There’s blood on her dress, she notices. A lot. Dried blotches and flecks of burgundy hidden against the crimson silk. Remnants of offal, of bodies. Of the lives she and her’s have reaped tonight. Florianne’s blood is a solid patch from the hem of her gown nearly to her knees; covering that of Venatori agents, Orlesian guardsmen, and wayward Elven servants.
Now she understands why Josephine insisted she wear red.
“You’re not. Not at all.” Cullen says behind her, his voice rough and raw.
She hadn’t realized she’d spoken out loud. Hadn’t realized he’d ushered her to back her suite in the palace. Hadn’t realized that his boots are splashed with the remains of his own fight -- when she leapt the banister to follow Florianne and her assassins, leaving behind panic and chaos, and ordering Cullen to stand and defend.
Now, hours later, he’s absolutely frayed. The line of his shoulders is so tight she’s afraid his spine might snap. His hands are covering his face, pinching viciously at the bridge of his nose. There is blood in his hair, too.
She doesn't realize she’s crying until Cullen reaches up, gently, and rubs the tears away with his thumbs.
“You’re...don’t --” He’s so angry he’s shaking. His hands against her face tremble, but his eyes are dark and hard. “Please.”
His expression keeps oscillating. Rage, exhaustion, relief, love, rage. She can tell he’s punching down his own emotions, his own wounds, pushing them aside -- as usual -- to tend to hers. She can’t let him. Not tonight.
“You look tired.” She says.
He hesitates. Then…
“I thought it would be easier...being here.” He chuckles, sort of. There’s no humor in it. “Instead of being left behind, waiting, worrying. Imagining...terrible things.” Cullen’s voice hitches, incredulous, then angry. “Those fucking Orlesians.” He hisses the last word.
Tonight has only made some things harder.
She hesitates only a heartbeat -- the blood will wash off, after all -- before she tucks herself into his embrace. He holds on. Tight. Angry. Still shaking. But even then his quiet strength seems to flow into her, bracing her, and she feels less drained than she has in hours.
Cullen murmurs into her hair. “The sky split. Demons pouring out carnage all across Thedas. And I would send you back to that in a heartbeat rather than risk you to their worthless Game.” There’s something broken in his voice, and the jagged bits cut at her.
It is the sound of his hate.
She kisses him a moment, to still him. Mouth curving into a smile beneath his. “At least the wine is better here.”
It’s a weak joke. But the corner of his mouth twitches up, glad that she even tried.
“Debatable.” Cullen growls, very Ferelden, and deepens the kiss. “Promise me that next time we’re here to meddle in Orlesian politics, we don’t. We burn this place to the ground instead. I cannot bear having to watch you imperil yourself while I stand in a corner with instructions to flirt .”
The sound of the bell at the servants entrance is soft, but they jump as if struck by lightning, and spring as far apart as their able. Cullen’s face is scarlet. He rubs the back of his neck and shifts his weight awkwardly, hardly looking at her.
“Maker,” He swears, looking guilty.
The string of Elven servants, bearing a copper tub, pails of steaming water, linens and a tray of soap, hardly look at them as they busy themselves with setting up her bath. They are well-trained and efficient, working so silently and unobtrusively it would be easy enough to pretend they weren’t there.
But she’s spent the evening in the bowels of the Winter Palace, and knows gossip, not gold, is the true currency in Orlais.
The Elves file out, silently, and as the door closes she moves at once to the bath, and dips her fingers in. Fills the sudden awkwardness by vigorously washing her hands. The Anchor flares, and green light bounces off the bottom of the tub. The water sparkles, as though she’s holding a handful of glowing emeralds. It should be beautiful, but it’s not. It’s intrusive. Complicated. Muddying the easiness they’ve forged with each other. Branding her as Inquisitor.
“I’m sorry.” Cullen says, watching her. “I know we aren’t supposed to...we’re not to be seen. I’ll go.” His hand reaches out to her tentatively, then hangs. He clenches it into a fist and moves towards the door. “I shall endeavor to --”
“Stay?” She asks, softly.
“Yes.” He agrees, just as softly.
And suddenly the world seems simple again.
She lets her breath out in a little sigh. And Cullen’s behind her in a moment, hands at her waist. He presses a small chaste kiss to her shoulder and she sighs again. He pulls his gloves off with his teeth, one by one, tucking them into his belt. His bare fingers touch the water, gently, and rise to wipe a smear of blood off the corner of her jaw, then dip again, finding hers under the water, scattering the handful of emeralds.
They stay like that for a moment, close, but barely touching. Hands intertwined beneath the warmth of the water. The tub smokes, steam rising lazily between them. He turns her gently towards him.
She is enchanted by his expression. The rage has bled away, and the exhaustion is tamped down. The love is evident, still, but beside it smoulders lust. And the lust is rising. The room is light enough, but his eyes are so dilated they are nearly black, barely ringed with gold.
Cullen traces his hand over her collarbone, dripping, watches the rivulets of water disappear between her breasts. His mouth opens slightly as he cups her breast, rubs a wet thumb around the fullness above the corset. His licks his lips.
She doesn't even notice he’s got a hand behind her, working at the buttons of her gown until he’s undone enough to pull down her bodice. She gasps as her breasts spill out, heavy and bare, nipples tightening under his gaze.
“Maker.” A sound of worship.
His breathing is ragged, harsher than it should be. She can feel Cullen struggling, caught between tenderness -- he’s always so gentle with her -- and raw desire . He holds himself in check, fists clenching, the very figure of power and command. Yet in a way, she’s never seen him more fragile than tonight. If The Game frustrated her, it’s wounded him, somehow. She should be gentle with him in return.
But this is, after all, Orlais. And gentleness is the last thing she wants.
Her hand raises suddenly, cupping him between his legs. He’s rock-hard and jerks at her touch, makes a sound like she’s knifed him. She knows she isn’t the first one to touch him this evening. The Orlesians had been insistent. Constantly flirting -- laughter, questions, teasing touches. He’d been half-mast for most of the evening, fondled by faceless strangers. Relentlessly. He hated how aroused he’d been.
Cullen palms her breasts, his touch soft but absolutely rigid, teetering, still fighting to be gentle.
She arches against his touch, and starts stroking him through his breeches.
Cullen makes a pained sound, as his self control snaps. He covers her mouth with his, and grinds into her hand. Slants the kiss as she opens her mouth beneath his, and devours her breath. He tugs at her breasts. Rough. Demanding. Each pull sending a pulse of heat straight between her legs.
He growls something. It sounds like a command but his teeth fix into her earlobe and she shudders so hard she can’t hear him. But she gets his belt off and flings it away, sword & scabbard attached. He carries a dagger in the sleeve of his coat too, she knows. It’s a bit of a struggle to remove it -- he’s entirely unwilling to stop kissing her -- but she does, then returns her attention to his crotch.
She manages to get the buttons on his trousers undone by touch alone. It takes longer than it should -- his tongue is in her mouth and it’s making proficiency difficult -- and pulls him out. He’s like hot, hard, silk beneath her fingers. Pure heat. She wants to taste him. The wiry spring of his golden-brown thatch brushes the back of her hand. She teases the length of him, feels a bead of pre-cum at his tip and smears it with her thumb.
She makes an appreciative sound, and bends down to lick him. But he stops her, spinning her around, yanks at the back of her gown impatiently. Something rips. Tiny, silk-covered buttons drop to the floor.
Well, her dress was already a wreck.
She’s bent over the tub, arms braced against the rim. Her breasts hang low, dipping into the steaming water, the warmth soothing the roughness of his touch. He bares her. Pushes the gown and her smalls over her hips, clutches the newly exposed flesh.
Cullen presses his face to her arse, mouth open against the tight seam of her folds.
She gasps and shivers, and nearly falls into the tub.
His tongue stills. She feels him hesitate a moment, fighting for control. But his blood is up .
With each heartbeat his cock throbs harder and hotter, and he can’t. He presses his broad hand flat against her back, arching her, forcing her breasts lower into the water, angling her hips so she opens for him. He can see how wet she is.
All the blood in his body makes a swift exodus to his dick.
She not entirely sure what happens then. Everything is warm and wet and the heavy drag of his tongue is the only thing she can think of. The heat within her builds, and builds and when she comes against his open mouth she thinks she may have actually shattered into pieces. She feels him swallow.
Cullen says something, lips against her folds, and she has no idea what, but it sounds appreciative. He’s gentling her, like a horse, stroking the back of her knees as she shivers and trembles. Then he licks her once. Slow and deliberate. And kisses his way up her spine.
“More.” She finally manages.
She can feel his answering smirk between her shoulder blades. His hands are on her breasts again, pulling, pinching. Her nipples are desperately hard and sensitive in the wake of her orgasm. He twists one. She keens.
Cullen moves over her, cock in hand, and presses the tip of himself into her. Then, unbelievably, he stills. There’s something strangely hollow in his voice. “I should have danced with you.”
It takes a minute for his words to register, she’s too busy trying to back herself onto him. But she feels her sides tickle with laughter when she does. He sounds so bewildered that she turns around to look at him. Their eyes lock and something strikes her down deep into her core.
It isn’t his cock.
But it’s overwhelming, and terrifying and lays heavy on her heart.
He’s panting, face slick with her pleasure, and his eyes are wide and hurt, and a little unfocused. “If I’d lost you...for them...and I hadn’t…I couldn’t -- ”
“Cullen,” She breathes.
“I love you.” He whispers. She feels his cock twitch, as if it agrees. And he hilts himself within her in one long stroke.
Her heart explodes. Doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the anchor -- it flares for a moment, green and bright.
She can feel every inch of him inside her. He rests so deep . Something throbs, and she isn’t sure if it’s him or her, but it doesn’t really matter.
He loves her.
She comes. Again.
Cullen feels the ripple of her orgasm, as she clenches around him. He groans, pulls out slowly, almost entirely, and pushes in again. Slowly. Twice. Then, suddenly spurs faster. Two more quick thrusts and then he pounds into her. Hard. Relentless. Each thrust grinds against her oversensitive clit, and she cries out. Little pleas, half pain and half, something else. His hand is on her neck, guiding her, arching her shoulders back against him, bowing her to his pleasure. The weight of her breasts bounce with the vigor of his thrusts. His fingers bite into her hips as he holds her down, keeping her angled so that his cock hits -- just so -- against her inner walls.
He pulls back suddenly, and she nearly topples over. He fists himself, once, twice, and once again.
Cullen comes with a roar, spurting seed on the crimson puddle of her dress.
He sighs deeply, hand round his cock, stroking slowly to the last of his pleasure.
He’s red-faced and utterly disheveled. His curls stick up wildly, lank around his temples, wet with sweat. His pants are around his thighs and it looks as though he had tried to wrangle himself out of his coat, but gave up at some point. Even so, he’s grinning, eyes half closed.
She’s likely in the same state. Some of her hair is still pinned up, but the rest is stuck to her face and neck. She steps entirely free of her gown and kisses him. He’s nearly swaying, and doesn’t resist when she undresses him completely, and pulls him into the tub. The water rises, splashes over the rim -- it’s less warm than it was. She heats it with a gesture, and he doesn’t seem to notice.
There’s something in the bath, it smells of orange blossoms and sweet spice. The water’s slightly opaque, almost creamy and shines like a pearl.
The tub is large, but not quite large enough for the both of them. His feet are braced at the end, knees bent and above the water. She’s acutely aware of every place she’s touching him. They face each other at opposite ends, not speaking, avoiding each other’s gaze. There’s a shyness now. She isn’t sure what it means.
Cullen breaks the silence first.
“What I said before…” His voice is low, and it falters.
She risks a quick look him, but he’s turned away, cheeks red. “You regret it?” She almost manages to keep her voice steady.
“No!” His eyes snap to hers, surprised. “No. I...not at all.” He rubs the back of his neck and eases himself just a bit lower in the tub. “I just...it should have been different. Moonlight. Roses. That’s how I wanted to tell you.”
He seems honestly bothered.
Doesn’t he realize…
The water is nearly at the brim and sloshes over as she shifts herself and settles against him. She can feel his erection trapped between them. Cullen is, unbelievably, still hard. She arches her brow at her discovery.
He shrugs, one side of his mouth lifts lazily.
The silence falls between them again, but it takes on a completely different quality as she finds him underwater, and wraps her hand around the base of his cock. He’s sensitive, sucks in a ragged breath at her touch.
She goes slow, finding the gentleness he sought when they began.
The water covers so much of him, it’s easier to focus on his reaction. She watches him intently.
He is so beautiful.
The sounds he makes even more so.
His breath hitches and the muscles of his chest ripple as she strokes him. His brows crease, pinching, almost like he’s in pain, but his mouth hangs open, catching on a sigh. His hands clutch the side of the tub, but he doesn’t reach for her.
Hard as he is, it takes a while, stroking him as slowly as she does. But eventually he’s breathing deeply, eyes half lidded, head lolling. She can feel him start to thrust up into her hand. His balls float weightlessly.
She adjusts her grip and twists as she strokes him. He cries out, toes curling. He’s close. She reaches out and teases his nipple with the edge of her fingernail. He jerks, flushes down the length of his chest, rocks his hips, but can’t get any more friction.
She has never seen him so undone. So open, so completely hers.
His eyes find hers, struggle, finally focus.
“Cullen, I love you.”
She watches as her words wash over him. He comes almost silently, but with a shattering intensity she’s never witnessed. She holds his gaze, his heart, strokes him through the last tide of pleasure. There are actual tears in his eyes.
He surges forward at the last, capturing her mouth. They sit until the water is nearly cold, whispering their love between feather-light kisses. Thin skinned and fragile with joy.
“I love you.”
He closes his eyes. “Maker.”
It’s a prayer, this time.