They are Now, as Ever, Pardoned
On the steps of of the fortress, the Inquisitor met them. She was dressed in brown pants and high boots, a blue jacket, and a white scarf. She had red hair that came to her shoulders and bright green eyes, and freckles on her pale skin. She was a little taller than Eleanor, but not much, and not at all the intimidating figure that Eleanor had pictured her as.
As they climbed toward her, slowly, exhausted, Eleanor heard the woman call out in a soft, high voice: “I’m going to need to know what happened, you know, but Maker is it good to see you all back.” The Inquisitor a few steps forward, reached out, and embraced Eleanor. “It is so good to finally meet you,” and at first Eleanor was confused as to how she’d been recognized, but then she remembered her robes, “Thank you for all that you’ve done for us.”
“It’s been my pleasure, Inquisitor Tre-” Eleanor struggled to remember, her cold and tired brain piecing together memories, “Trevelyan.”
“I’ll say,” said Dorian, cocking an eyebrow at Cullen, who elbowed the mage in the ribs.
“Please,” the Inquisitor put one arm on Eleanor’s shoulder. “Call me Evelyn.”
Eleanor nodded almost reverently, because she was tired, and she was not sure what to do - bow? grovel? shake hands? high-five? This woman seemed like she would be okay more with the last two than the first, but Eleanor decided to air on the side of caution.
Trevelyan took a step back, a step up, and looked at the four of them, tired and covered in muck.
“You all look awful. Get some rest. We can talk in the morning. Eleanor, I’ll have quarters prepared for you as quickly as possible. Until then you can -”
Dorian began to snicker, and Varric looked around as though he had nothing to say, clearly indicating that he had something to say.
“Something you two would like to share?” said the Inquisitor, like an overbearing mother.
Eleanor was going to keep her mouth shut - she didn’t know what the etiquette her was; she and Cullen weren’t married, probably would never be, Eleanor was not big on that kind of thing anyway, and they hadn’t been properly dating very long in any case, if they even were, she didn’t know, hardly knew anything anymore. Dorian and Varric had taken it in stride so much as they had been told, which was that they had been told nothing except that Cullen was spending the night in her room now, had for a week or so, and he held her while they slept in the Deep Roads. They seemed only to pick on Cullen for the kind of person he was, two friends making jabs at a man who had been single for far too long, though as far as she knew, neither the mage nor the dwarf were attached; they all seemed to have their own hang-ups. So, no, Eleanor was going to remain quiet and accept her own quarters while Dorian and Varric chuckled and made faces while Cullen slowly turned red, because she didn’t think she would be here that long anyway.
But it was Cullen, not either of the other two, who spoke up, albeit softly. “If you’ll pardon those two idiots, Inquisitor…”
“They are now, as ever, pardoned,” she said with a small laugh.
Reaching out, Cullen took Eleanor’s hand and said quietly, but steadily, “Separate quarters won’t be necessary,” and he looked from Eleanor to Evelyn and back, “if that’s alright with you,” and back again, “both.”
Eleanor sputtered for a minute, and then acquiesced, “I mean, yeah, of course.”
The Inquisitor smiled in a way that made her eyes light up, but the manner in which her mouth turned up said that she was with Dorian and Varric and had some choice words for the commander just as soon as Eleanor was out of earshot - out of respect, of course. She reached out and slapped Cullen on his arm. “Of course, Commander. I’ll have your quarters freshened up. Light a fire. It’s been a cold one,” she said. “Eleanor, I’ll have some fresh clothes brought for you.” The Inquisitor eyed the woman up and down. “You look about my size. I’ll dig through my wardrobe, see what I can’t dig up.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t -”
“Yeah, well, you’re gonna,” Trevelyan said with a laugh. “You’re a mess. You’re all a mess. Get cleaned up. Eleanor, I’ll show you where the baths are.”
Eleanor liked the Inquisitor very much, she decided, after having a bath with water from a hot spring, and dressing in a shirt that was soft and white and felt like silk and worn-in leather pants, and having her hair brushed and braided for her by a talkative woman who then wrapped a thick shawl over Eleanor’s shoulders and showed her the way to Cullen’s chambers. It was dark, and the wind whipped fiercely around Eleanor’s face and she hugged the shawl to herself and walked up a long set of stairs to a tower some yards away from the main keep. The woman indicated to Eleanor that this was the door she wanted, then hurried away, Eleanor hoped, to get somewhere warm. Then Eleanor reached out, and tugged open the heavy wooden door.
Within was a beautiful study, the walls covered in bookshelves, lit softly by candles and the promised fireplace. There was a red rug on the floor, and a solid wooden desk, covered messily in books and papers and quills. Behind the desk stood the commander, leaning over his current project, one hand down on a scroll, the other clutching a quill, the tip brought to his mouth, tapping against his teeth. He looked almost like someone she didn’t know, and she hesitated, though he must have heard the door open. Eleanor shut it now against the cold, and his eyes went to her now, clad in her white silken top with silver frogs, soft brown beaten leather pants. They were nightclothes, or casual clothes, too soft to serve any real function and too simple to be worn alone when out and about, but whatever they were, they were of the highest quality. She had been offered boots, but Eleanor didn’t think she would be walking far, and so she slipped on delicate black flats, crafted of some study cloth. Her hair was braided up elaborately on her head in a wide crown. Her cheeks were pink with cold, but here in the warm study, she let the shawl slide down from her neck where she had been clutching it, letting it rest on her shoulders.
“You look like you belong here,” he said.
“Could say the same for you,” Eleanor laughed, meaning it as a joke, but of course he did. Even in his white t-shirts and jeans, he’d looked a little out of place back in Indiana - if only a little - back in what Eleanor had previously considered the real world, though it was now all too obvious that this place, this Thedas, this Skyhold, was just as real. “It’s, uh, it’s nice here. Different than I thought it would be.”
“Different how?” he set down his quill and met her halfway across the room.
Eleanor shrugged. “Well, I guess I hadn’t put much thought into it. I thought it would be… Rougher? This place is incredible.”
He reached out and wrapped his arms around her, she brought her arms up to rest on his shoulders. “Not all of it is. Skyhold was in ruins when we first arrived.” He looked off to the side, losing his train of thought.
“Getting all misty-eyed?”
“Not at all. The opposite. It was so much work. I was just… It has been an awfully long time.” He reached up and ran a gloved thumb across her cheek. The material was rough but not unpleasant, and she pressed into his touch. She closed her eyes against it and sighed.
“You haven’t even changed your clothes,” she remarked.
“Sorry,” he said, “I wanted to get this done,” he tipped his head in the direction of his desk, “before bed.”
“Oh, bed. I’m so ready for bed,” Eleanor stretched her arms up to the sky before bringing them to rest beside Cullen’s neck once more.
“Alright, alright,” he released her and went back to the desk, lifting his quill. “I’ll do this now. You can get settled in, if you want. I’ll be quick, and then…” he took a tentative whiff of himself; after days in the Deep Roads without changing his clothes, being damp and cold, and then hot and sweaty, and then cold once more, not to mention the strange darkspawn muck he was almost certainly covered in, to say that the commander smelled like a wet dog would have been overly generous. “...then I’ll bathe. But then I promise I’ll be right there.”
“Promises, promises,” said Eleanor with folded arms, but they both knew she didn’t mean it. “So,” she said, surveying the beautiful room once more, “where… is bed?”
Cullen pointed wordlessly to the ladder off to the side, without taking his eyes off of his work.
Eleanor stared him down, unamused, but he was once more consumed by his task and the effort was wasted. Slowly, and with aching limbs, Eleanor climbed the ladder to bed.