Chapter 6: Lace
She'd meant what she said to Cullen. It was better this way. Too many people had already laid down their lives in her name. Maker willing, the bulk of the forces wouldn't even be back to the Frostbacks by the time she'd finished this.
Bowing at the waist, she crossed both arms over her chest in the sign of fealty before taking a knee at the statue's base.
"So," she started conversationally, watching the wax drip down the multitude of offering candles. "It's me again. You know, Evelyn. How are You?" She laughed disparagingly at herself, swiping a shaking hand over her face.
"I hope you'll forgive me, my Lady. You know I've always been rotten at this part. I suspect You know already, but it seems that it's all about to end again. I've done my best, tried to be what they all thought I was. I just wish...I wish I knew, one way or the other. Are You really up there? Is He? Did You choose me for this, or did I just bumble into it like I have with everything else in my life?"
Her only answer was a still, holy silence.
"Talkative as ever, I see," she sighed. "If You're listening, there are a few things I hope You'll do for me now. Keep my friends safe, if You can. Use me to keep the Breach from unraveling if You must, but please save them. Help them keep this mess together afterwards, as well. Watch over the soldiers on their way home. Maybe keep a little closer watch on my soldier, if You are actually taking requests."
The silence pressed down around her as she struggled to remember the words of the Chant. "Though all before me is shadow, yet shall the Maker be my guide. I shall not be left to wander the drifting roads of the Beyond. For there is...for there is...oh bugger, what is there?"
"For there is no darkness in the Maker's light," a voice supplied behind her. "And nothing He has wrought shall be lost." Evelyn let out a very undignified shriek at the interruption, leaping to her feet and flailing around the stiff edges of her too-new armor for the knife she kept in her belt.
"It's pretty funny that the Herald of Andraste can't even recite the Trials, just so you know," Harding chuckled from the doorway to the chapel, arms folded over her chest and a fond smile curling up the edge of mouth.
"What are you doing here?" Evelyn hissed, heart dropping to the pit of her stomach. "You should still be in the Wilds."
"Rode my poor horse almost into the ground," Harding replied, smile faltering. "Any one other than one of Dennett's and it would've been all the way to the ground. What's wrong?"
"What's wrong? What's wrong?" Evelyn ran a hand through her hair and started pacing. "What's wrong is the fucking world is ending and you were supposed to be far away from here and safe!"
"Ev," Harding started gently, pushing off the door jamb with her shoulder.
"Don't 'Ev' me," Evelyn snapped. "You shouldn't be here! It was only ever supposed to be me."
"That was never going to happen, and you know it." There was a sureness to her voice that cut through the acid of rising panic. It was firm, solid, real as the grasp of her hand around Evelyn's. "Come sit down with me for a minute, alright?"
Evelyn swallowed hard and nodded faintly, allowing herself to be lead to a stone bench in a shadowed corner of the garden. The keep bustled around them, frantic in its preparation for the final push. There were only a handful of them left behind from the assault on the Wilds, good men and women all, and they would be the first to die if she failed.
"Look at me, Ev." She didn't want to. For once since this whole mess began, she wanted to let the terror of responsibility pull her under. None of this should have happened, everyone should have known not to trust her from the first moment she picked up the damned orb onward, but they didn't and now they were all going to die because of her, because of her–
"Look. At. Me." More pressure around her hand, the scrape of nails on her skin just painful enough to make her to glance over and the thoughts stuttered. The pull of the world outside was greater. She never could look away from those eyes.
"Let your advisers lock things down here. The guards have mobilized and are clearing a path to the Temple. There are enough archers for me to run a volley line to cover your entrance into the ruins. You are going to keep your team close enough to watch your back and you are going to grind that evil bastard into the dirt. Okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," Evelyn answered hoarsely, almost smiling at the clear, solid intelligence that she had never known Harding to be without. Harding frowned, smacking Evelyn lightly on the shoulder.
"Don't ma'am me, you're the Inquisitor."
"But you're so commanding," Evelyn countered with a weak smirk. "Sets my girlish heart all aflutter." Harding grinned, surprised.
"Bet you say that to all the girls."
"Just the ones who might follow through on that threat to leave me tied to the bed if I don't come back from this in one piece. What a terrible way that would be to spend eternity."
Harding laughed, genuine delight lighting up her face. "Maker, I love you," she sighed, expression shifting abruptly to utter horror as the words left her mouth. "Oh, shit."
Evelyn felt the shock of the revelation in the hollow of her chest. "Lace..." she started to reply only to be cut off.
"I was gonna do that better, I swear. I had a whole speech and your favorite wine and–"
"But I lo–" Harding's hand clapped over her mouth unexpectedly, to which Evelyn managed only a muffled squeak of protest.
"Don't! Have you read anything ever? Dramatic declarations before the final showdown are a sure way to get you killed!" Evelyn didn't know whether she wanted to laugh or cry at the ridiculous timing of it all.
"I have to go," she said when Harding pulled her hand away. Harding leaned over and kissed her, sweet and gentle and desperate.
"I know," came the reply, the weight of hope lying heavy and warm across the words. "I know."
It was over.
It was over and they won.
And if someone didn't let her out of this stupid party to check the barracks and the infirmary and even fucking square inch of space in between she was going to kill them all.
"Why so tense, Your Inquisitorialness?" Varric asked through a mouthful of food as he came up behind where she was silently seething. "This is your party. You should be at least three-quarters of the way to drunk off your ass by this point in the evening."
"I would be," Evelyn said through gritted teeth, "if someone would just give me two minutes to find Harding. If I have to smile and be polite at one more diplomat, I swear to the Maker..."
"Calm down, I'm sure she's fine." Evelyn spun towards him; a thousand variations on how Harding could possibly be the opposite of fine after an entire mountain fell out of the sky on top of the reinforcements flashing behind her eyes when someone bumped into her shoulder, spilling a large flagon of mulled wine all over her jerkin.
"Maker's breath, Evelyn! I'm so sorry," Josephine exclaimed, jumping back and dropping the emptied mug on the table behind her. "You must go clean up at once. Half of the Council of Heralds is here and they simply cannot abide anything less than immaculate dress on a head of state."
"Really, Josie? I must?" Evelyn sighed and made a half-hearted attempt to swipe off the fast-setting stain in the wool. Josephine nodded vehemently and took to hurrying Evelyn toward the door to that lead to her quarters. Evelyn caught a glimpse of a strange expression on her face before the door closed; a poorly smothered, very excited smile.
"This would be how this night would go," she muttered to herself as she started to peel out of the sodden fabric. The shirt beneath it was equally ruined, and somehow managed to get tangled around her head as she pushed open the door to her bedchamber with her shoulder.
"Andraste's tits," she swore as the bunched fabric caught in her mouth, spitting out the taste of cotton and salt as she hurled the clothing into the corner of the room.
"Not quite, but arguably even better than."
Evelyn yelped and tried to cover herself, whipping around to confront the voice. Harding was leaning against the side of the bed, clean and safe, with a faint cut scored across her cheek that looked as though it would heal into a rather dashing scar.
"Hey, you," she grinned at Evelyn.
Evelyn was rooted to the floor, bare from the waist up and still buzzing with shock.
"I love you," she blurted out urgently. Harding laughed.
"C'mere and show me, then."
She took three long strides toward the bed only for Harding to use the momentum to flip her down onto the mattress. "I feel like I should make some joke about victors and spoils," Harding said and she pinned Evelyn's hands down by her head. "But I'm so damn happy you're alive that I've got nothing."
"I spoiled you months ago, anyways," Evelyn added helpfully, rolling her hips up into the pressure of Harding's leg between her own.
"That's my girl," Harding half laughed, half growled against Evelyn's breast. The moved against each other, groaning, sighing, laughing at the sheer impossibility of being happy and alive and together again. Each kiss was hard and messy, each slip of skin against skin too much to bear and not enough to stand all at the same time. Evelyn's breeches ripped down the seams under Harding's hands. Harding's jerkin caught fire when Evelyn haphazardly tossed in on a nearby candle.
After a while Evelyn could do nothing more than throw herself into the motion of it all, bucking her body up into every thrust against it. The air was heavy and warm around them, thick with fresh sweat and mulling spices and the lingering sour char of scorched wool. Evelyn's world was filled with Harding, the taste of her skin, the flash of her eyes, weight of her body pressing down harder, harder, harder. The drag of her teeth, the rumble of laughter in her chest, the heat and damp of her breath against Evelyn's ear pleading for more.
She was just so glad, so immeasurably, impossibly happy. Her legs were shaking with effort and pleasure, her back arching up off the mattress, and she roared over the edge with gasping laughter. Harding followed with a shout not a moment later.
They lay together in a heap of sweaty, delirious joy. "Should we go back downstairs at some point?" Harding asked half-heartedly, nuzzling against Evelyn's hair.
Evelyn scoffed at the thought. "Absolutely not. You'll be lucky if I let you even leave this bed before Summerday."
"What about all those Orlesian lordlings looking for an audience?"
"Twats. The lot of them. Josephine has a much higher tolerance than I for that rubbish."
"Ah," Harding agreed absently, drifting lazy kisses down Evelyn's neck. "What about all your well meaning, but historically impatient friends who smuggled me up here?"
"Oh." Evelyn raised her head slightly, starting to pick up on the sounds of muffled voices and clumsy lock picking bleeding through the door.
AN: That's a wrap, folks! Thank you all so much for the outrageous response. This whole thing came out of a drunken outlining session after I finished my first play-through of Inquisition, and I had no idea it would be so well received. I hope you all enjoyed the ride as much as I did.