Unsteady. Never meant for this to interfere, for her to see. Promises, promises. Why does she not question? She embodies what hides beyond the haze, what he seeks to raise his shield without chains. || Cullen x F!Trevelyan Mage (One-Shot)
Part I of the Order and Chaos series. Set after the climax of Wicked Hearts and Wicked Eyes and through the events of Perseverance; the good commander struggles against his demons, but she is there, his ward and light. Title gleaned from a song on the debut album of Three Days Grace.
Author: Illusionary Ennui
Disclaimer: If it's not in the games, codex entries, or the wiki, it's mine. All else, hail to Bioware.
Story Rating: T/M
Story Warnings: Angst, Drama, Fluff, Hurt/Comfort, Romance, NSFW, Drug Abuse/Rehabilitation, Withdrawal
Let You Down
Scared and lonely one,
why don’t you question my sin,
the man I once was?
Months of planning ended by scathing truths revealed to bind, a cruel future's spark extinguished.
The Commander of the Inquisition had seen the men to their posts, their token force smaller than those who readied to siege against the Warden fortress at Adamant. A military mind reminded him that he should urge her to turn as soon as possible in order to keep them on schedule, and before he can feel himself fall.
How much longer did he have?
How could he tell her of his struggle in the palace? A moment’s pause saw him wash his face in a basin, the cool water nearly as sobering as the taste of bile that he had erased with his only glass of wine. He was being selfish, but he wanted to see her with the fate of Orlais no longer on her shoulders, their leaders set to work together. There, sequestered from prying eyes, he danced with her beneath the clear, star-dusted sky because he knew he should treasure what moments he may have left if he did not survive. But in her hands, his thoughts were of her alone.
I will let you down.
Somewhere the music still thrummed and he felt free, his leash loosening. So much death, so much loss and there she stayed, made of light and ordered chaos.
Bloodied, she lies in the snow, a shivering, half-frozen and fragile thing. So cold as if only one breath away from death, one breath closer to their own. His own body screamed, its poison crying out and muscles aching – how long had it been? It did not matter - they were safe, she was safe… they were all safe. Because of her. A lion snapped at its colleagues – they would not touch her. No, they had stained her enough with their desires. Only he could protect her. He keeps them at bay, cradling her in his arms, and not daring to walk away, to see her slip from his grasp. How could she, a mage who knew only chains, risk her life for them?
So like her, but she is her own.
She is with him.
With them, he scolds.
A deft hand spun away and then pulled her back, back into the arms meant to protect, to serve. He was hers to command but in that space, he led his own heart into the fray.
Only a woman lay there, not some title or prophet. They burdened her again and again, and she persevered for their sake, not for some holy right but for her own compassion. Could he do the same?
The sickness comes again, its pain stabbing deep. The twisting knot pulls and pulls, the taste of metal ghosting across his tongue. Maker, he wanted it. Its singing grew louder, sharp nails scrabbling in his skull, pleading to slake a different thirst. If only he could flay off his flesh and wash the lyrium from inside. Mother Giselle sees the tremors, sees the green seeping into his skin.
No, he would not let them see.
A hasty word of apology and he takes his leave. He leaves her in Mother Giselle's hands, skulks into the shadows, and into the snow, he purges the meagre meal that had been forced on him. His hands shake, though the cold is not the cause. His skin feels like fire, like molten metal encasing a delicate frame.
How many months had it been?
The ground underneath his soles spins, stars dancing behind his eyes. His fists pound against his thigh, a pale hurt compared to the roar building in his head, his breath ragged and his heart racing. They called him a lion, a warrior without rival, but had he lost his bite? He could not fail now... could not fail her as he had failed before...
Cassandra must know, must watch him...
Her body swayed with his, a slow circle keeping them close. Beneath the finery, he could smell the sandalwood and soap, so far from blood and pain.
Thick, leather-clad fingers leap for the pommel of his sword, the sunken, hollow look of his eyes unable to mask the hurt or the half-drawn blade from its sheath.
"Maker's breath!" Sharpened silverite slides back into hardened leather, ashamed. Subdued. "Your Reverence."
"You have a good heart. Do not let fear carry you from the light." A slow smile curls as Mother Giselle speaks, one gentle hand set on his shoulder.
Only modesty accepts the outstretched handkerchief from the elder to wipe the vestiges of vomit from his mouth. He steers his gaze away, a knee yet sunk into the snow.
"How can I protect her..." Fear stopped him at first, the flood spilling without pause before he could right them. "How can we protect any against that chaos? Herald or not, she nearly gave her life so that we might-"
"And the Maker saw her to us once more. We may have suspected her in the beginning, yet she has proven herself an answer rather than strictly the cause. We may never truly know what happened at the conclave or at Haven. Only she seek seeks to undo what has been wrought." Mother Giselle offers him a hand, but it did little as a mere man rather than a general rises from the snow. He trails behind her, weak but veiled by a mask of pride, of command. Giselle sits him near her and presses a simple potion into his hands. Not blue, far from what his body craves, but it is what he needs. "But, she is only human, as you are. She has needs and fears just the same. We must serve the same, Commander. She needs your strength as we steal hers. And yet she commands great power and does not abuse it. Were you not possessed of a higher title yourself within the Order and set it aside for a greater purpose? To be better than those who struck out against her and those like her? So, I must ask: you have known both the darkness and the light of magic, what do you see in her?"
"I see only light. I see nothing of that pain, that darkness in her..." He does not hesitate, he does not falter.
A lonely hand reaches out to touch a pallid cheek only to snap back, the sound of boots crunching in the thick carpet of snow.
"The Right Hand and Lady Montilyet request your presence, Commander."
The potion burns on his tongue, his stomach disinclined to settle. Pain's song still stings, his blood coursing its fire to every nerve and vein. But he remembers the glimmer of a smile, of relief, as she fell into his arms that night, the ghost of a prayer manifested. But what he feels is more, something deeper. It sings a softer song, lighter than the bloodsong for lyrium... a desire for which he held no words, no name. It felt familiar, something once lost but now within reach.
He catches the Revered Mother's gaze and only sees the pleased curve of her lips.
"Go. I will call you when she wakes." A lie, he can see the glint in the old woman's eye- she would hide her away if only to grant her shelter from their bickering, to give her some respite from the pedestal they have placed beneath her.
Yet all he cared was for her – it struck him as lightening, maddening pull in spiral in which he fears he might lose himself. Could he truly care for a mage? Did that even matter?
Kirkwall spins, blood red and screaming.
“I am not Meredith.”
A promise stamps itself into his heart: it would never happen again. He would shield them all against the tide. For her sacrifice, she deserves nothing less.
Not close enough, his mind demanded. The music swelled and he brought her flush against him. Halamshiral faded, a white noise as he kept her safe and stole the hurt from her heart. He needed this as much as she did.
A hand spasmed as it slipped up her spine.
Maker, no. Let me have this.
It came like the tide, even as she swayed in his arms. The first spikes took their prize, the lances digging into his veins. It burned. Older memories fought to sneak through, to rob him from her. Haunting. I lost her, drove her away. My friends, their blood splattered against the walls. The demons whisper. Madness in her eyes; I dare not see it. Betrayed. Weak. He squeezed her hand, harder than was welcome. His arm tightened about her waist, a vise, and she stopped, her honeyed-amber eyes like sunlight and comfort. Only a part of him answered, promising her it was all right. He was there, he was there for her. He leans forward, wanting to taste her again, to feel that breath, to feel her. He wanted more, begged for more.
Leather-sheathed nails digs at the back of his skull, prying at the bloodsong for silence, to hide the twitch of addled fingers. He learns the flavour of a righteous fury, the lances turning into white-hot pins. And then he's free. The first press of his lips against hers – how much had he yearned for it? How long had the thoughts toyed with him, unable to find reason? Could he care for a mage? Even if he could not justify it amidst war and circumstance, she is more than that to him, more than the darkness, the past. His eyes stay open as if she would disappear before they touch, another demon sent to taunt their prey. To mock him, to question him. But she is no demon, only light. She asks if he regrets it but he knows he cannot. The taste of her lingers long after.
Pain flickers even as he tries to wash his sins in the touch of her skin against his, his tongue dancing with hers…
He did not mean to snap and rip himself away, jaw locked in rage and in agony – the need for both his vices sunk deeper, clawing its way. His hands clenched, praying he can hide the tremors, the beads of sweat beginning to cling to his brow. He cannot move.
“You’ve news?” Over the thunder of his blood, she took command and he hated himself for it, for wavering.
The guard did not deter them long, scrabbling away after his message was delivered, knowing full well the commander’s ire… but that night, the lion’s bite and roar dimmed.
“Cullen, please…” She was there again, her fingers curled around the fists where blunt nails nearly pierced calloused, sword-worn palms. “What’s wrong? It is –“
You deserve better, a stronger man.
An answer came as a kiss to her cheek, far from what he desires, to stop her – he doesn’t want to hear it from those lips. She deserves so much better. Steeled, he gave her that strained smile he knew she could see beyond – he has lied far too much for both their sakes.
“Come. You need not worry for me.” An elegant gesture matched his bow, another false smile. She catered to them still, but he knew she must see the darkness.
It cannot wait.
He must to do something and soon – he could not give her or the Inquisition anything less than he had the chantry.
“They are waiting for us, milady.”
Cullen’s hand squeezed hers once more, but it lacked the starker mood as its strength slipped from her grasp. It felt empty, deprived. The memory of his eyes, full of some hurt he would not share, kept Mara Trevelyan close as her heart kept him even closer. She let him lead from their peace and into the vipers’ nest. Every courtier’s gaze fixed them, both in lust for one reason or another, for power or intrigue. Orlais should be at peace but the only weight she felt was that gaze, that conjured wall between her desire and what needed to be done.
She hated them, hated their poison and their Great Game. She had brokered them prosperity and all she earned was their stares. Had she not done enough? They clawed at her as their guard saw them through the lavish halls, begging for an audience and for favour. But her eyes never met theirs, never strayed from the broad back of her commander.
His hands were still shaking.
What shook the warrior to his core? It was a question whose answer she knew, but for his sake, her lips kept their silence. But for his sake, should it be asked?
Templars so often kept their hearts closed, but he was one no longer. He cared for her, said he could care for her, even as mage. Was it because of some truth he would not share? Did he see in her what he left behind, what he wanted to shut out? Did he pretend she was something she was not?
As much as she knew, she knew little of him beyond that desire, beyond his desire to be free. What happened to shore away the man she had begun to love? She did not see a templar. For all the past, she could not paint him with the same brush as the rogues of the Order who had turned against her and her fellows to drive them from their home, from their peace, the peace she had tried to return. She only saw a man who wanted to change, to be better than he was made. That is the man who mattered to her.
But that man never gave her a chance to ease his mind.
Cullen saw her to the carriage, a kiss pressed to her knuckles and he was gone. She watched him through curtained windows as he spoke with Cassandra, the Seeker’s sour look illuminated by the greater moon’s swath. Something stiff and angry vibrated in the words she could not hear. And then an expression of defeat followed by something hopeful passed across the Commander’s features as the Seeker clapped a hand on his shoulder. It gave him some sort of peace, the peace she wished she could have given him herself.
A stable boy brought the Commander’s horse and he rode out alone, his own retainers on his heels. The Seeker stood for a time, as if debating something deeper. Whatever Cullen had said, it wore on the Seeker like iron yoked about a heifer’s shoulders.
“It’s nothing for you to be worried about, Inquisitor,” the Seeker assured her when the warrior slipped into the carriage beside her. The hard, sharp features did not allow for any hint of what transpired, locked into an impossible, impassable frieze. “Not yet.”
He craved it, wanted to be stronger. For the Inquisition. For her. He needed it. But she spoke for his sake and he answered in truth: he does not want it.
Cullen never imagined that two simple words held so much weight. It is enough to give him hope, to give him some semblance of balance. It was like a promise, a promise that he could be better than what they made him, what lyrium had made him. She would be there. He would not be alone.
And then Mara was gone, yet it is that look of reluctance as she walked away to answer another summons which brought the first smile to his face, a breath of light to help him stand.
The Inquisition endured – he would not give either of them any less.
He could do this.
He did not need it.
The day wore on, a tragic, painfully slow march. Cullen kept her words close, never let them leave his mind. They carried him through reports, through scrutiny and a berating by one of the Empress’s chevaliers who learned that the Commander had little care for the coddling the knight believed his rank garnered. The clash of iron and silverite of the Inquisition’s men drilling in the courtyard became a chorus of its own to help drive out the bloodsong of lyrium even has he tamped it down. It bit and shredded every nerve, and thought until he could not even stand.
And his strength failed, hidden behind the closed door of his tower where he prayed he suffered alone.
And then Mara was there, standing over him, a broken man in a crumpled heap nearly convulsing in his own vomit.
"F-forgive me.” He fought to stand, to push her away. He legs protested until the corded muscle and bone buckled. His boot slipped in the pool and she was quick to reach out even as she stumbled from the sweep of his hand, but he nearly brought her down into the madness, into the sickness and hurt of it all. A tear-streaked faced buried itself in the softness of her doeskin attire, shaking arms loose about her legs. “I did not want you to see me like this. I should be stronger than it."
He only knew her kindness as her fingers carded through golden curls, too soft to be real.
“Cullen –” His name slipped from her lips, on the verge of breaking. She could not bear to see him like this, so beyond his own control, beyond what her magic could simply heal. “- You should not be alone. Not now.”
"I wanted this...” But am I strong enough was left unasked.
“Then let me help.”
He stilled, his fingers tightening into the soft meat of her thighs.
“Do you truly care for me that much?”
“Yes.” There was no pause, no tentative reserve. It fell like the promise, the faith she had in him, more than the faith that she wished she possessed to see them survive what Corypheus might bring down upon them. It was an anchor, something to strive for, to ground her. His suffering reached deep enough to challenge the basest part of all that she held dear, to overwrite even her own fears that she was as much a danger as Corypheus himself. He had protected her heart, first and foremost.
Perhaps it was in that moment that he knew he must fight, whatever the cost, that he would fight to be worthy of her. Could he love her? Could she love him? A tired kiss pressed into her wrist and she did not shy away as she slid to sit beside him. He cupped her cheek and her hand glided over his, a comfort as she nuzzled the broad, calloused palm. With her help, they managed to get him to his feet. Despite it all, he swayed, dizzied.
“You must rest.” Thin fingers latch into the burgundy braht* wrapped around him, barely able to hold him up.
“I can’t.” He could not let her take that pain from him, could not allow himself stain her soul with his madness, his folly.
“You have protected me. Tonight, let me protect you.” Mara did not demand nor did she manipulate. She only pleaded for his sake, for the man he wanted to be. “Cullen, please.”
"Just for tonight."
How could he deny her that when she thought of nothing but his health? He thought to argue when she would not allow him stay in the decrepit tower – it was functional but the only warmth lay in his books and in the bit of Fereldan handiwork that was his desk. Yet he knew better. Perhaps in the morning he would sneak away. Her only desire was for his sake, to part a broken mind from thoughts of what lay ahead, of what burdens they bore.
He needed it.
A comical sight they must have been. His shield arm, gauntlet and vambrace intact, slung over her shoulders, they made an awkward escape to her quarters. She leaned against the wall each time he stumbled, nearly crushed his greater weight. Safe in her sanctuary, she left him on the edge of her great bed, far too big for her alone. It made him imagine so many things, things that would make a chantry sister blush. When she returned, a copper bowl of cool water and a cup of mead in her hands and a cloth draped over her forearm, Cullen forced himself to look away, begging that she assumed the crimson painting his cheeks was nothing more than the heat of withdrawal.
Beneath the cloth, her hands felt dry and worn. He had forgotten how much a knight-enchanter trained to balance magic and power. Yet they treated him with nothing but tenderness as she wiped away the sweat trickling down his neck and the vomit from the corners of his mouth. Her magic weaved within and without, soothing what mere care could not – it was not enough, but for a moment, it dulled lyrium's siren chorus. The mead he barely touched, wetting his mouth only enough to remove what remained. Her kiss tasted sweeter when she let her lips slanted over his, proving that her kindness cared little of his dishevelled state. His fingers slid into the auburn locks spilling onto his shoulder and he returned its press, smiling as he felt the pain recede from her touch.
A part of him stirred and he ripped away – she deserved better, better than the half-mad man who gave himself into her care.
“Thank you.” His gratitude was enough to sate her, unknowing of how his kiss had encouraged something in the mage. A careful eye caught the look of loss but he would not give in to lust, even in need.
Gloves peeled from their lengths, his fingers fumbled on the buckles of his armour, useless lengths as they slipped on the metal. An angry, frustrated growl tore from the warrior’s throat. And then she was there again where she took up his mantle. Even as he hated himself for weakness, he cannot help but smile as she too struggled with the unfamiliar clasps and folds. Far longer than he would have managed, he relished in the feather-light skim of her fingertips across his tunic, teasing skin and adding to the thunder in his ears.
The armour gone, Cullen rolled his shoulders and at last sunk into her bed, biting back a complaint that it was too soft. The bed dipped back up as Mara tried to leave, to sit aside and grant him some space. A wide hand, yet shaking, reached out, encircling a wrist.
"Stay with me." Cullen, the man rather than the Commander of the Inquisition, beckoned the mage.
"Are you certain?" Mara laced her fingers into the warmth of his. She only wanted to give him peace. She would not ask anything of him that he did not desire. If all he needed was her company, a hand to hold him through the dark – who was she to deny him that?
"Just for tonight."
It was his sad, lonely smile that gave her her answer. Slipping to the other side of the bed, she slid into the cradle of his side. Cullen’s shield arm curled about her as it was as natural as the shield he once held for the Order, the shield he still held for its true cause. It made her feel safe, even as the Anchor rested over his middle. Without the armour between them, it seemed strange – he did not seem any less than the man who led the Inquisition’s army, any less than the man whose hands might hold her heart. Beneath her cheek, Mara felt the harsh panting of his breath begin to ease, the tensed state of every muscle begin to slacken even as the fire of withdrawal kept him on edge. She stayed like that, enveloped in his warmth and her embrace holding him tight until he at last slipped into slumber, too tired to fight the pain any longer.
A moment of respite won, Mara slipped into the Fade, huddled in the arms of the man she loved.
Demons tear at him, sewing hooks of lyrium into his skin.
I do not want this.
It burns. Everything burns.
She is there.
Not her, not an older hurt wrapped in another’s arms - that soul is gone, faded. He’s forgotten her face. Not her, but Her.
Hot tears painting her cheeks in blood. They've bound her in chains made of the same, its glittering dust like sapphire stark against her skin. Eating away at her, dissolving body and soul. Poisoned.
All this is your doing, templar.
“I AM A TEMPLAR NO LONGER!”
Sweat dripping from his brow, the commander bolted upright, the night still with her hold on the world. Beside him, a shapely leg left to straddle his thighs, the Inquisitor did not wake to his cry, trapped in the Fade while she slumbered. A shaking hand stroked her cheek, enthralled. She stayed with him, held him through the night.
Uncertainty clouded his mind. The nightmares mocked him again, clawing into what little sanctuary they had won. He felt the noose of his leash tighten and he yanked on it like a mabari at the end of its rope – he wanted more than its promise.
There it was.
Her promise outmatched it a thousand-fold. Its very essence fluttered within reach, suspended on a delicate threads of anguish, of want and of purpose. He had not thought of much beyond their survival.
What can I do that will absolve me of all my crimes? Here and now, I sever my ties with what the Order has become, for what it has done to you - I will have nothing to do with the life that came before. That is my promise. I take only what we need from it, what good there is left and no more. I leave it all behind. Not just for the Inquisition, but for you. I want the life I could have without it. I want this life.
As long as you are here, I can endure. If there is a way to protect this world, to serve the ideal I believe the Order could be without lyrium, I will find it. If I must be a templar, I am one in name only - I can be stronger without that poison.
His head throbbed as he rose it from the pillow and he rubbed at his temple, eyes squeezed shut against its spike. With a shake, Cullen pushed past it, letting his nails dig into his thigh to stave off greater throes.
My pain be damned - I would slay an army of demons with my bare hands before I let it control me again. Maker preserve us, Corpyheus might very well bring that upon us. But after? If we survive? If I even remember what I want?
A lazy finger stroked the Herald’s cheek once more.
What future is there for us? What would you have of me?
“What can I do for you that you have not already done for me, my lady?”
She did not answer save for a soft sigh in slumber, the demons seeming further away from her than they had ever been.
Careful fingers lifted the noble-born mage from him, each movement no more than wisps of light until he untangled himself from her comfort. An even more cautious act wrapped his armour in the burgundy braht slung over the arm of the Orlesian settee. A sudden flash of her hair sprawled in its place, cast back beneath his bulk and the sound of his name like a prayer from swollen lips, gave him pause.
Through gritted teeth, Cullen swore a vulgar oath and vowed for another time in the same breath.
Worn feet dragged on the lazy spiral woven into the rug upon the floor, uneasy pillar but enough to see him through. A heavy hand steadied him on the edge of her desk where fresh parchment and Antivan ink drew from him a second kindness. He plucked a flower from the vase left by Lady Montilyet and pressed his lips to the quivering bloom – Maker, why won’t my hands stop shaking? The pen splattered ink as he wrote, each stroke longer, heavier than he wanted. Dallying.
A better man left her sleeping in the wee hours when the rest of the world should have been slumbering, praying no one saw him. All the while, the gears of a tormented and kind mind turned – what pittance could he offer now?
Thoughts of home answered.
Only a note and the scent of leather mixed with sweat remained of him. Sunlight washed over the black ink, the shadows crisp in their quickness. A Fereldan rose stained a portion of the parchment red, its petals not touched by time.
Thank you. For everything.
Scribbled below, almost in an afterthought, the scratches almost hesitate. Parts were blackened by thick ink, as if the man had not known what to say.
May I ask a favour –
Would you care –
Maker, give me strength.
The guards -
If you would spare a moment for me, perhaps we might speak later. The battlements - the change of guard will give us that moment, if you would care to meet then."
A kiss marked itself in the ink as Mara drew it from her mouth, its small line quirked in a smile of relief.