I'll Have What You're Having
By the time he strolled in, she had claimed a table on the patio. There was room for four, but she was the only one seated at it. Dorian had claimed a place at the bar, at least for now, pursuing a drinks menu and a small cooler full of craft beers, his eyes darting between the list and the fridge and the taps lined up behind the bar. He looked intent, so Cullen walked past him and went out onto the patio to the table where Eleanor sat alone. She had nicked an ashtray from a nearby table and was fishing her cigarettes out of her purse. Pulling out the chair opposite her, he sat with a thud.
Their spot was in the corner, furthest away from the lights of the bar. The table next to them was empty, but the two next to that had occupants, two at one table, six at another. Inside, there were a few people clustered around the bar watching some sort of sporting event on large televisions - televisions that still unnerved Cullen for reasons he couldn’t quite articulate - and Dorian and the soldiers had hung back, staying inside as well, some at the bar, some at the few small booths that lined one wall of the place. And that was all there was. It was a small place, but well-appointed; rich dark woods and soft cushions on the seats, and Cullen took comfort in the fact that at least some things were the same here as they were in Thedas. If the drinks were cold and the beer was dark, it would be par for the course.
Eleanor had lit her cigarette and took a long drag from it before offering it to Cullen. He was picking up the habit; instinctively he hated it, was reminded too much of the lyrium he had been so dependant on, but it was soothing, it gave him something to do with his hands when they had no other task, gave him something to do with his mouth when words were hard or unnecessary. Eleanor had made it very clear that it was not healthy, that it was not as socially acceptable as it had once been, but those were the least of his concerns. He never bought his own, only thieved one now and then from Eleanor’s fingers, and she always gave them willingly. He took it from her now, his knuckles bumping hers, and whatever tension there had been between them back at the house was overturned as she breathed out smoke and he breathed it in. The air out here was cool and fresh; a chill was settling in and Eleanor pulled down the previously shoved-up sleeves of her flannel, asking, “What are you drinking?”
“I’ll have what you’re having,” he said with a mouthful of blue haze.
“Good answer,” she smiled, and slung the strap of her purse over her chair. “Watch my things?” It was a question but she didn’t wait for an answer, only stood and went for the door that readmitted her to the bar proper. Of course he would watch her things.
He would probably do anything she asked of him.
The thought crossed his mind of its own volition, and he set the cigarette down, rubbing the bridge of his nose with index finger and thumb. It was a ridiculous thought, for more reasons than one. First off, of course he would; she was not the kind to ask anything unreasonable. She asked for what she needed, almost never even what she wanted, nothing so base as wanting. She took care of her own wants and requested only assistance with things she could not do alone, things she would not even have to concern herself with if the Inquisition had not broadly commandeered her land. And second, he would absolutely not. That was ridiculous. Would he jump off of a bridge if she asked him to? Indeed not.
But he might just jump if she asked.
Cullen rolled his eyes at himself and reached again for the cigarette, seeking comfort in its nicotine calm and in the next moment, Eleanor had elbowed open the patio door, a mud-dark beer in either hand.
“Dorian’s causing a stir,” she said, but with a flatness of voice that implied that there was no real trouble.
“I should expect as much. What is it this time?”
“Oh, the usual. Being handsome. Having an accent. He’ll have to bat the ladies off with a fly swatter.”
“Won’t they be disappointed,” Cullen said with a smirk.
“And how,” Eleanor agreed, “but looks like there’s a gentleman in there who won’t be,” and she peered back through the glass of the door with a conspiratorial grin.
He grinned with her, but a part of him frowned at her declaration of his cohort’s relative attractiveness. It was true, when it came to looks Dorian didn’t leave much wanting, unless one wasn’t into the tall, dark, and handsome type. Without thinking, Cullen reached up to self-consciously smooth his coarse, kinky hair, flecked with grey, ran his hand down to scratch his stubble.
“Why so pouty?” Eleanor asked, setting down her beer and wiping the foam from her lip with the back of her hand, and Cullen realized the grin had slipped off of his face. “If you wanted a chance with him, I’m sure you’ve had plenty of opportunities.”
The commander rolled his eyes at the suggestion and butted the spent cigarette, bringing the frothy black beer up from the table and taking a long drink.
It was cold and dark.
Cullen closed his eyes against the taste, and in his mind he again conjured up the idea of home.
At the table once removed from their own, Eleanor listened to a young man and a woman in what could only be described as superficial conversation. She stole a quick glance over her shoulder to sneak a peek at them, and from their body language it was clear the couple didn’t know each other well. Perhaps a first or second date. She heard the young man go on about his family for a bit, the woman interjecting agreement or dissent here and there, before she opened up first about her own home life, and then about work.
For them, she cringed.
“Dating sucks,” she said out loud, though she mostly meant it for herself. She hadn’t seen anyone seriously since before her father died; she’d had two serious relationships, one that lasted through all of college which ended amicably when they each graduated, and one just after that which lasted barely a year and a half and ended with tears and shouting and one thrown shoe. After her father’s passing she found herself content to be alone, to socialize via the wonderful world of the web, and she’d had a few online flings but nothing where either party wanted to take things to the next level, and for that, she was glad. She liked getting to know people, it wasn’t that. But there was something about getting to know someone with the intent of - what? Marriage? Fucking? - that made dating so painful, gut-wrenchingly awkward. She’d never dated anyone she hadn’t already known as a friend - her college boyfriend she’d known for years beforehand - and Eleanor didn’t know how anyone could. Hello perfect stranger, she thought, let me try to get to know you that we may spend the rest of our lives together even though neither of us know if we had a damned thing in common. She sighed and chugged the rest of her beer in solidarity with the young woman who had now been edged out of her own portion of the conversation by the young man who had lost all notion of the word ‘brevity.’ No, Eleanor found herself rather pleased with the notion of becoming a cat lady, even if she only had the one cat.
When she lifted her eyes from her now-drained glass, however, she found Cullen’s brown eyes locked on her, lines of concern marking the commander’s face.
“Someone kick your dog?” she asked, and the expression faltered, but did not fade. Instead he tipped his head toward the pair a table away and said to her sadly, “That’s going nowhere.”
Eleanor’s face cracked into a grin. “That’s about what I was thinking.”
“Seems we’re on the same page.”
She bobbed her head in agreement. “S’nice.” Eleanor looked again at her drained pint, then started, “I never asked you if -” but as though she had not said the words at all, she cut herself off, stood, snatched up her glass, and asked, “Get you another?”
He took the last swallow from his own pint and handed the empty glass to her in answer.