I Apologize in Advance for Myself
Eleanor sidled up to the bar where there was an empty space, and she set the two glasses down on its smooth, wooden surface waiting for the bartender to have a free moment to repeat her order. She didn’t recognize the young man who was pulling the taps; the last time she had been her it had been Mary, a friend of her father’s from years back. But she supposed that, even if she were still here, and she very well might be, that she had to have a night off every once in a while. The crowd was small, and she had been a bartender for years and years; perhaps they scheduled her on nights that were busier, since she had more experience. For right now, though, she propped herself half on and half off of a bar stool, one foot still planted firmly on the ground for support, and Eleanor found her eyes drifting slowly up to the screens where the football game was being played. The action was interrupted by a commercial, and Eleanor’s brow furrowed as she tried to suss out the advertisement being aimed at her without the aid of sound.
Behind her, a silky voice asked of her, “I need a favor.”
Eleanor turned slowly, having recognized the cadence of the voice from its first syllable. “What’s up, Dorian?”
He reached over her shoulder, his front pressed against her back, and continued speaking against her ear, “Do you see those young ladies over there?”
Eleanor caught sight of a pair of women huddling together near where Dorian had at first been sitting. “Mm,” she answered.
“Apparently, ‘I’m not interested in women’ isn’t a good enough answer for persistent, inebriated members of the female species.”
She knew exactly what he meant. “I can go talk to them.”
“No,” he said, resting the hand that was pointing gently on her shoulder. “Anissa already tried. But she didn’t want to start a fight, so she backed down.”
“They seriously won’t take ‘I’m gay’ for an answer?”
“Apparently they think they can convince me otherwise,” he said with bemusement in his lilting voice. “I didn’t want to tell them that others had already tried, lest it encourage them further.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” she asked, turning her head awkwardly to try and meet his eyes, but he remained firm in his almost embracing stance.
Dorian now tipped his head to meet her sideways gaze. “I want you to kiss me.”
Eleanor gave him a dead-eyed look, before asking flatly, “How much have you had to drink?”
He turned a bit so that his body was now pressed against her left arm. “I’m not kidding. If telling them I don’t want them won’t work, maybe telling them I want someone else will. Even if it’s a lie. Not that I wouldn’t - I mean - you’re perfectly lovely -”
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “Make Micah do it,” she indicated one of the three young men who had come to the bar with them, one of the soldiers she knew better since he’d helped her harvest strawberries on a day back in August.
“I wouldn’t ask that of him. And it might just instigate the women further.”
Slumping with a sigh, she countered, “Well then make Annisa do it.”
“I tried, believe me. But it seems as though she’d be more interested in you than me.” He blinked and turned his gaze back to the four soldiers at the bar, and the two women who were clearly waiting for him to return. “And she has a sword.”
“Well, not with her.”
“I have a gun!”
“Well, not with you.”
Sighing, Eleanor pushed Dorian away gently.
The bartender came to the other side of the bar and pointed at Eleanor’s two empty glasses with a smile. She nodded and said over the sound of the music, “And it looks like I’m going to need a shot of Jack. You know what, make it a double.” The young man nodded and took her glasses away, clinking down a double shot glass and turning around quickly to grab the bottle from behind the bar and flipping it over to pour it into the tiny glass. He did it with a bit of a flourish and slid the shot closer to Eleanor. She took it and slammed it down, making a pinched face as she replaced the empty glass and lolled her head from left to right to left again.
“Alright.” she said, and reached up, grabbing the back of his head with her left hand and grabbing him around the waist with her right. Eleanor pulled him to face her and with one succinct yank, she forced his mouth against hers.
Dorian resisted at first but only out of surprise before opening his lips gently and going in for the kill. He reached up to press his hands against her back, her skin warm through her shirt. He tasted the whisky on her lips and didn’t mind at all.
Eleanor made a fist with her left hand, taking his hair between her fingers and tipping her head to get a better purchase on his mouth. If she were going to do this, she was going to do it right. She used the angle of her head opposing his to take a peek behind him and see if the girls were watching. Boy, were they ever. How could they not be, Eleanor thought, as she let her eyes slip closed again. Dorian’s lips were full and soft and hungry and tasted vaguely fruity - maybe he’d been drinking wine, but she hadn’t noticed - and the whole experience was not unpleasant, she had to admit.
When Eleanor felt she’d gone on long enough to be convincing, she loosed her grasp on his waist, his hair, and slowly broke away from his mouth, but he kept his nose close to hers, his eyes still shut, and he breathed out a deep, satisfied breath against her lips.
“Well,” he said softly, just loud enough to be heard over the din of the bar, “that’s one way to do it.”
Her lips pursed into a smile and she pressed them to his again, just for an instant, before she lifted her right hand to twiddle her fingers at the onlookers, grabbed her beers, and left.
Cullen had seen the whole thing. What he hadn’t done, however, was overhear the conversation that lead to the display of affection the two at the bar, two people he thought he had pegged, and definitely had trusted.
The air around him felt shockingly cold now, and he rolled down his sleeves and hugged his shirt shut as Eleanor came once again onto the patio. He didn’t speak to her or thank her as she set the rich brown beer before him.
“Well,” she said, apparently unphased by his silence, “that was weird.”
“I should say so,” he said with a huff, “What in Andraste’s bleeding name was that?”
Eleanor sensed an irritation in his voice, an irritation that was miles away from the blinding - and senseless - rage that Cullen was feeling.
“Dorian was being harassed by some young ladies at the bar so I’m apparently pretending to be his girlfriend tonight to let him drink in peace.”
And just like that, all the rage was sucked away from him. “He didn’t tell them he wasn’t interested?”
“They apparently accepted it as a challenge instead of a refusal.”
Cullen blinked, and wrapped his hand around his cold beer, the heat of embarrassment warming up the formerly frigid night air of what he had mistaken for rejection.
Ah, he thought to himself. There it is.
So he did the only thing he knew how to do. He picked up his beer, and drank it down, draining half of it in just a few swallows. He didn’t know what to do now. If he told her what he had felt, then he would by extension be forced to admit his feelings for her. If he kept it silent, so be it, but just how long would he keep his mouth shut? Until she gave him a sign? Should he wait for her to make the first move? Should he not say anything at all? They were, after all, working together. They were effectively living together. And while having a relationship in that circumstance might be its own sort of domestic bliss, if she did reject him, or if they ended it later, he might be stuck in Indiana for Maker knows how long, living off of her kindness, a kindness he didn’t know would last in the event of an emotional split. But, he reasoned, he could always just live in the barn with his troops. He would only have to see her… Well, almost every day, really, to keep her abreast of their movements and discoveries, of any darkspawn activity, and if and when the Archdemon showed itself and the Grey Wardens were summoned it would probably be a constant back and forth of information and planning, of resupplying and maybe even eventual relocation. And if they did stay together, what would happen when he had to go back to Thedas? Would she come? Leave her whole life behind? Ostensibly they would breach the Veil as little as little as possible - maybe even never again - once this whole Blight situation was resolved. Or maybe they would leave the rift on the farm open, a doorway to sister world. Regardless, he would not use it for his own personal means, certainly not. A long-distance relationship was out of the question. Was it worth the risk? Was any of it worth the risk?
And here he was, worrying about the long term when he didn’t even know if she felt anything for him. What if she felt nothing? She didn’t seem to mind his closeness, his obvious friendship to the point of favoritism. She never asked him for space, never minded when he reached for her hand to steal her cigarette. Was it just closeness fostered by a common enemy? Was it just that he had given her no reason to object to him? Did his concerns, his fears, even really matter?
As if in answer, she picked herself up from the chair she had been sitting in, the one opposite him at the table, and sat herself down in the chair next to him instead, their bodies separated now only by the ninety degree angle that was the table’s corner. She had a cigarette in her fingers - she must have lit it while he was lost in thought - and she leaned into him conspiratorially.
“Cullen,” she said, and he liked the sound of his name in her mouth, “I’m going to tell you something.”
He bit the inside corner of his lip and smiled. “Go on, then.”
Eleanor pointed falteringly back toward the bar. “I had a few shots in there. At once. It’s Dorian’s fault, it really is.” She clutched her beer in one hand and brought the cigarette to her lips with the other. Breathing out the smoke, she said, “This may cause me to tell you a few more things once it hits my system.”
He suspected gently that it already had.
“I apologize in advance,” she went on, “for… myself.” She licked her lips, and reached out her hand to him. “Cigarette?”
Grinning, Cullen’s eyes drifted from the slowed sparkle in her eyes to the flush on her cheeks to the cigarette in her hand. He sighed, daring to close his hand around hers just a second longer than he normally would. “Please.” Maker, but her eyes were so blue.
Eleanor opened her mouth to say something, but flicked her eyes away, her tongue probing idly at the spaces behind her teeth as she put her thoughts together, or tried to. When she turned her gaze back to him, she said only, “You look good in that shirt.” And, after a pause, “I don’t want to be the drunkest one here. I’m gonna buy you a shot or seven.”
He laughed, finally taking the cigarette away from her, and tipped his chin toward the bar. “Hurry back.”
Her question, “You drink whisky?” was a promise that she would.