Let's Go Have a Good Time
Adapting indeed, Eleanor thought as Cullen stomped down to the kitchen. He wore his same boots; he hadn’t worn a different pair of shoes yet as far as he could tell, and the same dark grey-blue jeans. But over his t-shirt he wore a steely grey button up, which it was in name only as the commander wore it untucked and unbuttoned, and had the cuffs rolled up to his elbows.
Something caught in Eleanor’s throat. She swallowed it down hard.
Eleanor wasn’t stupid or unseeing or celibate, and she was at least seventy-five percent heterosexual. Alright, maybe sixty percent, give or take. She wouldn’t stand up and say that Cullen was an unattractive man. He had good bone structure, and dark, deep-set eyes, and his hair was unruly in a way that some might construe as handsome. The greys made him look dignified. The scar on his lip was striking. His voice, dare she admit it, was butter-melting.
But nothing about him had done it for her before. If anyone was gonna do it for her, it would be a man like Dorian, and nothing about her did it for him, she had found out some time ago. She should have figured as much.
Something about the scarred war veteran standing before her now though made her cheeks flush, what with his sleeves rolled up and his hands in his pockets and his hair sticking out at odd angles though he’d clearly tried to brush it back.
“Well alright then let’s get going,” she said without punctuation, aware that she was behaving more like an eight-year-old than a twenty-eight year old. But she turned away from his strong jaw with distrust. She grabbed a small sling-style purse from the back of a kitchen chair, made sure it contained money, cigarettes, and keys, and set off.
“Everything okay?” Cullen asked as Eleanor’s feet traced the wood floor to the front of the house.
“Fine,” she said, and nudged open the screen door with her shoulder. Dorian and four of their current occupancy of a dozen or so soldiers waited for them on the porch.
“Commander,” Dorian bobbed his head to Cullen, who gave Dorian a roll of his eyes, to which Dorian returned a wink, more for Eleanor’s sake than Cullen’s.
“Well, then,” said the mage, “let’s go have a good time.”
The walk to the bar was long but peaceful, and the shifting light of the setting sun eased the tension in Eleanor’s nerves as Dorian walked alongside her and rattled on about magic. She’d asked him to, often asked him to, and he was more than glad to oblige, perhaps because he liked to impart information, or perhaps because he liked the sound of his own voice, and Eleanor figured it was more than likely both. She didn’t mind, but in the otherwise farmland-silent twilight, she could hardly focus on the words at all. The things that grabbed her attention were the sounds of bullfrogs croaking out their goodnights, of birds fluttering down to settle on the branches of trees, of the occasional gust of wind that rustled the long grass that grew on both sides of the road. Her eyes were drawn not to his face but to the twinkling of the last fireflies of the year and the first stars of the evening. Eventually, the mage realized that Eleanor’s attention was elsewhere - literally anywhere elsewhere - and he quieted a bit, allowing her to point out constellations above them, Orion and Draco and the two Dippers. Apparently the stars were different here than they were in Thedas, and this, for whatever reason, sent a small shiver of fear down Eleanor’s spine, but also a thrill. It was bigger than there being another land, another world out there to be discovered, or, having been discovered in this small way, to explore. There was a whole other sky, a whole other galaxy around them, above them, and here on Earth, Dorian was exploring it for the first time as he in turn told her about a sky which she had never seen; not a different perspective, but a different heaven entirely. She reasoned that maybe Thedas was another planet somewhere out there, somewhere else, and that it was so far from her home that even though it looked at the same stars their orientations were completely differently aligned. That felt more reasonable, safer, and yet, she wouldn’t have put money on it.
But then, she wouldn’t have put money on having visitors from a place where the stars were different.
Cullen walked behind them, listening. He watched as Eleanor’s index finger traced out shapes in the sky, drawing pictures with the stars like he had done on his own, with his unaided eye like they were doing now, and with the occasional aid of astrariums. He didn’t put much if any stock into those stars, so cold and distant, having a pull, an influence on his life, but he liked the lore all the same. Down here, listening to Eleanor, the stories she told about the shapes in the sky seemed to mirror his own experience, his own mythology, but with just enough inconsistency to keep his attention. A gentle breeze lifted the hem of his shirt, rustled his hair, kissed his cheeks, and as his boots crunched the gravel on the road below them, he felt for a moment entirely content. He felt like he could stay here forever.
But he never could. He rolled his shoulders and sighed to himself, realizing that at some point there would be activity from the Archdemon, and then they would have to bring the Grey Wardens here, to this completely other place, and with any luck they could slay the beast, end the Blight, close the Breach, and Cullen would go home.
Back to Thedas.
“There it is,” he heard Eleanor say, and she pointed horizontally now, not vertically, at a building he would have thought was just a house, and quite possibly had been at sometime or other, and a soldier walking ahead gave a little whoop and quickened her pace.
“Behave,” Eleanor warned with a lightness in her voice that said she was really quite glad to be out of the house, all dubiousness aside. The soldiers laughed the boisterous, communal laugh of people who knew that life was short and headed in a pack of four towards the neon lights of the bar signs that flickered now in the gloaming. Dorian followed them in a pack all his own.
Cullen caught up to Eleanor now, stretching his arms out after having had his hands stuffed in his pockets. “Buy you a drink?” he offered.
She patted her purse. “Technically you’re buying all of these drinks.”
He gave a chuckle. “Well, now. When you put it that way.”
Eleanor flashed him a small smile, the uneasiness he had caused her having settled down after their long walk, and she broke from his stride again, heading towards the bar.
Home. The word flashed in his mind again, and he realized at some point he would have to tell her about the dragon.
He heard the sound of laughter and music and clinking glasses coming from the open patio on the building in front of him, and decided he could tell her tomorrow. Soon, certainly. But it didn’t have to be tonight.