Chapter 1: The Knight and His Griffon
There she was. Peeking into the library from his post, Cullen could see the dark-haired young woman approaching her usual table near the back, a stack of books nearly falling out of her arms. She maneuvered the best she could to set them down carefully, but one fell from the top of the pile despite her efforts. She rolled her eyes and sighed.
Cullen imagined his opening with that book; she'd turn to bend for the book, only to see his gloved hand plucking it from the ground. Her eyes would slowly move up, until she saw his face, and recognized him. He would be smiling, of course, charming and confident.
"Why, thank you!" She'd say, blushing that pretty pink color, warmth in the coolness of her pale skin, the blue eyes that never failed to send chills down his spine, or the raven hair he longed to see her let out of that tight braid she always wore.
"Of course, dear lady," and this time, his voice would be even, and he wouldn't stammer. She'd take the book, her hand lingering near his....
Ah. As she scooped the book back onto the table, he mourned his missed opportunity to step in so easily. He would have to try talking to her the old-fashioned-way; by approaching her and greeting her. Maybe this time, he wouldn't transpose the letters in her name. He took in a shaky breath, and took a step into the library.
"Aoohh, hitting the books again, are we?" He ducked behind the doorway again, hearing the voice that grated his nerves every time he heard it. He glared in, seeing another pair of apprentices approaching his dear Evey; her friends.
"You know me, Anders," Her shy smile was almost too much to bear, even directed at someone else. Cullen faced away, deciding to listen in instead as Evey continued, "I can never keep my nose out of a book for very long."
"You practically live off of them," Jowan's voice irritated him, too, though he couldn't peg precisely why; maybe it was the faint hint of a whine in the back of everything he said, "I'm surprised you haven't started tearing out pages to chew on!"
"I don't know, have you seen her eat anything else?" Anders playfully poked at her arm, and she pulled back with a grinning squeak, "Look at that, no meat to those bones! Maybe she really does sustain herself with a constant barrage of words."
Cullen scowled; there was nothing wrong with Evey! If she was on the slender side, she was as The Maker made her!
"If I do, then you best leave me to my feeding," she huffed, plopping down in her chair, quite self-conscious at the jab at her thinness, "Apparently I have a lot to make up for."
"Bah!" Snorting dismissively, the blonde latched his arms around Evelyn, pulling her into an affectionate embrace, grinning, "Nonsense! We love having a tiny doll for a friend!"
"We wouldn't have you any other way, Lynnie," Jowan added, smiling warmly.
"Gwah!" Evelyn stiffened at first, a tense reaction she still had yet to get over, then relaxed into Anders' hug with one of her own, "You're just glad to have someone to toy with!"
"I'm glad you've learned that," He patted the top of her head gently, nodding solemnly, "I've got plenty of women to toy with, mind you--"
"And men," Jowan pointed out with a sing-songy tone. At this, Cullen's eyes narrowed, and he risked peeking in on them again. Fortunately, they were absorbed in their conversation, but seeing that apprentice wrapped around Evey unsettled him even worse.
Anders scowled at Jowan, "And just what's wrong with that? You know as well as I do things aren't all roses and sunshine here, why limit myself in my fun?"
"So those rumors are true?" With a doe-like stare, Evelyn saw her friend in a new light.
Sighing, Anders rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, then smirked at Evelyn, "Don't tell me you're jealous!"
"How can she be, when you've got your arms around her?" Jowan teased, and Cullen suppressed a grumble of agreement.
"I'm not jealous, no," Evelyn gave another weak smile, still unused to applying them socially, "You're my friend, Anders, I want you to find happiness wherever you can. I was just surprised."
He wondered at that faint, niggling disappointment, then dismissed it wholeheartedly, "Good. Because there's something else that will make me very happy, and I need your help with it."
"What's that?" Evelyn asked blandly, and Jowan clapped his palm over his face.
"Well, you know, when they dragged me back this last time-"
"Kicking and screaming, no less," Jowan continued Anders' narrative.
"...With your robes torn wide open in places," Evelyn agreed, recalling the event. Both Jowan and Anders rose an eyebrow at that.
"You remember that detail, huh?" Anders decided that his request could be put on hold, to tease this out of Evelyn, "Did you like what you saw?"
"Of course not! I just knew you were going to ask me to sew things back together!" Evelyn swatted his arm, though she did pinken a little as she realized the implication, "Like I need the extra work taking care of you two."
"Thank you again, by the way. The stitching was divine," Anders grinned, before resuming his request, "Anyway, one of the templars decided that, while I was being locked away in solitary for Maker knows how long, he had the right to boot me in the head."
"No!"Evelyn gasped, her hands going over her mouth. That was just the reaction he was hoping for.
"Every morning, right?" Well, it wasn't every morning, but it wasn't stretching the truth that much to say so, "He came in with breakfast and a kick in the face. 'Eat up, dog!' he'd tell me, 'can't have you go in for Tranquility on an empty belly!' "
"That's horrible, Anders!" Tears coated her already dewy eyes in a shimmery glimmer, "Why didn't you tell me?"
He faltered a bit, as he always did anytime she started to cry, but replied, "I wasn't sure you'd believe me, to be honest."
Cullen frowned just as Evelyn did; that kind of thing was unacceptable behavior for a templar, and should at least have gotten the knight a strike against him. Evelyn pouted, "You know of all people in this tower, I know firsthand what those damned templars will do when they think they can get away with something. Most of the time, they do."
Those damned templars, she'd said. Cullen rocked back, leaning against the doorframe just out of sight. Was that how she saw all templars? He knew she had every right to, there was not a fiber in him that would blame her for harboring that resentment, but still....
"Well, yeah," Anders crossed his arms, cocking an eyebrow at her, "But that hasn't stopped you from befriending one of them."
Evelyn fidgeted anxiously, now looking at the floor in front of Anders, "That's different. You know that."
"He's not so bad, really," Jowan added, "I've talked with him a few times. He may buy into the idea that the templars are doing us a favor by watching over us, but he doesn't like the extremes. He actually requested leniency with you, Anders, after you were brought back."
Not because I felt he deserved it, Cullen thought to himself, frowning, I just didn't like seeing Evey so upset over his imprisonment. But if what Anders said about the templar abusing him was true, he supposed it was a good thing he had spoken on his behalf, even though the Knight-Commander was clearly irritated with his interference.
"A fat lot of good that did me!" Anders spat, scornful, "I'm still here, in this wretched tower, and the templars still hold all of the power."
"Well, maybe it's selfish of me, but I'm glad you're back," Evelyn tentatively took Anders' hand in hers, and gave him an earnest smile this time, "I always worry when you leave. I couldn't bear it if you were killed, and the world would be a colder place if they actually decided to follow through on that threat of Tranquiling you, taking away that sense of humor... and your kindness."
He should have expected that, but it still amazed him that Evelyn had a knack for knocking him off-balance. He clasped her hand with another smile, much more subdued than his usual grin, "You don't have to worry for me, Lynnie. As closely as they're watching me right now, any attempt to escape would be suicide. I'm going to be playing the good little apprentice, at least for a while."
"I will worry if I want to," Evelyn pouted, prodding his chest with her finger, "You both mean a lot to me! I don't have anyone else in this tower who even seems to like me very much."
"Except Cullen," Jowan pointed out, grinning. As best as Cullen tried to disguise how much he admired Evelyn, the only one who seemed fooled by his act was Evelyn, and he wondered how much of that was willful ignorance.
Listening, Cullen felt his heart stab painfully. He knew the rumors circling the tower about Evey, but he had no idea how lonely she was. These two were her only friends? Did he not count? Again, he thought of how her voice dipped as she said those damned templars, and tilted his head back to rest against the wall.
Evelyn fidgeted, "Even if he's... rather nice towards me, he's still a templar. Kind disposition or not, I doubt he actually likes me."
If only you knew! Cullen's poor heart flared at that, wanting nothing more than to storm in there and refute her misgivings about him. His legs refused to budge, however, and not just because he knew just how forbidden it was that he was even lingering nearby like this, pining after her the way he did. Sure, it was a handy excuse, but in truth, his hesitation sprung from the terror he might drive her off. If the strength of his affection for her wasn't enough to scare her away, the fear those brethren of his instilled in her that day would taint any confession he might make. Either way, what tentative friendship they had now would be broken, and he feared that worst of all.
Anders shook his head and smirked, envying Evelyn her obliviousness. That was fine; the longer she went without realizing that irritating templar's feelings for her, the better. He told himself it was because being with a templar would only endanger Evelyn more; he ignored the part of him that asked why he cared so damn much who Evelyn was with. Driving out those thoughts, he clapped his hands together, "Now that we've settled that Cullen is a templar, what do you say, Lynnie? Will you help me out?"
She eyed him warily, "What do you have planned?"
"Nothing all that dangerous, I assure you," he grinned, still clasping his hands together.
"I want to help in any way I can, if that man hurt you," she frowned, "But I doubt you're looking to petition for the templar's removal from the tower, which is the only recourse I can think of."
"Pfft, no," Anders brushed the idea aside with his hand, one eyebrow raising, "All that paperwork is useless anyway, they don't listen to us lowly mages. Not even that bastard Irving does much to speak on our behalf anymore, unless it suits his purposes."
Evelyn's eyes sharpened at that, surprising her friends, "Don't speak of the First Enchanter that way. He's a good man, and has done a lot to advocate for us, given the limitations imposed on him."
"You'll have to forgive me, Lynnie, if I don't see the First Enchanter in the same glowing respect you do," Anders pursed his lips in discontent, "Then again, I'm not his darling protégé, either."
"I'm not--" Evelyn sighed, then looked at Anders anxiously, her eyes going dewy again, "I don't want to have this argument again. I want to help... just, tell me what you need."
Jowan watched Anders' face fall in self-recrimination to see Evelyn's limited self-esteem backslide at his words, and shook his head, "Don't take Anders seriously, Lynnie, he's still recovering from being kicked in the head."
"I'm pretty sure the damage has been there for longer than that," he tried grinning, genuinely feeling awful for sneering at Lynnie like he had.
"I would wager the head-kicking didn't help," Evelyn offered a hesitant joke, "And for that, I will be very cross; I don't appreciate anyone damaging my friends."
"Good," Anders kept his relief in check, masking it with an even broader grin, "We can't talk about it here; the books have ears, you know-"
"Oh, I know. I whisper sweet nothings into them all the time, but it doesn't work," Evelyn put on a mock pout, "They don't love me like I love them."
"...You give a whole new meaning to the term 'Bibliophile', Lynnie," Boy, was Anders derailed from what he'd been thinking.
Evelyn swatted his arm, giggling, "I was joking, I thought you'd be familiar with the concept!"
"I never thought--" he stopped, dropping his eyes from meeting hers, deciding not to finish the sentence- ...that you would be the one putting dirty thoughts in my head. That simply would not go over well. He looked back up, smiling again, "Nevermind. Meet us over in the apprentice quarters before curfew, alright? We'll talk about it then."
"Okay," Evelyn nodded in return.
"In the meantime," Having a few years and at least a foot on Evelyn, Anders had to stoop to press a gentle kiss to her cheek, "Sorry for being petty about Irving. I know he had a lot to do with taking care of you two years ago."
Cullen had to choose then to risk peeking back in on them, going back and forth about possibly having to turn in the potential insubordination, or at least eavesdropping on their meeting later that evening. It may have been a chaste kiss between friends, but Cullen's innards shriveled to see the warm glow they shared, the moment Evey missed when her blonde friend's eyes flickered to her lips, the rosy hue that spread across the bridge of her nose. With no effort at all, this would-be apostate had accomplished what Cullen knew would take ages to work up the nerve to do, and Evey smiled at him for it. Staggering back, feeling as though he'd been punched in the gut, Cullen narrowed his vision on Evey's 'dear friend'. He cursed his cowardice, and withdrew as stealthily as he could, fleeing before his jealousy got the better of him.
"We better get going. You have a lot of work to catch up on, Anders," Jowan remarked, tugging Anders back by the collar of his robes, earning a startled squawk, "And none of it involves kissing cute girls. Sadly," he added with some sincere remorse.
"That would be a lesson I'd be interested in attending," flashing Evelyn a sheepish grin, Anders chuckled, "We'll see you later, sweetheart."
Watching her friends retreat, Evelyn felt that warmth they brought to her fading with them. Once again, she was alone with her books. Her eyes fell on the stack she'd picked out before, her plans to try piecing together the different theories presented in each feeling unworthy of her time, now. She knew there was something connecting what she saw as a duality between the entropic and creation schools of magic, and had meant to compile a list of relevant research to prove her hypothesis, but her worry over Anders would only distract her focus.
She tapped her finger on her lip, sitting back in the chair she'd pulled out for herself. He wasn't telling her the whole truth, but there had been abuse; the way his eyes had darted low, to the left, suggested he was remembering the experience, not lying. But he'd hesitated, too. She fretted over the idea of him keeping something from her; she wanted to trust him absolutely, and she did- there was almost no one she trusted more. She'd have to keep watching his eyes when he revealed his plan, later.
Staring at the pile of books again, she pulled off the top few, to a specific title that had nothing to do with Entropy, Creation, or even much to do with magic at all. Dusting off the cover, she smiled as she picked it up, studying the symbol of the flaming sword all templars bore illustrated under the title of the book.
Flipping through the first few pages, a dreamy smile naturally floated onto her face.
His post was his temporary refuge. Standing here, he didn't have to think about much, just keep an eye on the passing mages, keep his senses alert for any unauthorized magic usage, and maybe stifle a yawn from time to time. Every time he imagined the delighted sparkle in Evey's eye at that fool Anders' kiss to her cheek, Cullen stamped it out by reminding himself he was on duty, and the stupid personal drama would have to wait until later. Every time, he felt another piece of him crumble away.
"Hey, Sweetie, no need to be so dour, huh?" He blinked rapidly as one of the enchanters spoke to him, coming back into focus from his sour state of mind.
"Uh?" He asked dumbly, eliciting a flurry of laughter from the trio of mages- two apprentices, and their post-Harrowed friend- as they continued past him.
"Just saying, life's too short to be upset for too long!" the tall woman cackled, the corners of her green eyes wrinkling.
"You're too cute for such an angry expression!" one of the apprentices chirped.
"Come on, girls, we can't be late for dinner, or they'll be out of oat cakes again!" the tall woman egged on her companions, winking again to Cullen.
Dinner, he thought dully. He hadn't eaten much today, though he had snacked on an apple from the garden earlier that afternoon. He'd get a chance to enjoy dinner once he was done at his post, but that wouldn't be for a few more hours yet, when curfew was enforced. He felt like he was forgetting something important about dinner, too, but he didn't particularly care at the moment. He resumed staring at the wall opposite him.
"Hello, Cullen!" The cheerful, melodic voice brought him back to the present with a yelp, his heart crushing at the sound. That was what he was forgetting! Evelyn always passed by him in the evenings on her way to dinner. At his yelp, she recoiled a step, blinking.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you... are you alright? You seem a bit out of it," her eyebrows knit, and he withered to see concern brushing over her features.
"I am fine, Evey," he replied stiffly, straightening his posture, "I have a lot to think about, is all."
"Okay," she clearly didn't believe him, "But if something's wrong, I hope you know you can tell me, right?"
He leveled his gaze at her, his hurt pride battering against his chest, knowing full well he couldn't tell her what was bothering him. He sighed, "Th-that's very kind of you, b-but there's n-nothing wrong...."
Damn, damn, damn that stutter!
"If you say so," her head sank a little, and she hugged her bag to her chest, certain she must have crossed some line with him, "I'm sorry for prying, then."
"Oh no-no-no, you're not prying!" He wasn't sure what was worse between talking with the woman he'd never stand a chance with, or letting her walk away thinking she was bothering him, "I-I mean, w-we usually talk right around now, a-and I'm-I'm just being rude."
"So long as I'm not just annoying you," she attempted to pass that off with a smile, but it smeared on her face, undone by her nerves.
"Never," he insisted, glad he hadn't stammered for once, "You could never annoy me, Evey."
She flushed that pretty pink color, the one that always deepened the blue of her eyes, and Cullen stopped a shudder from rippling through him at the timid smile his words brought to her lips. Incongruently, he saw Anders stooping to kiss her cheek again, and his eyes flickered away again. No, he couldn't let her wrap him around her little finger this time. He had to be resolute; he needed to break himself of this infatuation.
"I'm glad to hear that," she missed his crestfallen look as she opened her bag, digging through carefully, "I found something earlier today that made me think of you, actually. I was hoping to catch you here, like usual."
"You did? You were?" He blinked, and wished his voice hadn't cracked on that last word.
"Uh-huh!" She grinned, and pulled a book from her bag, "It was in the library, misplaced in the Entropy section. I don't know if that was a prank or not, but I remember reading this book ages ago. It's called-"
" 'The Knight and His Griffon'," he murmured softly, running his hand over the cover slowly, "I haven't seen this one for years. I used to read this all the time, growing up."
"You did?" The light caught her eyes as they widened, glee spilling across her face.
"It was my favorite story," he flipped open to the first page, and smiled at the illustrated griffon that greeted him, "It was silly, of course, but I loved reading it over and over. It was one of the few comforts I was allowed--"
He stopped himself before he went too far; there was no need to burden Evey with that. Instead, he smiled down at her, closing the book, "How did you know?"
"I didn't! I wish I were so thoughtful as to know your favorite books!" Evelyn giggled, and he flushed with pleasure at the sound, "That's great! I used to love that story too. I actually fell asleep reading it once, and dreamed I was flying on a griffon along with the handsome knight."
He gulped to force back down the image that came to mind with that- namely, that he'd always pictured himself the 'Handsome Knight' in question- and chuckled nervously, "Th-that's q-q-quite th-the image, E-Evey..."
"I'll say- silly, fanciful girlishness!" She tittered, putting her fingers over her mouth, "Well, if you've already read it, I should probably put that back. I pass back that way when I'm done with dinner."
"No!" He clutched the book tightly, pulling it closer to him in reflex, then relaxed a hair, "I-I-I mean, th-this was very thoughtful of you, I'd l-like to read it again, actually."
"Oh?" She pinched her lips in quiet joy that he was so possessive of something she'd brought him, "Well then, when you're done, I'd like to do the same."
"C-c-certainly!" A rough, nervous laughter bubbled up at the thought of handing it back to her, "I-I'll probably be thinking of you the whole time I'm reading this, then."
Wait a second. He said that last part out loud, hadn't he? Her pinkened face blushed an even deeper red, and she fumbled with her bag, tying it closed again. His heart stopped as he waited for her to say something, certain he'd let his carefully crafted mask slip too far.
"I'm glad, then," her heart soared, even as her face burned, "Don't read it too quickly, in that case."
Then, Evelyn did something neither one of them was expecting. While he looked at the book, scared that meeting her gaze would reveal too much, she leaned up on her tip-toes, gently tugged his collar down to meet her, and pressed a kiss into his cheek. She'd done it unconsciously, on an urge that had been slowly bubbling up since she spotted him down the hallway from her. She was just so gladdened to see that childish delight in the book, she had to kiss him. It only occurred to her now, watching his eyes glossing over, that it was probably a bad idea.
The effect on Cullen was alarming. He stayed bent, a wide grin dopily cracking his face in two from one ear to the next, before letting out an awkward giggle. He straightened and managed to stop the giggle before it got too loud, but the amber of his eyes lit wildly.
"Uhm," she scrambled to think of an excuse, then beamed as one happily fell into place, "C-consider this all a belated thank you for what you did for me. I'll probably still be thanking you for years to come."
"Ghh," Cullen agreed, worried that vocalizing more would let his heart go flying out his throat.
"Right then," she nodded firmly, "I should go get something to eat, before they run out of oat cakes."
"Y-yeah, that's.... that's a common problem," and the first words he could form again had to be inane. Fantastic. Well, he didn't really care at the moment- he was in far too high spirits.
"We'll talk another time!" She waved, scooting on her way, mortified and deliciously happy all at once.
"Y-yes, another time..." he watched her leave, then let his eyes fall to the book still in his hands. Her intuition at times was truly remarkable; to have picked out the one book he'd been able to read all those years ago, to have thought of him? And of course, there was his real source of mind-melting joy; she'd thought of him. He was someone she thought of. He doubted there was anything more there than just consideration, but he wasn't just another templar to her.
His hand went to his cheek, and the metal of his glove was cool compared to the hot skin there. Even more, unlike that friend of hers who bent to kiss her, Evey had reached up and kissed him. She kissed him. Later, he would panic over the consequences of such a thing, and later still, curse the memory with the most acidic vitriol in the attempt to cleanse it from his mind, but for hours after he left his post, he had the sweetest smile emblazoned across his face.
Chapter 2: Evey
Ahh, but how did the shy templar and sweet mage meet? And where did the nickname 'Evey' come from?
Already, young Cullen was learning that he would have to adjust to Tower life; it was nothing like the Chantry in which he trained for so many years. For one, while there was still a chapel for prayer and contemplation available, the Chant was not as pervasive here. In fact, devotion to the faith was varied indeed; some followed as devoutly as he- usually other templars, but mages too, others attended services but otherwise treated it simply as part of their daily routine, and still more couldn't care less about discussing the finer points of the religion. After three such attempts to chat casually about something that defined his life ended with either a glare or being laughed at, Cullen decided that perhaps he might just have to wait and see who would actually be interested, first.
For another, he wasn't used to the sneers some of the mages thought they were hiding from him. He knew he shouldn't be affected by that, and had been coached to expect some hostility, but he would have to adjust. It wasn't that he was necessarily well-liked where he came from, either; his softhearted approach towards mages had earned him the scorn of many of his peers. The naked resentment, however, was unexpected. In time, he would grow to understand better, but at sixteen, it hit him hard enough.
Even more, the girls here were a lot more open when it came to flirting. The initiates floating about didn't pay him a second glance most times, but there were apprentices who tittered at the sight of him. On the day he'd arrived, two weeks ago now, he had no less than three girls call him 'cute' and try to pull him into a more 'private conversation'. The first time, he followed the girl on the thought that maybe she wanted to report something, but didn't feel confident in the proper channels- he would have gladly passed along anything that needed attention- only to scramble from the chamber moments later after her hand brushed along his jaw invitingly. He had apologized profusely, and hurried off as the apprentice frowned in disappointment.
He'd never had an easy time talking to girls. They were such an alien creature to him; perfumed, soft creatures with cunning, laughing eyes, appealing and frightening all at once. It was one thing, with initiates who rolled their eyes at him but kept dedicated to their vows. Having them appraising him with their gaze, running up and down his body, whispering to one another, was unnerving. When he actually spoke to them, he often stuttered in his anxiety. He could never tell if the smiles that brought were out of mockery or pity.
Except one girl.
Two days after he'd arrived, Cullen had begun to feel homesick for the Chantry. No one at the tower seemed to like him very much, he felt two steps behind his fellow templars (his youth working against him for a change, despite his dedication), and while his new bed was infinitely more comfortable, the tower's nighttime silence made him ache for the Chant. Standing beside his mentor at his post in one hallway, they were startled by a gaggle of screaming girls as they ran near.
"What-!?" Ser Jacob straightened to attention, the blur of blue robes already blowing past the two of them. Two of them were grinning as they screamed, though the third was genuinely frightened. Cullen turned to face the source; what could it be that had them so frightened?
Scampering along the floor, blinded by terror at all the screaming, a white rat appeared around the bend. Both Ser Jacob and Cullen relaxed, seeing the creature sniff around wildly.
"Girls!" Ser Jacob laughed, elbowing Cullen, "Why don't you get that thing for me? Looks like the mouser isn't doing his job."
"There's a mouser cat in the tower?" Cullen started after the rat, slowing down when it caught sight of him, not wanting to chase it off before he could get his fingers around it.
"Evidently not a very good one!" Ser Jacob chortled. Cullen answered with a weak chuckle of his own.
"Mr. Iggy, there you are!" A shadow fell across the carpet, and the swish of smooth fabric pulled Cullen's attention up from the rat. There, his attention stayed, for a very, very long time.
Standing in the same blue robes that every apprentice wore, was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. The robes suited her better (to his eyes), highlighting the blue of her eyes and the rosiness of her pale skin. At the time, her hair was loose, the raven curls free about her shoulders and crisply caressing her rounded face. She was slender, her robes hanging a bit on the looser side on her, particularly puckered around her chest (most robes for her age were designed with more endowed young women in mind). Cullen didn't even notice when his jaw slackened.
"Come here!" She bent down and held out her hands- long, graceful fingers, he noticed as they unfurled- and the white rat turned, recognizing her voice, and skittered back happily to his 'mama'. As soon as he was back in her hands, she snuggled Mr. Iggy to her face, standing straight again. No longer chasing the rat, Cullen straightened too, and noticed just how short this girl was; he was still growing, but he could swear she was at least half a foot shorter than he was. She couldn't be that much younger than him.
"Oh!" She seemed to notice Cullen for the first time, blinking rapidly as she set her rat on her shoulder, "Uh... uhm..." she fidgeted.
"Uh..." Cullen agreed, swallowing.
"You're new.... aren't you?" the girl asked, her eyes darting between him and the floor.
"Yuh-huh," Forming a more coherent response was beyond him at the moment.
"Looks like we found an even more effective mouser than the cat!" Ser Jacob, keeping an eye on his post, sidled up alongside Cullen, "I didn't think you ever left the library, Amell. What are you doing all the way out here?"
She turned pink, now refusing to look at either of them, and continued fidgeting her fingers, "I-I-I, w-well, s-some girls accidentally let Mr. Iggy out of his cage, and I-"
"You know apprentices aren't allowed pets, Amell," Ser Jacob warned, still grinning, "Not even your own kin like that."
Cullen's posture stiffened. He didn't just hear his mentor call this girl a rat, did he?
"Mr. Iggy isn't a pet," the girl protested with the most adorable pout Cullen had ever seen, "He's part of my research into the psychological effects of exposure to magic in non-sentient entities. I have permission from the First Enchanter, and so far, every test has been carefully monitored and regulated. So far, results are inconclusive-"
"Cullen, allow me to introduce you to Amell. Half the time she'll bore you with her muteness, the other half she'll bore you to tears with her incessant prattling about her 'research'," Ser Jacob made a mock introduction, rolling his eyes at the girl, "I suggest learning how to ignore her quickly. She'll get the hint sooner or later."
Cullen looked between the two, the first sparks of anger burning against the walls of his stomach. No wonder he'd gotten such hostility on arriving, if this was how they talked to the mages here! Even worse than that, he saw how the girl flinched at Ser Jacob's words, how she shrank back, numbly accepting that cruelty. This girl, who had his stomach in knots, hadn't done anything to invite such comments.
"Erm... Amell, was it?" He asked, looking to her, feeling another kind of spark growing exponentially as soon as their eyes met.
"Uhm," she glanced between the two of them, before settling on Cullen's much friendlier amber gaze, "E-Evelyn...actually... Amell is my family name."
"I'm Cullen," he smiled, rolling her name over in his head, delighting in the sound of it, "And I am sorry that we're meeting in this context," he added, subtly directing his eyes at Ser Jacob without tilting his head. He was also surprised at how comfortable he was talking with her; not a single stutter from him yet!
"I'm not," she replied softly, her eyes staying on his in earnest. Oh Maker, her eyes were very blue, especially close up like this.
"W-well, g-good! U-uh, N-nice to m-m-meet you, Evelyn..." So much for not stuttering. It was worse than ever!
"Y-you as well," There was no cunning or laughter in her eyes, nothing alien about her at all. Even then, as she smiled, it came slowly, neither mocking him nor pitying his stutter, "I better get Mr. Iggy back to his cage before my next lesson starts. If you'll excuse me."
"I-I'll, uh... see you around!" he declared cheerfully, swallowing again as she headed back down the hallway.
"Wow," Ser Jacob crossed his arms, "You do realize it's a bad idea to get like that about a mage, right?"
"Like what?" His voice distant and dreamy, Cullen still watched until Evelyn had disappeared around the bend.
"You're practically drooling."
"What?" He snapped from his daydream, and felt around his mouth. No signs of drool, thankfully; how embarrassing would that have been? He glared at Ser Jacob, "I am not!"
"That you had to check says a lot about where your mind was," Ser Jacob snickered as he walked back to his post, grinning over his shoulder, "Don't worry, I won't report you for fraternizing with an apprentice until you actually bed her, but I wouldn't recommend it. Girls like that are either complete duds in the sack, or total freaks."
"I wouldn't-- what are you-- I can't believe--" Cullen sputtered, eyes widening at the thump in his chest at the images Ser Jacob brought to mind, "I-I've only just m-met her! I don't see her that way!"
"Of course not," Ser Jacob's grin broadened, "But if you have to excuse yourself for fifteen minutes of privacy, I'll understand."
Cullen settled for glaring at Ser Jacob even as his face burned red. Going any further with how he really thought would be risking insubordination, but he couldn't bring himself to speak cordially, either. Instead, he resumed his post, determined not to let this arse get the better of him.
That had been two weeks ago. Cullen still felt out of place, and more of the girls had picked up on his nervousness around them. Fortunately, he was getting used to the teasing, and simply declined any flirtation with a shy smile that never seemed to dissuade them for long. He still occasionally had to stand with a superior officer, especially in crowded rooms, but his training was coming along more smoothly now. They suspected he'd be ready for full-on Knighthood in only a couple of years.
For now, he was assigned to the library. It was a quiet post, though well-populated most of the day. On occasion, he'd flipped through a book out of curiosity, but often put them back quickly. He didn't have much interest in the theories and the techniques of magic, most of it came across as gibberish to him. Still, the library was mostly empty this time of the evening, when dinner was being served, and he had to find something to fill the time. A few of the storybooks had been interesting, but very often geared to a younger audience.
He was grateful for the post, however, because he learned early on that Evelyn often skipped her last meal of the day to come straight to the library, where she could study in peace. The first time he saw her, he tugged his helmet over his head before she could recognize him. He wasn't sure why, but letting her tune him out as "another templar" had been easier for him. After a few days, he felt confident enough to face her without the helmet.
Talking to her, on the other hand, was turning out to be an impossible task. It took all of one smile from her at recognizing him to steal every word in his vocabulary, and reduce him to a squeaked greeting. At first, she smiled and carried on, though obviously a bit agitated by his presence; she kept glancing to him, and always seemed to pick when he was looking her way (not that there were many gaps in that). Then, over the next week, she got more comfortable with him, and even started asking him questions about whatever she was reading at the time. He mumbled some sort of reply, which she seemed a bit disappointed in, but they were content in each others' presence.
Once in a while, a young man would join her. The first time Cullen saw him, he inwardly cringed. The apprentice was clearly close with her, given the embrace they'd shared. Sometimes, he'd join in her study, other times, steal her away with him. Cullen supposed this Jowan wasn't terrible; it was obvious he cared for his friend, and was suspicious of Cullen. For good reasons, Cullen reminded himself with a sigh.
Tonight, though. Tonight was going to be different. Tonight, he would have a conversation with her. He knew his heart was developing a nasty tendency of thudding over his ability to speak, but he had to try. So he would script out the first part of the conversation; he would script out the greeting, at least.
Good Evening, Evelyn. Simple and sweet. He should really smile, too. Good Evening, Evelyn.
After that, he'd let her do most of the talking; he didn't care much for the theories or the techniques involved with magic, but somehow hearing her discuss them made them fascinating. Already, by fourteen, she'd shown a strong potential in magic and even stronger dedication to her studies. Even the First Enchanter had taken notice, it seemed, and Cullen recalled the name "Amell" coming from the Knight-Commander's lips more than a few times, himself. She was very bright, and if he could just get her started, he could listen to her.
Good Evening, Evelyn. There. He could do that. He breathed in deeply, and sighed it out again; Good Evening, Evelyn.
A rustle stirred his attention back to the present, and he looked eagerly to the entryway to the library. His heart skipped several beats to see Evelyn strolling in, her primer clutched to her chest. She was smiling, too- laughing, even. His face fell a bit to see why she was laughing; she was joined by that friend of hers again. Well, no matter, he could still talk to Evelyn, could he not?
She set her primer on the table, and Jowan set his beside hers, grinning, "I still can't believe you corrected the teacher in front of everyone!"
She giggled softly, a musical sound to Cullen's ears, "I-I hadn't meant it to be a correction, I just... I didn't want the other apprentices to learn something wrong, you know? No need to make it harder... Oh," she saw Cullen, her eyes widening, and flushed pink, "H-hi there, Cullen!"
The pink set against the blue of her eyes and the creamy tone of her skin so alluringly Cullen nearly lost his powers of speech again. No, this was it! He had to greet her, properly this time- no squeaking, no stammering, no stuttering, just greet her!
"Good Ehv-ehning, Evey-lyn," he transposed the pronunciation, only realizing it after the words had left his mouth. If mortals had the ability to grab speech and cram it back in their mouth, Cullen would have leapt on the chance to do so then. His eyes widened, and he felt his face burn, his neck and ears burn. How could he have managed to mangle that sentence? No, those three words!?
Those blue eyes he admired so much blinked rapidly, shining blankly as she processed what he said. Her friend, on the other hand, snorted loudly, then struggled to keep his laughter down as he asked, "What did you just call her? Evey-lyn?"
"I--" he took a step back, wanting nothing more than to excuse himself, and realizing that he would be reprimanded for leaving his post.
"It's three syllables, and you still got it wrong?" Jowan barked out another laugh, but tried to bite it down again, "Here, let me help you with that; her name is Evelyn. Eh-veh-lyn. "
Amusement glinted in her eyes now, her teeth gently biting into her lower lip as her smile spread, the rosy hue to her face deepening. Finally, she let out another nervous giggle, putting her fingers over her mouth.
Mortified, and determining that he would never speak to her again- how could he?- and making plans to request another post, suddenly no longer caring if he got reprimanded and having to leave now, Cullen stammered, "I-I'm sorry, I just...I can't.."
"I kind of like it, actually," She approached him, and stopped his attempts to retreat by lightly catching his arm. As soon as he stopped, she yanked her hands back, but smiled at him beatifically, " 'Evey', maybe. Yes, I like the sound of that."
"You do?" Cullen asked, frozen to the spot.
"How about you call me 'Evey', then?" Her smile grew, the broadest he'd ever seen her smile, which sent any desire to be anywhere but right here flying out the window.
"I-i-i-if you want, " For the moment, he paid no mind to his stutter. His attention was elsewhere.
"I do," she grinned, "And you're the only one who gets to call me that, alright?" She cast a knowing look at Jowan, "It would just sound like you're teasing me if you said it."
Jowan tilted his head curiously, "You say that about everything I say."
"Because you're usually teasing me!" She faced the bookshelf, thumbing through the books familiarly. She glanced to Cullen, "I hope you're not still thinking of running off just yet. I've gotten used to you being here."
"N-n-not at all..." he beamed, sliding back to where he'd been standing. As she plucked the books off the shelf she needed, and settled in next to Jowan, Cullen mulled over the nickname he'd inadvertently created. Evey. He smiled. He already knew how he was going to greet her next time; Good Evening, Evey.
Chapter 3: The Late Mr. Iggy
Despite her interest in making friends, Evelyn finds that her new acquaintance- the would-be apostate, Anders- doesn't exactly get along with Cullen.
Whistling tunelessly as he made his way down the hallway, the young blonde apprentice had more than a little skip in his step. Anyone who didn't know him would have guessed he was merely in a good mood, though that would only be half of the reason for the bounce in his strut. What really had his spirits up was that wonderful encounter he'd had with a charming young lady just moments ago. He showed the girl why he had the reputation of never leaving them unsatisfied, and she reciprocated gladly. The fact that they'd scuffled their robes back in order just in time to avoid arousing suspicion in the templar passing by their alcove only added difficulty in stifling their laughter as they parted ways.
Maker, it felt good to start the day off relieving tension so pleasantly. He suspected he'd be smiling for some time yet, especially with his next lesson being taught by a very well-endowed bosom attached to some preachy puppet of the First Enchanter. He'd like to be able to see more to her than that, but the way she droned on, the only thing that held his attention long enough was that amazingly well-preserved pair that always seemed to be on perfect eye-level for him.
"Oh no! No!" A girl's voice cried, ahead in the curving hallway just out of sight. Anders, blinking out of his pleasant reverie, heard the edge of panic in her voice. Knowing just what happened to young ladies in the tower sometimes, he lost the bounce to his step as he hurried towards her.
"What's wro--" She came into sight, crumpled to her knees by the stone wall, her hands covering her face as she struggled to keep from crying overtly. His eyebrows knitting in confusion, he edged closer, not wanting to startle the poor girl.
"Are you alright? Are you hurt?" Even just glancing at her, he didn't detect any kind of physical damage; there wasn't anything that needed healing. It was then his eyes fell to the rat lying in front of her, chewed open, flattened against the floor. He fell back a step, disgusted.
"N-no, I'm not..." the girl finally lifted her head enough, her blue eyes peeking through her fingers up at him- he could see the tears glistening in the corners as she continued, "But that mouser got Mr. Iggy!"
"Mr. Iggy?" Anders blinked, "You mean that rat?"
"Yes!" The girl sobbed, refusing to look at what remained of the rat, "Mr. Iggy is...was my test subject! That stupid cat! Why'd he have to chase down poor Mr. Iggy!"
"Well, now, you can't blame Mr. Wiggums for doing his job," Anders shrugged, though he felt bad for her loss, "Besides, it's just a rat. If you need another test subject, couldn't you just find another one? Just go ask around the kitchen, I'm sure Mirta can spare one without ruining her special stew."
"No! I can't just replace him!" she looked at him in horror, "He was special! He showed exceptional intelligence and cooperated amazingly with all pre-testing procedures! Besides, I don't want just any rat, I want Mr. Iggy! I loved him!"
"Hopefully not in an inappropriate way," he said before thinking, cringing as the words left his mouth; now wasn't the time to be making fun of the girl's wording. Before he could apologize, she glowered at him.
"You're heartless! I don't have anyone else in this tower!" she tilted her head back and wailed, "I just lost the only friend who loved me unconditionalhee-hee-hee!"
Oh Maker, now she was really crying. Good Job, Stupid! He shook his head at himself, then tried smiling, "I'm sure that's not true!"
"It is, it is!" She snorted through her runny nose, swiping the back of her wrist over her eyes, "No one can stand being around me! Even the templars call me annoying. Those stupid girls hated me enough to let Mr. Iggy out of his cage for the third time in two weeks! They wanted the mouser cat to kill him!"
The poor girl was grieving, and Anders knew there was little that he could do as a stranger to comfort her. Well, he'd just have to rectify that, wouldn't he? He knelt beside her, and lightly rested his hand on her shoulder. Once her attention was caught, he met her gaze with a warm smile, and said, "Hey now. What's your name?"
She gulped air between sobs, "I'm Evelyn... and you?"
"You can call me Anders," his smile softened with genuine sympathy, "I'm sorry about Mr. Iggy. It's not easy to lose a friend, even an animal you care about. I didn't know he meant more to you than just an experiment before, or I wouldn't have suggested simply replacing him."
Her weeping slowed, but her hands stayed curled in front of her face, her eyes watching him silently for a moment. Then, she nodded, accepting his apology. Looking back down at Mr. Iggy, her eyes pinched the tears out, "Why do you even care?"
"Well, I hate seeing pretty girls crying their dear eyes out, for one," he grinned charmingly, which faded when she regarded him with disdainful disbelief, "I feel a bit responsible, for another."
"Responsible? How could you be responsible?" her face tightened in incredulity.
"I've been trying to teach Mr. Wiggums how to hunt properly. He's been a little lax at the job over the years, so I thought I'd give him a few pointers. Otherwise, they were going to put the little guy down," he frowned at the memory of the conversation he'd overhead between the templars.
"Mr. Wiggums?" She raised an eyebrow, "Is that his name?"
"Well, not officially, no," Anders chuckled, "He's just a mouser. That's just my name for him, he seems to like it well enough."
"That's kind of a silly name," Evelyn tried to keep her mouth from twitching into a smile, but his was so contagious.
"What, he doesn't look like a Mr. Wiggums to you?" He asked with a laugh, glad to see that carefully held-back smile of hers get bigger.
"You aren't responsible for what happened to Mr. Iggy," she sighed after a moment, "I don't even blame Mr. Wiggums. If there's anyone to blame, it's those girls, but it's useless to waste energy being mad at them. It just gives them what they want."
"That's the spirit!" he encouraged, standing as he saw her start to shift to her feet, "Don't let anyone else get you down."
Evelyn watched Mr. Iggy for a few more moments, until water slid over her vision and blurred him. She sniffled, and pressed her knuckles to her nose as though to stop the stinging that spread over the bridge. Blinking the tears clear again, she turned her gaze to Anders. She was honestly amazed at how quickly he'd managed to tug her back towards a better mood, that he'd even stopped to console her in the first place. He smiled with unshakable confidence, a glow that resonated deep within her and brought out her own smile, despite her tears. She envied him that confidence.
"I know you said you were wrong for telling me to replace Mr. Iggy," she said at last, "but I think I'm going to take you up on that suggestion. I need good friends, after all, if I'm going to make it through life here in the tower."
"I don't think Mirta's rats will be a suitable replacement," smirking, Anders crossed his arms.
"No, but.... you would," she tried smiling, though her anxiety stole the rug under what meager confidence she'd built, "Th-that is, if you don't mind if I called you a friend....?"
"I... what?" Confusion knocked the smile off his face, though he tried pasting another one back; sadly, it hung crookedly, an obvious artifice. This had to be some joke; no one here in the tower wanted to be his friend. Those that knew who he was didn't dare associate with him, what with his frequent attempts at escape- no one else had a burning need to make themselves a pariah any more than they already were as mages. Those that didn't, he preferred it that way, keeping his distance. Attachment to anyone in the tower was stupid and futile; his place was outside of the Circle.
Despising the false grin he wore, he joked, "I'm a suitable replacement for a rat? I feel honoured!"
Crestfallen, Evelyn cringed backwards, her head dipping as her shoulders hunched forward. She looked up at him through her eyelashes, and mumbled, "No, I didn't mean... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked. I just thought.... you're so nice...but yeah, that... that was insulting of me."
Anders felt his heart sink into his stomach, seeing her feeling so rejected. What had happened to this girl to make her feel so low about herself? Was she really as isolated as she'd described before? If she was this upset over a rat, or being turned down by him of all people, she must indeed be lonely. He glanced to the late Mr. Iggy, and wondered how he'd feel if it had been Mr. Wiggums he'd found curled up in the hallway, a mouser no more. That mouser had been the only creature to approach him when they'd locked him in that cell, meowing just outside the door. Of course, it had been because the lazy cat had smelled the food they'd brought him, but he slid a scrap of beef to the cat anyway, cooing gently. When the cat came close enough, Anders had reached through the bars and scritched behind his ear, smiled, and given him another scrap. Mr. Wiggums had stayed for hours, listening to him feel sorry for himself, so long as he slid him another treat once in a while.
No one else visited him.
He turned his attention from the past and the chilling thought of losing the only friend he had in the tower back to Evelyn, in time to see her embarrassed blush before she broke contact and rushed past him. Startled, he grabbed her arm to stop her, surprising himself as much as her. She faced him, eyes wide.
"I'm afraid that I won't make a very good test subject," his honest grin was back, and he welcomed it, "But maybe I could get used to being called 'friend'. So long as you can put up with me being an arse from time to time."
As quickly as she'd sunk, Evelyn's delight put her back on top of the world. She gripped Anders' hand in both of hers, her eyes lighting even as she struggled to keep her grin from breaking her face open by biting her lower lip.
"If that's all I have to put up with, I'm happy to oblige!" her eyes glistened, then fell to poor Mr. Iggy, "Oh!"
His hand's sudden freedom from her grip was welcome, though the warmth from her hands evaporated slowly. She swung her bag around to rummage through, and produced a white handkerchief. Mournfully stooping beside Mr. Iggy, she gently wrapped the rat in the cloth, folding it neatly and tucking the corners. Being very careful in how she handled the cloth, already seeing the signs of blood seeping through, Evelyn stood.
"I have to... say goodbye to Mr. Iggy. Properly." She made certain her natural fidgeting habit didn't twist the fabric encasing her friend, "But it was wonderful meeting you, Anders. I hope to see you around more often; I-I'm usually in the library."
He nodded once, "I'm usually nowhere near the library. But perhaps I'll detour there more often."
Shifting awkwardly on her feet, Evelyn smiled enthusiastically, "I'd like that. Excuse me."
She hurried off towards the courtyard; she wouldn't dream of burning the poor rat, especially since that would draw too much attention, and bordered on blasphemous besides. But she could at least bury him in the lovely garden. As she rounded the bend of the hallway, she glanced back to see Anders turning to head on his way, and vaguely wondered how it was she hadn't encountered him before now; the tower might be big, but the Circle wasn't exactly a burgeoning population.
What a rotten day. Cullen almost felt like pulling his helmet over his head, to keep what he felt was a perpetual scowl from showing whenever Evey showed up. Breakfast had ended abruptly when a very young apprentice had set his teacher on fire, and Cullen had been called to keep the teacher from returning the favor to the apprentice; apparently, this had been the fifth time this week the apprentice had flubbed his spellcasting in such a way as to endanger the enchanter, including a hex that nearly made his hair fall out. By the time he got back to his meal, one of the kitchen staff had already cleared it, thinking the abandoned breakfast had been finished. He was able to get a chunk of bread for his trouble, but even as he snacked on it, he craved that sweet, juicy, half-eaten apple.
Then, another apprentice had the ill fortune of having friends with a sense of humor. She'd been mixing together a healing poultice, experimenting with a new recipe she was unfamiliar with, and her friends had included two ingredients that, separately, were safe and inconspicuous, but together became extremely volatile and unstable. Cullen had to stand guard while the apprentice and her two friends worked to clean up the mess from the resulting explosion. The smell had been unbearable, and turned his stomach. Though, he supposed, it made him a bit more grateful he never finished breakfast.
By noon, a fight had broken out between three mages, an escalated argument over internal politics and the different fraternities the mages sorted themselves into. Cullen shook his head, thinking the whole matter stupid to argue over- the templars weren't going anywhere, for the mages own good, so the politics opposing their presence were pointless anyway. The fight was broken up, but not before Cullen had been soundly zapped by a stray bolt of lightning. Now, he was hungry, nauseated, and suspected his hair to spring out of place despite numerous attempts to keep it down.
The afternoon had passed peacefully, however, without further incident (that he was called in for, anyway). Already, the superior officers were noticing him. He'd responded quickly each time, and shut down any problems without resorting to excess violence. He took some solace that, despite how poorly the day had begun, some positive recommendations had been passed on to the Knight-Commander on his behalf.
And now, he got to wait for Evey. That made his day infinitely better.
"You know, I'm pretty sure your job is to keep an eye on the mages, not the door," a voice cut into his thoughts, one dripping in sarcasm. Cullen turned to look, seeing an apprentice in the now-familiar blue robes regarding him with amusement. His brown eyes, a more earthy tone than Cullen's own amber shade, carried a cunning glint that unsettled him. The blonde hair that one day would be worn tied away from his face, was still too short just yet, hanging partly in his eyes. As Cullen watched, he tossed the apple he had procured from the dining hall into the air, and caught it again idly.
"I am keeping an eye on the mages," Cullen protested, "Mages use doors, too."
"Maybe we've learned how to teleport, then what would you do?" the apprentice held up the red, tempting apple, and sank his teeth into it noisily, savoring the taste. Cullen frowned, and wondered if this apprentice was deliberately taunting him with that apple.
"Food isn't allowed in the library," Cullen intoned peevishly, "it might damage the books."
"I'm not going anywhere near the books," the apprentice replied casually, taking another bite to accompany the first.
"Then why are you here?" He knew he shouldn't be so annoyed with the guy, but he'd started off in a foul mood.
"Actually," the apprentice swallowed his mouthful, "I was just passing through, though I was hoping to run into someone here."
You did, and he doesn't like you very much, Cullen thought to himself, then said aloud, "Someone in particular, or are you just bored?"
"Both!" The apprentice grinned, then took another bite of his apple, chewing as he continued, "There's not much to do around here once lessons are done for the day, so I decided to see if she was here yet."
"She?" Cullen's eyes narrowed on the young man, "and just what were you planning to do with her once you met with her?"
"Mmn, I don't know," the apprentice's grin broadened, "For the first time in a long while, I think I really was just planning on talking with her. She's not really my type anyway; I prefer a girl with a little more meat on her bones."
The details clicked together in Cullen's mind (a thin girl he'd hoped to run into in the library? it had to be Evey!), and he immediately frowned. This didn't escape the apprentice's attention, who raised an eyebrow at him.
"I take it you know the girl I'm talking about, then," he snickered, "And based on your reaction just now? I'm tempted to see if she'd be interested in doing more than talking."
Because his attention had been focused on taking another bite of the delicious apple, he didn't see Cullen's hands shoot to his collar. In one swift yank, the apprentice found himself lifted off his feet, his head jerked back from the sudden movement. The apple fell from his hand, rolling on the carpet, forgotten in light of the sudden rage contorting Cullen's face.
"Don't you dare lay a finger on Evey!" he snarled, "Don't you dare use her for your own amusement like that! I will not stand for her heart being broken by the likes of you!"
"Woah, calm down, pal," the apprentice put up his hands in surrender, "I was joking. Like I said, she's not my type. I'd rather get reacquainted with my hand than push her into something she's not ready for. Give me some credit."
It was a long moment before Cullen finally set the apprentice back on his feet, trusting the young man no more than before, but unwilling to start yet another conflict. He was still unsettled, however, now that the blonde in front of him knew that Evey spent her time here. The library was her solace, her respite from the rest of the tower, and Cullen was getting to enjoy their private conversations. If this guy was going to be showing up, obviously much more comfortable with women, how soon would it take before Evey's attention drifted away from Cullen altogether?
The faint rustling of her robes as she entered was the only warning the two boys got before Evelyn spotted them, "Oh, good, you're here- oh! Both of you!"
"Well! I was beginning to think Stuffy here was going to be my only company tonight!" Something far more interesting than a flustered templar had walked in, and the apprentice had no problem stepping over Cullen's awkward greeting to welcome Evelyn.
She giggled, putting her fingers over her mouth, "Oh, don't call him that! He's really quite nice!"
" 'Nice' doesn't preclude 'Stuffy', you know," he grinned, and Cullen would have doused the apprentice in flames if only looks could catch fire.
"Maybe not, but Cullen's not stuffy," she gave Cullen a bright smile, "Actually, I feel quite comfortable with him around."
"Yeah, well, a templar's still a templar, comfortable or no," the blonde's nose wrinkled, "Maybe we ought to continue our conversation elsewhere, sweetheart."
One moment, Cullen felt like he could fly from Evey's smile, and the next, he could have crushed the damned apprentice under his boot. He really was trying to steal his Evey from him! He wasn't going to stand for that, no ser!
"Nonsense! You just haven't been properly introduced!" Evelyn slipped past her new friend, standing beside Cullen proudly, and gesturing between then, "Cullen, this is a new friend of mine, Anders. I just met him earlier today, after I found poor Mr. Iggy. Anders, this is Cullen. He often takes the evening post here in the library, and he's very sweet!"
Cullen's face flushed red, torn between being jealous of Evey finding yet another friend, and being thrilled at how Evey apparently saw him- sweet, no less!- before he caught on to an important detail, "Poor Mr. Iggy? What happened?"
Her face fell, her lips pouting out faintly, and for the first time, Cullen noticed her eyes were faintly red-rimmed; she'd been crying. She murmured, "Ah, yes... well. The girls opened his cage again, and this time, the mouser caught him. Mr. Iggy is resting in the garden now."
"Oh, no," Cullen didn't care much about the rat, though he would always have a special spot of fondness for Mr. Iggy for introducing him to Evey. He raised his hand, inches from resting it on her shoulder, then tensed, terrified of what contact would do to him, and lowered it again. Instead, he offered sympathetically, "I'm so sorry, Evey. I know he meant a lot to you, even as a 'test subject'."
Sensing the movement of his hand, Evelyn faced Cullen, her carefully partitioned grief rising again in the face of his compassion. Smiling through the tears that welled in her eyes, she took the hand he almost offered, "He did. But I think it's time I graduated to people-friends."
Cullen had never regretting having metal gloves cover his hands than he did then. He couldn't feel what he imagined to be the softness of her skin, but he could feel the warmth emanating from her hands as clearly as he could from her smile, and suddenly, the rotten mood that had been plaguing him since breakfast lifted. Softly, he replied, "That would probably be for the best."
Apparently, that ill mood had to land somewhere, and it happened to be the nearby apprentice, who regarded their display with minor disgust. Here, he'd been thinking the girl was just as alone in the tower as he'd felt at times, when it got quiet and there was no one around to distract him. She'd been crying over a rat, for Andraste's sake, why wouldn't he believe she felt friendless? Instead, she already had herself a dear friend, and it was a templar no less. The smirk that so rarely left his face was gone now, and he crossed his arms, inwardly berating himself for having been moved by what he believed now to be little more than childish melodrama. He didn't dare admit the twisting jealousy that she would have been the first person he would genuinely call 'friend', but she already had someone who so obviously cared about her.
"Good luck with that, I hear it's a rough transition to make," he snarked out loud, his smirk having returned with a darker undertone than he intended, "I think I'll be heading out, then. The library is still not my favorite place to be."
"Oh, you're... of course," she didn't mask her disappointment at first, which was enough to clear the cozy fog Cullen had been floating in. After smiling awkwardly, she sidled over to Anders, "Thank you again, for being kind earlier. I was being such a child, but I felt so much better after you talked to me."
"You... don't need to thank me," his eyes darted away, not wanting to be drawn back into her ability to play on his sympathy.
"I want to, though," that naive smile still shone in the edge of his vision, "I admit I'm not used to this 'making friends' thing, but I'm pretty sure that letting someone know that they're appreciated is part of the deal."
"I think you've got the hang of it," keeping his tone casual, glad his voice didn't give away his disappointment, he grinned, "Don't you worry about me, kid. I'll see you around the tower, alright?"
As well hidden as he'd kept it, Evelyn still seemed to catch his resentment, her face softening out of the smile. Not wanting to watch her relinquish what he was already trying to pull away from her, irritated at both her for not fighting, and himself for being petty, he gave her a nod, and did his best to saunter out confidently.
Once he was safely out of the library, out of sight of that confusing young lady, he slowed his pace, lowered his gaze to the carpet, and allowed himself to seethe.
He didn't return to the library for another week.