When Cullen spots yet another note on his table, carelessly folded, he has no doubt as to whom it's from. He rushes to retrieve it before Cassandra pays attention, pocketing it to conceal it from her prying eyes.
Oh yes, this is all too familiar.
He takes a seat and tries immersing himself into official correspondence. Scout reports, missives from their allied forces, dinner invitations, inquiries about his heritage... he sighs, hiding his head in his hands. The latter two types of mail had not stopped pouring in after what had happened at the Winter Palace. He crumbles the offending letters and chucks them into the trashcan.
Cassandra throws him a questioning glance over her book. "A bad day, Commander?" she asks, her eyes seeking the words she'd been reading before the interruption.
"Not particularly," he responds, unwilling to let her in on his plight. He would never hear the end of it should she know. Speaking of things she ought not to know about, he glances at the corner of the note peeking from beneath his armor. "Is it not time for you to have lunch?"
"Is it lunch already?" she asks, putting down her novel. "I seem to have lost my sense of time while reading this cursed thing," she scoffs, dusting off her armor before striding off, closing the door behind her unceremoniously.
Cullen slides the note from his pocket and unfolds it impatiently.
"Roses are red,
violets are blue.
I get so distracted,
Cos I want to fuck you."
A laughter bursts from his mouth, his eyes twinkling in delight. Oh, Carver. Never change.
When Ser Carver joined the Inquisition two or so weeks ago, almost immediately following his brother's departure, Cullen had guessed that something like this would happen. He had been nothing if not persistant over the years, and Cullen had figured his feelings hadn't changed since he'd last heard of him - a mere crumbled note sent from the road two months ago. The man had sworn his oath to the Inquisitor with his eyes fixed on Cullen, the ever-familiar twinkle present, confirming his suspicions. Cullen had blushed and turned his head, keeping his posture formal as the ceremony was concluded.
"So, Commander Cullen. Not my Knight-Captain anymore, are you?" Carver whispered to him once the eyes of everyone present were not laid on him. "The years have been kind to you, Ser."
Cullen coughed awkwardly, not quite meeting the ex-Templar's eyes. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Ser Carver. I trust you are well?"
Carver chuckled. "Exceptionally well, now that I'm here. I hear they plan to accommodate me in the western tower. I am apparently getting a room of my own. Just so you know," the man grinned, no question as to what he was alluding to.
"I.. I hope you will find our humble castle to your liking, Ser Carver. Let me know if there is anything I can do to add to your comfort," Cullen responded stiffly, instantly mortified by his choice of words. That had sounded different in his head. He closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath.
"Oh, I can think of several ways you can add to my... satisfaction," Carver grinned, the following laughter bright and loud. Mercifully, he turned around with a wink and went to mingle with the others. "I hope to see you soon, Ser."
The notes started appearing regularly after that evening. There was at least one waiting for him every day. Nobody admitted to knowing how they were delivered, or by whom. Usually they were clumsy poems, not very romantic in their nature, but sweet and amusing. Cullen had realised very quickly that they were not something he could read while in company - he'd either laugh out loud or blush a crimson shade of red.
He re-reads the note a few times, smoothing the ink gently with his thumb. Carver had sent them during their Kirkwall days, too, but Cullen could not have done anything about them back then. He had sworn an oath to serve the Order, to keep their mages secure, and even if tomfoolery between Templars had not been frowned upon, he couldn't have risked getting distracted by another person. He had sent them after their ways had parted in Kirkwall, sporadically reminding Cullen that he had not been forgotten.
He fumbles for a hidden box beneath his desk, grabbing purchase and pulling it in his lap. He opens the lid and slips the newest note inside. There must be a hundred of them by now, he thinks, scanning the collection. The older ones are yellowed by time, a precious few are a pretty shade of beige, while the new additions stand in stark contrast with their fresh white hue. He smiles to himself; perhaps the timing is finally right for them.
He closes the box, putting it back in its hiding place, and follows Cassandra to lunch.
"Commander, I have an urgent message for you. Corporal Carver stressed that you ought to read it at your earliest convenience," Scout... Jim, was it, announces, out of breath. He fumbles with the note, dropping it on the floor before Cullen has the chance to take it from him. "Sorry, Ser."
The incompetent fool crouches down to get it, unfolding it in the process. He looks at it quickly, eyes widening as he catches the words.
"Hand it over to me this instant, Scout!" Cullen bellows, stomach dropping in horror. Why had Carver trusted one of his poems to the hands of this insufferable klutz? He leans in to snatch the paper out of the man's hands, indignant and rash.
The Scout has turned red, his eyes flicking wildly from side to side, hasty apologies falling from his mouth as he stands rooted to the spot.
"Dismissed, Scout!" Cullen snaps, too harshly, and watches as the man rushes off in terror.
As the door closes behind the Scout, Cullen sits down by his table and lays his head on the table, trying to recover from his scare. He must apologize to the young man later, his conscience supplies urgently. He half-lays there for a little while, his heartbeat calming down slowly. He unfolds the note in his hand, bringing it in front of his face.
"Saw a guy once upon a time,
had the nicest pair of glutes,
had a really hot smile.
Would give him all my loots."
Cullen reads it over once, twice, thrice. Then he dissolves in laughter that just won't stop. He giggles with his head still on the table, tears escaping the corner of his eye, a wet spot spreading on the report he's leaned against. No wonder Scout Jim was astonished. Luckily Carver wasn't in the habit of signing his work!
The door opens as Cassandra enters the room, and Cullen straightens in surprise. She gazes at him, her expression unreadable. "Headaches again?"
Cullen composes himself, hiding the note under the table as the lady approaches her chair by the bookshelves. "Afraid so, Cass. What do they have for dinner tonight?"
"Why don't you go and find out for yourself? You look like you could use a break," she suggests, eyeing him from beneath her pointy brows as she picks up the tome she's been studying today. "Besides, it would do good for the troops' morale to have their Commander sit with them for once."
Cullen halts at the words, furrows his brows. Her lips are curled in a knowing smile, barely there but visible as she turns the page of her book. Cullen knows a trap when he sees one, but something tells him he ought to take the bait. "You are right, of course. I will be back in a bit."
She suppresses a grin. "Of course you will."
Cassandra's suggestion of sitting with his soldiers is genuinely a good one, and Cullen searches for familiar faces of his men across the hall, a steaming bowl of soup in hand. He spots a pair of former Kirkwall Templars and walks towards their table. As he comes closer, he recognizes Carver in the midst of the group. The only free seat is right beside him, because of course it is.
He takes his seat, fighting the compulsion to blush as Carver greets him with a broad smile. He spends the meal talking to his subordinates, complimenting their achievements in what he hopes is an encouraging manner, all the while feeling Carver's thigh press against his own purposefully. It is awkward as Void, but at least he's not blushing in front of his men.
"Commander, may I have a word with you in private after dinner?" Carver asks suddenly, formal and convincing were it not for the fingers creeping on Cullen's thigh - as if asking for permission, tentative and unsure.
"Of course, Corporal," Cullen manages, relatively steady under the circumstances. He turns his attention back to his soup, downing spoonfuls in a manner he hopes won't seem hurried, but efficient. It is very important to show an example of efficiency to his troops, after all. Carver's hand lays its full weight on his leg, thumb brushing up and down as he attempts to engage in conversation between the spoonfuls. He laughs in all the right places, taking cues from the Corporal beside him, doing an acceptable job in pretending to be mentally present.
"I will have to take my leave now. Paperwork awaits. Take a rest for tonight and relax. That is an order," Cullen announces upon finishing his soup, seeking the eyes of each of his men by the table. He gets up, losing the pleasant contact of Carver's hand. "Corporal? You wished to speak with me? Shall we walk?"
Carver hastens to stand up, picking up his plate and following him to the kitchen.
The door clicks closed behind them as they enter Cullen's mercifully empty office. Cassandra's book lies on the table, cover up, while the woman herself is nowhere to be seen. Cullen turns around to regard the other man, lifting his brow in question. "Did you have something on your mind?"
Carver grins, regarding him from beneath his brows. A slight blush paints his cheeks, the only betrayal of nerves in his otherwise self-assured countenance. "Ser, I was merely wondering if you'd received any strange mail as of late?"
Straight to business, then. Cullen feigns surprise, lifting his eyebrows and crossing his arms across his chest. He half-sits on his desk. "Hmm," he muses, "I suppose I have. Some Orlesian nobles have been awfully curious of my descent."
"And that is all, Ser?" Carver asks with a smile, leaning against the door, his feet crossed in a manner far too casual for a Corporal in the company of a Commander.
"Well, there is the matter of poetry I seem to be in the habit of receiving quite frequently. I really couldn't begin to guess as to who would write such words about me," he tsks, daring a challenging gaze at Carver as he shakes his head.
Carver grins again, pushing himself off of the door and taking a few tentative steps towards the Commander. He tilts his head, cocking his hips ever-so-slightly as he takes his place in the middle of the room. "Poetry, Ser? That is awfully tasteless. Who would do such a thing?" he darts his ice-blue eyes at Cullen, the tone of his voice not one bit as disdainful as his words suggest.
"I have actually found them rather enjoyable, Corporal. They are not lacking in imagination, and they never fail to elicit a smile out of me," Cullen replies, quiet and suggestive. He watches as the other man chuckles, approaching him with another step.
"Perhaps whomever wrote them is not that well-versed in poetry, but still wishes to make an impression on the esteemed Commander," he says as he steps into Cullen's personal space.
"Perhaps he has succeeded in doing so," Cullen confesses coyly, "perhaps he succeeded years ago." The familiar blush is back on his face. So, this is happening at last.
"I am sure that is exactly the effect he was hoping for," Carver says, low and undeniably hungry, closing in on the few more inches it takes to reach Cullen. He places his arms on both sides of the Commander, trapping him against the table, making a space for himself between his legs. "I'm sure all his loot is yours to have. Makes one wonder if the Commander would accept such an offering."
Cullen gasps, so close to his admirer, so many years' worth of unaddressed feelings unknotting in his chest. "I do think the Commander would accept such an offering," he breathes, catching the other man's darkened eyes above him. "Especially since the Inquisition has no rules to forbid such gifts."
"Well, I am sure the poet finds that especially appealing about the Inquisition, among other things, of course," Carver whispers, lowering his face to hover mere fractions above Cullen's, his eyes half-closed, his breath tickling his nose.
"Blonde curls framing his lovely face,
the Commander of my very soul,
It'd be a shame and a disgrace,
If I were to lose my self-control"
"Ser Carver," Cullen says sternly. "Shut the fuck up," he huffs and pulls the other man down for a kiss.