It was a dreadfully slow night. Dorian hated working weeknights – it was hardly worth his time over summer break. Redcliffe was a college town, booming 9 months out of the year… but absolutely, depressingly dead for the other three. Since classes ended two weeks ago, the town was utterly deflated. Most of the students had packed up and gone back to wherever it was that they called home, while most of the professors had hightailed it out of town on vacation. This left just the handful of lucky residents who called Redcliffe home year round.
Dorian turned baleful gray eyes toward the window that looked out onto the main parking lot. The lot was nearly empty. There was hardly anyone left in town as it was; even fewer, it seemed, who wanted to have dinner out on a Tuesday evening.
Vishante kaffas, I have better things to do with my time, Dorian thought bitterly as he remembered the stack of reference books sitting on his desk at home. His scowl deepened as his mind turned to his thesis, which was still a draft… and not even a complete draft. If he was being entirely honest with himself, it was still more of an annotated outline, really.
“At this rate, it’ll take another year just to get the blasted draft done,” Dorian sighed heavily.
He’d been working two jobs to make ends meet since his parents had unceremoniously cut him off. Not surprisingly, this had taken its toll on his academic pursuits.
“Hey arseface! What’s got you so puckered tonight?” as always, Sera’s words were crude, but she looped her arm through Dorian’s, and her eyes were kind as she grinned up at him. “You’re no fun when you’re all grumps and grumbles, yeah?”
Dorian chuckled, “It’s just so… damn… pointless! I’m losing my mind. I can actually feel myself losing my mind. How can you stand it, Sera?”
“Oh, you know me. I make my own fun,” she winked, “Cheer up, you. Josephine said she’s going to cut you in 15.”
Dorian’s face brightened with delight.
“Maker, it’s about time. Maybe tonight won’t be a complete and utter waste,” he laughed as he again thought of all those books just ready for him to explore.
“Oh, shit,” Sera breathed, “Nevermind.”
“What?” Dorian asked as his gaze returned once more to the parking lot. Astonishingly, two cars were pulling in. And one of them was a mini-van.
Well so fucking much for getting anything done tonight!
It had been a terribly long and exhausting day. Captain Rutherford of the Redcliffe Fire Department parked and unbuttoned his uniform shirt slowly. The last 24 hours had been trying, and he was more than ready to be just plain old Cullen again. No one’s life hanging in the balance, no one’s well-being depending on the calls he made. He pulled the shirt off, aching muscles grumbling as they stretched with the effort. Wearing only his white undershirt now, the captain took just a moment to lean his head against the backglass of his little pickup truck in silence.
He closed his eyes and tried valiantly not to think about the last truck roll – the one to Kinloch Apartments.
He failed, of course.
There hadn’t been much they could do. His company made sure the fire didn’t spread from the group of apartment buildings that sat at the circumference of the roundabout in the back of the property. But that was about all they could do. The Circle, as the locals had called it, was no more than smoking ash this evening.
At least they had gotten most of the people out.
But not all, he thought with a heavy sigh. As always, his heart broke for the families of those they couldn’t save. It never got easier. He brought a calloused hand up to his forehead, massaging his temples to relieve some of the pressure there.
Cullen was drained and starving. All he wanted in this world was to eat something he didn’t have to cook himself, go home, and pass out for roughly the next 24 hours… before it all started again. He turned his truck off, opened the door, and made his way into the restaurant, following the family of four who’d pulled into the parking lot at the same time he had.
“Will it be the five of you?” the dark-eyed hostess asked in a rich voice, thick with an Antivan accent.
Cullen could feel the judgment in the appraising stares of the family as the father spoke up, “No. It’s just the four of us.”
The captain knew the figure he cut. Bags under his eyes, mussed hair, skin a little too pale from lack of sleep and proper nutrition, wearing just his uniform pants and a white undershirt… he knew he looked more than a little like he didn’t belong in polite society at the moment.
He also didn’t care. He was hungry, dammit, and at least the undershirt was relatively clean.
The hostess returned and, with a polite smile, asked him if anyone was going to be joining him.
“Sadly, no. It’s just me,” Cullen replied, a rueful smile playing at the corners of his scarred lips.
“Sera,” the hostess called out, “Sera?”
A small, blond elf appeared at the dark-haired lady’s side.
“Oi, Josie! You should sit him in Dorian’s section,” Sera said with a grin.
“He’s got that family. Sit this gentleman at table 15, if you would be so kind.”
Sera nodded, took the menu this “Josie” handed to her, and walked Cullen into the dining room.
“Well, here it is. Go on and sit down, I guess. Want something to drink?” Her tone was heavy with resentment. It was clear that she wanted to be anywhere else but that dining room, serving him drinks and food. Cullen was clearly an inconvenience to the young woman, and he felt his frustration rise as she stood with her arms crossed, waiting on his response.
Great. All I wanted was a quiet meal and some rest after the shit I’ve seen today… and I can’t even get that. Andraste’s tits, woman, of course I want something to drink. What are you going to ask next – if I want something to eat, too? Fuck.
None of that ever left his lips. What he said, instead, was “Just a water for now, please.”
Shit, I wanted lemon in that, he thought as she stomped off toward the kitchen.
The captain huffed and opened the menu. He didn’t get far into it, however, before a flash of crisp white against caramel skin caught his attention. Cullen looked up from the menu and his golden eyes widened as he recognized the other server on duty tonight. He didn’t know the man’s first name, but everyone knew his last: Pavus. Even here in Ferelden, that name represented wealth and power. Cullen was shocked to see their only son, the heir apparent, working as a waiter in Redcliffe.
Cullen sat back in his chair and examined the man, forgetting how raggedly exhausted he was. The son of House Pavus looked the part, even as he patiently took appetizer orders shouted above the din of two overly-excited young children. He wore the standard uniform servers were required to wear, but the clothes seemed somehow… better on him. Cullen struggled to find a word that he’d had rare occasion to use, and grinned when he was finally successful.
Tailored, he thought, his clothes are tailored.
The captain’s eyes shifted easily over the other man’s form, lazily appreciating the way well-fitting clothes brought out the man’s finer qualities. The white button-up shirt had clearly been pressed, but the man wore it with the collar loose and his sleeves rolled up, revealing forearms tattooed with symbols Cullen didn’t recognize. He assumed they were Tevene. The contrast of the white shirt against the man’s smooth, dark skin was enticing, and Cullen found himself momentarily transfixed by the movement of the little muscles in the man’s forearms as he wrote down the family’s order.
Cullen realized he was staring and shifted in his chair, trying to concentrate on the menu again.
But he… just… couldn’t. He peered over the top of the menu as the beautiful man reached across the table to collect the family’s menus.
Nice ass, Cullen thought as his tired mind crafted an image of how that ass might appear in his bed, perfectly bare and ready for him. With a jerk, Cullen snapped upright. He felt his cheeks flush with heat as he looked around the room guiltily, glad that he’d kept that thought to himself.
Finally satisfied that no one could sense what he was thinking, the captain buried his face in his menu with a scowl.
I’m better than this. Better than oogling some stranger at a restaurant. Maker, I must be tired to… well, to be thinking things like that.
Cullen’s eyes paid his thoughts no heed, however, and betrayed him yet again as they strayed back to the striking man three tables over.
Gray eyes met golden as the man flashed a brilliant smile at Cullen before he turned back to the kitchen.
Oh, Maker. How can one person be so… beautiful?
“Maker damn it!” Dorian hissed as he entered the kitchen, “Josie must have it out for me, I swear. How else would I get stuck with the two snot-nosed special snowflakes and their holier-than-thou parents while you get… well, you’ve seen him.”
“Hey, now. Don’t get your panties in a wad with me – I tried,” Sera’s tone was cheeky as she added.
“Yes, I know, and I do appreciate it ever so much,” Dorian ran a hand through his hair and looked at his reflection in the stainless-steel cabinets, dismayed at how tired he looked.
Sera fidgeted beside him, chewing her lip.
“Fine,” she finally said.
“I’m sorry?” Dorian turned to her, one eyebrow raised.
“Fine, I’ll switch. But you owe me BIG TIME, Tevinter,” she offered as she poked a single index finger into his chest, “BIG TIME.”
“I… thank you, Sera. But that family really is beastly. You really don’t have to…”
“Pfft, I can handle them. You already did the hard work, didn’t you?” she smiled, concern in her eyes, “I figure you could use the break. Nice easy table. Easy on the eyes…. Well, yours, anyway.”
Sera stuck out her tongue as she pushed the door to the dining room open.
“Oh, that’s his water there, by the way,” she called cheerily as the door swung shut.
“You haven’t even brought him his water yet?!” Dorian exclaimed after her… but he was smiling all the same.
Nice, easy table.
Easy on the eyes.
Well, there’s an understatement, Dorian thought as he grabbed the glass of water, took a breath and walked out into the dining room. The man with the beautiful eyes sat studying his menu, the slightest tinge of pink coloring his pale features. It was obvious to Dorian that the man had seen better days, the aura of exhaustion surrounding the man was almost palpable.
But there were laugh lines around his eyes and a softness behind the sadness that made him… very appealing.
Those muscles in that deliciously tight t-shirt don’t hurt either, Dorian thought with a smirk as he reached the man’s table.
“I do apologize for the delay,” he said as he placed the glass of water in front of the man with the lovely blonde waves, “My name is Dorian. I’ll be taking care of you today.”
He couldn’t help it. He consciously weighted those words, “taking care,” heavy with implication and innuendo. He regretted it almost as soon as the flirtation crossed his lips. Who knew how the man would react?
“My name is Dorian. I’ll be taking care of you today.”
His name is Dorian and he’ll be taking care of me today, Cullen thought, I wish he’d take care of me… with those hands and that skin and that mouth.
Again, Cullen’s sleepy mind conjured images of being impossibly tangled up with this stranger in the dark. Again, Cullen jumped in surprise at the ferocity of his own need.
“Shit!” he cried as he knocked the full glass of water off his table and into his lap. “Great. Just… great.”
“I’m so sorry, sir… I’ll… go get more napkins,” the beautiful man – no, Dorian – said as he turned smartly on his heels and headed back toward the kitchen.
Just my luck. Andraste preserve me, this day just keeps getting better, Cullen thought, jaws clenched. He decided he’d suffered enough for one day. He wasn’t going to just stand around and allow everyone to watch him swiping at his damp crotch with a handful of napkins after everything he’d gone through today.
“Fuck it,” he muttered, loudly enough for the family to hear. The parents both shot him death glares as he stood up and headed toward the bathroom. He smiled apologetically and kept walking. Hopefully, they had one of those high-powered hand driers.
The man was gone when Dorian returned from the kitchen, fistful of napkins in tow.
Well, of course he’d leave. Horrible service… lapful of cold water… and you weren’t exactly subtle with your little opening line, were you, Dorian?
Dorian’s pace slowed. A scowl plastered itself across his face as he reached the table and knelt to start cleaning up the water that managed to miss the man’s lap. He allowed his mind to wander while his hands worked. His imagination played out all the little what if scenarios regarding the tired, lovely man who had just been here …
… what if that gorgeous man had been sat in his section to begin with? Would he still be here?
… what if the blush that graced his face meant he’d noticed Dorian, too?
… what if somehow they just left here together? Would they find comfort in each other, even if it was just the shallow comfort of a one-night stand?
It was Dorian’s turn to blush, deep red dusting his cheeks as he thought about the night that couldn’t be, wrapped up in those arms. He thought of hot breath and scarred lips and what he would do to that perfect body with his hands.
Hands, he thought, as he finally paid attention to what he was doing.
“Fasta vass! This floor is filthy!” Dorian declared. He hadn’t succeeded in much beyond moving the water around on the floor and getting grime on his hands.
He passed Sera as she was running food to her table.
“You should really fucking mop your section. How are you still employed?!” he rumbled at her.
“Josie loves me,” she winked at him. He rolled his eyes and made a beeline for the bathroom to wash his hands.
The sight that met him there was…
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. What next?!” came Cullen’s exasperated cry as he heard the door open.
He turned and his eyes met Dorian’s set of lovely gray eyes, opened wide with surprise.
Cullen didn’t miss the way they flicked downward before making contact again. Cullen didn’t miss the amused smile that was forming under Dorian’s curved mustache.
And could Cullen really blame him? He was, after all, standing in a public restroom in only his t-shirt and underwear, desperately trying to dry his pants under a tired old hand dryer.
I’m going to die. I’m going to die right here of exhaustion and embarrassment. Maker’s breath, can this day get any stranger?
Dorian began to laugh. Under other circumstances, Cullen might have thought it musical. At this moment, however, it was mortifying.
The lovely blond man hadn’t left. Dorian’s slack jaw slowly closed as he felt himself begin to smile. Of all the “what if”s his brain had tripped through earlier, this was certainly not on the list. He really couldn’t help it… he began to laugh.
“I’ll admit, I didn’t think you’d be bereft of your pants so quickly, but I can’t say that I’m not pleased,” Dorian finally managed through his laughter.
“I’m… I’m sorry?” Cullen’s face was a violent shade of red, his eyebrows knit together.
“I’m only teasing. Let me see those,” Dorian took a step toward Cullen and grabbed the soaking pants from his hands. “Oh, you’ll never get these dry with this, I’m afraid.”
Dorian studied the man, eyes lingering on muscular thighs a bit longer than they really should (how would they feel wrapped around him?) before he grinned and started unbuckling his belt.
“Wait… what do you think you’re doing?!” Cullen barked.
“How about we trade? These will be snug, but at least they’re dry,” Dorian replied.
“You can’t be serious… you’ve got work to do. No, this is ridiculous,” Cullen sputtered.
“I rather think I’m done working here. But you should at least be able to have your meal in comfort….” Dorian was interrupted by the sound of the door opening yet again.
The blond man grabbed him by the arm, forced him into a stall, and closed the door behind them.
Cullen could hardly believe his eyes. The most beautiful man on the Maker’s green earth was standing before him, matter-of-factly removing his pants in the men’s room of a restaurant. He knew his face was a hideous red by now. Sometimes, he really hated being so pale and so… excitable.
Dorian was speaking to him, some nonsense about how Cullen should have his meal in peace, when the blasted door began to open again.
Cullen panicked. He was the highest-ranking officer in his company – he couldn’t be seen with some strange man without his pants on, regardless of how handsome that strange man was.
He grabbed Dorian by the arm and pushed him roughly into the nearest stall. Cullen followed him in and closed the door. He silently thanked Andraste that this stall had a full door; not one of those partial jobs that would show any curious onlooker that there were, in fact, two pairs of feet in that particular cubicle.
“Hey, what the hell…” Dorian started in surprise.
“Shhhhhh” Cullen hissed as he pressed his hand to Dorian’s mouth, backing the gray-eyed man against the wall.
They waited in silence as the intruder, most likely the father from that obnoxious family, came in and began to relieve himself.
The stall was tiny; there was barely enough room for the two of them. Cullen was suddenly very aware of just how close they were. He was very aware of the soft warmth that rolled off Dorian. He was very aware of the sweet musky scent that Dorian wore, both intoxicating and torturous. He was very aware of the firm chest his hand was pressed into.
He was very aware of the softness of the lips pressed against the other hand.
Cullen’s heartbeat quickened as he understood just how much he’d like to feel those soft lips against his own. To feel that moustache tickle his nose. To taste this man he’d only just met. The idea was ludicrous, wasn’t it? He didn’t do those sorts of things. He never gave in to fantasy. Stalwart and sure, that was Cullen Rutherford.
Then again, he’d never been trapped in a bathroom stall with such a captivating creature. He looked into those beautiful gray eyes and bit his lower lip as he lowered the hand covering that tempting mouth, rough fingers brushing lightly over the smooth skin of Dorian’s graceful neck.
Drunk with desire and too tired to fight it, he leaned in. For a wonder, Dorian met him halfway.
Dorian could see the moment when the man’s panic gave way to desire. One moment, the big man’s face was tense with anxiety, chiseled jaw working as he ground his teeth. The next moment, his face – no, his whole body – relaxed, eyes wide and lips parted. Dorian felt his own body relax under the weight the man was pressing into him.
You don’t even know his name, he thought as he felt the hand removed from his mouth. A shiver ran down Dorian’s body when he felt those fingers tracing a line down his neck. Those fingers should have felt coarse against his skin. It wasn’t fair how achingly gentle and unsure this man’s touch was. It wasn’t fair how the way the man bit his bottom lip was somehow vulnerable and seductive at the same time.
It wasn’t fair. How could Dorian stand against that?
He couldn’t. Dorian didn’t hesitate when the man leaned in.
Their lips met as fingers tangled into hair and clothing. Dorian knotted his hands in the man’s shirt and pulled him closer, needing to feel all of him, every inch of his body against him. The other man responded in kind, rolling his hips and pressing into the kiss hungrily. Dorian did his best to suppress a moan when he felt his lower lip pulled between the blond man’s own scarred lips. Teeth pressed on tender flesh and Dorian’s mind filled with one word.
He wanted more. More of this man’s kisses. More of this man’s body.
Dorian parted his lips further, pressing his tongue against the other man’s. Dorian’s knees went weak as the golden-eyed beauty moaned helplessly into his mouth. He lost all sense of place and time as the blond man pressed a hand firmly against the small of Dorian’s back, bringing their hips closer together. He bit at the man’s upper lip, teeth grazing over the scar that somehow only amplified his beauty.
Still, that word filled his mind.
Somewhere far off, Dorian heard the sound of a toilet flushing.
What the fuck?
Right. I’m in the bathroom. At work. With a stranger.
The other man had already broken off the kiss and taken a step back. Dorian lamented the loss of that warmth, but couldn’t fault the man for stepping back. They’d let things get out of control there, hadn’t they?
Cullen couldn’t believe how far and how quickly things had spiraled as he stepped away from Dorian, panting and breathless. How could one man make him lose himself so completely, in a public bathroom of all places?
But looking at the dark-haired man, he knew he wasn’t alone. Dorian’s face was just as ruddy, his eyes just as glassy. Cullen could see his chest rising and falling just as quickly as his own.
Cullen was the first to break their gaze as he raised a hand to scratch nervously at the back of his neck. They waited until the person who had so rudely interrupted them washed his hands and left.
“Well, that was… certainly something…” Cullen started.
“I’d agree with that sentiment. I must say, I usually know names before things… escalate to that point,” Dorian added.
Cullen’s eyes went wide and he grinned as he realized he’d never told Dorian his name.
“Maker’s breath, I’m sorry. Let’s… let’s try this again, ok?”
“Of course. You first. “
Cullen stuck out his right hand and took Dorian’s into a firm handshake.
“I’m Cullen Rutherford. Nice to meet you.”
“Well, hello Cullen Rutherford. I’m Dorian Pavus. The pleasure is all mine,” Dorian chuckled.
“Perhaps we could… perhaps we could go somewhere to talk? Properly, I mean. Over coffee, maybe?” Cullen stuttered.
“I’d like that,” Dorian’s face lit with genuine pleasure. Cullen smiled back broadly, all traces of his previous exhaustion gone as he turned to open the stall door and leave.
“But before that…” Dorian started.
Cullen turned, brows raised in curiosity. “Yes?” he asked warily.
“You should really put your trousers on.”