A frustrated shriek cut through the silence of the library, snapping Cullen out of his daydream.
Unable to sleep, Cullen had been enjoying the peace and quiet of the sleeping tower on a late-night stroll. It had made a nice change from the usual chatter and explosions from the mage's lessons or experiments, and it felt rather freeing to not be weighed down by his armour as he paced the corridors. He had found himself in the library; it was one of his favourite places to patrol, for reasons he swore had nothing to do with a certain mage who always seemed to be in there.
But the spell of peace and quiet had been broken; Cullen was clearly not alone. His Templar instincts kicked in, as he slowly crept towards the source of the noise, ducking behind a bookcase. He mentally cursed at his decision not to wear his armour. Even if he’d just brought his sword…
"Andraste's knicker weasels!" The voice shrieked again, before a small thud.
At that, Cullen couldn’t stop himself.
"Andraste's what?" Cullen exclaimed, ducking around the bookshelf. He blushed immediately at the sight before him.
Arya Amell sat alone, cross legged on the rug in front of the fireplace. An old book lay open in her lap and a chess set in front of her. She was glaring at a discarded chess piece he suspected she had just thrown at the bookcase opposite her. Her dark bushy hair was wilder than usual, haphazardly tucked behind her ears.
Maker's breath, she was beautiful.
At the sound of his voice she looked up in horror and immediately flushed a shade of red to rival his own.
"Ser Cullen! I'm so sorry, I didn't think anyone else would still be up and I-"
"N-no, I'm sorry for interrupting- no one else is up, I…uh… couldn't sleep and…Maker's breath, what are you d-doing?"
"I'm…um…I'm practicing." She replied sheepishly, nervously tugging at her hair and nodding towards the chest set in front of her.
Cullen stared at her in stunned silence as she babbled on, trying to avoid his gaze.
"Jowan keeps wiping the floor with me, and so I thought if I practiced really hard, without him noticing…maybe I could surprise him and wipe that infuriating smirk off of his stupid face and then maybe-"
Cullen chuckled, and Arya looked up in surprise.
"And what does that have to d-do with Andraste's…what was it?"
"Knicker weasels." She flushed harder, if that were possible.
"Right," he chucked again, "What has chess got to d-do with those?"
"Well…It turns out practicing on my own is harder than I'd thought. I'd found a book on chess techniques, and thought that would help, but Brother Francis is proving to be a patronising arse and is overall highly unhelpful." She glared at the offending book, slamming it shut and tossing it aside.
Cullen’s eyes widened in surprise; he had never seen her treat a book like that. She usually handled them as priceless treasures. He had caught her on more than one occasion chastising the younger apprentices for such treatment. This one must be bad.
"I could help you practice?" the offer was out of his mouth before he could think about it properly, and he inwardly cringed, anticipating an immediate rejection.
"You know how to play?" she asked, surprised. Cullen nodded and Arya stared back at him thoughtfully. There was still so much she didn't know about her Templar. Maker's breath, the Templar. Their stolen glances and blushes did not make Cullen hers.
And yet she couldn't stop staring at him as if he were hers. In the quiet of the sleeping tower, she had him all to herself for a change. And Andraste's knicker weasels she'd never seen him without his armour before; the loose tunic was showing off broad shoulders and muscular arms that were normally hidden in plate…
Cullen's face fell as he turned to leave. Arya panicked; she'd forgotten to answer his question.
Maker please don’t let me have ruined this.
"N-no wait! Please… if…if you wouldn't mind. That would be..." Wonderful. Amazing. "…helpful."
She cringed at her inability to speak coherently around him, convinced that he would change his mind, stalk away and report her to Greagoir for being out of bed so late.
And yet Cullen's face lit up, and she swore she felt her heart stop. She watched as he came towards her, crouching to pick up her discarded Queen, before settling down across the board from her. He reached across with the piece, and as she stretched back to take it from him their hands brushed. In her surprise, she fumbled and dropped it. Flushing again (Maker's breath, she felt like she was on fire), she focused on setting up her pieces, determined not to look at him.
"So…" Arya started, steadying her voice and trying to distract herself from the ridiculous urge to throw herself across the chess board and kiss him. "Where did you learn to play?"
"Oh…w-well as a child I played with my sister. She would get this stuck-up grin whenever she won. Which was all the time," he smiled, "My brother and I practiced together for weeks. The look on her face the day I finally won…"
Cullen looked at the chess board, smiling fondly, lost in the memory. Arya gazed back at him in wonder; this was the most he'd ever spoken to her without stammering. She grinned. Progress.
Cullen looked up suddenly, as if he'd briefly forgotten she was there.
"So…er… I know exactly the kind of problem you're facing," He grinned awkwardly. And adorably. She had to stop herself from swooning. Maker help her…