After dealing with the Iron Bull for years, after hearing about the Qun for years, Krem felt he had a pretty good grasp on Qunari culture as a whole and what to expect from them.
The problem came down to that, really.
Krem kept expecting Inquisitor Adaar to act like a Qunari, but she was raised in the Ferelden countryside surrounded by human farmers.
He told himself later that if he had thought of her as any young country girl he wouldn't have taken so long to get the picture.
"How are you? Settling in okay?"
Krem had to crane his neck up outside the tent to get a look at her - Adaar was easily as tall as the Iron Bull himself, broad shouldered and broad hipped with thighs that could probably crush a man to death without even trying. In short, exactly how the Iron Bull had described Qunari women. But she smiled as sweet as any young Chantry sister, cheeks slightly pink from running around in the cold weather of Haven. She wasn't yet the Inquisitor but she was always busy none the less, either on a task from someone in charge or just trying to help the everyday soldiers.
"Yeah, the chief's looking forward to working with you." Krem said as he leaned against the wall his tent was up against, it was easier than craning his neck to look up at her. "He's making sure the rest of the troops got in alright, if you were looking for him."
"Oh, oh no. Um. I was - no, that's alright. But thank you." Adaar grinned, a sort of awkward half-grin, eyes darting away quickly the moment they made contact with Krem's. "Oh gosh I just remembered I gotta drop some things off with Minaeve. Um, you let me know if you need anything alright?"
She was already on her way before she got an answer, really, taking a few steps back.
"Right. I'll pass that on to the Chief." Krem said lightly, raising his hand to wave. Adaar raised her hand to wave back, but wasn't watching where she was going. She stumbled over the first step into Haven proper, falling backwards into a snowbank with a squeak.
"Whoa, are you-"
"I'M OKAY!" She stood quickly, patting the snow off herself before Krem could do more than take a single step over to her. To do what he had no idea, he was pretty sure it'd take three of him to lift her. "I'm fine, I'm alright, uh, gotta go bye!"
Well, she was weird, but the Chief had his weird moments too. Krem shrugged and got back to setting up the tents.
He saw her quite a bit in the time at Haven. She was hard to miss, really, especially when him and the Chief had set up camp right outside the gates. If she wasn't dragging him out with her (not often, the Chief explained that it made sense - a Tal-Vashoth wasn't likely going to be quick to trust a Ben-Hassrath) she was still stopping by to ask how they both were doing, if she could help them with anything. She talked to Krem more. He wasn't the spymaster still serving the homeland her parents fled from, theoretically he was a neutral party who could be trusted comparatively.
Which was clearly why she was asking him about the Chargers so often. Not in a directly interrogating way of asking if the Iron Bull could be trusted, but a roundabout way of asking about things they'd done in the past.
Which was what Krem tried to tell Skinner and Dalish when they asked him about it.
"Soooo..." Dalish said with a grin, sauntering up along with Skinner after Adaar had said goodbyes, this time taking the Iron Bull with her. Heads needed to be bashed, apparently, and no matter her apprehension on him, little bashed them as well as the two Qunari working in tandem.
"Miss Adaar came by to see you again." Skinner's grin matched Dalish's, and Krem got the feeling they were plotting something. They were certainly stalking closer as if they were wolves hunting a rabbit. He was pretty sure he was the rabbit there.
"Yeah?" Krem asked, unsure where they were going with this. "She's curious about the Chargers."
"Uh huh." Dalish placed a hand on Krem's shoulder, resting her chin on it. "The Chargers."
"Alright, the Chief."
"Really? You think the Chief is who is making her curious?" Skinner scoffed. Krem was officially unsure of where this was going but he was pretty sure he wasn't going to like it.
"Hey, her parents told her about Ben-Hassrath when she was young. Specifically that if she ever met one the best advice was 'run'." That little story had come out recently in their extended talks. "She wants to make sure he's not going to turn her in for 'conditioning' but doesn't want to outright ask."
Dalish looked to Skinner, the older woman's voice pitching lower (as if she wasn't standing right next to Krem).
"He has absolutely no idea."
"Should we tell him?"
"Not yet, Dearie."
Dalish took Skinner's hand and the two elven women were off before Krem could ask for clarification. As he watched them go, he decided he probably didn't want it.
(Actually, he really, really, really could have used it.)
At the rate she was asking him about stories of jobs they'd done, Krem was worried he was going to run out. Then the whole dragon attack happened. Corrupted dragon. Archdemon? Who the fuck knew.
Krem was herding civilians out of Haven with the rest of the chargers when she passed by. Their eyes met briefly for just a moment, and in that moment it looked like she was going to say something. But then there was a shout from beyond the gates as they began to buckle, and she looked away, drawing the sword from her back and charging onward, white hair like a halo when backed by the flame.
He didn't see her on the trek out to Skyhold, except as a figure in the distance. He was also starting to see why people truly believed her to be sent by Andraste to be their savior.
Skyhold was busy, to put it lightly. The first days were occupied by everyone lending a hand patching roofs and walls, making it habitable. Sometimes it felt less like an army and more like a group of parishioners on religious pilgrimage. It was ironic, since they'd come from the home of the Temple of Sacred Ashes.
When Krem finally got a chance to sit and rest his aching muscles a few days into the cleanup process in the building that was now the tavern, he saw Inquisitor Adaar again. She was the Inquisitor then, in full. Well, he'd seen her at the ... coronation? But here she was in the flesh, only the shadow of a few bruises peppering across her face left to tell the story of her knock-down drag-out fight and subsequent flight from Haven.
She scanned the room, seeing him right away in the corner he had taken over as his own, a smile breaking out across her face. She quickly crossed the small amount of space (when your legs were like tree trunks and only slightly shorter than) between the door and Krem's corner, clasping her hands behind her back and grinning down at him.
"I heard you all made it out okay, but it's nice to see for myself." She said with a sort of warm, breathless enthusiasm. She had to be running all over the place twice as much in this new location now that she had an actual title to go with the freaky demon hand.
"No casualties from the Chargers." Krem confirmed. It was nice to know you were appreciated, and he felt they'd made themselves worthy of her trust in the time they'd been signed on to the now quickly growing Inquisition.
"Wonderful, wonderful. Um, I haven't had much chance to talk to anyone since we got here. ...Do you have some time?" She sounded a little nervous. Well, anyone in her position would be. Even an elf probably would have found it less awkward to have all these humans acting like they were some kind of religious authority. Though he'd heard she actually was Andrastean. That had to make things weirder.
"Sure, your Worship." Krem said with a small grin. Well, savior or not, he wouldn't treat her any differently. She was the same lady who'd met with his boss and said they'd be signed on, and the sarcastic way he said that title seemed to put her a bit more at ease. "But I think I'm running out of stories."
"Well I'll have to get you sent out on some more missions so you have more to tell me, then! I ... I like your stories." Inquisitor Adaar said with another warm smile, grabbing a chair from a nearby table and pulling it over. Anyone probably would want to escape all this responsibility that fell into their lap. That was why she seemed to hang on his every word.
Krem came upon the Chief talking with Dalish and Skinner a few weeks later, the two women talking to him in hushed, conspiratorial whispers that he just barely couldn't quite make out as he approached with a report back in from the last mission.
"Gotta say, I've been thinking the same thing. If you both notice..." The Iron Bull said with a rumbling, thoughtful sigh. The elves looked affronted.
"We noticed way before you, Chief." Skinner said. "Elven intuition."
Her and Dalish bumped fists. It was always worrying when the two decided to team up against someone.
"What's elven intuition?" Krem asked, looking between the three of them. The Iron Bull chuckled, glancing at the girls (who suddenly were Not Looking At Krem) and then glancing back at Krem.
"That we are way overdue for a proper Chargers drinking night." the Iron Bull said, holding out his hand for the paper Krem had. He handed it over to his boss, absolutely certain that was not at all what they were talking about but weighing the worth of making a fuss over it. Well, if the Chief thought he needed to know, he'd tell him.
"You're right about that. Nothing but work work work since we got to Skyhold. It's like we're expected to do something to get paid." Krem replied sarcastically, which yielded a barking laugh from the Iron Bull.
"You're damn right about that one, Krem. Alright, let's have one tonight. I'm gonna invite the Inquisitor too, she's had a chance to meet you and me but not the rest of the crew and she doesn't take enough breaks."
"You're right about that." Krem said. He looked out the window, watching her running past the tavern from one end of the courtyard to turn sharply and jog up the stairs. Always running. Well that explained the leg muscles.
He missed the way the Iron Bull, Dalish, and Skinner noticed his noticing the Inquisitor.
She was like the Iron Bull when it came to getting to know the troops, eagerly listening to the stories they had to tell, laughing at their jokes. Probably not used to the raunchy humor being surrounded by such serious types as her advisers if the way she reddened at some of the jokes was any indication. She had either already figured out about Krem or didn't understand the comments, because she didn't ask for any clarification or mistake Krem for a woman. Then again, she was a Qunari. She spoke most to Krem during the drinking night, but he was the one she was most familiar with.
The next day, thankfully after Krem was done nursing a bit of a hangover, Adaar approached Krem again.
"Your Worship." Krem greeted, taking a pull off the wine bottle. Hair of the dog that bit you was a phrase he'd learned in Ferelden. Adaar's cheeks reddened slightly and she smiled that crooked kind of shy smile again.
"Um, I wanted to - um. Can I ask you about yourself?"
Ah, here it comes, the stupid questions. Krem thought to himself. But Adaar seemed mostly interested about his childhood in Tevinter, asking him about his family, his upbringing. The fact that it was as a girl seemed more coincidental than anything else. Well, the Magister's son must have had a different view of Tevinter, and the Tale of the Champion by Varric Tethras mainly had the commentary of an escaped slave. The middle class wasn't one often heard from, and as the Iron Bull was known to say, 'know thy enemy'. If half the Inquisitor's enemies were hailing from there, it was just safer to know as much as possible.
The one question that he couldn't pin was, well. What he was into. It came right after he mentioned his mother insisting he marry.
"Was it because you weren't into men, or...?" It was light and casual, and she was looking steadfastly into her glass as she asked it. Krem wasn't exactly sure what tactical knowledge came with that, but in for a silver in for a sovereign.
"Oh, no, I am. Sometimes." Krem said with a shrug. "More into women overall while men are more a case by case kinda deal if that makes sense."
"Oh, absolutely." Adaar said quickly, taking a deep breath, parting her lips like she wanted to ask something else, something related to that before she closed them again, looked down at her drink, then looked back up and sputtered out "So! How's you make it out after you cold-clocked the guy?"
They were out in the Western Approach after that whole mess with the Gray Wardens - right after - when Adaar came running up to where Stitches was applying a poultice to the nasty cut that had caught Krem on his cheek. She was breathless, bruised and slightly bleeding, and it looked like the tip of one of her horns had gotten snapped off in whatever happened in the Fade. He cringed internally, he'd heard the Chief talking about the sensitivity of horns in the past, she had to be in a lot of pain.
Hands on her knees, she had to take a few breaths before she had enough air to talk, giving Krem a pleading look. "Y'all okay?" she asked quickly.
"Yeah. Few of us got fucked up pretty bad, but I think we'll all make it through the night." Krem answered.
"Lieutenant Aclassi is a terrible patient, please tell him to behave himself, Inquisitor." Stitches said, looking between the two like the disapproving doctor he was. Adaar's eyebrows shot up and she let out a small panicked whine.
"I'm fine." Krem said quickly. "You look much worse, actually."
Adaar cringed. Stitches pressed down on Krem's cheek cut hard.
"OW!" Krem yelled, not expecting that sudden pain. Stitches wasn't exactly careful when you'd earned a little pain, but his hands were usually much more steady.
"The tactless Krem means if you'll sit down I'll be free in just a second and I can have a look at you. Make sure you didn't lose anything important." Stitches said smoothly.
"Oh, no, no, I'm okay. It looks worse than it is. I gotta check on... on the others. Get a missive ready to Queen Anora about her father. Inquisitor's work is never done." Taking another deep breath, Adaar stood, straightened up, and was off again to see to the rest of the troops and probably let the Iron Bull know that his people made it out okay.
For some reason, telling Stitches that he thought that's what she asked about them for earned him a punch in the middle of a bruise on his shoulder. Out of sight behind him, Rocky silently gestured at Krem, then Adaar, then back at Krem and mimed punching someone in the head.
Stitches hit Krem right in the bruise a second time for good measure.
"Are you okay?" she asked after the incident on the Storm Coast, practically the moment they'd returned to the safety of Skyhold. Krem wondered if her ears were still ringing from the sound that exploded dreadnaught made. His were.
"Yeah, the Chief sounded the retreat fast enough for us to get clear."
Adaar smiled, a truly relieved smile. She was like the Chief in the way she cared so much for everyone on her team. Absolutely every life mattered to her.
"I'm... I'm glad."
"The Inquisitor was the one who told me to sound the retreat." The Iron Bull told Krem later that evening when he repeated the exchange, over the small table their drinks were on.
"Guess I'll have to thank her for that." Krem said with a shrug. The fact that the Chief didn't do it by nature didn't bother him. He was going against orders, orders he'd had since his birth. That was a hard habit to break, but Krem had faith in him.
"No, really." The Iron Bull's voice took on that steel quality it got sometimes, the hard 'I will beat you over the head if I have to so that you will listen' tone. Krem had no idea why. He was agreeing with the chief in the first place, after all. "I was standing there like a goddamn deaf mute idiot, like a goddamn statue when I realized what the choice was and she grabbed me by the shoulder and practically knocked me down screaming at me to sound the retreat. I thought she was going to murder me if I didn't."
"She cares about her team, like you." Krem said, wondering if that was the consolation the Iron Bull was looking for in light of his new status as Tal-Vashoth.
It was not the right thing to say.
The Iron Bull looked like he swallowed something sour, and for a moment Krem wondered if he was actually going to take a swing at him, but instead the Iron Bull just downed the rest of his alcohol in one swallow, stood, and left with a comment that he was going to see if Dorian was still awake.
The hell was his problem?
Krem figured out what the problem was, finally, after the whole fiasco of a ball in Orlais' court. Well, somehow nobody died except for the people who had been killed before they got there, the Chargers were mainly there along with the other Inquisition soldiers as backup in the event things turned south which they didn't really. Still, tiptoeing around nobility in that empire and their court games had to be rough for Ferelden-born Qunari who barely even made it in because of what she was. Just because it could have been more of a fiasco didn't mean it was a cakewalk.
It was another drinking night with the Chargers when the Inquisitor came into the Herald's Rest. For once she didn't have the urgent, searching eyes. She just watched where she was going, right in front of where she was going, like it took everything just to put one foot on front of the other but she was determined to do that if that was all she could do. She looked briefly to Krem's usual corner and found it empty, shaking her head before heading to the stairs.
As her hand touched the railing she happened to glance up and across to the bar where the Chargers were sitting. There was no mistaking it, their eyes met for one brief moment. Hers widened, as if in panic, a dampness at the corners of them and -
And she looked away, suddenly running up the stairs, boots thudding hard against the staircase up the two floors and out the door up at the top that lead to the walls.
The inner circle of the Chargers fell silent, looking up at where the Inquisitor had ran off. Then ... looking at Krem.
"... What?" he asked, unsure of what the expectant faces meant.
"He doesn't see me."
The seat across from Krem had absolutely been vacant a few moments before, but the weird kid who hung out up on the top level was there now, wide brim of his hat covering his eyes, whisper-soft voice still audible somehow over the din of tavern noises.
"He doesn't see me." the boy repeated, an urgency to his voice, thick like tears held back. "He never will. Just like everyone else. Stupid stupid stupid they were all right I'm so stupid all the other children human normal, words cutting like knives stupid, outsider, ox, each one another cut another scar put the armor over it keep going don't let them see you bleed, you'll never belong. Say to go home but there's no such thing as home. Too big, too different, no place for me here, stupid to think anyone so perfect would ever see me."
It was like the rest of the tavern went silent as Krem stared hard at the strange boy, eyes drifting up at the barely visible upper door the Inquisitor had gone through before turning back to him.
"What..." Krem's throat felt as dry as the Western Approach and he couldn't find the words to finish the question. "What?"
Grim slammed his tankard on the table, reaching across to grab Krem by the collar of the shirt and look the other man in the eye.
"She. Loves. You." He growled out, eyes narrowing. "She's been falling all over herself to talk to you since we joined up in Haven. All she asks us about is you. Everyone has noticed except you, but it isn't funny anymore. Maker's breath go after her."
It was like some surreal out of body experience, like he was watching someone else stand, push his chair out, then run after her.
"Fucking finally." Skinner muttered.
Adaar was alone on the battlements, sitting on a piece of broken down wall looking out on the mountains. Even in the evening, the snow made them so bright and visible you could see for miles, especially with the cloudless sky. The wind carried her voice, the desperate sobs she kept trying to muffle, wiping at her eyes, muttering "Stupid." to herself over and over as if admonishing herself enough would somehow make it better. Krem hesitated at the open door for a few minutes, unsure of how exactly he could make it better with the sudden knowledge that he'd had his head up his ass for months now.
If nothing else, heading back down into the Herald's Rest without news would probably result in Grim murdering him or Skinner making good on her name with the looks they were giving him. In the interest of remaining alive, he shoved his hands in his pockets and stepped out into the chilly night air.
She looked up when he got close enough, eyes widening in panic, quickly scanning for exits like she was intending to run for it again. Her eyes were red, she had the top two buttons of her shirt undone, her chest rising and falling with the rapid breath.
Krem removed his hands from his pockets, holding them up to show them as empty. He slowed his approach like she might be a wounded animal.
"Just me." Krem said quietly.
"Oh. Um. If you wanted to be alone I can leave." Adaar said quickly, looking away. "I probably should leave. I. I have reports. Things to sign about the b-ball..." another ripple of sobs ran through her and she moved to stand, bracing her hand against the wall.
Krem placed his hand over hers.
"... Stay?" He asked, again, quietly. "I, ah, wanted to talk. If that's alright."
Her eyes were so wide as she looked at him, afraid to want what she wanted the same look she'd given him a hundred times before and oh Maker he was such an idiot.
"O-okay. Um. If you want." She settled back on the broken slab of wall for a moment before moving a bit to the side, making room for Krem to sit as well if he wanted. A silent offer. Just as afraid to want. Krem took it, sitting next to her. He didn't take his hand off of hers.
Though he asked to talk he actually wasn't entirely certain what to say. He'd ran up without a plan, without even the vaguest idea of if he was even intending to do with the information he had been given. So they sat in silence for a while, looking out to the mountain, Krem's hand over hers.
"I wanted to ask you-"
Fuck what did he want to ask her.
"... Your name."
Adaar looked at him like he'd grown a second head. Krem laughed to himself, remembering the question he'd had since the start but never bothered to ask, suddenly more at ease for knowing what to talk about. Even if it was just a space filler, it was something.
"Chief says Tal-Vashoth choose names that usually have some kind of meaning, since they have to choose their own. 'Adaar', he said that's the name of the cannons on the dreadnaughts. That it means 'fire thrower'."
Adaar rubbed at her eyes with the heel of her hand that was not covered by Krem's. She smiled a little.
"My parents picked it. When they got married. Well, I think Momma picked it and Papa agreed." She laughed softly at the memory. From what Krem gathered, her mother had been a Tamassran of some kind.
"Yeah, alright. And they picked your given name too, right?"
"But it isn't a word in Qunlat like most names the Chief gives for Tal-Vashoth." Krem grinned a little. "It's a flower. A pretty common flower in Ferelden, right? Dalish said it was practically a weed." Of course, right after that last line he winced. He'd probably put his foot in his mouth again. Instead of the cringe she'd done before, she startled him with a smile and a laugh. It was so strange to hear from her. She was a giant woman, she could look the Iron Bull square in the eye, could bench press a pony and he'd seen her swing that giant sword as large as she was with a single hand more than once. She had the most girlish giggle, though. Small and bird-like, covering her mouth with her hand.
"I asked Momma that once, too. Y'know what she told me?"
"What?" Krem asked, finding her smile infectious.
"She said they don't grow in Par Vollen."
They sat out on the battlements for hours, Krem asking the Herald of Andraste about her childhood on the farm, about her parents, her first jobs in the mercenary companies, about her lying about her age to give the implication of experience so people didn't try to swindle her ...Andraste's knickers he figured she was younger than she looked but he didn't expect her to be the same age as that spotty elven archer they had. At one point she started shivering from the cold, so Krem excused himself for a few seconds to steal a coarse but thick blanket from the room the Iron Bull had hijacked that was nearby, tossing it over both of their shoulders to keep warm. She told him about the Chantry sister that made rounds in the community she lived in, that she was the only person who didn't look at her like a freak or treat her different and that was what lead her to the faith. All the little things she'd asked him that he never really noticed her interest in.
Finally he worked his way around almost to where he wanted to be with the questions, and her eyes were only a little red, cheeks a bit flushed as well. For her skin being so dark the color radiated like an inner glow.
"You seemed upset when you came in to the Herald's Rest earlier. Was that... because of me?" Krem finally asked, worried for the answer but he was already in far enough that she deserved to know that he knew.
"Um... kind of? I mean. I." Adaar sighed, reaching back to un-knot her hair tie, snow white hair spilling over her shoulders. She worked her fingers through it as she considered her words, getting the tangles of the day out. "... I had been thinking, how much I had actually been looking forward to the Orlesian ball. I'd heard so many stories... it seemed so elegant, so beautiful. And it just really drove in how I didn't belong. I wanted a fairy tale, and the only person who wanted to dance with me was the lady trying to kill the Empress." She gave a deep sigh again, looking down at Krem with a worn self-depreciating smile. The smile of someone who was used to a certain kind of disappointment. "Guess I should have known better, huh?"
There was a crack to the edge of her voice. Like she was going to cry again. It was so... so stupidly sweet. She was so sweet.
Krem stood, letting the blanket slide off of his shoulders, bending at the waist and holding his hand out to the Inquisitor.
"Well, let's fix that. Would you honor me with a dance, my lady?"
This time it was Adaar's turn to stare, speechless. The faint blush on her cheeks grew. He'd seen her go red so often, he'd just attributed to an intolerance to the cold. Maker, he wanted to reach back in time and smack himself.
"Can't you hear it? The music from the bard carries. Here." he nodded to his hand and she reached out to place hers in his, unsure. She was easily twice his size and mass, there would be no moving her if she didn't want to, but she let herself be stood and lead closer to where the door down to the tavern was. Very faintly, they could hear the chords from her lute below, the song of 'Still searching for someone to lead me, can you guide me...'.
Krem hadn't danced in a long time, they'd had to learn once for a particularly strange mission they'd gotten in Orlais which, come to think of it, he hadn't yet told Adaar about. That would come later. Now he was guiding one of her hands to his shoulder, placing his on her hip, and lead her into the basic ballroom steps. It wasn't anything fancy like Josephine had insisted she learn for the ball - which, he heard, had wowed the Orlesian court.
But she smiled as they carefully went through the steps none the less, just the two of them. Smiled like she'd never been happier.