There was a pounding, a pounding like the world was crumbling around her. Each rap sent shocks of pain through her being, or what she could sense of it; she was only vaguely aware of her body, of the bitter cold around her, of the murmuring voices just on the edge of her hearing.
She was alive, she realized. She was waking up. Her eyes opened, the barest crack, and the light around her was like daggers into the core of her mind. Eleanor flinched, squeezing her eyes shut once more. Sucking in a deep breath, she tasted the cold in her mouth, tasted blood at the back of her throat. Eleanor realized then that the pounding all around her was within her; it was the beating of her heart. She groaned, and it sounded like the low buzz of a hundred bees inside her head. Finding her hands, she pushed herself up from where she had lain.
“Oh, Eleanor!” Evelyn rushed to her side and fell to her knees in the snow, still falling, still heavy, fat flakes, but slower now, softer. The Inquisitor reached and threw her arms around Eleanor, and the jostling made bile rise in Eleanor’s throat. She pushed Evelyn away and gasped, forcing the sour taste back down. Eleanor tried to make words but couldn’t, instead throwing her arm out straight at her side, waving her open hand, trying to tell Evelyn that she wasn’t all there yet. She wanted to lay back down, wanted to press her forehead into the cold snow. She put both palms against the earth now, feeling nothing but snow and dirt beneath her gloves, once white leather, now brown, now red.
Eleanor flung herself up to sit straight, and she swiveled her head, her body, quickly from left to right to left again, grabbing fistfulls of snow as she turned, as she leaned forward, pushing herself to her knees, to her feet. Still no words came, only her hands out before her, grabbing at nothing, grabbing desperately for the man who had fallen in battle, who had fallen and who had not risen.
Her restless eyes spotted him, lying prone on the ground some feet away. Someone had pulled a cloak over him, but the snow fell and collected on it, and she went to him, pushing Varric, pushing Bull out of the way.
“Farm Girl,” she heard Varric say. “Eleanor. He’s not…”
The big Qunari put out his hand beside Varric, touching the dwarf’s chest gently, a caution. “Let ‘er go.”
Beside Cullen was a mound of fallen darkspawn, and Eleanor hated to be so near to it, hated the sight of it, the smell, the very idea of the thing, but she got down on her knees, bending forward over Cullen’s body. She pulled back the brown cloak.
His armor was dented in over his chest, so she reached up around his shoulders and unfastened the buckles; under his arms, along his sides, she did the same, until the plate came away. It was heavy, but she lifted it, pulled it free, set it aside. She moved her hand to his cheek, still stained with blood. Her vision blurred as tears welled up in her eyes, but she made a fist in the snow, packed some hard, and brought the ball to his face, wiping his cheeks with the water that dripped from the ice. Though her gloves were filthy - she was filthy - she used her thumb to slowly wipe the blood away.
Eleanor felt hot tears slide down her cheeks, tears that despite their angry heat, threatened to freeze in the wind, though it had gentled so much. The dark clouds that had seemed to permanent were parting; blue sky peeked through in small, tantalizing patches.
It was all over, she realized. The Archdemon was done. She looked around for the shape of a giant, dead black dragon, but she saw none. All she saw was a black patch on the ground some yards away. It looked like the remains of a bonfire. Above it was the dimmest hint of green where the Breach still shone. The Blight was done.
And in that moment, none of it mattered. Her home was safe, her world was safe, the world of all of these others would not be invaded by the darkspawn horde. And it was meaningless.
For all she had done, for all this power inside of her, for all the months she had spent learning to use it, she was helpless. Snow collected in Cullen’s straw blond hair, the silver that lingered in between the gold glinting in the brightening sun, and he lay still.
Eleanor wanted to curse. She wanted to scream, wanted to slam her fists against the frozen ground, wanted to shove Dorian, Varric, Evelyn, the others who stared at her now, wanted to shout down the heavens and beg them take her too. But she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t even get up, move away from the commander’s side. All she could do was lay his head down on his chest and run a hand through his wiry hair, touch his cheek, chilled in the air, rough with stubble, for the last time.
Was he at his Maker’s side? Would that be what he wanted? Eleanor realized then that she didn’t even know. Her heart pounded doubletime in her chest and every breath she took shook a little more. Her hair had come completely free of her braid and the wind picked up the tangles and whipped them around her cheeks, stinging her, but she couldn’t move. Not now. Not yet.
“I’m sorry,” it was a soft sound that came between sobs, barely words at all. “I tried, Cullen. I tried.” She turned her cheek, pressing her forehead now against his shoulder, bringing her left hand up to cradle his head, the right still resting on her cheek. “I’m so, so sorry…” and the words devolved into gasps, into silent sobs.
It was the barest croak, like gravel under a boot, and it took her a moment to realize that the sound was words at all, and that they came from the man that lay beneath her.
For an instant, she was frozen with shock. She hesitated, not wanting to make words, to break the spell, believing if she moved, if she opened her eyes, it wouldn’t have happened, it would have been in her head. But she found a mote of strength, and she breathed his name, moving only her lips.