Title: Directions Author: blustersquall Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition characters/pairing: Commander x Nevena Trevelyan Disclaimer: Dragon Age: Inquisition is the property of Bioware, as is Cullen and any other characters mentioned within this piece. Nevena Trevelyan is my creation, under the Dragon Age: Inquisition player character, Trevelyan.
------- Grumbling, Cullen touches his temple, slowly drawing his fingertips across his brow repeatedly trying to stave off the throbbing pain he feels within.
What had started as a minor annoyance, a small twinge of pain above his eye during the night, had now bloomed into an almost unbearable pain that spread across the entire front of his head. It had kept him from sleeping and now addled his mind making concentration next to impossible.
As an advisor to the Inquisition he is required to have a clear head. Needs that clarity to be able to issue orders and make quick decisions in the best interests of those under his command and in the heat of battle. The fact he is also required to be able to think about battle strategies and anything that comes under the Inquisition's radar with a clear mind and strength means that his frequent headaches are beginning to hinder not only his sleep, but also his ability to do his job effectively.
He had succeeded for some time in hiding the headaches from his fellow advisors and from the Inquisitor herself, but today was going to prove difficult. He had not felt pain like this before, not solely concentrated around his brain and creating faint dark spots around his eyes.
It had been an effort to climb down from his bed that morning - how he had managed not to fall down the ladder was clearly down to luck or the Maker's watchful eye.
He feels the effects of the pain it in the way he moves, the pulsating ache making him sluggish and his words slur when he tries to speak He had tried not to talk while eating that morning and so far had stayed hidden in the war room, hoping the quietness of that one place in Skyhold would help.
He has several books are piled up on the desk, and he holds one in his hands staring at the words on the page open before him. He has been reading the same passage over and over - something about how far back from the vanguard archers need to be to make it safe for an armies own men to fight - but his vision keeps blurring and merging together making his stomach scrunch painfully and a sick feeling rise.
After another failed attempt at reading the page, Cullen throws the book hard across the room with a roar of rage. It lands open on the floor and he stares at it angrily for a few seconds breathing hard. He shifts uncomfortably in his armour, wishing he could change out of it. It feels heavy and cumbersome today and he is burning up inside of it.
"What did that book ever do to you?" Her voice cuts through the haze, creating a brief second of clarity which he tries to reach for, but it escapes his grasp and the room spirals into chaos around him.
He hadn't even realised she had entered, the war room had been empty when he had stumbled his way there. He searches for the source of her voice, steadying himself on the table uneasily.
He needn't have bothered to look. She is in front of him in a few seconds as if materialising from nowhere. Nevena's expression is pulled into one of concern, her brows knit together and her mouth drawn into a line of worry.
"Commander?" He sees her hand - at least he thinks it's her hand - but it is gnarled and twisted in his mind. He flinches away.
"Don't touch me!" He seethes, his words muffled in his own ears. "Get away from me!" He tries to step back and stumbles. He catches himself on the war table and barely avoids tumbling to the floor. His legs tremble and his stomach turns over.
"You're sick," Nevena states. She has not moved yet Cullen can feel her smothering him and cowers away from the sound of her voice. "Commander, please, let me--"
Her hands extend towards him, and in his mind an image flashes. Abominations and demons surrounding him. Twisted limbs and clawed fingers reaching for him, digging into his flesh and his mind. Seductive voices playing on his desires. He fumbles for the hilt of his blade, desperately groping for it to defend himself from the illusion before him that is all too familiar and real.
As he clumsily unsheathes it, he hears a cry of pain and her hand retreats quickly. "Get away from me, demon!" He bellows and holds the sword up as firmly as he can.
Nevena was gone now, replaced by the monster with twisted features he recalled. Horns in place of hair, chains in place of clothing. Glowing purple eyes and scales decorating its face.
"Commander, please put your sword down." The demon insists, using Nevena's voice. His brow furrows and as he tries to take a step, he stumbles. His blade falls from his hand and clatters noisily on the stone floor reverberating around his skull only serving to make the pain in his head worse.
"Stop it!" Cullen snarls, clutching blindly at his belt for his blade again, forgetting he has dropped it. "I resisted you once, I will do so again! You will not use my desires against me!" Somehow he finds himself on the floor, crouching and curling in on himself twisting his fingers into his hair and burying his face in his hands to block her out. He digs his fingernails into his scalp, clawing at his head to try and scrape out the pain.
"Cullen," her voice sounds foreign and far away. He doesn't dare look up, he knows how a demons trickery works.
"Make it stop." He begs instead, rocking on his knees. "Make it stop."
He hears a door open and footsteps, more noise that echoes in his mind. "What happened, I heard--" Another woman's voice, heavily accented. "Cullen?! What happen-- Inquisitor, are you alright?! Your hand, you're bleeding!"
"I'm fine, Josephine." Nevena tells the other woman with forced calmness. "Cullen-- he is not himself. I don't know what's wrong."
Josephine speaks urgently. "I'll send for some guards, have him taken back to his chambers--"
"No." Nevena snaps and Josephine's footsteps pause mid-step. "The recruits cannot see him like this, and he's in no fit state to climb that fool ladder. Get Bull, tell him to help the Commander to my chamber as quietly as he can, its closer. And Solas, get Solas too."
"Of course." Josephine agrees. "Will you be safe, looking over him?"
"I'll be fine, Josie." Nevena tells her, "I'm more worried about him being a danger to himself."
As Josephine's steps recede, a shadow looms over him and Cullen can feels a body crouch down a few feet away.
Sweat drips down his forehead and he can feel droplets as they slide down his back. The pain he inflicts on himself grounding him for the moment, giving him something to focus on beside the throb in his head and the fear that clutches and swipes at his insides.
"It's alright," Nevena speaks to him gently, "you're alright, Cullen. Hush, just be patient, help is coming..."
The next few minutes are a blur of voices and movement to him in his disorientated state.
He is hoisted up and leans on a huge bulk of a person, and he walks distances that seemed to go on for miles. He is accosted by blurry sights and vague faces. Sounds that are too loud and drown each other out. Temperatures that are too hot and then suddenly too cold. His legs were weak beneath him and whomever he leans upon is all that holds him up.
When he finally stops and comes to rest on a soft downy surface, it is a relief for his tired body and he wants nothing more than to surrender to its tantalising call of warmth and security. But bodies still mill around him. Mere figures that, to him, appear to move from one place to the other without walking.
Someone strips him of his cloak, of his armour and the padding underneath it until his bare chest is open to the elements. His feet meet cold floor and suddenly he is enveloped in sheets and coverlets up to his waist.
He mumbles vaguely, protests and blind yelps of fear as horrors tear into his mind.
He is shivering and sweating as blue glowing lights floats above him, waved and wafted by masterful hands with long, thin fingers.
Fingers, he recognises, the first clear thought he can make. Not claws.
Voices murmur a small distance away from him. His surroundings slowly come into focus as the draw of sleep wraps him in its embrace and pulls him down away from the floating blue lights and the over-lapping voices.
Solas releases a long breath, lowering his hands. The healing glow fading away leaving Cullen still and deceptively restful in the covers of Nevena's bed.
Nevena stands a few feet away with Iron Bull and Josephine, a bandage around her injured hand.
"He'll sleep for a while." Solas tells them, and then his gaze falls to Nevena's hand. "Would you like me to see to your injury, Herald?"
"No," Nevena shakes her head, her gaze fixed on Cullen. She approaches her bed and perches on the edge beside his still body. "It isn't serious." Her gut turns over as she eases unkempt strands of curly blond hair from the Commander's sweat soaked brow.
"Thank you for your help, Bull." Josephine says gratefully. A signal to the Qunari that it is time for them to remove themselves from the room.
Solas retrieves the wash basin and stand from the bathing area of Nevena's chamber and brings it across to her bed. He fills it the bowl with a jug of water and hands Nevena a cloth made of cotton once he has dampened it. She lays the material across Cullen's forehead and pushes her fingers through her hair, her shoulders drop and suddenly she looks weary.
Cullen's expression twinges a little in his sleep at the touch of the cold fabric, but he does not move.
"He thought I was a demon." Nevena explains to Solas, turning her gaze to him. "That was why he attacked me. Why would he think that?"
"I do not know the Commander's history." Solas speaks, his tone even, "but lyrium withdrawal can play tricks on a man's mind."
"I can only assume that is the cause of his outburst, as he was a Templar he would have been given it in controlled doses..." The elf mage's voice trails when he sees the worry deepen on her features and her eyes return to Cullen's pained face. Solas lightly touches Nevena's shoulder. "He will remain like this for some time. I'll come back in a few hours to check on you both."
"Thank you, Solas." Nevena replies with a weak smile. "Please, remember, don't let anyone else know about this... if he loses the respect of the recruits..."
Solas gives a small sympatric nod, "I understand. They will hear nothing from me."
After he leaves, Nevena rinses the cloth on Cullen's head and began to wipe down the naked skin she has access to, ridding him of his cooling sweat to busy her hands and her mind.
In any other circumstance, seeing him without clothes would have been a pleasure. An opportunity she would have taken to coyly marvel at his build, his broad shoulders, his muscles and the smattering of blond hair across his chest. But her worry is too great to focus on such flippant and frivolous thoughts.
She has never been witness to anything like what she has just experienced.
Her advisor, her friend losing himself in such a way and seeing her as a threat.
She knows he is a former Templar, he had been forthcoming with such information, being honest from the start was the first thing she had admired about him. She realises now how naive she has been to think - to hope - that he would not suffer consequences for turning his back on the Order. He wasn't just a pariah in the sense of leaving.
His past haunts him in a more physical way than that.
Lyrium withdrawal is not an unfamiliar concept to her, she know that Templars use it for their own abilities. She has never seen the effects of withdrawal, never been witness to what it can do to a person. Turn their brain on itself, make allies appear as enemies.
He suffers at because of the whim and hand of the Chantry.
"Stupid." Nevena mutters to herself drawing the cloth slowly across Cullen's shoulders and collar bone.
For an hour or more she mops sweat from his body, rinses the cloth and repeats the action. His expression changes only a few times, he grunts and moans in his sleep and more than once she grabs his hand and strokes her fingers across his flesh when she notices Cullen's fingers furling and unfurling in the sheets. His eyes flicker open once or twice but he never awakens.
When he trembles, she piles more blankets around him, and removes them when he begins to sweat again. It's a steady dance, a rhythm, of trying to keep him comfortable and calm.
Nevena lifts the wash basin from its stand after the three hour mark. The water needs changing, it is dirty and she wants a new cloth too.
She is gone from her chamber for no more than two minutes, having to go to the well for fresh, cold water.
When she returns, it is to the sound of panicked shouts and the image of Cullen thrashing wildly in the sheets.
She leaves the basin on her desk and races towards her bed.
"Cullen-- Cullen--!" She grabs one of his hands, amazed even now at his strength, how easily he jerks her around though she has the grip on him.
He shouts incomprehensible words, cries of terror that sound almost inhuman and are ripped from the deepest part of him where his nightmares are still alive and trouble him.
"Cullen!" Nevena pushes the arm she holds down into the mattress, putting her own weight and strength behind it. "It's alright," her hand drifts down across his bare chest where she can feel his heart beat racing intensely against his ribs. She pushes her palm flat against his chest. She knows shouting won't help, and tries to speak to him in the calmest voice she can muster, pretending she can't hear it quaver in her ears.
"Settle down," Nevena practically pleads him, ignoring the sharp tingle behind her eyes and nose. A threat of tears that she holds at bay. "It's alright, Cullen." She places the hand that had been on his chest on his shoulder and holds him down. She narrowly avoids his arm and elbow, which miss her face by centimetres. "Be calm... you are safe. You are safe."
He strains against her, his back rising off the covers in a fit of spasm and anguish. His brow furrows deeply, the moments of respite from his troubled mind, gone.
Nevena holds him down, kneeling on the bed beside him and does the only thing she can, she waits. Waits for the this moment of fear and panic only known only to him to subside so he can return to a restful state.
It takes over half an hour of effectively wrestling him down onto the bed so he does not harm himself or her. Her hair is in disarray by the time he is still and she is out of breath, panting as his arms go limp and his head sinks into the pillows. Tear trickle down her cheeks and she wipes them away hurriedly, sniffling.
Certain the worst is over, she crosses to her desk to retrieve the wash basin and returns with it.
As she gently wipes sweat from his forehead, she sees his eyes fly open and look wildly around. She takes away the cloth murmuring: "shh." She cups his face and strokes her thumb across his forehead. When his eyes find hers, she sees a glimmer of recognition and the fear in his gaze leaves.
"Hush," Nevena orders him, schooling her expression. "You're sick. You need to sleep."
"Cullen," her tone takes a warning edge and even in his confusion that seems to break through the fever. He closes his eyes and rests back into the pillows, breathing through his nose, his exhaustion pulling him away from the land of consciousness.
Blindly, he pads his hand across the covers and across his chest, searching for something.
Nevena removes her hand from his cheek and hesitantly brushes her fingers across his hand. He grabs on, locking his fingers through hers. His hands are calloused and weapon worn, a life time of battle reflected in the scars and long healed sores on his skin. His grip is firm and Nevena can feel his heart beat slowing as he brushes his thumb across her knuckles regularly in time with his breathing.
He exhales slowly through his nose. "... like you ... Nevena..." His voice is husky and strained as he speaks, heavy with sleep.
"I like you, too." Nevena tells him leaning forward, easing the cold cloth across Cullen's forehead and down his neck.
"Hmm," he hums sleepily, "...m sorry..."
"Sorry for what?"
"... running ..."
Nevena gazes at him softly, "running?" She feels his hand tighten around hers. Laying the cloth to one side for a moment, she leans over him, caressing the damp skin of his cheek, feeling his stubble rough against the pads of her finger tips. "Cullen, what are you running from?"
"...m ... you..." Cullen sighs, his breath coming out in a rush as he shifts in the covers. "...m... afraid..."
"You don't have to be afraid," Nevena whispers, "I'm here... I'm not going anywhere."
"Don't--" Cullen implores. His tone has an tint of desperation and fear to it. His grip is almost crushing around Nevena's fingers. "Don' leave--"
"I won't." Nevena consoles him, touching her forehead to his. An act that is intimate and too familiar, but feels natural. Feels right. "I swear, I won't leave you." She presses her lips to his softly, her mouth merely ghosting over his.
Her heart flutters in her chest when he lets slip a faint, sleepy moan. She’s never kissed him before, though she has wanted to. The fact the first time they kiss he’s barely conscious, with a high fever and unlikely to remember it is strangely comforting. "I will keep you safe." She teases strands of his hair around the fingers of her vacant hand. "I promise."
And she does.
Evening gives way to night and she stays by his side.
Solas visits twice, once to administer another dose of healing magic and the second time to bring Nevena something to eat. He moves a chair to the bed so she can sit in it and read, rather than perch on the edge of the mattress and hunch. She never releases Cullen's hand no matter how much either of them move.
Varric and Dorian come to check up on them both having been told only the very basic information by Solas and Josephine. They stay for several hours talking in soft but enthusiastic voices, keeping Nevena company and poorly hiding their own concern for the Commander. Varric reads from one of his own novels, and when that gets dull begins to embellish the story even further to the point of lunacy.
They leave when Nevena begins to yawn.
Dorian tucks a blanket around her at her request and creates a fire. Varric shutters the windows. Her room is silent and still the rest of the night except for the fire crackling in the hearth and the sound of their breathing.
Nevena sleeps lightly, awakening each time Cullen stirs which is only a few times and never violently. The worst, it seems, is over and when the first slivers of dawn light break through the cracks in the window shutters, Cullen's hold on her hand has slackened and he is relaxed, sleeping soundly.
Cullen wakes to the sounds of Skyhold coming alive.
The murmur of recruits beginning the days training in the yard and the smells of food being cooked rise from the kitchens. He is groggy and his mind muddled. His stomach growls telling him how hungry he is as he rubs sleep from his eyes with the back of his hand.
Slowly the room comes into focus around him and he grows acutely aware of the fact he is not in his own chamber. The bed he sleeps in is huge, the banners on the wall are not familiar to him and this room is much larger than his own. There is no sound of the draught he has become familiar with. Confusion clouds his mind as he pushes himself to sit and the blankets pool in his lap.
He feels a weight on his leg, the fingers of his right hand are held down He follows the image of entwined fingers up the arm of whom the hand belongs. She is leaning forward in the chair, resting her cheek on her right forearm. Her hair is loose and in disarray creating a brilliant golden halo around her as the shafts of light shimmers off it igniting different shades.
Memories come upon him, of his fever and his sickness. Of fits and spasms and of a mindless, nameless fear that crept up on him from the back of his mind. He recalls her wrestling him down as he fought back, a brief, hazy conversation between them when he had been in the clutches of raging temperatures, of him begging her not to leave.
And she had stayed with him.
Her touch anchoring him to the world and keeping him safe from his demons as she had promised him she would.
Cullen looks at their joined hands, relishing with renewed clarity how good her skin feels on his and how calm she looks sleeping. He counts the freckles on her cheek, leaning back against the headboard, stroking his thumb across her knuckles idly. He silently thanks the Maker for this moment, this brief period of privacy where he can watch her sleep and be enthralled by this woman whom he has come to care for more than he thought possible.
Who remained at his side and grounded him through his terrors.
To whom he has given his heart without her asking for it.
Slowly the noises of outside seep through the shutters and disturb her too.
Her eyelids flicker and she mumbles tiredly trying to recapture the sleep that he can see escaping her. She sweeps her free hand - that he notices now is bandaged and bloody - through her hair, clearing her face.
He gently clenches his fingers around hers and that is enough to garner her attention and drag her unwilling from the Fade. Her brown eyes, which glow almost amber, follow the line of his arm and torso, rise over his shoulder and finally land on his. Her lips crawl into a beautiful, lazy smile - relief is clear on her face.
"Good morning," he says watching her sit up. She switches places from her chair to the edge of the bed, the blankets in her lap falling to the floor. Her fingers disappear from between his and he misses her touch instantly.
"How do you feel?" She lays her hand across his temple and against his cheeks, checking for fever. "You gave me - us - quite a scare."
"I'm... fine." He tells her, looking at the red mark on her cheek where she had been leaning on her forearm. "I feel... like myself again. Thank you."
"Good." Her smile broadens and unconsciously she lays her hand on his bare chest. "I was worried about you."
Nevena tilts her head, looking at him as if surprised by his own astonishment. "Of course I did. I care about you, Cullen." His stomach twists pleasurably to hear her use his name, to his memory she hasn't before. A soft smile graces her lips, "you asked me to keep you safe."
"And you did." He straightens and hesitantly rises his hand to cup her face. He sweeps his thumb across her lips, tracing the curve of her cupids bow. Her lips pucker against his thumb and he brushes it up her cheek. "You kept me here, kept me grounded. You were my anchor." Blush explodes across her cheeks prettily and they grow hot against his palm. "Thank you, Inquisitor." He angles towards her, tilting her head back slightly.
Her lips are open a little, moist, pink and tantalising. His mouth hovers above hers an inch or so, requesting - begging for - permission to kiss her.
"Nevena." She tells him, her eyes fluttering closed.
Cullen swallows thickly, "Nevena." He corrects.
His heart hammers in his chest as he closes the space between them. Her breath tickles his lips and her hand on his abdomen clenches against him, mimicking how his stomach clenches in anticipation. His lips tingle. He is surrounded by the smell of her, embedded in her sheets and now in his skin. His head swims, he is intoxicated by her essence.
Then the door to her chamber slams beneath them, ricocheting against the wall and two male voices rise in a cacophony of rowdy shouts.
The moment is lost and they break apart without another glance at the other.
Dorian and Varric jostle each other when they reach the top of the stairs. Nevena stands with her arms folded and in a commanding posture.
"We came to see how Curly was feeling!" Varric explains, panting.
"We raced." Adds Dorian with a smile that comes far too easily so early in the morning. "From the-- kitchens."
"You two are such children." Nevena tells them crossly. She steps aside however and he sees the grins that appear on his friends faces. "He's awake and, as far as I can tell, back to the reliable Commander we all know."
Cullen's gaze flickers to Nevena's face. Her eyes on his and she offers a small, rueful smile. The moment is gone and they are no longer on equal footing. They have returned to their rightful places. Him as her Commander, and her as his Inquisitor and Herald. A lofty station and high above him, far out of reach.
He feels a tightness in his chest and around his heart that is unexpected but hides it, as Varric and Dorian are filling the air with words enthusiastically, too quickly for him to make any sense of what they are telling him.
"I'll tell Solas you're up." Nevena announces, hovering by the stairwell. "Ask him to come and check on you, and I'll get something from the kitchens for you to eat."
He nods at her, "thank you, Inquisitor."
"Commander," she replies. Her voice is controlled and cool as she leaves, but he would have sworn to seeing her eyes water as she disappeared.
Summery: Suffering with lyrium withdrawal and fever, Nevena’s touch is what keeps Cullen grounded.
Genuinely pretty happy with this one, which is rare. Because I don't know how the game plays out and how the romance with Cullen plays out, I'm reluctant to put anything in real context of story so... Anyway... I had seen a lot of Cullen sitting up with an injured Inquisitor - which is fine. But I wanted to put the shoe on the other foot.