[ Master Post ]
Title: Rhapsody In Ass Major – Chapter 163
Fandom: Dragon Age
Characters: Cormac Hawke ♂, Cullen ♂
Rating: M (L3 N0 S0 V2 D0)
Warnings: Discussion of past abuse
Notes: Cormac admits to some things. Cullen tries very hard not to admit to anything.
Cullen fidgeted where he stood, offering Cormac an awkward smile. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to like the questions Cormac had, but he’d try to answer them as honestly as he could. "Shall we sit?" he offered, gesturing at the chairs in front of the fireplace. "From the look on your face, this looks like a sitting conversation."
Cormac nodded and sat in one of the chairs, by the fireplace. "I’m sorry for the things I’m about to say. I have to ask some really ugly questions, and just… try not to get too pissed off at me? I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m asking you, because I think you weren’t involved, and I need to know what happened." He stared at the floor between his feet, elbows resting on his knees. It was a position he’d found himself in a lot, in the last couple of days. "It’s bad, Cullen. It’s bad, and I don’t know what to do, because I don’t know anything but that."
Cullen sank into the chair across from Cormac. This was definitely a sitting conversation. "All right," he replied softly, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees too but looking at Cormac instead of the floor. "You are welcome to ask whatever you need to ask. And I’ll… I’ll do my best to answer." He opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to find the right words. Just thinking about Kinloch Hold made his stomach twist. "Just… remember I was young and relatively new when… well, when the Blight happened. And Uldred. I don’t know how many answers I can give you."
"I keep forgetting how much younger you are." Cormac shook his head. "You married my brother. In my head that makes you… well, older than you are, I suppose." He laughed awkwardly, wondering where to even start. There were so many things he wanted answers to, but he didn’t really want to ask the ones Cullen couldn’t answer. "You mentioned you remembered him from the dungeon. He mentioned being in a dungeon. Tell me what you can remember about that. I’ve never seen the inside of a mage tower. I don’t quite know where to start asking, but if you start at the beginning, I’ll meet you in the middle." It wasn’t true, really. He’d been in the Gallows, but not in any way he’d admit to having gotten there. He’d never seen the proper insides of a tower.
And Cullen supposed Cormac was bound to ask about that at some point, though he was surprised Cormac was asking him. "Yes," he said, looking down at his hands. "That’s where he was when I came to Kinloch Hold. They said he kept causing trouble and trying to escape. ‘They’ being the other templars, my superiors. They called it ‘solitary’."
Like Anders was a recalcitrant child they’d told to sit in the corner. And Cullen could picture it, the dungeons, all cold, dark stone and stinking of Maker knew what. And Cullen knew what, really, if he let himself think about it. "He’d been down there a while by the time I first saw him, and he was half mad by then. Probably more than half."
"Tell me, Cullen." Cormac kept looking at the floor, setting the stone between his feet, as he felt his hand start to heat up. The magic stayed on the stone, and it changed subtly, but visibly, as he watched. "He’s still out of his fucking mind. What happened, down there? Because something that happened there is why he’s not talking to me. He’s shut himself in his room, and he’s not talking to anyone. I know you don’t know all of it. I’m just hoping you can hit the part I’m looking for. You know how he doesn’t drink much? He gets drunk and remembers. Most people get drunk to forget. I’m trying to figure out what I can ask about, directly, without breaking any confidences. So, let me start somewhere you’d have to have seen. Chained to the wall and packed full of magebane, he says. I don’t doubt it, but you’re going to remember details that I don’t have. I need them."
Cullen wondered if Cormac knew how intimidating this could have been, watching the man squeeze a rock into transparency with his mind, the man he’d watch stick a hand through the Arishok’s chest. In the past, Cullen would have been intimidated, possibly defensive, but he’d since faced scarier things and lived.
"Chained. Yes." Cullen’s voice was soft as he remembered, as he swallowed back the nausea that came with thoughts of Kinloch Hold. "I… I didn’t see everything. Mostly, I saw the aftermath. Bruises. Injuries they wouldn’t let him heal." Cullen paused, grappling with words again. "And what I did see… a few of my ‘colleagues’—" He spat the word. "—well, they treated him like a dog. They spat on him, threw food at his feet and…" He shook his head. "There were rules. There was — is — a way we’re supposed to conduct ourselves, but it was like those rules didn’t exist down there, not with him." Though he supposed it was naive of him to think that those rules were only broken in the dungeons.
"He’s got a pretty notable scar that dates back to that. Well, he’s got a few. You’ve seen some of them — maybe you’ve seen all of them. Half of it’s on his hand." A bitter laugh leapt to Cormac’s lips, and the stone squeaked, scorching the stone of the floor. Another good reason to sit by the fire, Cormac decided, watching another smear of stone start to yellow.
"I know there’s more. I suspect a lot of things, but I want to know what you think, because you were there. Me, I’m just surprised he’s become who he is. Do you know why he came to Kirkwall? That I can tell you. You already know so much of it. Karl Thekla. He won’t talk about it, but I’m… I suggested they were in love, once, and he looked at me like I’d kicked him. Said no mage was that stupid, but Karl was his best friend. I’m still sure he’s understating it."
Cormac paused, looking up from the stone to study Cullen’s face. "I wouldn’t tell you this, but I think you already know. Somewhere in your head you’ve put the pieces together. You need to know that Anders killed him. You also need to know it was because — The man’s got some dirty Warden tricks I can’t discuss, but he brought a Tranquil mage back to his senses for a few minutes, with one of them. It doesn’t last. It’s not a cure. You don’t have to worry about that. It was a flicker. I was there. I know what that makes me, but I was there, and if you feel the need to do something about that, all I ask is that you wait until I make this right." Cormac finally looked up. "He begged Anders to kill him. And then he was gone again." The stone squealed, again. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ He remembered the Tranquility settling back across Karl’s face. "I am extremely surprised at how calm, kind, and reasonable Anders is, and I am surprised by it every day. I would not be so pleasant. So, if something happened that was enough to —" He gestured toward the door. "I have to know what it was. I have to know all of it, because there’s no way I can … do… anything, without some clue what I’m walking into."
For a moment, Cullen’s mind stuck on the thought of a Tranquil being made un-Tranquil. Even if it was just for a moment, that went beyond the scope of Cullen’s experience, and it was the sort of thing that would haunt him for a while. He wanted to ask more, but now wasn’t the time.
"I remember Karl," Cullen murmured, eyes squeezing shut, shoulders bowing. "Outspoken, but a good man. I… that was Alrik’s handiwork, as I recall. And those who followed Alrik, I don’t suspect they would have gotten much better from us than they got from you, if it came out." He’d always suspected Anders had been involved with the death of those templars in the Chantry, and he hadn’t blamed him then and blamed him even less now. He hadn’t considered that Cormac had had a hand in that, and he supposed it was best if he didn’t consider it now. Still, death was likely kinder than the Order’s punishment for such dramatic disobedience. "As for Anders, Cormac, I wish I could help you. There was a lot going on in Kinloch Hold that I wasn’t privy to. There were rumours, certainly, and Maker knew there were always rumours about Anders." Cullen rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, pinched the bridge of his nose. "Anything else I tell you, it… it would mostly be conjecture." He shrugged helplessly. "Will you… will you tell me what happened between you two?"
"If I leave it at ‘sex accident’, does that give you enough of a clue why I’m asking? Your conjectures are better based than mine, I suspect, at least about some things." Cormac rubbed his face and looked into the unlit fireplace. "I’m going to give you a few phrases. You never heard them, I didn’t say them, but I suspect at least one of them is relevant to the situation. Those are the ones I want to know what you’ve heard about. I’m giving you a handful, because I can’t tell you what’s important, here. ‘The templars can show you what I’m really good for, and they’re right. I am good for it. Every time’? Maybe ‘love seems like a real dick thing to do to somebody’? How about ‘chained up and used as a toilet’? Or ‘I guess they thought if it fell off, I’d stop going over the water’?"
Cormac’s words were like ice down Cullen’s back. He wished he could keep playing ignorant, wished he could continue pretending he didn’t know what Cormac had been getting at this entire time. He remembered Anders’s face as they’d talked over duchess cakes, remembered the haunted, brittle look he’d seen behind Anders’s eyes, behind all the jokes. Another mage Cullen had failed in his duties to.