The moment he first met her, in the mountains just outside the Temple of Sacred Ashes. His sword arm burned with exhaustion as he battled demons that spilled from the green tear in the sky. A thin layer of sweat dampened his forehead as he fought on through the ache. He felt as if he had been fighting for hours. Perhaps he had.
And then a crossbow bolt whizzed past his ear, followed by a familiar-sounding "Got 'em!" as the wraith dissolved into a fine green mist that was sucked back into the Fade. Varric.
Cassandra's Seeker armor glinted in the sun as she angrily swung her sword back and forth, while that elven apostate – Solas – aimed his staff and scowled, ice spewing from the tip. The added reinforcements instilled a new sense of motivation in him, and he could see the spark returning to his weak, exhausted soldiers. The burning was gone, replaced with only a drive to fight, to succeed, to win.
As the final demon faded into oblivion, he heard Solas shout, "Now! Close the Rift!"
There was a vibration in the air, like silent thunder. He could feel pressure reverberating against his eardrums, his head pounding against the sensation. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth against the dull pain… and then it was gone. The pressure, the vibrato, even the Fade Rift.
He wasn't sure how the Seeker had done it, but she had.
"Lady Cassandra," he began, turning to face her, "you've managed to close the Rift. Well done."
"Do not congratulate me, Commander. This is the prisoner's doing."
Cassandra stepped aside, revealing the prisoner they had taken from the destruction of the Conclave. He wasn't surprised that he missed her in all of the chaos – she was petite, barely reaching his soldiers, and her eyes were wide with overwhelming confusion. A staff glowed in one hand, the smell of smoke wafting from the tip. Her other hand glowed a subtle green, the color pulsating as if it were alive.
"Is it?" He hadn't meant to sound so shocked. But he had been just as wary as any of them as he watched their soldiers drag the mage, unconscious, into the cells below the chantry. They had already sealed her fate as the mastermind behind the destruction of the Temple. "I hope they're right about you. We've lost a lot of people getting you here."
"You're not the only one hoping that."
She flexed her hand, the strange glow in her palm flickering like candlelight. He eyed it, then glanced up at the air where the Fade Rift had been just moments before. But now it was calm, as if nothing unusual had just happened.
That was the moment he realized he could - probably - trust her.
The moment they stood in the Haven chantry, face-to-face, practically glaring at one another. She was the Herald now, no longer "the prisoner." She was well-respected across Thedas; she was also equally feared and hated. Her good deeds and generous nature were as renowned as the Chantry's denouncement of her, which they spewed every chance they got.
She had just returned from Redcliffe, stories of a tyrannical Tevinter magister with the ability to distort time on the tip of her tongue and the entirety of Ferelden's rebel mages at her heels.
"What were you thinking, turning mages loose with no oversight?" he cried, throwing his hands up. He was still in disbelief that she would promise them an alliance without considering the danger, or at least hearing out what he and the other advisors had to say on the matter. Not that it made much of a difference; Leliana and Josephine seemed to agree with her decision. "The Veil is torn open!"
"We need them to close the Breach," she insisted, her eyes ablaze as she stood her ground. "It's not going to work if we make enemies of them."
He sighed. "I know we need them for the Breach, but they could do just as much damage as the demons themselves!" Flashbacks of the Ferelden Circle flittered through his mind; he knew exactly what kind of damage mages could do. Without the aid of the Templars to keep the rebels in check, he feared for the safety of his soldiers and everyone at Haven.
Spinning on Cassandra, he lifted an accusatory finger. "You were there, Seeker! Why didn't you intervene?"
"While I may not completely agree with the decision, I support it." Cassandra's voice was calm, which somehow frustrated him even more that what she was saying. "The sole point of the Herald's mission," she continued, "was to gain the mages' aid. And that was accomplished."
He blew a huff of hair from between his lips. He hated to admit it, but the Seeker was right. The Herald had done what she was sent out to do. She did not need a babysitter, someone to hold her hand and guide her through the proper way to make deals. She had seen things in that alternate future that she refused to tell anyone about, though they could all see the terror flicker behind her eyes when it was brought up. She fought things he couldn't even imagine, and she had succeeded. She had earned the help of the rebel mages, which was, ultimately, the goal of going to Redcliffe in the first place. It wasn't his place to correct her; and, the more he thought it over, he wasn't even sure the decision needed correcting.
She had been dubbed the Herald before she had even woken up after the fight at the Temple. The whirlwind of politics and Inquisition-building had been thrust upon her the moment she recovered, and she had barely had time to breathe between fights and negotiations. She had never asked for this position, for this power, yet she knew what she had to do. And she did it without complaining, most of the time. Even if he didn't agree with her decision, he understood the pressure she had to be under and admired her ability to think on her feet, to come to a conclusion and be more than ready to fight in defense of what she had proposed.
That was the moment he realized he respected her.
The moment they stood face-to-face in Haven's chantry once again, though this time there was no anger or frustration igniting the space between them. Only fear and desperation, and the frightened cries of refugees as they rushed toward some sense of security.
What appeared to be an archdemon flew overhead while the red lyrium-induced Templars swarmed outside their gates, trying desperately to push their way into buildings and searching for any left behind to slaughter. It all seemed like a terrible nightmare, and he continuously screwed his eyes shut in the hopes that, when they opened, he would be awake again.
But each effort was in vain. This was real, and he didn't know how to handle it. And from the look in the Herald's eyes, he wasn't sure she knew how, either. That terrified him more than the archdemon or the Red Templars. In all of their time working together, he had never seen her look so lost.
He was prepared to go down with their tiny stronghold, if one could even call it that. He knew that an avalanche would destroy Haven, but what other choice did they have?
"We're dying, but we can decide how. Many don't get that chance." It was the most positive spin he could put on their dire situation.
"Chancellor Roderick can help." The strange, pale boy in the large hat blurted unexpectedly. "He wants to say it before he dies."
The comment was so absurd and so surprising, yet he refused to waste what precious little time they had left questioning this boy, or even to consider that perhaps he wasn't even trying to help them, and was only going to lure them into a trap. He only had enough time to listen.
"There is a path…" Chancellor Roderick coughed out, his voice raspy as the light in his eyes dimmed just a little more. "You wouldn't know it, unless you made the Summer Pilgrimage, as I have."
They listened as Roderick told them of the secret path below the chantry, one that would escort the refugees away from Haven, leading them into the mountains without being seen by the Templars or their "Elder One."
"What about it, Cullen? Will it work?"
"Possibly, if he shows us the path. But… what of your escape?"
Her only response was to look away, not able to make eye contact with him anymore. He felt a lurch in his stomach as he realized the implications of the simple gesture. She was prepared to sacrifice herself in order to save the others. Haven would be destroyed by the avalanche, and the only way out was through that secret passage. But she would be too far away to reach the path in time, before…
"Perhaps you will surprise it… find a way?" At this point he wasn't totally sure if he was trying to reassure her, or himself. His heart was beating rapidly, fear and adrenaline equally pumping through his veins. He knew they now had a plan – the pathway would save the refugees, and almost everyone at Haven.
But it couldn't save her. And somehow that made him feel just as hopeless as ever.
That was the moment he realized he needed her.
The moment he saw her silhouette coming over the edge of the mountain, her arms wrapped tightly around herself as she shivered in the snow. The figure was completely dark save for the mild green glow coming from her hand, illuminating the weariness in her face.
At first he thought he was only seeing things. He had desperately stood at the edge of the camp, waiting, watching, for some sign of her survival, even as a tiny voice in the back of his mind told him that it was nearly impossible for that to be true. Haven was destroyed; there was no way she could have made it. But he still wanted to believe it was possible.
So, as the small dark frame appeared, its feet dragging behind it in the deep snow, he closed his eyes and shook his head as if to rattle the image from his brain. I must be losing it, he thought. The lack of sleep and the excitement of the attack on Haven, coupled with his desire to see her survive the avalanche, had made him delusional.
But when he opened his eyes again, he still saw her. She was like a beacon against the raging snowstorm. He knew then that he wasn't being taunted; she was alive. Truly, honestly alive. She had survived, somehow, and she was there. He didn't even care how she had made it. All he could focus on was the fact that she was there.
"There, it's her!"
The words - breathless from excitement and disbelief - were barely out of his mouth before he ran at full speed in her direction. He could hear Cassandra's armor clinking behind him, knew that she was screaming out as well, yet he couldn't focus on anything but the Herald as she fell to her knees in the snow. He was scared that she would disappear before he reached her, and this would all turn out to be what he had feared: a mirage, a vision created from his own desperation.
He reached her just as the exhaustion overwhelmed her; she fell forward, into his embrace. Scooping her up and holding her close, he hoped that the warmth of his body could somehow seep through his armor, through her armor, and keep her warm against the elements.
Cassandra and Leliana swarmed him, reaching out to touch her injuries and exclaim their prayers to the Maker that she had somehow survived. They called for Mother Giselle to prepare a cot and a healer as they approached their makeshift camp once more. He held her tighter against his chest. He didn't want anyone else touching her. He was so relieved to have her here – to have her alive - that he never wanted to let her go. Never again.
That was the moment he felt a surge of emotion. He was in awe of what she had accomplished back at Haven, even willing to let herself suffer for the safety of everyone else; he was terrified that she had come so close to death, and he had been forced to stand back and watch it happen. He felt a calmness wash over him as he stared down into her face, the tip of her nose and cheeks red from the chill. She looked so peaceful, so detached from the horrors she had faced. So serene. So beautiful.
That was the moment he realized he loved her.