The night is almost upon them in earnest, and Felan is feeling an ache behind his eyes brought on by the stress of yet another meeting, and the ensuing arguments unlike- minded people are wont to have. Felan had been mostly agreeable with his advisors suggestions, and deferred to their level-headed judgements thus far, but tonight, he’d put his foot down - and figurehead of whatever the Void he’d stumbled into or not - not all were completely happy with Felan’s final decision to collect the mages from Redcliffe and face this bloody magister. And the decision was final. He’s thankful Cassandra had been on his side to press the issue as more than just a glorified rescue mission, and Leliana, bless her, had sealed the deal. Dorian’s confident assurances hadn't hurt, either.
Walking into the orange glow of the Singing Maiden, Felan shrugs off his hood and throws his cloak off his right shoulder as he quickly scans the tables. Maryden’s soothing voice drifts over to him from where she plays dreamily on her lute, fireside. He’s about to approach the bar when a familiar, gruff voice calls over the tavern murmurs.
Felan turns to shoot a smile at Varric, and in turn, he’s nodded over to the comfortably-crowded table with the added bribe of a lifted bottle in the hand of Dorian - the contents of which Felan hopes is something to his liking. He takes a seat opposite the two men, and Sera snickers joyfully beside him as they bump shoulders. Creators, she’s already piss-drunk, or nearly on the verge.
Dorian nudges the dark glass bottle his way and Felan gladly takes it, uncorking it and releasing the warm, pungent tones that set his spine tingling with anticipation.
“I hear you’ve a predilection for whisky. Bottle’s on me, by the way… so drink up. Maker knows we’re going to need it.” Felan takes a large swig and all at once, he practically feels the nerves throughout his body breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Varric peers into his tankard, taking a near-imperceptible inhale before speaking to Felan. “So, Dorian here tells me you’ll be heading back out to Redcliffe in just a couple days. You sure you’re ready for this?”
Setting the bottle down, Felan chuckles darkly. “No… but I suppose I should be ready for anything now, mm?” Felan arches an eyebrow at Sera, who snuggles her straw-yellow head onto his shoulder, apparently ready to doze. Maybe that’s for the best, he thinks.
“Besides,” Dorian starts, “I’ll be with him. I just hope Alexius can be reasoned with… He’s gone entirely too far - further than I thought him capable. Perhaps with the help of Felix, and your Spymaster’s men quashing some of the Venatori hold on the castle, we can pry Alexius from the grip of this zealous madness ‘The Elder One’ has him in.”
“Yes, well… let’s just hope he isn’t too far gone,” Felan trusts something in Dorian’s sincerity - something he gathers is a rare occurrence to be witnessed - and hopes his gut isn’t wrong about him being a formidable ally in this. “Thank you, by the way - for intervening and speaking your piece in the war room tonight. I needed all the helpful convincing I could get. You made quite the entrance with remarkable timing.”
Felan didn’t miss the way Dorian’s fingers play at the well of his throat as he smirks; the firelight around the tavern gilding his handsome features. Mythal, but he could be distracting. “What can I say? I like to be seen and heard. Although, your man certainly was a hard sell. Is the Commander always so tightly wound?”
“Who? Curly?” Varric laughs, shaking his head. “Cullen’s seen some shit, let’s just put it that way. Don’t take it personally, Herald. I think it’s just in his nature at this point.” Felan can understand that to a point, but he doesn’t want to be treated as both a leader and something fragile. He knew little of Cullen’s aversion to mages, being an ex-Templar. The man would always go quiet, then change the subject or become purposefully vague when Felan would prod for more about his time at Kinloch Hold and Kirkwall both.
He feels a little sombre as Maryden begins singing words that hit a bit too close to home at the moment. “Well, he doesn’t need to baby me. If everyone wants my help, they need to trust my choices, as well. If not, I might as well be thrown back in a damn cell…” Felan takes another burning swallow of whisky. It isn’t particularly good, but it still takes the edge off, and unfurls the tension in his muscles with a false warmth that floods his body. “It’s not as if it’s their hands that are marked, or their lives on the line when we don’t even know what the Void this all is yet!”
“Fucking stuck up suit of armour, him.” Sera stirs, repositioning her head on Felan’s shoulder. The three men still for a moment, waiting for more until it becomes clear Sera has her foot more so in the land of unconsciousness.
Varric sighs. “That’s the thing, kid. It’s all of our asses if something happens to you, no matter which way you slice it. It’s a shitty hand to be dealt, but it’s the one you got, so make the most of it. Bluff if you have to - just smile that wolfish grin of yours, nod and agree - then do what you need to. You’ve been doin’ alright for yourself so far, Snow, and you’ve got a lotta people coming to stand by your side because of it.”
“It certainly sounded as if your Lady Seeker saw your stance before I came to your aid.” For a split-second, Felan is about to nod in agreement with Dorian until his brain snaps-to, wondering how the Void Dorian would have known that... unless he’d been listening-
“-What?” Dorian quickly lifts his cup to his mouth to hide his feigned innocence.
Varric deftly interrupts the beginnings of their nonsensical line of questioning. “Cullen’ll ease up. Just keep proving you’re right and he’ll back off. He’s trying, I’ll give ‘im that. And heeeere I thought you two were getting real chummy. Hm.” Seemingly contemplating that, with a look Felan can’t quite decipher, Varric pulls a piece off the loaf of crusty bread in the middle of the table and shoves it in his mouth.
“We were! ...Are. I just… perhaps I’m overreacting, I don’t know, Varric. It just felt like he was so quick to give up on the mages because it’s going to be dangerous,” The word drips from Felan’s mouth with heavy sarcasm. “As if nothing I’ve done has been dangerous since the fucking Conclave…”
“Ughhhh, shut ittttt, you bleak shits...!” Sera whines from her perch. Varric pulls off another piece of bread, breaking it in two, then nails Sera right in the forehead, and Felan in the chest with the other half.
“Wh- Hey! Why me?!” In Felan’s shock, he jostles Sera a bit.
“Right, who the frig?!” When Felan glances at his shoulder, Sera just tries to reposition herself with a deep scowl etched in her freckled features. He doesn’t think she’s even bothered opening her eyes.
He glares up at a laughing Varric, who just shrugs half-heartedly. “Varric,” he names the culprit. Sera then struggles onto one arm, lifting herself up, squinting across the table at the guilty party.
“Frigging go back to your stoney-whatever-it-is-guild... paperweight-cave whatevers.”
“Shaperate??” Varric lets out a full belly laugh. “We’ve been over this, Buttercup, I wasn’t born underground.”
She reaches for Felan’s bottle as he takes a sip. “Ah-ah! I think you’ve had quite enough.” He stops her and receives a sharp shove for it.
“Oh, piss off, you…” Felan gets one last sneer from Sera, then they watch as she lays down along the bench next to him, mumbling more slurred words under her breath. “Talk about…. Babying… you….”
“Sh, shhhh… there’s a good girl, sleep…. Let the adults do the talking, there you go.” Dorian shushes her until something catches his eye somewhere behind Felan. “Uh-oh.”
When Felan turns, he sees a runner close the tavern door behind him, then peers about the place - clearly searching for Felan. Felan quickly turns back around, pinching the bridge of his nose. Lovely. Wonderful.
“Well, kid, think that’s your cue, unfortunately. Never a dull moment, huh?” Varric takes another drink from his tankard as he and Dorian seem to watch the runner’s movements behind Felan.
“Has he seen me?” Felan asks, fingernail picking at the worn edge of the whisky bottle’s label. Right - as if he didn’t stick out like a sore thumb around here with his pointed ears and white hair.
“I don’t think - yes.” Dorian frowns. “Quick, hide under the table - preferably on my side.” He winks. And Felan feels a little piece of his resolve crumble with the blush that heats his cheeks better than the whisky.
The runner approaches the side of their table, a look of confusion and momentary distraction clouding his face when he sees Sera passed out next to Felan. Felan just looks up at him with a genial smile, impatiently dreading whatever words are about to come out of this young man’s mouth.
“Ser,” He gives Felan a curt little bow before continuing. “The Commander would like to speak with you.” Out of the corner of his eye, Felan can see Varric listening with rapt attention.
Felan asks, “When, now??” But he already knows the answer. Wishful thinking, and all that.
“He said right away if you weren’t busy, ser.”
“If I’m not busy…” Felan mutters. “I’ll be there momentarily, thank you.”
Another little bow. “Your Worship.” Felan rolls his eyes as the runner leaves them be. Before he heads out of the Singing Maiden, he tells Varric and Dorian they’ll meet up in the morning to discuss his decisions on who the mission party will be for meeting Magister Alexius at Redcliffe Castle, and what the plan of action will be. Glancing down at Sera one last time, he removes his cloak to drape it over her and bids his friends (at least he hopes Dorian soon proves to be one) a goodnight.
The air outside is a little more bitter, but somehow refreshing as well. Felan resituates the scarf around his neck and begins his chilly, bracing walk to Cullen’s tent. He watches the sky as he walks, and grimaces internally. At night, the Breach always seemed more eerie, more tangible. At once thankful for the shem-boots on his feet, Felan trudges through the dirty, red-brown slush, reaching the soldiers’ little lakeside encampment. The glow of the Breach looms over the frozen water in all its viridescent wrongness, dark clouds roiling in the opaque reflection. It makes his stomach turn and his throat feel tight.
Felan walks up to Cullen’s tent, unsure of how to proceed. The wintry air has cooled some of his temper, at least. Hm… shall he announce himself before he enters? Cullen knew he’d be coming, so surely it didn’t matter. He brushes his hair back and tries to look around inconspicuously. Unfortunately, he quickly realises there are still a few soldiers and runners loitering about here and there - some watching him with withering glances. Felan decides to trade one awkward situation for another and lifts the tent flap.
“Commander?” Felan walks in and sees Cullen hunched over a worn trunk- apparently a makeshift desk, judging by several papers strewn about the top and the small inkwell and quill set safely to the side. Cullen glances up from whatever was causing the little furrow in his brow, and seems a touch caught off guard by Felan’s voice, going ramrod-straight when the tent flap drops behind Felan.
Felan notices at once that Cullen is without his usual fur-mantle and cloak, somehow making him appear much more intimidating in his fully-exposed armour. Felan crosses his arms tightly across his chest - suddenly feeling self-conscious of his rangy form. “I know I told you to call me by my name, not that… title when we’re alone. Though I’m still working on that with Cassandra, as well...”
Cullen walks out from behind the large trunk towards Felan with a crooked grin firmly in place. “And yet you addressed me as ‘Commander’ just now.” Damn.
He ignores that comment and inhales deeply before pressing on, keeping his voice as even as possible. “You needed something?” Cullen continues to approach, stopping just a couple feet in front of Felan.
“Ah. Well, no… yes,” Cullen looks down at his feet, right hand going to rub the back of his neck. “Actually, it is you that needs something. An apology.”
Felan smiles, throwing his weight to one hip. “Oh? Let’s hear it, then.” He already looks terribly ashamed, but oh, how Felan loved to make the man squirm. It was almost as good as having Cullen blush furiously whenever Felan came onto him in minute little ways. Sighing, Cullen gets a bit nearer to Felan, and Felan curses himself for feeling the faint tinge of his own blush rise in his cheeks at their closeness.
“I was… out of line, and I wasn’t feeling myself. I may have uh, let my past judgements and experiences cloud the situation. And for that I’m terribly sorry, and I know full well it's no excuse.”
Fucking bloody puppy-eyes, ruggedly handsome piece of - Felan scowls. “Cullen, you became one of the few people here who treated me like a person, like something more than this bleeding mark on my hand! But in there...” Felan points back behind him in the direction of the Chantry. “Tonight you made me feel like nothing but a means to an end.” His chest begins to heave with an angry feeling of betrayal, and he doesn’t much care if anyone hears his raised voice.
“Maker, no! I-”
“I thought you trusted me! ...I thought you finally fucking trusted me.”
Cullen turns on his heel and takes a few short, frustrated paces before he looks back at Felan. “That’s just it! You are more! And I do trust you! This isn’t about my own damn hang-ups, Felan. If something-” He quickly moves back into Felan’s personal space, and Felan clenches his fists at his sides, ready to defend his opinion and decisions again. But Cullen’s voice loses its growl, and his expression softens as he looks directly into Felan’s eyes. “If something were to happen to you - to you, in going to take back the mages… I couldn’t forgive myself. We don’t know what more this magister is capable of, and I fear for you.”
Felan knows his eyes have gone wide as a scared halla’s. “Cullen-” But Cullen doesn’t let him speak, not yet.
“I’ve begun to fear for you everytime we send you out there…” His voice goes so incredibly hushed; words almost laced with pain. “I have nightmares where the dread becomes real, and you don’t come back. Every other day it’s something so much worse that we set you up for. And I worry my fears will be warranted in a few days time… that something will happen, and you won’t come back. And if not this, than something else, I don’t know... Maker’s breath… because you mean more than just that mark on your hand.”
To quote Varric: Well, shit. Felan’s mouth goes dry, and he desperately tries to think of something witty to say to cut through the heaviness blanketing the mood around them. “I’ll come back. I always do. I’ve made out alright so far, haven’t I?” He tries to smile, but Felan knows it’s weak. “Cullen, I’m not going anywhere. I'll come back… I promise. ” He gently places a hand on the cold metal of Cullen’s arm, wishing he could feel the warmth of the man hidden beneath.
Without warning, Cullen rushes him; hand moving around his waist, fingers splaying and palm pressing into the small of his back, pulling Felan against him. All sense of self disappears when Felan registers what’s happening. Cullen’s mouth on his - Creators end him now if this isn’t real. Their mouths move with a shared need that deepens infinitesimally with each passing second. Cullen parts his lips at the first hint of Felan’s tongue, deepening the kiss all at once with a terrible sense of urgency. Felan can’t ever remember being kissed with such naked desperation.
They shamble backwards with the force of the kiss - Felan nearly colliding with Cullen’s cot in the process, but Cullen steers them around it, and to where, Felan doesn’t know - nor does he much care. With one hand, he slides his fingers along Cullen’s jaw - the dark stubble rasping and catching the leather of his glove - and up into pale golden waves. He presses himself up against that damnable armour, while his other hand scrambles against the seam where Cullen’s gorget meets his breastplate, taking hold of one leather strap, and tugging. Felan sways a little off balance, having to be on tip-toes to properly reach Cullen, and Cullen seems to take that as a chance to break them apart. Felan catches himself before he can whine in frustration, but Cullen doesn’t go far - pressing their foreheads together, their pants turning into a volley of anxious breaths.
This has to be real, Felan thinks. The feeling of Cullen’s hand cupping the side of his face certainly feels real, not to mention the heated tension in his gut. He worries about breaking the moment wide open with one word, but Cullen does that for them both. “I’m sorry. What am I doing?” Cullen whispers so damn close to Felan’s mouth, that he just wants to kiss him stupid; save the reasoning for later. Just stay close. Please don’t leave me now. Felan almost wants to laugh as he wonders if that’s what Cullen has been thinking all this time.
Felan wills himself to gather something that resembles composure. He keeps his voice just as hushed as Cullen’s. “Well, Commander… you’re going to watch me walk out of here, then wait an unsuspicious amount of time before you come knocking at my cabin door. To finish our mission discussion, of course.” Felan holds his breath in anticipation for Cullen’s reaction.
And Cullen’s scarred smirk doesn’t disappoint. “Are you ordering me?”
Reluctantly pulling himself away from Cullen, Felan walks the few feet to the tent entrance. From there, he can fully appreciate the way the lantern light heightens the blush along Cullen’s cheeks and neck. “I wouldn’t dream of it. No, the choice is yours, but I hope you don’t keep me waiting.” Felan turns to leave the tent, but glances back over his shoulder at Cullen, and he swears he sees that blush deepen. “And Cullen? I’d lose the armour.”
Back at his hovel, Felan feels like laughing at himself, quite honestly. What in the Void is wrong with him, seducing the Inquisition’s commander?? His commander. Truth be told, it isn’t as if he hadn’t tried previously, but Felan figured it was all in vain; just something to entertain himself with, until the two had struck up an unlikely friendship. Felan prided himself on weaseling through Cullen’s metaphorical armour, finding a man with a quiet, dry wit and a soft sadness Felan couldn’t help but feel a kinship to. Soon, it began to matter less about how attractive Felan found Cullen, and more about finding a collective bond with a soul that carried past and present burdens upon its shoulders. Something in Cullen’s sorrowful, topaz eyes made Felan want to tell him everything; feeling as though secret hurts shared would only remain between the two of them. But Felan also had to remind himself, even now, that it didn’t mean Cullen would or could feel the same.
After lighting a couple sconces about the room, he busies himself with changing out of his warm leathers and into a loose doublet and woolen leggings, then adds more coals to the large iron brazier in the room. What is he supposed to do now? Pace? He stands beside the brazier, absorbing the flames’ warmth and watches out the window across the room as dainty little snow flurries begin their slow, sporadic descent to the earth. Pretty. He’d not seen much snow travelling around the Free Marches all his life. And he definitely wasn’t accustomed to the freezing temperatures, by any means. Felan moves to stand at the window, hypnotised by the downward float of each tiny flake, some catching on dry, red-orange leaves yet to fall away from their homes amongst the barren branches of a nearby tree.
Felan is pulled from his reverie by two gentle knocks at his door. Instantly, it feels as if fingers wrap tight around his quickly beating heart. He begs his legs to bring him towards the small front room, and for the briefest second, Felan thinks he might scream if it’s anyone other than Cullen on the other side of that door. When he opens it, he’s greeted with a dark, yet hesitant look from a very flushed Cullen. The man shirks eye contact when Felan gestures for him to enter. It’s odd - seeing him like this - even out of his armour, Cullen is a towering presence to Felan, but as he removes his signature lion’s mane-like cloak, his entire being softens and his posture relaxes.
“Here,” Felan walks them into the main room and motions to a chest not far from the brazier. “You can lay it out to warm, if you’d like.”
“Ah… Right, thank you.”
There’s no mistaking that Cullen is still all hard edges beneath his threadbare tunic - the colour of which reminds Felan of the spongy moss he used to collect and use for bedding. He chastises himself for the comparison at a time like this. He felt like an awkward, bloody teenager. When Cullen turns back to him, Felan inches closer, moving a hand along his right side, feeling Cullen’s muscles twitch and tense as he drags his fingernails across the fabric to the plane of his back.
Felan looks up at him, using his sly smile for his own selfish wants. “You came.” He almost rolls his eyes when Cullen raises his hand to nervously rub at the nape of his neck again.
“I didn’t want to disappoint. And I… um, wouldn’t want to miss the end of our important discussion.” A faint smile as he looks into Felan’s eyes. He drops his hand from his neck in favour of running those fingers along the close-crop of hair at the side of Felan’s head, then up along the narrowing point of his ear - slowly, so hesitantly. Mythal preserve him…
Clearing his throat, Felan starts, “He has a sense of humour,” He tightens his hold in the fabric at Cullen’s back, directing him closer until their bodies finally, finally touch. “I sometimes forget.” This time, Cullen smiles in earnest at that, and the enticing darkness in his eyes returns and takes over. Felan had known a darkness like that once, dangerous and familiar - a shadow to blanket himself in; dark lust turned to love-corrupted. He pushes away those memories. Not now. Cullen is different. Cullen is safe.
“Then I suppose I’ll have to make an impression more memorable.”