Skyhold was, without a doubt, the best-protected and most spectacular castle in all of Thedas. Sadly, with construction underway, it was also one of the noisiest places Kate had ever lived. She had been woken before dawn by a team of dwarven excavators. Right now, Kate was dearly wishing that she had somewhere - anywhere - to curl up and take a nap.
Instead, she stood in Commander Cullen’s austere office, fighting a yawn. It wasn’t that Cullen was dull - quite the opposite, really. He usually kept her very interested - though maybe not for the right sorts of reasons. Anyway, the point was, Kate was operating on very little sleep. So while the commander was talking, his voice smooth and soothing and quite pleasant to Kate’s ears, she felt her eyelids growing heavy.
”…the lake just adds to the trouble, for we must be certain that no one pitches a tent directly on the ice…”
Kate suddenly yawned loudly. The commander stopped mid-sentence, looking up at her in surprise.
“Sorry,” Kate said, quickly raising her hand to cover her mouth.
“Am I boring you?” Cullen asked. He seemed a bit disconcerted by the thought, Kate noticed.
“No, not at all,” she hurried to explain. “I’m just tired. I’ve been up since four.”
“Four?” Cullen asked. “Why?”
Kate shrugged. “That’s when my day started.”
“You should go take a nap,” Cullen told her.
“I tried that, but I keep getting woken up.”
“Lock the door.”
“I haven’t got a door,” Kate explained. “They’re fixing up a room for me - much fancier and bigger than I need, but you know how it is. In the meantime, I’m in a tent. In the courtyard.”
“You’re still in the courtyard?” Cullen asked, incredulously. “Really?”
“There were other things that took priority,” Kate told him. “Anyhow, I’m riding out in the morning. I can sleep in the saddle - or at camp, I suppose.”
“Yes, but…” Cullen looked concerned by this bit of information. “You ought to get your rest. You’ll burn yourself out if you don’t.”
“You’re one to talk,” Kate said. She chuckled and smiled as she said this, so that Cullen would know she was teasing. Thankfully, he took it as such and smiled. Kate yawned again and added, “It’s alright. I’ll manage.”
Cullen shook his head. “That’s absurd. If you need a bed, then sleep with me.”
Kate froze, her eyes going wide. Surely Cullen hadn’t meant it like that. She must have heard him wrong. Though now that the idea had lodged itself in Kate’s mind, she could manage no more coherent reply than:
Very eloquent, Kate thought in silent mortification. Very eloquent, indeed.
Oh well done, Cullen thought to himself. He could scarcely speak for the embarrassment that swept over him. He hadn’t meant to proposition the Inquisitor, but that’s effectively what he’d done. And she’d gone wide-eyed and blushed in response. He felt like the worst lecher in Ferelden.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Cullen choked out as soon as he managed to work past the lump in his throat. “I just meant that you can bed me. I mean use me. I mean use my bed.”
Cullen coughed, hoping his face wasn’t flaming by now. “You could use my bed,” he said, very precisely. “Without me in it. For a nap, that is.”
Wonderful. That had gone over as smoothly as a piked lance. The Inquisitor continued to stare at the floor. The tips of her ears were red, and she did not look him in the eye.
“I don’t, um… I don’t think I should be seen going into your quarters,” she said, in a very small, strained voice. “Even in the middle of the day. Besides,” she added, clearing her throat, “I have no idea where your quarters are, which is fine, since I’m not going into them…”
“They’re right here,” Cullen said. “I sleep in the loft.” He pointed at the ladder in the corner. At last, Kate looked up at him. Then she turned in the direction he was pointing.
“You sleep in here?” she asked.
“Well, up there,” Cullen said, pointing at the wooden ceiling above them.
“That’s where your quarters are?” Kate asked. “And here I thought…”
“Nothing. I just assumed… I guess I assumed that was a lookout or something. Storage maybe.” Then something lit her eyes. Cullen recognized it as curiosity.
“May I see?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said, his throat suddenly tight. “That’s why I offered.”
She walked to the corner of the room, hips swaying in that way they did. Cullen watched, mouth gone strangely dry, as she reached the ladder. It was a long way up, he thought suddenly. Concerned now, Cullen followed her and stood at the base of the ladder, the better to catch her if she should slip. He then realized how foolish that was. He could see that Kate had things well in hand. That said, he could also see a spectacular view of Kate’s bottom as she climbed. Her rear shifted slightly from side to side, encased by skin-tight leather. Cullen found himself transfixed. The spell was only broken when Kate disappeared entirely, and he was left staring up at his own ceiling, his mouth hanging open.
Cullen dropped his gaze and snapped his jaw shut with enough force to rattle his teeth. Maker’s breath, this was getting more awkward by the moment.
“Wow,” he heard Kate exclaim from above. “This is…”
A mess, Cullen suddenly thought. Oh blast. He hadn’t made the bed in how long? And he was pretty sure he’d left his small clothes lying on the floor. He hadn’t thought to have a visitor, and hadn’t remembered the mess until he’d offered her the space. Kate’s face appeared over the edge.
“You sure you don’t mind if I rest up here?” she asked.
“You really want to?” Cullen asked her.
“Actually, yes,” she said. “I mean, if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Oh, thank you,” she breathed. “Please don’t let me sleep too long. Wake me in an hour, would you?”
“Of course,” he replied.
“Thank you, Cullen,” she smiled, then disappeared again. Cullen took a deep breath, then let it out very slowly.
Right, he thought. Well, this was… Right.
Now he had the Inquisitor sleeping in his loft. In his bed.
Best not think on that too long, Cullen told himself crisply. He should probably get back to work.
Kate looked around the room with a smile. The loft was… Well, it was a mess, but she’d never yet met a man who kept his private rooms tidy. Other than that, however, it was very cozy. Honestly, Kate liked it a lot better than the grand, drafty spot they were preparing for her.
Still, either was better than a tent in the courtyard. Kate hadn’t been able to fall asleep for hours, thanks to the late-night singing that had come from the tavern. The Singquistion had been in full swing. Then there had been packs of crows coming and going from the rookery. Why Leliana couldn’t send the birds out at normal hours, Kate could not imagine. But worst of all, Kate had been unable to sleep because…
Kate swallowed, staring at the tangled sheets.
The truth was, she hadn’t been able to sleep because she was decidedly…aroused. She wasn’t sure why this was so. Maybe it was just getting close to her monthly courses, or maybe so much time spent in the company of certain handsome commanders was messing with her mind. But she had desperately wanted to touch herself - and yet, she’d not dared to do so. She had the tent to herself, but there were other tents within earshot. Kate wasn’t certain a wall of canvas would afford her enough privacy for her personal…maintenance.
Oh, what in the Void was she doing? Kate glanced around the room, realizing the stupidity of her present situation. Exhaustion had clearly addled her brain, because she was not thinking clearly. She couldn’t sleep here. The Herald of Andraste in the Commander’s bed? If someone were to find out - Maker’s tears, Kate could only imagine the rumors that would fly over something like this. And if she was trying to avoid sexual frustration, this was the last place she should be.
And yet, Kate reasoned, she didn’t want to be rude. She couldn’t quite bring herself to climb back down, blushing to the roots of her hair and tell Cullen this was a bad idea after all. She didn’t want him to feel embarrassed - and he clearly had been embarrassed for a moment there. So really, Kate reflected, she’d effectively trapped herself - a prisoner of her own curiosity and overdeveloped sense of propriety. The former had led her up, the latter kept her stuck.
Alright then, Kate thought, maybe she should just lie down, rest a bit, and then pretend she’d gotten a quick cat-nap and run off. That would be reasonably polite, but with less chance of discovery. Satisfied that she’d solved her own dilemma, Kate climbed onto the bed, then instantly realized her mistake.
Kate closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. Oh, sweet Andraste, she thought. This bed - it smelled like… Well, clearly it smelled like Cullen. Normally, men smelled disgusting. But this sweaty sort of smell? Kate didn’t mind it - at all. It clearly indicated how far gone she was, she thought, that she could smell a man’s sheets and grow completely wet.
This was insane, Kate thought. His scent was everywhere around her, and she was now painfully aware of where she was and who usually slept here. She was now picturing Cullen on these sheets, wondering what he looked like under all that armor, wondering how he slept, and if he…
Oh, this was wrong, surely. She was going to close her eyes, think of nothing but nice, pure, scentless things. Like snow. She was going to think of snow, drifting snow, and she would not think of Cullen at all.
Evidently, her ploy worked. Either that, or Kate was more tired than she realized. Within a minute, she fell fast asleep.
Cullen had some trouble concentrating on his work. The thought of Kate in his bed was very distracting. Added to that, there was a moment when he thought he heard her - whimpering? But surely that was his imagination. After a short time, he heard nothing at all. Then he settled into his work and soon enough, he lost all track of the time. He completely missed that three hours had passed when until the noon bell rang. Cullen looked up with a start, just as someone rapped at the door.
“Enter,” he called. Leliana walked in, a stack of papers in her hand.
“Sister Nightingale,” Cullen said, politely.
“Commander,” she returned. “The scouts’ reports.” She set the papers on the edge of his desk.
“Thank you,” he said. “The maps you requested are right here.” He pushed those papers to the other end of the desk. Leliana gathered them, glanced them over, then looked up.
“Very good,” she said. She took two steps away, as if to leave, then paused and asked:
“Cullen, have you seen the Inquisitor?”
He froze, not daring to look up. For in that moment, he remembered everything about the morning - and about where the Inquisitor currently lay.
“Uh, not for a few hours,” he replied, honestly.
“Strange,” Leliana said. “I wonder where she’s gone off to. I tried her tent, but she wasn’t there.”
“If she’s resting, you really ought to leave her alone,” Cullen said.
“Yes, I suppose I should. Maybe she went off and hid. I would hardly blame her. See you later, Commander.”
“Sister,” he replied. He waited until Leliana had gone and the door was closed before looking to the ladder. He hated to wake the Inquisitor, but perhaps he ought to check in on her at least…
“Is she gone?” a voice softly called out. Cullen found his lips curling in a smile.
“Yes,” he said. “The coast is clear.”
“Good.” Kate appeared at the top of the ladder, climbing down with remarkable speed. “I didn’t want to give her something for those files of hers by being found in your bed.”
Cullen opened his mouth, but found no sound would come out. For as Kate approached him, speaking of being found in his bed, of all things, he felt his heart press outward, as if it was trying to grow larger, and was being kept in check by his rib cage.
She looked lovely, he thought. She had lines on one side of her face from the wrinkles of the sheets, but that didn’t diminish it. She was all flushed and pink and her hair was wonderfully mussed.
“I, um,” she glanced at him shyly, making his heart thump once more. “I’d better get going. Probably ought to sneak out that way,” she pointed at the side door. “Thank you again for the nap.”
“Anytime,” he said, hoarsely. It wasn’t what he should have said. He should have said it wasn’t a wise idea for her to do this again, but he couldn’t bring himself to say that.
Kate knew she shouldn’t nod at Cullen’s offer. She shouldn’t act like sleeping in his bed was going to become a habit. She really ought to say that this would never happen again. But she felt far too flustered to say anything at all. For when she looked up at the man’s face, she remembered her dream - or rather, the bit at the end of her dream.
Kate had dreamed that she was lying in a bed - a bed oddly like the commander’s really - lying on her back, while a tanned, muscular man had been moving over her. He’d held her hands pinned over her head, his mouth on her breast. The man’s lips had been scarred, his chin covered in a stubble that scraped at her sensitive skin in a most maddening way.
Kate found herself staring at Cullen’s scarred mouth as she recalled the rest of the dream. There had been snow falling, but as soon as it hit the floor, it turned to water. The water had risen up around them surrounding the bed, then rising higher and higher until she and her dream-lover had been under the waves. Kate had looked up and seen sunlight playing off the surface of the water. Then the water had gone blinding and hot around her. She had felt consumed by brightness, and woken with a gasp.
Kate felt a blush creep up her cheeks and all the way to her ears. Maker’s breath. She had dreamed of Cullen - or someone very like him - and then… Well, the boneless, satisfied feeling suggested her dream had been real in one aspect, at least. It seemed she’d taken care of that arousal after all.
Or maybe she’d just fed the flames, Kate thought, glancing up at Cullen’s eyes. Damn it all, she found this man so attractive. It simply wasn’t fair that he should be so handsome - and so endlessly polite and reserved. She tried to respond in kind - she had been raised to be composed and stoic in all things. And yet, sometimes - alright most of the time - Kate felt like throwing herself at the man.
Right now, the only thing that kept Kate from complete mortification was the knowledge that Cullen couldn’t possibly know how he affected her. He also couldn’t possibly know about her dream. Furthermore, Kate was, by all accounts, a very quiet sleeper. Years in the tower and months in tents had assured Kate that she didn’t make a sound when she slept. She did steal all the blankets, but she was quiet about it.
And now, Kate thought, it was time to quietly steal away and get out of here.
“Thank you again, commander,” she said, still staring into his eyes. And if her words were a bit breathless, Kate couldn’t help that.
“R-right,” Cullen said, in reply. He looked back at her in a way that made Kate pause. For a moment, he didn’t look quite as reserved and closed off as usual. But then he blinked and that expression was gone. Kate gave him a short nod and all but ran away out the side door.
That night, when Cullen climbed into his loft, he found that the room was tidy.
Cullen frowned, looking from one corner to the other. He had definitely not left this place so neat. His books were now stacked on his bedside table, biggest on the bottom to the smallest on the top. His sheets were neatly tucked in around the mattress, the pillows fluffed and set side by side at the head of the bed.
Maker, Cullen thought, sighing. She shouldn’t have done that. The Inquisitor should not be cleaning up his dirty laundry.
Well, she hadn’t cleaned, exactly, but she’d definitely tidied up a bit. She probably had done it to be polite. Kate was nothing if not polite. A little too polite, Cullen thought with a frown. She always went out of her way to speak to him, to make him feel comfortable. Coming from a world of soldiers and barked orders, Cullen found her manners wonderfully inviting. And yet, he thought with a frown, he was never certain if this behavior was meant for him or just a part of what Kate did for everyone.
Of course, Cullen thought, there were moments where she did seem to, well… At the end there, before she left his office, she had looked at him with something more than polite interest. When Kate looked at him like that, he wondered…
No, Cullen thought, drawing back. He really shouldn’t wonder. He shouldn’t read anything into a mere look.
With a sigh, Cullen sat on the edge of his bed and began undressing. To his dismay, he saw that all his clothes had been folded and set on the nearby chair.
Why? Cullen thought with a stab of embarrassment. Why had she folded his things? That wasn’t her job. She was the Inquisitor, not one of the maids.
Cullen finished undressing and laid back onto the pillows, eyes shut. Then he frowned, his eyes still closed. He sniffed the air, then his eyes opened wide and he stared up to the rafters.
He breathed in, deeply, and then groaned. He turned his head to the pillow, breathed again, and let out his breath on a long, aching sigh.
The pillows smelled like, well, it had to be her. He didn’t know her scent well enough to be certain, but what else could it be? This wasn’t what he smelled like, after all. He never noticed his own scent, except when he’d been sweating so much after training to really become pungent. But this…
Cullen breathed in again, unable to stop himself. What was that, exactly? It wasn’t a soapy scent, nor flowery, nor anything but Kate. Her sweat, maybe? Who knew that the smell of a woman’s sweat could be so arousing to a man? But then, Cullen was a man, and Kate was a woman, and…
Oh, sweet Andraste, this smell was going to surround him all night long. Cullen lay there, staring up a the ceiling. He was hard as stone now, damn it. He couldn’t possibly fall asleep like this.
With that thought, Cullen swallowed.
Well, he reasoned, if he was this uncomfortable, and if the circumstances were conspiring against him….
His hand was on the laces of his breeches when he caught himself.
What in the Void was he doing? Cullen thought, sitting up on his elbows. He wasn’t seriously considering…
But as soon as the memory came to him, Cullen couldn’t bring himself to push it away. He recalled how flushed she’d been when she’d come down from the loft earlier that day. He thought of how she looked at him just before she’d left. Kate had glanced up at him through her lashes, her eyes burning.
Yes, the scent of the pillows seemed to whisper to him, She had looked at him in a way that wasn’t at all like the polite glances they’d shared before. This time, Kate had looked at him like…
Like she wants me, Cullen thought, laying back down again, stiffly. Maker help him, she did. She had to… She must…
Damn it all, Cullen thought, he wasn’t going to be able to sleep with an erection like this. He had to do something about it. It was simple mechanics: he needed his rest, and this was in the way. In that sense, this was a bit like a mission. He wouldn’t think of Kate while he… Well, that would be rude, wouldn’t it? No, he’d just untie his breeches, like so, then take himself in hand, like so…
Cullen hissed a breath as his own calloused fingers closed over his length. This wasn’t quite what he wanted, but it would have to do. How many times had he found this as an alternative to burning up with thwarted desire? Far too many to count. He began stroking himself, first softly and slowly, then harder, and faster. Desperation took him to the edge of release, but not quite over that cliff. All the while, Cullen tried to think of nothing but the physical sensations, nothing but the motions that he was going through in his cold, empty bed.
Cullen pictured Kate again, this time before him on her knees, her mouth on his length, her own body naked and open. She would be touching herself, panting for him. Her smell would fill the air around him and she would be trembling. She would shake, nearing her own release, and then - then she would look up at him. In his mind, Cullen pictured her eyes - the way they’d locked on his just this afternoon. Just like then, Kate’s eyes were full of confidence, of desire, as if she, too, wanted every sweaty, tongue-tangled fantasy that he had hidden away in the back of his mind. Her eyes were the same as always, but in his fantasy, Kate’s lips, the lips that were usually moving as she spoke, or quietly curled in a secret smile - those red lips were wide around his cock…
Cullen came with a cry that he hardly recognized as being his own voice. As he felt himself pumping into an orgasm, he heard the echo of it ringing off the walls. For a moment, Cullen felt as though he might black out. He saw only eyes and lips in his mind, and felt a longing that seemed to clutch him at the heart.
He came back to his senses at last, his head lolling on the sweat-dampened pillows. His own scent now mingled with Kate’s. Oh yes, Cullen thought. He was truly gone now. He had expected to feel somewhat disgusted with himself for crossing this mental line. But clearly, pleasure had a way of weakening the bonds of shame within him. His body lay limp with relief, his mind blissfully clinging to that memory of Kate’s eyes.
Cullen felt his lips curl in a crooked smile. Of course, it had been her eyes that did it. Kate always got to him with those eyes of hers. They seemed to say something that her mouth never did. It was completely appropriate that her eyes would take him over the edge while her mouth took him in.
Well, Cullen amended, maybe not ‘completely appropriate.’ Fitting, rather. There was nothing appropriate about what he’d done here. Right now, however, he couldn’t bring himself to regret it.
Cullen yawned as exhaustion began to slide over him. The thing was, Cullen thought, sleepily, he had imagined Kate’s mouth on him. That had been pure fantasy. But he had not imagined the look in her eyes. That had been straight out of the reality of this afternoon. And how, he now wondered, how could Kate look at him like that - like a woman would look at a lover - and not mean it? Surely she did mean it. Maybe someday, he’d gather his courage and ask her about it. Maybe someday, he might see this dream become truth. Or maybe, Cullen thought, his heart beginning to race a little, maybe someday he’d put his mouth on Kate, and look up at her with the same look in his eyes, and watch her come. Maybe someday…
And with these warm thoughts of ‘someday’ running through his mind, Cullen drifted off to sleep.