Footsteps, below, and those were familiar and expected. A steady tromp. Night patrols in Skyhold: not precisely a good time for any soldier involved, but a real necessity, a real service provided to all within the walls. Soft flutter of wavering torchlight and whispered gossip.
At least they could talk, Kiriya thought, as she pressed the heel of her hand to her temple. She couldn’t say she was in the same situation, stuck as she was at her desk, stumped as she was over her work. Inked curlicues on the sheet of fine parchment in her hand: the whorls of some prim-and-powdered noble, flowery words that meant basically nothing if not a demand for some kind of thing that she ought to do for them as though she were bestowing a favor. She breathed out, sourly, and wished she could toss the sheet aside -- but civility prevailed, or at least the tattered ragged edges of it, and she carefully put that sheet onto the pile growing on the right side of the table.
In the morning she’d tell Josephine to have all those sheets carefully scrubbed and bleached of their ink, and then she could use them as she saw fit. There was always such a dire need for parchment, and the least Kiriya could do was provide her Ambassador with the things that she might be in need of.
A distant cry on some distant slope, harsh and startling, some bird or another winging invisibly through the night, and Kiriya got to her feet. Swallowed the dregs in the wooden cup next to the bottle of ink. A few drops of wine, and she wanted a little more. Perhaps a small meal, she thought -- had she missed dinner, or had she eaten it without knowing what it was? She was hungry, and even at this time of the night she could always count on a little bread, a little cheese, the leftovers of the day -- and so she took her boots off and put a pair of soft slippers on. One of her long leather coats, draped over her shoulders. She would need the pockets to stash things in.
Out the door. Soundless footsteps. Candlelight burning steadily in the sconces, and -- Kiriya slowed, and took a deep breath, and wanted to smile. The scent of night-blooming flowers in the air. Sweet heavy musk, always just a little short of cloying -- intoxicating and rich, settling on her tongue, like a mouthful of stolen sugar. Where was that tree?
So she turned right when she should have turned left: keeping to the shadows of the great hall, moonlight in wide strands on the floor, Skyhold sleeping around her, and --
“Kiriya,” said a soft voice.
She smiled, and even as she turned she was opening her arms, and then it was not so very surprising that Cole was there and was resting his forehead against her shoulder. His hands meeting in the small of her back as they embraced -- and those same hands carefully laying a slight fragrant weight upon her head. “Cole?” she asked, softly.
“Happy nameday,” he said. “You liked to sit under trees when you were growing up. Bees, whirring wings, the thought of honey cakes.”
Kiriya stared at him, and tried to remember, and -- oh. He was right. She’d forgotten her own nameday. And now she was standing here with a crown of flowers and her friend’s shy smile and --
A soft growl, from somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach, and she sighed and shook her head and laughed, as Cole’s eyebrows drew together. He patted her shoulder. “Food. You need food.”
“Come with me?”
And she blinked when Cole smiled and put his finger to his lips and shook his head. “Not telling you. He’s waiting. He has a gift. Waiting for you.”
She watched, uncomprehending, as he took a step away from her, and inclined his head in a little bow, and vanished into nothingness between a patch of moonlight and another of night-shadows.
Again that soft growl, and Kiriya threw up her hands and hoped she could pry everything out of her friend later on, maybe after she’d had a snack.
Down the steps and tiptoeing past the rooms where the cooks and the servants slept deep in their late-night dreams, and finally Kiriya stepped towards the doors into the kitchen, left ajar --
Her footsteps slid to a halt. Muttering on the other side. The quiet crackle of a quiet fire, and an accent, and back-and-forth movement.
Slipping through the doors was easy, and closing them quietly behind her child’s play, and so she turned around and -- “Oh” -- and the word left her lips soundlessly.
The man in the kitchen didn’t hear her at all. A tunic and breeches and, cast off over one of the rough-hewn chairs, a familiar coat. Gold trim and furred collar. He muttered at the fire, stopping and starting, practically dancing with his agitation. The firelight caught at lighter strands in his hair, curling gently against the bared nape of his neck.
Kiriya said his name. “Cullen.”
For an instant he went completely still. Frozen, from those broad shoulders to his hands as they clenched into surprised fists.
And then, a quiet laugh, embarrassment dancing around the edges. That familiar gesture of a hand against the back of his head, as he turned to face her. His sharp eyes noting her not-quite-properly-dressed state, and -- then he raised an eyebrow. “So Cole found you.”
She blinked, thrown. “What?”
“I saw him gathering the flowers,” was Cullen’s reply as he turned back toward the oven. Warm and warming glow, and she was happy to sit near him, to hold her hands out to the banked red of the open grate.
Was he turning red, too? She squinted at him, at his ears, and there, there was that tell-tale flush. “I forgot it was my nameday, too,” she offered, after a moment, remembering Cole’s words. “If it helps you feel better.”
“It does,” he said, eventually, rich warm chuckle that she wanted to keep just for herself, clutched tightly and hidden in the depths of her heart. “But it doesn’t stop me from feeling foolish.”
“Is this,” and she waved her hand in a small circle that took in the dark corners of the kitchen and its moon-splashed counters, “connected to that feeling of yours?”
“Yes, actually. Give me a moment.”
And she watched him peek into the oven, one more time. Watched him mutter to himself and sigh. Thick cloth wrapped around his hands and a firm grip on a sheet of metal. The delicate sweet scent of sugar and butter and -- Kiriya sniffed -- nuts? “What in Andraste’s name is that?” she asked. “It smells so wonderful.” And: “You bake?”
Flash of a kitchen knife in Cullen’s hand as he cut up whatever was on the tray. “I can manage to toast bread, I think, and that might be it.”
She got to her feet and bumped her shoulder against his, and looked at what he was slicing. “That is not toast.”
“It’s not -- it’s rusk.”
“And what is that when it’s at home?”
“Try it first, and tell me what you think,” Cullen said, and he sounded nervous and coaxing at the same time. “I promise there’s no poison in it, at the very least.”
She grinned at him, and kissed his cheek, and his blush was warm beneath her lips -- warm enough that she was sorely tempted to linger, to follow its soft red trail down below the collar of his tunic -- but he moved away, chuckling softly, and she pouted as he moved around the kitchen. Gathering cups in his hands.
“Eat,” Cullen said, shaking his head.
Kiriya squinted at the large rectangle of golden-brown rusk. Sugar-crystal sparkle and scorched edges, and spots of toasted nuts. A slice that was almost as large as the palm of her hand. Waft of butter -- she broke off a smaller piece and put it in her mouth.
Crisp crumbling and the scatter of broken crust. She closed her eyes and took another deep breath and -- sugar dissolving on her tongue, softly burnt. Rich heady flavors, and she fell back into her chair, startled. “Oh,” she said, her voice little above a whisper, “oh, but you made that -- it’s so good -- ”
“Names can be deceiving,” Cullen said, teasingly. The pop of a cork and the weight of a wooden cup being pressed into her hands. His kiss, like a gift, bestowed upon her forehead. “You thought it was something plain, when I told you what its name was.”
“I take it back,” Kiriya said, and reached greedily for another piece when he moved the tray within closer reach. How could she care that she would leave crumbs with every word and with every movement? How could she care about the sugar that she knew was smeared across her mouth? It was her nameday and she was wearing flowers from a friend, and she was eating sweets that had come from her lover’s hand, and there was wine and there was no one to ask for the Inquisitor.
“More, please,” she said as she crammed crisp crust into her mouth, to Cullen’s soft laughter.
“Maker, Kiriya, that whole tray’s for you,” he said, but he passed her a large piece anyway.
“It’s not for sharing?” She blinked, and swallowed, and cocked her head. “You don’t want any of it?”
And she should have watched her words, she really should have thought about what she looked like now, because the answer to that was a slow, slow, slow once-over that made the hairs on the back of her neck bristle, that made heat rush down her nerves.
She batted, ineffectual and gentle, at the smirk that curled the corner of his lip, and tried very hard to keep her knees from knocking together.
And the next thing she knew, he’d pulled her into his lap and taken away the piece of rusk that was still miraculously mostly whole in her hand. That bright rapturous regard. That luminous emotion. That wicked tongue that darted out and licked at the crumbs that lingered on her cheek. That damned voice. “There was something missing, when I made it,” he said, “maybe the something missing was you.”
Kiriya closed her eyes and hid her burning face in his shoulder. Soft laughter filling her senses -- nothing mocking in it at all. His hand smoothing over her hair and down her spine, and lingering at her waist, or perhaps a little lower -- just shy of her backside.
“Eat,” he said, again. “If it’s your nameday, you should claim your privileges. Stay in bed. Have someone wait on you, hand and foot.”
“You,” she breathed, and claimed a smile of a kiss.
“As my lady commands.”