The covers felt thick and laden, suffocating Nolavera Lavellan as she tossed and turned in the large, stuffy bedroom at the top of Skyhold. Sleep had been hard to come by since Adamant. Perhaps even before that. Nolavera rolled over onto her back and held her left hand up in front of her face. The Anchor glowed faintly green in the hollow of her palm, slightly throbbing. Yes, definitely before that.
A pang of injustice shot through her as she recalled that fateful day at the Conclave. If only Keeper Istimaethoriel hadn't insisted she attempt to "gather more information," everything would've been different. She wouldn't have been at the Conclave, and she would still be with her clan. Shoving the bitterness aside, the Inquisitor had to admit it made sense to send the Keeper's trusted First to investigate, though. Istimaethoriel would never have sent a hunter in her place, there was simply too much at stake. Even though it wasn't done to question one's Keeper, Nolavera had wondered what the Dalish had to gain from meddling in human affairs. Granted, anything they learned might help them navigate the waters more easily, but she'd told her Keeper that the risk was too great.
And then everything had exploded in a great flash of green and pain. Her ears ringing, she'd found herself in a whirlwind of smoke and ash, her only landmark the blinding beacon of an incandescent figure. Pursued by large arachnids, she'd reached for that figure only to find herself back in the smoldering crater of what remained of the Conclave. From there on out, things hadn't gotten any better. Many had questioned her being the sole survivor, from Cassandra to the lowliest guard. Little by little, she'd gained people's trust, however, surprising even herself. Closing rifts had probably helped.
Sleep still eluded her, Nolavera realized as she rolled over onto her stomach, letting the hand with the Anchor drop to the floor. The cooler stone floor helped somewhat. Surely that would give her some relief and allow sleep to return to her, right?
Nolavera had considered leaving, but after what had happened at Redcliffe, that option had seemed completely out of the question. Even Keeper Istimaethoriel had insisted she avoid returning to the clan. Besides, she had to admit that although she could run from Haven, that mark on her hand would follow her wherever she went. And if Redcliffe hadn't convinced her, Corypheus and his dragon would have. Though it sometimes felt like he wanted nothing more than to dissect her, Solas was ultimately correct. She alone could stop all of this. Maybe it wasn't her hand bothering as much as the weight of all that responsibility.
It was too hot, and slumber was nowhere near to be found. With a sigh, the Dalish woman tumbled out of bed and draped her cloak over her shoulder. A walk around the Skyhold keep would do her some good, but it wouldn't do if she ran into anyone clad only in her shift. She flew down the stairs to the Great Hall, cloak and dark hair billowing behind her. The hall was empty and quiet, not to mention a lot cooler than her bedchamber. You would think a room at the top of a tower, with large windows, would not be so stifling. And yet, here in the Great Hall, Nolavera already felt as if she could breathe more easily. Perhaps the thick walls kept it cooler; she'd read something along those lines somewhere.
As she passed the large tables and headed towards the door leading to the gardens and the battlements, she found her mind's wheels kept spinning. There was one thing she was grateful for, and that was the support she'd found in the Inquisition. That had been completely unexpected and yet most people had been very supportive since Haven. Surviving the attack probably had contributed to their change in demeanor, obviously. But Leliana, Josephine and Cullen had become reliable advisers. Reliable, trusted advisers. Especially... She shook her head and the stray thought away. No, best not dwell on some distractions for too long.
The alliance with some companions was still an uneasy one. Cassandra, Cole, Varric and Dorian she trusted implicitly, but the Iron Bull still made her uncomfortable. He'd admitted to working for the Ben-Hassrath, after all. And Blackwall felt... shifty. Vivienne was haughty and ambitious, clearly putting her interests above any other. That wasn't how the Dalish were brought up: clan came first. And then there was Solas, who always made her very uncomfortable.
Nolavera was now standing on the northern battlements which overlooked the armory. Thinking of Solas, she stopped and stared at the tower on the other side of the courtyard. Candlelight flickered in a window and she knew he was probably working late into the night on another one of his murals. She could never make much of those. The subject matter seemed plain enough, but there always seemed to be something more to them, something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Meaning that tickled at her mind, as if it was just out of sight and she could grasp it if she was just a little sharper.
Unthinking, she headed down the steps and into the courtyard. On her right, the door to Herald's Rest was slightly ajar and a ray of light reached against the dirt and grass towards her. There was the soft murmur of patrons and the clinking of tankards as Cabot was cleaning up for the night. It must not have been as late as she thought, though it'd felt as if she'd been laying in her bed for hours. Tossing and turning, tangling herself in the sheets... That never did Nolavera any good, particularly in the unfamiliar bed in the unfamiliar room. She took a moment to sit in the shadows of the training grounds across the Herald's Rest, back to the cool stones, eyes closed and fingers splayed in the grass. The smell of it brought back childhood memories of tending to the grazing halla before she became the Keeper's First. It seemed so long ago, and yet it couldn't have been more than a few years ago. Just then, eyes closed and inhaling sharply, it was as if she was back in the Planasene forest, if only for a split second. The Adamant fortress, Val Royeaux, Haven, the Winter Palace, all those were forgotten for a blessed moment. Even the dull throw in her palm seemed to subside slightly.
Deep down, Nolavera knew this wouldn't last, though. Inevitably, reality and all its obligations would come crashing back. With that thought weighing on her, the Dalish Inquisitor pushed herself up, and resumed her wanderings in the Skyhold courtyard, leaving the now dark and quiet Herald's Rest behind her. The light in Solas' window has gone out, but further up in the library, a candle flickered. Most likely Dorian again. Another reminder they all carried heavy burdens that weighed on them. The young woman shifted her gaze from the tower to the steps that led towards the main gate, the well and the haylofts. Somewhere in the distance, a horse whinnied softly and a cooler wind rushed in from the mountains. Nolavera shivered once and clutched at her cloak. Perhaps it was time to make another attempt at sleep, she wondered. Turning her back to the main hall, she headed up another flight of steps that led to the battlements.
Having reached the top, she pressed both hands against the heavy wooden door, with the satisfaction of seeing it swing soundlessly inward. A few days ago, she's asked a page to be generous with the greasing oil on the hinges. Inside, the office was dark and quiet, though a few embers still glowed faintly in the fireplace. It was obvious he'd been up late again, pouring over maps and various reports that were still scattered on his desk. In all likelihood, it hadn't been long since he'd retired to his quarters. Padding softly across the room, the Dalish woman made her way to and up a ladder.
As she crept towards the upper floor, she slowed and let her eyes adjust to the darkness. Once she reached the landing, she breathed of sigh of long-suffering frustration. Armor pieces were strewed across the floor, left to clatter to the floor as its wearer had removed them. Carefully, Nolavera stepped forward, sidestepping the potentially dangerously noisy platemail. When she reached the bedding, she let go a breath she hadn't even realized she was holding, and her cloak fluttered to the ground. The form beneath the light blanket hadn't stirred.
Until she lifted the blanket and snaked her way beside him. The tall and broad shape of a man rolled over and folded her slender frame up against him. She felt safe, at peace. Even the subtly throbbing pain of the Anchor seemed dulled somehow. He breathed a soft whisper into her hair. "Nola."
"Cullen." She sighed back into his collarbone as she wrapped her fingers around his waist. They didn't move for a while as he groggily emerged from the deep sleep he'd been in. It was a relief to see that the nightmares were becoming fewer and far between. They'd probably always plague him, of course, but still. A low, teasing rumble came from his chest as the former templar chuckled and asked, "couldn't sleep again? There will be talk eventually, you know."
"I don't care," she replied, looking up at him and chin jutted out defiantly. After all, this had been going long enough that it was a surprise there hadn't been any whispers or rumors flying around Skyhold already. Dorian suspected, if he didn't know already, as did Cassandra. Leliana almost certainly knew. Perhaps Josephine too. Cole had to know. The more she thought about it, the more it seemed preposterous that their relationship wasn't common knowledge. Especially since they'd almost been caught by that scout on the battlements before they'd even had their first kiss.
And now, here they were.
Just when she thought he'd drifted off to sleep again, Cullen sighed and said, "me neither." And as he turned his head to kiss her, all the worries, all the fears, all the questions just melted away.
Yes, inevitably, reality and all its obligations would come crashing back. But for now, in this moment, she could forget about it all, and just be with him. Because inevitably, she would always make her way back to him.