Power in Stories

“There's power in stories, though. That's all history is: the best tales. The ones that last. Might as well be mine.” – Varric Tethras

The Sordid Tale of Meryell Verlen, Chapter 31

“…seemed like you were when you were riding my cock…”

“…remember you when you was nothing…”

“…should’a done a better job of taming you years back…”

“…teach you your place…”

“…never wanted saving…”

“…old Vard went down cursing your name…”

Despite everything she tried, the things Camden had said kept echoing like thunderclaps through her skull, the rumblings of them shaking right down to blood and bone. He had said things that had angered her, that had made her blood hot for a fight or a fuck, the same way that he always had. That was how they’d started their little dance when she was five and ten, fresh to the company with youthful rage carrying her along in its wake. He’d insulted her, she’d snapped off, and somehow that had led to furious kissing and ripping off clothes in one of the keep’s storage rooms.

She hadn’t been intending on playing his game even a little bit (and certainly not to the finish he wanted), not at first. Brush it off and move on was the tactic she’d used with him since their relationship had fallen apart. Then he’d mentioned her riding his cock and she’d just snapped . Anger and old broken fear had welled up, suddenly as fresh as it had been back then, and she let the rage carry her again.

And then, when she’d had him pinned down, furious at his gall to try and touch her (to grab her arm in that possessive way he still had, like he owned her because she’d given her body once upon a time), he’d clawed open a wound she’d only barely sewn shut. Harvard’s death and those of the other twenty-six members of the company – HonorAlenaKirykBastianNickelPeterDorotheaClaraMarsailBryanTarotAlkesOdwenReynyMareyJausaVerrinLianoBedlamThagaGeiriGilasMinaBryneRiffolkTempest – she remembers them all in a rush that tastes like sorrow and death. She remembers the name of every member of the company that has died around her, but Meryell has these carved on her heart because it feels like her fault that they’re no longer there. It’s not, she knows that, but the mind doesn’t necessarily follow logic all of the time.

Even with her father’s hand in hers and blessed solitude ahead with only him and Cullen and the knowledge that Camden is well and truly fucked , these things still choke her throat. Still threaten to tear her apart because she is far more fragile than she seems and the only people that really, really seem to notice it are the two men she cares for most.

Ara vherain ,” Folke said from behind her, dragging her attention briefly away from her storm swirl of thoughts. “Where are we going?”

Ma eth an ,” she replied as she pulled him further and further downward into the bowels of the keep.

“Safe place?” he echoed and Meryell could feel the frown. “Do you not feel safe in the keep? In camp?”

Nodding her head, she answered, “ Vin, baba. It isn’t like that.” Throwing a glance over her shoulder, she saw the pinched, tight look at his face that showed how worried he was. “It’s just a place that’s safe from being found when I want privacy without the risk of being disturbed. I don’t fear anywhere in Skyhold.”

Given his silence, she wasn’t entirely sure he believed her.

They finally reached the bottom and the last turn to the left that led to her hidden cavern and she wants nothing more than to bury herself into the cushions until Cullen arrived with the alcohol. Then she will drink herself silly until the faint tremors of old fear no longer make her hands shake from time to time and she doesn’t remember the memory of rough hands pawing at her hips as she attempted to twist away. She didn’t know if they’d let her though, if they will let her just re-bury the memories and the reasons in the grave she put them in so long ago and cover it up with fresh dirt.

If she’s honest, what she really wants is to be alone with Cullen, to kiss him and touch his skin and taste him until she fully embeds him over the memory of everyone else in her past. That won’t happen tonight, though, nor will it likely happen in the two days she has left before they leave for Crestwood.

Meryell just stood there instead, staring at the pile of cushions and wanting , until her father dragged her down into them. As soon as they were horizontal, she felt the storm rise up into her throat, threatening to burst out of her and rage out of control. She curled her fingers into the edge of Folke’s coat and pulled herself in close to him, as tight as she could press without lying on top of him. He wrapped his arms around her in return, cradling the back of her head with one hand, and then he broke her .

Ir abelas, asha’lan ,” he breathed, his voice cracking slightly. “I should have paid more attention back then.”

The storm welled, grew in power, and then it burst free of its fragile confines.

Its leading edge picked her up, like a ship in the full gale of the hurricane Zarru described once, and flung her headlong into the tangle of emotions she’d been fighting for so long that day. Meryell gasped and on the exhale came the first sob; the sort of sob that tore the air from the lungs, that felt like it was tearing the body apart from the inside out. She clung to Folke like he was a port in the storm, as if only the press of his arms around her and the faint stubble on his unshaven cheeks against her forehead could shelter her from being washed out to sea.

Ten years was a long time to keep emotions buried.

At some point she must have fallen unconscious because when she became aware again, it was to longer limbs tangled around hers, curls tickling her lips, and warm breath against her collarbone. Meryell slowly opened her eyes and realized she was laying on her opposite side now, her body half lying on top of Cullen’s. Their legs were hopelessly tangled and she was higher up his body than she preferred, so his face rested against her throat instead of their normal position of her head tucked under his chin. It doesn’t seem like it would be comfortable for him but he was utterly limp and warm against her so it must be.

She shifted just slightly, trying to turn and look for Folke, but then the arm around her waist tightened to pin her in place. Meryell leaned back enough that she could see Cullen peering at her with one bleary eye before he grumbled, “Morning.”

“Is it?” she asked, turning her head to look out the opening of the cavern. She absently noted that there was a slight crick in her neck while looking to see that the sky isn’t even lightening outside. If it is morning, it is still very early as she can usually at least see the sun dappling the treetops and the distant mountains.

“Close enough.”

Cullen then ran his other hand slowly up her side before he cupped her face with it. “You went to sleep without even getting a drop of the alcohol. I didn’t have to pay for one bottle.”

Blinking, she just replied, “Oh?”

“The Iron Bull and everyone else in the tavern refused to let me as soon as they knew I was coming to you.”

“Oh. Ir abelas . I didn’t mean to…”

He was shaking his head then, as much as he could with her pressing the back of his skull into the cushions anyway, and interrupted her with a stern, “You don’t have to apologize for anything , vhen’an’ara . Not after today.”

Meryell quirked her lips and (not wanting to think about that so soon after waking) corrected, “Yesterday.”

“Yesterday then,” he replied with a little huff of a laugh. Then he cautiously – delicately – brushed his thumb across the edge of her lip and asked softly, “May I kiss you?”

A little confused that he would ask, she replied, “You don’t have to fucking ask , Cullen.”

Cullen just shook his head. “Yes, I do. After yesterday, I do.” Her heart stuttered a little at his words and what they mean, only finding herself able to nod in response. Then he was lifting her up just enough to move her down so their bodies were more in line and he could better reach her mouth, his lips closing over hers with what she could only describe as reverence .

It was soft and gentle and sweet and Meryell melted against him in the wake of it. For a moment there was only the press of his mouth against hers with the lingering taste of whiskey (did he and Folke drink?) flavoring it and the distant sensation of his hands gripping her hips. When they finally separated, she propped herself up with one elbow braced against his shoulders and the other arm curled around his face, lacing her fingers into what she could reach of his persistently curling hair. He hummed contentedly in response and smiled up at her, all honesty and a little shyness.

“Why’d you say you had to ask?” she questioned softly, unable to stop herself from pondering over that phrase. Instantly his expression stuttered and she frowned. “Cullen?”

Shaking his head, he started, “Because,” then immediately stopped, obviously taking a moment to gather his thoughts. When he began again, it was instead a soft spoken question.

“Will you talk about it?”

Part of her wanted to brush it off and reply talk about what but she wouldn’t do that to him. She hadn’t been in a relationship of this sort before but she knew she didn’t lie to Folke or anyone else that she was really close to in the company. Cullen deserved the same as they did; no, he deserved more .

He obviously thought her slow response meant he’d said something he shouldn’t have because his face turned panicked. As he reached up to touch her face again, saying her name, Meryell turned to press a long kiss into his overly warm palm. “You’ve said nothing wrong, vhen’an’ara ,” she breathed as she brushed her nose across the dips between his fingers, calluses catching at her skin.

“I worried…” He paused, frowning as he turned his face away, the lines of his jaw suddenly tight. “I thought,” Cullen said slowly, “after I asked that it might have been like…like Kinloch was for me. That he…”

No ,” she insisted firmly, moving her left arm so she could press the fingers of one hand against his mouth. When he stopped talking, Meryell moved her hand and leaned down to kiss his scar, wondering once again where he’d earned it. “If it had been anything like I assume you went through there,” she breathed, “Camden wouldn’t be alive today. Arnald would have let the company kill him for doing harm to a child.”

Cullen’s chest sagged underneath her and she realized with horror that he’d thought the worst had happened to her. Kissing him again, she said, “It was words, only words, really. There was once when he tried to force me but he let me go when I said no. He let me go. Camden may be an asshole but he’s not a bastard .”

“I might disagree with that assessment after what he said to you,” growled Cullen in return. Then he gently took her face in both of his hands and kissed her, breathing out, “And I know words can hurt just as much as anything, Meryell. You don’t…you don’t have to hide from me.”

Looking down at him, Meryell immediately balked at saying it. She’d told the man lying half beneath her many things but this …she’d held on to this for a long time. Most who’d even been in the company at the time hadn’t even known what had happened, just that Meryell had been hurt and Camden had been the cause. With her being only five and ten, that had been enough reason to beat the shit out of him while she’d been sitting with the Captain as he coaxed it out of her. He and Folke knew, since Folke had been her recruiter and kept an eye on her as per rule of the company. Thankfully she and Folke hadn’t been so close then or else Camden may have been dead long ago and buried in a ditch.

Licking her lips, she began slowly, “It ended…oh, five months after it began. We started with words and fighting with each other and we ended it with about the same.” Cullen arched his eyebrows slightly but she shook her head at him and continued on. “Our relationship was never the sort of thing to build anything on, to never become something beyond fucking in corners and hissed dirty talk. I wanted it to be, though, wanted it to be more than it was. Shit, the girl I was thought it was more than it was and she was a fool.”

“I’m sure she wasn’t a fool,” he murmured, idly tracing patterns with the pads of his fingers across her collarbone.

Meryell shook her head. “In this, she was.”

“I…” She stuttered on the words she’d said back then, her heart abruptly hammering in her chest. Not out of fear or an echoing memory…but because they were words she wanted to say to the man beneath her. That she meant with everything in her but feared because what if it happened again? What if she gave away everything and came up wanting again?

Calling him vhen’an’ara was practically saying it in and of itself she knew but those words …they were Important, with a capital. She remembered her parents saying them above her head when she was little and curled up between them, their cheeks pressed together and ears touching. Folke had said them to her and did it frequently, whispering them along with one of his names for her against her cheek or forehead with a kiss every time as if the words were only for her.

Saying the words meant something.


Cullen’s voice, worried and confused, broke through her scattered thoughts and as her eyes refocused on his face, she said the first thing her whirling mind gave her in a bare whisper.

“I love you.”

He stilled underneath her, his entire body suddenly tensing up, and his shaking hands suddenly finding her face. Cullen started to open his mouth then he paused with a frown, brushing his thumbs carefully across her cheeks. For a moment he just stared at her, amber eyes assessing her as attentively as he did his troops, then Cullen stretched up to kiss her as he breathed, “Come back, vhen’an’ara . You aren’t here with me.”

And, just like that, she was.

Shaking, Meryell pressed one hand flat against his chest, pushing aside his tunic so she could reach skin as if to cement herself to the now purely by contact. Then she spoke in a rush, “I told him that and he laughed. Said if I loved him then I should let him claim me, let him lay his mark on me. I thought…I thought he just meant sex because I’d heard such things with the gang. I thought it would just be different when we were together after saying that.”

Turning her head, she pointed to the spot on her right ear, where unblemished skin gave way to an old faded pair of curved scars. Folke had done the healing on it himself, refusing to let anyone else do the work because she was his responsibility. She’d balked at the scars back then as they were a reminder but accepted when he explained that it was the best even a more powerful healer could have done with the damage.

“He bit me,” she whispered. “While he had his cock in me and driving hard to completion, he suddenly had my ear in his teeth and he bit me . It bled like a son of a bitch and I fought him while he did it, kicking and screaming at him Elven. Half the reason it’s so bad is because I pulled away. It’s why I don’t like them to be touched.”

“He,” began Cullen only to stop, his voice trembling. Then she felt a finger touch her cheek, just underneath the lobe of her ear, and he breathed, “May I?”

Meryell froze then slowly forced herself to relax as she nodded, murmuring, “I trust you.”

He inhaled a shaky breath at that and she closed her eyes, holding herself still as his fingers slowly, carefully moved up over her ear. The touch was featherlight, barely revealing the roughness of his hands, and brushed up over the top of her ear like a ghost. He stroked the skin around the scars then shifted his hand to curl around the back of her neck, gentle pressure pulling her down closer to him.

When his lips touched the scar in a light kiss, Meryell let out a little hiccuping sob as her heart swelled with love with the man beneath her. Turning her head suddenly within his grasp, she caught his mouth with her own as she shifted her position, moving from lying on her side against him to straddling him. His hands fell almost automatically back to her hips, fingertips digging in as he hummed into her kiss and his hips gave a slight thrust up into hers.

Pressed chest to chest like that with the taste of him still on her breath, Meryell cupped Cullen’s face and dared take the leap.

Ar lath ’ma vhen’an . I love you. You are my home.”

He stilled with a shudder and his breath shook against her face as he let out a long exhale. Then Meryell let out a surprised squeak as Cullen abruptly flipped them, his weight coming down on top of her in that delicious way she loved about humans as he growled and kissed her. He kissed her throat, her cheek, her mouth, danced down in a pattern of kisses to nip her collarbones and press a delicate kiss into the low cut of her tunic that hinted at her breasts, before he came back up and claimed her mouth again. There were a dozen or more half-breathed I love you s scattered through those kisses, words whispered as wonderfully against her skin as vhen’an’ara had been.

Then he kissed her hard, like she was going to disappear from underneath him, and breathed, “ Vhen’an ,” in a tone that she couldn’t put a word to.

She did note, a little deliriously, that the scattering of lessons she’d been giving him in Elven lately during their nights was paying off.

Vhen’an ,” she replied with a nod as a knot of something welled up in her throat. It burst out of her in a laugh and she reached up to tangle her hands in his curls, pulling him down to press her forehead to his. Shaking her head, Meryell closed her eyes and breathed, “I think…I think I’ve loved you for a while. I was just…”

“Scared,” he supplied as soon as her voice trailed off and she opened her eyes to look into his. Like Dem had told her once, eyes were the key to a person…and she could see everything she felt in his .



And an overwhelming sense of yes .

Yes, this is good.

Yes, this is right.

Meryell just nodded and Cullen smiled before kissing her softly. She deepened the kiss, made it an exploration, a quest for more , by curling her hands deeper into his hair and pulling him down into her. He followed with a growl into her mouth, the sort of sound that rumbled from deep in his chest and rattled her bones, giving in utterly to her silent request.

“When did you know?” she asked in a moment that they separated for air. When he frowned down at her in slight confusion, Meryell clarified, “When did you know you loved me?”

“Oh,” replied Cullen, frowning slightly. He shifted slightly, resettling his weight over her, before he replied, “I think….no, I know I realized I was falling for you after you went to the Hinterlands that first time. There was a night that I expected you to be there to drag me out of my tent for drinks and then realized that you weren’t there. It stole my breath and I knew that this was something . But love …”

He looked away then and she watched his throat tense up before he swallowed hard. In a low voice he then finished, “I think I realized that I loved you when I thought I was about to lose you. There was no place for it then. Accepting it…well, that took a while.” Turning back towards her, he laughed. “Hawke actually made me see it yesterday.”

Meryell blinked. “When all that was going on?”

“I’m sure you didn’t notice my reaction when he called me a toy there to save you and you a princess.”

She shook her head because, no, she hadn’t. Her focus had been on Camden and she hadn’t let even Cullen’s presence drag that focus away. Not when she knew how quick on his feet that the other man could be.

Chuckling, Cullen said, “Apparently a man only looks that furious if someone’s insulted his sister, his mother, or his lover. So she took a guess.”

“And that…”

“Made me realize that it had been there for so long but I’d been scared to grab it.” He shifted and lifted a hand to brush hairs away from her forehead as he continued, “Scared because I’d nearly lost you or I feared that one day you’d wake up and realize how broken I am.”

“Cullen,” she started to interrupt but he quickly moved to press a finger against her lips for a second, shaking his head.

“I feared you being named Inquisitor,” he whispered, voice barely audible. “Of how it would make us look. How it would make you look.”

Now she wouldn’t stay silent.

“You know I don’t fucking care about that,” interrupted Meryell.

“I know but I….duty was always important to me. Even before I joined the Order, I knew there were things that needed to be done as the eldest son and I should do them. It became even more important after because duty is the Order…or it was supposed to be, at least.”

Frowning as she wondered what the point was, she flattened her hands against his chest and he let out a sudden breath before shaking his head. “I warred,” he continued, “between what I felt was my duty to the Inquisition…and the wants of my heart. Which was more important?”

She knew the answer, knew it because of how he’d responded to her words, of how swiftly he’d kissed her and said I love you , but his words still made her tense.

He moved so he could cup her face in his hands and she stilled at the realization that he was smiling. Not just a normal smile but a broad, bright smile that she wasn’t certain that she’d ever seen on his face. It was, she thought a little deliriously, the sort of expression he might always have worn if he’d never joined the Order. Then, however, she never would have met him and that was a thing she abruptly couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

“And then,” he said warmly, “I realized after a conversation with Arnald that I already knew the path I wanted to take.”

Meryell felt her heart hammering in her chest, like it was fit to burst through the confines of flesh and bone, at his words. Slowly she slid her hands up his chest and around to the back of his neck, where she locked her fingers together as she breathed, “And that path?”

She knew .

But hearing …hearing it made it more real.

Still smiling that smile, Cullen leaned down and whispered, “ You ,” before he kissed her. Meryell tugged on the back of his neck in return, wanting him closer, wanting him everywhere . He was still supporting most of his weight on his arms and she wanted to tell him to stop .

That, however, would require her to drag her lips away from his right then and she wasn’t ready for that yet.

He nuzzled her face when they finally did separate themselves from each other but his mouth had other places it was going. As he kissed down her neck, Meryell stretched as far as she could to give him more access and nearly missed the question he murmured.

“And you, vhen’an ?”

Laughing, she closed her eyes and replied, “First realization that I was falling for you? That night on the barrels.” She felt his lips stutter across her skin and there was a breathy exhale, after which she added onto her words. “You were handsome and human and so my type and….you called me thief as if it meant the same as lady .”

With a smirk she moved her loosely locked together hands that had been hanging around his neck up into his hair, separating them as she did so. Gently putting pressure on his head with the heel of her hands to indicate she wanted him to move back up towards her, she turned her head to meet him as he did so.

“I fantasized,” she purred lowly, “about a moment like this. You on top of me with all of that delicious muscle bearing down on me. Your breath ghosting along my ear…like this.” Turning her head, she breathed out slowly towards his left ear, feeling him shiver as she watched his eyes grow hungry . Her breath caught as she was suddenly swept up in those emotions again, in the imagining that she’d had during those early morning hours.

Only this time there wasn’t anything to bring her down.

This was reality.

Cullen was there , his weight on top of her, and she knew the taste of him. Knew the smell, the texture of his skin, and the heat of him as he held her close. She knew his fears and past and he knew hers and he wanted her .

She wanted the lyrium addict and he wanted the knife-eared bitch.

Meryell felt like she’d stopped breathing for a moment at that thought and inhaled sharply before she said the rest in a low rush.

“Your face buried between my thighs, driving me towards orgasm.”

Maker’s breath ,” he breathed and she could immediately tell the effect her words had had on him from the pressure growing ever more noticeable where the lower halves of their bodies met. He pressed a kiss against her lips and asked, “And you…?

“Redcliffe,” she answered simply, knowing his question was when she’d started to love him. He merely nodded and kissed her again because he knew . She hadn’t shared what she’d learned of his fate with the others, only that he had died leading an assault. Only she, he, and Dorian knew that he had died leading a hopeless assault on a keep he’d firmly stated was unassailable for her .

That knowledge had nearly broken her and the only thing that had picked her back up was Varric saying It doesn’t happen if you go back, sweetheart. Let’s get you back to Curly.

“And how many times,” asked Cullen softly then, the edge of a growl lacing his voice, “did you fantasize about me like that?”

Smiling at his attempt to bring them back to safer ground, away from the time magic and death that tainted the events of Redcliffe and what had followed, Meryell replied, “Enough.”

“Did you….after your injury?”

“Maaaaybe,” she drawled, causing Cullen to grunt and lean closer to her, his eyes bright and intent.

He nuzzled her cheek with his nose and asked, “After Val Royeaux?”

Meryell pecked him lightly on the lips, to which he snorted, before she answered, “Yes.”

“After Haven?”

“Spending a night naked in that cot with you made me all hot and bothered.” She grinned as that particular response had an effect as his hips thrust against hers very briefly before he held himself still again.

Cullen kissed her then asked in a whisper, “Now?”

Laughing, she immediately pulled him down for another kiss by the front of his shirt as she answered, “What do I need fantasies for now , vhen’an ? There is no longer a need for them when I have you right here.”

Instantly the kiss went hot and hard and heavy after that comment left her lips. His mouth was firm in its wants and it claimed hers in a battle that Meryell gladly surrendered with only a little bit of fight as a token protest. He growled as she slid her hands underneath his shirt and asked, “What do you want now, love,” kissing her soundly before she could formulate even the hint of a reply. There was, for a long moment then, only the sensation of him and his mouth and all she could think in answer was that she wanted more.

When they finally paused, breathing hard and heavy in almost unison with each other, she shifted to hook one of her legs around his hip and ground herself up against the bulge in his pants. He made a short whining noise in his throat in response, his eyes fluttering shut as she breathed, “Touch me.”

“Where?” asked Cullen thickly, his eyes still shut. She watched his pulse hammer in his throat, felt it thunder in his chest, and smiled before she arched her neck up to kiss that pulse point.

They had teased and they had touched skin but they had never gone further. Everything else had been with fabric between them, dry humping like a pair of children just discovering the act on the occasion that it went further than teasing. Though those moments had only been since arriving in Skyhold and they had been rare still with work and days in the field.

“Everywhere,” Meryell replied, breathing her response into his skin and she felt him twitch. His whole body jumped at the word along with the very eager part of him that pressed against her crotch. After a moment he shifted his weight the side of her, propping himself up one arm so the other was free. The heat of that hand was almost searing against her skin as he trailed it up her side underneath her tunic but she was on fire herself, every nerve and inch screaming for him him him .

His movement seemed agonizingly slow but she knew it wasn’t, though that didn’t stop her from whining and throwing her head back. Cullen growled and dove for her throat in response, kissing his way down until he met her collarbone and sucked . Meryell bucked her hips, trying to find friction for the sudden fire between her thighs, and he obliged by tucking his leg between hers. As she clamped her thighs around it, determined to ride out the sensation and wait now that she had something to hold onto, she realized that his fingers had found the knot of her breastband.

It took some doing – in which he grunted and cursed it in a low voice against her throat and made her laugh while she scratched her fingers against that favorite spot against the back of his neck to soothe frazzled nerves – but it finally came free. Cullen tugged the cloth out from under her with a huff and then held it up with a victorious growl, shaking it a little before he tossed it over his shoulder errantly. She quietly tucked the sight of him above her like that, eyes bright with desire with swollen lips and his curls in full unruly force while looking so proud , away to remember fondly when she might need it most.

“Up,” he snarled in a rough voice as he tugged at her tunic, attempting to drag it up her sides several times. With her back against the cushions, however, it caught and Meryell couldn’t help but laugh at the frustrated look on his face.

Cullen growled in response, hissing, “A hand if you would, dear thief?”

“If I’m the thief,” she replied, “why are you trying to steal my shirt?”

He chuckled and leaned down to kiss her in response, replying gruffly, “I’m trying to find my heart. I believed you’ve stolen it.”

She laughed at that, despite her heart pounding wildly at the answer, and silently arched her back. He ended up only pulling her tunic up just far enough to reveal her breasts, so small and certainly not enough to fill his hands, and just stared for a moment. Meryell started to open her mouth to say something only to cut herself off with a gasp as Cullen bent and pressed a kiss against the curve of her right breast. His stubble tickled and then rasped as he immediately moved over to close his mouth over her nipple and her mind went blank at the sensation. It stuttered back to life a moment later and Meryell lifted her head to look down at him as his eyes darted up to her while he smirked against her breast.


Maker’s fucking cock, this man.

What his mouth was doing sent little sparks of want cascading through her and then she felt his hand brush her now bare belly. Looking down past him, she saw his fingers stutter over the loop of her belt and turned her eyes to meet his as they asked silently for permission.

Yes ,” she breathed and in two quick tugs he had her belt open. His fingers made equally quick work of the laces on her pants, tugging them just loose enough that he could slip his hand between the thick fabric and her skin. She shuddered at the feel of it, of his skin against hers there, anticipation tightening her body up into a silent scream.

Abruptly Cullen released her breast and moved back up to her face, kissing her cheek and then her mouth as he breathed, “This is…this is okay?” Part of her was undeniably frustrated with the pause because his fingers were right there , so close to where she fucking needed them , and he’d stopped. Meryell knew though too, that he was just being himself and worried given their earlier conversation.

Catching his face in her hands, she pulled him into a deep kiss that was all warring tongues and clashing teeth. She took his lower lip between her teeth as she pulled away, sucking on it before she released it with a resounding pop . He let out a pair of heavy breaths as he stared down at her in response, his eyes blown wide and dark, as she replied in a firm whisper, “You are not Camden.”

Cullen leaned in to kiss her again at that, breathing, “ Vhen’an ,” as his hand slid further downward into her smalls. Meryell whined into his mouth as his fingers finally reached the curls between her legs and slid into the slick crevice, bucking her hips as he crooked a finger inside her. Then another joined it and they groaned as one as she thrust herself down onto his hand. He began a slow, almost tortuous pace within while his own hips stuttered against her hip in an aborted attempt at seeking completion.

Realizing that she was letting him do all of the work, Meryell freed herself from the kiss and breathed, “Side.”


“Get on your side fully,” she replied, fighting against the haze of pleasure that was blocking coherent thought. Cullen obeyed with a blink, settling onto his side beside her rather than half leaned over her without ever entirely stopping the slow thrust of his fingers. Meryell immediately started scrabbling one handed at his waist as soon as he was settled. His breath caught on a sudden inhale at the same time that she finally found the edge of his shirt and jerked it up to reveal the tensed muscles of his belly and he breathed her name on the exhale.

Turning her head, she kissed him hard for a brief second before saying, “I can’t let you give without giving something in return.”

He just stared at her for a moment and there was something suddenly in his eyes that she couldn’t put words to. Then Cullen closed them, shaking his head a little, and when he reopened his eyes a moment later whatever that something was was gone.

“Do not…” he breathed slowly, his voice shaking as his fingers slowed within her. “Do not ask does this feel good .”

For a moment she was confused and then realization hit like a thunderclap. Kinloch. Demons. There was a connection there, something old and strong , and she wondered if he’d discovered that during his time with the woman in Kirkwall, if that was what had stopped him going to her. It also made warmth curl in her chest despite the reminder of what he’d gone through because he had just shared a part of that. The worst thing that had happened to him, that he barely spoke of except in the vaguest terms, and he’d given her a fragment .

“I will not ask,” confirmed Meryell, sealing it with a kiss that he nodded into. Taking that as permission, she slid her hand teasingly down his stomach and savored the twitch of his muscles in her wake, before closing her fingers over the buckle of his belt. It ended up taking both of them to pry it loose, he chuckling and wriggling his other hand down between them to hold the buckle while she tugged the leather free. The long laces on his trousers, in comparison, were ridiculously easy to get past. Instead of doing as he’d done with hers and leaving them mostly still laced, she pulled them almost entirely open before sliding her hand into his smalls to wrap her hand around his cock and draw it free.

She kept her attention entirely on his face, wanting to watch to make sure she didn’t misstep and do something that would remind him of then, and learned by touch instead. Varric’s flowery tongue might have described it as velvet and heat in one of his terrible romances but she wouldn’t say that herself. Heat, yes, but velvet made her think of soft things…and what she curled her fingers around was anything but soft.

With her eyes on him, Meryell gave a slow, exploratory stroke and the sound that it brought out of Cullen curled her toes and made her clench the walls of her cunt around his fingers.

“Yes?” she asked, low and soft. A simple question requiring a simple answer.

He let out a long breath and nodded. “ Yes .”

Smiling, Meryell pressed her mouth to his and as he responded, she started a set of strokes that made him grunt in surprise. In response she deepened the kiss, opening her mouth to his, and hummed when he responded in kind. After a moment his hand, which had stuttered to little more than occasional twitching between her legs, began to pick its pace back up. The world became little more than them in that moment, spiraling down into just the small space of them and the pleasure growing inside each of them.

At some point she turned onto her side as well to brace one leg up on his hip, allowing him better access as soon as he tugged her pants open wider. That also lead to her forehead being pressed hard against his mouth as her other hand fisted desperately in the fabric of his shirt, his other hand having found it’s way to hug the back of her head. There was only the ragged sounds of their breathing mixed with the noise that their bodies were making until he growled out into her skin, “I can’t…last.”

Bucking her head up, Meryell caught his mouth briefly before gasping, “Then don’t .”

Cullen managed to huff a laugh and asked, “You?”

Almost .”

He kissed her then growled, “Let’s fix that,” and she felt his thumb shift, searching, before it found the swollen knot of flesh at the head of her cunt. Meryell managed a single fuck before he pressed down and rubbed that little spot and she swore she saw stars. It felt like she was being consumed, like the glorious feeling he’d brought to life inside of her was going to swallow her whole, like falling and flying all at once.

And the sensations kept shattering her, kept sending her higher and then bringing her back down again, as he kept his thumb at work. At least until she managed enough mildly coherent thought to get her hand moving again. One gentle squeeze and a few quick strokes of his cock had his hand twitching out of place between her thighs as he came with a dull shout, spending himself on the cushions beneath them and the front of her pants.

Breathing hard, Meryell wiped her hand on one of the cushions then scooted forward, tucking her chin underneath his as she pushed up his shirt to press her bare breasts against his skin. Cullen grunted dully in response, obviously still too caught up in the aftershocks, and she smiled as she nuzzled his throat while feeling her own still sparking through her body. When he did finally move, it was to grasp her hip with his hand and bring that part of her flush against him, trapping his slowly softening cock between them.

Then his lips pressed into her hair and he murmured, “We’re a mess.”

Laughing, she tipped her head back and bumped his chin with her nose. “A fucking amazing mess,” she said warmly. “That widow of yours from Kirkwall taught you well.” He chuckled in response then dipped his chin low to catch her mouth with kiss, a slow, sated thing that made her feel sleepy and content.

“I love you,” he said softly, as if the words might be stolen away if they were overheard, as soon as their lips separated.

Ar lath ‘ma ,” she replied as she tucked her head underneath his chin again, closing her eyes in contentment. Cullen closed his arms around her fully and nuzzled his nose into her hair before he let out a long breath that slowly fell into the steady rhythms of sleep. Meryell just lay there listening for a moment, her own exhaustion not yet dragging her down and smiled as she ran her hand idly across his side, touching a faded scar here and the hard ridges of a muscle there.

When it finally pulled her under, dragging her into dreams and the Fade, she had a single final thought.

Who knew that Camden’s bullshit would bring me this?

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