“You like her.”
“What?” asked Cullen, an annoyed sounding bite to his voice as he leaned over the map laid out over his (for once) clean side table.
Rylen sighed and stepped into the tent, lowering his voice as he made a vague gesture back towards where the Herald and her party were getting ready to leave. “The Herald, you dense arse.”
“Meryell?” Cullen then shook his head as he said dismissively, “She’s just a friend, old man.”
“Just a friend my fucking foot.”
“Maker, you and her would get along with your penchant for cursing.”
Rolling his eyes, Rylen grumbled, “Stop changing the subject. You can’t fool me that you don’t like her.”
Cullen sighed and planted his hands on the map, letting his head fall loosely on his neck as his mantled shoulders dropped slightly. “You’re not going to let up, are you?” he asked, sounding slightly defeated.
“If I didn’t bother you, you’d wonder what was wrong,” replied Rylen with a laugh. That brought an equal laugh out of the other man before he nodded his head several times. Before Cullen could say anything, he commented, “You don’t look at her like you did Claudia.”
“Oh, do tell me how I look at her, old man.”
Shaking his head, Rylen replied, “You really want me to spell it out for you?”
Cullen lifted a hand from the map and made a vague come at me gesture before placing it back down. His eyes were on the map but Rylen could tell that they weren’t entirely focused on the notations of troops and supplies that were scattered over the parchment in the other man’s neat handwriting.
“All right, how’s this,” he began. “I used to have to practically blackmail you to get you out of the Gallows for a drink.”
“Oh, it was blackmail and you know it. Then I had to almost tie you to a bench to keep you from running right back to work.”
“There was work that needed to be done,” Cullen began but Rylen cut him off with a sharp, “You were killing yourself. Working to the dead hours of the morning, dropping into bed still half in your armor and bone tired, then getting up and doing it again.” He quickly pointed at the other man as Cullen started to open his mouth. “And don’t tell me it was because Kirkwall needed you. I know what it was.”
He’d always been able to tell what drove Cullen. The man wore his guilt for his part in what had happened in Kirkwall around his shoulders just like the furry mantle he’d replaced templar steel with. Still did.
“You smart off to your Knight-Commander in Starkhaven like this?”
“Only when he was making a complete arse of himself,” replied Rylen with a grin.
Cullen tilted his head up, just enough that he could see one eye and an arched blonde brow. “Arse, is it?” he queried with something between a smirk and a frown.
“You’re the one who invited me to call it like it is.”
Huffing a laugh, the other man nodded. “So I did. Fine. What’s your point?”
Rylen just smirked, crossing his arms as he replied, “Point is that all our Herald has to do is show up at your tent and you’re all too eager to spend time in her company. Even when you do give token protest. I’ve noticed. The men have noticed.”
That had Cullen flushing, the red standing out starkly from his paler skin, and stammering back, “I…she…it’s just getting to know her better. For morale.”
“You do the same with our pretty ambassador or absolutely terrifying spymaster?”
A growl answered him and that was all the confirmation Rylen needed. Stepping forward, he rested the heels of his hands against the edge of the table and dropped his voice to say, “I don’t know what happened between you and Claudia and I don’t have to. That stays between you.”
He paused for a moment then went on, “You’re my friend as much as my commanding officer, Cullen. And this…whatever this is between you and her, it’s good for you. Far better than you lurking in this damned tent counting supplies or suffering through another headache on your own .”
“Rylen,” Cullen growled warningly.
“Though, I mean, she’s not pretty...”
The twitch of Cullen’s hands against the map, parchment crinkling slightly as his fingers tensed then relaxed, was enough of a response. Enough of a confirmation that he found the Herald attractive.
“Not in the traditional sense anyway,” he finished with a knowing smirk.
Cullen glared up at him under furrowed brows for a moment before he let out a huff of breath. He then straightened up to his full height, resting one hand on the hilt of his sword as he said sternly, “She’s the Herald, Captain. We do her no favors by speaking like this behind her back.”
“Oh, you want me to tell her directly that you like her?” Rylen asked with a broad grin.
“What? No! Maker’s breath, old man, you know exactly what I meant.”
“What I heard was confirmation that you like her.”
Cullen snorted before saying, “We should get your hearing checked then.”
Throwing up his hands, Rylen said, “Fine. Deny it all you want, Cullen, but I can see it. You just wait. One of these nights it’s going to hit you in the face and you’ll come crying to me saying you were right, Rylen, you were right about everything.”
Cullen shook his head before he asked, “Shouldn’t you be starting the next drill, Captain?” There was a stark finality to his tone that said very clearly that this conversation was over.
Rylen was wise enough to know when he could press the man and when the wisest stopping point was. That tone said he’d reached that point so he straightened up, clasped a fist over his heart in a salute, and murmured, “Commander,” in a low voice before he turned and strode out.
The Herald was swinging into her saddle as he did so and her head turned in their direction as soon as she was upright. He nodded in her direction then strode towards their trainees when he heard Cullen’s boots scuffle on the ground behind him. By the time the man emerged from his tent, Rylen was amongst the men and women, gathering them together to give them instructions for what they were doing next.
From within that press of bodies, he watched the Herald lift a hand in farewell, waving slightly, and the Commander return the gesture. Rylen could also see the flush in Cullen’s cheeks and knew that it wasn’t from the chilly air that clung to Haven since he had a brazier blazing out warmth in his tent.
Nothing going on my ass, he thought to himself before he fully turned his attention back to the task at hand: getting the sorry lot of recruits they had into fighting shape to defend the fledgling organization he’d followed Cullen into.