The Sordid Tale of Meryell Verlen, Chapter 37

“Get out of my fucking way, Bull,” snarled Meryell as she glared at the Qunari who was blocking her way out of the stable. After she’d rode ahead of everyone else to make it up the hill into Skyhold and paused long enough to take care of her horse (because she’d been taught well enough that you didn’t abuse a good mount), she wasn’t in the mood for anything.

“No way, Boss,” he replied, voice steady and firm. “Not till you calm down.”

“I am calm.”

The Iron Bull merely arched an eyebrow in response and flicked his eye downward before he brought them back up to meet hers. “Your hands are shaking,” he observed, “your pupils are constricted, and you’re breathing like you just ran up the hill from the lower camps at a dead sprint instead of riding. If that’s your definition of calm, Boss, we need to have a serious talk.”

Growling in frustration, Meryell stormed forward so she was standing toe-to-toe with the Qunari (so to speak, given their height difference) and spat, “If you don’t get the fuck out of my way, Bull…”

He interrupted her by raising a hand calmly and saying softly, “I know you just want to go see the Commander, Boss.”

“Then what in all of the nugshit in Orzammar are you doing standing between me and that?” exploded Meryell, a little louder than she’d intended. A few of the stable hands turned to look at them and she hissed out a breath before she forced her voice to a lower volume. “You can’t keep me here in the stable.”

“No,” replied Bull, “but I can keep you out of his tower until you calm down.”

The Qunari then leaned down so he could breath in her ear, “It won’t do him any good in his recovery if you go in there with your tits in a bunch.”

Meryell jerked back at his words and snarled, “What do you know?

“I don’t know details but I know something happened to him while you’ve been gone. And it wasn’t this shit we got told about him catching sick from the camps.” Bull blinked calmly at her as he added, “I’d bet a hefty bit of coin that it has something to do with him stopping lyrium.”

“Fucking shit fuck,” she cursed.

“Not helping, Boss.”

Meryell curled her lip in response, snarling, “Maybe I’d be less stressed if you just let me go fucking see him!”

“Boss,” stressed Bull, “I got asked to make sure you were calm from that company healer of yours. So, you want to see Cullen, you’ve got to calm down.”

Curling her fingers into fists, she stared at him for a long moment before growling, “I am calm!

“How are you at fighting foes bigger than you?”

“You want to spar?!”

Bull shook his head and replied sternly, “More like smack your stubborn ass into the ground until you can’t see straight.”

Meryell glared up at him for a long moment, practically vibrating with rage now. How dare he fucking do this shit to her? He didn’t know her from Andraste’s swollen cunt and Bull sure as shit didn’t have any authority over her. Not even if he’d been asked by Gil to make sure she was calm.

She was as fucking calm as she was going to damned well get!

“Fuck you, Bull,” she snarled before moving to lunge past him in the little space there was in the stable’s main door. He sidestepped into her path, holding out a broad hand in the universal gesture of stop.

“Don’t make me hurt you, Boss.”

“Get out of my fucking way then!”

“No.”

Snarling, Meryell turned and bolted for the other exit of the stables that ran through the stalls. She didn’t get two damned steps before a large hand snatched one of her legs and whipped her off her feet. The air was knocked out of her lungs as she hit the hay covered dirt floor, not reacting quickly enough to fully catch herself. Another hand pressed down on her back with gentle pressure and she bucked up against it without thinking.

“Calm down,” Bull intoned firmly.

Su an’banal i’ma!” growled Meryell in reply, twisting her face around against the floor so she could glare up at him.

The big Qunari just sat there holding her down, crouching sedately next to her prone form as if it were any other day while the stable hands fluttered nervously nearby. He blinked calmly down at her before saying, “I don’t understand Elven, Boss.”

Not giving a single fuck for once, she just replied with, “Fenedhis lasa!

“All right. Since we’re drawing a bit of a crowd, we’re going to take this elsewhere.” Meryell tried to twist, snarling like an animal, at that but Bull just plain outsized her. It was almost like the few times she’d been cornered by a male who was bigger than her except this time she wasn’t afraid. She trusted Bull and knew enough about him that he wasn’t the type to make moves unless they were welcomed.

Now she was just pissed.

She expected him to just toss her over his shoulder, to maybe give her a chance to escape, but he surprised her. Instead of doing what she’d expected, Bull lifted her up into his arms in a normal carry and now she knew why. It let him keep control of her arms and legs.

Fucker,” she snarled, glaring up at him as he rose and left the stable. Bull just smiled before he focused on wherever they were going, nodding as they passed people staring at him carrying an obviously pissed off Inquisitor. Meryell kept trying to escape, writhing her limbs as much as she could, but her strength was no match to his.

“Chief!” shouted Krem suddenly, jogging up as they came up into the upper courtyard. The Charger then slowed as Meryell turned her head to glare daggers at him and flicked his eyes between the two of them. “You two eloping or something, Chief? I don’t think the Commander would be too happy about that.”

Bull laughed loudly, his chest shaking Meryell, as she spat, “Go bugger a dog, Krem.”

“Thought you Ferelden sort were the only ones for that,” replied the man with a wry smile, her comment rolling right off of him. Krem then looked at Bull as Meryell snarled wordlessly at him, asking, “So what’s up, Chief?”

“Trying to get this one to calm down. She’s putting up as much fight as a dragon right now.”

“What’s the plan? Should I get some of the lads?”

“Usual,” replied Bull before he started off again. “You lot can keep her from bolting away from me.

Krem snorted a laugh and Meryell watched him jog off, glaring, until she turned her attention back to the Iron Bull. “The fuck?” she growled.

“You’ll see,” he replied. That was when she noticed that they were in the space behind the tavern where Cassandra usually fought against her much battered practice dummies. Frowning, she looked up at him as he stopped and attempted to wriggle out of his grip again. Bull just locked down his arms before saying, “You might as well stop, Boss. You’re not getting out of this.”

Cocksucker,” snarled Meryell, to which the Qunari just arched an eyebrow.

“Not sure how that’s an insult there, Boss.”

Fenedhis.”

Bull started to open his mouth to say something when the pounding of booted feet coming around the tavern interrupted him. Krem and ten other Chargers – some of the sturdiest members who Meryell knew could all pack or take a punch – came around the corner and fanned out in a circle around where they stood in the half secluded area. At that, Bull smiled and called out, “Alright, boys, we’ve got us an intervention here. You keep her in the circle no matter what. Understand?”

“Aye, Chief!”

“Good.” The Qunari then unceremoniously and without warning dropped Meryell. She fell, an involuntary yelp coming out of her, before she crashed into the unforgiving ground in a groaning heap. Vaguely she heard Bull take a step away from her then clap his hands, clucking his tongue like she was a dog. “Come on then, Boss,” he said. “If you can get past me, you can go see the Commander.

Lifting her head off the ground, she narrowed her eyes at him and asked through gritted teeth, “Past you?”

He just nodded before saying, “Without daggers.”

Snorting, she rolled to her feet and made an immediate sprint for his right side. One of the Chargers jeered loudly just as she thought she was in the clear. Then Bull’s hand whipped out and caught her in the chest in an open handed blow that probably would have cracked her ribs at full force. Instead it just canceled out all of her momentum as he flexed and sent her tumbling backwards head over heels. She landed face down in the dirt and just laid there winded for a moment as several of the Chargers whistled impressively.

“One, nothing, Boss.”

Fuck him, she thought as she slowly leveled herself to her feet again. Her harness pulled around her shoulders where the cloth of her tunic had gotten bunched under her not quite fitting borrowed armor but she ignored the sensation. It was irrelevant.

Everything came down to getting past Bull.

Snarling, Meryell bounded forward again and this time ducked low as she got close to him, diving to the left to try and slide past him along the ground. Bull merely kicked out a heavy booted foot in response and she just barely made the dodge. His boot’s soles passed within mere inches of her face as she spun away before crashing face first into the ground.

“Two, nothing,” intoned Bull matter-of-factly.

Sheer rage battered Meryell up onto her feet and she flung herself straight at him, intending on trying her best to climb him like a damned tree. Bull instead caught her foot on its first lash out for a foothold and, in one smooth motion, flipped her head over heels.

As she landed on the ground hard with a bone-jarring thump, she heard Cassandra bellow from nearby, “What in the Maker’s name?

“Krem,” grunted Bull, jerking his head behind him without taking his eye off her as she struggled back up to hands and knees. “Fill in the Seeker. Tell her talk to the healer if she wants confirmation.”

The Tevinter saluted quickly and broke out of the circle, leaving a gap for a span of a breath. Meryell eyed it, trying to get her feet under her quickly enough to take advantage, but she was struggling. It gave them enough time to close ranks again.

Breathing hard, she watched Krem talking to Cassandra for a long moment before turning to glare at Bull. “I fucking hate you,” she spat out between half-gasped breaths.

The Qunari just shrugged before saying, “I’m just here as a worried friend, Boss.”

The fuck you are!” she howled before charging at him again. This time she went straight for a nut shot and when he blocked that, slammed her fist into his side right around the kidneys. Bull grunted but didn’t waver as he grabbed her shoulders with both hands and tossed her backwards. Meryell managed to roll with that one, tucking her body so she came up in a crouch with teeth bared.

She just barely heard a Charger breath, “Damn,” before she was rushing forward again. And again after she was sent tumbling backwards with the equivalent of a light swat. And again. And again.

Every tumble was another moment she wasn’t in the tower.

Every casual blow was another strike upon the coals of her anger.

Every heaving breath she took was almost choking to the point of panicking.

Eventually it came down to her standing in the center of the circle the Chargers made, breathing hard as she leaned over with her hands on her knees. She hurt, her body feeling as bruised and battered as it had ever been (though not quite post-avalanche Haven). Meryell was so exhausted from her attempts to get past the Iron Bull that it was a wonder she could think, let alone remain standing.

“You want to try again, Boss?” he asked, his voice sounding distant thanks to the blood pounding in her skull.

Slowly she lifted her head, feeling as if it was wobbling on her neck, and blinked at the big Qunari. He calmly stared back, patient as a stone. Meryell straightened painfully, her back protesting after what it had been submitted to, and shuffled forward a determined step. Cullen, she thought blearily. She still needed to see Cullen.

Whispers came from the throats of the Chargers surrounding her but she couldn’t make out what they were saying. Her head was too rattled and her mind too tired to pick up on anything despite her keen ears. Instead she focused on the spot just past Bull’s left, where Krem had stepped back into line after speaking with Cassandra. She’d thought the older woman had been going to step in but whatever the other mercenary had told her had been satisfactory. It hadn’t stopped Cassandra from coming back for a while after she’d cleaned up and sitting down outside, watching them as she read her latest book.

Focusing on that spot and the tower she could see behind it, Meryell kept moving forward. And it wasn’t until she was level with Krem that she stopped and turned to look back at Bull. He had turned to watch her, his arms crossed over his chest, and dipped his head in a deep nod.

“You’re calm now, Boss. Go get yourself cleaned up and go see him. Make yourself useful and help out our Inquisitor, Krem.”

“Just because I have tits, Chief, doesn’t mean I want to see ‘em,” bit back Krem even as he wrapped a steadying arm around Meryell’s waist. They were close enough in height that when she turned to look at him with a slight frown, her brain not quite comprehending the words, that her eyes were level with his mouth. “If you insist though, I’ll take care of the trouble you caused.”

“That’s why I keep you around, Krem de lá Krem,” Bull replied lightly. He then boomed in a loud enough voice that it made Meryell start, “Chargers! We’re done here.”

The noise of the others was left behind as Krem got her moving towards the stairs that led up to the keep and it took Meryell from there until they’d hit the middle of the main hall to realize what had been said. Turning to look at the Tevinter as he maneuvered them into the stairwell that led down to the second floor just outside of Josephine’s office, she said, “Tits?”

“What’s that?” asked Krem, his attention mostly focused on getting them down the stairs. “Pay attention to your feet for fuck’s sake.”

She looked down, vision blurring slightly from a mild case of vertigo, but managed to focus enough on stepping down. After a moment she repeated the word.

“Tits.”

“They’re nice but tend to be a menace.”

“No, no,” pressed Meryell, “you said you have fucking tits.”

“Aye,” replied Krem, his eye that she could see twitching slightly.

Frowning, she said, “But you’re…male.”

“Yes.”

“Explain. My brain is fucked,” moaned Meryell.

Krem just chuckled as they reached the second floor, steering them skillfully around to the stairwell that led down to the third floor. “Maker’s bleeding knob, I thought you knew,” he commented wryly with a shake of his head. Then he turned to look at her and stated, “Simplest way to say it: I was born a girl.”

Frowning, Meryell let that mull over in her fuzzy brain for a few minutes before nodding and saying, “Which explains the tits comment.”

“But I’m not a woman,” he went on. Krem lifted a hand to tap his temple with two sharp raps. “Not up here.”

“Oh. Alright then.”

He blinked in surprise, pausing on the stairs to frown at her. “Alright then? That’s seriously it?”

Meryell just shrugged and replied, “You’re what you are.” When Krem didn’t start moving again, she went on, “Having a cock and balls doesn’t make a man a man. Seen plenty who talked big but turned tail and ran. Watched girls in pigtails have bigger balls.”

Shrugging, she finished, “Body parts are just body parts.”

“Maker, you’re easy about this.”

“Mercenaries,” Meryell reminded him with a broad smile that felt more than a little off-kilter. Krem laughed and started them moving again, his laughter fading off into chuckles as he shook his head.

“Right, right. Sometimes I forget you’re a merc brat.”

She just smiled in response, making him shake his head, before they both trailed off into silence as they continued down to the third floor. By the time they made it to the baths Josephine had had installed, Meryell had a little more feeling in her legs and managed to make it inside on her own. Krem said something about clothes that she didn’t quite catch because she was focused on clean skin and hot water.

When she made it out, wrapped up in one of the heavy sheets that were stocked in a cabinet for drying off with, Krem was sitting across the entrance. He’d found a chair from somewhere and had it propped up on it’s back legs against one side of the door with his feet braced against the opposite side of the frame. As she walked over to him, he held up a stack of fresh clothes with a quiet, “Sweet talked one of the lasses into running up to your room. Figured you’d appreciate it.”

“Aren’t you a fucking sweetheart,” teased Meryell, leaning down to peck a light kiss on his cheek. As she took the clothes, she commented, “And guarding the door for me?”

“Chief would kill me if I left you alone after the ringer he put you through,” Krem replied casually, grinning wryly up at her.

Nodding, she hefted the stack of clothes over to a small side table and said, “Speaking of that…that shit the sort of thing Bull always does when one of you lot has your head up your ass? Not that I had my head up mine, mind you.”

He just laughed at that, agreeing, “Of course not, your Worship.”

“Fuck you, Krem.”

Grinning, Krem gave a shrug before he said, “It’s normal. Chief views it as if you’re in enough of a tiff that you aren’t thinking straight, the only thing to do is tire you out of it. Most of us have gone through it once or twice since we joined up; enough that we know what’s up when he calls one. Yours don’t have something like?”

“Singular combat,” replied Meryell as she turned her back to him and dropped the blanket so she could tug on her under things after she dug them out of the middle of the pile of clothes. Normally she wouldn’t have been so brash about doing such a thing but she was dead tired. Any restorative properties of the hot water were quickly wearing off already.

Plus, mercenary company. There were lots of times where there just wasn’t any privacy and that held for big companies like the Fangs and smaller like the Chargers.

“Captain’s got a habit of calling people out on their shit straight up,” she continued as she stepped into the soft breeches, making a mental note to figure out which of the servant girl’s Krem had sweet talked. Whoever she was, she’d picked one of her most comfortable pairs. Turning to look over her shoulder and finding him still sitting in the same position with no visible response to her spat of nakedness, Meryell finished, “He’ll drag folks kicking and screaming into the fighting ring back at our keep if he has to to get the beatings in. And don’t let the seemingly nice Orlesian bullshit fool you for a damned moment. The Captain plays dirty and he’ll kick the knees out from under you if he thinks you fucking deserve it.”

“Have to when dealing with you lot from what I’ve seen,” Krem commented with a snort. He then laughed as she twisted a hand around to flash a rude gesture at him. “Don’t think the Commander would be pleased with us fucking.”

The mention of Cullen’s title had her spine tensing up a little but she was far too tired for it to actually do much of anything. Which was good because that would completely ruin the Iron Bull’s efforts at getting her to fucking relax.

“Speaking of,” muttered Meryell as she tugged the loose tunic that had been brought over her head, smoothing it out over her sides, “let’s go.”  She quickly gathered up her sodden blanket, rubbing it vigorously over her damp hair for a moment before she bundled up her dirty clothes in it and tossed them into one of the bins. Either she’d get her clothes back or she wouldn’t, at the moment she didn’t care one way or the other.

Her borrowed armor and daggers had disappeared at some point while she’d been in the bath, so she assumed that Krem had had someone squirrel it away up to her room.

By the time she was done, Krem was standing up and had the chair tucked out of the way just inside the door. As she approached him, he fell into step beside her with one hand half hovering in case she got a little wavery along the way. They managed to make it up and around the floors without any incidents or running into anyone, however.

At least until they passed through Solas’ rotunda.

The elf leaned over his scaffolding as he was working on another piece, having completed the explosion of the Breach some time ago, and called out, “Da’len?

Stopping, Meryell tilted her head and and scowled up at him. “I’m not in the mood for bullshit, hahren.

He held up a paint spattered hand in a stopping gesture before saying, “It is nothing of the sort. Merely…an offer.” When she silently stared up at him, Solas sighed before continuing, “I am aware that I was not available when the Commander had his…episode.”

The way he delicately said episode made her wonder if he knew the actual story and not the lie.

“However,” he went on, “if there is a need, I would find no difficulty in aiding either of you.”

Meryell felt the tenseness that had crept into her spine as soon as he’d called out relax a little and she managed a tight smile. “Thank you, Chuckles,” she said softly. “You’re good for an egg.”

“Ah, a thank you and an insult together in but a few breaths. I’m not certain the world can withstand such a thing.”

Krem snorted and she barked a laugh before saying, “Fuck you too, hahren.”

Solas chuckled before disappearing from view, calling out, “As you were, da’len.” She shook her head and started moving again, heading out the door and onto the walkway that led to Cullen’s tower.

Thanks to Bull’s distraction, it was growing dark now and she could see that someone inside had candles burning both in the lower floor of the office and in the upper loft. Hopefully that person was Gil or Folke and not Cullen.

Somehow she’d ended up stopped in the middle of the walkway and didn’t notice until Krem pressed a hand lightly against her back. “Nervous?” he asked.

Meryell bit down on a reply that included probably more information than the Charger had on what had happened and answered instead with, “Worried about getting sick myself.”

“I think you’re in the clear on that one,” he commented and she turned to look at him with a frown. Krem just gestured towards the door in response, his face revealing nothing. That comment said enough though.

Krem knew some of the truth.

Squaring her shoulders and taking a deep breath, Meryell finished the walk to the door and opened it after a brief knock. She didn’t realize until a moment later that she was holding her breath. When it swung open, she blinked several times at the sight of a slightly pale Cullen sitting at his desk working at far less than his normal pace. Rylen stood at his shoulder, talking quietly and moving papers around for his commanding officer on the desk. Opposite them on the other side of the desk was an occupied chair with its back facing the door and she recognized Gil’s strawberry blonde hair cascading over the back.

Any tension she had went out of her at that sight.

Hair down mean Gil was relaxed. It meant everything that okay.

Krem coughed loudly from behind her then, rapping his gauntleted hand against the open door before calling out, “Got a special delivery for you, Commander!” As Meryell blushed involuntarily as that caught the attention of the other three, he pressed his other hand against the base of her spine again. Leaning forward, he breathed in her ear, “Go get ‘em,” before he saluted flippantly and made his exit.

“Oh, look at you,” chided Gil as she got up, coming towards her with hands outstretched. “You look like someone put you through the ringer.”

“Bull,” replied Meryell as the mage tugged her fully into the office and closed the door. She tried to glance over her shoulder at Cullen but she was shorter than Gil and could only see Rylen’s face. He was smiling though, in that fondly goofy way he had when he and Cullen were acting as more friends than officers, so she took that as a good sign. “I didn’t mean to interrupt…”

“Nonsense.” Gil interrupted her with a quick wave of her hand. “I was just getting ready myself to tell these fine gentlemen that that was quite enough work for the night.”

“Done,” snapped Rylen abruptly and she heard the sound of rustling papers and Cullen’s quiet (but tired) I don’t think she meant right now, Rylen. The Starkhaven man just tutted in response and replied with a quiet, “Don’t argue with healers, old man.”

As he gathered up his things and moved towards one of the battlements doors, he called out, “Glad to see you back safe and in one piece from a spar with the Iron Bull, messere. Try and help keep this one in line while you’re back here? I try but he’s just so damned stubborn.”

Laughing, Meryell replied, “I’ll do my best, Rylen. Have a good night.”

“Good night to you. And to you, dear Enchanter!”

“Just Gil, thank you, Captain,” called out Gil over Cullen’s amused grumbling of No respect. As the door closed behind him, she turned her head to look at Cullen and asked, “May I?”

There was a long pause in response and Meryell frowned during it, wondering just what she was asking before he replied in a slightly strained tone, “It’s not imperative, is it?”

“No, my dear, it’s not. Nothing that a few days of rest won’t heal on it own.”

“Then…no. Please.”

She felt her throat tighten up and her eyes water in response to the tone of his voice in that sentence. He sounded hurt, like almost begging. Meryell then stepped out from the side of Gil and saw that he was leaning into the desk now, his jaw clenched in one hard line as he clutched at the edge with one hand. Cullen’s eyes met hers, the amber dark and hazy with pain, and he somehow managed a wavering smile.

“Maker,” he muttered lightly, “I’d hoped for a better way to greet you getting back.”

Meryell opened her mouth to reply and the first noise that came out was a cracked sob. She quickly snapped her teeth together and felt Gil’s hand find her back, rubbing gently as she tried to recompose herself. Cullen just watched her from the desk as she did until she could half tearily reply, “You’re still here. That’s enough.”

“Only because of lyrium,” he replied bitterly, his face twisting into a mix of rage and disgust that cast shadows across the whole of his features. Then Cullen flicked his gaze over to Gil as he added, “Though it was necessary. As I keep being reminded.”

“And temporary,” pointed out Gil sternly. She then pointed at him and said, “To bed, Cullen. And you too, my girl.”

Cullen nodded and rose to his feet and Meryell held back a gasp as she watched his arms shake with the effort of pushing himself up from the desk. Part of her wanted to rush to him and help him but she knew he was stubbornly independent just the same as she was at times. The other knew how annoying it could be when you were trying to get by on your own and someone rushed over to help you without prompting. One time too many and you started feeling anger towards them.

Vhen’an’ara,” he intoned softly then, the word making her knees feel a little weak. He then held out a hand, grimacing at it’s obvious quivering, and asked simply, “Please?”

Corypheus his-fucking-self could not have stopped her from crossing that office right then.

Meryell tucked herself against his right side, pushing his chair back across the floor to be fully against the wall so it wouldn’t be in the way. Cullen wrapped his arm tightly around her, pinning her against the fever-warmth of his side, and turned his head to press a kiss against the top of her head. “Maker, I missed you,” he breathed.

“Me too,” she replied softly, turning her face up so they could kiss lightly, just a bare brush of their lips. Then Gil coughed pointedly and she smiled against his lips, feeling his scar pull against her skin. “I think we’re being fucking scolded.”

“I think we may,” he replied with a shaky little laugh. He then gestured towards the ladder that led to the loft and asked, “Shall we?”

It was slow going and full of several heart-in-the-throat moments but they all managed to get up the ladder. Gil stalked around the floor, setting up the brazier in the middle, and flicking her fingers in that little way she had when she was checking already in place spells while they made their way to the bed. Not a stranger to checkups with Gil, Meryell quickly shucked off her tunic and wriggled out of her breeches, leaving them in a pile on the floor. Cullen blushed next to her and stammered a very soft, “You are so beautiful and I can’t do a damned thing.”

“Shh,” chided Meryell, keeping her voice low as she stepped in close to him. “I don’t need anything,” she assured him, running her fingers down the front of the loose tunic he wore. “Just you.”

“Weak me,” he said with a harsh snort.

Alive you,” she hissed back, her voice breaking slightly.

Cullen’s face fell then and he started saying, “Meryell, I…” and reaching for her face with shaking hands when Gil coughed politely. He then froze, halfway through the motion, before he reached for his own tunic. As soon as he had it off, letting it fall to the floor next to her abandoned clothes, she had her hands pressed against his skin. He groaned, dropping his head to lean against hers, before growling, “Bed. Or I will fall.”

Nodding, she obliged him by sitting down on the bed and scooting all the way over to the wall. It had become her spot after they’d discovered one night that him sleeping against it with her between him and the edge tended to bring memories and dreams of enclosed spaces. He woke up panicked and twitchy and she’d determined that it was just better to avoid that spot.

As he slid in next to her, pulling the blankets up over them as he did, Gil threw something into the brazier. When it flared up and smelled familiar, she called out, “Is that Evune’s pain cure?”

“Burning prophet’s laurel seems to have helped so far,” replied Gil. She then walked over to the bed and said, “Now…I’ll be back in the morning, same as usual. My alarms are still in place as well, so I don’t have to recast them, Cullen. They aren’t bothering you, correct?”

“Right,” he replied as he rolled to his left side and pulled Meryell over into him. She curled into his heat in response, frowning as he added, “I’m used to them now.”

Gil nodded sharply then said, “I’ll lock the doors behind me. Good night, my dears.”

“Night, Gil,” called Meryell alongside Cullen’s soft Good night. She waited until she saw the light from below blink out and heard the locks on the doors click before she turned her full attention to the man next to her. Tracing her finger lightly across the lines of his chest, she choked on a sob and said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

He pulled her fully into him in response, practically molding their bodies together. Their legs tangled before he crashed their mouths together, teeth snapping against each other awkwardly, and kissed her as if he wanted to take her very breath away. He poured the whole of himself into it, fingers stroking nonsense patterns across her bare skin as he held her hips tightly. “Ar lath ‘ma,” he murmured against her lips when he finally stopped, his voice shaking as much as his fingers were.

Then Cullen stroked hairs back from her forehead and whispered, “I wouldn’t have wanted you to see. It wasn’t…I wasn’t kind those first days after.”

“Cullen,” Meryell said insistently, wrangling her left arm up so she could cup his stubbled cheek in her hand. The hairs were still short, she noticed, and certainly not enough to have grown during the time since he’d fallen ill. He had obviously trusted someone enough to help him shave since his hands weren’t steady enough for the task. “If you think for one fucking minute that I wouldn’t be here through shit, that I wouldn’t plow on through any sort of nugshit you could throw at me, you’re a damned fool.”

He pursed his lips together into a white line and looked down, his eyes focusing somewhere along her collar bones. “I don’t,” he began softly before letting out a huff of breath. Then he lifted his head to meet her eyes as he breathed, “I don’t want you to see me like that.”

“Like what, vhen’an?”

“Weak.”

The word was spat out bitterly and she shifted her hand so her thumb could brush over the scar on his lip. “Does this make you weak?” she asked.

Cullen frowned and replied softly,” No?”

Meryell nodded and moved her hand from his face, brushing her fingers across another scar, old and faded, that broke the skin across the main muscle of his chest. “Does this?”

“No.”

“This one?” she asked as she found another around the muscle of his upper arm, obviously made by the blade of a sword. Without waiting for an answer, she slid her hand back down to where an old burn scar sat in a near perfect circle near his left hip, almost hidden underneath him with how he was laying. “Or this?”

“No,” he answered again. Then he caught her hand in his and she could feel the tremors running through him at the direct contact. “What’s the point of this, Meryell?”

Freeing her hand, Meryell briefly touched them again – starting from the last and finishing with her fingers brushing over his lips – before she whispered, “If these scars do not make you weak, Cullen, then why are you under the impression that the ones here do?” She moved her hand up his face as she asked the last, lightly tapping her fingers against his temple to indicate that she was talking about his nightmares and the lyrium and everything else that haunted him.

He stared at her, mouth slightly open, and she leaned forward to press a kiss against his bottom lip as she moved her hand to his shoulder.

“You survived Kinloch and Kirkwall. You are not fucking weak.”

Cullen closed his eyes at that, letting out a breath before he murmured, “I’m not certain I did sometimes. Survive. I wasn’t…” He stopped and shook his head against the pillow before he brought his hand up from her hip to cup her cheek. As he opened his eyes, the amber almost fever bright, he whispered, “I’m not certain that man could have loved you. And I’m terrified of how much of him is left.”

Her heart felt like it was clenched in a vise at his words. Meryell reached her hand back up to tangle her fingers in his hair, all curls now that twisted around her digits as if they wanted to grasp and never let go. She pulled herself towards him across what little space had opened up, hooking a leg over his hip to help hold herself there. As he let out an explosive little breath, she kissed him hard, wanting him to not think for a moment, to just feel. When his arm finally moved around her, a broad palm pressing against the bare curve of her spine to hold her against him, she knew she’d gotten somewhere.

Meryell kept the kiss going until it trailed off naturally, leaving them breathing hard and his interest more than a little obvious against the inside of her thigh. She didn’t move away then, however, choosing instead to cling to him and crane her neck to kiss the top part of his scar and then the tip of his nose.

“That man,” she intoned softly, “deserves to be loved as much as the man you are now does. He deserves to know he is worth loving, that he is not merely a sword in the hands of the fucking Chantry. He is not a weapon.”

She pressed her forehead against his cheek as she breathed, “And the one before, the young man from the Tower, he should know that it was not his fault what happened to him. He should have a shoulder to lean on instead of having to carry on on his own. He should have comfort, real comfort and not the temporary given by lyrium.”

“Meryell,” he tried to interrupt but she lifted her head, sealing her mouth over his to swallow whatever words he was trying to say. She had to get this out, all of it, before it burst out of her chest.

“I would love them all,” she breathed, meeting his eyes, “because they are all you. You, Cullen Stanton Rutherford. My Commander. My friend. My vhen’an’ara. My vhen’an.”

“How?” he asked, his voice cracking. Cullen’s hand trembled against her back and this time it was from emotion and not purely the withdrawal. “Maker’s breath, how can you say such a thing, knowing the things I’ve done?”

Meryell uncurled her fingers from his hair and brought them down to touch his lower lip lightly as she said, “I am no shrinking violet, no fucking maiden locked in some virtuous tower. I’ve killed, Cullen. There is blood on my hands and not all of it was for a job. You know that. Does that make me less? Does that diminish what you feel?”

No. Maker, no.”

“We try to be better than before,” she went on, brushing her fingers across his stubbled chin. “Maybe we fail but the trying is what’s important.”

“What,” he began before his voice broke slightly. Cullen looked at her helplessly before crushing her against him, burying his face against her shoulder and brokenly asking, “What if I can’t?”

She clung to him tightly, turning her head to kiss his cheek and neck and whatever she could reach, her heart aching as she replied, “We pick up the pieces and try again.”

“I don’t…Maker, Andraste, I don’t want to lose you.”

“I’m not going fucking anywhere,” hissed Meryell. “You hear me, Cullen? Not anywhere.”

No,” he hissed firmly, jerking his head up and away. He shook his head then Cullen hissed, “Not lose you physically. Lose you up here.” When he freed his hand to tap two fingers against his temple, she realized. He wasn’t talking about losing her like he nearly had at Haven.

He was talking about the lyrium taking it from him.

“You won’t,” she assured, pulling him back towards her. He stiffly stayed where he was for a long moment before he came, tucking securely against her again with his lips pressed against her shoulder.

“You can’t make that promise, Meryell.”

“No,” Meryell replied as she curled her fingers into his hair again, “I can’t promise that you won’t forget. I’m not fool enough to think I can beat that fucking shit if it chooses to take your mind. But I can promise that I will be there. That I will help you remember. And when I can’t, I won’t let you rot in some street or secluded keep. Not while I have breath.”

Cullen let out a broken noise into her shoulder, his own quaking with whatever emotion he was feeling, before he breathed, “I don’t deserve you.”

I don’t think I deserve you sometimes too, she thought but her reply was to turn her head and kiss his cheek, saying, “You’re wrong, vhen’an.”

“I’m not certain about that,” he murmured.

Trust me,” insisted Meryell, closing her eyes as she pressed her cheek against his. “If you have to trust me in one thing, trust me in this: that what you have done and what has been done to you doesn’t make you less.

He made some kind of noise in response that she couldn’t make out and kept going, her voice dropped to a whisper now.

“You said you have faith in me,” she intoned softly. “That we could find answers. That we could defeat Corypheus. That I wasn’t doing a colossal fuckup of the whole Inquisition.”

Cullen snorted at that and Meryell smiled.

She then whispered, “I may not believe in the Maker or Andraste but…I believe in you. You can do this and come out on the other side. And you can tell that fucking shit right where it can damned well stick it after it’s all over.

That made him laugh and he was pulling away from her just enough that they could see each other, a faint smile on his face. “You’re getting better at your inspiring speeches,” he commented wryly.

“I’ve gotten practice in the field,” she replied with a light laugh. Then she reached up to brush heavy locks of curls away from his forehead and said, “I meant every word.”

He nodded, his expression shifting into something like dread and fear before he closed his eyes and let out a breath. Just like that, his face relaxed, and when he opened his eyes it was to shake his head in her direction.

“I don’t deserve you,” Cullen repeated. Then he leaned forward to kiss her forehead before he settled heavily back down into the bed, drawing her back into him. As she tucked her head underneath his chin, he softly added, “But I am glad the Maker gave me the chance to try to be a man that does.”

Meryell kissed the pulse point of his throat in reply and breathed, “Just try. My mamae always used to say it’s all He ever asked of us.”

“I think I can do that.”

She smiled into the skin of his throat for a moment before saying, “We should sleep.” When he went stiff, she added, “I love you.”

Nightmares and all, she thought, not wanting to put them into words for fear of them never getting the rest that they both needed. Lyrium and guilt and long hours and distrust of magic. It’s all you.

Somehow those three words made him relax and Cullen murmured, “I love you,” as his arms tightened around her. Meryell closed her eyes contentedly in his grasp and finally let the exhaustion that had been dogging her sweep her under after his breathing fell into an easy pattern that heralded sleep.

ornament

Elven/Elvhen Translations

Su an’banal i’ma – To the void with you
Fenedhis lasa – go fuck a wolf’s dick

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