Inspired by the mage origin story and by the wonderful short fics already posted about this tragic pairing. One-shot.

o.O.o

Seasons

o.O.o

The first time he sees her, she is a mage, one of many, but certainly easily making an impression.

It's mostly the fact that the room looks as if a tornado had gone through it, with books everywhere, ink splattering the walls and she, with the others, fervently trying to put out the various small fires. Apparently, a group of apprentices was doing some experiments on their own and she had used more power than necessary. She has always had a little trouble with controlling the amount of power needed for spells – this he learns later – and got noticed by the Circle when she managed to start a minor thunderstorm after someone close to her died.

It's fitting – and ironic – that he should see her first berated for a lack of control and reminded of the consequences. It´s a scene he would often recall in the years to come, but all of the determination and terror is overshadowed by the moment when the Knight Commander (always the first to scold the First Enchanter's protégée) orders her to clean up the monumental mess on her own. Had he not looked at her then, expecting to see remorse, perhaps he could have saved himself for a little while longer. But the girl excels at knowing when someone is looking at her, spots him in an instant and smiles, without the timid fear of a young apprentice or the tight politeness of a senior mage.

It's like the sunrise after a summer storm, bright, triumphant and welcoming.

Before he realizes that what lingers strongest in his mind from that scene is this radiance, it's far too late.

o.O.o

He never actually learns why she took the bother to learn his name – let alone use it. The mages that hope to survive usually learn to ignore the Templars and pass most of their concerns to the First Enchanter, who then deals with the matter himself.

Not her.

Whenever she is working in the room where he's stationed at the moment – or even when simply passing him in the hall – she makes a point of greeting him, exchanging some polite (un)necessity that he is barely able to return once it becomes clear she intends to make a little time for him. From what he knows of her – which is becoming an increasing amount, since the sealed-off community in the Tower has to entertain itself with some gossip – this isn't too usual for her and she has few close friends. As things stand, it's mostly just an oddity of an apprentice who doesn't seem willing to let any fear of the Templars conquer her.

If anyone knew what he feels in those brief moments, it would be considered a great sin. He knows that much himself and at first tries to conquer this, inwardly reciting all the reasons why they would be right; and, in the mind of a Templar, there are many. It is perhaps pointless to even mention that none of these reasons stand a chance against the sound of her approaching footsteps.

At times when he wonders if she knows (Maker forbid) and simply enjoys tormenting him thus. Certainly all the mages resent their guardians and she, despite being special, is no different in that regard. The thought that within her lies a demon struggling to break out of its shell is chilling. But imagining the confusion in her eyes if she found out is all too easy, as is the possible disappointment she might express. And to see her give up on these meaningless pleasantries would be…

She isn't just a mage, he realizes, with all the dangers that represents. She is spring; beautiful, young, but not innocent – she could never be, in the eyes of the Chantry – blooming with the allure of wonder, yet still threatening with the return of winter's chill.

But she always returns, blithe and unaware, the most dangerous foe in the whole world.

"Hello, Cullen."

And her weapons are precise and merciless, stripping away any mask of indifference, any shield of ignorance, any weapon of refusal.

o.O.o

It isn't at all surprising that, once people begin noticing, the consequences are inevitable.

Some mages glance at him knowingly – either kindly, understanding more than they let on or sneeringly, relishing in having the slightest revenge against one of their hated watchers – but it's nothing compared to the rigid fear of having Gregoir notice and remind him of his duties. It happens eventually, naturally, a private audience with more kindness than such a thing perhaps deserves. But not all the understanding in the world can change the anguish of feeling that somehow, he is failing his duty and by virtue of that the Chantry itself. The best advice anyone can give him is to pray and outlast this trial, but with the passage of time, his belief in the Chantry's teaching that the Maker had abandoned them all intensifies.

Certainly the Maker would take pity on the suffering and take away this pining after the single forbidden fruit he had ever known rather than cruelly keep testing his strength day and night by dangling it in front of him, only just out of reach. He would even consider her loathing him a mercy, which would be akin to a swift death blow in his eyes – though one that might not kill him. Even her taking a lover might be the cure for this wrong, but the thought of it is like the feeling of a knife twisting in the wound just to watch him squirm.

The Maker – if he exists, a blasphemous voice that sounds just a bit like hers, but twisted and bitter – remains merciless.

The stalemate persists while she progresses and blossoms, the traces of a child vanishing from her. She is changing, eventually gaining the control over her powers she needs, advancing and being put forth as a candidate for the Harrowing. The day of her trial is the first time she pays no attention to him at all and remains quiet and studious. Even when entering the Harrowing chamber, her face is calm but focused; one might think that it is Andraste herself, coming to face her death proudly.

Her eyes are so different today, a cruel reminder of the taint of magic within her.

The thought of her death is crushing. The thought of her being changed by her own magic, morphing into an abomination is… no, it isn't a thought at all. It cannot be.

But no such thing happens; she remains herself, never losing that which made her a person. Others carry her still form away, to her bed; an image he tries not to picture. Maker knows how blissfully torturous it would be to be allowed to take her into his arms himself and cradle her close. The prayer of thanks that she is safe and alive is all that he is offered, of course.

o.O.o

She later comes to seek him out to ask for help with bringing her mountain of books and notes and supplies to her new quarters. She is changed again, once more the nymph that should be dancing in the fields, making him forget the frost of the mage within her. It immediately brings forth a need to apologize to her for something he couldn't change if he wanted to – being selected as the one to strike her down, should the need arise. Words had never been his strong suit, thus he's utterly unable to convey to her that he wouldn't hurt a single hair on her golden head, but that would be blasphemy.

Her response is laughter, of all things.

"Let's not think of such might-have-beens." she says. It almost feels like whatever put the words into her mouth, be it the Maker or a demon, is gleefully reminding him of the dreams in which there is no arcane power at her command. Only the anguished anxiety doesn't go unnoticed by her. "I have to go see the First Enchanter now, but I'd like to celebrate a bit later. I hope you won't mind terribly if I stop by to distract you from your duties some more."

It's positively the most brazen thing she's ever said to him and yet she still looks the picture of sweetness while he manages to stutter something about propriety and duty and such things that, in that moment, mean nothing to her.

"Just because you might be ordered to slay me one day doesn't mean we can't be friendly until then." she says blithely, as if she hadn't been hacking her way through the Fade's demons hours before. "Think of it as repayment for accepting the apology."

She doesn't wait for an answer and refuses to listen to reason, walking off with the remainder of her things as if it was nothing. She is autumn, ever-changing, warm at one moment and chilly whenever the need arises. And that night, her chill is felt most when celebration is traded for tragedy which makes her leave the Circle forever.

o.O.o

She never truly leaves, be she vision or memory or reality.

At first, he tries to hammer into himself that the pain of her absence – the gaping wound – will heal and then, he will be able to serve the Maker better. But the dreams persist, even changing somewhat. She is no longer bound by the rules of the Circle; the Grey Wardens bow to no one.

The news of Ostagar is like a sudden blizzard, freezing the world. If she was dead… but she would never die in the dreams, never vanish, never stop smiling.

And in the prison of light, she stands before him, at times an unholy temptress whose eyes melt away every vow, at times a loving wife summoning him to dine with their children, but always, the words she says create similar combinations, as if – and it is likely that – lifted straight from his mind and heart.

The final illusion is different.

She stands with others now, unknown except the senior mage that had been a strong presence in the Tower. Her clothing is neither seductive nor matronly; she appears every inch what she truly is, from the gnarled staff in her hand to the robes clinging to her lithe form. But the blood that covers her betrays the mirage; surely he is to suffer by seeing her die now. It was a new tactic of his captors, no doubt; when desire hadn't broken him, rage and heartbreak would.

It was her eyes that ultimately made him see that she was real. Only once before had they borne such coldness, yet now she seemed entirely carved of ice, the perfection of winter as she rained doom upon her enemies.

A mage.

That thought, which the visions had pushed back, now rises to the surface full force and somehow, he doesn't even regret that she hears him speak of this vile infatuation, that he speaks of her like one would of a wild animal, frightening and powerful.

"I am sorry." she says before she heads off to face the horrors of the tower, to save those who had brought this upon them all. The thought of her dying threatens to bring the madness back, but the disappointment in her eyes – which he doesn't care about – is a sight that might undo him, should they both by some miracle of the Maker survive.

They do.

She doesn't speak to him then – what point is there, really? – but what he does notice is that the eyes of others stray to her form. The manner of those glances is reminiscent of the way the phantom of her had looked at him. Perhaps the elderly enchantress Wynne (now he remembers) spares him a pitying glance, but it isn't as earnest or as helpful as it might have been otherwise.

But he understands one thing; she has broken out of the prison they were bound in together, their paths crossing but never joined. She isn't a season; she's nature itself, beautiful and terrifying, pure and seductive, unyielding and ever-changing. In her, salvation and destruction wage war, combined.

Nature, like a bird, cannot be caged without damaging its wings. And thus she flies away again – at least from him - to be free of them all, until such a time that the one who earns her love doesn't make the mistake of attempting to trap her in a single place or word.