She had loved Skyhold from the second she had laid eyes on it. Its high walls, its myriad of rooms and hallways, all buzzing anew with life. The garden, like a whispered secret, an oasis of warmth amid the harsh cold winds of the mountainside. The tavern where there never seemed to be a moment of sadness. She had even grown to love her own quarters after getting used to sleeping under a set roof where the cool light of the stars had no chance of reaching her. She loved Skyhold but sometimes the castle just got goddamn frustrating.
It had been five days. Five days since Cullen had kissed her on the battlements. Five long, awful days. And he had not touched her since.
There was always something. Nobles to greet, missions to plan, strategies to talk through. They had never had spent much time alone but since their kiss it seemed that people followed them wherever they went. Eyes and ears were everywhere and while their kiss on the battlements had not exactly been in secret, she felt herself grow tense as soon as other people were around. As if she feared everyone could read her mind when she was near him.
She had thought about him touching her before. Sometimes when she met her advisers in the war room, her mind strayed from troop positions and treaties as her gaze kept wandering back to him. To his gloved fingers as they sorted through a stack of papers. Or to the scar that cut through his upper lip and caused his smile to always be just a little bit crooked. She had wondered what it would be like to be kissed by him. Her wandering thoughts often ending with a blush on her cheeks and a dull ache somewhere deep inside her tummy. But now that she knew what it felt like, everything was so much worse.
Leliana and Josephine were bickering over how to deal with a troublesome Orlesian noble. They had been at it for over fifteen minutes and the end of their argument did not seem to be in sight. Cullen had seemingly stopped listening after a few minutes and was reading through some of his papers instead while waiting for the women to come to an agreement. His brow was slightly furrowed, a steep line of concentration forming just between his eyebrows. Elaria was aware that she was staring but she could not stop as she imagined her fingers smoothing his forehead. Cupping his face with her hands. Kissing that scar. She bit her lip hard, just to snap out of it. This was getting ridiculous. He had not even looked at her once since she had entered the room. And was she imagining this or had he left more space between them than usual? She stopped herself from letting out an annoyed groan. She did not like to admit it but she was worried. He had been acting like this for days. Avoiding her eyes, always a few paces between them. She thought he had enjoyed their kiss as much as she had but she grew more and more unsure with every passing day. Of course, she was not completely clueless when it came to these matters but what if she had done something wrong? What if he had not liked it after all and was now just trying to let her off easy? Anxiously she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and tried to keep herself from looking at him again. Instead she focused on Leliana and Josephine who finally seemed to have come to an understanding.
“That is all, Inquisitor,” Josephine said. “Are there any other matters you would like to discuss?”
Elaria shook her head. “No,” she said, then halted for a moment. “Unless Commander Cullen has anything to add? Anything to say at all?” It came out a lot more snippy than she had intended and she could feel her face growing red as soon as the words had left her mouth. Cullen's head snapped up and he finally looked at her, confused. An uncomfortable silence settled between them. Elaria could not bear to even look at Josephine or Leliana but Cullen's burning gaze on her was even worse. Then he finally spoke.
“No,” he said, calmly. But she could see the tense muscles of his jaw twitching. What had she been thinking?
“Well, alright then.” She could not stay in this room for one second longer. She grabbed some papers from the table, just to keep up the appearance of purpose, and fled.
When the heavy door of the war room fell shut behind her, she had to keep herself from breaking into a run. She could feel own pulse in her ears, embarrassment like a cold stone in her stomach. She hurried down the long corridor leading to the main hall, bursting through every door on her way with much more force than necessary. The hall was full of people, as usual. Actively trying not to look at anybody, she pushed her way through the crowd. Someone called out her name but she did not stop to turn around. She stormed past Varric's desk, through Solas' study and did not stop until she found herself outside of Cullen's office. The cold winds whipped over the battlements and hit her with force. She paused, just for a second. He would not be there. She hurried through it anyway, just in case. When she stepped onto the battlements, the wind hit again with all its force. It was cold but the roaring noise almost drowned out her racing thoughts. She kept walking, not really caring where her feet were taking her. Everywhere she turned there were people. Nobles, guards, Leliana's spies. She just needed to get away. Up the stairs, through broken down rooms, more stairs, a ladder.
When she looked up she found herself on top of the tower where he had touched her for the first time. Of course her feet would lead her here. She almost turned around immediately but she already felt the calming influence this place always seemed to have on her. I was one of the highest watch towers of the castle, partially crumbled and one of the few places far away from prying eyes. She had found it a week after they had first arrived in Skyhold, during on of those nights when she could not sleep. The mark on her hand throbbing, her head pounding and her mind racing, she had come up here, in the hope of finding some peace and quiet. She had come to find the stars, their light finally shining onto her skin again. Of course, it wasn't the same as sleeping under the open sky during one her hunting trips when she was still living with her clan, but it came close. Up here she could almost forget the thick stone walls of the castle and its constant light and noise. Up here she could breathe.
She had returned almost every night after that. On the third night, she found Cullen standing with his back to her, staring out into the black void beyond the castle walls. She had tried to sneak away but he had heard her. Both had been surprised to find that they shared the same secret place for their nightly escapes. Their friendship had been begun there, on that night, underneath the stars. They had talked, sometimes. Other times they just had enjoyed each other's company in silence. Here, he had touched her for the first time. Just slightly, his gloved hand on her forearm. She had felt her heart stop. Everything that happened afterwards could be traced back to that moment, she was sure of it. Or at least as sure as she could be about anything.
Now she paced back and forth, anxiously running her fingers through her hair. His silence, the distance he kept from her. Five long days and now he wouldn't even look at her. Perhaps it was time to accept that he just did not feel the same way about her.
“Elaria.” At the sound of her name she whirled around. Cullen was standing at the top of the ladder. Of course he had found her. Had she really believed she would be safe, here of all places? For a second she thought she saw a pained expression on his face but then it became just as unreadable as always. She had to admit he looked ruffled. The wind was violently tugging at the fabric of his cloak and his usually perfectly styled hair had begun to curl just slightly at the ends. He was looking at her – something she had been waiting for for days. But now she just felt the embarrassment washing over her again.
“What do you want?” she snapped and crossed her arms in front of her chest. He came a few steps closer, slowly as if he was afraid of spooking her.
“What's wrong? Why did you run away?”
“I think you've made your position pretty clear, Cullen.” She felt tired, all of a sudden. “There is no need to talk about it anymore. Please just spare me the embarrassment.”
Cullen held up his hands in surrender. The pained expression was back and it stayed this time. “What are you talking about? Did I do something wrong?”
A dry laugh escaped her lips, her sadness quickly turning into anger once more.
“Are you kidding me?” she spat. “You tell me you care for me. You kiss me! And then you just ignore me for five days? When I enter a room you make sure you're on the other side of it. You won't even look at me, Cullen!” He looked confused but she could not stop herself now. “If you've changed your mind... If you don't want me...” Her voice broke and she turned away so he would not see the tears that stung in her eyes. “Just tell me.”
And then he was there, suddenly. His hand on her arm like on that first night. When she looked up, he was close. His face mere inches from hers.
“What would make you think such a thing?” he said, his expression serious. “Of course I care for you!”
She shook her head and tried to pull away but her own body betrayed her. She could not break the connection, now that she finally felt his touch again.
“Don't mock me”, she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.
His other hand shot up to cup her face and she leaned in, despite herself.
“It's true,” he said. “How can you doubt this? I could hardly think of anything but you these last few days. But we were never alone. I could not...” He stopped for a moment, his brow furrowed. “I could not risk even looking at you or I wouldn't have been able to stop.” He was looking now, studying her, and she felt her face grow hot underneath his gaze.
“So you don't regret it? Kissing me?” She still could not quite believe what she was hearing. He did not answer. Instead he met her lips with his.
There was nothing soft or unsure about his kiss this time. He was forceful, his body flush against hers in an instant. His hand in her hair, the other on her waist. When she gasped in surprise, his tongue entered her mouth and turned her gasp into a moan. She felt heat rising up in her as he pushed forward until her back met the cool stone of the battlements. She felt him everywhere. His body pressed against her, his hands wandering as if he could not decide where to place them first. She managed to snake her arms around his neck, gaining some control. Over herself, over the situation. When she kissed him back with equal force, she could feel him smiling against her lips. His thigh was in between her legs, pressing against the spot inside her that ached in the sweetest possible way. She hitched up a bit and could not stop the moan that formed inside her chest. His kisses wandered then, from the lips along the slope of her jaw and down her neck. When he hit the spot where her neck met her shoulder, she sighed his name into his ear. His answer was a deep growl that resonated deep in her bones. Hungrily he kissed her mouth again and she lost all train of thought. It was too much. His body's heat and her own and the biting cold of the wind. His hands trailing down her sides, his leg rocking against her very core, their breaths just ragged gasps now. She lost track of time. Could not tell where her body ended and his began. Then suddenly he pulled back, just a bit. They were panting, foreheads touching. His face was flushed and his eyes dazed and dark with desire.
“Elaria,” was all he said and her eyes flicked to the scar on his lip. Without thinking she leaned forward and kissed it. Just lightly, a slight brush of her lips against his. He closed his eyes and smiled. “How long have you wanted to do that?”
She felt light-headed. All the anger and shame melted away to leave her tingling.
“Probably just as long as you have.”