War is Never Cheap Here (4/12)Authors: cherith
Dragon Age: OriginsPairing:
Bann Teagan/Ser CauthrienSeries Rating:
Teagan brings Cauthrien back. Cauthrien proposes discretion. (Ao3
)Notes: War is Never Cheap Here
will be updating weekly, on Fridays. Projected length looking like twelve chapters.Chapters: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12Chapter Four
They were just over halfway back to town when the sun rose to its zenith and Cauthrien pulled up. The ride back hadn't been nearly as frantic as the ride out, and she had spent most of it quiet. They stopped in a small field with uncultivated, calf-high grasses and a few trees to provide shade.
When she dropped from her garron's saddle, she immediately began undoing the buckles and laces that kept her plate in place. First off were her gauntlets and helm, then greaves and cloak, and then she began working at her breastplate. She didn't look over to him.
After those impulsive kisses, she'd retreated again, but it seemed to be a thoughtful retreat - nowhere near the sulking fury of before.
He had tried to think about their conversation as they rode back. Grateful as he was for the time to think, he was eager to get home- and not just to put something on his face to start the healing. He watched her with quick, nervous glances to assess her state of mind. He was mostly
sure that she wasn’t in attack mode anymore, and that this Cauthrien was just... thoughtful.
"I'm guessing," she said, frowning and tugging at a stubborn strap, "that you didn't bring food or water."
Even though it hurt still, he smiled a bit at her question. “I was in a bit of a hurry.” See, I met this woman...
She sighed and abandoned her armor for a moment, going back to the horse (Calenhad, she had called him on the ride back) to pull down a waterskin. She came close enough to hold it out to him and no closer.
"No excuse," she said, though there as a quirk of a smile at one corner of her mouth.
“Well, next time I plan to ride down after someone, I’ll make sure to grab food and water before I leave.” He shrugged, not reaching out for the skin just yet. Instead, he touched his face tenderly, trying to feel at the swollen bits to see how much they hurt to the touch, how much it might swell.
It was going to be hard to explain, the bruise that would be left behind, or the scar- he couldn’t tell for sure if she’d broken skin since it all hurt to touch. If she had, he couldn't feel blood yet.
“Still, we’re not that far from the house that we can’t go without a little longer.”
"We'll survive, yes," she said, then grimaced as she looked closely at his face. Carefully, she uncapped the waterskin, poured some water into her hand and stepped close enough that she could let the cool liquid trickle over the worst of it.
"It seemed like a better idea than punching you, at the time," she apologized.
The water did feel good on his skin, still warm with pain. He winced as it stung a few places and guessed the skin had broken after all.
“I appreciate your restraint.”
He lifted his hand again to reach for her, but hesitated, unsure where exactly he might do so. He settled for cupping his palm around her cheek, fingertips grazing her ear.
She blushed, and after a moment's pause, pressed a little more firmly with her fingers to clean off the grit that had been in her gauntlets and had ended up embedded in his skin, little sliding motions. Her other hand rose to touch his. She focused on her work, though, not looking him in the eye.
"I could have killed you."
“Could have, but didn’t.”
Maker- but he had no idea what possessed him to ride out after her. He only knew that at the time, he had felt that it needed to be done, that someone - and no one else would - needed to help her see reason. Help her understand that he wanted her to stay. Still, he wasn’t sure why he wanted to.
But he did.
He shook his head. “And I’m grateful you didn’t.” He remembered the look on her face when she had dropped the sword completely. It was a look he never wanted to see again.
She let her hands drop and bit at her bottom lip. "... Didn't, and couldn't," she said, quietly, and then turned away to finish unbuckling her armor.
His hand hung in mid-air. Swallowing hard, he let it drop and watched her finish removing her armor. She was still adjusting to whatever had happened, whatever he had said that had finally reached her.
He wanted to reiterate that it was a good thing. That he was glad, not only to not have been run through with her sword, but that she hadn’t lunged at him on sight- or when he said he wasn’t leaving, or when he said Fuck Loghain
. He was pretty sure that all of that was what had earned him the slap- and it could have been much worse.Hurt me
. She had asked him last night and he had refused. It wasn’t- she wasn’t-
“Cauthrien,” he said slowly. It wasn’t a question, but a statement of intent. Of peace.
He did not move towards her, though he wanted to; hands flexed at his sides, wanting to touch her. But he watched her instead, waited to see if she would turn around, unsure what he would do if she did.
"I don't know who I am, anymore," she said, as she let the last of her armor fall to the grass.
She turned to face him again.
He gave her a small, sad smile. He already knew that; had suspected that she had been working on that when he had found her drinking in the kitchen, drowning in guilt and in alcohol. It didn’t take much to close the distance between them and he sidestepped her armor as he approached. He put his hand back to her face, stroked his thumb across her cheek.
“I’m here,” he said. It wasn’t an acknowledgement of her statement, not really. He couldn’t help her figure that out. He could, however, support her while she worked through it and even found that he wanted to. Maybe that was what he had seen earlier, what had scared her so much.
It wasn’t that he wanted to fix her. He just wanted to be around to see her try to fix herself.
"You're one of the last people in Thedas who should give a damn about what happens to me," she said, and there was no anger there- confusion and sadness, yes, but no anger, and she leaned into his touch.
“Maybe that’s true.” He let his hand slide a bit further, his fingertips curling into her hair. “But the Maker seems to have a good sense of humor.” With a chuckle and a wince when it hurt, he continued, “And I seem to be at peace with that.”
He hoped she could be too. And the way she leaned into his hand was an indication, small and tentative as it was, that maybe she did.
For a brief moment, she stayed there, eyes lowered and skin pressed against his, but then she fell forward slightly as Calenhad came close and bumped his head against her arm. With an unsteady smile, she pulled away. She didn't go far, though, only to her horse's side and where she had dropped the waterskin. She offered to him once more as she fished in her saddlebag for something.
"You do need to actually drink this," she said as that thin smile made another elusive appearance. "Do not make me force you."
Her hand stilled and she winced, hearing her own words. "Maker," she muttered, tossing the waterskin to him and resuming with more intensity her search, finally pulling out an apple and offering it to Calenhad. He accepted the gift with all the slow dignity of a monarch and then turned his attention away from them.
Teagan, unsure of what to say, uncapped and took a few long drinks from the skin, flinching only slightly at the way his jaw had to work. He watched her, resting her forehead against her garron's neck. Her chest rose and fell with a few deep breaths before she turned back to him once more.
"Before we return, we need to discuss what... what we're doing," she said, voice quiet but firm.
He didn’t cross the space between them. It was like a dance, he thought, this push and pull- this delicate balance between her guilt and his-
Duty. She was right, when people learned of them (and he guessed it wouldn’t take long after last night) word would get around. The people, they might- would
not understand. But he had said it to her before. I’m not doing this for my people.
He nodded. “If you want... we can talk.”
She watched him, quiet for a long moment, and then, "I'm no stranger to discretion. Even though I know last night, you said that you didn't care what your people would think- I
care. I won't let a month ruin you. I can't add that to my conscience."
She would stay. She would keep it a secret, if he asked her to. And some part of him, the part that remembered duty and honor and nobility, wanted to ask her to. The rest of him wondered if she was still running, or if this thing she asked was some atonement - a denial of herself, of her own feelings.
Or if it was him - them - that she was still running from.
“Where would that leave you? In hiding?” His eyes narrowed and he ignored that part of him that wanted discretion. The rest of him was committed to seeing this through, whether it was only a month-
And if it could be something more than that.
“You may have an already full conscience. I don’t mean or want to add to that. But I-” He shifted his weight and crossed his arms across his chest. “I also don’t want you to deny yourself. I want you to-”
He took several deep breaths, even closed his eyes a moment to regain his composure, and control over his tongue before it frustrated him more.
“I didn’t say that I didn’t care what they thought. They’re my people, of course I care. But this...” He raised a hand, gestured to both of them, the horse, the field. “This isn’t for them. This is what I want.”
She stood quiet and still. She listened, even as her mouth twitched with the repressed urge to say something, something no doubt about politics and nobility and duty.
"So you would make me bring even more harm to your bannorn, for a month of pleasure?" she asked finally, quietly. "When last night you wouldn't hurt me when I asked? You can't have me and not destroy something in the process."
“It doesn't have to be either-or, Cauthrien. It doesn't have to hurt.”
He wouldn’t force her to hide anything. It felt too much like doing what Loghain had done to her. Teagan wasn’t a forceful man. Manipulative, he thought. Political, yes. He had gone and stood before Loghain, had riled the forces of the bannorn against him- against her, if she wanted to think of it that way.
“I’m telling you what I want. You think I’m not paying attention to what the political ramifications could be. But just a few hours ago, I think I explained pretty clearly what I think about you, about the war. I want to live the life I have left after the Blight. I want to move past it.”
She wallowed in the past, was content with whatever fate meant she could stay there. He was offering her something better than that, knowing what the consequences could be.
He shrugged. “And I think you’ve been hurt enough.”
She bowed her head, hand still resting on Calenhad's shoulder. The muscles of her jaw and throat tightened. "... Before him," she said, not looking up, "I was celibate for eighteen years. I have no idea what I'm doing with you when it's private. If it were public-"
“Then we go slow.”
He took the few steps between them and reached a hand up to her arm.
“We don’t have to be blatant about it- but I don’t intend to run around stealing moments in the shadows either. That does neither of us any favors.” He let out a low quiet grunt that might have been laughter or resignation; even he wasn't sure anymore. “We go back, we pretend this little early morning horse ride didn’t happen. Nothing for anyone to worry about.”
He swallowed and touched her chin, tilting her head up so that he could meet her gaze. “I don’t intend on throwing any parties or hosting anyone else for the next month. So you and I, we have time to figure out what works. If that’s quiet nights alone, so be it. If that’s quiet nights together, even better.
figure this out together, and work with what’s comfortable, public or no.”
"Why?" She swallowed, pulling away and looking down to the grass beneath them. "Why me?"
If he really knew the answer to that question, maybe he wouldn't have have come after her. He hadn’t tried to deny that they were entering a potentially- and entirely likely- political storm when or if people found out about them, if there was a them
to find out about.
But she didn’t just want to know why he wanted her. He remembered what she had asked him before, and how he had skirted it. Well, twice now, hadn’t he?
He had been straightforward about his interest in the Warden-Commander, and if asked, yes- one night with Cauthrien wouldn’t erase all the communication he had shared with the Lady Cousland. It couldn’t undo the regret he felt at not making his intentions clear before she had been assigned at Amaranthine. Still, when he looked at Cauthrien, he didn’t see the Warden. He saw a woman that he wanted, because she was strong, and beautiful, and Maker help him- just because.
He didn't expect any response except perhaps frustration, perhaps another aching strike to the face. But neither happened.
Instead, she smiled, that weak and uncertain twitching of her lips.
"So this isn't just an elaborate ploy to convince me that no, you're really not with the Lady Cousland?" It was a joke. A quiet, faint joke, but her smile strengthened a little. "'No, Anora, Bann Disapointment can't be with the Warden-Commander - he's right here in bed with me while I write this report'. Not that?"
He liked that smile. He liked it even more when it was accompanied by a bit of wit. He laughed despite the pain it caused, grinned broadly and shrugged.
“I did promise you a plot of some sort, didn’t I? If you want to put it in your report- so be it.”
But no. It wasn’t a ploy, a trick. He shook his head and more softly added, “But no, that's not it.”
She stepped close enough to touch his shoulder. "I told you, the queen prefers Antivan murder mysteries. They tend to end, from what I understand, with everybody in bed with everybody else, but somebody has to die first," she said, voice equally soft. Amused, gentle, a little nervous.
"... I probably should inform her, though. She may still summon me back to Denerim."
“Well, she'll at least be surprised- or maybe pleased. She’s a sly one, our Queen.” Until then, they had some time. From her touch, the concern, he knew that she wasn’t running now. She was nearly... hopeful. His smile remained in place.
“So, about that bed thing? I would really like one right now.”
"Well, I'd better put myself back together, then," she muttered, smirking, and then let go of him and reached for her armor. She paused, likely considering donning it all again- and then moved to bundle it up and strap it to Calenhad.
"I'd offer to let you sit in front of me and sleep on the way back to your estate, but I'm not sure I want your seneschal questioning what happened to get you like that." She tugged the last strap into place, gathered up her waterskin and settled that, and then swung up onto her garron.
“No, no, I can ride. I just want to lay down for a bit.”
He waited until she had put everything back together before he got moving. He was tired, yes, after a short night and bad dreams, and a hard ride to catch up with her, to bring her back to him.
“I’ll have enough to explain when he sees my face, as it is," he laughed as he walked back over to his own horse and mounted up.
"... That's- yes, you will." She frowned. "Perhaps you should ride on my horse. Trussed up. We can just say we had a disagreement and I won."
Even though it had, quite clearly, been the other way around.--
When they got back to the estate, Teagan let someone else take care of his horse and wandered inside. As he passed her in the stables, he murmured softly so nobody else could hear, “I might not be much company, but you’re welcome to find me when you’re done here.”
She remained down with Calenhad for quite some time after that, despite - or perhaps because of - the invitation. She brushed him until his coat gleamed, made sure he had enough oats. She even found another apple for him. The number of times she apologized to him for the pointless flight-
Well, she wouldn't admit that to anybody.
Once she was done, she took her things back to the room Teagan had given her. It was as empty as when she had arrived the other day, and for a long moment she simply stood in the door. But then she swung her pack from her shoulder, set her armor on its rack, put aside the Summer Sword. It felt strange to hold it, in the wake of Teagan's comment.
She put it in a corner.
Part of her was ready to go and find Teagan. She tried to convince herself, instead, that she should work off her lingering frustration with exercise, practice, sparring if she could get it. But there was surprisingly little frustration left and soon she found herself asking after poultice, taking a small jar of it to his room.
Finding it was tricky, when she was unwilling to ask - nobody needed to know where she was going. Hoping there were no servants nearby or inside, she came to the door of his chambers and knocked.
She had to wait almost too long, her heart beginning to beat out of her chest with nerves. She glanced around, anxious. Her own thoughts, though they tended pleasant, were still wound up from the confrontation, from his declarations on the way back. Make this work
. And hers, discretion.
She wanted this, had realized riding out underneath the sun that she wanted it more than she had realized, but it was frightening.
And then he opened the door and moved to the side to let her in, without a word. He looked exhausted and rumpled but he had a small smile for her. Her worries fell away for at least that brief moment.
She stepped in, holding up the little jar. "Thought I'd try and fix the damage I did," she said, lips quirking; she was more than aware of the rather metaphorical weight of the words. "If you haven't had it seen to already, that is."
She glanced around the room, then back to him, her expression turning from wry to a little sheepish. With her free hand, she rubbed at the back of her neck. Her adrenaline was finally beginning to wear off, and Maker, she was tired, but she knew she wouldn't be able to sleep. Given that he seemed particularly awake despite the weary set of his shoulders, she assumed the same of him.
“No, not yet,” he said, backing into the room. He let the door swing shut once she was inside and walked back over to his bed, sitting down. “I couldn’t sleep. I was just about to head out to get it looked at.” He gave a small chuckle and added, “Seems you beat me to it.”
She nodded, then followed him and sat down next to him, perched on the very edge of the mattress. She undid the top of the jar, and considered just passing it to him, letting him take care of it. She was no healer.
But she'd done this.
She dipped two fingers into the paste of fragrant elfroot. Gently, she leaned in and pressed it to the worst of the cuts, her other hand pushing his hair out of the way.
"I couldn't sleep, either. Not that I really tried." She kept her gaze focused on her work. "I'm settled back in, though."
“Glad to hear it. I assume no one said anything to you?”
He winced at her touch, the paste against his cuts, but otherwise sat admirably still. He swallowed and didn't seem to know where to look - either straight ahead, into the middle distance, or to her, leaning close to him, taking care of him.
He settled on watching her and smiled, though the motion made him grimace again.
Softly, he murmured. “Thank you.”
She met his gaze for a moment, mind running over with I owe this to you. I need to fix this. I-
"You're welcome," she said said instead, finding a smile in return, before she moved. She left the bed to kneel in front of him. It was an easier angle to work from, and her fingers left his face only to scoop up more paste.
"And no, nobody has said anything. Mostly because I've been avoiding all of them. Did you tell anybody where you were going this morning? ... Where I went?"
“No, I- I did ask after you. But I did neglect to mention where I was going. I’m sure that had people in a panic.” He shrugged. “But it’s better now.” With a gentle touch, he laid his hand on Cauthrien’s shoulder, steadying. “They can wait. Some of them have seen at least one if not both of us, and...”
He shrugged, smiled, leaned forward a little more to tug on her shoulder. He let his hand slid down her arm, wrapping it around her wrist. When he used his other hand to push himself further back onto the bed, she rose up to follow him.
She was already done applying the poultice and she murmured, "Hold on, hold on," reaching for the jar to wipe the excess off her fingers and then cap it. She set it down on the ground and toed off her boots. Then she realized she was letting him pull her to bed.
He was tired, and so was she, and at the moment, his room was the best hiding place they both had. She crawled onto the bed after him, sending him a questioning, shy little smile.
"Think you can sleep now?" she asked, reaching back to let her hair down.
With a nod and a yet stronger smile, he said, “Yes, I think this will help.”
When she was settled next to him, he reached a hand up to stroke her cheek, then her hair. It was light, just a faint touch, but it was soothing all the same. He put his head down and wrapped his other arm around her.
Lying beside him, settling her weight against his, was different from how it had felt to let Loghain pull her close, bury his face against her hair, her breast, and attempt to sleep.
Warm. Companionable. Strangely pleasant. She was tense at first, when he trailed his fingers across her cheek, but by the time he draped his arm over her, she was sinking into the mattress, stifling a yawn with one hand. She blinked blearily at him, snuggling down down against her pillow. Sleep was close at hand.--
He remembered smiling at her and then mumbling something about wine, just as he fell asleep. She was still there, warm against him when he woke, even if he smelled of elfroot and both of them were fully clothed. It was... comfortable.
Realizing it was nearly dark, he blinked a few times. He was careful not to move too much as he stirred, enjoying the moment.
After another, though, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. She didn't stir at all, and he smiled down at her. The pain in his face had lessened noticeably, though he could still feel a thick tightness when he tried to move.
Slowly, he tried to lift his arms away from her and then work himself out of the bed.
The kiss may not have roused her, but his movement seemed to trigger her training. She sat up quickly, looking around-
And then she laughed dryly and Teagan let out a relieved breath.
She ran a hand through her hair before swinging her legs over the side. "How late is it?"
He shrugged, looked to his window. “I’m not sure- looks like dinner time?” His stomach rumbled and he smiled. “Feels like dinner time at least.”
With a few small motions he smoothed down his clothes, ran his fingers through his hair a few times and brought both hands across his chin. It was less conscious and more habit as he ran his hand along his beard a second time, though he couldn't help but smile as he noticed her watching him.
“Feel up to joining me for dinner? You don’t have to sit close, if you don’t want to,” he asked, letting his hands drop and rising to his feet.
"Well, if it's like last night and nobody else is there, it will look even more conspicuous if we sit apart." She tugged her sleep-rumpled arming jacket down and began pulling her hair back. "No need to fuel rumors of a lover's spat if we don't have to.
"But yes, I'll join you."
He shook his head, thinking he had only meant to give her a more comfortable appearance in front of the rest of the house. But, yes, he agreed and was pleased to know she would be close. Now, if only she would have left her hair down- he shoved the thought aside.
As he walked by, he grabbed at her hand, and gave it a quick kiss. He didn’t let go of her hand but gave a little tug, for her to follow. “Well, we should see what there is to eat then.”
She tried to wiggle her fingers free of his as she began walking behind him. "Discretion," she reminded him as she reached the door and managed to take her hand back with another tug.
He thought about grabbing her hand again but he resisted.
“Right,” he nodded. “Discretion.”
He opened the door and led the way down to the dining hall, led her to the table. While Cauthrien sat, he went to check on dinner. It was close to being done, and when he came back, he smiled, doing his best not to wince, his cheek twinging.
Taking a seat, he looked over at her again, sitting with her elbow propped onto the table. She seemed lost in thought, and he hesitated before interrupting. “Dinner will be ready soon. After... do you still want my help? With your spelling I mean?”
She looked up. "Oh, good. And I- sure, yes. Hopefully we'll get more done than we did last night." Cauthrien looked almost sheepish.
She also looked a little lost, a little out of her element. He guessed that it had something to do with the idea that they had sat here the night before under very different circumstances. Right now, he felt like they had less to talk about than they had before. It was, odd, but not completely uncomfortable. Even if they sat there without a word while they waited for dinner to arrive, he would still enjoy her company.
She frowned. "Damn. I forgot to mail out the report when we got back from our excursion."
It wasn't the worst thing she could have thought of, and it did remind him of something that had been bouncing around in his head since she had said it this morning.
“Will you change your report? Put this - us - in it?”
She considered, shifting slightly and leaning back. "Not yet. That is- I won't amend the one I've already written. But she should be informed." Another pause, and Cauthrien shook her head. "Then again, she didn't know about my involvement with her father, and that seems to have done her good."
“I trust your judgement on when or if, she learns of it then.”
"If it ever directly affects my investigation, I'll let her know."
Cauthrien fell quiet again as dinner was brought in. As he ate, thought about what she said. That, she wasn’t going to tell Anora - well, he supposed she might - but not now. Not right now.
Eventually, he thought, if they carried on in public, Anora was going to figure it out. But the time they had without that pressure, before she learned it on her own or Cauthrien chose to tell here - he was happy for it. It wasn’t that he didn’t mean what he had said to her, he did. But he did have to acknowledge that what they had done- were doing, was complicated, and not just for the two of them.
"Speaking of," she said, finally, "you still owe me that plot, to keep her entertained while reading my reports. I don't think tales of your listening to the complaints and petitions of your freeholders will entertain her, since she gets to do that all day back in Denerim. As it is, I don't think that I'm imaginative enough to write something interesting enough for her, poorly spelled or not."
“Oh, a plot. Right.” He tapped a hand on the table. “I do, I’m just not sure what might her hold her attention for a month.” Or more.
She had said imaginative- Anora would enjoy something with a bit of exaggeration, a bit of drama, even if it wasn’t the drama of her Ser Cauthrien and himself.
“Do you think she would go for a murder mystery? Something like in her Antivan stories? I’m sure we could come up with something...”
She snorted, smiled a bit over the top of her glass of wine.
"I've been thinking about something like that. I wouldn't be able to plot one of my own, though. I've never... read the things."
He watched her over his dinner - which he was putting away with a rapid pace - and couldn’t help but laugh. He didn’t think he would say it to her face but there was something about this more relaxed and calm Cauthrien that he found sweet. He had thought her endearing the night before, that pained and guilty Cauthrien that had thought so little of herself. This was similar but without the sadness that had also made him uneasy.
There was a new part of her to watch now and he was glad he got to see it.
“I can’t say I’ve ever had need to read an Antivan murder mystery, but I’m sure between the two of us, we’ll be able to figure something out.” With another grin, he added, “Maybe even something with a little romance. Though... it doesn’t have to be ours.”
She colored a bit and tried to cover it by bowing her head to bring a spoonful of stew to her lips. "Well, we cannot make the reports entirely fictional. She enjoys novels; that doesn't make her foolish. From what I understand, though, the Antivan murder mysteries often include romance.
"But not until at least halfway. It might be a good way to bring up the topic of... us. With her. If by that point it still needs to be brought up."
“Of course not,” he said, ignoring the way she’d averted her eyes at the mention of romance.
She nodded, continuing to eat. She had barely eaten before leaving in the morning, and, like him, had no trouble finishing off a prodigious amount of food.
He tried to think of everything that would be necessary of a good story - part truth, part fiction and some way to make it all interesting enough to keep Anora from calling Cauthrien home immediately.
When she finally sat back, she nursed her wine glass, taking only small sips. And she smiled.
"So. The spelling lesson?" she asked.
With a laugh, one that hurt less and less now - thanks to her early ministrations, he stood up and moved back from his seat.
“Right, spelling lessons.”
He looked thoughtfully down the hall where his office would be, then back to Cauthrien and quirked an eyebrow. After a moment he opened his mouth to say something else, then closed it and pursed his lips together.
Well, he could be an adult about it. He wouldn’t look at his desk and think about what she had looked like on it and would try very hard to focus on spelling. Resolved to it, he nodded and waved a hand towards the hallway.
And then he tried very hard not to smile as he said, “To my office then?”--Where we will be discreet. And behave.
She rose with a nod, set down her glass (only half finished), and came over to him.
She hadn't missed his hesitation or the barest edge of a smile, and knew that there was still a decent chance that spelling was never going to be the first thing on either of their minds that night. When she'd suggested the lesson, the thought had been accompanied by memories of his desk, of his lips, and barely any words at all.
Still, she would try. She had shown him how embarrassingly bad her spelling was, he had offered to help, and Maker keep her, she would learn. Even if it meant hitting him again (though this time, she'd make sure she was unarmed and avoided his face. She felt a twinge of guilt every time she looked at him), she would persevere.
He led her down the hall and she followed, watched as he opened the door and then, once they were inside, hesitated to close it. He left it open. It was probably for the best.
“So,” he started, walking over to his chair, back on the other side of his desk, “where would you like to start? Do you have specific questions, or shall I just find a place for us to begin?”
She settled into the chair she had been in last night and tried not to remember how her clothing had looked pooled on the floor by his desk.
"I have no idea," she said, shaking her head. "The way I learned Orlesian- it was... very study-intensive. Lots of reading, practicing. Drilling, almost. But Orlesian at least has rules
. Those I can learn. Common..." She frowned.
"I have no idea where to start. I never have."
“It’s true, what rules we do have, we most often break. So, a few simple things, then, to get us started tonight?”
He sat down and brought some fresh parchment on to his desk. As he slid it over to her, he kept his eyes level, though she saw him once or twice glance to the corner she had sat on, then laid on. She heard him take a deep breath, force a smile.
“First, some simple words that are confusing on their own. Like the word ‘to’.”
"There's more than one of them," she said, remembering reading his corrected draft. She sat forward. It was easier for her to ignore what had gone between them just the previous night with her mind set on the task before her. It wasn't a pleasant one.
Oddly, that helped. But her expression did turn grim and focused.
"How many, total?"
“Three - if you count the number, ‘two’. And it’s easy enough to remember the last one, because it only has an extra ‘o’ and you use it when you mean it to say, ‘also’.”
He wrote the different words out for her on the parchment, and then wrote out several other often misspelled words that had similar meanings. It wasn’t about repetition, but the different reasons she would need to use them. She was intent on learning, so time passed quickly as he explained the words to her.
After an hour or so, he went to his bookshelf and grabbed a book.
“Here,” he said as he offered it out to her. The History of Rainesfere
. “I can’t promise it’s a riveting story, but reading does help. You can see the words more often, and how they’re used. That’s as good a place to start as any.”
"The amount of Orlesian poetry I had to read," she said with a wry smile, taking the tome, "makes anything more appealing."
She had shifted forward while he worked, taking a quill and copying out the word variants as he wrote them, making notes to herself (in misspelled shorthand). Now, she sat back and pulled one long leg up into the chair with her, using it to rest the book against as she opened it.
"At least during a lesson."
The book itself was less than interesting, speaking absolutely, but she was willing to push through something repetitive, dry, or boring. It was like drills (though drills were fun and at least active). She didn't look forward to the practice, but she had done it once before at Loghain's orders.
She could do it again with Teagan's encouragement.
Cauthrien read about ten pages before looking up to him, to find him leaning against his desk, his eyes fixed on her, his lips quirked into a small smile.
Right. Still there, still in his office, and now he had nothing better to do than- than- watch her? Maker, he was watching her read. She blushed. "I can do this on my own time. You shouldn't have to sit there," she said, reaching up to pull out the strap that held up her hair so she could use it as a bookmark. She didn't want to damage the page by laying her hand on it. That, at least, Anora had drilled into her - back when she was young and Anora barely a woman.
He gave her a soft smile. “I actually find I enjoy watching you read,” he said.
Something stirred in Cauthrien, warm and tempting, and she almost too-quickly rose from her chair, closing the book. "Maybe so," she said, stepping closer to take her notes from his desk, "but I wouldn't want to keep you from something more productive. Or from sleep, for that matter."
But their nap had been long and restful, and even she knew that last was just an excuse. It was just a little too striking, being alone in a room with him, in quiet companionship.
“If you were keeping me from something more pressing,” he said and raised a hand, placing it on her forearm, “I would have made my own excuses by now.”
"I- this just... reminds me of when I was learning Orlesian. It's..."Related to Loghain. Still painful.
Slowly, though, she sat back down. She remembered that sweet, slow kiss from the night before - how she had compared that too, to what Loghain had done.
But now that sweet, slow kiss was associated firmly with the man across from her. She could replace those old memories. She had never thought she would want to replace any of Loghain, but after that day... after that day, she was more than willing.
"Intimate," she said, after a too-long pause while she collected herself and toed her boots off.
“I- That is not-” He sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said. His tone was heavy and he met her eyes, letting go of her arm, pressing his palm to his desk behind him.
"It's okay. Just... strange." She was surprised by his tone, his apology, and she didn't move yet to open the book again. She watched him instead, fingers drumming along the cover.
"It was a good time. Strange, unsettling, but... good. It's hard to think about, but-"
She was actually saying this out loud? Articulating herself? It made her look sheepish, bashful for a moment, and she glanced away. It took her a moment to add, "But maybe it's a good thing, having new memories to supersede the old. Last night-"
Cauthrien colored brightly while trying to find the words- and then the courage to say them. It was hard. She didn't talk about these things, ever. They weren't a part of her. She wasn't as comfortable with them, beyond the physical struggle of it all.
"... Last night," she finally said, under the weight of his gaze and the small smile creeping across his face, "I- there was a moment- you kissed me the way he did, before he left for Redcliffe with the Warden-Commander." Her throat tightened at the memory; but she recalled the kiss, and it was Teagan, and she relaxed. "... now that sort of kiss makes me think of you. Not that day. It's- better. It frightened me, though."
“I- think I understand.” His smile faltered. “Are you- do you feel-,” he sighed. “Would it be better, elsewhere?”
"For- the lessons?" She thought for a moment, then shook her head. "No, it's more the act. The- companionship, and the drilling. It will just take some getting used to. It was over ten years ago, though. It shouldn't be too hard.
want to move?"
Really, anywhere they went, it would remind her. It was the exposure that would help replace it, the learning and knowing
that Teagan was not Loghain, that things were different, that this was not the hard and brutal training that had taught her a language she had no interest in learning. She wanted this - more than she had realized.
Maker, to be fluent, literate in Orlesian and not her native tongue- that had to be fixed.
"You don't need to be gentle with me," she said, shrugging and offering him a small smile. "I will tell you if it's too much, if I don't run first. But if I run... I won't run far." She didn't really want to run, not after that morning. She didn't want to feel like that ever again - like she had when she had heard her name, like she had when he had come close enough and she had relived the memory of disemboweling a man, realizing just what she had threatened him with.
“Here is fine for the lessons,” Teagan said, pulling her back to him.
He paused and pursed his lips for a moment before pushing himself away from the desk. He didn’t move any farther than that but his hands were strained from holding on to it. He flexed his fingers a little to work them out.
“As for-” He turned and looked at the desk. It was just a quick glance but she could read it easily. “... the rest of last night?” When he looked back to her, he did so with his teeth nervously biting at the inside corner of his bottom lip.
She shifted in her seat, remembering being sprawled, if only for a short period, across his desk.
"I... don't have a preference as to location, as long as it's discreet," she said, blushing and licking at her lips absently. "There's not a lot in how you-" feel
- "act that's like... him." Maker. Were they talking about this
part out loud now? "... You're- gentler." You hold me. You
- "It's very different."
“Good,” he said.
“So, with discretion
, Ser Cauthrien,” he leaned forward and grabbed for her hand. He bent down and kissed it, like one might the hand of a noblewoman. “I would like to ask you to join me... in my chambers.” He smiled and added, “We can even walk there separately, if it would please you.”
She blushed like a Chantry sister.
She hadn't expected him to want her again, not so quickly, not while his face was still on the swollen side and the memory of her about to run him through was still bright and clear in at least her mind. She certainly hadn't expected him to be so forward
about it - but then again, they'd seemed to cross the line into honesty about the time when he told her he wanted her to stay for more than just spelling lessons.
And he had
actually done some teaching first this time.
Cauthrien pursed her lips, thinking, remembering how she'd felt like breaking the night before, how it had been his gentleness that had made her run - but he had brought her back. Maker help her, she had never stopped wanting him, even when she had fled at dawn.
"I'll be there in a bit," she said, finally, smiling just a little.
He let out a sharp laugh, smiled and then sighed with relief.
“I’ll be waiting,” he said.
With a nod to her, he started to leave the room. But, as he passed her chair, he turned and placed a kiss on the top of her head.