Moment of Solace
I massaged my neck, working out the "bowed in reverence" crick and stepped through the re-opened gates. That drew the attention of the Inquisition soldiers flanking that damn mirror. Neither the Orlesian nor Ferelden forces were evident in the courtyard, but I felt the prick of some of the other guests eyes upon me. Josephine's warning words rang in my head. "Play the part. You've already endangered negotiations by running off twice." I made it through two hours of Teagan and Cyril talking around each other like geese hissing for a fight neither will start. That had to count for something. At least it deserved a break.
Rounding down the blue stairs, a sight brought a real smile to my tight jaw. Cullen stood swamped by our soldiers, his commanding presence cowing some of them, but his new friend kept nudging him in the leg for attention. After returning a report and giving a curt response, Cullen's hand dropped down to scritch along the dog's slobbery face and came back with a ball. Sighing, he tossed it towards the fountain, the dog scrabbling into expensive tiles to give chase. More than a few Orlesians cried out at the massive splash of a dog bellyflopping into the water to return with its prize.
I clomped less than gracefully towards them, getting a bark from the still nameless pooch. Cullen spun around and sighed, "There you are. Are negotiations finished or...?"
"What do you think?" I sighed, rolling my head back towards the shuttered gates. This went from a pomp dance to appease nobles into a possible all out war with the Qun. It was probably why no one invited me to their home unless they were already in trouble, or were trying to kill me. To think, the last time I was at the Winter Palace it was just some light assassination and the occasional demon. And those were supposed to be the bad days. Still, at least I could smile from one good memory here.
Moving close enough his ill fitting finery brushed against my hand, I whispered, "I came to see my husband." Cullen's grin stretched his cheeks wide, then his eyes flared in panic.
He leaned into me, appearing the calming image of a commander whispering hurriedly with the Inquisitor. Not at all something alarming to the people watching our every move. "Are we...I thought we were going to keep it secret until- Not that I don't want to tell everyone. I..."
Placing my finger to my lips, I smiled at him. That clammy stammer slipped to a blushing grin. Nodding a curt dismissal to the soldiers, he gestured in the direction of a quiet spot off the gardens. Of course the dog toddled behind, water dripping in puddles with every wag of its nobby tail.
I took the time to nod to a few people, smiling with the look of someone unconcerned about the invasion prodding through mirrors across southern Thedas. The nobility still bowed but their smiles were tight, their movements jagged. No one was happy.
We moved towards a stand of fronds framing a statue of someone. Probably someone important I should know, but Josie wasn't here to quiz me. Slipping into the dark sanctuary, as far from prying eyes as one could get these days, I said, "Given the complete and utter shit storm we've uncovered, it's probably best to save the official announcement until later. Someone's bound to be angry because we didn't invite the lord Comte de Fart Face and challenge us for ur honor." I slipped my arms over his shoulders, hoisting myself onto my toes.
Cullen steadied me, as he always did, and caught me in a marital kiss. Would I ever get used to that word? He seemed as surprised, occasionally during the council meetings mouthing 'wife' as if he was learning Tevinter and uncertain of the pronunciation.
"So long as we're on the same page," he said, his hands knotting behind my waist. He had no intention to let go soon.
Wrapped around him, I nodded, "I've only told Cassandra."
"What?" Those honey eyes -- my husband's eyes -- widened, but there was only surprise, no anger. It seeped from him over the years leaving behind contentment and an exhaustion we now shared.
Shrugging, I said. "She asked. You can't lie to the Divine, that's a like nine years back luck."
"Where did you hear that?"
"Sera...who also knows. Probably because I told Varric, and Dorian. Bull's been hinting, but in that 'I know shit because I'm Ben-Hassrath, but won't come out and say it' way. And Cole gave me an iron horseshoe as a gift. Not really sure there." I paused, taking stock of just how many people I'd tipped my hand to. This was why I kept losing at Wicked Grace. "Are you mad?"
Cullen's soft smile warmed my toes. He placed his forehead against mine, whispering in that infernal and adorable way of his, "I'd tell the entire world myself if I could. But, since you've informed Varric, there isn't much need now."
I couldn't hide the gleam in my eye, "That was the plan all along."
He chuckled at my baldfaced lie and risked another kiss before we were spotted by anyone else who wanted to yell at the Inquisitor today. Breaking away, he asked, "So, Mrs. Rutherford..."
"Mrs. Rutherford?" I reared back from him, my hands sliding down those arms holding me tight, now and forever. "I don't remember agreeing to take your name."
A blush crawled along his neck at my mock outrage. Some thing's never change. Cullen glanced up towards the sky as if hoping an answer would land upon him, then back to me, "Can I, may I even take yours? I mean, given the difference in- I don't want to step on too many toes."
"Since when?" I laughed, gesturing to the throngs of Orlesians and Fereldens alike rattling their sabers at the Commander. My Commander. My husband. I hoped I'd never tire of that. "No, I was thinking I'd call you Mr. Inquisitor."
"Mr. Inquisitor? Ha! I can live with that."
"Now that that's decided, we should talk about where we intend to live and how many children there will be. Ten is a good number, I believe. We could raise our own battalion of forward scouts, light as feathers in the field."
I expected another round of blushing and stammering, but Cullen smirked at me and I gulped. "Whatever you want, dear," he smiled, trying to patronize me. Oh shit, he had to know I was kidding. It- that wasn't something we even talked about. Did he really want that many children? He cracked a laugh at the panic in my eyes, unable to maintain his facade. A warmth filled my cheeks from both relief, and embarrassment that I fell for it. Rather than let me suffer long, he planted a soft kiss on my forehead. "Plenty of time to figure that out once this is all done. Though, I hope at least one will want to pick up the old man's sword."
Sliding my hands around that velvet finery almost bursting under Cullen's insistence he would not waste time getting fitted, I placed my mouth inches from his ear and whispered, "No finer time than now to get some of the practice in for making one."
Now I got the panic I'd hoped for, but there was hunger beneath it. It hardly seemed fair to spend one's honeymoon running around the deep roads destroying Qunari mines. Cullen's eyes darted out to the flocks of people standing a polite distance away from us. "What, now? Here?"
My eyebrows shot up, emphasizing my pretend surprise, "I didn't know you liked an audience?"
"I don't. I wouldn't, I just... You know, that won't always work on me."
Sliding my fingers down that knot of stomach muscle, his hips, and stopping at his upper thigh, I whispered, "I know what works quite well."
He didn't care that people peered back at the pair of shadows frolicking in the fronds; with one arm scooping behind my back, he pulled me up and devoured me into a kiss. I reached up to run my fingers in his hair when...
No. No, no, no no no! Not now! Hissing in rage, rift energy shattered my hand. Pain rampaged up my arm as if someone snapped the bone and kept twisting. I tried to hold back the scream, stumbling back from Cullen and curling my hand to my chest. I shook my fist in impotent rage, binding it closer to my chest. Sweat percolated from the expenditure to get it under control. As soon as it hit, the pain evaporated, the green light fading with it.
But now I faced a new kind of pain, Cullen's eyes boring into me with the same hurt of an abandoned dog. "Are you all right? What was that?"
"I'm fine," I hissed, willing the damn thing to stop.
He reached for my fingers, and I let him unroll my clenched fist. Bits of rift energy rolled out, digging needles into my skin. I tried to bury the pain behind a laugh, tears prickling in my eyes from the effort.
"When did it start hurting you?" he asked, cupping that cursed thing in his own hands.
"It always did a little," I said. "But...it's been getting worse." I couldn't face those eyes. If I could control it, just burn off the energy in time, then maybe it...maybe...
Cullen brought the anchor to his lips and kissed it. I almost yanked my hand back, terrified that it could burst across his face. And that idea, that I was too scared to touch my own husband, finally broke the manacled tears. I fell into his arms, or perhaps he pulled me in. We moved together, Cullen enveloping me to his chest and I scrabbled to find a port in this storm. My touchstone that brought me back from the brink to a promise of something worth fighting for.
"Ma Vhenan," he said, still butchering the pronunciation. But I didn't care - everything the Dalish knew it was...How did Solas put it? Fragments of fragments? We didn't even get those fragments right. And now, now magic from my own people was ripping my skin apart, shattering the possibility of a future.
"Cullen," I cried, sobbing into his tunic. "What if I can't stop this? What if...?"
He locked his arms around me tighter than any barricade, as if his sheer willpower would keep any harm from coming to me. "Vivienne could craft something to combat it," he insisted, his voice shallow, "A potion, she's skilled at distillation. Or Dorian. He'd use his influence in Tevinter. There has to be a book or scroll about the anchor. Something that..."
I couldn't give him the answer he wanted, the assurance that this would all work out. That I could pull off some cunning plan at the last second. I'd stood before ancient, immortal magisters, fought inside a titan below the Deep Roads, destroyed a god inside a dragon...again! To have my own hand kill me now, when I finally had this. A cruel chuckle escaped my throat, and I couldn't stop from airing my dark thought, "It's so cliche to kill the bride on her wedding day. It'd make Varric blush."
Cullen didn't laugh at my gallows humor. His grip pinned me closer, the front of his finery now well soaked through. A warm breath ruffled my hair as he whimpered, "Maker, no; not now. Please, please not now. He can't take you now."
Tears dribbling from his eyes were matched in kind with my own. I dabbed at mine, then tried to wipe away his, softly cupping that same cheek I did before laying bare what grew in my heart. "I love you," I whispered again. I thought there'd be time. That I could say it a thousand times more, a thousand more kisses, a couple thousand more hugs. But now... "Don't forget me," it was selfish and poorly timed, but the words slipped out.
"Andraste's grace," Cullen cried, "don't say that. Don't even think it. We'll find an answer. After you deal with the Qunari threat and there's time to..." his words trailed off at the sight of me. I couldn't face him, my eyes sinking in from the weight building in my chest. There wasn't time. Not anymore.
"I don't know what to do." He broke, the man who fought until his fingers were bloody to fix a problem, no longer had an answer.
"Just hold me and tell me you love me." It wasn't what he wanted to hear, it wasn't what I did either, but Cullen slid his arms around my waist doing what I commanded. My head rested upon his shoulder, bobbing with his jagged breaths as he tried to steady his voice.
"You are a light I didn't even know was out in my life. Even at my lowest you believed in me, gave me strength...loved me. I--" he strangled back a sob and continued, "I love you and wish I was better at this. Had the words to tell you how scared I am to live in a world without...Maker, I wish Varric was here."
The final decree caught a laugh from me and I lifted my head. Ruddiness burned up his cheeks and nose while the skin below his eyes blackened. That pale skin never reacted well to crying. I skimmed my fingers across it, trying to wipe away the pain as if I had Cole's abilities. Perhaps, when...if I fall, compassion could be there to take Cullen's pearl of pain away. He reached up to catch my fingers, his hand encompassing mine. Always there to shield me, to protect me, to hold me.
"You're the best thing I could have hoped for," I said to him. His eyes rolled upward, but I caught his chin, focusing him upon me, "If this is the end, then I'm thankful to whoever's listening that I could spend it with you."
Before the tears could fall anew from either of us, I dipped his head down for our possible last kiss. Salty tears bit into my lips as his arms wrapped around me, pulling me ever tighter. This could be it, the end of everything. At least for a moment, it could be good. "Come with me," I whispered. "Be with me."
He blinked, trying to understand what I meant. When it triggered, he shook his head, "You can't be serious."
"One more reason to be grateful I'm alive? To touch your body, feel you inside me? I can't think of anything better."
"That is..." his head turned away, unable to find the words to voice his own emotional tumult. But I knew him. When the time came, when we stood at the edge, he'd be my rock there to hold back the shores pounding to wear us away. Now, however...
"Cullen," I said, "for now, in this moment, let me be your wife and you be my husband. Please."
At the end of everything, when we both stood upon the precipice facing the unknown, we paused and breathed in each other, trying to memorialize every curve and line of our bodies melded together. And I doubt Vivienne minded too much that we borrowed her bed.