Chapter 1: Coffee and Cocoa
Huddling before the tiny space heater in her dorm room, Sera curls closer to her side, the two of them bundled in warm clothes, with four comforters wrapped around them, and still Hanali and Sera can see their breath in the iciness of the room. Leave it to the crappy heating system to go out, in the middle of winter, during, not only, the coldest day of the year so far, but a blizzard , as well. “Sh-sh-shitey f-f-f-flipbags. Th-think th-ey’re g-g-gonna fix it, t-t-t-today?” Sera stammers out, her teeth chattering as Hanali curls up against her roommate’s side, pulling the sleeves of her cheshire striped sweater down around her wrists.
“I-I-I dunno.” Hanali answers, when there is a light, but sharp, tap on the door, before it opens to reveal a bundled up Dorian, adorn with a thick purple blanket.
“Alas, heats out here as well.” Despite his chattering teeth, the mage manages to sound as flawless as he can be. “Come come, dry those weepy eyes, and let us retire to the Herald’s Rest, where there is heat, and free warm beverages!” At the invitation, both girls perk up, stumbling to their feet to wrap a blanket around their shoulders each, and stumble towards the door while drawing together with Dorian, before leaving the freezing dorms to brave the storm. Snow bites and burns as Hanali, Sera, and Dorian all huddle together, and the mage manages enough strength to cast a low power heating spell over the three of them, though it does next to nothing against the icy wind, and harsh weather all together. Stumbling into the Herald’s rest, the three off them shove the door shut, using all of their weight to make sure it latches, drawing weary and tired gazes towards the unwelcome cold of the sweltering heat of the coffee shop. Dorian gestures towards their usual empty corner, the pile of extra blankets on the padded rug brings Sera to dive into them, curling up as Dorian settles into them as he rests against his usual thick and elegant beanbag chair, and Hanali sheds the extra lay of a comforter to waltz over to the counter, a mental list prepared for the others that she knows will be joining them.
“What can I get you?” The blonde antivan behind the counter inquires, shooting her a flirty grin as she rolls her eyes.
“Two cocoa with french vanilla creme, and extra whipped foam on top- Make it out to Hanali, make that last, and the other to Cole. A tall, nonfat, chai soy latte with a caramel drizzle- Make it out to Dorian. A caramel frap with extra whip - Josie. Cinnamon cocoa with a vanilla creme- Sera. Raspberry white chocolate mocha - Cass. Unicorn frappuccino- Hawke, Pumpkin Spice Latte- Leliana, and, last one , I promise. Classic vanilla latte with cinnamon on top- Amell.” The elf just smirks leeringly at her as he finishes writing down her order, and wiggles his eyebrows at her. “Got everything?”
“Everything but your phone number.”
“Look,” She narrows her eyes at his nametag. “Zevran, I’m cold, tired, and thirsty. Go away .” With that, she turns on her heels of her snow boots, and slinks over to where her friends are, Leliana, Josephine, and Cassandra are already sitting in their usual places in the corner as well as Hana slumps down in her swing-a-san chair, drawing her blanket around her shoulders as she pulls her feet up into the chair, crossing her legs in her seat. “I swear that barista gets worse every time I order.”
“ Ignore Zevran, you know he’s harmless.” Leliana states, causing Hanali to let out a hum of acknowledgement, leaning back in her swinging chair as her eyes are drawn to the storm outside, the onslaught of fat white flakes causes her to shutter despite the warm of the campus coffee shop.
“Hello Cole, nice of you to join us.” Josephine says, looking up from her book as the blonde young man joins the group of oddballs, weirdos, and misfits. Nobody really knows where Cole came from, or if he’s even a student, but he’s taken to the small group like a moth to flames, almost always silent, except to speak up with something extremely haunting, that usually leaves people feeling light, but a bit of an awkward air afterwards.
“And accompanying him are Amell and myself!” Terra announces as she pops up beside Cole, her black hair pulls up with a long bandana to dry it off from the slush of the outside, and Jenette slips quietly into her beanbag chair, pressing her glasses up her nose, before cracking open her history book, and pulling her pencil out from behind her ear, working on her homework as the group falls into their usual pattern. Dorian, Josephine, and Leliana all gossip as Josephine reads the latest book for her class, while Cassandra, Terra, and Jenette all work on their plans to present to the elusive soccer captain, to help win, and Cole is copying Sera’s notes as the blonde elf naps in the warmth of the coffee shop, only waking up to get her cocoa with Cole, making Hanali grateful that Zevran had listened to making her drink last.
“Han-ali? Hanli?” Pressing off her chair, she starts towards the counter, noticing that it’s not Zevran reading her name off, but an unfamiliar blonde man with golden eyes. “H-Ha-”
“It’s Hanali.” Hanali says gently, stepping up to take the warm cup from the large man’s hands, their fingers brushing as he stares at her. “It’s a difficult name, I normally go by Hana, but there are maybe twelve other Hana’s in the school, so I didn’t want our orders mixed up.” Hanali blushes as she realizes that she’s rambling, and he’s still just staring at her. “I- uh- you can let go now.” She says, causing him to snap into attention, shutting his mouth to give her a sheepish smile, releasing her cup of cocoa to rub the back of his neck.
“Sorry, about that. I’m uh, I’m Cullen.” He grants her another sheepish smile. “I’m the, uh, captain of the soccer at Inquisition Union, I know you from Alistair and Jenette.”
“Oh, right! So you are the elusive soccer captain.” Hanali smiles at him, brushing her fringe from her eyes. “Yeah, I remember you from the first day, the sort of initiation thing that the school had in the auditorium- Alistair introduced me to you before he went on stage to announce his retirement from the soccer team. I didn’t realize that he was trying to tell me that you were the new team captain.”
“I, uh, yeah. We’re kind of sponsored by the same person.” Cullen gives her a friendly smile. “Varric Tethras?”
“Oh, so you’re another pet project of Varric’s?” His brow crinkles as Hana blushes. “I didn’t mean that in a bad way, I mean he does sponsor me for the Chantry’s Dalish Outreach program. I just meant, he’s started on another pet project, already.”
“Yeah, he’s split the sponsorship with the Soccer Team’s sponsor.” Cullen explains.
“Bull? Wow, I’ve never heard of a joint sponsorship before, you must be something special.” Hana giggles at the blush that burns from Cullen’s roots down to below his shirt. “Anyway, thanks for my cocoa.”
“A-Any time. I know that you’ve chased Zevran off so many times. He’s not a bad guy, it’s just how he was raised.” Hana raises an eyebrow at Cullen. “Not defending him!” Cullen’s in a rush to explain. “I just thought, I’m usually working from the time class ends, until closing, you can always request me, to make it easier on you.”
“Oh,” Hana blinks in surprise, before giving the ex-templar a brilliant smile. “good to know.” She nods. “Thank you, Cullen.”
“Y-You’re welcome.” He rubs at back of his neck, giving a nervous laugh as she hums in thought, before turning on her heels to walk away. Dropping back into her seat, Dorian and Sera both give her shit-eating grins as she sticks her tongue out at her two best friends, glancing over at the counter to see Cullen pouring an espresso, and she slumps down in her chair, sipping her cocoa with a smile as she hears a loud crash from the barista behind her.
Chapter 2: Stood Up
It’s not an uncommon scene, the past few years, for her to sit in a booth, or at a table alone, at a random restaurant, waiting. She’d hoped this time was different, just like every time before, before she should’ve known. Sipping her water, she scans the menu once more, before checking the time on her phone, feeling the burning stares of other patrons around her, feeling embarrassment burn her cheeks as Jenette shoots her a concerned look as she walks up to her, dressed in her waitress outfit, a pitcher in her hands. “Can I refill it for you, Hana?” Jenette offers as Hanali nods, brushing her shock white fringe from her bottle green eyes once more, and the crystal before her is refilled as Jenette looks at her friend with a soft smile. “Do you want to order something?” Hana checks the time on her phone once more, shaking her head.
“Why don’t we… give him five more minutes.” She doesn’t know why she’s holding out hope that this stranger will show, but five minutes turns into ten, which then trails into thirty, and when Jenette offers to fill her glass, Hana waves her off, taking the crystal from the vacant place across from her, sipping on the water from the glass. Soon, the packed restaurant becomes less and less crowded, and as she hides her eyes behind her fringe, tears burn and brim but she refuses to let them shed in public.
“Hana, I’ve leaving.” She looks up at Jenette, in her casual clothes. “Do you want me to give you a ride home, I know you walked here.”
“I… No.” Hana shakes her head, forcefully smiling at the girl across from her. “I can manage, beside, he could just be having car problems.” Even she doesn’t believe her own words as Jenette stalls, then nods to her with a soft smile.
“I’ll see you at the dorms.” Jenette says, starting towards the door as Hana checks the time again. This is the last time I let Isabela set me up on a date. She thinks to herself as she picks up the menu, using reading it as an excuse to hide the few tears that manage to slip down her cheeks.
“Hello, my name is Cullen and I’ll-” Her menu falls to the table as he falls silent, eyes wide as he recognizes her. “Hana?” She looks up at him, then folds the menu shut, and sets it on the table.
“Hi, Cullen.” She winces at the break in her voice, old music flows around the two classmates- Jenette Amell and Alistair Therin had introduced the two of them years ago, in high school, and they became good friends.
“Hana, what’s wrong?” Cullen asks, kneeling down to place his hands on hers that are folded in her lap over her black netted skirt.
“Nothing!” She forces herself to smile, shaking her head as a tear trails down her cheek.
“No, really, it’s nothing Cullen.” She stands, pulling a ten from her wallet as he stares at her, she folds it into his hand, and turns away, grabbing her coat as she starts towards the door, and realizes, looking around, that it’s nearly closing, and she’s the last customer- Cullen was doubling as a guard and server? Shrugging on her coat, she leaves the warm restaurant to step out into the chilly autumn night, each heavy breath she takes comes out in a visible puff, and tears finally start to fall as she leans against the wall, head in her hands as her shoulders rack with muffled sobs. It’s not an uncommon scene, to see Cullen worry about Hanali, he’s never seen her break, he’s always admired her strength, she seems like she can hold the strength of the world on her shoulders, and will still be strong. But, seeing the snow haired, dark skinned elf standing outside of the restaurant, shoulders shaking as tears and whimpers escape her, the blonde haired jock doesn’t seem to know what to do, so he slowly walks up to her, pulling her into his arms, and holding her close as she buries her face in his chest, and cries.
“Come on, Hana.” Cullen carefully leads her back inside the restaurant, having her sit down at a table, where he carefully wipes away her tears with the pad of his thumb as he kneels before her. “I’m going to be right back, I just need to talk to my boss, and then I’ll take you back to the dorms, okay?” She sniffles, nodding as she reaches for a napkin to wipe her face free of the terrible mascara streaks, and Cullen watches her for a moment, before he stands, hurrying towards the back. He comes back not even fifteen minutes later in jeans, a button down plaid shirt, and those cowboy boots he enjoys so much, shrugging on his coat as he grabs her by the arm, pulling her to her feet, and rushing her towards the door.
“Cullen?” She asks softly.
“Keep walking.” He says softly, wincing as there is a slam of the office door, and a steaming, huffing and puffing older man with thinning brown hair stomps out of the office, shouting for Cullen who continues to rush them out the door, and towards his car, as soon as she’s buckled in, he blasts the heat as he reverses out the next to empty parking lot, and peels off down the street.
“Cullen,” She notices his knuckles are bone white against his grip on the wheel. “what’s wrong?”
“Why were you crying?” His abrupt question causes her to fall silent, and he glances over at her as he lets up on the speedometer. “I thought you had a date tonight.”
“I did. Isabela set it up… we were meeting back at the restaurant.” She rubs her hands against the material of her skirt.
“How long did you wait?”
“I lost track after the fifth hour.”
“Maker’s breath, Hanali, why didn’t you just leave?”
“I don’t know. What happened with your boss?” Her change of subject doesn’t slip past him, but as thick flakes of snow start to come down, he slows the car down more to that they’re safe on the way back to the dorms.
“Because he wouldn’t let me leave, and you needed me. I called him a cold hearted son of a bitch, and a sleaze, and said that he’s going to be reported for his roach infestation. Then I quit.” He hadn’t expected her to start crying again, as he glanced over at her, but he panicked as tears started to trickle down her cheeks, and she started to sniffle. “What what? What did I do wrong?”
“No, it’s just… you didn’t have to do that for me. I’m sorry I made you quit.” She whimpers, turning away to hide her face, and he rolls the car to the shoulder of the road, putting it in park as he reaches over, and pulls her into a hug.
“You’re more important than a job that I barely get paid.” He chuckles, rubbing her arm as she hugs him close. “Besides,” They pull apart as he looks into her eyes. “I was planning on quitting after that shift, because I got a better job on campus.” He brushes her fringe from her eyes, and smiles at her. “Why were you crying?” He asks again, causing her to look away, and he sits back to start driving again, his brow furrowing as he swallows thickly. “Hana, I just want to help.”
“It’s nothing, it’s dumb- I don’t even know the guy, so there’s no reason for me to be crying.” Hana answers, tugging her skirt down, and shifting back and forth in her seat.
“You were hurt. But, such a reaction wasn’t warranted.” Cullen points out, causing her to bite her bottom lip, and she crosses her arms over her chest, frowning as she stares out the window at the scenery passing by. “Are you upset that he stood you up?”
“No!” She snaps, finally turning to him as her hands clench into fists, she narrows her eyes at him before letting out a reluctant sigh, shoulders drooping as she bows her head, shifting away from him as far as the car allows. “It’s just, if a complete strange who hasn’t even seen my face doesn’t want me, then what’s the point? I’m obviously not good enough.” She trembles as her face contorts, and she swallows thickly against the lump rising her throat. “I wonder sometimes… If I even deserve to be loved.” His mouth falling open as he glances over at her, eyes wide with his eyebrows raised.
“What?” He manages to struggle out.
“I just don’t feel like I deserve to be loved, like if I was meant to find love, I would’ve found it by now.” She states.
“Hana!” Cullen shakes his head, pulling into the parking lot of the college campus. “Hanna, listen to me. You’re going to find love, it’s not like anyone is destined to be alone.”
“How do you know?” She insists, avoiding eye contact with him now. “I thought that-” She feels her cheeks start to burn, and she shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter what I thought, it’s not real.”
“What’s not real?” Cullen inquires turning to her as he parks the car outside of her dorm, watching her unbuckle as he reaches out, grabbing her arm as she goes to open the door. “Hana,” He breathes, she freezes at their close proximity, her olive orbs caressing his medallion orbs. “Hana, please, what’s not real?” Her heart rapidly beats in the cage of her ribs, rattling the bones as the pulsing fills her ears, little did she know that Cullen’s having the same troubles as he slowly reaches up, his thumb caressing her cheek as she ducks her head.
“Nothing, Cullen.” She states, ignoring the feeling of hurt prickling and puncturing her heart as his face falls. “Thank you, for everything, and… good night.” She presses a kiss to his cheek, before she opens the door to the sleek black car, slipping out into the cold night, and Cullen watches as she dashes through the heavy snow, and up the steps of the dorm.
“If she looks back, she feels the same.” He whispers, reminding himself of Dorian’s words. Hanali pauses as her hand grabs the door to the dorm, she glances over her shoulder at the car, before slipping inside as Cullen pumps his fist, smiling before he puts the car and drive, start towards the other side of the campus, towards his dorm, a smile firmly in place upon his lips.