by R2s Muse
Disclaimer: The Dragon Age setting and its characters belong to Bioware. I'm just borrowing!
Chapter Summary: Picking up with our heroes a few months later. FYI a few Dragon Age: Inquisition spoilers.
Cullen straightened from the letter he was writing and kneaded the muscles at the small of his back with relief. When Cassandra and Leliana had recruited him to lead the Inquisition's forces, he could not have imagined the hours he would spend crouched over his desk, reading and writing reports and missives. Then again, no one could have predicted much about his new life.
The storm Justinia had foretold was worse than anyone could have known, involving a breach into the Fade itself that threatened the very fabric of their world, as well as her untimely death. The Inquisition alone fought against this new threat and hung on by a mere thread. Cullen still had not finished writing condolence letters after their bitter defeat in Haven.
He rubbed a stray ink stain from his fingers and scowled down at the terse message he had just received telling him to meet Varric and the Inquisitor atop the northern battlements. The note said immediately since, of course, Cullen had nothing else to occupy him today.
He exited the dim interior of the dilapidated tower that now held his office and meager quarters and immediately had to squint against the overbright sun glinting painfully off the ice-capped peaks surrounding their new base of Skyhold. In the weeks since their desperate retreat through the storm-ridden mountains from Haven, the skies had remained incongruously clear and blue, while on the ground they still mourned their dead.
Cullen tramped across the battlement of the ancient fortress, skirting the piles of old rubble and debris that had yet to be cleared, and took the opportunity to examine the outer wall for remaining issues for the engineers. He pinched the bridge of his nose as the enormity of their task to fortify the crumbling keep overwhelmed him again and he wondered at the urgency of this meeting when there was so much else to do.
When he did not see Varric or Inquisitor Cadash right away, he skipped down the steps to another landing along the perimeter wall, starting to get annoyed that he had to search, when he ground to a halt in shock.
He had no words at first and merely stood there, drinking in the familiar sight of travel stained leathers and those capable fingers nervously twirling a strand of short, dark hair near her ear. Then she turned around and her weary face immediately lit up. "Cullen!" she cried, running toward him.
"Oh, Grace," he said with longing, catching her as she vaulted into his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist. Somehow he maintained his balance as he spun her in a circle and eagerly captured her lips for an impatient kiss. They were both soon breathless, unwilling to break the kiss, and in that moment, every other care receded before the feel of her safely in his arms again.
Eventually, he set her down on her feet again as the questions inexorably started to tumble out. "What are you—? Where? How?" he tried to ask. "Aveline told me you left Kirkwall after things got dicey with the red templars, but we didn't know where you had gone next. How did you find us?"
She laughed. "You should know by now that Varric always knows how to find me. I came as soon as I could. Surprising you was his idea." The smile dropped from her face. "I was so worried when I heard about Haven."
Cullen shook his head and looked down, weighed down again by sorrow as he pictured the dead. "So many lives lost. Lives that depended on me."
She lifted his chin. "There will always be losses, Commander. What's important is how you honor their sacrifice." She gave him a small smile of understanding.
He let out a deep sigh, feeling the tension in his shoulders relax slightly, and slipped his arms around her. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too."
He looked her over, taking in every detail, noting differences since the last time he had seen her just before the Divine Conclave. The tired circles under her eyes. The deepening worry lines between her brows. The smudge of reddish dirt across the bridge of her nose. "You cut your hair?" he said, smiling in wonder.
"Do you like it?" She stepped back and pressed a self-conscious hand to her hair, cut again in the short, windswept style she had favored in Kirkwall. "Since I was dealing with Kirkwall templars, I thought I should look a bit more like the Champion again."
"You're beautiful." He touched her face and rubbed his thumb against the smudge of dirt on her nose. Her eyes crossed adorably as she tried to see it herself.
She laughed, scrubbing at her nose with a finger, and kissed him. "Liar."
He tilted his head to the side. "Not any longer."
She grimaced at him. "Cheeky."
"Besotted," he corrected, placing a kiss on the tip of her nose.
She giggled. "Forgiven." She studied his face as if to memorize it. "This was too long."
"Agreed. I did not expect your quick trip to Kirkwall for Cassandra would turn into such an ordeal," he said with a frown.
"Neither did I. Nor that you are such a lousy correspondent."
He laughed. "I think that's the pot calling the kettle black, Grace."
She smiled. "Perhaps. But then, I wasn't at the center of a world-shaking cataclysm. Without you." She looked down and started to fidget with the golden edging on the red tunic he wore over his breastplate.
Seeing the concern she hid behind her joking, he was tongued tied by his sudden impulse to apologize.
She shook her head and quirked up the corner of her mouth. "It's ironic," she said, "that, for all Leliana's efforts to convince me to work for the Inquisition, all she really had to do was hire you."
"Meaning?" he said, raising his eyebrows while trying to hold in check his sudden leap of hope.
"Meaning that I'm not sure I can leave you again," she said, continuing to toy with the edge of his tunic. "So I suppose I might as well make myself useful around here." Finally, she looked him in the eye and his whole body went alternately cold then hot.
He pulled her in close to his heart. "You give a man ideas," he breathed, and her smile grew.
"So I assume you two know each other?" said a dry female voice from behind them.
Cullen let go of Hawke and spun around to see Malika Cadash walk up with Varric grinning smugly at her side. "Erm, yes, Inquisitor, my apologies. You see, um, this is . . ."
"Marian Hawke, Inquisitor," said Hawke, stepping forward to shake the Inquisitor's hand.
"Pleased to meet you, Champion. Your reputation precedes you. Thank you for coming. I understand from Varric you might have some experience with the latest obstacles we've encountered," Malika said to Hawke with her usual knack for understatement.
"Yes, I'm pleased to share what I can, along with some other news I've learned that I think you might need to know," Hawke said, but almost like she could not help herself, her eyes slipped back to gaze fatuously at Cullen. He was sure he was doing the same.
The usually impassive dwarf smiled warmly and glanced between Cullen and Hawke. "I think I begin to see why Varric here has been so smug all morning about this meeting."
"I'm allowed to admire my own handiwork from time to time," Varric said, shrugging.
"We can talk more tonight, once the Commander's busy schedule clears up. Welcome to Skyhold, Hawke." Malika strode briskly away. "Come along, Tethras," she said over her shoulder. "You've done enough."
Varric just nodded in satisfaction. "Yes, unfortunately it is now up to them." He grinned and inclined his head at each of them in turn. "Hawke. Curly." He then sauntered after the Inquisitor.
Cullen cringed inwardly at Varric's meddling, while Hawke turned widened eyes upon him. "Curly?"
Cullen sighed and rolled his eyes. "Apparently, now that my identity crisis is over, Varric says, calling me Templar is no longer ironic enough."
Hawke frowned at this, opened her mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it. Then her eyes narrowed wickedly. "Have you done something different with your hair?"
"What? No! I mean, maybe it's longer on top, so maybe less curly. I don't know." His cheeks suddenly felt hot.
"I miss the curls a bit, too. Especially from when it was much longer." She grinned. "Commander," she said, rolling the sounds off her tongue in a way that set his blood on fire.
"So will you really stay?" he asked, hoping he had understood her properly.
"Yes, if you'll have me. I just wanted things to go back to normal, but . . ." She sighed. "I finally realized that you're my normal."
He thrilled at her words and took her in his arms again. "Well, if that's our new measure of normal," he said lightly, "then we're in for a rough time of it."
"That sounds about right," she said, laughing. "So . . ." Her brow furrowed and her lower lip drew down into a pout. "The Commander is busy this afternoon?"
He dropped a kiss at her temple. "Very busy," he murmured, nuzzling her jaw. "I have a newly returned agent to debrief, and it likely will take the rest of the day." He pressed his lips to the dimple that had reemerged on her cheek. "Probably all night as well."
"Oh!" she said with a shivery giggle. "So, the Commander will be quite occupied for the foreseeable future."
"Quite," he said, "and hopefully even longer." He laced his fingers together with hers and she flushed happily. "Let me show you our new home." Hand in hand, walking so close their shoulders brushed, they retraced his steps across the picturesque keep toward his tower and their new beginning.
A/N: So, the end end. Phew. It's been a long road. Far longer than I expected. But, ironically, this ending has gotten me excited about Inquisition again, and new stories are already percolating. So if you're interested in this couple, stay tuned for a few more tales. And a few more reflections that may or may not end up as official "End Notes."
Now that's it's done, a few additional heartfelt thanks:
My tireless beta, meanieweenie, who has stayed with me for YEARS NOW, red penning draft after draft, and having to read the novel-length story in its not quite perfect state each time. She rocks and is my special gift from this fandom that I now get to keep forever.
The lovely artists who have drawn things from this story, Chenria and Jerhopp. There's still nothing in the world like seeing your story come to life through the lens of an artist. Thank you for sharing your gifts.
My many friends from the wonderful BSN Cullen thread that have prompted and percolated and discussed so many ideas with me over the long years. The story idea originally nibbled at me from our discussions of the ending of DA2 back in thread v.1.0, and the idea wouldn't leave me alone. Stay awesome.