Chapter 1: "ugh, not you again"
Consciousness returned in slow motion, pulling her out of sleep by careful steps, and with it came pain. Not intolerable, at least, but still…maybe she ought to quit trying to keep up with Brynn. A six-foot Marcher could put away a genuinely ridiculous amount of alcohol. Stupid natural advantage…
Mireille groaned, and patted across the bed for her phone. Time to make sure she really was off work today.
Her fingers reached the nightstand, where they found no phone, but did run into a crinkling wrapper. Or two. Make that three…Maker’s own balls, really? Four? That just seemed unnecessary.
She patted across with the other hand, maybe the phone was in bed with her, and almost immediately found a very firm, very muscled thigh.
Well, that was…not a phone.
She patted a little higher, just in case, but nope. Still not a phone. Not a pair of smalls, either, hel-lo. Maybe around the side? Actually –
A low voice, hoarse with drink and vaguely familiar, mumbled, “For a doctor, you have a very shaky grasp of anatomy.”
“I’m not looking for your dick,” she said crossly, patting a little farther down the side. “Is…that a cell phone in your pocket or are you just really happy to see me?”
“What are you looking for, then, and did you really just say that?”
“Unfortunately, I did.” Mireille pulled the phone free from under the ass it’d been stuck to, and squeezed her eyes tighter shut. “Ugh, that’s…really warm. I hope you didn’t butt dial anyone.”
“I suppose I could make a bad joke about booty calls,” the voice said dryly, as the bed shifted a little.
“Please don’t, I’m already close enough to vomiting.” Mireille took a deep breath – had she left the window open? The air in her bedroom was oddly fresh and springy – and opened her eyes a crack. “Oh, Maker’s fucking prostate, why did I leave the brightness on that high…”
There was a quiet snort from behind the phone. She cleared a few emails, checked her texts three times because the words wavered too much the first two times she tried to read them, and then turned off the screen and glanced up at – “Oh, fuck, not you again.”
Cullen’s eyes opened just a slit under the protective shade of his forearm. He looked a bit miffed by the exclamation. “Who were you expecting?”
“A revered mother,” she said, scowling. It was remarkably easy to do with the headache pounding under her eyes. “Andraste herself. Brynn, even. A mabari. Literally anyone I don’t work with and have to see four days a week and who persists in supergluing anything worth healing together. Literally anyone else.”
He shut his eyes again, his lip twitching in what might be amusement. “Please feel free to blame your drunken self, because you invited me in for a glass of water and literally pulled me into your bed before climbing on top of me.”
“I did – okay, that sounds like something Drunk Mireille would do.” Mireille sighed and turned onto her stomach, spreading herself across the sheets. At least she’d managed to leave her shirt on. “Drunk Mireille is a bit of an idiot, I should let you know.”
“Drunk Cullen isn’t much better.” He blinked a couple of times, squinting against the early light. “I will never listen to Ashton’s advice again.”
“You won’t have to, I’m going to murder her.”
“I’ll help you,” Cullen grumbled, rolling onto his side to face her. Through slitted eyes she glanced over the rather muscular arm slung across his chest, the tawny hair trailing down his belly, back up to his unshaven face and the scowl drawing his eyebrows together. “Possibly after some painkillers…”
“Yes,” Mireille said into the pillow. “Coffee. Painkillers. Then murder.”
He met her eyes and grinned, lopsided and sleepy, and she was a little glad her face was mostly buried in a pillow so he wouldn’t see her blush. The moment stretched out and made itself comfortable. Even despite the headache – there were birds singing outside, the breeze blew cool and pleasant along the backs of her thighs, and it may have been too bright but it was…nice, with the sweet ache in her thighs smoothing over the rough edges. Kind of.
Maker she was hungover.
She screwed her eyes shut and sat up, carefully, so as not to disturb the delicate balance between Not Throwing Up and Really Definitely Throwing Up. She hadn’t managed to put her hair down last night, apparently, and the mess was still half-pinned together. Carefully she started pulling pins out, glancing back over her shoulder at him. “Well. Anyway. We…also shouldn’t tell her, because she’ll be insufferably smug about it and I’ll have to deal with at least ten texts per hour full of winking emojis. So, you know. Let’s keep this between us.”
“Ah – yes. I don’t…really think anyone else needs to hear about why I know that you snore.”
“I don’t snore,” she snapped, a little harder than she’d meant to. “You snore. Like a log.”
“Logs don’t snore.” He sat up with a sharp cut-off groan. “Oh, dear Maker, I…have regrets.”
“If logs could snore,” she said patiently, “you’d snore like one. You also talk in your sleep, by the way.”
Cullen gave her a look so flat you could balance a plate on it. “You woke up three times to use the bathroom. I don’t actually think you were awake any of those times. The last time, you patted my dick and told it to go to back to sleep.”
Mireille glanced over him and said with a frown, “You are still wearing your socks, Cullen. That is sacrilege.”
“That was unintentional.” He did not take the socks off. They were very sensible black knit socks with, she squinted to make out, a joyful-looking mabari hidden in the weave. Why had she slept with this man?
…because she hadn’t had sex in three years and he had, admittedly, some very nice muscles? Which she had successfully left bite marks on, by the way. And from what she could remember, he was remarkably good with his mouth. And fucking Brynn Ashton had gotten them both drunk, because she was a horrible person who deserved to die slowly, and honestly Mireille couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this nice in the morning.
She sighed. “Want to go again?”
“Yes,” he said, rather grudgingly, blushing right down to his collarbones. He pulled her into his lap, hands running up her thighs to hold her in place. “Maker, yes.”
Her hips ached pleasantly still, as heat bloomed through her gut and curled along her thighs, but she fitted a knee between his legs anyway, rubbing against his half-hard cock, crushing her mouth against his as his arms wrapped around her waist –
She pulled back, and he grimaced. “We could both stand to brush our teeth.”
“Yeah. Yeah, let’s do that first. Maybe some painkillers.”
“Well, you brought the sausage…”
“…never mind. I’m not having sex with you ever again.”
“Yeah, that’s fair.”
Chapter 2: unwrapping ("i didn't know you had a tattoo")
Self-consciousness was a funny thing. Mireille knew, for example, why she was a little nervous about removing her shirt during sex. There were a lot of reasons, actually, and most of them were stretch marks – although the little rolls her belly made when she sat forward were a strong contender, with the copious freckles trailing a bit farther behind. Not to mention the little trail of dark hair under her navel, which she’d forgotten to shave.
But, well –
“I’m not going to complain,” she said to the ceiling, panting a little still. “But…”
“I certainly hope not,” Cullen said beside her.
“No, I mean…” She sat up with effort, bumping into him as she turned to look down and admire the view. What there was of it, anyway. “I’m just curious.”
Mireille plucked at the collar of his open flannel shirt. “I know why I’m still wearing a shirt. But I’m not sure why you are. I mean, it’s not buttoned, and you’re not exactly wearing pants. Or anything else.”
He gave her a sleepy look of interest and reached over, tugging gently on the hem of her shirt. “Neither are you. So why are you still wearing a shirt?”
“I – ” She frowned down at him. “I asked you first.”
One of his hands had moved, tracing lazy circles up her thigh. “You didn’t actually ask a question, I don’t believe. More of an implication.”
“Don’t take refuge in semantics, it won’t work.”
His fingers were damn distracting on her thigh and moving higher and higher, and there was a little smirk on his face as he spoke. “Yes, I know. But if you want me to take my shirt off you’ll have to take yours off.”
“That’s – hm.”
Cullen laid a palm on her thigh, a sudden gesture of comfort. “I can’t say I’m not curious, too, but don’t let me pressure you.” And he glanced down at her bare legs, folded up under her, biting his lip. “This is a good look, too.”
“Thanks.” She nudged him in the ribs with her knee and bit her lip, then realized she was mirroring him and forced herself to stop, switched to smoothing her hands down her thighs. “Only if you promise not to laugh.”
“Why would I laugh at you? You have to promise not to laugh at me.”
“About your bare shoulders?”
Cullen hauled himself up to a sitting position, giving her a flat look. “Promise, Trevelyan.”
“Do you promise?” She held out a pinky.
He looped his pinky with hers and shook it firmly. “Aren’t we a little old for this?”
“Aren’t we a little old for this?” Mireille asked, running her hands over his bare thighs. “I think pinky promises are the least of our worries here.”
“Speak for yourself.” He brushed her hair back behind her ear and held up a greying curl, and she made a soft indignant noise to cover the sudden warm twist in her gut.
“Just strip,” she said in exasperation.
Cullen took hold of his shirt, in both hands, eyeing her carefully. She lifted the hem of her shirt just a little. He edged a shoulder out, she gathered up more cloth in her fingers, and slowly and simultaneously both shirts were discarded.
Mireille covered her mouth with a hand, half in nervousness and half in mirth, and Cullen, for his part, was giving her a look of – something? Surprise?
“I didn’t know you had a tattoo,” she said, tilting her head to see the flowers drawn over his right shoulder down to the elbow a little more clearly.
Cullen didn’t answer right away, his jaw slack, and she had to snap her fingers a couple times, sitting up from the slouch she’d been in. “My tits aren’t that great, are they?”
“You are very freckled,” he said with reverence, reaching forward to pull her a little closer by her hips.
She laughed, and it came out a little nervous and high-pitched despite the warmth of his hands on her waist. “I’m aware.” There was a fat rippled scar on his right shoulder, bisecting a few flowers she didn’t recognize. Mireille tilted his arm a little to see it more clearly. “Also, you have a flower tattoo?”
He pulled her fully into his lap, close enough that she could feel his rising interest, his hands cupping her breasts. “I’m aware. We really don’t have to talk about my tattoo.”
“I think we might,” she said, running a thumb down the black lines over his deltoid, buried in colorful petals. “Is this the Sword of Mercy? You were – ”
Cullen paused, his hands dropping back to her thighs in sudden nervousness. “I was eighteen and had just finished Templar training, yes. I was – um – rather foolish back then. Thought it was noble. It’s, ah, it wasn’t possible to cover up, the blackwork’s rather thick, so I…had it altered.”
Between them, on her right wrist, the lyrium brand that marked her as a mage glowed faintly under the layer of freckles.
Mireille looked a little closer and said, “Some of these are lilies…and gladioli. Funeral flowers?”
He was most definitely blushing now. “Yes, well. I…it was a symbolic laying to rest, I suppose. I, ah. I left the job a year or two ago and…it wasn’t what I expected it would be, to say the least. So I thought it would be, ah…appropriate. For the way I left.”
Mireille bit her lip.
The last time she’d slept with a Templar, it had ended in her being kicked out of Ostwick Circle and accused of using sex to buy her way up through medical school, so…
It wasn’t the same, though. Arden had been…harder, a colder person and cooler head. Certainly cold enough for a betrayal like that. The headiness of a secret relationship, of little notes and gifts and fucking in small quiet spaces when they could, of playing at love like it was something you could hold secure from the world, had hooked her. (Hooked them both, she wanted to say, but now? Now she wasn’t sure he’d been hooked.)
But Cullen wasn’t her supervisor, wasn’t even related to her job, was golden and witty and a little insecure where Arden had been cool and noncommittal right down to the end…and this was, after all, just sex. Acknowledged as such. Nothing more. Safe.
“You’re not saying anything,” Cullen said nervously.
Mireille blinked and said, “Sorry, sorry. It’s not you, it’s – I was thinking.”
“You tend to do that out loud.” His fingers were perched tentatively on her hips, thumbs rubbing little circles against the edge of her stomach.
“You’re not saying anything either,” she pointed out, shifting in his lap.
“Yes, well, the fact that I was once a Templar and didn’t tell you earlier seems a little more important than how much I enjoy looking at you shirtless.”
She ducked her head to hide her pleased embarrassment and ran her hands over his shoulders. Over the soft-edged leaves of a violet blooming along his tricep. “It’s beautiful. Nicely symbolic, the colors are gorgeous. Good linework.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” he said softly, and how long had their faces been so close that her nose bumped against his? Suddenly she was all too aware of the heat of him on her exposed skin and sucked in her gut a little more. He lifted his hands to rest above her hips, stroking his fingers down her love handles and over her ribs, making her suck in a quick breath at the warmth of his hands.
Mireille shrugged through it. “I appreciate you’re worried about it, it suggests you know the history and you don’t want to fuck up this – friendship – whatever this is. Clearly you’re not that worried about me being a mage, since you knew that before you slept with me, and you also didn’t ask about sex magic, thank the Maker, and you didn’t do any Templar anti-magic tricks either. I had a feeling you might have been involved with the Order since you’re friends with Brynn, and she was a Templar for a long while, and I tend to trust her judgment on people if not generally on who I should sleep with, and also, I like sleeping with you.”
She’d said it all very quickly, in one long breath, and Cullen said, “Thank you. And Brynn set us up, if you’ll recall.”
“Point taken, but I don’t think this is what she had in mind.”
“That’s true.” He shifted under her, and Mireille temporarily lost the ability to breathe as his fully hard cock pushed up against her, pulsing between her thighs. “Also, thank you for not laughing at my flower tattoo.”
“Thanks for not laughing at my – me,” she said, reaching over behind her to find a condom in the nightstand drawer.
“Mireille,” Cullen said, in a low rumble that made her gut twist with excitement. “You’re the least self-conscious person I’ve ever met, in addition to being incredibly attractive. Did you really think I’d laugh at you?”
She stuck her tongue out at him, and he laughed, and she said with a weak grin, “See.”
“That doesn’t count.” He stroked both hands down her sides, over the bare skin. “You’re – I love your freckles, and your stomach is very cute, and your breasts are incredible.” He punctuated this by lifting them gently in both hands, rubbing his thumbs over her nipples until she squeaked a little. “You are – ”
“Don’t say beautiful,” she grumbled, desire thrumming along her nerves and making her words hoarse and throaty. “We’re just fucking, this isn’t a – you don’t have to do that.” She ripped the condom open and tossed the wrapper over her shoulder.
“Well,” he said, kissing her firmly between phrases, “how many of your friends have seen you naked?”
“How many of your friends have seen your tattoo?” She bent to slide the condom on, and he used a hand to help her, groaning softly at the touch.
“None,” he said breathlessly. “Besides you.”
“I think Brynn’s seen me naked, actually. She made me go to the gym with her once.”
“I suppose you could ask her to corroborate if you don’t believe me.” He rolled his hips up against her a little higher, wrapping one arm around her back and inching the other down the line of hair below her navel to stroke her clit in slow circles. “But – Maker, you’re attractive. The only laughable thing about you is your sense of humor.”
“Did you just make a pun ohh,” she said, as he shifted and the head of his cock slipped inside her.
He raised his eyebrows and rubbed a little faster.
“You did,” Mireille said as accusingly as she could, and Cullen kissed her with a grin on his face and began to thrust.
some not-really-plot-relevant-exposition if you like overthinking things like i do:
in case it's not obvious, the mage/templar conflict is WAY less of a thing in this AU, because this is the fluffy AU where i can write character development with lower stakes than in the main fic, haha. mages are still not treated well, but Circles are more like Hogwarts or like a university and less like a prison like they are in canon. it's also more common for templars to serve temporarily. they still take lyrium, but the withdrawal is easier to manage and better studied. mages have lyrium brands instead of phylacteries, which identify and track them -- not ideal, and there are many factions protesting it, but overall it's seen as a better deal than the mage rebellions of the past. Templars are part security force, part teacher, part chantry military; there aren't as many of them as there are in canon, and they're trained very much like first responders. the right of annulment isn't a thing anymore. overall, it's a much less dark system, although it's still imperfect and there are still lots of microaggressions to deal with, especially being a mage in a field few mages go into.
Chapter 3: the herpes of craft supplies ("why is there glitter everywhere")
this one's nsfw!! REALLY nsfw!!
“Fuck – ”
Mireille dug her nails into the meat of Cullen’s back and held on – supported by his arms against the wall, panting into the half-inch of space between their mouths as he thrust deeper into her, harder – her other hand dropping to her clit, adding bright shooting pleasure to the satisfying fullness of his cock between her legs and she hissed, “Yes, come on, please – fuck – Cullen – ”
He gave a strangled moan and ducked his head, hips jerking, her ass was going to be very bruised and honestly she couldn’t bring herself to care because he shifted her upward in his hands and finally hit – the right spot –
She bit off her own cry as the orgasm finally crashed down over her, coursing hot and shivery through her limbs and sweeping away everything but the pounding of her own heartbeat. Cullen groaned something that might have been a prayer into her neck as his thrusts finally slowed. He was trembling with the effort of exertion, and she tightened her legs around his hips.
He pressed her a little harder against the wall, his cock twitching in the wake of his own climax, and Mireille shuddered around him in spite of herself. It made him gasp softly into her neck, his fingers tightening on her thighs. She smoothed her hand down the raised scratches on his shoulder and patted them gently. “Ahh. That…whew.”
Cullen attempted to speak and managed a small breathless grunt. “Maker’s breath. I…I think I need a shower. Or two.”
“You did do a lot of work,” she said, her voice gone all faint and sleepy in the aftermath, stroking her fingers over the nape of his neck. “Mm. You can put me down now, if that’d help.”
“Mmph.” But he did, carefully, lower her to the ground, and she managed not to fall over on her own shaky legs. And then he sagged so his head rested on top of hers, and most of his weight, too.
She snorted. “Maybe you should work out more often, Rutherford.”
“Next time, you get to do the work, and see how you like it.” He rubbed his cheek on the top of her head and sighed. “Really, would you mind if I used your shower? Briefly? I’m not sure I have time to get home and back before work, and I’d like to not smell of sex.”
“Well, you could have said no when I asked you to come by.” She ran her hands down his arms. The muscles were still shivering with overexertion, skin soft and hot. “But sure, go ahe – ”
His mouth was on hers in an instant, his hand slipping down to her breast, his tongue swiping along her lip just as he rubbed a thumb over one nipple and slid his other hand down her side, over her hip, down between her legs. His teeth caught her lip, she cursed the needy little whimper that slipped out of her mouth, and he murmured, “I could have,” with one finger curling down just a little further and she stopped breathing for one tense excited second –
And then he walked away, padding toward the bathroom.
“That’s cruel,” she said to empty air.
“Yes,” Cullen called, and somehow managed to sound like he was smirking.
The shower hissed on a moment later. Mireille leaned back against the wall, trying to catch her breath. Again. And then rubbed her face and sighed.
She’d come right from work – from an overnight shift full of too many people who, even with magic, even when you could reconstruct a fucking limb, couldn’t be helped – and, yeah, maybe it wasn’t the most healthy thing in the world, to have a man die on your operating table and to make a – a booty call on the way home. It wasn’t as if it was the first time she’d lost someone, was it? It wasn’t as if people didn’t die, sometimes. Nothing to be done.
But then again, it’d been almost an hour since she’d run through the surgery in her head moment by moment to see where she’d went wrong. Sex did have a way of being an excellent distraction.
Of course, now she was thinking about it again, so…
Mireille knocked her head against the wall with a frustrated huff and trotted down the hallway, toward the sound of running water and – oddly – quiet cursing.
When she tugged the shower curtain back, Cullen glared at her. “This is not funny.”
She stepped back half a foot and swallowed, with difficulty, a laugh. “What in the fuck?”
“Either you are very immature,” he snapped, scraping glittery foam off his chest and flicking it at the side of the tub, “or someone is trying to prank you.”
She stuffed her fist in her mouth and tried not to giggle at his glower. The water had sloughed off some of the suds, leaving a sheen of bright pink glitter along his chest that matched his blush awfully well, and as she watched more soap slid down his belly and, very slowly, dripped off his cock, leaving glitter in its wake. Right around then she gave up and doubled over in a fit of giggles.
“This is really not funny,” he growled, over her near-hysterical laughter. “Why is there glitter everywhere? Please, please tell me you know why, so I know who to shout at.”
Mireille leaned against the wall, wiping a tear away and trying to remember how to breathe. “Oh, fucking Maker, okay. I have no idea. I…haha, fuck, it might have been Sera. She did say I should lighten up last time she came in for stitches, which is ridiculous, but whatever. Brynn has a key to my apartment, she could have made it in here pretty easily…” There was still a manic grin tugging at her face, so hard her cheeks hurt, and she added, “What, you don’t think pink is your color? I don’t really think it’s mine, either, but it looks nice on you.”
“Trevelyan,” he said patiently, “what is Sera going to think if I come into work covered in glitter? What is Brynn going to think, since I’m sure she’s privy to this joke?”
Oh. “Exactly,” Cullen said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You’ve got…” She pointed at her own nose in demonstration. “Maybe don’t…do that with your glitter hand.”
“Maker’s fucking breath – !”
Mireille closed the curtain and trotted away, and came back with her hands full. “Okay,” she said, “I have new soap – although you’re going to smell like jasmine, sorry, that’s all I have – and I have a bunch of washcloths and if you – don’t you put that glitter on me – if you just, I don’t know, blush a lot at work you’ll barely even know.”
“I’m going to wring that girl’s neck,” he grumbled, as she stepped into the shower with him.
“Not if I get to her first. That’s really nice soap she filled with glitter.” She glanced down and bit her lip hard to avoid snorting.
Cullen looked down too, and said, “I am this close to putting glitter all over you, Trevelyan. Don’t you dare laugh.”
She bit her lip harder, trying not to sputter, and finally gasped out, “You’ve even got glitter on your balls – aah! Don’t get it on me! Rutherford I’m going to murder you – ”
Later – unmurdered, mostly clean, having scrubbed all that glitter off until his skin was nearly raw – trying very hard not to think about glitter and freckles and especially not soap suds – Cullen dropped into his desk chair and retrieved his reading glasses from under a small pile of paperwork, and nearly fell out of the chair when Dorian said behind him, “You’re late, Sergeant.”
“You’re early, Pavus,” he said, trying to push the glasses up and turn around in his chair at the same time. “Do you have the – ”
Dorian tapped the pile he’d just moved, giving him . “All the reports are here. You look like you just ran a mile.”
“Four, actually,” Cullen said absently, flipping open the top page and trying very hard to ignore the heat in his cheeks. Mireille was rubbing off on him, if he could pull that lie off the top of his head so easily… “I, ah, misjudged my jogging route a bit, it took a bit longer than expected.”
“Yes, you are just woefully out of shape.” Dorian frowned slightly. “And surprisingly floral-scented, by the way.”
Cullen turned on his best Serious Face and said, “I take my personal care very seriously, Mr Pavus.” Was he still blushing? Yes, probably. He peered at Dorian’s rather amused face over the rim of the glasses and tried not to look as though he’d started his day with a quick (well, not that quick) fuck instead of a nice wholesome jog. No-nonsense, that was the look he wanted. He suspected from Dorian’s expression he was achieving something closer to ‘mildly constipated.’
Finally Dorian tapped his fingers on the desk, and said, “Actually, that’s not surprising at all. I’ve seen how your hair looks when you sleep in the precinct.” He grinned and raised his eyebrows, turning to go. “By the way, you’ve got some glitter on your neck. I presume that’s also part of the personal care regimen?”
He walked away with far too much spring in his step, and not for the first time Cullen wondered if he could managed to set someone on fire with the sheer force of his glare. As always, it didn’t work. And then he slapped his hand to his neck to wipe the glitter off before anyone else saw it.
Chapter 4: accidents happen ("you broke my bed")
They both stood in front of the wreckage, frowning.
Mireille rubbed her neck, which made the broken handcuff jingle. “I don’t…think that worked.”
“I can’t believe you broke my bed,” Cullen said, with far too much amusement in his voice.
“Well, it was just the frame. Also, I feel like you might have been complicit in the breaking.” She toed a piece of the metal frame, now bent out of shape and trapped under the box spring. “Also, who has a bed frame, anyway?”
“People who need storage because their apartment is rather small?” He bent over, peering under the now-fallen mattress. “Don’t worry. You also broke the box spring.”
“Well, fuck me.” She huffed out a breath, putting her hands on her bare hips.
Cullen straightened, folding his arms. “I’d planned to. But you broke my bed.”
“I am very sure you were part of the problem here,” she said, glaring at him. “This was your choice of position, you know.”
“Yes, but you picked the handcuffs.”
“I don’t think the handcuffs had anything to do with it, to be honest with you.”
He gave her a look of flat disbelief and she spread her hands. “Just because they broke too doesn’t mean it was my fault. I mean, realistically speaking, how would handcuffs break a bed?”
Cullen reached under the head of the mattress and pulled out a length of broken chain. “Well…”
“Okay, forget I asked you that.” She scowled at the bed. “Should we…I don’t know…burn it? Give it a proper funeral? Say a few words?”
“Maker take this noble bed to thy bosom,” he said solemnly to the mattress. “You were taken too soon, would that I could christen thee one last time, et cetera. Your killer shall be punished in the name of Andraste’s holy wrath.”
And then she was moving, because Cullen had just picked her up and slung her over his shoulder like a sack of beans. She yelped in surprise. Annoyingly, it just made him chuckle.
“This is undignified,” she said to his back, as he picked his way out of the bedroom. At least she could look at his butt from here. It was, admittedly, a nice view.
“That’s rather the point of the exercise,” he replied, resettling her over his shoulder with what she was sure was an intentional jolt, his fingers slipping a little lower on her inner thigh. “Also, before you forget, you broke my bed.”
Mireille attempted to answer and swore instead as he flipped her back upright and dropped her heavily onto the couch, which creaked alarmingly, and he added, “Please don’t break all of my furniture in one night.”
“Hey, if I’d meant to, I would have started with this couch. It’s awful. It’s one big lump.”
He lowered himself over her, hooking one of her legs over his elbow, stroking down her side with gentle fingers that sent an involuntary shiver up her spine. “I feel like you’re missing the point, which is that you broke my bed and now your punishment is having sex on my couch.”
“It’s not that bad a couch,” she muttered, as his mouth came down to hers.
“Well, I’m sure we’ll think of something else, then.”
Later, panting and hazy and trying to work up the energy to go look for her smalls somewhere in the wreckage of the bedroom, Mireille said rather breathlessly, “’m sorry I broke your bed.”
Cullen stretched like a cat, nudging his leg over her lap. “It’s fine, really. I bought it from the last tenant for fifty sovereigns. It may be a blessing.”
“Yes, but now you don’t have a bed,” she said, pushing his leg off to try and extricate herself from the tangle of sweaty limbs. “Well, you do, but it’s kind of a mess. And this couch – did I mention? – it’s one big lump of sadness and now it smells like someone just had sex on it.”
“I’ve got camping gear, I’m sure I’ll manage. And if you give me fifty sovereigns I could buy a new one.”
She narrowed her eyes. “It’s really hard to tell if you’re kidding, or if you actually think that’s a good price for a bed.”
Cullen just grinned at her, and she rolled her eyes and stood up, accompanied by a creak of protest from the couch and a huff of effort from her own mouth. “Well, I mean – uh – let me know. If you want me to, I don’t know, replace it or – or something.”
He knitted his fingers together over his bare chest and stretched out to cover the couch, still completely naked, still watching her and being – possibly on purpose – rather hard to read at the moment, so she continued, “I mean, you’re talking about camping in your bedroom, Rutherford, that’s kind of sad if you’re not eight years old. So, you know. If you, um. I can. Make it up to you…? I realize we’ve already covered the sexual favors, but, you know. I could – you’re going to have to step in here at some point, you know.”
“Watching you try to apologize is fascinating,” he said, with a very smug little grin on his face, and she picked up his own shirt and threw it at him.
“Shut up.” Mireille retrieved her bra from over the back of the armchair. “I’m serious.”
“I know,” he said, sitting up and stretching again, and she paused a moment to watch his muscles shift under still-flushed skin, making the silvered scars ripple across his chest. “I think that’s why it’s so enjoyable to watch.”
She threw his pants at him, belt and all, aiming right for his lap and hitting right on target, because he winced and she stuck out her tongue at him. “Now I’m really not sorry for breaking your bed.”
Cullen laughed and settled back into the couch, right between the cushions like an utter barbarian, watching her pull her shirt on. She glanced up between buttons and found his grin fading a little into something softer, the flush in his cheeks deepening a little more even under the scruff, and then he met her eyes and shrugged. “Apology accepted, Trevelyan. Don’t worry about it.”
She squinted at him, tugging the shirt into place. “Are…you sure?”
“Of course,” he said nonchalantly, spreading his arms across the back of the couch. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I can’t tell if you’re fucking with me.” She gave him a look full of as much suspicion as she could muster, sidling into the bedroom to grab her smalls off the floor.
He just gave her a beatific smile and she frowned at him, pulling the last of her clothes on, and finally said in a stage whisper, “Maker, this is payback, isn’t it…”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said in the same tone. “Perhaps I’m just genuinely okay with it.”
Mireille squinted at him a little harder, and finally said, “All right, I’m…going to go…get ready for work…Maker, it’s like your face froze like that, that’s incredibly unnerving.”
When she shut the door to his apartment, she paused and listened for a moment – for, what, uproarious laughter? What was she expecting? – and then jumped when right behind the door Cullen said loudly, “This is definitely payback, by the way.”
“You’re the worst,” she said to the door. “See you Friday.”
Chapter 5: all in good fun ("i think you're the best i've ever had")
“Tent in the Frostbacks,” Brynn said promptly, tapping her cards on the table. “Easy. Next question.”
“That’s it?” Isabela asked from across the table. “That’s the story? Nothing else?”
Brynn grinned and opened her mouth and Mireille said into the top of her wineglass, “Oh Maker no. I do not need to know the gory details about what you and Sera get up to.”
“About seven thousand feet is what we got up to,” Brynn said with a waggle of her eyebrows, and Lace snickered behind her cards. “What, because I didn’t have to hear enough about you and – what was her name – in Ostwick?”
“Kira, and she was my first girlfriend,” Mireille said, sticking out her tongue to emphasize the childishness of it all. “I was nervous. Shut up.”
Josephine was giggling helplessly into her cards and Mireille added, “You too, Councilwoman, or I’m going to ask you about Sable again.” This didn’t stop the giggling, but Josephine did sit up on her knees and straighten her sweater in an attempt at dignity.
Isabela sat forward and propped her elbows on the coffee table, her hand of cards tucked jauntily between two fingers, and blinked eagerly at Brynn. “Tent sex?”
“It was great,” Brynn said with assurance. “Since apparently that’s all I’m allowed to say. Best sex ever. Whose turn is it?”
“Mine,” Mireille said with a sigh, and with the full knowledge that it was actually Lace’s turn, because if you’re playing Wicked Grace with Isabela you need all the help you can get.
“Then you have to answer,” Lace said, nudging her in the knee under the coffee table. “Best place you’ve ever had sex.”
“I’m thinking about it.” Mireille drew and picked up her wineglass on the way back. “Hm. Someone else might have to go first.”
Josephine waved her hand in the air. “Yes, so you can keep cheating.”
“I would never cheat at Wicked Grace, Josie. Never! You wound me.” Mireille tossed her card down. “You tell us about the best place you’ve had sex. With Sable.”
“We haven’t yet,” Josephine said, her cheeks darkening just slightly. “We’re, ah. We’re taking it slowly.”
Lace fanned out her cards and pressed them against her mouth, hiding her flushed grin. “That’s sweet, Josie.”
“In general, then,” Isabela put in, and Mireille raised an eyebrow at the flicker of cards through her fingers. The bartender gave her a wink and added to Josephine, gently, “If you want, princess.”
Josephine’s sheepish grin went a little sly around the edges, and she said carefully, “In my office.”
Mireille nearly choked on her wine and Lace said in tones of gleeful shock, “No. You didn’t. I’ve been to your desk! You work at that desk every day!”
“I sanitized it,” Josephine protested, very much blushing now. “I’m not a barbarian. And it was…um, a while ago. Doctor, it is most certainly your turn now.”
“No, it’s your turn.” Mireille coughed into her shoulder a few times to clear her throat. “Maker’s ballsack, Councilwoman, remind me to never visit your office unannounced.”
“Remind me never to expect a straight answer from you,” Josephine said dryly, drawing a card.
“Miri,” Brynn said. “I mean this in the best possible way. You’re an ass.”
Lace held up her hands. “Okay okay. I’ll go. The best place I’ve ever had sex was in a field of wildflowers.”
“Itchy,” Mireille said, shuffling through her cards.
“Romantic,” Josephine said happily. “That’s so…peaceful.”
“It was all of those things.” Lace beamed. “It was very sweet until we found the poison ivy.”
There was a collective wince and Brynn said, “Sweet Maker, that’s awful.”
“Yeah, but the sex was really nice. Childhood sweethearts, you know? Before we found the poison ivy it was easily the best.” Lace emptied her wineglass and stood up. She was only swaying a little. “More wine? More wine.”
“More wine,” Isabela agreed, passing her cards back and forth between her hands.
“Well, you tell us, Bela dear.” Josephine passed her a card, and Isabela looked at it and handed her one of her own. “Where is the best place you’ve done the deed?”
“Your desk,” Isabela said immediately. “No, no, I’m kidding, I just wanted to see the look on your face. Mmm…that’s hard to say, really. I’ve had sex in a lot of fun places. Maybe that time in the treehouse, or when Hawke and I went kayaking…no, I tell a lie, kayak sex is terrible. Canoe sex is fine.”
Brynn tapped her cards against her lips. “I’ll have to remember that.”
“I can give you some tips,” Isabela said eagerly. “Just watch your elbows, canoes are tipsy.”
Mireille pulled another card off the top of the deck just before Lace made it back around to her with the wine bottle. She filled the glass up nearly to the brim and said, “Come on, Doc. You started this.”
“Isabela started this.” Mireille jerked a thumb across the table and saw the bartender shrug contentedly in her peripheral vision.
“You called girl’s night,” Brynn said. “We’re in your apartment.”
“You called girl’s night. I just decided it should be cards.”
“And it was an excellent decision,” Isabela said, tapping her cards on the table and drawing one. “Although I still think we should have gone with regular strip Grace instead of whatever this is.”
“I’ll say,” Brynn grumbled, pulling at the two sweaters layered over her work shirt. “Reverse strip, my ass.”
“You’re just mad because you’re playing against me, and Isabela, and Josie.” Mireille grinned across the table and adjusted her single layer of shirt as pointedly as possible.
Brynn raised one eyebrow just a hair in a look that suggested that she was changing the subject. It was one of her favorites, judging by how often Mireille’d seen it on her face, and she wrinkled her nose and held up a finger and drank down half her wine in exaggeratedly slow sips.
Because, well, she’d known the answer since Isabela asked it –
Because, not too long after that first drunken mistake, well…she’d had a bad day. One of the worse ones. It wasn’t even worth remembering the details of, some drivel about the suitability of a mage for surgery and a man coding three hours later because he’d refused her help, whatever, it’d just been four in the morning and she’d finally come home and she’d been so – wired, so on edge. And she’d sent a text and in five minutes his reply had shown up glowing in the dark.
And she’d shown up in just whatever clothes she’d found on her floor, sweaty and exhausted, and he’d picked her up like it was nothing and fucked her, rough and fast, right there against the door until she came so hard she saw stars.
And if she said “Rutherford’s apartment” she’d never live it down. There’d be all kinds of questions, and then Brynn would tug on her sleeve and ask her really quietly if she was sure about this, because of what happened last time, and – well, no, she wasn’t, which was why she was just fucking him, which was why – well. It wasn’t a line of questioning she wanted to go down. Not tonight.
So Mireille successfully finished her wine, to appreciative snickers from Isabela and Lace, and said, “I mean, you’re all much more interesting than me. I guess I could say the Circle dormitories. Or my old office. But it’s not exactly an exciting series of places, you know?”
“You’re a surgeon,” Isabela began.
“Listen, contrary to popular belief, no one wants to have sex on an operating table. They’re not that stable. Do you have sex on your bar? Wait, don’t answer that.”
Isabela’s grin got wider and she blinked innocently across the table. Beside her Brynn drew a card and cursed. “Andraste’s ass, why is it always me who draws Death? Hands up, everybody.”
Hands were laid out and Josephine smugly laid hers down next to Mireille’s. “I think five daggers wins this round.”
Mireille sighed and reached into the laundry basket, buttoning a shirt over her tank top. “Cheater. Brynn, don’t you dare stretch that out, I like that sweater – ”
“Of course I cheated,” Josephine said, patting her on the head. “You just need to learn to cheat better, Doctor.”
“Does the winner have to take clothes off?” Isabela said through the enormous scarf she’d wrapped around her neck.
“Not in reverse strip Grace.” Lace settled a hat over her braids. “You do in reverse strip Scrabble, though.”
“That’s a game? We are absolutely playing that next.”
“Next question,” Isabela prompted, and started to shuffle the cards.
Mireille looked into her now-empty glass. “Is there more wine?”
“That’s not – actually, good next question.”
She woke up three days later in Cullen’s bed again, and got up quietly, and made coffee.
It wasn’t per se a ritual. There were too many times she had to leave right away for that to be so. But it was…an easy habit, nonetheless. She could almost believe that.
Mireille settled herself on the counter and wrapped her cardigan around herself, and waited for the coffee to brew.
She’d found his protein bars and was halfway through one when he finally emerged twenty minutes later. One-handed she passed him a mug. He took it gently and blew on it a few times, and when he spoke his voice was barely above a whisper. “I thought you’d gone.”
“I almost did,” she mused through a full mouth. “These are terrible.”
“Then you don’t have to eat them. I have other food.”
“You have proto-food. You have eggs. And bacon. And more vegetables than I expected, actually.”
Cullen took the protein bar and bit off a chunk, then handed it back and turned to rummage through the fridge. “Would you like me to feed you, or will you just sit on my counter and complain about my choice in snacks until you have to leave?”
“I could do both,” she said brightly, earning her a stony glare from over the top of his coffee mug.
It was farther after dawn than she was used to, and in the quiet light she watched him move through the kitchen. He was surprisingly light on his feet for someone so large. And surprisingly quiet about setting down the pan and then layering bacon into it with precise motions. And he very carefully pushed her about three feet to the side so a cutting board could be set down in her place and garlic could be peeled. Then an onion chopped, in precise clean motions, and he looked so quiet and soft and at home that she had to glance away from his moving hands.
Her eyes flickered up to the front door, and she shivered in pleasure against the memory.
Cullen peeled the bacon out of the pan and set each piece on a plate, patting the grease off, and said, “What?”
“What?” Mireille blinked at him a couple of times.
“You’re staring,” he said, with just a little bit of smirk in it.
“Not intentionally,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “I was…thinking.”
“Mmm?” He scooted the diced onion to one side and began to chop a bell pepper into tiny pieces. “You’re not usually thinking when you have that particular look on your face.”
Mireille kicked him in the thigh, but gently, since that knife looked awfully sharp and someone would probably get mad at her if she had to do a healing outside of the hospital. “I think you might be the best I’ve had,” she said, before she could stop herself.
Cullen actually glanced up at that one, one corner of his mouth tugging upward in a mildly stunned grin. He didn’t say anything for a long moment, his cheeks faintly flushing, and then he gave a little pleased huff and looked back down at the cutting board.
She kicked her heels against the cabinetry under her feet and added, “Um.”
“I was waiting to see if you were going to clarify that any further,” he said, wiping both sides of the knife down with one finger. “Also, thank you, I think?”
“At sex, ass,” she said, kicking him again a little harder this time, since he’d put the knife down. “That wasn’t exactly unclear. Drink your coffee, you’re unbearable.”
“And you’re a curmudgeon,” he said, drying his hands on the towel slung over his shoulder, and then leaning against the counter with one hip pressed up next to her bare knee. “Drink your coffee.”
Mireille narrowed her eyes and sipped her coffee as he reached for his. After a long gulp he added, “And I think the same of you.”
“What, that I’m unbearable? Thank you. How kind.”
“No, that – ” He scowled into the face of her grin. “Now who’s being an ass? I meant, you’re the best – sex partner. That I’ve had. Easily.”
“Kind of clinical,” she mused. “Fuck buddy?”
Cullen grimaced, setting his coffee down, and tapped his fingers on her thighs. “A little crass. Friend with benefits, perhaps.”
“I wasn’t aware we were friends before this.” She nudged her knee into his hip.
“Well, acquaintances with benefits doesn’t roll off the tongue.”
“It does not. Secret sex friends, maybe.”
“That pretty much covers all the bases,” he said, his voice dropping low and rough, pressing his warm palms into her thighs.
“I can’t think of a double entendre to go with that. Something about bases?”
“Thank the Maker.” Cullen paused, two inches from her mouth, and asked in a much more normal voice, “Wait. Hold on. Would you like to eat first?”
Mireille waggled her eyebrows and he rolled his eyes. “All right, let me turn off the stove. Don’t – mmh, all right, let me just…move this. Maker, Trevelyan, can you wait one second – hah – ”
"You're taking too long."
"I'll show you taking too long."
"Was that supposed to be sexy? Because it really wasn't."
"Shush. This is why I asked you if you wanted to eat fir -- hah, first."
"Are you going to have sex with me or are you going to keep talking?"
"Isn't that the pot calling the kettle -- mm. All right, point taken. Maker."
Chapter 6: gonna have to face it ("who knew karaoke could be such a turn-on")
Two beers in: Sera finally got up to sing. (Two beers for Mireille, at least; she suspected everyone had started without her, which was probably what she got for arriving late on karaoke night.) Lace and Dorian were embroiled in a heated conversation about – something? With all the noise in the bar, she couldn’t quite tell. Rylen kept interjecting on both sides. Brynn had gotten up to fetch more beer, after at least two beers’ worth of ribbing her for being so busy all the time, and…that left her sitting next to Cullen.
She propped up her elbows on the table and sighed, just a little dramatically.
Cullen gave her an inquisitive look over the top of a beer and she returned a weak smile. “Hi.”
“Hi.” He set the glass down, cupping it between his hands, not quite meeting her eyes and not quite not meeting them, either. “I think I’ve seen you twice in the last two months and both times you were covered in someone else’s blood and running toward surgery. Med school is going well, I take it?”
Mireille smiled again, a little more genuine this time. “Yes, well, if you could convince the downhill skiers to stop injuring themselves this season, I’d only have to worry about finishing up the semester. And I wouldn’t be covered in blood all the time, either.”
“It would be nice to not get charts from you covered in questionable fluids,” he said dryly, and she laughed this time. “I – we’ve missed you. This lot needs another voice of reason.”
“Dorian is an excellent voice of reason.” She glanced around Cullen, at Dorian, who appeared to be drawing diagrams on a napkin. “Well, sometimes he is.”
“Exactly,” Cullen muttered. “And if you put enough alcohol in Rylen, he suddenly believes he can fly, so…”
“I heard that,” Rylen said, leaning back. “Hi, Miri dear, how are you, I promise I don’t think I can fly unless you put an unholy amount of alcohol in me, there will be no splinting of broken legs tonight, it was one time – ”
A screechy wail cut through the noise, loud enough that Mireille jumped and her knee knocked against Cullen’s under the table. Ah, yes, Sera had taken the microphone, and really should not be allowed anywhere near an AC/DC song. Mireille picked up her beer and drank. Rather quickly.
Four beers in: Lace stood up and said, “I am doing this I am singing you can’t stop me Rylen.” And she marched up to the microphone, took it off the stand since it was rather far above her head, and launched into a rather impressive rendition of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”
Mireille settled back into the suddenly very comfortable booth and Brynn looped an arm around her shoulders. “Aren’t you glad you came out with us tonight?”
“I’m drunk,” she pointed out. “I’m biased toward saying yes.”
“Are you drunk enough to do karaoke?” Brynn waggled her eyebrows.
“Do you remember the last time I did karaoke? Dogs howled. Cats ran in fear.”
Brynn scoffed. “It wasn’t that bad. It was fine! Maybe you shouldn’t have picked Take On Me, sure, but…”
“I should not sing karaoke,” Mireille grumbled into the top of the fifth beer.
“I will convince you,” Brynn said, and leaned over Mireille’s head. “Oi. Sarge.”
Cullen raised an eyebrow and said, “No.”
“I will do all your paperwork.”
“No, you won’t.”
“I will…buy you…lunch?”
“I’ll do it if you will,” Mireille said suddenly.
Cullen stared at her for a long moment, amusement pulling up the scarred side of his mouth, and said, “All right.”
“Whaaaat,” Brynn said quietly, and Mireille added, “But I get to pick your song.”
“Only if I pick yours.”
“What is happening,” Brynn said. Mireille extended a hand and shook Cullen’s, very firmly. “Deal. Go, pick.”
Cullen got up and made his way across the room to the register, and Mireille finally caught Brynn’s expression and said, “What?”
“Did you see that?” Brynn said to Sera, who was very nearly in her lap and had her mouth entirely full of fries. “Did you see that? Thirteen years of friendship, but it’s the pretty boy gets her to do it. I’m chopped liver.”
Sera snickered. “Bet he does. Bet he…chops her liver?” She frowned and stuck another fry in her mouth. “Somethin’ like that, yeah?”
Mireille said, into the middle of the fifth beer, “You’d lose money on that one. Also, ew. Also, stop trying to set me up with people, I spend ninety percent of my time covered in other people’s fluids.”
“I had hopes,” Brynn said, sighing. “Someday we’ll find you someone who doesn’t mind you’re covered in other people’s fluids all the time, Miri.”
Mireille just rolled her eyes and drank.
Five and a half beers in: Mireille looked at the song title rolling across the little screen and said into the microphone, “I’m going to apologize in advance for this one, folks.”
Cullen waved, just a little, from across the room. She rolled her eyes and sang, “I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the lord, but you don’t really care for music, do ya…”
She saw him blush even from across the room, halfway through the song, and sink slightly lower down in the booth. And winked at him, swayed her hips just a little, before turning back to the lyrics screen.
When she finally trotted back Brynn patted her on the back and said, “Hey, no dogs howled this time.”
“That’s because I didn’t try to hit any high notes,” Mireille said, scooting into the booth. Rylen and Lace had vanished, probably in pursuit of more alcohol. “Scoot! Scoot. All right, Rutherford, get up there. You’ve had your fun, now I get to laugh at you. Go on.”
Cullen’s face was very pink and he drained the beer in front of him before replying, “I suppose you did rise to the occasion.” Behind him, Dorian was waggling his eyebrows rather urgently at her. She decided to ignore this. “And I did agree, didn’t I? Maker’s breath. I should stop drinking with you lot.”
All right, she must be drunk, because she’d just put a hand on his shoulder and given him a rather familiar nudge. “And yet, here you are. Off with you. Make us proud.”
He made a face at her that might have been intended as “unimpressed” and came off as “entertainingly intoxicated,” and slipped out of the booth. Mireille tried very hard to look like she wasn’t watching his ass as he strode across the large room. She was a little too drunk to care if she’d succeeded, though.
“He got her to do it,” Sera said, snickering. Again. She was, admittedly, very good at it.
Brynn snorted. “He’s a lot more fun when he’s out with us, I’ll give you that. Haven’t seen him smile this much in weeks.”
Mireille decided it’d be a good time to finish that last half a beer, and Brynn eyed her and said, “All right, more beer for the tiny one. Sera, you want to come find Harding and Rylen? They’re never going to let me live it down if they miss this.”
The two women disappeared into the slowly shrinking crowd, and Dorian leaned over and said, “Well.”
“Well what?” Dammit, and she’d already finished the beer so she couldn’t – she settled for rolling the glass between her palms. “Were you making lewd comments at Rutherford and now you’re going to try them on me?”
“No,” he said innocently, “I suspect you do that to him plenty.”
She eyed him, eyed the gin and tonic he’d switched to (still mostly full), and then glanced over to where Cullen was taking the stage. He said, very low, into the microphone, “Please blame the short woman with the freckles in the middle booth for this.” And glanced at the lyrics screen, with rather less dismayed blushing than she’d expected.
And sang, in a low smooth voice that rolled over the room like a sunrise: “The lights are on…but you’re not home…your mind is not your own…”
“What,” Dorian said, his eyebrows rising all the way up to his hairline.
Mireille couldn’t actually move, or bring herself to speak, or really do anything but watch a very drunk Cullen Rutherford get a little too into singing “Addicted to Love.” There were hip motions. There were a lot of hip motions. He could actually sing and she had not been counting on that.
Oh Maker she was going to die from the combined forces of embarrassment and sexual frustration. It would be a medical marvel. And a very confusing autopsy, probably.
Was she going to die? She was probably just going to die, right? That’d be fine. If she’d known karaoke was going to be such a turn-on she probably would have stayed home.
Cullen winked at her and slid his hand down the microphone stand, slowly, the muscles in his forearm flexing and why the fuck was it so hot in this bar?
Dorian glanced over at her, his grin spreading wider across his face, and she realized belatedly she’d said the last bit out loud. “Uh.”
“It’s all right, peanut,” he said, ruffling her hair. “I know.”
“You know nothing.” She couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from the show. People were cheering. Cullen, it turned out, could actually sing. And was doing a remarkable series of gyrations that she’d make fun of him for if she weren’t so fucking aroused. “Nothing, I tell you.”
“Mireille,” he said chidingly, “you’re not that subtle.”
“Want to bet,” she grumbled, and slid down further in her seat. From here all she could see was table, with her head pillowed on her forearms. Unfortunately, her ears still worked. Very well. So did the microphone, and between that and the drink his already low voice had dropped another octave and gone all rough at the edges, which made her think of several other times she’d heard that particular voice hoarse with alcohol and need murmuring in her ear –
Dorian patted her on the head. “Ah, the sweet smell of denial in the evening. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.”
“How long have you known?” she said, quietly enough that if he didn’t hear it she’d have plausible deniability.
“Weeks. The glitter incident was a tipoff.” He grinned, and added, “I have it on good authority he’s missed you very much these past few weeks, you know. He wouldn’t stop worrying about it. Please do me a favor and take him home so I won’t have to listen to him on my lunch break for at least a day? Friendship only goes so far.”
“You suck,” Mireille said into her crossed arms. “I owe you one.”
“You owe me more than one,” Dorian said cheerfully. “Actually, he does, but I’m comfortable transferring that favor to you if you like. He’s been rather useless in paying me back. Sit up, here they come, try not to look like – ow, is that any way to show your gratitude?”
When Cullen finally returned looking altogether too smug, the whole table cheered, and if Mireille was still blushing right to the ears, well, at least her freckles might mask it a bit. Maybe. Hopefully.
Six and a quarter beers in: Cullen said, into her neck, panting still from the effort, “Maker, I missed you.”
“So I see,” Mireille said, squirming under him. “That was fast.”
“Mm, I’m sorry, let me…”
As he worked his fingers down and curled them up into her, she managed to say accusingly, “You did that on purpose.”
“Did you assuming I was doing this by accident?”
“No, I mean – hnn – I assumed you’d just be too embarrassed to sing it properly instead of making sweet love to a microphone stand. You are shameless.”
“You underestimated the effect of alcohol,” he said, giving her a kiss that still tasted quite a lot like mid-priced beer. “And the effect you have on me. Am I not doing this right, or are you just determined to talk through every sexual encounter you have?”
“Well, you’ve been moving upward pretty steadily there. Really, where do you think my – mnh,” she finished, as he adjusted. “Fuck – ”
And at last – sweaty and tired and drunk, settling into his small bed with the window open to admit too much late-autumn air, Mireille asked in a thick half-asleep voice, “What’s the effect I have on you?”
“You…hmm…you said it earlier.” She stifled a yawn and rubbed her nose on his deltoid. “Just curious.”
“What do you think,” he murmured, resting his head on top of hers.
“I think you like watching me squirm.”
Cullen huffed a laugh. “You aren’t wrong. I do have a nigh-uncontrollable urge to make you squirm.”
“If that’s – don’t you fucking tickle me, Rutherford – I will murder you – ”
He lifted his hands from her sides in mock defeat, the grin on his face clear even in the dim half-light pouring through the open window, and she said without thinking about it, “I missed you too.”
He grinned a little wider and pulled her back into the circle of his arms. “Did you?”
“Mmph. Yes. Less, now, because I’m suffocating in your chest hair.”
“I suppose not every moment is perfect.”
Sometimes they get close, she thought, drifting into sleep.
Chapter 7: sleeping with a friend, pt. 1 (bed sharing, or the preamble thereto)
“And why are you asking me?”
“I’m asking you because the captain is out of town and you, somehow, are the next closest friend I have in the precinct.”
Dorian tapped his fingers lightly on the table. “You already have a solution to this problem, my dear sergeant.”
“Ashton’s already informed me that she has plans. I’m well aware Valentine’s Day weekend isn’t the best time to be fumigated, but it really wasn’t my choice.” Cullen resisted the urge to rub the bridge of his nose, lest Dorian laugh at him again, and instead folded his arms and leaned forward, eyeing the chessboard.
Dorian raised his eyebrows and moved a knight. “Are you pretending you don’t remember the conversation we had a month ago?”
Cullen raised his eyebrows too, and attempted to insert as much unimpressed disbelief into it as possible. Dorian just snorted. “You actually may not, you were wildly intoxicated. Hilariously so. And then you promptly downed an entire beer and went to drown your troubles in song.”
Cullen decided not to respond to this either and concentrated on trying to will his cheeks to stop flushing, shifting a pawn into position.
Dorian sighed. “You’ve been sleeping with her for – how long now? Ask her.”
Ah, Maker, he’d been expecting it and it still took him off guard, and he reflexively glanced behind himself to see if anyone else was near enough to hear them. Which they were not, because this little corner of Denerim’s biggest park was reserved almost entirely for chess players and the tables were spaced rather far apart – and it was a Thursday afternoon, to boot – but you never knew with detectives. They tended to pop up unexpectedly.
“It’s one weekend,” Dorian said chidingly, returning his attention to the board. “I’m sure your delicate sense of propriety will survive that long in close quarters with a – gasp! An unmarried woman. Make sure she covers her ankles, lest your amorous propensities be inflamed. Wait, that’s rather the point of that arrangement, isn’t it? To inflame your amorous propensities?”
“Ha ha.” Cullen gave up and rubbed the bridge of his nose anyway.
“What’s the issue at hand here?” Dorian took one of his rooks and looked up. “You can’t sincerely be so stubborn that Ashton being right is your worst nightmare.”
Cullen studied the board very carefully, and moved a priest, snapping up a pawn on the way.
“She’s a mage,” Dorian said, quiet and a little sour. “Is that it?”
“No,” Cullen snapped back. More quickly than he’d meant to. “No, I – she’s…”
“Not just any mage?”
“No, that’s…well, it’s true, she’s a rather unique – but that’s not what I meant. I – ” He huffed out a frustrated noise, trying to assemble his thoughts into something coherent. Was that the problem? He didn’t think so. He certainly fucking hoped not, because that was not the person he wanted to be, but – “I don’t…it’s something I’m aware of, because it’s important, but I don’t believe it’s – it doesn’t change things much for me. If that makes sense.”
Dorian reached over and patted him on the shoulder, not unkindly, and there was a soft bitter sadness in his eyes. “It does. It’s just the question one has to ask first, especially in this city. Especially now.”
Cullen nodded, knotting his fingers together tight enough that his knuckles reddened. “I know. I wish it – I wish it didn’t have to be.”
“You’re worried about it, which is good. It’d be more concerning if you simply glossed over it. And she is a bit of a special case,” Dorian continued, shifting his own priest. “There are very few healer mages who go on to be surgeons. I know what I’ve seen in my field, I can’t even imagine – well, I can, because she’s told me, but it’s rather dismal, and how she manages to be so unapologetic in the midst of it all is quite beyond me. I’m not surprised if it gives you pause. She’s an intimidating person to consider a relationship with even without your particular histories. If that’s it, I understand.”
Cullen immediately open his most and go out most of the word “relationship” in tones of disbelief before he caught the look on Dorian’s face, and closed it again with a frustrated snort, staring at the board.
“Ah, and that’s the issue. Maker knows I’m not particularly qualified to tell you what to do with your life, Cullen.” Dorian rolled the captured rook between his fingers. “But it certainly won’t be the end of the world if you have to stay with her for a day or two. Since you haven’t murdered each other over a petty disagreement by now, much less over the whole mage-Templar thing, I’m sure you can manage that short of a coexistence. I’m not going to make this easier on you.”
Cullen sighed and moved his king out of the way. “Yes, I know.”
“If I can manage a relationship, you very probably can yourself, you know.” Dorian picked up a knight and considered for a moment, then moved it forward. “Check, by the way.”
“I’m – ” Cullen bit off the words and looked over the board, at his nearly cornered king, and toyed with his last rook for a moment. “I…don’t know if that’s what she’s interested in. Or what I’m – Maker. I don’t…know.”
“You could ask,” Dorian said. “Are you going to move?”
“Chess is not a game of speed.”
“It is also not a game of waiting until the other person dies so you can win by default.”
“It isn’t a game of asking the other person difficult questions to distract them, either, but that’s how you appear to be playing today.”
Dorian gave him a bright grin. “Frankly, I would have said no anyway. I’ve my own plans.”
Cullen raised his eyebrows and moved his queen, and Dorian, lightning-fast, moved a priest up. “Check. Again.”
“You paused significantly before plans,” Cullen said, moving his king out of the way again, followed up by a swift move of the knight. “Do I want to know?”
This time Dorian most definitely blushed, and said, “Make your move, sergeant.”
Cullen scooted his king away, and Dorian swiped it with the priest, beaming, and then reached into his pocket and passed a small, flat box over the table. It was black leather, and so new it squeaked at the hinges when Cullen opened it. There were two brownish gold pendants nestled inside on purple velvet, one rough conical stone that’d been sliced neatly into halves and polished to showcase the concentric rippling rings inside.
“A dragon’s tooth,” Dorian said, quietly but full of pride. “There’s no dragons now, of course, but the fossilized teeth are easy to come by. The agatized versions are a bit harder to find, but I thought it made a nice touch, and, well, the process by which they form is actually quite interesting…”
“I’m sure he’ll love it,” Cullen said, passing the box back with a grin. “You’re quite serious about this, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I…I am.” Dorian tucked the box away. His cheeks were still darkly red and there was a twitchy smile hovering around his mustache. “So I’ll be rather busy this weekend, and you can ask our small scowling friend for lodging. Shall we?”
Cullen sighed and began tidying up the chessboard. “I suppose I’ve been bullied into it, haven’t I?”
“Yes, I’ve really pushed you into this thing you have going on. I claim all credit, certainly, despite the fact that I only met Mireille two months ago and you were already sleeping together.”
Cullen glanced around again and Dorian rolled his eyes. “Your paranoia is showing, my dear sergeant.”
“Can you imagine how insufferable Ashton will be when she realizes she was right, and we – and I – ” Cullen sketched a response in the air with his hands, waved them through it in dismissal. “A little paranoia is warranted, I think.”
“That’s actually true, she will be insufferable. But I still think you’re making mountains out of molehills, which is a ridiculous phrase, by the way.”
Cullen straighted a queen, then a couple of pawns, and Dorian pointed a priest at him. “Ask. Her. You two and your dancing.”
“And your dancing around Bull for a year, I suppose, isn’t relevant?”
“Don’t make my mistakes,” Dorian said, with surprising heat. “Phone, text. It’s that simple. You don’t have a – a Qunari promise necklace in your pocket, you’re literally asking to sleep on her couch. Remove your head from your ass.”
Cullen sighed, in defeat, and pulled out his phone. One quick text. Odd question, but could I – no. Hi. My apartment’s being – not that either. Sorry to ask, but my apartment’s being fumigated this weekend and everyone else is busy – which, what, suggests she’s the last choice? No. Well, not untrue, but not exactly a good message to send to someone you’d like to be buried inside of – and Maker did he really just think that –
“Come on,” Dorian said, tugging gently on his sleeve. “Walk and text, sergeant. You can puzzle over the precise wording with shawarma.”
Six blocks later, Cullen finally sent the text, and added to Dorian, “You seem like you’re nervous.”
Dorian laughed, slightly too loud. “Do I? Nonsense.”
“I wouldn’t have expected it, that’s all. You seem good for each other.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not bloody nervous,” he muttered, tapping his fingers on the pocket of his jacket where the box lay hidden. “Why do you think I’m being hard on you? I know how difficult it can be, and I wish I’d done this six months ago, because then I wouldn’t have to do it now.”
Cullen patted him on the back. “I’ve seen you together, I think you’re worried about nothing. It’ll go over well. He’s smitten with you, you know.”
“Oh, I’m aware I’m worrying over nothing. It doesn’t keep me from worrying.” Dorian sighed. “You realize you giving me relationship advice to simply stop worrying and get over myself is staggeringly hypocritical.”
“Yes,” Cullen said with a grin. “It’s good advice.”
“Aha! You admit it!”
“And immediately I regret it.”
“Yes, I’m sure, and because you lost our game you’re buying lunch while I gloat.”
“Just wait until next week.”
Chapter 8: sleeping with a friend, pt 2 (bed sharing, at long last)
It shouldn’t have felt odd.
How often had he been over here? Not that often, actually, Cullen realized, tucking his bag behind him as he unlocked the door. Mireille’s apartment was smaller than his and closer to their mutual friends, which made his place a better candidate for…well, booty calls. There really wasn’t another word for that, was there?
Mireille had very quietly pressed the key into his hand as he’d left the hospital’s break room, as if she were passing on an important secret. She might be hours yet. And her apartment was dark, and rather warm, so as soon as he’d closed the door behind him Cullen immediately crossed to the window and pulled it open, letting in a gust of fresh ocean air and the noise of the street too.
He stood there in the semidarkness for a long moment, just looking, and then set down his bag at the foot of Mireille’s couch and clicked on the desk lamp. It didn’t do much more than scatter the shadows.
As quietly as possible, he stacked the groceries into the fridge – eggs, bacon, a pork tenderloin he’d been meaning to marinate in something, a little tub of pesto, actual vegetables, nudging aside the fourteen kinds of mustard to fit it all in, which he hadn’t actually expected from someone who ate mostly frozen taquitos as far as he could tell – and flipped through the cupboards for a moment. At least she had a pan. And flour, and brown sugar. And three kinds of tea and six different kinds of coffee, behind which she’d tucked a very large bottle of whiskey.
When one of the cupboard doors slipped out of his hand and slammed shut, Cullen jumped about a foot.
“Come on, Rutherford,” he scolded himself, and put both hands on the stove, sighing. “It’s three days.”
It was hard to shake the feeling of trespassing. He left his toothbrush and his clothes in his duffel, padding down to her bathroom and peeking in, then into her bedroom. At least here didn’t feel quite so alien. The sheets were familiarly rumpled, her clothes nearly escaping the hamper like usual.
He’d never noticed how little else there was. Mireille wasn’t per se tidy, there was plenty of mess, but he’d have expected…something more, maybe. There was one painting in the hall – a mid-sized stormy seascape, the kind you find at most thrift stores and in various grandparents’ homes everywhere, all grey cliffs and faintly yellow skies – and there were a few books, some well-worn medical texts and diagnostic guides, a few notebooks and printed journal articles scattered on her desk. And a rock used as a paperweight, a smooth unremarkable stone holding down a pile of notes. And that was it.
It wasn’t as if he didn’t have just as little – just as mismatched furniture, just as few books and just as hodgepodge a collection of mugs and plates, all the symptoms of a life recently upheaved – but it stirred something deep and sad in his chest as he ran his hand over the top of her dresser. There was a little dish of jewelry gathering dust there, full of cheap studs and what looked like a tarnished class ring. A couple of lipsticks lay beside it like they’d been considered and forgotten.
He’d never asked her much about who she’d been before she came to Denerim. In the evening light, standing alone in her apartment, for one long second he wished he had.
Cullen sighed again, and went to make dinner, at least for something to occupy the time.
He’d intended to stay up until she came back. He’d actually brought a book, he’d intended to just lay on the couch and rather figured his bevy of anxieties would keep him up as usual, but they’d been keeping him up enough the past few nights that he found himself slipping into half-aware sleep.
When he blinked his eyes open, with some effort, Mireille was sitting next to his bent knee with her hand on his arm, her hair tied up under a scarf in a way he’d never seen before.
She patted his arm. She looked tired, had he slept that long? It was dark in the living room now, the old yellow hall light barely reaching her face. “You know, I do have a bed.”
“Mmm.” Cullen said, and shifted, trying to ease the twanging pain in his spine. “I…didn’t want to impose.”
“It’s a big bed.” Mireille stood up, turned away, walked down the hall. “Come on.” Like he hadn’t been worried about this for a week, like it was a foregone conclusion. Maybe it had been. Maybe he was just worrying about nothing.
Maybe he was imagining the nervous frown twisting her eyebrows together, as she glanced over her shoulder at him, then back as he walked into the bedroom. When she flopped down onto the bed diagonally it’d been replaced by a grin, and he said, “Is that how you generally sleep?”
“When I’m not fucking you? Mhm.”
She was wearing a ratty paint-covered shirt and no pants and crossed her legs at the ankle, all freckles and thick soft thighs, and Cullen gave her what he hoped was an unimpressed look. “Are you attempting to get me to fuck you so you’ll move?”
Mireille appeared to consider this for a moment, as he hooked one knee onto the bed, settling his hands on either side of her thighs. She glanced up into his face and her lip curled into a half grin for just a second, then disappeared into a scowl. “Wait, balls. I have to meet Vivienne early tomorrow to go over some notes. I don’t think there’s time.”
“I…I think that’s a compliment.”
“Kind of, I suppose.” She shrugged, bit her lip, the thick freckles across her nose and cheeks and lips dancing as her face moved. And how tired was he, if all he could focus on was the way her nose scrunched up and the flutter of her eyelashes as she blinked?
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t known she was beautiful. It was sort of the point of the arrangement, in fact, but…well, he couldn’t recall feeling quite this stricken, quite this lost, looking into her sleepy dark eyes.
“I…” he said, eloquently, and had to shake himself and lean back out of her space. It had felt like years, it had probably been maybe a second too long. “Well, that’s fine, but you’ll have to move, then. You’re taking up quite a lot of space for someone so short.”
Mireille, naturally, spread out her arms like a starfish, and he rolled his eyes and got a hand under her leg so he could toss it over to the other side of the bed. “You asked me to come in here, you know.”
“That was before I got home after one and remembered I’m not free tomorrow.” But she moved, so he could sidle into the bed, tucking his legs under the still-cool blankets. The lamp was on her side, and she settled herself under the covers, clicked it off.
In the sudden enclosing dark, the distance between her body and his felt impossibly narrow.
She shifted, her weight making the thirdhand mattress creak a little, and Cullen’s hands opened and closed in the hem of his shirt. He’d done this. It shouldn’t have felt odd. It shouldn’t have felt like trespassing, like something he ought to be drunk for.
Time felt stretched, lying here without touching her, listening to her breathe. Well, generally he was drunk, or exhausted, which was almost the same thing. Generally it was four in the morning. Or they were coming back from a bar, or just lost in the heady impulsiveness of sex after so very long without, burying their worries in each other’s skin.
Without it all he was just lying here, his nose getting colder, his hands wringing the hem of his shirt over and over.
She moved again, shivering this time. He could feel it across the bed.
When she drew up her legs and brushed past his knee, her toes were cold, and he made a squeak of protest. So naturally she pressed her toes against his knee and made him flinch away with a grumble. Her voice was tight, maybe because she was trying not to shiver. “You know, when you’re not here my room isn’t freezing. Funny how that happens.”
He rolled onto his side, but she was facing the wrong way, still a little too far away. “I hadn’t noticed.”
That made her snort, and shift again, and would she let him wrap his arms around her or would that be too much? “Not all of us were born in a snowdrift like you Fereldans.” She was playing up her Marcher accent, her vowels getting throatier and twisting around themselves, and she turned her head back just enough that he could see the streetlight glow reflected in one eye.
And, given her tendency to deflect, maybe that was permission. So he reached forward through the space between them, and found her hip, cool to the touch through the thin shirt. Mireille shivered under his hand.
Carefully, he pulled her a little closer, and when she didn’t protest he gathered her up in his arms, and the weight of her – the fit of her legs along his, her hips pressed flush against his own, his chin on her head and one arm wrapped around her ribs, it all felt like precisely the right thing. She made a little grumbling noise under her breath and pushed her hips back, tucking her freezing toes between his ankles, wriggling into a more comfortable position and incidentally not helping his growing erection at all. Which she was likely aware of.
He wanted to ask her why she’d picked out the painting in her living room, and when she’d gotten the paint splatters all over her shirt that he could feel rough under his fingers, and where she’d been born, then, if not in a snowdrift. Instead he lifted his head a millimeter and said, “If you wanted to cuddle, you could have asked.”
“Shut up,” she said, rubbing her cold toes on his shin.
And after a while he was too warm, and had to slide his feet out of the blankets so the breeze would cool them, but Mireille had begun to snore in his arms and letting her go would be…hard. She was soft, and warm, and he’d suffer the sweat to hold her a little longer.
Which was…the exact kind of thought he’d been trying damn hard not to have, he realized, rubbing his cold nose against the top of her head.
But he was too tired to think about it more, and drifted away again, as she sighed and nuzzled a little closer into his embrace.
BOY it was hard to write this summer. real life sucks, yall.
anyway, i'm still woefully invested in the concept of two idiots having trouble with Feelings and solving it by having a lot of ridiculous sex, so there will probably be more here soon now that irl has calmed down a bit. also now the prompts are in chronological order of when they happen in the relationship! sorry, i mean....sex-friendship. whatever they want to call it.
Chapter 9: walk in walk out (a "we might get caught" kiss)
The noise dimmed as Mireille padded into the kitchen, and she drowned it out a little further by rinsing out the beer bottles before dropping them into the recycling bin. Having a kitchen that didn’t immediately adjoin your living room seemed like a nice idea, especially when the living room was full of a massive game of Jenga. Or Twister. She’d lost track of where one began and the other ended – there was a clatter and a string of very Fereldan swearing from the other room – okay, maybe one of them had just ended for good.
That’d mean roommates, though, and Rylen and Lace were nice enough people to play board games and drink with, but to live in the same house? Mireille peeked into one of the boxes on the counter, but it appeared to be empty. Hm.
There was another clatter, a squeal, and Mireille opened the fridge, humming to herself. Boxes of takeout with HARDING and DON’T EAT THIS YOU STARKHAVEN FUCK written on them in big black marker, a very large jug of orange juice…beer. Please, Maker, let there be more beer. She could still remember too many of the details of this week. And also of Brynn’s waggling eyebrows when Sera attempted to hit right hand red.
Mireille spotted a bottle at last and snagged the whole six-pack between two fingers before she straightened up and turned around. “Did you finally give up trying to play a non-chess game?”
“I think the game gave up on Sera,” Cullen said darkly. There was a damp patch on his sweater and his cheeks were very red, and he crossed to the sink and turned the faucet on. “What a mess.”
Mireille glanced around and then sidled along the counter until she could reach the bottle opener. This, incidentally and entirely unplanned, put her within about a foot of Cullen. “You could take the sweater off.”
He splashed a handful of water on the fabric and gave her a look. Mireille just raised the beer to her lips and raised her eyebrows. Cullen huffed out a laugh and turned back to the sink. “That was Ashton's suggestion, although I don’t know who that was benefiting, because it certainly wasn’t her.”
“Mm.” She drank, and made a face. “Ugh. What am I drinking?”
He reached over and pulled the bottle out of her fingers, and drank. Deeply. “Anderfels lager?”
“You didn’t have to drink out of the bottle to identify that, you…beer snob.” She pulled the beer back out of his hand, and drank again, and found herself smacking her lips in distaste.
Cullen snorted. “You don’t have to drink it, you know.”
“Well, it’s open.” She gestured with the bottle. “My point still stands, by the way, from before.”
“You,” he said, shutting off the faucet, “are not sober.”
“You’re correct, but neither are you.” She drank again. Eugh. “Were you looking at my ass when you came in here? Is that why you’re all red?”
Cullen leaned one hip against the counter and glanced up at the ceiling, his cheeks flushing a little darker. “No, I – you see,” and he lowered his voice, stepped three inches closer. “You only hit on me when you’re drunk.”
Mireille considered this for a second, with her back pressed against the counter and a beer in her hands and a rather attractive person standing in front of her in a wet sweater. “Would you like me to hit on you when I’m sober? Might be a little odd, but I could try it. You’re really going to leave your wet sweater on?”
Cullen opened his mouth, and then closed it, and then leaned forward and took the bottle out of her hands and drank. He set the bottle down very gently in the sink. “I might.”
“You might to which question? See, I’m not that drunk.”
“I’m terribly reminded of college.” He was, most definitely, getting closer to her, boxing her into the corner, upper lip twitching against a smile.“Aren’t we a bit old for this by now?”
“I actually studied in college, aren’t you like twenty-six, and did you or did you not call me last time?” Mireille counted them off on her fingers, glancing down, and when she glanced up again Cullen had closed the last few inches of distance and his mouth met hers. By the time he pulled back her skin was tingling, goosebumps rising on her arms, and she slid one arm along the counter and pushed herself up on her toes to catch his mouth again.
“We’re going to get caught,” she murmured, after the second half-hearted attempt to break away.
“Mhm,” Cullen said, and kissed her again, and she dragged her teeth across his lip to make him sigh softly. He tasted like Anderfels lager still, eugh. One of his hands slid up from her elbow to her shoulder, a thumb nudging under the neckline of her sweater to rub hot against her collarbone. Then the other pressed against her shoulder to steady her as she wobbled on tiptoe trying to reach him.
Maker, but it felt nice to be held. Even if he had to bend in half to do it –
Someone yelped in the other room, loud and close. A jolt of pure icy fear shot down her spine and Cullen – barely moved, his hand tightening briefly on her shoulder. A couple of thumps and a very Rylen exclamation of “och, noooo” and Mireille breathed out, and Cullen let go of her with a sigh.
She tilted her head, opened her mouth to ask a question, got tangled up in a sudden thought, and what came out of her mouth was – “What?”
He shook his head and looked down at his sweater, and then in one motion pulled it off over his head. Mireille glanced down for a long second before he tugged down the shirt underneath and grinned at her, just for a moment, before it faltered. “I – think we’ve left them unsupervised long enough.”
“Could be,” she said, and Cullen reached over her shoulder, drew another bottle out of the cardboard sleeve. His arm brushed past her hair. He opened his mouth. Then closed it, glanced over his shoulder, and then turned and walked out of the room, his cheeks still flushed.
Mireille huffed out a breath into the empty air.
The thought that’d been rolling on her tongue finally presented itself in words: it’s like you want to get caught.
She shook her head and glanced back at the beer on the counter, and found herself worrying at her lip. Mireille rolled her eyes at herself and peeked into the fridge again. From the other room she heard a sharp whistle and heard Cullen say, exasperated, “What did you think would happen when you dumped a beer on me, Ashton?” and she ran a hand over her mouth, grabbed the entire six-pack, and padded back out to the living room.
And then went back for the bottle opener.
from a prompt from kagetsukai on tumblr!
I'm working on a finisher update too that might be out soon depending on if my laptop dies and takes my files with it!!
EDIT: MY LAPTOP LIVES. ANOTHER UPDATE SOMETIME...IN THE NEXT WEEK??
Chapter 10: move a little closer ("i need a cigarette")
It was still dark when she woke, the night air textured with rain dripping from the gutters, and Mireille frowned at the unfamiliar ceiling for a while before she remembered where she was tonight. Her own apartment was close enough to the docks you could always smell the sea, even with the windows closed, and orange-lit by streetlights even late at night. Cullen’s, in contrast, was on a hill just tall enough to lift it out of the sodium glow and give the place a sense of privacy. It made for damn dark mornings.
Or nights, actually, she realized, rolling over to glance at the clock. Two-twenty. Odd, considering the warm hollow in the sheets.
She lay there for a while, curling her toes in the cool spaces between the sheets, and debated.
It was her bladder that made the decision for her, and with a groan she sat up and swung her shaking legs over the side of the bed. Mireille rifled through the clothes on the floor until she found something soft and flannelly and then stepped out into the hall in bare feet.
She didn’t bother turning on the light, her eyes still adjusted enough to navigate the bathroom, and afterward peeked out again into the living room. No Cullen. The curtain that covered the door to the balcony was slightly ajar, though.
Quietly she filled the kettle and put it on the stove. There was…rather more tea than she would have expected him to own in the cupboard, and she sniffed a few boxes before selecting a pair of teabags and a couple of heavy diner-style mugs.
Mireille pulled the kettle off before it whistled and maneuvered the now-steaming mugs into one hand so she could tug open the balcony door with the other. “Hey.”
Cullen jumped about a foot in the air – impressive for a man sitting on the balcony floor - and nearly dropped the cigarette in his hand, which was the reaction she’d been aiming for.
“Tea?” she asked, handing him a mug.
He opened his mouth, and then shut it, and then accepted the mug with both hands, tucking the cigarette between his fingers with the ease of long practice. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, tucking the flannel under her ass so she could sit down near him. It was, in fact, a lot colder out here than she’d thought it would be, and misting rain just enough that it was hitting her in the face.
Cullen glanced down at the cigarette and said, “Um.”
“I’m not going to yell at you,” she said, blowing across the mug. “If that’s what you’re wondering.”
He relaxed, just a hair. “That’s rather a surprise.”
“A lot of the residents smoke. Elfroot, tobacco, whatever.” Mireille shrugged. “So do a lot of former Templars. There are worse habits to have.” It probably had been worse, to be on lyrium. Every Templar took it after their training was completed, still, because mages were – still – dangerous enough to warrant it, apparently. Brynn had always said it tasted like licking a lamppost. Mireille thought it tasted rather like toothpaste, but then, mages used different stuff…
“How long have you known?” he said quietly, not looking at her.
“Since we’ve started doing this on a regular basis.” She shivered and raised the mug higher to cup the warmth between her palms. “You’re very discreet, but, well. When you’ve licked someone else’s tongue you kind of get a sense of these things.”
Cullen huffed a laugh and raised the cigarette to his mouth, closing his eyes, and so she didn’t feel particularly bad about watching him inhale. There was a deep line between his eyebrows and his hands didn’t shake in the least as he lowered it, exhaling smoke into the breeze, turned away from her whether out of shyness or politeness she couldn’t quite tell with his face turned toward the balcony railing. He’d pulled on a pair of jeans but hadn’t bothered with a shirt under the hoodie he was wearing, the sleeves pushed up haphazardly around his elbows and the zipper hanging half open.
“If you’re not going to yell at me,” he said, looking back at her, his eyes nearly black in the shadows, “what are you doing out here? You must be freezing.”
Why had she come out here? She’d made him tea at two thirty in the morning, for fuck’s sake, and…
“It is cold,” she said, folding her legs underneath her. “You’d think Kingsway would be warmer.”
Cullen stubbed out the cigarette on the cement floor of the balcony and reached out an arm to wrap it around her shoulders, tugging her a little closer. He smelled like cigarette smoke and every bad decision she’d made when she was twenty-two and sleep-deprived, so she let him do it.
“You know, if you wanted to cuddle, you could have said something,” he murmured into her hair.
“Psh. I don’t need to cuddle, I just – ”
“When I woke up you were lying on my chest. You had both your legs wrapped around my knee. I don’t even know how you did that.”
Mireille scowled up at him. “Says you, Ser-I-will-roll-onto-you-in-my-sleep-and-crush-you-underneath-me.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it?” He rubbed a hand down her arm, as she shivered. “You’re still cuddling.”
“This is huddling for warmth. It’s not the same thing.” She did, however, lean her head on his chest. “My ears are cold. That’s why I’m leaning on you.”
“Mm. Yes, of course.” He raised the mug, narrowly missing her nose with the handle, and added a little more under his breath, “Tension Tamer is a bit on the nose, you know.”
“I didn’t read the labels, actually.” She tried the tea herself. Floral, kind of sweet. Obnoxiously lemony, one might say. “Bit on the nose?”
Cullen sipped the tea, not looking at her, and she glanced up as best she could for someone who was resting her head on a shoulder.
He wrinkled his nose and shrugged. “Just, ah…just some. Bad dreams, I suppose. Nothing serious.”
Mireille thumped her head back onto his chest, and shifted the hand draped over his belly upward to toy with the zipper on his sweatshirt. Then up and over his chest, the soft curling hair a little sticky with drying sweat –
“Maker’s balls your hand is freezing.”
“Is it?” she asked, tucking her fingers a little farther down his ribs. “I didn’t know that.”
An ice-cold touch on her thigh made her yelp in a rather undignified way. “Oh, no. We’re not doing this. Why are your hands cold you’ve been smoking.”
“It’s not an activity that’s particularly warming,” Cullen said, setting down his tea. “Did you put on my shirt, by the way?”
“It was warm and it covers my ass fuck no quit that.” She lifted her free hand and wiggled her fingers. “Do you want to play this game?”
“I think you were the one to start it, Trevelyan.” He was giving her that lopsided little smirk now, though, and it was a distinct improvement on the ashamed nervousness that’d clouded around him most of the evening, so she didn’t try too hard to scowl through her grin.
He inched his hand up her thigh and she yelped and shoved her own cold fingers as far down his belly as she could get before she hit waistband, and there was a brief giggly struggle before he got a hand on her wrist and pushed her down onto damp concrete, sliding his chilly fingers farther and farther up her leg while she struggled. His eyebrows rose when he reached her bare hip under the flannel.
“Shut up,” she said, kicking him in the thigh for emphasis. “I was cold and couldn’t find my smalls. I’m still cold, you’re not helping.”
“Not that cold, apparently.” The chilly fingers moved a little farther inward.
“If you put those inside me so help me Andraste I will bite your dick off next time it’s in my mouth.”
The chilly fingers moved a little farther outward and he made a face, and Mireille was finding it very hard to quit grinning up at him like an idiot.
Cullen gazed down at her for a moment, half smiling, before leaning down and very softly kissing her.
He tasted like chamomile and old smoke and she tilted her head in question when he pulled back. “That’s not the usual response to that threat, you know.”
“I know,” he murmured, and leaned down to kiss her again.
They’d been doing this for three months, give or take a few weeks, and she’d forgotten (or maybe she’d never known) that kissing him could be anything but bruising. (Or maybe she just hadn’t wanted to remember.) And this was warm, and sweet, and took her breath away much more effectively even than getting fucked against a wall. Which seemed wrong, somehow.
But, well, it was warm and sweet, and it was two thirty something in the morning, and the heat of his body so close to hers was doing funny things to her gut and her already sore thighs, so she stroked a hand over his forearm and kissed him back just as slowly.
It was only the growing intensity of the rain that made her break the kiss and say, with amusement, “You know, we could do this inside.”
“Oh.” Cullen leaned back a little, looking rather surprised, as far as she could tell in the dark. “Yes. I’m…”
“It’s okay,” she said, squeezing his shoulders. “I’m just cold.”
“And you like to cuddle, yes, I know.”
Mireille made an indignant noise and he helped her up anyway, smiling down at her, and it made her stomach do something unpleasantly like a flip-flop. She scowled through it. “Yes, well, you’re apparently into biting.”
He pointed at the bruise on his collarbone and raised his eyebrows as if to say, very eloquently, duh.
“Shut – shut up. Shush.”
“Maybe you should drink your tea,” Cullen said with amusement, handing her the mug.
“I feel like you’re taking advantage of me,” she grumbled into the mug, pulling the balcony door open and stepping out of the damp air. “In my state.”
“By making fun of you when you’re too tired to fight back? Yes.” He patted her ass. “You’re cute when you’re sleepy.”
Mireille glared back at him and attempted to look threatening. Given how puffy her hair was from the humidity and her lack of pants – not to mention the whole being-five-feet-tall bit – she wasn’t entirely sure she succeeded.
She kept the flannel on when she climbed into the bed. It was cold in the bedroom, after all.
When Cullen returned smelling more like toothpaste and tea than smoke, she’d nearly drifted off – which is what working twenty hours in a row will get you – and she reached out without thinking to pull his warm body closer and fit herself into the crook of his arm.
His lips pressed against her forehead and he murmured something very like “Thank you.”
“For…for coming to find me. Getting me out of my own head.”
Mireille blinked, trying to parse this, and said, “Sure, why wouldn’t I?”
He pressed his cheek against the top of her head and gave no answer for a long moment, letting the sound of rain seep into the room in its stead.
She nuzzled into him a little harder, and he squeezed her close in turn. “You do like to cuddle.”
“Sh’tup,” she mumbled, “so d’you,” and fell asleep to the sound of his soft laughter.
Chapter 11: just before dawn ("we have to stop doing this")
“We have got to stop doing this,” she said, into his mouth, the world reduced by drink and the single-minded focus of desire to just – this, just his hands, hot and heavy and sliding down her hips.
“Yes, we do,” he agreed, thumbs hooking into the waistband of her smalls.
“We shouldn’t be doing this,” he murmured, even his whisper loud in the still air of her apartment.
“Mmhmm,” she replied, with her mouth full, and his sharp intake of breath cracked the silence in half.
“We really should stop doing this,” she mused, pulling him into the darkness of the storage closet. “Especially at work.”
“Well, you called me,” he said, following her anyway, “did you want to rethink – ”
“Shut up,” she said quickly, hauling him down to her level, his hands encircling her waist like they belonged there.
Mireille blinked up at the ceiling, watched it swirl at the edges of her vision. It was nice to be this drunk. Right when the manic buzz had worn down into a soft glow, just shy of plastered, just north of tipsy…warm and invulnerable, somewhere the world couldn’t quite touch her.
She looked up – further up, tilting her head back – at Cullen above her. To all appearances he was asleep, his head propped up on his palm, legs stretched out almost over the coffee table, since it was placed close enough for her feet to reach it. At least he hadn’t knocked over the takeout.
Carefully she shifted, turning her head in his lap, and he sighed and sank a little further into the depths of her couch. There were deep lines under his eyes even in sleep. A notch between his eyebrows that she suspected might always be there. He looked exhausted. Of course, she probably didn’t look any better, after nearly eighteen hours on shift, but…
His free hand, laid across his other bicep, slipped down and – was he really asleep? Before she knew what he was doing he’d caught her hand, resting his forearm across her sternum. He squeezed her fingers gently and sighed again. Maybe he was asleep.
There was a quiet snore. Definitely asleep.
Asleep and holding her hand.
She shifted her fingers experimentally. His were surprisingly narrow, warm and a little dry, and they linked with hers sleepily as she watched. There was a small white scar on the knuckle of his index finger. Mireille traced it with a thumb, carefully.
It was getting closer to dawn. She could just barely hear a bird chirping at the coming day – Cullen always opened her windows when he came over, no matter the weather. The movie they’d put on at ten had long since ended, the console it’d been playing on had turned itself off after an hour of no input from the otherwise-occupied watchers, the television had followed suit and left them lying in the half-dark. The orange glow from the streetlight across the way had faded into a sullen yellow as the world lightened.
There was a nasty crick in her neck, and her back wasn’t going to thank her for sleeping on the couch, and somehow there was no place she’d rather be than lying on his lap and holding his hand.
It ought to have been more alarming, honestly. But she was drunk. Untouchably, calmly, quietly drunk. And so she stroked her thumb down the side of his hand and thought: why?
Well, he was…he was warm. He was available. He was damnably good in bed.
Okay, Drunk Miri, she thought, that’s not very helpful.
Drunk Miri gave a mental shrug and continued to bask in the sweet ache in her thighs.
He was, admittedly, funny. He was…comforting. He’d started off by giving her those looks everyone who’d ever had Templar training gave mages – part suspicion, part wariness, part the look of a cat who’s just seen a bug and is deciding what to do with it – but that had faded, and quickly, too. He’d gone off lyrium, amazingly enough, and that said a lot more about what he thought of the Templars than anything else. He’d asked questions about her magic, and not the pointed kind but the kind borne of genuine interest, he was…intelligent, curious, and, sure, damnably good in bed, but…
Ahh, fuck. Why would he ever want to – to – she couldn’t even bring herself to think it.
And why – why would she want to, anyway? This was the kind of thing she’d come here to avoid. Entanglements. Especially, especially with Templars, because last time – well, that had been the last time. That had been the point. That she’d – that she’d gone through too much, jumped too many hoops, tried too hard to be taken seriously as a mage and a doctor on her own, to end up – to end up with a –
From above her, Cullen mumbled, “Are you…are you just making faces at me?”
“What?” She hadn’t even realized she’d been scowling.
“You look like the ceiling said something that personally offended you.” He squeezed her fingers again, closing his eyes. “I didn’t think we’d gotten that drunk.”
Mireille thought for a moment about sitting up, about pulling away, but…well…the room was a little chilly with the window open. And she was really cozy under this blanket, with the warmth of Cullen’s arm on her chest, almost too warm. He shifted again, sinking down a little lower, his other hand landing in his lap near her head.
She could almost just fall asleep again like this. Warm and slightly drunk and safe, with his fingers rubbing little circles across her scalp…
“We really have to stop doing this,” she murmured, and it sounded awfully loud against the soft sounds of impending morning.
“I know,” he said quietly. “You say that every time.”
“It’s…I mean…” She flexed her captive fingers. “It’s not…I don’t…it couldn’t work.”
“I know.” His hand was still in her hair, but it had stopped moving, at least. “It’s, ah…it’s not sustainable.”
“Right.” Mireille sighed, shutting her eyes against the greying light. “We…we can’t keep – we can’t continue this way, right? We can’t just…just do this. Each other. All the time. Without telling anyone.”
Cullen huffed a laugh, but it was weak, and died quickly in the breeze. “Yes, I know.”
“I just…” She ran her thumb along the side of his hand again, thinking. Trying to get her brain to work. “I…it’s…we should…quit while we’re ahead, you know? Before things get…”
“Strange?” He squeezed her fingers again. “I hate to tell you this, Trevelyan, but things are already a little strange between us.”
“If you are talking about the strawberries incident that was one time.”
“Well, I wasn’t, but since you brought it up…”
Mireille glared up at him and he scratched her scalp, a brisk little scritch, and added, “What do you want to do, then?”
Get drunk, said Drunk Miri, and she scowled. “I don’t know.” It came out very small and frustrated, more than she’d meant it to.
Carefully, he withdrew his hand from her hair. “Should…should I – ”
“No,” Mireille said. Maybe a little too quickly. “I – no, it’s…no.”
“Okay,” Cullen murmured, looking down at her with such – such warmth in his eyes that she suddenly couldn’t meet them.
She turned her gaze back on his knuckles instead, and winced. “Ugh. Maybe we shouldn’t have fallen asleep on the couch.”
“I did ask you if you wanted to actually use your bed,” he said, rubbing his thumb over hers. “I think you said something like ‘what is a bed’ and proclaimed I was your favorite pillow.”
She made a face. “Drunk Mireille, if you’ll recall, is an idiot.”
“Come on,” he said, and carefully levered her upright, which made the room spin a little too much for comfort. “I’ll hold that against you later. Bed first.”
Mireille managed to stand, her skin prickling in the cool air. Without the warmth of a large Fereldan next to her everything felt…smaller, maybe, a quiet sense of finality seeping into the room to complement the shadows on the walls. She put her hands on her hips and sighed. It didn’t really change anything, but she felt a little more solid, at least.
“Mireille,” Cullen said, quietly, putting a hand on the small of her back. It felt like an anchor, with all the heaviness that implied.
“Yeah.” She shook herself hard and half turned, watching him stand, and waggled her eyebrows. “You know…”
“I know you use me to forget your problems, but I’m not sure I have another in me right now.” He nudged her forward, pushing her ahead of him toward the bedroom. “You’ll have to go to sleep like a normal person.”
“Hey, I thought you were the one using me,” she said, turning around, walking backward until she hit the bed and flopped down onto the mattress. “Do normal people just…sleep to forget? Seems inefficient.”
He eased himself onto the bed, pushing her legs out of the way, and leaned forward to press his lips to hers. Just for a brief moment, stroking his fingers lightly over her shoulder, and then he broke away. “I think the usury is mutual in this – ah – this friendship. Go to sleep.”
“That’s not what that word means,” she said, through a yawn. “It means bad moneylending practices.”
“You’re drunk, I don’t believe I’ll take your word for it.” Cullen pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Sleep, Mireille.”
“’m not that drunk,” she murmured, closing her eyes. Blindly she reached out and pulled him closer. Because she was drunk, she told herself hastily, as his arms settled around her, as she buried her nose in the patch of tawny hair in the center of his chest and inhaled the soft cedar-and-oakmoss smell of him. That was all. She was a touchy-feely sort of drunk, it was…just a normal side effect of drinking.
The little sober part of her muttered: yeah, right.
Chapter 12: have you ever been lost (jealousy prompt)
sloth-race's original prompt (thank u sloth):
"In the modern AU, does Miri ever get jealous with Cullen (or vice versa)? They both seem so certain that their 'relationship' won't work, but they also act as though they're pretty solid together too. I just wonder how/if jealousy would affect them."
The worst part, Mireille suspected, was that she’d created the problem herself. Set herself up for the failure. Again. If you tell someone you can’t continue on the path you’re on, and then proceed to not call them for a few weeks, because you’re busy and nervous and you aren’t really sure you want to keep doing what you’ve been doing because it’s getting too – well, if you’re the one who doesn’t call, are you even allowed to be surprised when – ?
She scowled and took another, larger, sip of beer. Maybe she could drown her self-awareness. Or at least pickle it.
Come to the Hanged Man, Brynn had said. It’s a new branch in the market distract, it’s got good beer, even if that beer is only good by the original Kirkwall location’s standards, i.e. it is not full of rats. And the Rest was doing some renovations, finally, and Mireille had finally had a free night, so she’d agreed. It’d been long enough since she’d been down here – Dorian and Bull had joined their drinking crew on a regular basis now, Rylen had been home dealing with a family emergency for a couple of weeks apparently, and it was all getting rather loud and boisterous for a Thursday night, and Cullen was sitting in their largely vacated booth next to Bethany Hawke and laughing at whatever story she was telling him, her elbow pressed against his.
By all accounts, Bethany was utterly sweet. She’d had been in town three weeks and she’d met Cullen before through her oldest brother, somehow, and they’d been catching up. And Brynn had grinned her stupid fucking matchmaking grin when she mentioned that. And Bethany…well, Bethany had a mass of glossy, wavy dark hair and big sparkling brown eyes and a very cute smile under that strong Hawke nose, and she was a spirit healer with an interest in zoology and hid her lyrium tattoo under long sleeves, and in general, was about the least objectionable person one could ever hope to meet. This was making it very difficult to watch her tug at the curling ends of her hair and touch Cullen on the arm.
“I feel like a bloody teenager,” she muttered into the last of her drink.
“With the way you’ve been putting those away, I bet you do.” Isabela reached over from behind her and reclaimed the empty glass from her hand. “Are we being petty about someone?”
Mireille grumbled, and Isabela propped her elbows on the bar beside her and leaned forward, close enough that her hair tickled. “Hm…oh, I see.”
“You can’t lie to your bartender, my dear, the bartender sees all your drunken adventures. All of them.” Isabela gave her a mischievous grin, and Mireille rolled her eyes. The bartender just tutted at her. “Bit of a sticky one, isn’t it? And not in a fun way.”
Mireille grumbled, and was handed a glass of water. Isabela tossed a towel over her shoulder and leaned back over the bar to watch. Across the room Brynn and Sera were just visible, playing pool against Lace and Dorian, which seemed to consist mostly of half spilled beers and cheating. Cullen leaned back in the booth, smiling, arms propped on the table, listening to something Bethany was explaining with a number of expansive gestures.
Mireille downed the water, half forgetting it wasn’t alcohol until it hit the back of her throat, and Isabela said, “I would tell you your face is going to stick like that if you keep scowling but I suspect you’ve never listened to that particular advice.”
Mireille sighed and shook herself, turning away. “Yes, I’m aware. And I don’t need help. I don’t care what he – what they – I don’t care.” It sounded thin and petulant even in her own ears, and she added more forcefully, “It’s not my concern.”
“Oh, sweetheart.” Isabela gave her a sympathetic look. “Denial will only get you so far.”
She settled for giving the bartender the most poisonous glare she could muster up. Isabela just shrugged and folded her arms. “Well, you’re taking up space here moping. So get off your ass and do something about it, or get drunk.”
“I was working on getting drunk.”
“Well, try doing something about it.” Isabela glanced over her shoulder, propping her chin in one hand. “I wonder if he’d get jealous if you did the same thing. He strikes me as the type.”
“That’s awfully childish,” Mireille pointed out, and when Isabela gave her a look she added, “Well, it is. It’s so…teenage drama. I’m thirty fucking years old, we’re not – there’s not anything there.”
“Well, sleeping with your friends is also rather childish, when you put it that way – ” Mireille waved a hand to shush her, very quickly, and Isabela just grinned at her. “Well, maybe it’s more collegiate.”
Mireille snapped out, “In college I was accused of sleeping my way into my research position and had to get another degree because the guy implied it was true, so no, it’s not very college.”
Isabela held up a finger and vanished along the bar.
Mireille closed her eyes and scraped her hair back off her forehead, and sighed. This was stupid. Everything about it was stupid. It was petty, and dumb, and – well – she’d made this bed herself, hadn’t she. There was no reason to be mad about it. She ought to have expected it, even, and she didn’t care, and –
Balls, she’d just told Isabela a little more than she’d wanted to about herself.
There was a clatter as something was set down in front of her, and Mireille decided it might be better not to open her eyes, right up until Isabela said, “Well, if Char were here, I’d solve this problem by taking you home with us, but since she’s off gallivanting or what have you I’m doing the next best thing.”
Mireille blinked a couple of times, trying to get that image out of her head, which was a little difficult given the acre of brown cleavage between Isabela’s folded arms. Which was probably why Isabela had her arms folded and a salacious grin plastered across her face. Mireille picked up the glass in front of her – and coughed a little bit, because it was very strong beer and she’d just tried to drink a third of the glass in one swallow – and managed, “Maker’s balls, what’s next best to that?”
“Depends, is Lace still single?” Isabela batted her eyelashes, and completely ignored Mireille’s coughing fit. “No, what you’re going to do is go over and let Blackwall know he’s got the rest of the night off, and that you’ve heard he’s damn good at pool, and you’d like to wipe the floor with Brynn. Then you don’t have to flirt with any of your friends, you big baby.”
Mireille stuck her tongue out and glanced over at the bouncer, who appeared to be whittling something. Big, burly, rolled up sleeves and nice forearms…
“Wait, were you serious about taking me home with you and Hawke?” she asked, and Isabela flapped a towel at her until she got up, taking her beer with her.
It’d never been regular. That’s what he’d told himself, time and time again. It wasn’t serious, wasn’t anything but a casual stress relief, and Cullen leaned against his front door until it shut and very gently banged his head against the wood.
He’d forgotten about Bethany Hawke in the last few years. She had Ethan’s strong nose and her sister Charlotte’s mane of hair, and the two eldest Hawkes had been prodding around making trouble of one sort or another in Kirkwall for long enough that he recognized her, had seen her tagging along in half her sister’s schemes, but…
Well. She was sweet, and passionate, and trading stories of growing up in Ferelden’s countryside had stirred up something homesick and familiar in his chest, and they’d exchanged numbers and she’d kissed him on the cheek, so the fact that he couldn’t shake the image of Mireille leaning against the Hanged Man’s bouncer and playing pool was sort of inconvenient.
Cullen sighed and toed off his shoes, nudging them into place by the door, and went to turn on the shower.
He pulled the flannel off and hung it on the doorknob, tugged off the white undershirt. Steam was already fogging the mirror. It turned the muted colors of his tattoo into an abstract swirl, and obscured entirely the black-lined Sword of Mercy lying in the ink flowers.
For a minute he stood there, thumb on a gladiola. Rubbing against the ink. Against the scar in his left shoulder from a protestor, from that final protest in Kirkwall, when things had finally gotten ugly and someone had thrown an ice spike right into the meat where his spellproofed vest didn’t cover and he’d had to physically hold his Knight-Commander back from marching on the crowd with riot guns blazing –
Bethany hadn’t been there. She’d graduated from the Circle by then, a basic degree in spirit healing, and she’d told him about the internship she’d taken in the Frostbacks looking into domesticating gurguts around the time of the protests. It was interesting, and she’d been thrilled to talk about it, and she was…it was incredibly easy to like Bethany Hawke. Easy to think about kissing her and hiking up mountains with her and holding her hand.
It was much, much harder to forget Mireille, naked and freckled and sitting in his lap with her fingers on his shoulder, thinking him over. Deciding to continue. Berating him and poking fun at him and generally being a stubborn pain in the ass…nestling closer to him in the dead of night, snoring softly.
He yanked hard on the lever and stepped into the now-frigid water with a yelp.
And the way she’d leaned against Blackwall, almost naturally, the brush of her fingers along his muscular forearm as she leaned forward over the table…
Okay, colder water.
Maybe a cigarette.
Chapter 13: convergence
takes place after the jealousy chapter, and you should absolutely read that one first -- hit previous chapter if you don't remember it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“So,” Brynn said, tapping both hands on the steering wheel.
Mireille glanced over at the driver’s seat and said, “No.”
“You didn’t even hear it.”
“Don’t need to, you’re giving me the look you give me when you try to set me up with someone.” She pointedly turned away from said look. The car turned just past a stand of trees and onto a narrow dirt road that rumbled under the tires. “Do you remember what happened last time?”
“Hey, last time was by far not the worst that’s ever gone.”
“That’s because it never got off the ground,” Mireille grumbled, and to cover the sudden bitter twist in her voice she sat up and stretched in her seat. “Look, I love you, but you have terrible taste in men, and you should stop trying to set me up with them.”
“Well, all my girl friends have girlfriends, unless you and Lace suddenly decide you’re compatible.” Brynn shifted, sitting forward so she could peer out at the mailbox on the side of the road, and shook her head. “Look, I know – I know it’s hard, after Arden.”
Mireille gave her a flat look and Brynn completely ignored it, probably because she was driving, so she had to settle for an audible scoff.
“Yeah, yeah. You’re just so busy, and I worry about you.”
“I’m a medical resident. We are defined by being busy.”
Brynn rolled her eyes. “Some medical residents don’t run outpatient surgery effectively by themselves, and spend weekends doing research projects, and…whatever else you do. Forty hour shifts.”
“I don’t work forty hours in a row, that’d be ridiculous – ” Right over the last half of the sentence Brynn said, “My point is that you’ve been busier lately and you always throw yourself into work when you’re not doing well.”
Mireille scoffed again and folded her arms. “It’s just near the end of the term, that’s all. Am I not out with you? Right now? On Tourney Day? Preparing to get incredibly drunk and throw heavy objects around?”
“It’s a small victory,” Brynn said proudly, as the car turned and crunched along the gravel driveway. “A small one. I just don’t want you to burn yourself out, and finding you someone you want to spend time with seems like a good way, you know?”
“Hey,” Mireille said, more softly. “It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you guys, I just…”
Brynn glanced up at her with a smile a little more sad than usual, and then back at the road, parking carefully next to a dusty pickup. “I know where your priorities are, Miri, it’s fine. You’ve always been, you know. A giant nerd.”
“Says you,” Mireille said, and punched her in the arm.
Brynn just laughed. She turned the car off and glanced into the back where their bags lay, then back at Mireille, and said, “Look, just…I’m not going to set you up with anybody, okay? Just, you know. Keep an open mind. There’ll be a lot of people, maybe you can get drunk and make out with somebody. Blow off some steam.”
“How big is this thing?” Mireille asked, as they began to unload. Her day pack, a rather large box of beer, the bottle of Celebrant March Whiskey that she recognized from their Circle days…
Brynn hoisted the hammer over her shoulder like it weighed nothing and said nonchalantly, “Pretty big. It’s been years, I figured we’d get back into it with a bang, you know?”
“It’s been years because last time you broke Arden’s basement window with the hammer.”
“Oh yeah. Well, I don’t feel bad about it anymore, do you?” Brynn gave her a big cheesy grin and took one of the beer cases from Mireille’s hands, elbowing her in the shoulder. “Come on, it’ll be fun. We’ll all get smashed and have a good time. Half the precinct’ll be there, some of them are pretty hot.”
Mireille rolled her eyes.
Over her shoulder Brynn added, “Sarge will also be here, so please don’t get into another argument about glue or I swear to Andraste’s holy fucking fingertips I’ll tie you both up in a closet.”
The sudden twist in her gut made Mireille blink, and thankfully Brynn wasn’t looking, because she had to stop and blink for a second before she could get her feet to keep working.
And then she ran a hand over her hair, and tugged one more curl out to dangle beside her face. For emphasis. Then tucked it back behind her ear. Then tugged on it a couple of times.
And then kicked herself in the ankle and kept walking.
Captain Pentaghast was not the kind of person one might expect to host a Tourney Day gathering. It was, Cullen had thought, more of a Free Marches tradition, a day to attend fairs and eat turkey legs and dress up in tartans and puffy-sleeved shirts. Not a…a…
“An excuse to get plastered in broad daylight while throwing hammers,” Dorian said, and clinked his whiskey glass against Cullen’s. “That’s as Nevarran as necromancy.”
A space had been cleared in the middle of the yard, between the rosebushes and the tiger lilies, and Captain Pentaghast was swinging a very large hammer and eyeing the gap between a pair of trees some thirty meters away.
“This seems unduly dangerous,” Cullen muttered, sipping.
“Oh, very likely, but no one’s plastered yet. And you’ve got one of the better healers in south Thedas here, at least.” Dorian glanced around, then back at him, then back over across the yard, and Cullen followed his gaze.
Brynn, of course, was watching the inaugural hammer toss, her usual blazer and jeans replaced by an open flannel and a shirt advertising the Ostwick Owlets’ Junior Soccer League, and she had her muscular arm propped on Mireille’s head. Mireille was ignoring this and talking to Isabela, and she was wearing a dress. And a thick cardigan. And her hair was pinned up in something complex, with a fluff of curly bangs cascading down the side of her face.
As he watched, Isabela giggled and leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek, then padded away. And Mireille blushed. Brynn said something that made her blush harder, and she swatted away the arm perched on her head.
“Huh,” Dorian said.
Cullen took an especially large gulp of whiskey.
Dorian glanced at him and rolled his eyes. “You never did tell her. What did you think would happen?”
“I would very much prefer not to talk about this.”
“Mm, so sorry, I’ll let you mope about it instead. Weren’t you seeing – ”
Cullen waggled a hand. “I’ve – we…only a time or two. Nothing…really came of it.”
In the yard, Cassandra let out the loudest shout he’d ever heard, and flung the hammer so hard it landed somewhere in the bushes beyond the trees. There was utter silence and then Brynn said, “Holy shit, Captain,” and started to clap.
Dorian elbowed him in the ribs, not gently, and said, “Have you considered yourself as a candidate for the greatest obstacle to your own bloody happiness?”
“Yes,” Cullen said, and took a larger sip.
“Well, that’s all right, then. Maker’s blessings on you. I am going to get ludicrously drunk and thank Andraste herself that I’ve got my love life sorted at last.” Dorian clinked his glass with Cullen’s again.
As he walked away, down the deck’s stairs, Cullen said, “Dorian.”
“Are you going to tell me I’m right and that you’re very sorry? If not, I don’t believe I wish to hear it.”
“No, I was going to tell you I’m very happy for you.”
Dorian glanced over his shoulder and smoothed out his mustache, then across the yard, where Bull was patting Cassandra on the back with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm. Bull glanced up and gave a tiny wave, grinning, and Dorian ducked his head and said, “Well, thank you.” And he strolled across the lawn.
Cullen sighed and drained his glass, his eyes drifting, and when he blinked he found he’d been gazing across at her. She’d cupped both hands around her drink (there were leather elbow patches on her sweater, too, and why was that so damnably cute?) and appeared to be talking to Blackwall, who’d procured another hammer from somewhere. Between Brynn and the captain there was probably a small collection of them here.
It’d been six weeks since he’d seen her outside of very occasionally at work – besides that one night in the Hanged Man, almost a month ago now – and now he was staring at her as she chatted, watching the freckles on her face move as she spoke to someone else. Someone with a bun and a magnificent beard and forearms that Cullen sincerely envied. In the bushes Lace yelled out, “Forty two meters!” and there was a ragged cheer. Cassandra nodded and stepped back, waved a hand.
Mireille patted Blackwall’s arm, said something that made him laugh as he turned away to trade his hammer for the one Brynn was holding, and he saw her eyes flicker downward across his body before they came up to rest on him, and Cullen looked away instantly. And attempted to drain his glass again. It was already empty.
Maker’s breath, this was going to be difficult.
“All right, some rules,” Brynn said, patting the small table in the center of the room. “If you win, you continue, if you lose, you finish a drink. If you win it all, you get a swig from the Celebrant. If you lose, you must also remove an article of clothing.”
“That’s not an official rule,” Mireille cut in, with affectionate tiredness. “You always want to make it one, but it’s not.”
“It’s an optional but highly encouraged rule,” Brynn said, and stepped back, throwing her arms up. “Who’s first?”
Dorian patted Mireille on the shoulder and nudged past her. “Oh, I think it’s me, oh, look at that, now who shall I challenge? Bull? Yes, definitely.”
“Really, babe?” Bull said, circling around the table. “First dibs, huh?”
Dorian was blushing, just a bit, but he sat down and rolled up a sleeve. “Well?”
Mireille made herself comfortable on the arm of the couch and sat back, because it gave her enough of a view to see how the match would go and it also gave her an excuse to let her eyes wander as she raised the beer bottle to her lips.
There were a lot of people here. Cassandra, drunk off her early victory and, Mireille suspected, whiskey, almost looked sober but for the dark spots of color in her cheeks. Varric was standing rather close to her with a beer in his hand, saying something under his breath that made the captain glance down at him sharply. Sera elbowed Blackwall in the ribs and they both started giggling, and Brynn glanced back in amusement. Had they always been friends? Isabela was talking to Lace, something with expansive hand gestures and the occasional addition by Charlotte over her shoulder.
Bethany was here too, already red-cheeked, accepting a nudge from her sister as she wove through the crowd and came to a stop close to the front, sliding her arm through Cullen’s. It surprised him for a second, jolted him upright. Then he looked down at her with a half-smile. Mireille lifted the bottle again to block her vision.
At the small table, Bull jumped, and then Dorian slapped down their joined hands to an uproar. There was a mischievous little grin under his moustache. Bull leaned forward and muttered something, and Mireille, because she was that kind of person, glanced under the table as Dorian’s leg retreated. Aha.
“Okay, new rule – no cheating,” Brynn announced, as Bull stuck out his tongue. And also reached for the hem of his sweater, before Dorian smacked down his hand. “Who’s next?”
Bethany – probably drunk, sincerely adorable in a red choker sweater and a black skirt – leaned her head against Cullen’s arm and said something that made him blink in surprise.
Mireille drained the bottle and glanced around the basement, at least for an excuse to try and avert her eyes.
“More beer?” Rylen asked, leaning over her shoulder.
“Have you been designated the beer fairy?” Mireille asked, as he swapped her empty bottle for something with a violently green label. Most importantly, though, it was full.
“Captain Pentaghast did suggest I should make myself useful and stop destroying her property,” Rylen replied, leaning against the couch. His accent had somehow gotten stronger. Probably alcohol. “Or somethin’ like that. You’re awfully quiet, lass, that’s uncharacteristic of ye.”
“You’re awfully shirtless. It’s a bit early in the night for that.” She glanced down, in spite of herself, and Rylen winked at her, which made her stick out her tongue.
“You can never get too early a start,” he said happily, raising his own beer and clinking it against hers. “And I lost the inaugural hammer toss, so it’s really Ashton’s fault. And it’s not like you’re complainin’, are ye. How are ye? Feels like I barely see you, even at work.”
Mireille drank before she spoke, because it felt like the right choice, and coughed. “Maker that’s strong, what is that? I’m fine, just ludicrously busy because I’m apparently the only outpatient bloody surgeon they’ve got and you keep bringing me terrible patients.”
“Hey, I just pick up who they ask me to, don’t shoot the messenger.”
She snorted, leaning back, as Charlotte sat down in front of Dorian and propped one arm on the table in challenge.
Rylen elbowed her in the shoulder, gently. “Try and have some fun, right? You work too hard.”
Mireille wrinkled her nose and said, “Why does everyone think I’m not having fun?”
“You’ve got a resting face that could scare a cat?” He patted her on the back, and picked up the twelve-pack he’d been carrying. “Give it a try. The beer fairy is off. Beer, anyone?”
She watched him go, and watched the way his back muscles shifted as he passed the box from one hand to another, more from idle curiosity than anything else.
It was all the same problem, though. You don’t get involved with people you work with, not even casually, because it always falls apart. Becomes dangerous. There’s too much – her eyes glossed over Cullen, the pink in his cheeks, the broad swath of his shoulders, the loop of Bethany’s hand over his forearm – too much…something…
She’d gotten distracted. Fuck.
Mireille tipped her beer back until a warm fuzz crept down her spine and the bottle was significantly lighter in her hand. She hopped off the couch and slipped through the crowd, knocking against a body or two, and sidled up behind Sera, who turned dramatically and pointed a finger at her nose. “You’re not wearing plaid. That’s like blasphemy for you Marchers, innit?”
“Sera, if you pinch me, you’re going to lose teeth.” Blackwall snickered at this.
“It’s true,” Brynn said over her shoulder. “She knocked out my last baby tooth when we were in school. Don’t try her.”
Sera looked like she really did want to try her luck, but just then Charlotte dropped Dorian’s arm to the table and sat back in the chair triumphantly to the exclamations of the crowd, pulling Sera’s attention away.
“It is blasphemy not to wear plaid on Tourney Day,” Blackwall said, grinning. When Mireille narrowed her eyes he lifted both hands, two fingers wrapped around the neck of a bottle. “Not that I’m going to risk my teeth, mind you.”
“Wise choice,” Mireille said, into her beer. “I just don’t own anything plaid.” Not entirely true, but the Trevelyan-tartan scarf in her closet was buried under enough layers of sweaters that she could say it with conviction. “Plus, you’ve all really got tartan taken care of here. There’s enough Free Marches spirit in this room to choke a horse.”
“Yes, I suspect if you cut Rylen in half he’d have Starkhaven written on his heart.”
Mireille wrinkled her nose and said before she could think about it, “You wouldn’t be able to see it under all the blood though.” That made Blackwall laugh into his drink.
Brynn turned back, as Varric came sauntering out of the crowd to try his luck, and she draped an arm over Mireille’s shoulders. “Never change, Miri.”
This would be fine. Standing here, throwing bad jokes at her friends, drinking, this would be fine. There’d be no need to think about – things.
Mireille glanced across the crowd, unable to stop herself, and there was no maroon sweater and no tawny curls, and was that easier, or harder? Maybe the answer was in this beer bottle. Maybe it’d be clearer then.
“So, how long have you liked her?”
Cullen very nearly jumped out of his skin. Bethany just chuckled, patting his hand. She’d sat down beside him without his even noticing, and was that the whiskey, or was that because he’d been staring across the room?
“Uh,” he managed to say.
Bethany rolled her eyes, but she was still smiling. “Please, Cullen, it’s not like you’re particularly subtle.” She gave him a slightly smug look over the top of the bottle. “That’s Mireille Trevelyan, isn’t it? She’s only the third mage to go through both a Circle education and medical school, you know. It’s part of why I wanted to go to veterinary school. If she can do it, maybe some of the rest of us can, you know?”
Cullen opened his mouth. Nothing came out, so he closed it again, and sighed.
Bethany didn’t look put out in the least. “I can see why you like her. She’s so gorgeous. And smart. Don’t feel bad, I’m not hurt, this is clearly something I’ve intruded on, I suspect.” She did, however, lean against his shoulder, her hair tickling his bare forearm. “She’s a little scary, but that’s one kind of gorgeous. Are you going to say something? Or am I rambling? Sorry. I’ve had several of these.” She tapped the bottle against the table, gazing contemplatively into its depths for a moment.
“I think we all have,” he said, glancing down at her. “Are – you’re…”
“Don’t mind me, I’m just…mildly inebriated. Are you ever going to tell her you like her, or do you intend to just stare across the room at her all night?”
Most of the party was still in the basement, the back doors flung open to admit the cool spring night. The captain and Brynn had moved out to the yard to set up a swordfighting event of some kind, and were audibly arguing about Nevarran versus Free Marches traditions on the subject. Dorian and Bull had taken over the basement’s single couch, talking excitedly about something, and Mireille…well, she was standing near the door by Varric, watching Sera attempt to do a handstand on Blackwall’s shoulders out on the grass, a faint and growing smile on her face.
“Cullen,” Bethany said, chidingly, and he pulled his attention back to her. “Staring won’t get you anywhere.”
Before he could stop himself, he said, “Why does everyone feel the need to give me advice on this situation?”
She laughed, raising her beer again with the loose-limbed assurance of the intoxicated. “Because you do appear to be hopeless. If I’d known you were so interested I’m not sure I would have asked you out in the first place, you know. It wasn’t nearly as obvious.”
Cullen twisted the glass in his hand and muttered, “I was not nearly as drunk.” Bethany giggled. He glanced down at her, and added, “If it matters, though, I did enjoy spending time with you. You’re – you’re very…restful company.”
“It’s nice to know.” She rubbed her cheek on his shoulder. “I’ll take the compliment. But you aren’t looking for restful company, are you?”
He picked up his glass before answering. The whiskey didn’t make it easier to think about, but it did taste pleasant, at least. He settled for saying, “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be. I have a feeling you met her first.” Bethany patted his arm again. “And you’re very handsome, and you’re very sweet, but. Well. Rylen’s been wandering about without a shirt, and it’s nice.”
Cullen laughed. “I can’t say I blame you. I’m sure he’d love to hear it.”
“Do you think so?” Bethany grinned, and sat up, and kissed him on the cheek. She smelled like roses. “Maybe I’ll tell him. I hope you get yourself sorted out.”
And she got up and left.
Cullen looked into his whiskey glass. Maybe one more would be enough, which was what he’d thought about this one, which was probably a sign that he ought to go drink some water.
Or he could go get another drink.
With a glass of water in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other, Mireille sat down on a lounge chair and proceeded to enjoy watching her friends beat each other with wooden swords.
Sera dropped into a chair in the first bout, and said, “Piss on swords. Next year we’re shooting arrows.”
“There’s not enough potential for bodily harm here?” Mireille said, gesturing at the impromptu fighting ring, where Lace was currently attempting to wrestle Blackwall to the ground.
Sera just snorted. “Who said bodily harm? I’m a better shot knackered.”
Brynn leaned over her girlfriend’s shoulder and handed her a fresh glass of something. “Is that true? Maybe next year we’ll – Miri, don’t give me that look. We’ll do it sober! It’ll be fine!”
Mireille rolled her eyes and glanced away as Sera looked up and Brynn leaned down to plant a kiss on her lips. Not that she didn’t like them both. It just…
Her eyes skimmed through the crowd, found the blue plaid and the maroon sweater draped over a shoulder, skipped away in time to watch the swords clatter together and then Lace grabbed Blackwall by the shoulder and threw him over her hip into the dirt.
He coughed a couple of times, and Lace dusted off her hands and set them on her hips as the cheering started. She said something Mireille didn’t catch and then helped Blackwall up. His face had turned quite pink.
Mireille grinned into her glass. A mutter in the back of her brain suggested she ought to be a little put out about it, but she was finding it hard to be put out when he looked so shell-shocked as Lace pulled him to his feet. Even if it left her – well, it really didn’t leave her anywhere. She hadn’t been anywhere to begin with.
She found herself skimming the crowd again, and made herself gulp down half the water in her glass and by that time Lace had walked back with her arms spread to accept accolades, and she couldn’t see across the ring anymore.
Bull knocked Rylen over the head, rather gently, and Rylen picked himself up off the ground and sighed. And then turned to Cullen. “All right, mate, up you get. Avenge my death, right?”
Cullen took the wooden sword and gave it an experimental twirl. It was heavy in his hand. He knew how to use it, not that he’d had to often.
Five times, actually, all told.
But it was wooden, and a little too bottom-heavy for his grip, and he rolled it a few more times, then stuck it in the ground between his feet.
Bull held up a finger and Dorian passed him up a drink. He’d already removed his sweater – which had caused every single person in the yard to stop and watch a seven-foot Qunari attempt to get a knit sweater over his horns – and the dragon’s tooth around his neck gleamed in the porchlight. He drank, deeply, and passed the bottle back down. “Nevarran style, right, Sergeant? Don’t make me put my shirt back on.” In the crowd Cassandra pointed at Brynn and said, “See.”
Cullen rolled his eyes and if his gaze flickered across the crowd again as he tossed his sweater aside, well, that was only natural –
When Cullen began unbuttoning his shirt, Brynn stuck two fingers in her mouth and gave him a wolf whistle loud enough Mireille thought she might lose an eardrum.
He just rolled his eyes and picked up the sword. Sera looked up and said, “What, my arms not good enough for you?”
“Honeybee, your arms are my favorite.” Brynn gave her a sloppy kiss on the forehead. Mireille made a face, which both of them ignored. “I’m just proud of our sergeant. Look at him! He’s taking off his shirt. Okay, he’s got one on under, but still, that’s a pretty big step for him.”
“Have you got a tattoo, Sarge?” Lace asked.
“No, Detective,” Cullen said, and picked up the wooden sword again, giving it a twirl. The motion did interesting things to the muscle of his forearm. Backlit by the light from the house, in a white shirt and jeans, sweater discarded, sweat on his skin in the cool air…
Dorian leaned forward, as Bull hoisted his own weapon and the wooden swords crossed with a crack, and whispered in her ear, “You are incredibly transparent.”
Mireille smacked the hand leaning on the arm of her lawn chair. “Shut up.”
“And here I thought – ow, who raised you? Here I thought you were – all right, all right, Maker.”
“Quit wearing so many spiky rings,” Mireille said, shaking her hand out.
“No, they’re my only line of defense.”
“Sure looks like you’ve got a tattoo, mate,” Rylen called from the ground.
“Stuff it, Detective,” Cullen said, circling back around, hopping back to avoid a swipe. Bull prowled after him. He was surprisingly light on his feet for someone so large, and his swings were wide and reaching. Dorian’s eyes flickered after them.
“Now who’s being transparent,” Mireille hissed in Dorian’s ear.
“I am allowed, thank you, that is my boyfriend.” Dorian waggled his eyebrows at her. “It’s something two people who like each other – ” Mireille shoved his face away from her ear about halfway through the sentence and the rest was lost in an indignant squeak.
She should put her gaze somewhere else. Anywhere else. Oh look, a beer bottle, how convenient for hiding her burning cheeks –
It took almost a full minute before Bull finally leaned in far enough and tagged Cullen in the ribs as he lunged forward. There was some cheering. Cullen stuck the sword in the grass and leaned on it for a second, panting, and debating whether drinking quite this much and then attempting a swordfight might have been a mistake.
“Nice job,” Bull said, and patted him firmly on the back. “You’re pretty good at this. Want to try again when you’re sober?”
“Please,” Cullen said, and straightened up gingerly, but the world remained right-side up and his insides remained inside him, which was a good start.
“How long have you had a tattoo, Sarge?”
“Stuff it, I believe I said?”
“Wheesht, just let me see it, mate – ”
Cullen prodded Rylen off with the wooden sword. When he looked up, past Bull leaning down to say something to Dorian, past Brynn who’d taken the sword off him and was rolling her shoulders back, Mireille had a hand over her mouth and was laughing silently.
He ran a hand through his hair, down the back of his neck, and Rylen popped up at his elbow again, looping their arms together. “Hey, mate, those’re some bonny fuckin’ flowers there and I’ve known ye for four years an’, funny, it’s jist occurred to me I’ve never see ya in a T-shirt – ow, fuckin’ heel, that seemed uncalled for.”
Brynn stuck the wooden sword in the ground and said, “Okay, Captain, I’m calling you out. Winner takes all.”
Cassandra stood up, swaying just slightly, and slid her plaid blazer off, folding it in half and then tossing it to the side. Varric caught it out of the air and gave her a little wave. She rolled her eyes, and then did something complex to the front of her surplice blouse and shrugged her shoulders back and it dropped in two halves over her arms, leaving her in – uh – a very complicated looking black sports bra. Her shoulders gleamed.
Mireille blinked. Leaning over her shoulder, Isabela said, “Wow. I really hope she likes women.” Across the circle, Brynn’s face had turned bright pink.
“Well, Detective? Are you going to duel? You can do it Marches style if you prefer.” Cassandra gestured with her sword, a little circular motion.
Brynn looked down at her cutoff Ostwick Owlets shirt and shrugged. “This is Marches style, Captain.”
Cassandra promptly stabbed her. Or as stabbed as you could get with a wooden sword, anyway.
“No fair, I was – uh – distracted. Sorry Captain. Can I just award you the Celebrant already? I think you win.”
She was stabbed again. Mireille started giggling into her glass.
Brynn glared over Cassandra’s shoulder and pointed at her. “Shut up, unless you’re going to pick up a sword next.”
Mireille beamed. Sera called from behind her, “Stab ‘er back, muffin!”
There was a brief clatter and Cassandra knocked Brynn on the head in about ten seconds. Brynn’s face was beginning to clash with her red hair. “Miri, help, avenge me. Bring out your famous sword skills. I’m too gay and useless for this. Sorry Captain.”
Cassandra shrugged, and prodded her off the field. “So much for winner takes all.”
Mireille considered this, then took a quick sip of whiskey for luck and stood up. The world wasn’t wavering too much anymore.
This was probably going to end terribly.
“Not just yet, Captain.”
Mireille shucked off her cardigan.
Compared to Cassandra’s – the captain’s – attire, it was nothing so dramatic, just a sleeveless dress that buttoned up the front, but there was something a little flinty in her gaze that Cullen was finding it hard to look away from.
Beside him, Rylen leaned forward and propped his chin on his hand. “Bets on who’s going to win? I’d put a tenner on the captain. Oi, Tethras, got a bet?”
Mireille accepted the sword from Brynn, who promptly sat down and covered her eyes, and Sera immediately leaned over to mutter something in her ear that made her snort. She glanced back at them, grinned, and then looked over at Cassandra. “If I’d known I was going to sword fight, I would have worn different shoes.”
Cassandra pointed the wooden sword at her. “Do not make me throw a glove.”
“You don’t have any gloves.” Mireille toed off her ankle boots, and tossed them at Brynn, who was still hiding behind her hands.
Rylen elbowed Cullen in the ribs. “Got a bet, mate?”
Cullen glanced over at him and then back at the combatants, and said, “Trevelyan.”
Varric had appeared – carrying the captain’s blazer, he noticed – and raised his eyebrows. “Betting on the underdog, huh?”
In the center of the circle, Mireille wiggled her stocking feet into the grass, and lifted her sword. “Come on, then.”
Cassandra lunged, and Mireille sprang forward, her free hand pressed against the wooden blade to block the strike. There was a resounding clack as Cassandra danced back and struck again and was blocked. Mireille darted back in, sword held pommel-forward with the blade tucked closer to her body and Cassandra’s blade slid under her arm, flicked in and was blocked as she turned, then brought the pommel up to jab into Cassandra’s ribs. Cassandra huffed, and swung again. “You know, half-handing – ” She paused to thrust her sword out again, and was blocked easily, and Mireille swung the sword back around, snapping the pommel close to her hip like she was using a staff instead of a sword. “Half-handing is no longer the accepted Grand Tourney style.”
“Don’t know why, it’s great.” Mireille patted the sword, and then darted in, and was rapped on the knuckles. “Ow. Offsides, Cass.” She was rapped again on the knuckles, and snarling, darted forward and jabbed –
Varric leaned over and said, “How’s it going, Curly?”
His jaw had gone slack. Cullen shook his head, trying to clear the fuzziness out of his vision. “I – fine.”
Rylen snorted. “Sure, mate. Sure.”
Cullen pushed him over into the dirt, which Rylen took remarkably well.
With a yell, Cassandra swung forward, and Mireille ducked clear under her sword and jammed it farther up, tucked her leg behind Cassandra’s, and threw her across her hip and onto the ground.
Brynn said into the silence, “Holy fuck, I did not think you remembered how to sword-fight.”
Mireille lowered her weapon, resting on Cassandra’s throat, her chest heaving, and Cullen stood up and strode forward, first of the crowd to get to her, certainly the first to bend down and press his mouth against hers –
Except he couldn’t move, couldn’t cross the fifteen feet of space, couldn’t do anything but watch.
And the rest of the party began to swarm her, and Cassandra got up and demanded to be shown exactly how that bind worked, and Rylen hauled him to his feet somehow, and she was there in the middle of it all, lost in the crowd, her cheeks flushed and her eyes locked with his until she was hidden from view.
Cullen scrubbed a hand through his hair, probably mussing it beyond repair, and when he rubbed it over his face he found himself almost smiling.
“Remember the first time you beat the shit out of Arden on Tourney Day?”
“Fucking Maker, that was before we were even dating. I took him by surprise. I think I took Cassandra by surprise, fuck.”
“I thought you’d stopped taking classes.”
“I did for a while, but you do five years of something…” Clink. “That’s the last of it. I can’t believe you were – literally – too gay to fight Cassandra.”
“Look – look, quit laughing at me, I did not expect the captain to try and duel me shirtless. Holy fuck. I hate you. Thanks for avenging me, I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Brynn settled back against the couch. “I’m glad you came out tonight.”
“Me too.” Mireille held up the bottle, empty now, and considered it against the light. “Am I supposed to keep this? I don’t really have a mantle to put it on.”
“You’re a terrible Marcher, yes, you keep the bottle.” Brynn flicked it with a fingernail. “Put it in your kitchen, fill it with glitter, whatever you want to do.”
Mireille considered the glass bottle, turning it over in her hands.
“You know,” Brynn said, “if it makes a difference, you seem a lot happier here. I mean, more stressed, probably, but you’ve been…overall, I feel like you’ve been happier here, especially the last few months. Okay, maybe not last month, but – ”
“Yeah, I know.” Mireille crossed her legs. She hadn’t bothered putting her shoes back on, and the toes of her long socks were nearly black. “It’s…yeah. It’s better here.”
Brynn wrapped her arm around Mireille’s shoulders and leaned over so their heads knocked together, gently. “I’m glad you’re here. I want you to know that, because I think I’m going to go find my girlfriend and make out with her for a while.”
“Yeah, go for it.” Mireille patted her on the back as Brynn got up, dusting herself off, and snorted as her friend waggled her eyebrows and picked her way out of the living room. On the recliner, Lace began to snore.
Mireille sat there for a bit, considering the bottle in her hand, then got up. The world spun a little. She decided to ignore it.
It was the quiet stage of the night – everyone either too drunk to stay awake or too tired to continue drinking – and she had to pick her way through sleeping bodies to get through the kitchen. Someone was having a quiet conversation in the dining room. She could just see into it if she crossed the kitchen, and all she could see was a red sweater and long black hair tossed over it and for a second her heart thumped painfully loud in her ears.
And then there was a deeply Starkhaven exclamation of “Wheesht, woman!” and laughter, and Mireille slid back around the kitchen island, and very quietly filled the Celebrant bottle with water from the fridge.
She found herself chewing on her lip.
When she opened the back door, Cullen glanced up, and took the cigarette out of his mouth.
He didn’t stop staring at her as she closed the door and padded over, gingerly, to set the bottle on the porch railing. But he did stub out the cigarette into an ashtray (had he brought his own ashtray? That seemed like something Cullen Rutherford would do) and said, “What are you doing?”
Mireille frowned at him, and he ducked his head, one hand coming up to rub his neck. “I’m – I thought…you’d be busy.”
“I thought you’d be busy,” Mireille said, adding some finger quotes to her eyebrow raise, and popped the cork off the bottle.
He looked away, out into the yard. “No.”
She tilted the bottle back. The water was…distinctly whiskey-flavored. Oh well.
There was a muffled laugh from inside, and then quiet, barely broken by the soft peeping of frogs somewhere down in the woods.
Cullen sighed, looked down, and then turned to face her, propping one elbow on the porch railing. “We can’t keep doing this.”
Mireille scuffed her toe on the ground. In her peripheral vision she saw his shoulders lift in a sigh, then fall, and she said, “I know.”
“But you’re here.”
“I know.” She folded her arms against her stomach and leaned forward on the railing. It was impossible to see more than a hint of texture as the wind shuffled the trees, with the porch light off. “I…look, I – I put so much into my career.”
Cullen blinked at her, and she couldn’t give him more than a glance, it…hurt. It was easy to speak to the yard, the woods, the night sky, but not to his face. “I put so much into it, and it…half of it was ripped away because I…fuck, because I slept with the wrong person.” Her fingers clenched in the fabric of her dress. “And when we were found out, he threw me under the bus. So, you know. I’m…bad at this. I’m a good surgeon, that’s what I am, now. But it took me so long to come back from it.”
“Apparently you’re also a good swordswoman,” Cullen said, and she glanced over at him again, and he was almost smiling.
“Hobby in the Circle days.” Mireille found herself starting to smile too, and made herself look away, down at the grain of the railing. “I – that’s not the point, I…I know we can’t keep doing this, but I probably should have told you.”
“You did.” He pushed himself off the railing and stood up straight, running a hand through his hair. “It’s all right.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to,” she said, and then squeezed her eyes shut in instant regret. “To do this. With – with anyone.” Why was she still talking? “I just – I have so many things I want to do, and after that, there’s…there’s – no room, maybe.” Maker, why was she still talking – Mireille bit down on her tongue, trying to chew back the urge to keep talking and fill the silence. That was what she got for having this conversation inebriated.
“You’re dedicated to what you do,” Cullen said, and sounded entirely earnest about it. “I wish I had half the confidence in what I do.”
She opened one eye. He’d turned red, shifting his tattooed arm closer to his body, and added, “It’s something I…very much admire about you.”
Mireille opened the other eye and cocked her head. “You admire about me?”
This time he met her eyes. He’d managed to go a half shade redder. “Dedication to a career is admirable, don’t give me that look.”
“I’ve never hear you say anything besides ‘superglue is fine for wounds’ about my career.”
“It is, do not get started on that, and of course I admire you, you are – very possibly, the only mage surgeon in the world, Trevelyan, that’s – ” Cullen looked up at the sky, then back down at her, waved a hand in the air. “It’s incredible. You’re brilliant, and even with setbacks you’ve – you’ve put an amazing amount of your life into it. You're incredible. You should be proud.”
She blinked a couple of times. Her cheeks were getting hot. “Oh.”
Cullen deflated a little, let out a long breath, and then swiped his hair back again. It really wasn’t doing much more than tousling it at this point. “And superglue is designed for small wounds. There.”
Mireille swatted his raised elbow, gently, and he grinned. She was still just drunk enough to grin back, an anticipatory shiver running down her spine. Just a little one.
Something must have changed in her face, because he glanced back at the house, then down, and she cut him off as soon as he opened his mouth. “I…for what it’s worth, I think you’re doing your best.”
Cullen frowned and she held up her hands. “I mean – look, Brynn left the Templars around the time I was…around the time I left Ostwick. We didn’t catch up for a couple of years because she was working through the – the addiction counseling. There’s not all that much for Templars who leave the Order, whether they’re military like you or civilian duty, I – I remember what she had to go through.”
“I met her in one of the programs,” he said, rolling his shoulders. A line had appeared between his eyebrows. “They're not kind.”
“Yeah. I wish there was more I could have done – the point,” Mireille said, and reached out and touched his arm, “the point is, it takes doing. It’s not nothing, leaving the Circle, even for a Templar.”
“It’s harder for a mage.” Cullen glanced down at her hand. The lyrium-laced tattoo on her forearm was pulsing a faint blue in time with her heartbeat.
She let him go. “Well, sure, but it’s – it’s still not nothing.”
When she risked looking up at him, Cullen’s cheeks were still faintly red, his dark eyes fixed on her face.
When he stepped a little closer, she didn’t move away.
His hand slid forward, to wrap around her arm just above her elbow, and when he spoke his voice had gone soft and rumbly in a way that made her toes curl in her socks. “I…you said we can’t keep doing this.”
Mireille looked up at him, and then down, and brushed her hair out of her face, if only for something to do with her hand. “I know. I know what I said, I…just…”
His thumb rubbed along her tricep. “You are bad at this.”
“So are you.”
“I know.” He licked his lips, a quick flash of tongue, and ducked his head. “Maker’s breath. I want…I’ve missed you.”
He’d said it before, other times, other places, late at night and early in the morning, but this time the earnest murmur of his voice sent a flutter through her belly, curling up somewhere under her ribs.
“Can we – ” she said, and Cullen leaned forward and kissed her.
It was slow and gentle, and tasted a little more like old smoke than she’d have preferred, but both his hands cupped her face and pulled her up on her tiptoes to reach his lips. Mireille let her hands come up, to rest on his hips, to feel the heat of his skin through the thin shirt.
When she staggered a little on her tiptoes, Cullen pulled back, eyes half-lidded. His mouth quirked up just a little at the edges. “I’m – I hope that was all right. Ever since you picked up the practice sword I’ve wanted to do that.”
“Really? I have to tell you, I thought I’d get trounced.”
“You certainly didn’t look it.” His eyes flickered down over her, back up to her face.
Mireille huffed out a laugh and curled her fingers into his shirt. “You took your shirt off. I didn’t think you wanted anyone to see your tattoo.”
“In my defense, I was…not sober.” Cullen paused, his eyebrows drawing together, and then looked back at her. “It didn’t need to be kept secret any longer.”
“I feel like you’re talking about something that isn’t your tattoo.”
“I am,” he said, and the nerves coiling in her stomach flipped again. It must have shown on her face, because he rubbed a thumb across her cheek. “I…you’ve got good reasons for not wanting to do anything serious, to want to keep it secret, but…”
Mireille reached up to his shoulders and pulled him back down to her mouth so hard their teeth clacked together. Cullen made a tiny noise in the back of his throat that sounded like "ow" but his hand slid to the back of her neck, tugging her upward. Every point of contact, every hard press of his lips, made her skin tingle a little more, warmth rushing down her spine in waves.
She’d known how much she’d missed this, but right now it felt like something she couldn’t consider being without.
“I – missed you too,” Mireille said, when she could breathe again. “I did.”
He smiled against her mouth, so hard that it was difficult to get another kiss out of him for a moment. “I’m glad.”
“Is that what you’re supposed to say when – mmph – when someone tells you they missed you? Oh, good?” She ran her teeth along his lip, and tugged. It got a soft groan out of him.
Cullen pulled back a half inch, which prevented her from biting his lip again. “Are you determined to make this as difficult as possible?”
“Yes,” Mireille said, and he laughed and leaned down to kiss her again. “You’re too tall for this.”
“You’re too short.” He glanced around, then back down at her. “I – do you want to…”
“Maker, I do. Come on.”
“Are you wearing – Maker’s breath.”
“I promise I was not expecting this when I got dressed this morning. I just like these socks. They’re warm and practical.”
“I…didn’t know you owned these.”
“There’s a fair bit you don’t know about my wardrobe, Rutherford. Are you all right? You’re very red.”
“Mhm. Very…ah, yes. Fine.”
“Maybe I should wear these socks more.”
Bright. Very, very bright. Why.
Mireille risked cracking open an eye, and then immediately groaned and turned her head farther into her pillow, which rumbled under her head.
She patted upwards. Broad chest, a v-neck, stubble… “Please stop patting my face,” Cullen said, his voice hoarse.
“Mmph.” She rubbed her cheek against his chest, and decided to let her anxieties about whatever this was turning into bother her later, when it wasn’t so damn bright out. He was warm, and pressing her face against him was helping her headache, sort of. And distracting from the arm of the lounge chair prodding her in the spine.
“Drinking is the worst,” she grumbled, and slid her hand down to the waist of his pants.
“Get out of there.”
“I’m not going in there, I’m just…in need of a handhold. On your belt.”
A hand came down and wrapped around her fingers. “You’re incorrigible. Quit that.”
“You’re too hung over to be using that word.”
His other hand pressed her head down against his shoulder. “Shush. Go back to sleep.”
“Think it’s morning…”
“You’re not sleeping, Trevelyan.”
There was something that sounded suspiciously like a giggle.
Mireille squinted an eye open again, and then dialed it up to a full glare. Lace blanched and ducked back around the corner. The door to the porch squeaked open, and someone said, “Coffee? Anybody – sweet Maker.”
“We are both fully clothed, right?” Mireille muttered into Cullen’s shoulder.
The hand holding her fingers did a quick pat-down. “Seems like. Do you want to move?”
“I think I may die if I do.”
“What the fuck,” Brynn said.
Mireille opened her eyes and sat up, gingerly, because if she didn’t she thought she might lose the entirety of her stomach’s contents. She pressed her hand to her throbbing skull and slid forward until she was actually upright, and glared up at Brynn. And Sera. And Rylen. And Cassandra, and Lace, and Dorian, because apparently every single person they knew had come out to stare at them tangled up in a lawn chair on the porch. Behind her, Cullen groaned through his teeth as he sat up, and then he dropped his head into her shoulder and said, “Maker’s breath.”
And moving was out of the question. Mireille sighed. “I’m not even going to try. This is exactly what it looks like.”
Brynn opened her mouth. Brynn closed her mouth. Rylen nudged Lace with a toe, and she rolled her eyes and dug some coins out of her pocket.
“Were you betting on this?” Mireille said, pointing a wavering finger at them. Rylen shrugged. Lace sidled behind him to escape her glare. Sera looked absolutely overjoyed. Bull appeared from around the corner and said, “Hey! Finally! And you said they weren’t going to get back together, babe.”
Cullen glanced up, and then buried his head in her shoulder again. He’d turned very, very red. “Are you trying to hide in my shoulder?” Mireille muttered to him, and he nodded. She sighed and looked up. “Okay, Brynn, breathe. This isn’t the craziest thing you’ve seen me do.”
Brynn drew in a deep breath and said, very loudly, “Holy fuck. First of all, I was right setting you up, and second of all, holy fuck, and third of all, how long have you been doing this, why does Bull know about this, I am going to kill the both of you for not telling me – ”
Dorian put both his hands on her shoulders and attempted to steer her away, but Brynn was about an inch taller than him and about three inches wider and he made no headway. Bull took over and ushered her off with the rest of the onlookers, and Dorian bent down to pick up the water-filled Celebrant bottle and handed it to her. “Good job.”
“Shut it, Pavus,” Cullen said, flapping a hand at him.
“I wasn’t talking to you, Sergeant.” Dorian winked, and then disappeared. Around the corner Brynn raised her voice and Bull said something that quieted her, and then Sera’s giggling floated around the corner. Then the door opened, and shut, and the conversation was muffled.
Mireille sipped the water, and made a face. “Well, there’s that.”
Behind her Cullen sighed and his arms snaked around her waist. He rubbed his face against the back of her shoulder. “I didn’t imagine it going quite like that when I said we – we shouldn’t keep it secret. You don’t happen to have any painkillers.”
“I have a spell for it, but it doesn’t work on hangovers.” She took another cautious sip, then another. It was chilly out here on the porch, and her skin was slick with dew, and when she glanced down there were a couple too many buttons open on her bodice. The sun had risen on the other side of the house. Just a little warm light made it to the backyard, painting the tops of the trees pink and orange.
The nervousness was still there, churning in her gut, but it was less now. She could almost chalk it up to the alcohol and the headache.
Mireille closed her eyes and said, “Hey.”
“Hi.” His chilly hands came up to her shoulders, rubbing up and down her arms as goosebumps rippled over her skin.
“Thanks.” She squeezed his fingers with her free hand.
Through her dress she felt Cullen press his lips against her shoulder blade. “For what?”
“Staying,” she said, without thinking about it, because if she thought about it she’d probably be listening too much to the part of her that still smarted from years-old wounds, and it was getting a little tiring. “Being here.”
“Same to you.” He pressed a kiss to the back of her neck, and she shivered, and he did it again.
“You know,” Mireille said, “I could really, really go for some sausage.”
“If you’re making a pun, I’m going to – mm. Vomit on you, possibly.”
“Do not,” she said, jerking away from his grip, and he plucked the bottle of water out of her hands. “I have seen enough bodily fluids in my life to have you do that when I’m off duty. I meant breakfast.”
“Are you trying to ask me if I want to go get breakfast with you?” Cullen asked, tipping up the bottle.
“Yes,” she said, more than a little petulant, and blushed.
“Then yes.” He leaned forward, brushed her hair out of her eyes. “Possibly after some painkillers. We’ll have to walk through the gauntlet, you know.”
“We could sneak around the side.”
“Come on.” Cullen stood up. He wavered on his feet for a second, but managed to stand upright, and then extended a hand to her. She took it and let him lever her onto her feet. “It’ll be fine.”
Mireille looked up at him, his hair in utter disarray and his shirt riding up a little high on one hip and his belt fastened a little too loosely, looking, overall, like he’d been ridden hard and put away wet – which wasn’t really a metaphor she’d liked until now, looking at him – and his brown eyes soft and warm, and gave up, and said, “All right, but I’m out of here at the first sausage pun.”
“That’s a bit hypocritical of you, isn’t it?”
“Puns are only funny if I’m making them. Otherwise they’re insufferable.”
“You’re insufferable,” he said, and his hand squeezed hers for a second, and then it slipped away and he opened the door into the kitchen.
Mireille flexed her fingers a couple of times, and then followed him inside.
HOLY FUCK this took a while. i wanted to cap off the jealousy chapter with one big chapter that ended up getting them together, or as together as they're going to be, and BOY. i hope yall feel like it was worth the wait.
-this isn't necessarily the end! i have some pre-FWB stuff sitting in my drafts too. i would still absolutely take prompts for this story at various times in their relationship and fill in the gaps, too -- you can find me on tumblr for that.
-i am also really thinking about going back and shaping up the earlier chapters into a more cohesive narrative with more modern-au worldbuilding. it's pretty obvious these were written out of order, i think! this isn't a priority yet, but i'm thinking about it.
-tourney day is some eldritch combo of st patrick's day and the highland games, yes. there are probably several more events than the ones shown.
-women used to duel shirtless to prevent infection from fibers being trapped in the wound, which is why nevarran style is shirtless.
-half-handing is actually what you're supposed to do with a longsword, but i figure in nevarra and orlais they may have switched to rapier techniques because they're fancy and also half-handing is designed for hitting weak points in armor, which is not necessarily worn at the grand tourney in modern times. (maybe it is. cassandra, of all people, would probably have a full suit of armor even in a modern au.)