It was early dawn in Skyhold; the light of the sun was only just creeping over the mountains on the horizon. It would be another half hour before sunlight swept against the stones of the keep. Thom Rainier was on the battlements, taking in the brisk morning air. He’d been waking early since Val Royeaux, not wanting to linger in the loneliness of an empty bed, and he’d started coming up here to walk when he woke. She’d taken to practicing with her daggers in the courtyard before the others began their days and he wondered if she was rising early for the same reason. It meant that he lingered there on the battlements, watching her from above, as she expressed her frustrations upon her opponents. It was often Cole on the earliest mornings, and Thom found himself wondering if spirits needed sleep the way people did.
When she'd passed her judgment on him she had held her hand up as he moved up the stairs to her throne and stopped him dead in his tracks. One short gesture, one sharp flick of her eyes, and he'd known that was it. She had judged him on his crimes and his character, but their relationship was left hanging for another time.
He understood, after the disappointment waned. It was only fair. She'd abused her power just getting him out of Val Royeaux.
He'd rubbed at his wrists for days, as if the shackles had only just come off. The memory of the entire ordeal manifested as an itch in his skin that he couldn't quite shake. Mental shackles remained, though she'd removed the physical ones. He punished himself by diving into his work. He sparred with anyone that would join him in the ring, though his favorite partner, Cassandra, refused to give so much as an acknowledgment of his presence when he came near. Most of the people he'd considered friends at Skyhold no longer wanted to speak to him. He couldn’t blame them; he wouldn’t want to talk to Thom Rainier, either. Not when they’d liked Blackwall as much as they did.
He saw her, once or twice, in the week after the judgment, but she was always on her way somewhere. He could see she was still angry with him in the way that her whole body would tense up if she saw him looking at her. She'd set her jaw, she'd grind her teeth. If she was fidgeting, she would stop. Her expressions would change and she'd turn on her heel and duck into the nearest hallway, never letting it look like she was avoiding him, always appearing to just be busy with her Inquisitor's work. But the meaning of it all was clear to him.
Don’t. Not now. Not yet.
After a few weeks of this, she disappeared. After three days of not seeing her anywhere in Skyhold, he went looking for an explanation. Unable to find Solas or Dorian, he came to understand that she'd gone somewhere, left for some part of Orlais with someone else in his role as her warrior. She had taken Cassandra before, she had taken the Iron Bull a few times, but this time it felt different. Like she'd done it to make a point. And they’d gone far this time.
When they finally returned their skin was bronzed with the sun and their hair had lightened somewhat. The horses were covered in dust and Dennet gave them an earful about how filthy they were, making them promise to wash them. Thom overheard as Dorian and Cassandra settled a wager about how long it had taken for Dennet to say something. He could hear the Inquisitor laughing to herself. He was in the stable when they arrived, carving away at the rocking gryphon he had taken on as a project. She removed the saddle from her horse and as she stepped inside and hung it on its hook inside the barn, he took a chance and muttered a quiet hello.
The somewhat surprised half-smile she gave him in response had him up all night.
The next time he saw her she was out in the sparring ring with Cole, practicing a new attack she'd picked up on her travels. It was hot out; she had fashioned a light, sleeveless tunic out of leftover fabric and wore it with her typical leggings and a belt with sheathes for her daggers. She'd been outside for a while; sweat gave her skin a sheen and her face was flushed from the exertion, and yet she continued on, flipping and lunging at Cole, who dodged her every move with a quiet grace. Neither managed to strike the other with more than a glancing blow.
A small crowd had gathered, clapping appreciatively in turn when she or Cole would make a close swipe with a blade or dodge a near-miss.
"That's new," he said, stepping up to Dorian’s side along the edge of the crowd. He received a raised eyebrow and a sidelong glance, but after a long moment, a response followed.
“She saw the Venatori doing something like it when we took Griffon Wing Keep,” he replied, crossing his arms and turning back to keep watching. “Said she thought it would annoy them if she learned it to use against them.”
“I bet it would,” Thom replied, chuckling to himself. His eyes were on her again, and Dorian made no move to reply. Cole took a bad step and she swiped his leg out from underneath him, finally ending the match. She turned, smiling, and for just a brief moment Thom thought she was smiling at him, but Dorian laughed brightly beside him and gave her an exuberant greeting. Thom turned and did not see her cast a sideways glance to watch him go.
That night she showed up at the barn. He was brooding over the fire, sitting with his back to the door. He had no idea how long she stood there until she cleared her throat to get his attention. He turned with a start and she was smiling to herself, leaning lazily against the frame of the door. He’d once leaned on her balcony door in much the same way. Without hesitation, he echoed her words.
“I knew you couldn’t stay away,” he said, standing up and turning toward her. She laughed loudly, pushing off from the frame with her shoulder.
“What was it that you said, you confound me? Wait,” she said, stepping toward him. The firelight flattered her, its warm glow flickering in her eyes as she approached him. “If only you knew how confounding... how impossibly infuriating? That can’t be right.”
“I meant I couldn’t keep my mind off you,” he said, his voice low. She was very close to him now. He scanned her face, looking at her hair, her eyes, her freckles in the dim light, trying to read her. He hadn’t expected her to show up unannounced. “You look...”
“Nice,” he said, the corner of his mouth turning up. “You look nice. The sun suits you.”
“I looked ridiculous when we first got there. Red as a cooking nug. There’s no shade in the Western Approach, no one really tells you that part. Just sand and sun as far as you can see. Thank goodness for Solas and his skill with herbs,” she said, breaking away from him, walking around him to sit beside the fire. She held her hands out as she settled on the chair he’d been in moments before. “Little warm for a fire this big, isn’t it?”
“You don’t have to sit so close,” he said, chuckling. He took the back of the chair she was in and dragged it backward with her in it. She laughed, and he grabbed another to sit beside her. She was in good spirits, and he wondered to himself what had changed. They sat together staring at the fire in silence for a moment, and then she spoke again. She’d already said more to him in the last five minutes than she’d said since the judgment.
“I saw you earlier today, at the sparring ring,” she said. “I only just missed you after.”
“I didn’t know if--“
“I miss you,” she said. She kept her gaze on the fire. “All the time. We were out there so long and the whole time I was kicking myself for taking Cassandra.”
“She’s a fine warrior,” he said, not knowing what else to say. A million thoughts had sprung forward all at once and he couldn’t pick one to give to her.
“I don’t think she wanted to be there any more than I wanted her there,” she replied with a small huff. She leaned back against the chair and stretched her legs out in front of her. More thoughts shuffled through Thom’s mind and yet he still couldn’t pluck one out to say out loud. “I tried really hard to think of you as Thom in my head,” she continued. “Every time I thought of you I thought, Thom. Thom. Thom. If I could think of you as Thom then maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much that you hadn’t told me--“
“I was a coward,” he cut across her, a thought finally bubbling up beyond the others. “I should have told you the moment we met. I should never have--“
“You’re right,” she said, and again silence fell between them, longer this time. It grew between them like a creeping plant, stretching its vines across the ground searching for purchase. More thoughts flooded him, drowning him in everything he’d wanted for weeks to say to her, while she stared inattentively at the fire.
Finally, he came up for air. “I don’t sleep,” he said. “Not since Val Royeaux. Not since you asked me if I’d ever loved you.”
“Did you?” she asked, her voice soft, turning her head away from the fire at last to look at him. “Love me, I mean.”
“Yes,” he said. He turned on his chair to face her fully. “I did. I do. I never lied about that.”
“Never lie to me again,” she said, and he shook his head.
She stood and offered him her hand. He took it, her warm fingers wrapping around his, and let her lead him out of the barn.