed person in the butt. Right there was proof the Inquisitor was far too nice at times. Fenris glanced at it intently, hard to read as usual. Had everyone bet on this crap? Even Ada’s name was on the list. 5 sovereigns on it happening a noon, a daughter in Cullen's favor. It was looking like it was bound to be a long wait after all. Fenris hated waiting.

Chapter Text

Fenris sat by Ari’s bed, brushing her hair out of her face. She looked exhausted, and yet she still managed a smile. A woman had sought him out, told him she wanted to see him. He could guess at the reason easily enough, had tried to prepare for this. He wasn't certain yet, he hadn't seen the baby, but he was about to. A healer backed into the room, turning carefully a small bundle wrapped in each arm. Fenris raised a brow at that, looking at Ari curiously. She shrugged weakly, nodding to the blankets.

“I'm just as bewildered as you are.” She said.

Fenris wasn't sure what to think, cautiously standing, he pushed the edges back, unable to reign in the smile spreading across his face. There was no mistaking it, they were absolutely his. The entire time, no one had any idea there wasn't just one there.

“Twin boys, the Herald truly is blessed…” the healer cooed quietly.

Sons, too. He could handle that, probably. They looked more like him, save for the eyes, those were definitely hers. The woman caught him off guard, gently pressing one into his arms, before handing the other to Ari, both healthy, she said before excusing herself to let them be for a little while.

“Have you named them yet?” He asked curiously.

He really hoped she had, he hadn't lent it any thought, and really, he couldn't think of anything. Ari nodded slowly, somewhat distracted.

“I was thinking… what about Fen’an and Haleir?” She asked quietly.

Fenris shrugged slightly. As good as any other, he supposed. He couldn't change the way she was, and if he could, he wouldn't anyway. If being a family meant he had to embrace her Dalish heritage, he could do that.

“No tattoos. Ever. Beyond that, I don't mind. Though…” he said.

“There's a catch isn't there?” She asked.

“I don't understand it. I...should learn, shouldn't I?” He sighed.

“You're asking me to teach you? If you really want, I can.” She agreed. “As for vallaslin...I do know how, it was part of being the...I suppose it would be heir, to my clan…I don't mind not doing it. It's painful, I'm not sure I could do that to someone unwilling, nor should it be done in that case.”

“You've never told me about yours. I told you about mine.” He said.

“Mine?” She repeated, touching her face. It was a question she received far less than she anticipated she might. “Mine are for June, it's said our knowledge of crafting was his gift. Indeed, I do know a bit of that. My creations are perhaps not great, but they are functional. If you're asking about the process...I remember it being quiet, still. The only sound I heard was that of my own heart. It's a rite of passage in a sense. I was a little younger than most, my Keeper worried I wouldn't be able to handle the pain. We aren't allowed to scream or cry, you see. I had to sit perfectly still, absolutely silent. I was… overeager to prove myself. Most don't go beyond the throat, but as you've seen, mine goes much further, front and back.”

Fenris had been curious about that much for a while. He had taken note that most were strictly on the face. It was a safe bet hers didn't still hurt her. He'd already told her they caused him pain, but he had downplayed it for her sake. They were agonizing, despite that, he could ignore it the easiest when they were together. This though, being here with her, that was the entire reason he had to leave. It was well known she had benefited greatly from her service to the Inquisition, and Varric had coin to spare, but he wanted to do it on his own, no borrowing needed. He wanted to get back before this, to have everything ready, just so, before she noticed. As it stood, he figured she wouldn't tolerate being left in a bed for long. He'd be able to pull it off still, but it would just take a little longer than he'd hoped. Ada had been thrilled about the idea, he was fairly certain he could even convince her to watch them for a little while, so long as she didn't ask questions.

“I'm curious. How long until you're back to your usual self? I'm sure this place will collapse on itself with you around to keep it going…” he asked.

“Give me a few days. I'm told I should wait at least a week before I really strain myself, but I don't know the meaning of breaks.” She said proudly.

“Good.” He said, more to himself than to her.

“You actually want me to get back to work now?” She asked, surprised.

“My reasons are my own, you'll find out eventually.” He said cryptically.

“If it has to do with dragons, giants or ancient magical artifacts, I'm demanding at least two weeks off before I deal with it.” She grumbled.

“Well, there goes my plan. See, I intended a grand showdown between you and a giant dragon wielding an ancient magical artifact. Varric said you couldn't do it, he was taking bets and everything.” He sighed,

“If that's a joke, color me impressed. I approve. If you're serious, I'm going to flatten him. Then I guess I'm fighting a dragon.” She mumbled.

“Relax, I was only joking. Besides, I get the feeling these two are going to be more demanding than a dragon could ever hope to be.” He said.

Ari made a face, directing her focus to her arms, watching in silence for a few moments. “I don't know what you're talking about. They're not going to be that bad. I can tell. Unless...well...no, that's probably not a worry for at least a few years.”

“There's no way to tell if they'll be mages or not?” He asked.

“Unless they start burning down the gardens? Not really.” She said.

“Figures.” He said. “They say magic can do almost anything, and you still have to wait.”

Ari eyed the door briefly, glancing to the opposite door. “I don't know about you, but I'm not staying here. I want my own room back…”

Fenris sighed heavily. Stubborn was too soft a word after all. He accepted the other baby, unsure which was which just yet, waiting for her to hurry out of the bed. She peeled off her gown, a plain white thing, hunting down her own clothes. Not that he'd ever complain about seeing her like that, but she had to be really uncomfortable with it to want out of them so quickly. She went to take one back, but he shook his head.

“Not yet. Worry about yourself for a change. I think I can deal with this for a bit.” He said.

It was as much that as he felt unexpectedly less bothered by it than he thought. What he wasn't prepared for was the rush of people that took notice and came to investigate. As if they'd never seen children before, and so help him if anyone managed to wake them up. Thinking that, he scanned the yard, frowning. He hadn't quite realized just how dangerous this place was. Not just the scheming social climbers who might as quickly turn on her as help her, but the weapons, armed people all around.

When they had managed to get back to her room, he looked around, a small bed already moved in. Who had that sent up? He put the twins down to rest, collapsing on the bed beside her.

“This place needs a lot of work.” He stated pointedly.

“Well, look at you. Already thinking ahead, I hadn't even considered that…I suppose it's something to mention at the war table…” she said thoughtfully. “Now how about a hint as to what you're up to?”

He looked very serious, turning, he reached for her hands, pinning them above her head loosely. He attacked both sides of her neck with gentle nips, slipping his fingers firmly between hers, going for her lips. His tongue delved in, just enough to tease before he pulled away, letting go.

“Is that really it?” She asked curiously.

All that secrecy and the urgent need to go somewhere, she had to imagine he was plotting something different. She wasn't quite sure what.

“Yes, that's my plan, now stop asking. You'll find out when it happens.” He said.

“That's so unkind.” She pouted.

Fenris gave a slight shrug, drawing her against his chest lazily. “Being impatient isn't going to get you answers any faster.”

Chapter Text

Several days later, things were finally feeling back to normal. Ari was hunched over the desk, reading through a monstrous pile of requisitions and requests, different reports on matters looked into while they were gone, all in need of her signature.

 

“Doesn't Cullen usually do that?” Fenris asked.

 

“Everyone does. Josie, Leliana and Cullen. They all handle different paperwork. I have the pleasure of reading and approving all this.” She said, waving her hands at the pile in mock enthusiasm.

 

Fenris glanced at the pile. He couldn't read much of it, but the few words he could make out were enough to convince him he didn't care what they had to say. He noticed different stacks, she was always unusually organized.

 

“What are those for?” He asked.

 

“Approved, acknowledged, refused, and absolute trash.” She mumbled.

 

“What do you consider garbage?” He wondered.

 

Ari picked up the top of the pile, clearing her throat. “Dear Inquisitor Lavellan, I hope this missive finds you in good health and fine spirits. I happened to be on holiday in Val Royeaux during your last visit. You may not remember me, though I was in the shop whilst your were browsing the wares. I am well versed in the tales of your heroics, and I offer you the great fortune of marriage. Please send your favorable reply swiftly. Yours truly, Lord Aristide of Lydes.” Shrugging, she dropped it like it burned her, letting it flutter back to the pile. “Like I should be grateful for that trash.”

 

Fenris wrinkled his nose at that, scowling. “And you get those often, do you?”

 

“Daily, usually several. For nearly an entire year. They think because I'm not human I'll be thrilled to marry into nobility, to have to play loving object to someone who will never see me as an equal but a trophy.” She spat. Eyeing the next page, she groaned, reluctantly penning her signature on the page. “As if I care who owns the damned cheese knife, have it back, this isn't my problem.”

 

Fenris set Haleir back in the bed for a nap, Atlas curled up next to them, stubby tail wagging slightly. He circled to her back, kneading her shoulders, her head dropping with a moan of relief. Within minutes, she was practically a puddle against the desk, still trying to continue her work, though focusing on reading was too hard. Perhaps no one would be pleased at the delay, but she hardly cared. There was a knock at the door, and he let up, laughing at the way she whined when he stopped.

 

“That might be important.” He suggested.

 

Reluctantly, she stood up, shuffling down the steps to open the door. Ada wasted no time pushing past her, rushing right up to sit on the couch.

 

“Hello to you as well?” She mumbled in confusion.

 

“Right, good evening.” Ada replied distractedly.

 

Fenris caught up to her, guiding her out the door before she had a chance to question it.

 

“You need a break, so we're taking one.” He said.

 

“My work…the boys…” she managed.

 

“Will still be there when we return.” He assured her.

 

He led her to the gardens, suspiciously empty. At this time of day, they were usually packed. People relaxing, reading, or enjoying the sights. He avoided the benches, tugging her down on his lap in the grass. He reached into the bushes, pulling out a length of cloth wrapping something. The sky was streaked in color, hints of darkness settling in, and the faintest suggestion of stars beginning to show, distracted, she barely noticed the glass he handed to her. Ari blinked curiously, taking a sip, staring at him as if trying to figure out what he was up to. He directed her attention to a tray filled with fruit and some kind of sweets she hadn't seen before.

 

“You haven't eaten all day. I've been paying attention.” He said, keeping an arm around her.

 

It was true, she had gotten so caught up she barely noticed someone had brought her something earlier, returning it untouched. There was just so much paperwork to deal with, and tending to the boys, though Fenris had been kind enough to keep them busy for a while so she could work. Ari sighed, he went to the trouble, and now that her focus had been taken from her work she noticed she was starving. She picked up a few pieces, setting them in the fold of her robe, picking at it between drinks. He nipped her ear lightly, pleased with the face she made.

 

“At lath ma da’asha.” He whispered, hoping he didn't butcher it.

 

Ari covered her mouth with the back of her hand, quickly swallowing to avoid choking. She hadn't expected to hear anything like that here, least of all from him. She had taught Cullen a little before, but nothing like that, and he wasn't likely to tell him that anyway. Where did he pick it up? Giving up asking questions , she turned, kissing him briefly, though he snagged her again, drawing her back. His hand left her side, tangling in her hair. Barely aware of anything beyond this, she thought she heard music, so faint that she couldn't be sure if she was imagining it or not. They sat like that for a little while longer, before he stood with her. He had to wonder if she'd ever figure out just how much work went into all of this. It didn't matter if it made her smile, then it was all worth it, regardless of the result.

 

“I hear you're good on your feet.” He said.

 

“Now I wonder where you heard that from?” She asked.

 

“That's not important.” He told her, going to open one of the hall doors, the music she thought she imagined much louder now. He returned to her, trying to remember how it was supposed to go. He'd seen it often enough, but he'd never actually done it. “Let’s see if the stories are right.”

 

He pulled her closer, guiding a hand to his shoulder. The almost awestruck way she gazed up at him made everything feel better, he'd managed to surprise her at least, he doubted she'd notice if he wasn't very good. He'd heard she had no formal experience and she'd simply winged it at the Winter Palace, but if that was indeed the case, she surely picked it up very quickly. There was a lightness to her moves, a grace to her steps he'd never seen from her before. After this long, how is it there were still new things to learn about her? Oh, he knew there were a thousand stories he hadn't heard, plenty he didn't know about her past, her life, but he had mistakenly believed he'd seen everything there was to observe about her. The song began to slow, fading, dipping her back for just a moment. Her hold on him was gentle, she trusted him, and he wondered why. After all the bad, she still trusted him, even when he'd been more than willing to prove he didn't trust her for the longest time. He stole another quick kiss, putting a finger to her lips when he pulled away, cutting off any interruption.

 

“I've got one last thing I want to show you.” He said.

 

He reached into one of the small pouches lining his belt.

 

“Close your eyes…” he instructed.

 

Ari obeyed without question, curious, but not concerned. He reached for her hand, slipping it on her finger, her hands delicate, softer than he figured they should have been, untouched by her spells. One small part of her untouched by all that she'd done, all that she survived.

 

“Can I look now?” She asked.

 

“If you like.” He said.

 

Ari opened her eyes, bringing her hand up curiously. The tiny, intricate patterns on the band were immediately familiar to her, she'd grown up seeing these. Each one handmade and blessed, now she was really curious.

 

“This is Dalish...it's-” she began.

 

“I know what it is.” He told her.

 

“Then...you want to…?” She mumbled, unable to finish the question.

 

“Would I have given it to you if I didn't?” He asked quietly, “yes, I'm asking. I mean it.”

 

Ari nearly crashed into him, her lips colliding with his, all he could do was hold onto her in the hopes that this time she wouldn't go away. When she broke the kiss, he tilted his head, staring at her intently.

 

“Is that your way of saying yes?” He asked.

 

Ari couldn't recall how to speak for just a moment, nodding quickly. Fenris smiled, though it faded on the realization the Varric had been right all along. He hated admitting that, and now, he felt compelled to thank him. No doubt that meant he'd have to pay a substantial bar tab now. He had gotten lucky enough to find people willing to pay for his help, and even more so that there happened to be a clan passing through the Hinterlands. He'd worked to make sure he could pay for it, only to find them willing to give it freely in exchange for dispatching a group of dragonlings that were getting too close to the camp. All of that on the chance she might agree to marry him. He considered it for weeks, torn between wanting to show her how serious he was and thinking she just wasn't interested in something that permanent, that maybe he wasn't. He liked the idea of being able to leave if he felt the need, but in the end, his desire to keep her won out.

 

“You can just tell Lord what's his name you're mine. I'm not letting anyone take you from me.” He growled.

 

Ari nodded, realizing finally that she hadn't let go of him, but she didn't want to, not yet. Her stomach dropped at the thought that now she had to try and find a way to refuse Cullen. It was bound to hurt regardless of what she said or did, but she couldn't help but want to figure out how to soften the blow somehow. Eventually, they made their way back to her room, Ada probably was ready to be relieved. She was leaned over the bed, making faces at the twins, smiling when they seemed to enjoy it. Hearing the sound on the steps, she stood up, her eyes immediately on the way they held hands, the ring on her finger. Ada looked away, though Ari didn't miss the look of disappointment that crossed her face. She nodded once, walking past them. Stopping at the top of the stairs, she glanced back.

 

“You had better take damn good care of her. One wrong move, one unkind word, and I will end you myself.” She threatened quietly. “Welcome to the family…”

 

Ada left the room quickly, leaving a confused Fenris and an apologetic Ari.

 

“I'm sorry. She's...she's like that.” She mumbled in an attempt to explain.

 

“It's fine. She cares for you, I'd be more suspicious if she didn't react like that.” He said, shrugging.

 

“I suppose you're right. Better her than my brother or my father, I guess.” She sighed.

 

The mountain of papers on her desk were calling to her, but instead, she headed for the bed, allowing herself to fall unguarded, landing face first on the mattress, burying her face in the pillow. Fenris joined her, staring up at the canopy. He always disliked this bed, it felt too pretentious, but it made up for it in comfort, at least. He had no idea how this worked, he'd never been in this position before. Was he meant to stay here with her now, or did he stay in his own room? It didn't really matter, aside from a bed, he had nothing in that room, it was no hardship to leave it behind, nothing to move if he came here. Either way, it seemed best just to enjoy the rest of the night and deal with the details another time. He reached over, holding her to him, burying his face against her shoulder. Ari yanked the blanket up, muffling a yawn.

 

“I know...I'll get to sleep in a bit. I'm sure you're tired too.” She murmured.

 

“You stayed up with them last night. If they need anything, I'll take care of it.” He mumbled.

 

“It's no trouble.” She said.

 

“It isn't for me either. Just get some sleep.” He said flatly.

 

“Alright...if you're sure.” She sighed.

 

“They're my children. You can let me worry about it sometimes. Take care of yourself, so I don't have to worry about you too.” He said, squeezing her gently.

 

Ari turned in his arms, planting a soft kiss on his cheek before settling in again. More tired than he guessed by how quickly she dozed off. He wasn't sure he believed in the Maker, however hard he tried, but if he did, she was more than enough proof for him. At least in his eyes, she was the most beautiful woman he'd ever met, and beyond that, she loved him. Now, she had given him children, and was going to be his wife. Despite how others saw him, how he might act, there was nothing that could have made him any happier, it wasn't possible. For all that she did, all the burdens and stress, she looked the most peaceful when she slept, felt the most relaxed in his arms. She was made for him, that was the one conclusion his mind could reach...

 

Chapter Text

I'll take this down sometime over the weekend. Basically I'll be away at Metacon starting tomorrow, so there may be an update or not depending on what's going on. 

If anyone is interested, I have Fenris and Cullen packed and ready to go. So there's that. 

Anyway, I love everyone, and thank you so much for the love and feedback you've left! I am so grateful, and for that reason, even away from home I will strive to update. If you happen to be at Metacon, please come say hi :)!

Chapter Text

Ari opened the letter, sighing. The seal on the envelope was awfully official to be just anyone. No, she'd seen it before on a few of the papers scattered on the war room table. King Alistair had seen fit to answer her letter. Cullen was the one who wanted this project off the ground, but it occurred to her she didn't particularly want to leave Skyhold. It was too familiar to her now, like a new home. It was completely unoccupied when they arrived, seemingly forgotten to time. That in mind, she had made a simple inquiry a month or so back. Could she kindly have it? She'd passed on many offers and gifts of land, reasonably concerned with the future strings of accepting such offers. If she approached someone she'd helped before with a request, she imagined he'd be willing to part with it considering he probably also had no idea it existed before he'd heard of it. Fenris stopped behind her, sweeping her hair to the side, nibbling her neck in another attempt to get her mind off work. It wasn't that she couldn't manage, between the healers and her own magic, she'd been quite able to almost from the day after, it was just that there was still a surprising amount left to do.

 

“What's that?” He asked, his words barely understood against her skin.

 

“A letter from the King.” She said.

 

“Nothing important then.” He replied.

 

His fingers grazed her markings, his mouth moving upward towards her ear. Her eyes closed, her hold on the letter loosening. Fenris reached to take it from her, and she reached blindly to try and get it back.

 

“Fenris…” she mumbled, intending to argue the importance, but it came out more like a whimper.

 

“I'll give it back. After you take a break. You don't really have any reasons not to. Josephine has the boys, there's nothing demanding your attention but me…” he whispered.

 

He had a point, the letter could wait, and Josie insisted on taking Haleir and Fen’an for a while, it wasn't like they didn't have plenty of time right now, something of a luxury now. His hand slid down her throat, picking the buttons on her blouse. Ari shrugged out of it slowly, her bra falling off the opposite direction shortly after.

 

“I'm sorry I haven't been able to make much time for you lately…” she sighed.

 

“You're worth the wait. You always were.” He said. “Besides, all this stress can't be good for you. I can help.”

 

“Oh? You can? Well, that I'd like to see.” She teased.

 

Fenris pulled her chair back, bending to pick her up. She brought her legs around his waist, her arms circling his neck. He laughed quietly, watching her with a curious expression.

 

“Do you really think I'd drop you? I'm a lot stronger than I look, and you certainly don't weigh that much.” He said.

 

Fenris lowered her to the bed, kissing her, meaning to be gentle though it ended up being rougher than he intended, mildly surprised when her hands disappeared in his hair, meeting his force eagerly. She was something else, and the more he considered that, the more convinced he was that she absolutely suited him. He pulled the leather lacing completely from her trousers, pushing them down with her panties, letting her kick them off at her ankles. He didn't really like the idea, but he knew better by now. When she wanted to work, nothing could get it completely off her mind. This though, as much as he disliked it, he was willing to give it a go. The angle would be a little awkward, but she'd adjust to it. Fenris held her hands, bringing them on either side of the bedpost. Ari glanced at it, trying to figure out what the point was, until he took her laces and tied her wrists against it. Tugging at it firmly, it came as a surprise that they were too tight to break. She'd heard plenty of Bull’s stories, plenty familiar with the concept, but if it was Fenris trying it, she gathered they'd be loose enough to slip fairly easily.

 

“What's with this?” She asked.

 

“Do I actually have your attention? I don't think I do. I know somewhere in that head of yours you're still thinking about that letter. I'll let you go when the only thing you can think about is me and what I'm doing…” he said.

 

This was an interesting new side to him, and the unusual thing was a sudden desire to provoke him, if only to find out how far he was willing to run with it, or if she could make him abandon his mission.

 

“I see. So far, I'm still really invested in slogging through all those reports. I think I'd really like to see what's been going on. I hear they've been getting more detailed recently.” She sighed, wondering if he'd take the bait.

 

“Seriously? Even you couldn't possibly be interested in that crap.” He frowned.

 

Fenris backed away just enough to get out of his clothes, made less complicated by a recent lack of armor. The sharp edges weren't safe enough, and he could easily get by without it. Besides, it just meant she might change her mind quicker. He knew very well that she liked the way he looked just as much as he liked her. Unfortunately for him, he recalled her breasts being off limits, too sore, she'd said. It wasn't much of a dilemma, he could come up with a list of other things he knew she liked.

 

“I don't have to be interested, it's in the job description. Taking it serious is part of doing the best I'm capable of.” She told him, barely able to avoid smiling.

 

Fenris pried her legs apart, fondling the length of her legs, starting at her hips and working slowly to her thighs. Ari was torn between giving in and trying harder, regretting that he knew her vulnerabilities so well. He bent lower, trailing light kisses along her thighs, keeping his eyes on hers. When she got used to it, he bit marks across her thighs, bright red spots dotting a clear trail. Testing her restraints again, she quivered, trying to pull her legs out of his range. Hard to keep this game up if he got too close so quickly.

 

“It looks like I'm starting to change your mind…” he chuckled quietly.

 

“I don't know about that. Maybe I'll even go watch the drills. I haven't done that in some time.” She managed, not nearly as playful sounding as before, her voice nearly failing.

 

“So stubborn. Even like this, you can't resist making things difficult. I suppose I'll just have to keep trying then.” He sighed.

 

“What else have you go-- ah!” Her words fading in favor of a sharp gasp, her eyes squeezing shut.

 

It was a perfect opportunity to sneak in another comment, throw her off just a little more, but this was much more satisfying. The way she raised her hips for him, even as she tried to pretend she wasn't fully focused on him was cute. It still struck him as odd that anyone might enjoy being bound like this. That anyone was willing at all felt weird. It was fascinating to watch her work so hard for more contact, so insistent that she'd rather be doing anything else, yet now she was too busy pleading with him between gasping cries. It worked best like this, normally, she made it difficult to think, and at times he hadn't done as much for her as he wanted. She shied away from this normally, which again worked perfectly for the most part, but now, she didn't have enough leverage to resist, and how easily she was falling apart for him was all too pleasant.

 

Ari dug her heels firmly into the mattress, her hips pressed harder against his hand and mouth, panting heavily. Yes, she wouldn't hold out much longer, and he had no intention of stopping a moment before, but he also wasn't about to let her go or move on until she admitted her mind was on him. Her skin prickled in goosebumps, her head falling to the pillow heavily. Pulling back from her, he didn't let up completely, purposely overwhelming her. This was providing more opportunities than he expected.

 

“I'll stop if you tell me what's on your mind now…” he said, admiring the pink tones flushing her body. “I want to know it all…”

 

Ari lifted her head just enough to look at him, biting her lip. She was bold enough to tease if it meant getting to him, but not enough to be honest with her own needs. If he had his way, that would end today.

 

“I swear, it's all you, only you. I don't think I could concentrate enough to read or sign anything…” she managed.

 

“That's not a bad start...now...how about you tell me what you really want?” He challenged her.

 

Shaking her head, she frowned. “I can't. I can't do that…”

 

He leaned over her, nibbling her earlobe lightly, his breath heavy against it.

 

“It's just me, remember? You can tell me anything, no one else will hear it…” he told her.

 

It didn't matter that he had a point. It wasn't even so much telling him that bothered her, so much as she already knew how it felt for him and what it was she'd really be asking. Not something she could do for anything.

 

“Do whatever you like. I won't ever ask.” She sighed.

 

Fenris turned his head, pointing to his ear. “Then whisper it, let me at least decide if it's too much.”

 

Her face turned a new shade of red, shaking her head again, throwing her off again, waiting just a little longer before pulling his hand back slowly. Finally able to cool down and relax for a moment, she tested the restraints once more, confronted by that same wicked smirk. He really wasn't going to let her go if she didn't tell him then…

 

Waving him back down, she could barely bring herself to tell him, her expression guilty. Sighing, he untied her, drawing her up onto his lap.

 

“Is that all? Your concern is fine, but I'm not as fragile as you. I can handle the pain just fine if that's what you want. After all…” he said, reaching for her hand, circling the anchor a few times. “This hurts too. I've seen the way you try to hide it. It's getting worse, isn't it?”

 

“That's hardly true. It's the same as ever, doesn't hurt at all.” She lied.

 

“Ah. Speaking of dishonesty...I haven't forgotten that I intended to punish you for that business with Mythal and the Well. However, that can wait this time.” He reminded her.

 

Really, he was tired of waiting, all the build up had been difficult for him as well. Fenris pushed her thighs apart, holding her so she wouldn't fall off. Bringing her down, he sighed against her neck. Funny to think before her this would have held no appeal, and yet because it had played such a large part of their time together back then, it had accidentally ended up a bigger part of his life than he meant it to be. Still though, she said she'd only slept with Cullen once, and she refused him, so maybe he was over thinking matters.

 

Reaching for her marked hand, he slid his fingers between hers, replacing his hold on her. Guiding her rhythm until she had it down, he let her take over, lavishing her neck with light nips.

 

“Doesn't it...concern you at all, that...the last time you saw me like this, I nearly killed you?” He asked guiltily. “I could seriously hurt you…”

 

“I trust you. I want you to trust yourself around me too…” she said.

 

It shamed him to admit the thought made him nervous. After everything, he really hadn't expected her or anyone else to embrace that part of him, but he'd seen most of her sides, there was no reason to hide what she already knew. Needing the distraction, he tightened his hold on her, taking over, snapping up against her. She made it so hard to think, nothing springing to mind save for her and those sounds she made, echoing in his head. The door opened, quick steps on the stairs sounding in the room. Fenris stared, aggravated by the interruption. Without thinking about it, the glowing patterns on his skin reflected off hers.

 

“Inquisitor, did you receive a letter from -- Maker, I'm so sorry.” Cullen mumbled.

 

“Yes, by all means if that's your thing, I'm not going to say anything about it. But seriously, get the hell out of here, come back later if you must.” Fenris growled.

 

With her help, they managed to untie the drapes around the bed, waiting until he heard the door close again. Honestly he imagined they'd probably have gotten caught ages ago, but it did nothing to improve his mood. Did no one knock anymore?

 

“Sorry…” Ari murmured.

 

“Why are you the one apologizing?” He asked.

 

“About the interruption…” she said.

 

Nudging her down against the pillows, he ran his hands along her back before settling against her hips.

 

“Not your fault. Besides, doesn't feel like it put you off any.” He said. “Me neither…”

 


 

Fenris waited for Cullen to finish his business with the soldier. The man saluted and left, and he took note of his presence shortly after.

 

“I suppose you came to lecture me, or perhaps try to rub it in a little?” He asked, his face bright red.

 

“No. You said something about a letter, Ari fell asleep, I couldn't read much of it. If you think it's the same, then what exactly does the King want with her?” He asked.

 

Cullen sighed, picking it up once more. “I really can't be sure. The clear thing is that she sent him a letter, he says he was sorry the response took so long…he wants to meet with her and I in person, for several days in fact.” He looked at him for a moment before focusing on his desk instead. “He wants you to come as well.”

 

“Me? Why me?” He asked suspiciously.

 

“You're involved as well. Besides, if you think I'm still trying to get to her, wouldn't you rather come with to make sure I stay away or what have you?” He said.

 

“Psh. I've already won, what could you do now?” He grunted. “I'll go, but it's for her, not for you or him.”

 

“I've planned the trip for two days from now, so she has time to prepare whatever she might need. When she wakes up, you should let her know.” Cullen suggested.

 

“Why can't you do it if you've made all these plans?” He asked. He'd tell her, but he was a little curious.

 

“I'm not sure it's best. I'm sure she doesn't want to see me just yet. I should have knocked, I always knock, I'm not sure what got into me…” he mumbled.

 

“You know...you underestimate her. That's half your problem. You think her sensitive, breakable. You worry too much that she's going to think badly of you, and you hold back around her. You knew her a lot longer than I did, how is it I figured that out so quickly?” Fenris told him.

 

“I know very well what she's capable of, and the kind of woman she is. I just thought I could help her separate herself from the Inquisitor and remember that she didn't always have to be tough…” Cullen admitted, unsure why it mattered now.

 

“My point is, you should be the one to tell her. I'm not your messenger. Besides, she'd hate being treated differently. Whether I like it or not, she thinks of you as her family. Now...I'm on my way to pick up my sons, and then I'm going to take a nap. If you want her to know about these arrangements, I suggest you tell her yourself later.” Fenris said.

 

Stopping just by the door, he glanced back once more. “Right. If you do that again, accidentally or otherwise...I won't be so forgiving about it. For her sake, I would hold back, but you'll still be picking yourself up from across the yard.”




Chapter Text

Ari busied herself packing for the trip, though a basic inspection said it was mostly just baby stuff. They were more alike in that way too. She didn't appear to have anything here that she put there. The only thing she packed for herself being two dresses that she must have imagined would suit an audience with royalty. He saw the outfit she wore to the Winter Palace, if those fit in Orlais, those would absolutely suit Ferelden. Then again, he'd never seen her in a dress, just different robes mostly. Frankly he was surprised that for all the clothes they left her, none of it looked like it suited her. She closed her bag, about to sit down when Haleir started crying. Ari picked him up, her expression uncomfortable.

“You feeling alright?” Fenris asked.

“Yeah I'm fine...absolutely fine.” She said.

Fenris stretched out on the bed, staring at her seriously. He was getting much better at telling when she was lying.

“Tell me, I don't want to worry.” He said.

He really would, wouldn't he? If someone had told her that before, she would have died laughing. Then again, Varric said he eventually opened up more before, it made sense that he was being more honest now, could be he was just more comfortable with her now. Still a strange thing to see, she'd gotten use to his prickly nature.

“I...think I was wrong.” She mumbled.

Fenris raised a brow at that, it wasn't that she wasn't wrong on occasion or even that she didn't admit it freely, but trying to figure out what specifically she was trying to say she was wrong about. He reached for Haleir, but she turned slightly, shaking her head.

“Now I see. I thought you said we wouldn't know for a long time? You said magic takes time to develop…” he said.

“I said I was wrong. Normally it is like that...I just didn't account for...unique circumstances. No one really understands what the Anchor does, and the Well, Mythal...maybe it accelerated the process, I don't know…” she sighed.

Fenris took him from her, trying to ignore the shocks. She was better at that much, then again, she was probably used to it. He hadn't quite forgot the scar she bore from backfiring spells.

“No, you don't have to-” she began.

“I do. I told you I could accept you as you are, this is my son. I'm not leaving again, that means I have to get comfortable with this right?” He said.

“Fenris...I know your feelings on mages and magic, I can't ask that of you.” She said.

“You didn't ask. I said it. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. I'm still wondering why I had to fall for you out of everyone in this world, I still end up with a mage…” he complained. Before she could answer, he leaned in, kissing her. “You know I wouldn't have asked you to marry me if I didn't love you. I want this. I didn't think I'd ever be the type to want to settle down, I liked knowing I could just leave whenever I felt like it...I can't understand what makes you so different.”

Ari kneaded her hand uncomfortably. Not long now, something was coming, but aside from vague riddles, she had no idea what to expect. For once, she found herself frustrated with how roundabout things always were when it came to elves. Just once it would be welcome to be told directly what was happening instead of trying to piece together the answer out of bits that made no sense.

“After all this I didn't quite expect I’d live long enough to fall in love. Let alone have a family.” She admitted.

“Wait. Why wouldn't you live?” He questioned.

“Ah, well it was just something I was told. Varric said Solas kept the Anchor from killing me. Cassandra told me it was killing me too. I figured it might have already happened, but thankfully it appears to be a slow process. Considering that elves usually live longer than humans, I've got nothing but time. Although Solas said our people were once Immortal. I can't imagine what it would be like to live forever. Not sure I'd want to, honestly.” She said calmly.

No question then. After this business with the King was dealt with, he knew what the next matter had to be. If the mark was killing her, the easiest solution was to remove it, right? He hated the idea of having to ask, but Cullen surely had thoughts on the matter, that was the most promising lead he had. He already knew both him and Leliana had people hunting Solas, though last he heard they still had nothing. Short of finding the one person who seemed to know the most about it, the next best option would be trying to negate it. Doubtless she'd hate that, as a mage he was certain she shared the same distaste for the idea of being in their presence as most mages did. It wasn't like he was trying to have her put in a Circle, he wanted to help, that had to count for something.

Unfortunately it seemed they'd all be traveling together which left the time they set camp to talk to him in private about it. Initially he had planned to get the wedding out of the way in the city, somewhere nice, and she might have agreed to that, might have loved it, but he knew she'd want Ada there at least. That was a thought, there was nothing saying they couldn't bring someone else with. If Ari was going, she'd likely be quite happy to tag along. If nothing else, she might be able to convince her it was a good idea to let Cullen do what he could to help. It did nothing for him to imagine what that could entail considering he'd at least once had his hands all over her. He really wished there was another option. Before all this, he'd have likely said he didn't care what happened to her, and he would have meant it. Now, he was just thinking that he didn't want to find out if he could move on from her. The only thing he knew that might work was absolutely no option, blood magic could do just about anything. He wanted no part of exposing her to that, or worse, push her to it by accident. The Inquisition had no blood mages, and Cullen actively shared his distaste for it.

“Fenris?” Ari asked quietly.

“No blood magic, ever.” He said.

“Well...yes, of course not. I certainly don't have a desire to learn, and I think the boys are far too young to know what that is…” she murmured.

“I...was just trying to figure out how to get it out. The mark, I mean.” He admitted.

“And...blood magic bothered you?” She asked. “Well, Corypheus tried to get it out, and it didn't work. I'm not sure it's going anywhere.”

“It doesn't have to come out, just stopped.” He said.

“I've got plenty of time to figure that out. I'm not worried about it and you shouldn't either. I'm not going anywhere anytime soon. Varric is convinced I actually can't die.” She laughed.

“Perhaps he's right. You're too stubborn to die. After all, it seems a lot has tried.” Fenris agreed.

That wasn't going to stop him from trying to figure out how to stop it. As much as he wishes it had changed his mind. That still meant having to talk to Cullen. Whenever he thought about that guy he had the overwhelming urge to leave his marks all over her. Haleir had since fallen asleep, carefully sliding off the bed to set him down. He laid back down, pulling her closer. Ari laid her head on his chest, pulling his arm around her with a contented sigh. Maybe he was still concerned after all, or it could just be a strange need to tell her.

“You know...I'm not worried about you doing something stupid. I just like watching you fall asleep.” He said.

“You're unusually open today.” She observed.

“Don't make a big deal of it. I love you, I should be entitled to tell you how I feel from time to time without it being odd.” He said.

“You're right.” Ari said, looking up at him “why don't we go somewhere else and you can tell me more.”

Fenris wasn't quite sure what to say, trying to process her actually saying that. Beyond that he wasn't even sure she was serious. Ari got up and headed to the washroom, grabbing a clean robe on the way in. Getting back out of bed, he sighed, following her. As always, she was still finding ways to surprise him.

Chapter Text

The trip was over finally, but it hadn't at all gone as planned. Ada had both refused to come with and insisted on taking care of the boys while they were gone. The reasoning she offered was at least decent, though Fenris couldn't quite be sure if it was the truth. Ada reasoned that such a long trip would leave them vulnerable to illness, and they'd be more focused on them than the business at hand. Cullen had said they were asked to go with too, but that didn't explain why Alistair had insisted on talking to her privately. Cullen glanced at him for just a moment, and he looked the other way . He had nothing to say to him in particular and he didn't consider him close enough to engage in idle chatter just yet. He had to admit he at least disliked him a little less these days, but he wasn't telling him that.

 

“Certainly is taking long enough, isn't it?” Cullen sighed.

 

“I suppose.” Fenris replied.

 

He was about to mention a curiosity as to the reason, when the door opened. Ari stood in the doorway, beaming with pride at the rolled parchment she held. She didn't say what it was for, but instead waved them in. Fenris actually exchanged a brief glance with Cullen before they proceeded in. Taking seats on either side of her, Alistair paced the room for a few seconds before he sat as well. Perceiving their confusion, he had to laugh a bit. They really had no idea what this was about.

 

“I suppose several congratulations are in order.” He said finally. “I hear things are going quite well lately.”

 

He was poised to continue until the door opened again, and a woman moved to sit beside him. Cullen seemed to recognize her, but he said nothing. Ari watched the awkward way she brought her hand to rest on her stomach, offering a bright smile despite that. Leliana mentioned they were trying for children, and it appeared the effort had finally paid off. Alistair turned his attention to her.

 

“I was just congratulating the Lady Inquisitor.” He told her.

 

“Yes, I understand you recently had children of your own.” She said warmly. “Don't be surprised, word travels fast here. A certain nightingale couldn't resist telling us of your newest recruits.”

 

“Aside from that, getting to the point of why you're here…” Alistair said, trying not to be too distracted. “Ari here wrote some time back with a request.”

 

“Ariane.” Fenris muttered.

 

“Hm?” He hummed.

 

“You called her Ari. Her name is Ariane.” He said.

 

Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose. He was no master of romance, but even he could smell the jealousy from here. Ari was pretty special in his mind too, he'd conceded defeat as best he could manage, but it seemed unlikely the King would abandon his apparently pregnant wife to pursue her. He decided against trying to clear it up. Alistair picked up on it on his own, smiling slightly. He was a lot sharper than he remembered him being.

 

“Ah, of course. My apologies. Ariane had a request. I had to look into it, and see how to go about the proper way of fulfilling it. Skyhold is technically not owned by anyone anymore. I could find no records on whether anyone actually owned it on paper.” He said. “That being said, I had her fill me in on why she wanted it, and I was satisfied. I've given her complete ownership of it, though it won't be fully in effect until after the Inquisition’s purpose has been completely fulfilled, per her request.”

 

“That's great for her but why did you request us by name if your business was with her?” Cullen asked.

 

“She told me it would help you as well. You were looking for a location for a clinic, she tells me. I'm also told that Fenris is to serve it as well. I thought since this appears to be a joint venture it would be best to discuss it further. However, I didn't expect it would take so long to write out the necessary paperwork. If you don't mind I'd like to pick this matter up tomorrow evening over dinner. Ideally I'd have managed this all today, but running a country is harder than you might expect.” Alistair said apologetically.

 

A servant of the castle was kind enough to show them to their rooms, three separate rooms. Fenris was quick to abandon his in favor of joining her, however. He didn't want to admit that he was already used to waking up next to her, and the idea of sleeping anywhere that wasn't with her wasn't okay with him. Ari offered him a knowing glance when he walked in the door. Of course it didn't need to be said, she was rather perceptive as it was, she already seemed to know without a word said. Instead, she buried her face in the pillow, nuzzling the silky pillowcase appreciatively. He didn't care what it was made of, he'd slept on worse whatever it was. She was very taken with the feel of it, and instead of expressing his disinterest in it, he settled for watching her.

 

A suitcase with a few changes of clothes had been unpacked off the carriage and set to the side already, and she helpfully informed them when dinner was on the way to the rooms. Tearing her focus away from the silk sheets finally, she sighed. Part of her could still go for a nap, despite having slept a little on the way, but part of her was fascinated with being here and wanted to explore the city proper. Fenris grabbed her hand, gently encouraging her to get back up. Lazily, she stood back up, following his lead just outside the castle, where he stopped.

 

“Well, I know this place about as well as you must, I'll follow you.” He mumbled.

 

Ari kneaded the back of her neck, a long, slow breath escaping. Blindly, she picked a direction and kept walking. There were criers in the marketplace, in itself a sight to see, but her intent was to keep going and circle back whenever they reached a dead end or a wall or something. She paused outside a relatively shabby looking building. The sign was nice, but gave no idea of what it was. She reached for the door, heading in. A flash of recollection hit him and Fenris quickly reached for her arm to draw her back. He'd heard of this place in the yard, she didn't want to be here, he was sure of it.

 

Fenris swore under his breath, heading in after her, bumping into her on the other side of the door. Ari stood frozen on the spot, for the most part it was harmless, men and women scattered in the main area, seemingly waiting for something to happen, but he could tell where her focus was. Coming out of one of that back rooms was a man wrapped about the waist in a rumpled sheet. Her face was redder than he had ever seen it. He knelt, lifting her over his shoulder, carrying her out the door before setting her back down.

 

“This is not a tavern.” He said.

 

“I see that…” she managed, still trying to wrap her mind around the concept. The Dalish didn't particularly have an equivalent, though she recalled that some were more free about their business than others, not eager to be bound. “Was he…?”

 

“Naked under that sheet? Probably.” Fenris shrugged.

 

“So! The marketplace then.” She muttered, head hung in shame. “They were selling stuff from Orzammar. That's different. I should very much like to see that.”

 

“Of course.” He said.

 

Part of him suddenly wished he had invited Cullen along now. Imagine the both of them wandering in there by accident. Ah, missed opportunities. Maybe he could still get away with pointing him in its direction later. While he was thinking this, she seemed to have purchased some frankly very ugly dwarven vase, presumably in a misplaced attempt to distract herself from thinking about it too seriously. He really hoped she intended to give that to someone else, he couldn't imagine having to look at it daily. Yes, it was that ugly. He said nothing about it, she deserved a chance to do something with it before he’d say a word on it.

 

“Do you have any dresses?” He asked quietly.

 

“I have one. I believe you must have seen it before?” She said absently.

 

Fenris thought back, almost immediately recalling it as the one she was wearing when he left. The one she wore for Cullen. He remembered her looking more beautiful than he'd ever seen her, and it wasn't for him. He sighed, his blunt nails digging into his palms for just a moment. He certainly wasn't letting that one go, there was no way in hell she'd wear that.

 

“You could use a new one.” He said firmly.

 

“What? But I don't…” she began.

 

He reached for her hand, slipping his fingers between hers. Bringing it up, he kissed the back of her hand, not really concerned with who could be watching. He had long since learned this was just one way he could make her forget what she was saying. Indeed, she fell silent, letting him decide where to go next. She'd gather they wouldn't have too long to explore everything then, but they were supposed to be here for a few days, there was plenty of time.

Chapter Text

The sun had begun to disappear in the sky by the time they made it back. Ari set down two substantial bags, Fenris adding a few more to the neat pile, pausing to examine the door. Giving it only the briefest thought, he locked the door, the sound drawing her attention.

 

“I take it you’re looking forward to undisturbed sleep tonight?” she commented curiously.

 

“You’re not far off. About the undisturbed part, at least.” he said.

 

It occurred to her what he was hinting at, slow to gesture around the room as if to suggest this wasn’t the right place for it. He gently pushed her onto the bed, climbing over her, his hips keeping her in place. His fingers slid between hers, nipping along her jaw delicately, slowing more the closer he got to her lips, knowing how impatient she could be. His lips barely touched hers, teasing her with the promise of more but never quite giving in.

 

“You’re really not even a little interested? No one to bother us, no need to worry about interruptions this time…” he murmured.

 

“I know very well it’s as good a time as any...but what if we get in trouble?” she asked nervously.

 

“Why? Because the King is here? You don’t think he’s thinking the same thing?” he questioned, moving down to bite her throat loosely, her breath catching. Letting go of one of her hands, he swept her hair back, leaving a prominent red mark on her skin, chuckling at the way her hips jerked up against him. “This is no more or less dangerous than some of the other places we’ve chosen. Or have you already forgotten the Deep Roads?”

 

Ari had to concede he had a good point. She’d learned when to be quiet, enough that he’d even managed to make her forget where they were at times. Now it was a battle between whether the location was enough of a problem that she just couldn’t get past it. There was no way to know that the punishment he had been promising was about to come into play, or that it would absolutely be worth it in the end.

 

“Alright…” she murmured, pulling her hand free, reaching up to work on getting his shirt off. He leaned back just enough to give her enough space to pull it off, lost on the floor. Exhaling slowly, her eyes wandered slowly downward, hesitantly exploring the lines of muscle upward to his chest. He’d assured her before that he didn’t mind the discomfort, but it didn’t make her any less cautious with him. “Have I ever told you how stunning I find you?’

 

He stared at her in surprise. It was very rare for her to be so forward. Whether she perhaps indulged more than usual over dinner or it was just a passing mood, he found the compliment welcome. He took a moment to gauge the quality of the blouse she wore, a basic thing he was certain he’d seen quite a few of in her wardrobe, nothing she’d miss terribly. He grabbed the dagger from the sheathe on her belt, giving her no chance to wonder at his intentions for it.

 

“Hold still. I don’t want to hurt you…” he said.

 

Ari felt a curious rush of excitement, entwined tightly with a moment of panic, right up until he cut through the fabric, making a few more cuts, pulling it off her. Replacing the blade, her belt joined the scraps on the floor, her skin raised in goosebumps. Unconsciously, she arched up against him, her hips rocking under him. Closing the gap again, he nibbled her earlobe lightly, her fingertips digging against his hips with a soft whimper.

 

“Remember how I said I intended to punish you?” he asked almost innocently.

 

“Mhm…” she managed quietly.

 

“Guess what time it is?” he whispered.

 

He had to give it a little thought. He didn’t intend to hurt her, or at least if he did, not more than she was willing to handle. Somehow that wasn’t nearly as satisfying in his mind as what he settled on. Moving off her, he yanked her trousers down, her panties joining the growing heap. His could wait a bit longer, for this to work, he needed to focus on her for now. Getting comfortable at her back, he pulled her to him, Plenty content for now to deny her the things he knew she enjoyed most, offering her skin only occasional kisses, the lightest contact, his fingers barely touching her, out of view, like he was forbidding her from seeing him just yet. He liked the way she struggled for just a bit more, finally giving her that much. His fingers weaved a pattern along her sides, following the sensitive lines of her hips, not yet letting up completely. Leaving her wanting was unexpectedly interesting, watching the way her eyes fell halfway, fluttering. Her lips barely parted, verging on begging him to stop already, he was certain of that.

 

“Is...is it strange I imagined it would be much worse than this?” she sighed quietly.

 

“Of course not. I meant for you to think about it.” he said, not adding that this wasn’t even the worst of his plans. “Then again, if it’s too much for you already, all you have to do is tell me…”

 

Predictably, she bit her lip, willing herself not to say a word on the matter. That bit of shyness was going to backfire spectacularly. For the woman in charge of so much, who could give orders when it counted, couldn’t even manage to tell him that one simple thing. Hell, he was counting on it, very curious to know just how far he’d be able to take it before she might actually say it was too much. He didn’t need any advice to suspect she was simply content to let him do as he wanted, though he wasn’t sure there was such a thing as too much power for a mage, at least here, she was more than willing to give it all up for him.

 

“If you say nothing, should I assume you wish me to do whatever I like to you?” he asked, trying to provoke a response.

 

Again, she said nothing, though to his great surprise, she nodded. Confirming his suspicions, that was all he needed to know. Delving lower, he wasted no more time testing just how long she could manage to stay quiet, at what point did it become too much even for her? Ceasing just long enough to spread her legs further apart, he kissed the nape of her neck.

 

“Stay like this for me…” he told her.

 

He’d barely managed to hint at touching her before she tried for more, no patience even now. If it wasn’t as much a torture to himself as to her, he thought to tease her a little longer. Regrettably, he had to stop for now, though he already knew this much was unlikely to earn him much more than a stray heavy gasp at best. No, it was the main act he had planned that he expected her to fall apart on him. Thinking about it more, he thought it best to do only as much as he needed for now. Ari leaned slumped back against him, like her body was slowly giving out on her. Taking that as his sign, he stopped, moving away from her. Her head whipped back to watch him, this utter look of shocked disappointment on her face that forced him to hold back from giving it away with a far too obvious grin. Turning his back to her, he untied the lacing of his breeches, struggling out of them. Walking around the bed, he stopped in front of her, tugging her to the edge, hooking his arms under her legs, nodding for her to hold onto him. He lifted her easily, backing her against the wall, held up strictly by his firm hold on her, she glanced down worriedly, his body pinning her to the cold stone.

 

“I won’t let you fall…” he said.

 

He trailed his tongue against her neck, matching the mark he’d left earlier on the opposite side, her body heating up on his, choking back a faint moan. Arching upward against her, her teeth dug into her lower lip, struggling to stay quiet, her heart hammering against her chest. He let her think he’d keep it slow and gentle for a little while, clutching his shoulders loosely, waiting for the precise moment when she completely let her guard down, snapping up into her, her eyes flared open, staring down at him as though trying to warn him she was having trouble as it was. Far from slowing again, he gazed up at her, refusing to look away, a silent challenge to her. Her chest heaved, her shallow breaths breaking, cut by throwing everything she had into her focus. Fenris felt her fingers desperately kneading his chest, every inch of her flushed and damp. If ever there was a more perfect sight, he had yet to see it, Her body trembled, nails digging into his skin just a touch, enough to let him know she couldn’t keep up anymore. Where he had normally let up on her, overstimulating her raw nerves was exactly what he wanted this time.

 

At least in the room, just the sound of skin on skin was plenty loud, but the walls were thick, no way it left the confines of their temporary space. He kissed a slow trail from her throat, down between her breasts, her head tipped back against the stone, her legs tensed, low groans vibrating in her throat. Relentlessly, he kept up his rough pace, no more than he knew she could comfortably handle, monitoring her expression to ensure he hadn’t inadvertently hurt her, nearing his own limits. He was beginning to wonder if even like this, she’d manage to hold out, but her composure shattered finally, whimpering softly, almost apologetically at the broken silence.

 

“Gods, it’s too much, I can’t…” she cried.

 

For a moment, the world went silent, a heavy pounding on the wall separating them from Cullen’s room indicating they’d managed to wake him up, unpleasantly so, her face reddening shamefully. No longer holding back, he stilled long enough to let her body finish him off. Lifting her slightly, he let her down easily, not yet moving away from her, his hand slipping into her hair, a barrier from accidentally smacking her head into the wall, tongue teasing along her lips brushing slowly against hers when she opened up for him, melting into his arms gratefully. Breaking the kiss, he stared at her, unable to hold back from smirking now.

 

“And here I thought you were supposed to be quiet…” he said.

 

“I…” she mumbled guiltily, trying to hunt down the words she was looking for, unsuccessfully. “I really tried.”

 

Walking her back to the bed, he pulled her into his arms, drawing up the covers, kissing the top of her head. “I didn’t do it just for that. I just...want you to consider what you do a little more before you act. If I had lost you...if something happened to our sons….I couldn’t have lived with that. Can you do that for me? No more rushing into danger like that without thinking it over…”

 

Ari nodded slowly. At the time it seemed like the choice was obvious, but he was right, she really hadn’t considered anything beyond the possibility of Morrigan misusing it, despite the only evidence in her possession being how quickly she was willing to kill for it. Yet when it came to it, she backed down when she insisted she’d use it. For that decision, it could have turned out so much worse than it did, and not once did she consider herself, the children she was carrying or him in any of it.

 

“I promise. I’ll do better…” she agreed.

 

“That’s all I ask. I may not be very good with expressing my feelings, so let me make it clearer for you. I’m going to ask a lot more of you. Let me be selfish with you, I want you to myself, I want…” he sighed, thinking it was uncomfortable to be so open. “I want to grow old with you, I can’t do that if you get yourself killed.”

 

Ari rubbed at her eyes, sniffling quietly, and for a moment, he regretted making her cry again, until she snuggled closer to him, her lip quivering like it was a challenge to stop herself now.

 

“That’s probably the sweetest thing you’ve ever said to me…” she sighed.

 

He didn’t particularly think the idea was all that sweet or romantic, but if that really was the sweetest thing, perhaps he needed to work on it a little more…

Chapter Text

Much of the business they needed to discuss seemed like it was really meant for Ari or Cullen, though some of it was directed to him. He had no idea if they’d actually need more security or not. It was no lie to say he was one of the best, and with something worth protecting, he doubted they’d need anyone else, but then again, it couldn’t hurt. They’d have asked Ari how she felt about acquiring additional suppliers to keep her own end of this theoretical clinic going, if she was even around. He’d been enjoying the peace and quiet, her with her knees tucked to her chest, curled up against him. He couldn’t have asked for much more than that, until a knock at the door had to ruin everything. He’d assumed it was Cullen or perhaps some castle servant, wrongly. It was Neria, eager to take her shopping, said it was rare enough to find time to spend time with another woman. He assumed she was taking her for clothes based on the sole remark that a lady should absolutely have something better than old robes to wear. Ari pointed out she had clothes she mostly wore on short trips, but Neria said blood and dirt wasn’t something to get used to, that she had to learn that the hard way too.

 

So he and Cullen ended up trying to handle as much of this meeting as they could. Even Alistair seemed distracted, wondering what his wife was doing, perhaps. Either that or he still just wasn’t very good at the job despite how long he’d had it. Eventually, he leapt up, gesturing to the door.

 

“I’m going to get us some tea. Do you want some tea? I’ll get tea.” Alistair mumbled.

 

Technically, a guard ended up bringing it in, but he still set the little cups around the table and poured it. He kept glancing to the door.

 

“If you’re worried about her, don’t be. Ari doesn’t like causing pain, but if it came to it, she would.” Cullen told him.

 

“Hm? Oh...I’m not worried about that. Pregnant or not, she can hold her own. Which is to say I probably couldn’t even take her in a fight.” he admitted with a shrug. “I was just thinking, when she goes shopping, she usually comes back in something really nice…”

 

“Are you worried she’ll run your coffers empty?” Cullen asked, not quite sure what he meant.

 

“I’m beginning to question if you actually did anything with her to begin with. He means he’s thinking about what it’ll be this time.” Fenris snorted.

 

Alistair suddenly diverted his attention to them at the stray comment. He said nothing but the story was becoming a little more obvious now. Clearly there was some sort of triangle going on here. If he had to guess based solely on that one statement and the mildly alarming sounds he’d heard, Cullen had been edged out. Pure speculation and shockingly not-soundproof stone walls, of course, but he had to admit he enjoyed a little gossip here and there.

 

“Let’s not discuss that now. Besides, if you’d really like to talk so badly, let’s talk about what happened last night. What the hell you had to be doing to the poor girl.” he challenged.

 

“Evidently I must have been doing something you couldn’t if it’s a sound unfamiliar to you.” Fenris spat.

 

Their blooming argument was cut short by the sound of conversation across the hall, reminding everyone just how well the sound carried in the castle.

 

“Stop, stop, it’s not going to fit like that…” Ari complained.

 

“It will, I can promise you that. Here, just...bend over a little further and I’ll loosen you up a little bit more.” Neria sighed.

 

It was plain to see where everyone’s mind had gone, staring at the door in curious shock. What was she doing over there? Even Alistair wasn’t quite sure what to make of what they were hearing.

 

“Does that feel any better?” Neria questioned, testing the lacing against her fingers. “It’s about as loose as I can make it…”

 

Ari heaved a sigh. “Yes, so much better. I thought I might pass out…”

 

“Oh yes, that can happen if you’re not used to it. Now...shall we go see how the men have fared?” she asked playfully. “I’m interested to see just how they respond to the new Inquisitor.”

 

“What if…” Ari began.

 

“None of that now. Walk in there with your head high, just like I showed you, and I guarantee you’ll notice a difference.” Neria told her.

 

The conversation ceased, and Alistair quickly tapped the parchment scattered on the table. Cullen and Fenris snatched them up, unsure what half of it was anymore, completely distracted now. Neria reached the door first, her fingers drumming against the wood in excitement.

 

“I present to you the new and improved Lady Inquisitor Lavellan.” She announced eagerly with an exaggerated bow.

 

They peered at the door curiously, Ariane appearing just moments after, her head hung shyly. It seemed the woman had done more than just buy her new clothes, her hair fell in loose waves, two braids dangling down her chest. Her shoulders were completely exposed, the bare lines of her neck on full display, the rich red material turning her skin a rich caramel. It made sense now, how it looked like she was poured into it, the upper portion tight, laced fairly strictly, the skirt though... there were no words. There was nothing particularly scandalous about the ankle length of it, but the sides were completely missing, her hips on full display. Someone gasped audibly, but no one could say for sure who, none willing to admit it.

 

“For the record, I think the cut is lovely. I got her one in black as well.” She said proudly.

 

Nudging her side, Ari lifted her head. Neria gestured to a seat, and she gave a slight nod. Her hips swayed when she walked, and Fenris could feel any attempt at conscious thought slipping away. This woman knew what she was doing, but it was an unfair thing to do to someone who wasn’t expecting to see something like that.

 

“You look…” Cullen began.

 

“Don’t you dare ruin this for me.” Fenris muttered under his breath.

 

He tried to imagine how the black might suit her, though he abruptly stopped. Something about the image ended up dangerously testing his self-control. No, this one was just fine. Maker, she was wearing makeup too. Even her nails were a deep red that matched the dress.

 

“Normally I might try to continue, but it seems my wife is a little too good at what she does. How about we call it here and pick it up tomorrow?” Alistair suggested.

 

“A fine idea. Looking like that, it would be a shame to be cooped up inside all day.” She said.

 

“Go out...like this?” Ari mumbled.

 

“Why not? You’re a woman of the people, what harm could it do to be out among them?” she said.

 

Cullen chuckled to himself. If that was the plan for her, he could just about imagine how well Fenris would take it knowing every eye was on her. Still, he might not have been able to properly comment on it, but that was fine, he could think of nothing appropriate that didn’t fall short of the way she looked like that. He wasn’t sure what he was worried about with her though, it was only too obvious her attention was on him. It didn’t honestly matter if the entire city stopped to drool over her, as long as she had his focus. That and he had left his marks all over her, he was sure of it, though he could only see two right off. Someone would have to be a fool to make a move on her. No mistake, he still absolutely loved her too, but he had a desire to live. Fenris slid an arm around her shoulder, following her lead out the door before he stopped. Sighing to himself, he leaned back into the room, staring right at him.

 

“You can come with, if you like…” he offered begrudgingly.

 

He hadn’t lied when he said she thought of him as family, and as much as he wanted her all to himself, it really wasn’t fair to cut him out entirely at the risk of her happiness. This must be why he offered the job to him to begin with. Even if he couldn’t keep her content, he’d tolerate him for her sake. Cullen wasn’t an awful person, he guessed. Still, his threat was still good. If he made any move towards her, he planned to put a stop to it, and quickly.

 

“Oh...sure.” he said, clearly surprised at the offer. “I mean...if it’s alright.”

 

Ari nodded, smiling a little. “Of course it’s alright.”

 

“This is what I like to see. Everyone getting along. Everyone happy.” Alistair said. “Everyone gone for a while. Shall we take a little break too, my love?”

 

Neria took his hand, waiting until they were out the door. “I think that sounds lovely.”

Chapter Text

Much of the day actually went quite well. Fenris and Cullen made passing attempts at conversation, and didn’t end up scuffling in the middle of the city. Ari wasn’t quite sure what happened to cause this, but she wasn’t going to question it and ruin whatever kind of magic it must be. She knew it couldn’t simply be because they were slowly warming to each other on their own, but she wasn’t quite ready to believe it was all because of her. They sat off in the grass to pick at lunch and talk, but it was her suggestion that surprised them both in equal measures. Fenris assumed if nothing else she’d surely want her sister present, and Cullen figured he absolutely wasn’t welcome to come at all.

 

“What do you think of this place?” she asked.

 

“It’s nice enough, I guess. Do you like it?” Fenris wondered.

 

“I do. I’m really surprised, from the stories I’d heard it wasn’t in the greatest shape. I suppose it’s been close to twelve years since the Blight ended, that’s a long time to make improvements.” She says with a wise nod.

 

“I’m willing to be Neria is still the one in charge. It was like that even during the Blight. Alistair follows her lead like a lost mabari.” Cullen laughs.

 

Fenris gives him a look like he’s the last person who should be saying that about someone else, and the expression on his face is one that says he knows he’s right about that much at least.

 

“Was there a reason you’re asking?” Fenris asked suspiciously.

 

“I was thinking this was a nice place for a wedding…” she mumbled quietly.

 

“Without your sister?” he asked, wondering if she might have forgot she stayed behind.

 

“Ada...can be a little testy at times. I’m not trying to be impolite, but she doesn’t like you very much, not yet. I’m very sure you’ll grow on her in no time, but she’s still a little disappointed in me too. I’m not sure she’d show up even if was at Skyhold. But...I mean, you’re here, I’m here, Cullen’s here. Maybe even the King and Queen might be willing to officiate?” she suggests, prodding her fingers together like she completely expects to be shot down. “It’s only a thought, of course.”

 

Cullen was troubled by it, but he forced a smile despite it. Of course he had hopes she’d reconsider, that she might somehow change her mind still, but there was a finality to this. Then again, he meant what he said, if ever she did change her mind, he intended to be there for her. That included the possibility that they might one day separate for whatever reasons. Fenris appeared to be lending it actual thought, turning his attention to Cullen for a moment, like he knew exactly what he was thinking, but he eventually turned away, shrugging a single shoulder.

 

“If you want to get married here, then that’s what you’ll get.” he said. Gesturing across from them, he grinned. “Guess it’s more up to him. How willing he is to lose another night of sleep.”

 

Her face turned red almost instantly, not expecting him to be so open and blunt about it. Cullen clearly hadn’t been anticipating it either, burying his face in his palms with a groan. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head.

 

“It really isn’t my place to tell her what she can’t and can’t do in her free time. I suspect if I said I’d rather not be kept awake again, you’d just carry on anyway.” he said.

 

“Well, what else is a man to do on his wedding night?” Fenris says with an uncaring shrug. “It’s practically expected, and I’m not going to disappoint.”

 

“Ah, but what will you do if she simply isn’t feeling up to it?” he asked, a thinly veiled attempt to provoke him.

 

“I could tell you all about that, but you’ve already walked in on it, I’m sure I don’t need to say a word.” Fenris was quick to remind him.

 

Ari cleared her throat, holding up the pear she held. “I don’t have to worry, but I’m certain your lunch will get cold if we debate this matter any longer.”

 

“Forgive me.” Cullen said.

 

He sighed, sparing him a quick glance, that he returned, a wordless reminder that they were still trying to get along for her benefit, and if nothing else there was always time to pick it back up when she wasn’t around. In truth, he really didn’t mind Fenris, the problem he had with him was that he left in the first place. For someone who claimed to love her, he shouldn’t have walked out on her to begin with, that and the way he seemed to be the reason she cried more than anything. Beyond that, he was just fine with him, but he knew it was much the same for him, he had mentioned as much, he didn’t mind him except that he moved in on her so quickly. He never could figure out just how to explain exactly how long he’d been infatuated with her, how quickly that little crush had become love and how long he’d waited for just the right moment to tell her, and his absence had just been that particular moment. He was certain he couldn’t truly understand what it was like to love someone who felt the same and yet to have to watch them slip away knowing there was nothing to do but hope, and pray and still have to let them go. Hawke loved Hawke. That much had always been obvious, and eventually, he was certain Hawke loved Merrill, but it still wasn’t enough to stop her from letting someone else take the fall.

 

Maybe he would have found the strength to fight harder if she didn’t look so happy with him around. That smile had once been for him, but it was his now, and so far he hadn’t managed to take it away again. Ari tossed the inedible bits in the trash, eyeing a container of something that claimed to be fruit juice with an appropriate measure of suspicion before she took a sip, lying back in the grass to stare up at the clouds. She was quiet for a time, until she pointed up excitedly.

 

“Look, it’s a lazy cat!” she announced.

 

Fenris glanced up, and Cullen followed suit, both tilting their heads a bit, trying to find just the right angle to see it the way she did.

 

“Ah, there it is.” Fenris said. “That does look like a cat.”

 

“It looks like it’s stuck on it’s back.” Cullen agreed.

 

“Do you like cats?” Cullen asked curiously.

 

“You know I do.” she laughed. “I told you I find them perfectly charming.”

 

Fenris wrinkled his nose at that, but said nothing. It had to be a mage thing, but she had a dog, one she seemed to be growing quite fond of, it was fine. Now if she insisted on going out to get one, he’d definitely have to have words with her, even the ugly vase was better by comparison, she could keep that, no matter how much of an eyesore it was, so long as she didn’t ask for a cat.

 

“You should get one.” Cullen said.

 

He had to know what he thought on it, it was another attempt to rile him up, he was absolutely certain of it, but he waited to say anything until he knew what she had to say on the matter.

 

“Ahh, I’d think about it, but Atlas wouldn’t like that.” she sighed.

 

“That’s a good point.” Cullen said.

 

“Oh! Did you know Leliana has nugs?” she said excitedly.

 

“Those weird little bald pig-rats?” Fenris asked.

 

“Yes, I hear Neria herself got one for her. It starts with an S. Some needlessly complicated name that sounds way too cute for someone who kills people for a living.” Cullen said.

 

“Schmooples.” Ari said. “Schmooples died though. But she has others, Schmooples II and Boulette.”

 

“You actually listened to her talking about nugs?” Cullen asked, mildly surprised.

 

“Of course. I like Leliana’s stories.” Ari confirmed.

 

“Yes, I’m sure, I’m well aware you enjoy stories.” Cullen said with a slight smile. “I just wasn’t aware you’d actually manage to stay awake to hear about nugs.”

 

“I’m not really surprised. She likes animals, and she has those weird nugs in the stable.” Fenris shrugged. “They’re a little unsettling, but I’m not really sure why.”

 

“It’s because they’re bald and weird.” Cullen told him.

 

“You don’t think they’re kind of cute?” Ari asks, almost a little disappointed. “I like Lord Snuggles the Brave.”

 

“Lord…” Fenris muttered, trying to process the name. Of course it had a weird name. Oliver was probably the only normal one of all of them. “Ari...I love you but do you realize it has hands ? No offense but that name’s a bit…”

 

“Strange.” Cullen finished for him.

 

“Ah, I didn’t name him. Leliana suggested it, and I couldn’t think of anything better.” she said. “Really? I guess I never looked closely enough. A nug with hands. That’s different.”

Ari finally sat back up, eventually moving to stand closer to the trash while she finished her juice. Fenris had already finished the remnants of his food, and Cullen decided to take care of the rest of the trash, if nothing else, maybe it would help to end the odd rivalry between them a little faster. Fenris gave him an odd look, but said nothing about it, aside from an almost inaudible ‘thanks’.

 

“What’s next?” Cullen asked, wondering what, if anything else was planned.

 

“There’s a bookstore. I just wanted to have a quick look, but I’m afraid I don’t know this city well enough to decide what else to do.” she admitted.

 

“You sure you don’t want to go back to the Pearl?” Fenris asked teasingly.

 

Her face turned a deep, dark red, shaking her head profusely. “I’d be perfectly happy forgetting that place exists, if it’s all the same.”

 

Cullen stared at her blankly. “You actually took her to the brothel?”

 

I didn’t. She walked in on her own. How did you know it’s a brothel?” Fenris asked suspiciously.

 

“The sign out front. Have you already forgot the Blooming Rose? You don’t need to go inside to know what it is. Besides, I’m certain you already knew I grew up in Ferelden. People talk. A lot. I kind of assumed talking is how she figured out that thing with the…” Cullen said, trailing off at the end, unwilling to finish that statement. “So, the bookstore.”

 

Fenris waited until he was a little further away before he leaned in, suddenly very curious about what he meant to say. “What thing? Do I know the thing?”

 

Ari could barely look at him, completely unsure she was actually part of this conversation. She licked her lips nervously, nodding slightly. “The...it’s the thing with…”

 

She shook her head, unable to put it to words, clearly no less embarrassed by whatever it was than he was. Fenris wracked his brain, trying to pick through everything they’d done. “Wait, that thing with your…?”

 

Ari could only nod. Fenris reached for her hand, taking note of a couple walking by that stopped to stare a little too long at her, like he wasn’t even there. There were worse things than having someone attractive enough to call attention from all over, he supposed.

 

“Anyway, I kind of liked that.” He shrugged. “Something to think about.”

 

“Is that your way of asking if I’ll do it again?” she wondered.

 

“...” he stared at her for a moment, his lips parted like he was about to answer, but he didn’t for quite a bit. “Yeah.”

 

Ari bit her lip to stop from laughing. He’d probably rather not hear it, but he was blushing, just a little bit, and it was cute. He rarely seemed anything if not completely in control of any given situation, seeing that little reaction was a nice reminder of one of the many reasons she found him absolutely mesmerizing.

 

“Well, as you so helpfully pointed out, with a wedding comes the wedding night, and I shouldn’t like to disappoint you either.” she cooed.

 

Fenris allowed his grip to fall from her shoulders to her waist, clenching her side firmly. “Don’t say that to me, or I may have to suggest we go somewhere a little more private.”

 

“We could talk about nugs again?” Ari suggested.

 

His fingers traced the curve of her hip, mildly glad for the Queen’s strange taste in clothes now. “I’d rather talk about you.”

 

“What about me?” she asked, batting her eyelashes innocently.

 

“Let’s get your bloody books.” he muttered. “You’d feel too badly if we just left him here, wouldn’t you.”

 

There was no question to it, more a realization that nothing he could say would convince her to just wander off without him. It was frustrating enough to walk in to Cullen already holding a few different books. It was a reminder he had plenty more to learn about her, and that Cullen already knew those things.

 

“I recall you don’t have any of these. Should be right up your alley.” he said.

 

Ari shuffled over to look at them, clearly quite pleased with whatever it was he picked. Whatever it was, he probably wouldn’t be able to read it anyway. She offered to take them off his hands so he wouldn’t be bothered by it, but he only smiled and held them out of her reach.

 

“I don’t mind holding them for you.” he said.

 

Fenris narrowed his eyes curiously. It was difficult to tell if it was another attempt to flirt with her anyway, or if it was some kind of friendly teasing. He was at least trying to consider her a little more before just acting, and it seemed much easier just to deal with things and ask questions later than to try to figure out if and how he was actually crossing the line. It wasn’t until Ari approached him again that he realized what led her here in the first place. She held up a few thin books, like she was offering them to him.

 

“I thought Cullen was carrying these for you?” he asked.

 

“These are for you.” she said.

 

“Ari you know I can’t…” he said, glancing around.

 

“I know. That’s why these are for you.” she said again.

 

He picked up the top one, rolling his eyes at the crappy doodles on the cover. It only took a few pages to realize these were probably the kind of books kids got to learn to read. It was a thought he didn’t like, but if nothing else, if he managed to figure them out, the boys could use them when they were a little older. Functional at least, and if they didn’t have her fondness for books, then maybe they’d make nice drink holders or something.

 

“Oh...I see.” he nodded.

“You’re not upset?” she asked worriedly.

 

Fenris sighed, reaching for the back of her head, drawing her close enough to plant a light kiss on the top of her head. “You’re still thinking of me, how could I be upset about that…Don’t let me stop you. Keep looking, you might find other things you like too.”

 

Ari nodded, rushing off to resume her search. To anyone else, he might have looked quite disappointed, but in truth, it was just him watching the way she walked. Then again, it could hardly be helped, she looked great, and he’d challenge anyone to watch her without looking. That was presumably before he kicked their ass. He might be warming up to Cullen slowly, but he was damned if anyone else could get away with half the shit he had without dealing with him. Ah, but then again, he was equally sure that if someone made a grab for her, he’d probably be right behind him anyway. He might be more passive, but he claimed to care, and that wasn’t something he’d find very forgivable.

Chapter Text

Alistair leaned back in the carriage, flipping through a dusty book he found. He hadn’t really had much of a celebration before he got married, his wife being exactly the opposite of what he was supposed to marry, it had to be quick and secretive. It was a very public thing now, but at first there was quite a bit of plotting and planning. The only real frame of reference he had was this book supposedly detailing proper etiquette and a complete itinerary for how to prepare for a wedding. He was covered, being a King meant he had an entire wardrobe of clothes he’d rather not have occasion to wear, but Fenris didn’t seem to have much, if anything else to wear. Cullen, too was rather underdressed for such an occasion. They stopped in some kind of clothing store, Alistair gesturing to the two of them in turn when a worker approached, talking quietly.

 

“He’s up to something, isn’t he?” Fenris asked quietly.

 

“It would seem that’s the case.” Cullen sighed.

 

Pinching the bridge of his nose, the two nearly jumped when they were shuffled away. In a smaller back room filled with mirrors, two other workers poked and prodded them, comparing them against a silvery strip of paper, stopping to scratch out some notes before continuing. Eventually, they stopped, guiding them back out into the main part of the store, both wandering off to search for something specific, talking between themselves.

 

“Black, red trim and accessories?” one suggested.

 

“Absolutely. Black and white? Or perhaps black with silver?” the other asked in return.

 

The first turned slightly to get a better look at Fenris, tapping his chin in thought, before turning his attention back to the other man. “Black and silver.”

 

“What exactly is the point of this?” Fenris asked.

 

“What else? It’s a wedding, not a tavern brawl. You should dress for it.” Alistair said.

 

He said that, but it was actually practically a quote from the book. He had to go the opposite, dressing way down to get out without anyone really questioning it. He couldn’t attest to know her very well, but Ari seemed a special enough woman even without the mark and all that went with being Inquisitor. His opinions on her were plenty obvious, well, wedding aside, anyway. The men came back before the conversation could continue, both holding suits, one in black and red, the other black and silver.

 

“For a request from the King, we’ll have these ready by morning.” The first man said.

 

“Normally, I wouldn’t ask for such quick service, but it’s a special occasion after all.” He replied with a smile.

 

“Then leave it to us, we won’t let you down.” The second man said. “No need to concern yourself with the apparel, you surely have much more to do.”

 

Alistair referenced the book with a nod. “That’s true enough. We should move if we’re going to keep on schedule.”

 

“There’s a schedule?” Cullen wondered.

“Sort of. Not really, it sounded good in my head at least.” Alistair admitted with a shrug.

 

“Ari is already out with Neria, and it’s not like there’s much else we could be doing instead.” Cullen pointed out.

 

“I suppose that’s true. What’s next then?” Fenris sighed.

 

“To the Gnawed Noble.” Alistair says decisively. “I have a list of games we could try, and if they’re awful, at least there’s plenty to drink.”

 

“I didn’t take you for much of a drinker.” Fenris said.

 

“Usually, I’m not. But as I said, it is a special occasion.” Alistair said. “To be honest, I’m glad for it. First the Blight, and then the war, and all the rifts and demons, Venatori, a magister that wanted to be a god, and all the boring political dinners. I’m looking forward to having something happy to celebrate.”

 

Cullen and Fenris exchanged nearly guilty glances at that. They hadn’t precisely forgotten that the lands had gone through much in a bit over ten years, but it had somehow managed to slip their minds that Ari was probably the one suffering most for the recent complications . Always busy, always dealing with someone that tested her kindness and patience, the mark worsening, children, business with the Divine. Well, at the very least, she was getting to relax too, and who could say what Neria would have planned for her. Maybe it was best not to argue too much and enjoy the rarity of having nothing else to do.

 

“Drinks and games? Sounds familiar enough. Let’s go then.” Fenris told him.

 

Varric was always at the Hanged Man in Kirkwall, and seeking him out for any reason usually involved several rounds of drinks, long conversations and games. Besides, it would be interesting to have the chance to see the King at his most honest. In vino veritas, they said, and it was mostly true, a drunk man was an honest one. The three piled back into the carriage for the short trip from the tailor to the tavern, Alistair paying in advance for several rounds and a room. He spoke with the barkeep for a few moments longer before returning to the table.

 

“What’s the room for?” Cullen asked.

 

“Because I just ordered more drinks than anyone should reasonably have. We’re going through all of them. Someone might need a nap before we get back to it. Better to sleep it off in peace, wouldn’t you say?” Alistair explained.

 

The first round arrived quickly, along with several cups and a bunch of dice. Alistair hunched over the table, flipping through the back of the book where the different games and rules were listed. Cullen and Fenris drank almost in unison while Alistair tried his best to explain the rules of Liar’s Dice to them, though honestly he wasn’t fully certain he understood it either, but a poor attempt had to be better than sitting around staring at each other blankly over the edge of a mug. Steadily, they got better at the game at least, though the play slowed down in favor of awkward attempts to make conversation.

 

“So…” Alistair sighed.

 

“So.” Cullen repeated with a single nod.

“So…” Fenris added.

 

Alistair took a drink, trying to decide what to say. Occasionally one for saying the absolute worst thing, he managed to blurt out the question just barely having a chance to rise in his thoughts.

 

“Does... everything glow?” He asked curiously.

 

Cullen palmed his head, barely bracing it before his hand bumped the table. He wearily lifted his head, giving Alistair a look of disbelief.

 

“Did you really just ask him that?” he muttered.

 

“I’m quite normal.” he says, gesturing to himself. “No magic, not even a regular tattoo, nothing innately exciting about me. I’m curious, alright? You can’t tell me you haven’t wondered even a little.”

 

“Even if I had, I wouldn’t just ask …” Cullen said.

 

Fenris looked between the two, sighing quietly. Either it was a human thing, or it was a Templar thing to be fascinated with not-so-magical things of such a nature as well. He reached for the new glass set in front of him, taking a long drink to avoid having to comment on it for just a bit longer. He wasn’t even really sure how to answer it, it was like it came out of nowhere, and he had no idea how to process it at first.

 

“Yes. Everything glows.” He finally huffed.

 

“Ah. I’d bet that’s different.” Alistair said.

 

“Ari doesn’t complain, if that’s what you’re suggesting.” he muttered into his drink.

 

“Maker, no that wasn’t it at all!” He mumbled, his face red.

 

“The King of Ferelden must be looking for advice.” Cullen teased, admittedly just a touch inebriated.

 

Fenris grinned at that, shaking his head. “Is that why all is quiet in his halls?”

 

“I do just fine…” Alistair groaned. “Come to think of it, the Crow tried to give me advice during the Blight…”

 

“That’s...a little sad, actually. So many years have passed and you still haven’t learned…” Cullen chuckled, taking a drink.

 

“Are you really one to talk?” Alistair countered.

 

“Ouch.” Fenris said dryly.

 

“Don’t mind him. I think he’s just trying to distract us from the fact that it’s his turn and he’s losing.” Cullen said.

 

“I was hoping you’d forget.” Alistair groaned, sinking lower in his seat.

 

Alistair stared at the little sweeping pen marks on the parchment. Not even a miracle could bring his score back from the dead. Cullen had a minor lead, but if the way he was trying to steady his head in his hands said anything, he was about ready for a nap more than anything. Fenris was only a few points behind, he was the best bet to win, and beyond that, he still looked mostly just fine. Since they arrived, he’d witnessed them argue at times, and prod at each other’s sore spots at very nearly every opportunity. Somehow, they acted like he imagined siblings did, fighting and trying to prove which was superior.

 

“So are you two close then?” Alistair asked.

 

They exchanged mirrored expressions of utter disgust like they really couldn’t stand each other.

 

“What gave you that impression?” They asked, only an instant apart.

 

“Nothing, I was mistaken.” Alistair said with a smile.

 

They could deny it all they wanted, but when the world said you needed friends, it was usually best to agree. How many people did the Blight drop on them, people that had very little business moving in the same circles, nothing in common. Yet by the end, however different they were, they were quite fond of each other. Hard times brought people closer even if they’d otherwise rather not associate. By the time the Inquisition had outlived its purpose, he was almost willing to bet they’d come out as friends. The barkeep brought another round, and Cullen groaned, Fenris reluctantly sitting up again. Alistair held his up with a quiet sigh. Of the three of them, he was definitely the oldest, but not getting too old for this.

 

“Don’t worry. Last round. Then we just wait until the edge wears off, and it’s on to the next event.” He said cheerfully.

 

“Andraste preserve me, you have more planned?’ Cullen asked.

 

“Did you see the size of his book? There’s more than one day’s worth, I’m sure. If we’re lucky, he just picked a few.” Fenris shrugged.

 

“Most of this is actually just instructions for games and activities. There aren’t as many suggestions as you think.” Alistair said, flicking through the pages.

 

Cullen tried to reach for it, but Alistair quickly pulled it away. That struck him as a little odd. This was Fenris’ party, not his. He wasn’t going to spoil the surprise, but it would be nice to know what else he had in mind, and somehow, if it wasn’t just that he was already so drunk that his face had reddened, it might well be possible that whatever was next was more embarrassing than making fools out of themselves at a tavern.



Chapter Text

Eventually, hours later after everyone was back in a condition to be attempting to move again, Alistair led the group to the Pearl, to even his own confused shock. As far as he was concerned, this was proper party protocol, and this was an ironclad step in the festivities. He nervously approached the proprietor, who smiled at him before reading off a list of services and prices. Alistair glanced back at the other two, already eyeing him as if he were about to do something completely dangerous. He slid the book across the counter, unable to bring himself to actually ask for such a thing. After all, he was King of these lands, the castle wasn’t far away, and of course, what would Neria think if she happened to find out he was here?

 

“Well, this is a fair bit more innocent than I expected. Usually if someone brings a book, it’s more scandalous than this. Do you have a preference?” the woman asked.

 

“Huh? Preference?” he asked nervously.

 

“Do you prefer your shame come in man, woman or presumably variations of such.” Fenris grumbled.

 

“Women, I guess?” Alistair stumbled.

 

Fenris tapped Cullen’s side to get his attention, covering his mouth when he leaned closer. “He has no idea what he’s doing.”

 

“This can’t end any way but badly…” Cullen sighed in agreement.

 

“We could ditch?” Fenris suggested.

 

“I doubt he’d ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do. Which...I’d imagine is a lot of things…” Cullen shrugged.

 

“Is he still talking?” Fenris asked, almost amazed.

 

“It seems so…” Cullen nodded.

 

A group of women came to haul them off, each to one room, something that was a mild concern for a moment until they left, leaving them alone in a room together, with little besides some chairs. Alistair took a seat, looking over the decoration of the room like he was incredibly fascinated with the wallpaper, peeling in some places, almost completely concealed behind expensive foreign bureaus and a series of shelves.

 

“They should be in shortly…” Alistair mentioned finally.

 

They ?” Cullen asked suspiciously.

 

“Well, yes, I’d imagine it must be difficult for one person to manage three people at once…” he said.

 

“Cullen, I thought you said - “ Fenris began.

 

“We can’t do that.” Cullen said immediately. “You’re already married, and he’s about to be. I have no interest in this sort of thing.”

 

“Not even for your Inquisitor?” Alistair asked teasingly.

Cullen swallowed hard, glancing nervously at Fenris. He crossed his arms and turned his gaze to the ceiling with a sigh.

 

“My feelings on Inquisitor Lavellan are personal and beyond that, well documented.” he said quietly.

 

Fenris shifted his glance for a moment, spotting the way he cringed at the statement. He rolled his eyes with a sigh. It should have been easier to just let him suffer, it wasn’t his fault she just liked him a little bit more.

 

“You know, I heard something similar about your wife and a certain spymaster.” Fenris said.

 

Alistair flinched at the statement. Neria hadn’t really wavered in her certainty that she loved him, but he didn’t miss the moment of thought he lent it. The memory of those lingering looks across the campfire, the playfully smiles they’d exchange at times, or the way they giggled and whispered but stopped the moment he noticed. She’d chosen him, and he never doubted her sincerity, but he had to wonder what might have happened if he hadn’t mentioned his feelings to her. The door opened again, and two women and a man entered, the last woman setting down trays with glasses filled to the brim with champagne. Alistair immediately reached for a glass, trying not to notice the brunette curls dangling in front of his eyes, a pair of curious grey eyes studying him before she rounded to his back.

 

“Well, here’s to those we love and the curious effect they have on us.” he muttered.

 

Fenris and Cullen raised their glasses in agreement before the three groaned in unison. This was fine if this was the extent of it, a nice shoulder massage was something none of them had really thought they needed. Cullen eyed the delicate pink color curiously, glancing over to the others.

 

“Do you really think we need to get more drunk? At this rate we’ll have trouble getting back.” he commented.

 

“I’d rather not be out too late. I don’t want to worry Ari…” Fenris said quietly.

 

“She’s out on her own, doing whatever it is they’re doing. Beyond that, why worry? It’s not like you’ll be in the same room again until tomorrow.” Alistair said.

 

“What? Why not?” he asked almost immediately.

 

“Tradition. You’re not supposed to see her now until the wedding.” Alistair explained.

 

“That’s the worst idea in the history of terrible ideas.” Cullen laughed.

 

“For once I think I might agree with you on this one.” Fenris huffed.

 

The man carefully rocked his thumbs along the back of Fenris’ neck and he hunched over with a sigh. He usually didn’t like people touching him, as he’d reluctantly admitted to Ari, it was painful, another thing his markings had almost completely ruined, but this? This actually felt pretty good. Leaned over like he had, he felt it wander down between his shoulders, wondering how long it had been that tense there. Conversation faded in favor of enjoying what was largely considered a luxury, with the exception of perhaps Alistair, but he seemed quite a bit nervous for someone who wasn’t exactly there for the special of the day.

 

“What do you think they’re doing right now?’ Alistair asked with a quiet sigh.

 

“You know your wife’s taste in activities better than I do.” Fenris shrugged slightly.

 

“The only thing I really remember about her is the whole...circle incident, and being a Warden. I don’t imagine she took her to the Deep Roads to see who could kill more darkspawn.” Cullen said.

 

“Well…” Alistair began warily. “I wouldn’t exactly put it past her. Although I certainly don’t think they’d have done that. Maybe just a trip around the market or something. I hope.”

 

“You hope?” the woman kneading her way down his back asked in disbelief. “You mean to say you have no idea what your own wife might be up to?”

 

“It’s not that I don’t have ideas, only that they seem a little far fetched for this sort of thing. I mean, she likes to go out into the woods at times and just be alone.” He mumbled.

 

“Right! The Queen Consort is Dalish.” the man added.

 

“I hear the Inquisitor is too.” the woman said.

 

“She is.” Fenris confirmed.

 

“They’re getting married tomorrow.” Alistair said with a grin.

 

“Then that’s probably it. Last minute preparations, they could be out in the woods or maybe by the ocean. I’ve been told that the Dalish prefer to be cleansed.” the man added.

 

So they could be just about anywhere. Then again, if he wasn’t even allowed to see her until the wedding, the best he could do was try to imagine it for himself. If Alistair went through the effort of making sure they had ‘proper attire’, perhaps she took her out again, arranged a dress for the wedding, though what kind it might be was difficult to picture, especially when the thought of the last one nearly broke him. Regardless, as long as she wasn’t actually in the Deep Roads, she was probably safe enough, he didn’t have to worry for her safety too much. The man behind him refilled his glass and he reached for it again with a sigh. Maybe he really did need this after all, really, the silence was comfortable, and it kept him from thinking about her too much only to realize that it would be one long night and another morning still before he’d even get to see her again. It was almost a little uncomfortable to realize he didn’t want to be apart from her that long with no earth-shattering matters of business to take her elsewhere.

 

“Are we going back after this?” Cullen asked.

 

“We probably should, if we’re him back before she gets a chance to see him. Although this is great, would that we could do this more often. Maybe not this exactly, but you know, spending time with people who aren’t just around to complain about something I’ve done. Well...sometimes for things I haven’t done too.” He said.

 

“It’s been nice to get away. I never thought I’d say that, but at the moment, I don’t miss any of it.” Cullen admitted guiltily.

 

“I’m fairly certain my only real job is distracting Ari from her work.” Fenris muttered.

 

“What about your sons? That seems like it should count as work.” Cullen said.

 

“You would think so, but she doesn’t let me do as much as I should.” Fenris complained, quietly, distracted for a moment.

 

“That sounds like her alright. I think given an eternity, she’d still never figure out how to just sit still and breathe.” Cullen laughed.

 

“So that’s...always her?” Alistair asked curiously. “When I met with her, she wanted to get right to business right away, I thought for sure it had just been a long and taxing trip.”

 

“No, that’s her.” Cullen and Fenris laughed.

 

Eventually, the three left the room, leaving them alone again to try and pry themselves from their chairs. Alistair seemed to struggle the most, like every bone in his body had simultaneously turned to jelly and he’d forgotten how to move. He sighed, staring at the door like he wasn’t quite sure he wanted to leave now, but as he had said, it was time to get back. Neria liked to stay out after dark, so there was a fairly decent chance that they could get back in without ever crossing paths. Alistair found himself very glad he was already married and didn’t have to observe the staying away rule this time, and he couldn’t really feel too badly for Cullen being alone, he was one of three in that respect. Although if he was honest, he couldn’t help but feel at least a little badly that he’d lost her. If anyone could use a woman as understanding and kind as she seemed, it was definitely him. Probably just the thing to help him bury Kinloch completely in the past, but then again, from what he recalled of Kirkwall, it seemed like Fenris had plenty of good reasons to deserve the very same.

 

“Ah. I forgot about the carriage.” He said.

 

Gesturing down the path a bit, the coachmen still waiting patiently where they left him. He needed a bonus, that man had way more patience than he did, he’d have gotten bored well before they even left the tavern, let alone waiting that much longer for them to emerge from the Pearl. It was well he couldn’t think very clearly right now, imagine how awkward it would be to think too much about what he must think of his King just wandering out of a brothel at this hour.

 

Chapter Text

Neria knocked quietly before opening the door. She set a tray of food on the table for Ari, still dragging after their night. She sighed, gently lifting her head off the edge for her, quick to grab it again when her head went right back for it.

 

“Here. This should help you wake up.” she said.

 

Ari eyed the steaming cup for a moment before she took a drink. Tea, strong too. Solas mentioned he didn’t like it once, presumably because it made it difficult for him to fall asleep. By that merit, it should reasonably help her wake up. Her idea of a good time sounded more like spending time with the Bull and his Chargers. It began with a trip to pick up a nice dress, though mostly it ended up being her trying on a bunch and her shooting most of them down. Eventually, she settled on a slightly ruffled dress in dark red with silver trim, something she didn’t question, red was a strong color, and the Queen’s assessment that it flattered her figure was one she just sort of went with. That was something Vivienne or Leliana would understand far better than she did.

 

“Did I dream it or did we fight a dragon?” Ari mumbled sleepily.

 

“Yes. After we went out for drinks, you jumped on the table and demanded we find something suitably majestic to fight. So we did. More or less. You managed to climb onto it’s back and loudly ordered it to fly you to Satina and back.” she chuckled.

 

“I’m assuming it didn’t listen?” she asked.

 

No. It took offense to you treating it like a horse and dumped you off. I held it off, but the minute you were back on your feet, you decided you still wanted to fight.” Neria explained.

 

Ari took a sip of her tea, picking at the food she brought. “Did we win?”

 

Neria gestured to a long box on a wooden chest at the end of the bed. “You kept the scales and took them to an artisan, asked for something nice. It arrived about an hour ago.”

 

“What else happened?” she muttered.

 

“Well, we went to the alienage, you said you’d never seen one and you wanted to. Managed to talk a few people into playing a game. No one was keeping score though, so I’m not certain if we actually won or not, but you came back with a bracelet, some flowers and a handful of chocolates, so I think it’s safe to say if we didn’t, you certainly made an impression.” she told her.

 

“There was a man by the gates when we got back, right?” Ari asked.

 

“Zevran, yes. He said he came by for a visit. Although he did proposition you. That’s pretty normal for him, though.” she said.

 

“I remember that name. I feel like we’ve gotten letters from him at Skyhold, we’ve had some dealings with him before. I don’t recall meeting him before though.” Ari said with a slight nod. “He had really pretty hair.”

 

“That he does.” Neria agreed. “You shot him down rather quickly though. Swore you were about to marry the ‘most amazing man you’d ever met’, among other things I should imagine you’d rather I didn’t repeat. We raided the kitchen and ate about half the cake before the kitchen staff kicked us out so they could start over.”

 

“Ooh, yeah, I don’t know what it was, but that cake was pretty good.” Ari chirped.

 

“After all that excitement, you said you wanted to go to bed, and that Fenris was probably wondering when you were turning in for the night, but then I reminded you you couldn’t see him yet, and you said that wasn’t very fair, until I told you that meant he couldn’t see you either, and you seemed alright with it then, as long as it wasn’t just you being punished.” Neria said with a laugh. “Reminded me quite a lot of the early days with Alistair. After we got married, we didn’t really want to be apart much either. Not that strange, considering the circumstances that brought us together. We haven’t actually ever really been apart.”

 

“We’ve been apart, but it ended up strangely complicated. I don’t want to seem like I can’t be apart from him, just that since I lost my family, he’s the only thing that feels right, feels normal to me. I still feel a little guilty about it though. I’ve known Cullen far longer, I’ve liked him for so long, but it’s just bad timing or something. I think if I knew how he felt before Fenris came to Skyhold, maybe things would have been different. I know some of what he’s been through, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve added to his problems with this.” Ari explained quietly.

 

“I know a little of how you feel. I don’t know how much Leliana told you, and you know...I did decide pretty easily that my future was with Alistair, but it wasn’t nearly as easily as everyone made it sound. Leliana has had a...complex past. I was very taken with her from the moment we met, and that did get quite involved for a time, but I realized even though it was only going to hurt her that I had to follow my heart. You can’t help who your heart wants, love is a complicated thing, and it’s not always satisfaction. As I’m sure you no doubt already found out, sometimes it gets dicey. Hell, Alistair and I still sometimes argue, it’s unavoidable.” she explained, running a range of expressions as her emotions shifted. “I think much of it is just pregnancy changes.”

 

Ari set her fork down, staring at the wall with a quiet sigh. “Ahh, but now I wish Ada was here, I know they wouldn’t really understand it, but I wish Fen’an and Haleir were here too… I’m excited, and the break has been nice, but I can’t help but worry.”

 

“Skyhold will not fall apart without you there for a few days.” Neria said, her eyes gleaming almost mischievously. “Although I understand. We had to marry in secret, and as such we had no guests either. At least Cullen is here?”

 

“That’s true. I’m glad he is. As awkward as it must sound, he’s like my family now, and it’s nice he was willing to come…” she said.

 

There was a knock at the door, and Neria answered it, taking a rolled piece of parchment from the woman at the door. She read through it quietly before setting it aflame in her hand, brushing off the bits of ash and dust when she finished.

 

“Finish up, looks like it’s time for us to get ready. There’s a lot left to do, and the quicker we can get it out of the way, the sooner you’ll be reunited with your lover.” she said, smiling.

 

“Something important?” Ari asked.

 

It was probably royal business, nothing she needed to concern herself with, but having a million things to do normally had left her with an instinctual need to ask anyway.

 

“The letter? Nothing to worry about.” she said nonchalantly.

 

Ari quickly scarfed down the rest of her breakfast, washing it down with the last of her tea. Neria gestured to the bathroom, one last effort to fully cleanse herself before she got dressed and ready. Ari jumped up, flinging all but her smallclothes off on the way.

 

“I should be back by the time you get out. I have something to see to, alright?” she said gently.

 

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll try not to take too long.” Ari called.

 

When she heard the water running, and what sounded like her getting in, she left. Neria headed for one of the larger rooms they usually used for council meetings, a place to get briefed on the happenings across Ferelden, their equivalent of a war room, she supposed. She took a seat at the table, looking over the group gathered their. All of them were dressed up as much as possible, a familiar face seated right next to her.

 

“I’m very glad you could make it on such short notice, I’m aware it must have been a gargantuan effort to coordinate everything and get here overnight.” she said.

 

“This was not something to miss.” the woman replied. “It’s not everyday someone so meaningful gets married.”

 

Neria shifted her focus to the darker haired woman, her focus split between the Queen and the children asleep in a small crib beside her.

 

“So cute too…” she cooed quietly, trying not to wake them.

 

“So she really has no idea?” she asked.

 

“Not a clue. She thinks it’s just Cullen, myself and Alistair.” Neria said proudly.

 

It was pretty much impossible to keep anything a secret in Denerim, but this time she’d pulled it off. She had no doubt the messengers would arrive very quickly, but even for the short distance, it seemed like it might be an impossible feat to get anyone there in time, so seeing everyone here was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Ari would certainly be shocked, but hopefully pleasantly so. Now it was just a matter of getting her dressed and ready for the big event.

 

“Impressive. You have no background in spying, and yet you managed this so easily. You still don’t ever fail to amaze me.” Leliana said with a soft chuckle.

 

“Yes, well I’m certain you could have pulled it off far easier.” Neria countered. “I’ll see you all soon enough. Please wait here, I’ll send someone to fetch you once she’s ready. I need to get back before she gets out of the bath so she doesn’t get suspicious.”

 

“One last thing.” Dorian said.

 

“Yes?” she asked.

 

“The dress. Is it atrocious?” he asked curiously.

 

“Oh no. Trust me, she’s going to look amazing.” Neria assured him.

 

“Please, darling. I could have sent to Val Royeaux to get her something fit for Empress Celene herself.” Vivienne interjected.

 

“I wouldn’t dismiss Ferelden’s capacity to make an Empress out of an Inquisitor just yet. Besides, wouldn’t you agree she isn’t quite that kind of woman?” she wondered.

 

“She may be a simplistic woman at heart, but she’s also one of the most important figures in Thedas at the moment, she should look the part.” Vivienne disagreed.

 

“I assure you, she will. I guarantee you, the groom won’t be able to take his eyes off her.” Neria told her.

 

With that, she stood back up, closing the door quietly behind her, hastening her steps back towards the room, apparently with time to spare. She could still hear the quiet splashing, a good sign she hadn’t yet gotten out of the bath yet. ‘Inquisitor Lavellan’ may have been a woman of the people, widely thought to be capable of plenty of miracles in her own right, but at least in her mind, she managed to pull off one of her own, perhaps the first she’d managed since slaying the Archdemon. Needing to keep busy, she arranged makeup and hair supplies on the vanity, laying out the dress and her accessories on the bed, her shoes set out on the floor, trying to think of anything else she might have forgotten to prepare. Neria jolted when she remembered the last details. She quickly moved the box of the chest, digging in it, retrieving a few things. A new hairpin, and a pair of old sapphire earrings, something borrowed, old and blue, three in one. Her garter was already laid out on top of her dress, and the veil was spread against the pillows. Not precisely one hundred percent sure that was everything, but mostly sure, at least. She took a seat by the desk, hearing her get out of the bath finally. Good timing, if nothing else, everything done with just moments to spare before the real work would begin. The kitchen staff was already preparing a small banquet for after the ceremony, and the rest of the staff was set to decorate the dining hall and the largest room, and that was already mostly done before she woke Ari up, it should all be ready by now.

 

On the assumption that the others might arrive, she had requested a list of names for all who might be arriving, and took the liberty of writing out little cards with the names on them so everyone would feel just a little more important about the random seating assignments. Even if they wouldn’t say it openly, everyone liked to see their name in print.

 

“Feeling better?” She asked casually.

 

“Much better, wide awake and ready for anything!” she announced.

 

“Good. Take a seat, once your hair is properly dried I’ll get that and your makeup ready and then we’ll get you into the dress.” she said.

 

Ari took a seat at the vanity, and Neria quickly checked her ears to make sure the earrings would work. She hadn’t seen her wearing any before, but it looked like she had at some point, however long ago. The holes still looked open too, no need to put her through any kind of pain, a good thing in her mind.

Chapter Text

Ari shifted side to side in the mirror, flicking the ruffles on her sleeves curiously. She tried to pull it up just a little higher, to no avail.

 

“You look just fine, everything is fine.” Neria assured her.

 

“I’m not worried about looking good. I’m concerned about the cut. The Inquisition is technically connected to the Chantry through the late Divine, imagine all the work poor Josephine would have to do if this were to cause a scandal…” she mumbled.

 

“Must you always worry what other people think? This is supposed to be your day, a day you get to throw everything down and be happy about something good actually happening, not what stuffy old women think.” she said dismissively.

 

Ari cocked her head slightly, taking a closer look. It did look pretty fetching on her, the Queen was not wrong that it did all the right things for her if she could ignore the little nagging voice in the background of her mind, reminding her that she was important, she had to be as close to perfect as she could manage, though to be fair, she was given quite a lot of wiggle room on that issue, her detractors were always quick to remind others she wasn’t human, wasn’t as civilised as a result, and should be given room to make mistakes, an insult of the highest class in her mind. No, maybe she was right about this too, this day was supposed to be for her. She looked about as nice as she ever thought she did, and she was marrying the man she loved, nothing should get in the way of that.

 

“It’s certainly taking long enough. Why haven’t we left yet? You told me before that Alistair and Cullen were already dressed and ready, and by now I’m certain Fenris was dressed, undressed and redressed half a dozen times by now, he’s not one for wasting time.” Ari noted suspiciously.

 

Neria had been so quick to push her to getting dressed and ready, and her hair was already done, her makeup was done, earrings in and veil in place, and they were still waiting. The queen reached for a glass of water, holding it up for her so she could drink without undoing all the work that had went into making sure she looked like royalty herself, though her feelings on being waited on, even with such a good reason had been thoroughly vocalized from the start.

 

“Not much longer. Just a bit more and we’ll go. I just want to make sure everything is in place before we go.” she said warmly.

 

Everything had sort of spiraled out of control, she initially assumed it would be small, quick and quiet, more like perhaps her wedding had been than anything, but somewhere between the discussion and the execution of it, it had steadily grown into a larger affair, a feast, celebrations, the elaborate nature of the dress and accoutrements. If it had a smell it would have been plenty suspect, like a poison slipped into a glass by someone who wasn’t trained well enough to realize they chose one that was very obvious instead of unnoticed. Or perhaps pulling a blade on someone half a room away instead of just before the strike. Something was definitely suspect, but for someone with no training in the matter it was a simple hunch instead of offering any details she might have connected to unravel what it was.

 

“Do I hear music? Should I be hearing music if we’re not out there?” Ari asked nervously.

 

This wasn’t how things were done among their people, Neria surely knew that too, but she’d heard enough of the stories, the Blight and becoming a Warden meant she couldn’t return to her clan whereas her own was dead, save her sister, presumably still a little miffed that she hadn’t gone with the obvious choice. Both had been thrown headfirst into human cultures, and absorbed a bit of tolerance, if not at least a minor belief in Andrastian faith as a result, a wedding like this was completely foreign to her, so it was entirely possible that there indeed was supposed to be music playing already, but it was equally possible they started without them.

 

“It’s alright. Deep breath. Well...I guess as deep as you can at the moment. If something is wrong, I swear I’ll go deal with it.” she said.

 

There was a knock on the door, a scout slipped her a message before leaving. Neria looked it over quietly, before again burning it without explanation. It was all too obvious is was an Inquisition scout, but at the time that was about the only thing she wasn’t curious or concerned about. Leliana’s spies and various forward scouts were all over Thedas, it would be more unusual for their not to be at least one in Denerim. Without warning, Neria reached for her arm, helping her to stand. The dress was specifically tailored to stop just below her knees and had no train as a result. Ari couldn’t walk well in heels, and was a bit clumsy at times and didn’t like the look of the long lengths to the original cut, worried it was more of a danger than anything. It was very clear she wasn’t quite prepared to attempt walking unaided like this, by the almost anxious way she gripped her arm like she’d tumble off a cliff if she didn’t. That and while the veil wasn’t solid, it still obstructed her view just enough to throw her into unfamiliar territory. She was still in a combat mindset, a side effect of having to face down demon armies and worse, but by the time they’d reached the hallway and she could see some of the decorations, the rows of flowers lining both sides of the hall, she relaxed almost completely.

 

“I thought you might like it. Had I more time I’m certain I could have made this look perfect, but with what I had...not bad.” she said.

 

“No, it’s lovely. It’s very touching you would choose these…” Ari said quietly.

 

Among the arrangements, she could clearly see stock, sweet pea, roses and orchids, a wish for love, for happiness, luxury, beauty and perhaps a wish that probably was not as necessary as it seemed at the time, for fertility. Skyhold had her boys, all the proof she needed that they had zero problem in that department. That bit could probably have safely been left out of the decor without an issue. Ari stumbled at the door, her breath lost at some point, though she couldn’t have begun to say when exactly it vanished on her. Fenris stood waiting at the front, possibly less than enthusiastic about the wait, but that wasn’t the moment that caught her by surprise. Seated throughout the room was just about everyone that came to mind that she had wanted there with the obvious exception of her clan and Solas.

 

Alistair switched places with Neria, and she went to sit down. Ari looked at him curiously, unsure what the purpose was, but he didn’t leave her wondering for long.

 

“Ah. Well, it’s...supposed to be your father here, but...well, we talked it over. I didn’t feel right asking Cullen to do it, thought it might make you feel weird, and I mean I’m not your father, but…” he rambled nervously.

 

“This is fine, thank you for thinking of me…” she said quietly.

 

He fell silent for a moment, keenly aware that either she was genuinely grateful or possibly just trying to get him to shut up, both of which he had grown familiar with in his life. Ari clutched his arm firmly and he glanced down, shaking his head.

“She’s a sucker for the details…” he muttered to himself. “Let’s see if we can’t get you up there without letting you fall over.”

 

“I’ve made it this far. It would be my luck to tip over sooner rather than later.” she snickered.

 

“Quickly, before we get up there, what do you think? I sort of let the shop people pick his attire, and I’m not certain the other wasn’t better…” he mused.

 

“I think he looks quite handsome. I’m not certain what the other one was, but I like it.” she said after a time.

 

“So long as you approve, I suppose it was a good pick then. He missed you, you know? Kept talking about how the castle was obviously too big if the rooms were that far apart, and how he couldn’t sleep because the bed felt weird without you in it. I even offered to share with him if it would help, but somehow he didn’t see the humor in it.” he said with a quiet laugh.

 

“How is this possible? Everyone is here…” she said, still amazed by it.

 

“My clever wife decided to send out an invitation, on the off chance they might make it. Turns out they received the letter fairly quickly, rounded up everyone of merit and came here straight away. Your Qunari friend even appears to have dressed up...somewhat for the occasion?” he said.

 

The Iron Bull had swapped his usual harness for a different one and had a darker version of his usual pants, about as dressed up as Bull ever got for any reason, save for Halamshiral, at least. He stopped long enough to give her over to Fenris before he left to sit by his wife. Ari wasn’t quite sure what was supposed to happen, and he mirrored her confusion, content for the moment to hold her hands, unable to look at her for a moment.

 

“I missed you.” he said quietly.

 

She couldn’t quite tell, but despite how seriously he said it, it looked like he might be blushing a little. It might only have been one day, but it had felt like a lot longer, for her at least. Probably in large part to the entire night feeling like it stretched on forever before she managed to get to sleep. There’s something unsettling about staying in an unfamiliar place, something that’s always there in the sounds, and the smells, and the way the light or shadow plays with everything that makes it feel wrong, but it’s much worse without someone to either comfort you or at least explain away the things that stood out. Not so much that she needed someone with her, but more in the sense that it was an entirely different world in her eyes depending on whether he was there or not.

 

“I missed you too.” she cooed.



Chapter Text

Ari sat at the table by Fenris, trying to divide her attention between him, her friends, and her sons, more than a little less anxious to see they seemed rather content at the moment. It was a bit inconvenient at worst to hear they were supposed to stay and chat, eat and the like before they could rush off to enjoy their first night together as husband and wife. Leliana sat to her left, utterly taken with her dress, reminding Ari that she was rather interested in fashion, a fact she’d been made aware of at Halamshiral, as she recalled.

 

“Neria took care of everything, I don’t really know much about this sort of thing.” She said with a slight shrug. “Incidentally, did anything happen while we’ve been away?”

 

She shook her head. “None of that now. You’re more than welcome to think of work when we return, but tonight should be about him, don’t you think?”

 

He echoed her sentiment with little more than a raised eyebrow. “She’s been bickering back and forth with the Queen about who gets to watch the boys, so we have one more night to ourselves. Since I know you can’t help but worry about every single thing in existence, I won’t ask for more than one night.”

 

Ada beamed proudly from across the table. “Besides, they’ve been having a great time with me. It turns out I haven’t forgotten the old stories after all, and they really seem to like hearing them. Fen’an is so easy to care for too.”

 

Ari frowned slightly at that. “Has Haleir been giving you trouble?”

 

Both Fenris and Leliana stared at her as if wondering if she had already forgotten not worrying about it for the night. She sighed and hung her head sheepishly. Figures, all this time she’d been eagerly awaiting the chance to spend time with him again, and it sounded like he’d been the same, but now that it was just a dinner conversation away, she couldn’t stop thinking about the things she’d managed to put off for a little while.

 

Ada didn’t look up from her glass. “I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it officially. Welcome to the family, however small it is now.”

 

“Thanks.” Fenris mumbled.

 

Ada supposed if she put aside her feelings on the matter, she did seem happy with him, he had stuck to his word and come back, maybe he was alright after all. Even had she married Cullen, part of her knew she’d never be completely alright with anyone she chose, she was her sister and the last of her family before the boys came along, and if for no other reason no one ever should be good enough for your kin. But he was alright.

 

Leliana spent a few minutes explaining to Ari that before they left she should throw the bouquet for the women, and Fenris was meant to take her garter and throw it for the men. It didn’t make sense to her why that was something that happened, but there wasn’t any reason she could think of not to do it. Fenris on the other hand seemed not to like the idea, until he realized what exactly that meant. He glanced under the table, trying to see exactly how long her dress was, trying to mentally calculate it in his mind. He didn’t have to say a word for her to recognize the look he was giving her. Dinner ended faster than she expected it would, and the women immediately grouped together, staring at her intently. She wasted no time tossing it at them like it was a scrap of meat to distract a predator. When the group parted from the massive pile that had formed quickly, Ada stood there staring at the bouquet she held curiously, equally unsure of what she was supposed to do with it. She shrugged, still somewhat pleased that she had managed to not drop it, she walked towards the wall to stand with the other women, all looking slightly defeated. Fenris met her curious gaze with a smirk that made her shiver. He glanced back to the group forming behind him before kneeling in front of her. Her face turned red almost instantly, staring down at him anxiously. He disappeared under her dress, and she pressed her palms to her legs in case it came up. She swallowed hard, feeling his lips against her thigh, and the feeling of his breath had her heart racing before he raised her leg slightly, pulling back with the fancy garment held between his teeth. He stood back up, flinging it off his finger into the group, a bit louder and slightly rougher than the seemingly accidental flying elbows she saw with the ladies. Fenris frowned slightly when he noticed Cullen holding onto it, of course it would have to be him that ended up with it. Well, it wasn’t like he was going to steal her from him, so it hardly mattered to him now that he caught it.

 

Alistair patted Fenris on the back, offering a quick congratulations before he quietly suggested they get away while they had the chance. He wasted no time then, reaching for her hand and sneaking her out of the dining hall while everyone was distracted.

 

“So what now?” She asked curiously.

 

Fenris bent to scoop her up, stealing a quick kiss, her arms slung loosely around his neck. He carried her down the hall, clutching her a little tighter so he wouldn’t drop her while he got the door open, kicking it closed behind him before setting her down on the edge of the bed.

 

“Well, if I remember correctly, now we spend the rest of the night in bed.” he said.

 

“Oh, is that how it goes?” she asked jokingly. “Give me a moment to slip out of all this and --”

 

“Leave it for now. It looks good on you.” he said.

 

Ari made a mental note to thank Neria again before they left. She hadn’t particularly known what to make of it, but he seemed to like it at least, so perhaps she wasn’t wrong about how flattering it was. He locked the door, pausing to think for a moment, before he shoved a small but heavy stand in front of it too. It seemed he wasn’t too keen on the idea of being interrupted tonight, but it was still somewhat amusing to see how serious he was about it.

Chapter Text

Ari reclined against a generous pile of pillows scattered on the bed, watching Fenris curiously. He sat at the foot of the bed, looking quite a bit more thoughtful than he usually did. She’d have teased him about it if it wasn’t quite so interesting, and mentally she was making a game of trying to imagine what he might be thinking. Of course, nothing she thought of ended up being very close to right, yet another way he managed to surprise her completely. He was slow in his movements, almost prowling up the bed towards her, leaning down. He kissed her, a soft, gentle and drawn out affair. His hands weaved through her hair, the rough pads of his thumbs caressing slow circles along her jaw. Not that she ever complained, but there was a stark difference between how this usually went and how he was tonight. The kiss ended all too soon, and curiously, was almost too chaste.

 

He sat back on his knees, his hands moving to wander up and down her legs, pausing to circle her ankles slowly.

 

“Do you imagine I don’t notice the details?” he asked curiously.

 

“Who really does?” she replied quietly. “I’m certain most people concentrate on the obvious.”

 

“I notice everything about you. I don’t want you to think I can’t sometimes be completely open with you.” he said. “So for now, just relax, and let me show you how I see you…”

 

Her face grew almost uncomfortably hot, and she was certain he’d already made her blush. She remembered the last time she had asked his thoughts, and she had a suspicious feeling that was exactly where he was going with this. Part of her was more than happy to not know, but a growing part of her was quite curious of what he really thought. She bit the inside of her lip lightly, watching him in silence, her fingers curling in the blankets like she was bracing for something painful.

 

“I admit I don’t usually think much of people’s legs, but yours, I like very much…” he told her, his fingers trailing up as high as her knees before coming back again. “I think you’ve found the best balance, I know how strong these legs are, you’ve walked from one end of Thedas to the other, and I’ve had the pleasure of feeling them around me countless times...and yet for all that they do for you, they’re still so soft and smooth...easily one of my favorite things about you.”

 

Ari’s tongue swept her lips nervously, it was difficult to hear such nice things about herself, when really she hadn’t ever thought too much about herself. Her mother always stressed to them the importance of humility, that an obsession with appearances would only lead one to become shallow and prideful. Still, it did feel good to know he thought so much of something so...functional?

 

He pushed her skirt up, momentarily thrown by her far from usual conservative panties. He followed the lines, bits of colored lace popping against the black. It took a moment to regain his composure enough to focus on what he was doing.

 

“Well, this is surprising. Here I thought you were too modest for something like this...not that I’m complaining, far from it. I like how it demands the attention you don’t like asking for…” he said.

 

He bent lower, pushing her dress up a little more, nipping at the band teasingly before kissing a slow path up her stomach, now marked with faint lines, a side effect of bringing their sons into this world. He tugged at the edges, drawing them down and off, lost somewhere to the floor, though he gave no indication he planned anything but continuing on with his praise. He lingered for just a moment on the strangely shaped scar under her ribs, exploring her sides thoroughly before his hands slid under her to unhook her bra, though he let go of her and pulled her dress back down fully, to her obvious confusion. He reached for her hands, pulling her to sit up, enough for him to sit behind her. He twisted locks of her hair between his fingertips, nipping her ear lightly.

 

“You know...I can’t think of a single part of you I don’t like. It’s like every inch of you was made just for me...and I fully intend to appreciate it all, but somehow...without having to do anything, you’ve still managed to make it a challenge to wait.” he purred.

 

Words were momentarily lost to her, her eyelids fluttering shut, trying very hard to retrieve her thoughts from wherever they’d scattered to. It was embarrassing how terrible she sounded when she finally managed to speak, a dead giveaway that he’d already managed to make it hard to think.

 

“Oh...i-is that so?” she stammered. “I don’t think I can get any redder, if that was the goal.”

 

He loosely held her throat, long enough to draw her head back before he let up, kissing and biting along her neck, circling under her arms after a moment, cupping her breasts through the lavish fabric.

 

“I’m sure you’re right about that, but my goal wasn’t so much to make you blush as to let you know just how attractive…” he paused, kissing along her jaw. “Amazing…” he continued, getting her to turn enough to return to her lips. “And sexy I find you.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean, I’m really nothing sp--” she began.

 

He bit her lip lightly, his tongue brushing against hers when her lips parted. It was a brief flirtation with contact, before he pulled away again.

 

“Don’t say that…” he said disapprovingly. “I don’t want you to think you’re less than what you are.”

 

Ari laughed to herself more than anything, shaking her head. “So should I take it you feel the same about my sister?”

 

Fenris frowned a little at that. “Would it surprise you to know I don’t feel anything for her? As similar as you might be, it’s just not you. I’ve told you before, but I see you need a reminder. I love you . Not her, not Hawke, not anyone else. Just you. If you tire so easily of hearing what I think of you, then perhaps it’s time I show you instead.”

 

Ari leaned back against him, and he rested his head on her shoulder, kissing her cheek lightly. “I love you too.” she said quietly. “As for what we do, I think I’ll leave that up to you. I’ve never been disappointed after all.”

 

He moved from behind her, pushing her to lie back again, smirking slightly at the look on her face. Perhaps surprised he could move so quickly, but then there was a lot he could do that she hadn’t seen yet. He skillfully managed to remove her bra without getting her dress off first, pulling the front down under her breasts, looking her over approvingly.

 

“Exactly. As if I’d ever leave you anything but completely satsified. Although, to be fair, I should warn you I don’t intend to stop until I’ve taken everything you can give me. At least you’ll get plenty of sleep.” he told her.

 

Ari couldn’t think of a thing to say. She’d have liked to tease him a little bit, but the idea of such a thing was not so out of the realm of possibilities, not something to try and encourage, probably. Either way, he likely already had all the hints he needed to know that she wasn’t exactly backing down from the idea either. It seemed he already had plenty of ideas on what to do with all this time alone...

 

Chapter Text

Fenris pinned Ari back against the wall of pillows, his clothes scattered to the floor. It was uncomfortably hot with the combination of the warmth of her skin and the crackling of the fireplace. She’d had only a glass or two of some Rivaini wine at the reception, and yet it was more than enough to shed her inhibitions, it seemed. Her fingers roamed his chest appreciatively, her tongue twining against his eagerly, already enough of a curiosity to him before her hand came down between his thighs, his own curling around hers. She was rarely adventurous enough to touch him like this without some prompting, this was more than a pleasant surprise to him. He gently nipped and tugged on her lower lip, sighing into the increasingly heated kiss, his hips jerking slightly when her hand started moving under his.

 

“I’m beginning to think I’ll never stop finding new sides to you…” he gasped.

 

“There’s much and more you don’t know about me yet. Though I could say the same of you. We have a lifetime to get to know each other better…” she told him quietly.

 

“Lie back then. Let me get to know you…” he said teasingly.

 

Ari pulled her hand away slowly, sitting up like she was about to move into place for him. Instead, she pushed him to lie down, a lopsided grin on her face. He’d seen that kind of smile before, there was no hesitation or self-consciousness left to her, and damned if the look in her eyes wasn’t already some filthy oath in its own right. This was interesting enough that he decided to see where she was going with it, rather than argue it. He slid his fingers through her hair slowly, drawing her back for another deep kiss, kneading the back of her neck as he slowly reached the ends of her golden locks. She broke it after a few moments, kissing down his throat, over his chest and down his toned stomach. She felt his muscles tense when she reached just past his navel, her lips slowing, lingering almost maddening long before she finally continued down. His palm flattened against her head and he took a deep breath, staring down at her.

 

This one, this was something she must have picked up from the Iron Bull. Part of him didn’t like how casually he spoke about such things around her, but then again, if this was the result, he could hardly complain. Not that he hadn’t tried a few things as a result of what he had overheard from him in the tavern. His head dropped back against the pillows, his eyes feeling almost too heavy, though he managed to keep his eyes on her long enough for her to glance up at him, before quickly diverting her gaze, the barest suggestion of pink sweeping her cheeks. Not completely without some sense of embarrassment after all, it seemed. Part of her charm, he was past denying that she didn’t have him completely under whatever spell she must surely have cast on him. It was clumsy, but better than he had the words to describe, obvious enough that she wasn’t very sure if it was the exact way it was supposed to go, and he’d have told her if he could think clearly enough to speak at all.

 

No. This wasn’t how he wanted it to go. As much as he didn’t want to stop her just yet, he had to. Gently pulling her away, Fenris moved away, off the bed. Ari stared at him with a puzzled expression, almost squeaking when he reached for her hand, tugging her up off the bed towards him.

 

“What are you --” she managed.

 

“Shh...just wait.” he told her.

 

Fenris glanced around the room, silently assessing each idea that filtered through his thoughts. A new place should make it memorable enough, but the question of where was the issue. There was a small dining table in the corner of the room, like an afterthought. He picked her up, slinging her over his shoulder, for once unconcerned with the suddenness with which her feet left the ground.

 

“What’s this? Not so much as a peep this time?” he joked.

 

“I’m waiting to see what you’re doing…” she admitted.

 

With that, he let her down on the table, pulling her to sit closer to the edge. He hastily pushed the skirt of her dress up to her hips, his fingers slowly rubbing against her. Ari bit her lip loosely, gripping the edge of the table, staring down at him when he took a seat, meeting her eyes until she looked away, biting a path up her thigh. She gasped, giving up on her attempt to stay upright, the cool surface offering a pleasant contrast. This was still somewhat strange for her, it was still embarrassing when she considered what exactly he was doing, but at some point, whether it was just that she’d had enough wine to take the edge off and relax or she was slowly becoming more comfortable with it. There was no denying he had a very good idea of what he was doing, already almost shamefully close to her peak and he’d barely had to do much of anything to get her there. The specifics might have been a mystery, but if the past was truly any indication, this was hardly the main act he had in mind.

 

Ari felt the strange and almost imperceptible little tingles that were somehow still immediately familiar to her, barely raising her head up, enough to confirm for herself that she wasn’t imagining it, only to see nearly every inch of visible skin on him lit up. Not only had he not forgotten that little confession, but was now to the point of springing it unexpectedly. Most might not be aware, and the discovery itself may have been an unfortunate side effect of a bad day for everyone, but at least for her, she could feel it, nothing obvious, something more along the lines of a faint breeze on a hot day, or brushing past someone and finding the feeling of the fabric memorable in some way. Maybe it was the sight of him like that and the transient little phantom shocks rushing through her, or it could have been the way he managed to find the focus to stare up at her, like he knew exactly what she was thinking right then that was the sudden shove that sent her crashing into a whimpering, shivering mess. He slowly pulled away from her, kneading her thighs slowly, quirking a brow when her eyes finally opened again.

 

“Do you need a minute?” he asked, a hint of a completely smug grin following his question. “I’ll wait if you do.”

 

For a little bit, all she could do was stare at him like she forgot how words worked, eventually realizing she hadn’t even answered him at all. She moved to sit up, half wondering how and if he intended to top that.

 

“I’m fine…” she managed.

 

With that, he once more brought her to the edge of the table, directing her legs around his waist, picking her up again. He set her back down on the bed, addressing her curious look without her having to ask.

 

“It’ll hurt your back. It’ll be easier here.” he said.

Chapter Text

Fenris stared at Ari in silence, a thin strip of moonlight lingering over her. He slowly brushed his fingers through her hair, her head on his chest, curled against him like she trusted him completely to watch over her as she slept. He was absolutely sure that every last ounce of energy had vanished over the course of the night, she could barely keep her eyes open. He was tired too, but couldn’t resist staying up a while longer, if only to admire her for just a bit more. A few more hours and they’d be on their way back, she’d be busy again, and times like these would be fewer and farther between once more, he’d lose these little moments when he had her all to himself. He sighed, drawing the blankets up to her shoulders, his hand leaving her hair to hold her protectively to him, as if he might be able to keep even her dreams from being unpleasant if he could only keep her close. Ari smiled slightly, a soft sigh the only indication she gave that she noticed.

 

It was a rare moment of peace even for him, tempting fate, he willed himself to think of anything that normally plagued him. The way Hawke treated him, the way it felt to see Cullen in his place, Danarius, anything, but for the life of him, he couldn’t managed to come up with anything. For perhaps the first time, he could honestly say nothing was troubling him. Nothing save for the sudden nagging reminder that he owed this moment to Varric, and he surely hadn’t forgotten that. He didn’t want to wake her, she looked too much at peace and knowing that soon enough she’d just look worn down by her duties again. Corypheus was no longer a threat, it seemed like aside from a few stray rifts there shouldn’t be enough left to do to keep her so busy. He didn’t have to ask to have overheard that it was mostly just stupid things that people could deal with themselves but chose to ask her instead because she was important, it lent them influence having someone like her deal with their menial tasks.

 


 

There was a faint knock at the door, and Ada went to answer it, Haleir sniffling irritably. Cullen stood there looking an even balance of tired and confused as to why he was there in the first place. She’d asked him to drop by, and he had assumed it had something to do with needing a short reprieve from watching the boys, but she seemed to be handling it well aside from the fussier of the twins at the moment. She stepped back, and he came in, closing the door behind him. Ada gestured to a chair, and he sat down, kneading the back of his neck with a faint yawn, trying to ignore the exhaustion creeping through him.

 

“You asked to see me?” he said, despite how obvious that was.

 

“I did. I thought we should talk.” she said seriously.

 

He sighed, shaking his head. “If this is about Ari, I should say I’m not going to try and break up her marriage. If she’s happy, that’s enough for me.”

 

“That...wasn’t exactly it.” she said. “In a way, I suppose it is about her, but...also not.”

 

“I’m not certain I understand. Has she said something? I imagined she’d be absent until we leave.” he said.

 

Ada paced slowly, setting Haleir down when he finally settled and started to doze off. He often managed to forget she wasn’t quite as well versed as Ari had become with these matters. She had all the confidence and more, but very little of her social skills.

 

“I feel really bad.” she began, fidgeting anxiously. “I was so sure she would choose you, I didn’t even consider what I had to be doing to you. I’ve been thinking about it, and...well, I’m not sure I could ever be her substitute, but I started considering that perhaps what happened at the wedding was a sign…maybe I could...maybe I’m meant to…”

 

She trailed off as though she wasn’t quite sure that he hadn’t already understood what she was trying to suggest. His expression was unreadable and the silence was uncomfortable, but she waited despite that. Honestly, she wasn’t sure how she felt about him other than sorry she had tried to interfere, and upset that she’d inadvertently hurt him as a result. He swallowed hard, staring down at his hands longer than he expected to, before he shook his head.

 

“I do appreciate the concern. It isn’t that I’m not flattered, only that…” he sighed again, like he couldn’t believe he was considering saying such a thing. “You’re not her. You might be very similar, but at the end of the day, it’s just not the same. I’m glad you cared enough to want her happiness, but she is happy, and that’s enough for me, even if it isn’t with me. If I took up with you, it wouldn’t be fair to you, not when I couldn’t give you the sort of care you deserve.”

 

“What about what you deserve?” she asked. “Haven’t you considered your own happiness?”

 

“I have. It probably sounds foolish, but I think at least for now, if it isn’t her...it isn’t what I want. I feel terrible, I know this must make you feel awful, but I just...can’t.” he admitted.

 

“Cullen...are you...still holding out hope?” she asked as delicately as she could.

 

“Honestly? Not at all. I know when I’ve lost, and I don’t want to wish ill on Fenris just because I still care for her. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still wondering if there was a chance it might not work out, but I don’t wish it to happen, not for my sake.” he said. “Although...surely you’ve heard the stories, I wasn’t always the man I am now. I’ve done some terrible things, stayed quiet when I should have said something, let bad experiences hold me back and change me for the worse. I truly hate to suggest such a thing, but perhaps she’s better off with him. You will find someone who deserves you. It just...isn’t me.”

 

“I see...I think you’re too hard on yourself. Just the same, I appreciate your honesty.” she told him.

 

“I’ll take my leave now. You should rest while you can, we’ll be leaving in only a few hours, after all.” he said.

 

She watched him curiously as he got up and left, closing the door behind him. Ada wasn’t really sure how to feel about the situation. She sighed, falling into bed, staring up at the ceiling. It was hard not to think about it now that he’d said it. Fenris didn’t seem all that terrible, not really, he did come back like he said he would, and hadn’t seemed the least bit reluctant to marry Ari, there was no hesitation on his face then, nothing but adoration that she saw. Still, regardless of if she actually had any feeling for Cullen or not, it did sting to be rejected for someone he couldn’t have.

 

“Good thing I’m not a matchmaker, I guess. I’m really no good at this after all.” she said with a quiet chuckle.

 

Her eyes closed slowly, pulling the covers up. For some reason, something felt off, like the balanced atmosphere of the castle had somehow shifted, not drastically, just a tiny bit, but enough for her to feel it in her gut. Something was odd.

Chapter Text

Josie quietly rested a stack of fresh updates in front of her, biting her lip worriedly. They’d been back only a few hours and the two constants were the boys napping with Atlas and the uncharacteristically stiff way she carried herself. She’d seen her nearly doze off several times before she’d shake her head and get up to splash cold water on her face, much like Cullen sometimes did, but it didn’t feel the same. Not at all like she didn’t want to sleep until her work was done, but the falling asleep itself that concerned her. The sharp stare on her face didn’t invite too much conversation at all, let alone questions. She made a few quiet inquiries, but could turn up nothing solid, even Fenris was at a loss for what was bothering her, save that he mentioned the way she tossed about in her sleep that wasn’t particularly normal.

 

“Leave her alone, she’s probably just trying to adjust to being back at work.” Varric suggested.

 

“I suppose you’re right, but I can’t help but worry. She looks exhausted, and I know reading can be taxing on your mind, but I’d bet all the sovereigns in skyhold it isn’t that.” Josie sighed.

 

“Well, that’s a fairly serious wager. I can’t imagine who she’d tell if not Fenris. Ada doesn’t know anything, and Cullen seems like he’s already too busy with changing the guard to have noticed anything not in armor.” he replied.

 

She was definitely far enough away that she couldn’t hear them, that much was a given. She didn’t so much as glance up.

 

“I know you’re staring at me. I can feel it.” she said pointedly. “What’s so interesting?”

 

Josie quickly buried herself in her writing, wandering off in a polite hurry, still managing to work as she went. Varric sighed, realizing it was about to fall to him to try and pry it out of her. He hadn’t exactly expected her to even entertain the thought. He barely got a foot closer before she nudged out a chair to the side of the desk she’d temporarily taken over. He turned the back of the chair towards her, straddling it as best he could manage, his feet not quite touching the ground.

 

“You’re not really interested in this, right?” he asked, as though he knew the answer already.

 

“Perceptive as always.” she said.

 

Varric relieved her of the top page, his brows raising seriously. Since the Conclave, word on a new Divine had been sparse, save a few rumors,, including a laughable one saying that they wanted Cassandra of all people. He was pretty sure Ari’s name came up as a suggestion, but was quickly tossed out. An elven mage was probably bad enough but Thedas already held its collective breath when it came to her, both in awe and fear of what she might do with the nearly limitless power she’d so effortlessly collected. Adding in the weight of the Ferelden throne as an ally, of course they wouldn’t want her on the Sunburst Throne. No, they wanted Leliana . This was the first time he’d seen anything definitive on the subject, and it was no longer a request, but very nearly a demand.

 

“That’s only half of it.” she muttered. “I don’t so much mind, if that’s what she wants, I wouldn’t think of fighting it. She might actually be able to sort this mess out. If anyone can, it’s definitely her, at least that’s what I think. I spoke with her this morning. She’ll be leaving at the end of the month, but she says she’ll still be able to tend to Inquisition matters as long as possible.”

 

“I’d have expected you to look a little more relieved then. The world is at peace enough for them to want to move on filling the throne. This might finally be over, you can take a break, relax, maybe do something besides fighting everything from demons, dragons and magisters to nobles and royalty. You don’t look like you’re very pleased.” Varric observed.

 

“I felt someone watching me in my sleep. It sounds crazy, I know it does, but I grew up on horror stories of mages with the power to enter someone else’s dreams and kill them, or...maybe it was make them Tranquil by killing them in their sleep, I can’t think straight...I’m not saying someone’s trying to kill me, I’m not sure.” she rambled quietly, almost like she couldn’t focus even on that much.

 

“So what is it then, if you’re not particularly sure if you’re in danger or not?” he aske,d scraping his chin thoughtfully.

 

“It felt familiar, gentle at first, but then cold. Very cold. I can’t shake the feeling that something big is about to happen, Reading that again, I thought maybe it was just a weird feeling based on the idea of Leliana leaving, but...that’s not it either. I may not know if the presence I felt was dangerous, but whatever is going on is definitely a problem.” she muttered.

 

“Well...I’ll hope for your sake that you’re wrong this time. You’ve had far too much excitement for a hundred lifetimes already, I think if the Maker has been picking on you specifically, he has to be getting bored by now.” he said with a laugh.

 

“I’m sure he’s having a barrel of laughs.” she said flatly.

 

Her expression finally softened a bit, her eyes fixed on his in a way that he could almost physically see her vulnerability, she was worried, not quite scared, but definitely anxious about something else. There were times when being able to read people actually came in useful, even here. Her fingers had a solid grip on the edge of the desk, letting up finally, but only to clutch her hand. It looked like she was trying to hide it from him, but she should have known better.

 

“What’s up with that?” he asked, nodding towards her hand. “Not the first time I’ve seen you doing that.”

 

Ari shifted her eyes to her hand, the mark sparking just a little, barely worth noting, all things considered, save for the way it felt like her nerves were being seared over a bonfire all the way up her arm. Of course it bothered her, it had bothered her from the start, messing with something magical of this level that she knew nothing about. Solas’ sudden departure left her with no one with any sort of inkling as to what might be happening, and no way to try and figure out how to make it stop.

 

“I haven’t told anyone really. I didn’t plan on it either.” she said, the look on her face a veiled threat in itself if he was the one to repeat it. He raised his hands as a gesture that he had no plans to tell anyone else, although he already knew if it was serious, he’d probably do just that, if only because she was absolute rubbish at taking care of herself. “It’s been getting worse. Before, I had near complete control over it, I thought I’d finally figured it out.”

 

“And now?” he asked.

 

“Now? It’s getting harder. It’s just tiny little random sparks right now, but the pain is something else. Sometimes it’s hard enough to hold back how much it hurts.” she held out her unmarked arm to him, gesturing to his wrist. He didn’t have to touch to see the way her pulse pounded and jumped. That would certainly explain why she looked so...very nearly unapproachable, actually.

 

“I’d say that’s something to talk to a healer about, but I think we both know it’s not going to help. I’m not even sure I can help with this one, but I’ll be here, as always. I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but I don’t abandon my friends. Just...keep that in mind.” he said.

 

“You should go now. Cassandra’s coming, I can hear her out in the hall. Go the back way.” she said knowingly.

 

“Remind me to thank you properly later.” he said, not looking back on his way out.

 

Ari smiled slightly, shaking her head before trying to return to the updates. The shadow cast across the desk made her blood run cold, however. She didn’t have to look to know who it was. She could even picture the serious look on his face, maybe even the seriously crossed arms. She’d been warned the walls had ears, but damned if he didn’t somehow manage to show up unexpectedly without a sound.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Fenris asked.

 

“I didn’t want to worry you.” she said.

 

“That’s bullshit and you know it. I knew it was getting worse, and you kept trying to deny it. If it’s that serious, don’t you think it’s time we start trying to figure this out? Someone else has to know something, and you don’t have much left to do, now is the right time to try and fix it.” he said.

 

That wasn’t likely to happen. Even the voices felt quieter and it wasn’t like she hadn’t used that to try and get answers. There were none to be had, the only noteworthy spirit healers who might have known something that would work were rumored to be either dead or out of reach, and Solas had been gone for quite a while now, he wasn’t likely to come back. Not that they had a way to reach him even if that was an option. Leliana had mentioned she’d been having her people scour Thedas for signs of him with not even a tiny lead. Part of her wished she could go back and let Corypheus remove it, though even he said it was ruined then, maybe he couldn’t do it either. Honesty wasn’t likely to help in this situation, instead, she forced a smile, nodding slowly.

 

“You have a point. Now is as good a time as any, I’ll talk to the others and see what resources can be spared to look into it. No doubt I’ll have need to leave again anyway for the rifts that are left, Everything is going to be fine.” she agreed.

 

“Come on. You need a break, I’ll watch them, go get something to eat. Go for a walk around the yard or something, you’ve been sitting here all day. We’ll talk about it more later.” he sighed.

 

To the untrained eye, he look about the same as usual, but there was a faint hint of concern buried under it, he was trying to assure her it would be fine, but even he wasn’t as sure. Instead of pointing it out, she simply nodded, pushing away from the desk, heading for the yard, despite having no certain destination in mind just yet. Maybe a mindless walk wherever her feet carried her would clear her head...

Chapter Text

Ari sat on the steps overlooking the yard. Atlas was trying to chase Oliver, though he kept tumbling over in his excitement. It was surprisingly warm for the season, and the sky was bright and clear, but it felt almost bittersweet. Leliana was getting ready for a brief trip to Orlais to officialize matters with the chantry. It was strange to see someone she had grown close to leaving like this, even for just a bit. She’d very rarely left, and she recalled it had to do with being of more use here than in the field. She kneaded her temples with a quiet sigh, trying to chase away the headache that had been nagging her for the better part of the morning. Leliana dashed back up the steps, slinging an arm around her shoulders.

 

“What are you doing? You’ll set yourself behind schedule…” Ari asked curiously.

 

“They’ll wait a little longer. They’ve waited this long, after all.” she said with a laugh.

 

Ari leaned in just a bit, dropping her head on her shoulder. It felt unusual to think there was a time when getting this close to a human would never have crossed her mind, but this place had changed everything for her. As much as she wished that her boys would grow up the way she had, surrounded on all sides by family, they still would be, just not the family she might have ever expected. Not everyone got the sort of unique claim that they might. Even Dorian had dropped by a few times to tell them stories, and Fenris’ initial wariness of him had begun to wane.

 

“I shouldn’t have stayed up so long. I didn’t realize how much work there was.” she yawned.

 

“Fenris didn’t charm you back to bed?” Leliana asked with a giggle.

 

“He tried. I was sorely tempted, but I thought I’d sleep better knowing that I was done for a little bit.” she admitted with a shrug.

 

She stared at her seriously like she was studying her. Ari’s brows drew together curiously, but she decided against asking. Whatever she was looking for, she wasn’t sure she could muster the energy to be terribly concerned about it.

 

“You could come with. I won’t be gone long, there’s little enough to do, and we’ve so rarely had a chance to spend time together. We could go shopping, take in some of the sights you never got to enjoy, and oh...the things they could do with your hair…” she said, disappearing into her thoughts.

 

She already knew she wouldn’t but the offer was there. Instead, she jumped ahead of her refusal, grinning. “If not, then at least tell me you’ll come away for a few days?”

 

Ari nodded slowly. “Alright. A few days, when you return, I’ll let you figure out the details and I’ll figure it out from there.”

 

Leliana nodded slowly, squeezing her shoulder gently. “You’re looking a little flushed today, have you eaten? Perhaps you should go see a healer. I’ve seen the way you’ve been going since your return, and I admit I’m a little concerned.”

 

Ari shook her head, shrugging. “I tried, but it just wasn’t what I wanted. I feel just fine, but I swear, between Fenris and Varric I’m trying to do better. I’d swear if he wasn’t a Dwarf that he was my mother the way he worries. Dorian brought by something this morning to help with this headache, but I wanted to see you off…”

 

Leliana glanced down to the impatient carriage driver waiting on her with a quiet sigh. “I suppose I should get going. I’ll be back very soon, so please do your best to take care of yourself, alright?”

 

Ari gave a slight nod, wincing uncomfortably when she gave her one last hug before she shuffled off. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs like she had something else to tell her.

 

“You should still see a healer anyway. Just in case.” she told her.

 

“Alright, alright. I’ll make time.” she relented uneasily.

 

“Thank you.” she said. “Josephine is planning another party, I hear this time Yvette will be in attendance. Just a head’s up.”

 

“She actually told you?” Ari wondered.

 

“I am still your spymaster.” she said with an impish giggle. “Not everything needs to be said.”

 

Leliana crossed the yard and climbed into the carriage, content to leave it at that. Ari stayed long enough to watch her leave before she stood up, pressing a hand to her head. Leaning against the wall for a few moments while the dizziness passed, she tried to debate her next move, but there wasn’t much time to consider it before the ground disappeared from under her. Bull hauled her down the stairs, draped over his shoulder across the yard to the tavern.

 

“Your presence has been demanded.” he said simply.

 

“By who?” she groused.

 

“A simpler question would be ‘who didn’t?” he laughed.

 

That was all the hint she needed to know exactly what was going on. Apparently she was being carted off for a game. Hopefully more mundane than the last time, it was far too early for that much alcohol, and too many people to want to subject anyone to a naked streak across the yard. Everyone seemed to be making a point of telling her she was working far too hard, but compared to poor Josephine or Cullen? She was hardly scratching the surface, those two, and Leliana of course, had been going since this all began, and compared to that, she had the easy job. Tell a few people where to go, kill a few demons, close a few rifts. Alright, maybe it was all more than a few , but it was hardly the battles that went on behind the scenes. Fenris was here this time too, she’d heard a few passing mentions of how this was pretty much just like Kirkwall in that way. Fenris liked playing cards and passing time over stories and a few rounds, but this had to be the first time she’d seen him in here, more than willing to play with the others.

 

He pulled out the chair a bit and Bull deposited her on the seat before rounding the table to his usual seat. Hell, just about everyone was here, save for Cassandra who was presumably already penning letters for ideas about what to do with the chantry, with the Seekers and a thousand other things, and Leliana wasn’t even on the throne yet.

 

“Varric never said anything about a game…” she mumbled.

 

“It was Mr. Inquisitor that suggested it.” Varric chuckled.

 

“I almost think I preferred ‘broody’.” Fenris sighed.

 

It hadn’t really come up until after the wedding when they finally crawled out of bed in the morning. Fenris admitted he didn’t really remember if he even had a last name for her to take, and instead had just decided to take hers, but Varric kickstarted his brand new nickname almost immediately after. It didn’t bother him as much as it seemed if the tiny little smile he tried to hide said anything. He reached for her hand under the table, slipping his fingers between hers.

 

“Are you feeling alright? You look a little off…” he asked quietly.

 

Ari nodded. “Sure, I’m alright. I’ll take a nap later, and you’ll see. I’ll be just fine.”

 

He stared at her like he didn’t immediately believe her, but eventually dismissed it with a soft, almost disapproving click of his tongue. Giving her hand a gentle squeeze, he let go long enough to toss a few coins down to the pile, returning to her after a moment. He didn’t particularly want to admit it, but he had given it plenty of thought recently, whether there would be times like this after all was said and done. Cullen was tolerable like this, just one of many, but he’d explored plenty of scenarios in his mind. Would he still feel the same sitting around the same table over dinner, or perhaps sitting outside together while his children chased the dog, or would it always just be him wondering how long it would be before they couldn’t stand each other again? It was still almost surreal to him, married, twin boys, a real future, nothing he could have ever imagined as a slave, not even in Kirkwall. He’d never once said that word to Hawke, not the one he found himself saying more often than he’d ever wanted to before. Never really considered getting married or beginning a family, not until it was all in front of him.

 

He frowned a little at the thought. He recalled mention of her being promised to another man in her clan. He’d heard plenty about him, more than he cared to, but he had to wonder about him despite what happened. If things had worked out differently, with respect to how much she valued family and the strange sense of duty she seemed to have ingrained. Surely she’d have been bonded to him anyway, regardless if she loved him or not. She’d sit by unhappily because it was what was asked of her, eventually raise a family. It was a scary thought. In another life, she wouldn’t ever have been his, this wouldn’t have ever happened. In a way, he was grateful to Hawke, if he had given up on her when he should have, he’d never have met her. He leaned in, gently nipping her earlobe.

 

“You know I love you, right?” he asked.

 

“I know. Believe me, I know just how lucky I am.” she said with a smile.

 

She thought she was the lucky one? She really had no idea.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry...I know the last thing you need is to have more to do.” Leliana said. “You should prepare yourself as best as you can. Make sure everyone is prepared for this.”

 

“For what? I’m not certain I understand this…” Ari murmured, reading through the papers in silence. “What is this council for?”

 

“I’ve been delaying it as long as I’ve been able to, but it seems they’re eager to figure out where the Inquisition stands now that it has fulfilled all the purposes it was established for.” she explained.

 

“I’m still getting reports on rift activity and demons. Surely they realize this is still a threat even now. I’m certain I’m not the only one capable of handling demons, but the rifts, I’m sure there’s not many who might have the means to close them. Not that I’m not looking forward to trying to figure out what happens next, but I don’t want to leave a job half finished.” she said quietly.

 

“I agree with you, personally. Unfortunately, I think I may have had more pull as your spymaster. As Divine, I can only do so much to make this go as smoothly as I can. You have a month to get ready, that was all the time I could manage to ensure you.” Leliana told her. “If you like, I can at least attempt to delay it just a bit longer?”

 

Ari shook her head slowly, exhaling slower. No, if the situation was already that unmanageable, the best thing she could do would be to face it head on and hope for the best. “Don’t. We’ll be ready. Whatever happens from here, we’ll have little choice but to accept the outcome. There’s no point in delaying something that was always inevitable, right?”

 

“You’ve grown so much.” Leliana sighed. Sweeping her hair back behind her ears, she looked her over in silence. “You’ve come so far. I’m certain you don’t hear this as often as you should, but I am quite proud of you.”

 

Ari puffed her cheeks out poutily. “I feel like one of those dolls we saw in the market.”

 

Leliana laughed at that, cocking her head thoughtfully. “I don’t know, I think you look lovely. They certainly chose well, the color and the cut of the dress alone is quite flattering, but you almost look like a different person with your hair like that, and the makeup certainly flatters your color well.”

 

“At least you think so. This much still feels completely odd. Are you really certain this changes people’s opinions of me so drastically?” she asked.

 

“Of course. Plenty of people already know and respect you for the things you’ve done, but here in Orlais, they look at you more favorably if you look like you know what you’re doing. You do, you’ve proven that, but you look like you not only belong, but like you own the place. Celene herself would be hard pressed to point you out as an outsider.” she said.

 

“I think the ears alone do a great job of that.” Ari pointed out.

 

“That aside.” she said.

 

Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose with a long sigh. Josephine hurriedly scrawled notes on things that would need to be arranged, and other assorted preparations to tend to within the month.

“It feels like we just got back from Orlais.” Cullen grumbled. “I have to admit I’m not looking forward to this in the least.”

 

“Even more when you consider the purpose of this Council. One misstep and we paint ourselves a bigger target than we need right now. This is going to be even worse than Halamshiral, if you can believe that.” Josephine said.

 

“Great…” Cullen added sarcastically.

 

Ari’s nose scrunched up and she leaned against the table, pressing a hand to her side.

 

“Are you alright?” Josephine asked.

 

“Indigestion, I’m sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the stress has worn a hole in my stomach.” she sighed. “That or perhaps it’s just the food. I never thought I’d welcome Ferelden food, but Leliana took me to this place, and I’m not certain it agrees well with me.”

 

“I’m not surprised.” Cullen shrugged. “Do you need to see someone? We can certainly see to most of this ourselves.”

 

Ari thought about it seriously for a time, before she finally relented. “Alright then. I think I can handle this myself. I’ll take something for it and return to my room. Perhaps if I lie there long enough it’ll pass.”

 

“Do take it easy, I’ll send someone by with an updated list later.” Josephine told her.

 

Ari waved her hand on her way out, heading back down the hall towards her room. She stopped at her desk, rummaging through the drawers for one of the vials she’d made up and stashed about, just in case. It had been mentioned as being stress, most likely, and so she’d already taken the liberty of mixing up some medicine and putting them in places where she’d be most likely to be if she needed any. She popped the stopper, tipping her head back with an unhappy groan. Fenris watched her curiously, waiting until she reached the bed to check her over. He curled an arm around her, loosening his grip when she sighed uncomfortably.

 

“Are you still not feeling well?” he asked.

 

“No, I’m feeling better, really. It was a long trip, and this whole Council business is a lot to process. I’ll be alright, I promise.” she told him.

 

“I don’t see the point in it anyway. Alistair took to you well enough, surely he can calm his own people down. You helped the Empress, she should have enough sway over them. Your own spymaster is Divine now, between those three alone, this shouldn’t even be an issue.” Fenris grunted. “There’s enough demanding your focus as it is without people who think they’re important telling you what to do.”

 

“It can’t be helped. Celene and Alistair are fine enough, but they still have to take into account what they people they rule want, and if what they want is to have a say in the future of the Inquisition, they can’t truly do anything to stop this.” she shrugged. “Believe me, I’m not too keen on it either.”

 

“I suppose there’s no way to avoid it, is there?” he asked.

“It didn’t sound like there was.” Ari admitted.

 

Fenris sighed, lazily kissing the nape of her neck, his fingers slowly trailing circles on her stomach. “If it can’t be helped, I guess all the complaining in the world won’t stop it. If you need anything, I’ll help.”

 

“You’re already doing enough. I was gone longer than I meant to be, I’m so sorry to leave everything up to you like that.” she told him.

 

“Don’t apologize. They didn’t give me much trouble.” he murmured.

 

“Of course not. They adore you to bits.” she laughed.

 

“I’m not sure about that, but it’s getting a little easier at least.” he admitted. “I’m not really suited for this, but I think I’m beginning to figure it out.”

 

“Ah! Speaking of, I got another letter while I was away.” she announced. “The Queen had a son. She’s quite excited about it, they’ve invited us to drop by when we can.”

 

Fenris sighed again, heavier this time. “Has it been so long already? I don’t care whether we go or not, but I think I’ve waited for you long enough, they can wait this time.”

 

“You seem to have me all to yourself at the moment. I’m not about to rush out to Denerim right this moment, so you’ve gotten what you wanted, I’m right here.” she laughed.

 

“Good.” he said. “I’ve had plans for this moment since you left.”

 

“Really? What plans?” she asked curiously.

 

He buried his face in the curve of her neck, exhaling slowly. Reaching for the blanket, he pulled it up over them, relaxing noticeably. “I’m exhausted.” he told her honestly. “All I want is just to take a nap, and now that you’re back, I think I can.”

 

“That’s different. I remember a time when you slept just fine whether I was there or not.” Ari teased.

 

“You’ve changed me. I can’t begin to say if it was for the better or not, but everything feels different. There’s a lot of things I can and can’t do if you’re not around. Sleeping is just one of those things.” he mumbled.

 

“I admit I didn’t sleep very well while I was away. The room wasn’t mine, the bed wasn’t comfortable, it smelled too different, you weren’t there, and then, there was a constant stream of people either far too eager to make sure everything was alright, and others that weren’t as thrilled to have anything to do with me. Leliana said that regardless of all the good I’ve done, some Orlesians are still hot about having to deal with an elf, and others still were open supporters of Gaspard, and aren’t too pleased with that situation…” Ari said. “I’m just glad to be home.”

 

The bed dipped down slightly, and Fenris immediately looked up to check. Haleir struggled to climb up, Fen’an not far behind. Atlas thumped heavily on impact, curling up by their feet. Ari sat up slowly, helping them up. They wiggled in between them, and Ari smiled a little. She remembered that too, her and Ada both sneaking in to curl up with their mother, her just because she slept better that way, and Ada usually because of a bad dream. Neither looked like they had been disturbed by dreams, it seemed more likely that they simply wanted to be close.

 

“Seems like they’re glad you’re home too.” he observed.

 

“I don’t mind.” she said quietly.

 

“I don’t either. Although there’s a bit more space than I’m used to…” he told her. “It’s strange to think that this really might be over. Will you miss it?”

 

Ari shrugged slightly. “I think some of it, I will. I’ll miss having everyone here, and I think I might actually miss going to new places. Even if the reasons weren’t good, it was interesting to experience. Old ruins, uncovering bits of history, meeting new people...I won’t really miss the fighting, or the injuries, and I’ll be glad if I never have to see another dragon again for a good long while. Demons too, if I don’t have to see them anymore, I could get used to it.”

 

“That’s something we can agree on. Not having to watch you run into danger the minute someone says it’s something you have do, because you’re the only person who can? Of course I’m happy about that.” he said seriously.

 

“I do wish Solas had stayed around to see this though. He was there before I was, he should have been here to see what happens next.” she sighed. “Come to think of it, even the voices have gone quiet. I suppose Mythal must not have need of me. I wonder if he worried for nothing…”

 

“Maybe he’ll show up. You never know.” Fenris suggested.

 

“He probably won’t. I recall he enjoyed the Winter Palace, but this and that aren’t truly the same. Besides, I’m certain if he left so quickly he had something very important to do. It’s odd that so many people have left already. I always knew they’d move on eventually, but it just happened so fast. It’s so empty too, the war table doesn’t quite feel the same anymore without Leliana.” she hummed.

 

“I’ll give you that. I at least thought Varric was sticking around, but even he left. I suppose he must have a lot to deal with back in Kirkwall...that or he’s just sitting at the Hanged Man pretending to be busy. I never know with him.” he said. “Anyway...are you feeling any better yet?”

 

“Actually...yeah. The pain is gone at least. I think I can rest now.” she observed.

 

“Good. Then go to sleep already. That hasn’t changed, I still can’t sleep if you’re awake” Fenris reminded her.

 

“I’ll try to fall asleep quickly then. I don’t want to keep you up.” she laughed.

Chapter Text

Ari winced when she finally got off her horse. She had plenty of mounts, but usually stuck with Oliver, horses just didn’t feel the same, the ride was less comfortable than it should have been. She wobbled unsteadily when she dismounted, Fenris by her side in a moment.

 

“Are you really sure you’re okay? This isn’t like you.” he whispered quietly.

 

“I swear I’m fine. Just a long trip.” she assured him, her lips barely moving.

 

Already it was quite obvious all eyes were focused on her, same as before. All still trying to gauge more about her, but she’d already had plenty of time to master making sure her tells were hidden. She was supposed to meet with Arl Teagan and a name familiar to her through the requests they had fulfilled, one Cyril de Montfort. However, it didn’t take her long to realize she could see a few familiar faces. Despite better advice suggesting she just get one with it, Ari wasn’t one to pass up on a chance to see her old friends. She looked to Fenris questioningly, and he nodded. He wasn’t particularly close to most of her friends, but some were okay. Cullen, of course had stayed behind, he was necessary, and even if he wasn’t, his plans for the future put him in the same place anyway. As much as he hated to pass off the task of watching over her, especially when she was clearly in some sort of rough state that she wasn’t planning on explaining to him, he elbowed Cullen in the side, nodding towards her.

 

“She’ll know something’s up if I go. You know these people better than I do. Go with her.” he said.

 

“Well, this is unexpected. Didn’t think you’d ever ask me to watch her.” he said. “Still, I can’t deny she doesn’t quite look very well, I’ll keep an eye on her from a close distance. I don’t want to intrude.”

 

“I should at least see if Varric is here. No doubt he’ll want to talk…” Fenris sighed.

 

“Where are the boys?” Cullen asked curiously.

 

Fenris gestured over to where Ada sat, Divine Victoria having left her post already to wander over, Josephine elated to see her and fawn over the children. He was certain they both had to be breaking a number of protocols they’d probably insist on not breaking, but they had come to consider themselves as unofficial family. When he glanced back, Fenris was nowhere to be seen, and Ari was already across the expansive courtyard, talking to Blackwall. Well...no, that was wrong. Not Blackwall, Thom . He still wasn’t quite sure what to say to the man, so he opted not to intrude, content to watch from a close enough distance to respond, but not enough to be obvious that he was effectively trying to spy on her. He watched her rummage through the inside of her coat, pulling out a stack of letters, holding one up with a smile.

 

So they had actually written eventually? After so long without word, he figured they hadn’t intended to, but she was memorable, hard to forget really. Two years had done very little to erase the feelings he had, but it had gotten easier to deal with at least. Eventually, Thom clapped a hesitant hand on her shoulder, and she stood up, looking around for anymore familiar faces. He frowned, watching her discreetly clutch her hand, ducking behind a row of shrubs. He had meant to mind his own business and let her carry on within reason, but that was both suspicious and potentially serious. He swore under his breath, deciding to seek her out.

 

“Are you sure you can carry on like this?” He asked, managing to accidentally sneak up on her. She jumped, her eyes wide when she craned her head to look at him. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Ari laughed, but there was no humor to it. She gritted her teeth, hanging her head after a moment. “I didn’t want to worry anyone. The Anchor has been hurting a lot more lately, and I can’t begin to imagine why or what to do about it. On top of that, I’ve generally been feeling a little off for a while lately…”

 

“You haven’t told him, have you?” he asked curiously.

 

“No. I suspect he already knows, or at least has a good idea. He’s been asking for months.” She admitted. “I didn’t want to worry him. I just want to get this done and over with so we can go home…”

 

“I don’t blame you. I’ve never been fond of these sort of high importance meetings. Too much for me.” he sighed. “So...how is he, Thom, I mean?”

 

Ari gave a slight shrug, holding up the letter. “He’s been tracking down people he used to know. Managed to make up with at least one, he says he’s grateful now that I freed him, he’s putting his freedom to good use.”

 

Cullen nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose even men like that can change...Then again I suppose I have no room to speak either. We’ve all done things we regret.”

 

“I think I only ever regretted not being more accepting of my responsibilities. I don’t anymore, I can’t regret the choices that got me here. On the other hand, since the Conclave, I think it’s safe to say I have plenty of regrets now. Although...had I not walked this path...I guess I wouldn’t have ever met you. I’d never have met Fenris, I guess I wouldn’t have much of anything right now…” she mused quietly.

 

“You’re not alone in that either. I never thought I deserved the things I have now. Had someone told me during the Blight that I’d actually be happier if I gave it all up, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. I wasn’t the best person then, and it’s hard to see myself as deserving anything good after the things I’ve said, the things I’ve done…” he sighed. “It’s odd to think this meeting could really determine everything…”

 

Ari’s mouth opened like she meant to answer him, but before she could, she tumbled over, almost falling completely, had he not managed to snag her by the back of her collar before she could. Unsure what else to do, he carefully set her down, running across the yard to grab Fenris and to inform Josephine, someone more capable of finessing the social points without drawing negative attention. In any other case, he’d have simply yelled for someone to help out, but this place was too stressful, the event too important to interrupt with anything less than a favorable impression. Fenris noticed the commotion, dashing over to see what was wrong, Varric in tow. Fenris went to pick her up, but Josephine interjected, directing them to an out of the way area apparently reserved for members of the Inquisition as it was.

 

“What happened?” Josephine asked quietly.

 

“I’m not sure, we were talking, and she just fell over…” he said. Grimacing, he added. “She didn’t want to say anything, but she mentioned the Anchor had been hurting more lately, and that she just generally wasn’t feeling well.”

 

An impatient looking healer arrived moments later, dressed rather fancily compared to most, immediately shuffled everyone out to work in private. “Go, go, you’ll attract the wrong kind of attention if you’re all in here. As soon as I know something, you’ll know.” she muttered. “No visitors until I know how serious this could be.”

 

Fenris looked prepared to argue it, but Cullen practically dragged him off, Josephine following closely behind.

 

“I had hoped for a chance to speak with her a little more.” Josephine sighed. “Not just about the Council, but...well it’s been a long time since we could talk about anything but work. I suppose since we can’t stay, I’ll see if I can speak with Leli about this. Perhaps she’ll be able to buy us more time until our presence is required.”

 

“I suppose I’ll go let the others know. They were probably looking forward to seeing her. They’ll have to wait now, and I’m certain they may have to visit her here…” Cullen muttered, trying to plot his current itinerary.

 

“Ada will be furious if you don’t let her know.” Fenris pointed out.

 

“I know…” Cullen agreed. “I hate to do this, but she’s been rather strange around me since Denerim, I think she’s upset with me. You’re her brother-in-law now, can’t you tell her?”

 

Fenris made a face, throwing his arms up quickly. “You realize that she still doesn’t even like me. This long and she still gets my name wrong and makes this face at me like she can’t believe she has to see me again, right?”

 

Josephine lightly rubbed at her brow. “I’ll add that to my list of things to do. I’ll go talk to her. At this rate it’ll be next month before you two decide which of you has the courage to face her little sister.”

 

“You didn’t have to say it like that…” Cullen said.

 

“For once, I agree with him. It’s not that I’m afraid or anything, just that I’d rather not give her another reason to think I’ve done some weird thing to her” Fenris huffed.

 

After a silent few moments, the trio split up to attend to their respective tasks, waiting impatiently for word on what was going on with the Inquisitor. At the very least, she didn’t appear to be injured visibly, and she didn’t seem critically in any specific danger, aside from the pain in her hand, which didn’t seem really that much worse than at the Conclave, perhaps it wasn’t very serious, at least they could hope.

 

Not long after, she was moved to a more private area where she could be treated in comfort and without nosy nobles overhearing. It was vastly out of the way, and the waiting area outside was packed with her old companions, all waiting to see her, a range of expressions painting their faces, mostly curious or concerned. Cole on the other hand, sat quietly with his hands folded in his lap, smiling. Before anyone could ask what he was up to, he disappeared again, leaving the others slightly more confused.

 

“She’s going to be alright. She has to be.” Fenris muttered, his tone dropped slightly, an almost unnoticed hint of worry in his voice. “My Ari is strong. Nothing can keep her down…”

 

Varric bit his lip, realizing it was exactly the wrong time to point out just how far he’d come with her that he was actively willing to claim her in conversation, and they’d been married for some time by now. That aside, even he was more worried than he probably should have been considering all the impossible shit she pulled off.

 

“You’re absolutely right.” He said instead, for once at a loss for the right thing to say in such a situation. “It’s just a little waiting. She’s probably just stressed by all of this and fainted. I’ve heard it happens.”

Chapter Text

“What’s the word?” Varric asked curiously.

 

“She’s currently unconscious. That’s all they’ll tell me. They wouldn’t tell Fenris either, so I’m really not sure why they would have been anymore likely to tell me.” Josephine said with a sigh.

 

“No, but I found someone who might get some answers.” Fenris said.

 

“I thought you disappeared! Convinced myself I imagined it.” Varric admitted.

 

Josephine’s eyes went wide, hurriedly bowing deeply when she saw who it was. “Forgive me, I didn’t know you’d be attending or I would have greeted you sooner!”

 

Neria smiled kindly, waving her hand. “No need. So, I happened to be sampling the appetizers, and I noticed Fenris here. I came to see how things were going, and he let me know what’s going on...I’ve got this. I have a plan to get in there.”

 

“They’re not telling anyone…” Josephine told her.

 

“I’m not just anyone, I’m her mother. They wouldn’t refuse her closest family…” Neria said.

 

Catching on, Josephine silently cheered her on, trying her best to look like she was just waiting with the others rather than concocting any sort of trouble.

 

A plainly dressed soldier stood outside the door, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, my Lady, but I’ve orders not to let anyone in right now…”

 

Neria buried her face in her hands, sobbing convingly, managing a steady supply of fake tears. Honestly, even she was impressed.

 

“Please, my daughter is in there, no one will tell me anything. I’m...I’m worried sick. If...if I could just get in and speak to the healer for myself. I just need to know what’s wrong with my poor little girl…” Neria cried.

 

The guard shifted nervously, eyeing the door for a few moments, biting his lip. After a couple minutes, he squeezed his eyes shut with a hard sigh. “I’m going to get reprimanded for this, I just know it...Go on in…”

 

Neria bowed gratefully, not letting the act slip until well out of earshot. Wiping her hands, she made her way to the out of the way room, pushing the door open.  The healer glanced up, immediately sitting up straighter.

 

“My Lady, you shouldn’t be here! I mean...Ah… what can I do for you?” she asked nervously.

 

“You know exactly who I am. I hate using a title to do this, but really, this little lady has people worried about her, worried half sick in fact. Her own sister, her husband, her children are all out there. Not to mention her friends and acquaintances, and I’d like to bring them a meaningful update of some kind. So if you would. If I’m not official enough, I could certainly go get my husband.” Neria said.

 

The healer shook her head furiously, waving her hands in emphasis. “That won’t be necessary...apologies.” Gesturing to the back, she held up a handful of notes, shaking her head. “She’s been unconscious, just like we told ‘em... It’s the mark, and honestly, I don’t know anything for it. No one does, least no one here knows. It’s been flaring up, looks sort of ominous, but there’s not a thing I can do for it. I suspect she’ll wake up soon, but whether she’ll be in any condition to handle the council right now is debatable at best.”

 

Neria kneaded her brow, Not great timing at all, in fact. Leliana had written and asked her to attend, with Alistair if possible, as a sort of voice of reason among their countrymen. Said she’d pushed it back as long as possible and their would be no more waiting. It didn’t look like she was convinced it would kill her, but not knowing what to do for it, or what it might do in this state was worrisome as well.

 

“Well...thank you. I’ll go let them know.” she said.

 

“There’s something else too, but maybe you shouldn’t tell just anyone this…” the healer said, her tone far too serious to be good news.

 

Neria stepped closer, leaning down to hear what the woman had to say. No...indeed that wasn’t something to tell just anyone, they’d have to put their heads together and figure out how to delay the proceedings just a little longer. Who knew how long she’d be down this time, and that meant trying to figure out how much time they could steal and hoping for the best.

 

“The Inquisition has been the only authority anyone has on this mark. Perhaps there’s someone in their ranks who has some ideas?” she suggested. “Tell them they don’t need to pull stunts like this either. As I said before, when I know something, they will…”

 

“I’ll pass it along. Looks like I need to round up my wayward husband anyway. Let’s see if his acting is still terrible…” she sighed. “Thank you.”

 

Neria bobbed her head in thanks, turning to leave. If nothing else, Fenris and her sister should know...perhaps it would be prudent to let Josephine know so she could pass it along to Leliana. That seemed like the fewest people she could get away with telling the entire prognosis to. Thankfully, thus far, no one seemed to be concerned about her absence, the appetizers were still plentiful and there were enough distractions at present to keep everyone’s attention mostly elsewhere. That and having the children as a distraction served well to keep too many people from pestering the Divine, at least.

 

She rubbed convincingly at her eyes, sniffling on her way past the guard, rejoining the others when she reached the room. Not since the first time she attended a meeting with Alistair had she felt quite so many eyes on her.

 

“What’s the word, Queenie?” Varric asked, scratching his chin.

 

Neria gestured in the direction of the door. “She is actually unconscious. The Anchor is flaring up, and they have nothing for it. Unless you have an expert you’re keeping from them, it’s on her to wake up…”

 

Josephine caught the look she gave her, quickly clearing her throat and coming up with an excuse on the fly to convince mostly everyone to disperse. Ada, Fenris, and Cullen still lingering behind, and for some strange reason a mabari hound chasing its own tail right next to him. Undistracted, she leaned closer to Neria, asking quietly.

 

“Was there more to it? I...can try to thin them out a little more if you had something else to say.” Josephine offered in a whisper.

 

Looking them over, she sighed, shaking her head. “No, this should be fine. There is something else, but...well it sort of complicates everything. I have a plan for how to delay things a bit, but unfortunately, I think that’s the extent of what I can do this time…”

 

“I’m finding myself wishing Solas hadn’t left so quickly. If anyone could help, it would have to be him, I think.” Cullen said absently.

 

“The bald mage? I remember him. She seemed upset that he left, but I barely knew him. What’s so important about him?” Fenris asked.

 

“He took care of her after the Conclave, the Anchor probably would have killed her if not for him. No one else knows what he did or how he managed to suppress it in such a way. Short of hunting him down, which Leliana and her spies attempted to do...and...I might have been on the hunt too, he’s disappeared entirely.” Varric explained.

 

“Of course. Why should anything be easy, everything has to be so complicated.” Neria muttered.

 

“What else was there, you said there was something else?” Josephine reminded her.

 

Keeping her voice low, she glanced around suspiciously, trying to ensure they were alone. “It seems she’s got something in the oven, but it’s not ready yet. The Anchor is posing a danger at present. “

 

It was the politest way she could think to say it that wouldn’t be terribly interesting to anyone else if overheard, but also wasn’t completely bleak sounding. Right now, getting unfocused was only going to cause more problems for everyone involved, and as cold as it had to seem, this was the epicenter of the Game, and even at a time like this, it must be played. Soon, without handling matters with care, they’d only draw undue attention to the problems at hand, and they’d pounce on that weakness and seek to cripple them, or disband the Inquisition entirely. Neria turned to leave, pausing to let her know her intentions.

 

“I need to find Alistair. I can get some time, but I’m not sure how much just yet…” she said. “We’ll have to catch up again when it’s done, put our heads together and try to sort this out…”

 

“Yes, of course, thank you…” Josephine said.

 

The entire situation was quickly unravelling, but despite that, it felt entirely like a dark cloud was rolling over them, and that somehow it was only the beginning of the troubles brewing...

Chapter Text

Leliana snuck into the room where the absolute closest to Ari were refusing to budge still. She looked far too serious for even this situation, although the new clothes didn’t help make the picture any less ridiculous at the moment.

 

“Shouldn’t you be out there?” Josephine asked nervously. “What’s going on?”

 

Leliana kept her voice down, glancing off to the side. “To borrow from Varric, Well...shit.” she said. “Thanks in large part to the Ferelden royalty, and a quick thinking caterer, they’re busy trying to hunt down who made the original food, and see who might have handled it. Apparently the distraction was using Alistair to play dangerously ill, and he of course claimed he ate bad food. So we’ve bought our time, at worst, several hours, at most, several more days. Bad news is, we sort of need Ari on her feet.”

 

“Well, yes, I’ve apprised you of the latest, she’s in no condition at present.” Josephine reminded her.

 

“There’s a dead Qunari, an elven mirror and a trail of blood. We don’t need an incident. Not here. We need to figure out why they’re here now and wrap this up before anyone else finds out…” Leliana said, cutting to the chase.” waving her hand, she sighed. “I got restless and decided to poke around. That wasn’t what I thought I’d see.”

 

Josephine palmed her brow, heaving a sigh far heavier than even Leliana had heard before. She gestured to the door, stopping for a second. “I know they said no one was allowed in, but they can’t refuse the Divine, and on top of that, it may perhaps do some good to hear our voices.”

 

Fenris perked up immediately, rushing to join them, Varric, Cullen and Ada following behind. This time, the guard said nothing, moving aside for the group. Passing through to the second door, Fenris stopped in his tracks.

 

“Do you hear that?” he asked.

 

“Sounds like crying…” Ada said. “But that’s not Ari…”

 

“Fenris, buddy, your kids aren’t but a few years old, and you already forgot how babies sound?” Varric said.

 

“Something is off…” Leliana agreed.

 

Pushing ahead to the room Ari was being treated in, the healer was quietly humming to herself, looking up from her work.

 

“You’re just in time. Just finished mending the wound, new method out of Nevarra, takes almost no time to handle incisions like that.” she sighed. Glancing to the group, she held up her arms in offering. “Your wife isn’t awake yet, but this one is.”

 

Varric nudged him to get moving, Ada offering him only an accusing look on the way. He wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this wasn’t quite it. Spitten image of Ari, save for a few stray features, and eyes just like his. It was...small, really. A runt, he supposed.

 

“Why is it so small?” he asked.

“As I mentioned to the Queen earlier, the Anchor was indirectly affecting her, I thought it best to try and save the child, I’m certain any longer and the residual energy might very well have been too late. She made it, she’s healthy, just a bit on the small side, she wasn’t quite ready.” the Healer said. “The Inquisitor is fine as well, unconscious for all of it, but she seems to be doing a little better herself, breathing is normal, heart rate and temperature are within a normal range, only thing is she isn’t awake.”

 

“So...I suppose that means you’ll be naming her. Don’t make it something stupid.” Ada snorted.

 

Fenris looked at her seriously, then glanced over to Ari, thinking about it for a time. He barely knew any Dalish names, much as he’d tried to remember, he never could quite recall the meaning of their sons’ names, and he had no idea. His eyes slowly followed the markings down her throat slowly, stopping to look at Ada, taking note of her vallaslin too, incomplete as hers was. That was it. He had an idea.

 

“She told me a little about her family. Uh... your family.” he said.

 

“So? What are you getting at?” Ada asked, confused.

 

“What do you think she’d think about....Deshanna?” he asked.

 

Ada closed her mouth, hanging her head at that. Sneaking a look at her sister, she folded her arms across her chest, nodding slowly. “She’d like that a lot...I mean...I’d also like that too.” trying to force a look of annoyance again, she failed. “But if you name her that, you have to sit down with me some time and let me tell you about her.”

 

Fenris caught the look Varric gave him, immediately thinking better of what he had intended to say, instead, nodding. “Sure. I’d love to hear more about her.”

 

Leliana fidgeted restlessly, looking to the healer then. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled about this as well, but I really need to know, how long do you think until she wakes up?”

 

The healer hunched over a small portable desk, making a few notes, before she shook her head. “She’s improving, like I said, but I still have no answers on how long it might take. Then there’s the recovery time, I have no idea how long she might need to be at a position to function right off. That said, I really can’t see it being more than a day or two? I’m doing what I can to try and speed it up, I’ve been alternating herbs and medicine with healing spells and anything else I can think to try.”

 

“The time may not be much of an issue where the council is concerned, but there’s a more pressing matter now that I honestly don’t think we can afford to wait on…” Leliana said cryptically.

 

“Well...I’ll try doubling the herbs and see if that yields new results…” she said quietly.

 

Ari swung her legs off the bed, sitting up slowly, her eyes not yet open like she didn’t quite feel awake enough to do so. She held her head in her hands, squeezing her eyes tightly. After a moment, she finally opened them, looking around the floor, shaking her head at nothing before she forced herself to stand.

 

“Inquisitor, you should - “ Leliana began.

Ari’s skin began to glow vibrantly with the markings of her pact, waving her hand slowly. “Something’s wrong. I heard the voices again, and I think something is wrong. Mythal isn’t...and then there was that weird vision...and that strange presence I’ve felt before...I can feel it again…I think I’m supposed to be here…”

 

“I need to check you over before I can let you - “ the healer said.

 

“Not this again…” Fenris said quietly. “You know I’m going with…”

 

“Got it. I’ll go round up Bull and meet up with you.” Varric said, excusing himself.

 

Cullen looked at the others, then to the healer, and to Fenris. “If you’re going, take care of her. In return, I’ll stay here and help keep an eye on Deshanna then…”

 

“I want to go too. Take me with you.” Ada said.

 

“I’m so lost right now...I’m going to need an explanation…” Ari mumbled.

 

“Inquisitor, there’s a matter I need to discuss - “ Leliana said.

 

“No need. Take me to it.” she said.

 

Leliana waited until Fenris reluctantly handed the baby back to the healer, staring at Cullen when he approached, though he gave up part way through. Despite the odd rivalry between them, he could at least trust him to keep her safe, wherever they were going was definitely not going to be a place for such a small baby, surely. Barely safe enough for Ari no doubt, but there was no stopping her, especially not if that damned Well was connected to it somehow. He had a really bad feeling about the whole situation, and he was certain if he was feeling it this strongly, she had to be hesitant herself, even though effectively she had no options.

 

“I’ll have one of my spies deliver your gear, we’ve no time for preparations. Alistair managed to buy some time with Neria’s help, so my job will be trying to delay as much as I can while you look into this…” she said. Waiting until after they’d left back outside, she lowered her voice, sighing. “Ari, I’m so sorry it had to be like this. It was a lot of stress when it was just meeting like this, I know that, but now this, and having to get up when you’re not at your best…”

 

Ari reached a hand out to gently grasp hers, smiling slightly. “It’s my job. Beyond that, maybe I’m just glad everyone’s here again...I’m coming back. I always do.”

 

Fenris reached for Ari’s free hand, slipping his fingers through hers slowly. “I’ll make sure she comes back. We have plans, after all. I believe we owe each other a few dozen years, at least.”

 

Ada looked up from her quiver, stuffing a few more arrows into it. “Don’t you mean you two have a few dozen more kids in your future? Practically reviving the whole clan at this point.”

 

“She’s joking.” Ari quickly clarified, ducking out of the way to change into her normal battle attire out of eyesight. “Sometimes she does that.”

 

“Since when? Why?” Fenris asked suspiciously.

 

“It’s her way of saying she accepts you. Maybe not quite likes you yet, but she accepts you. That’s a big deal for her.” Ari said quietly.

 

“I see…” he said.

 

Ada grabbed her bow off the table, Bull and Varric meeting up with them after a few moments. She gathered next to them, earning a momentary curious look from Ari.

 

“Deshanna…” Ari murmured. “You named her after my mother? Honestly I’m a little surprised you remembered…”

 

Fenris looked away, a faint hint of color to his face. “You mention her a lot. She’s important to you, so even if I can’t meet her, she’s important to me too…”

 

“I didn’t even realize I was…” she trailed off slowly. Shaking her head, she followed Leliana, noticing first the eluvian, then the blood coming from it. “Oh...this isn’t good…”

 

“The body we found was Qunari.” Leliana said.

 

“Oh...that’s really not good.” Ari amended. “Had I seen this before the Inquisition I probably wouldn’t have thought too much of it...someone is going very far to make sure it looks as much like we did this as possible.”

 

“Could be someone’s trying to frame us. Could be one of our own people.” Varric said.

 

“That or someone is trying to send a very specific message.” Bull added. “To you.”

 

“Me, how do you figure? Both the Divine herself, the King and Queen of Ferelden, and several very important Orlesian figures are here, to say nothing of nobles from elsewhere, I’m sure.” Ari questioned.

 

“The freaky mirrors again, I overheard the discovery early, some of our own people involved in it. Varric isn’t wrong, it’s easy to see we have some double agents in our ranks, but who in Thedas can even name anyone in it besides you? They know some by reputation, but no one else has pissed off an ancient Vint, or any of the other shit you’ve done. My instinct says this is all for you.” Bull said. "Not sure if they meant to, but this could also mean war...if the wrong people found out, it would seem like a very blatant attack..."

 

“Lovely. Well, I’ve certainly received worse invitations. Best not to make a bad impression by arriving too late.” Ari said. “I’ll try not to take too long.”



Chapter Text

Ari sighed, eyeing the trail of blood leading up higher. Glancing over her shoulder, she shrugged. 

 

“I know Ada’s good at climbing, but I hope this break hasn’t worn your skills. Looks like we’re going up.” She told them. 

 

She scaled the lowest trellis, searching for a solid enough hold to climb the second. The last was easy enough, standing at the top almost triumphantly, Ada stopping next to her. Ari glanced down finally, Fenris up next, waiting patiently until everyone was ready to press forward. 

 

“Do we have any idea what we’re going to find on the other side of this thing?” Varric asked. 

 

Bull have a one shouldered shrug. “Like I told Leliana, this isn’t an official operation, or I’d have heard something. I’m gonna guess this isn’t sanctioned at all, so probably a faction of rogue Qunari. No idea how they knew how to work these things though.” 

 

Ari propped her hand on her chin, humming in thought. “These are artifacts of our people, certainly. But honestly I heard very little from the Keeoer on these, and really, had Morrigan not shown me, I’d have no idea myself. I can’t imagine Qunari being interested enough to be masters of lost Elven lore. Is that a correct assessment?” 

 

Bull nodded. “More or less. Typically we’re not too concerned with it. Someone who knows had to have shown them. Could be someone in the Inquisition who had access to reports or something. Morrigan took off pretty quickly, doubt she would have tested her luck.” 

 

“Wonderful. Are we at least still in the first few days? I was told the first few days would be mostly speeches.” She mentioned. 

 

“Our Divine spymaster has been asked to call a recess. The royal family of Ferelden is currently feigning illness so it doesn’t seem like we’re causing the hold up at least.” Varric told her helpfully. “And uh…I know we didn’t get the chance to talk before you...you know.” 

 

“I know...I was looking forward to catching up. Where have you been?” Ari asked curiously. 

 

“At the Hanged Man, I’m sure.” Fenris said. 

 

“Joke’s on you, friend. I’m the Viscount of Kirkwall now.” He said. “Well, not wrong I guess, actually. I do most of my work from the Hanged Man. Remind me when this is over, I’ve got something special for you, Ari.” 

 

“For me? Whatever for though? It’s enough that I get to see you after this long.” She said. 

 

“Well, if nothing else call it a late wedding present, a very late one. Or just call it I wanted to do something nice for a friend, and I just know she’s going to lose her mind when she finds out what her good friend did for her.” He told her. 

 

“Wait, nothing for me? I’ve known you for years…” Fenris wondered curiously. 

 

“I got you a wife. You’ve got kids now and everything. Isn’t that gift enough?” He teased. 

 

Fenris frowned a little at that. “I just knew that was coming. I walked right into that.” 

 

Conversation fell by the wayside just through the eluvian, an audible gasp heard from just about everyone. Ada stared wide-eyed at her first look at what lay on the other side. 

 

“So this is the Crossroads then. Looks like this part must be different from the place I seen with Morrigan. That or something very interesting happened since.” Ari hummed. 

 

“You don’t seem that impressed, sister.” Ada noted.

 

“This is not my first eluvian, nor the first time I’ve gone through one. First with Morrigan, then at the Temple of Mythal, our narrow escape from Corypheus.” She noted. 

 

“Oh man, I remember that too!” Bull said excitedly. “When we just narrowly got through, that was crazy shit.” 

 

Ada looked at Fenris then, as if waiting to hear his version. 

 

“I wasn’t actually there.” He said when he realized what she was staring at him for.

 

“Of course you weren’t.” She said flatly as if that’s exactly what she expected him to say. “Bet Cullen was.” 

 

Ari looked poised to say something to her, correct some misinformation about it. Instead, she hung her head, scratching at her head with a sigh. “Actually, yeah. He was. Josephine and Leliana too. Even the Empress was there.”

 

Fenris sighed. “I know I wasn’t the greatest then, I’m trying now…” 

 

Ari raised her hand, calling an end to the conversation again. Most would assume she was tired of the arguing, but she squeezed her eyes shut, less like she was in pain and more that she was straining to hear something. It was faint, almost far away. Been a while since she’d heard this much at one time. Still, it was unclear of what it was trying to tell her. 

 

“Be on your guard. I don’t know what we should expect here, but there’s a warning. Doesn’t sound like we’re alone. Not just Qunari.” She said. “So be careful. I’m not losing anyone else.” 

 

Varric noted the way her marked hand no longer trembled but shook like a brand new recruit in battle for the first time. Whatever the warning was, he didn’t need voices to realize it was her they needed to be concerned about right now. He nudged Fenris, Bull already homing in on it too.

 

Against his better judgment and what Ari would certainly think about clueing her little sister in, he pointed it out to Ada as well. 

 

“You’re not okay…” he said finally. “How bad is it?” 

 

She turned slowly, her teeth digging into her lip firmly, her eyes scared. “It hurts, badly. This isn’t good.”

 

“No, we have to go back. Someone has to do this without you.” Fenris said. 

 

“I can’t. No one knows about this except Solas. He’s not here, I have to keep going while I still can. If I go back out there now, and wait for answers, I could die. If I keep going, we unravel this mystery at least.” She growled. 

 

“I say we do what Boss says. Sounds like she’s thought it through. This is what she wants.” Bull said. 

 

“I’m with Tiny on this one.” Varric agreed. 

 

“We seem to be outnumbered.” Ada told Fenris. “Assuming you agree with me that this is a terrible idea.” 

 

“Of course I agree. I don’t want her to have to keep going through this shit, day after day. This won’t stand. Because I can promise I’m not letting it end today, and not in her death.” He told her. “As much as I hate to say it, she has a point. We can’t just let her die while people keep searching for a solution. Looks like we’re going after Qunari… again.”

 

“Just like old times, isn’t it?” Varric chuckled. There was no humor to it, about as good an indication that he was as lost and scared as everyone was. “Remember the one that stayed behind? We played cards with him a few times?” 

 

“Yeah…” Fenris sighed. “Let’s just go. We have to hurry.”