Treva Hawke was not like anything that Meryell had expected. Oh, she’d heard so many stories of exploits from Varric and had managed to pull a few tales out of Cullen involving his run-in’s with the apostate mage hiding in plain sight amongst the Kirkwall nobles.
She knew those things and that Hawke had fled Kirkwall after saving both mages and templars in the Gallows.
What she hadn’t been related was how damned tall the woman was, which made the almost flinty nature of her blue eyes even more forbidding. Though that particular thing was completely thrown off by her very nondescript leather armor covered by only a dark coat trimmed in gray fur against the cold, the distinct lack of a staff, and the four year-old boy with a mop of dark blond hair that she balanced carefully on her hip.
“You have a kid?” was immediately the first thing out of Meryell’s mouth.
Hawke snorted then laughed outright before she looked over at Varric where he’d taken a seat on a crate that had been left on the part of the battlements they occupied. “Everyone always makes that comment nowadays,” she said, sounding amused. Her voice was pleasant, if a little plain, and certainly not the lyrical tones that Varric went on about in Tale of the Champion. “Not oh what was it like to fight the Arishok or was Commander Meredith really mad but you have a kid. I’m glad that my biggest achievement is now reproducing.”
“Well,” Varric drawled, “most of us didn’t expect you to be the motherly type, Hawke.”
“Really I’m as shocked as everyone else is.” Hawke then extended her free hand – the shape the familiar heavy square that marked Ferelden blood as much as the profile of her once broken nose – and said, “Pleased to meet you, your Inquisitorialness. Treva Hawke, at your service, and this young man is my Mathis.”
“Hi,” murmured the boy around a nervous thumb tucked into his mouth and the other half of his face pressed to his mother’s breasts.
Meryell winced a little at Varric’s variation of her newest title before she reached out to take the offered hand. “Meryell Verlen. And just Meryell is fine,” she insisted. “I get enough Herald and Inquisitor nonsense from the rest of the lot around here.”
She then leaned forward to smile at the boy and said, “Please to meet you, little man. You know, there’s a few littles running around here that you could play with if your mamae agrees. I think they’d like a new playmate.”
“Didn’t know you were good with children, Swears,” commented Varric idly as Mathis perked up a little at her words.
“Big as the company is,” explained Meryell with a casual shrug, “female members sometimes end up with child or deliberately have one with their partners. So lots of times we get littles running around from them or folks drop them off on our doorstep or we straight up find them abandoned somewhere. Most of ‘em – minus the ones old enough to serve – are back at the keep with the skeleton crew that runs things when the whole company is out.” She then paused to grin before adding, “Everyone gets rounds of babysitting when they join up. Keeping track of the little Fangs is about as tough as a full training day.”
Hawke huffed a laugh at that. “From keeping up with this rambunctious little shit, I can only imagine,” she commented. “Speaking of…there anywhere we can talk up here that’s not liable to freeze my nose off and has a door so I can put him down? It may be thawing downhill but this far up in the Frostbacks it’s still cold as balls and I apparently didn’t inherit the Ferelden cold resistance.”
Nodding, Meryell gestured towards the still abandoned corner tower behind the mage. “It’s not got furniture but the doors work and the masonry’s intact.”
“I can work with that.”
Several minutes later they were sequestered inside the tower alongside several more crates as seating that Varric had found on the other side of the battlements from where they’d been standing. Meryell sat down on one and watched the boy as he made his way around the room while his mother loosened her coat. Now that she could fully see the leathers underneath, her eyebrows went up because she knew the maker’s marks on it.
Hawke blinked, pausing as she combed her fingers through the loose tail her long hair was tied into before she just nodded as she went back to what she’d been doing. “My uncle practically sold me and my little brother into service with them in order to get us into Kirkwall. We served a year with Meeran to pay for it and he kept templars off my back sometimes in return. Mostly when I paid one of the boys coin to do so when his back was turned. Kept doing it for a few years after we were out too.”
“Meeran was a shit kicker,” commented Meryell. She’d met the man a whole once when the Red Iron had taken on a job alongside the Fangs and she hadn’t relished the experience. Skeevy old asshole had tried to move on her and she’d threatened to cut off his cock if he touched her one more time. And she’d nearly held up that threat, all skinny six and ten years of her and a quick knife, when he’d tried again.
No one in the Fangs had mourned years back when news came round that the Red Iron was under new reins after Meeran’s untimely death.
“Asshole is the word you’re looking for,” noted Hawke as she settled onto her crate. Then she smiled and waved an errant hands towards Mathis, saying, “Don’t curb your tongue for my sake, sweet. I’ve never held mine around him and we don’t look to impress anyone anymore so he can repeat what he wants.”
Laughing, Varric said, “You may live to regret that, Hawke. There’s a very good reason I call her Swears.”
“Maybe we’ll just let you be the judge,” replied Meryell with a smirk. Then she sobered and leaned forward to rest her elbows against her knees as she said, “So Varric told me that you two, your brother, and your lover fought Coriphyshit the first time around.”
Hawke’s expression darkened and she growled, “Killed. Carver took his fucking head off after I set the bastard on fire. And that’s not counting the frightening levels of damage that Anders did when Corypheus made him lose control over Justice.”
“Killed,” repeated Meryell, ignoring the mention of the possessed mage losing control for a moment. “Beheaded even.”
“Yes,” confirmed Hawke.
Running both hands back through her hair – and noting again that she needed to cut it – Meryell looked at both of them seriously. “Tell me,” she said in a low voice. “Tell me everything.”
Hours later, Meryell looked up at the sound of steps on the ladder and met Cullen’s surprised eyes as he crested the second floor in a sudden rush.
“Maker’s breath,” he said as he hurried over to where she was sitting up against the headboard of his bed, knees drawn up to her chest. “We were worried about you. Hawke and Varric found me after your conversation with them and said you were going to the library. Then Dorian didn’t know where you had gone and no one else had seen you.”
“I’m sorry,” she breathed, shaking her head. “I didn’t mean to worry you or anyone else. I just…I needed to clear my head.”
“In my bed?”
Somehow she managed a smile as she asked, “Who’d dare look for me here but you? Maybe baba. And Leliana but that’s because she’ll stick her nose in anything.”
Cullen sighed and settled onto the edge of the bed so his hip rested against the tips of her toes. He leaned over to brace himself on one hand as he reached out with the other to cup her cheek as he softly asked, “Are you alright?”
Frowning, Meryell slowly shook her head and felt a lump of fear rise in her throat. “No,” she replied, her voice shaking, after a moment. “No, Cullen, I’m not alright at all.”
“What did they tell you?” he demanded, his voice somehow commanding while still gentle.
“Corypheus…they fought him.”
Cullen nodded, saying, “So Varric mentioned when he came to beg me to help in his distract Cassandra nonsense.”
“They killed him, Cullen,” she breathed. She could feel hysteria rising in her, that same fear that had nearly consumed her in the healer’s tent if not for Cole and Gil. “Her brother cut off his head, she set him on fire, and Anders nearly tore his arms off in a spirit-fueled rage. What can come back from that, Cullen? What the fuck are we facing because I can’t fight something that can just come back from the Maker damned dead!”
His hand spasmed a little against her cheek and then he had his arms around and under her, lifting her up. As he settled her across his lap and pulled her against his chest, pressing his nose up against her cheek, he growled, “You are not alone in this fight, Meryell Verlen.”
“It’s me he wants!” she exclaimed, hearing her voice go shrill in her own ears. She was dancing on the knife edge of hysteria and wasn’t sure she was going to come back down on the right side.
“So help me, vhen-an-arah, if you think for one instant ,” Cullen snarled back as his hands came up to frame her face, the leather of his gloves tugging at her skin, “that your company , that the Inquisition , or that your father and I will let that fucker take you from us, you have lost your damned mind .”
She started shaking her head but he pressed on as he held her still, his grip firm.
“We will find the answers,” he said firmly. “We will scour the whole of Thedas, overturn every rock, give Leliana free damned rein to every secret she can ferret out. We survived Haven. We survived his first attempt to cause destruction.”
Then his voice cracked as he finished, “And by the Maker, I will face down that bastard myself before I let him take you from me.”
“Cullen, no,” she gasped out, lifting her hands to frame his face in turn. Hers were so much smaller against his larger features but her touch had as much effect on him as his did on her. She stared into his eyes – brown or amber, she could never tell the true color as they shifted between the two and every variation in-between. Right now, in this moment, they were a dark brown, like a reflection of the seriousness of their conversation. “You can’t…”
“I nearly lost you once,” he breathed after interrupting her with a sudden kiss that stole her breath. “If I lost you now , after realizing that I…” He cut himself off and she felt his whole body shudder before he finished, “I don’t think I could bear it, Meryell.”
“I can’t lose you either!” she exclaimed, shaking him a little. Breathing hard, she shifted to swing her legs around on his lap to straddle his thighs. He leaned back just enough to accommodate her movement then pulled her flush against him, though the metal of his breastplate was still between them. Meryell pressed a kiss against the scar on his lip, feeling his lips respond briefly, then bowed her head to rest her forehead against his chin. “I can’t…I can’t, Cullen. I’ve never…no one has ever been this to me before.”
“Nor I,” he murmured into her hair.
“No, no,” she said firmly, suddenly lifting her head. Now was the moment to tell him. She’d lost her chance that night of drinking in the tavern and then had left Skyhold before she could have another. Here. Now. This was the moment. “I have never had a vhen’an’ara. Not one man before you. They were…temporary. They wanted nothing of me , just their cock in a warm body. I was either just a fuck to them or a knife-ear to take advantage of.”
His hands shifted, falling from her face as he hurriedly removed his gloves. When they returned, Cullen pressed his fingers over her lips and breathed, “Never again. Never say that word again.”
“Never,” she agreed, kissing his fingertips lightly. Then she closed her eyes and released a long breath before saying, “The heart’s desire.”
Cullen stilled then asked a little breathlessly, “What?”
Meryell replied softly, “That’s what it means.” She opened her eyes to look up at him then and said it again. “The heart’s desire. My heart’s desire.”
“Say it again.”
“Say it in Elven,” repeated Cullen, his eyes locked with hers. “I want to get it right.”
Emotion welled in her heart and all of the fear, all of the anxiety of earlier was washed briefly away. He wanted to say it right. He wanted… oh Maker’s cock.
She repeated it, precise and evenly, several times and he copied her carefully. His more confident but still wary pronunciation shifted as they went through it until it was perfect.
“Vhen’an’ara,” he finally managed, a delighted look in his eyes as the syllables flowed together as they were meant to. Then he kissed her, growling the word out again and again into her mouth, against her cheek, her jaw, wherever he could reach to press his lips against her face. As she bent her head back, giving him access to her neck, Cullen breathed, “I will not let him try to take you from me again. Never again.”
Now the fear came back despite the warm lips against her skin and Meryell asked, “How do you kill something that doesn’t die?”
Cullen’s hands were back on her face then, drawing her head back forward so he could meet her eye-to-eye. She blinked, long and slow, then let out a heavy breath at his next words.
“Everything dies, Meryell.”
“Even darkspawn Magisters?”
Barking a laugh, she leaned forward fully against him, laying her head on his right shoulder against the soft surface of his mantle. It wasn’t terribly comfortable with his breastplate still between them but she didn’t currently want to let him go long enough to remove it. Cullen tipped his head sideways to lean it against hers while his hands slid down her back before he cupped them around the curve of her ass.
“We will find the answers,” he said confidently after they sat like that for a long moment.
Letting out a breath, Meryell looked at his face next to hers and asked softly, “How do you know?”
“I have faith in the Inquisition.” He then lifted his head long enough to turn and kiss her forehead before returning to his previous position. “I have faith in you.”
She’d had trust before. The whole of the company trusted her to have their backs. Cassandra trusted her. But faith …faith was similar and so different from trust.
Especially coming from Cullen.
“I’ll trust in your faith then,” Meryell said softly. “Because I’m not sure I have enough that we’ll make it out of this shit show.”
He chuckled, saying, “I’ll do my best to hold us both afloat then.” Then he murmured, “I should go tell them I found you.”
Cullen’s hands tightened, sliding around to better grip her hips, and he shook his head.
“No, vhen’an’ara,” he replied softly. “Right now I’m here for you.”
“Thank you,” Meryell murmured before closing her eyes and just listening to the sound of his breath, feeling the shift of his shoulders underneath her cheek, and the distant pulse behind a layer of steel that was his heart beat. All three along with the exhaustion from stressing out over the matter of Corypheus’ seeming immortality conspired to drag her down into dreams moments later and she let it take her.
She was safe.