Esther studied the board carefully before noticing that her king was completely surrounded and pulled a face. “You win,” she sighed. “Again. Didn’t anybody ever tell you that it is good manners to let the lady win?”
The afternoon light seemed to illuminate his face as he grinned at her, the smile warm and relaxed in the gardens of Skyhold. “If I recall correctly, I did let you win the first time, but then you accused me of being too easy on you,” he teased in return.
She mock-pouted for a moment before sticking her tongue out at him. “That was before I realized that I was apparently playing with some chess master,” she retorted, though she couldn’t stop an answering smile from tugging at her own lips. “Here I thought I might have a chance of beating you some of the time. Then again, I suppose it is a good thing that the Commander of the Inquisition’s army should be good at a game of tactics.”
“Strategy,” he corrected gently. “Tactics are generally employed for smaller skirmishes and battles. Strategy is the overall flow of the-” Esther chuckled, watching with amusement as he cut himself off, red tinging his cheeks. “I’m sorry, I-”
“Doubt I wanted a lecture?” she asked, grinning as she remembered the conversation from so many months ago, the first time she had seen a templar, former or not, get so passionate about anything.
Cullen shook his head ruefully, though judging from the distant look in his eyes, he remembered their words as well. “Well, you are certainly improving. All it takes is practice, really. Another game?” he suggested.
She hummed noncommittally. “Perhaps later, after my ego is feeling less bruised,” she joked, though the disappointed look on his face sent a stab of guilt through her. “But…”
Esther barely repressed a smirk at the hopeful look in his eyes. “If you want to practice something, we could always play Wicked Grace,” she offered. The instantaneous look of horror that crossed his face sent her into peals of laughter.
“No,” he said immediately. “Never again.”
“Come on,” she forced out, struggling in vain to control her chortles. “Don’t you want to get revenge on Josephine?”
At the memory, his face turned so red she was surprised it had not yet caught on fire. “Not at the cost of my pride.” In spite of his blush, his eyes were amused as he watched her slowly regain control of herself.
“Aww, c’mon,” she coaxed at last. “Just once. It’ll just be the two of us. And I’ll go easy on you.” When he still looked unconvinced, she added, “We could start simpler. I’ll give you a kiss every time you win a hand.”
“Maker’s breath, woman,” he grumbled, though she could tell she had caught his interest. “Just once, then, if you are truly so eager in my learning the game.”
“Plus,” she added, eyes dancing, “I wouldn’t mind seeing you without your armor more often.” Winking at his sputtering, she grabbed his hand and towed him to her room before he could find an excuse to put it off.
And, if she had purposely let him win enough hands that one game turned into many more, if she coaxed him into raising the stakes from kisses to clothing before they got thoroughly engrossed in other, far more intimate, interactions, well, Esther certainly wasn’t going to complain.