“You’re far too old for him,” Cullen’s father says quietly as they stand in the suit shop, Krem just about coming to blows with the tailor over proper seaming on the bespoke suit that Cullen’s about to purchase. Or, rather, was about to purchase until his fiance decided it was time to express his frustrations about having to go shopping with Cullen’s father on the unsuspecting tailor. To be fair, Krem probably could tailor it himself, he's taken it up almost as a hobby, but it was the principle of the thing.
“That’s for him to decide,” Cullen says with all the serenity of a Chantry sister. Poppy leans against his legs and whines softly, sensing his heart rate picking up. At the sound of her voice Krem’s head snaps around, immediately checking in on him. He smiles, inclining his head, and Krem relaxes.
Cullen’s father frowns. “Are you sure?”
“I’ve had two years to decide that he’s the man for me,” Cullen says, just a little sharper than usual. “Yes, I’m sure.”
They leave with the suit, at a lower price than before, and Cullen sits in the back seat to lean on Krem with Poppy sprawled across them both.
Cullen's stomach rebels with every piece of steak she consumes, but he forces himself to remain neutral. Not everyone has such an aversion to the smell of poorly spiced cooked meat.
“I'm really not sure about this,” she says, and Cullen nearly chokes on his artichokes. “I mean... he's so young. He's just a bit younger than Rose, you know.”
“I'm well aware, Mia,” Cullen says, wishing his palms weren't suddenly slippery. “It's a bit difficult to not notice, where you point it out every single time we talk.”
Mia chews with the sort of single minded determination that would put most dogs to shame. “What about that lovely nurse you saw?”
“That pretty one, with the red curls?”
He stares blankly at her. “I don't understand.”
“I thought she was great, I don't understand why you didn't keep seeing her,” Mia says, fixing him with a laser eyed stare. “There's still time to date.”
“Well, Mia, she was the one who broke it off, so that's why.” Cullen is not hungry at all anymore, and sets his fork down. “This is happening, all right? Whether you like it or not, Krem and I are partners. You've had two, almost three long years to get used to the idea, and he's done everything he can to get to know everyone. Mother likes him, Bran likes him, Rosie likes him, but you and Father both seem to think that he's, I don't know, out for my non-existent fortune. What is your problem with him? He makes me happy, he's good for me, he's helped me recover more than I ever even thought possible.”
“My problem,” Mia says, neatly wiping her mouth, “is that he's ten years younger and a Vint besides. For heavens sake, Cullen, he was abandoned by his parents and adopted by a Qunari. His step-father's a Vint, and a necromancy practicing mage besides. They're not exactly a normal family, are they?”
Cullen can't breathe. He stares at his sister, who looks at him with patient eyes, clearly waiting for him to see “sense”.
“He came here at age ten,” he finds himself saying. “His mother was caught making a contract that would marry him off at 17, and legally make him a ward of the man who would marry him. Take a wild guess at how that would have turned out. Tevinter wouldn't take him back, and The Iron Bull was the first person who could take him in. Dorian ran from his homeland after his father tried to make him change with blood magic. He and Bull met when Dorian was half starved, barely surviving in Denerim. They fell in love despite everything in the world working against them, including people like you, who only see a Qunari and a 'Vint and assume the worst. You know nothing but your own damn prejudice about them.” He gets to his feet, Poppy beside him, and leaves with his head spinning.
In all honesty he's not sure how he gets home, but he arrives at their little apartment with his fury banked, and an ache in his throat from holding in the tears. Krem's on the couch, reading one of the trashy vampire romance books he swears he's not addicted to, and when he looks up Cullen finally bursts into tears. He's shaking so hard he can barely stand up, and Poppy herds him to the couch before climbing up with them and nosing at him gently. Krem wraps his arms around him, Poppy presses into his shoulders, and he breaks.
“Mia was an ass about something,” Cullen mumbles into his skin, nuzzling him. Krem's cologne never changes, always heavily musky and spiced. Cullen keeps a small bottle of it in his car, to dab on his wrists as a way to calm down. The scent is such a strong association that he's easily soothed by it.
“I take it this has to do with you being home so early from dinner?”
“Mmm.” Cullen wraps his arm tight around Krem's waist, feeling that ache in his chest growing deeper. “Unfortunately.”
Krem cards through his hair, and Cullen breathes out. There are days when he wants nothing more than to be like this forever, to let the fragmented pieces of his past fall away while Krem holds him. They lean on each other so heavily, and somewhere between them there's a balance that cannot be broken. He wants to say that he took his time getting to know Krem, but it had been all of three days of knowing him before he knew that there was no way this ended without them married. And here they are, three weeks away from a quiet ceremony, and his sister and father don't like his soon to be husband.
“You'll be okay,” Krem murmurs, and when he says it, Cullen can believe him.
“Mia thinks I should marry someone else. I told her off,” he admits, breath hitching a little. “I- fuck, I'm upset. She's been such an ass, it's-” he breaks off, squeezing his eyes tighter shut. “I hate this. I hate how rude they've been, how they won't just listen. I'm so tired of it.”
“I know,” Krem says, exhaustion creeping into his voice. “Your dad and I talked, once.”
Cullen pulls back to look at him, sees the defeat in Krem's eyes. “What did he say?”
Krem sighs. “I'll spare you the gory details but he heavily implied that he thought I was marrying you for citizenship.”
Five minutes later, after a short squabble, Krem has his face in his hand and Cullen is on the phone with his father. It's early evening, and he can picture his father, slightly balding, still carrying the muscle of war, standing in a perfectly cleaned kitchen with a beer in his hand and his face fixed into polite disapproval. His father doesn't show a lot of emotion, much like Rose, but his voice carries it all.
“You thought he was marrying me for citizenship?” Cullen demands, heart aching with hurt. “He's ex-military! Fereldan ex-military! You know the laws about that!”
“There's special permissions given for people on visas,” Stanton's voice says through the phone, the low rumble made tinny by the speakers. It's slightly disdainful. “I thought-”
“You thought, and you didn't ask,” Cullen says, and he's shaking. Poppy shoves her head under his hand, and he clings to her. “You- How? How could you do this? What, did you think he was a spy?”
His silence is telling, and Cullen leans back into the couch, stunned.
“Makers breath, you did. You thought my fucking fiance was a spy.”
Krem looks up, obviously shocked.
Stanton's voice is carefully polite, but has hints of nervousness now. “I just thought it was a little odd, a young Tevinter attaching himself to a man so much older, and with- your history-” His father stumbles over the words. “It looks suspicious.”
“It looks like xenophobia, is what it looks like,” Cullen spits, pained fury hitting him. “Between you and Mia, I don't know who's worse. I don't- Just. You shouldn't come to the wedding. You or Mia.”
Krem's eyes go wide, and he touches Cullen's arm, but Cullen shakes his head.
“I- What?” Stanton's rattled now, and Cullen doesn't even care.
“You heard me. You've had two years to air your grievances, and now that it's actually happening you've been nothing but cruel about it. At least Mia had the decency to be upfront about her distaste. I can repay the portion you've paid towards the wedding, you needn't worry about that.”
“Cullen, I want you to be happy!”
“But not with him?” Cullen says quietly.
There's a heavy sigh down the line. “I want you to be happy, but I can't deny I... This wasn't what I expected. Your mother and I, we were always expecting you to settle down with a nice Fereldan girl. Not... Not someone like Krem. We've been blind. We never thought this would last, but, well. Here we are.”
His father sounds so old, and Cullen feels some of the anger seep out of him as Poppy snuffles at him and presses into his hand.
“Your mother loves him,” Stanton says softly. “And...I'm trying to, I swear. I'm trying to be better. If Krem is who makes you happy, regardless of how unconventional this is, I should- we should support you both. I want to support you. I won't deny how uncomfortable I am, but I'm trying to be less so.” He hesitates a moment before saying, his voice shaking with suppressed sorrow, “I don't want to lose you all over again.”
Cullen's hands begin to shake, and he reaches blindly for Krem. Krem takes the hint, squeezing his hand tight and resting his head on his shoulder.
“You're not losing me,” Cullen says, his voice cracking a little. “I'm better than I was, with him. He makes me feel alive again. I don't want to die any more, do you understand? He makes me believe I can be someone worth living. And maybe in time I'll be able to live for myself again. I'm getting better than I was, and stronger. Just... please. I know you don't like it, but please, be happy that I can be happy again.”
There's a sound that's suspiciously like a sob, and Stanton says thickly, “Of course. Would- could we meet some time tomorrow, perhaps? I should talk with Krem.”
“I'll call you,” Cullen says, and after quiet goodbyes, hangs up.
They go to bed shortly after that, and Cullen curls up to sleep pressed against Krem's side after they exchange slow, quiet kisses. He lets the rise and fall of Krem's chest lull him into a blissful ocean of silence and calm.
Poppy loves Dorian, and that alone would brighten Cullen's day whenever he visits his soon to be in-laws. For one thing, Dorian has no idea how to respond to dogs as pets instead of watchbeasts, and for another, Poppy knows this and shamelessly uses it to her advantage.
“Down, Poppy,” Dorian says in exasperation as Poppy stands on her back legs, carefully balancing without leaning on anything. Poppy knows that she's mostly off duty at their home, and gleefully takes advantage of this. “I- no, no treats! Down! Hello, Cullen.”
Cullen grins, and Poppy drops down to roll over and whine up at Dorian until he groans and bends to rub her belly.
“Ah, the mabari,” Cullen says fondly as Poppy squirms. “Vicious war hounds, the lot of them.”
Dorian rolls his eyes, but he's smiling. “Terrors, I'm sure. Such rolly polly beasts are not to be underestimated.”
Poppy barks, rolls over, and trots into the house. Cullen follows, smiling as Dorian rolls his eyes but looks happier than a few minutes previous. The house is in the usual state of bright cheer, new curtains on the living room windows and warm, oversized furniture everywhere. Poppy romps through the connecting rooms before coming back to press against Dorian's leg, panting. He scratches her ears, and Cullen's heart lightens for the first time since his conversation with his father. Poppy makes Dorian look less exhausted, bringing a bit of brightness back to his smile.
“You should think about getting one,” Cullen says, and Dorian looks up, surprised.
“What, a mabari?”
He nods, gesturing to Poppy. “She helps.”
Dorian looks young and fragile for a moment, looking down at her thoughtfully. Poppy whines and presses against his leg, big eyes tipped up to him.
“I... maybe.” He looks back to Cullen, uncertain. “I'll admit, it has a certain appeal to it.”
It's not something they've spoken much about, but Cullen says quietly, “When the nightmares come, she's always there. Even when Krem's there, she's a constant. She helps more than I could ever really say.”
Dorian looks back down at her, and crouches down so he's at her level. Poppy gently noses him, and he smiles, pressing their heads together.
“We never had any kind of pets,” he says quietly. “Just guard dogs, and I wasn't exactly allowed to cuddle with those. Well, and mousers, but they were more or less feral and hard to catch. Maybe we should think about it.”
Poppy licks his face, and Dorian grimaces before standing up. Cullen chuckles and Poppy walks back to his side. He rubs Poppy's ears and closes the door behind them as Dorian goes into the kitchen. “Is Bull home?” he calls, and Dorian pokes his head back out of the kitchen.
“Not at the moment. He should be along shortly, I believe.” He ruffles his hair, grumbling, and goes back into the kitchen. Cullen follows him into the room, sitting at the table as Dorian prods at a pot on the stove with a dour look. Cullen chuckles, and Dorian sighs, looking put out. “I'm still trying to get better at cooking. It's something of an uphill battle, as I'm sure you understand.”
“Oh, believe me, I do. I've never been all that good at cooking, and I've only just started to learn. There wasn't any need for so long.”
Poppy shoves her head onto his lap, and he rubs her ears absently as Dorian works.
“I have to tell you something,” he says abruptly, and Dorian turns, raising an eyebrow. Cullen takes a deep breath, rubbing Poppy's head as he forces himself to stay calm. “My sister, Mia? She... might not be coming to the wedding. And I don't know what's going to happen with my dad.”
Dorian's eyes widen, and he turns off the stove. He sits in the chair in front of Cullen, his expression somber. “What happened?”
Cullen swallows hard, looking down at Poppy. “They've... shit.” He slows his breathing as she nudges at his wrists. “My dad's apparently been thinking that Krem's marrying me for citizenship for the entire length of our engagement. I don't even want to think about how nasty my sister's been about me getting married. I didn't even think about what it was going to be like, having a Tevene man for a husband. And you and Bull already have to deal with so much shit, I just...” He rubs his forehead before looking up at Dorian. “How do you handle it? Your family not being accepting?”
Dorian lets out a slow breath, sitting back in his chair. “It's not easy,” he says quietly. “It takes time. I mostly handle it by not thinking about it. I'm eternally grateful that Krem doesn't have the same hangups when it comes to relationships that I have, that he got out before Tevinter could beat him down. Otherwise, I handle it by having as much of a relationship as I can with them. Bull isn't thrilled about it- he's not thrilled about my family in general, and neither am I. But in all honesty, if my father honestly apologized for anything? I would forgive him everything in a heartbeat. Perhaps not healthy, but I love who I love and I chose to hope for a better day.”
Cullen nods slowly, a bit of the ache in his chest easing. “Thank you.”
“Of course. What of your mother or other siblings?”
He shakes his head. “They're fine with everything. They love him, honestly.”
“Good.” Dorian nods sharply, lips curving into a smile. “And we love you too.”
Cullen ducks his head to hide his smile, and yelps in protest as Dorian ruffles his hair.
“Bad week, then?”
“Very bad.” Cullen closes his eyes and tips his head back as Poppy shoves her head on his lap. “Krem joked about just grabbing the pair of you and running off to have a courthouse wedding and I'm still not sure if I want to laugh or tell him we should do it.”
Bull snorts, handing him a bagel, and sits back against the bench. “You wouldn't like it in the end, and you know it.”
Cullen smiles, shaking his head. “You're right.” He's wanted the wedding to be a public affair for a long time, even though his anxiety will make it difficult. He doesn't want to hide the man he loves, and his relatives can shove off if they want him to keep quiet about their wedding.
“A week to go,” Bull says quietly, and Cullen nods. “Dorian won't say it, but he's... well. You know how our marriage went.”
Cullen does. Bull and Dorian had been married after all of a month of knowing each other, while Krem was still deployed, in a small courthouse in Amaranthine. It had been a precaution against Dorian's father stealing him back to Tevinter, and Cullen knows that Dorian still wishes, desperately, that he could have had a wedding at all that didn't involve two witnesses pulled off the street ten minutes before the courthouse closed. Dorian dreams of romance, much as he won't admit it, but stays stubbornly silent when asked about it.
“I've been thinking about that recently,” Bull says. “With the wedding coming up. Maybe we should, I don't know. Have a five year ceremony or something. Invite people. Have the wedding that we never got to have. I know-” he breaks off, sighs. “I know Dorian wants a better future for you both than the ones you got handed originally. And I know that he wishes that he and Krem could be a little closer, find a little more balance and closure.”
“I forget sometimes that he's not... well, not that he's not happy, but that he's sort of unused to the two of you together,” Cullen says softly. “Maybe we'll come over more, get better adjusted.”
“Yeah,” Bull says with a bit of a smile, and they both look off into the distance, preoccupied with the past, present, and future.
Cullen sighs, staring at his shoes, and a quiet knock on the door makes him jump.
Poppy gets up as Dorian slips inside, looking harried.
“I've been kicked out so I thought I'd see if you needed any help,” he says, getting his hair back in order. He looks quite elegant, in traditional Tevene robes with simple, soft gold designs on the white cloth. His new device is embroidered on the shoulder, the Pavus symbol with a knot underneath. Cullen's never asked, and Dorian's never offered the story. “Are you alright?”
“I... if you could help me with my shoes,” he says, defeated. “I can't tie the laces, my hands are shaking too badly.”
Dorian kneels in the jingle of fine gold and fabrics, and neatly does up the laces as Poppy shoves her dinner plate size head under Cullen's hand for soft scratches.
“Thank you,” he says when Dorian stands. “I'm sorry, I don't know why I couldn't get it.”
“Worry not, that's what I'm here for.” Dorian straightens Cullen's bowtie, and Cullen can feel that he's shaking a bit as well.
“You're nervous,” he says quietly, and Dorian gives him a brittle, pained smile. “What's wrong? Did something happen?”
“No, not at all.” Dorian sits on the bed beside him, staring off into the distance with sad, tired eyes. “It's old fears rising back up, is all. What will happen if Krem decides he doesn't want to see us, what if he decides he hates me after all, what if we have a falling out, what if Bull and I have a falling out, what if people attack the ceremony and murder you in front of me for daring to be in love. That sort of thing.”
Cullen stares, then wraps an arm around Dorian's shoulders. “Dorian,” he says gently, “I promise you that if anyone tries to attack, they'll be dead before they land a hit.”
“You can't pro-”
“Bull is here to watch his only child get married. Nothing, not even the end of the world, would stop this wedding. The end of the world would get put on hold for us to finish our vows.”
Dorian smiles, ducking his head, and leans into him. “You're going to be a great son in-law.”
“Ugh, don't say it like that.”
“I have no great words of advice for you,” he says quietly. “I can't make this work for you. Can't even tell you all the things you should and should not do, 'cept maybe that you should buy two tubes of toothpaste. Saves a lot of fights, that does. Compromise is great, but sometimes two things are better than one.”
“Thank you,” Cullen says, and opens his arms. They hug, tightly, and Cullen buries his face in his fathers shoulder, feeling a lump well up in his throat. Physicality is still difficult, but he doesn't even remember how long it's been since he's held his father.
Stanton pulls back and wipes his eyes, and Cullen smiles, watery.
“You'll be just fine,” Stanton says, and takes his arm to lead him to the doors.
They are being married in a garden, in a vast open space with thousands of beautiful flowers, and they stand on the steps of a bower. Flowers trellis up it, and soft white fabric twines together around the pillars. Krem is in traditional Tevene attire like Dorian, with his medals of honor on his chest and his braids of rank on his shoulders. He is beautiful and austere, with henna patterns up his bare arms and Qunari knotwork on his bicep. He is in white, amplifying the rich bronze tones of his skin, and as they join hands while the sister intones the words, Cullen smiles at the contrast. Poppy, at his side and covered in traditional warpaint done in white, sits perfectly still and listens intently.
The words blur together, for all that they are is with each other. Cullen knows his parents are crying, and Bull is positively weeping. Dorian's makeup is thankfully waterproof, since he's letting out tiny hiccuping noises that are certainly sobs.
“Have you vows?” the Sister asks, and Cullen smiles.
“I vow to do my best to make this work,” he says simply, and Krem's smile is blinding.
“I vow to do my best to do the same,” Krem says, and Cullen laughs, his heart light.
At some point they exchange simple rings. At some point they say “I do,” staring into each others eyes.
And then they're kissing, and Cullen is being dipped, and everyone is cheering, and somehow, everything will all work out.
“Good going,” she says, grinning at him. She has biceps the size of his head and fists as big as dinner plates. Rose is a blacksmith, and Cullen rubs his arm at the forceful reminder.
“Thanks, Rose,” he says, soft, and her eyes soften.
“I know it's rough, Mia not being here,” she says quietly, “but fuck her and her high horse. Krem's great, and she's an asshole for not seeing that.”
Cullen pulls her into a hug, squeezing tight. “You're the best,” he mumbles into her shoulder. She thumps him on the back, and then bosses everyone away so that Cullen can grab a moment alone with Krem to process. They slip away into a corner of the garden, hidden behind the trees, and Poppy lays down at the entrance while Krem gets his hands all over Cullen and they hold each other like the world is falling apart.
“Look at that,” Krem breathes, pressing tiny, quick kisses to his lips. “We did it. We're officially married.”
“Aclassi-Rutherford is going to be such a pain on forms,” Cullen murmurs into Krem's mouth, and lets himself be thoroughly distracted into another small bower, this one mostly enclosed. They curl around each other, breathing as the reality hits them, and Cullen lets his head rest in the crook of Krem's shoulder. It's hard for any leftover fears and whispered paranoia in when Krem is near. The world goes silent and calm, an ocean of pure belief that nothing can touch him while he's here, while Krem holds him.
“I love you so much,” he whispers. “So much.”
“I love you too,” Krem murmurs, choked up. “I'm going to cry again.”
Cullen lets out a broken laugh, and kisses the soft skin of his neck. “I know what you mean.”
Poppy pads inside, and Cullen crouches down to stroke her head. Krem rubs her ears, and then together they rise, Cullen's hand resting on her head as they go back to the whirl of the wedding.
“Oh no,” Krem mutters, nodding to their right. “Dorian's met your Uncle Rodrick.”
“Oh, Maker, I'd better head him off at the pass,” Cullen mutters, and goes with Poppy to divert Rodrick as Dorian's face takes on that specifically polite smile that suggests immediate immolation.
Cullen is watching as Dorian and Bull perform what has to be the most intimidating tango of all time when his father sits down beside him.
“You did good,” he says, softly, and he's smiling as he watches Krem give in and let Rose lead on the dance floor. “I mean it.”
“I cannot believe you thought he was a spy,” Cullen mutters, but he smiles too.
“The Iron Bull's quite a man. We should picnic sometime or something,” Stanton says, and Cullen looks at him askance.
“You want to picnic. With The Iron Bull. And Dorian.”
“I mean,” Stanton grins, “your younger father-in-law looks like he might scream if an ant crawled up on him, but it could be fun. And maybe then we can work on getting that old predjudice stick out of my spine, and your sisters head out of her ass. I'm wise enough to admit that I've got my issues, but I'll be damned if I won't work on improving myself.”
“Thank you, da,” Cullen says, and lets himself be pulled out onto the floor by Dorian for a fennectrot while Bull grabs Stanton.
At some point the lanterns in the trees come on, and the last dance of the night plays.
Cullen and Krem sway together, cheek to cheek.
“My da wants us to go picnicking. As in, with Bull and Dorian,” Cullen murmurs, and Krem chuckles.
“You can be the one to invite Dorian,” he murmurs back, and Cullen smiles as they spin in slow, lazy circles.
A few more spins, and he says, “Darling.”
“I love you.”
Krem laughs, pulling back, and kisses him.
Cullen feels whole self become light, and thinks that he can survive anything so long as Krem keeps smiling like that.
“Aw, come on kadan, your son-in-law is asking so nicely! And look, he already brought the basket!”
“Neither of you fight fair.”
Krem laughs as Dorian and Bull banter all the way out to the car, Cullen wraps an arm around his husbands waist, and all is well.