Inquisition, Indiana

I'm Glad You Came Back

She came to minutes, maybe seconds, later, her skin stained in blood, and for a moment she panicked until she remembered it wasn’t hers, and then she panicked again as her hands scrabbled for Cullen and couldn’t find him, and she sat up, fast, too fast, and her dinner lurched into her throat and she forced it back down. But now she saw Cullen’s bare feet and and jeans, his legs, and he sat on the floor next to her, leaned up against the right-hand wall, smoking a cigarette and flicking ashes into the shower.

“You’re going to kill yourself, Ellie,” he said, breathing smoke up at the ceiling. His nose and lip were still caked in blood, but she couldn’t see his back. She reached out to touch him, to see how hurt he still was, and fell back down again, the room spinning around her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I had to do it.”

She swallowed hard, her forehead on the floor, hair pooling around her like Cullen’s blood and weakly asked, “What did…” her voice unsteady, her mind reeling behind her eyes.

He took another hard draw on the cigarette. “I purged your magic. You’ll be fine in a couple of minutes.”

She choked, laid down on her side. Her whole body felt cold, strange.

Cullen’s hard expression shifted, and he licked blood off of his lip, pinched his cigarette out, and flicked it into the wastebasket. His whole body was still sore, but her magic had reduced the gashes on his back to little more than welts. It was more than she should have been able to do. He scootched toward Eleanor and pulled her into his lap, brushing her hair away from her face and pressing her cheek to his chest. Her arms reached out for him.

“You’re okay?” she mumbled even as little tears of nausea streaked her face.

Not, "Why would you do that?" Not, "How could you?" Not, "I’m going to faint, I’m going to throw up, you shithead templar, how could you take my magic from me, even for minutes, seconds?"

But, "You’re okay?"

He hated himself, and he smiled. “Better than ever.”

“Okay. Good.” Her wobbling eyes searched the bathroom. “There’s blood everywhere.”

“I’ll clean it up.”

“Mm,” she neither agreed nor disagreed, but sat up on her own now, feeling mana coming back into her body, restoring her balance. How had she lived without this? How did anyone? And that Cullen could just - just take it away… It was a terrible thought. A terrifying one.

Her face was coated on one side with his blood where she had fallen, lain. Her arm, too. The whole floor was slick with it. Cullen lifted her into a sitting position, rose himself, turned the shower on hot, tested it with his hand until he found a comfortable temperature. Pushing shut the bathroom door, he reached out to her, “Help you up?”

She nodded and rose slowly, first to her knees, and then to her feet. She pointed at the cabinet beneath the sink. “There are black towels under there,” and as she stripped, Cullen retrieved two of them and hung them over the bar next to the shower. Down to nothing, Eleanor stepped cautiously into the shower box, reaching out her hand for Cullen to join her.

He suppressed a stupid grin, unable to say no.

In the hot spray, after washing the sticky blood from her limbs, her hair, she checked Cullen from head to foot, promising not to heal him if she found any other wounds, but there were none to be found. He used a bar of soap to wipe the crusty scabs from his face and it stung, but the sensation was almost welcome. As the last of the pinkish water swirled down the drain, he reached out for her and just held her for a moment, breathing in the steam and the smell of the soap and the tang of blood from just beyond the glass shower door.

“I’m glad you came back,” Eleanor said.

Cullen laughed dryly. “Me too.” He kissed her and knew they were both too tired for anything more than that. He turned off the water and popped open the door, reaching for a towel to offer her. “Go to bed,” he instructed. “I’ll clean this up. Meet you there in a few?”

She nodded, wrapping the towel around her, and reached for the bathroom door. “Don’t worry too much about it. I’ll take care of the rest in the morning.”

“El?” he stopped her.

“Hm?” she turned back.

He said, “Thank you,” but he wanted to say, “I love you,” and thought, “You are too powerful for your own good and you are going to die.”

“Anytime,” she said, turning away from him, “except for how about ever again.”

Well, he couldn’t argue with that.

She padded softly down to the bedroom, Swiffer winding around her feet like an assassin on the stairs. Eleanor pushed her staff and her book off of the bed, put the lyrium in the nightstand, crawled under the blankets without even bothering to dress, and waited. After a few moments that could have been minutes or could have been hours, she heard Cullen come in, close the door behind him, and slip under the blankets on the opposite side, clicking off the bedside lamp. As soon as she felt his warmth around her, she fell asleep.

Eleanor woke up surrounded by sunlight. Cullen was still asleep next to her, looking like he hadn’t moved all night. The blankets still draped gracefully around him, almost entirely undisturbed. She glanced over to read the clock, but there was something fuzzy in her mind, there was something in the way. She reached out to move it - the ashtray? but Cullen made a sound beside her and when she turned over again, his nose and mouth were a sea of blood, spilling onto the blue of the pillow. A single red tear fell from his eye.

“Cullen?” but his name caught in her throat and she couldn’t make a sound, could only reach out her hands to touch his face, the blood spilling between her fingers, and she tried to summon up her mana, but try as she might, nothing came. She could not heal him, and under her fingers his face was changing, changing into something black, something purple, something wet and slimy and horrible and hooded and it rose up next to her, rose over her, and it was black in the room, it was night, no, not night, there was something heavy and cold blotting out the sun, and the darkness was a part of her, squeezing her, crushing her, stealing her, stealing her very essence and she couldn’t fight it, not with magic, not with her hands, and her chest was so tight she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t -

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