“I found them!” Cheers erupted around the table as Varric entered the tavern, the three Trevelyans following closely behind him. “Deal them in, Ruffles!”
Eve chose the seat next to Blackwall and briefly exchanged a smile with him as she sat down. Rickard pulled up a chair beside Cassandra, draping an arm around her shoulders and kissing her on the cheek. And Lianna sat next to Cullen, taking his hand under the table and entwining her fingers with his. He sighed as conflicting emotions swirled in his head. Ordinarily, he would be grateful for any opportunity to spend time with Lianna, but cards, drinking and large social gatherings didn't feature highly on his list of favourite pastimes. He pushed back his chair.
“You seem to have enough people. I have a thousand things to do.”
Varric waved away his protests. “Curly, if any man in history ever needed a hobby, it's you.”
“I have enough hobbies, thank you,” he retorted, a little more defensively than he had intended.
Dorian chuckled. “Losing money can be both relaxing and habit forming. You should give it a try.”
“Cullen.” Eve's sapphire eyes glared at him. “You are going nowhere. And that is an order.”
“You heard Storm. Are you really brave enough to disobey the Inquisitor?” Varric asked, with the grin of a man who knew he had won.
Lianna laid her hand on his arm, and the words he had been about to say dissolved on his tongue. “Please stay?” She gazed at him hopefully, a warm smile gracing her lips. “It'll be fun.”
He couldn't say no to that smile. “Alright,” he said. There was no harm in staying for one round, was there?
“...The poor recruit walked into the dining hall in nothing but his knickers.” He told the story through suppressed chuckles, enjoying the shocked and delighted expressions he saw as he glanced around the table. “And this... profound silence fell over the hall as seventy mages and thirty Templars all turned to stare at once. Then a slow round of applause began. And spread until every soul was on their feet. A standing ovation.”
Josephine covered her mouth with her hand to hide her laughter. “What did he do?”
“He saluted, turned on his heel, and marched out like he was in full armour.”
“He did not!” Cassandra's deep brown eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Good man,” Dorian remarked.
“You're shitting us!” Iron Bull declared with a roar of laughter.
One person wasn't amused. Rickard scowled at him over his cards, his eyes two green daggers. His sisters, on the other hand, were enjoying themselves immensely, giving him meaningful looks and giggling.
“Is there anything you'd like to add to that story, Minstrel?” It seemed that Varric had also noticed Rickard's lack of mirth.
Rickard turned his glare on Varric. “No, I'm fine, thank you. Nothing to add.”
“Two hundred eyes gaze as one,” Cole intoned. “Nowhere to hide. Clapping hands, as loud as thunder. Face on fire, but unable to run. Have to pretend that nothing is wrong.” He stared into Rickard's face. “You had to do it. It made you one of them.”
“Please stop talking.” Rickard's cheeks were beginning to turn red.
“You never told us about the standing ovation, Ricky.” Eve sounded genuinely disappointed. “Why not?”
“Because I was hoping to preserve at least some of my dignity.” Rickard shook his head in disgust. “Maker's breath! Betrayed by my own sister!” He sighed in defeat. “Alright. It was me! Cullen's story was about me! Are you all happy now?” Another round of laughter answered his question. “I'll get you for that, Commander,” he muttered.
Cullen grinned back at him. “Well, here's your chance. Deal again, Josephine.”
Perhaps it was the ale, or maybe it was the thrill of the game. Or maybe it was Lianna's presence beside him. But whatever the reason, this was... far less painful than he had been expecting. In fact, it might even be... Yes, he thought, this might even be fun.
“And the dealer takes everything!” Josephine announced triumphantly. “I win again.”
“Deal again.” Cullen drained the last of his ale and placed the empty tankard down on the table. “I've figured out your tells, Lady Ambassador.”
“Commander!” Josephine exclaimed. “Everyone knows a lady has no tells.”
Oh really? “Then let's see if your good fortune lasts one more hand.” I've seen the way you smirk every time you get the cards you want. I've heard you sigh when you don't.
“I'm not losing any more coin to Josephine,” Rickard remarked, his good humour restored. “But I have got to see this.”
“Me too.” Eve pulled her chair in closer and rested her elbows on the table.
Lianna took his hand again, and for a moment he was lost in her eyes, emerald green, just like her brother's. “Good luck,” she whispered, before settling back to watch the game unfold.
“Four Knights!” Josephine declared. “I win!”
Cullen groaned. “Don't say a word, dwarf.”
“I tried to warn you, Curly,” Varric said, making no effort to hide his laughter.
“Never bet against an Antivan.” Josephine giggled, and then fixed him with a mock-stern expression. “Your pants, Commander.”
His cheeks burning, he slid out of his small clothes with as much dignity as he could muster and handed them to Josephine. Cheers and whistles accompanied his actions.
“Well,” Varric remarked, “all I have to say is that Angel is a very lucky woman.”
Lianna buried her head in her hands as a deep shade of red spread across her face.
“I'm leaving.” Cassandra pushed back her chair and stood up. “I don't want to witness our Commander's walk of shame back to the barracks.”
“I'm going too.” Rickard rose from his seat and offered Cassandra his arm. “I have my revenge now,” he added with a grin.
Eve and Blackwall were next to leave, hand in hand, and then the room slowly emptied until he was left alone with Lianna.
“Oh dear.” Lianna lifted her head from her arms.
“I am never playing cards again,” he muttered.
Lianna giggled and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “That's too bad. I would be lying if I said that part of me didn't... enjoy watching you lose.”
“I do not need help embarrassing myself in front of you.”
“You're still blushing.” She gently brushed his cheek with her fingertips. “It's adorable.”
“Maker's breath.” He sighed. “Do you think there's any chance we can get out of here without being seen?”
“I was afraid you'd say that.” He rubbed his neck irritably. “What are we going to do?”
Lianna thought quickly. “You could borrow my jacket. It would cover... something, at least. Here.”
It didn't help. Lianna's jacket, tailored to fit a small, slight woman, was no good for a man of his height. “I suppose this is the best we can do. Maybe if we run?”
Taken off guard, they both spun around to see Iron Bull filling the doorway.
“How long have you been standing there?” Lianna gasped.
“A while,” the Qunari admitted in his deep voice. “I'm not sure if it's the alcohol or the good company, but I'm in a good mood tonight. And I'm feeling generous. So here you are.” And he began undoing the belt that held up his striped trousers.
“That's very kind of you, Bull– Oh, dear Maker!” Lianna cried.
“What's wrong– Oh!” Cullen turned away quickly, but the sight was already etched into his memory. Oh dear Maker indeed.
“Take them,” Bull continued, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. “You can give them back in the morning.” And he strode out of the tavern without another word.
“Well.” Lianna found her voice. “That'll give the people of Skyhold something to talk about.”
“It certainly will.” He picked up Bull's trousers gingerly. They were far too big, and Bull had been wearing them all day, without any– No, he didn't want to think about that. But they were better than nothing. “I must look ridiculous,” he complained as he pulled them up.
“Maybe a little.” Lianna wrapped her arms around his neck and briefly captured his lips with hers. “Now come on. The sooner we get back to our quarters, the sooner we can get you out of those ridiculous clothes.”
Her mischievous smile and the saucy glint in her green eyes brought fresh heat to his cheeks. “Lead on.”
His dignity was in tatters, he had lost several sovereigns, and he suspected he might wake up with a sore head tomorrow, but later, as he lay in bed, Lianna asleep in his arms, he had to admit that he had rather enjoyed Wicked Grace Night.