Blinking open his eyes, Cullen laid in bed for a moment as he attempted to register what time it was. Judging by the light streaming in the windows it was still very early in the morning, early enough that he should have already been awake. Yet last night had been stressful to every party in the Inquisition and he’d had a moment of panic when no one had known where Meryell was hours after everything was settled.
Then he’d found her, sitting in the shadows on a bench out on one of the balconies, her head resting on Cole’s shoulder and one hand entwined with the boy’s. And though he still had his own wariness around the spirit because he was still perhaps too much a templar, he knew that Cole would keep her safe. She had been safe.
The panic had bled out of him on the ride back to Gaspard’s manor with Cassandra insisting on riding with him as protection. He had been too tired to argue with her. And too tired when he got back to their room to do more than remove their outer clothing, placing Meryell into the bed and climbing in behind her.
Extricating himself from the steady warmth of her body and sitting up, Cullen rolled his shoulders before he reached down for the pants he’d abandoned at the edge of the bed. Pulling them on, he called out, “A moment,” then grabbed the closest shirt – a nearly threadbare thing of his that Meryell insisted on keeping because she liked wearing it. After he’d seen her in it, her body nearly visible beneath the thin fabric, he hadn’t been all that inclined to argue with her decision.
Running a hand through his hair, he looked down at her and smiled before leaning over to pull the covers across her back. She made a contented little noise in response, burrowing deeper, and he bent down to kiss her cheek.
“Sleep well, dear thief,” he murmured. “You earned it.”
Cullen then straightened up, grabbed his socks and boots in one hand, and moved to open the door with a slight scowl. His gaze snapped immediately to the nervous, jittery looking young man who was standing in front of the door before turning towards the Fang who was currently standing post. Astrid winked at him with a cheeky grin on her broad face and greeted, “Morning, Commander. Apparently the Nightingale sent the little lad here with an important message for our Meryell. I told him she’d be dead to shit from Gil’s healing trick but he insisted he talk to you then.”
“Comm-Commander,” stammered the poor boy, offering a shaky salute as Cullen stepped out of the room and closed the door as gently as possible. “The Nightingale said that she needed the Inquisitor now. That it’s important to the state of the Inquisition.”
Snorting, Cullen sat his boots down and slowly pulled on his socks. “Leliana said that?” he asked. Then he glanced up at the boy and queried, “It’s Harlan, isn’t it?”
“Well, that’s not going to happen, Harlan,” he gruffly commented. He stepped into his boots and tightened them around his shins before he fixed the young man with a hard stare. “No need to run back to her and tell her. I’ll be telling her myself. You’re to go back to whatever duty you were on before Leliana pulled you in as a messenger and no one is to disturb the Inquisitor. Understand?”
Cullen then smiled thinly as he tilted his head towards Astrid. “She’s going to make sure it stays like that too.”
“Just following the Captain’s orders,” the Anders woman proclaimed with a smirk. “He and our Meryell gave me reign to bust heads if I need to.” She cracked her knuckles dramatically and Harlan went white in the face before bolting down the hall. As soon as he was gone, she laughed and shook her head. “I suspect we just scared years off of that boy’s life. You’d think one of the Nightingale’s lot would have more balls.”
“He’s one of her normal runners,” Cullen supplied. “Harlan may not have nerves like Leliana does but he’s loyal. And has a memory like a steel trap.” He then frowned and asked, “How long have you been standing post, Astrid? I seem to recall Dragos was here again when we came in last night.”
She nodded and crossed her arms, leaning her head back against the wall as she shrugged. “Few hours now. I replaced Dragos when dawn swung around and Kevan’s supposed to replace me sometime before noon for the evening shift. Then Rhiryd will be back on for the crossover shift.”
Cullen nodded and turned to look back at the door for a moment before he gave her a sharp nod. “As you were then.”
Astrid flashed another grin at him before she closed her eyes, saying, “Fuck off and go tell the Nightingale where she and the Empress can stuff their requests for a few more hours.”
“How do you know the message would be from the Empress?” he asked with an arched eyebrow, ignoring her crude direction. She didn’t mean it as an insult – since curses were common parlance amongst the Fangs as he’d learned and their seriousness was more measured by tone of voice than anything else – so he let it pass.
“What else would be so important?” replied the woman with a shrug. She then made a vague shooing motion with the fingers of one hand and settled more heavily against the wall. At a glance, it looked like she was asleep with her eyes closed like that and in such a heavy slump but Cullen had seen her on the field at Haven. Not to mention having sparred with her when she wasn’t off with a mix of Fangs and Inquisition on some mission.
Anyone who underestimated Astrid for her casual pose or gender deserved the beating they got in return.
Turning away from the door, Cullen headed down the hallway without saying anything else since there was little else to say. He had other things to deal with.
Striding down the halls in their wing until he reached Leliana’s door, he rapped his knuckles against it then frowned at the young woman who opened it. “Is she in?” he asked simply and the girl didn’t even bother to reply,. Instead she merely stepped aside and opened the door wide to allow him entry. As soon as he stepped inside, she shut the door behind him and then disappeared off into a small secondary room that their own room didn’t seem to have.
“Commander,” greeted Leliana from across the room, straightening up from the open window where a trio of ravens gathered on the sill to eat from her gloved hand. Then she turned and frowned. “The Inquisitor?”
“Asleep,” he replied sternly, crossing his arms over his chest. “And she’ll stay that way until she wakes up on her own.”
Leliana’s eyes went flat at that and she hummed in a low tone as she turned back towards her birds. “Is that from her Commander or her worried lover?”
Bristling at the tone of her voice, Cullen straightened up and answered in a firm tone, “Both.”
“And what of the next time she is tired? Will you simply let her give into her exhaustion, let her take a day when we have no such luxuries?”
Narrowing his eyes at Leliana, Cullen worked his jaw in an attempt to keep his temper under check. Withdrawal exacerbated it, made him prickly and easily annoyed at the best of times, and it didn’t help that he’d already been annoyed by the shouting at their door. He suddenly regretted the fact that the bag of dried elfroot roots Gil had given him were back in the room he’d just left.
Cullen had found that they not only helped stave off some of the pain of his headaches, but the distraction of chewing them tended to stave the edge off his temper. Especially when he thought he was about to lose it. Now he had only his firm will to keep him from yelling at Leliana.
“This is not simply tired, Leliana,” he growled. “If you weren’t aware, Gil worked magic on her last night to completely heal a wound she took. So as to not draw attention.”
He’d managed to wrangle a better explanation out of Folke that night, since Gil had retired after she was done with hours of healing. Folke also explained magic in a far less technical way than any Circle trained mage, using very little of the terms they used. Not that he didn’t know the basics (he’d had to, as a templar) but the more difficult magic had terminology that only its specialists delved into.
And Gil was still a Circle mage despite her years out of it with the tendency still to sometimes explain things in ways that the common person couldn’t quite comprehend.
“The magic itself sends the body into high gear,” Cullen explained as he frowned darkly at her. “It then uses the energy created from that to rapidly heal a wound, usually in order to keep them from dying in the field. Yet there is still more energy left, which can’t just be dissipated. It has to be used and after it is, it leaves the person it was cast upon completely exhausted. I was informed very sternly that to attempt to wake someone from that state before they’ve come to it themselves could cause damage.”
Leliana frowned and leaned back against the windowsill, folding her arms as she asked, “What sort of damage?”
“The irreparable sort. Folke related the story of one of the company who was woken early when their mages first developed the healing.” He paused deliberately before he finished, “The man was still able to serve for several years but he was never back up to the strength he had previously. His wounded leg started having problems it shouldn’t have as well as his body in general began to break down in ways it shouldn’t have at his age.”
That seemed to strike a chord with the woman and she frowned.
“How old was he?”
Cullen met her eyes harshly as he replied, “Barely past twenty. He made it five more years as a full serving member of the company before his leg gave out while in a shield wall. Nearly ended the lives of some of the others except for the quick work of the second line hauling him back and the first closing ranks.”
He’d been in a shield wall or two during his time in the Order – though it had been mostly during training – and knew how quick a weak man in the line could break the wall. If he hadn’t already been convinced by Folke’s vehement tone about not waking Meryell up before she woke up on her own, that story would have done the job.
“Not to mention,” he went on with a slight growl, “I’m certain that you remember the conversation we all got after she made it back to us after Haven.”
Leliana arched an eyebrow curiously then her lips pursed. After a moment, she nodded and said, “The Captain brought the mage that had healed her to us to relate her injuries before she was well enough to be back on her feet.”
“That was Gil,” supplied Cullen with a nod. He then tilted his head to the side and asked, “And do you recall what it was she was telling us about Meryell’s injuries?”
A frown was all he received in return for a moment then she sighed and closed her eyes. He nodded and then was a little surprise when they both said, “Her arm,” at the same time.
“She was concerned about the state of her arm,” Leliana went on, clearly recalling the conversation with enough of a prompt. “That if we began moving too early it would be detrimental to it healing from the strain and tearing that it was put through. Obviously that hasn’t been a problem.”
“Not one that she’s told others really,” he replied stonily. He knew that Meryell still occasionally had issues with her left shoulder, most frequently on colder days and nights when the joints stiffened up. It also happened often after she returned from being out in the field closing rifts and he’d spent a good amount of time both helping her stretch that arm as well as massaging the tense muscles. Which was merely fair since she had helped him sort of some of his own aches and pains on occasion besides the withdrawal related ones. “It’s not been a major issue but I would rather not take the chance of waking her exacerbating the effects of that injury. Wouldn’t you say the same?”
For a moment the only noise in the room was the gentle sound of rustling papers from the room the young woman had disappeared into and the soft caws of the ravens as they settled on the windowsill to await their next orders. Then the spymaster nodded before she said, “It seems that neither I or nor the Empress took the Inquisitor quite seriously last night when she said that she would get up late today if she stopped moving.”
Cullen just tilted his head and asked, “Can we move it without insulting her? We could always send Josephine.”
Leliana arched a brow at that, scoffing, “We shall not send Josie to a meeting instead of the Inquisitor that Meryell was expressly requested to attend, Commander. That would be an insult to the Empress. No, I will speak to her ladies and rearrange the time. Perhaps they can speak tonight at the ball when we attend for the final night’s festivities.”
He bit back a groan at the reminder that they had another night of dealing with Orlesians and managed to nod. “I’m certain that she’ll be up before it comes time to make our way there,” he said. “Probably not happy to deal with them again tonight, but she’ll do it.”
“Though likely without as much grace as she put forward the past two nights.”
“She may not be playing quite the part she was playing then,” Cullen offered with a slight smile as her slightly mournful tone, “but she won’t do any deliberate damage to the Inquisition’s reputation.”
It didn’t look like she was quite convinced by that by Leliana still nodded and said, “Very well.” There was a final note to the two words and he nodded before saying a quiet goodbye, leaving the room before they could get into anything else.
It didn’t quite count as winning a verbal spar against the spymaster but he’d call it close enough for being able to correct her.
Running a hand through his hair as he walked back down the hall towards their room, Cullen sighed and began running a mental checklist through his head. If Meryell was going to be asleep for a large part of the day, then he needed to resort the standing watch on their room into something more than just one person. They couldn’t have their Inquisitor lying around helpless without anyone to defend her if things came to the worst.
Which things shouldn’t since Grand Duchess Florianne was under arrest and Leliana was certain they had routed out the majority of her followers. One never knew when something might slip by, however.
Then he needed to get things rolling on their plans to get back to Skyhold. It wasn’t going to be a fun trip as snows had already started falling in the Frostbacks before they left but…anything was better than Orlais.
Chuckling to himself, Cullen nodded briefly at the still relaxed Astrid and stepped back into the room. As he closed the door behind him, he looked over at the bed and smiled. Meryell hadn’t moved an inch since he’d stepped out of the room and all he could see of her was an unruly tumble of brown hair escaping from the open folds of the blankets. He slowly made his way back around to his side of the bed and carefully sat down, turning slightly so he could brush a hand underneath the blankets to touch her bare shoulder.
This time she didn’t even stir the slightly at his touch, her breathing steady and sure as she slumbered on.
If he were a wise man, he’d get back into bed and doze back off until she woke up on her own. Then surprise her with the same type of actions that had led to that delightful morning after their first actual night together. If he were wise…or free to be able to do such a thing.
Sighing, Cullen squeezed her shoulder then tucked the blankets deeper around her before he stood back up. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to just climb back into bed with her and forget about Orlesians or what needed to be done next or who needed to stand watch. She was the Inquisitor and he was her Commander and that fact unfortunately trumped whatever Meryell and Cullen might want to do.
Their time was not their own.
But maybe…maybe someday…
“Melancholy old fool,” he muttered at himself. “Get your shit together.”
Shaking his head, Cullen pulled the thin shirt over his head and laid it back out where she might find it, over the back of one of the chairs in the room. Then he moved to where his baggage had been arranged in the room next to the armor stand they’d brought from Skyhold and pulled out a tunic. After that the padded gambeson went on and then his armor, one piece at a time, until he stood, fully kitted out as he might be on any day in Skyhold. It would have to just be removed later most likely and be replaced with another of those miserably choking jackets but, for now, he was going to feel like today was any other day.
He quickly straightened his hair into order, buckled his sword onto his belt, and then cast one final look across the room at the bed.
The Maker played a mean trick giving him the thing he wanted with the stipulation that most times he couldn’t do exactly what he wanted to do.
Yet he’d take the trick any day over the alternative of not having her.
Smiling, Cullen stepped back out into the hall and, with only a nod to Astrid, set out to do what needed to be done.
He was the Inquisitor’s Commander, in all the manner of ways one could take the statement, and he would see that she was safe.