Cullen watched from his tower when you returned from your mission at the Temple of Mythal, slumped in the saddle of your horse in such a way that he could tell you were not just weary, but also sad. This made him frown and his heart clench inside his chest, but he had too many assignments left to give out or he would have already been part of the receiving party in the courtyard. Tearing himself away from the window, he turned back to the soldiers who had been patiently awaiting their orders.
Over the next few hours he dutifully assigned patrols, militias, searches, and acquisitions based on the Inquisitor’s requests. He could not stop his eyes flickering toward his door, however, hoping and imagining you coming through it…but you would undoubtedly be very busy and tired after the journey from the Arbor Wilds. He certainly had been when he returned to Skyhold a couple weeks prior, and he had not gone into the temple. Being by your side in the field had thrilled him and he was reluctant to see it end, but there was a lot of work to be done to stand a chance against Corypheus.
The sun was about to set when he finally left the confines of his tower. Wordlessly he moved through the fortress, nodding to any guards or friendly faces he passed. As he walked awkwardly through the rotunda the apostate Solas paused in his painting to watch him, a single eyebrow raised curiously. After passing dozens of inquisitive eyes he finally came to the door that lead to your personal tower.
You had been so ecstatic to see your bed that you had thrown yourself down on it and rolled up in the sheets like a child. Somehow, with the sheets wrapped around you, your tangled thoughts unwound slightly.
The temple had been extraordinary. From the moment you laid eyes on it you could feel something profound and powerful grip your heart in a grasp that was as much longing as pain. It had felt like a place for you, lost in time and found again. But then Morrigan began to speak and it became terribly clear that she knew more of your people’s history than you, than even the Keeper of Clan Lavellan, perhaps even more than Solas. Suddenly you understood just how little you really understood, and you began to feel disassociated with being an elf. You lost sight of yourself so badly that by the time you gazed on the Well of Sorrows you were numb inside. Where once you would have refused to allow Morrigan to drink from the Well over you, now you allowed it with no protest. Solas, who had strongly advised against it anyway, seemed genuinely surprised. Morrigan was too eager to notice or care.
The long ride back to Skyhold gave you time to think. You had considered yourself as much an expert on Elvhen history than anyone else sans Solas, and the connection to the Old People had given you comfort. Suddenly, that was gone and you didn’t quite know who were without it. By the time you were arriving to Skyhold you were grieving your change. Your eyes had sought out Cullen among those in the welcome party, but he was not there; surely busy, as you would be the rest of the day.
You had meant to send him a missive to come to your quarters, but had forgotten until you heard the door open and close quietly. Heavy booted footsteps climbed the stairs and hesitated before approaching the bed. You felt the mattress dip and rolled onto your back, looking up at Cullen. Despite yourself, a small smile tugged your lips up.
Cullen’s expression was soft as he lifted a hand to place it against your cheek. He leaned forward, pressing his lips to yours. They felt like silk, warm and smooth against your skin. Almost instantaneously something in you uncoiled, releasing some of the tension. You weren’t ready for the kiss to end, so when he attempted to pull away you reached out to take his head in your hands, holding him still so you could push your mouth against his again. The hand that had cupped your cheek clutched your hand now, and he chuckled lightly.
“Sorry,” you said breathlessly as you drew away, smiling sheepishly at him. “I just missed you.”
“And I, you,” he replied, taking one of your hands in both of his. They were much larger than yours, enveloping your hand in warmth. “Are you all right?”
“Yes, why wouldn’t I be?” But even as you said the words you knew he wouldn’t believe them, so you weren’t surprised at the incredulous look he gave you. With a sigh you sat up, grabbing the blankets and straightening them out as you moved to lean against the headboard. Cullen removed his boots and outerwear, draping the cloak and jacket over the stair’s railing. Upon returning to the bed he slid under the sheets beside you. Automatically, you wiggled under his arm and curled up against his side, your head against his chest. You could hear his heartbeat, steady and strong, and the gentle rise and fall of his chest lulled your mind to silence, the world making sense again. Cullen had an undeniable presence, a promise of solidity that made you feel safe and secure, grounded. No matter what storm raged, he was the eye, the calm in your life.
His arm was wrapped around your shoulder and back possessively, his hand gently gripping your bicep. With his other hand he pulled the blankets up around the two of you, warding away the cold coming through the open balcony doors. “Morrigan returned positively giddy,” remarked Cullen, “I can only begin to imagine what happened at the temple to cause that.”
You knew he was trying to broach the subject in such a way that gave you a chance to back away from it, and you were grateful. You closed your eyes, giving a short, dry laugh. “It’s a long story…”
“I always have time to listen to you,” he said quietly, leaning forward to press a lingering kiss against the top of your head.
“I’m afraid time is exactly what we don’t have,” you replied with a sigh. “Corypheus could attack at any moment, and we have no idea from where.”
Cullen’s tone was grave when he responded. “Yes. I sent small patrols in every direction today. Finding him while keeping a large enough force here is a difficult balance.”
You opened your eyes, bringing one arm up to lay across his midsection. “I trust you to keep that balance,” you said. You didn’t want to talk shop anymore though, there was no way of knowing how many more moments like this you would get, for all you knew this was the last. If you dwelled on that too long you would surely cry, so instead you said, “I learned today that I am a fool.”
You could feel it as Cullen shifted to look down at you with surprise. “What? You are quite the opposite of a fool.”
You smiled fondly, but didn’t correct him. “I thought I knew so much about Elvhen history, I almost felt connected to the ancient elves.” You were aware you sounded as though you talked about a friend who had passed away, but you couldn’t keep the infliction out of your voice. “Today I learned how wrong I was, how wrong the Dalish are. We are far from what we were, and we know far less than we think.”
Cullen listened carefully and didn’t speak right away. He considered your words carefully, recalled how important the ancient elves were to the Dalish and, particularly, to you. Finally, he asked, “Do you feel deceived?”
“Yes,” you replied, closing your eyes once more.
“Do you think, ‘I should have known, I’m such a fool for not knowing’?”
You looked up at him now, but he was staring through one of the doors at the snowcapped mountains beyond the balcony. “Yes…”
“That is how I felt when the Templars broke away from the Chantry.” He continued to look out, his gaze far away. He turned to look at you. “It may not be thousands of years of a misremembered legacy, but to have your foundation ripped out from under your feet is never easy.”
“Now I am just the Inquisitor,” you said mournfully. “I do not even care for my vallaslin anymore.”
Cullen frowned and hooked a finger under your chin, tilting your head until your gaze met his. The thin black lines of your vallaslin curled underneath his thumb. “You could never be ‘just the Inquisitor,’” he said firmly, a tone that brokered no dissent amongst his troops but you opened your mouth to protest, only to have his hand move to cover it. You blinked up at him, surprised by the gesture. “After what happened in Kirkwall…Being a Templar was a major part of who I was, so when it was gone I felt hollow.” His words struck a familiar chord within you. “I had to find out who I was without it, and I didn’t know if I would like what I found.” His grip on your bicep tightened.
“Did you?” you asked quietly. “Like what you found, that is?”
When Cullen looked at you this time he was smiling gently. “I’m still looking, I think in some capacity we always are searching, but so far it’s led me to you, so I mustn’t be doing too terribly.” He chuckled and kissed your forehead. You smiled, warmth blooming in your heart like a flower.
“I guess…for now…it’s enough to know that I’m the one who will stop Corypheus,” you said, pouring all of your determination into the statement, but what you added next was softer: “And it’s enough to know that I have you.” You gripped his hand, lacing your fingers with his and bringing them to your lips. The future was dark and uncertain but with Cullen by your side like a light in the blackness you knew there was nothing you couldn’t overcome.