Moment of Ending
He stood vigil before the slit window looking across the gate, watching the wagons loaded down with the trappings of the Inquisition leave Skyhold. The sight drew a smile to my lips as he was supposed to be packing. His shadow slumbered on the floor, huffing as he chased fireballs, his paddling paws tearing up the blanket that used to be on his master's bed. Softly I closed the door, cutting off the summer air blowing through. Cullen didn't hear, his body leaning closer to the window spying something interesting happening in the courtyard.
Somewhere down there was an agitated ex-ambassador trying to get everyone in line and marked so this would go easier. Too bad half of them were still hung over from the eternal goodbye and good luck celebrations. Why pack the alcohol when you could drink it and save on space? Josephine herself polished off an entire bottle of whiskey, tears dribbling down her cheeks as she belted out a song in Antivan. After the third round of it, she managed to get Bull to sing along, shaking his horns to her erratic beat. It would take another month before we'd be finished with the deconstruction, but every day Skyhold felt more abandoned than when we found it. People who greeted me every morning returned to their homes far across seas I'd only seen on maps. Sculptures I stopped seeing vanished in the night, leaving behind another hole to be filled with crates. And some historian ran around collecting all the banners slapping against stones, insisting they must be preserved.
Sliding onto my toes, I crept towards the ex-Commander far too enraptured in the commotion to hear the Dalish woman slinking around in his office. Holding my left arm tight to my chest, I skirted around his desk, falling into his peripheral vision. He must have been deep in thought as he still didn't turn. My fingers caressed up his back, wrapping around the curls falling across his neck. Only a soft tremor shook his body from the surprise; he was growing used to his wife's soft feet. I stood upon my toes to see over his shoulder, using my right hand as ballast. A dozen horses paraded in what was probably supposed to be a formation, while Master Dennet threw his hands in the air. Perhaps it wasn't going so well.
Cullen sighed, capturing my fingers in his own. "I can hardly believe it's over."
"It's not over yet," I said, my lips whispering against his cheek.
His face lifted in a smile and he turned from the stables emptying of horses to face me. "No?" he rubbed up and down my right arm, "Soldiers dismissed, ravens released, political ties cut. Seems certain."
I smirked, "Has anything I've done ever been certain?"
"Aside from marrying me?" he asked, that sweet but painful smile slotting into place. "No. Not at all." Cullen slipped his arm around my waist, his fingers working in circles around the small of my back. No more Inquisition pajamas dulled my nerves to the touch, through the light cotton I could feel him properly. His eyes dipped down to my left hand - no, not hand, arm. "How is it?"
"Hurts like shit if I bump it, or touch it, or a breeze hits it," I said. He frowned from the truth. It took all my best arguments and promises for him to let me away from the healers so I could confront the Exalted Council. I had at best a few minutes of speech and posturing before I was back by his side, begging for something to kill the pain.
"That remaining mage says it's healing well. Cleanest cut he's ever seen. Probably because it wasn't cut," I mused, lifting the still bandaged limb up. Cullen cupped his hands around my forearm, keeping far away from the throb that died down until I instinctively tried to reach for something I could no longer pick up. Time - everyone kept telling me I'd need it to adjust, and soon I wouldn't even notice I lost the anchor along with my hand. Funny how it was always people with both hands telling me that.
I cupped my husband's face with my remaining hand, fingers parting through his stubble now reaching into beard territory. Something about being free of worry, duty, the Inquisition carried over to his toilet as well. Even his hair was allowed to return to its natural state, the curls wadding around his round ears. "At least this gets me out of having to pack," I joked, waving my stump around. "People are bending over backwards to collect my things and carry them for me."
Cullen chuckled leaning his forehead to mine and closing his eyes. His voice grew even softer while we marched away from the Winter Palace. I'd expected anger at my decision taking away his sense of purpose, but it seemed to bring forth the exact opposite. He looked free, a smile lifting his cheeks whenever he'd turn to find me by his side, struggling to stay on the damn horse and keep my stump as far from anything as possible.
"I am afraid I do not have that luxury," he said, gesturing to the bookshelves still half full. Crates were overstuffed with some of his office - the bric and brac of leading an army being packed and sent to whoever could make use of them. Josephine found buyers for our used things before we'd even left Halamshiral.
"Wasn't this all supposed to be loaded up before tomorrow?" I asked, prodding my foot against a crate and hearing the hollowness.
Cullen lifted one shoulder and smiled slyly. "I've been preoccupied," he said, "with my beautiful wife."
Laughing, I leaned my shoulder into him - the crush of his old leathers more forgiving than the armor now secured in a special box. "That's no excuse," I said, even as I kissed his lips for the dozenth of dozens time since returning to Skyhold. We abandoned the pretense of formality, no matter how weak it had been, stealing moments every chance we found - both aware of how close we came to almost losing everything. Cullen wasn't the only one with night terrors anymore.
Wiping away the worry, I smiled and slipped away from his warm arms. His desktop was nearly cleared off save three boxes. One was open and stacked high with the books and papers that used to fill it. The other box looked much the same as the rest littering Skyhold, worn wood hammered quickly in place, but shredded straw covered whatever lay inside. Curiosity was one of my worst vices, and I dug through the straw, trying to find whatever was inside.
Cullen turned away from the window to catch me, "That isn't necessary! It's nothing important for the..."
"What is this?" I stuttered, trying to lift up the garish, golden object. I only managed a few inches before it slipped from my fingers, clanging against the bottom of the box.
Sighing, Cullen reached into the box. "There's no reason for you to see this." Even through his protestations, he still unearthed it for me, sliding straw away to reveal a massive mouth gawping at me. It looked like someone gilded a bear forever imprisoning it in a yawn. Fur strode down the back of it, reaching like a mane around the back of the head. I eyed up the monstrous thing cupped in his hands, then turned to my husband. For good measure I did it again, emphasizing my need for an explanation.
"It's a helmet," he said, shifting it in his hands.
"That's a helmet?! I thought you beheaded a statue."
He flattened his lips from my tone, "It was to go with my armor. The fur's the same as the pauldrons." To show it off, he ran his fingers down the back, fluffing up bear fur far less ragged and sun bleached than what he'd worn every day.
I eyed up the helmet, slightly terrified it might surge forward and take a bite at me. "Do...do you often wear animal heads upon your own?"
Cullen shook his head, glaring at the monstrous thing, "I didn't purchase it. As I said, it came with the armor."
Growing more bold, I reached out, running the edge of my pinkie along a tooth. It was colder to the touch than I expected - though, given my life, feeling hot breath and the pulse of blood wasn't beyond the reach. "I can see why you never wore the thing. Casualties from people falling over the battlements in laughter would have been staggering."
He snorted, rolling his eyes at me, but placed the helmet back in its box, shredding even more of the straw overtop to hide it.
"If you didn't buy it, then who did? It came with your armor, right?"
Now he shifted on his shoes. "I spent much of my life in the order," he began, not explaining anything. "You're given the uniform, you become the uniform, there's no need for other clothing. The armor is for life," he sighed, his head tipping down. So many possibilities lay before him, and -- like a child in a candy store -- a part of him was terrified to try any for fear of spoiling all. He wasn't the only with more choices and questions than decisions, but at least we could stumble together.
Rubbing his shoulders, I pulled those amber eyes to me. "It was Cassandra, wasn't it?"
"She said it looked intimidating," he said, his fingers rolling across my own. I chuckled at the idea of the imposing Seeker tossing him the helmet and insisting he put it on to check the fit. Maybe she even insisted there be a portrait done of him wearing it all, for posterities sake. Oh, I'd pay to see that.
"Not keeping it with the rest of your things upstairs?" I asked, jerking my head up to his loft where absolutely nothing was packed, not that there was much to begin with. A few trinkets from Mia, a chess set from Dorian, and a couple personal books. He almost traveled lighter than me.
Cullen chuckled, "You're not getting me to wear it, don't even try."
"Hm," I picked at the box's edge, worrying out a splinter, "I was thinking you in the helmet, your surcoat, and nothing else." I ended with the cheekiest grin I could manage, and slowly eyed up and down his body.
"Surcoat yes, helmet no."
"That ruins all the fun," I cut back, throwing my hand and stump in the air. He smiled, catching my fingers and pulling me towards him for a kiss.
"It's what I'm known for," Cullen whispered in my ear, his voice soft with desire. Slowly, he drew his fingers across the indentation of my collarbone and down my flimsy tunic.
I was about to give in to his misdirection when something about the third package caught my eye. It wasn't the same crates as the others, and was wrapped in a mishmash of yellowing papers coated in ink drawings. Tacked to the edge was a tag with a drawing of bees on it. "What's that?" I asked, pointing to the new curiosity.
Cullen sighed, his exploring fingers landing upon my hip as he turned to see what I pointed to. "Oh," his voice fell flat and noncommittal, as if he had to speak to a mess of nobles about his bedroom activities, "it's a gift."
"A gift?" I reached over to the box and picked it up. It was lighter than I expected, the paper crackling below my fingers. "Why haven't you opened it?"
"See who it's from," he said.
I twisted around the box until the tag flipped over, revealing the letters SeRa. "Ah," I said, nodding my head in solidarity. "It can't be that bad."
Cullen blinked, "Then you open it."
"But it's your gift," I said, stumbling right into his trap. He probably even left it out right there to snare me. Damn that handsome and devious brain. "And it wouldn't be right for me to open presents specifically meant for you."
He smiled, a cruel one he would pay dearly for later. "We are married, what's mine is yours and all that. So please, go right ahead. 'It can't be that bad.'"
I knew when I was licked. Sighing, I inched the gift closer to the edge of the desk and pushed my elbow on it to hold it steady. With my hand, I tore at the shreds of paper, small doodlings of our friends and enemies scattering in the wind. Cullen stood behind me, his hands cupped around my stomach as he watched - and in case he needed to yank me away from whatever was inside.
Steadying myself, I ripped off the last of the paper and glanced into the box. Plain white cloth rested inside, folded in the shape of a triangle. Confusion pulled my eyebrows as I picked up the edge. "What is..." I began, twisting back to my husband.
He looked just as lost, his own fingers running along the fabric when realization and then horror rampaged across his face. "Is that my small clothes?!"
I had to twist my head to the side, but sure enough, there were the two holes for the legs and the folding flap in the front. I wasn't certain how he could tell the difference between his and anyone else's, but human's underthings were a whole new world for me.
Cullen yanked them from my hand, holding the pair outstretched, "How did she even get them? Why?"
In the light, I caught the why. Snickering, I pointed that he should turn them around. Mid-rage and confusion, Cullen did as I ordered and his jaw fell open at the rather lovely embroidering across the ass part that now proclaimed the owner to be Mr. Inquisitor. Sera hadn't lined it up well, so the -tor reached around the side and she added a few little yellow and green flowers that butted up against the fly.
He flipped his small clothes around a few more times, as if that would somehow make the embroidery vanish, then he leaned over me to look in the rest of the box. "There are even more in here," he dumped the gift out onto the table scattering the rest of his underthings all now marked to proclaim him either Mr. Inquisitor, Lavellan's, or Hubby Wubby. The color of the thread changes, sometimes mid-word, but the handwriting was all the same massive loops that leaned to the left. "Maker's sake," he muttered, trying to gather it all up. "It's every pair but the one I'm wearing."
I leaned over, staring at his backside, "Are you certain she didn't get those?"
Cullen's hand reached towards his own ass, as if terrified the Red Jenny somehow made off with them. Smiling, I picked up the first pair - the embroidery a lovely green.
"Why must that woman live to embarrass me?" Cullen sighed, trying to wad up all his small clothes into the tightest ball.
I shook my head, passing the last one back to him, "I don't think she is."
"She stole my only underthings and then wrote upon them. What else would you call that?!"
I shrugged, "She did the same to me."
"What? Really?" Now he glanced down the back of me, as if he could see through clothing.
I nodded, "After Verchel. She said it was good to have one's name on your underthings so no one else would steal it and sell 'em. I think, for Sera, this is a sign she likes you."
Cullen grumbled a few curses under his breath, but his mood broke. This wasn't a prank of hers, but a true gift from the heart. It made as much sense as anything with her. After a moment he looked up at me, "I've never seen your name upon any of your...under clothing." Over two years together, now married, and he still blushed. My stomach fluttered from how damn adorable that man could be.
Smiling, I tipped my head, "She said she couldn't get Inquisitor to fit on the ass of my small clothes, so she stitched it onto one of the undershirts. I would only wear it in the field, for good luck. It seemed to help," I shrugged at the inanity of my personal ritual. "I always came back."
"Yes, you did," Cullen sighed. Dropping his ransacked underwear to the side, he pulled me into his arms. I reached my arm around his shoulders, laying my head against the lack of fur, as he wrapped his fingers behind my back. "I suppose I should thank her, then. To be without you..." His voice fell away, terrified to voice the fear that nearly broke both of us.
Stepping through that mirror as my hand burned through my body was the hardest thing I'd ever done. Not because of the Qunari forces I faced at the other end, but not knowing if I would never see him again. I have no idea how he managed to let me go, but when I stepped back out he gave me the tightest hug imaginable, joy blinding him to the fact my arm was now gone.
I caressed his cheek, following the trail of my fingers with a kiss. "Never, in a thousand years did I think I'd..."
"Marry a shemlan?" he interrupted, smiling softly, sadly, sweetly.
Pulling those amber eyes to me, I smiled, "Find you."
He pressed his forehead to mine, his voice a breath away as he whispered, "Nor I you." We sealed our sweet everythings in a kiss. There were still so many problems ahead, things to solve, and, at the moment, Solas seemed the least of them. Cullen took the dalish part of me in stride, but he knew we'd have to tell my clan at some point. And I could tell it ate at him, the worry festering in his gut of how they would deal with it. It didn't touch me, no matter how my mother or anyone else reacted, I knew in my heart I had my husband and he'd stand by my side through it all.
Glancing down at Sera's gift, an idea took hold. "We're likely to never return back here," I said.
Cullen sighed, as if preparing for another melancholy "Those were the days" drunk speech, but the fire in my words stumbled him. He twisted his head, waiting for me to continue.
I caressed my fingers across the desk. "Be a shame to pack up and leave without having one more go on it." Now he grinned wide, the dark mood shattering. "For old time's sake?" I asked, holding out my hand. Cullen placed it upon his shoulder, then slid both his hands under my butt. Lifting me easily onto the desk, he pushed aside the boxes with one hand - his dreaded helmet cracking to the floor. But Cullen didn't notice, his lips dancing over the exposed flesh on my neck and chest as I lay back.
My right hand clung to the back of his neck, twirling around that curly hair. His passion broke for a moment and he blinked above me, "I love you."
"I love you too," I said, "now let's get to the sex."
He chuckled at my impertinence, his hands moving with much more purpose than our first time. Together, we slid further along the desk, until he put both our weight upon it. I reached up to try and lift the end of his shirt when a soft crack reverberated below us.
Cullen paused, his eye widening even as he shook his head. "No, that can't-"
The ground fell away, both of us crashing into each other. The back of my head smacked into the desk, and Cullen's forehead crumpled against my sternum as the desk's legs fell through the floor. The floor someone took the time to weaken.
"SERA!" we both screamed.
Somewhere in Skyhold, her giddy laugh carried for three days.