They were silent for a very, very long time. Neither of them dared to move, for fear that the Templar at the door would hear them and come bursting in to defend her- only to find his Captain alone in the room with her, both of them clad only in their nightclothes.
Eventually, Bethany broke his gaze, her chin trembling as she let out a soft sound that could have been the beginning of tears. It wrenched at his heart.
“Don’t cry, Beth,” he said, clambering around the edge of the bed in the small room. When he tried to put his arms around her, she skittered backwards, pressing herself against the wall and wiping her cheeks with the back of her hands.
“No, we shouldn’t… I mean…” She turned into the wall with a soft cry of distress. “Bad enough that we could be caught together at any moment, but I can’t…”
He hesitated for a moment. “Beth?” he said softly.
He saw a shudder run though her. “We agreed to stay away from each other,” she whispered. She sounded agonised. “And you’re here, and it’s everything I want but we can’t. If they find you here, after everything that’s already happened tonight…”
More than anything he wanted to cross the small space between them and peel her away from the wall before turning her in his arms and kissing her senseless. “I promise I will not try to take advantage of the situation,” he rasped, hoping he sounded convincing. It wasn’t really something he could promise at all; even now, with one of his men standing mere feet away, his control was only hanging by the barest of threads. Somewhat like her nightgown- he cut his thoughts off abruptly. Stop tormenting yourself, man!
Bethany let out a weak chuckle. “Ah, Cullen,” she whispered, turning her teary eyes back towards him. “But I can’t guarantee that I won’t.”
That was probably the worst thing she could have said.
He turned away from her with a groan, taking a deep breath to try and calm the fire in his blood; of course, it did no good because the whole room was infused with the alluring scent of her and all it did was spike his desire even higher. He bit his tongue and clenched his fists at his side, fighting to get himself under control and not fall upon her like a rabid beast.
She sniffed miserably behind him. “So what do we do now?” she breathed; he tensed as he realised she’d moved closer.
He ran a hand over his face and tried to ignore the fact that he was shaking. “Now, we wait til the morning,” he whispered in response. “He will escort you to the dining hall for breakfast when you leave, and I’ll have to take my chances after that and hope that the corridor will be deserted.”
She was so close behind him that he could feel the heat radiating off her. “Cullen, I-”
“Please don’t touch me, Bethany,” he said quickly, then lowered his voice. “I am so very close to losing control right now, and if you come any closer, I… I can’t hold to my promise.”
She didn’t say anything in response, but he could picture her biting into her lip- Maker he wanted to be the one biting gently on her lip- and she moved away from him. She circled around wide, keeping as much distance between them as the small room would allow as she crossed back towards her bed.
“You can, um, have the chair,” she said softly, gesturing to the small desk she kept in her room and the elegant but flimsy seat before it; he had to wonder if the dainty thing would even support his weight. Bethany seemed to be blushing. “I mean, you don’t have to, but the alternative is the bed, and I’ll be in that, so unless you want to share-” She immediately groaned in horror and hid her face in her hands. “I’ll just stop talking now, before I make a bigger idiot of myself.”
“Well, I’ll take the offer of the chair, but I won’t be going back to sleep.” As if he could sleep now, in her room, with her so close and soft and tempting. “I think it would be better if I remained vigilant.”
She had stopped by the side of the bed, and as he watched she slid the extra robe from around her shoulders, letting it slither to the ground to pool at her feet, leaving her clad only in that silk slip. He stopped breathing. She was in profile to him, and the sight of her shapely figure outlined lovingly by the silk and the moonlight had him reaching for her before he could stop himself. She reached up to pull her hair back, seemingly unaware of the devastating effect her sensual performance was having on him, and as she raised her arms to weave her hair into a quick braid her slip rode up several inches, revealing even more perfect pale skin. His head spun as the slip crept dangerously high. His eyes didn’t seem to know where to land first, dancing over her and burning the image of her into his brain. She was perfection and temptation and oh, he just wanted to touch her once…
She finally seemed to realise what she was doing, sweetly oblivious before now, and she gasped; she nearly threw herself into the bed, the blankets covering her up to the neck seconds later as he snatched his hand back to his side as if he’d been burned. “That wasn’t deliberate!” she gasped, then buried her head on her upraised knees. “Maker, I’m such an idiot. You can tell I’ve never had a man in my room before.”
He swallowed uncomfortably; vastly aroused by the unintentional performance she had just given him, he had to clench his fists at his sides over and over again to try and stop them from shaking. “It’s fine, Bethany,” he said roughly, wincing at how raw his voice sounded. “It’s… not really a situation either of us have much experience with. I don’t think many people have ever found themselves in a situation like this. We’ll just make it up as we go along.” He took the seat at the desk, hesitating when he heard it creak softly.
“You should get some sleep anyway,” she whispered, deftly changing the subject. “Like you said, it’s not like anyone is going to come in here without knocking first, so we’ll have warning.”
He tried to get comfortable in the tiny chair. “I’d rather not; with the way my luck is going tonight, I’ll walk up to find Meredith standing over me.”
Something came soaring through the air towards him and he threw his hands up at the last minute to defend himself from… a blanket? He held the swathes of fabric awkwardly as he whispered “This is your blanket.”
“Your deductive reasoning astounds me, Cullen,” she snapped under her breath. He heard her fidgeting to get comfortable. “Now go to sleep.”
He couldn’t help himself. “Are... are you angry at me? Why are you angry? And what are you going to use if I take the blanket?”
“I’ll be fine,” she said from between clenched teeth, pointedly ignoring his first question. “Go. To. Sleep.”
He tossed the blanket back towards the bed. “I can’t go to sleep. I have to stay awake in case someone tries to enter your room- you keep the blanket, and out of gratitude to me you can tell me why you’re angry.”
There was a sound that could have been a female groan of frustration, muffled by a pillow. “Fine! Don’t go to sleep, but at least take the blanket!” The bedspread landed over him again before he could whisper an objection.
Blessed Maker, the damned thing smelled like her. It was like wrapping himself around her body and… sweet flaming prophet, it was still warm. From her. He felt every nerve ending in his body come to life at that realisation. “You’ll be freezing,” he whispered. “I really think you should-”
“Cullen, if that blanket comes anywhere near me I will tear you into tiny, tiny pieces. And then hide the evidence of your death with the damned blanket.”
He blinked. “You sounded just like Garrett just then.”
She snorted derisively. “Because every girl wants to hear that she’s just like her brother in the intimacy of the bedroom.”
He was on his feet before he could stop himself. “That’s not what I meant and you know it,” he hissed quietly. He stomped over to the bed, where she was shivering under just a thin sheet. “You are freezing, so either you take the blanket, or I’m getting into bed with you to help you warm up.” His eyes bugged out when he realised how that sounded. “No, no, not like that! We agreed there was none of that, I just meant-”
“Quiet!” She sat up and glared at him. “Your precious little Templar at the door will hear you if you keep talking so loudly.”
“Oh, is that what your temper tantrum is about?” He put his hands on his hips, incredulity written all over his face. “The reminder that I’m a Templar?”
“Perhaps I’m just upset because my brother has been accused of murdering someone, and the man I happen to care about is likely to be the one who has to carry out any punishment that’s inflicted on me as a result. And that same man is trapped in my bedroom for the remainder of the night and yet it might as well be the other side of the world for all the things that stand in our way!”
She grabbed the blanket and wrenched hard, her fit of pique lending her strength he hadn’t expected from her; he didn’t let go in time and he went toppling onto the bed with the damned blanket. She squeaked in alarm as he came crashing down on top of her. There was a tangle of limbs as he struggled to right himself- and then he suddenly realised she was trapped beneath him, her face mere inches from his and the guilty blanket caught between them.
They were both breathing shallowly as he raised a hand up to her face and slowly ran his fingertips down the side of her jaw; her eyes widened as he could feel her breath fanning against his mouth. He already knew what she tasted like, but how much better would it be having the whole night to indulge himself, to savour her slowly for hours upon hours? How good would it be to learn the taste of every inch of skin while he memorised the shape of her with his hands? He leant towards her slowly; she tongue darted out to her lower lip and then she was leaning towards him too….
There was a rapping at the door. “Miss Hawke? Is everything alright?”
They threw themselves apart; Cullen went tumbling over the far side of the bed, and Bethany scrambled upright, calling out “I’m fine! I was just… I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I tripped in the dark. But I’m fine! Everything’s fine!”
It sounded over the top, and she sounded far too sultry and breathless, but the knight did not call out again, apparently content with her answer. Cullen levered himself up from the floor, propping his elbows onto the bed. Bethany was still shuddering for air, or maybe trembling from the adrenalin of a near miss, and all he wanted to do was hold her and kiss her brow until she was calm again.
“That was far too close,” she breathed. She spoke so quietly that she was almost mouthing the words, rather than speaking them aloud.
“To being caught, or to-”
“Both,” she said instantly. “We can’t Cullen, we just… maybe in another time and place we might have been able to make something of this mess, but not here and definitely not now. If they catch you in here, you’ll lose your commission, you’ll lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. You’ll be thrown out with nothing to your name- and I couldn’t bear it if that happened on my account.”
Why was she being the responsible one? That threw him a little, to realise that a mage was rebuffing his advances; that a mage was trying desperately to protect him, a Templar, when she was the one with more to lose if they should be discovered. For him, he faced humiliation and the very real likelihood of, as she said, being stripped of his rank, with death only a vague threat. For her, death was the best sentence she could receive, with Tranquility being the far more likely option. Death without death, a lifetime of simply existing, the worst thing that could be bestowed upon a human being. He’d been present at enough Rites of Tranquility to see what pain it inflicted on the unlucky mage- in the moments before they ceased being able to express pain at all.
She cared about his fate over her own. She was worried about the repercussions the night would have on his career, rather than on her own life. It was humbling, and made him uncomfortably aware that her affections ran past mere physical attraction and infatuation, and that she might very well-
“Be in love,” he said softly. He didn’t even realise he’d said spoken aloud until her head snapped around to face him.
“What did you say?” she said incredulously.
“You love me, don’t you?” Unable to help himself, he climbed up onto the bed and crawled towards her, something wild and chaotic sizzling through his veins as he drew near to her. Her eyes went impossibly wide, and her lips parted as if she meant to gasp, but didn’t quite make it that far. “Tell me it’s true.”
There was something like panic in her eyes, but it was being swamped by the desire in her expression. She began to lean subtly away, as if putting distance between them would make things safer for them. “Cullen, I think you should get off the bed now, maybe go back to the chair instead so-”
“Answer the question, Bethany.” He stalked her slowly up the bed; with every inch that she crept backwards, he followed her, until her back was pressed against the wall and the blankets were clutched protectively in front of her.
“I… I can’t answer that question,” she said, her breathing becoming more and more shallow. “Cullen, I really think you should-”
“Why can’t you answer the question? It’s a fairly straight forward one.” He planted his hands on the wall either side of her head and bent down towards her; her gasp was almost imperceptible. They were so close that their noses were nearly touching. “Yes or no?”
Her tongue flickered out to her bottom lip again- did she even realise she was doing that? - and she swallowed nervously. Their breaths were mingling and the moment was fast becoming almost unbearably intimate. Something had to give soon, and he had a terrible feeling it was going to be him.
“Cullen, I…” Her eyes darted down to his lips and back up to his gaze, then repeated the pattern. “I… I don’t know.”
Some madness urged him on. “Guess,” he said, his voice rough with need. Maker’s Breath, what was he doing? She’d already told him to get off the bed and tried to warn him repeatedly that nothing could happen between them. She was right, terribly right, it would be the worst- best- thing ever if something happened between them but right now the rational part of his brain seemed to have gone catatonic. It was blessedly silent as he leant even closer still so that his lips feathered across hers as he whispered “Yes or no?”
She whimpered- and then she pushed him aside, sending him toppling onto the empty side of the bed. He was about to lunge for her, and demand an answer from her, when she whimpered again and he realised it wasn’t a sound of desire- she was crying.
Horror flooded through him, appalled at how callous he’d been with her feelings. “Oh, Beth, Maker take it all, I’m so sorry!” He sat up to reach for her, wanting to soothe her and hold her until the tears he had inflicted on her dissipated when he saw her take a deep breath as if she was about to launch into a tale.
“Three years ago,” she whispered miserably, her shoulders shaking a little in the dark, “I was attacked by a desire demon.”
He felt his blood turn to ice in his veins.
She sniffed and turned her face up; with the new angle he could see the tears tracing down her cheeks, shining in the moonlight. He wanted to reach out and brush them away, but he was frozen in place from her revelation. “I was with friends, people who could protect me; she went after them too, but together we fought her off. But she… she got inside my mind and said she knew my heart’s greatest desire. And then she showed it to me, and it was-” She choked on a sob, biting back the noise so that the guard wouldn’t hear her.
She spoke again when she had more control over herself; it didn’t last long though. “I had my own family, and I was safe and loved, and nobody cared that I was a mage. And I thought for a long time that that was my heart’s desire- to feel loved and safe and to be a mother and a wife. But t-there was m-more to it than j-just t-that.” The tears began to spill down her cheeks again and her whole body was quivering with the sobs that she was trying to keep locked inside.
Lightheaded from the intensity of his emotions, he managed to rasp out “What else was there, Beth?”
She let out a soft cry as her eyes drifted shut. “There was you,” she whispered, hiccupping on a sob. “It was a few days after I saw you for the first time in the Chantry, and I thought the d-demon had just picked out someone I found handsome just to fill the d-daydream, but then the weeks went by and I saw you again, and all the feelings that she’d planted in me came flooding b-back.” She moaned softly, sounding wounded. “I’d never even kissed someone before that night in the harbour, because all I’ve been able to think about for years is you. Because she showed me what it would be like to be in love with you, and I half convinced myself from that moment on that I was in love with you and… and…”
He almost didn’t want to hear the ending. “And?”
A shudder ran through her. “What if I only love you as a result of her planting things in my head? What if none of my affections are real? You deserve better than that, Cullen, and I-”
She was leaning back on one arm, supporting all her weight through her wrist- he deliberately knocked it. She squeaked and went flailing backwards onto the bed, landing on her back. Before she could voice a protest, he leant down and pressed a kiss to her lips, his hand sliding up the curve of her neck to stop her from escaping. Despite her tears and her anguish, she opened to him quickly, and the little whimper that drifted from her this time was not so agonised as before.
He made the kiss as gentle as possible, coaxing her back from the misery she had inflicted upon herself moments ago until he felt her hands come hesitantly up to rest on his shoulders. He broke away just slightly, still close enough that his lips came into contact with hers as he spoke. “Tell me, Bethany- did that feel real?”
Her eyes had fluttered shut at some point and she hesitated before she answered. “I think so.”
He kissed the corner of her mouth. “Yes or no, Bethany. Either it felt real, or it didn’t.”
She took a tremulous breath before answering “Yes?”
His thumb brushed over her cheek, still damp from her tears. “Bethany, look at me.” She took a few long seconds to do as he had asked, but finally her lashes fluttered open again. “No demon has the power to still control your thoughts after three years. Unless they are in physical proximity to you, they cannot maintain a hold over you like that.”
“But she might have just planted the idea, and-”
He kissed her again, until he felt her soften beneath him. “Bethany- yes or no?”
She took a deep breath and held it, her thoughts spinning wildly; he could see the vast play of emotions as they danced through her eyes. Just when he thought she was going to refuse to answer him altogether, she sighed softly.
“Yes,” she whispered.