Nothing is Ever Going to be the Same
Cullen put the water on to boil, found the tea bags hidden in the cabinet above the sink, a cabinet that was up so high he thought that Eleanor must have to stand on a chair to reach it. But there wasn’t much else up here that she seemed to need, so perhaps it wasn’t too much of an issue.
He made two cups, and reached for the glass jar on the counter where Eleanor had deposited leftover honey. Cullen spooned a little bit into either cup, the honey and the tea turning the hot water a rich golden brown. The sight and the smell of the tea made him feel warm all over. He almost didn’t need to drink it. Putting the lid back on the honey, he remembered the taste of the comb, a buzzing lighting up his brain with the memory of their kiss. Cullen paused, one hand wrapped around either cup, letting his eyes close, letting his lungs fill with air even as his heart began to race again. He wanted to revel in that, to think of nothing but it, but the fact that there were no footfalls coming from upstairs, no voice occasionally interrupting his and Eleanor’s conversations with some belligerent remark was throwing off his balance.
“Damn it, Dorian,” Cullen said under his breath to no one, as he swept the two cups off of the counter and brought them into the living room.
Eleanor was curled up on the couch with a book in her hand, feet slipped under a furry blue blanket. Swiffer lay stretched out along the top of the couch and, after setting the two cups of tea down on the coffee table, Cullen tried not to disturb the cat as he settled down on the couch next to Eleanor, stealing a corner of the blanket for himself. Eleanor retaliated by tucking her icy feet under his legs and giving him a wink.
Cullen sat quietly, blowing the hot steam from his tea, trying to free his mind of distractions. He tried to tell himself that there were any number of perfectly good reasons that Dorian might not have returned. He couldn’t come up with what they were, but there had to be some. He sighed, picking the tea bag up by the string and bobbing the little pouch in the water for lack of anything better to do.
“I’m worried about him too,” said Eleanor, either reading his mind or continuing their conversation from earlier. She’d been propped against the arm of the couch but now she closed her book and sat up straight, waving the text gently at Cullen. “I’ve read the same page four or five times now. I still have no idea what it said,” and she let it fall with a thump on the coffee table, next to where her tea cup sat. She reached out and picked that up instead, cradling it gently as she worked herself closer to Cullen.
“He’ll be back,” Cullen said, for himself or for her or for the both of them, because he wasn’t sure he believed it, but hearing it out loud helped. It made the idea of his return more concrete. After all, it had only been three - well, four now - days. Going on four nights.
Eleanor nodded, allowing herself to buy into Cullen’s reassurance, taking a sip of the tea and letting him put his arm around her.
“I just don’t know what would keep him, El,” Cullen muttered. Eleanor had no answers for him, so she remained quiet.
A wind was picking up outside. It rattled the windows gently, a subtle wobbling noise, and Eleanor knew from experience that it meant cold weather was on the way. It had been warmer this morning when she went out to get the honeycombs than it was in the late afternoon when she had gone out onto the porch for a smoke. She’d had to hug her arms around herself and even still she found herself shivering in her t-shirt and jeans. She supposed it was about time, but it made her sad nevertheless, made her clutch her tea a little bit tighter. It was the final thing - a natural thing, to be sure, but just one more thing - that spelled out to her that everything was changing. In the hazy summer heat it almost felt unreal, the wavy uncertainty like a mirage, this strange invasion on her land. But as the summer slipped away with finality, as fall began to give leave to winter, a hard permanence seemed to seep into everything. Cullen’s words - ninety years, two hundred years - forced themselves into her consciousness. Eleanor took a deep breath, a stupid thought pressing against her brain.
“Nothing is ever going to be the same,” she said into her cup of tea.
If he could have lied to her and told her something better, he would have. But he could not do that. “Probably not.”
She took a long drink of her tea, part of her wishing it was something stronger, another part glad that it was not. She didn’t need anything stronger, didn’t need the inebriated nudge that sometimes made a situation easier to deal with, but often times enlightened the mind to utter futility, despair. She didn’t need it, because tears were already springing to her eyes.
Eleanor tried to hide them, but the wobble of her shoulders could really only be read as one thing. With Dorian gone, with Cullen afraid, with the change that had happened, was happening inside of her, with the winter wind pressing its way against the windows of her safe haven, it was all finally too much. She sucked in a deep, shuddering breath and released it in a choked sob.
“Hey,” said Cullen gently, taking the tea cup from her hand, setting it and his own down on the table, he wrapped his arms firmly around her, crushing her frame to his chest. She buried her face against his neck and trembled, soaking the front of his shirt with tears, the dark blue fabric turning black with salt water. Cullen pressed his cheek against the top of her head, then turned his face to kiss her hair, kiss her forehead, her brow. “I’m here,” he told her.
“I know,” she moaned, gasping, crying hard, harder than she had in a long time, as hard as she had when her father had died. This felt like a different sort of loss, the loss of what she had had - a normal life, a comfortable life, bucolic, maybe, but safe, secure, quiet. The past few months were the prelude to something she should have seen coming, were a part of a bigger whole that there was no way to shake. Bad things were happening, maybe even to the people who were supposed to be here to save her. Bad things were happening to the very land beneath her feet. If that wasn’t safe, then truly, nothing was. Certainly not her, not with this magic inside of her. Even she was changing, changing from the inside out. She was a part of this, maybe a symptom of this. No, nothing would ever be the same. Not even her. Especially not her.
Cullen put his hands on the sides of her face, tipping her head up so that he could look her in the eyes.
“El, listen to me. No matter what happens, we’re going to fight this, remember? I promised you that. I won’t break that promise to you.” He reached his thumbs over her cheeks to wipe away the tears. Her eyes were red, her cheeks were flushed, her hair had bunched up awkwardly when she had pushed against him. And still, she was beautiful. Not in spite of it, but through it. “El,” he repeated, “we’ll fight.” He craned his neck down so that his lips could meet hers.
She was still crying, more gently now, but she kissed him back, slowly, not with the frantic heat they had felt in the kitchen, but in a desperate, longing way, a searching way, and she twisted her fingers through his coarse hair, holding him as he held her. He pulled her up onto his lap, fingers reaching for her waist, searching under the hem of her shirt to feel her bare skin, hot and soft against his hands. He kissed her lips, kissed her tear-stained cheeks, kissed her flushed neck, pulled her hair away, her shirt away, to kiss her shoulders, the curves of the bones that shaped them.
She whispered his name as he pressed his lips against the flesh just below her collar bones, her own pressed against his temple, kissing the top of his ear, the soft small curve tender against her mouth.
He wanted her, needed her, would take her - if and only if she would let him - but he didn’t want to do it here. It seemed too rushed, too uncouth, though his patience was growing ever thinner as his heart pounded, breath grew shallow. Cullen swept her up in his arms and lifted her like she was nothing, and Eleanor complied, wrapping her arms around his neck for balance, unable to stop kissing him even as he stood. It seemed like miles to cross the living room, the hallway, but he made it and pushed open her bedroom door, carelessly slamming it shut behind him, the sound reverberating through the whole house, reminding them how quiet the night was in its loudness.
He laid her down on the bed in the darkness, climbing down next to her, his hands tugging the hem of her shirt up and over her head, his mouth staying below to kiss the flesh of her stomach, her ribs, using those same bones then to pull her close as she responded in kind, and his shirt joined hers on the floor. Eleanor ran her hands over his chest, hard with muscle but softening with age, grabbed at the spot where his shoulders met the back of his neck as he reached behind her, fumbling now with the clasp of her bra.
She hadn’t thought of it before this moment - alright, she had thought of it on more than one evening, but not like this - but she laughed softly as she allowed, “Guess they don’t have these where you come from,” and she reached behind herself to unhook the clasp. He blushed, and was glad it was dark, even if she could feel the warmth in his cheeks. It lasted only a moment before his hands found what they really wanted, and he cupped her breasts, bringing a hard nipple to his mouth, kissing it at first, and then daring to use his teeth.
Eleanor cried out, and Cullen nearly stopped, until he heard her gasp and beg, “Please - yes -” and he obliged, as she grabbed his hair in one hand and held him there, her body almost recoiling in pleasure. Her empty hand reached out to grasp the bed sheets, and she made a fist as her knees drew up nearly to her chest.
Even as his mouth stayed where it was, his hands worked down to slide off her pants, soft black sweatpants that she’d tugged on after her shower. They came away easily, and his thumbs hooked in the band of her underwear, pulling them off as well. Cullen trailed his fingertips down her belly, past her navel, and he released her nipple from his teeth to kiss her again as he cupped her mound. If the skin of her back had been hot, her sex was like grasping a candle. She moaned against his mouth as his fingers traced her full lower lips, the soft tangle of dark hair parting as he pressed a finger within her, slow, shallow at first, then deeper. She broke away from his mouth and made a pleading sound, her fingers grasping his back tight, releasing the bedspread with the other hand to reach for the button of his fly.
“Maker, yes,” he breathed as she moved him away from her just far enough that she could undress him as he had her, and she eased him onto his back as her lips found his hipbones, teased the tops of his thigh. She ran the tip of a finger up the shaft of his penis, and now it was Cullen whose hands made fists, who cried out into the night as she took him into her mouth, ran her lips, her tongue up and down along the length of him and he wanted to grab her, wanted to make her stop before he finished right then and there and Maker did he want to but he didn’t want it to be over so soon -
As though she could hear his thoughts, she released him, her lips finding their way back up his body, leaving a trail of kisses in her wake, and when her tongue ran a circle around his nipple, she found he enjoyed the sensation almost as much as she had. And then their mouths were together again, and she slid one leg over him, took his shaft in her hand once more if only to guide him inside of her.
“El - Ellie,” he breathed as she worked her hips up and down, sighing softly but with voice, a voice that told him that she was where he was, already on the edge, and he reached out his hands to grab her hips, to slow her down, lifting his head from the pillow to kiss her tenderly. He wanted this to last all night - knew it wouldn’t, knew it was already almost over, but flames if he wouldn’t have her as long as he could.
Her hair hung down beside her face, covering it like a sheet, and he reached out and pulled it away, wanting to see her expression despite the darkness, her closed eyes, her parted lips. He brushed it all over to one side, and Eleanor took his hand, now free, and twisted her fingers up in his, pressing the back of his hand into the pillow beside his head. Her bottom lip was in her teeth; she was struggling, like him, to keep from breaking too soon. It had been too long, too long since she’d been with anyone, but Eleanor knew that it wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t been; she needed Cullen in a way different from any of the other people she’d needed before. She trembled, too close, on the edge and wanting to hold back but not wanting to at all, not anymore.
Eleanor brought her head down and kissed his mouth hard, and something inside of her released. Her whole body shook, the fingers that had been holding his stretched out now as if reaching for something, the other hand pressed hard against the headboard to keep her steady.
Cullen gasped for air against her lips, the muscles that throbbed around him pushing him ever closer to the edge of his own abyss. He brought up one knee, held tight with his arms around her back, and turned her onto her side, her back, pushing quickly inside of her once more as soon as as his legs, his elbows were stable beneath him. Her hair fanned out on the pillows now and he rested his wrist beside her head, caressing her temple, her brow with his thumb, even as his own body pushed him onward, urged his hips to continue their up and down.
Eleanor held his hips, her own body now moving in sync with his even as waves of pleasure still flooded her from before. She could feel his muscles growing rigid, movements becoming shorter, the sinews of his arms that held him up becoming strained and taught. She pushed her hips against him, pressing him deep, deeper still within her.
Cullen’s eyes were shut tight, his head tipped up. “Maker - B-blessed... Andras -” Quickly, he lowered himself down, wrapping his arms around Eleanor, one under her shoulders, palm cradling her head, one in the curve of the small of her back, and he drove down into her with a sound that was more like pain than prayer as he gave in.
His cheek, slick with sweat, pushed against hers, lips parted wide as he gasped for air and a second impact of release hit him hard, hips forcing down now almost against his will. She took his head in her hands, squeezing the back of his neck tenderly to ease the tightness there.
His body pulsed a third time, a fourth, again and again, each rush a little smaller, a little less intense than the last, but he kept his arms wrapped around her, not wanting to let her go, not wanting this blissful moment to end. Eleanor turned her head, brushed her lips against his, bringing up her knees a bit to let her back, his body relax without either of them having to move. She stretched out an arm for him to lay his head against and he nestled there, between her shoulder and neck.
Cullen’s heart was pounding in his chest, feeling like it might burst even as he relaxed now, holding Eleanor, she holding him, her face turned to meet his, their noses just barely touching.
He felt so good laying here, exhausted, still buried inside of her. He quietly said, “El,” by way of telling her so.
“Cul,” she answered, with a jog in her breath that almost sounded like a laugh, the kind of laugh not caused by humor but by the overwhelming happiness that had welled up in her chest, but it was soft and gentle and it made him want nothing more than to never move, nothing more than just to lay here and listen to her say his name.