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Cullen ([personal profile] howtoactfereldan) wrote2015-11-06 09:04 pm

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With all the red lyrium in the courtyard of the Gallows, it is not a safe place for anyone to linger. One of the plans that Cullen and Guard-Captain Aveline were able to put into place rather quickly was moving templars and the handful of remaining mages into the Viscount's Keep in Hightown.

It's not optimal, it's not a long-term solution -- but it allows the mages an additional measure of privacy as well as security, installed in the viscount's private quarters as they are. And they also have freedom to move about the keep. Which helps.

It also wasn't difficult to move the templars into the barracks with the guard -- a suggestion from Aveline that Cullen supported wholeheartedly, as a way to make it clear that the guard and the templars are partners, now. And it could only do good, Cullen thinks, to have the templars exposed to good men and women who haven't been led by a tyrant for the last five years.

Cullen respects Aveline for many reasons. Foremost among them is that she has the respect of her men. As the chief of a fighting force she brooks no laziness; as the captain of a guard she drills it into them that their task is to keep every Kirkwaller safe.

He'd spent a little time that morning watching her train alongside a handful of her guardsmen, and felt a little wistful for reasons he doesn't want to examine. Fortunately -- or so someone with a terrible dark sense of humor might think -- he had to lead another mixed patrol of guard and templar, and the day brought a handful of Darktown denizens convinced the world had ended who did things that Cullen had only seen in his nightmares. Horrible as it is, it's a good distraction.

When he and the patrol reenter the Keep -- delayed by about an hour -- they're met by Aveline. Cullen lets her senior guardsman provide the report, and when Aveline dismisses the patrol, he glances at her, mouth tight, and nods, turning for the hall leading to his temporary quarters. (It might have been a storage closet, once; regardless, there's a window and a door to close.) He's not expecting Aveline to speak to him.

"Knight-Captain," she calls, and when he turns, he sees she's dropped her commander's mask -- he has one, too. "Cullen. You'll join us tonight for dinner, I hope?"

"I -- yes. We're not that late, are we?" He gestures, a little aimless, toward the main hall of the keep, which they've turned into an impromptu dining hall.

Aveline gives him a small smile, and says, "No. You're coming with me. As my guest. We have a rule -- no armor at table. Get what you need, we're leaving in five minutes."

It just seems easier to do what he's told.

(And hasn't that always been the problem?)

***


On their short walk through Hightown Cullen says, eyes on the path ahead, "I don't understand."

"You need to step away," Aveline says, her head lifting to catch a breeze off the Waking Sea. "For your own good. And I don't mean holing up in that storage closet."

"I -- no, that's clear -- " Cullen rubs the back of his neck, and says, in a rush: "I just didn't think you liked me very much. Hawke -- she -- at the Gallows -- "

"There are many things on which Hawke and I have chosen to agree to disagree," says Aveline, calm. "Did you ever hear the story of how we met?"

She tells him as they walk: she tells him about meeting what's left of the Hawke family as they flee the Blight, and about the death of Hawke's brother, and escaping Ferelden -- and how much Wesley didn't like the idea of traveling with Hawke's sister Bethany, the mage.

"Wesley?" Cullen thought Aveline's husband's name was Donnic.

"Ser Wesley, actually." Something in her voice makes Cullen look at her. "Knight-Templar Wesley. Assigned to the chantry in Denerim. I was with King Cailan's army in Ostagar, and he came for me, so we could leave together." Aveline's steps have slowed. "My first husband. The Blight got him, as we fought our way out."

Cullen feels for a moment as though he's been hit upside the head by a polearm.

"A good man," Aveline says, softly. "We were fortunate. Until we weren't."

Finally Cullen manages, "I -- I'm sorry. For your loss. I had no idea you -- "

Aveline gives him a faint smile. "I take a kinder view of the Templar Order than Hawke does. I know what it can be, at its best. And frankly, Cullen, you look as though you haven't eaten in two days and haven't slept in five."

He knows he is turning bright red and can do nothing about it.

"We're working together." Aveline turns up a walkway, where a lamp-lit door awaits. "It's in Kirkwall's best interest for me to ensure you get at least one proper meal."

***


It takes Cullen a while to recall the last time he was a guest in the home of another adult (answer: a long, long time ago), and by the time he remembers, he's seated at Aveline and Donnic's dining room table with a glass of wine and some kind of pleasantly spiced fish stew. The cook turns out to be a former slave from Tevinter, freed and then employed by Hawke; of course Aveline took her in after Hawke and the rest of her friends fled Kirkwall.

Donnic, who exudes both quiet competency and pride in his wife, takes responsibility for conversation. There may be a rule about no armor at dinner, but Donnic is quite happy to discuss the finer points of weaponry, strategy, historical military tactics, chess, and other topics of mutual interest that somehow never manage to hit an awkward or sore point. Before he knows it, Cullen has agreed to a few hands of Diamondback after dinner, with the promise that next time Cullen comes over, Donnic will have scrounged a chess set.

It's all so... simple. Pleasant. Cullen can't shake the feeling that maybe he'll wake and find that this was all a dream (or a hallucination, or some other kind of lie). And some of that must make it to his face, because eventually Donnic says that it's Orana the cook's turn to play with him, because she wants to get at least as good as Fenris was, and perhaps he'd like to join Aveline by the fire.

(It occurs to Cullen on his walk home to wonder if Aveline and Donnic planned this.)

She tops off Cullen's glass of wine and sits back in her armchair, and says, "We won't talk about it until you want to talk about it."

At his questioning glance, she says, "Meredith."

"Ah," Cullen says, and looks into the flames.

"But you know we should."

"Yes," he says.

"The mystery for me is why Val Royeaux let it go on for so long."

Cullen says to the fire, "The Spire called in the Seekers of Truth a few times. Nothing ever came of it."

Aveline sighs. "Of course it didn't. Listen -- Cullen. I want you to know -- I appreciate how you've been through all of this. Ever since Anders -- well."

Ever since Anders.

"I'm not the only one who's noticed that you're -- working to be helpful." Aveline's face is red, now. Cullen thinks darkly that at least he's not alone. "We'll hold this city together as long as we have to. I promise you that."

"Maker willing, it won't be much longer," Cullen mutters, and drinks.

Aveline snorts, stretches, props her feet up closer to the hearth. "Wouldn't that be nice."

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