toastfic: (cullen)
[personal profile] toastfic
Title: Tatterdemalion

Pairing: Cullen/f!Hawke

Rating: PG

Warnings: Unfinished, and likely to remain so.

Notes: Originally inspired by a prompt on the DA2 kink-meme involving Hawke, Cullen, and a masquerade ball. I never finished it, so it was never posted.





"Oh, Marian. Please tell you're not planning to wear that to the Viscount's ball!"

Marian Hawke nervously fingered the ribbons and bells tied to the elbows of her dress. "This is a perfectly acceptable outfit for a Summerday dance."

"In Ferelden, perhaps," said her mother. "This is Kirkwall, dearest. People will think you're one of the staff."

Marian's jaw went mulish. "I am Ferelden, Mother," she pointed out. "Or have you forgotten?"

"No, no, of course not." Leandra Hawke crossed the room to give her daughter a warm, reassuring hug. "It's just, this is your first ball as a noblewoman, and I want to be sure you have a good time."

"Well, it's too late to change now, even if I wanted to." Marian disentangled herself from her mother's embrace and twirled, setting her bells a-jingle and the tattered layers of her skirt flaring out in a wide arc. "Who knows? Maybe I'll start a new fashion at court."

#

Upon arriving at the Viscount's Keep, Marian was forced to concede that maybe, just maybe, her mother had been right.

The noble daughters of Kirkwall were all dressed in shimmering gowns of pale Orlesian silk, their powdered faces hidden behind delicate papier-mâché half-masks trimmed with pearls, feathers and lace. The men favored bolder colors in heavier fabrics, all rich velvets and satin brocades, with matching masks fastened to gilded sticks that could be raised or lowered at whim. Marian, in her motley assortment of tatters and ribbons and jingling, jangling bells, looked more like a Lowtown madwoman blown in by an errant breeze. The guard at the door took so long checking her invitation that she was forced to push up her mask--a hawk, of course, crafted for her by a master leatherworker down in the elven Alienage--just to prove that she belonged.

Things went downhill from there.

The punch was watered, the hors d'oeuvres bland, and the noise of the crowd so loud she could barely hear herself think. The musicians were thankfully decent, plucking out a desultory series of staid, courtly ballads better suited to background noise than actual dancing. Or, at least, not the sort of dancing Marian was used to from Summerday festivals back in Lothering. Those had much less curtseying and a lot more laughter, and generally took place around a bonfire under the wide open sky.

Even without a bonfire, the grand hall was unbearably warm. With so many bodies packed so close together, it was difficult to breathe. Marian longed for her staff. Not so that she might conjure up a cool breeze (which was far more tempting an idea than was probably wise) but so that she could use it like a shepherd's crook to herd people out of her way as she took a turn about the room.

Or bludgeon them to death, she amended, after yet another group of fine, upstanding young ladies tittered loudly behind their painted fans as she walked by.

Bored, embarrassed, and with the beginning of a headache throbbing behind her left eye, Marian decided what she needed was a break and a bit of fresh air. Ducking behind a potted plant, she quickly wove a series of misdirection and Who, Me? spells around herself, then slipped away into the shadows with the intention of hiding in one of the closed-off side galleries until she felt less like setting the ballroom and everyone in it on fire.


#


The east gallery wasn't locked, which surprised her, but it seemed deserted enough and, with the heavy door closed, relatively quiet.

"Is someone there?"

All right, maybe not so deserted, she thought, and darted deeper into the shadows.

A man came toward her, boot heels ringing on the polished marble floor. Moonlight from one of the long, mullioned windows on the far wall showed that he was tall and plainly dressed in a white shirt and hunting breeches. He wore a simple mask of painted leather similar to her own, only his was in the shape of a wren rather than a bird of prey. From that and his accent, and the colorful ribbons dangling from his elbows, she guessed him to be Ferelden, like her.

Also, hiding. Like her.

Marian stepped forward into the light. "I could be wrong," she said, "but I think it's the wrong time of year for hunting cutty wrens."

He stopped, startled, then raised a hand to touch his mask and smiled. "It's the only mask I own, I'm afraid."

"Can't say I've ever cared for that particular tradition," Marian said. "I always had too much sympathy for the bird."

"As did I," he said. "I take it you're Ferelden as well?"

She essayed an exaggerated bow that set her bells chiming merrily. "How ever did you guess?"

He smiled again, wryly this time. "If it helps, the guards tried to make me use the servant's entrance when I first arrived."

"Ouch."

"They were most apologetic when they realized their mistake. Even so, part of me wishes they'd successfully turned me away. This is all so very--"

"Tedious?"

"I was going to say overwhelming. I'm, ah, not very good with crowds."

"I'm not either," Marian confessed, "And it is overwhelming, especially the smell. I mean, I like perfume as much as the next woman, but Maker's breath, do they have to bathe in the stuff? It's like standing in a field of rotten flowers!"

That startled a laugh out of him. It sounded rough, and a little uncertain. Marian guessed it wasn't something he did often.

Marian wrapped her arms around herself and walked over to the windows. From this height, she could see the whole of the harbor stretched out before her, moonlight dancing on the waves. "It just doesn't seem right to celebrate Summerday indoors."

"No, it doesn't," he agreed as he came up to stand beside her. "I miss the bonfires. The Revered Mother at the orphanage where I was raised thought Summerday was a heathen tradition, and wouldn't let us attend. I used to sneak out after dark and climb up on the Chantry roof to watch the fires burning in the distance. The smell would linger for days." He paused, shook his head. "I don't know why I'm telling you this."

She tapped the side of her hawk's curved leather beak. "It's the masks," she informed him solemnly. "They let you do and say things you wouldn't ordinarily consider."

"That must be it."

In the silence that followed, Marian became very aware of just how close they were standing. Her companion was a big man, with wide shoulders, narrow hips, and broad, capable-looking hands. He smelled cleanly of soap, fresh sweat and leather, with something cool and faintly metallic lingering underneath. Something familiar, like his voice was familiar beneath the accent they both shared, though she couldn't quite place either just yet.

His warmth and closeness, and the heady, masculine scent of his skin put Marian in mind of another Ferelden Summerday tradition that the puffed-up popinjays of the Viscount's court would not approve of. It was as old as Ferelden itself, if not older, and she eyed her companion speculatively, wondering where else they might go since there was nothing even remotely like an obliging haystack in their general vicinity, and they were far too likely to be discovered should they stay in their present location.

"Well, Ser Wren," she said. The ser was only a hunch, but a good one, it seemed, judging from his swift intake of breath. Marian smiled to herself and slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow. "Would you care to take a walk with me?"


#


Getting to the place Marian had in mind meant leaving the protective darkness and quiet of the gallery and braving the main hall again.

Marian took a deep breath, lifted her chin high and tried to project an air of utter indifference as she wove through the crowd. Her escort bore her white-knuckled grip on his arm without complaint, though she was sure his skin would be mottled with bruises the exact shape of her fingers by morning.

If he noticed the stares and whispers that followed in their wake, he gave no outward sign of it beyond a slight, nervous flexing of his right hand, as though missing the weight of a sword. Marian understood the sentiment all too well. Facing a nest of vicious, poisonous spiders was nothing compared to a room full of vicious, poisonous laughter. Spiders she could squish, or set on fire, or turn to ice and then shatter into flinders with a well-placed blow. She couldn't do that to courtiers, no matter how richly deserved.

Well. She could, but then she wouldn't get invited to any more parties, and that would break her mother's heart.

Marian finally found the door to the stairwell she was looking for. After a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching, she slipped through it, tugging her companion along after her.

"And where are we going?" he demanded.

"You'll see," she said.
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