You're Doing Well
They came back inside when the rain soaked them. The rain was the only thing around her that felt alive. So though Swiffer had quickly scampered as soon as the first drops had started to fall, and Dorian had wanted to, he stayed behind with the barefoot Eleanor who seemed exhausted, yes, exhausted from her efforts, but also somehow revived. He could see it in her eyes, and he welcomed it, even as it scared him. He could see that she wanted to help. He could see that she thought now that she could help.
Not yet, anyway. Not like this.
They had worked for hours just for him to be able to sense Eleanor’s latent mana. He could feel it when he reached out and touched the tips of her fingers, but only then. Cullen had not been wrong, whatever was in her was magic, but it was so small. So fragile. Whatever she had done in the bar last night, however she had done it, it was gone now, and Dorian wasn’t the type to be willing to put Eleanor in another threatening situation just to coax the power out of her. That was more the type of thing that Cullen’s people would do.
But he humored her, at least in this, walking slowly back to the house with her though he was becoming soaked from head to toe, just as she was, her bare feet squelching happily in the mud. Wet, her hair hung down to the small of her back and all of the soft waves were pulled out of it. The brownness was made dark and it looked like a veil of night hung about her head and shoulders, the effect only enhanced by the soft blue cotton dress, now the tint of a moonlit sky, dark and heavy but rich with color. She seemed to be a part of the rain, a part of the surroundings, and it crystallized for him why the death of the grass, of the wildflowers that were really no more than colorful weeds, upset her so much. It wasn’t just a part of her land, a part of her home dying. It was a part of her. She was this night creature that walked through the landscape, not in a metaphysical way, but in a puzzle-piece way; that was just how she fit in here. She fit in as a part of this world, not just an inhabitant but an integral piece, somehow holding it all together.
“God, my feet are disgusting,” she said with a deep, throaty laugh, and the illusion was lost. She was now just Eleanor again, just a woman, a remarkable woman no doubt, and a strong one. No - not just. She was not just anything.
“You’re doing well,” Dorian said, though it was a meaningless phrase, really - doing well for what? For the first person on this plane of reality to harbor a gift for magic? For the only person he had ever known to manifest magic so late in life, thanks in no small part to the thread of his world that had invaded hers? What measures were these? But maybe he didn’t mean it in reference to her magical ability. Maybe he meant it on a more poignant level - the one where she was helping to head up the defense of her world from things outside of it, and taking it like a champ. The kind where she let herself break down and cry, but then got up, and laughed as she walked home in the rain. Certainly, in those ways, she was doing better than he would have done.
His voice was almost drowned out by the fat drops of the rain, but she heard him all the same as they approached the house, the porch, and instead of answering him, she gave him a big fat thumbs up.
Yes. She was doing just fine.
“Look at you, you’re soaked,” said Cullen, as Eleanor proudly strode into the house, dripping from every edge of her body. “Maker’s breath, let me get you a towel.” He stood up from his place at the kitchen table where he sat flicking through missives from Thedas, and went to the linen closet that lay tucked away under the stairs.
Eleanor could have gotten her own towel, but frankly, she was buzzing. She couldn’t do any magic yet, no, not really, and she knew that. Most of the time spent out on the dead lawn was more Dorian speaking magic and Eleanor absorbing. There were so many different kinds, so many different things she hadn’t even heard of before. Rift mages and knight enchanters and spirit healers and nothing in her body could believe that Dorian, sweet, charming, dashing Dorian was a necromancer, but there it was.
“What, no towel for me?” he said, pouting in a way that was so pathetic it could only be a joke. Eleanor leaned past Cullen, brushing her wet hair against him as she plucked out a towel for the poor, sopping mage, his hair plastered flat against his head, and tossed it to him gracefully. “Voila,” she sang, and then waited patiently for Cullen to hand her one of her own since he seemed so intent on doing it, even though she’d just proved she could have done it herself by now. But he made sure he selected the biggest, fluffiest one and wrapped her up in it like it were a blanket, and she let him, even though she was ten steps from her bedroom and planned on changing promptly. But the blanket’s soft, fuzzy embrace made her smile, made her smile like the tingles that lingered in her fingers and toes made her smile. Something inside of her, something that had felt like a knot, a knot she had lived with for all her life and so she never knew it was a knot at all had come untangled and she felt freed from a prison to which she hadn’t ever known she’d been confined. Even if this was all she ever got out of it, even if she never cast a real spell, never created a glyph in her life, it was worth it for this feeling, this inner bubbling, this churning inside her like the excitement in a pot that was just about to boil.
She felt so alive.
“Yes, well,” Dorian said, hugging the pale yellow towel to himself with one hand and using the other to clutch a corner and rub the water out of his hair, causing his black locks to stick up at wild angles. “I think I’ll go change.” And he rolled his eyes in the direction he was turning, as thought they would carry him more quickly to the stairs. His footfalls resounded on the creaky steps as he ascended. It was a good sound, Eleanor thought. At first she was reluctant, but she had come around. It felt good to have people filling the big, old house; people she liked, trusted, to take up the big spaces.
“Let me make you something hot to drink,” Cullen offered, dashing the water that had gotten on his own hands away with a shake.
“Wait, no, Cullen, I’m fine, just come here a minute,” the words spilled out of her mouth. Was it the magic? Or just the rain? She’d been so frightened by, so stripped by the power last night. But now that she was not afraid, it didn’t have that power over her anymore. It just had power.
“I’m right here, El,” he said, but turned around again to face her. She reached out, letting the towel fall as she took his hands, closing her eyes and letting that power, the small power she could now summon on command, the little power that did nothing, only felt, felt like only itself, ran from a place in her mind, in her gut, down to her hands, out of her fingertips, and poured into his.
Cullen immediately jerked away. Eleanor was left there, holding out her hands, pouring herself, her invisible self, into nothing, as though she hadn’t yet noticed that he’d broken her grasp. But she had. The expression on her face said so.
The playfulness she had felt, the surge of childlike joy instantly died. She held her hands out still as though willing the commander to come back, but he didn’t. And in that moment, Eleanor made her hands into fists, closed her eyes, and pressed the magic back down inside of herself, swallowing hard with the effort. It was not hard simply to stop it; if she went too long, she feared she would drain herself dry. But she had already discovered that to stifle the flow, to completely cut it off, to keep it from being available at a moment’s notice, took as much effort as summoning it up in the first place. It was like breaking into a hard run: it took effort to get up to speed, but once you were going, until you ran out of breath, it was easier just to keep going, to gently slow, than to come to a dead stop.
She wanted to say something to him. A nagging voice in her head said, “I’m sorry,” but she wasn’t. Why would she be sorry? She had only wanted to show him what she felt, what she had learnt. So she said nothing, but waited for him to speak.
Seconds passed, seconds that seemed to take hours, eons. Eleanor’s heart began to race in her chest, her indignance slowly fading away. Maybe she had startled him. She didn’t have anything like the power or the skill to injure him - he must have known that - but his eyes betrayed nothing.
Eleanor licked her lips, turning her head and blinking as she gathered herself up enough to gently beckon him. “Cullen,” she said, the sound punctuated by the drip drop drip of the water that hit the floor, running from her hair, her rain-logged dress.
She waited for him to say something else, say anything at all, but he only put up his hands as if to plead that it wasn’t his fault, and then he turned from her, and went back to the kitchen.
Stunned, she stood in the hallway, in her puddle, for a moment longer, before snatching up the towel from where it had fallen to the floor, wrapped it angrily over her shoulders, and went to her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.