The Odds of You Being Able to Keep That Promise
Some time later, Eleanor had excused herself from Evelyn and went back to Cullen’s quarters, her quarters, and found the man there, both hands pulling at his straw-blond hair, gloves cast aside on the corner of his desk.
“Hey, you,” she said softly, hands stuffed into her pockets against the chilly air from whence she had come.
“El,” he said softly, letting his arms relax. “There you are.”
“Here I am,” she said with a smile, and went around the desk, grasping him behind the neck and pulling him into a fierce kiss. The man was startled at first, but soon relented and took her small body into his large hands and held her tightly until she made the first move to let go.
“What was that for?” he said, voice so low and smooth it was certainly not an objection, barely even a question.
Eleanor took a small step back, bolstered by a bit of drink, and she began to speak, her open palms still on Cullen’s scruffy neck. “Alright,” she said, “I’ve been thinking - I’ve got to know. I’m not saying I have any long term plans for this… for us…” now she broke away and crossed her arms in front of herself. “I’m not even sure neither you nor I are in a position to really make a decision like that - that’s not the point,” she added hastily, dropping her arms limply at her sides. “I guess what I’m saying is that if this… went on for… for some time… I don’t think I would mind that.” She put one hand behind her head on her tight braid and looked now at the floor. “Look. Cullen,” she fought for words and forced them out even as she struggled for each one. “I’m asking, where do you see - what do you -”
Cullen stopped her, quickly grasping both of her hands in his. “Eleanor, I love you.” His dark eyes fixed hard on her deep blue ones. “Maybe I shouldn’t - or shouldn’t say it. I know it’s soon. But I do. I love you. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think anyone knows much of anything at this point. Maybe something big is about to happen between your world and mine. Or maybe this path between them has always been there, and by some strange twist of fate only we have stumbled through it. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter. But I know as long as I’m with you, on this side of the rift or the other, I think… I know I’d like to be with you.”
Eleanor couldn’t help but blush, even as she said, “Cullen.”
“That is the corniest fucking thing you’ve ever said. You know that, right?”
“I…” Cullen paused. “I do, yes.”
“But let me guess,” she said, slipping her hands up to his elbows. “You mean every word.”
“Absolutely,” he bowed his head to be closer to her.
“Good,” she said, and kissed him once again, slower this time.
“So, then,” he said when he caught his breath, “am I to understand that there is reciprocity here?”
“Big time.” She ran her hands up from his elbows to his back, cradling his shoulder blades as best as she could through his heavy garments, using the tightening of her own fingers to pull herself closer to him.
Cullen swallowed and said, “I, uh, can finish this report later. Tomorrow.”
“That’s incredibly appealing,” Eleanor said, pressing her cheek against his to whisper in his ear, “but you know what’s not?”
“What?” he said quietly.
Cullen leaned back and cocked an eyebrow at her. “You don’t think?”
She shook her head in a small arc with a wide smile.
In one swift motion, Cullen swept her up into his left arm, bracing her against his hip as he walked across the room and climbed the first few rungs of the ladder one-handed, still clutching her to his side.
“How about now?”
Eleanor jerked away, clutching the blankets to her bare body in the cold room. The fire must have gone out during the night.
The night. There was some sun coming in the tower’s high window, but not a lot. It was barely day.
Eleanor rolled over and saw Cullen’s eyes blink open in the darkness. “Don’t people ever get a full night’s sleep around you?” she asked softly.
He yawned deeply. “It’s rare.”
“Nnf,” Eleanor mumbled, grabbing the blankets and rolling over. “She wants you, not me,” she said into the pillow and pulled flannel fabric over her head.
“Commander Cullen! Lady Eleanor!”
“Sounds like she wants us both,” Cullen mumbled, sitting up and stretching out over his legs. He gave a little groan, a sign of his age, and put his feet on the cold wooden floor.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” Eleanor muttered.
Cullen stood up and reached for clothes. “I promise you that one day we will not be woken up like this.”
“Commander Cullen! Lady Eleanor!”
“We’re coming, Harding!” Cullen shouted. “Just give us a blasted minute,” he said, hopping into his undergarments.
“At the moment,” said Eleanor, rising from bed, and stretching, “the odds of you being able to keep that promise seem very thin.”
They arrived at the War Room still draped a bit over one another, not yet ready to shake off the night’s shared warmth, a measure to fight off more than one kind of cold. But when Cullen saw the reason that Scout Harding had sent for them in the chilly late autumn dawn, he straightened up, reached out a hand.
“Stroud. I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“Commander. The Grey Wardens send their regards.”
Eleanor stood back a bit, nearer the door than the two men, and shivered gently.
“It’s not that I’m unhappy to see you, Stroud, but I didn’t expect to see you so soon. We only arrived ourselves not long ago.”
“A happy coincidence. Or perhaps not so happy,” the Warden rescinded. He had an accent like Leliana’s, and it was entirely pleasant for her to hang back and listen to. “I was already on my way after hearing of your own expedition into the ravine - which, as I now understand, was connected to the Deep Roads?”
“You’ve read the report?”
Eleanor yawned, and in her deep inhalation, the words the commander and Warden were saying were lost. The heavy door swung open and the Inquisitor entered, giving Eleanor a knowing nod and handing her a mug of something warm and steaming. It smelled like cinnamon and before the two woman had even said hello, they were standing shoulder to shoulder along the wall, so sleepy their lolling heads almost touched.
Holding the warm cup under her chin, Eleanor asked, “I know this isn’t my place, but shouldn’t you like, be…” she nodded her head toward the two men, Cullen pointing furiously at the map and Stroud nodding, referring to Cullen’s on report in his hands.
Evelyn shook her head. “I trust the commander. He knows far more about this than me. I’ve been at this for seven? eight? years. Cullen’s done this his whole life. He joined the Templar Order at thirteen - which, actually, is kind of old for a recruit - but that means he’s been doing this for something like twenty-five years. Two decades of real, applicable experience as a leader. Me, I was just some shitty upstart mage from a noble family. He gave a damn from day one.” She sipped the hot liquid in her cup, adjusted her shoulders against the wall. “And if he says anything really stupid I’ll just zap him with a bolt of lightning.”
“He’d hate that,” Eleanor said with a snicker.
“Boy, wouldn’t he just.”
The Inquisitor and the liaison looked at each other for a long, hard moment, and then nearly doubled over with laughter.