She was writhing on the floor before him, chest heaving and flushed with desire, her blonde hair in a tattered array around her head. One tiny slim hand cupped a small, pale breast, kneading at it while the other was thrust between the soft looking golden curls between her legs.
Cullen stared at her for longer than he should have before he wrenched himself away. Despite the withdrawal and the lack of food, he still felt drawn to her. Despite the smell of his brothers’ blood cloying in his nose and their broken bodies scattered around them, he could smell her over them – like wild flowers and lyrium with the stench of something rotten underneath. Despite the fact that he knew her dead, had held her body in his arms, the sight of her like that still made it difficult to turn away as it made his cock hard.
Clenching his eyes shut, he began to recite from Threnodies, starting with verse 6:18. “The righteous stood before the armies as a boulder stands before a tide: Unshaken, rooted there by the Maker’s Hand.”
The… thing …masquerading as Kath let out a breathy little sigh as soon as he spoke, immediately ceasing her vile ministrations and flopping onto the floor. “Boring,” she recited, as she always did. “I was hoping to get you this time, sweet thing.”
“Never,” he hissed, opening his eyes to glare at it before he continued in a louder tone, “And the demons soldiers broke upon their shields, as a wave breaks upon the shore.”
“Mmm,” hummed the demon as it rolled over, rising to all fours and crawling towards the bubble that was his prison. He stared into its inhuman eyes – Kath’s had been gray and soft as her heart…gray like Folke’s almost. Abruptly the demon stiffened as soon as that thought went through his head (though part of him was confused as well, he knew no one named that). Then it smiled, the expression far too wide in Kath’s small face and purred excitedly.
“Ooooooh, a new face.” It stroked the edge of the barrier as it went on, “Will this one break you, sweet thing? I so look forward to playing with you some more. I’ll even let you see your brothers and sisters again if you give up…wouldn’t that be nice?”
Cullen scowled and started to snap, “What are you…” but the words got suddenly caught in his throat. Because it was abruptly a different naked elf outside his bubble and this one made his heart plummet to his feet. He knew her. He knew her face, her smile, knew the taste of her, knew how deeply she loved.
Though he could not think of her name. She did not belong here though. Not here amongst the blood and death and pain of the Tower.
“ Vhen’an ,” it breathed and he just stared because it couldn’t be her. It just couldn’t .
“No!” he snapped. This was not a thing he ever remembered happening before. It wasn’t right . She couldn’t be…
This was not how this nightmare went!
“ No! ” Cullen screamed aloud as he clawed his way out of the Fade. He felt hot and heavy and there were things wrapped around him.
Maker, was he free of it or was he still there?
Gasping for air, he frantically pushed himself away from whatever it was. His mind half acknowledged the confused noise that came in response but it was geared too much into flight to care or think about it. He had to get away.
He had to get out .
Cullen felt the edge of the bed brush his back and rolled, landing in a crouch on a thick rug that splayed underneath the bed. His eyes flicked up, frantic and wild, and swept the room, looking for threats, for demons just waiting to pounce. Yet all he saw was a laden armor stand, filled bookshelves, a heavy desk, and the low burning coals of the fire.
The darkness shifted and he launched himself towards it with a snarl, expecting to feel flesh and bone under his fingers. To find a foe . Instead all he found was heavy fabric and cold glass beyond it. The balcony.
Jerking the curtain aside, he fumbled with the lock on the door for a moment before he burst out onto the balcony. There was frost beneath his bare feet, the stone cold and unforgiving as the mountains around them, but he didn’t feel it. He was too hot, his entire body burning, blazing like a well-fed flame despite the fact that he wasn’t wearing a stitch.
Cullen stumbled forward and braced his hands on the balcony railing, breathing hard as he hunched his shoulders and tried to think. His mind felt muddled, like it had been wrenched out of his skull and shaken up before being tossed back in. So he closed his eyes and worked to concentrate.
Where? Not the Tower. Not Kirkwall. Frostbacks. Skyhold.
When? 9:40…no, he…he was in Haven at this time of year in 9:40. It had been… a year . A year since the Breach. 9:42.
Who? Cullen Stanton Rutherford. Knight-Captain. No! Knight-Commander. NO. Just Commander . Commander of the Inquisition. Meryell’s…
Cullen stood straight up with a sharp intake of breath, suddenly and abruptly back in the now .
The thing in his nightmares, the memory of the desire demon that had haunted him for ten years , had become her. It had stolen her form, plucked it as easily from his mind as breathing, and it had become her. Was it a true demon ? Hunting him in the Fade, following the scars on his soul that First Enchanter Irving had tried to gently explain were there so long ago, back when he wouldn’t listen? Or was it…
“Aching anguish, bitter memories flowing into shiny new,” spoke a low voice from his right abruptly. “Tainting, tarnishing, twisting, which is the truth?”
Cullen spun to face the speaker, one hand lifted defensively despite his lack of a weapon, then he blinked several times at the figure sitting cross-legged on the balcony railing. “I…” he began uncertainly. “…Cole?”
The boy nodded and smiled shyly at him, straw colored hair falling over his face. “You remembered.” Then he rocked forward and said, “You fear there’s something else inside you, stalking, slipping, sliding past your guard. But she is your shield, bright as a beacon, and she will not let them pass. They are only greedy shadows, remnants of horrors past, unreal and breakable, fragile in the light she casts.”
He stared for a moment then breathed, “It isn’t…it’s just nightmares?”
“I kept them away, the girl with the demon’s eyes. Made them not touch and taint,” murmured the spirit. “You’re stronger now, even as the little bottle makes you shake.”
Cullen flinched then blinked several times before saying, “I…that was you? I thought it was the lyrium.”
“It sings soft, small and subtle and serene. Not enough to quell the worst but enough to sate. Enough give in the chains to bend and break, to leave them behind like the brands. All molten, melted, made into something no longer meant to hurt.”
Shaking, he folded his arms around himself, half terrified by the boy. That he could pluck that from his thoughts, that moment when he’d melted down the Kirkwall lyrium brands and had them recasted into Runes of Protection. And yet…Cole had admitted to keeping his nightmares away. Cullen had thought it was the lyrium at work again, that he would have to work back through dealing with them.
He then frowned and asked, “The notes. Is that you too?”
Cole nodded then ducked his head, saying, “Words to remember in the dark when all seems lost. Little lights to remind of good things.”
“Not all of them were good.”
“Those are different, darker, dripping shame and rage, dragging down with claws and fangs and so much blue. Not to remember but to remind .”
Cullen scowled and snapped, “To remind me of what, spirit ? The wrongs I’ve done? Those I’ve hurt? I need no reminder of that!”
Cole just blinked at him with those wide blue eyes before shaking his head. “Not guilt,” he muttered. “To remember why . Why to fight and flail and feud, to make war against the past. All the reasons to not go back. To not fumble and fall.”
His breath caught in his throat and Cullen reached a suddenly shaking hand out to brace himself on the railing. “I…”
“Cold,” interrupted the boy before he could say anything and then he heard Meryell’s surprised exclamation.
“Fucking shit cunt, Cullen, what are you doing out there?” She was in the open doorway then, wrapped in only the woolen shawl that was usually carefully folded on top of the chest at the end of her bed. As she reached out towards him, he had a brief flickering remembrance of fear and looked at her eyes before anything else. They were blessedly green, no trace of the cruelty or impassiveness that tainted those of the demonic memory in his nightmares. Only ire and worry was there and he reached out to take her hand without hesitating further.
As soon as she pulled him into the room, Cullen realized that he was shivering. His teeth were chattering and he wrapped his arms around himself again, despite the fact that he still felt warm.
“What were you doing out there?” she hissed, rubbing her hands over his arms before she urged him towards the bed. “You’re freezing . You know fucking better than to stand outside in the cold!”
“N-nightmare,” he managed to stammer out as he climbed back into the bed. The sheets were chilled now from the lack of both of their body heat and he lay there shivering as she continued moving around the room. He noticed her expression had softened as she came around her side of the bed, climbing up briefly to cup his face in her hands and kiss him.
“You should’ve woken me, vhen’an ,” she murmured. Then she stroked his forehead and said softly, “Let me get the fire back going. You absolutely can’t get sick right before we go to Halamshiral. Josie will fucking murder you .”
Cullen managed to laugh hoarsely before he frowned, asking, “Was…was s-someone out there with me? I swear I was t-talking to someone…“
Meryell froze and breathed, “Cole,” and abruptly the boy was back, sitting on the floor behind her.
“Fear and fright,” intoned the boy softly as he rocked back and forth slightly, “old memories tangling with new to create fresh horrors. I came to help.”
She sank back onto the bed, one hand finding Cullen’s hair as she leaned back into him, and he heard her ask, “Did you?”
“I think so. He was already breaking free when I came.” Cole then smiled brightly as he said, “He knew you didn’t belong there, that it could not wear your face even as he did not remember in the memory.”
“‘ Ma serranas , Cole.”
“ ‘Ma neral ,” replied the boy before he disappeared, gone without a trace. Despite the shivering, Cullen wished a little that their scouts could be so skilled at vanishing.
At least this time when he went away, his memory of the spirit didn’t entirely go with him. It faded, like a half-forgotten dream, but he remembered him actually being there that time as well as the moment out on the balcony.
He would…Maker, he would have to thank the spirit. Boy. Both? Perhaps it was, in its own way, both.
Meryell continued sitting on the edge of the bed for a long moment, her expression distant as her hand idly ran through his hair, until Cullen breathed, “F-fire?” She then jerked and stammered an apology in Elven, bending to kiss his forehead (giving him a faceful of her breasts that he couldn’t entirely appreciate), before she bolted off of the bed. He curled deeper into the blankets as he laid there watching her, her legs and the curve of her ass on glorious display thanks to the length of the shawl, and cursed himself.
Instead of doing what he wanted and dragging her back into bed to kiss until the air grew heated between them and they brought their bodies together again to quench the ache inside them, he was shivering from a cold he couldn’t quite feel.
Fuck lyrium and what it did to him.
“There!” Meryell announced abruptly as she straightened from a last thrust into the fireplace with a poker. It blazed bright, casting light throughout the whole of the room, and made her tanned skin golden in the light. Maker, he was a fool.
She then hurried back towards him, shawl wrapped tightly around herself, and immediately burrowed underneath the blankets with him. Somehow she lost the shawl during that small crossover and was bare and beautiful against him as she got her arms around his neck, her breasts pressed against his chest, with one leg tucked between his and the other curled over his hip to press her heel into his ass. Despite the shaking, he managed to get his arms around her and buried his face against her shoulder, breathing in the scent of her deeply before letting out a heavy sigh.
“I’m s-sorry,” he intoned quietly.
“Don’t,” she shushed as she scratched her nails across the back of his neck. “As soon as you said nightmare, I understood.”
He then felt her lips on his ear as she pressed a kiss into the soft spot below the lobe before she breathed, “Do you…do you want to talk about it?” Cullen frowned in immediately response, absently stroking his still shivering fingers across her back.
Sighing, he shut his eyes and tried to burrow deeper into her shoulder, pressing his nose against her collarbone. Did he really want to let out the terrible things that had lingered in his mind for so long? To actually speak the things he’d been forced to witness? To give voice to the horrors that felt like they haunted him even more now that he wasn’t on a constant lyrium ration?
To his surprise, the idea wasn’t as terrifying as it had once been. Not to her.
Licking his lips, Cullen softly said, “I-it was Kinloch. The d-demons…they masqueraded as K-Kath. They…” His voice was actually shaking now, not from the cold but from actually speaking about what had happened. There had never been a time that he’d actually talked about what happened in anything but the vaguest of details. He choked suddenly before gasping, “Maker, th-they wore her image like a mockery, sp-speaking in her voice, doing things w-with her form that I-I…”
Her arms tightened around him and she kissed behind his ear again before leaving her lips there, warm and soft. A reminder that she was there . That she was real.
Letting out a harsh breath, he went on even as his teeth kept chattering slightly.
“It…I…the n-nightmares are often from then. Of h-her being u-used by them .”
“Except this time?” whispered Meryell as her fingers traced nonsense patterns over the back of his neck. When he just nodded in response, his throat choking in remembrance of her on the other side of that barrier, of the demon’s eyes pitch black and fathomless in her face, she let out a stream of Elven words that she hadn’t taught him the meaning of. By tone, however, he could take a guess at what they meant.
Cullen managed to breath, “It st-started that way. Then I-I…” He stiffened as he remembered the thought that had started it, reality breaking through the memory. “I thought of her e-eyes,” he went on. “How they were gray. L-like Folke’s. Then it ch-changed…it became you. ”
Somehow she managed to curl herself tighter around him while managing to separate them enough that she could grasp his face between her palms, cutting off his words. He blinked at her as she just looked at him for a long moment before she moved forward to press her lips against his. Cullen groaned into her mouth in response and tried to pull her closer, running his hands up and down her back.
Then Meryell pulled away, her eyes brimming with tears, as she breathed, “ Ir abelas . I’m so sorry, vhen’an .”
“It’s n-not your fault what my head does,” he replied as he rested his forehead against hers. “I knew it was wrong .”
“Then why were you outside?”
“Oh,” she said softly. The pad of her thumb stroked over his cheek before she asked, “This…this is all right, though? Like this?”
Nodding slightly, Cullen replied, “I wouldn’t have you anywhere else, love.”
Meryell smiled and tilted her head to bring their mouths back in line, slanting them across each other in a series of languid kisses that made everything heavy and warm. Slowly he could feel the shivering leaving his limbs as he warmed up, bringing him back to the tired state he’d been left in after she’d dragged him out of his office and up to her room. Cullen certainly didn’t feel up to a second round but that didn’t stop him from running his hands all over her.
Right up until she let out a little yelp into his mouth and jerked back when he ran his hand over her hip.
“I…did I hurt you?”
Meryell shook her head in reply, snuggling back in close to him, bumping their noses together. “It’s just bruises, vhen’an . They’ll heal.”
Cullen frowned and gently smoothed his hand over her hip again, careful to only lightly touch. He knew he’d been holding on tight, gripping onto her because he’d been afraid if he didn’t he might fly apart, but not that bad. “I still hurt you,” he murmured.
She shook her head and smiled at him, looking so content that he didn’t have it in him to argue with her. As her fingers idly stroked his face, she murmured, “It’s a good hurt, Cullen. I promise.”
He managed a smile at that and recalled an Elven word she’d spoken, back when he’d been planning to make the trip to Therinfal and she’d been about to go to Redcliffe. “ Dirtha’vhen’an? ” he asked.
“ Dirtha’vhen’an ,” she replied softly.
Nodding, he closed his eyes and let out a breath, wanting to just let himself slip back down into the heavy languid sleep that was creeping over him again. Then he remembered his wild rush from bed and ran his hand up her side until he could cup her face, two fingers brushing the curve of her tapered ears.
“Sorry I ruined the night,” he murmured, already hearing his voice going heavy with sleep. “I wanted…our first together shouldn’t have been like that.
Meryell’s laugh was bright and then she kissed him, her hands leaving his face to rest against his chest as she pulled away a moment later. “It was perfect ,” she insisted.
“Is nothing new to sleeping with you,” Meryell insisted. “You know I have nightmares too.”
He sighed heavily and opened his eyes to look at her, brushing his thumb over her cheek. She had a small scar there, barely noticeable thanks to her skin tone. Shrugging one shoulder, Cullen said, “It seems I should apologize though. I wanted…it should have been special.”
“It was ,” she said. “You know I don’t need frilly fancies or grand gestures. This is enough. You are enough.”
Managing a smile, he asked, “Nightmares and all?”
“All of them.” She kissed him again then and somehow coiled herself closer, practically in his lap despite them laying on their sides. “Now sleep, love. I need you rested to stand with me in the morning.”
As his brow wrinkled in confusion, Meryell supplied, “I’m… I’m judging Camden before we leave. Best to get it over with before I fucking put it off entirely.”
“Right,” he murmured. Because they’d been planning for her to leave immediately from Halamshiral and head to the Exalted Plains. No matter what the result of the talks was, she was determined to put an end to the fighting that had plagued the area for too long. Not to mention dealing with the Freemen of the Dales. Nodding, Cullen kissed her back and swore, “I’ll be there, vhen’an . Right at your side, no matter what he says or how you choose to deal with him. I’m yours.”
“Maker’s swollen prick, you make a girl feel good about herself,” Meryell commented with a little laugh as her eyes started to drift shut.
Smiling, Cullen pulled her in close, shutting his own eyes as he breathed, “Anything for you, vhen’an. Anything for you.”
It was a shame that Camden’s judgement colored most of their morning. That didn’t make it all bad but it certainly brought down the mood in general.
However…it did at least start fantastically.
Cullen woke hard and aching, as he had many nights after he’d gone to bed with Meryell on his mind and without her beside him. This time, however, she was there in his arms, still naked and he wrapped his arms around her. Somehow she’d turned herself around in the night so her bare back was pressed against his chest and he couldn’t complain.
It made it all the easier for him to palm his hands over her breasts to begin his attempts to coax her awake.
He began with that, touching and kneading, gently rolling her nipples between his fingers. As he began kissing the back of her neck, he slowly began to rock his hips against her, his cock sliding along the cleft of her ass. She began to shift against him at first then moan, her head twisting back and forth, and he was entranced.
He didn’t think he’d ever have enough of watching her reactions, all those subtle twitches of her ears giving away her responses more than anything.
When he felt her hips shift against his, grinding down as he rocked into her, Cullen groaned and nipped her shoulder. “ Vhen’an ,” he moaned and she let out a strangled laugh.
Turning half around in his arms, Meryell wrapped an arm around his head and kissed him before saying softly, “That’s a good morning I could get fucking used to.”
He laughed and managed to say, “Every morning. If you want it, I will do it.”
“But then how will I surprise you?” she asked even as she gasped as he kept one hand at her breast and slid the other down her body. She bowed like a bow as he delved into the already damp curls between her legs and crooked two fingers inside her.
“Get up earlier,” purred Cullen before he kissed her hard, swallowing the sounds she made as he thrust his fingers rhythmically in and out of her sex. Her hand clawed at the back of his head before she fisted it into his curls, tugging hard.
Growling, he fought her for dominance over their mouths for a moment before wrenching his head back, breathing hard as he looked down at her. She was beautiful in the dim daylight of the room, lying in his arms with her lips swollen, her eyes bright, and her chest heaving with each little noise she was making. The noises he was drawing out of her.
Maker. I do not deserve this woman.
“How long do we have before a servant comes knocking on the door?” he asked, leaning forward to bump his nose against hers.
“They don’t come unless… Cullen! ” Meryell cut herself off as she gasped his name when he bent his thumb to use on the little knot at the head of her sex. Her glare immediately after was so worth it.
“You shit ,” she gasped. “You utter fucking shit .”
Chuckling, he kissed her before breathing, “Do you want me to stop?”
“I will hate you if you stop!” cried Meryell in reply, her voice rising from a normal level to a glorious shriek as she spoke. Even with as high as they were in the tower, there was probably someone that could hear her but he didn’t care. Fuck decency. Fuck propriety.
He had one job right now in his consideration and that was pleasing the woman beside him. So she would have something good today as she faced her former lover. And to make up for waking her up with his nightmares.
Growling, Cullen removed his hand and ignored her petulant whine in response. He rolled her onto her back as he rose above her, letting the blankets fall away as he spread her legs with his own. He lifted her left leg to the height of his hip and leaned in, his breath catching slightly. Taking his cock in his own hand, he ran it along her sex and shuddered from the sensation even as he watched her writhe.
“Yes?” he asked breathlessly as he resisted the urge to just thrust into her.
“ Yes ,” gasped Meryell as she arched her back, trying to raise her hips higher. She braced her right leg against the bed as she clawed at the sheets underneath her. “Bloody fucking Maker and his flaming Bride, Cullen, vhen’an, please !”
He didn’t hesitate a second, sinking into her with a groan that she echoed. When he had no more need to brace with his hand, he let it fall to her other leg and brought it up to the same level as the other. The angle let him sink deeper into her and Meryell howled , bucking her hips up and into his. Cullen snarled in response and met her thrust for thrust, every thought descending down to but one.
He felt the peak coming far sooner than he’d expected and looked down to find her still rocking up into him, her face a mask of passion. But she wasn’t there yet.
She deserved to get there first.
Releasing one of her legs, Cullen laid a hand across her quivering belly and managed to delve into her damp curls for a second time. Meryell whined, begging in Elven in a reedy tone, as he brushed his thumb over the swollen knot hidden by those hairs. One, two, three circles with his thumb and she was screaming his name, her body arching upward as her muscles clenched around him.
That was the last he could stand and he came with a shout that had him seeing stars and clutching at her bruised hips just to hang on to reality. His cock was already softening, sensitive and twitching from sensation, when he had enough thought to pull out and collapse beside her.
As he pulled her close and pressed a kiss to her temple, Meryell laughed and lifted her hands to clasp the arm he wrapped around her. “You’re going to do that to me every damned morning?”
“Every one I can get away with it,” replied Cullen with a tired laugh.
“Fuck, Varric was wrong. I’m not going to break you, you’re going to break me .”
“I did say I was no saint.”
She laughed again and nodded, saying, “So you did, vhen’an , so you did.” Then she relaxed against him and he let himself doze off as his body came down from the high, further coaxed there by the presence of her at his side.
When he came to what seemed only moments later, he blinked his eyes open as he realized the space beside him was empty. Sitting up, Cullen braced himself up on his elbows to look around the room and found Meryell sitting at the small table that sat in front of one of the balcony windows. She was reading from a book carefully propped on her leg, clad only in her smallclothes and her mother’s shawl. There was a tray on the table next to her and his stomach growled as he saw it was piled with fruit and what looked like some of the Orlesian breakfast pastries (which he’d formed a terrible fondness for lately).
The noise made her look up and she beamed at him before she rose to her feet. “Good morning,” purred Meryell as she closed the book and set it aside on the table. She swiftly crossed the room and climbed up next to him, practically tackling him back down to the bed so she could kiss him soundly.
Cullen moaned into her mouth for a moment before he brought his hands up to frame her face. Pushing her back, he said, “Good morning. On… shit.”
“ Dhea ,” she supplied with a smile.
“ On dhea ,” he repeated. Saying greetings and other simple things was one of his practices for speaking Elven. Thus he usually tried to say them to her as well as Folke on the rare occasion (more common now that he saw the mage more). Then he craned his neck slightly and asked, “Breakfast?”
“Hmm? Oh , yes. I threw on that ridiculous fucking robe that Josie found me from somewhere – I think it’s Antivan – this morning and walked down to kitchens.”
Cullen blinked before asking, “In just…in just your robe ?”
“I was wearing things under it . Not much but enough.”
“ Maker’s breath .” The thought of her wandering around the whole keep in a robe with nothing but her smallclothes on underneath it was…oddly exciting. Though he knew that she’d walk out in just her smallclothes alone if it was just the Fangs around, or even the Chargers.
Meryell laughed and said, “It was early enough that no one else was up except the staff. They’ve actually gotten used to me popping in at odd hours. And Doris loves me.”
Snorting at the mention of the head cook, who was notorious around Skyhold for her bad temper and tendency to not like anyone , Cullen commented, “You’re the only person in the Inquisition that she loves.”
She just smiled at that and grabbed his hand, saying, “Come have breakfast, vhen’an .”
“Breakfast naked with you?” he said with a laugh as he pushed the covers down and rose to follow her. “However can I say no?”
“Well I certainly hope you don’t fucking say no. I got too much food for me to eat on my own.”
Cullen smiled and pulled her close for a kiss in the middle of the room, revelling in the feel of her bare skin against his own. If only they could stay in this moment, where the echoes of their lovemaking this morning and the night before still lingered. Where his head didn’t currently ache and the shakes from withdrawal weren’t plaguing him at the moment.
Yet, like his nightmare breaking the happy moments this morning, it just wasn’t a thing to be.
In her time of serving as Inquisitor, Cullen had only been witness to Meryell sitting in judgement on three instances.
The first had been facing Gereon Alexius again after she’d returned from the Fallow Mire. He’d fully expected her to execute the man outright merely on how she’d described reacting to his own death in the aborted future. Then she’d surprised the lot of them by saying that she knew how it felt to want to do anything for those she loved and condemned him to serving as a researcher for the Inquisition.
Her later stipulation to Leliana to either get the man out of Skyhold to do his work or keep him damn well hidden wasn’t surprising. Nor was learning that a small part of the reason she’d spared the man his death was talking about him with Dorian, who had revealed that he still believed his former mentor could do some good with his knowledge.
The second had been the Avvar Chieftan Movran the Under, who’d marched up to Skyhold a good two weeks after the mission in the Fallow Mire right before Hawke had shown up. They’d all been more amused than anything by the man’s pronouncement of why he was there (particularly after he’d announced his son, the former self-proclaimed Hand of Korth, as an idiot) and she’d briefly recessed to speak with Rhiryd on what to do.
He still sometimes had to go find the man in order to translate the tattered looking letters he received about their progress – if he could call it that – on the border of Tevinter. It was, however, more often amusing than anything else.
The third, which had been merely days after she’d returned from the Storm Coast, had been perhaps the worst.
If Cullen had thought Meryell was going to outright execute Alexius, he had been rather convinced that she had been going to condemn the former Mayor of Crestwood to the most heinous thing she could conceive of. After his withdrawal symptoms had abated a little one day, she’d told him of what had happened in Crestwood before she’d received Folke’s letter and she had cried . Cried like her heart was fit to break in his shaking arms because she knew what those people had felt, how it felt to be abandoned. And, quite honestly, Cullen – as someone who’d also been as good as abandoned once in his life – couldn’t think of very many good reasons to stop her.
Except that he didn’t want her to do something she regretted. Execute the man for his crimes, yes, but he’d feared for a moment that she would attempt to take some sort of revenge for the dead herself.
When she’d given the man a clean death, he’d released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. She’d still been broken up about it that night as he’d held her but it had been more about the relief of it being over than anything else.
Now Cullen stood on the left-hand side of the throne with one hand on the hilt of his sword, Josephine his opposite on the right-hand side, and watched as Gustav and Laurence escorted Camden to stand before her. He dared a glance at Meryell out of the corner of his eye to see how she was doing and wanted to frown at the flat expression on her face.
She’d explained that she was probably going to have to maintain her distance in order to actually sentence the man, purely on the fact that it still felt like a betrayal of the Fangs even if he’d been decommissioned.
Camden himself was wearing simple-made garb and, despite the frazzled looking state of his thinning hair, looked as if he’d been treated well. Someone had even fixed his nose from where Folke had broken it. It did look decidedly like it hadn’t quite gone back into the position it had been in before the breaking, however.
Josephine straightened up as the two soldiers and prisoner came to a halt and called out, “Inquisitor, before you is Camden Bowfort, formerly a member of the Fangs of Vimmark company. He was sworn to serve the Inquisition in all means so long as the company’s contract held when they agreed to come under service with us.” She then gestured to her right, where Arnald stood in the Orlesian style of parade rest with his hands clasped before him, dressed in his well-worn chainmail with a tabard snuggly belted over it bearing the Fangs’ arms and an Inquisition badge pinned to his shoulder. “I have Captain Arnald Seraine of the Fangs here as well to bear witness to Bowfort’s service as well as the company’s agreement with the Inquisition.”
Cullen gritted his teeth behind his lips because this felt like nothing but politics. Practically everyone currently in Skyhold knew what had happened between Meryell and Camden either by being there themselves or through word of mouth. Even a few of the newcomer’s knew grand amounts of details judging by the things he had been hearing over the past few days from his soldiers and runners (all terrible gossips).
Nodding, Meryell gestured with one hand for Josephine to continue and the Antivan dipped into a brief curtsey before she turned to look at the man.
“He has been accused of attempting to commit harm upon the Inquisitor through both physical and verbal means.”
“Fucking liar ,” snarled Camden, immediately earning a cuff on the back of his neck by Gustav.
Laurence made a disgusted noise before saying, “Sorry, Inquisitor. He’s been a rotten lot since he got himself tossed into the cells.”
Cullen saw Meryell shake her head out of the corner of his eye before she said, “It’s nothing for you to fucking apologize for, soldier.” He watched Josephine wince at her curse and fought to hide a smile. Their ambassador could try as much as she liked to make their Inquisitor more palatable to Thedas at large but Meryell was always going to be the foul-mouthed alienage brat she proclaimed herself to be. “I’m ten years acquainted with his attitude and behavior. Believe me, I know damned well that he’s a rotten person.”
Camden sneered and started to open his mouth and Cullen knew it was going to be something foul. He flashed the hand hanging at his side in a quick slash and Laurence slapped a gauntleted hand over the man’s mouth.
“That’s enough out of you, laddie,” she growled under her breath, her Starkhaven accent thickening with ire. “If y’can’t speak nicely, you shouldn’t speak at all.”
There was a snort from somewhere in the crowd and then he saw Meryell make a gesture.
“No, no, let him speak, Laurence.” She leaned forward, her hands gripping tightly to the arms of the chair, and bared her teeth in a smile that was as forbidding as it was menacing. “I’d rather him say whatever bit of shit he’s got behind his teeth rather than keep it in.”
Laurence glanced at him before she followed that order and Cullen narrowed his eyes, the only answer that he was going to make. She slowly released her hand and Camden let out a hollow laugh, spitting onto the floor before she was entirely out of the way. He flashed a crooked grin before he jerked his chin towards Meryell, saying, “Look at you there, little rabbit. All high and mighty and proud . You know they just elevated you because they needed that shit on your fucking hand, right? Y’ain’t worth shit to them. Knife-ears are just trash.”
Reflexively his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword and Cullen ground his teeth together behind his lips. Then he heard Meryell laugh, high and mocking, and nearly swung around to stare at her.
She then rose from the chair, stepping forward with her chin held high and contempt in her green eyes. Her hips rolled, making her strides into more of a stalk than anything else as she moved to stand at the top of the stairs that led down to where Camden stood. It took a moment for him to place the motion but when he did it brought to mind Folke’s nickname for her.
He’d seen one or two great cats in the wild in his life and they moved like that. All grace and power with a sense of menace that was palpable.
Meryell gestured towards Josephine, saying, “Our ambassador has a collection of letters and details of deeds that I did that say otherwise, Camden. And they all had very good explanations for why they fucking named me Inquisitor and it wasn’t because of this shit on my hand.”
“And look at you ,” she went on dismissively. “The only way that you can win anything Camden is to attempt to bring down someone else. You made me feel like shit once upon a time…but I’m no longer that girl.”
“You think you’re better than me?” snarled Camden, leaning forward slightly. He then turned to stare right at Cullen with a disturbing smile stretching his mouth. “You went truly low this time, Merry. Former templar? You think he wouldn’t lock your precious daddy up in a heartbeat? Or kill ‘em if he didn’t toe the line?”
Cullen stared right back at the man, daring him to break eye contact first. He knew his own faults, his own downsides, and he had many things that haunted him. Things that would likely haunt him until the end of his days. He, however, was the one that Meryell had chosen despite the difficulties they had. And even with his faults, he was a far better man than Camden would ever be.
“He’s not a templar,” he heard her say firmly. “You, however, are an asshole.”
Meryell then sighed and said, “But I’m not going to punish you for being who you are. I won’t be you.”
Camden tore his gaze away from Cullen’s then so he could snarl, “You sure as shitting can’t be me, Merry! I’m far better than some jumped up knife-ear!”
“You can continue telling yourself that all you like, i’tel’gon’lan ,” she intoned firmly, “but I think you’ve given plenty of examples of the fucking contrary.” Cullen turned to look at her then, standing tall and proud, and couldn’t help but smile. She was facing this far better than he could have hoped, though he fully expected her to react at least a little badly later.
After a moment Meryell took a deep breath before she went on in a slightly shaking voice, “You were a Fang and you were Inquisition, Camden. Not only did you betray our company by doing so but you betrayed the very organization we were hired by. You betrayed the very few fucking rules we have. You betrayed the damned Captain .”
“ Bitch Captain ,” snarled Camden, which brought gasps from the nobles at the front of the hall and outraged yells from the back where the Fangs stood. “Bending his knee to a rabbit like you . Bet he licks your…”
“Shut your hole, traitorous shit!” shouted Astrid over Camden, the tall Anders woman distinctive above the heads of several others. Thankfully her voice cut off entirely whatever distasteful thing he’d been about to utter.
“Pitch ‘em, Meryell!” shouted another voice that he didn’t recognize.
Another that he knew was Demut snarled from somewhere, “Cut off the little pissants balls!”
“Not like he ever used ‘em right!”
Camden’s face was blood red now, though he didn’t know whether it was anger or embarrassment or a mix of both. He started to open his mouth then Meryell stuck two fingers into her own mouth and let out a sharp whistle that rang off the walls of the hall, bringing the shouting to a staggering silence.
“ Enough! ” she snapped, glaring at the back of the hall where the company stood. “ Enough , brothers and sisters.” She stood there clenching and unclenching her fists for a moment before she said with a growl, “We haven’t killed or permanently maimed a company member for sins against us in…how long, Captain?”
Arnald stood up a little straighter when he was addressed and replied, “Twenty years or so, Inquisitor. Not since I was voted Captain.”
“ Twenty. Years ,” Meryell called out loudly. “I will not be the fucking first to break that trend.”
“Then what’s to become of me, Your Worship?” sneered Camden. “Am I to lick your boots? Or are you wanting something…else?” He licked his lips suggestively as he said it and Cullen couldn’t help the growl he let out in response. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Josephine shake her head in warning and, Maker, he wanted to ignore it.
Meryell had never asked him to be her champion or protector, however.
She could protect herself just fine.
“You,” he heard her say in a cold voice, “are to take anything you actually own and leave. You take nothing with the company marks nor the Inquisition. You make no claim to ever having been involved with us.”
Meryell took a step downward towards Camden as she continued, “You will avoid land that the Inquisition protects or claims as its own. Our scouts and soldiers will know your face and they have orders to take drastic measures if you approach them unless in peril of death it-fucking-self . The Nightingale has promised me that she’ll see it done and she keeps her promises.”
Cullen arched his eyebrows at that news and glanced over to where Leliana leaned against a wall, her face half-hidden by her hood. She noticed his attention, however, and quirked a smile before she nodded slightly to confirm
“You will not bring harm upon the Fangs or the Inquisition in any way,” Meryell went on, her voice dropping several octaves as she went down another step. “If you do, we will consider your life forfeit.”
Camden laughed harshly. “And then you kill me? How gracious , Your Worship.”
“Kill you? No, Camden, no one is going to touch you at my order. You get to live .”
That made the man blink several times and he asked, “What?”
As Meryell reached the lower part of the floor, she took another set of stalking steps forward until she was almost within arms reach of Camden. Cullen wanted to move forward, to drag her away from the man who’d already tried once to do her harm, but he held himself back. He trusted Laurence and Gustav to keep him in line.
Instead he merely tightened his grip on his sword, gritted his teeth, and forced himself to stop leaning forward like he was about to leap across the space between them.
“If you go against any of these things,” said Meryell, her voice a dangerous purr now, “I have already put in place what will happen. Your name will be added to the dead roll by the Captain and he will send his condolences to your mother in Denerim. He already has them drafted. The ambassador will do the same for the Inquisition. We will kill you, Camden, with words alone. And we will make sure that you stay dead.”
“You wouldn’t,” breathed the man, his voice oddly loud in the hall.
There was silence for a moment until Meryell hissed, “Look into my fucking eyes and tell me that again. Tell me that I won’t do everything within my power to protect my family. You know plenty about me to know I’m not lying. So tell me I won’t shitting do it. ”
For a long moment there was no noise except the sound of breathing and the restless shuffle of cloth and leather in the hall. Then Camden bowed his head and mumbled, “Fine.”
Nodding, she turned away from the man and Cullen breathed a sigh of relief, relaxing with every inch that she put between them. Once she was back up the stairs, Meryell turned and said softly with a bitter smile, “I sentence you to exile, Camden Bowfort. May whatever gods you might follow have mercy on you.” She then gestured to Laurence and Gustav, who both nodded before they began escorting Camden from the hall.
The man looked…broken.
“Is that all for the day, Josephine?” asked Meryell, sounding suddenly weary. Cullen turned to look at her and saw that she was standing with her back to the hall, her head slightly bowed as she stared at the Inquisitor’s chair. He wanted to reach out to her, to drag her into his arms and tell her that everything would be fine. He wished he could protect her from having to make these decisions that weighed so heavily on her.
Yet he couldn’t.
She was the Inquisitor and he could not shield her from the decisions that that position required her to make. However, as her…Maker, what were they now? Lovers? What exactly was the sort of term one used for something like this? Whatever the term, it didn’t matter.
He could give her his shoulder to lean on when times were tough.
He would continue to be her support as she had been his.
“Yes, Inquisitor,” replied the ambassador softly. “Though we have a meeting this afternoon in the war room to discuss our plans for leaving for Halamshiral.”
“I’ll be there,” Meryell murmured. “Until then, I’ll be in my room.”
Josephine nodded then stepped forward, seeming like she wanted to reach out to touch the elf’s arm in a comforting gesture before she stopped herself. Instead she just smiled and said, “Of course, Inquisitor. Take what time you need.”
She nodded back and then those green eyes were locked with his and Cullen was pulled inexorably forward. He had no qualms at reaching out to touch her arm – though he kept it high, chaste enough for such a public venue – and bent his head to asked, “Do you want me to come up with you?”
“You need to work,” mumbled Meryell. “I kept you away from it for most of the morning.”
Cullen frowned and said, “Last night you were trying to keep me away from work, dear thief.”
“Because you were fucking overworking yourself.”
Sighing, he lifted his other hand to press to fingers underneath her chin, bringing her face around to face him since she kept her eyes forward towards the damned chair. She blinked up at him and he could see tears lurking at the edge of her eyes as he asked roughly,“Do you need me, vhen’an ? Work can damned well wait.”
“Your…meeting with Gil?”
“Not until the day after tomorrow.” Which she knew. She knew the schedule that Gil was keeping him on to receive ever lessening doses of lyrium as well as he did. Frowning, he asked, “Are you trying to keep me away?”
Meryell frowned and shook her head, closing her eyes as she replied, “I don’t know. Fuck, fuck , I don’t know, Cullen. I’m…I’m not…” Her voice trailed off as she lifted a hand to touch her forehead and breathed, “I don’t know anymore.”
Sighing, he said, “That’s it. Not more asking, I am coming up with you and we’re going now.”
“Maker’s breath, woman, stop arguing and let me take care of you.”
That made her fall silent and Cullen flashed a worried glance at Josephine before he steered Meryell towards the door that led to her quarters. He exchanged a brief nod with the two fresh guards who were there (the third shift of that particular set, he knew, since they had four pairs who alternated through the position) then steered Meryell upward. She walked almost automatically, like she had gone numb, and he grew more worried the higher they climbed.
When she fumbled for her key, cursing under her breath, Cullen stopped her frantic motions and dug it out of a similar pocket to what she’d pulled it out of the night before. “Shh, love,” he murmured before unlocking the door to let them in. As soon as he locked it behind them and slipped the key back into her pocket, he swept her up into his arms without another word.
“Cullen!” she exclaimed, clinging to his shoulders and mantle.
“Hush,” he chided as he strode up the short stairwell with her in his arms and planted her on the edge of the bed. Dropping to one knee, he swiftly went to work on divesting her of her boots before turning his attention to her waist. The belt and dagger she kept there came away just as easily and he laid them carefully down on the edge of the rug.
Cullen tugged the end of her long shirt out from where she’d tucked it into her trousers and reached up without a single blush to pluck at the knots of her breastband. Meryell blinked at him several times before she stammered his name, which made him smile. Lifting himself up slightly, he kissed her softly and said, “Nothing sexual, vhen’an . Just…lay down. You’ll see.”
She frowned at him as he freed her from the cloth but did as he said, stretching out across the bed with one arm propped underneath her head. Nodding, he smiled and trailed his hand over her hip before he stood, striding over to the couch that stood next to the railing between the floor and the stairwell. As quickly and precisely as he could, he stripped himself of the armor he’d only put on a few hours before when he’d finally left her room just before lunch was to begin. When he was finally in just his shirt, trousers, and slightly threadbare socks, Cullen turned back towards the bed to find Meryell watching him with a little smile on her face.
Smiling, he tilted his head to the side and asked, “Like what you see, love?”
“I’d like it better naked,” she replied, “but I’ll take you any sodding way I can get.”
“Perhaps tonight you can get your wish on the former,” he purred before wondering where that bit of daring had come from. He’d never been overt in his attention towards the fairer sex before and he’d never said anything of the like to Claudia, the widow that Rylen had convinced him to see. Not even when she’d asked.
Meryell brought out things in him that he’d forgotten or hadn’t even known that he could be. Which apparently included confidence in things in the bedroom.
“Is that a promise?” she asked, batting her eyelashes at him a little.
“We’ll see,” he said as he crossed the room. He climbed over her to collapse onto the other side of the bed and promptly pulled her flush against him. She immediately slid an arm over his waist and slipped her legs between his, twining them together even as she buried her nose into his shirt. When he pressed a kiss to her forehead, Meryell shuddered and let out a soft sob.
“I threatened him,” she breathed and he nodded slightly.
“What other choice did you have, vhen’an ? He…” Cullen growled as he briefly tightened his grip around her. “The things he called you . Maker, if you didn’t need to handle him yourself because of what he’d done, I’d…”
She shook her head at that. “He’s mine to deal with. My past. My…fuck, my regret .”
Bringing his hand up to cup her cheek, Cullen ducked his head as he gently pressed her face upwards to he could kiss her softly. “You don’t have to do everything on your own anymore,” he breathed. “I know I can’t protect you from the choices you have to make or shield you from them. I can be your shoulder though them. If you let me.”
Meryell hitched a breath then said, “I won’t ask you to do that. Particularly not with some peice of shit like him.”
“ You’re not asking. I’m offering.” Shaking his head, he pressed his lips to hers again, this time drawing the kiss out as he hugged her body to his. He wished he could tell everything through that kiss alone. That he didn’t care what it was, he would help her. He would do anything for her. Things like that couldn’t be told with merely a kiss, however, so he pulled away and gently stroked her hair. “You’ve done so much for me. Let me do this for you, love. I can take a little.”
“No, this is about you,” he interrupted. “Meryell, please . Think on it. You already asked me to stand with you to face him. Let me help you face the aftermath.”
She blinked up at him several times before she let out a laugh, reaching up to touch his face. “You’re too damned good for me,” she breathed as her fingers stroked his cheek.
“Beg to differ.”
“Call it a draw?”
“Draw,” he agreed with a laugh. Then he nuzzled his nose against hers and said, “You don’t…you don’t have to answer now, love. Just lay here with me. Just us. No Inquisition, no Fangs, no Camden.”
“Just us,” Meryell whispered. “I’d…I think I’d like that.”
Cullen smiled and kissed her forehead again, softly saying, “Then close your eyes and just lay here with me. Just us, for what time we have before the meeting.”
She only made a faint humming noise in return and he looked down to see her eyes closed, her face already burrowed into the pillow. Smiling, he leaned forward to rest his head against hers, nuzzling his nose briefly against her hair before he settled and closed his eyes.
Slowly but surely, the feel of her body against his pulled him down into a light doze and he let his mind drift.
‘Ma serranas > thank you
‘Ma neral > you’re welcome
I’ten’gon’an > worthless person