Kady Cadash took another sip of her ale, watching a familiar figure on the other side of the tavern over the top of it. The drink itself was just a step above dog piss in her mind, but she'd learned the hard way that it was probably the best Haven had to offer. It didn't make it taste any better, of course. Still, it was easier to force it down when the only option was sobriety.
She'd take piss-flavored barely-alcoholic-enough-to-not-be-called-water over that any day.
Beside her, Dorian let out a surprisingly ungentlemanly-like snort. Cadash pulled her gaze away from its current target and back towards him.
Dorian grinned at her. "Enjoying the view?" he asked teasingly. He made a point of letting his gaze drift in the direction she'd been staring and then back again. "I can't say that I blame you. Commander Cullen is quite the handsome sight, isn't he?"
Cadash tightened her grip on her mug and took a large gulp of ale. She just barely resisted the urge to glance back at Cullen to make certain he hadn't heard Dorian's remark. That was the last thing she needed. Her life was complicated enough as it was without involving an ill-timed attraction to the military leader of the Inquisition.
She wasn't usually attracted to humans, so of course the one time her brain made an exception it had to be someone who was completely off-limits. Cadash didn't really know if there was a Maker or not, but if there was then He had to be laughing his ass off at her right now.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said. "The stench in the Fallow Mire is pretty horrid. Are you sure it's not messing with your mind? Making you imagine things?"
Dorian blinked at her, a hint of confusion making its way onto his face. "I've never been to the Fallow Mire."
Cadash raised her eyebrows. "That can change," she said warningly.
Dorian stared at her for a long moment. Then he threw his head back and laughed, drawing quite a few eyes.
Most of the people glancing in his direction seemed amused or curious, but there were a handful that leaned more towards the "hate" side of things. Cadash made a mental note of those faces so that she could keep an eye on them. Or threaten them. Or ask Leliana to make them disappear. Whatever seemed more fitting. Dorian had saved her life back in Redcliff, and she'd be damned if she let anyone give him grief just because he was a mage or a Vint or whatever it was that people were taking offense to this week.
"Threat taken, my dear Herald," Dorian said after his laughter had finally died down.
Cadash grimaced and took another sip of her drink. "Don't call me that," she muttered. "Cadash works. Or Kady. Or ‘hey you.'"
If anything, Dorian's grin grew a bit toothier. "Whatever you say, Lady Heral—"
"There are lots of undead in Fallow Mire," Cadash cut in pointedly. "You like undead, right? The mages are still arriving in batches to help close the Breach, so I'm sure we can find the time for one last trip before we make the attempt."
Dorian took a drink from his own glass. "You're going to have to get used to people referring to you by titles eventually," he said lightly. Then, after a pause, he added: "Kady."
"Yeah, well, not today," Cadash muttered under her breath before taking another sip of her ale.
A moment or two later, her eyes darted back across the room where Cullen had been standing, talking with a few of his soldiers and pointedly not drinking. She could practically feel her face fall when she noticed that he wasn't there any longer.
Dorian leaned in closer to her. "He left while you were threatening me," he mock-whispered, a conspiratorial smirk on his face.
"Shut up," Cadash grumbled, trying her best to ignore the heat she could feel rising on her cheeks. "Just... shut up."
"Idiot," she muttered under her breath, pointedly ignoring the startled look that one of Cullen's soldiers shot her as she stomped past. "I'm a fucking idiot."
It had been three days, and she still didn't know what she had been thinking. The teasing, flirtatious words had slipped out before she could stop them, and she'd instantly braced herself for rejection. As far as she could tell, Cullen wasn't particularly attracted to anyone, least of all a dwarf criminal who'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time and found herself in way over her head. She'd been ready for him to turn red and start stammering out apologies for not being interested.
Looking back, she thought that she would have preferred rejection. It would have been better than the complete nothing of a reaction that her words had caused. The man hadn't even noticed she was flirting with him, probably because the thought of finding a dwarf attractive had never even crossed his mind. All she'd gotten was a brief "did you say something, Inquisitor?" and then he'd kept on talking about troop movements as if she hadn't said a word.
Maybe he hadn't heard her? It was possible, she supposed, but unlikely. The man wasn't exactly the easily distractible sort. No, he had to have heard her, and instead of turning her down he'd pretended that he hadn't noticed.
At least when Dorian flirted with him, Cullen blushed. It was adorable. But she hadn't even inspired that much.
"Damn it." She resisted the urge to reach out and punch the nearest wall, more out of concern that it might crumble than self-preservation. This part of Skyhold was far from being in good shape.
Cadash abruptly turned towards the edges of the outer wall, propping her arms up on it so that she could surreptitiously pull herself upward enough to more easily see over it. Her feet dangled about two inches off the ground, and she knew from past experience that she had about five minutes before her arms would start aching. Skyhold was many things, but she'd be the first to point out that "designed with dwarfs in mind when it came to its scale" wasn't one of them.
She took a deep breath, breathing in the crisp air. It was warmer inside the keep than outside its walls, presumably because of magic or some other shit like that, but she'd figured out early on that whatever it was didn't work in a few small places along the upper walls where the stone was crumbling a bit. And sometimes a person just wanted to breathe in the cold mountain air when things were stressful.
Cadash went still, and it took quite a bit of effort on her part not to swear out loud. She managed to keep her cursing trapped solely in her head, though, as she slowly lowered herself back down so that she was standing flat on the stone again.
Taking one last steadying breath, Cadash turned around. "Yes, Commander?"
Cullen was standing behind her, a puzzled look on his face. He was probably wondering why she was on a mostly abandoned section of the walkway, staring out at the wilderness that surrounded Skyhold. It was a fair question, she supposed. Not that she could answer it. She'd just wanted a moment or two of peace, not that she'd been allowed it.
She let out a sigh.
Something flashed across Cullen's face, an almost knowing look appearing there for just a second. Then he brought his hand up to rub the back of his neck. "Apologies," he said. "I didn't realize—" He trailed off, his own gaze flickering out over the scenery. "I can't have my soldiers stop their patrols, but I could ask them to avoid this area for a few minutes at least."
Cadash opened her mouth. Then she closed it, tilting her head at him instead.
Cullen could apparently read her face better than she thought, judging by the wry smile he gave her. "I know something about needing to escape for a moment."
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Thank you, Cullen," she said. "I appreciate it."
He gave her a nod, something flashing across his face that she couldn't quite read. "Of course, Inquisitor."
"Do you have to call me that?" The words slipped out before she could stop them. "I do have a name. Two of them, even. You can take your pick."
Cullen's face flushed red, just slightly, and Cadash felt her smile grow just a bit larger.
"I'll keep that in mind," Cullen said awkwardly, reaching up to rub the back of his neck.
Cadash raised her eyebrows pointedly at him.
Cullen stared back at her for a moment before sighing. "Cadash," he said reluctantly.
"See?" Cadash said brightly. "I knew that you knew at least one of them."
A tiny flicker of what might have been amusement went across his face. Then he nodded at her. "I'll have the soldiers avoid this area of the wall for as long as I can."
Cadash nodded. "Thank you, again."
"Of course," he said, giving her a slight nod in return before turning and heading back in the direction that he'd presumably come from.
If she watched him walk away for longer than she probably should have, well, in her defense it was a very nice view.
"... and then Commander Cullen punched him, right in the face! The man was on the ground before he even knew what had happened."
"He deserved it, what with him saying such things about Inquisitor Cadash in public."
"It was so romantic, wasn't it? Him defending her honor when she wasn't there to do it herself?"
"Oh, yes. Very."
Cadash spun around, her eyes narrowing as she watched the two Orlesian women she'd just overheard keep walking past her. Their attention was focused entirely on each other and the gossip they were sharing, paying her no mind whatsoever.
Beside her, Sera let out a disgruntled sound. Dorian chuckled. All in all, neither of those reactions was particularly surprising for them, no matter what was going on.
It wasn't until she heard the sound of coins being exchanged that Cadash spun back around.
Sera had just dropped a few coins in Dorian's hand, a thoroughly annoyed look on her face. When she saw Cadash looking at her, she rolled her eyes and stomped off with a look on her face that usually meant someone was going to be finding something unpleasant in their bed within the next day or two.
After a long pause, Cadash turned her gaze toward Dorian. He gave her an innocent smile that she didn't believe for a moment before dropping the coins that Sera had handed him into his coin purse.
"What was that?" Cadash asked.
If anything, Dorian's much-too-innocent-to-be-believed smile grew even wider. "What was what, my dear Inqui—"
"Dorian," she snapped, cutting him off.
Dorian made a show of rolling his eyes, the movement clearly feigned. "Sera and I had a small wager," he said, looking down as he brushed away a fleck of invisible dirt from his arm. Then he glanced back up at her. "I won."
Cadash kept staring at him as she brought her arms up and crossed them in front of her chest. She wasn't nearly as oblivious as Dorian apparently thought she was.
The corner of his mouth twitched, just slightly, enough to let her know he was pointedly not smirking at her. And that, in itself, answered a lot of her questions while leaving her with even more new ones.
She reached up to rub her suddenly aching temples. "What was the bet?"
"I couldn't possibly break Sera's confidence. She would—"
"Dorian." Cadash shot him an irritated look, making it clear that he wasn't going to just talk himself out of his one. The man was a friend, but even she had her limits. And he was quickly getting close to hitting them. "What was the fucking bet?"
Dorian opened his mouth. Then he closed it, an amused look suddenly appearing on his face. "Well, look who it is," he said. "Tell you what, it looks like Cullen wants to have a word with you. We'll finish our conversation later, shall we?"
Cadash spun around just long enough to confirm that, shit, Cullen really was heading her way. By the time she'd turned back toward Dorian, he was already disappearing around a nearby corner. The man could make himself scarce when he wanted, she had to give him that much.
That didn't mean she wasn't going to help Sera put bees or snakes or whatever she was plotting in his bed that night.
"Inquisitor," Cullen said from behind her.
"We've talked about me having a name before, Cullen," Cadash said tiredly as she turned towards him. "Two syllables. It's even easier to say than Inquisitor, I promise."
Cullen's face flushed just slightly, but that was the only clue that he'd heard her. "Apologies, Inqui—" He paused. "Cadash."
Cadash sighed. "I'll take it," she said. "We'll work our way up to Kady."
The flush on his face grew a bit more noticeable.
Cadash could feel her earlier annoyance already starting to fade away. "Can I help you, Cullen?" she asked curiously. "My reports aren't finished yet. It was raining too much on the way back to work on them."
Cullen didn't quite meet her gaze, and she could feel her curiosity growing. "I just wanted to make you aware of an incident that occurred a few days ago," he said. "There are some rumors going about, and I'd rather you heard about it from me."
"Oh?" Cadash asked. "Is this about whoever it was that you punched?"
Cullen blanched, his eyes darting towards her. "You've already heard?" he asked. "Maker's breath. I can explain, it—"
Cadash held up a hand, effectively cutting him off. "I haven't heard any details," she said. "Just that you punched someone." She tilted her head slightly. "And that you may have been defending my honor?"
She honestly hadn't known that humans could turn that particular shade of red. It was rather adorable, all things considered.
"That's correct," Cullen finally managed to choke out. "At least it was something along those lines."
Cadash shook her head in amusement. "How pissed was Josephine?"
There was a pause while Cullen rubbed the back of his neck, looking up at the sky as if not meeting her gaze would make everything go away. "She was less than pleased," he admitted awkwardly.
Cadash smiled at him, even though he couldn't see if while he was looking away like that. "While I appreciate it," she said, "I'm sure that whatever the said about me, I've had worse."
"That doesn't make it right," Cullen snapped, his gaze darting back towards her in an instance.
She blinked in surprise at the vehemence in his tone. "I'm not arguing," she said slowly. "I just meant that I'm used to it. They're just words."
Cullen opened his mouth as if he was about to say something. Then he shook his head and abruptly, without another word, turned and started walking away.
Cadash stared at his quickly disappearing form.
"What just happened?" she asked the world at large.
"I wanted to apologize for earlier."
"It's fine, Cullen," Cadash said, not even glancing back at him. She'd managed to climb up on top of the wall so that she could sit instead of dangling there with her arms going numb, and she didn't want to risk losing her balance.
There was a quiet huff behind her. Then, a moment or two later, she felt movement beside her.
Cadash risked glancing to the side, not surprised to see Cullen leaning against the wall beside her. With him standing there, leaning forward, and her sitting on the wall's edge, the two of them were almost face-to-face for once. Or, at least, they would be if they were actually looking at each other. Cullen's gaze seemed to be focused on the mountains far in the distance, though, lit up clearly by the moons despite it being the middle of the night.
"The man was disparaging you," Cullen said quietly. "After everything you've done, he was hurling insults simply because you're a dwarf."
"It's not like it's the first time," Cadash replied, her gaze still focused on him even though he was looking away.
"It was the first time someone said anything within my hearing," Cullen shot back. His gaze darted towards her for a moment before quickly moving away when he realized that she was looking his way.
Cadash shook her head, the corners of her mouth pulling upward into a smile almost of their own accord. "You can't punch everyone who insults me."
"Why not?" Cullen grumbled under his breath.
"Josephine might kill you herself, for one," Cadash shot back.
Cullen let out a startled bark of laughter. "That's fair," he admitted wryly, finally turning his gaze back towards her.
"Of course it is," Cadash said, "and if she killed you, then where would I be? I'm pretty sure you're irreplaceable."
The hint of a smile playing at the corners of Cullen's mouth faded. "I wouldn't say that, Inquisitor," he said. "There are several talented military leaders in the Inquisition now. At least a few of them could easily take my place, if needed."
She snorted. "Hardly," she said, reaching out to pat him on the shoulder. "I'm sorry to tell you this, Cullen, but you're one of a kind."
Cullen shot her a flustered look. "Cadash, please, that's—"
And, because the world apparently had a sense of humor, that was when she finally lost her balance and went falling off the edge of the wall. Luckily she fell backwards instead of forwards, but it still hurt both her back and her pride when she hit the stone floor behind her.
She blinked up at the night sky. "Fuck," she muttered under her breath.
"Kady!" Cullen was kneeling beside her within a moment, his eyes wide. "Are you injured?"
Cadash blinked at him. Then her mouth twisted into a smirk. "You do know my given name after all," she said. "Now that I know that, you have to keep using it. I like hearing you say it."
Cullen stared at her blankly for a moment before his face flushed bright red. "Maker," he muttered, leaning back to give her room to push herself up into a sitting position. "You're going to be the death of me."
"What can I say?" she asked with a shrug. "You're pretty when you blush."
Then she grimaced as she realized exactly what she'd just said. One of these days, she really needed to get her mouth under control.
Cullen, for his part, turned even redder as he looked away from her. "I wish you would stop your teasing," he said. "I know you don't mean anything by it, but still."
Cadash snorted, despite her best efforts to hold it back. "Who says I don't mean anything by it?" she muttered her breath.
Beside her, Cullen went still.
Cadash shot him a concerned look. "Cullen?"
He turned back towards her, and she felt her breath catch in her throat at the expression on his face. She'd seen that look before, but never on him. And definitely not aimed at her.
"Oh," she said quietly. Then, before she could lose her courage, she leaned forwards and up just enough to press a quick kiss against the corner of his mouth before pulling away.
Cullen stared at her, wide-eyed. "We should talk," he finally managed to choke out.
"Probably," she agreed, her own voice a bit strangled.
Then she reached out to grab his hand, entwining his fingers with hers. His gaze darted down to focus on their hands before moving back towards her face.
Slowly, ever so slowly, he started to smile.
She smiled back.