Bring Him Back: Cassandra/Cadash (future relationship), mostly light angst
The makeshift tents of the Haven refugees are scattered over the snowy slope like a handful of tiny greyish triangular seeds resting on the palm of a giant, with black ridges rising beyond the circle of campfire like long, sharp fingernails; if you stare at them too long, your head beginning to swim with the endless circling of the icy wind gusts, you may begin to imagine the creak of the enormous joints and the slow but certain approach of the clawed fingertips as the giants closes its fists and crushes the caravan, one and all.
Cassandra huffs in distaste, giving the embers a violent poke with a charred stick. What manner of nonsense is stewing inside her foolish skull?! There is no giant, no fiat - just cliffs and snowdrifts as far as the eye can see! This is probably lack of sleep showing: she has been up on her feet too long, inspecting the camp and keeping watch and getting the groaning, tired soldiers in line - so now, whenever the biting cold proves too much for her and she instinctively gravitates closer to a source of warmth, the drowsy pull of the gently crackling fire makes her lose focus. Her eyelids grow heavy and sticky, and her imagination runs wild and unrestrained, allowing the spirits of the Fade to beguile it with all manner of bizarre images. Which - which she should put an end to, right now! She still has things to do before going to sleep! Ideally, she must not go to sleep at all - at least, for a few… a few more hours…
‘Are you all right? Do you need help getting to your tent?’
Cullen’s voice rings out in the darkness over her shoulder like a snap of a whip. Jolting completely awake, Cassandra whizzes to her feet, swirls around and, pointing her stick into the very startled Commander’s face, bellows a hoarse 'NO!’, which thunders so loudly that she staggers back a few paces, looking in up in fear that she may have just set off a tiny avalanche.
In doing so, she almost steps right into the middle of the fire she has been stoking - but Cullen grips her firmly over the elbow before the sole of her boot can meet the spitting embers.
'Get some rest,’ he says sternly. 'I can take over your duties. I don’t… I am not too fond of sleeping anyway’.
'I am not fond of sleeping either,’ Cassandra grouses, jerking free and spreading her shoulders. 'If it interferes with what I need to do’.
Cullen frowns, both their tired, slightly hazy gazes locking for a moment in silence; then, he blinks slowly and asks,
'You are going to climb those rocks again, aren’t you?’
'Yes,’ Cassandra snaps, a little defensively - seeing that Cullen has begun to draw a sigh and lower his head while she is still speaking. 'It will give me a good view of our camp, and I will promptly see if Cadash approaches!’
Cullen’s reply is not unexpected - because what he says to her echoes the voice of the undying dark presence that has been scraping at the inside of Cassandra’s chest, never easing its grip, no matter if she is alert or drifting off to sleep.
'I am sorry… I do not think he is coming back’.
He has more to say after than, something about the avalanche being to destructive, about it being impossible to face a dragon, and whatever that twisted creature was that commanded it, in single combat and live, about… about… Cassandra does not care to listen. Purposefully. She tosses her head from one shoulder to the other, to banish Cullen’s voice from her head like her own feverish half-dreams, and, shaking off the last shreds of the fire’s tantalizing warmth, and marches away, out of the safety of the golden circle and into the raw centre of the howling snowstorm, to crawl up the stone giant’s fingers.
On her way to the clifftops, as the air laps around her in an inky-black stream, Cassandra suddenly remembers that climb they made to the ruins of the Temple of Sacred Ashes: herself, Solas, Varric, and Cadash. The weather was hardly any better than it is now, and even though Solas used barrier spells and fiery wisps to keep the bitter winds at bay, sometimes the gusts of the mountains’ icy breath and the ever-shifting, wave-like snowdrifts still proved too much, especially for the two dwarves, who would frequently get their short legs stuck in the clutches of what Varric called 'blasted white outdoor goo’, and fall over awkwardly.
Cadash would try to turn it all into a joke, moving his limbs like horizontal pendulums each time he would get plastered into the snow, so that the imprint of his body would turn into a bizarre, winged silhouette in a long, bell-shaped robe. Sometimes, he would also burrow a little bit deeper, and then rise back up, with his swarthy tattooed face distorted in an over-the-top grimace and lumps of snow sticking out of his beard, stretch out his white-powdered arms in front of him, wriggle his purposely crooked fingers, and growl throatily,
'I am a darkspawn! I have come to get Varric for not being a proper Orzammar dwarf!’
And Varric would chuckle as he pulled his kinsman back to his feet, and even Solas would eventually make a snort-like noise at the 'shifty smuggler’ dwarf’s antics; whereas Cassandra would scoff and turn away, inhaling deeply and making a very concentrated effort to contain that tickling feeling that would touch her lips whenever Cadash’s jokes got particularly ridiculous.
She has been doing the same ever since, with increasing frequency - for Cadash did not stop at wallowing in the snow. He has been trying to make a joke out of everything: from the self-importance of Chantry clerks like Roderick (whom he would prank times beyond count, especially when that girl Sera joined the team - and yet seemed sincerely worried about when he got wounded by a Red Templar during this destructive raid on Haven) to the pompous mannerisms of the Orlesian dignitaries (in Cassandra’s honest opinion, his impersonations of the Inquisition’s guests of honour made Josephine laugh far heartier than she should have). She herself has never condoned the dwarf’s behaviour - Maker, it was like being stuck with a second, slightly younger, and even more irreverent and irresponsible Varric. And yet…
And yet now, as she battles the snowstorm and pushes herself from one slippery, rime-crusted stony ledge to another; as she remembers Cadash’s carefree laughter, and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes, so bright and keen against the dark of his skin - she wonders to herself if perhaps she should have.
Should have scowled less at his childish trickery; because she has to admit, mocking those puffed-up Orlesians does get… kind of enjoyable at times. Especially since these supposed protectors of the faith had never lifted a sword in their whole lives (except maybe posing for an official court portrait), and the jokes were being peppered right into their powdered half-masked faces by a man who had just gotten back from a heated, bloody battle with actual rampaging demons, during which he… he had complemented Cassandra’s own fighting style most efficiently, darting about with his trusty daggers like a brownish blur, and helpfully cloaking her in dazzling purple smoke whenever she found herself overwhelmed and needed a moment to bolster her strength again.
Should have indulged his elaborately corny flirtations; because… because there was something refreshingly endearing about being told that 'You are one mighty force of nature, a hurricane shaped into a woman and poured into armour; I swear I can see those nebulous swirls and lightning flashes still alive in your eyes’… And besides, even though Cassandra would always remind herself that Cadash’s flirting was too much like the smooth speeches delivered by some dashing gentleman thief from her guilty pleasure novels, too ornate, too good to be true, at times… he did sound… almost like he… like he meant it… in all earnestness?
Should have stayed longer at Flissa’s in the evenings, instead of excusing herself with having extra training to do; should have made herself comfortable when invited, and listened to the yarns Cadash would spin about his impossible Carta heists, encouraged by Varric, eventually turning the tall tales of narrow escapes and breakneck chases into impromptu songs… Because, from what she heard streaming out of the tavern window on her way to the training grounds, he does have a remarkable singing voice, soft and velvety deep, making even the silliest lines like 'My partner left me in the lurch, but I still kicked the guardsmen in the crotch’ sound somehow… enchanting.
Should have. Should have. Should have. Because - what if it is too late now? What if Cullen is right; what if the voice in her head is right?
What if he is no more - Ralav Cadash, the self-introduced 'one-time wealth redistributor extraordinaire, now the saviour of all Thedas, at your service’, also called 'Winky’ by Varric and 'Bud-dddeeeeh’ by Sera? What if there will be no more radiant smiles, no more evening songs, no more silly card tricks?
What if the destructive white torrent, which Cadash himself set off, did crush and smother him, to the point where there would not be any more getting up, any more finger-wriggling, any more 'Hey, I am a darkspawn’?
What if he was ripped apart by one of those monstrous creatures, deformed husks infected with red lyrium, and left to die, broken, bleeding, with pulsing red crystals coming out of the messy, mangled wounds all over his body? The way… the way she herself would have died, in that other timeline that Cadash visited: this is what he himself told her, as an explanation for the sudden wordless hug he gave her the moment he and the supposedly well-intentioned Tevinter stumbled back out of the evil Tevinter’s portal. He sounded so flustered when he stepped away from her, wiping off the blood that was still oozing from a cut in his cheek; so unlike his usual jovial self, so sincerely upset - and at the same time, afraid that she would get angry at him for his little outburst of emotion, just as she had seemed to get angry at him for his pranks. She should have explained to him that she was never actually angry; that she had actually come to value his friendship, his aid in battle, his concern for her well-being… Should have. Should have.
The wind dies by the time Cassandra reaches the top, and the mountainside spreads out before her in a bumpy silvery carpet, glittering faintly in the moonlight. Everything is perfectly still, and across this snowy expanse, there is not a single trace of a tiny dwarven figure, making its way towards the safety of the camp.
Cassandra’s breath catches in her throat, sticking to its back like something dry and hard, and then escapes forcefully, in three cloudy, milky puffs, while her stomach knots tightly and her chest and neck feel oddly hot, despite the nocturnal frost. She feels like praying, sinking to her knees amid the snow and pouring her very life force out in a desperate plea to the Maker - and at the same time, she is deeply ashamed of this impulse, perhaps for the first time in her life. Because what she wants to ask Him is petty and selfish and unworthy. What she is wishing for, with an ardent pulse of her blood that almost deafens her, is not for the Maker to return Cadash to the Inquisition so that he can continue fighting evil and purifying His creation with the power granted by Andraste - but for Cadash to be returned to her, so she can return that hug of his, and hold him long and tight and close, and not look on at him with a scowl for once, and ask him to please, please, smile again, and tell another joke, and sing another song.
And that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?