Game: Dragon Age Inquisition
Disclaimer: BioWare's world and characters; I own nothing. Just giving myself acute feels.
(for anyone who didn't read Victories, Xae is pronounced Shay)
"Thank the Maker you're safe."
The words echo distantly around her head, so quiet she barely marked them as strong hands pull her from the snow and hold her close. She makes a mental note to tease less about those pauldrons of his; they make a nice pillow. And they smell like him, which is a nice bonus.
She inhales one last deep breath before surrendering to the exhaustion of adrenaline letdown.
Xae listened to the advisors bicker and shout, frustrated and venting and gloriously alive-He made it, we all made it-and thought about Cullen's tone when he said the words. Quiet, relieved, reverent. Thankful. It had been a literal prayer of thanks, not a meaningless rote comment. And that made something flutter in her chest even as Mother Giselle talked of faith and the power it would hold in the coming days. He's glad I'm safe.
The feeling was quite mutual. She had a feeling he'd guessed as much, too, given that every time she glanced his way, she found him glancing at her, and they shared sheepish, blushing smiles.
This kept up all through the journey in search of a new fortress, various responsibilities preventing them from actually talking beyond brief greetings, no matter how hard Xae prayed for an opportunity. She finally gave up. Probably just as well, she consoled herself as she scrambled over a heap of boulders. Nowhere safe for a private conversation in a caravan...
Still, this was getting tedious.
Things changed when they reached Skyhold, and not just because of her appointment as Inquisitor. She tripped over her words when they discussed the losses at Haven. That was a first. Wit was her weapon when she couldn't use her bow; words a shield that never failed her--until now, apparently.
But Cullen congratulated her on her new title, assured her of his confidence in her ability to lead them, despite--because of--Haven, and all she could hear was his murmured prayer of thanks echoing in her mind.
"Escaping Haven was such a close call. I'm relieved that you- that so many made it out," Xae replied, face heating at the verbal stumble.
"As am I." His whole face softened. "It was a close call, for none more than you. You stayed behind, you- you could have... I will not allow the events of Haven to happen again. You have my word. You will be safe." He stopped, rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, as if worried he'd overstepped his bounds.
She offered him a smile in return, one she hoped was reassuring. "You can always speak your mind with me, Cullen."
He snorted. "You may regret telling me that, Inquisitor."
Xae's smile shifted into a smirk. "Oh, I doubt it," she retorted coyly, mentally tallying a point for herself as he blushed. "But I should go see who Varric has for me to meet... We can talk later."
"Of course," Cullen nodded. "I should return to my duties as well."
They eyed each each other for a moment, not sure whether a hug or handshake or bow would be best. When Xae made up her mind and extended her hand, Cullen took it, turned it, and kissed her knuckles.
Her heart dropped to her toes, and she mentally tallied a point for him. Your move, Trevelyan.
"Congratulations on your appointment, Inquisitor," he murmured, releasing her hand and turning back to his reports.
It took her almost a whole minute to gather her wits and go meet Varric.
I think it's safe to say the attraction's mutual...
They continued like that for some time; a dropped--broad--hint here, a lingering gaze there. Their chess match, which had been one long string of dropped hints and soft smiles. But both Commander and Inquisitor remained hesitant to be the one who broached the subject. After all, Xae mused, it was one thing to catch him looking at her with a ridiculously fond smile on his face, but quite another to actually confess he turned her insides gooey and stole her words and she was perfectly happy that way. Wouldn't change it even if she could. It wasn't until after Crestwood that she gathered the nerve to ask him if they could talk.
They adjourned to the battlements, figuring it would be safe enough from prying eyes. The rank and file did love their gossip. Cullen closed the door firmly behind them.
"It's a nice day," he commented absently, looking up at the cloud-dotted blue sky.
"What?" Xae raised an eyebrow.
"It's, um... You had something you wished to discuss?"
"I did. And not the weather."
"No? Even on a fine day like this?" Cullen smiled, face shading faintly pink. She simply raised her eyebrow higher. "I figured as much." He sighed, paced ahead a couple steps. "I can't say I haven't wondered what I would say to you if this subject arose..."
"And what's stopping you, exactly?" Xae probed, leaning against the battlements.
"I..." he sighed, met her eyes. "You are the Inquisitor. We're at war with a magister of ancient Tevinter. I didn't think it was safe, or even really possible."
"And yet, here I am," she pointed out, smirking.
"So you are," he murmured softly, like his prayer after Haven, as he stepped closer. "It seems almost too much to ask, but I want to." He bent still closer, and Xae inclined her head to meet him halfway--
"Commander, you wanted a copy of Sister Leliana's report."
Cullen wheeled on the unfortunate agent with a growled, "What?"
Xae could only imagine the look he was giving the poor man. She was too busy trying to blend in with the wall to follow the entire exchange, face heating with mingled frustration and embarrassment. "If you need to-mm!"
He kissed her. Hard and sweet and deep. Just the right length of time to leave her head spinning.
"I'm sorry," he whispered when he backed away. "That was... really nice..."
His adoring smile was going to be the death of her. But it would be a good death. No, quick, Xae, say something witty. Get your equilibrium back! "I think that was a kiss," she murmured, hand settling on his arm as she fixed him with a coy smile. "But I can't be sure. It was such a blur." She leaned toward him til their foreheads touched and whispered, "How long have you wanted to do that?"
Cullen chuckled--a bit breathless, which made something in her ludicrously happy. "Longer than I should admit. I wasn't certain how you would take it..."
She grinned. "I think you're safe. you know, if you were to do it again..."
He laughed low, sending shivers dancing down her spine. "As my lady wishes..."
The wooden case shattered against the doorframe. Xae saw it coming and stopped in her tracks just in time to avoid the majority of the splinters.
"Maker's breath, I didn't hear you enter!" Cullen gasped, chagrin writ large across his face. "I- Forgive me."
"Long as you weren't aiming at me," Xae joked, smiling reassurance. "I'm sure the box had it coming."
"I swear I didn't know you were-" He paused mid-way through skirting his desk, fingers clenching tight against the wood as his knees buckled.
"Cullen?!" She was halfway across the room in two long strides.
Face pale and jaw clenched, Cullen waved her off. "I never meant for this to interfere..."
"To the Void with 'interfering', are you alright?" she demanded.
"Yes." He nodded slowly, head bowed. "...I don't know." He looked up as her hand came to rest on his shoulder, brushing off the touch but feeling a sense of safety under her worried, blue-brown gaze. His story, the memories and words he kept locked as far away from the light of day as possible, came spilling out. He wasn't sure if it was the migraine or the understanding in her eyes that loosened his tongue so, but he told her all of it. Kinloch Hold. The torture, watching his friends die. Even Meredith, watching a woman he trusted spiral down into madness. "Can't you see why I want nothing to do with that life?"
"Of course I can." She very deliberately placed her hand back on his shoulder. "I-"
"Don't." Again he jerked away from the comforting touch. "Xae, you should be questioning me, what I've done." He paced angrily away. "I thought.. I thought it would be better this way, that I could regain some control over my life... But these thoughts won't leave me. All the lives that depend on our success... I swore myself to this cause." His head was roaring, pounding, the infernal absence singing in his veins to drive him mad... "I will not give less to the Inquisition than I did to the Chantry. I should be taking it!" His fist slammed into the bookcase, and repeated softly, "I should be taking it..."
"Right now, I don't give a damn about the Inquisition," Xae retorted fiercely, stepping close enough to box him in the corner and cup his jaw with one hand. "Is this what you want? You, Cullen Rutherford, do you want to take lyrium again?"
He stared at her for a long moment before exhaling a shaky breath. "I... No. But the memories... They've always haunted me. If they get worse, if I cannot endure this..."
She met his gaze, eyes full of conviction. "You can. I know you can. And I'm here for you, if you need me."
Cullen managed a small smile. "Then success is all but assured."
Xae smiled, stole a quick kiss. "Count on it." She stepped back, turned to leave, but he caught her arm.
"Xae. I am sorry for the... lack of restraint. I pushed harder than I should have today, it won't-"
"Cullen," she sighed, returning to him. "I don't mind. In fact, I want you to feel safe letting me see. I... care about you quite a lot, and don't want to watch you kill yourself holding it all in check." She hugged him.
He savored it, breathing in the scent of her hair. "I'll keep that in mind..."
The words became theirs; a step between I like you and I love you.
Be safe. Cullen, remember to not push too hard today.
Be safe. Please keep in mind your limits, Xae.
"Be safe." A hasty farewell as she departed Skyhold, sealed with a fervent kiss full of things they couldn't find the words to say. They were spoken with conviction in the war room, repeated in desperation under Adamant's broken gates.
And Xae tested them regularly, throwing herself against red templars, bandits, Venatori. But it was the dragons that scared Cullen the most. Yes, she was the Inquisitor, but she was still human.
She brushed off his worry after the Frostback in the Hinterlands, assuring him none of them were injured beyond Dorian's healing capabilities. "We're good at this," she promised, hand cupping his jaw. "Don't worry so much."
And as he carried her, drunk and giggling and extremely affectionate, up to her room after her "celebration" with Bull, he believed her. He knew they were making regions safer, believed they knew what they were doing. One by one the dragons fell; The Storm Coast, Crestwood, The Western Approach, and Cullen stopped squeezing his lucky coin hard enough to leave indents on his palm at the words dragon hunting.
Until the Crow Fens. A dragon that should have been child's play proved to be an even closer call than Haven. Xae spent two days unconscious, twin gashes stark and red across her chest, lightning burns streaking down her arm, Cullen pacing caged loops along her balcony as he waited for her eyes to open. Be safe. Don't die. Come back. Don't leave. They all welled in his chest, mocking him, until the torturous wait was over and she opened her eyes. I love you.
Her recovery, once awake and out of the woods, was rapid. Xae was too stubborn, too driven to lay in bed when there's work to be done, and even he and Vivienne couldn't change that.
But there was something he could do. Soon as she was well enough, Cullen took her to Ferelden, to his special place from childhood, and pressed his lucky coin into her hand. "I want you to have this now."
"Why?" Her brow puckered in curiosity.
He pulled her closer, wrapping her fingers around the token and holding her hand in his. "Because I think you ran through all your luck in the Fens. And I need you safe."
"Cullen-" she began, but he cut her off with a kiss. She savored it a minute before pulling back. "I feel safer already."
"Good," he murmured, low and fierce, and kissed her again.