Siding with the mages during their stay at Skyhold meant that more training was in order; Cassandra and Blackwall had put the plans in motion to get the newly joined up members back on their feet after the whole thing with the Conclave but Cassandra and Blackwall could see many of the mages were wary of whatever Templars were lingering around the keep.
"This afternoon's sparring session should show them Templars aren't all bad," Blackwall told Cassandra in the morning over breakfast. All Cassandra had done was snort into her mug of ale but she followed Blackwall anyway and now here she was, sitting on the sidelines watching as Dorian and Bull went at it in the center of the ring. Dorian was adorned in one of his usual flashy outfits, leather and lace and buckles shining in the sun as he whirled around like a rabbit, flexing his muscles in precisely the way everyone knew the Iron Bull liked.
Cassandra wouldn't admit it, but while Dorian and the Iron Bull were quite unorthodox, they reminded her very much of the couples she read about in Varric's romance novels: a swashbuckling pirate rescuing a swooning marooned sailor as they wash up on the shore of an island, tales of dashing princes saving the fair maiden from a tower- stories like that suited Dorian perfectly and if anyone asked, Bull sat around reading those stories with her because everyone needed a reading partner now and again.
And Bull obviously enjoyed Dorian twirling his mage staff very much because just as he was about to cast a spell, Iron Bull feinted right before snagging Dorian around the waist and growling audibly before dipping him dangerously low and smacking a big one right on the kisser.
"Ha! Knew that was going to happen sooner or later," Blackwall slapped his knee and Cassandra had to admit that the slightly uncomfortable and blazing red faces of the new members were quite amusing to watch. A few of them were tittering behind their hands, others gaping openly enough that their jaws were practically on the floor.
Bull sent a few saucy winks their way as he helped Dorian up, his arm still wrapped around Dorian's waist as they left the sparring ring to jog over to the stables- Cassandra caught the massive stink-eye Blackwall was giving them as they went.
"Young love is a good thing, Blackwall," Cassandra nudged his side with her elbow.
"I have no problem with whatever love they have, they just better clean up after themselves or Fluffer is going to throw a fit."
Cassandra guffawed, "The Inquisitor's horse?"
"Actually it's Varric's- he won it in a game of Wicked Grace, although he can't even get on the damn thing so I don't see why he would want it."
A creak sounded to her left and Cassandra turned to see Varric hop up on the bench next to her, proudly proclaiming, "You think it's bad I won the Inquisitor's steed? Back in Kirkwall, I technically auctioned off the Champion for a charity date- getting her out of that was a fun ride, let me tell ya."
Cassandra made a noise in the back of her throat; turning to watch the sparring ring, Cullen was next to enter. He had shed his signature fluffy lion's mane of a coat along with his heavy Templar armor and wore a thin pair of breeches and a white sleeveless shirt. The mages and warriors surrounding the ring definitely seemed to appreciate Cullen's toned, scarred body and honestly, Cassandra would be a liar if she said she never thought about it. He seemed to have a certain Fereldan charm, a boyishness just shy underneath the steely eyes of a commander.
"Please tell me whoever is sparring the Commander won't kiss him," Blackwall said, the three of them watching Cullen pull a practice sword from where it was wedged in the ground.
"He's too much of a chantry boy, trust me," Cassandra joked dryly, and Cullen started speaking to the recruits, mostly the mages, his voice echoing through the mountains as he explained the day's exercise- minus what Dorian and Bull had so wonderfully showed off, ot course.
Varric and Blackwall were already placing bets on which poor soul Cullen would smother into the ground while Cassandra chewed the inside of her cheek. A young woman with red hair was twisting her staff nervously in her hands, but Krem appeared almost as if out of nowhere to pull her aside before Cullen could pick her out.
"Most likely Bull's doing," Varric leaned into Cassandra's elbow, "he always liked redheads."
"Then he must have hit his head because Dorian hasn't a lick of red on him."
Varric howled, Cassandra smiling to herself as she watched Cullen try goading any of the new mages into sparring with him- none took the bait and while they were polite about it, it was obvious by their thin smiles and pinched eyes that they were not yet used to being in a Templar's presence and have it be a good thing.
A sharp jab to her side made her look down at Varric as he pointed someone out; she followed his finger to see none other than Solas appear from the group, the mages parting like Andraste walking through the sea; his bald head was shiny under the sun and-
"Commander's blushing or am I going daft?!" Blackwall blurted, "Please tell me I'm not the only one seeing this!"
"Oh-ho you bet!" Varric rubbed his hands together, "Ol' Curly's got a crush!"
Indeed, the Commander seemed to be nervous: his normally stoic expression gave way to a surprised nervousness, eyes wide before he seemed to be able to collect himself. Arms flexing, he gestured to Solas's staff, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.
"Honestly, I've never seen him leave his rotunda," Varric said, "Always painting and studying, he's kind of a bore."
Cassandra shushed them, "As a member of the Inquisition, Solas deserves respect."
"So do we, but you never come to our defense," Varric joked.
"Ugh. This is probably why."
Varric was about to reply when he made a small noise of interest, turning sharply to face the ring- it had gone silent now, shock hanging over everyone as none other than Solas strode confidently to the center, offering Cullen a slight bow of his head.
"As you were saying?" Blackwall hissed gleefully, a childish grin plastered under that black mop he called a beard.
Cassandra leaned forward with her elbows on her knees. This was going to be interesting.
Cullen didn't expect Solas of all people to step into the sparring ring.
The sparring ring was a good way for the newly recruited mages to get acquainted with the Inquisition- there was no telling when Corypheus would strike and everyone had to be ready, but the Inquisitor took Solas on missions all the time, very dangerous missions so Cullen knew the man knew how to fight.
But instead of the new recruits, Cullen suddenly had a thought: what if Solas was trying to make the other mages more comfortable about working alongside Templars?
Yeah- that had to be it. It had to, or Cullen was going to go crazy because if he was being honest, he also had no idea how Solas performed in battle. He knew Solas knew how to fight, but it was how he did it that had Cullen intrigued.
"Fine form, Commamder," Solas's voice ran smooth like molasses and Cullen stiffened.
"I appreciate the sentiment," Cullen was surprised he was as sure as he sounded, "Shall we?"
With a slight bow of his head, Solas took a minute to step aside, slipping his jawbone pendant from around his neck to hand it off to Cole (when had Cole arrived?), then with thin hands he reached down and pulled his green tunic off and-
"Where have you been hiding those muscles, friend?" Cullen blurted, then as he clapped a hand to his mouth, "A-apologies, Solas, I-"
"No harm, Commander," Solas said coolly, although Cullen couldn't tell if the elf really meant it. Vaguely, he was aware of Blackwall laughing from the bench on the sidelines and if he looked just over Solas's shoulder, he could catch Cassandra bopping the Grey Warden over the head with an angry fist, Varric grinning as he waved at them.
Cullen turned away quickly, although he knew his face must be beet red- his chest burned with the blush, and even though it was blistering heat outside, the pink of his ears was obviously caused by something other than the mountain sun and blasted winds. He wasn't entirely sure when it had started either- Solas had arrived at the Inquisition in the form of help when it came to the Rifts all across Thedas, and considering he was the only person who knew anything about them, Leliana had deemed him suitable to join, although a lack of records about him was a constant topic at the war table.
There was something about him that ticked Cullen off, however. He had an air of grace about him, an aura that commanded respect and attention. During the ball at the Winter Palace, while the Inquisitor was waltzing with the Duchess, Cullen had been watching Solas- in his finery (despite the utterly ridiculous hat Josephine had forced the elf to wear), he was almost regal, a type of royalty that rivaled even Vivienne's charm for all it was worth.
So while it was hard to picture Solas fighting, the muscles Solas sported now as he pulled off his shirt told another story. Pale skin was toned and taut, scars ran along every available surface; where had Solas been hiding those? And how had he gotten them?
"I've been in my fair share of battle," Solas said coolly, pulling Cullen from his thoughts.
"What?" Cullen blinked and he was vaguely aware of Varric laughing from his spot on the bench.
"You're talking out loud," Solas pointed out with a smirk, "I believe you are to teach me to defend myself, yes?"
Cullen fumbled with his sword, ultimately dropping it as his brain struggled to realize what was going on. Eventually, he kicked it aside, approaching Solas with open arms.
"I trust you know hand to hand then?" Cullen asked nervously, "Should your staff be broken in battle or you can't perform magic-"
"I can assure you, Commander, my.... staff is very hard," Solas had a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he cocked his head, licking his lips as he rolled his shoulders, "to break, that is."
Cullen's face was burning and he was vaguely aware of Cassandra's surprised grunt as Varric and Blackwall laughed obnoxiously. Well. Cullen supposed it was for an audience, and the inner circle didn't really know Solas all that well either-
A sudden shift in the air tore Cullen from his thoughts as Solas suddenly charged him, expertly wrapping his arms around Cullen's waist and, with the pull of his elbows and momentum of a well-timed spin, Cullen's breath was knocked from his lungs as Solas slammed him hard enough into the ground that he was sure he saw Andraste amongst the stars circling his head. Varric whistled and Solas ignored it, stepping back to glare triumphantly down at Cullen as he pushed himself up into a sitting position.
Cullen immediately regretted getting up- Solas looked absolutely divine, standing proudly over him. The sun cast thin rays of gold behind the elf's head, the light sheen of sweat on his pale skin making him almost glow....
There was something almost otherworldly about him, how he held himself as if he was holding up the world, rather than learning self-defense in the middle of a fortress. As if he's fought people like Cullen before.
"Well, Commander," Solas held his chin quite regally as he breathed hard, chest heaving from exertion, "is that your sword or are you just excited to fight me?"
"What-?" Cullen blurted, and then he felt it. Glancing down at himself, his leggings were quite tented and Cullen froze as he looked between his... obvious interest and the man in question, although he made no move to cover himself up. Cullen grasped for an excuse as Solas knelt down in front of him, and Cullen almost wanted to point out that they had an audience, but he allowed Solas to creep forward, shivered as Solas reached out and wrapped deceptively skinny arms around him in a hug.
"Um, Solas?" Cullen swallowed as Solas almost leaned into him, the elf's lips a hair's breath away from the lobe of his ear.
"If you like I can show you the true extent that my staff can reach later," Solas chuckled cruelly in Cullen's ear, hands tightening in the fabric of Cullen's thin shirt.
Solas nodded, "But first-!"
With a grunt and an expert yank, Cullen yowled in surprise like a cat in the rain as Solas contorted himself, pulling Cullen over his person as he moved to lay on his back and Cullen went flying, skidding across the training ring before banging to a stop at one of the fence posts. The mages watching jumped back in order to avoid the collision, and Cullen wheezed as he tried to get up, only to fall back down once more.
Oh, that was going to leave a bruise. In more ways than one, as Cullen's expression of interest had no intention of dying down.
Well, he could deal with that later. He had a training session to finish before Varric started writing his next best-seller.