|A Bittersweet Affection
Author: MLoreley85 PM
A series of memories from Evelyn Amell's life in the tower; her trials, her friends, and her first love.Rated: Fiction K - English - Romance/Drama - Amell & Cullen - Chapters: 7 - Words: 28,516 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 12 - Follows: 15 - Updated: 10-28-11 - Published: 05-12-11 - id: 6984597
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's Note: Hi! This is a companion series to The Widening Gyre, exploring the history of at least a few characters in the universe! If you haven't already, go check it out! Things will make more sense that way. Thank you!
There she was. Peeking into the library from his post, Cullen could see the dark-haired young woman approaching her usual table near the back, a stack of books nearly falling out of her arms. She maneuvered the best she could to set them down carefully, but one fell from the top of the pile despite her efforts. She rolled her eyes and sighed.
Cullen imagined his opening with that book; she'd turn to bend for the book, only to see his gloved hand plucking it from the ground. Her eyes would slowly move up, until she saw his face, and recognized him. He would be smiling, of course, charming and confident.
"Why, thank you!" She'd say, blushing that pretty pink color, warmth in the coolness of her pale skin, the blue eyes that never failed to send chills down his spine, or the raven hair he longed to see her let out of that tight braid she always wore.
"Of course, dear lady," and this time, his voice would be even, and he wouldn't stammer. She'd take the book, her hand lingering near his...
Ah. As she scooped the book back onto the table, he mourned his missed opportunity to step in so easily. He would have to try talking to her the old-fashioned-way; by approaching her and greeting her. Maybe this time, he wouldn't transpose the letters in her name. He took in a shaky breath, and took a step into the library.
"Aoohh, hitting the books again, are we?" He ducked behind the doorway again, hearing the voice that grated his nerves every time he heard it. He glared in, seeing another pair of apprentices approaching his dear Evey; her friends.
"You know me, Anders," Her shy smile was almost too much to bear, even directed at someone else. Cullen faced away, deciding to listen in instead as Evey continued, "I can never keep my nose out of a book for very long."
"You practically live off of them," Jowan's voice irritated him, too, though he couldn't peg precisely why; maybe it was the faint hint of a whine in the back of everything he said, "I'm surprised you haven't started tearing out pages to chew on!"
"I don't know, have you seen her eat anything else?" Anders playfully poked at her arm, and she pulled back with a grinning squeak, "Look at that, no meat to those bones! Maybe she really does sustain herself with a constant barrage of words."
Cullen scowled; there was nothing wrong with Evey! If she was on the slender side, she was as The Maker made her!
"If I do, then you best leave me to my feeding," she huffed, plopping down in her chair, quite self-conscious at the jab at her thinness, "Apparently I have a lot to make up for."
"Bah!" Snorting dismissively, the blonde latched his arms around Evelyn, pulling her into an affectionate embrace, grinning, "Nonsense! We love having a tiny doll for a friend!"
"We wouldn't have you any other way, Lynnie," Jowan added, smiling warmly.
"Gwah!" Evelyn stiffened at first, a tense reaction she still had yet to get over, then relaxed into Anders' hug with one of her own, "You're just glad to have someone to toy with!"
"I'm glad you've learned that," He patted the top of her head gently, nodding solemnly, "I've got plenty of women to toy with, mind you-"
"And men," Jowan pointed out with a sing-songy tone. At this, Cullen's eyes narrowed, and he risked peeking in on them again. Fortunately, they were absorbed in their conversation, but seeing that apprentice wrapped around Evey unsettled him even worse.
Anders scowled at Jowan, "And just what's wrong with that? You know as well as I do things aren't all roses and sunshine here, why limit myself in my fun?"
"So those rumors are true?" With a doe-like stare, Evelyn saw her friend in a new light.
Sighing, Anders rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, then smirked at Evelyn, "Don't tell me you're jealous!"
"How can she be, when you've got your arms around her?" Jowan teased, and Cullen suppressed a grumble of agreement.
"I'm not jealous, no," Evelyn gave another weak smile, still unused to applying them socially, "You're my friend, Anders, I want you to find happiness wherever you can. I was just surprised."
He wondered at that faint, niggling disappointment, then dismissed it wholeheartedly, "Good. Because there's something else that will make me very happy, and I need your help with it."
"What's that?" Evelyn asked blandly, and Jowan clapped his palm over his face.
"Well, you know, when they dragged me back this last time-"
"Kicking and screaming, no less," Jowan continued Anders' narrative.
"...With your robes torn wide open in places," Evelyn agreed, recalling the event. Both Jowan and Anders rose an eyebrow at that.
"You remember that detail, huh?" Anders decided that his request could be put on hold, to tease this out of Evelyn, "Did you like what you saw?"
"Of course not! I just knew you were going to ask me to sew things back together!" Evelyn swatted his arm, though she did pinken a little as she realized the implication, "Like I need the extra work taking care of you two."
"Thank you again, by the way. The stitching was divine," Anders grinned, before resuming his request, "Anyway, one of the templars decided that, while I was being locked away in solitary for Maker knows how long, he had the right to boot me in the head."
"No!"Evelyn gasped, her hands going over her mouth. That was just the reaction he was hoping for.
"Every morning, right?" Well, it wasn't every morning, but it wasn't stretching the truth that much to say so, "He came in with breakfast and a kick in the face. 'Eat up, dog!' he'd tell me, 'can't have you go in for Tranquility on an empty belly!' "
"That's horrible, Anders!" Tears coated her already dewy eyes in a shimmery glimmer, "Why didn't you tell me?"
He faltered a bit, as he always did anytime she started to cry, but replied, "I wasn't sure you'd believe me, to be honest."
Cullen frowned just as Evelyn did; that kind of thing was unacceptable behavior for a templar, and should at least have gotten the knight a strike against him. Evelyn pouted, "You know of all people in this tower, I know firsthand what those damned templars will do when they think they can get away with something. Most of the time, they do."
Those damned templars, she'd said. Cullen rocked back, leaning against the doorframe just out of sight. Was that how she saw all templars? He knew she had every right to, there was not a fiber in him that would blame her for harboring that resentment, but still...
"Well, yeah," Anders crossed his arms, cocking an eyebrow at her, "But that hasn't stopped you from befriending one of them."
Evelyn fidgeted anxiously, now looking at the floor in front of Anders, "That's different. You know that."
"He's not so bad, really," Jowan added, "I've talked with him a few times. He may buy into the idea that the templars are doing us a favor by watching over us, but he doesn't like the extremes. He actually requested leniency with you, Anders, after you were brought back."
Not because I felt he deserved it, Cullen thought to himself, frowning, I just didn't like seeing Evey so upset over his imprisonment. But if what Anders said about the templar abusing him was true, he supposed it was a good thing he had spoken on his behalf, even though the Knight-Commander was clearly irritated with his interference.
"A fat lot of good that did me!" Anders spat, scornful, "I'm still here, in this wretched tower, and the templars still hold all of the power."
"Well, maybe it's selfish of me, but I'm glad you're back," Evelyn tentatively took Anders' hand in hers, and gave him an earnest smile this time, "I always worry when you leave. I couldn't bear it if you were killed, and the world would be a colder place if they actually decided to follow through on that threat of Tranquiling you, taking away that sense of humor... and your kindness."
He should have expected that, but it still amazed him that Evelyn had a knack for knocking him off-balance. He clasped her hand with another smile, much more subdued than his usual grin, "You don't have to worry for me, Lynnie. As closely as they're watching me right now, any attempt to escape would be suicide. I'm going to be playing the good little apprentice, at least for a while."
"I will worry if I want to," Evelyn pouted, prodding his chest with her finger, "You both mean a lot to me! I don't have anyone else in this tower who even seems to like me very much."
"Except Cullen," Jowan pointed out, grinning. As best as Cullen tried to disguise how much he admired Evelyn, the only one who seemed fooled by his act was Evelyn, and he wondered how much of that was willful ignorance.
Listening, Cullen felt his heart stab painfully. He knew the rumors circling the tower about Evey, but he had no idea how lonely she was. These two were her only friends? Did he not count? Again, he thought of how her voice dipped as she said those damned templars, and tilted his head back to rest against the wall.
Evelyn fidgeted, "Even if he's... rather nice towards me, he's still a templar. Kind disposition or not, I doubt he actually likes me."
If only you knew! Cullen's poor heart flared at that, wanting nothing more than to storm in there and refute her misgivings about him. His legs refused to budge, however, and not just because he knew just how forbidden it was that he was even lingering nearby like this, pining after her the way he did. Sure, it was a handy excuse, but in truth, his hesitation sprung from the terror he might drive her off. If the strength of his affection for her wasn't enough to scare her away, the fear those brethren of his instilled in her that day would taint any confession he might make. Either way, what tentative friendship they had now would be broken, and he feared that worst of all.
Anders shook his head and smirked, envying Evelyn her obliviousness. That was fine; the longer she went without realizing that irritating templar's feelings for her, the better. He told himself it was because being with a templar would only endanger Evelyn more; he ignored the part of him that asked why he cared so damn much who Evelyn was with. Driving out those thoughts, he clapped his hands together, "Now that we've settled that Cullen is a templar, what do you say, Lynnie? Will you help me out?"
She eyed him warily, "What do you have planned?"
"Nothing all that dangerous, I assure you," he grinned, still clasping his hands together.
"I want to help in any way I can, if that man hurt you," she frowned, "But I doubt you're looking to petition for the templar's removal from the tower, which is the only recourse I can think of."
"Pfft, no," Anders brushed the idea aside with his hand, one eyebrow raising, "All that paperwork is useless anyway, they don't listen to us lowly mages. Not even that bastard Irving does much to speak on our behalf anymore, unless it suits his purposes."
Evelyn's eyes sharpened at that, surprising her friends, "Don't speak of the First Enchanter that way. He's a good man, and has done a lot to advocate for us, given the limitations imposed on him."
"You'll have to forgive me, Lynnie, if I don't see the First Enchanter in the same glowing respect you do," Anders pursed his lips in discontent, "Then again, I'm not his darling protégé, either."
"I'm not-" Evelyn sighed, then looked at Anders anxiously, her eyes going dewy again, "I don't want to have this argument again. I want to help... just, tell me what you need."
Jowan watched Anders' face fall in self-recrimination to see Evelyn's limited self-esteem backslide at his words, and shook his head, "Don't take Anders seriously, Lynnie, he's still recovering from being kicked in the head."
"I'm pretty sure the damage has been there for longer than that," he tried grinning, genuinely feeling awful for sneering at Lynnie like he had.
"I would wager the head-kicking didn't help," Evelyn offered a hesitant joke, "And for that, I will be very cross; I don't appreciate anyone damaging my friends."
"Good," Anders kept his relief in check, masking it with an even broader grin, "We can't talk about it here; the books have ears, you know-"
"Oh, I know. I whisper sweet nothings into them all the time, but it doesn't work," Evelyn put on a mock pout, "They don't love me like I love them."
"...You give a whole new meaning to the term 'Bibliophile', Lynnie," Boy, was Anders derailed from what he'd been thinking.
Evelyn swatted his arm, giggling, "I was joking, I thought you'd be familiar with the concept!"
"I never thought-" he stopped, dropping his eyes from meeting hers, deciding not to finish the sentence- ...that you would be the one putting dirty thoughts in my head. That simply would not go over well. He looked back up, smiling again, "Nevermind. Meet us over in the apprentice quarters before curfew, alright? We'll talk about it then."
"Okay," Evelyn nodded in return.
"In the meantime," Having a few years and at least a foot on Evelyn, Anders had to stoop to press a gentle kiss to her cheek, "Sorry for being petty about Irving. I know he had a lot to do with taking care of you two years ago."
Cullen had to choose then to risk peeking back in on them, going back and forth about possibly having to turn in the potential insubordination, or at least eavesdropping on their meeting later that evening. It may have been a chaste kiss between friends, but Cullen's innards shriveled to see the warm glow they shared, the moment Evey missed when her blonde friend's eyes flickered to her lips, the rosy hue that spread across the bridge of her nose. With no effort at all, this would-be apostate had accomplished what Cullen knew would take ages to work up the nerve to do, and Evey smiled at him for it. Staggering back, feeling as though he'd been punched in the gut, Cullen narrowed his vision on Evey's 'dear friend'. He cursed his cowardice, and withdrew as stealthily as he could, fleeing before his jealousy got the better of him.
"We better get going. You have a lot of work to catch up on, Anders," Jowan remarked, tugging Anders back by the collar of his robes, earning a startled squawk, "And none of it involves kissing cute girls. Sadly," he added with some sincere remorse.
"That would be a lesson I'd be interested in attending," flashing Evelyn a sheepish grin, Anders chuckled, "We'll see you later, sweetheart."
Watching her friends retreat, Evelyn felt that warmth they brought to her fading with them. Once again, she was alone with her books. Her eyes fell on the stack she'd picked out before, her plans to try piecing together the different theories presented in each feeling unworthy of her time, now. She knew there was something connecting what she saw as a duality between the entropic and creation schools of magic, and had meant to compile a list of relevant research to prove her hypothesis, but her worry over Anders would only distract her focus.
She tapped her finger on her lip, sitting back in the chair she'd pulled out for herself. He wasn't telling her the whole truth, but there had been abuse; the way his eyes had darted low, to the left, suggested he was remembering the experience, not lying. But he'd hesitated, too. She fretted over the idea of him keeping something from her; she wanted to trust him absolutely, and she did- there was almost no one she trusted more. She'd have to keep watching his eyes when he revealed his plan, later.
Staring at the pile of books again, she pulled off the top few, to a specific title that had nothing to do with Entropy, Creation, or even much to do with magic at all. Dusting off the cover, she smiled as she picked it up, studying the symbol of the flaming sword all templars bore illustrated under the title of the book.
Flipping through the first few pages, a dreamy smile naturally floated onto her face.
His post was his temporary refuge. Standing here, he didn't have to think about much, just keep an eye on the passing mages, keep his senses alert for any unauthorized magic usage, and maybe stifle a yawn from time to time. Every time he imagined the delighted sparkle in Evey's eye at that fool Anders' kiss to her cheek, Cullen stamped it out by reminding himself he was on duty, and the stupid personal drama would have to wait until later. Every time, he felt another piece of him crumble away.
"Hey, Sweetie, no need to be so dour, huh?" He blinked rapidly as one of the enchanters spoke to him, coming back into focus from his sour state of mind.
"Uh?" He asked dumbly, eliciting a flurry of laughter from the trio of mages- two apprentices, and their post-Harrowed friend- as they continued past him.
"Just saying, life's too short to be upset for too long!" the tall woman cackled, the corners of her green eyes wrinkling.
"You're too cute for such an angry expression!" one of the apprentices chirped.
"Come on, girls, we can't be late for dinner, or they'll be out of oat cakes again!" the tall woman egged on her companions, winking again to Cullen.
Dinner, he thought dully. He hadn't eaten much today, though he had snacked on an apple from the garden earlier that afternoon. He'd get a chance to enjoy dinner once he was done at his post, but that wouldn't be for a few more hours yet, when curfew was enforced. He felt like he was forgetting something important about dinner, too, but he didn't particularly care at the moment. He resumed staring at the wall opposite him.
"Hello, Cullen!" The cheerful, melodic voice brought him back to the present with a yelp, his heart crushing at the sound. That was what he was forgetting! Evelyn always passed by him in the evenings on her way to dinner. At his yelp, she recoiled a step, blinking.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you... are you alright? You seem a bit out of it," her eyebrows knit, and he withered to see concern brushing over her features.
"I am fine, Evey," he replied stiffly, straightening his posture, "I have a lot to think about, is all."
"Okay," she clearly didn't believe him, "But if something's wrong, I hope you know you can tell me, right?"
He leveled his gaze at her, his hurt pride battering against his chest, knowing full well he couldn't tell her what was bothering him. He sighed, "Th-that's very kind of you, b-but there's n-nothing wrong..."
Damn, damn, damn that stutter!
"If you say so," her head sank a little, and she hugged her bag to her chest, certain she must have crossed some line with him, "I'm sorry for prying, then."
"Oh no-no-no, you're not prying!" He wasn't sure what was worse between talking with the woman he'd never stand a chance with, or letting her walk away thinking she was bothering him, "I-I mean, w-we usually talk right around now, a-and I'm-I'm just being rude."
"So long as I'm not just annoying you," she attempted to pass that off with a smile, but it smeared on her face, undone by her nerves.
"Never," he insisted, glad he hadn't stammered for once, "You could never annoy me, Evey."
She flushed that pretty pink color, the one that always deepened the blue of her eyes, and Cullen stopped a shudder from rippling through him at the timid smile his words brought to her lips. Incongruently, he saw Anders stooping to kiss her cheek again, and his eyes flickered away again. No, he couldn't let her wrap him around her little finger this time. He had to be resolute; he needed to break himself of this infatuation.
"I'm glad to hear that," she missed his crestfallen look as she opened her bag, digging through carefully, "I found something earlier today that made me think of you, actually. I was hoping to catch you here, like usual."
"You did? You were?" He blinked, and wished his voice hadn't cracked on that last word.
"Uh-huh!" She grinned, and pulled a book from her bag, "It was in the library, misplaced in the Entropy section. I don't know if that was a prank or not, but I remember reading this book ages ago. It's called-"
" 'The Knight and His Griffon'," he murmured softly, running his hand over the cover slowly, "I haven't seen this one for years. I used to read this all the time, growing up."
"You did?" The light caught her eyes as they widened, glee spilling across her face.
"It was my favorite story," he flipped open to the first page, and smiled at the illustrated griffon that greeted him, "It was silly, of course, but I loved reading it over and over. It was one of the few comforts I was allowed-"
He stopped himself before he went too far; there was no need to burden Evey with that. Instead, he smiled down at her, closing the book, "How did you know?"
"I didn't! I wish I were so thoughtful as to know your favorite books!" Evelyn giggled, and he flushed with pleasure at the sound, "That's great! I used to love that story too. I actually fell asleep reading it once, and dreamed I was flying on a griffon along with the handsome knight."
He gulped to force back down the image that came to mind with that- namely, that he'd always pictured himself the 'Handsome Knight' in question- and chuckled nervously, "Th-that's q-q-quite th-the image, E-Evey..."
"I'll say- silly, fanciful girlishness!" She tittered, putting her fingers over her mouth, "Well, if you've already read it, I should probably put that back. I pass back that way when I'm done with dinner."
"No!" He clutched the book tightly, pulling it closer to him in reflex, then relaxed a hair, "I-I-I mean, th-this was very thoughtful of you, I'd l-like to read it again, actually."
"Oh?" She pinched her lips in quiet joy that he was so possessive of something she'd brought him, "Well then, when you're done, I'd like to do the same."
"C-c-certainly!" A rough, nervous laughter bubbled up at the thought of handing it back to her, "I-I'll probably be thinking of you the whole time I'm reading this, then."
Wait a second. He said that last part out loud, hadn't he? Her pinkened face blushed an even deeper red, and she fumbled with her bag, tying it closed again. His heart stopped as he waited for her to say something, certain he'd let his carefully crafted mask slip too far.
"I'm glad, then," her heart soared, even as her face burned, "Don't read it too quickly, in that case."
Then, Evelyn did something neither one of them was expecting. While he looked at the book, scared that meeting her gaze would reveal too much, she leaned up on her tip-toes, gently tugged his collar down to meet her, and pressed a kiss into his cheek. She'd done it unconsciously, on an urge that had been slowly bubbling up since she spotted him down the hallway from her. She was just so gladdened to see that childish delight in the book, she had to kiss him. It only occurred to her now, watching his eyes glossing over, that it was probably a bad idea.
The effect on Cullen was alarming. He stayed bent, a wide grin dopily cracking his face in two from one ear to the next, before letting out an awkward giggle. He straightened and managed to stop the giggle before it got too loud, but the amber of his eyes lit wildly.
"Uhm," she scrambled to think of an excuse, then beamed as one happily fell into place, "C-consider this all a belated thank you for what you did for me. I'll probably still be thanking you for years to come."
"Ghh," Cullen agreed, worried that vocalizing more would let his heart go flying out his throat.
"Right then," she nodded firmly, "I should go get something to eat, before they run out of oat cakes."
"Y-yeah, that's... that's a common problem," and the first words he could form again had to be inane. Fantastic. Well, he didn't really care at the moment- he was in far too high spirits.
"We'll talk another time!" She waved, scooting on her way, mortified and deliciously happy all at once.
"Y-yes, another time..." he watched her leave, then let his eyes fall to the book still in his hands. Her intuition at times was truly remarkable; to have picked out the one book he'd been able to read all those years ago, to have thought of him? And of course, there was his real source of mind-melting joy; she'd thought of him. He was someone she thought of. He doubted there was anything more there than just consideration, but he wasn't just another templar to her.
His hand went to his cheek, and the metal of his glove was cool compared to the hot skin there. Even more, unlike that friend of hers who bent to kiss her, Evey had reached up and kissed him. She kissed him. Later, he would panic over the consequences of such a thing, and later still, curse the memory with the most acidic vitriol in the attempt to cleanse it from his mind, but for hours after he left his post, he had the sweetest smile emblazoned across his face.