Cullen wiped shaking hands on the leather and cloth of his breeches, eyes sliding away from her like worn-down shoes on ice.
“I can’t. Which is not--I want--It’s not you, believe me, you’re amazing--but I can’t. I can’t.”
Something in her chest deflated, collapsing under its own weight and leaving behind an aching emptiness that radiated through the bones of her sternum.
“I thought you said you hadn’t taken a vow of celibacy,” she bit out, heart pounding. Part of her wanted to set him on fire for flirting with her so much and then doing this, but another part wanted to stroke his face and hair and tell him it was fine. He looked like he might either bolt or faint and he flinched at her words, one shoulder drawing up and away from her. He turned to face the wall.
“No! Not won’t, can’t. I physically cannot!” She raised an eyebrow, watching as he gestured with his hands. “It’s--sometimes lyrium, for some people, men especially--I hoped it would go away if I quit, but it hasn’t, not yet? And I’m scared I might not ever….” he trailed off, shivering now. The permanent chill of the heavy stones of Skyhold couldn’t be helping his nerves. It certainly wasn’t helping hers.
“So….what,” she sighed, using her words to probe at the idea like a flinching fingertip at the edges of a wound. “You can’t feel anything anymore? You don’t want it?”
“I couldn’t please you,” he admitted miserably, walking over to the wall and leaning against it with one arm. “You deserve a man who is….functional. Who can make love to you as you deserve. And I can’t. Not yet, maybe not ever. Not since the lyrium, when I was eighteen,” he spat, his voice vicious, and his eyes and mouth tense with shame and anger.
But she blinked, one hand falling open from the fist it had clasped into at her side.
“Wait,” she wavered. “Is this just about erections?”
He turned, glaring at her for a moment before his eyes dropped. Slowly his eyes blinked closed, open, his mouth forming a tight O as he sucked in breath to calm himself.
The sigh of relief she heaved at this seemed to catch him off-guard, judging by the way his eyes widened and his brow wrinkled up over his nose. But she just laughed, giddy with relief, arms still clutched around her sides for reassurance.
“I didn’t want to say,” she admitted, and this time her belly fluttered. It was her turn for mortifying revelations now. “But I don’t want that anyway. I don’t really….like. Being touched there. I like sex,” she hastened to add, seeing his eyes widen. “I like it a lot! Much more than I should, maybe, I got in trouble with the Templars in the Ostwick Circle, got punished for ‘corrupting my fellow mages’ and ‘leading them into temptation.’ But getting fucked is a bit like sticking something up my nose. It’s not a very nice sensation.”
At this, Cullen's mouth dropped open and his eyes went wide, and the look made her hasten on. Even though she knew saying more would probably end up pouring oil on the flames of awkwardness, she couldn’t help the words, now.
“I did try!” she defended, face hot. “There were several boys, good mages, all of them, who tried very hard. And one Templar, but he wasn’t supposed to do that so don’t tell anyone. But it didn’t feel like anything at all, just a sort of boring thumping that hurt when they got excited, so I gave up on that and tried other things?” As she searched his face with her eyes, her mouth ran on and she wished she could make it stop. She didn’t want to be telling him this, it was shameful and humiliating and would surely make him give up on her and let the glowing spark of sweetness between them smother into ash.
But she just couldn’t seem to shut up. “I even tried it in my ass a few times, but that was worse. I did it right and everything, made them use oil and fingers, but it just felt like I was gonna shit the bed. Which--not erotic, but I tried, I tried so hard, Cullen! I really shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s no different when I’m alone, even. I just don’t like having stuff stuck up me! I lie face down with my legs closed and just kind of squirm when I’m--” her face felt like the inside of a forge now, hot enough to make metal glow. “Not relevant. The point is that even if you could get it up, I’d have no use for it.” Finally the words stopped on their own, leaving her twitchy and fumbling. For all of three seconds. "There’s other things we could do?” she offered, trying to fill the silence.
“I don’t--” Cullen began, and then stopped, looked down, drew a deep breath, and let it out slowly as he ran a hand through his hair. “Maker’s breath, I’m terrible at this and you’re no better. I’m sweating inside this armor fit to turn this breastplate into a soup tureen. Can we just start over?”
“Maker, yes,” she agreed. “Just forget the bit where I said that taking a cock feels like picking my nose. Please? Fuck, I just said it again.”
At this he laughed, his handsome face creasing up as his eyes squeezed closed. Shaking his head, he leaned back against his desk, resting his backside on it.
“I can….come,” Cullen admitted, looking pained as he did so and having to take another deep breath after the short sentence. “If I concentrate and touch myself just right. I just can’t….you know. Get….up.” He waved a hand evocatively. With wide eyes she nodded, trying to encourage him in silence because if she opened her mouth again she knew something awful would fall out of it again. But he seemed to have finished what he wanted to say, and he lifted big expectant eyes at her. The moment stretched and stretched.
“You mentioned other things we could do?” he stammered at last, shoulders up around his ears and a curl hanging into his eyes. He needed a haircut, not that she really minded. “I don’t….I’ve not had much experience. Any, really.”
At this she couldn’t help the astonished snort of laughter that escaped, but he took it wrong and looked away from her again, his face darkening.
“I’m not laughing at you, I’m sorry!" she hastily added. "It's just--you’re so handsome and everyone fawns all over you all the time and you’ve never!--and I don’t even like most of it and I’ve done it a lot.”
This got a snort from him too, and his shoulders dropped just slightly. “Yes, well. Maker, what a pair we make.”
“I’d like to make a pair with you,” she blurted, which got an amused smile from him, so she plowed on. “I really would. You’re gorgeous, and so devoted, and stern with the recruits so they learn, and you work so hard, and--There’s all sorts of things we could do. I like sucking them soft as well as hard, and there’s your ass rather than mine, or I could just get off with you--”
It was remarkable that the room was still so cold, given how red-faced and mortified they both were. But they finally met each other’s eyes again, and both of them burst into giggles.
The days she got to stay home at Skyhold lay few and far between, so it took months of awkward fumbling to get them to a point of ease with each other. Everything they tried resulted in Cullen going red from scalp to nipples and apparently trying to both run away and sink into the mattress at the same time.
But they wound up with him bent over his desk, mewling as she worked her fingers slow and steady inside him. And this time, though his face was red, she could tell it was from pleasure rather than shame.
“Maker, I didn’t--I never did this by my--just like that, please, please--!”
His hands jerked on the smooth polished wood, shoulders rigid as he held his torso still for her. He couldn’t help the little jerks and stutters of his hips, though, and it made her clench up inside just looking at him. He was so soft and tight around her fingers that she could barely think. Every time she dragged the pad over her fingertip over that spot inside him, the muscles at his opening fluttered. Sweat prickled around her hairline, her clothes too constricting for the way her heart swelled and skipped.
Cullen unraveled one breath, one pulse at a time. His whimpers rose in pitch and volume until the only sound in the room was the faint rattle of the contents of the drawers and the high-pitched keening that was now the only sound he seemed able to make. She waited. He was close, she knew it, didn’t have to be a blood mage able to see his mind in order to read it in his body.
Between one held breath and the next the tension spiked. His spine arched, hips curling down, and his sounds cut off like he’d been choked. She watched the muscles bunch around his shoulders and then he clamped down around her fingers, the strength of his insides nearly pushing her out. But she pushed back, working at him as he pressed his mouth into the meat of his upper arm to keep silent, at last letting out a muffled wail.
One heartbeat, two, and then she saw it, semen sliding down the inside of his knee even though his sex still hung soft and heavy against his thigh. She stopped at once, smiling, letting her aching wrist go lax at his tailbone.
Cullen’s forehead made a soft thud as it hit the wood of his desk. “Maker’s breath,” he wheezed, one trembling hand stretching out behind him in her direction. When he caught the fabric of her tunic he grasped at it, apparently not having the strength to do more.
She wondered if this was supposed to be an indication that she should do something, but she couldn’t tell what it was, so she just nestled her hip up against his side, standing close beside him.
“I had no idea," he whispered, and then chuckled weakly. "All the sudden I think I understand Dorian and the Bull rather better.”
She laughed. Then she helped him to stand again on legs shaky as a newborn foal's. This time, the fingers of both his hands tangled into her clothes, clutching her close to his belly.
“I’m wet down the inside of my trousers,” she admitted against his mouth as she kissed him, embarrassed but hoping he'd like the information. “You were so gorgeous, can it be my turn now?”
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked. For an answer, she shifted one leg to the outside of his thigh, pushing down against it. He took the hint, lifting it for her so she could rock back and forth on it.
It was not only her turn for relief but for embarrassment, it turned out. She couldn't bear to see his wide-eyed look of awestruck wonder so she hid her face against his neck, her knees locked and toes clenched inside her boots.
“Just hold still, please,” she begged. “I’m so close already, just--”
His thigh was just right, flat against the front of her where she was hot and wet and twitching inside her clothes. “Just let me, let me--”
“Please, I want you to,” he murmured in her ear and she was done, shaking apart just like he had.
Afterward, naked together in his drafty loft and bundled up under layers and layers of fur and fabric, he smiled at her. The single bedside candle in its glass lamp barely illuminated his features, but it gave enough light to see that the lines between his brows had smoothed.
“I didn’t know it could be like that,” he confided, lacing their fingers together. “I thought I couldn’t ever have that with anyone. But you’re just....wonderful.”
“No you,” she countered, and fell asleep with him chuckling softly in her ear.