Cullen woke up before the light from the hole in his roof had fully hit him in the face, much earlier than usual. He had wanted to get as much sleep as possible before seeing Kiara again, but his nerves had other plans. He’d tossed and turned most of the night with the anticipation of seeing her again, had been jittery ever since the messenger told him that the party had returned from the deep roads. To make matters worse, they had only seen each other in passing a few times in the week before she left. No time for anything besides work, no discussion about the kiss.
“I hope she doesn’t hate me,” he worried out loud as he organized the reports on his desk again.
He was trying and failing to distract himself with work to keep his thoughts away from worry and to kill time before he had to head to the war room.
“Sweet Maker,” he exclaimed abruptly, dropping other parchments to snatch up the pile he needed for the meeting, “I’m ridiculous! I’ll go to the training dummies and get some real work done”.
Kiara, as opposed to Cullen, woke up late and had slept like the dead. The sun had to beam in straight through her balcony before she stirred. Weeks of sleeping on the cold stone of the deep roads had left her exhausted. She was very grateful for her bed in Skyhold and never wanted to get out of it again. The sleep was very needed, but now she was in a panic to get dressed and gather her councilors' reports.
“Makers balls,” she cried out while hopping around, trying to put her trousers on, “this isn’t how I should arrive back to work, fucking late!”
She’d managed to get the clothes on and was hurriedly throwing her hair into a bun and managed to get it halfway up when she realized that she still needed to collect the necessary parchments off of her desk.
“Screw my hair!” she hissed, snatched up the stack, and violently pulled open her chamber door to begin the mad dash toward the war room.
Kiara was there in no time, out of breath, and immediately apologizing with her head down for being late.
“Don’t worry, Inquisitor,” spoke Leliana with her Orlesian accent in an amused tone, “the commander appears to be later than you.”
“What?” Kiara spat out. Now she looked up to see her spymaster, Leliana, and Ambassador Josephine Montilyet standing around the war table in their usual positions.
“Cullen is hardly ever late.” Josephine pondered in her lovely Antivan accent, “I wonder what is keeping him?”
“KIARA!” a voice from the door yelled her name. Kiara spun on her heel to look at Dorian Pavus, staring at her as if she’d just slapped him.
“What in Andraste’s name are you doing running through the great hall looking like Qunari savages have just attacked you?!” he threw his arms through the air as he crossed the distance to begin putting her hair up into a bun. “And are those clothes on? I see several buttons not done.”
“Shit! Let me put these down”, she said out loud to let Dorian know to release her hair long enough for her to set the scrolls down on the table.
She and Dorian worked together to make herself more presentable; they only took a fraction of the standard time, with Dorian handling her hair and her situating her clothes.
“Thank you, Dorian,” Kiara said with a grateful sigh.
“No need to thank me,” he waved one hand in front of his face, “it’s my duty to fix my friends' bad looks or fashion travesties.”
Leliana cut in, “Since you have fulfilled that duty so masterfully, any chance you could inquire as to where Commander Cullen is and have him sent this way?”
“Not a problem,” he was already heading back through the door, “I know where he is. I will personally let him know that you are all expecting him very soon.”
Cullen stepped with his right leg with his shield strapped to the left forearm to stab his sword into the straw of the dummy. He had slowly been putting more force into each swing, and this was the killing blow, the sword sunk through to the wooden frame.
“Shit.” He exhaled, let go of the hilt, and relaxed his stance.
“Well,” said a man’s voice a few feet behind him, “someone needs to blow off some steam.”
He turned to see Dorian standing there, staring at him with arms folded. He watched Dorian’s eyes move slowly from his matted hair down to his chest. Cullen had managed to sweat through his tunic. Feeling self-conscious now, Cullen quickly put his shield down at the dummy’s base and went to recover his coat.
“What is it, Dorian?” Cullen had set his reports down on the nearby bench with his coat on top to keep them flying away with the breeze.
While looking disappointed about the coat being back on, Dorian informed the Commander that the advisors were waiting impatiently for him.
“By the Maker! “He jerked his sword from the frame and put it back into the sheath at his waist, “How long have I been out here?!” Cullen franticly grabbed everything and began to run toward the stairs that would take him into the Great Hall.
“We should have a game in the garden later.” Cullen barely heard Dorian as he swung open the door.
Even with Leliana and Josephine’s jests at the Commander’s and Inquisitor’s expense, the meeting ended quickly. Reports of her time in the Deep Roads were gone over, daily training, logistics, and various other necessary information when running a small army. There was nothing of immediate importance that Kiara could get done today so, she opted to rest another day. So, she’d spent more time just lounging in her quarters to let go of the anxiety being late had given her, not to mention let her heart rest from seeing Cullen again. Seeing him panting and sweaty as he entered the war room had sent her face aflame. Kiara’s face was aflame once again as she laid in her bed, imagining how much better the sight of his sweat would be running down his bare chest as it heaved up and down from excursions involving herself and a different kind of sword. She sat up in bed, surprised at herself.
“Oh, Maker, I need some fresh air. I’ll go to the garden to weed and harvest my elfroot.”
Cullen took up Dorian’s offer to play. He was distracted through the majority of the game, thinking about Kiara’s rose-colored face when he looked at her, allowing Dorian to make several correct moves. Cullen finally had enough of his bragging and knew he had to pay better attention to take back the game.
“Gloat all you like; I have this one,” Cullen stated defiantly as he studied the board more intently.
“Are you sassing me, Commander?” Dorian asked while moving his turn on the board. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Why do I even,” he cut his sentence off as he saw the Inquisitor approach the gazebo. “Inquisitor!” he greeted her as he stood up from his chair and dropped the piece he was moving.
Dorian questioned the Commander, “Leaving, are you? Does this mean I win?”
Cullen immediately sat back down and fixed the dropped piece into place; he didn’t want to let Dorian win this when he could see his victory on the board.
“Please, don’t stop on my account,” Kiara assured her friends.
This was more entertaining for her than plants, after all. The bonus being that she got to be around her Commander, without the dirty thoughts abound.
“Alright,” Cullen said as he put his hands together in front of his face, “your move.”
“You need to come to terms with my inevitable victory.” Dorian sassed as he made his move. “You’ll feel much better.”
“Really? Because I just won.” Cullen stamped down his winning piece. “And I feel fine,” he let himself gloat as he leaned back in his seat with a satisfied smile.
Dorian looked at the board, stumped but only for a moment before raising his arms slightly in defeat.
“Don’t get smug. There will be no living with you.” Dorian got out of the only other chair and walked away, giving the Inquisitor a nod and smirk as he passed.
“I should return to my duties as well.” Cullen was leaning forward in his chair as if to leave when a thought occurred to him. “Unless you would care for a game?” He asked Kiara as he gestured toward the empty seat.
“Prepare the board, Commander.” Kiara sat in the offered seat.
I hope I can remember the rules. I played a lot in the Circle, but it was ages ago, it seems.
Cullen spoke as he reset the game pieces, “As a child, I played this with my sister. She would get this stuck up grin whenever she won, which was all the time.”
Kiara was admiring his smile; she’d never heard him talk about his family, and she could tell from his face that he must love them dearly.
“My brother and I practiced together for weeks, and the look on her face the day I finally won.” Cullen paused with a smirk at the memory. The smirk dropped from his face with his next sentence. “Between serving the templars and the Inquisition, I haven’t seen them in years.” He leaned back, now finished preparing the board, and pondered out loud, “I wonder if she still plays?”
”You have siblings?” Kiara asked because she enjoyed hearing about his life before meeting him, wanting to learn more about him.
“Two sisters and a brother,” Cullen answered.
“Where are they now?” Kiara asked as she moved the first piece in their game.
“They moved to South Reach after the Blight.” He looked down at his side of the board a little guiltily and said, “I do not write to them as often as I should. Ah, it’s my turn”.
I don’t want to bore her with stories of my life, Cullen thought.
She took that as a hint that the conversation about his life was over. That was a little disappointing, but Kiara was still thrilled to share an activity with him and couldn’t help smiling as they chatted about nothing in particular for the next few moves. “All right. Let’s see what you’ve got,” Kiara said to him.
“This may be the longest we’ve gone without discussing the Inquisition-or related matters,” beamed Cullen after he made another piece move positions on the board. “To be honest, I appreciate the distraction.”
“We should spend more time together.” The words shot from Kiara's lips too fast to stop them. Cullen answered her before she could panic.
“I would like that.”
She looked up to meet his smile with hers and responded, “Me too.”
So smooth, Kiara.
“You said that.” Cullen’s smile was different now, the corners of his eyes smiled with him, and his voice dropped in pitch.
Kiara was hoping she wasn’t red in the face from just seeing this new smile. The desire to cup his beautiful face with her hand was quite strong, too. Luckily, her right hand was moving a piece when the urge occurred.
Cullen’s heart wanted to soar with joy, it wasn’t a good discussion about the kiss, but it was verification that she didn’t hate him. She wanted to spend time with him, just him!
“We should finish…. our game? Right,” He bashfully said. “My turn?”
“I believe this one is yours,” Cullen admitted, relaxing back into his chair once again. “We shall have to try again sometime.”
Kiara was hypnotized by the smile she’d only seen him share with her and told him, “I’d love to do anything with you, just the two of us.”
Cullen coughed and choked on his breath.
Void, take me!
“By Andraste’s ass, I didn’t mean for that to sound like that,” she spluttered out while covering her face with her hands to hide the blushing. She put her hands into her lap. “My brain hasn’t been helping my mouth today. I’ve been thinking about you and the kiss we shared, Cullen,” Kiara confessed as she fidgeted in her chair.
“Oh,” Cullen regained his composure to look at her, “Pleasant thoughts, I hope?
“Oh, more than pleasant and very vivid!” Kiara admitted without thinking.
Now it was time for them both to blush profusely.
Does she mean… oh Maker, I wish I could read her mind. Or we could reenact the thoughts?
He rubbed the back of his neck as if that would douse the fire. “Umm, I don’t know what to say,” he damn near whispered while still rubbing his neck.
“I’ll go now. I’ve made things too awkward.” She stood up from her chair and tried to make a hasty exit when Cullen caught her hand with his right. He had to lean very far over the table to reach her hand. His left arm was propped on the table, keeping him from toppling over.
“Don’t go yet,” he pleaded, “I’m so happy that you don’t hate me for that night.”
“I could never hate you, Cullen.” She walked closer to him so he could stand again, keeping his hand in hers.
“I took advantage of your vulnerability…..”
Kiara cut him off fiercely, “No, you didn’t! I needed that assurance that someone cared for me that I could trust, and I could never fault anyone for sharing their feelings!” She looked away from his face and continued, “Everything you said and did pulled me up a lot faster than I could have ever done,” she looked back into his eyes, “so don’t show regret or doubts anymore!”
Cullen could have stared into those fresh, spring grass colored eyes for eternity, but he had to speak.
“I will do as you ask, my Lady.” He put his lips to the inside of her palm and assured her, “I will never regret anything I do with or for you” while keeping his eyes on hers, he finally let his lips plant a tender kiss.
Holy fuck, how can he go from blushing schoolboy to master of loins in less time than it takes to remove my trousers?!
Kiara panicked in her head as her whole face and body flushed with rose color.
“You better,” she barely squeaked out while slowly pulling her hand from his. “I should get back inside before I…I… don’t know.”
She turned around slowly and only managed to get a few steps between them before she realized one last thing needed to be said. So she stopped in her tracks and half-turned back to look at Cullen’s face as she spoke.
“I want to make sure we take things at a natural pace, Cullen. I don’t want you ever to worry that you’re a rebound.” She spoke kindly and confidently.
“Oh, right.” He said with a tone of surprise in his voice. He hadn’t thought of that.
“I would never want to hurt you, whether on purpose or by accident,” Kiara said, “especially when you have helped me heal my hurt” She gave him a small smile and wished him goodnight.
Cullen watched her walk back into Skyhold’s Great Hall door.
She wants a natural pace; she wants there to be a ‘we’!
You could have seen the Commander’s smile from the battlements.