Cullen had woken up from another nightmare, pacing his room in the night, going to the drawer where the blue bottle waited.
He was slipping.
Even in the daytime now, he'd seen the demons. Heard the voices of the mages as they died by his hand. By the hands he had ordered.
The song of the red lyrium in Meredith's veins as she had ordered him to kill more.
Always so much blood.
Yesterday he had nearly hit Lavellan. She had turned to him, and he'd seen black veins on her face, silver pools in her eyes, a forked tongue lashing out. She spoke, eyebrows quirked in concern, and he'd heard the hiss of desire demons.
If Cassandra hadn't been there to pull her to safety, Cullen might have...
He might have...
"You asked me to tell you when I felt your judgment was impaired," the Seeker had said, quietly. "I think it's time we looked for a replacement. Just temporarily. I think this is going to be the worst of it, and once it's over-"
But it hadn't been over. Not for a long time.
Cullen sank to the side of his bed, buried his hands in his hair, and let out a sob.
"Cullen?" Lavellan turned in her sleep, rubbed warm circles on his back.
"I can't do this." His voice broke. "I can't. I..."
He poured his sorrow into her, voice breaking, punching himself in the thigh to emphasize his words.
She hated seeing him like this. She hated when nothing she could do would help.
"I wish I had never joined the templars. Wish I had never taken lyrium. Wish none of this had ever happened."
She wrapped her arms around him, left kisses on his shoulder blades.
"You're the only good thing to come of any of this," he said.
When things got worse – they only ever seemed to get worse for him – and he spent most of the day raving, most of the night with nightmares, she retreated to the small vault they kept in the basement, the locked box containing Alexius' amulet.
The one that sent them forward in time.
Dorian had explained more of how it worked, and she thought she might be able to...
And she did.
Honnleath was just as beautiful as Cullen had described to her in all those nights, whispering stories of home with a smile on his lips.
She stepped into the center of town, a hood up to conceal her ears. She'd powdered her face to hide the vallaslin. It wasn't a great disguise, but she hoped that in such a remote village, people wouldn't be that accustomed to seeing elves.
She found him within minutes, standing with two other boys, wooden swords in their hands, practicing their fighting against each other before an enormous statue.
Is that a golem?
The thought fled from her mind the instant she saw him, a skinny boy with tight blonde curls against his head. He threw his head back, laughing, after knocking his friend to the ground.
She swallowed. He's so young. I mean... of course he is. That's the point. But...
He was so innocent. Happy.
Heart hammering in her chest, she stepped up to the fence around the boys. They watched as she came nearer, elbowing each other to point out the pretty girl.
If they don't know I'm an elf, they probably think I'm their age. I'm small enough.
The entire way here, the entire long walk from the ice cold ruin of Skyhold, down the mountain to Haven – pristine, undestroyed Haven – to hire a horse to come here, she had practiced every possible way to tell him what she needed to say. How could she prove that she was telling the truth? How could she convince him not to join the templars? And before that... how would she get a teenage boy alone with her, a stranger?
It had never occurred to her to try flirting with him. Not until this moment.
The loudest and brashest of them, dark skin and toned arms, stepped up to her, called her love, asked her what she was looking at.
"Him." She pointed at Cullen.
He turned pink to his ears.
She crooked her finger at him, grinning.
The boys crooned, slapped him on the back, propelled him forward. He couldn't back out now.
Cullen scrabbled over the fence, unable to meet her eyes.
"Come with me."
She took him by the arm, felt his hesitation. She saw him look back to his friends, but they were whistling and calling and she knew he wouldn't go back.
Lavellan took him behind one of the buildings, then let go of his arm.
"Um, Miss, I-"
"Don't worry, Cullen. I just wanted to talk to you."
"Oh?" He rubbed the back of his neck. "How did you know my name?"
"Ah, um. This is going to be hard to explain."
She stumbled over the explanation. I'm from the future. I have something to tell you.
Don't join the templars, Cullen.
He got angry, then, called her crazy. "Excuse me for not taking the word of some addle-brained girl. Who are you, anyway?"
She told him a blight was coming, within the year this place would be overrun with darkspawn. He scoffed, but she persisted.
"If it does, if it happens, will you believe me then?"
He laughed. "Sure. If darkspawn overrun Fereldan, I won't join the templars. Why not."
She grabbed his hands, made him promise.
Her touch had turned him blushing again. "I... Maker, sure. I promise."
She made him promise three more times.
Before he left, she pressed a coin into his hand. His coin.
"It's lucky." She felt her throat going thick, tears in her eyes. "It's um... It's just for luck."
"Are you... I mean, are you alright? If you need a place to stay, or... I mean, my mom could give you dinner, and there's... we have some room in the loft over the barn. It's really not much, but I just..."
She threw her arms around him, squeezing him tight. He awkwardly patted her shoulder.
"We don't get many travelers, but it's really not that big of a deal. We've hosted some before, and-"
"Thank you, Cullen. But I'm actually leaving. I just wanted to tell you this."
She pulled away, wiped a tear from her face. "Don't join the templars, Cullen."
"Only if I see darkspawn."
Lavellan smiled. "You will."
He was weeks away from taking his vows when rumors of the blight trickled through the Order.
The world was ending. But more than that, he felt everything was off-kilter.
A blight. Maker's breath. An actual blight.
He had kept the coin, buried in the bottom of the small chest at the foot of his soldier bed, and he got it out, held it in his palms as he knelt before Andraste in the chapel, whispered his fears.
And then he left.
"I need to return home, to keep my family and my village safe."
His Commander was disappointed, but understood. Many boys had gone home in those days.
Cullen slipped the coin into his pocket, head fuzzy.
This is insane.
But he left.
When Lavellan returned, not an hour had passed. She locked the pendant away in its box and walked back into skyhold.
Things were different. The templars seemed more... intense. But things were not as different as they could have been.
She gave Solas a sad smile that set his eyebrows raising, but she crossed the narrow bridge and knocked on the Commander's door.
A woman answered the door, red hair escaping a tight bun.
"Inquisitor! I was actually coming to deliver a report. Do you have a moment to go over it?"
The room was neat, warm, subtly decorated. She glanced up at the ladder.
The hole in the roof had been repaired.
"Inquisitor? Are you... are you alright?" The Commander – not her Commander, but the Commander – leaned against his desk. Her desk. "You look like you're about to cry."
Lavellan wiped at her eyes. "I'm just tired. You had a report for me?"
"Where will you go after this?" Varric asked, tossing back the last of his ale.
The dwarf laughed. "Andraste's ass. That's specific. That's in Fereldan, right?"
She nodded. "I figured I'd find a nice man, settle down. Raise a family."
"You know that's a human town, right?"
She nodded again.
Varric traced his thumb through the condensation on his mug. "Got a particular man in mind?"
"Yes." She couldn't help the small smile on her lips. "I do."
Varric gave a little huff at that, then stood up to get more drinks. "Good on you, Inquisitor. I hope we make it far enough for you two to be together."
The smile turned sadder. "So do I."
"Are you sure about this?" Cassandra asked, arms crossed by the horse they had readied for Lavellan.
"There's still more work to-"
"Cassandra." Lavellan hugged the woman, fierce and tight. She was surprised to find her friend hugging back. "You will do fine."
"I-" Lavellan felt the Seeker's breath go ragged. "I don't know how."
The elf pulled away, smiling, hot tears still in her eyes. "Neither did I. We have good people. They will help you."
Then Lavellan got on her horse and left Skyhold behind.
She arrived at Honnleath just before midday. There were children chasing each other in the streets. People talking, laughing as they purchased things from stalls and shops, gossiping together.
Lavellan drew stares to her ears, her face, but she kept her head high.
No one recognized her as the Inquisitor, not this far south, but she was treated kindly, with respect. She expected Briala's alliance with Celene had done that, or maybe her own status as Inquisitor.
"Can you tell me where Cullen Rutherford lives?" She asked of a shopkeeper.
He and his brother worked a farm just south of the village. Without prompting, several villagers had chimed in.
Such a nice boy.
So good with his nieces, one woman had giggled. They're so cute, all five of them hanging on him when he brings them in to town.
If only he weren't so shy.
Half the village's sweet on him. Girls and boys both.
Lavellan's heart was racing, her feet itching to take her to him, but every word the villagers said reinforced it in her mind.
This was the right choice.
She bought a snack for herself and an apple for the horse, then headed to his farm.
She found him, sun streaking his hair with gold, sitting by the water pump and taking a break.
He was as beautiful as she remembered. Maybe more so.
His body was so relaxed, so carefree.
His face was unscarred.
"Cullen Rutherford?" She asked as she tied her horse to his fence.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
Lavellan tucked her hair behind an ear, and he stood straighter.
"You're... Dalish? Yes?"
He sipped the water in his hand. "What brings you to my home?"
She swallowed hard, fiddling with the wrappings on her marked hand. "You didn't join the templars."
Cullen startled, looking at her sharply. "No... I didn't."
Her lips twitched in a grin. "Must've been all the darkspawn that changed your mind, huh?"
He was standing now, shaking his head slightly. "Who-"
"Did you keep the coin?" She asked. "For luck?"
Cullen crossed the space between them, then stopped, unsure. "It was you."
"It was me."
He opened and closed his mouth. "I... How? Who?"
"It's a long story. I'd be happy to tell it if you have a minute? And... if the offer of dinner and a place to stay is still on the table..."
He laughed. "Of course it is. I..." He rubbed the back of his neck.
Creators, she wanted to kiss him.
"I heard what's happened to the templars. During the blight... the circle. The red lyrium. I..." He shook his head. "I've had a good life. And every word I hear from the Order, I just..." He smiled. "Thank you. Whoever you are."
She beamed. "You're welcome."
For a second, she saw his eyes soften, his face get that lost look she had seen in Haven.
You didn't come here for a lecture.
No, but if you have one prepared, I'd love to hear it.
Cullen cleared his throat. "You can put your horse in the stable... I'm sorry, what is your name?"
"Lahria," she said. "Lahria Lavellan."
He held out a hand. "I'm Cullen Rutherford."
She took it, electricity buzzing up her spine to have his hand in hers again. "I know."
He laughed. "Of course you do. You've always..." He laughed, hand to the back of his neck again. "Maker. I can't wait to hear this story of yours."
"And I can't wait to tell it."