A/N: This story is an immediate sequel to the story "What We Become" and is bound not to make even a tiny bit of sense unless you read that story first. Dragon Age belongs to Bioware and this is merely me playing in their sandbox, and I will put everything back when I'm done. All that said: Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the story.
Update: As of February 2013, the story has been revised, and comments and reviews may reflect content that has since been cut or altered. I left the author's notes, mostly thanking cjk1701 for beta-ing, and while I wanted to preserve the sentiment, as of this update any and all mistakes are solely mine.
She shouldn't have killed Loghain.
That's really where it all started to go wrong, Therrin thinks, pitching from side to side with the sway of the carriage. If she hadn't killed Loghain (or rather, let Alistair do it, which all amounted to the same thing in the end) then Loghain could have died like a proper Grey Warden, there wouldn't be the formless threat of an Old God child lurking out there somewhere, Anora could've stayed queen, and Alistair would be the one sitting in this miserable little carriage on his way to being Warden-Commander while she could wash her hands of the entire affair.
She hadn't wanted to be a Grey Warden in the first place. Being made the Warden-Commander of Ferelden has a certain bitter irony to it that makes her grit her teeth and makes her nausea worse.
Easier to try and figure out how it had come to this in the first place, and at least it's a distraction to follow the line of thought backwards. If only she had made it away from Duncan on her one (admittedly pathetic) attempt at running away, or if she'd told Jowan no, go stuff it, I'm not getting your stupid rod of fire.
This is your fault, she accuses silently.
But the Jowan that sticks most clearly in her memory is a beaten man, scarred and weary in a cell too small to lie down in, and all the feeling she can muster at the thought of him is grief.
Therrin sighs and rubs her forehead with her hand, suppressing a curse as the carriage shakes to the side and she cracks her head against the paneled interior. She hadn't ever ridden in a carriage before, only a cart, and that had been a different thing entirely. Bodhan's cart had pitched and shaken as it rolled down the road, and it hadn't been the most comfortable thing in the world by any means but it had been a respite from the ceaseless walking that seemed to come hand-in-hand with being a Grey Warden.
When Alistair offered a carriage to transport her and her little band to Amaranthine she had readily accepted, thinking that it would be even more convenient and comfortable than those afternoons sitting in the merchant-cart, listening to Sandal hum tunelessly under his breath as the countryside rolled by.
No one else seems disturbed by it, though, so Therrin holds her tongue. Dog whines now and then, when the carriage jolts and he can't get proper footing, but there's nothing she can do about that but rub his ears in reassurance. Mhairi and Cullen are both silent.
Therrin had hoped to get information out of Mhairi, even just a little, but apparently the Orlesian Wardens keep their recruits largely in the dark. Mhairi sits stiffly on the bench, looking studiously at a spot on the opposite wall and swaying when the carriage jerks to the side.
Cullen doesn't seem bothered at all. He sits in place with his usual patience, watching the landscape roll by, one hand on Stephen's back. Stephen had fallen asleep practically as soon as the carriage started moving. Therrin feels a vague pang of envy as her stomach lurches again, the carriage juddering over an uneven patch of ground.
"Is everything all right, Commander?" Mhairi looks even more tense than before, a furrow of concern between her brows.
I'm going to be sick, would it be too much trouble to stop the carriage so I can throw up in the bushes? But Therrin doesn't say that. She smiles instead, a bit tightly. "Fine. How much farther?"
Cullen never had much experience with traveling. He'd been at the monastery for most of his youth, and the only journey he can really remember from then is when he had been sent to take up his post at the Tower. He had been too nervous at the time for anything like admiring the scenery. After that, the only other voyage he can think of is the trip from the Tower to Denerim, but his memories of that aren't all clear, and mostly not the sort he wants to dwell on.
This trip is different. He wouldn't have expected Amaranthine to be beautiful, but it is. He watches, fascinated, as they roll down the road through fields and forests, hills and hollows, the river sparkling in the sunlight when they cross it. The trees grow thick by the roadside, and when they stop for a rest, he walks around beneath them to stretch his legs in their cool, deep shade.
Therrin, he realizes, doesn't like traveling. She had looked a bit uncomfortable inside the carriage, though she hadn't complained, but when he finds her in the trees nearby she's bent over with her hands braced on her thighs, looking so ill Cullen can't help but ask, "Are you all right?"
Therrin squeezes her eyes shut. "Lovely. Never better." Before he can protest, she says, "I hate carriages."
"We're making good time, though," Cullen points out reasonably. "It would have taken us days to make this sort of progress, walking. And the driver said that it's only about an hour more to an inn. We'll stop for the night and then it's not far on to Vigil's keep in the morning."
The news isn't greeted with the relief he expected. Therrin groans in dejection. "Another hour?"
"It isn't so bad," Cullen argues mildly. "You have to loosen up, that's the trick to it. Move with the carriage and not against it."
Therrin grimaces at him through the curtain of her hair, utterly unappreciative and ready to retort, but whatever she would've said gets cut off when Mhairi calls for them through the trees and once again, it's time to leave.
Thankfully the sour mood seems to lift when they reach the inn. They have no trouble getting rooms at all. The inside is nearly deserted. The innkeeper is amiable enough and becomes even more so at the sight of silver, and at Therrin's invitation he sits down at the table with them, recounting all the rumors he'd heard from recent travelers, only pausing now and again for a drink of ale.
Cullen listens carefully, mulling everything over: smugglers on the coast, a wild tale of ghosts to the east, a squad of templars that had spent the night at the inn before heading out early the next morning on a fast march to the city. At that, Therrin glances Cullen's way and they share a look.
Squads of templars aren't sent out lightly, especially not with their numbers still decimated. If they had been headed out quickly, they were hunting something. Someone. Cullen files the information away and keeps his silence.
At last, Mhairi shifts, visibly tired. "Warden-Commander, if you've no objections…"
"Of course," Therrin says immediately. "Go on. We'll try for an early start tomorrow."
"Warden-Commander?" the innkeeper echoes, hands stilling on the table. "You're… you're the Hero of Ferelden, aren't you?"
Cullen buries a smile in his mug as Therrin almost manages not to cringe. "That's me."
The innkeeper beams, ruddy-cheeked and leaning back in his chair. "That's something. That whole business with the Blight and Archdemon and all. Andraste's scanty knickers." Cullen frowns at him. The innkeeper doesn't notice. "My brother's wife had a little boy last winter. They named him after you," the innkeeper goes on cheerfully. "'Course, we didn't know you was a woman, then."
Cullen laughs too quickly to hide it and tries to cough to cover it up, but Mhairi only looks puzzled. "Didn't know the Commander was a woman?"
"Therrin," Therrin explains tiredly, looking into the depths of her drink. "Therrin is a boy's name."
Mhairi looks doubtful. "I see." When nothing more is forthcoming, she straightens. "Commander."
Once Mhairi disappears upstairs, followed by Dog and Stephen under orders to wash, Therrin sighs. "At least it won't be all day tomorrow, I suppose."
"True." Cullen watches as she pulls out silvers and pushes them over to the innkeeper, who smiles as he scoops them up and tucks them into his pocket as he leaves.
Therrin leans into her chair, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand and considering him in silence, eyes thoughtful. "Could I come talk to you, later?"
It shouldn't make Cullen's stomach flip but it does, all unexpected. He swallows hastily, trying to gauge what she'd want to talk about. Her expression doesn't give anything away. "Of course. But…" He gestures at the table, at their chairs and the little space between them. "We're talking now, so…?"
"Not here," Therrin dismisses, looking pensive. "In your room. It's private."
The words do nothing at all to ease the sudden nervousness in his chest, the overeager hope insisting that maybe things were going much better than he'd thought. Matters between them had been companionable enough, if not always comfortable, but he hadn't known how to proceed from companionable to anything more. "Of course." He glances upstairs. "Should we—"
"Oh, no," Therrin interrupts. "Not now. Once Stephen's asleep." She offers an odd, nervous expression, not quite a smile. "It could take a while. I wouldn't want to be interrupted."
That doesn't mean what you think it does, he scolds himself, though he isn't going to complain if it does. "Of course," Cullen says again, trying to get a handle on his own traitorous thoughts. "Later, then."
She smiles—a faint, uneasy expression—and pushes away from the table, heading upstairs.
Cullen sits for long minutes in solitude before he heads to his rented room. No matter how many different things it might be she would want to come speak to him about, his mind keeps circling back to the one thing, persistent as a dog. It seems a very long time later that there's a quick double-tap knock on his door, and when he opens it he finds Therrin in the hallway, unsettled and creasing the corner of an envelope between her fingers. She looks at his hand on the door, the little space nearly blocked. "Can I come in?"
Cullen steps back to allow her entry, wondering why she seems jumpy as he pushes the door shut. Her gaze darts around the little room for a moment before it lands on him. "I thought the room would be bigger."
"It's fine," Cullen says, starting to frown. "Are you all right?"
"Not really," Therrin says, a little strained. "I have something to tell you. To give you, actually, but before you have it—" It must be the envelope, Cullen thinks, watching her fold and refold the corner of it into a crease. "I wanted to tell you that it only worked out this way as a sort of last resort. There wasn't a lot of time between being told to go to Amaranthine and leaving the Tower, remember; between the… the Chantry and the lyrium situation and everything…" She grimaces. "Wynne wanted me to give this to you, but only after you'd made it through the withdrawal."
She holds out the envelope, plain but for the green wax of the seal.
"Wynne?" Cullen echoes dubiously, taking it out of her hands and wondering why she seems so perturbed. "I don't understand."
Therrin nods once, uneasily. "I know. It's a letter, I think. Personal. If you'd rather I go—"
"No, of course not." Cullen breaks the seal. "Stay."
Therrin lapses into silence as he pulls out the papers, unfolding them with a frown and turning them to read. They crinkle in his hands, creased so tightly they seem hesitant to open.
This is not a letter I would ever have anticipated myself writing, and I doubt this is a letter you would ever have anticipated reading. These aren't good circumstances by any means, and I hope you believe I'm sorry for having to resort to telling you this in a letter, but as I write this, the Tower is in a state of controlled confusion, and you, I believe, are in no state to discuss anything.
I hope that by the time you read this, you are well.
Certain developments from years gone by have recently come together, developments, I think, that neither of us were ever supposed to be made explicitly aware of, but which stand to impact the both of us.
Some years ago, I had an involvement with a templar. Though the details are perhaps best left in the past, the consequences of this involvement are a matter of concern to both of us: I bore a child, a son, who was taken from me by the templars and given to the Chantry.
Cullen frowns down at the paper, ill at ease. He wouldn't have thought Wynne, of all people… and with a templar? It had to have been hushed up. A scandal of that sort would have been talked about for years. "Did you know Wynne had a son?"
Therrin gives him an odd look. "Yes. She talked about it a little, during the Blight."
Strange, he thinks. Granted, yes, probably not the cheeriest topic of conversation, and he can't think why she would feel compelled to write him a letter about it, but it still seems strange. He shakes himself and keeps reading.
Until recently I thought the matter to be simply an old, painful memory, well-buried in the past. I realize now that it was always otherwise, and that the evidence was, in a very real way, right in front of me for years.
I realize this must come as a terrible shock, and I'm sorry to have to give you the news like this, but I know of no other way to tell you except plainly: the templar who fathered my child was Greagoir, and that child, Cullen, is you.
It doesn't register at first. Instead Cullen feels numb, oddly heavy as though his heartbeat's gone sluggish. He scans the line again, and it reads exactly the same before.
No, he thinks, shuddering against a sudden cold that seems to radiate from the inside out. It isn't—can't—be true, it's impossible, it's ridiculous because he's an orphan and he wouldn't… Greagoir wouldn't…
His mind scrabbles against the feeling of falling, holding onto the thought of Greagoir like an anchor because Greagoir would never have carried on an affair with a mage, never. He glances up to tell Therrin and she only looks somber, and it runs icy under his skin then that she knows.
Name of Andraste, she knows, and some irrational, circling whine at the back of head insists that if she knows then it's true because as long as it's only in his own mind it's unreliable and can't be trusted. But the words of the letter couldn't be plainer, and he had never known Wynne to be a liar before. The traitorous memory creeps in—of all the things to remember, of all the things to be absolutely clear—after Greagoir had died (and Cullen had found him, his body already cold), of how Wynne had seemed to stop and no one had known what to do, and he'd found the ribbon and Wynne had asked to take it.
It feels like truth, mercilessly hard. His stomach rebels and for a moment he feels sick, a hot surge of anger making him squeeze his eyes closed. The threads of his memory are already rearranging themselves to accommodate the new information as he realizes he'd been lied to, year after year a lie of omission ever since that day at the Chantry when Greagoir had come and looked over the lined-up boys and singled out Cullen and templar had become his new identity.
Something darker than anger seeps through the back of his mind, a cold, precise disgust that's easier to bear than the grief.
Wynne is a mage, and fallible, and so he can't have expected anything from her, but you he thinks at the memory of Greagoir in his mind. You could have told me, any day for all those years you could have said something and you didn't, and you made me stand there and listen to your lectures on duty and vows as though you hadn't made a mockery of them yourself.
Cullen re-folds the letter with a painstaking economy of movement, utterly disinterested in the unread pages and tucking them back into the envelope before tossing it onto the table. "You knew."
Carefully, Therrin nods.
He swallows, a knot in his throat, his voice raspy to his own ears. "Since when?"
"Since right before we left the Tower," she answers, watching him closely.
Cullen laughs but it hurts in his chest and sounds miserably bitter. "You never thought to tell me?" But when he looks at her she only seems more worried than before, her eyes cutting to the door as though she's calculating the number of steps it might take to get safely away from him. One outburst would be all it would take; one fit of temper and she'd be gone and all this trying between them would be for nothing.
Cullen reins in his anger sharply, forcing it down and holding it in where it's safe. "You'd better go," he manages, leaning against the little table and curling his hands around the edge, feeling his knuckles go bloodlessly white.
Therrin hesitates. "I'm sorry for—"
"Don't be," he interrupts shortly. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't change anything." Therrin doesn't look convinced and doesn't move. "We're leaving early tomorrow," he reminds her, impatient. "I'd like you to go, please."
Therrin winces, but without another word she slips out the door and leaves him alone.
So much for that. Cullen could almost laugh now, all disbelieving, because he'd been so hopeful that when she came to see him it would be for something good. Something better than this. Anything would have been better than this.
Enough, he thinks, and blows out the candle. It's pointless to think about it, any of it. In the darkness he stretches out on the little bed and tries to sleep, but it's impossible. Every time he dozes off his brain snaps to attention, years of memories pressing hard at his mind, the implications of the letter piercing through the haze of darkness. He has a mother, and she is alive, and she is a mage. But his father… he'd thought his father was dead before, he tells himself, and he is. Nothing is different. Nothing has changed.
The envelope catches his eye from its place on the table, and just then it seems the source of all his troubles. He rolls out of bed and takes the letter, heading downstairs. No one is up, still, no one is watching, and he tosses the mostly-unread letter into the fire, watching until there isn't anything left of it but ashes before he starts back to bed.
It doesn't help him sleep any easier at all.