After ten years as the Hero of Ferelden Lana grew used to certain doors opening for her, even as the patrons kept a wary eye on the mage in their midst. People would sit up higher, conversations drawing to a lull as everyone watched to see what new shit storm would herald her arrival. This was the first time in as long as she could remember that no one bothered to turn a single glance her way; those were all preserved for the exasperated man at her side.
"Commander Cullen," a soft woman cry-whispered as they arrived outside Detan's selected spa. Everything about her was pillowed from her padded lips to her cheeks, down her chest to the fluffy slippers upon her feet. She was as if a cloud sprung to life, assumed the form of a woman, and decided to run a bathing house. Extending a hand to him, Cullen had to release his hold on Lana to accept it. Even then, he barely suppressed an eye roll at the idea. The woman's smile barely shifted as Cullen gripped back around Lana's waist. "And accompaniment, of course. We were delighted to hear of your arrival and have reserved an array of options for your needs from our famed mud and deep mushroom soaks to a facial made with the poison off a quillback's spines - it's good for tightening up any sagging parts," she whispered the last bit at him and Lana had to bury a giggle from the horror crawling up his face.
"No, that's...quillback spines? I...the baths. We're only here for the baths," he stated, his eyes skipping around the luxury on offer. Detan wasn't kidding when she said this was probably the most expensive bath house in all of Orlais. Marble, gold, jewels giving expensive eyes to the statues dribbling clean water into waiting pools - its opulence could serve as a micro-grand cathedral. As Lana's eyes glanced around the faces of a few of the patrons relaxing upon benches, no doubt carved from hand hewed ironbark, she recognized a few faces belonging to the chantry. Perhaps it was the second cathedral after all.
The proprietor who Lana was coming to suspect was the titular Lirlene, gestured the two of them towards a twelve foot tall door. It looked thick enough to stop an army, but she only had to push upon it with a single finger for the great stone to slide open. Lana glanced up at the mechanism, curious to see what kind of weights had to be necessary for such a feat. "Is there a winching system involved with...?"
"Please," Lirlene spoke over her, barely glancing at the little mage. Her eyes were fully upon the dashing Commander who looked like he'd eaten a full lemon before arriving. "We ask that guests wear these comfortable and complimentary slippers while in the spa," she said, gesturing to lines of white shoes missing the back half. They looked as if someone formed them out of wisps of cotton pulled in clumps from virgin fields; all the bundles of cotton smashed together and pressed into shoe form.
"I'm only hear for the bath house section," Cullen spoke up, looking like he had no intentions to take an inch of his clothing off. That should make the swimming part of this trip interesting.
A grimace snapped across Lirlene's face but she smoothed it away instantly, "The bathing pools are part of the spa, and these slippers will keep your toes warm off the marble floors."
"My boots seem to be doing an adequate job of that."
Poor Lirlene had no answer to that, her eyes glazing over as she weighed what had to be an insurmountable rule against the grandeur of the Commander of the Inquisition walking through their doors. Taking pity on her, Lana slid towards a bench and sat down. Placing her cane against the wall, she reached down to pull off her own shoes. Maker, they were a mess, rotted at the heel from her time in the Fade proper, and then the water seeping in while trapped in the hold. Was it any wonder no one in Orlais gave her the time of day? It was a surprise that Leliana's first stop wasn't to drag her to a cobbler, but the last time they talked shoes it hadn't gone well. And it seemed unlikely Lana was going to attempt anything with an increased heel anytime soon.
"Should we take whatever one we want?" Lana asked, her fingers washing over the fluffy options.
Lirlene glanced over once to her and shrugged, "Yes, the options are yours."
Smiling in thanks, Lana picked one of the smaller pair to match her tiny feet. She looked up at the stoic man and jerked her chin to the bench. Cullen gave an imperceptible shake of his head no, which got him a glare. Accepting he wasn't going to win, he finally sat down beside her and began unlacing his own shoes. At that, Lirlene clapped her hands in glee.
"Ah," she paused, rising up, "I forgot your robes. Give me but a moment." Racing off to some other part of the spa, she left the two alone.
Lana closed her eyes and flexed her toes in the slippers. Forget a cloud, this was like walking across water itself, parting with just enough give she almost could convincer herself stepping upon a lake was possible. "Oh," she sighed, patting Cullen's cheek, "are you planning on being grumpy the whole time? Because, I'm all for ducking out of here and heading home. My plant could use a watering and there are a few books left..."
Catching her hand, Cullen pulled her closer to him so he could kiss her excuses away. "You're going swimming, no matter what."
"Wonderful," she grumbled, tossing her head back to stare at the ceiling. Reliefs etched along the ceiling, but she couldn't understand them. The art looked ancient, far more than anything she'd expect to find in Val Royeaux. Curious...
Cullen finished sliding off his boots and reached for a pair of slippers. After he put them on, he groaned and Lana glanced down at his toes dangling off the edge. When he rippled them in consternation, she couldn't bury the laugh in her throat. "I never realized how large your feet are."
"It's not funny," he grumbled, trying to find a balance between either his toes or heels hanging off the edge.
"I don't know," Lana grinned wider, "it's rather entertaining to watch half of Val Royeaux fawn over the strapping Ferelden man in their midst."
"Ha," he snorted once, but she spotted a hint of a blush rising off his cheeks. "This is all another part of their Game."
"Right," Lana nodded her head, "the one called 'Let's see what's in the Commander's trousers.' I know that one well."
"What?" he whipped his head at her, and glared, "No, that...what are you speaking of?"
"Ah," Lana paused in telling him the full of what she'd learned from Leliana. It seemed the Commander himself was only given the bare minimum of the rather heated interest in him across Orlais. The fact he rose above it all with a cool shrug only drew their attention hotter, like a moth of a flame. It seemed nearly every available (and some not so available) women in Orlais intended to be the one to tame the brooding Commander. Lana thought Leliana only told it to her as a lark, until she caught the edge in her eyes as if she feared for her friend should anyone learn of Cullen's relationship with the quiet mage. But that all seemed beyond the pale to put upon Cullen's shoulders at the moment. "Oh, you know how people are...like apprentices," Lana tipped her head, trying to play off the game as something they'd have done back in the tower.
Cullen grimaced again, but he nodded, his eyes closing, "Far too well. I came across one of those lists once with...measurements."
At that Lana's eyebrows shot up. She'd never heard of an apprentice being so bold. "What did you do with it?"
"Burned it and swore to never mention it to anyone it could have affected," he said. Smiling at his answer, Lana moved her hand up his arm, her fingers digging into the taut muscle as she struggled to reach up and kiss him.
"Here we are," Lirlene shouted, appearing in the doorway. Sliding away fast, Lana glared down at her shoes while Cullen turned his on the woman baring two robes in her hands. "Slip these on and I'll direct you to the bathing pool."
Cullen picked it up, a sneer rising along his lip, when he glanced over at Lana. She mouthed 'we could still leave.' Shaking his head, he began to slide the robe's arm over top his when Lirlene spoke up.
"Ah, people traditionally wear only the robe before entering into the spa."
"You wish me to..." anger in the face of continual obstinance rose inside of him. Lana reached over and snagged his hand before he began to berate the poor woman. Cullen's eyes shut and he breathed deep for a moment. After the cloud passed, he glanced over at Lirlene and said the solitary, curt, "No."
She looked about to argue, but there was no budging the voice that decreed it. It was an order as if from the Maker himself. Nodding her head in agreement, she shifted away as Cullen finished cinching the robe up over his clothing. He passed the other to Lana who matched him in kind. "Very well," Lirlene sighed, and began to lead them into the spa proper.
As they stepped out, Lana took the time to rise up on her toes and whisper in Cullen's ear, "I told you half of Val Royeaux's trying to see you naked."
After walking past a room full of people buried up to their necks in mud and seeming to enjoy it, another where they had snake venom flicked at their faces, and an imposing door with steam bursting out of the seams as if at the very edge of thedas itself, Lirlene paused them before the bathing pool. A few deck chairs circled around a room sized recess into the ground. Tiled in even more marble, the mosaic upon the pool's walls looked like surf pounding into sand. Lana draped an arm around Cullen so she could rise up on her toes to see that at the bottom of the deep blue pool was a trio of mermaids in mosaic. Their tails looked razor sharp from the angles of the cut marble.
"This is the bathing pool, nearly thirty feet long with water heated by runes enchanted from the talented Fromari hands themselves, it is in fact the largest hot bath in all of thedas," Lirlene practically glowed with the pride she had for it. "Ah, Reynard," she gestured at a thin man standing beside the pool's fountain.
He wiped his hands off with a towel slung over his naked shoulders and paused before them. Bowing deep at the waist, his eyes darted over his boss before turning to Cullen and then lingering upon Lana. It was no more than an extra beat, but she swallowed at the way he stared at her, the grey eyes traveling over her body. "These must be the important guests for the day," Reynard spoke, his accent flourished with an extra emphasis.
Bowing his head to Cullen, he said, "Ser," then in turning to Lana a smile cracked his sun kissed face, "Mademoiselle." She kept her hands clutched tight to her cane so he didn't get any funny ideas to try and kiss them.
"Reynard, is everything up to specifications?" Lirlene interrupted the wolf stare.
"Yes, Ma'am," he snapped to attention, the move drawing Lana's attention to the lack of substantial clothing upon him. Apparently the spa attendants preferred to do most of their work in little more than their smalls if they could help it. She gazed upwards at the tiles coating the ceiling to cut down on the awkwardness.
Beaming his smile at the not looking Lana first, he toned it down a beat, and spoke professionally to Cullen, "The water is at a proper 32 degrees, though if you would like it cooler for swimming or warmer for...other purposes, you need only tap that rune slot there to alter it."
"I see," Cullen muttered. She could practically hear the vein in his neck trying to pop out as he held himself in check. The idea brought a small chuckle to her.
"Towels are provided upon the linen cart, I see you already have robes, and within the shelves there are bathing suits for mademoiselle," those grey eyes zeroed in on her now, another two teeth appearing in his smile as if he wanted her to know he possessed a set of canines. "Or..." he turned away from Lana to Cullen, but the commander interrupted him.
"Yes, I already know there are no sizes to fit me and came prepared."
"Ah..." Reynard's cocksure smile faltered and he glanced to his boss for a moment before sweeping it all away, "as you say. If you require anything at all, I can be reached with a wave of your delicate fingers," he spoke the last part to Lana who knew her cheeks were hotter than the pool.
Clapping her hands, Lirlene beamed at Cullen, "Please, enjoy your stay with us." She turned to leave the room with Reynard hot on her heels.
"You're both leaving?" Cullen's eyes darted about the room, both of them noticing the lack of anyone else inside.
Lirlene paused, more uncertainty rising to her face, "Of course. You requested a private session and we strive to provide here."
"Ah, right, private. Thank you," he said, then twisted the edge of his lips up in a halfhearted smile. It was enough to bring a full one back to Lirlene's round cheeks. Patting her flushed face, she all but skipped out of the room. Bowing his head deep, Reynard slipped out of the room but not before his eyes traveled over Lana's hidden curves once more.
As the door shut tight, Cullen let loose a growl in his voice, "The man strived to be as unsubtle as a druffalo in heat."
Chuckling at his discomfort, Lana ran her finger up his arm, "I suspect that was all for appearances."
"The appearance of being labeled a jackass, I'd believe."
"Maker," she sighed. Sliding towards the pool, Lana kicked off one of her slippers and reached a tender toe towards the water. She kept a tight grip on her cane in case the reach proved too much. "You've clearly never spent any time around noble women of a certain persuasion." As her toe crested through the water, a comforting warmth washed over Lana. Perhaps this wouldn't be as bad as she feared.
"A certain persuasion?" Cullen pouted. He stomped to the nearest deck chair and tossed the robe onto it.
"Flattery can get one far when you're living on the middle rung," Lana said, turning back to him.
He sneered at the idea, then reached for the hem of his shirt and yanked it clean off. Lana had to stop her jaw from smashing through the gold and jewel encrusted floor. Sure, she'd seen him shirtless a few times since crawling out of the fade, but it was always in passing, a quick glance from the corner of her eye. Cullen raised an eyebrow from her stricken face while Lana tried to mentally absorb every inch of his still toned and surprisingly tanned skin. The last time she saw it, he was nearly white as a sheet, but a bit of the sun shifted him to the color of old vellum.
"What is it?" he asked, concerned as if she was trying to check him for odd moles and spotted one.
"I, uh," Lana tried to turn her head away, but her eyes traipsed down his stomach and a pop of defined abs from the few months walking thedas. What really did her in was his hips peeking over the top of the trousers, his damn v even more prominent than she remembered. Slightly aware of her body leaping up in joy, Lana turned back to the pool and focused on the mermaids. At least they all had the decency to cover their nudity in scales.
After she managed to lift her voice back from its gobsmacked stammer, Lana said, "It's not as if the proprietor of this establishment wasn't lavishing attention upon you."
"That..." he sounded argumentative, but when Lana turned back, Cullen wiped a hand through his hair and he sighed, "is fair." She smiled at that and shrugged. After watching her for a moment, Cullen snapped his finger, "Do you require a suit? I could get one down from the..."
"No, no," Lana limped over to the chair. After sitting she undid the buttons down the front of her dress, each white one stiff against her fingers. "Leliana prepared me for this, it's nothing fancy but should suffice..." She had to stand again to work the dress off her hips. It wasn't much by any means, a dark blue band that cut off at the middle of her ribs with straps barely an inch thick. It was a wonder they could hold up her breasts, but some magic seemed to be at work to hoist her perkier than she remembered even in her twenties. The bottom part of the suit was just her smalls in the same dark blue color.
Lana reached down to snatch up her dress, but her legs seized up. Glancing upward at Cullen, she began to ask, "Would you mind...?" Her words trailed off at the way he seemed lost in her, no doubt taking in the new scars etched upon her stomach, or the sunken muscles of her legs. It wasn't the pervasive need Reynard tried to project, but a gobsmacked approval radiating off his face. "Cullen?"
"What? I..." he pinched his nose to bring himself back, "Right, dress, I can help with that." Dropping to the floor, he snatched it up and rather neatly folded it before adding it to the chair pile. At her look, he smiled, "Don't act surprised. I had chores to perform as well."
Lana glanced back at the water waiting for her in the pool. She'd been dreading it ever since the elf made the suggestion, a deep in her bones kind of dread. All of last night her dreams filled with water either overrunning itself out of a tub, lapping up through the stones in Vigil's Keep, or spurting from her fingers and never stopping. It grew so bad, she at best got a few hours of sleep, her mind relentlessly waking her as if she was drowning.
"I don't know if..." She started turning back to Cullen and all sense flew from her brain. He slid off his trousers to reveal the tiniest pair of white smalls she'd seen in years cupping his oh so tempting bulge. Sweet holy Maker, his thighs popped from him bending over to pick up the kicked off pants and Lana felt a squeak rolling in the back of her throat. If he turned around giving her a view of his tight buns, she knew she was going to die right there on her feet.
Cullen didn't look over at her struggling to breathe or make sense in the world, he calmly folded his trousers up and added them to the pile. He knew, he had to know that she was stricken dumb from the sight of his glorious flesh and was relishing in it. Well, he did deserve it and Maker knew Lana had no intentions of stopping. Her fingers crawled up his arm, following the line of blonde hair up to his bicep, which she felt harden to steel below her fingers. Trying to not "Ep" right then and there, she rose up on her toes and placed her lips against his cheek. Moving swiftly, Cullen turned his head and met her for a kiss. She hadn't felt this much skin against her own naked flesh in two years. When his hand cupped her cheek, his lips parting to find her tongue, the idea of leaping on top of him in the deck chair overloaded her mind.
As if aware of her libido's plans, Cullen broke the kiss and chuckled, "You can't tempt me that easily. You need to swim."
Lana's head fell back and she groaned, "How do we even know if it will work?"
"That's why we try, and if it doesn't nothing lost, right?"
"So help me if you start in with the pep talks..." Lana threatened, waving a finger near him.
Chuckling, he cupped it and then took her hand in his. "I promise, you'll get none from me." She nodded at that, accepting his word, then cast a sidelong glare at the water. "Why are you so bothered by it? Did you never learn...?"
"I can swim," she interrupted, aware of what he was thinking. "I had to spend a lot of time on ships for travel, I figured I should learn in case, you know..." she mimed a giant squall squashing a boat.
"Okay," he backed down from his assumption, "then why don't you want to?"
Screwing up her nose, she sneered at the silent water waiting for her, "What if I...can't?" Turning back to him, Lana felt an urge to bury her face in his chest and never come back, "What if I try and my arms won't work and my legs fail and I...I can't, I never can again? What if I'm too broken?"
"Lana," he wrapped his hands around her, his fingers combing through her short hair. "I...have faith in you."
"Faith can't cure me," she shot back, then grimaced at her dour words. He believed, but she wasn't so certain anymore. No, she was never certain at any point in her life in either Andraste or the Maker.
Cullen didn't rear back, nor did he stop caressing her hair, "Not faith alone, but if we put in the work, take the time to heal, then it might get better."
"And if it doesn't?" she asked the words that'd been sitting in her heart since she failed to step out of the chamber under her own power.
"Then we think of a new plan to get you around," he cupped his hands against her cheeks and pulled her away from his chest to look into his eyes. A soft smile turned up his lips, "Perhaps Honor could pull you in a cart. I'm certain she'd adore it."
Lana snorted at the idea, and dropped her head lower so her forehead skimmed against his chest, "Okay, you're right. Might as well try it and see." As her eyes stared down at the slip of white fabric straining from his bulge, a question rose in her mind. "Cullen, where did you get those smalls from?"
"Ah, well," he rubbed the back of his neck and almost stumbled away in embarrassment, "I have a few pairs in case of emergency reasons."
"And you knew to bring them, wait, why did you say they wouldn't have any bathing suits in your size...? Holy Maker," Lana's hands flew up to her mouth from shock causing Cullen's eyes to widen in dread, "You've been to a spa before."
"You, you-you, Commander of the Inquisition, once templar, grouchy about anything Orlesian, came to a spa in Val Royeaux," she shook her head, trying to whip sense into it.
"It's not what..." he waved his hands around in a circle almost whacking himself in his perturbation, "I had to attend one once, only once, at the behest of the Inquisitor. For Inquisition purposes."
He glowered down at her, his sneer snapped into place, "Would I willingly whittle away my hours here unless it was for the good of thedas?"
"I don't know," she said unable to bury her smirk at his discomfort for being caught, "there could be a softer side you've kept buried deep under your armor all these years."
"Maker's breath," he sighed, tenting his fingers over his forehead like a helm, "I am never going to hear the end of this."
"It's rather cute, if that helps," Lana tried to cheer him up. "I'd never been asked to a spa before, even as the Hero of Ferelden. People tend to get jumpy about a mage being so close to them, add in the warden mystique and, well..."
Cullen grumbled, but his sneer faded to a general scowl, "I did not wish to...there were a few extenuating circumstances that... Will there ever come a time when I stop embarrassing myself in front of you?"
"Sweet Andraste, I hope not," she cried, "you get the most adorable blush when you're all flustered."
"And you are...trying to distract me so you don't have to swim. It will not work, Lady Amell."
"Fine," she folded her arms together, accepting that his damn iron will wasn't about to rust from a few embarrassing moments. Turning to face the water, Lana limped towards the pool's edge. When she reached it, she spoke impishly, "Did the slippers fit during your first spa visit?"
"There were none, now get in the water." He was all business now, the adorable bumbling erased by the Commander. She should probably feel flush from the powerful presence in his voice, but fear dampened down any spring in her libido. Lowering herself to the ground, Lana let her legs up to the knees rest in the water. She had to admit, the warmth circling them felt invigorating.
"What now, boss?" she asked, turning to find him pick up her cane and place it safely against the wall.
"So it doesn't get wet," he explained and she nodded. Cullen stepped closer, his hand glancing across her shoulder. He paused at the water's edge and without any trepidation leapt in. Lana shrieked at the splash breaking over her face and down her chest, which quickly transformed into a laugh. The water circled around the middle of Cullen's chest, seeming to bisect him into one half tantalizing dry templar, and one part enticing wet. He bent over backwards to dip his hair into the pool, and then snapped upward, whipping the excess through the marble baths.
"All right," he parted his hands, "your turn."
"I'll catch you so it's not too jarring," he assured her while stepping closer.
"If you're sure..." Lana closed her eyes and tried to strangle the part of her screaming that she was about to ruin everything. Pushing off her hands, her body slid off the stone ground right into the waiting pool. Water slithered up her body, far past her chest and heading towards her neck, when Cullen's hands locked under her armpits. Holding her tight, she kicked her feet a few inches above the floor. With a wicked smile, she said, "As the sapper said to his wife, 'Well, I'm in. Now what?'"
"Maker's breath, where did you hear that one?"
"Varric," she said, getting a full groan from him. Lana giggled at the ferocity of his disapproval of the dwarf, aware that there had to have been some kind of mutual respect even if Cullen never wanted to be trapped in the same room as the new Viscount. "I think you can drop me," Lana said, her toes still wiggling through the water.
"Ah, right," the blush that was never far away curled up both his cheeks and that taut, exposed stomach. Before Lana could get any ideas to try and trail that strip of blonde hair further down his body, Cullen lowered her towards the bottom of the pool. She gritted her teeth in anticipation of the same pain that always jarred up her legs whenever she rose to her feet, but only a glimmer of it whimpered through her calves. Testing her weight out, she extended her legs a bit, and struggled to keep her head above the surface.
Lana tipped her head back, the level darting dangerously close to her chin which received a gentle laugh from Cullen. "I forget how short you are, sometimes."
"Oh yes, it's so funny," she grumbled, "perhaps we should try exploring through tight quarter caves next."
She expected him to grumble but Cullen's fingers caressed down her submerged shoulders, "If it'd help you, I'll crawl upon my stomach."
"That, uh," Lana dropped lower into the water, only her nose skimming the surface as she tried to cool off the blush burning from the sincerity wafting off him. The fact he meant every word slightly terrified and thrilled her. After collecting herself, she bobbed up and asked, "What do I do now?"
"Walk, I suppose?" he kept his hands near her for fear that she might suddenly pitch forward and drown herself, but Lana didn't need them. Despite being nearly fully underwater, there was a surprising lightness to her bones, as if some of the weight of the world was pulled free. Shuffling at first, Lana moved towards the end of the pool, her arms digging through the warm water circling her wake. Cullen followed close beside for a few laps, those honey eyes trailing her move and she suspected occasionally wandering down the ample cleavage exposed by her swimming band. Not that she could blame him, she had to keep her focus straight ahead or she'd risk walking right into a wall from the acres of delectable skin he had on display.
After managing three laps back and forth, Cullen spoke up, "What if you try swimming now?"
That earned him a glare, "What if you try climbing the walls?" While there was a strange cushioning for her in the water, she could feel the threat waiting for her on the horizon. If she wasn't careful, if she stepped too far or too fast it could all come crashing down.
Cullen held his hands up, "I am only suggesting you try."
Maker, she had to fall for an eternal problem solver. It was heartwarming how much he threw himself into helping her, but Andraste's flames, did he have to put so much effort into it at the same time? She needed to find him a hobby, maybe something to do with Honor? Did Orlesians require instruction in the matters of combat from a man and his mabari?
"It might help to stretch the underused muscles. Firm them up and..."
Lana paused in the water and crossed her arms under it, "You've been talking to Leliana haven't you? She kept threatening to bring in this famous healer from I don't remember where, who had all these insane theories to fix me. Leeches, he wanted me to swallow leeches, while they were still alive."
"I," Cullen grimaced at the leech mention, "I'm not saying you should consume parasites, unless it's on the menu and we can't avoid it, but... Lana, it could help."
"So could summoning a demon, but you don't see me throwing that idea out," she stormed, growing more belligerent. She meant it as hyperbole but a strain echoed along Cullen's features, one he did his best to paper over, but she caught it and mentally slapped herself for it. Maker, out of all the people in thedas, he's the last one you want to go mentioning demons to. From the pain burrowing in the back of her brain upon thinking of them, she began to suspect she was the second.
Sliding closer to him, Lana wrapped her arms around his waist. His slick skin melded against hers, and she tugged herself into a hug. "All right, if it'll make you feel better I'll attempt swimming, but...you have to do something for me."
"Anything," he volunteered, but at the mischief glimmering in her eye, his enthusiasm faded, "What is it?"
"Tell me about your first trip to the spa, and don't skimp on the details."
"Lana, I really don't think..." his arm burst from the water, scattering drops over the calm surface, so he could ruffle his wet hair. "It was not that interesting."
"Nope, that's how it works," she slid away from him to find her own pitiful lane. "As long as you're talking, I'll swim. But the moment the story stops, so do I. Do we have a deal?"
"I...uh," Cullen's amber eyes darted around the pool as if he'd find some other excuse waiting in the empty room. "Fine," he crumpled inward, making it obvious that he was not pleased about this occurrence.
Lana smiled at him and waved her hands in the water. She did know how to swim, and knew exactly three ways to go about it. The crawl was right out, bursting the surface with her weary muscles was next to impossible now, never mind while propelling herself onward. And while mabari paddling could get her back and forth, she feared she'd never live it down in front of him. That only left one option. Sliding down, Lana readied herself, then glanced over.
"Well, are you going to talk or do I stand here?"
"Maker's breath, I...very well. This occurred in the earlier days of the Inquisition, before you, uh..."
"Came back into your life," she answered. Good on her word, Lana kicked off of the ground. She kept her head above the water to listen to Cullen's story and because she wasn't the best at the whole holding her breath parts. Suffocating had a habit of drawing forth nightmares for her. With her hands cupped near her chest she drew them out to propel herself down the pool before drawing them back to begin again. The warden who taught her how to breaststroke about had a heart attack every time he had to mention the word, but it served her well.
"Yes, I, that's one way to look at it." He was stalling, doing his best to say nothing while still talking. To show she knew, Lana slowed down, her arms extending as if she intended to float upon the water. Sighing at her, Cullen pinched his nose and continued. "I forget why I was in Val Royeaux, but the Inquisitor was the one who invited me to a meeting. Thinking little of it, we'd been taking them all day to assist in reviving Skyhold, I arrived dressed in my usual armored attire at a spa similar to this one."
"Bet the patrons practically shat themselves..." Lana mused, spinning around and turning back to the other side. "Oh Maker, don't tell me you had your sword with you?"
"Of course I did, I saw no reason not to. Thinking it had to be some mistake, I attempted to extricate myself before every man and woman relaxing in towels in the foyer had time to gawp at me. But that damn mage spotted me."
"You'll have to be a bit more specific, I remember a lot of 'damn mages' in the Inquisition," Lana said. She misjudged the dip of her hands and pulled her chin lower, dragging her mouth below the surface. Water rushed down her throat, and she sputtered, coughing it out as far as she could.
Cullen glanced over, but didn't rush to rescue her. He seemed content to let her swim her way to health, "The Tevinter one, in this case." Lana giggled at the way he didn't say Dorian's name. "He sweeps me up and begins chattering away with all the certainty his countrymen posses. I'm trying to get a question in, but his mouth has become unhinged and he cannot stop the spray of words."
"I found Dorian rather delightful," Lana said, "egocentric of course, but he is a Tevinter magister."
"Yes, he certainly delighted in finding new and interesting ways to get under my skin," Cullen groaned.
"Ah," a moment of realization struck Lana, and Cullen whipped a question at her, but she waved it away. Her suspicion could wait until his story was finished. "Please, continue, unless I'm also done swimming."
"Are you tired?" he asked.
"Nope," she shook her head, surprised to find that generally true. The ache was minor compared to her normal ones, and she felt as if she could keep this going for a good half hour or so more.
Cullen leaned back on his heels and crossed his arms, "I'm led to the Inquisitor and some Duke, or Viscount, or, Maker, it doesn't matter. They're both relaxing up to their necks in a bubbling hot spring. I'd heard of them before but had never seen one. It was interesting, unlike using runes here it had some underground lava connections the dwarves dug in."
"How'd they maintain the temperature range so as not to scald anyone?" Lana asked before grimacing. He knew her damn curiosity would trip her up and stall his story.
"I rather doubt they bothered, perhaps an elf would dump a bucket of cold water to combat it if it grew too great. I could always go and ask..."
"Nice try, but story," she interrupted his attempts to drag Reynard back inside. Maker, if he was going to the trouble of drawing that man's attention, his story must be something else.
"Very well," Cullen swallowed. With his chin jutted out and his arms behind his back, he bore a striking resemblance to a statue someone would put guarding the entrance to their hidden lair. Lana wasn't certain if he was even aware he was doing it. "I assumed we could get the matter discussed and over right then and there, and pulled a chair similar to those towards the edge, when one of the attendants appeared."
Cullen paused, and rotated his neck, "He insisted all who entered the hot springs area had to be dressed in the same skin tight bathing attire on those racks. I objected, rather, um..."
"You glowered until the poor kid nearly pissed himself?" Lana said, getting a chuckle.
"He had enough presence to not do that, but there was a marked timidness on his part. No, the problem was the damn mage. Throwing his arms wide, he ran a wet finger to curl his mustache and remarked, 'Why Commander, when in Orlais do as the Orlesians do. It's not as if you'll melt once you hit the water, correct? Or do all Fereldens fear water the same as your hounds? It would explain the smell.'"
She couldn't bury the snort from the way Cullen tried to mimic Dorian's voice before growling. Lana called out, "It is a wonder you didn't haul off and clobber him right then and there."
"I'm growing soft," he grumbled, but there was a small smile in it, "The Inquisitor tried to give me an out, attempting to call Dorian off, but then the Count or whomever insisted that there be no work done until everyone was in his blasted pool."
"What did you do?"
"What could I do? There were a good dozen people staring at me now, the Inquisitor's steely gaze, the Count's boisterous paddling the water, and that damn mage laughing behind his ridiculous mustache." Cullen's story paused and he looked dead on at Lana, "You're right, I should have hauled up Dorian by the back of his robes and tossed him out of there without a second thought."
"I never said that's exactly what you should have done," Lana tried to cover for herself, but if she'd been in his place she's probably have done just that with the help of a little magic.
"So, I look to the attendant turning whiter and whiter with every word, and ask for one of the damn bathing suits to change into. Simple, yes? He barely glances at me before whispering that they no longer had any in my size."
Lana's hand banged into the pool wall, startling her. She became so enraptured in Cullen's story, she didn't realize she'd swam another two lengths. His eyes trailed over her at the splash and his tale faded away. Waving her offending hand at him, she smiled and turned back, resuming her swim. He, in turn, revived his story.
"I did my best to back out of it, pointing out that if there was no suit then I couldn't join them. Which was when the blighted mage spoke up once again. 'Well, there's nothing stopping you from reclining in the nude.' Maker, I think the only reason I didn't rip his mustache off was because I melted into a puddle on the floor. The Inquisitor sputtered and tried to insist that it wasn't necessary, but the Count seemed invested in the idea. 'Nude or not, we're not starting any talks until everyone's in here.'"
Cullen paused to cradle his head in his hands. She wanted to run her fingers over the muscles straining across his arms and...Maker, those thighs. Taut with that curve down the sides that could make for the perfect firm pillow. Was she always a leg person? She couldn't remember caring before but at the rate her libido kept notching up she was liable to start craving his earlobes.
"I had no intentions to get nude, and the Count refused to budge. Which was when the Inquisitor suggested I at least strip to my smalls."
"Oh no," Lana sputtered, her head drifting lower underwater as her hands failed to adjust.
"I don't blame him, it's not as if he would know the truth."
"Maker's breath, I hope not," she gasped, but couldn't shake the smile off from her little needling of him.
Cullen groaned, sliding his shimmering foot back and forth over the mermaid tiles. "Do not start with that, I heard enough of the insinuations from...it doesn't matter. Without knowing about you, plenty of people preferred to assume my tastes ran...well," he shrugged.
"Yeah, I got that a lot too," Lana admitted.
"Really? Even with the king and..." Cullen blinked in surprise, but he managed to get his little sneer in at mentioning Alistair. She was coming to expect it now.
"Apparently if at any time you're not either madly in love with, pursuing, or curing your heart from losing someone you must be deep in denial about your true nature. And gossiping about your commander is the number one favorite pastime for soldiers."
"Do not remind me," he scrunched his whole face up in such a way, it drew Lana's attention. Perhaps she should ask Leliana about some of the rumors that would have circulated about the Commander of the Inquisition. They could prove enlightening. Cullen's eyes opened and he pointed at her, "You've stopped."
"So have you," she said, her weary feet bouncing on the bottom of the pool. "Unless there's more to the story then I suppose I'll get out..."
"Keep swimming, there's more."
She wasn't entirely thrilled about beginning again, a pain digging into the back of her shoulders that she didn't think possible, but by the Maker she had to hear the end of this. As Lana paddled on past, her waning limbs slipping into the hated mabari style, Cullen continued.
"With Maker knows how many people looking at me, I began to strip. I swear I hadn't done anything so humiliating since I was fifteen. The surcoat, armor, bracers, tunics, all of that was easy. Sliding off my boots, no problem, off went the sword belt and that's when I paused. Two choices before me, neither of which I ever wanted to dwell upon..." he paused, and Lana turned to face him, enthralled beyond measure. For all his grumblings about Varric he seemed to have a bit of a storyteller's instincts as well. "And I decided to climb into the pool with my trousers on."
Lana giggled madly, water bubbling out of her mouth from the glee. "Maker, that had to be...What did you do when you got out?"
"Facing a day walking back to our lodgings with soaking wet breeches was preferable to...the other option. But that wasn't the worst part, no, the humiliation refused to end because in my haste to get it over with, I failed to take into account the air trapped between my legs and the fabric."
"Oh no," Lana's limbs slowed and she gently crested to a full stop. With her freed hand she cupped her mouth to try and hide the smile as she tried to ply Cullen only with sympathy. But he caught on to her ruse and only sighed.
"Yes, I essentially had two air bladders attached to my legs while trying to act as professional as possible to secure...I can't even bloody remember what we needed from the man. It was the cream on top of my day and why I came prepared this time." His fingers drifted down the far too narrow strip of fabric around his hips. It drew Lana's eyes and she had to swallow back a groan from the view. While he may have thought to wear his own backups, he sort of forgot about the fact that white fabric washed translucent in water. She jammed her hand into her mouth and bit down on the fleshy palm to keep from squealing at his smalls suckered tight against his so tempting cock.
"Nothing," Lana snapped her head up and shook it. Sliding through the water to cut off her view lest she do something her exhausted body may come to regret later, Lana ran her fingers over his arms. Okay, the taut flexing of his forearms wasn't helping her state either. "Nothing at all, I...uh," she felt the blush rising to match her internal one.
Needing something to distract him before it got awkward, Lana spoke her suspicion. "I think I know why Dorian set you up like that."
"Because he gets his thrills from humiliating anyone in his vicinity."
"No, I think he was trying to win his bet with Varric about your underclothes. And he probably paid off the attendant to claim there were no suits that would fit you."
Cullen's eyes slipped closed and he snorted once. Wrapping his arms around her, he pulled Lana across the pool into his enticing embrace. She gladly succumb to it, her head resting upon his naked chest. "So, exactly as I said," he chuckled before pressing his lips against her wet hair. "How are you feeling?"
"Exhausted," she sighed. There was a burning rising up through her legs and from the edge of one wrist across her chest to the other.
"Would you like to get out?"
"Oh, now I'm free to leave," she mockingly placed a hand on her hip but, in truth, deep in her gut she didn't want to. Curled up in his naked arms, with his naked chest suckered to hers, and his naked thighs doing distracting thigh things she wanted to stay in the pool until all of her skin pruned up. Then her chin dipped down and she started from water bubbling into her mouth.
"I take it that's a yes," he said, already lifting her up in his arms and walking her towards the steps out of the pool.
"In my defense, I barely slept last night," Lana said. Her weary hand reached out to grab onto the guide bar and she placed one foot above her onto the stairs. Andraste, it was like she was trying to crawl out of the fade all over again, the water attempting to drag her back down to its depths. But this time she had Cullen helping to hoist her out. His hands cupped along her waist and as she moved up each of the steps, his fingers drifted lower down her hips. By the time she stepped away, his hands fell slack against the water. Lana made it to the edge on her own and smiled. Glancing over her shoulder, she was about to boast that fact when the blush in her stomach increased tenfold.
Cullen stared up at her the same way he had after their first time in the deeproads. She'd been about the average level of self conscious about her body, aware of the areas that puckered in strange shapes and the detractions. But when he looked at her as if he couldn't imagine glancing at another woman, she felt like the most beautiful woman in thedas. Blessed Andraste, she did not deserve him.
Rising from his stupor, Cullen realized she caught him leering and he stumbled backwards. A hand whipped out of the pool, aiming for his awkward spot behind the neck, which sprayed water at her and then his face. "I, uh, was thinking I might put in a few laps myself before we head home. Are you okay to move to the chair? Do you need me to get you any towels?"
"Nope," she smiled brightly, "I've got two robes I can throw on while I watch you." He gasped once, his own blush rising up as her eyes took the time to savor him. Bobbing his head, Cullen sank deep into the pool and swam properly, his hands rhythmically breaking the surface to propel him onwards. True to her word, Lana threw on both her robe and then his for warmth, as she settled onto the deck chair. Exhausted from the trials and wrapped in the warmth of cuddly cloth, she felt sleep knocking for her, but she couldn't sleep, not now. The Commander of the Inquisition, wearing only tiny see-through small clothes was swimming back and forth below her and she was the only one allowed to witness such a magnificent sight. She wasn't going to miss a single minute.