It was a normal day for Laina, she got up at seven for work just like she did every other day to the blaring sound of her alarm. Gathering the clothes, she had laid out the night before in her arms, and rubbing the sleep from her eyes she made her way to the bathroom. Where she took a nice hot shower to wake herself up. Wrapping herself in a towel to protect from the cool morning air she stepped out of the tub wringing the excess water from her hair. The large mirror which hung opposite from the shower was fogged, tiny droplets of water covering its surface.
Walking over to the mirror, her wet feet leaving prints on the tile, she brought her hand up to wipe away the condensation, swiping a spot clean with the palm of her hand. But when her hand came away what she saw was not her reflection or the reflection of her bathroom. Instead, the small clear portion of the mirror was filled with swirls of different shades of blue. Confused, Laina started cleaning the rest of the mirror with her hand, a large enough spot for her whole reflection to be seen. But she didn't see herself, she still only saw the blue swirls. Now that more of the mirror was visible she noticed it was glowing with a faint blue light. Reaching out she tried to place her hand gently on the mirror, but to her surprise and shock, her hand went right through it. Ripping her hand back in surprise Laina brought it closer to her face examining it. Her hand seemed fine, she still had all her fingers, and it didn't hurt.
A normal person would have left the mirror alone or called some paranormal team to investigate the weird happening. However, Laina had always been on the braver side despite her boring desk job and decided at that moment that there hadn't been enough excitement in her life recently. So, she decided to investigate the strange mirror herself. Hiking up her towel she climbed up to kneel on the vanity in front of the mirror. Leaning forward she brought her face closer to it examining its surface. It looked like a normal mirror despite the fact that it was glowing and wasn't reflecting anything like it should.
Leaning back again, she reached her hand out to touch it, still surprised when it disappeared behind the swirling blue surface. But this time, instead of ripping her hand from the glowing surface she reached further in, moving her arm around trying to feel something, anything. Her hand never touched anything but it felt colder on the other side. Pulling her hand out she was now faced with a decision, she could leave the mirror alone and continue on with her day or, she could investigate it further. But how much further was she willing to go, she wanted to see if the mirror led somewhere if there was something on the other side.
However, the logical part of her brain was screaming at her by this point, this was so wrong. A mirror should not be swirling and glowing and you certainly shouldn't be able to stick your arm through a usually solid object. But it was almost calling to Laina, she was itching to find out what was in the other side of this weird portal. So, against her better judgment, Laina made a split-second decision to enter the mirror.
Putting her hands on the vanity in front of her she crawled forward entering the mirror. She fell out face first onto cold hard stone on the other side. “Ow!” She sat up, bringing a hand up to rub at her head, before getting to her feet and adjusting her towel. Probably should have changed first she thought as she brought her hands up to now rub at her arms trying to ward off the cold that gripped the air here.
Here, where was here? She looked around, she was in a small stone room lit only by the light streaming in from a small window to her left. The room had boxes and barrels and an assortment of other clutter stacked in unsteady piles against the walls. There was a path through the clutter leading to a large wooden door on the opposite wall. Laina turned around, behind her stood a giant mirror showing her a reflection of herself. That must be where I came from she thought but the mirror was no longer glowing or swirled with blues, instead, it just looked like a normal mirror.
She stood watching her own face shift into confusion as she stared at the mirror. Maybe it's touch activated, she twisted her mouth and knit her eyebrows together, thinking. Reaching out she touched her hand to the mirror…. nothing happened. So, she tried it again, still nothing. She scowled at the mirror now. Maybe if I tried a swiping motion, she swiped her hand over the mirror one way, and then another, still nothing. Laina started to panic now fanatically hitting the mirror with her hands.
“Come on, come on, come on, work!!” But the mirror never changed, no glow, no blue swirls, just the reflection of an idiot who took a huge gamble and was now trapped… somewhere, with only a towel on.
Laina sighed, slumping forward to rest her head against the mirror. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her breathing, she could feel the panic trying to overwhelm her but she needed to keep her cool. She took inventory of herself and her situation, she walked, no crawled through her bathroom mirror and came out of another mirror in some storage room somewhere. She had no clothes, only a towel, no ID, and no money. She was also going to be very late for work. Pulling herself together she made her way through the stuff that littered the floor of the room. Making her way over to the door she noticed that the objects crowding the room looked very old and dusty.
“Please don't be locked, please don't be locked.” She said in a whiny voice pleading for something to go her way in all of this. She didn't know what she would do if she found herself locked in this room.
Luckily the door wasn't locked, although it did creak defiantly as Laina pushed it open. Stepping out of the room she found herself in a large stone building, it looked as if it might be a temple or religious building of some sort although Laina had never seen any of the symbols or statues before.
She made her way to the large wooden double doors leading out of the building. The sight that greeted her when she exited the building took her breath away, well that and the cold air literally sucked the heat from her body making her gasp.
She was high up in some snow-covered mountain range. It was bitterly cold especially in nothing but a wet towel and Laina could feel her hair already beginning to freeze. She was torn, she couldn't stay outside for too long or she would freeze to death but she also couldn't stay in the large stone building behind her as no one else was there and she needed to find a way to get home.
She scanned the ground she could see from her high perch for any sign of civilization if there was some sort of Temple here there had to be a town nearby. Down the mountain a way she could see the outline of a small town, so she decided that was her best bet and began to follow the snow-covered path down the mountain.
Laina had never been so cold in her life, her towel was wrapped around her body as tight as it could be. She had goosebumps all over and was shivering so hard her teeth were chattering together. She had her arms up hugging herself, her hands rubbing constantly over her upper arms, trying desperately to stay warm. She had lost the feeling in her bare feet long ago, and stumbled down the snow-covered path, towards the town which was drawing closer with each step.
She was close enough to see the finer details of the town now, and they confused her. It looked so...medieval, it was surrounded by large wooden walls and she could see no signs of modern technology. Maybe I'm in a different country, or a really remote area she thought surveying the town through squinted eyes.
All of a sudden, her numb foot hit a rock buried under the snow and Laina fell to the ground face first. Pulling her face from the snow she pushed herself into a sitting position instinctively looking around to see if anyone had witnessed that. Before laughing to herself, of course, no one had seen that there was no one around. If she didn't know a town was just a little further along the path she would have thought this frozen landscape completely desolate.
Laina didn't think it was possible but she was getting colder and colder by the minute and the tumble in the snow hadn't helped. She kept walking, forcing herself to keep going, it wasn't much further to the town and she needed to make it at least close enough for someone to see her if she collapsed.
As she got closer she could see people outside the walls and other signs of life. She managed to get surprisingly close before anyone noticed her as they all seemed to be very busy. Eventually, she caught the eye of a young man overseeing the others, he rushed over to her looking concerned.
“Lass, are you alright? Ye look completely frozen. What are ye doing out here?” He didn't wait for a response, as he came to her side steering her towards the large gates.
“Jim, go get the Commander and the left and right hands of the Divine, tell them to meet me in the first cabin.” He yelled to another man nearby, before letting her through the gates.
He led her to a small one-roomed cabin directly up the stairs from the gate. She sat on the bed, looking around while he stoked the fire. It really was medieval, there was nothing modern in sight. She began to realize how truly screwed she was. The nearest city with an airport was probably hundreds of miles away and even if she managed to get there she had no ID, no money, and no passport. So basically, she had no way of getting home. She was, however, thankful that the people here at least spoke English. The man she was with currently had a Scottish accent so maybe she was in Scotland? But she didn't know of any snow-covered mountain ranges there. A couple of minutes passed before the door to the cabin opened and in strode a large man.
“Captain Rylen you wanted to speak with m-” He turned, noticing her on the bed and stopped speaking mid-sentence, “...oh” was the only other thing he managed before staring at her looking puzzled.
“Hello,” Laina said in her friendliest voice, holding up her hand to give a small wave.
“...Hello” He replied continuing to stare at her.
“What is the meaning of thi-” A dark-haired women walked in the door directly behind the man and also stopped mid-sentence when she saw Laina. A second woman, a redhead, followed her in and didn't speak, just joined the others in looking at her.
Laina felt very awkward and completely underdressed, the room was heating up but she was still shivering and her hair was still frozen. They looked at each other for a couple of seconds before the large man spoke.
“Captain Rylen, who is this woman?”
“My name’s Laina.” She answered for the Captain, giving a friendly smile.
“I found the lass stumbling down the path from the temple, half frozen.”
“She was dressed like this walking down from the Temple?”
The dark-haired woman chimed in “No one’s supposed to be at the Temple, the conclave is tomorrow, I thought your men cleared the area Commander.”
“They did, twice”
“Then where did she come from?”
“Maybe we should ask her” the redhead finally spoke, turning from the others to look at her, “Where did you come from, the Temple? If so what were you doing there?”
“Um, well, it's kind of hard to explain. You see, I was in my bathroom and then my mirror started glowing and swirling and, being the idiot I am, I decided to go through it and I came out another mirror up in what you're calling the Temple. I don't really know how it happened, I just want to go home, I'm hoping you can help me.” When she finished no one spoke they were all just looking at her even more confused.
“You came through a mirror?” The Commander said bringing his arms up to cross them over his chest.
“Yeah, as far as I know, I know it sounds crazy, I hardly believe it myself, but that's honestly what happened.” They were all still just looking at her, apparently trying to process what she was saying. “Can someone tell me where I am?”
“The Ferelden Frostbacks, this is Haven.” The Commander answered her.
“I've never heard of Ferelden…” His answer didn't help Laina at all she still had no idea where she was.
“I don't trust her, I say we keep her here until after the conclave, then we can find out where she really came from, and what her purpose is here.” The dark-haired woman said.
“I agreed, we'll get her some clothes and food but she stays here, the door locks from the outside.” The redhead added.
“I'll post some men at the door.” The Commander chimed in looking at her out of the corner of his eye before they all filed out of the room.
Well, that could have gone better, Laina thought. She was still just as lost and now she was also a prisoner. At least she was warm, and would soon have food to eat. She spent the rest of her day in the small cabin, no one else came to talk to her, the only contact with others she had being the young girl who brought her a bowl of food. Laina thought she saw pointed ears when the girl turned sideways but quickly shook her head dismissing it, she was just overtired and needed a good night's sleep, everything would be better in the morning.
Laina slept well despite her circumstances, her exhaustion exceeded the racing of her mind and she slept soundly that night. She awoke the next morning to light streaming through one of the windows in the small room onto her face. She blinked open her eyes hoping she would see her room and feel her sheets, but instead she opened her eyes to a wooden ceiling and a room smelling of smoke.
Sighing she got up and smoothed the dress she had been given to wear, over her body. It was a ratty old thing that looked like it could have been a prop in a Renaissance fair, but everyone seemed to wear old-fashioned clothing here and she was just happy to have something other than a towel to cover herself with. Moving over to one of the windows she used her faint reflection to try to fix her hair, finger-combing out the knots in her long tresses. She threw some more logs on the fire before moving to the window facing the inner part of the town to watch the people walk by.
From what she could tell it was early morning, her stomach was growling and she hoped they would feed her soon. The dark-haired women had said a conclave was taking place today and that after they would decide what to do with her. Laina hoped the conclave wouldn't take long, as she was itching to get out of this cabin and find a way home.
As she was watching out the window she saw a great procession of people walk by. All led by an older woman in funny attire, with long robes and a large hat. It looked like a religious group as many of the others wore similar outfits. Everyone moved out of their way as they walked through Haven and out the gates. Laina eventually got breakfast and then spent the rest of the day either looking out the window or sitting and watching the fire.
She was sitting on the chair she had pulled over in front of the fire when the ground shook. The tremor knocking pictures off the walls and objects off of the tables and shelves. The chair Laina was sitting in fell on its side, taking her with it. The quake was accompanied by an ear-splitting boom that left Laina’s ears ringing.
She sat up and looked around, she could hear screaming outside and rushed to the window. The world was cast in a glow of green and debris was scattered everywhere. Laina didn't know what was happening but she could hear screams of terror and pain filling the air and she wanted to help.
She went over to the door and pulled on the handle, it didn't budge. She was still locked in her room, helpless to do anything. She banged on the door and screamed for someone to let her out but her screams were easily eclipsed by those coming from outside. So, she turned and paced the room, panicked and anxious, with nothing to do but wait for someone to come release her.
A couple of hours had gone by and Laina had given up pacing to sit on the small bed in the corner of the cabin, her leg bouncing impatiently. How long was it going to take for someone to at least come to check on her? She may be a prisoner but that didn't mean her wellbeing was any less important, she thought defiantly. Then again, to the people holding her here it probably was, they had their own non-prisoner people to worry about.
Suddenly she heard a key in the lock and the door opened. In stormed the dark-haired woman looking very angry. Laina stood up at the sight of her and opened her mouth to speak, but the air in her lungs was quickly pushed out of her as the angry woman shoved her against the nearest wall, her forearm on her neck.
“You!! What have you done?! Was this your plan all along?! To murder the Divine and the hundreds of other people at the conclave?! How did you do it?! Magic?!”
Laina wanted to respond, tried to respond, to tell this terrifying woman that she was innocent that this was all a misunderstanding, but she couldn't speak, her mouth had gone dry and the woman's arm was pressed so tightly on her neck no sound would come out. So instead she gasped for breath staring at the women who was just inches from her face, practically snarling at her. Luckily for Laina, the red-headed women came in behind the one currently holding her to the wall and started talking her down.
“This isn't helping Cassandra, we can't question her if she's unconscious or dead.”
“If she is responsible then she deserves to die!”
“Exactly, IF, we don't know if this is her doing or not. We need to question her.”
After a couple of seconds, Cassandra released her and Laina slumped forward putting her hands on her knees trying to catch her breath. “What happened? What do you think I did?” She said when she could finally speak.
“You know what happened!” Cassandra lunged forward pointing an angry finger at her.
The redhead thankfully stepped between them, “There was an explosion at the conclave, everyone who attended is assumed dead. Do you know anything about this? Did you have a hand in it?”
“What?! No of course not!”
“Then what were you doing up there, where did you come from?”
“I told you I-”
A young man rushed into the room through the open door, “Seeker, Sister Leliana, we've found someone, alive.”
Both women turned at once and followed the man out of the room. Cassandra throwing one last dirty look over her shoulder to let Laina know that this wasn't over. Laina walked over to the bed and sat down, her situation had just gone from bad to worse. Now she was not only a prisoner, but a prisoner they thought had murdered hundreds of people. She had no idea how she was going to get herself out of this since it seemed no one believed her.
It was two days, two days that Laina sat in her room and waited. Until someone finally came and escorted her to what they called the Chantry, a large church-like building in the middle of the town. She hadn't been outside since she had first arrived and the world looked different. There was a hole in the sky so to speak above where the Temple she had come from used to be, and the hole was casting an eerie green glow on the world. It was pulsing ominously and just the sight of it sent a surge of fear though Laina.
Haven was a mess, there were tents set up all over the place and people were running back and forth. Laina could hear screams of pain and the smell of blood was thick in the air. Everyone looked exhausted, and Laina didn't know whether to feel thankful for being left out of the mess or feel guilty for not helping, for being spared from it all.
The soldier brought her into the large stone building and through a door to the side. At the bottom of the stairs was a short hallway that opened up into a prison. Oh, great they're moving me to the appropriate spot, Laina thought sighing. But as soon as the light from the torches hit her face she was seized by her arm and dragged forward before being thrown down on the hard stone floor.
She hit the floor with a huff of breath, looking up she saw a young woman about her age sitting in front of her with shackles on her wrists. She was pretty, but her face was twisted with a mixture of sadness, confusion, and pain. Her left hand glowed with the same sickening green as the sky and every time it pulsed the young woman cringed in pain. Seeker Cassandra stalked into view behind the woman and began spewing questions angrily.
“Do you know this woman? Is she your accomplice? Did you plan this together? Or do you work for the same person?”
“I've never seen her before in my life, I just got here the other day and you've had me locked in that cabin since I arrived.”
Apparently, this wasn't the answer she was looking for as she closed the distance between them in two strides and grabbed Laina by the arm hauling her up so she was just inches from her face.
“Who do you take me for, a fool!? I know you had something to do with this, why else would you have been at the Temple the day before the conclave! Who do you work for? The mages? The Templars? A third party?!”
“I don't work for anyone and I didn't have anything to do with whatever happened at the Temple! I was too busy falling on my face out of some magical mirror and freezing my butt off in a towel to do anything to your precious Temple! I don't even know where I am! I came here to get help not to become part of some witch hunt!” Laina had enough, she ripped herself from the woman's grasp, “Now I’m leaving, you have no right to hold me here as a prisoner, I've done nothing wrong!” Laina turned to leave but stopped when she felt a sharp point in her back.
“You are going nowhere! I will not allow the person who murdered the Divine to just walk out, you will pay for your crime!”
Laina swallowed the lump in her throat, now her life was being threatened, she was in trouble.
“Cassandra, this is not helping the situation. Put away your sword.” Sister Leliana said from in front of Laina.
The point stabbing into Laina’s back disappeared and she was put back on the ground in front of the woman. They left her alone and questioned the other woman now who seemed just as lost as she was.
Eventually they decided that the questioning was getting them nowhere and that showing them would be better. So, they escorted both of them up the stairs and outside, releasing the other woman from her bindings. The Seeker guided them up the path towards the Temple explaining what had happened along the way.
“I'm Evelyn Trevelyan, it's nice to meet you despite the circumstances.” The young woman leaned over and whispered to her as they made their way up the mountain.
“I'm Laina, it's nice to meet you too.” Laina answered as they were crossing a bridge. She was about to say something else but a giant glowing green ball flying down from the breach hit the bridge, causing it to crumble beneath them, causing all three women to tumble to the ground. As Laina sat up rubbing her head she saw something starting to materialize out of a green spot on the ground.
“Stay behind me!” The Seeker yelled before drawing her sword and charging forward.
But one of them was crawling out of the ground closer to them, that she had missed. To her left, Laina saw Evelyn grabbing a staff off the ground. She engaged the creature while Laina cowered behind her, Laina had never gotten in a fight in her life, let alone with a dangerous creature. And despite how brave she thought herself to be she wasn't going to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a terrifying creature that just fell from the sky. She was also super confused as to why they were fighting with swords and shields and how in the world Evelyn was launching firebolts from the top of a fancy stick. But those things were the furthest from her mind as right now she just wanted to live through this encounter. She watched as both women subsequently defeated their enemies.
Evelyn came back over to her, “It's ok now, it’s over.”
“Drop your weapon!” The Seeker came over to them pointing her sword at Evelyn. Who managed to talk her down and convince her to allow her to keep her staff.
They met more demons, or at least that's what the Seeker called them on the way and somehow Laina managed to avoid any injury. As they made their way to the top of some snow-covered steps they could hear fighting and found a green rift at the top. Laina stood and watched, helpless, as the others fought off the two waves of demons before Evelyn used the mark in her hand to close the rift, it seems she could help. The two… men? They had found fighting introduced themselves, the dwarf was Varric Tethras, and the man with pointed ears was Solas.
Laina was baffled, everything she knew seemed to be a lie. These people had no modern technology, magic, demons that fell from the sky and now dwarves and elves were a thing. She was beginning to realize that she may not have been just transported across her world but maybe to another one, and that terrified her more than anything.
They fought through more demons and rifts before making it to another bridge which seemed to be a stronghold for the men fighting the rifts. There they argued with a clergyman named Chancellor Roderick about where to go and what to do. He apparently still held them both responsible for the breach but the Seeker seemed to have a change of heart, declaring them innocent, which was a huge relief for Laina.
Eventually it was determined that they would charge with the men already fighting to make their way to the Temple. Laina brought up the rear as they made their way up the path and into the fight. Again, they fought through two waves of demons before Evelyn closed the rift with her green mark. Once it was clear Laina ran up to join the others, and stumbled into an ongoing conversation.
“-I hope they're right about you, we've lost a lot of people getting you here,” the Commander's eyes drifted to her as she ran up, “Oh, it's you.”
“Hello again.” Laina said waving awkwardly.
He nodded at her before turning back to the Seeker. Laina stopped paying attention to the conversation and began surveying her surroundings. It was a horrific sight newly dead soldiers lay everywhere spilling blood onto the stone, but old bodies were there too all charred and stiff. The air smelled of blood and ash with a hint of brimstone and there was a spark in the air she couldn't explain. The breach was so close now, even more terrifying and ominous as it loomed above them.
“Can you take...um…” the Seeker trailed off and Laina noticed she was looking at her.
“Laina” she responded hoping that's what she was looking for.
“Yes, right, Laina back to Haven with you Commander?”
Before he could reply Laina interrupted, “Wait, really? I can go back down?”
“Yes, I don't believe you had anything to do with the explosion, especially seeing your lack of fighting skills and experience. So, you are free to return with the Commander… if he will take you.” The Seeker turned to look at the Commander, who nodded.
“She can return with me.”
“Good, thank you, Commander,” she motioned to the others, “come on.” And they started heading for what remained of the Temple and left Laina with the Commander and the man he was helping off the ground. Their return to Haven was luckily uneventful and they watched as the breach pulses once before shrinking. No more demons fell from the sky, apparently, Evelyn had succeeded.
Laina was sitting on top of one of the wooden barrels in a corner of what was now being called the war room. She had been waiting for what felt like hours, but in reality, it was probably only a couple of minutes. She had gone back to her cabin after returning from the Temple ruins earlier in the day to rest and had been woken by a messenger telling her to go to the war room.
She had seen Evelyn trouncing around outside bouncing from place to place meeting everyone of importance. Evelyn had stabilized the breach with the mark on her hand and had been dubbed the “Herald of Andraste”. Laina had no idea who Andraste was or why these people now seemed to worship Evelyn in her name. She figured she must be some kind of religious figure and made a mental note to ask about it later.
Actually, lately, she had been making a lot of mental notes about things. By now she was fairly certain she had been transported to another world, or universe for that matter, and there was a lot she needed to learn if she was going to survive and fit in until she could find a way home. If you can even get home, that constant little voice in the back of her head nagged at her. But Laina did her best to ignore it, even if it did haunt her dreams now.
Laina had her hands tucked under her thighs, swinging her legs absentmindedly when the door creaked open. Oh great, time for another awkward encounter, she thought as she rolled her eyes seeing the Commander walk in. However, she knew she needed to make as many friends as possible while she was here and the Commander of the newly formed Inquisition’s forces would be a good place to start.
So she pushed her unease aside and straightened, taking on a more appropriate posture before speaking. “Hello, Commander.”
He apparently hadn’t seen her when he walked in so her sudden voice startled him and he spun quickly bumping the table with his hip, knocking the books perched on the edge off. He drew his sword from its sheath and it was level with Laina’s face in a split second. Laina sucked in a nervous gasp, jerking back from the sharp point of metal mere inches from her nose, eyes wide with terror.
“Maker’s breath woman!” He lowered his sword, his shoulder going limp as he relaxed and let out a huff of breath. “You shouldn’t startle me like that.”
“Sorry,” Laina said in a shaky voice, cringing, “I was just trying to be friendly.”
“Well please don’t let my reaction dissuade you from that…”. He peered at her. “Are you alright, I didn’t hurt you did I?” He took a step closer.
“No, I’m fine, you just almost knocked me off my barrel.” She pushed herself off the barrel, her feet landing on the ground with a soft thud.
A small smile pulled at his lips making the scar on his upper lip, which Laina had just noticed, twitch. “Well, we wouldn’t want that.” He sheathed his sword, then turned and frowned looking at the mess he had made.
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you clean it up.” Laina moved past him and knelt on the ground, beginning to pick up the books and other assortment of clutter he had knocked off the table. “I won’t tell the others either.” She looked at him moving her hand up to the corner of her mouth turning it to mimic a key in a lock. “My lips are sealed.”
He knit his eyebrows together at the gesture, obviously confused by its meaning but quickly smiled at her again. “Thank you, wouldn’t want to damage my reputation, being startled by a lady saying hello and all.”
Laina chuckled. “Of course not.”
He soon knelt down next to her to help her clean up. Once the books, scrolls and other things were placed back on the table Laina went back to sit on her barrel, watching the Commander make his way around the large wooden slab to stand on the opposite side. He stopped to stare at the large map and pieces they had just rearranged on its surface.
Since he wasn’t paying attention she decided now was her time to get a better look at him. She had noticed he was good-looking when they had first met but now that she was really looking at him she could tell he was far more attractive than she had originally thought. He was handsome, that was the best word to describe him.
Even in all the armor and that hideous floppy cloak about his shoulder she could tell he was exceptionally well built. He had broad shoulders and an obviously muscular chest that tapered to a narrow waist and hips. His face was handsome with a square jaw and kind eyes that as far as Laina could tell from her brief encounters with them were a unique shade of amber. He had just the right amount of facial hair, that “haven’t shaved in a couple of days” look, which fit him perfectly. And the scar on his upper lip did nothing to take away from the whole look. His hair was a golden blonde which at the moment was slicked back into place, but Laina could tell if not for the gel holding it there it would be a mound of gentle curls atop his head. His skin was also golden, obviously tanned from the sun. He was probably a little bit older than her, the slight creases around his eyes giving away his age.
Laina was still examining him when his head snapped up, his eyes meeting hers, “Miss-” he stopped talking when their eyes met.
Embarrassed, Laina quickly looked away, the heat rising in her cheeks, had she really just been caught staring like she was some lovesick teenager?
He cleared his throat, which drew Laina’s eyes back to him. “Miss, I’m afraid to say I’ve forgotten your name.” He gave her an awkward apologetic smile.
“Oh, it’s Laina.”
“Right, of course,” he started again, “Miss Laina-”
“Please, just Laina.”
“Alright, Laina, I wanted to let you know that I’ve looked into your-”
He was cut off as the door opened and the others strode in, Seeker Cassandra, Sister Leliana, Evelyn or Herald as they were supposed to call her now and Solas. Cassandra introduced everyone and then they began discussing the Inquisition and related matters, as Laina sat in the corner, all but forgotten.
Laina was beginning to wonder why they had even asked her here in the first place when all of a sudden the conversation turned towards her circumstances. She was asked to once again explain how she had ended up in their world, not sparing any details. Solas seemed especially interested in the mirror she had come through, asking extensive questions about it. What she had exactly seen and what she had experienced among them, which Laina could only answer about half of.
“It appears you’ve traveled here through an Eluvian.” He stated once she had finished answering his questions.
“A what?” She asked in unison with about everyone else in the room.
“An Eluvian, an enchanted mirror made by the elves of old which can be used to communicate and travel across great distances. The Eluvian allowed you to travel here from your world.”
“Are there more? Or was the one in the Temple the only one?”
“There were a great deal of them at one time, but many have been destroyed or lost. Most known Eluvians have seemingly stopped working or are corrupted.”
“But there are more, so I could get home?”
“Possibly, but I am uncertain. I will have to do more research.”
Laina couldn’t help but smile at this, a wide grin spreading across her face. There was hope and maybe she could go home after all. Suddenly the meeting was adjourned and everyone started to filter out. Laina was one of the last left in the room, the Commander being the other.
She stopped him on his way out, blocking the door, “This was your doing, that’s what you were trying to tell me before, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, I told Solas what I could remember of your story and asked if he would listen to your version and see if he could give you some answers, and hopefully help you.”
He gave her a puzzled look, “Why not? I felt I owed you that much. We had wrongly accused and imprisoned you when you had come to us for help. It was the least I could do in the way of an apology for our behavior.”
“I don’t blame you for that, I mean I did tell you I crawled out of a mirror and was wandering around snow covered mountains in a towel.” He smirked at this. “Well, thank you, Commander. You’ve given me hope and that’s more than I could have ever asked for.” She gave him a grateful smile before leaving the room.
Laina stopped abruptly, almost running over the dwarf in front of her. The sudden movement jostled the already unstable pile of books she carried in her arms. She quickly shifted, rearranging them so they didn't fall and hit the dwarf on the head.
She was scurrying back to her cabin from the Chantry with the stack of books she had just acquired nestled precariously in her arms. She was in a hurry to read them as she had promised she would have them back to all of their appropriate owners by the end of tomorrow. That was an almost impossible task in itself without being interrupted by the all too happy dwarf now blocking her path.
Knowing her annoyance was not just with Varric, she pushed it aside and smiled down at him, shifting the books again so she could tuck a stray piece of black hair behind her ear. “Hi, Varric.” She tilted her head giving him a confused look. “Snowflake?”
He shrugged. “That's your nickname now, it fits with the pale skin and the fact that you wandered down from the mountains covered in snow, or so I'm told.” He looked from her face to the books she carried. “Whatcha got there?” He stood on his tiptoes trying to peer at the many titles in Laina's arms.
She had to stifle a laugh at seeing the dwarf perched on his toes like a ballerina and tilted the books so he could get a better view. “It's just some books on Eluvians and Orlais.”
“An interesting choice of subject matter,” he smiled at her. “There are better books you could be reading though.” He produced a book from behind his back and placed it carefully on top of Laina's already cumbersome stack.
“What's that?” Laina turned her head to the side trying to read the title. “Hard… in Hightown?” She straightened her head shooting the dwarf a puzzled look.
“By yours truly, keep it as long as you'd like.” And with a wink, he turned and left.
Laina shook her head with a smile as she continued down the path. Of course, he’s an author, she thought. I should have guessed with all of the stories he tells.
She made her way to her cabin, the one she had previously been imprisoned in, which the advisors had been kind enough to let her keep. Closing the door behind her, she plopped the books down on the closest table with a thud before sifting through them. She settled on starting with one about Orlais which would come in handy at her new job as assistant to Ambassador Montilyet.
They had tried giving her many other jobs before deciding on the one she currently held. She had been a cook, a baker, a blacksmith, and a healer; she had even tried joining the military. However, they soon found out that her talents were few and far between. She couldn't cook or bake, she was definitely not blacksmith material and had found out a little too late that she was too squeamish to be a healer. Passing out in the healers’ tent when a man with a severed foot is brought in is apparently frowned upon.
The military was the last ditch effort that everyone knew wouldn't work. She had managed to rip her pants, break a wooden sword and poke a poor young soldier by the name of Jim in the eye with another one after only a few hours. The Commander eventually had to break the news to her that despite her best efforts she was just simply not cut out for the military.
Laina had trudged back to the Chantry after her defeating day, looking for Evelyn so she could complain to her newfound "Andraste touched" friend about her misfortunes.
She had come from checking the war room, having no luck finding her friend when she saw the Ambassador’s door was cracked open. She thought maybe Evelyn was inside and pushed the door open the rest of the way, wandering in.
The room was empty so she turned to leave when a haphazard pile of important looking papers on the Ambassador’s desk caught her eye. Her need to organize kicked in and, before she knew it, she had started arranging everything into neat piles.
A few minutes later, she was startled by someone clearing their throat at the door. A few sheets fell from her hands onto the desk as she jumped.
“Ahem! What are you doing?” The Ambassador was glaring at her.
“Ambassador! I'm so sorry, I came in here looking for Evelyn and, well, I saw your desk was a little messy and was just organizing it. I'm very sorry…” The Ambassador just continued to glare so she dropped her eyes to the floor. “I'll just go now.”
“Wait, let me see what you have done.” The Ambassador moved past her and shuffled through the precise piles Laina had made, making sure to replace each the way Laina had arranged it. “This is actually very good, where did you learn this filing system?”
Laina was surprised, the Ambassador actually seemed to like what she had done. “I work- well worked for a law office. They were very particular about their filing.” The Ambassador tapped her chin in thought for a moment then gestured to Laina.
“You know, I heard that they have still not found a place for you here in Haven. If you would like, I am in need of an assistant and you seem to be quite competent in this area.”
“Wait, are you offering me a job?” The Ambassador smiled politely and nodded. “Really? That's great! Thank you, Ambassador!”
“I take it that means you accept. Good, I'll see you tomorrow morning.” And with that Laina had gone off to collect the books she now sat quietly reading in front of her fire.
While she was reading she heard a gentle knock on her door. “Come in,” she yelled, not bothering to look up from her book on Eluvians which Solas had kindly found for her.
She heard the door creak open and felt the cold air from outside brush past her, making the fire flicker and the pages of her book rustle. However, when no one spoke or came into view she pulled her eyes away from her book and looked over her shoulder to find the Commander examining her room.
When he caught her looking at him he smiled and gestured to his surroundings. “You're making yourself at home I see.”
Laina smiled. It was true, she had cleaned up and rearranged the dusty old cabin, adding a few of her own touches. “I figured I'm probably going to be here for a while so I might as well be comfortable. Please sit down.” She motioned to the chair next to hers.
The Commander took a seat before continuing. “I wanted to see how you were doing, I know the past few days have been… difficult.”
Laina snorted. “Yeah difficult.”
“I just mean I know you've had trouble finding your niche, that's all.”
“I think that's putting it lightly Commander, I nearly ruined everything I touched. I burnt all of the food, shattered the sword I tried to make, fainted in the healers’ tent, not to mention the entire debacle I had on your field. It's a surprise I, or anyone else for that matter, survived.”
“I think you are being too hard on yourself. So you’re not-”
“Talented, yes I know, I think we all know that at this point.”
“That's not what I was going to s-”
“Maybe it's not what you were going to say but it's what everyone's thinking. Come on Commander, I made a complete fool of myself and if I had even an ounce of dignity left I would be embarrassed but I'm pretty sure my dignity was left ripped up on your field just like my poor pants.”
The Commander tried to stifle his laugh, the image of Laina ripping her pants obviously being too much for him as he turned to "cough" into his hand before continuing. “You shouldn't be embarrassed, everyone struggles to find their place at first,” he said.
“Please, I bet you were born with a sword in your hand.” He just smiled at her with a huff of laughter, obviously having no comeback. “I mean if it hadn't been for the Ambassador giving me a job I would probably have been reduced to just being a messenger or something. Which I'm thankful did not happen because I am not big on exercise, especially running.”
“Wait, the Ambassador gave you a job?”
“Yeah, she apparently likes the way I file. She asked me to be her assistant, I start tomorrow.”
He smiled widely at her, “That's wonderful, see you found your place after all.” He patted her on the shoulder before getting up to leave. Shutting the door gently behind him, leaving Laina alone with her books.
Thank you to my wonderful beta ElissaHawke69 for editing this story. Go check out her works.
Laina absentmindedly tapped her quill on the sheet of paper in front of her, leaving small black dots in the corner. At the moment she was bored out of her mind. She couldn't say working for the Ambassador was exciting, usually, it just consisted of paperwork or taking notes during meetings.
Right now Laina was waiting for the Ambassador to get out of her war room meeting. She never let Laina accompany her to take notes because they believed such important discussions should stay between the advisors and the Herald. Laina couldn't say she was disappointed about this, while she was nosey she enjoyed the time off to just do her own work.
However, she had been energetic last night and had completed most of the work the Ambassador had allocated to her the previous day so now she sat with nothing to do. I could really go for some technology right now, like a phone or some music, she thought as she rested her face against her hand.
“Where is the Ambassador? I demand to be seen now!!”
Laina jerked her head up startled as she blinked her eyes open. She had started to fall asleep and was rudely awakened by an angry, yelling, masked man barging into the office.
She looked at the man, “Can I help you?” She asked, completely confused as to why he felt the need to yell.
“Unless you are Ambassador Montilyet, no.”
“Sorry, I’m not, the Ambassador is in a meeting at the moment but you can wait here for her if you'd like, she should be out soon.”
“No!! I will be seen now! Where is she?!” He started walking out of the room, still yelling.
“Crap,” Laina whispered as she quickly rounded the side of her desk, rushing to block the angry man’s exit. “Sir, you can't go in there.” She blocked his path with her body keeping him from barging into the war room.
“I am Marquis DuRellion, I own Haven, you cannot tell me where I can and can't go! Now get out of my way!”
“Sorry, but I can't do that.” Laina moved to block his advance.
“You will move or I will have your job. You will never work again, I will make sure of it. You will be more poor and desolate than you are now. I will-”
Laina had stopped listening, she still stood in front of the Marquis with her arms crossed and an unimpressed look on her face as he spat rude words and insults at her.
“That’s no way to speak to a lady.”
Laina spun around to find the Commander standing behind her, his strong arms folded across his chest and a serious expression on his face. To be honest he looked quite unhappy and very intimidating.
“And who are you?”
Oh, that's his first mistake, Laina thought as she watched the Commander step around her to fully face the Marquis.
“I am the Commander of the Inquisition’s forces, the man who could have you thrown out of here. Who are you?”
The Marquis looked beyond offended by this, “Have me thrown out?! How dare you! I am Marquis DuRellion and I am the owner of Haven! If anyone could throw someone out it would be me!”
The Commander stepped closer,“You listen here you-”
“I'll take it from here Commander, thank you.” Luckily the Ambassador came to the rescue and stopped the Commander from doing something that could have had dire consequences. The charming Antivan stepped between the two men with a graceful smile.
“I apologize for the delay Marquis, please follow me.” The Ambassador began to lead the man back to her office and Laina started to follow. However, once the Ambassador noticed her, she turned around “I think it would be best if you stayed out here.” She whispered to Laina.
“Right.” Laina couldn't have agreed more and turned to quickly walk away from the office, relieved to be left out of that meeting.
“Well, he was insufferable.”
Laina turned to look at the Commander who stood next to her. “He’s wasn't that bad.” She said sarcastically, which apparently the Commander didn't get, as he gave her a confused look.
It took him a moment but he finally got it, “You're kidding, right.” He paused then shook his head. “I can't believe he thought he could speak to a lady like that.”
“I’m not a lady Commander, never have been and probably never will be.” Laina gave him a sideways smirk.
“Do you not use that title where you're from or..”
“No, not really, unless you're royalty. It's more like ‘ay yo girl’ and not ‘hello lovely lady.’”
The Commander was looking at her questioningly, “Ay yo girl?? I don't know what ‘yo’ means and-” his eyes traveled down her body briefly, “You're obviously not a girl.”
Laina raised her eyebrows at him as his eyes made their way back up to hers. “Obviously?”
He blushed profusely, “I-I mean, um, just that you're clearly a woman and not a girl.”
Somehow his face got even redder and he looked away from her reaching for the back of his neck. “Maker’s breath, I’m just making it worse aren't I?”
Laina laughed, which brought his eyes back to her, “I'm just messing with you Commander, I know what you mean.” He sighed and shook his head, “You need to loosen up a little.”
“It's against my nature to be ‘loose.’”
“Oh, come on, I’m sure you can manage it every once in a while.”
He sighed then gave her a small smile before starting toward the Chantry door. “I have the feeling you're not going to let me get away with being serious all the time.”
“Absolutely not, everyone needs a little fun in their life and with that look, you constantly have on your face I think you need it more than most.”
“What look?” he stopped and faced her.
“You know the one that goes like-” She crossed her arms and scowled, scrunching her eyebrows together.
“Do I really look like that?”
“More often than you'd think.” She started toward the door as well and he followed alongside.
“Varric has told me that I spend too much time with a serious expression on my face, so maybe you have a point.” He brought a hand up and ran it through his golden hair.
“Don't worry Commander, I can help you with that.” She glanced at him and smiled.
“Why do I have a feeling you will be more trouble than fun?”
“Because with my track record I probably will be.”
He just shook his head and smirked at her before saying goodbye as he headed off to the training yard.
Laina turned to go back to her own cabin but immediately ran into Evelyn.
“What was that about?” Evelyn peeked around Laina to look at the Commander’s back as he walked away.
“What was what about?” Laina countered.
“You know, what were you talking to the Commander about?”
“Oh, that!” Laina said in an exaggerated way. “That was nothing, just a casual conversation.”
“Mhmm,” Evelyn gave her a knowing look.
“What? Honestly, it was nothing special or important,” Laina said stubbornly.
“Whatever you say.”
“What are you implying Evelyn?”
“I’m just saying that the Commander is an attractive man and you seemed to be smiling quite a bit.”
“I always smile this much, see?” Laina flashed Evelyn and overly wide fake smile which drew a laugh from the young woman.
“Okay, okay I’ll leave you alone about it… for now.” Evelyn eyed her one final time before saying goodbye and happily walking away.
Laina just shook her head and continued on to her cabin, unsure of what her friend thought about her relationship with the Commander.
Laina couldn't say her desk job was boring anymore, or that it was still even a desk job. Once the Ambassador had given her all of the proper training on how to handle Nobles and made sure she was well equipped with all of the knowledge she would need, she no longer kept Laina sitting behind a desk in Haven doing paperwork. She figured that with Laina’s strong personality she could handle herself and began sending her out on diplomatic tasks around Thedas.
Laina didn't feel well enough prepared for the important jobs she was all of the sudden being trusted with, but the Ambassador didn't seem concerned. She kept telling Laina that the best way to learn the game was to play it, and so off Laina went on all sorts of missions for her.
At first it was small things like overseeing the transfer of the Ferelden horses to the Inquisition, or the acquisition of supplies for the refugees at the crossroads from nearby Nobles. But as the Ambassador’s faith in Laina grew so did the importance and difficulty of her jobs. Before she knew it she was being sent to Highever as an emissary for the Inquisition. It was an easy job, all she had to do was attend a vigil for the Divine but the importance of it all was not lost on Laina.
When news came that the Herald would be traveling to Val Royeaux Laina knew she was in for it. The Ambassador seemed overly excited about this opportunity for her apprentice to go to Val Royeaux. She immediately began training Laina for her first visit to the capital city. Laina had thought she already learned all she needed to know, or at least the basics of it, but she was sorely mistaken.
The Ambassador began spewing information at her any time the opportunity presented itself. Both of them were too busy for proper lessons but that didn't dissuade the Ambassador from trying to teach her every chance she got. Every time a Noble visited Haven was an opportunity for another lesson for Laina. She felt like she was back in school taking a pop quiz everytime a Noble walked through the door, which was more often than she would have liked.
The Ambassador was beginning to psych Laina out for this trip to the capital. She now spent all of her free time reading books about Orlais, Val Royeaux, the Game and just diplomacy in general. She couldn't even remember the last time she had felt relaxed, she even dreamed about going to the capital city. The dreams always ended with her making a fool of herself, like giving a speech with no pants on or something.
Currently Laina was sitting in the tavern reading, she had just finished lunch but still had some time before the Ambassador was expecting her back to work. The book in front of her wasn't very exciting and she kept getting distracted by Varric who was at another table close by telling one of his stories all too loudly. She was listening to the story behind her instead of reading when the Commander interrupted her thoughts.
“Mind if I join you?” He was standing behind the chair across from her and motioned to it as he spoke.
“No, of course not Commander,” She smiled at him.
He put his bowl of soup down before sitting across from her. “Laina, now that we know you won't be joining the military anytime soon I think you can call me Cullen.”
“I don't know if that would be appropriate.”
“Why not?” He questioned her as he scooped some soup into his mouth.
“Because I’m the Ambassador’s assistant.”
“Josephine calls me Cullen.”
“Maybe, but I don't know if it would be appropriate for her assistant to.”
“If you refuse to call me Cullen then I'll call you Miss Laina, or Lady Laina.”
Laina grimaced. “Ugh, that sounds terrible.” He raised his eyebrows at her as he ate another spoonful of soup. She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll call you Cullen.”
He smiled. “There, was that so hard?” Laina just shook her head at the smug look on his face.
“Hello, Laina, Commander.” Evelyn sat down next to her.
“See, even she calls you Commander!” Laina pointed out to Cullen.
“What?” Evelyn looked confused.
“It's nothing, Herald,” he addressed Evelyn before turning to Laina. “Our work relationship requires us to be more formal.” Laina sat back and crossed her arms as she looked at him.
“Am I interrupting something?” Evelyn looked at the two of them.
“Not at all, Herald.”
“No Evelyn, you're fine.” Laina shot her friend a reassuring smile.
“Ok…” She paused and an awkward silence filled the air. “So Laina I hear you will be accompanying us to Val Royeaux.” Luckily Evelyn managed to fill the void.
“Yes, I leave with you tomorrow.”
“What? You're going to Orlais with the Herald and Seeker? Why wasn't I made aware of this?” Cullen looked at Laina expecting an explanation.
“Don't look at me,” She put her hands up innocently, “I just go wherever the Ambassador sends me.”
“I must speak to Josephine about this.” He stood up to leave.
“Is it that big of a deal?” Laina looked at him a little confused.
“I’m sure the Ambassador has trained you properly, you have my full faith, but you are not from this world and if that were somehow to come out it could have major repercussions, not only for you but also for the Inquisition. I must make sure that on your trip you remain safe, and so does your identity.” He turned and left, leaving Laina at the table with Evelyn, both of them sharing concerned looks.
“I never thought of it like that.” Laina was now even more nervous.
“Don't worry,” her friend patted her on the shoulder, “That's why he's the Commander, I’m sure he’ll work everything out.” She stood to leave, “You're in good hands.” And with that she left, leaving Laina alone once again with her books.
Laina was patiently waiting by the horses for her “bodyguard” to join her. Cullen had sent a young soldier by the name of Aileen to “Make sure you stay safe”, at least that's how he put it. But Laina knew what he actually meant, make sure you're not an idiot and let your identity slip, jeopardizing the entire Inquisition and get beat up in the process. She had ridden on her horse next to Aileen the entire way there, which she was kind of regretting.
When they had asked her if she had ever ridden a horse before she had said yes because she had ridden a pony a time or two at the fair. Now she realized that she should have said no. She was sure she wouldn't be able to sit properly for a week based on how sore her backside was.
When Aileen had finally finished making sure everything was properly situated and the camp was secure she joined Laina as they walked into Val Royeaux. They were apparently late to the party as everyone was leaving when they arrived.
“What did we miss?” Laina asked Evelyn as she came up beside her.
“The Templars have abandoned the capital.” Evelyn was sharing concerned looks with her companions.
“So what does that mean for us, will they not help us now?”
“Not at the moment, no.”
“So what are you going to do, go to the mages?”
“I could… right now I'm not sure what I want to do, I'll have to go back and speak with the advisors,” she raised her eyebrows excitedly at Laina. “But first we are going to explore the capital.” She watched Evelyn begin to walk away before she turned back around. “Have fun, meet us back at the camp when you're ready.”
Laina stood in the middle of the capital with no idea of what to do with herself. She spun in a circle as she admired her surroundings. The city was even more beautiful than Josephine had described. It was huge and Laina didn't know where to start.
She finally decided to begin with the most familiar thing, shopping. She browsed the stalls of the many different merchants lining the courtyard of Val Royeaux. There were books, scrolls, clothing and all sorts of fabrics. Laina didn't have money to buy anything but that didn't mean she couldn't look.
Her bodyguard never went far, always standing a couple of feet away, observing Laina and her surroundings with a watchful eye. Laina was kind of thankful that she didn't have to participate in any diplomacy now. It may have been bad for the Inquisition that the door had been shut but for her it was great. She didn't have to worry about saying the wrong thing and messing anything up. Instead, she could just enjoy herself and relax for the first time in a while.
She explored the whole city from top to bottom, looking at and touching almost everything. It turned out to be a wonderful experience and not the stressful one she had been expecting. When she was done she met Evelyn and the others back at camp. Evelyn surprised her by asking Laina to accompany her to a party which she had been invited to. Laina, of course, agreed and with some persuasion she and Evelyn managed to convince her bodyguard that she was in safe hands and didn't need to be accompanied to the event.
The first enchanter’s party wasn't very eventful aside from a man being frozen by Madame Vivienne for threatening Evelyn, which Laina thought was pretty cool. Other than that nothing of note really happened, the first enchanter decided to join the Inquisition in the end. Although Laina didn't know how that had come up as she was excluded from the private conversation between she and Evelyn.
When they returned to Haven, Laina saw Evelyn off to the Chantry before going to her cabin to change and then heading to the Ambassador’s office. She sat at her desk waiting for the Ambassador who she knew would want to hear everything about her journey to the capital to get out of the war room meeting.
She watched the excited looking Antivan walk away after quickly stopping in to tell her that she would be back to hear all about her trip right after she welcomed Madame Vivienne. So there Laina sat, patiently waiting with nothing to do.
She was doodling on the blank parchment in front of her when someone cleared their throat at the door. She looked up to find Cullen standing in the doorway with his arms crossed looking very displeased.
“Aileen returned without you a day early, she said she was dismissed by you and the Herald.” He gave her a hard look.
“What? I didn't need her to accompany me to the party.” He still didn't look happy, “It was safe.”
“It's not your job to judge whether it's safe or not, that's why I sent Aileen with you.”
“Evelyn was there, it was fine, I was fine.”
He didn't look convinced, but he dropped it sighing, “Fine just, don't do it again.”
He turned to leave and Laina got up to follow him as she had a feeling something else was going on. As she rushed out the door after him she passed the Ambassador who looked very confused.
“Sorry Ambassador, I'll be right back.” She paused to apologize to the woman she was squeezing past before jogging after Cullen. “Hey, Cullen, wait!” He stopped and turned around once he realized she was following him. “What's wrong?”
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
“Oh come on, your face isn't usually that serious.” She used a teasing tone but it didn't seem to lighten his mood.
“You really want to know?” She nodded, he sighed before answering, “The Herald has decided to go to the mages for help, she leaves for Redcliffe tomorrow to make contact with them.”
“So?” Laina didn't see the problem.
“She's choosing the mages over the Templars. I think it's a mistake, there is no way the mage rebellion is more organized than the Order. She's being foolish.”
“Is she being foolish because it's actually a foolish choice, or is she being foolish because she does not agree with you?”
He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it, obviously thinking, “You may have a point, perhaps I am being too hard on her. She is a mage, so I should have expected this.” He put a large hand on her shoulder, “Thank you, Laina, now if you'll excuse me I should go apologize.”
They went their separate ways, Cullen to go apologize to the Herald and Laina to go share all of her experiences from the capital with the Ambassador.
Laina was surprised the next day when she was called into the war room with the advisors and the Herald. She had never been in there when they were having a meeting and she didn't know why they would need her at all. When she walked in all eyes were on her. Evelyn and the Ambassador seemed happy to see her while Cullen didn't. She shot him a weird look as he frowned at her.
“I still say this is a bad idea.” He grumbled, crossing his arms.
“Let’s ask Laina what she thinks.” Evelyn smiled at her before all eyes turned to Laina.
“What I think about what?” Laina looked around the room in confusion.
“The Ambassador and I think you should come with me to Redcliffe to negotiate with the mages. We think it would be a good experience for you. The Commander disagrees, however, he thinks it's a bad idea.” The Herald shot an exasperated look at her Commander.
“I don't just think it's a bad idea, I think it's a very bad idea. The Hinterlands are very dangerous right now, some of the worst fighting is going on there.” He said defensively.
Evelyn shook her head. “We’re just going to Redcliffe and back, it will be fine. Besides Laina will be with us the whole time.” Evelyn was trying to reassure him but before he could respond Laina interjected.
“I'm up for it!” At this Evelyn clapped her hands.
“See, she's fine with it.” She said with a smile while Cullen groaned. “We leave in a couple of hours, meeting adjourned.”
Laina quickly went to her room and packed for the trip. She wasn't sure what to expect so she packed everything. She was a little nervous about the journey. What the Commander said had scared her but she knew that as long as she stuck with Evelyn she would be fine.
The actual trip there was uneventful but Evelyn threw her for a loop when they arrived.
“So which way is Redcliffe?” Laina asked looking around the camp.
“We’re not going to Redcliffe.” She looked at the Herald in surprise. “Not right away at least,” the Herald added.
“Then where are we going?”
“There is a Grey Warden I told Leliana we would look for while we were here. He was last seen around this area so I thought we should start here.”
Laina didn't like it but she really didn’t have a choice as she trudged along behind the Herald and her companions. They walked around a small lake in search of the Grey Warden. Laina paid more attention to the views and old architecture, she figured she would leave the searching to the people who were actually given the mission.
As they rounded the lake they realized that the small cabin they had seen on the other side was inhabited. Standing outside of it were three men being lectured by a fourth. The fourth man paced in front of them, giving a rousing speech which carried across the lake. They had barely come upon them before Evelyn was trouncing forward to interrupt them. She and the Warden had only exchanged a few words before an arrow came flying out of nowhere followed by armed men.
Laina cowered behind a nearby tree, staying as far away from the fighting as possible. She watched as the outnumbered attackers easily fell to not only the Herald and her companions but to the Warden and conscripts as well. She watched in amazement as Evelyn effortlessly shot electricity from the top of her staff and into the attackers. The last time she had seen her fight was right after the conclave exploded and she still hadn't gotten used to the idea of magic.
The fight was over in a matter of minutes. Evelyn once again approached the Grey Warden and asked for his help. He seemed hesitant at first but she turned on the charm and he eventually agreed to join them. As he walked away to collect his things Evelyn came over to stand next to Laina.
Evelyn was watching him walk away with a little too much interest. “He's kind of cute in a rustic way, don't you think?”
Laina looked at her friend, shocked. “You literally just met him.”
“So? You think the Commander’s cute and you just met him not that long ago.”
Laina felt heat rush to her cheeks. “I-I've never said that.”
Evelyn smiled knowingly. “You didn't have to. First, anyone with eyes can see how cute he is and second I've seen the way you look at him.”
The heat drained from Laina’s face completely. “How do I look at him? With my eyes? Because that's kind of how you look at people.”
“Whatever you say,” Evelyn threw her hands up defensively, “I'm just saying that something is definitely going on there.”
“Nothing is going on. We barely know each other and I'm sure he wouldn't go for someone like me so can we please leave it alone?”
“Fine,” She started to walk away before turning back around. “By the way, you can come out from behind that tree now. The fighting has been over for a while.” Her friend gave her a cheeky smile before walking away as Laina came out from behind the tree, blushing slightly in embarrassment.
They headed for Redcliffe after that, but not without a number of distractions along the way. They stopped and checked on the refugees and then Evelyn insisted on clearing out the bandits along the road that were giving travelers some trouble. She begged Laina not to tell Cullen what they had done insisting that he would never let her bring Laina along with her again. Then they fought through two rifts, one of which had some weird time magic around it before they finally made it inside the gates of Redcliffe.
Of course, Evelyn didn't immediately bring them to the meeting. No, she bounced around from place to place checking out all of the shops and talking to as many people as she could. When she finally decided it was time to go to the meeting they headed to the tavern and were surprised to find that no one was expecting them. Grand enchanter Fiona had no memory of inviting the Herald to Redcliffe and told them she couldn't help them anymore.
They were introduced to a Tevinter magister by the name of Alexius, who was apparently now in charge of the mages. Laina sat down next to Evelyn as they began to discuss their needs for closing the breach. He seemed open to the idea but they didn't get far before they were interrupted by his son. He left quickly at the mention of his son being ill and Laina and Evelyn shared a look behind his back. His son Felix had slipped a note into Evelyn's hand and, against their better judgment, they decided to follow it's directions.
When they arrived at the Chantry they encountered another rift that warped time. Someone else was already fighting the demons when they entered and made some smart ass comment about helping. Laina once again stayed out of the fighting and hid behind an overturned pew. She made it through two waves of demons unscathed before Evelyn finally closed the rift. The mustached stranger introduced himself as Dorian, greeting them rather amiably and they spoke until Felix showed up. According to the story they told, Magister Alexius was dabbling in time magic. He was part of a cult called the Venatori and they wanted the Herald for some reason.
Dorian returned with them to Haven and they immediately went to the war room to meet with the advisors. The discussion that ensued in the war room was heated. Sister Leliana and Seeker Cassandra both wanted to go after the mages, stating that a foreign power on the Inquisition’s doorstep could not go ignored. While the Commander and Ambassador both agreed that it was too much of a risk to send the Herald straight into a trap made for her. Evelyn seemed open to both ideas and listened to each argument intently. For some reason, Laina had been invited back into the room to listen to the discussion. She stood in the corner and watched them all argue back and forth. Evelyn seemed to eventually make up her mind to continue to pursue the mages help. Once Dorian was brought into the conversation and offered his help everyone seemed to jump on board with the plan.
All of a sudden Evelyn switched the conversation to Laina. “I think she should accompany me again.” She motioned to Laina who stood off to the side.
“You cannot be serious. Last time was dangerous enough especially with all of the detours you took.” Evelyn glanced at Laina accusingly as Cullen said this but Laina just shrugged. She certainly didn't tell Cullen that they hadn't obeyed his orders to just go to Redcliffe. “Now you want to drag her into an obvious trap. Why would you want to put more people in danger?”
“We need to make it look serious. She came with me the first time as a diplomatic negotiator so it just makes sense that she comes again.” Evelyn explained.
“No, we are already sending you which is hard enough, we can't in good conscience send Laina as well and risk losing yet another member of the Inquisition if this goes south.”
“Wait, so the Herald gets to choose whether or not she wants to go but I don't? That's not fair.” Laina interjected.
“I agree with Laina, I say we let her choose,” Evelyn added.
“Of course you agree with her, it was your idea,” he retorted. The Herald ignored him.
“Laina, would you like to come?”
Laina thought for a moment and then shrugged. “Sure, why not.”
“Good.” Evelyn smiled at her while the Commander groaned and rubbed his forehead in the background.
Laina held her clipboard tighter to her chest as she glanced around, the audible clicking of their shoes echoed eerily down the dim stone hallway. Laina’s observations had her falling behind from the others so she quickened her step until she caught up to them.
“This was a bad idea.” She leaned over as she whispered to Evelyn whom she was now walking beside. “Maybe we should have listened to Cullen. He had a point, I shouldn't be here. This is a trap and I'm not cut out for traps.”
“Shhh” her friend hushed her.
“What? I'm just expressing my concern for our wellbeing.”
“It's fine, quit worrying. Everything will work out, you'll see.”
“Or, on a more realistic note, we’ll all die horrible deaths.”
“I thought you said you were brave?” Evelyn shot her a sideways glance.
“I’m brave for my world not for yours.” Laina retorted quickly before straightening back up as they entered the large room at the end of the hall.
They were met by two guards who tried to insist that Evelyn continue on alone but she refused. She argued that everyone she brought with her was vital to the negotiations and needed to remain with her. There were a few tense moments when Laina thought the guards wouldn't budge but eventually, they agreed to let everyone in.
Laina followed Evelyn up the steps toward the throne in the middle of the room. The room was hauntingly quiet and although it was well lit by firelight she still felt like the darkness was creeping in around her. She was desperately trying to keep her hands from shaking as she grasped her board tightly in front of her. She knew something bad was going to happen, she could feel it in the pit of her stomach.
“My friend, it's so good to see you again, and your associates of course.” The Magister stood from his seat and greeted them.
Laina eyed him and the other people around the room suspiciously. He and the Herald both held up the rouse that this was a proper negotiation for only a few minutes before everything started going downhill, and fast. At first, it looked like their plan was going to work. Dorian showed up and he and the Magister’s son tried to talk him down from his fanatical ways, but the Magister wouldn't hear it. He was too set on doing whatever he could to save his son’s life, including sacrificing the Herald’s. He threw them all for a loop quite literally when he used magic to open a rift. Dorian tried to stop him but something went horribly wrong.
Everything went dark for a second before Laina splashed down into some water. She picked her head up and gasped in a breath before coughing some water from her lungs. Of course, I'm the only one who landed face first she noted as she saw Dorian and the Herald standing a few feet in front of her. She got to her feet in time to hear a battle cry and watch two guards rush toward them. In a split second, she was hunkered back down in the water behind Evelyn for protection.
When the guards were finally defeated Dorian and Evelyn stood in the middle of the room discussing what had happened. Apparently, neither of them had noticed they had a tag along. Laina heard something about magic and time travel. Whatever had happened wasn't good and they needed to get back as soon as possible. She watched the two turn to leave the room before finally getting the bright idea to speak up.
“Aren't you forgetting someone.” She called after them.
Both mages whipped around with lightning speed and shot bolts of energy at her. Laina squealed in surprise and terror as she dropped back down into the water and covered her head with her arms. Both balls of energy missed her by barely an inch on either side. She could feel their energy as they flew past her, making her hair stand up.
“Laina?!” Her friend uttered in surprise as she lowered her staff and walked over to her. “I didn't know you came through the rift with us. Why didn't you say something?”
“I just did say something and you both tried to kill me with your witchcraft,” Laina replied as she took Evelyn's hand and she helped her stand up.
“Are you calling me a witch? How could you compare me to one of those hideous old women? Or are you comparing me to one of the hot ones that everyone is terrified of but secretly all of the men want to be seduced by?” Dorian asked as he smoothed his mustache. Laina and Evelyn both shot him weird looks. “What?”
Evelyn shook her head before turning back to Laina. “We think Alexis opened a rift with time magic and sent us through it. We aren't sure if we're in the past or the future but we need to find out soon and find a way back.”
“That sounds really bad. Is that bad?” She looked between the two mages.
“Very,” Dorian replied, “but don't worry, I'm here, I'll protect you.” To Laina that sounded more comforting than narcissistic.
“I told you this was a bad idea.” Laina shot at her friend as they waded through the waist-high water and out of the room.
“Don't even start with me. You were on board with this idea from the very beginning. Cullen was the only one against it.” Evelyn countered.
“Like I said before, maybe we should have listened to him.”
“Maybe, but it's too late for that now isn't it? I'll tell you what, you can tell him that when we get back, but right now you're stuck with us. So stop talking about what we should have done and help us find a way out of this situation.”
Laina crossed her arms over her chest and fell back to trudge behind the two mages. If they were going to walk into a fight it was better that they go first anyway. Laina knew however that if anyone wasn't going to make it out of this alive it was her. She couldn't fight, she had just been brought along to keep up the image of this being an actual negotiation.
They went up the stairs out of the lower flooded basement of the castle and into another section. The castle was disgustingly disturbing. Random splotches of blood coated the walls and floor. Half-rotted bodies laid in piles around rooms or were haphazardly strewn across the floor. Not to mention red lyrium was growing from everywhere. It grew through the walls and floor like it had become a part of the castle’s infrastructure. The glowing crystals made Laina uneasy and she kept as much distance between herself and the outcroppings of it as she could.
Laina hung back during all of the fights so she didn't get in the way, or get herself killed. She tried to stay as far away as possible or hide so she didn't draw any attention to herself but sometimes that was easier said than done. On more than one occasion Dorian or Evelyn had to come to her rescue and kill the Venatori or demon that was after her. She was very thankful that they were with her and were such powerful and skilled mages. Joke as she might about it, magic interested Laina and she found it fascinating how mages could wield it with their bare hands.
As they explored the castle they found even more disturbing things. Varric and Cassandra who had accompanied them to the castle originally were locked in cells in the basement. They both looked deathly ill. Their eyes were red and they had an eerie red aura about them. They informed the group that they had been transported to the future. A future they did not want to come to pass. What was even more unsettling was that they found the Grand Enchanter also locked in a cell, but she was worse than the others. She had red lyrium growing out of her body. From her, they learned that they went one year into the future. Each of them spoke of an Elder One that the Magister was working for. They were told that Leliana was being held somewhere else in the castle so they set out to look for her with Cassandra and Varric in tow.
They passed through large rooms with grate bridges over deep dark abysses. The bridges were held up by large chains and from each one hung a corpse. Some looked new, some looked old, but all of them were sickening. The very sight of it made Laina’s stomach turn. She kept her head down as they walked through, following close behind the others so she didn't accidentally run into one.
They went up some stairs and into what appeared to be the torture chambers. The smell of fear and blood in the air was enough to make you sick. Laina could hear people screaming in some of the rooms. She tried to block it out but she knew their screams would forever echo through her mind.
The Herald wanted to check the rooms for Leliana so they began to enter them one by one. Laina always waited for everyone else to enter the room first before going in. In the second room they entered after everyone had gone ahead of her she stepped into the room and turned left. What she saw on the wall stopped her dead in her tracks. She screamed out of horror and shock as she stared at the wall. Everyone turned to look at her and Evelyn immediately ran to her side.
“What? What’s the matter?” She peered at Laina in concern. Laina didn't speak however, she couldn't take her eyes from the wall so she pointed to it with a shaky hand. “Oh blessed Maker.” Her friend uttered from beside her once she saw what she was staring at.
On a shelf on the wall were decapitated heads lined up like trophies for display. The sight of all of them was nauseating but one on the end was particularly upsetting because it was someone she knew, someone she considered a friend. Cullen’s head was lined up with the rest of them. His amber eyes closed and face completely expressionless. It almost looked like he was sleeping beside the fact that he was missing the rest of his body.
“Don't look,” Evelyn grabbed Laina by the shoulders and turned her away from the wall. She shielded her from it with her body and walked her out of the room. “Wait here.”
She had no problem following that command. She was in such a state of shock that she didn't think she could have moved even if she wanted to. She stared at the ground with unfocused eyes while she waited for them to come back out. The rest of her time in the torture chambers or really the castle for that matter was a blur.
They found Leliana in one of the rooms and she agreed to help them. They then all continued on together and found the doors to the castle hall. Laina sat and waited by the doors by herself while everyone went off in search of the shards they needed to open it.
When they finally got the door opened and entered the hall Alexius was waiting for them. Laina stayed out of the fighting and was mostly left alone, she only needed help a few times from the others. They managed to defeat Alexius and get the amulet he used to send them through time. Dorian opened a rift back to their time and he, the Herald and Laina all jumped into it.
Laina tapped her foot impatiently as she waited next to the stables for Evelyn. Her friend was chatting away with Blackwall and she was making them late for the war room meeting. The advisors had given them a couple of minutes to clean up when they got back before they were supposed to meet them in the Chantry and Evelyn had wasted all of her time talking to Blackwall.
Laina let out an exhausted groan as she tilted her head back against the wall she was leaning on and uncrossed her arms. There was no way she was going to the meeting alone, as she was being invited along as Evelyn's guest. Evelyn was taking forever, but Blackwall didn't seem to mind at all. She had no idea what her friend had needed to discuss with the bearded man but it must not have been very serious based on how they were smiling at each other.
Evelyn finally finished her conversation and practically skipped over to Laina. Laina gave her a tired look as she approached her. “What?” She said defensively as she shrugged.
“Could you have taken any longer?” Laina began as they walked toward the Chantry together. “You didn't even fix your hair.” She turned as they walked and smoothed the loose strands of hair that stood up haphazardly on her friends head.
“I was busy.” She countered.
“Yeah, flirting.” Evelyn giggled guiltily as Laina rolled her eyes.
When they made it to the Chantry they didn't even make it into the war room before the arguing started. They went round and round in circles with each other arguing over who was right and what should and should not have been done. Laina stood between the Herald and the Ambassador staring at the blank sheet of paper on her board. She had nothing to offer to the argument, not that any of them would listen to her anyway.
When they finally agreed on something, which was closing the breach they decided to take the planning to the war room. They invited Evelyn back with them and of course, she wanted Laina to tag along. So Laina appeased her friend and stood patiently in the war room listening to their discussion. She took some important notes about the planning to give to either the Ambassador or Herald later but other than that she just kept her head down and her eyes focused on the board in front of her.
When the meeting was adjourned Laina quickly dismissed herself and walked out the door and away from the room back to her cabin. When she heard footsteps approaching behind her she quickened her steps.
“Laina, wait!” Cullen called after her. Against her better judgment, she stopped in her tracks and waited for him to reach her. “You left in quite a hurry.” She didn't say anything. “I wanted to ask you how you were doing. Are you alright?”
“I'm fine.” She responded, not looking at him.
“Are you sure? He peered at her in concern, dipping his head to try and catch her eye.
“Yeah, I'm fine.” She replied dismissively.
“What? Do you want to say ‘I told you so’?” She cut him off. “Do you want me to admit that you were right? Because you were, I shouldn't have gone with the Herald. I should have stayed here, I should have listened to you.”
“No, I'm just concerned. I mean you won't even look at me. Did I do something wrong?”
Laina shook her head as she pushed past him, “It's nothing, I told you I'm fine.” She retorted before flinging the Chantry doors open and walking out. She only made it a couple of steps before she heard the doors open behind her, she hoped it wasn't Cullen.
“Laina,” Evelyn called her name as she jogged up to her. “What's the matter? What was that all about with the Commander. He’s all distraught, he says you won't even look at him.”
“I just- I can't, not after everything that happened, not after what I saw.”
“You mean the-” Evelyn made a motion like she was cutting off her own head and Laina cringed. “Yeah, I understand. That's hard but you're punishing him for something he didn't do. For something he had no control over.”
“I'm not punishing him.”
“You're his friend and you won't even look at him, imagine how that must feel. He has no idea what he did to deserve to be treated that way.”
“I just- I just need some time to process this ok.” Laina said clutching her head, she felt overwhelmed. She left Evelyn standing on the path staring after her as she quickly retreated to her cabin. She hoped she would feel better and could put all of this behind her after a good night's sleep.
Laina got anything but a good night's sleep that night. Instead, her sleep was interrupted by nightmares and flashbacks of her time in the future. After a particularly bad dream, she woke up sick to her stomach. She flung the covers off of her body and sprinted out of her cabin before vomiting outside in the snow. Tears streamed down her face as she was bent over coughing. She kicked some snow over where she had been sick and straightened up. She was taking deep shaky breaths as tears continued to pour down her face. She put a hand on her forehead and whimpered as she backed up into the side of her cabin and slid down it. She brought her knees up to her chest and buried her face in her hands as she sobbed.
“Laina?” A concerned voice said from above her. She wiped the tears from her face and looked up. Cullen was standing a few feet in front of her looking at her with sad eyes. “What's the matter? Are you alright?”
“I'm fine, it's just a bad dream.” She assured him as she continued to wipe the tears from her eyes.
“I know all too well about bad dreams. Do you want to talk about it?” He offered as he took a step closer.
She didn't answer him and just continued to sniffle. He waited a moment before taking another couple of steps toward her. When he was directly in front of her he squatted down so he could be on her level.
“The Herald told me what happened, about what you saw. She said it hit you pretty hard.” Laina wiped her nose on her sleeve and continued to look at the ground. “Is that what your dream was about?” She nodded. “Do you want to tell me about it?”
She finally looked up at him as she tucked her hair behind her ears. “I just can't unsee what I saw in that future. Every time I look at you I see-” she stopped talking and swallowed audibly.
“It's alright,” he comforted her, “I'm fine, everyone is fine. The future you saw will never happen. The Herald has already made sure of that. We're going to close the breach soon and everything will be better, you'll see.”
She considered what he said for a moment before nodding and giving him a small smile. He smiled back at her before standing and offering her his hand. She took it and he pulled her easily to her feet. They stood facing each other for a moment before Laina stepped toward him and wrapped her arms around his torso in a hug. His arms lifted away from his sides in surprise as she pressed the side of her face against his chest. He was warm and his shirt was soft, she took a few deep breaths as she listened to his heart beat against her ear. He wrapped his arms around her as he returned the hug and stroked his hand up and down her back soothingly.
She finally released him and stepped back a little shyly. “Sorry, I'm just glad you're ok.” She said as she smoothed her now ruffled hair.
“So am I.” He answered, rubbing his neck. “Sleep well, Laina.” He smiled at her one last time before leaving her alone in front of her cabin.
The next morning Evelyn caught up to her as she was quickly walking down Haven’s paths. “You're in a good mood today. Where are you off to?”
“Cullen invited me down to the training fields today. He said that I've shown I can't fight, but it's never too late to learn. He thinks I could pick up a few things from just watching the men practice.”
“So you and the Commander are on good terms again?”
“Yeah, we talked last night.”
Her friend stopped, causing Laina to stop as well. “Wait, you two talked last night? After you went to your cabin to sleep?” Evelyn got a suggestive grin on her face.
“Stop. Don't look at me like that.”
“Like what?” Evelyn feigned innocence but continued to grin.
“It's not like that ok, we're just friends.”
“Yeah, friends.” Evelyn exaggerated the last word.
“Exactly, just like you and Blackwall.” Laina retorted.
“I will be the first to admit that there is something more there than just friendship.”
Laina rolled her eyes as she walked away, leaving Evelyn standing in the middle of the path staring longingly toward the stables. When she made it to the training field all of the men were walking off and putting their gear away. She found Cullen in the middle of the mass of people and approached him.
“Did I miss it?” She asked as she came to stand next to him.
“Oh, Laina, no you're just in time.” He turned and gave her a smile.
“But all of the men are leaving.” She noted, looking around.
“They're off to lunch, some of them will hang around but we will have the field to ourselves for a little while.”
“I thought I was just going to watch.”
“I changed my mind.” He smiled at her again before heading toward the middle of the field.
Laina sighed as she trudged after him, she hoped her pants were up to the task. “I wish you would have told me about the change of plans.” She said once they made it to the middle of the field. “I would have made sure I was wearing stretchy pants, we don't want a repeat of last time.”
“Maybe you don't.” He mumbled.
Laina gave him an odd look. When his eyes met hers he blushed and turned his head away from her.
He cleared his throat, “Let's start with something simple. What do you know about fighting, or self-defense?”
“All I know how to do is SING.”
“Sing??” He asked sounding very confused. “Laina I-”
“Let me show you.” She cut him off as she turned around in front of him. “Ok, now grab me from behind.” Cullen wrapped his arms around her tightly from behind. Laina took a deep breath and then started. “Solar plexus,” she hit him in the stomach, “instep,” she stepped on his foot, “nose” she backhanded him in the nose, “groin” she punched him in the groin.
Cullen keeled over behind her clutching his nose and groin simultaneously. He groaned in pain as Laina turned and smirked at him. He straightened up with a wince and rubbed his side.
“What would you do if I attacked you from the front?” He asked still wincing.
Laina shrugged, “The same thing but from the front?”
Cullen just looked at her and shook his head as a smile spread across his lips. “No need to demonstrate that.”
“You'll be feeling that one in the morning Commander!” Laina and Cullen both turned to see Captain Rylen standing with some men on the side of the field all smiling and laughing.
At the sight of them, Cullen closed his eyes and groaned. “I'll never live this down.” He huffed as he ran a hand down his face.
“Sorry,” Laina cringed up at him.
“Don't be, that was surprisingly impressive.” He smiled, “The men will be back from lunch soon however so we'll have to continue this another day.”
Laina thanked him and strode off the field getting thumbs up and pats on the back from the men that had witnessed what had happened. That was the best she had felt since she had returned from Redcliffe.
Laina's fingers played with the corner of the page as her eyes followed the words down to the bottom. She turned the page and her eyes continued along the top of the next paragraph as she read. The tavern was exceptionally noisy around her but she was too engrossed in her book to notice. She leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table as she balanced the book in one hand. Her soup was getting cold next to her as she had all but forgotten to eat it.
Laina's head moved toward the sound as her eyes finished reading the sentence she was in the middle of before they lazily followed. When she finally did look up Cullen was sitting across from her in front of a bowl of soup. She was a little surprised to see him as she hadn't heard him sit down.
“How long have you been sitting there?” She asked as her hand and the book slowly fell to rest on the table.
“Long enough.” He replied with a smirk.
“How long is long enough?”
“Long enough to know that you noticed nothing but that book while you were sitting here. And to know that you bite your lip while you read.” His eyes fell to her lips briefly before looking back into her eyes.
Laina felt the heat rise in her cheeks as he looked at her. The way his eyes had lingered on her lips had not escaped her notice. The little half smile he was giving her now made her heart flutter. She didn't know how to respond to that.
“Good book?” He asked as he spooned some soup into his mouth, seemingly oblivious to the effect he was having on her.
She blinked a couple of times to regain her composure and examined the book in her hand. Her finger was still keeping her place as she turned the book to look at the cover. “Yeah, it's pretty good so far.”
“What's the title?”
“Hard in Hightown.” She responded still looking at the cover.
“Yeah, he gave it to me to read. I figured I should give it a chance. It's not bad so far.”
“He keeps trying to convince me to read that series.” Cullen shook his head, “I don't have the time and even if I did I don't think I would spend it reading his books.”
“I think you should give them a chance. He's a talented writer.”
“So he says.”
Laina smiled at Cullen's sassy expression and shook her head. She bent the corner of the page to hold her place and set the book off to the side as she moved her bowl in front of her. After one spoonful she frowned and stirred her spoon in her soup.
“What's that face for?” Cullen was looking at her with a brow raised.
“It's cold.” She said with a dissatisfied look on her face as she frowned down at her soup.
“If you're face hadn't been buried in that book it wouldn't be.” His remark was met with a scowl from across the table. He sighed, “Here,” he pushed his steaming soup toward her with one hand while pulling her soup across the table toward him with the other.
Laina's hands shot out and grabbed her bowl of soup. She gave him a puzzled look as she held it in place. Her hands were resting over his and she had to mentally push past that to focus, “Wait,”
He raised his eyebrows and looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to continue but when she didn't say anything he gently tugged the soup out of her hands and pulled it in front of himself. He reached across the table and switched their spoons before beginning to eat again. Laina just sat and stared at him, while his gesture was small and insignificant she couldn't help the fact that it warmed her heart.
He glanced up when he noticed she was staring at him. “You better eat before that one gets cold as well.”
Laina's eyes drifted to the soup in front of her before going back to him. He had already started eating again and couldn't see the small smile that spread across her face as she began to eat.
Once she finished lunch she went back to work in the Ambassador's office. Everyone was on edge as the Herald and mages had headed toward the Temple right after lunch to close the breach. It was hard for Laina to focus when she knew what Evelyn was trying to do. If she succeeded it would be a huge step for the Inquisition but if she failed they would be back to square one.
She had paperwork in front of her that needed to be done but she couldn't focus. She kept getting lost in her thoughts and was leaving blotches of ink all over the parchment where she stopped writing to think. She rested her face in her hand and her writing trailed off again as she stared blankly down at the piece of paper in front of her.
Her head jerked up at her name to find the Ambassador looking at her.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” she shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Did you need something Ambassador?”
“Why don't you take the rest of the day off. I know it's hard to focus with everything that's going on.”
“Yes, just clean up your desk before you leave.”
The Ambassador left Laina alone in the room after that as she left to head toward the war room. Laina sighed in relief and stacked all of her paperwork into neat piles before leaving the office. She stopped by the tavern for an early dinner and then went to her cabin.
She lit the fire in her room and laid down on her bed to read. She had left off on a good part of Varric’s book at lunch and wanted to finish the chapter before she went to bed. She propped her pillows up behind her back and snuggled down as she skimmed the page to find where she had left off.
She woke up sometime later to the sounds of screaming outside of her cabin. She yawned and blinked her eyes as she sat up. Her room was dark now, only lit by the light of the moons streaming in through the window and the glowing embers in her fireplace. Her book was next to her on the bed and she was on top of her covers so she must have fallen asleep while reading. She rubbed her eyes and looked around in confusion as she heard more screams.
She jumped out of bed and rushed to the window to see what was going on. Outside everything was on fire and people were running around in every direction. Buildings were destroyed and she could see bodies on the ground. She felt fear welling up inside of her as she grabbed her coat and rushed to the door.
When she pulled it open she was hit with the smell of smoke and death. She flinched away from the heat of the air and blinked through the tears as smoke burned her eyes. She took a couple of steps outside of her cabin before gasping in fear.
In front of her was a disgusting sickly looking man. His murderous eyes turned to her as he noticed her and a wicked smile spread across his face. All of the color drained from Laina's face as she backed away from him. She was sick to her stomach with fear and could feel herself shaking.
Her back hit the wall of her cabin and she squeezed her eyes shut in terror as she waited for the inevitable. When she heard a pained gasp in front of her she cracked an eye open to see what had happened. The evil man was impaled on a sword that was sticking through his chest and blood was trickling out of his mouth. The sword was wrenched from his body and he slumped to the ground, dead.
Laina watched his body fall and then looked in front of her. Cullen stepped over the man's body and rested his free hand on her shoulder. He looked into her eyes with concern.
“Laina, are you alright? Did he hurt you?” She quickly shook her head no and his hand came up to briefly cup her face before he looked around them. “Come on,” he seized her by the arm and gently pulled her along with him as he made his way toward the Chantry.
In the Chantry, she was grouped in along with the rest of the townspeople who were taking shelter there. From what she could gather the Herald had succeeded in closing the breach and everyone in Haven had been celebrating when they were attacked by an unknown force. Apparently, a dragon that they thought might be an archdemon was circling over the village. They had nowhere to go and no way to fight back. They were trapped and just waiting for the inevitable.
Laina backed into the stone wall behind her and slid down to sit on the floor. She was having a hard time wrapping her head around the fact that she was going to die soon. She never imagined she would die so young, or in a world that wasn't her own to a dragon and it's army. She wondered what kind of grizzly fate awaited her in the near future.
“Why the long face?” Cullen slid down the wall next to her. Based on his tone Laina could tell he was trying to make her feel better by keeping it light despite their circumstances.
“Oh I'm just thinking of all the ways I could die soon.” She responded, mimicking his tone.
“Well that's not a very pleasant thought.” The look Laina shot him told him all he needed to know about how she was feeling. He let out a heavy breath, “Laina,” suddenly he sounded a lot more serious. She glanced over to find him looking at her. “I'm not going to let anything happen to you. No one else is going to die on my watch. We have a plan and we're going to get out of here.”
Laina glanced around, everyone was moving around her with purpose. They were forming groups and the soldiers were handing out extra blankets and clothes. Apparently, they did have a plan.
A large hand shot into view and Laina steeled her nerves as she took it and Cullen pulled her to her feet. He gave her a reassuring smile before walking away to head up the group.
When they left the Chantry Laina wasn't expecting a blizzard. The weather had turned nasty in the time they had been in the Chantry and now it was storming out. She huddled towards the back of the group that the Ambassador was in and hunkered behind the bodies in front of her against the wind. They had been walking for a little while before she realized that someone was missing. She took larger steps and maneuvered through the bodies in front of her until she was walking next to Cullen who was at the head of the group.
“Where's Evelyn?” She yelled into the loud wind that was whipping past them.
He glanced down at her as he held his arm up in front of himself to block the wind. “Oh, Laina, how are you holding up?” He asked, ignoring her question.
“Oh I'm great, this is my favorite type of weather.” She called back, “I love not being able to feel my feet.”
He shot her a sympathetic look, “I would give you some of my heat if I could.”
Laina laughed, “Cullen, you're too nice, someone is going to take advantage of you someday.” He gave her a curious look but she ignored it, “Where is Evelyn?” She asked again. He didn't answer her, he wouldn't even look at her. “Cullen,” she insisted.
“She stayed behind.”
“What?” Laina's stomach dropped, “What do you mean she stayed behind? Haven was overrun, it couldn't be saved.”
“I know, but we needed a distraction so we could escape.”
“So we just abandoned her?” She couldn't believe what she was hearing. “We have to go back, we have to help her.”
Laina stopped walking and Cullen walked past her a couple of steps before noticing she had stopped. He stopped as well which caused the whole procession to halt. He turned and took a couple of steps until he was in front of her.
“Laina, we can't go back. It's too late, this was the plan we decided on and we have to stick with it, we can't help her now.”
“Well, we can't just abandon her! She's going to die!” The realization was hitting her hard, her friend was back in Haven risking her life to give them a chance to escape.
Cullen glanced beside them to everyone that was watching. The crowd had started to murmur when Laina raised her voice. He grabbed her by the arm and dragged her behind him as he started to walk again.
“Cullen! Let go of me!” Laina wrenched her arm free of his hold. “I'm going back for her.”
She turned to walk back toward the village when she was spun around by a hand on her arm. “What are you going to do? You can't fight Laina, so how are you going to help her?”
She glared back at him defiantly until she lost heart and her countenance fell. Her lip started to quiver as tears formed in her eyes. She knew there was nothing she could do to help but she didn't want to accept that. She didn't want to accept the fact that her best friend in this world was going to die and there was nothing she could do about it.
His eyes softened and his hold on her arm turned to a comforting caress as he rubbed his thumb back and forth over her clothing. “I'm sorry Laina, I know she is your friend, she's my friend too, but there's nothing we can do now.” He brought his hand up and wiped away a tear that was threatening to freeze on her cheek. “Come on,” he said as he turned forward again and started walking. He kept his hand on the small of her back as he gently pushed her along beside him.
Eventually, she fell back behind him because she couldn't keep up with his longer legs. She walked behind his large form, which was actually easier than walking beside him since he broke the wind for her. It took him a while to notice she wasn't walking next to him but when he did he glanced around until he found her.
“There you are.” He said as he started to slow down so he could walk beside her again.
“No,” she put both of her hands against his back and pushed him forward. He turned his head and shot her a confused look. “Don't move, you block the wind.”
He chuckled, “Oh, I'm sorry, let me get back to my job as a windbreaker.”
“Apparently your broad shoulders are useful and aren't just for show.” He turned his head to say something but all that came out was a soft grunt as she shoved him forward again.
Eventually, they found a place to camp and began setting up tents and making fires. Laina helped in any way she could but once everything was set up she didn't feel right going to bed. The Ambassador was still up and working so Laina figured she should be as well. Josephine tried to persuade her from staying up but she wasn't dissuaded. They needed a new plan now and if she could help come up with one she would. She didn't have any real pull in the Inquisition but that didn't mean she couldn't help brainstorm ideas, even if they were dumb ones. At least she would feel like she was doing something. She was pretty sure even if she wanted to go to sleep she wouldn't be able to with everything that had happened.
They tried to get a discussion going but everyone seemed down in spirits and for good reason. Laina didn't know what they were going to do without Evelyn. She was the key to sealing the rifts and therefore solving a lot of the problems Thedas had at the moment. Without Evelyn all the Inquisition could really do was damage control, and no one seemed satisfied with that. At the moment all hope seemed lost until a call went up behind her.
She turned around to find a soldier pointing to the top of the snowy ridge they had come from. On her knees at the top sat Evelyn, looking exhausted, but alive.
“It's her!” Cullen shouted as he ran towards her.
“Thank the Maker!” Cassandra said as she went running after him.
Laina watched Cullen carry Evelyn down in his arms. They put her on a cot and Mother Giselle watched over her as she warmed up and rested. The news quickly spread through the camp along with a renewed feeling of hope. If Evelyn was back than the Inquisition could continue as planned. Laina was just happy to have her friend back and visited her sleeping form more than once throughout the night.
Now that the Herald was back the discussion between her advisors took on new life as they began to argue amongst themselves. Laina sat on a pile of hay near the fire and listened with mild interest as she doodled on the parchment in front of her. She was supposed to be taking notes but they hadn't come up with anything noteworthy enough to write down.
Right now it seemed to be Cullen pitted against the Ambassador and Sister while Cassandra grumbled about the arguing. Laina rested her cheek on her hand and stared into the fire. She was tired of listening to the arguing as well. There was a lull in the fighting as they realized they were getting nowhere and suddenly a quiet voice broke the silence. Someone was singing. Laina lifted her head and looked toward the voice to see Mother Giselle singing as she followed Evelyn away from her tent.
It was surreal to watch as everyone soon joined in. Laina watched in wonder as one by one the people joined in and bowed to Evelyn as she stood in the middle of the camp looking mystified. She slowly made her way over to stand next to Cullen.
“What was that about? What is this High School Musical?” She asked once the singing had stopped and everyone had returned to their duties. He glanced down at her with his eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “Never mind, don't answer that.” She took a deep breath as she looked out over the camp.
“You should get some sleep Laina, I'm sure we'll be moving in the morning.”
“I'll sleep when I'm dead.” She joked but he winced at her word choice.
“Don't say that.”
“What? The reality of how easy it would be to die here has become very apparent to me.”
“Still, I don't like to think about that. Especially with the close call we just had.”
“Please, you'll be fine, the pretty boy never dies.”
He raised an eyebrow at her remark but seemed to let the “pretty boy” comment slide, “It's not me I'm worried about.” He muttered as he walked away. “Get some sleep.” He called over his shoulder, it was more of an order than a suggestion so Laina figured it was best to listen to him.
When Cullen had said they would be moving in the morning Laina didn't expect it to be a three day trip on foot. The Herald and Solas had come up with a plan and Evelyn was leading them to the Inquisition’s new headquarters. It was a long and boring trip and by the time they reached Skyhold Laina was happy it was over.
Laina was excited for Evelyn when her friend was given the title of Inquisitor and officially put in charge of the Inquisition, she was her biggest supporter. However, after she was deemed Inquisitor in front of most of the Inquisition the work really began. Skyhold was large and well suited to the Inquisition’s needs but it was extremely run down. They needed to document everything that needed to be done to repair the old structure and make it a functioning and livable fortress. Most of the duty fell to Laina as the new Inquisitor and her advisors, including the Ambassador, were busy with planning their next move.
Laina was tasked with wandering around Skyhold and examining every nook and cranny for anything that needed immediate attention. She not only had to find all of the problems but she was also in charge of getting them fixed. She had to find the right people either in the Inquisition or outside of it for each job. This kept her extremely busy in the weeks following their move to Skyhold, it seemed like her work was never done. Every time she thought she had found all of the problems new ones would arise or be brought to her attention. By the second week, she dreaded seeing anyone waiting for her in the Ambassador's office as it usually meant there was another problem for her to fix.
Currently, she was doing another walkthrough of Skyhold. The work had already begun to repair its infrastructure and she was not only checking up on that but also looking for any new problems that might arise from the work. She walked down the stairs and past Cullen at his makeshift desk. He was waiting for her workers to clean up one of the towers before he moved into his new office. She glanced up from her clipboard to look at him, he was busy pointing to something on his desk and discussing it with Captain Rylen. She would have greeted him or stopped to make small talk as she hadn't seen much of him since their move but she didn't want to interrupt his conversation.
So, she continued on past him and towards the scaffolding that was up under the overhead bridge. She stopped next to it and tilted her head back to look up at the workers above her. She watched them for a moment before looking back down at her clipboard. She tucked the hair that fell into her face behind her ear before making some annotations on the drawing on the paper in front of her. She was crossing something out when suddenly she was pulled backward by an arm around her midsection.
Laina gasped as she was pulled back just in time as a large piece of stone fell right where she had been standing. She looked down in shock at the stone in front of her.
“Sorry!” She glanced up as one of the workers called down to them.
“Are you alright?” She looked next to her to find Cullen looking at her in concern with his arm still around her torso.
“I’m fine, thank you.” She said as her heart started to slow down. She was a little surprised to see it was Cullen who had saved her. She hadn't even thought he had noticed her walk down the stairs. She looked at the ground in front of her, “Oh no,” her clipboard was laying in a puddle at her feet.
Cullen bent down and picked it up for her, he brushed it off and shook it through the air to help dry it a bit. He handed it to her with a frown, “Sorry.”
“It’s not your fault.” She let out a heavy breath as she flipped through her soggy notes. “These are ruined, now I have to start over.”
“Is there any way I could help?” he asked sincerely.
She smiled at him, “You're very kind to offer but there's nothing you can do, and I wouldn't want to burden you any further.”
“You could never be a burden, Laina.” He said as he switched places with her so he was closer to the danger and walked her under the bridge. “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” He added with a smile as he left her standing near the barn before he turned to walk back to his desk.
Laina stood there for a moment and watched him go before frowning down at her ruined notes. It would take her hours to recover what she had lost. She sighed and turned to head into the kitchen to grab a snack before she started to work but stopped when she saw Evelyn coming down the battlement stairs. She waited for her at the bottom and greeted her with a smile as she stepped off the last step. Evelyn gave her a weak smile back and tried to walk past her but when Laina immediately sensed something was wrong she intercepted her.
“Evelyn, what's wrong?” she asked as she peered at her usually happy friend’s gloomy face.
“It's nothing.” She replied in an unconvincing manner as she hung her head.
“Evelyn, I'm your friend. You can tell me anything.”
Her friend finally looked at her before sighing, “It's Blackwall.”
“Uh oh what did he do? If he hurt you he'll have to deal with me.” She said protectively.
Evelyn cracked a small smile and shook her head before the gloomy expression returned to her face, “No, he just… I don't know he just doesn't seem to want me.”
“He doesn't want you? I don't believe that I've seen the way he looks at you. Why doesn't he want you all of a sudden?” She placed her hand on the small of Evelyn's back as they talked and led her toward the kitchen. She wanted to help her friend but she was also very hungry so she figured she would kill two birds with one stone.
“He said something about positions and responsibility and how I can't treat him any differently than I treat the other men. I get where he's coming from but I don't think it's a big deal. I care about all of the people under me, my feelings toward him are just a bit different.”
“He rejected you based on that alone?” Evelyn nodded as she sat on the stool next to Laina in the kitchen. Laina had made friends with some of the kitchen staff and it helped that she had the Inquisitor with her as they were quickly welcomed and made a snack. “That's a weak excuse. If I wasn't certain he was head over heels for you I would suggest he didn't like you as much as you like him but we both know that's not true. So it sounds to me like something else might be going on with him.” Laina managed to say around her mouthful. “Why do you like him anyway? I mean you could probably have anyone here, so why him?”
“Well I couldn't have Cullen, we both know who he's interested in, or at least who's interested in him.” Her friend shot her a knowing look.
“I have no idea what you're talking about.” Laina feigned ignorance, poorly.
“Right, as usual. Talk about longing looks, goodness, you talk about Blackwall and me, what about you and Cullen? I've seen the way you look at each other.”
“We look at each other like any friends would,” Laina responded defensively.
“If I looked at all my friends that way I bet there would be some pretty nasty names for me floating around by now because I would be bedding them all.”
Laina gasped at her friend's suggestion and hit her on the arm, “There is nothing going on between Cullen and I now would you drop it? I'm pretty sure we were talking about you anyway.”
Evelyn giggled at the flustered look on her friend's face and held her hands up in surrender, “Fine, fine I'll drop it, for now.” She got a distant warm look in her eyes as she began to answer Laina’s previous question. “Well to start with he is handsome.”
“I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Laina muttered. It was Evelyn's turn to slap her friend now, “Ow! Alright, I guess he's charming in a rustic sort of way.”
“He's kind and brave and chivalrous, he's just a good man and while he admires and respects me he still treats me like I'm a normal person, it's refreshing.” Evelyn looked away from her and smiled, seemingly lost in her own thoughts.
“Well, I can see why you like him so much. You two will work through this, I'm sure of it, and if he doesn't come around I'll just beat some sense into him.” Evelyn laughed as Laina stood and excused herself, she really had to work on recovering her notes.
When she walked into the Ambassador’s office she found a very concerned looking Josephine who was rifling through some papers on her desk. Laina gave her a once over as she entered and closed the door behind her. The Ambassador didn't look as put together as usual and she looked like she hadn't been sleeping well. Laina hadn't seen much of her lately because they were so busy but she had noticed this was becoming a trend with the Ambassador, which was out of character. She put her clipboard down in front of the fire to dry and approached the Ambassador’s desk.
“Are you looking for something?” She asked.
Josephine's head snapped up in surprise, “Oh, Laina, yes.” She tucked some of the hair that had fallen out of her classic updo behind her ear. “There is a letter I want to show the Inquisitor but I can't find it.”
“Can I help you look for it?”
“Oh no that's alright, I know it's here somewhere.” The Ambassador returned her gaze to the mess of papers on her desk as she resumed looking through them.
“Is something wrong Ambassador? You haven't been yourself lately.” Laina peered at her in concern.
“There's just a little problem with my family and a contract out for my life.” She answered nonchalantly.
Laina's mouth fell open, “Someone wants you dead? Are you alright? Are you in danger?” She blurted out quickly while staring at the Ambassador in surprise.
Josephine dropped the papers in her hand and fell back into the chair behind her, she looked exhausted. “I don't know, I don't want this to affect the Inquisition.”
“I think your life is more important at the moment,” Laina said as she came around the side of the desk. “Have you told anyone else yet?”
“Yes, the Inquisitor is trying to help but I need the letter to direct her toward our next lead.”
“Let me help you find it.” Laina reached for the papers on her desk but the Ambassador stopped her.
“No, it's alright, I'll just find it tomorrow.”
Laina eyed the Ambassador for a moment before giving up and going to arrange her notes in front of the fire. Maybe she could help the Ambassador find her letter tomorrow.
I know I only write shorter chapters about snippets of the characters life or just one day in their life but I can't seem to write anything longer. This just seems to be the writing style that I've settled into. Maybe its something that I should work on for the future.
Laina stood by the Ambassador’s desk, brushing at a stain on her shirt. She had been standing listening to the Inquisitor and all of her advisors talk about their next move for a few minutes and she was getting bored. They were supposed to have moved into the war room but the discussion had gotten heated and so far they hadn't made any move to go in that direction.
“We should attack Adamant first. Now that we know about the corruption among the Grey Wardens we need to act.” Laina's ears perked up when Cullen mentioned attacking something. She looked up from her shirt and listened to their conversation.
“And ignore the threat to the Empress?! If she is assassinated Orlais will fall into chaos.” Josephine argued. Laina was glad to see she was acting more like herself lately now that she and Evelyn had come up with a plan to remove the contract on her life.
“The peace talks aren't for weeks. We can attack Adamant and then attend the ball.” Cullen retorted.
Laina looked down at the notes on her clipboard. He had a point, the ball wasn't for weeks, but she didn't like the idea of attacking a fortress. She cleared her throat and then looked around for a drink. Her mouth was dry and the last time she could remember having anything to drink was at breakfast. On the Ambassador’s desk sat a cup with some wine in it, she had watched the Ambassador pour it earlier and knew she hadn't taken a sip yet. She figured she wouldn't mind if she drank it and picked it up off the desk. She brought it to her lips and took a couple of sips before placing it back on the desk and flipping through her notes.
Everyone was still arguing and she wondered when they would move into the war room so she could sit and work in peace. She looked down at her feet why am I standing? She thought as she went to turn around to head to her desk. She moved quickly and as she spun she suddenly felt dizzy. She stopped moving and stood still for a moment hoping it would pass. She coughed a couple of times and started breathing faster as the world continued to spin. Her mouth was very wet and she could feel drool trickling out between her open lips as she gasped in quick breaths. The world was still spinning and she stumbled into the desk next to her and grabbed onto the edge as she tried to steady herself. In the process, she knocked some things off of the edge and the noise echoed around the room.
“Laina?” She heard Cullen call to her, “Are you alright?”
Her heart was pounding as she turned to look at him, almost falling over from the motion. His eyes immediately went wide and he rushed to her side. His hands went to her shoulders and then her face as he peered at her in concern.
“What happened?” He asked frantically. Laina had started to put the pieces together and feebly pointed to the cup still sitting on the desk where she had left it. He followed her finger and snatched it off the desk. He brought it to his nose and inhaled deeply. “Almonds… cyanide!”
He immediately grabbed her by the arm and dragged her quickly along behind him. His strong grip was the only thing keeping her upright as he hauled her out of the room and to the opening in the wall that her workers hadn't gotten around to closing yet. He thrust her head out of the opening and held onto her midsection as he shoved two fingers down her throat.
Laina vomited violently and emptied the contents of her stomach out the opening and down Skyhold’s wall. Cullen held her with one arm to keep her from falling out the hole and with his other hand, he held her hair out of the way. She was shaking as she finally stopped throwing up and Cullen pulled her back into his arms.
He stroked her hair soothingly, “Shh it's alright, you're alright.” One of his hands went down to rub slowly over her back as she continued to suck in desperate breaths. “It'll pass, breathe through it.” He held her until her breathing returned to normal and she stopped shaking. He pulled away from her and cupped her face as he gazed into her eyes. “Are you alright?” She nodded weakly. “Come on,” he put his hand on her back and guided her back to the office. By the time they entered it was already flooded with guards and Leliana’s people.
The Ambassador came running up to them with tears in her eyes. “Laina, I'm so sorry! Are you alright?”
“She'll be fine, she's just a little traumatized,” Cullen answered for her. “Here, lie down.” He led her to the couch and coaxed her to lie down.
Laina obeyed as the Ambassador continued to apologize. “I'm so sorry, this is all my fault. That poison was meant for me.”
Cullen gently took her by the shoulders, “Josie, it's not your fault. Laina's fine, just a little shaken up. You couldn't have known.”
They continued to talk as soldiers and Leliana's people came and went, all collecting information and taking orders. Laina didn't pay much attention and just stared absentmindedly into the fire in front of her. Cullen never went far, he always stayed close to the couch where she was lying. Mostly, he stood by the end where her head was and brushed his hand repeatedly through her hair. She didn't know if it was to make him feel better or her. She didn't care either way, she wasn't going to complain. Eventually, she drifted off to sleep despite the noisy room.
She woke sometime later to being jostled around. She blinked her eyes open and was met with moonlight streaming down onto her face and stars above her. Someone was holding her in their arms and walking through Skyhold's courtyard. She was nestled against an armor-clad chest, which was cool from the night air. She didn't even have to look up to know who was carrying her.
“Cullen,” she whispered up at him into the silent night.
He glanced down at her, “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. I figured I should move you to your room.”
“You didn't have to.”
“Perhaps not,” he looked down at her thoughtfully, “but I wanted to.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way to her room where he laid her down on her bed. Laina crawled under the warm covers and rested her head on the pillow as she watched him walk toward the door. He didn't leave, however, and instead took up a seat on the other side of the room. She sat up and looked at him through the darkness. She could just make out his form in the chair which was illuminated by moonlight.
“Cullen? What are you doing?” She asked in confusion.
“What?” he questioned.
“Aren't you going to leave?”
“If you want me to, but I figured I would stay. After what happened today we can't be too careful.”
“But I thought the assassins were after the Ambassador, do you think they would come after me because I’m close to her?” Laina was growing concerned.
“It's a possibility like I said we can't be too careful and who knows if there could be any side effects from the poisoning.”
“Cullen, you're scaring me,” she whispered.
“Well, that's why I’m here. I promise I won't let anything happen to you,” he assured her.
“Shouldn't one of your men be doing this, I mean aren't you a little high up to be babysitting me.”
“Laina, you're a personal friend of mine and I only trust myself to keep you safe. You know what they say, if you want something done right you should do it yourself.” She could just make out the half smile he was giving her in the darkness.
Laina’s heart sped up, but not because she was scared, “Wow chivalry isn't dead.” she joked to lighten the mood.
“Are men where you come from not polite?”
“Not like they are here, I don't have good luck with men. Somehow all of the men I attract turn out to be jerks in the end.” she frowned.
“That's a shame, you deserve better than that.”
“Probably,” she shrugged, “Maybe I’ll find that in the future.”
“Do you want a family?” He asked as he shifted in his chair.
“I think so, I mean I’ve always wanted to get married someday. What about you?” She tucked her messy hair behind her ears and out of her face.
“I’ve always wanted to have a family eventually, with a wife and maybe three or four kids.”
“So you like kids?” This got him some points in her book.
“Yeah, I have two younger siblings whom I’ve always adored. I wasn't there for most of their childhood which I regret, but they instilled in me a love for children.”
“That's cute,” she smirked at him and could practically see his cheeks turn red in the darkness as he reached for the back of his neck.
“Well um-” he cleared his throat, “Anyway, you should get some sleep. You had quite an eventful day today and I bet you're pretty tired.”
“You're just going to sit there? Aren't you tired?”
“I can't sleep on duty.”
“What are you going to do tomorrow? It's not like you can take the day off.”
“I'll manage,” he said confidently.
He quickly cut her off, “Laina, go to sleep.” He said sternly.
She looked at him for a moment before finally giving up and lying down. She rolled onto her sides and let his presence comfort her as she drifted off to sleep.
Laina riffled through her chest and gathered some clothes into her arms. She grabbed her cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders as she padded barefoot out of her room in her nightgown. It was late but she couldn't sleep and was overdue for a bath. She usually bathed during the day in one of the private bathrooms but since it was late at night and no one was in the bathhouse she decided to bathe in the communal bath. It was already warm from the hot springs under Skyhold which meant she didn't have to go through the pain of heating up her own water.
She was stressed from all of the work she had been doing and from the fact that the army along with Cullen, Evelyn and half of Skyhold was fighting at Adamant Fortress. They had left about two weeks ago and no one had heard from them since. Laina was worried for her friends and for the fate of the Inquisition. Part of her had wanted to go along, she wanted to find some way to help. However, she also knew she would have been of no use she wasn't cut out for the battlefield. The Ambassador had assured her that they could do more good at Skyhold than they could at Adamant.
She opened the bathhouse door and was met with a face full of warm air and steam. She closed the door behind her on the cold night air and walked to the far corner of the room. There was a bench and shelves on the side wall and she put her things in the corner. She slowly stripped out of her clothes and placed them on the bench in front of her. She pulled her towel off of the bench and folded it over her arm. The movement caused the soap that she had brought with her to fall onto the floor at her feet. She cursed under her breath and threw the towel back on the bench as she bent over to pick up her soap. It slipped from her grasp twice before she finally got a firm grip on it and stood up. However, she miscalculated where the shelf above her was and slammed the back of her head into it.
“Owww!” She dropped the soap again as she stood up to rub the back of her head.
“Are you alright?”
Laina shrieked in shock as she whipped around at the sudden voice behind her. Her hands immediately dropped from her head to cover her naked body. She felt a blush spread across her entire body as she almost died of embarrassment. Cullen stood behind her near the door with a towel wrapped around his waist. His clothes were in a pile at his feet and he was holding a bar of soap in his hand.
“Cullen? You-you're back.” She stuttered still hunched over as she tried to hide her body from his view.
He smiled at her, he looked completely relaxed. “I'm back.”
“When did you get back? How did it go?” She asked, still covering herself uncomfortably. She didn't know why she thought it was a good idea to hold a conversation when she was completely naked and embarrassed.
He was watching her with amusement, the corner of his mouth pulled up permanently in a small half smile. “I came back ahead of the army. We were ultimately successful and before you ask, the Inquisitor is fine.”
“Oh good,” Laina breathed a small sigh of relief.
They stood in awkward silence for a moment. Laina was trying to look anywhere but Cullen, however, he wasn't taking the same approach. He was staring directly at her. Laina could feel his eyes on her body and it made the room that much hotter. She knew her face had to be bright red at this point. When her eyes finally landed on him she caught his gaze traveling over her body. They came back up to meet her gaze, and she could see the amusement dancing behind them.
“Could you turned around or just not look at me.” She said as she shifted uncomfortably, still trying to use her hands as poor excuses for a bra and underwear.
“Oh,” he looked surprised, “of course.” Like the gentleman he was, he immediately turned his head to the side and averted his gaze. He put his hand up to hide his eyes, Laina relaxed slightly until she saw him peek through his fingers.
“Cullen!” She exclaimed.
A deep chuckle made his shoulders shake, “Sorry, would you like me to leave? You look very uncomfortable.”
She shifted on her feet, “No, you shouldn't have to leave and give up your bath because of me.”
“If you're not comfortable bathing in front of others why are you in the communal bath. In the middle of the night nonetheless?” He asked keeping his hand up between them.
“I'm here in the middle of the night because I don't like bathing in front of other people. I usually bathe in the private baths but I figured no one else would be here and it's easier since I don't have to heat up my own water.”
“Makes sense, are you sure you don't want me to leave?”
“No, no it's fine.”
“I just don't want this to be a problem, for you or me.”
“How would this be a problem for you?” She asked as she finally lowered her hands and bent to pick up the soap she had dropped.
“Well, for one you seem to be very uncomfortable with this situation.”
“So? That's my problem, not yours.”
“But I'm the one making you feel uncomfortable, and I don't want to do that. You're a close friend of mine. Also, I've always found you… I mean I've always thought you were…” the hand covering his eyes moved to rub the back of his neck as he turned his head even more away from her.
“What?” This peaked Laina’s interest.
“I've always thought you were very-” he cleared his throat and then continued in a quiet voice. “Very pretty.”
Laina couldn't help the smile that spread across her face. “Oh really,”
“Don't look at me like that.” He grumbled, Laina could see the tips of his ears turning pink. She was glad she wasn't the only one blushing now.
“Like what? How do you know how I'm looking at you? You can't even see me.” It was her turn to laugh.
“I know you well enough by now.” They stood in silence for a moment before he cleared his throat again. “Are we going to bathe or just stand here awkwardly all night?”
Laina laughed, “Alright, hold on.”
She took her towel and placed it on the side of the bath next to her as she climbed down onto the bench. She sat as far away from Cullen as possible and sank down into the water enough to hide her body. When she was set she let him know he could turn around. He turned around and raised an eyebrow at her positioning, but she just shrugged. When he reached for his towel Laina quickly averted her gaze as she felt the heat return to her cheeks. She waited until he was down into the water before she turned her head back to face him. She bit her lip and looked around the room as Cullen began to wash himself.
“You never answered my question.” He said suddenly which made Laina's eyes fall on him. He was washing his shoulder and glanced up at her. “You hit your head after I walked in. I asked if you were alright?” He elaborated once he saw she was confused.
“Oh, I'm fine.” She shook her head and dismissed his concern as she continued to watch him dump handfuls of water over his shoulders to wash away the soap.
“Aren't you going to wash? That is what you came here to do, right?” Laina was too busy watching him rub the soap over his golden chest to hear his question. “Laina,” her eyes snapped back up as he said her name. The amusement had returned to his gaze, “My eyes are up here.”
Laina blushed profusely as she looked away and quickly grabbed the soap next to her. She dunked her head under the water to wet her hair and then massaged the soap through her long black locks. She kept her eyes closed as soap and water ran down her face. Once she was done she dipped under the water again before coming back up to the surface and wiping the water from her eyes. She blinked through the water still running into her eyes to find Cullen looking at her chest. She looked down to see that she had come far enough out of the water to expose most of her breasts. She quickly sank back down and Cullen's eyes snapped up to meet hers.
“Sorry,” he said guiltily as his hand rubbed the back of his neck. Despite being embarrassed Laina smirked. At least he seemed to find her as attractive as she found him.
Once they both finished bathing they exited the bath and dressed while facing away from each other. Laina ran her fingers through her wet tresses and winced as her hand brushed the bump left on her head from hitting it into the shelf. She gathered her things in her arms and walked toward the door. Cullen stuck his arm out as she passed and stopped her.
“Hold on,” he maneuvered himself behind her.
She felt his hand brush gently over her head and she flinched away when his fingers grazed the sore bump beneath her hair. He made a dissatisfied noise and brushed her hair over her shoulders. His gentle fingers prodded her head until he found the lump again. He moved her hair out of the way and examined her head in the dim torchlight.
“You really did a number on your poor head, Laina.” He said as he moved her damp hair back into place.
“What can I say, I'm talented.” She joked.
He huffed out a laugh, “In more ways than one apparently.” He remarked as he stepped around to the front of her. He cupped her face in his hands and stared into her eyes intently, examining them. “Do you have any dizziness, nausea or confusion?”
“You want to know if I have a concussion? No, I'm a big girl Cullen I know when I just have a bonk on the head.”
“Well, you can never be too careful. Besides, everyone needs someone to look out for them.” He said as he finally released her and straightened.
“And you've just appointed yourself to look after me?”
“I have since the day we decided you were innocent in Haven.” Laina opened her mouth to speak but he effectively ended their conversation as he stepped to the door and opened it. “Ladies first,”
“I'm not a lady Cullen.” She said as she moved through the door.
“One can dream.” He closed the door on their laughter as they left the bathhouse and went their separate ways.
This was too fun to write. I don't know about you but I wouldn't mind bathing with Cullen ;)
Laina grabbed a roll off the counter as she passed through the kitchen on her way to the war room. One of the helpers caught her and raised an eyebrow at her but she just shrugged it off and took a bite of the roll. She was meeting with Evelyn and the other advisors to discuss the peace talks at the winter palace. They still weren't for a while but they wanted to start preparing as soon as possible and the Ambassador wanted her there so she could be informed and maybe learn a thing or two. She would be attending the ball with the Ambassador and they thought she should be included in the meetings.
“Sooo,” Laina looked beside her to find that Evelyn had caught up to her.
“Hi Evelyn,” she managed around her mouthful of roll.
“Hi,” her friend replied quickly before staring at her expectantly with a smile plastered across her face.
“What?” She covered her mouth as she spoke to hide her chewing.
“Oh nothing, it's just that a little birdie told me that the Commander and Ambassador’s assistant were in the bathhouse together pretty late the other night.”
“Are you spying on me?!” Laina couldn't believe her friend.
“So you admit it!”
“No, that was not an admission, that was a question. Do you have people spying on me?”
“No, I'm not obsessed, just curious.” She smirked.
“Curiosity killed the cat.” Laina muttered as she ended their conversation by walking ahead of her friend and into the war room.
“Late,” she glanced up as Cullen said this and met his smiling eyes.
Laina straightened and put on a dignified posture as she held her chin up. “A lady is always fashionably late.” She said in an Orlesian accent.
Cullen snorted, “Since when are you a lady? Last I checked you said you weren't.”
“When it suits me.” She managed through her own laugh.
She took up her place next to the Ambassador but stood on the side of her closest to Cullen, so she was between them. When Evelyn entered the room she noted Laina's position and gave her a smug smile to which Laina lowered her eyes in guilt. She had purposefully stood next to Cullen, she couldn't deny that. The meeting officially started after Evelyn arrived and the discussion began. She paid attention as best she could and took notes about anything important but most of the discussion had nothing to do with her or her role at the ball. Halfway through the meeting, Cullen nudged her in the ribs.
“Is that a roll?” He whispered as he pointed to her pocket.
She glanced down to see that the second roll she had taken from the kitchen was sticking out of the top of her cloak pocket. “Maybe,” she whispered back.
“Did you steal it from the kitchen?”
“Maybe,” she said again as she looked away with a guilty expression.
“Can I have some of it? I didn't eat breakfast and I'm starving.”
She glanced at him and he looked back at her with pleading eyes. “Fine,” she said as she removed the roll from her pocket and placed the entire thing in his outstretched hand.
“I don't need the whole thing, just a bite.”
“Knowing you, a bite will be the whole thing.” He raised his eyebrows at her remark, “Just take it, I already ate one.”
“I didn't know you were such a thief.” He whispered as he broke off a piece of the roll and popped it into his mouth.
“I dabble.” She replied quietly with a smirk.
She glanced across the table to find Evelyn staring at the two of them. Laina sighed at the smile that was once again on her friend’s face. She knew she was just digging her hole deeper.
After the meeting, she went to visit Solas in his rotunda. He was sitting at his desk lounging back in his chair as he read a book. She spun in a circle after she entered to admire the paintings that he had decorating the walls. Solas had painted the walls with depictions of the Inquisition's journey so far. She made it almost all the way to his desk before he finally looked up at her.
“Hello Laina, can I help you?” He asked as he laid the book down on the desk in front of him.
“Hi Solas, I was just wondering if you've found anything out about how I could get home?”
A sad expression came across his face, “I'm sorry, no. I have no leads on where we could find an eluvian and even if we did I wouldn't know how to get you back to your world. Eluvians are hard to activate and even harder to navigate.”
Laina’s countenance fell, “So… I’m not going home?” She asked in a quiet voice.
“Not yet, if ever.” He replied matter of factly.
“Oh… ok, thanks Solas.” Laina's shoulders slumped as she trudged downtrodden out of the room.
It was evening and she was done with her work so she walked down to the tavern. It was as busy as it usually was at night and Maryden’s singing could barely be heard above the loud chatter of the soldiers and chargers, who were loudly telling one of their stories in the far corner. The Iron Bull’s deep rumbling laugh could be heard occasionally echoing through the tavern walls. The rhythmic thumping of arrows hitting wood could be heard coming from up the stairs where Sera was shooting arrows into her door. It smelled of ale and sweat with a faint hint of smoke that was rolling off the fire blazing in the middle of the room.
She took a seat at the bar and ordered an ale. She wasn't a big drinker especially of the ale they served in Thedas but she needed something to drown in after the bad news she had just gotten. After the third ale, she was more than tipsy. She placed as much money as she thought would cover the bill on the counter and got up off her stool. She stumbled out of the tavern and up the stairs onto the battlements. She grabbed onto the wall to steady herself as she looked out over Skyhold.
The alcohol was not helping her sour mood. A bad idea flashed through her mind and she pushed herself up onto the wall. She balanced unsteadily on the rock surface beneath her feet and began to walk along the wall. She focused her eyes on her feet as she wobbled on top of the uneven rocks.
“Laina?” She stopped and looked up from her feet with glassy eyes. Cullen was standing next to the wall looking more than a little concerned. “What are you doing up there?”
“I'm an acrobat!” She stuck her arms out and shakily put one foot in front of the other as she walked along.
“You're drunk, I can smell the alcohol from here. Get down from there, immediately.” He demanded.
She snorted, “Yer not my dad. You can't tell me what to do.”
“Are you kidding me right now, Laina? You're going to hurt yourself, now get down.”
“No,” she said defiantly as she changed direction. “If you want me to get down s-so bad then come’n get me.” She shot him a flirty smile as she wiggled her hips.
He didn't look amused, “I'm not playing this game with you Laina, get down.”
“Make me,” she retorted playfully.
He gave her a hard look as he nervously watched her continue to walk along the wall. She went to turn around again when she suddenly lost her balance. She flailed her arms like a fledgling trying to fly as she fell backward. Cullen was faster than gravity as his arm shot out and yanked her towards him. He caught her in his arms and she fell against his chest which was rising and falling with fast breaths. He hugged her tightly to him before finally pulling away.
“What the hell were you thinking?! He raised his voice slightly as he began to lecture her. “Since when was it a good idea to climb on top of a wall two stories above the ground and walk along it drunk! You could have hurt yourself, or worse!”
She blinked up at him, “Yer angry.”
“Yes! I'm pissed! What in the Maker's name were you thinking?!”
She shrugged and looked away like a reprimanded child, tears were forming in her eyes. “I just want to go home.”
His face softened, “What?”
She sniffled, “Solas s-said it's s’not possible for me to go home.”
Cullen sighed, “I'm sorry, Laina. Is that why you're drunk?” She nodded, “Listen, I’m only upset because I care about you. If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't care what you did. I just don't want anything to happen to you.”
“Ok,” she said in a sad voice as she sloppily wiped the tears from her face.
He steered her to sit on the wall she had just nearly fallen off of. He sat next to her and made sure to have his arm around her back so she couldn't fall backward in her unsteady state.
“Tell me about your world, your home.”
She wiped her nose on her sleeve and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “S’alot like this one. Lots of nature, very pretty. But there are a ton more people, and we have technology like cars, electricity, indoor plumbing.” She yawned, “S’nice.”
“It sounds it,” he offered her a smile. “And you miss it?”
“A little, I doubt it misses me tho.” She yawned again.
“I'm sure it does Laina, someone, somewhere misses you. I know if you left I would miss you.”
“Yeah,” he answered softly with a warm smile. “Come on, I think you need a good night's sleep.” He pushed his hand against her back and got her to stand before escorting her back to her room.
He helped her change out of her ale stained clothes and then tucked her into bed. As she drifted off to sleep she felt him place a soft kiss on her forehead before leaving and closing the door gently behind him with a click.
Laina hovered her quill over the paper as she skimmed her notes. She was reviewing the notes she had taken during the last war room meeting. She jotted down something extra in the margin before she picked up the next sheet of paper. Evelyn wanted to make some upgrades to Skyhold along with the renovations that were already underway. She had put Laina in charge of it since she was already managing the other renovations. She quickly read through the paper Evelyn had handed her earlier and signed off on it. She wanted to make some changes to the garden and Laina was sure she would be able to acquire the necessary materials and help they would need to make it happen in a relatively short time since she already had so many contacts in that area. She was writing a list of the things they would need both that the Inquisitor had mentioned and stuff that she had missed when she was interrupted.
She glanced up from her paperwork as her thoughts were interrupted by a voice at the door. Evelyn was standing in the doorway, “Hi Evelyn,” she smiled at first until she saw the solemn expression on her friend's face. “Is something wrong?”
“I think you should go see Cullen.”
“Cullen?” She normally would have expected this to be a set up since Evelyn was so keen on them getting together but her serious expression suggested otherwise. “Why?”
“Just go talk to him. He needs a friend right now.” And with that, she turned and left the room.
Laina sat at her desk for a moment before she rose to her feet. She was a little surprised and confused by how serious Evelyn was being, she hoped nothing bad had happened. If Cullen needed a friend then she was there for him. She grabbed her cloak off the rack and made her way to his office.
His door was closed securely so she knocked on it. She waited a moment but when he didn't answer she knocked again. With still no answer she decided to peek inside. She silently cracked the door open and looked into the room. Cullen was seated at his desk with his face in his hands.
“Cullen?” When she softly called out his name his head snapped up in surprise.
“Laina?” He squinted at her before shaking his head. “You should leave, you shouldn't be here.”
“Why not?” She could sense something was wrong and came fully into the room before closing the door behind her.
“Because I don't want you here.” He continued to shake his head as he dropped it toward his chest.
“You don't want me here?” She couldn't help the hint of pain that filled her voice.
“You shouldn't have to see me like this. I-I don't want you to see me like this.”
“Why not?” She was inching across the room towards him as they spoke.
“I don't want you to think any less of me.” He admitted in a pained voice.
“Cullen,” she had finally reached his desk and gently touched his hand. He jerked it back in shock and Laina eyed him, “What's going on?” He shook his head, “Evelyn told me to come see you, she said you needed a friend.”
“She shouldn't have, I'm fine.” He turned away from her.
“You know Cullen, you've never been a very good liar.”
He huffed out a weak laugh before sighing, “It's lyrium withdrawal. Templars take lyrium, it's where their power comes from. When I joined the Inquisition I left the order and gave up that life. I stopped taking lyrium as well. I tried to wean myself off of it but the temptation was too strong so I quit it entirely.”
“You look terrible Cullen, the withdrawal could kill you. Especially with quitting cold turkey like that.” She rounded his desk and leaned on the edge beside him.
“I know, but it's a risk I'm willing to take. I will not be chained to the order any longer.” He lowered his head again. “You know, some people believe that I left the order and quit taking lyrium for myself, but that's not the case. I did this so I could help Thedas, not myself. The Divine wanted to found the Inquisition to reform the circles, and I wanted to be a part of that. The way things were was not working, we needed change and I wanted to help bring that change to make the lives of mages and Templars better.”
“Cullen, no one here doubts that.” She reached out and gently stroked the side of his face. He was drenched in sweat and she could see his hands were shaking, he looked exhausted. “You look like you have the worst flu ever.”
He let out a weak breath of a laugh, “I feel worse than I look.”
She brushed his damp wavy hair back from his face and then stroked his cheek, he leaned into her touch and closed his eyes. “If you've been struggling with this for so long how come I never knew. I knew you had been absent these past couple of days but I didn't know why, I just thought you were busy. How did I miss that you were this sick?”
“It comes and goes,” he spoke with his eyes still closed, “some days, or weeks, are worse than others. I've learned to hide the symptoms well, I don't want anyone thinking I'm weak.”
“What are your symptoms?”
“Fever, achiness, headaches, tremors, insomnia, although that's probably from the dreams. I had nightmares before but without the lyrium, they're worse. Sometimes I can't tell the waking world from the dreaming one. That's why you shouldn't be here, I don't want to accidentally hurt you.”
“It's alright Cullen, I trust you and you look like you really do need a friend. You know, a wise man once told me that everyone needs someone to look out for them.”
A weak chuckle shook his body, “I told you that.”
“Exactly, you can be wise sometimes, when you're not being pigheaded.”
“Don't even, you're just as stubborn.”
“Touché,” she smiled at him, “Now, I'm going to take good care of you, ok? I'll get you something to eat and drink and then we'll get you into bed, you look like you could really use a good night's sleep.”
He shook his head, “No, I have work to do.”
“It can wait.” She took the quill from his hand and staked the papers in front of him in a messy pile before putting them off to the side.
“It can't wait, Laina, it's important.” He insisted.
“You shouldn't be putting work before your own health. I know you feel terrible right now Cullen, you're probably putting on a front because I’m here, but I know you're suffering. Who will do your job if something happens to you because of this?”
“Cassandra has orders to find a replacement if-”
“Cullen, no one could replace you. No one could do this job like you. Besides, who else would be my friend and put up with me? I'm sure the replacement Cassandra would find would be great but I bet they would be even more uptight and boring than you.” She smirked teasingly at him and he met it with a faint smile of his own.
He put his hand over her hand that was resting on the desk. “I'm not going anywhere Laina, so it looks like I'll be putting up with you for a while longer.”
“Good,” she smiled, “So you'll let me help you.” He groaned this as she got up. “I'm going to go get you some food and something to drink. By the time I get back, I want you out of that armor and in the clothes, you're going to sleep in.”
She left his office and headed to the kitchen where she grabbed some food and a large glass of water. When she brought it back on a big tray she found him seated at his desk in a shirt and pair of breeches. She placed the tray in front of him and watched as he quickly gulped down the entire glass of water. Once he was finished, however, he pushed the tray away from himself.
“I'm not hungry.”
She pushed the tray back toward him, “Come on, you have to eat.” He stared at the food but made no move to eat it. “Please Cullen, just a couple bites, it will make you feel better. Not to mention it will make me feel better too.”
He gave her a thoughtful look, “Alright, but only because you asked so nicely.” She smiled at this.
Once he was finished she stood. “Alright, now it's time for bed.”
She tried to get him to stand but he refused, “I have work to do, I can't sleep now.”
“It can wait.” She replied as she grabbed his arm.
He tried to argue with her but she dragged him to his feet and let him lean on her as they walked to the ladder. She went up behind him and then steered him toward the bed when they got to the top. As they got closer to the bed he pulled away from her more and more.
“I really can't sleep.” He said as he pulled his arm free of her grasp.
She turned to face him and what she saw in his eyes was not what she expected. “You're afraid,” she whispered in realization.
He looked away from her in shame, “It’s the nightmares I-I can't…”
“Oh Cullen,” he looked so vulnerable. She pulled his head down against her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around him in a hug. “It's ok, I understand, I'm going to be right here. I'm not going anywhere.” She said softly as she rubbed her hands up and down his back soothingly.
She led him to the bed and got him to sit down with his legs out in front of him as she sat behind him. She started at his neck and began to work her hands down his back as she massaged the tense muscles there. He groaned and rolled his shoulders as he leaned into her touch.
“How did you know?” He asked in a quiet voice.
“You hold your shoulders up when you're tense.” She replied as she continued to rub her hands over his back.
The massage seemed to help relax him and once her hands were tired she laid back on the pillows and had him lay back on her. His head rested against her chest and she absentmindedly ran her fingers through his hair as she began to hum him a lullaby. It wasn't long before he was breathing deeply and Laina could tell he was asleep. Not long after he had fallen asleep she dozed off herself.
She awoke a couple of hours later still in Cullen's bed. He was still lying on top of her sound asleep. She very gently rolled him off of her and climbed out of his bed. She tucked the sheets up around his sleeping form before stretching and turning to leave. She had only gotten one step away from the bed when something grabbed her hand. She turned around at the gentle touch and found Cullen looking at her with barely open eyes.
“Stay,” he whispered, “Please, just for tonight. You make the demons go away.”
Her face softened, it was such an innocent plea. “Of course,”
She sat back down on the edge of the bed and ran her fingers through his hair. His eyes fluttered closed again and she listened to his breathing slow as he fell back asleep. She watched him for a moment before curling up on the bed next to him and falling asleep herself.
Laina hefted her bags slowly down the stairs as she made her way toward the gates of Skyhold. The horses and carriages were all set up on the bridge and waiting for their passengers. They were off to the Winter Palace for the peace talks, the fateful day had finally arrived. Laina was nervous but also very excited at the same time. She was one of the last ones to show up at the gates and she could see everyone milling around below her as they made the final preparations before they left.
Cullen was at the very bottom of the stairs talking with a soldier. He kept glancing up at her. By the third glance, Laina gave him a weird look back. He looked like he wanted to be done with the conversation he was currently in. She was almost to the bottom step when he broke away from the soldier who had been holding his attention and approached her.
“Here, let me take that.” He reached for the bag she was carrying.
She held onto it as his fingers closed around the handle. “I've got it.”
He gave her a hard look, “Laina please, just let me be a gentleman.”
“It's like three steps.” She exclaimed as she pointed to the bottom of the stairs a short distance away. He didn't let go of the bag and just continued to stare at her until she sighed, “Fine, take it.”
He smiled as he took the bag and walked down the rest of the stairs with her. “Laina, I've been meaning to thank you. I haven't seen you much since the other night with all of the preparations and everything or I would have done this earlier.” He stopped and placed her bag on the ground before suddenly pulling her into a hug. Laina gasped in shock as she was pulled against his broad chest. “Thank you, so much.” He kissed the top of her head. “Sometimes I think you're Andraste sent.”
He finally released her and Laina stepped away from him as she smoothed her hair. “Anytime Cullen, whenever you need me, I'm there.”
He smiled at her and she smiled back before she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Evelyn was watching them from a good distance away from next to her carriage. She smiled once she noticed Laina's gaze and then leaned over and whispered something into the Ambassador’s ear. Laina cringed, she had a bad feeling about this. She didn't have long to think about it however as their bags were quickly loaded and they set off for the Winter Palace.
She bounced down the path toward the palace in her carriage which was lined up in the procession with the other carriages as the Inquisition made its way to the ball. She looked up at Cullen who was sitting across from her. When he caught her gaze he smiled.
“I thought you were supposed to ride with the Ambassador?” He said into the silence that had filled the carriage for the first few minutes of their ride.
She shrugged, “Evelyn said it was full and that I had to ride with you.” She had a feeling there was more to it than that.
“It's just she, Josephine and Leliana, they do know it's a four person carriage, right?”
“I don't know, I have a feeling they put me with you for a reason.” She also had a feeling that she knew that reason and exactly who was behind the decision to make her ride in Cullen's carriage.
He smirked, “Well I would say I don't mind the company but it is you we’re talking about.” Her mouth fell open in mock shock at his insult. He chuckled, “You know I'm just joking. There's no one I would rather be stuck in a carriage with for days.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Not entirely.” He laughed, “But I'm pretty sure.”
They continued to bounce down the road in silence and Laina was getting tired. The preparations for the Winter Palace had kept her up for most of the nights over the past week and the rocking of the carriage was putting her to sleep. She leaned against the window and slumped back into the seat more. Cullen eyed her from across the carriage.
“You look exhausted. Maybe you should try to get some sleep. The ride to the Palace would be the best time for that since you probably won't be getting much while we're there.”
“I was thinking the same thing. All of the preparations kept me up most nights, I could really use a nap.”
“Then take one.”
“I think I will.” She said as she snuggled down.
He continued to watch her as she tried to sleep. She couldn't get comfortable with the rough ride as she kept bouncing her head off the door. It also didn't help that Cullen was staring at her. He was still watching her with a concerned grin.
“Comfortable?” He asked after her head bounced off the window for the fifth time. She groaned and shifted in her seat. “I can offer you a better pillow.” She looked over at him and squinted in question. He patted his shoulder and smiled.
“You're the pillow?” She sat up.
“If you want, I'm sure my shoulder would be more comfortable than the window.”
“I don't know,” she made a face as she looked at his shoulder, “looks kind of lumpy.” He frowned at her teasing and she gave him a cheeky smile before switching seats. If he was offering she certainly wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to lay on him.
When she went to lean on him he pulled away. “I thought I was too lumpy?” She just shook her head as she grabbed his arm and adjusted it to where it needed to be. “I'll try to make sure you don't fall off the seat, but I can't make any promises.” He joked. Laina hummed her acknowledgment and nestled up to him as she closed her eyes. She let his warmth and comforting presence lull her to sleep.
When they finally arrived at the Winter Palace Laina would have been happy if she never had to ride in a carriage again. Cullen got out first and offered her his hand to help her down the steps. She examined the grounds of the Palace as she stretched. The Ambassador wasn't exaggerating when she said it was breathtakingly beautiful. She was about to walk in with the rest of them when Josephine grabbed her arm. She dragged her back to one of the carriages and made her change into a pretty red dress. Apparently, she had changed her mind and decided she didn't want her to wear their uniform. She thought she should make a better first impression at the ball by wearing a dress she and Leliana had picked out.
She tugged at the sides of it as she teetered into the ball on the heels they had made her wear. She wasn't used to dressing up so nicely. She felt like she looked funny all dolled up, but when she saw the other people at the balk she didn't feel so ridiculous. The Ambassador made sure to introduce her to anyone of importance and then left her to explore the ball on her own.
She tried to avoid bumping into anyone or just making eye contact in general. She didn't want to get the Inquisition into any trouble by saying something she shouldn't or making an enemy of the wrong person. She would occasionally catch glimpses of other members of the Inquisition. Evelyn was busy digging her nose into places she shouldn't be and the Ambassador and Leliana were enjoying the ball to its fullest extent.
She could just make out Cullen across the room. He stood looking very uncomfortable amidst a group of nobles who were swarming around the table he stood at. Laina smirked to herself as she watched him awkwardly reach for the back his neck. She walked across the room toward him and as she got closer she could hear him turning down the nobles’ persistent requests for his hand to dance. He sighed and turned to look in her direction. His eyes stopped on her and his face changed as he took in her new outfit.
“I look goofy, don't I?” She said as she approached him and glanced down at herself.
“No, I think you look very nice.”
She looked back up and met his smiling eyes. “You don't look too bad yourself. Red really suits you.”
He chuckled, “Well, it is my favorite color.”
“Really?” He nodded, “I guess you learn something new every day.” She moved to stand next to him. “Are you not dancing tonight, Commander?”
He leaned over to speak quietly to her. “Not with any of these people.”
She laughed, “I can't imagine why. I thought these were the type of women you went for?” She joked.
“Please, I think you know me well enough by now to know that's not true.”
“I know you, that doesn't mean I know your type.”
He looked at her, “You really think this is my type?”
She shrugged, “Who knows? You may really like the whole spoiled, I'm better than you attitude in a girl. I mean look at that one,” she pointed to a young noblewoman in the crowd who was watching Cullen with too much interest. “I think you two would make a great couple. I mean you're a little shy but I don't think she struggles with that at all. You guys could really compliment each other.”
He nudged her with his elbow, “It's a good thing I like you.”
“You like me? Really?” She smiled back at him.
“Less and less by the minute. Don't you have someone else to bother?” He grumbled.
She laughed, which caused a small smile to pull at the corner of his mouth. “Alright, alright I can tell when I'm not wanted. I'll go find something else to do. Enjoy yourself, Cullen.”
“I certainly won't. Your bothering has been the highlight of my night so far.”
“That's sad, maybe I should bother you more often.” He didn't dignify her teasing with an answer and instead just gave her his usual half smile. She smirked back before turning to leave.
For Laina, the ball was not the most enjoyable experience. The Ambassador got ahold of her again and tried to incorporate her into her discussions. They ranged from political talks to ones about shoes and the latest fashions, none of which interested Laina. She bared through all of it with a smile and was relieved when the Empress stood to make a speech. She was standing off to the side of the Empress and went to back up so she could get a better view.
“Oh, excuse me.” She had accidentally backed into a man and quickly apologized.
She was about to move around him when a scream went up behind her. She whipped around to find the Inquisitor accusing the cousin of the Empress of being the assassin. Suddenly, all hell broke loose as men with weapons appeared out of the crowd. The Inquisition’s men were anticipating this and soon intercepted them as they began to terrorize the people. Laina froze as she felt something sharp press into her back.
“Don't move.” The man behind her whispered into her ear. “You're with the Inquisition aren't you? I've seen you with their people. You're my way out of this. So behave and maybe we'll both make it out alive.” He pressed the knife further into her back and she gasped. She tried to get away but he put a hand around her throat and held her in place.
“Laina?!” Cullen came running up to them with his sword drawn. “Let go of her!” He threateningly stepped towards them.
“Uh uh,” Laina screamed in pain as he dug the tip of his sword into her back. “Not another step.” He tightened his grip on her throat until she could barely breathe. “Or the pretty girl’s going to get skewered on my sword.”
Laina looked at Cullen with wide terrified eyes. His jaw was clenched but there was also concern in his eyes. His gaze flickered to her, “Laina do you trust me?” She nodded without hesitation. He looked back to the assassin, “Alright, you win, just don't hurt her.”
He bent to put his sword on the ground but at the last second, he lunged forward. He drove his sword right at Laina and only missed her by an inch as he impaled the assassin behind her on his blade. Laina whimpered and closed her eyes. Her breath was coming in nervous shaky gasps as she felt the assassins grip release from around her neck and his body fall away from her. Cullen immediately pulled her into his arms and calmed her.
“It's alright, I've got you.” He said soothingly as he held her. He pulled back and looked her in the eyes. “Are you alright?” She nodded, but he didn't look convinced. His gaze went to something behind her and then back to her face. “You're bleeding, but I'm going to take care of you, alright?”
He put his hand on her back and she winced. His palm pressed right into the wound on her lower back. He guided her through the crowd with him as he made his way across the ballroom. He stopped and spoke to Captain Rylen for a moment to make sure the situation was under control before escorting her back to her room.
“You know for a second there I thought maybe I shouldn't have bothered you earlier because it looked like you were going to run me through along with the assassin.”
He huffed out a laugh, “That's why I asked you if you trusted me. I would never hurt you, Laina.”
“Good, now let's get that wound taken care of. You'll have to at least take off the top part of your dress.”
“I'm going to need some help with that.” She motioned to the laces on the back of her dress.
“Right, of course.” He moved around to her back and began to work at the laces of her dress. “This might take longer than you're used to it's ah-” he cleared his throat, “It's been a while.”
“Really?” She was a little surprised considering how good looking he was.
“That surprises you?”
“Yeah, I mean either the woman here have really bad taste, or you're super picky.”
He chuckled, “‘I’d have to say neither.” His fingers brushed the bare skin of her back and it made her shiver. He paused, “Are you alright?”
Laina lowered her head to hide her blush, “I'm fine.”
He undid enough laces to push the top part of her dress off of her shoulders and lower it enough to expose the wound on her back. Her top half was now only covered by a breast band but the bottom half of her dress was held up by her hips. Considering they had been naked in the bathhouse together, this was nothing.
“This is going to sting.”
Cullen had retrieved some medical supplies and now held an alcohol-soaked cloth inches from her back. He slowly pressed the fabric into her wound and she whimpered in pain as she jerked away. He put a hand on her stomach and held her in place as he gently rubbed the cloth over her wound. When he was finished cleaning it he wrapped a bandage around her and secured it.
He stood up from where he had been crouched behind her. “There, you're wound is all set but I'm afraid your dress is ruined. Do you have anything else you could wear?”
“The Ambassador gave me two other dresses in case I wanted to change.”
“Change into one of those and I'll help lace you up.”
“Will it take as long as undoing my laces?”
Laina giggled as she moved across the room to the armoire. She pulled out the two dresses the Ambassador had given her and looked at them. One was a deep purple and the other was a mosaic of blues. She stared at both of them for a minute before turning around to ask Cullen. He was facing away from her towards the door, obviously to give her some privacy.
“I can't choose.” He turned around at the sound of her voice and looked at her. “Will you help me?”
He smiled and shook his head, “I don't know how much help I will be. I'm not very good with fashion, but I'll try.” He stood next to her and examined the two dresses she had laid out on the bed. “The blue one.”
“The dark blue would look nice with your pale skin and this blue,” he pointed to one of the lighter blues that made up the dress, “matches your eyes.” He glanced at her quickly. “I think you would look beautiful in it.” He finished before looking at her shyly.
A wide smile spread across her face, “Blue it is then.”
He faced the door again and let her change into the dress. When she was finished she called out to him and he slowly turned back around. His mouth opened slightly when he caught sight of her.
Laina bit her lip, “Does it look as good as you thought it would?” She asked nervously.
He stepped closer to her, “Better.” He breathed.
They stood looking at each other for a moment. Laina peered up at him through her lashes. He was so close, she just wanted to reach out and touch him.
He shook his head slightly and then moved around to her back to lace her up. It took a while but once he was finished he moved next to her before offering her his arm. “May I escort you to the ball, M’lady?”
She smiled, “You may Commander.” She took his arm and he walked her back out to the main hall.
The ball was in full swing by the time hey got back. The Inquisitor had succeeded, the peace talks were a success and now everyone was celebrating. Beautiful music filled the air along with loud chatter and the sound of laughter. Everyone was eating, drinking and dancing.
Laina was about to leave Cullen to talk to Evelyn, whom she had spotted across the ballroom, when a new song started. He suddenly released her arm to bow in front of her. He offered her his hand and a warm smile.
“May I have this dance?”
Laina's mouth fell open, “You want to dance, with me?”
“That's why I'm asking.” He replied with a cheeky grin.
Laina considered his offer for a moment before placing her hand in his. He didn't give her a chance to reconsider as he pulled her out onto the dance floor and began to spin her around. It wasn't anything fancy but she was impressed nonetheless.
“I thought you said you couldn't dance?”
“Well for someone who can't dance you're doing a pretty good job. You're better than me at least.”
“I'm sure that's not hard to do.” His teasing was met with a stomp on the foot, he groaned and then smirked. “Didn't you have to take lessons with Lady Vivienne like the rest of us?”
“Yes, but I barely paid attention. I'm regretting that decision now.”
Cullen smiled and then bent slightly and grabbed her around the waist with one arm. He picked her up and put her back down on top of his feet. “There, is that better?”
Laina could barely breathe let alone think in such close proximity to him, so she just nodded. He kept an arm around her so she didn't fall and continued to sway them to the music as they danced around the ballroom.
Laina stood in yet another war room meeting doodling on her paper instead of taking notes. It had been a week since the Winter Palace and they had finally started working on a plan to counter Corypheus's next move. This meeting was unusually long and Laina had lost interest about halfway through. The strange mage that had come back from the Winter Palace with them had joined the meeting and was making it even less enjoyable. Laina didn't like her, she didn't have a reason why, yet, she just knew she didn't like her. She caught Cullen glancing over her shoulder out of the corner of her eye and quickly covered her drawing. She turned her head to look at him and he smiled.
“Working hard there Miss Laina?” He asked quietly.
Laina glared at him and turned her body so it was harder for him to see what she was drawing. It was difficult to draw with a quill but at the moment she was doing her best to make a not so flattering rendition of Morrigan, who was standing across from her. She peeked around the room to see if anyone had caught their little encounter but everyone seemed focused on whatever Morrigan was saying so she went back to her drawing. She was so focused on her drawing that she almost missed what the mage was saying.
“With the eluvian-”
Laina's head snapped up, “Wait, an eluvian?”
“That is what I said.” She replied in an uninterested tone.
The room suddenly became uncomfortable. Laina glanced at the faces around her but none of them would meet her gaze. “Where is there an eluvian?”
“Here in Skyhold.” Morrigan’s reply came in a rude tone but Laina paid it no attention.
“You brought it with you when you came?”
“Yes, I'm sorry, have you not been paying attention?”
Laina ignored her and looked around the room, no one would look at her. “You all knew?” Everyone's eyes were on the ground. “It's been here for a week and no one told me?!”
“We thought it best not to.” Evelyn said quietly.
“Best not to?! An eluvian, my only way home, is here for a week and you think it's ‘best not to’ tell me?! Solas said one of the reasons he couldn't send me home was because he couldn't find an eluvian and there's one at Skyhold for a week and no one can even mention that to me?! Do you not know how much going home means to me?! You all lied to me by omission! I thought you were my friends!” She was angry and hurt she couldn't believe that and eluvian had been at her fingertips for a week and none of her “friends” had told her.
“We are your friends, Laina.” Cullen responded in a quiet pained voice as he finally looked up at her.
“Maybe you should start acting like it then!” She spat as she threw her clipboard down and stormed across the room. She stopped before she reached the door, “Where is it?”
“Where is it?!” She growled.
“In one of the lower rooms surrounding the garden.” Cullen answered.
She stomped out of the room and slammed the large door closed behind her. She quickly made her way down to the gardens and started searching the rooms. She finally found the eluvian in one of the rooms covered by a sheet. She slowly walked over to the large sheet and with one pull yanked it off of the magical mirror. It fell at her feet in a flurry of white, releasing a large cloud of dust into the air. She coughed as she fanned the dust away from her face with her hand.
The mirror looked exactly like the one from the temple. It almost touched the ceiling and had a strange blue tint to its surface. Her reflection was distorted and she watched it grow as she approached the mirror’s shiny surface. She couldn't believe this was really happening, her way out was right in front of her. She took a deep breath and then tentatively reached out and touched the eluvian’s cool surface. Part of her was expecting something to happen but deep down she knew nothing would.
She held her hand against the glass for a moment before placing the other one next to it. She willed the surface to change, to swirl with blues and purples and to transport her back to her world, but it didn't. She leaned forward and rested her forehead against the shiny surface.
“Come on, come on, work.” She whispered under her breath as she squeezed her eyes shut. She focused all of her attention on the mirror hoping that pure will alone could make it work. “Please work, please.” She pleaded with the cold surface.
Laina didn't know how long she stood there trying to wish the mirror into working. But the anger, hurt and disappointment we're building in her the whole time until she couldn't take it anymore.
She pulled her head away from the mirror and began slamming her fists into its surface. “Work, work, work you stupid mirror!” Her words were punctuated by the sound of her fists striking its surface. “I want to go home! Take me back! Take me back!”
She pounded on the mirror until she was shaking too much with emotion to hold herself up anymore. She slumped forward against it, breathing heavily as tears started to stream down her face. She turned around and slid down the mirror until she was sitting on the floor. She pulled her knees to her chest as angry tears dripped into her lap. The sound of footsteps echoed around the small stone room as someone approached her crumpled form.
“Laina?” It was Cullen.
Laina's face scrunched in anger as she shot to her feet and stormed toward him. “How could you?!” She used both hands to shove against his metal-clad chest. He staggered backward from the blow out of surprise and blinked at her. “You knew this was here and you didn't tell me! You know how much going home means to me! How could you keep this from me?!” She kept shoving at him as she spoke.
“Because Evelyn thought it was best not to tell you.” He responded calmly.
“Why?!” She asked through angry tears.
“Eluvian’s are dangerous and we don't fully understand how they work. She didn't want to put the Inquisition at risk. She knew you would want to use it.”
“You couldn't just explain that to me?! Do you really think I would do something to put the Inquisition at risk like that?! Thanks for trusting me, Cullen!” She spat.
“It's not that I don't trust you, Laina, I do.”
“You have a funny way of showing it.”
“When you're emotionally charged about something, you don't always make the best choices.”
“So you all just thought you should lie to me?!”
“We didn't lie to you.”
“You purposefully didn't tell me, Cullen, that's lying by omission!”
“Maybe if we thought you could handle yourself better about this we would have told you!”
Laina turned on him and snarled, “Handle myself better?! Are you kidding me?!” She smacked his chest again but this time he caught her hands.
He held both of her wrists in a firm but gentle grip. Laina glared at him as they both stared at each other. They were both breathing heavily and she could still feel hot tears running down her face. Cullen's face softened as he examined her hands.
“Your hands are bruised and bleeding.”
“I don't care!” She ripped her wrists from his grasp and turned away from him.
“Laina…” he tried to touch her shoulder but she jerked away.
“Don't touch me! Just go away, leave!” She threw over her shoulder as she walked to the opposite wall.
When she reached the wall she sank to the floor with her back against it. She sobbed into her knees as she held them to her chest. Cullen was still across the room watching her with sad eyes. After a moment he made his way over to her and crouched down in front of her.
“What do you miss?” He asked in a gentle voice.
She raised her head and looked at him. “Earth, New York, my small crummy apartment and my boring desk job where no one remembers my name. Hot showers, indoor plumbing, electricity, my phone. Everything, I miss my world. Cullen, I want to go home.”
“Oh Maker, Laina” he sat down in front of her and crossed his legs. “Come here, love.” He reached toward her to pull her into his lap.
She shook her head, “No, I'm too big.”
“No, you're not.” He scooped her up and pulled her into his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head. “You've been dealing with this for a while, haven't you?” Her only response was a sniffle. “I wish you would have talked to me. I'm so sorry Laina, I shouldn't have lied to you and I'm sorry you can't go home. I would do anything to make you happy and if I could snap my fingers and send you home right now, I would.”
She wiped her nose on her sleeve, “Really?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I'm sorry for yelling at you and hitting you. You're right, I should have handled this better. I got my hopes up when I shouldn't have.”
He kissed the top of her head, “We'll find a way to get you home, don't worry.”
Laina sat at her desk, quill in hand, furiously scribbling away at her work. The Ambassador had given her more work than normal lately and she suspected it was an attempt to help take her mind off of everything that going on. Everyone had been overly nice to her ever since her outburst about the eluvian. She had readily forgiven everyone and had apologized for her breakdown in the war room. Everything was almost back to normal.
Laina sighed and put her quill down. She flexed her stiff hand and looked up from her desk. “Cullen,” he was leaning against the doorframe watching her. “How long have you been standing there?”
He straightened, “Oh, only about an hour or so.” He smirked, teasingly.
She narrowed her eyes at him, “Why didn't you say something?”
“Because I caught a rare moment of you actually doing work.” He ducked and chuckled as Laina threw her quill at him.
“Is there something I can do for you? Or have you just come here to make fun of me?”
“I actually came here about what I can do for you?”
“You can be useful?”
He scowled at her as he moved closer to her desk. “I wanted to know if you would like to come on a trip with me.”
“A trip? Where?” She folded her hands under her chin and rested her face on them.
“That's a surprise.”
“You want me to come on a trip with you but you won't even tell me where we're going?”
“That's kind of the definition of a surprise.”
She rolled her eyes at his cheeky grin before biting her lip. “Aren't you worried about what people might say.”
“About what?” He folded his arms across his chest and leaned against her desk.
“You know, us going on a trip together, alone.”
He shrugged, “Let them talk.”
She thought for a moment. “So you really won't tell me where we're going?”
“Nope,” he smirked, “Does this mean you'll come?”
“Yeah, I'll come.”
A wide smile spread across his face. “Good, we leave tomorrow.”
Laina watched him walk out of the room before sighing. Now she had to go and retrieve the quill she had thrown at him.
Early the next morning she climbed into the carriage beside him. “Where are we going?”
“I told you, it's a surprise.”
“Oh, come on. Please,” she pleaded. He just continued to stare at her, he wasn't going to budge. She let out an exasperated breath, “I hate surprises.”
“You'll see when we get there.”
“Getting there takes too long.” She complained in a whiny tone.
“You have no patience.” He shook his head and turned to look out the window as they began their journey out of Skyhold.
Laina scowled at him and cross her arms over her chest. She turned and put her feet up on the seat next to her as she got comfortable. Cullen noted her position with a raised brow but didn't say anything. It was a days journey to get there. They didn't stop on the way and just slept in the carriage. Laina didn't mind that as Cullen let her sleep on him again.
When they arrived at their destination it was late in the morning and a fog covered most of the land. Laina stepped out of the carriage and stretched as she looked around. Wherever they were didn't look like much. It wasn't a big city but they had come through a small rural village. It appeared to be mostly farmland and meadows. They were near a quiet lake, and there was a small wooden dock jutting out from the shore a few feet from the carriage.
Cullen motioned for her to follow him, “Come on,”
She trailed after him as he led her out onto the dock. “Now can I ask where we are?”
He chuckled, “Yes, I grew up not far from here in the village of Honnleath. I used to come here as a boy, it was always quiet.” A smile spread across his face as he spoke. He obviously had some fond memories of the place.
His smile made Laina smile as she looked out over the water. “The lake is pretty, it's very nice and relaxing.”
“That's the idea.”
A silence fell between them as they admired the view. It really was quiet and the water was calm and still. The morning sunlight was beginning to peek out from behind some of the gray clouds that covered the sky and it glinted off the water's surface. Laina tilted her head back and let the rays warm her face. She was used to the chilling air of the frostbacks so it felt good to be somewhere warmer and she found the lack of snow refreshing. She closed her eyes against the sunlight and inhaled deeply. The air wasn't crisp like the frostbacks instead it was moist and smelled of earth and water. She smiled and sighed contently before lowering her face. She removed her jacket and went to hang it on the post behind her but stopped when she turned to find Cullen watching her. He was leaning against one of the posts of the dock with a small smile on his face, his eyes warm with affection as he stared at her.
Laina felt herself blush under his gaze, “What?”
He shook his head, “Nothing.”
“Then why are you staring at me?” She asked as she draped her coat over the wooden post.
“It's just-” he sighed and diverted his gaze as he turned to face the lake. “It's nothing.” He rubbed the back of his neck, “It is getting warm though.” He said, changing the subject.
He glanced down over himself before he turned and walked back the way they came. Laina wasn't ready to leave yet so she stayed where she was. When she heard the clink of metal behind her she finally turned around the find Cullen placing his sword on the dock. He had stripped out of his cloak and armor and now just stood in his shirt and breeches.
Laina raised her eyebrows at him as he strolled back up to her. “Wow,”
“I'm just surprised is all. I mean you're basically a workaholic. But suddenly, you take off from work to bring me here and now you're taking off your armor too. You just look so relaxed I didn't know you had it in you.”
“Hey, I can relax occasionally.”
“I thought you said it wasn't in your nature to be loose.” She recalled.
“Maybe not loose in your terms but in mine yes.” He came to stand next to her as they both resumed their lookout over the lake.
“You have siblings right?” She asked after a moment of silence.
“Yes, two sisters and a brother.”
“Did you guys ever come here as children to swim?”
“Occasionally, on hot days once we had finished our chores.”
A mischievous smirk spread across Laina's face, “How about as an adult?”
He shot her a curious glance, “No, this is the first I've been back since-”
He was cut off by a splash as Laina forcefully shoved him into the water. When he popped back up she was bent over roaring with laughter. Water was dripping off of his soaked curls and he had a lilypad on the top of his head. The look of betrayal never left his face as he wiped the water from his eyes. He blinked up at her through the sunlight and water still pouring down his face. He angrily snatched the lilypad off of his head and chucked it back into the water. Laina could barely catch her breath she was laughing so hard.
He started making his way back toward the dock but Laina realized too late what his intentions were as he grabbed her leg and yanked her off the dock. She squealed as she flew through the air and hit the cool water. She came up sputtering, spitting water from her mouth as she brushed her wet hair out of her face. Now it was his turn to laugh. The water rippled around him as he shook with laughter. Laina squinted her eyes at him before running her hands through the water and sending a wave his way. It splashed him in the face while his mouth was still open. He coughed and spit the water out as she smiled innocently at him.
Soon the splashing escalated to an all-out war. The surface of the lake was no longer still, instead it was covered in waves that sent the lilypads sailing like they were on the high seas. Laina was furiously splashing water at Cullen who had originally returned the attack with much larger waves but now he was taking a different approach. He waded through the water towards her, with her attacks doing nothing to slow him down. By the time he reached her Laina squealed and tried to run away but it was too late as he caught her around her waist. He scooped her up into his arms as she smacked playfully at him before throwing her into the water a few feet away.
She came up coughing and laughed as she ran a hand down her face to wipe the water from her eyes. She put her hands up in surrender as she caught her breath. Cullen waded through the water to close the short distance between them. He stopped when he was in front of her and they both shared a look and a laugh. He smiled and brought his hand up to brush some of the wet hair from her forehead. He tucked it behind her ear but didn't pull his hand away. His touch lingered as his fingers danced across her skin. He brushed his thumb over her cheek before his hand trailed down her neck slightly. The soft touch of his warm skin against hers made her shiver.
He snatched his hand away quickly and a look of concern came across his face. “You're shivering.”
Laina could feel the heat rise in her cheeks, she couldn't tell him the real reason she had shivered. “Yeah the waters a little chilly.” She said instead, which wasn't a lie.
“Come on,” he put his hand on her back and led her out of the water. “Here,” he grabbed his cloak off of the post and draped it over her shoulders. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms in an attempt to warm her up.
“I have my own coat you know.”
“Yes, but if you get that wet what will you wear back to the frostbacks?”
“If I get yours wet, what will you wear?” She countered.
“I'll be fine, I'm more worried about you.”
“Cullen, it's fine, you shouldn't-”
“Laina,” he cut her off and looked into her eyes. “Your wellbeing is more important to me than my own.”
She was taken aback by this, “But, why?”
“Because I care about you.” He stated.
He didn't give her time to respond as he turned and walked away. He quickly collected firewood and started a small fire to dry them both off. They each took a crate from the dock to sit on and plopped themselves down by the fire to warm up.
“Thank you for this Cullen. It was really nice of you to do this for me.”
He glanced over at her, “You're welcome, although I must admit some of the motives were selfish.”
“How so?” She adjusted his cloak on her shoulders. The soft mane brushed her face and she sighed, it smelled just like him.
He straightened and looked at her, “Are you alright?”
She froze, “Yeah, why?”
“You sighed or something.”
“Oh that… that was- that was nothing.”
He gave her a curious look but seemed to drop it as he shrugged. “Ah, some of my motives were selfish in that I got to take a break from work and come back here to where I grew up.” He looked around fondly, “It's nice to visit, there are a lot of memories here… also, I got to spend time with you, alone.” He added quietly as he looked away shyly.
A wide smile spread across Laina's face, “Oh,”
“Don't look at me like that.”
She turned to face him even more, “Why not?”
He looked at the ground in front of him and let out a soft chuckle. “What am I going to do with you?”
Laina smirked and looked back at the fire, she could think of a lot of things he could do with her. She was warm but because of the heavy cloak around her shoulders, her clothes were still soaking wet. She took the cloak off and tossed it to Cullen, who caught it with his face because he wasn't paying attention. She laughed as he pulled it off of his head and looked at her. It had messed his hair up even more and she watched as he ran a hand through it to smooth it back down. Laina looked down at her wet clothes and gasped. Her off-white shirt was see-through and you could clearly see her breast band.
“What?” Cullen's head snapped over to look at her in concern.
“Why didn't you tell me my shirt was see-through?”
His eyes dropped to her chest, “I barely noticed, and besides it's nothing I haven't seen before.”
She reached over and smacked him on the shoulder, “Cullen!”
“Ow!” He chuckled as rubbed his shoulder.
“I thought you were a gentleman.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“I am! I swear I just didn't notice.” He replied defensively.
“Mhmm, if that's the type of woman you think I am maybe you would have been better off bringing one of those girls from the Winter Palace.”
“Oh maker’s breath Laina, I don't think you're easy or anything of the sort and I certainly wouldn't want to be here with one of those ladies instead.” He looked over at her seriously but then stopped when he saw her cheeky smile. “You're being sarcastic aren't you.” She started laughing, he squinted his eyes at her. “Oh, you're so full of it.” He grumbled.
“Oh, don't be like that. Besides, why wouldn't you want one of those young women from the ball.”
“Yeah, too young.” He scoffed.
“One of the women who approached me was eighteen. That's too young for me.” He shook his head.
“I know a lot of guys that would like a younger woman.” She was a little surprised.
“Not me, at least not that young. I'm too old for an eighteen-year-old.”
“Come on, you're only thirty.”
“Yeah only thirty, and they're only eighteen. I'd much rather have someone closer to my age. The youngest I would go would be someone around your age.”
“So you'd go for someone twenty-five or older.” She raised her eyebrows at him, “So you'd go for a cougar. You know someone older than you, like someone who's forty.”
“Maybe someone a little older but not that much older, just because I want a family.”
“But what if it's true love.”
“Well, that's different, if I love them then nothing else matters.”
“Really?” She turned her body to face him.
“Yes, of course. I mean, within reason, it wouldn't matter what age or race they were. Now my preference would be a human or elf and a couple of years younger than me, but life doesn't always go according to plan.”
“Oh? What, did you already fall in love with a Qunari? Is it Iron Bull?” She joked teasingly.
“Oh please, maker’s breath no! That is one thing I will not waver on, I don't swing that way and I never will.”
Laina stood and put a stick on the fire. “Why not? I'm sure he's a gentle lover, he'd go easy your first time.”
She knew she was pushing her luck but she didn't expect what happened next. As she bent over to put another stick on the fire Cullen reached out and spanked her. She shot up and grabbed her butt as she whirled around. Her mouth was open as she stared at him in disbelief, he was giving her a wide cheeky grin.
“What? Something had to be done about that mouth of yours.”
She smacked his chest which got her grabbed around the waist. His fingers tickled her sides and she screamed out in glee. He pulled her into his lap as he finally stopped tickling her. She caught her breath as she sat on his knee with her legs between his.
“That wasn't fair.” She said still out of breath.
He chuckled, “What am I going to do with you?” He asked again.
“I could think of a few things.” She said boldly, which surprised even her.
Cullen raised his eyebrows and laughed, “And what would those be?”
Laina lost heart as she looked away from him and shook her head. “Nevermind,” The look on his face changed but he didn't press her. She got up off his lap and stretched. “We should probably head back, shouldn't we?”
Cullen sighed as he glanced at the sky. “Probably,” he helped her gather their things and then they both got back into the carriage to leave.
Laina sat next to him instead of across from him. “Thank you again, Cullen, it was nice to take my mind off of everything for a little while.”
He smiled warmly down at her, “Thank you for coming.”
Laina smiled as she curled up against him and put her head on his shoulder. She breathed in his comforting smell and let the warmth from his arm seep into her as she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
They arrived back at Skyhold early the next morning. It was a nice day so the courtyard was bustling with people when they pulled up in the carriage. Cullen got out first and helped her down the steps before getting their bags. Laina reached her hands over her head as she stretched and watched Cullen fumble with the bags. Like a classic guy, he tried to grab them all at once. It was like watching someone try to carry all of the groceries in at once. Her arms were still over her head in a stretch as he turned around and put her bags on the ground. As he went to stand back up he paused briefly and his eyes stopped on her midsection. She looked down to find that her shirt had pulled up and a bare strip of her stomach could be seen peeking out between her shirt and pants. She dropped her arms and quickly pulled her shirt back into place which seemed to get Cullen's attention. He cleared his throat and quickly stood up.
“I'll take your bags and bring them to your room.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at him as he turned with her bags in hand and went up the steps.
She glanced at the ground and noted that he had left his bags behind and had taken hers first. She smiled to herself, that was so like him. She lifted her eyes and glanced quickly around the courtyard. She noticed that Evelyn was standing near the stables with a piece of paper in her hands. She weaved her way through the puddles and people littering the courtyard over to her friend. Evelyn didn't look up at her as she approached, she seemed engrossed in whatever was written on the paper. Laina stood in front of her for a moment but when she still didn't lift her eyes from the paper she spoke up.
“Good morning, Evelyn.” She greeted her with a smile.
“Oh,” her eyes lifted from the paper briefly, “Hi.”
Laina scrunched her brows together in concern. Evelyn didn't seem like herself. Her usual smile wasn't on her face and her voice was void of emotion. She looked sad and the way she was gripping the paper in her hands told her something was wrong.
“I come back from a trip with Cullen and that's all I get? What no suggestive remark about me spending time alone with him?” She asked trying to lighten the mood.
Evelyn's eyes wandered back up to her face, “I didn't realize you were expecting that.”
“Evelyn is something wrong?” She asked in concern.
“It-it's nothing.” Her friend shrugged and looked away.
“Come on Evelyn I know you and I can tell something is wrong. I'm your friend, you can tell me anything.”
A moment passed before Evelyn took a deep breath and looked back up at her. She was biting her lip but Laina could tell that it was just to keep it from trembling. “It's Blackwall,” she answered in a quiet voice.
“What happened? Is he alright?” She took a step closer and searched her friends face.
“He's gone,” Laina gasped, “I mean he left.” She let out the breath she had just sucked in.
“What happened? Why did he leave?”
“I don't know.” Laina could see the tears welling up in her friend's eyes. “I woke up this morning and he was gone.”
“Did something happen between you two or did he say anything about leaving?”
She sniffled, “We slept together and then when I woke up he was gone. All he left as an explanation was this.” She pulled a small neatly folded note from her pocket and handed it to Laina.
“‘It would hurt more if I stayed,’ what does that mean?”
Evelyn shrugged, “One of Leliana's people gave me this,” she handed her the report she had been holding. “They found it when they searched his quarters. I guess it went missing a while ago.”
Laina skimmed the note, “Well maybe this has something to do with why he left. It's at least a place to start.” She handed the note back to her friend, “Go pack your bags, we're going after him.”
“I don't think he wants us to, that's why he left the way he did.”
“To hell with what he wants. He's not going to leave you high and dry like this and not have to answer for it. I told him if he ever hurt you I would kick his butt and that's what I plan on doing if he doesn't have a good explanation for this.” She gave her friend a little push towards the main building, “Now go pack.”
She hesitated, “I don't know about this Laina.” She watched as Evelyn dropped her head and a single tear rolled down her cheek. “I thought he loved me.”
“Oh, come here,” she pulled her friend into her arms and gave her a hug. “I know he does.”
“How can you be so sure?” She said into her shoulder.
“Well this makes me question it a little but I saw how he looked at you.”
“And how was that?”
Laina sighed, “He looked at you the way I look at Cullen.”
Evelyn immediately pulled away from her and wiped the tears from her cheeks, “So you admit it!” She said triumphantly.
“What? I'm trying to console you.” She retorted defensively.
“So you lied?” It was more of a statement than a question.
“I knew it! You love-”
“Shhhh” she held her hand up to stop her. “Not so loud!”
“You love Cullen.” She finished in a whisper.
“He's growing on me.” She muttered grudgingly.
“You've wanted him on you since day one.”
“Evelyn!” Her friend let out a small guilty laugh. “Go pack!” She shoved her toward the stairs and sighed as she watched her climb them to the main hall.
“What was that about?”
Laina jumped and gasped as she was startled out of her thoughts. “Oh, Cullen, you startled me.”
“Sorry,” he sent her an apologetic look, “Is everything alright, she looked upset?”
“It's Blackwall, he left.”
“He left?” He asked in surprise, turning his body toward her more.
“Yeah, she said she got up this morning and he was just gone. They found a report in his quarters about an execution in Val Royeaux so we thought we'd start there. I'm leaving with her tomorrow for the city. She's heartbroken, she thought he loved her and quite frankly I thought the same.”
“That's surprising,” he let out a heavy breath, “He did love her, that I am sure of, whether or not he still does I don't know.”
“How can you be so certain? I mean I was sure he did as well until this happened.”
“Because I know the look.”
“The look?” She glanced over at him.
He hummed in acknowledgment, “I've seen it many times. As a Templar, you learn to watch and read people. You have to look out for infatuations between mages and other Templars, it happens more often than you would think. I've even seen it on myself a couple of times.”
“Really? You, in love? What does that look like?” She smiled teasingly over at him.
He turned his warm gaze to her and looked her right in the eyes. “I think you have a pretty good idea.” The teasing look left Laina's face as she swallowed. He held her gaze for a moment before starting to walk away. “I'll go with you tomorrow.”
“You don't have to.” She called after him.
He paused, “I know, but she's my friend, and I want to.”
The next day they all found themselves at Val Royeaux. Evelyn had brought Cassandra, Varric, and Solas with them as well. Laina weaved her way through the crowd that surrounded the gallows as she followed Evelyn. Up on the platform was a man that she didn't recognize, which she took as a good sign. She didn't know what she would have done if they had come and found Blackwall being hanged. She found that she had spoken too soon as she and the others watched in horror as Blackwall climbed the steps and stood on top of the platform. He halted the hanging and instead took the blame for the crime the man had committed. He said his name wasn't even Blackwall, it was Thom Rainer. Evelyn was beside herself, Laina wrapped her arm around her friend and held her as they watched the guards put him in chains and lead him away.
Laina sat with Evelyn and the others on a nearby bench while they waited for Cullen to return. He had volunteered to go see if they could arrange a meeting with Blackwall, or Thom Rainer or whatever his name was now. Evelyn was hurt by the fact that he had lied to them all but Laina was fuming. He had lied about who he was, misled them into believing he was someone he wasn't, had broken Evelyn’s heart and not to mention he was a crook, she wanted to punch him, in the face. Cullen returned after a few minutes and escorted them to the cell where Blackwall was being held. Cassandra, Varric, and Solas waited out in the city and Laina and Cullen stayed down the hall as Evelyn went to speak with him.
She and Cullen stood together for a moment in silence before she spoke up. “I can't believe this. When we came here this was never what I expected. How could he do this? Especially to her?” Laina motioned down the hall as she let out a sigh. “I should have kicked his butt when I had the chance. I should have protected her from this. I should have seen it coming.”
“You couldn't have known, Laina.”
“What kind of friend am I?”
“You're a great friend, I would know, I've experienced your friendship firsthand.” He came to stand at her side.
“What do I do?”
“You do what you've been doing this whole time. You keep being her friend and just be there for her. She has a couple of options at the moment with how she wants to deal with this, just give her your advice and support her. She'll find a way to get through this.”
She let out a heavy breath and dropped her shoulders. “I don't know what I would do if that was me.” She glanced at him, “What would you do?”
“That's a hard question.” He paused in thought, “If I truly loved them I wouldn't be able to leave them to die.” He shook his head, “Whether or not I could forgive them is another story, but I wouldn't leave them to die.”
“I think I would feel the same. I just don't understand why he would let her find out like this. I mean I understand why he didn't tell us who he was, he was hiding from his past, but if he had already decided he was going to turn himself in then why not explain what was going on before he left?”
“Because she was never supposed to find out. He was going to leave and she was never supposed to find him again. He would come here and pay for his crimes and leave her wondering what happened.”
“Because he didn't want her to think any less of him, that much I understand. He didn't want the woman he loved to find out that he was a criminal instead of the honorable man he pretended to be. It's a pride thing.” He added when she looked at him.
“Well he should have just been honest with her, that's much more important and speaks more to the man he is now than the mistakes he made in his past.”
“Agreed,” Laina felt Cullen rest his hand on her far shoulder and give it a quick squeeze. He paused and then began to massage her shoulder. “Wow Laina, you're tense.” Laina hummed in acknowledgment and closed her eyes. Her head slumped forward as she felt her stiff muscles relax under his touch. “You look exhausted. Have you been sleeping?”
“The last time I slept was on the way back to Skyhold.”
“That's not good, so you haven't slept in a couple of days?”
“No, I've been busy with everything that's been going on.” She shifted under his hand to guide his touch.
“And you couldn't have slept well on the way back from Honnleath.”
“What are you talking about? I slept fine, you're a surprisingly good pillow.”
“Surprisingly?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah I mean you don't look like you would be very soft and squishy which are qualities you look for in a good human pillow but you were very comfortable anyway.”
“How so?” He dug his thumb into her shoulder and she groaned.
“I don't know you're just comfortable. You're warm and just your presence alone is comforting.”
“You make me feel safe.” She murmured in a content voice. His touch had lulled her into a relaxed daze. Suddenly, he stopped rubbing her shoulder. Laina cracked her eyes and looked over at him. He was looking back at her thoughtfully. “What?”
“I don't know I just… I've always wanted you to feel safe around me. I mean maker Laina I would die for you.” She raised her head and looked at him. “But to hear you say it is…” he glanced down for a moment before looking back into her eyes with a smile, “nice.”
She smiled as she gazed back at him. Suddenly, with the arm still wrapped around her, he pulled her against his side. He squeezed her against him and brushed a kiss across the top of her head. Then, footsteps could be heard echoing down the hall so he immediately released her and took a step away to put some distance between them.
Evelyn rounded the corner just as Cullen settled into his new place. Laina figured she would have normally noticed that something was up but her eyes were fixed on the ground.
“How did it go? Are you ok?” Laina stepped toward her and spoke in a comforting voice.
She took a deep breath before responding, “I will be,” she raised her eyes and looked back at Laina, “It's just a lot to take in at once.”
“Well, whatever you need or whatever you decided I'm here for you.”
“Thank you,” she offered her a small smile before moving around her to Cullen. “I want him out, I will judge him back at Skyhold.”
“Yes Inquisitor,” Cullen bowed slightly, “and Evelyn, for what it's worth, I'm sorry.” He added.
Evelyn nodded and turned to walk away before stopping, “Don't you ever do this to her Cullen.”
Cullen straightened, he seemed taken aback by the statement but Evelyn didn't give him time to question her as she ascended the stairs and left the room.
“What was that about?” Laina walked up next to him and crossed her arms.
He looked at the ground for a moment before replying quietly, “I think I know.”
Laina had a feeling she knew as well but she wasn't going to say anything about it. Now was not the time. They had bigger more important things to take care of at the moment. So she simply followed Evelyn up the steps and back out into the city.
When they got Rainer back to Skyhold Evelyn judged him immediately. Laina didn't know what to expect from the trial. Usually, Evelyn had an audience for her judgments but this time was different. Everyone left the main hall so she and Rainer could have some privacy. Laina sat at her desk impatiently tapping the tip of her quill on the paper while she waited. It seemed to be taking longer than usual although she had a feeling that was just her imagination. She lifted her head when the door opened and Josephine entered. She informed her that the Inquisitor had given Rainer his freedom to atone for his crime. They were apparently getting along well and Laina hadn't expected anything else. She could tell they truly loved each other and she was happy for them. That didn't mean she wasn't going to watch Rainer like a hawk and that she wasn't going to threaten to kill him if he ever hurt Evelyn again.
Laina made her way down the steps from the main hall out into the courtyard. The men were all talking and laughing as they left the training fields together and headed down the steps toward the stables. She squeezed through them as they passed and smiled to herself at their childlike behavior. She walked across the grass to the sparring ring and found exactly who she was looking for.
“Cullen,” she called out to him as he was straightening the soldier's equipment on the racks. He turned around at the sound of her voice and smiled at her. She felt some emotions well inside of her at the sight of him. His white shirt and blonde hair were both soaked with sweat and he sheened in the afternoon sunlight.
“Laina, what can I do for you?” He asked in a happy tone. He seemed to be in a good mood as he went to the nearby fence and grabbed a bucket full of water off the ground. He used the ladle in it to scoop some water up and sipped it as he turned back to look at her.
“I was wondering if you had some free time?” She asked as her fingers fidgeted with the front of her shirt.
“For you, always.” His eyes smiled at her as he took another drink.
“I mean like a lot of time.”
“Well,” he placed the bucket back down on the ground. “The men just went to lunch so I have some time to spare now, does that work?”
“Maybe, if you extend their lunch an hour or two.”
He chuckled, “For you, that can be done. I'll just cancel their afternoon practice, they need a break anyway.”
“I'm sorry to bother you like this.”
“It's fine,” he scrunched his face and looked up at the sun. “Maker it’s hot.”
He reached behind his head, grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head in one motion. Laina swallowed as her eyes traveled down his torso. His tan skin was glistening with sweat. She watched his muscles flex under his skin as he tossed his shirt over the nearby fence. Her eyes followed a drop of sweat as it ran down his chest and over his abs before catching on the waistband of his breeches.
“Laina?” Her eyes snapped back up to his face, “Are you alright? You went quiet all of a sudden, which is rare.”
She ignored his teasing and replied in a quiet squeaky voice. “Just thirsty.” She internally cringed at the double meaning of her words.
“Oh, well here.” He stooped and picked up the ladle again. He brought the full spoon to her mouth and coaxed her to drink. She swallowed the whole thing in hungry gulps. Apparently, she had actually been thirsty in that sense. “Now,” he replaced the spoon in the bucket when she was finished. “What did you need?”
“Well I don't want to waste your valuable time but I was wondering if you could teach me more about self defense and maybe using weapons.”
“Of course.” He replied quickly, without hesitation.
“Yes, of course, and Laina,” he placed his hand on her shoulder, “You're more valuable than my time.” He added with a smile before ruffling her hair.
She stood in the middle of the sparring ring patiently waiting while Cullen gathered some equipment. He came back with a couple of daggers and a dummy. She didn't know how he had managed to carry it all.
First he taught her some hand to hand combat that was just a little better than what she already knew, but only a little. She wasn't going to admit that she only had one move to defend herself. She couldn't say that anymore. He showed her the moves which weren't to difficult and then he went on to power and technique.
“Hit me,” he held up his hand for her to punch. She took one look at it and gave a half-hearted swing. Her fist impacted with his hand which barely moved. “Weak, and your form is all wrong.” She glared at him and punched his hand again, this time with a little more force. “That was a little better but I know you've got more in you. You've punched my shoulder harder than that before.”
“Well you deserved it then.”
“So I have to deserve it now to get a real punch out of you?” She shrugged, “Alright…” he thought for a moment. “You always look frumpy.”
“What?” Laina raised her eyebrows.
“I said you always look kinda frumpy like you got fashion tips from my grandmother.” Laina squinted and clenched her jaw but this just seemed to encourage him more. “Your clothes always look too big for you.”
“They're hand-me-downs, I didn't pick them out.” She retorted sharply.
But he ignored her and just continued, “Except for that day on my field when you ripped your pants. They must have been really tight, or you were just too big for your breeches.”
Laina scrunched her face and punched his hand as hard as she could. He pulled his hand back and chuckled as he shook it out. “Now that's more like it!” He was smiling at her.
“I can't believe you said those things just to rile me up!” She was still annoyed with him.
“I was just kidding, you always look good Laina and quite frankly I think you would look good in anything.”
Her harsh gaze softened and her mouth fell slightly agape at his sudden compliment. She could have sworn he winked as he turned around to grab a dagger.
“Now,” he flipped the dagger in his hand until the handle was facing her. “Take this.”
She tentatively reached out and closed her fingers over its black handle. Cullen maneuvered to the back of her. He stood slightly off center from her and placed his hand over hers on the dagger.
“You want to grip it like this to attack someone behind you,” He moved her hand, “Or like this for a front attack.” He switched her hand position again. “Now your punching stance was a little bit off but not bad however with a dagger it's a bit different.
He used his hand to adjust her body into the right position. Laina felt heat rush to her cheeks as he grabbed her legs and arms and moved them. Where ever he touched got super hot and she could feel his hands still on her even after he had moved them. He pulled on her shoulders until her back was flush against his chest. Laina's heart picked up speed along with her breathing. She didn't think all the touching was necessary to learn how to use a dagger. She was sure he didn't teach his men how to fight like this.
“Make sure you keep your shoulders at this angle. You're going to draw your arm back and because of the position and how you're holding the dagger you want to thrust in and up. Keep a firm grip on it.” He wrapped his hand around hers and showed her how to use the dagger. When he was satisfied he backed away from her. “Practice on your dummy.”
“Who you?” She teased as she twisted toward him with the knife still in hand.
He gave her a hard look, “Very funny,” he walked away to collect his gear. “While you're doing that I'm going to get some sword practice in. Let me know if you need any help.” With that, he adjusted his grip on his sword and started some routines.
Laina watched him for a moment, as he was still shirtless and therefore very distracting, before finally snapping out of it and turning toward her dummy. She figured this was a good time to let out any pent-up rage so she went to town on the dummy.
They were both breathing heavily when they sat down on the top of the fence. Laina was sweating and used the back of her hand to wipe her forehead. That didn't seem adequate so she grabbed the collar of her shirt and pulled it up to wipe her face.
“Here,” Cullen threw a towel at her and she caught it midair.
She went to wipe her face but stopped when she got a whiff of the towel. “Eww,” she scrunched her nose up at the smell and pulled back from it. “It smells terrible.”
He cringed, “Half the men may have wiped their sweat on that.”
Laina made a disgusted noise and held the towel further away from her, “Gross.” Cullen chuckled, she glared at him before tossing the towel over his head. She rubbed the towel over his hair before he grabbed it away from her.
He ripped the towel off his head and glared at her. His hair was even more messed up and Laina smirked at how cute he looked. “What was that for?”
“You were dripping with sweat I thought I would help.” He rolled his eyes as she laughed.
“What about this?” He offered her his shirt that had been draped over the fence between them.
“No, I can't use your shirt. You're going to have to put that back on eventually and you don't want it wet with my sweat.”
He shrugged, “Could be worse.” He then pulled his shirt over his head and tugged it down over his chest.
She hopped off the fence and dusted herself off before brushing her hands together. “Well, thank you, Cullen. That was quite informative, but I should probably let you get back to work. I think I've taken up enough of your time.”
She turned to leave, “Laina, wait.” Cullen caught her by the arm. He let go once she turned to look at him, “Want to grab a drink?”
Laina thought for a moment before smiling, “Only if you're buying.”
He chuckled, “Of course, I always buy when I take a lady out. What kind of gentleman do you think I am?”
“Apparently we both have the wrong idea since you still think I'm a lady.” She moved to walk next to him as they walked the short distance to the tavern.
“You'll always be a lady to me.” He replied as he opened the door for her. He motioned for her to walk through, “Ladies first.”
Laina rolled her eyes with a huff of a laugh as she entered the tavern. It was mostly empty since it was still kind of early, with the only sounds being Maryden’s singing and some quiet chatter from the second floor. She followed Cullen to the bar and took a seat on the stool next to him. Cabot took his order first and then looked to Laina.
“I'll have whatever he's having.”
Cabot grumbled something and turned to get their drinks while Cullen swiveled in his seat to look at her. “What makes you think you can keep up with me?”
That sounded like a challenge, “I'll drink you under the table.”
He chuckled, “I didn't bring you here so we could get drunk. I think that could cause problems for both of us.”
She was about to ask him what he meant but Cabot loudly clunked their glasses down between them before she could speak. Cullen picked his up and held it out towards her. Laina smiled and clinked hers against his before they both took a swill of the sweet ale.
Laina pulled the glass away from her lips and gave it a curious look. “I'm surprised this is what you picked, I was expecting something harder.”
He shrugged, “I like the taste.”
She took another sip and swirled the ale in her mouth. She tried to focus and keep her thoughts in check but she couldn't help wondering what Cullen's mouth would taste like after he drank it. She shook her head and pushed those thoughts away. Maybe the ale was stronger than she thought. They sat in silence for a while after that just enjoying their drinks and each other's company.
“You did well today Laina.” Cullen said finally breaking the silence.
“Thanks, it was a lot of work. My instructor was ok.” She replied before sipping her drink.
“Just ok?” He sounded offended but Laina knew he could tell she was teasing.
“Yeah you know they were teasing me and being distracting.”
“Well, I understand the teasing because you're very teasable.” She sent him a sideways look. “But how was I distracting?”
“Who said I was talking about you?” He had turned to face her but she kept looking straight ahead. She berated herself for mentioning how distracting he was in the first place because now he was curious about it and she didn't want to answer his question.
“Nice try, but you didn't answer my question.” He leaned his arm against the counter as he looked at her expectantly.
She sighed, “Well at first it was alright but then he took his shirt off and everything went off the tracks from there.”
He chuckled, “That's what was distracting? I didn't realize me being shirtless was a distraction. I figured you'd seen shirtless men before.”
“I have I just wasn't expecting it.” She answered defensively, finally glancing over at him.
“You were just surprised, that's all?”
“Yes, well that and…” she looked away again as she trailed off.
“And?” He pressed her to continue.
“No, no you don't get to start that sentence and then not finish it.”
She groaned, “And you're… you know, well built.”
He laughed quietly, “So?”
“So, most girls and some guys find that…” the smug smile he was giving her told her he knew what she meant but he apparently wanted to hear her say it. “Attractive.” She finally mumbled. His smug smile spread, “But, you could use a little more work in this area,” she motioned to her stomach, “a little flabby.” He wasn't by any definition of the word flabby but she had to get him back for what he was putting her through.
“Flabby?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “I spend a lot of my time out on the field training with the men. If anyone here is flabby, it's you.” He poked her in the stomach to emphasize his point.
“Hey!” She swatted at his hand and hit him on the shoulder. “It's a layer of fat to protect my abs, they're very fragile.” Cullen's shoulders shook as he began to laugh. It started as a low rumbled but soon he was falling over with laughter. “Don't laugh at me.” Laina whined and crossed her arms.
“I've never heard such a thing.” He was still laughing.
“Hey!” She jerked back away from him as his motion spilled his ale on the floor. “You're spilling it everywhere.”
“If you're going to be spilling your drink on my floor you can take it outside.” Cabot was staring at both of them with his arms crossed.
Cullen grimaced, “Sorry,” he threw some money down on the counter and placed his hand on Laina's back as he steered her toward the door. “I guess we've overstayed our welcome.” He whispered into her ear before making a face that mocked Cabot’s. Laina burst out laughing and Cullen shushed her as he laughed himself before ushering her out the door.
Laina sighed as they walked the battlements together. It was a lovely evening and even better company. She glanced over at Cullen as he walked beside her. Their friendship had come so far since that first day. While she wasn't particularly happy about being pulled into a world practically against her will she was happy that she had met him. He had changed her life. He had shown her that not all guys were jerks. Some of them were kind and selfless and adorably shy at the weirdest times.
“I heard Rainer’s judgment went well.” Her thoughts were interrupted as Cullen spoke suddenly.
“Yeah, she pardoned him to atone for his crimes in his own way. I heard they even shared a kiss after. I wonder what they're doing now?” She said with a suggestive tone in her voice.
“Uh, I don't want to think about that.” He replied dismissively.
“Well, It's not hard to imagine. What would you do?” He just shook his head. “Come on you can tell me, even if it's a little naughty.” She didn't know what was coming out of her mouth, she was definitely more buzzed than she'd realized. “Come on… come on.” She poked him repeatedly in the side as she begged him.
Suddenly his arm intercepted hers and pushed it away while he pressed her up against a nearby wall. Laina gasped and her heart immediately sped up. She stared back at him as he looked at her, she didn't see any anger in his eyes.
“If you want to know what I would do so badly then how about I just show you?” He stated more than asked as he moved a little closer. “I would push them up against the wall like this, and brace my arms on either side of them so they couldn't escape.” He did just that, Laina was now effectively trapped against the wall by him. Yet she wasn't afraid, she had never felt so safe. “Then I would look into their eyes as I leaned closer.”
Laina gazed back at him as he leaned toward her before her eyes fluttered shut. She parted her lips slightly in anticipation, her hot breath escaping out between them in short gasps. She felt Cullen's breath brush across her cheek as he leaned down.
He paused right before their lips met, “I'm not going to kiss you.” He whispered between them. Laina opened her eyes as he quickly pulled away from her. “I'm not going to kiss you.” He repeated as he pushed off the wall and away from her. He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I'm drunk,” he paused before looked up and continuing. “Maker Laina I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that. I didn't mean to scare you.”
“Cullen…” she said his name softly as she reached toward him.
He backed away from her, “I think it's best if we call it a night.” He took a deep breath before managing a smile. “I'll see you tomorrow Laina.” He grabbed her shoulder and gave it a small squeeze before turning and heading toward his office.
Laina thought it was good that he didn't seem afraid to touch her. She sighed, she knew what she had wanted to happen but she wasn't ready to admit it. She turned to walk to her room, one thing she did know however was that she wasn't drunk, and neither was he.
A very small trigger warning for sexual assault. Nothing major happens or is described but if anything in that realm makes you uncomfortable you may want to be cautious when reading this chapter or skip it entirely.
The Arbor Wilds was more beautiful than Laina had expected. The trees were as tall as skyscrapers with thick vines wrapped around them. Laina had never been anywhere so green. The smell of clean fresh earth hit her nostrils the second she stepped out of her carriage. Birdsong rang out all around them so loudly that she had trouble hearing the people around her. She walked around for a moment with her face tilted toward the treetops in awe of the beauty around her.
With a deep breath, she lowered her head and went to find Josephine. When she found the Ambassador she was in the middle of a conversation with the Empress of Orlais. Laina thought it was best to not interrupt so she decided she could wait until they were finished. When she spotted Cullen across the clearing directing some troops she knew how she would pass the time.
“Sooooo…” she started when she walked up next to him. She hadn't seen him since Skyhold when they were in the war room discussing coming to the Arbor Wilds.
“So,” he replied, barely taking his eyes off of the men in front of him.
“Should I be worried about this?”
He glanced at her, “Why would you be worried? You're not the one fighting.”
She gave him a sideways look as she nudged him with her elbow. “You know what I mean. It's just- you're not gonna die on me are you?” She was trying to play it off a little but she was actually worried about him and Evelyn too.
He slowly unfolded his arms and turned to look at her. “Laina,” she met his eyes at first before dropping them to the ground and biting her lip. He brought a hand up and stroked her cheek before letting it fall to her shoulder. “I'm not going anywhere, not if I can help it, and I won't let anything happen to Evelyn either. I think there has been a change of plans. I believe I’m leaving Rylen in charge of the men while I accompany the Inquisitor, so I'll look out for her for you.” He smiled at her and she couldn't help but smile back. Just his hand on her shoulder was all of the reassurance she needed.
She left him to his work after that as she went back to find the Ambassador again. She scoured the clearing a couple of time's before she finally found her in a tent signing some papers. She was happy to see Laina and immediately gave her a stack of papers of her own. She took them with a forced smile, groaning to herself only when she wasn't within earshot anymore. She sat down at her desk on the opposite end of the tent and scanned some of the papers in front of her. The Ambassador was handling the important documents between Orlais and the Inquisition since they were offering them aid. So she gave Laina the less important papers and basically assigned her with writing thank you notes to everyone that sent them aid.
She was so caught up in her work that she missed seeing everyone off, including Cullen and Evelyn. By the time she exited her tent for a break the fighting was well on its way. The forest had gone eerily quiet and Laina looked around cautiously as she walked across the camp. She found her way to where they were serving lunch and quickly grabbed a meal before scurrying back to her desk. She didn't like how changed the woods seemed to be, it made her uneasy so she spent as little time outside of her tent as possible.
When evening rolled around the camp got news that the Inquisitor was getting close to the temple. Hopefully, she would make it inside and the fighting would die down soon. Laina stretched as she got up from her desk. She was hungry again and decided it was time for a dinner break. She left her tent and only made it a couple of steps before someone called out to her from the side of the clearing.
Laina turned in the direction of the voice and could just make out someone in the shadows. The sun hadn't begun to set yet so it was still bright enough out to see well but whoever had called to her was in the shadow of a thicket.
“Yes? Can I help you?” She took a cautious step toward the figure.
“Yes, I'm bringing back reports from the front and I dropped some. I would pick them up but my arms are full, I was wondering if you could help me?”
The plea seemed innocent enough so Laina smiled and nodded, “Sure,”
“Oh, thank you.”
She crossed the small distance between them quickly and knelt to the ground to pick up the pages scattered there. She only began to realize something was wrong when she noticed that all of the pages were blank. Before she could react she was hit over the head and fell unconscious to the ground.
The world was dark from beneath her eyelids but suddenly a burst of pain sent her eyes flying open. She was lying on the ground and she curled inward on herself as pain radiated from her stomach. Another blow to her lower back made her unravel before she was hit in the stomach again. She curled into a ball as she was kicked repeatedly all over her body.
“Alright, alright, that's enough.” A man said from somewhere above her. The abuse ceased on his command as Laina whimpered in pain.
Suddenly her arms that she had wrapped around her head to protect it were pried away. Her wrists were grabbed forcefully and pinned above her as a face appeared in her view. It was a man she had never seen before.
“Do you know the Commander of the Inquisition’s army, Cullen Rutherford?”
Laina didn't say anything as she just stared at him. The hand not pinning her wrists down reeled back and came swinging toward her face. He slapped her so hard her head twisted in the other direction. She blinked her eyes as she moved back to face him.
“We know you're a part of the Inquisition, we got you from there camp. Now, do you know Cullen Rutherford?” He asked again in a scarily steady voice.
The defiance remained in Laina's eyes as she stared back at him. He sighed before drawing his hand back again and slapping her.
“Ser, we already know she knows him. We saw her talking to him.” One of his henchmen spoke up from somewhere out of her view.
“I know, but I want to hear her say it.” He looked back at her expectantly. She scrunched her face and spit at him out of spite.
His face clouded over in rage and this time he punched her. His fist impacted with her face with a sickening crack. Her head bounced off the ground beneath her and she cried out in pain. He released her arms and she curled onto her side as she clutched at her nose. She mumbled into her hand as she rocked back and forth on the ground with blood pouring from her nose.
“What was that? I can't hear you.” He tilted his head and leaned in closer.
Laina pinched her nose and moved her other hand away from her face. “I know him.”
The man smiled a triumphant wicked grin. “Now, was that so hard. Next question,” he stood up over her. “Are you good friends with him?” Laina glared back at him, making no effort to answer.
“Apparently she didn't learn her lesson.” He looked at his men and then nodded toward her.
One of the men grabbed her arms and held them above her head while the other climbed on top of her. He sat on her so she couldn't move. He looked overly pleased with himself as he moved his hands over her body.
“You've got a nice body under all these clothes.” He began to lewdly feel her up as Laina thrashed beneath him.
“No! Stop!” She tried to wiggle free but they were too strong.
The man grabbed her face and turned it to the side so he could lick up her neck. Laina cringed as she felt his wet tongue move across her skin.
“He's my friend!” She called out desperately before the men had a chance to do anything else.
“Good,” the man in charge held up his hand and the other two men stopped and moved away from her. “Thank you for being so cooperative, that's all we needed to know.”
“You're going to let me go?” She asked hopefully.
He chuckled a hideous laugh, “No, we're going to use you as leverage.” He motioned to the two men beside him. “Do a number on her, make her look bad.”
“No! No, please!” Laina cried as the two men stalked toward her. She curled back up into a ball as they began to beat her again.
She didn't know how long the beating lasted but by the time they were done with her she was bruised and bleeding. Eventually, one of them dragged her to her feet and pulled her along as they led her to the edge of a small cliff. The man put her in front of him and placed a dagger on her throat. Laina was in no position or condition to fight back now. She watched through cracked lids as Cullen and Evelyn came around the base of a large tree. Cullen did a double take once he saw them and she watched him mouth her name. They came running to the base of the cliff with their weapons drawn.
“Cullen! So nice of you to join us.” The man in charge called out to greet him.
“Samson!” Cullen snarled through clenched teeth. “Let her go!”
“Well, I'm glad to know we got the right one. Couldn't have someone up here that meant nothing to you.”
“Laina!” Evelyn called to her as she took a step closer. “Are you alright?”
Blood spurted from Laina’s mouth as she laughed painfully. She raised an arm and gave the two at the bottom of the cliff a thumbs up. That didn't seem to relieve their worries, however. Evelyn turned to Cullen and said something before glancing past the cliff toward the temple behind them. Cullen followed her eyes and nodded. She gave him a pat on the back while her other hand slipped something to him. Then she took off running toward the temple.
“Apparently you're not important enough for her to stay,” Samson said as he motioned for the man not holding Laina to follow the Inquisitor. “I guess it's just you and me now Cullen.” He called down to the Commander who was glowering up at him.
“Samson, let her go!”
“What would be the fun in that? This is a negotiation, you give me what I want and you can have the girl.”
“Anything, I'll give you whatever you want!” Cullen yelled back.
“Call off your army and retreat.”
“I can't do that! You know I can't do that. That's not my call to make.” Cullen replied desperately.
“Well,” Samson threw his hands up. “Then it looks like you're out of luck.” He motioned to the man that was holding Laina.
“Wait!” Cullen called out to stop him. Samson lowered his hand and looked down at him. “Please, please don't hurt her.” He pleaded, “Take me instead.”
“You must really care for this girl,” Samson noted, with surprise in his voice.
“She didn't do anything wrong. She shouldn't be dragged into this. Please just take me instead and let her go.”
“Well Commander, I never thought I'd live to see the day.”
Suddenly, Laina got an idea. “Cullen,” she said his name as loudly as she could. His eyes turned to her but before she could continue the knife on her throat pressed into her skin.
“Let her speak,” Samson instructed the man, who released the pressure on her neck.
“I-I think I should SING.” She managed weakly.
It took a moment but she watched realization slowly dawn on his face as the confusion melted away. “I think that would be a great idea.” He replied gently, careful to hide anything that might give their plan away.
“Should I start now?”
“No, just wait a moment, you'll know when.”
“Aw, she's going to sing to you isn't that adorable.” Samson quipped sarcastically.
“She's not going to sing to me Samson, she's going to sing to you!” Cullen yelled before tossing something into the air.
Laina figured that was her signal and she attacked the man behind her. Solar plexus, instep, nose, groin. She talked herself through the motions as she acted quickly. When the man behind her keeled over in pain she grabbed the knife from his hand and blindly stabbed it back into him. He fell away from her back and adjusting the grip on the knife she whipped to her side and upon seeing Samson with his armor off, she stabbed it into the middle of his chest. His eyes shot open wide as his mouth opened on a gasp. He stayed standing for a moment before falling backward. The knife still lodged in his chest.
Laina let out a huge breath and her shoulders slumped forward. She could barely stay upright on her feet and gently swayed in place. Cullen ran up to her as fast as he could with his sword drawn. After he checked to make sure both men were dead he sheathed his sword and before Laina knew it she was wrapped in his warmth.
“Maker, I thought I was going to lose you.” He was squeezing her so tightly it was painful. He pulled away and with two hands on either side of her face he stroked her cheeks and looked into her eyes. “Are you alright?”
“I think I'll make it.” She managed before he pulled her back into his embrace.
He kissed the top of her head before resting his chin against her. “I'm so sorry, his quarrel was with me and because of that, you got dragged into it. This is all my fault, I should have protected you.”
“You couldn't have known.” She mumbled into his chest.
“That doesn't help. What can I do to make this better?”
“Just hold me, exactly like you are.”
“I can do that.” He whispered into her hair as he continued to hold her.
Fluff, fluff and more fluff
Cullen brought her back to the camp and there they learned that the army had won and the Inquisitor was presumed to have been successful. Laina was happy to hear the news but she mostly just wanted to rest. She was covered in bruises and dried blood, her clothes were dirty and she smelled like sweat. She wanted to wash up and then go straight to bed. It was late in the evening and she left Cullen to eat as she went to her tent.
She moved stiffly as she pushed the flap out of her way and entered the dimly lit tent. The candles she had lit before were still burning. She lit a couple more and placed them around the tent before pulling out some fresh clothes from her chest. She changed into her new pants immediately. Then she went and poured herself some water in her basin. She found a clean cloth and let it soak in the cool water as she tried to pull her shirt off over her head. She was sore and every movement hurt as she tried to take her shirt off. She got it halfway up before groaning in pain and letting it fall back down over her body.
“Laina?” came a voice from right outside the tent flap. Cullen’s head appeared shortly thereafter as he peeked in. “Are you alright?” She glanced over at him, her eyes glazed over in pain. “Are you trying to get that off?” He asked as he noticed her hands grasping the bottom of her shirt. She nodded and he entered the tent to stand in front of her. “Would you like some help?” She nodded again and he moved his hands to replace hers. “Raise your arms.” She raised them as high as she could and he tugged her shirt off in one motion.
“Thanks, I just want to wash up before bed.” She said as her eyes looked over to the water basin on her desk.
Cullen didn't follow her eyes, instead, his gaze was fixed on her torso. “Maker’s breath Laina, I can't believe they did this to you.”
Laina looked down at herself and cringed, she was covered in nasty looking bruises. “It's not that bad.” She brushed it off but she knew how it looked.
Cullen reached out a hand and gently brushed his fingers over the bruises on her side. Laina sucked in her breath when he accidentally pressed too hard. He drew his hand back and looked her in the eyes. “I'm sorry,” before she could say anything he left her to grab the cloth from the washbasin, apparently he had been paying attention.
He returned with the cloth in hand and began to wash her with it. He moved it's cool, wet surface over her body in gentle deliberate strokes. It didn't take him long to wash she torso and arms, then he cleaned the blood from her face. He put the cloth down and pulled a small container from his pocket.
“It's a salve, it should help your bruises heal.” he explained as he opened it and scooped his finger into the ointment.
He used a soft touch to rub it onto each of her bruises. Once he was finished he left it on her desk in case she wanted to use it again and helped her put a clean shirt on. She didn't even bother trying to clean her hair, she was too exhausted. So when they were finished she sat on the edge of her cot and Cullen followed.
“Thank you, Cullen, now I can go to bed all clean.” She thanked him as she brushed a hand over her clean shirt.
“Do you want me to stay?”
She looked up at him a little surprised, “No, I'm fine.”
“I will, you did it for me. It's the least I can do for you.”
“No, really I'm fine.”
“Laina,” he placed a hand on her knee, and her eyes briefly glanced down to it before meeting his again. “You just went through a very traumatic experience. If your scared or are worried about nightmares it's understandable.”
“Well, I wasn't until you just said that. But I'm fine, they're just dreams.” She shrugged it off.
“You don't have be strong, Laina. I know you, and I know you like to hide behind that smile of yours.” It was like he was seeing right through her. She sighed and looked at her hands in her lap. “Sometimes talking about it helps.” He offered.
“What is there to say? They knocked me out, took me, and beat me.”
“They didn't try anything else?”
She knew what he was asking and kept her eyes on her hands as she answered. “They didn't get very far. One of them felt me up a little but that's it. They just did it so I would answer their questions.”
“They just wanted to know if I knew you, and if we were friends.” She picked at the dirt under her nails as she spoke.
“And that warranted a harsh beating?” The disgust and anger in his voice was barely restrained.
Laina smirked as she glanced over at him. “I may not have been a willing participant and I may or may not have spit in Samson’s face. That's how I got this,” she pointed to the fresh wound on her upper lip. “Now we're twins.”
Cullen brought his hand up and ran his thumb across her lips, and wound. Laina's lips parted slightly and she sucked in a breath as she gazed back at him. “I wish we weren't.” His hand fell away, “Are you sure you don't want me to stay?”
“Yes, I'll be fine.”
“Alright,” he stood, “My tent is right next to yours if you need me.”
“Ok, thank you again, Cullen.” She called after him as he left.
Now alone in her tent, she blew out her candles and crawled into bed. It was hard to find a comfortable position since everything hurt but eventually, she fell asleep.
Only a couple of hours later she lie in bed amongst her sheets whimpering as she dreamed. She bolted upright with a gasp as she was startled awake by her own nightmare. She was shaking and firmly grasped the sheets beside her. She took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself. A voice from the tent flap made her open her eyes.
“Bad dream?” Cullen stood in the opening looking at her. She bit her lip and shook her head yes in response. “Oh Laina,” he quickly walked across the tent and sat down on the edge of her cot. “Come here,” he motioned for her to come closer.
She slid across the bed until she was next to him and he pulled her against his chest. He wrapped his strong arms around her and began to rock her slightly. She pressed her face against his warm chest and let his presence soothe her. He shifted one of his arms slightly and pressed into her bruises uncomfortably. She groaned in pain as she pulled away from him.
“Sorry,” he apologized, looking sympathetic. “How can I make it better?”
“Where I come from kisses make booboos better.” She joked.
He looked at her for a moment, considering something before grabbing her arm. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed her bruised knuckles. He made his way up her arm trailing kisses across her skin. He started with her hand and then her wrist, elbow, upper arm, shoulder.
Laina giggled as she finally pulled away from him. “I think that's enough, thanks.” She had managed to escape before his lips made it to her neck.
“Are you sure? Did it help?” He gave her a cheeky grin.
She smiled back at him, “Sure,”
They gazed at each other for a moment before Cullen started to move. “Alright, come on, you need to get back to bed.”
Laina watched him move her sheets and get into her bed. She cocked an eyebrow at him, “What are you doing?”
“You did this for me so I feel like it's only fair that I do it for you.”
“You don't have to.”
“I know, but I want to.” He motioned for her to come lie down. She sat and stared at him biting her lip. “Come on,” he encouraged her.
Laina sighed as she gave in and crawled over to him. She laid down on his chest and snuggled up against him as she got comfortable. He wrapped his arms around her and softly stroked a hand up and down her back. Everything about him made Laina feel safe and he easily lulled her into a relaxed state. She tugged one of his arms closer to her face and kissed it lightly. He sighed contently and rested his head back on the pillows. The motion of his hand on her back inched her shirt up and soon his calloused fingers were grazing over the bare skin of her back. She rested her cheek on his broad chest and let his warmth seep into her as she listened to his heartbeat. He began to softly hum above her as she drifted off to sleep.
She awoke the next morning to bird song. She was jostled slightly and shifted before lifting her head. The back of her head hit something and she heard a groan of pain from above her. She turned and sat up as she watched Cullen grab his nose.
“Oh! I'm sorry!” She grimaced and hesitantly reached her hands toward him before pulling them back quickly.
“Is it bleeding?” He asked as he took his hand briefly away from his nose.
She examined his face, “I don't think so.” She didn't see any blood. “Is there anything I can do?”
He finally pulled his hand away, “You know someone told me kisses help.”
She let out a small laugh as she smiled. She grabbed either side of his face and planted a kiss on the tip of his nose. She pulled back and looked at him. “Better?”
“A little, I think maybe an inch or two lower would do the trick.” His gaze fell briefly to her lips before he looked her in the eye again.
Laina's heart skipped a beat at what he was suggesting. Her tongue darted out to wet her lower lip before she bit it in thought. Her eyes traced down his face to his lips. She leaned forward slowly and softly kissed the corner of his mouth. When she pulled away she could barely meet his gaze and felt her cheeks heat up.
“Um, you should probably get going.” She offered into the silence between them.
He cleared his throat, “You're probably right, I have to get the men to pack up the camp.” He climbed out of the bed and grabbed his cloak. “I left you the salve,” he said as he slid one arm into his sleeve. “You should put some more on, if you can't do it yourself I can help you later.”
“Or I could ask someone else.” She regretted the words the second they left her mouth.
His countenance fell slightly at her words but he quickly hid it. “Oh, um… right, of course.” He moved toward the tent opening, “I'll see you later, Laina.” He said as he glanced over his shoulder.
“Bye Cullen, and thank you.”
He smiled and nodded before finally leaving the tent. Laina sat on her cot in thought. She was a little shocked by what had happened and didn't know what to make of it. They had both seemed a little surprised and embarrassed by the situation but she didn't know why. They were grown adults dammit, and if they both liked each other why couldn't they just say so. She sighed as she got up. Hopefully, that would happen soon. She was pretty sure Evelyn would have a fit if it didn't.
Laina sat by the fire of the camp after dinner on an old partly rotten log some of the soldiers had dragged over to use as a seat. They had stopped early for the night on their way back to Skyhold. It had looked like a good place to camp so they had sacrificed some time off the trip to set up an early camp. Everyone was hungry and the men needed a break so they had an early dinner and now everyone was lounging around fires as the sun started to set. Laina leaned back on her log and stretched a little, trying to loosen up her still sore body. Her wounds were healing but not quick enough for her liking.
Laina's froze when she heard a voice from behind her and slowly turned to look over her shoulder. In the bushes at the edge of the camp was Cullen, who was beaconing for her to come to him. She gave him a weird look but he just kept motioning to her with his hand. So with an exaggerated groan, she stood and made her way over to him.
“Yes? Can I help you?” She asked with a hint of sarcastic exasperation in her voice. Anytime she could be near Cullen she was glad to be, no matter how much she pretended he was a pain.
“Come with me.” He motioned for her to follow him as he turned to head back into the woods.
She pushed through the brush after him, “Where are we going?”
“It's a surprise.”
Laina internally groaned but continued to play along for the moment as she followed him deeper into the woods. They walked together for a while in silence. Cullen suddenly stopped in front of her and Laina almost ran into his broad back.
“We’re almost there.” He turned to face her and took a step back once he realized how close they were. “Close your eyes.”
“Because it's a surprise.”
“But I don't want to close my eyes.” She retorted defiantly. After he gave her a hard look she sighed, “Fine if I have to.” She made a show of closing her eyes as Cullen watched while shaking his head.
He apparently didn't trust her however as he proceeded to cover her eyes with one of his hands as he led her through the forest. Laina almost fell over a couple of time's but Cullen was luckily there to catch her.
He positioned her in front of him, “Alright, we’re here. You can open your eyes now.”
He removed his hand and Laina slowly cracked her eyes open. In front of her was a small pool, with steam rising from the surface. It was surrounded by rocks and trees and they were quite a distance from the camp. The small clearing it was located in was pretty in the light of the sunset behind it.
“Oh wow! Water!” She said sarcastically as she looked around.
“You know, I would smack you if you weren't injured.” Cullen came to stand beside her and crossed his arms as he gave her a displeased look.
“I probably deserve that.” She smiled and looked around, “This is actually really nice. Is it a hot spring?” He nodded, “How did you find this?”
“I found it when we stopped on our way to the Arbor Wilds. I remembered where it was and got them to agree to stop here on the way back.”
“Who else knows about this?” She glanced around the small clearing.
“Just us, you're the only one I've brought here.”
“Why?” She turned to him and raised an eyebrow.
“I figured the warm water would feel good on your sore muscles. Besides,” he gave her a mischievous look, “You could use a bath, you're a little smelly.” Laina didn't even look at him as she reached over and smacked his arm. He chuckled, “This time I deserved that.” He smiled at her and then motioned to the water, “After you.”
“I can leave my clothes on, right?”
He gave her a curious look, “I guess, I wouldn't leave all of your clothes on. Maybe just your smalls?”
Laina bit her lip and then started to pull her clothes off. She started with her pants and had Cullen help her take her shirt off. She then approached the edge of the pool and stuck her toe in. The warmth from the water seeped up her leg, it was very inviting. With a grin, she waded into the pool and sighed as the warm water surrounded her. From the middle of the pool, she watched Cullen undress as well. He left his smalls on too, probably more for her benefit than his own.
“I didn't realize you would be joining me.”
He looked at her in surprise, “I'm sorry if you want me to leave…”
Laina smirked and shook her head. Once he realized she was joking he splashed some water towards her and waded deeper into the pool. Laina followed after him and luckily for her the water wasn't deep enough to require her to swim. So she really could relax and just enjoy the heat of the small spring.
Cullen had handed her a bar of soap before she got in and she started to lather any parts of her body that weren't covered by the few pieces of clothing she was wearing. She easily washed her legs, torso, and arms, but when she tried to wash her hair she winced and dropped her hand away from her head. She tried again but the movement made her whimper in pain. She was still sore and bruised from the beating she had taken.
“Would you like some help?” Cullen asked. He must have caught her movement as he was standing in front of her now with a concerned look on his face.
“I'm just trying to wash my hair.” She answered in frustration.
He took the soap from her, “Turn around.” He gently took her by the shoulder and spun her around in front of him.
He used his hands to scoop up the water and wet her hair before he started to lather the soap into it. He ran the soap through her hair and made sure it was thoroughly clean before he rinsed it out. He was gentle and sweet and Laina couldn't help but smile. How had he remained single all these years? She had no idea, but she was glad he wasn't taken yet because with how she was feeling there was no way she would be able to stand to see him with anyone else.
He made sure all of the soap was out of her hair before he led her out of the pool with a hand on her back. After they air dried for a bit he helped her redress and then went to do the same. Laina ran her hands over her legs as she felt the pockets of her pants.
“What are you doing?” Cullen was watching her with a cocked brow.
“Looking for some string to tie my hair up with.” She smiled triumphantly as she pulled some out of her pocket.
“Here,” Cullen stuck his hand out for her to hand it to him. She considered for a moment before realizing she would need the help and placing the string in his hand.
He turned her around and soon Laina felt his hand in her hair. He wasn't pulling it all up at once however, he was grabbing it piece by piece.
“What are you doing?” She asked out of curiosity.
“Braiding your hair.” With the way he spoke, Laina could tell he was concentrating.
“You know how to braid?” She was more than a little surprised at this.
“Yes, I grew up with a little sister who adored me and would always ask me to braid her hair when no one else would.” Laina smiled, “There,” he said as he finished and spun her back around.
He examined his work for a moment, long enough to the point where Laina started to fidget under his gaze. He glanced around the clearing before walking away, leaving Laina confused. When he returned he reached out and put something in her hair. She reached up and felt what he had done.
“A flower?” She asked as her fingers grazed what she thought were petals. He smiled and pulled another flower out from behind his back. He offered it to her and Laina took it into her hands to examine it. It was a pretty, small, light blue flower. “It's beautiful,” she glanced up at him
“I saw a patch of them earlier. It uh- it matches your eyes.” He said bashfully, reaching for the back of his neck.
Laina's heart swelled. What was she doing? Why hadn't she told him how she felt yet?
“Cullen I uh…” She faltered. Should she just blurt it out like this? “Cullen I-” She couldn't bring herself to say it. It's like she was battling with herself. She gave up and instead threw her arms around him as she pulled him into a hug.
His arms closed around her timidly, “Laina? Are you ok?”
“I'm fine, everything's perfect. You're… you're perfect.” She finished in a whisper as she held him even tighter. His arms tightened around her, he didn't seem to know what else to do. She finally released him and straightened herself out as she cleared her throat. Cullen was looking at her oddly, “We should probably head back before it's completely dark.”
“Yeah, ok,” he followed after her in silence as she walked back to the camp.
They parted ways when they reached the edge of the camp and each went their separate ways. Laina didn't go to her own tent, however. Instead, she barged in on Evelyn who was getting ready for bed. She didn't even knock as she threw open the tent flap and walked in.
“Laina!” Evelyn whipped around in surprise. “Oh,” she clutched her chest, “You startled me.”
“I can't do this Evelyn.” She had tears in her eyes.
Her friend dropped the brush she had been running through her hair and rushed to her side. “Do what?” She asked as she steered her to sit on the bed.
“I love him.” A tear ran down her cheek.
Her friend smile, “I know, what's the problem?”
“No, you don't understand. I've never felt like this. I thought I've been in love before but it was nothing like this.”
“That's a good thing, why are you crying?”
“Because I can't be in love with him.” She sobbed.
She covered her eyes and shook her head, “I'm not from this world. I don't belong here. I have to go home.”
“Who said you had to go home? You could stay here.”
“No, if I find a way home I have to take it. I can't give up possibly my only opportunity to go home for something that might not last. What if he doesn't feel the same way? Or what if it doesn't work out?” She cried even harder as she finished talking.
“Oh Laina,” her friend pulled her into a hug. “You have to talk to him about this.” Laina shook her head, “Yes you do. He wouldn't want you to feel like this. I'm sure it would break his heart to see you cry.” She made her get to her feet and pushed her toward the door. “Now go talk to him.”
Laina wiped the tears from her cheeks as she walked across the camp toward Cullen's tent. She knocked on the tent and waited for a response before entering. When she stepped inside he was sitting at his desk in the corner looking at some paperwork. He glanced up from it at the sound of her entering and at the sight of her immediately shot to his feet.
“Laina,” he rounded his desk. “What's the matter? You look like you've been crying.” At the sight of him all of the emotions welled back up inside of her and the tears started to flow again. “Oh no, don't cry love.” He pulled her against his chest and held her as she started to cry. “What happened? Did someone hurt you?” She shook her head, “Are you scared?” She shook her head again.
She took a few shaky breaths and then pulled away from his chest to look at him. “It's my heart.” She managed between sniffles.
“Your heart? Is something wrong with it?”
She nodded, “It's broken,” she sobbed as she buried her face against him again.
“Who broke it?” She shook her head and held him tighter. “I can't help you Laina if you won't tell me what's really going on.”
“You are helping.” She mumbled into his shirt. “I just need you right now.”
“Ok,” He shifted his arms around her. “I'm right here, I'm not going anywhere.”
But I am. Laina thought as he continued to hold her in his arms and rock her slightly.