There is a locked door in all of Connor’s dreams. He never looks directly at it, but he knows exactly what it looks like. Sometimes he will catch Feynriel glancing at it from the corner of his eye, but even Feynriel knows better than to ask about it.
Sometimes he hears a sound like chains, like dry bones reanimated in the dark of night, like a door latch rattling.
Then he wakes up.
It is the third time he has yawned during his morning lesson, and his master eyes him over the edge of the tome he is reading.
“Am I boring you, Messere Connor?” he asks, the title a gentle mockery, the use of his name like the crack of a hand across his face. “Should I read something a bit more stimulating to help you focus?”
Connor feels the heat rush over his cheekbones, up to the tips of his ears. He always imagines he can feel the shape of them when he blushes this hard, is always conscious of their perfectly round curve, no half-hinted edge. He always feels a bit inadequate, thick and plain, like mud. Like Ferelden.
“No, Master. My apologies. I did not sleep well last night.”
The admission is a mistake, and he knows it before he is finished speaking. His master closes the tome, the sound ponderous and heavy in the quiet room, and Connor winces.
“Then perhaps we should work on your meditation instead. A quiet mind is your best ally, apprentice.”
Connor hates meditation, and he will never have a quiet mind, but at least he is no longer being mocked. At least he isn’t being punished. He knows enough to swallow the sigh that wants out, and he closes his eyes.
The door is right beside him. He doesn’t look.
“You keep sighing,” Feynriel says, and Connor can hear the rebuke in his mild tone. “Is my company so underwhelming?”
It’s anything but, but Connor doesn’t have words for how much he feels like a bumbling child in Feynriel’s presence, overwhelmed by awareness of all his awkward angles and too-big feet and too-loud voice and young, burning impulse.
“You could at least try to entertain me,” Connor says instead, and Feynriel makes a noise that might have been a snort.
“I apologize,” Feynriel says, sly and teasing but not cruel. “Next time I will remember to bring my chains so I may dance naked for you.”
The door cracks open, and Connor slams it shut as fast as he can, throwing all the locks, bending the brass key he imagines he holds.
“Don’t bother,” he says, and Feynriel’s baffled, hurt expression makes him wish he had a balm to offer for his words. He leaves the room instead, but he can still hear the lock rattling behind him.
He feels as if he’s barely slept in a week, and the last thing he wants to know about are the properties of sela petrae, so he’s sketching along the edges of the vellum he’s supposed to be using to write down notes, curves and angles that mean nothing. He isn’t trying to make a picture; he’s just trying to stay awake. Every time he dreams he sees the door, multiplying now, entire hallways lined with copies of it, all of them locked, all their handles twisting as if some unseen hand is trying them in hopes that the latch will give.
If Feynriel could see them now, there would be no hope of pretending it did not exist. But Feynriel hasn’t been in his dreams since Connor snubbed him so rudely -- not as himself, anyway. There has been a lavender-skinned, sultry figure with Feynriel’s ears and Feynriel’s mouth and Feynriel’s stubborn chin, but he doesn’t have Feynriel’s eyes, and Connor looks straight at him because it helps him not look at the door.
But they never speak, and it’s just as well. Connor is tired and demons always seem to sense the lingering touch of one of their own from years ago, as if it is the trail of a pungent perfume he will never wash off, never outrun.
Connor jumps, startled, but before he can look up at his master, he sees what he has been sketching.
A doorway, and a demon who looks like Feynriel standing in it, beckoning him.
He burns the vellum, but not before he realizes that his sketch of not-Feynriel left the area between his thighs blank, as if he doesn’t know what lies there, as if it isn’t his right to be aware. And he doesn’t, not from experience; and it isn’t, as much as he wants it to be.
He feels guilty anyway, like he has trespassed somewhere he shouldn’t, as if he really had drawn in all the lurid detail his adolescent mind can conjure without a thought. They have only shared kisses -- exactly three. Connor remembers them all, and the remembering makes his skin feel too small for the heat of his blood.
Feynriel isn’t in the gardens when he goes there afterward, hair smelling of smoke, fingers smudged with ash, chest burning with desperate longing. He remembers that they were supposed to have lunch here yesterday, but Connor didn’t come.
He sits down on the bench and stares at his boots and wonders if he can fix this before it goes too far wrong.
“I killed half a town and a castle full of servants when I was a child.”
Feynriel looks up from his reading, but if he is surprised or shocked, it doesn’t show on his features. He brushes back pale hair from his paler face and slides a bit of ribbon into the tome to mark his place in case a stray wind ruffles the pages.
Connor takes a deep breath and continues.
“I tormented my mother and my uncle. I commanded animated corpses to attack the villagers that my family was supposed to protect.”
Feynriel closes the book and stands up, leaving the tome behind him on the chair as he takes a step closer to Connor.
“I was host to a demon. I gave it flesh and voice and an entrance to the world.”
“Ah,” Feynriel says, as if Connor had just told him that his morning tea was too bitter. “Well.” Feynriel’s slender, long-fingered hand stretches out and catches his, fitting together in that way that makes Connor feel too big, too clumsy, afraid to tighten his grip in case he hurts Feynriel, in case he leaves a mark.
After a few moments of silence, Feynriel’s thumb rubbing over the back of his hand, Connor shifts impatiently.
“Is that all?” he says. “‘Ah, well’?”
“It explains a lot,” Feynriel says and tugs Connor a step closer. It’s the first time Feynriel has ever done such a thing, asserting his body over Connor’s, and it sends a thrill through him as the distance between them dwindles. Feynriel’s other hand skims along Connor’s rough jaw like a cold breeze, making him shiver.
Connor leans in, and their fourth kiss is only slightly less awkward than their third (and the second and the first before that), but it tastes like honey from Feynriel’s lunch -- eaten alone, Connor’s guilt reminds him, but he shakes it off and lets Feynriel in deeper. When they part, there is a touch of color in Feynriel’s face, a flush of heat along the perfect almost-sharp edge of his ear, and Connor wants nothing more than to know what lies in that shadowy area he didn’t dare draw.
Feynriel smiles as if he knows all this, and Connor resolves to kiss him so many times he forgets to count.
That night, Connor steps into the Fade to find Feynriel already waiting for him. Feynriel takes his hand, and then Connor turns to look directly at the door.
It stands open, and the room beyond it is bare.