Summary: Desire breeds madness, breeds obsession, breeds hatred. Cullen, Amell, and one man's descent into chaos. [fem!Amell/Cullen]
Cullen is born in the Chantry.
Except not really, because no one is actually born to the Church; they are given instead. And Cullen was given to the Chantry the day he was born, so it is like he was born to the Chantry. He didn't even have a name before one of the priestesses' christened him Cullen.
("It means handsome." He is told later in life. "And you had the most adorable little curls and, well, it seemed appropriate at the time.")
So Cullen is raised a child of the Chantry, with the Maker as his father and Andraste her Holiness as his mother and a whole chapel full of priestesses as sisters and aunts. And Cullen is better behaved than most of the other orphans--
(Orphan. Like he had lost something, instead of never having it in the first place.)
--so no one really notices him.
(It is because he is quiet and well-behaved and if the wheel isn't broken don't bother fixing it; only the squeaky wheels get the grease.)
The lack of attention bothered him once, but not anymore. Now, being unnoticed means he can sneak away easier.
(Except he doesn't because Cullen is well-behaved and grateful to the Chantry and to the Maker, for without them he wouldn't have a home, and even at the early age of seven he understands that.)
When he hears something outside, he becomes curious, leaves to investigate, and no one notices he's gone.
What he finds shocks him:
There are men, knights in armor, with large, heavy swords, and they are attacking a woman. Only she is not a woman, not really, because her hands fling fire like blades and blood like poison.
"Thought you could hide from us," The knights bellow as they attack. "Thought the Chantry would be the last place we looked, didn't you, you whore?"
The woman is crying and bleeding and glowing, and Cullen in all his seven year old glory thinks she looks pretty amazing as she calls forth a thunderstorm and attacks.
(That must be what it feels like to be the Maker, he thinks, awestruck, and watches in amazement—)
Only the priestess finds him and scolds him and drags him away, and the very next day he is given a lesson on magic. The priestess tells him that magic is evil and that woman was especially evil, an apostate, and that Magic Exists Only to Serve Man and Never Rule Over Him.
(Cullen disagrees, because that woman--the Apostate--was crying and she went to church and prayed and repented and didn't the Maker say we should forgive all those who seek forgiveness?)
But Cullen never forgets the look in the woman's eyes right before the knight's blade sliced her throat, and for the first time, questions his faith.
He is nine when he is sent to train as a Templar.
Men don't become priestesses, after all, and at age nine there is little other way for him to serve the Chantry than to train to be the Arm of Thy Maker.
But most Templars receive religious instruction in addition to physical training, and Cullen has received all the religious instruction the Chantry cares to give him.
So he is sent to the Tower instead.
At first, he finds it cold and harsh and a little scary, and it is so far from the church he was raised in, and so new and different and terrifying.
But then he meets Gregoir, and the man smiles at him warmly despite his rough demeanor. Gregoir wraps one arm around Cullen and squeezes him tightly and helps Cullen carry his things upstairs.
"Don't be scared," Gregoir tells him the first night. "Demons will sense your fear and snatch you up while you dream."
And for a while Cullen thinks he's serious and becomes even more afraid, but then Gregoir pops out of nowhere and makes him jump but doesn't actually scare him. Gregoir laughs and responds, "See, you are learning already."
Together, they laugh, and for the first time Cullen feels like this place may become home, eventually.
He is good at being a Templar.
Sure, he is younger than most of the other Templars there, but they look at him fondly like their lost little brother and rub his head and mess with his pretty curls until he feels he belongs. Gregoir is strict but kind, and looks at Cullen like a favored son, and for the first time Cullen wonders if this is what it is like to have a family.
He is trapped in a Tower, caged like a mageling and clothed in duty, but he has never felt more at home. For the first time he belongs somewhere, and that feeling is worth the sunshine and fresh air that the Tower denies them.
Gregoir lectures often.
(Which is understandable, because Cullen is only thirteen and on the verge of manhood but not quite there yet.)
But Gregoir doesn't always lecture about the Templar handbook, about the Word of the Maker, about swordsmanship.
Instead, Gregoir lectures on women, and mages, and the very real danger that is women-mages.
But the lecture is not what Cullen is expecting. It's not about solemn vows and chastity and sin: instead, it's about being chivalrous, about looking and not touching, about not asking and not telling.
Sometimes, Cullen gets the feeling that Gregoir isn't telling him the whole story and maybe he wants to, but can't. Cullen isn't sure what to do, so instead he stays at Gregoir's side and listens, soaking in the new information like a sponge in water.
(Sometimes, though, Gregoir will simply stop and look at Cullen, as if he is trying to match his warm brown eyes with his own, like he's trying to connect Cullen's curls with someone else's but can't quite connect the dots.
Cullen would like to help him, but can't. Whatever secret Gregoir has, it's his to tell. Cullen respects that.
He still wants to know, though.)
He is fifteen the first time he sees her.
He got injured sparring with Kirk, not seriously but bad enough for Gregoir to escort him to the healing wing. It's the first time Cullen has been out of the Templar's quarters since he's been there, and he is absolutely fascinated by the Tower. Mages are everywhere and they practice magic under the watchful eyes of his Templar brothers, and it is so cool and fascinating and--
Then he sees her.
She is fifteen, too. Cullen has spent so much time around other guys, men older than him, that he has forgotten what girls his own age looked like. He is surprised at how soft she looks, how warm her eyes are, how her body curves where his body is hard and flat and uninteresting.
She is training to be a healer, she explains, and because he isn't hurt too badly they are letting her practice on him. He is surprised at how soft her hands feel against his chest, and how quick and smooth the pain fades under her watchful care.
He thanks her, softly, and asks for her name.
She blushes, her pale face turning just slightly pink, and he feels his heart beginning to pound in his chest with a loud thump thump thump.
"It's Amell. Iza Amell."
("Iza" means Salvation, he learns later, and thinks it's appropriate and wonders who named her.)
It's the most beautiful name he has ever heard.
"What's your name?" She begins to ask, but before he gets a chance to answer she is called away by her friend (Jowan) and is gone, but his stomach still feels full of butterflies even after she left.
(That night, he dreams about her. He dreams about her body and her curves and her wet lips and her pink face, about the things Gregoir has mentioned in his lectures, about how soft she is and how her eyes sparkle with magic.
If anyone notices the wet spot on Cullen's sheets the next day, they don't comment, and Cullen is grateful.)
He is eighteen when he takes his vows.
Now, he is a Templar, officially. He is given rounds just like everyone else, placed in parts of the Tower to watch ever so closely for the slightest hint of an abomination.
It is, at times, boring and uneventful and mostly thankless (the mages glare at him as though he personally is keeping them prisoner…okay, perhaps he is, but still). The best part of his job is that he gets to see her again.
She is practicing in the library one day while he is on duty. Perhaps it is the buzz from the lyrium they gave him, but there is something absolutely beautiful about her. She is creating snow and ice and dancing in it, almost out of her apprenticeship and therefore taking her time to train as a chance to be creative. Little icicles freeze on books and the younger apprentices "ooh" and "ah" at her, watching her as she brings the snow inside the Tower.
She is absolutely enchanting, and if he wasn't before, he is surely smitten now.
Then she notices him.
"Oh, hello." She smiles, and the snow melts in his boots. "Fancy seeing you here."
(Aren't mages supposed to be afraid of Templars?)
"Er, h-hello." He stutters and feels like a fool.
But she just smiles kindly. "Do you remember me? I'm Iza--I healed you once, remember?"
(Of course he remembers her, how could he forgot?)
"I remember," he answers slowly, "Iza." He tastes her name on his lips like a man in prayer.
She laughs. "I'm glad. Unfortunately, now I feel bad because I can't seem to remember your name."
"T-that's because I didn't get a chance to tell you." She is so beautiful, and his heart is going to leap straight out his chest if it keeps pounding like it does. "It-it's Cullen."
"Cullen," She repeats, and licks some snow off of her soft pink lips and holy Maker. "Cullen. That's a nice name. It suits you."
She turns and grabs her books, and gives him a small wave and a smile. "I'll see you around, alright Cullen?"
And then she skates out of the library, leaving snow and ice and magic in her wake.
(It is frozen all around him, but Cullen has never been warmer).
He is twenty, and this is only the second Harrowing he's ever attended.
Of course, it's hers.
(Somebody must have found out. Somebody must have noticed how often he talks to her, how often the two of them will stand in the hallways and chat, like--like friends and not a Templar and a Mage.)
He has never been more terrified in his life. When Gregoir informs him that he will be the one to deal the killing blow if it comes to that, it's all Cullen can do to shake the fear out of his voice to answer him.
She looks like she's just asleep, not fighting demons. He watches her with all the scrutiny he's always watched her with, only now he focuses on the softness of her face and looks for the signs of demons.
And then, suddenly, release.
It's finished: she's won.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief (it is never easy killing mages, despite what people think) and First Enchanter Irving is positively beaming with pride.
"I knew she could do it."
The circle of Templars disbands until it is only Cullen, Gregoir, Irving, and Iza in the room. The two old men bicker about nothing until they notice that Iza is still unconscious and lying on the cold hard floor.
"Poor girl," Irving chuckles, amused. "Cullen, be a gentleman and take her to bed, will you?"
And Cullen nods and follows orders, because he is a Templar and following orders is what Templars do best. Gently, he scoops her off the ground (she is so light in his arms, do they not feed mages down there?) and carries her bridal-style down three flights of stairs until he reaches the dark and quiet apprentice quarters.
She is still asleep, curled warmly against his breastplate: it is a heavenly feeling, having her in his arms.
He asks the only two apprentices who are awake (two girls, gossiping amongst themselves in the darkness) where her bed is. They show him, and then watch him, curious and suspicious (he is gentle with her body: don't Templars hate Mages?) but otherwise silent as he gently places her in bed.
The other apprentices look away, and it feels as though they are the only two people in the room. With an armored hand, he brushes a stray hair out of face and lets his hand linger, cupped around her face. Maker's Breath, but she is beautiful. She looks like a sleeping princess and for a moment, he thinks of himself as her knight in shining armor, not the man who would have killed her today had things gone poorly.
He thinks about kissing her, waking her up like a maiden in a fairy tale, but doesn't, because ultimately Cullen is a loyal and dutiful son of the Chantry and will never be anything less.
He whispers goodnight, and disappears.
She seeks him out the next morning.
He hasn't slept in twenty four hours, but she is bright and beautiful and happy, blissfully unaware of how she almost died by his hands had things gone wrong.
Like a fool, he stutters and stumbles and blurts out the truth. As soon as he says something, he wishes he could take it back, because he doesn't want her to hate him.
Then she has the gall to thank him.
(She doesn't want to hurt anyone, even as a mindless abomination. Her hands were made to heal, not hurt.)
It is in that moment that Cullen knows Amell will always be different from other mages: Most mages wouldn't thank a Templar for killing them, but Amell would. She always would.
In the hallway he is supposed to be guarding, they talk. He tells her how impressive her Harrowing was and tries not to stutter. She smiles and laughs tells him that he is adorable, causing his face to turn as red as his hair. He doesn't know how long he's been standing there, just admiring her and smiling at her until suddenly, she gasps.
"Oh!" She squeals, and sounds beautiful. "I am supposed to be meeting with Irving! I'm so sorry for taking up your time, Cullen!"
And he wants to laugh at her, at how beautifully awkward she is, spazzing like a little silver bird. Instead, he smiles and stumbles out an invitation. "You—you c-c-can t-talk to m-me anytime, Iza."
And then she smiles, so beautiful, so soft and silver, like her hair, and turns to leave.
"I'll see you later, Cullen."
And it sounds like a promise, the way the words slip through her tongue as he watches her leave.
(Maker preserve us if it's true.)
He is sleeping when she leaves the Tower for good.
(Betrayal, his mind screams at him, raging at the very thought.)
He wakes to find Gregoir bloody and bandaging himself up in the Templar quarters.
"What happened?" He jumps out of bed, rushing to his mentor. "Gregoir, what's wrong?"
But Gregoir isn't making much sense, snarling under his breath about blood mages and apostates and Grey Wardens and interfering First Enchanters who-should-keep-their-noses-where-they-belong. He is barking orders—Kirk and Smith and Joan are to leave the Tower and I want you to find that blood mage and make him pay—and Cullen thinks that something is wrong, very very wrong.
But the Templar quarters are in a state of chaos and no one will answer his questions.
After the chaos has faded momentarily, Gregoir finally turns to him. "I am sorry my boy. She's gone. Amell is…gone."
Gone? Cullen thinks. How can she be gone, mages never leave the Tower?
At first, he thinks the worst: She's dead, she has to be, why else would the Tower in such a state of chaos? And his heart grieves.
Only, it's worse.
She's an apostate, an accomplice to a blood mage, a traitor.
And it's like his soul is bleeding, because he can't think of her like that. Not Amell, who was so sweet and kind and beautiful and holy Maker have mercy, he will never see her again. Not unless it's her corpse.
(Later, much later, he finds out it wasn't her fault. That she told Irving that Jowan was planning to escape. That Irving told her to go through with the plan so they could catch him in the act. That no one knew he was a blood mage, least of all Amell.)
Cullen doesn't say anything, but Gregoir understands. The three days Gregoir gives him off are spent in prayer, are spent grieving.
(He will never love anything ever again.)
There is a ghost in the Tower, and her name is Amell.
Supposedly, all the Grey Wardens (that's what she is now, not a mage but a Warden) died at Ostagar. It would make sense if her spirit returned to the Tower just to spite them.
Irving is a mess. He blames himself for the entire situation and mourns like a grieving father. He always had a soft spot for Amell and thinks of her as his precious student, or rather, his child. She was innocent, just a girl, and we let her go off and get killed, what kind of monsters are we?
Gregoir is angrier than usual, but that's because it's been months and they still haven't caught Jowan. One mage has slipped past thousands of Templars. He barks. How? Then he lectures on the importance of philanthropies and how they need to be put in unbreakable glass and hidden from all mages.
Still other mages, ones Cullen wasn't aware were that close to her, grieve Amell. Uldred seems distant and even stranger than usual at the loss of the Circle's youngest sister. The younger apprentices seem downright terrified, though that may be the fault of his Templar-brothers ("See what happens when you leave the safety of the Tower, little magelings? You die.")
Cullen just misses her.
He didn't realize how often he watched her until she wasn't there to watch, hadn't realized how often the two of them spoke until there was no one to talk to.
(He thinks they are wrong. She was—is—stronger than they give her credit for. She always has been. If anyone can survive a horde of darkspawn, it's Iza Amell.)
There is a demon in the Tower, and she looks like Amell.
He was there, standing guard with his brothers during the meeting when it happened. When Uldred transformed into a monster (an abomination), when blood mages came pouring out of the stone walls, when the Fade unleashed its divine fury on the Tower.
He was there when his brothers died, slaughtered like cattle, their blood fueling chaos and destruction.
(Keith and Joan and Simon and Kirk and Alex and Holy Maker, let it stop, let it stop.)
At the top of the Tower, Cullen stands alone against a demon that killed his brothers.
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us. Maker preserve us, Maker be with us. Maker preserve us, Maker be with us. Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.
Maker, save me from myself.)
He is dreaming, and it is glorious.
The day is golden and beautiful, the sky above him blue and cloudy and perfect. The grass feels wonderful beneath him and the air smells like oranges and happiness.
She is kissing him, kissing his face, his neck, her little hands on his chest, moaning.
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us. Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
"I will not falter," he declares, and pushes Amell off of him. ('Oh Maker, hear my cry: Guide me through the blackest night. Steel my heart against the temptations of the wicked.')
"Cullen?" She whispers, and by the Maker it sounds like her, and she looks so sad and marvelous, like the Golden City after the Maker left.
He closes his eyes, and wakes up.
He is still in the Tower.
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
"You are remarkably strong-willed," the demon whispers to him in a mockery of Amell's voice. "But then again, so were the others. You will fall."
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
He is home.
Only, he isn't in the Tower or the chapel that served as his home in the past.
He's in a house, and this house is his home.
"Cullen," he hears Iza behind him, and he knows it's a trap but he looks anyway. "Aren't you going to tuck him in?"
He stares at her like she has grown another head; she laughs, and takes his hand—
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
--And shows him the baby.
By Andraste, it's a boy, with curls like Cullen's but his mother's wide smile and pretty eyes. Amell puts the baby in his arms, and Cullen holds on to the child for dear life.
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
He knows it's not real: he knows, but it's so hard because he wants it, he wants it so much but he knows he will never have it.
"Begone, demon," he whispers as he closes his wet eyes, and wakes up.
The demon is furious.
"I will break you." The Not-Amell screeches, her claws (not-Amell) cupping his face, glaring him down.
"You want, like any other man. What makes you think you can defy me?"
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
He is kissing her.
Only it's not how he thought kissing would be. It's all teeth and lips and tongue, and he is pulling at her clothes while she pulls at her hair.
It also isn't real.
That doesn't stop Amell (not Amell, stop thinking like it's actually her) from shoving him against a wall. And it hurts, but there is pleasure in the pain. Her legs are wrapped around his waist and he has one hand sliding up her thigh beneath her robe. He wants. Oh, how he wants.
He wants her—this fury of lips and teeth—more than he has ever wanted anything in his life.
With strength he doesn't feel, he pushes her off of him. It is painful, how much he wants her, but he endures. He has to.
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
Not-Amell is a Desire Demon.
Desire Demons feed on desire, on want, on things you can never have.
Cullen's love—no, his infatuation--for Amell makes him an easy target.
("You will break." Not-Amell whispers, her Not-Amell face too close and too perfect after that dream.)
(Maker preserve us, Maker be with us.)
He hasn't eaten anything since becoming the demon's prisoner.
Not that food was ever on his mind, what with the visions and all, but it has been a few days. He feels weak and frail—maybe the demon plans on starving him to death.
Hatred is the only thing that keeps him going.
Every time he closes his eyes, he sees her. He sees her happiness, her coy smile, her charming laugh.
Every time he opens his eyes, he sees the rotting corpses of his fallen brothers.
And there is no escape. He is imprisoned inside his own head every time he blinks, and he is a prisoner of the demon in the waking realm.
And he hates her. He hates her so much. He wishes he had never seen her beautiful smile, the softness of her silver hair, or the eyes that have captivated him so. He can no longer separate the demon-Amell of his dreams with the Amell of his memories.
Maker, he just wants to die. Why won't the Maker let him die?
He deserves to die for his sins
(for his memory of his love, for not dying when his brothers did, for pitying the mages who have destroyed everything he ever cared for).
Maker, let him die.
Suddenly, the demon is gone.
The cage is still there, but the demon is missing. It is almost as though someone wandered into the Fade and destroyed the demon itself, breaking him from its spell.
He is knelt in prayer when he sees her.
She is Amell, but she is not. She is harder, tougher. Bitter. Her robes aren't the ones the Chantry makes. There is blood and ice and lightning all around her, but she is silent.
No, he thinks. The demon is still here. This is another trap! Another trick. Damn you demon, I will be strong!
"Cullen?" She asks, her hand on the purple glass, staring at him in awe. "Is that really you?"
He doesn't trust himself to respond.
"Cullen!" She sounds worried. "It's me, Iza! Hang on!"
She bangs on his cage with her staff, but nothing happens.
If anything in you is human, kill me now.
"The poor boy is exhausted. He must have been without food and water for days." An elderly woman behind Iza states. "And this cage—I've never seen anything like it."
But Iza ignores her, her hands still touching the glass cage, trying to reach him. "Cullen, it's me. Don't you remember me?"
"Only too well." He confesses. "How deeply they must have trudged through my thoughts. Using my—my--" (love) "ill-advised infatuation with her—with you, Amell--against me. A mage. The one thing I always wanted but could have."
Her mouth forms a perfect little 'o' in shock.
He is nearly sobbing. "You defeated my brothers, but I will stay strong! For my sake—for theirs!"
But he opens his eyes, and she is still there. Taunting him with her beauty and perfection.
"Oh Cullen." She whispers, kneeling before his cage. "I'm here. I'm real. And I'm not going to hurt you."
The man behind her looks like a Templar but isn't. He snorts in response. "I bet that makes you wish you hadn't said that, doesn't it?"
In that moment, he realizes she is real. That it is Amell in front of him, looking at him in concern.
He has never felt more like a fool.
"Don't blame me for being cautious." He defends himself. "The visions, the voices…they all seem so real. They caged us like animals, tried to break us. They—they turned some into monsters and…there was nothing I could do."
"Be proud," a giant of a man behind Amell tells him. "You have mastered yourself."
His words make Cullen shake with rage. "Be proud? Proud of what? That I lived while my brothers died? That's nothing to be proud of!" He whirls, and stares into the silver-eyes of the woman he once loved. "And to think, I once thought we were too hard on you mages!"
But she isn't angry, like he thinks she should be. "We aren't all evil, Cullen."
He is still shaking violently. "Only mages have that much power at their fingertips! Only mages are that susceptible to the whisperings of demons!"
Amell looks like she wants to say something, but the elderly mage interrupts. "This is a discussion for another time! Where are Irving and the other mages? We must hurry!"
He only shakes his head. "You can't save them. They are in the Harrowing chamber, but you can't save them. They've had…blood mages sinking their teeth into their minds, corrupting their thoughts."
"I want to save everyone who could possibly be saved." She tells him, and he remembers that this is Amell he is talking to.
(She is fifteen and beautiful, her hands glowing softly against his skin, putting him back together.)
(She is twenty and just passed her Harrowing and thanking him for almost-killing her, because she never wants to hurt a soul.)
He knows her, and he knows she is going to spare them despite the madness he has suffered. "I wish I could help, or that I could change your mind."
"Maybe I could free you." She whispers, studying his cage intently.
"Don't bother—kill Uldred, and I should be able to go free."
She nods, understanding. "Stay safe, Cullen. I will return."
He hopes her compassion doesn't damn them all.
Later, much later, when the demons are gone but nothing is ever the same, Gregoir finds him, and hugs him. It's the only sort of paternal affection Cullen has ever remembered receiving.
"I am sorry, my boy." He whispers, and holds Cullen against him.
There are thirteen Templars still alive. Out of almost a hundred.
And the mages are gone, fighting the archdemon alongside Amell and her army.
It is in that moment of emptiness and solitude that Cullen finally breaks down. He cries, and he tells Gregoir—his mentor, his friend, his father—everything. How he was in love with Amell, how destroyed he felt when she left. How the demon offered him visions of everything he could ever want. How he was driven mad by his overwhelming hatred. How he wanted nothing more than to die.
Gregoir holds him, and listens.
When Cullen has finished crying, when he has poured his soul out on the stone floor, Gregoir responds.
"I am so, so sorry, my boy." Gregoir whispers gently. "If I could, I would have done everything in my power to save you from such a fate."
Cullen knows the worst part is that he loves her, still.
A/N: There may be a sequel or a chapter two or something. Maybe. It's final's week. I make no promises.
A/N2: If you see any references to Crisium or Callalli's work, it is because they are amazing and I love them. Also, Amell/Cullen = OTP.
A/N3: If Gregoir seems overly affectionate, it is because I subscribe to the theory that Gregoir/Wynne is canon (or at least awesome), and that Cullen may possibly be their son. Maybe. If not, Gregoir at least sees him as his child and student, in the same way Irving seems to see Amell as his child/student thing.
Hope you enjoyed it and it made sense,