Such as It Is
The sun was just showing its full face when the coffee pot burbled to signal its task was complete. Eleanor, damp-haired, fresh-clothed, reached for three cups from the cabinet next to the sink and set them down on the table with a dull thud. The milk and sugar were already out, and Swiffer was happily lapping up her wet food from beside the fridge. On the stove, eggs were sizzling, and in the oven, for want of a larger toaster, bread was slowly turning brown. Cereal was on offer should Eleanor’s hot breakfast prove not filling enough for the two grown men who sat patiently at the kitchen table. The dining room seemed excessive and impersonal for just three.
Dorian looked tired. His hair was slightly askew and he kept rubbing his eyes, so Eleanor presented him with his hot coffee first, gesturing toward the cream and sugar.
Dorian sniffed it. “So… this is some variety of tea, then?” he asked, a bit blearily.
Eleanor’s brow furrowed. “It’s coffee,” she said bluntly, and mimed bringing a cup to her lips to drink.
Cullen and Dorian just stared back.
Eleanor sighed. “Yes, it’s like some kind of tea. Like really strong tea. It’s good. Drink it.” Then under her breath, she murmured, “Christ Almighty how do you get through the day without coffee.” She poured a cup now for herself and for Cullen, and still standing, she took a long drink of her own, immediately feeling some of the tension from the previous day unwind from her shoulders and neck. She watched them as they mimicked her, and she only warned, “Careful, it’s hot.”
Cullen drank tentatively at first, then, brows raising in a gesture of intrigue, took a long, deep gulp from the cup. Dorian sipped and then set the cup back down, looking from side to side.
“No?” Eleanor asked him.
“It’s like drinking boot polish, I’m afraid.”
“You’ve drunk boot polish?” Cullen teased.
“Well, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I can fix tea, or you can heap in some sugar like my dad does - did. Dad did.”
“Well, I think it’s good,” Cullen volunteered, and took another drink.
“Plenty more where that came from,” and as Eleanor turned back to flip the eggs, she gestured to the half-full coffee pot with her own mug before she set it on the counter to better tend to breakfast.
The plates were empty as quickly as they had been filled.
Dorian wiped his mouth with a paper towel and took a drink of his coffee, which, after having doctored it with about a fifty-fifty ratio of cream and sugar to actual beverage, he decided was, “not entirely undrinkable.”
Cullen sat back in his chair and put his hands on his stomach and looked satisfied. “Thank you, Ellie. That was excellent.”
Dorian shot Cullen a glance and mouthed, “Ellie?” but Cullen either didn’t notice or pretended not to.
Eleanor, nibbling the last of a crust of bread, said, “Well, I appreciate that. You should see what I can do when I’ve got some real groceries in the house and time to put it all together. I could make a CostCo trip today or tomorrow, I suppose, depending on how long you folks plan on being around.”
Now it was Cullen who looked to Dorian. The mage pushed aside his coffee, folded his hands, and leaned forward. “We actually wanted to propose something to you, Eleanor. Please, don’t feel as though this is something you can’t refuse. But we had thought -”
“You thought,” Cullen interjected.
“I had thought,” Dorian now repeated with emphasis on the pronoun, “and the Commander did not disagree that your land would prime location for an outpost. You have space, both interior and exterior, you have farmable land, so long as, shall we say, conditions allow for it, and you’re secluded from the general populace. Not to mention, of course, the unfortunate fact that you are close to the ravine.”
Eleanor gave a tentative nod, and Cullen sat up quickly, leaning over to the left, toward her, and placed his left hand flat on the table next to her coffee cup. “All that said, we would remain here to protect this land, which would always remain yours, and we would compensate you for any expenses you might incur on our behalf, as well as a stipend for your becoming an agent of the Inquisition.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him, and slowly said, “Alright. But I have a few stipulations.”
Cullen nodded quickly and said, “Name them.”
Pulling her damp hair over her shoulder, she leaned in to equal the commander, pointing the tip of her index finger down next to Cullen’s hand for emphasis. “The house is mine. No soldiers tracking in and out at all hours. Which precedes my next request. I do have a job - well, jobs - to do. The fields that are planted will need to be maintained, the hives need to be tended, and my in-office work needs to be undisturbed. I need to be allowed to do these things, stipend or no. And lastly, I insist that I am told everything. Everything. I don’t want to be left in the dark, and I want to be ‘protected’ even less. You learn something, you tell me next, even if it’s utterly irrelevant. This is my home, my land, and I take great pride in that, in knowing every stupid rock and weed and rodent that’s on it. That doesn’t change.” She softened, flattening her hand out next to Cullen’s. “In exchange, I’ll be your go-for. I’ll get you supplies, run errands insomuch as I can, and…” her firm language dropped out a bit, “kind of… handle…” she held up her hands, palms out, and gestured toward the outside world in a circling motion, “...all that stuff. Stuff where you maybe can’t be. It sounds like your Leliana person has a lot of that covered, but it looks as though maybe you’ll have a lot more immediate access to me, and last I checked, you people didn’t know what a car was, much less how to drive one, so I’ll be a lot quicker in a pinch, I’d think.”
Cullen sat back, looked to Dorian, who gestured with a shrug that it was the commander’s decision.
Thoughtfully, Cullen nodded. “I think we can manage that.”
Eleanor smiled and pushed back her chair to stand. She offered the commander her hand. He rose and took it, clasping her elbow with the his other open hand.
“Welcome to the Inquisition, Eleanor Redgrove,” he said proudly, and then lowered his voice, adding, “Such as it is.”
Dorian shook his head with a smile, and took a sip of his coffee.