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Wicked Game

Chapter Text

As Cullen approached the first house of his assigned route, he nervously adjusted his tie. He wasn’t very good with people, but he knew he needed to do this. If he could help save even one soul from being condemned to the Void, it would be worth it.

The house he was approaching looked like a combination of modest and stately at the same time. It was tastefully painted in taupe with black trim. Not a color combination that he would have chosen, but it worked remarkably well. The yard was xeriscaped with a beautiful array of flowering bushes and shrubs nestled between elegantly laid out rock formations. Whoever lived here clearly had a very aesthetic sense of style.

Cullen shook his head and focused himself back on his mission, gripping his copy of the Chant of Light more tightly before he walked determinedly up the steps and rang the doorbell.

After a moment, Cullen heard a distant clatter and some shouted curses in what sounded like Tevene. Andraste preserve me. This probably would end with the door slammed in his face. Not a very auspicious start. His Elder counseled him on the fact that there may be many doors shut in his face, but if he remained persistent, some doors may be opened and welcome him.

Just then Cullen was brought out of his reverie as the door before him was forcefully yanked open and there stood a man with a ridiculous mustache, wearing nothing but a pair of black boxer briefs and a rather sheer looking silk robe, that hung open, revealing almost all of his beautiful caramel skin and fit, toned form.

Vishante Kaffas!” the man growled. “What do you want?”

Cullen steeled himself. “May I speak to you about our Savior, Andraste?”

At first, it looked like the man was about to do what Cullen feared, slam the door in his face. Instead, the man hesitated, scrutinizing him from head to toe. Then suddenly the man’s demeanor changed and a smile crept along his face. Maker, the man had a beautiful smile.

No, no, not beautiful. Pleasant. It was a pleasant smile. Stop having such impure thoughts!

“Why not? Come on in,” the man stepped back and allowed Cullen entrance. “Would you like a cup of coffee? The living room is through there.”

“Oh, um,” Cullen stammered. “Yes, please. If you have cream and sugar?”

“I won’t be but a moment,” the man called over his shoulder. “Make yourself comfortable!”

Cullen’s heart hammered in his chest. He’d been invited in, the first house he visited! He couldn’t believe his luck. By the looks of the man who had invited him in, he looked like his soul might be in need of saving. Especially if he had still been asleep as late as eight o’clock in the morning.

Cullen looked around the tastefully appointed living room and settled himself on the edge of the couch, clutching the Chant of Light in his lap. He kept going over the various lessons his Elder had taught regarding what to do and say once an invitation was extended.

Several agonizing minutes later and the man appeared, carrying a tray with two steaming mugs of coffee, a sugar bowl, and creamer, which he set down on the coffee table before practically flouncing himself next to Cullen. A bit too close next to him.

“So,” the man said as he picked up his cup and began to sip his coffee. “You wanted to discuss something related to Andraste with me?”

Cullen shifted, laying the Chant of Light down on the couch between himself and the man, almost like a barrier to keep the sinful looking man at a distance. He reached out and prepared his coffee as he collected his thoughts.

“Yes, I wanted to see if you would care to study the Chant of Light with me,” Cullen replied as he straightened up with the mug of coffee. “The Chant of Light has many teachings that you may find in your own life.”

The man chuckled and then smirked at him. “So, what exactly can your Chant of Light teach me?”

“Well, um,” Cullen began nervously. “Andraste begged the Maker to forgive us of our sins. If we all follow her teachings, one day the Maker will return to us.

As is said in Andraste 1:14:

Long was his silence, 'fore it was broken.
"For you, song-weaver, once more I will try.
To My children venture, carrying wisdom,
If they but listen, I shall return."

“Now how will that help me, my dear man?” the man asked with faux innocence as he stared at him over the rim of his coffee mug.

“Oh,” Cullen continued. “If you listen and follow Andraste’s teachings, we’ll all be one step closer to the return of the Maker, where he will accept us back at his side within his Golden City. Wouldn’t that be glorious?”

“So, you’re saying if I don’t repent my sinful ways, and follow Andraste’s teachings,” the man said. “Then I’m dooming us all to the Void?”

Cullen nodded. “Yes, until the Maker returns and restores the Golden City, we are all condemned to the Void.”

“Oh my, that would be very wicked of me then,” the man’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “If I chose not to.”

Cullen felt a trickle of sweat run down the back of his neck. Maker, why did this man make him so nervous? Cullen felt his hands tremble slightly as he carefully set aside his mug of coffee and proceeded to pick up the Chant of Light.

“Well if we look at this other verse…” Cullen began as he noticed the man also set down his mug and slowly slid closer, crowding Cullen into the corner of the couch.

The man reached out and pulled the Chant of Light gently from his grip and tossed onto the coffee table as well.

“Now, what if I told you,” the man began, sitting so close now that Cullen could feel the heat radiating from his barely covered skin. “That it isn’t your interpretation of Andraste’s words, that are incorrect, but what it is you constitute as sin. That perhaps most of us are already following Andraste’s teachings. What would you say to that? Hmm?”

Cullen shut his eyes and began reciting another passage. “Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.”

“So, I’m corrupt and wicked, am I?” the man chuckled again. “Are you sure you will not falter?”

Cullen felt the warmth of a gentle hand upon his thigh as he kept his eyes shut. He let out a whimper as he felt this wicked man move ever closer.

“Are you sure you aren’t just as corrupt and wicked as I?” the man whispered against his lips just before pressing his gently against Cullen’s own.

Cullen fell apart then. He opened his mouth to let a moan escape and this strange, wicked man took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. For a moment, Cullen’s brain seemed to short-circuit as he allowed the kiss, savoring the warm feel of another man’s tongue against his own. His heart raced and his fear spiked as he quickly came back to himself and pushed the man away from him forcefully.

Cullen immediately stood, in order to get more distance between himself and this…this…utterly gorgeous and amazing kisser. Wait, no. That’s wrong. This wicked and corrupt sinner. That’s it. Right?

“Do not attempt to corrupt me further, sinner!” Cullen cried out, backing away further. “I…I can see you do not wish to be redeemed. I will show myself out.”

“I don’t think your body agrees with you,” the man practically purred, as he directed his gaze directly at Cullen’s crotch. Maker, he was aroused.

The man stood up then and stalked towards Cullen as if he were stalking prey.

“You know, we haven’t even had proper introductions,” my name is Dorian. Dorian Pavus.

No. Not Dorian Pavus? The Doctor Dorian Pavus? Maker’s breath. “Wait, are you…the Dorian Pavus?” Cullen asked. “The historian and…and…expert on the Chant of Light?”

“Foremost expert,” Dorian corrected him, moving ever closer. “And you are?”

“Um…I’m nobody,” Cullen replied nervously, running a hand behind his neck as Dorian kept inching closer. “I’m just Cullen. Cullen Rutherford.”

“But you’re familiar with my work?” Dorian inquired as he backed Cullen against a wall.

“Um, yeah, I’ve read your books,” Cullen admitted. “I’m…a fan…actually. I’ve been looking forward to reading your newest book when it comes out next month.”

“A fan, hmm?” Dorian smiled as Cullen felt him reach out and caress his erection through his khaki slacks. “Yes, you do seem to be rather fond of me.”

Cullen groaned. The heat from Dorian’s touch was making him even harder. “Maker, no,” Cullen shook his head. “Please. I…can’t. It’s a sin. Two men…I’ll be reproved, or worse. Please.”

Dorian’s predatory gaze softened then and he let go of Cullen, walking back to the couch and sitting down. “You say you are a fan of my work? Then will you come here and talk to me? Please? I promise I won’t molest you again unless you ask me to.”

Cullen felt the nervous tension drain away and he relaxed. After taking a couple of deep breaths and readjusting himself he slowly made his way back to the couch.

“Now, how about we begin again, shall we?” Dorian suggested holding out his hand. “I’m Dorian Pavus. I’m pleased to meet you.”

Cullen reached out and accepted the handshake. “Cullen Rutherford.”

“So, tell me, how did you come to join Andraste’s Witnesses?” Dorian queried as he picked up his formerly abandoned mug of coffee.

Cullen reached for his own cup and sat back a little, taking some sips of his coffee as he considered how to reply. He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell his idol the disturbing details of his past.

“It’s a long story,” Cullen explained. “Let’s just say they found me at a low point in my life and helped me get back on my feet.”

“I see,” Dorian said conversationally. “So how many verses do you know by heart?”

“All of them.”

“All of them?” Dorian asked, incredulous. Dorian began citing several of the more obscure chapters and verses and Cullen recited each and every one flawlessly. Dorian seemed clearly impressed.

“I have an eidetic memory,” Cullen shrugged. “I remember every word I’ve ever read. Including from every one of your books.”

“Ah yes, that would explain it,” Dorian nodded in understanding. “So, tell me, if you know every chapter and verse, where in the Chant of Light does it state that it is wrong for two men to be intimate with one another?”

“Well, no, it doesn’t. Not as such,” Cullen began. “But the Chantry teaches…”

“What the Chantry teaches is their singular interpretation of the Chant of Light,” Dorian growled. “Or more precisely the interpretation that best fits with their rhetoric.”

“I’d get excommunicated if the Elder found out I even engaged in such thoughts,” Cullen apologized. “I’m sorry. I should probably go.”

“Wait a moment,” Dorian said as he stood and strode from the room. Cullen finished his coffee and stood to leave as Dorian came back and handed him a book. “This is an advanced copy of my latest work. I autographed it for you.”

“Oh, my,” Cullen smiled. “Thank you so much. It has been…very interesting meeting you.”

“Likewise,” Dorian smiled.

As Cullen walked away from the house he was confused by the mix of emotions that flooded through him. Instead of continuing to canvas the rest of the neighborhood, he chose to go just go back home.

Cullen had a new book to read and a lot to think about.

Chapter Text

Cullen arrived back at the apartment where he was renting a room from one of his fellow Witnesses. They had offered him a place to stay until he got back on his feet. The only work he had been able to find so far was a part-time gig as a night-shift security guard at a local office complex, so he continued to rent his tiny bedroom from one of the elderly parishioners who could no longer go out into the field.

She was having a cup of tea in the living room when he arrived. “Back so soon? Did every one of those homes close their doors on you dear?”

Cullen blushed and was about to admit the truth, but decided he wasn’t in the mood for a lecture right then. “Hi Mildred. Uh, yeah, something like that. I’m going to go to my room to pray to Andraste for guidance,” Cullen replied.

“Come and join me for lunch later,” Mildred invited. “I’ll make your favorite, grilled cheese with tomato soup!”

Cullen chuckled. Mildred was a sweet, dear lady. “I’ll join you later, thanks.”

Once he was in his room, he set down the books he was carrying. The top one was the pre-release book that Dorian had given him. He couldn’t believe he’d actually met his idol today. Cullen had always been a devout Andrastrian and read everything he could get his hands on regarding the Chant of Light. Dr. Pavus had been his favorite author.

Dorian had been revered as a historian for well over a decade now. He had done some of the most extensive research into the history and the Chant of Light than any previous historian. Before Cullen’s life had crashed around him, he had been studying history in the hopes of one day being able to apprentice with the man.

Having met Dorian in this way had been humiliating, to say the least. He couldn’t believe the man had tried to…to…seduce him. How could a man who was so well versed in the Chant of Light…be so morally corrupt?

And yet…

“Auughh!” Cullen threw himself on his bed in frustration. Today was to have been the start of a new beginning for him, along with bringing more people into the faith. It was not supposed to have been about having his own faith and morals tested. Hadn’t he been tested enough? Apparently not.

Cullen curled up and fell into a light doze, trying to banish all the impure thoughts he kept having.

***

Dorian had him pinned against the wall, hand on his throbbing erection. His breath hitched as the man leaned in for a kiss. Cullen could taste the black coffee on the man’s tongue. His heart was pounding, and he couldn’t resist grinding into the delicious pressure from this sinful man’s hand.

Dorian moved in closer, wedging a leg between Cullen’s, encouraging the man to grind against his thigh like a dog in rut. Cullen lost himself to the pleasure, needing to seek release. Dorian kept kissing him, hard and urgent, rubbing his own erection against Cullen’s hip.

When Dorian broke the kiss and moved in to nuzzle and suck on the soft skin behind his earlobe, Cullen moaned like a wanton whore. Dorian sucked hard enough that Cullen knew it would leave a mark for all to see. Then he whispered into Cullen’s ear. “You’re all mine now, aren’t you? Cum for me my boy. Show me how much you want to be mine.”

***

Cullen awoke with a start. It took him a moment to get his bearings, and he realized he had woken himself up with a shout. A shout of pure pleasure, if the sticky mess in his pants were anything to go by. He felt himself flush red with shame. He had just had the most wicked dream, starring Dorian no less.

He was going to be condemned to the void for sure. The heavy weight of guilt that hung over him felt suffocating. Cullen quickly rose and stripped off his pants and underwear, wiping himself down with tissues as best as he could before changing clothes.

After tossing his soiled things into his laundry hamper, he pulled himself together and headed for the front door. He was halfway out the door when he heard Mildred calling for him and so he went back towards the kitchen.

“I heard you shout, are you alright dear?” Mildred asked.

“I’m…I’m not sure,” Cullen sighed. “I am not feeling very well. I was going to go out for a walk.”

“What about your lunch?” Mildred called after him as he strode back towards the front door. Cullen hesitated as he felt his stomach grumble. Sighing, he turned around.

“You’re right, perhaps I just need to eat something,” Cullen said, giving Mildred a little smile. “How can I help?”

“Set the kitchen table, dear,” Mildred instructed as she turned on the stove to heat a pan.

Soon Mildred served Cullen some hot tomato soup, followed by a freshly made grilled cheese sandwich. Cullen bit in and savored the first bite, already feeling a little bit better. “You make the best grilled-cheese Mildred. What’s your secret?”

Mildred laughed. “It’s not much of a secret, really. I just grill both sides of the bread in butter, before adding the cheese. It adds to the flavor.”

“That’s it? That’s so simple!” Cullen laughed.

“Most things in life are, dear,” Mildred said. “I think people these days overthink everything and it leads so many to the wrong conclusions.”

“Are you saying that I’m overthinking what happened today?” Cullen asked before taking another bite of his sandwich.

“I believe you probably are,” Mildred replied. “I also believe that overthinking is probably what drove you into the middle of that mess you found yourself in, in the first place.”

Cullen chuckled. “I think you’re probably right about that.”

“Now why don’t you just finish your lunch and go back to your room to relax,” Mildred suggested. “Find something to take your mind off your troubles for a bit.”

Cullen nodded and quickly finished his lunch. He offered to help wash the dishes, but Mildred wouldn’t hear of it. So instead Cullen went back to his room. After closing his door, he eyed the book from Dorian. Andrastrian Mysteries Revealed.

Cullen had been eagerly awaiting this book, and despite everything that had happened with Dorian he decided to give the book a chance. Grabbing it, he toed off his shoes and settled himself on his bed and cracked it open.

He wasn’t sure why but this time as he was reading Dr. Pavus’ words, they started to make him question his beliefs. At first, he wasn’t sure if it was because the revelations in this book were aimed at making the reader question the current Chantry interpretations of the Chant of Light, or whether his encounter with Dorian today was coloring everything he now read from him.

So, Cullen put the book away after reading about a quarter of the way through and began to recall all the other works of Dorian that he’d read. No, his perception of those hadn’t changed. They still filled him with the same sense of awe and devotion to Andraste as they had when he’d first read them.

Then this newest work was flying in the face of all the Chantry taught, and would most likely create a lot of controversy. Cullen wasn’t sure if he should continue reading, but he felt compelled. What Dorian had already revealed fundamentally changed some Cullen’s views.

Cullen wasn’t sure he could take another shift like this. When the Andrastrian Witnesses had taken him in, given him shelter and food, helped him get clean, and retaught him everything he thought he knew about Andraste and the Chant of Light, he thought he’d finally found his true faith.

Now that his faith and worldview were being challenged again, it made his head spin and his skin crawl. He found to his horror that he was aching for a hit. The withdrawal from his lyrium addiction had been painful, but Mildred, Elder Josiah and the others from the congregation helped him through it.

The fact that he was aching for a hit now concerned him. He knew the urge was coming from the fact he wanted to run away and forget everything that had happened to him today. A hit of lyrium would leave him in a state of euphoric bliss for days, and right now he practically ached for it.

Being a member of the Witnesses came at a price. He knew if he began to question their interpretation of the Chant of Light, it would lead to excommunication. Then he’d be right back where he’d started.

Cullen threw aside the book and began to pace, the itching under his skin getting worse. Leaving his room, he went back towards the front door, passing by Mildred in the living room. “Where are you going dear?”

“I still need some fresh air,” Cullen explained. “I’m going for a walk.”

“Alright, remember dinner is at 6pm sharp!” Mildred reminded him.

Once outside, Cullen felt he could breathe a little easier. He began to walk, with no particular destination in mind. As he walked, his mind wandered back to earlier that morning and his encounter with Dorian. He couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful the man was.

Cullen chuckled to himself. If Dorian had continued to press his seduction, he might have succeeded. If that had happened, then Cullen would have been literally and figuratively fucked. He felt a twinge of regret but quickly pushed that away. He had said no, and the man had respected him enough to stop. That was the end of it.

Going back to what he had discussed with Dorian, and what he’d read so far in the book caused that swirling feeling in his head began all over again, along with the itching under his skin. He hadn’t questioned his faith in the Chant of Light this much since he’d been a teenager.

Cullen wandered for a couple of hours and when he looked up and realized where he was he literally startled himself. He’d wandered all the way back to the street where his former dealer lived. He began to feel a sense of panic set in and he quickly turned around and began to chant to himself. “Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.”

He hadn’t made it more than a dozen steps when he heard his name. “Cullen! Is that you? Long time no see! Looking to score again, big guy?”

Cullen kept walking but the dealer caught up to him and grabbed his arm. “Hey dude what’s the hurry?”

Cullen froze. If he turned around. If he talked to Samson…

Cullen yanked his arm away and without saying a word kept walking.

Samson ran and jumped in front of him, forcing Cullen to look him straight in the eye.

“You were here to get a hit, weren’t you?” Samson said. “Changed your mind but that itch under your skin won’t get any better, will it? Come on, let old Samson take care of you. First one’s on the house.”

Cullen shook his head. “No. I can’t. I can’t live like that again. Please, let me go.”

Samson reached out and put something into Cullen’s pants’ pocket. “There you go. See? On the house, in case you need it later. Take care, old friend.”

Then as quickly as he appeared, Samson was gone. The tiny vial in Cullen’s pocket weighed on his mind but he resisted, repeating chapters from the Chant of Light as he made his way back home. He should have tossed the vial at the first trash bin he came across, but a part of him couldn’t even bring himself to touch it.

So, it remained in his pocket the entire way back home.

Cullen looked at his watch and winced. It was 6:15pm. Mildred hated when someone came to the dinner table late. Well, nothing for it. He approached the 3-story walk-up. Mildred’s apartment was the one on the ground floor. He climbed the steps and let himself in. As he entered the living room he was surprised to find they had guests. Elder Josiah and three other members of the congregation.

“Elder Josiah,” Cullen greeted as he closed the door behind him. “What brings you by?”

“You, actually,” the Elder said, frowning. “Mildred has been telling me some very disturbing things.”

Cullen frowned. “I…I’m sorry. I don’t know what you mean?”

Mildred stepped forward. “I’m sorry, dear. You were acting so strangely since you came home this morning.”

Elder Josiah dumped out the contents of a paper bag. It was his pair of stained underwear and pants from earlier. When he’d had his wet dream about Dorian. Cullen flushed red in embarrassment. “You went through my laundry?!”

“And she found the evidence of sinful thoughts,” Elder Josiah accused. “Also, I sent some of our congregation to your assigned area today. They all claim you did not visit them this day.”

“I…I’m sorry,” Cullen began to apologize. “Wait…all of them? What about the house at the corner of Maple and Oak?”

Elder Josiah reviewed some notes he was holding. “The occupant there also claimed you had not visited.”

“I’m sorry Elder, Mildred,” Cullen apologized. “I didn’t mean to lie. I didn’t visit all those homes, all except one. The one at the corner of Maple and Oak. I did visit that one. I was invited inside. I was very disturbed by him and it put me off the rest of my task for today. I…I needed to think. Clear my head.”

“Why are you lying dear?” Mildred reproved him. “Right now, I am more inclined to think you never even went near that neighborhood.”

“Wherever you went, if filled your head with sinful thoughts,” Elder Josiah said. “And then you perpetrated the sin of lust right in the home of one of your benefactors?”

Cullen blushed even redder. “I was asleep. I had no control over it. I’m sorry.”

“Also, this was found in your room,” Elder Josiah produced Dorian’s book. “Where did you pick up this ridiculous piece of blasphemy?!”

“It was given to me,” Cullen explained. “By Dr. Pavus himself. He resides in the house at Oak and Maple. As I said, that was where I was this morning. He was the one who filled my head with sinful thoughts.”

“Ridiculous!” the Elder spat. “Dr. Pavus is a revered Chantry historian. He wouldn’t write something so blasphemous! Nor would he lie about your presence at his home.”

Cullen lowered his head, unable to look the Elder in the eye. Internally his was becoming angry at the false accusations, but also deeply ashamed of everything that had happened that day.

“Then I hear you went out for a walk, for several hours,” the Elder sounded accusatory. “Where did you go?”

“Nowhere,” Cullen shrugged. “I just needed some fresh air and time to think.”

“Search him!” Elder Josiah ordered the others in the room. Two of them grabbed Cullen by the shoulders, restraining him, while the third searched his pockets.

“Hey!!” Cullen yelled, struggling. “You can’t do that!”

The one searching his pockets found the vial of lyrium.

“You’re using again?!” Elder Josiah practically shouts. “After all we’ve been through about the sins in abusing the body with such things. Did you learn nothing?”

Cullen’s eyes were wide with horror. “No, Elder. I haven’t! I didn’t! I swear! I didn’t realize where I was wandering to until I arrived and as I went to leave my old dealer found me. He tried to tempt me. He put that in my pocket. I didn’t have the strength to just throw it out…but I didn’t. I haven’t. Please, believe me!”

Elder Josiah took a deep breath. “You failed in your mission. You lied. You committed the sin of lust and you were close to committing the sin of substance abuse. I have no choice. You are hereby excommunicated!”

With that everyone in the room turned their backs on Cullen. “Your things are packed, waiting by the door,” Mildred offered just before she also turned her back.

“Also, find yourself some new means of employment,” Elder Josiah informed him. “I have informed your boss of your behavior and you have been fired.”

Cullen winced. He’d nearly forgotten that his boss was also a member of their congregation.

Seeing no other alternative, Cullen sighed. He reached for Dorian’s book and then picked up the packed bag at the doorway and left the apartment. Once outside he looked around, unsure where to turn. He wandered the streets for several hours until exhaustion set in.

He found himself near a park and settled himself onto a bench. He took out his only coat from the bag and used it as a blanket. He curled himself up as much as he could, using his bag as a pillow, and cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Cullen slowly found his way back to consciousness as he felt someone gently shake his shoulder. “Cullen? In the Maker’s name, why are you sleeping out here?”

Cullen blinked open his eyes, and looked up to see Dorian crouching next to the bench he was sleeping on. “Dorian? How did you find me?”

“You happen to be sleeping on a bench in the park where I go jogging every other morning,” Dorian explained. “Let’s get you up. Come home with me and I’ll make you some breakfast and you can explain to me why I found you sleeping here in the first place. Ok?”

Cullen nodded, slowly sitting up, his joints and muscles stiff from sleeping in such an uncomfortable position. He wasn’t sure if he wanted anything more to do with this man, but he had nowhere else to turn to right now, so he silently followed Dorian home.

“You can leave your bag in the foyer,” Dorian said as they entered the house. “Then follow me into the kitchen.”

Cullen did as he was told. The kitchen was open concept and connected to a great room that was much cozier than the front living room that Dorian had entertained him in the day before. The couches were overstuffed and comfortable, facing a large fireplace. Over the fireplace hung one of the largest televisions Cullen had ever seen.

Dorian directed Cullen to sit on one of the island barstools as he busied himself with breakfast. Soon Cullen found a steaming cup of coffee in front of him. “Two sugars and a dollop of cream, if I recall from yesterday?”

Cullen nodded. “Thanks.”

Cullen drank the coffee gratefully, and the caffeine slowly cleared out the cobwebs in his brain. At first Cullen just stared at his mug but slowly he lifted his gaze and watched Dorian flit around the kitchen.

“Why?” Cullen thought to ask.

“Why what?” Dorian replied, unsure as to what Cullen was referring to.

“Why did you tell them I wasn’t here yesterday?” Cullen clarified.

“Oh that,” Dorian hesitated and then turned to look at Cullen. “Is that why you were sleeping in the park? Did they kick you out anyway? I’m so sorry. I was trying to prevent that. I thought if I said you hadn’t been here, they wouldn’t pry further and uncover the rather unsavory way I treated you yesterday.”

“No, instead they accused me of lying,” Cullen confessed.

“They kicked you out for that?!” Dorian sounded shocked. “I knew they had sticks up their asses, but I had no idea they were that uptight.”

Cullen had to chuckle at that. “The lying was only one reason. There were…other reasons as well.”

“Well for what it’s worth, I’m truly sorry I caused you so much trouble,” Dorian apologized.

Cullen shrugged. “You couldn’t have known.”

Dorian nodded and went back to making breakfast. He made scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. The smell of the cooking food reminded Cullen that he never had a chance to have dinner the night before and his stomach grumbled loudly.

“When was the last time you ate?” Dorian asked.

“Not since lunch yesterday,” Cullen replied.

“Well no wonder I can hear your stomach growl from here,” Dorian frowned. “Breakfast should be ready soon!”

Dorian joined Cullen at the kitchen island with two steaming plates. He and Cullen sat together in companionable silence as they ate their breakfast together. Once they were done, Dorian poured them each another cup of coffee and he beckoned Cullen to come join him in the great room.

Cullen sank into the overstuffed couch as Dorian sat in the one opposite of him. “So, can you tell me exactly what happened to you after you left here yesterday.”

Cullen blushed a bit at first. He tried to explain what happened without going into certain details, but Dorian looked confused. “I understand they didn’t appreciate you lying, but then just going out for a walk and coming home late for dinner shouldn’t be enough to get you excommunicated.”

Cullen sighed. “That wasn’t all…but…I’m not ready to share the rest. Please, understand.”

Dorian studied him for a moment before nodding. “Alright, I’ll stop prying. Look it’s obvious you need some help and since I’m partially to blame for your situation, let me help. Alright?”

“Help, how?” Cullen asked.

“For starters,” Dorian began. “You can stay here as long as you like. This is a three-bedroom house and I’m the only one here. I have a spare room you can call your own for as long as you need it.”

Cullen was shocked. “Oh…no…I couldn’t.”

“You can and you shall,” Dorian insisted. “I won’t hear another word of it.”

“Th…thank you,” Cullen stammered gratefully.

“Now then,” Dorian continued. “Do you have a job besides waking people up at un-Makerly hour of the morning?”

Cullen chuckled at that. “I did, but I was fired as well. My manager was also a member of our…their…congregation.”

“I see,” Dorian said. “Well, do you know how to keep house? I recently lost my housekeeper and I’d be grateful for a bit of help keeping this place tidy.”

“Sure, I’d be happy to,” Cullen shrugged. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Excellent!” Dorian exclaimed as he sat down his coffee and stood. “Go fetch your things and let me show you to your room.”

Cullen went to get his bag with his belongings and followed Dorian upstairs.

“The first door on the right is my office,” Dorian explained. “That’s where I spend most of my time. The first door on the left is my guest room, or rather your room for now. The door across from it is your bathroom. At the end of the hall is the door to the master suite, which contains my bedroom and bathroom.”

As Dorian led Cullen into the guestroom, Cullen looked around in awe. The room was easily double the size of the room he’d had at Mildred’s. Perhaps even three times the size. Instead of a tiny twin bed, it contained a queen-sized bed. It also had a large chest of drawers, a walk-in closet, and on the wall opposite the bed there was another large TV hung on the wall. Off to one corner was even a comfortable chair and table. A perfect reading nook.

“This is amazing,” Cullen said. “I…I’ve never had a room this large before.”

“Never? Really?” Dorian sounded surprised.

Cullen was overcome with gratitude and flung himself at Dorian. “Thank you so much!”

Dorian hugged him back briefly before pushing him back. “You’re most welcome, but may I recommend you take a shower next?”

Cullen realized he must reek after having walked for hours and then sleeping in his clothes all night, and he blushed with embarassment.

“There are fresh towels and all the amenities you require in the bathroom,” Dorian added. “I never know if I’ll have a guest so I like to be prepared.”

“Thanks again,” Cullen said as Dorian went off to take his own shower.

For a moment, Cullen stood dumbfounded in the middle of Dorian’s guest room. His reversal of fortunes in the past twenty-four hours had his head reeling. This was just too surreal, and yet somehow it felt right to be here. Cullen couldn’t put a finger on it, but he was already far more at ease in Dorian’s home than he had ever been at Mildred’s.

First Cullen unpacked his bag, which was primarily the few clothes owned, his coat, another pair of shoes and his small collection of books. Cullen noticed that his copy of the Chant of Light wasn’t among them. Cullen sighed and set the books on top of the dresser. He picked out a fresh set of clothes to wear and headed for the bathroom across the hall.

Once he was standing under the hot shower, Cullen allowed himself to think back on everything that had happened that had led him here.

***

Before Elder Josiah found him, Cullen’s life had completely hit rock bottom. He had been a good student but he kept doubting himself and his own abilities. As the son of a farmer, he felt he had to push himself harder to prove he was worthy of being in an academic setting.

The beginning of his downfall had been meeting Samson and taking his first hit of lyrium in order to survive finals. A year later and he had been expelled and kicked out of the dorms. He was too ashamed to crawl back home in defeat and too addicted to quit. Samson demanded more and more of him forcing Cullen to resort to panhandling and turning tricks in order to get his next hit.

When Elder Josiah came across him, Cullen had offered to suck his cock. Cullen flushed with shame at that memory. He’d been so desperate for another hit, he was willing to do just about anything for it.

Elder Josiah offered him an alternative and took him to his first service at the Andraste’s Witnesses church. It took him over six months to get clean and recover from his addiction. That had been a year ago now.

Cullen had spent the past year getting back on his feet; taking the part-time security job, renting a room from Mildred, and spending the rest of his time either in prayer or training to go out into the field as a Witness to spread the word of Andraste.

To have everything he worked for in the past year taken away in the span of a few hours hit him hard and Cullen was still trying to come to grips with it all. The constant itch for a hit was the worst part. Every time he’d felt the itch in the past, he could go to Elder Josiah and they would pray together until the feeling subsided.

What was he going to do now? He could try praying alone but he wasn’t sure that would be enough.

***

Cullen sighed and began to wash himself hurriedly as he realized the water was beginning to cool. By the time he was rinsing his hair, the water was almost completely cold and he quickly shut it off, and began rubbing himself warm again with a towel.

As he dressed Cullen began to contemplate how much of this he should share with Dorian. If he was going to stay here, rent free, Cullen supposed he owed the man the truth. However, Cullen was afraid he’d be shown the door as soon as Dorian understood exactly what kind of man he was being charitable towards.

One night, Cullen thought to himself. I’ll take advantage of his kindness for one night. Then I’ll tell him everything.

***

That evening Cullen helped Dorian make dinner and they chatted amiably about some of Dorian’s past books. Dorian didn’t ask if Cullen had begun to read the new book he’d been given yet, and Cullen was thankful for that.

Afterwards Cullen happily cleared away the dishes and cleaned the kitchen to fulfil his promise to help around the house in exchange for his room and board.

As Cullen cleaned he kept glancing and Dorian as the man sat in the great room reading a book. He’d already been excommunicated and damned to the void so Cullen was a less fearful of his impure thoughts this time around. However, it didn’t prevent him from blushing when Dorian caught him looking.

“Do you like what you see?” Dorian teased.

“Oh, um,” Cullen stuttered nervously. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”

“Oh by all means,” Dorian purred. “I am quite aware of my eye candy status. Stare away!”

Cullen blushed even redder and turned around and finished cleaning up the kitchen and Dorian laughed.

Just as Cullen was folding the kitchen towel, Dorian came up behind him. Cullen startled and turned around, face to face with his latest benefactor.

Cullen’s heart rate spiked as he was in such close proximity to Dorian again, although this time the panic he’d felt the day before was gone, replaced with an inexplicable feeling of want.

Dorian’s eyes scanned him for a moment. “Please,” Dorian said in almost a whisper. “May I kiss you?”

Cullen swallowed nervously as his brain short-circuited. He couldn’t make his mouth form words so instead he just nodded. Dorian then reached out and cupped his face and leaned in to brush his lips against Cullen’s.

Cullen slid one hand up Dorian’s neck, stroking the back of his hair, his other hand landing on Dorian’s hip, as the kiss deepened. Cullen could taste the wine on Dorian’s tongue and the tickle of his mustache as it brushed his upper lip.

The heat of Dorian’s skin under his hand.

Dorian then broke the kiss and stepped back and Cullen let

Cullen realized he was smiling. “What…was that for?”

“I needed to know,” Dorian explained. “Yesterday I was just trying to mess with you, but I thought I felt a…spark…between us.”

“And now?” Cullen asked.

“Definitely a spark,” Dorian smiled. “I’m sorry if I come on a little strong sometimes. I’m…not used to feeling this way. You’ve quite bewildered me.”

“I’ve bewildered you?” Cullen said incredulously. “You’ve turned my entire world upside-down.”

Dorian looked regretful at that. “I know, and I am sorry about that. Although if truth be told, I’m not entirely sorry if it means I get you away from those cretins.”

Cullen ran a hand through his hair. “We have a lot to talk about. I…I have things I need to tell you. But I’d like to leave it until tomorrow, after I’ve had a good night’s sleep. Please?”

Dorian nodded. “Of course. I should try to get some research done for my next piece that I’m writing.”

Later, as Cullen slipped into his new bed, his fingers brushed along his lips, recalling the earlier kiss. If nothing else, kissing Dorian seemed to relieve the itch under his skin and he’d nearly forgotten it was there.

Cullen sighed. Would Dorian still want to kiss him after he knew the whole truth?

For the first time in a long time, Cullen felt a wave of guilt and shame come over him for the poor choices he had made. Where would those choices lead him to tomorrow?

Chapter Text

Cullen woke to the sound of birds chirping outside his window. It took him some time to orient himself and remember where he was as he blinked away the sleep in his eyes and looked around the bedroom he found himself in.

Dorian Pavus. He was actually sleeping in Dorian’s house. It still blew his mind that he had not only finally met the foremost expert on the history of the Chant of Light and the Chantry, but that the man had literally, in twenty-four hours, turned his entire life upside down. Oh, and he’d kissed him as well…and Cullen had liked it. Maker preserve me.

Cullen’s fingers traced his lips when he thought back on kissing Dorian. It was wicked to think of Dorian in that way but…he had enjoyed the kisses. Especially the most recent one. Kissing Dorian was definitely better when his mind wasn’t panicking at the same time.

Glancing at the clock, Cullen realized it was still too early for Dorian to be up. So, Cullen decided to go out for a jog to clear his mind. He jogged through the neighborhood he had originally been assigned to spread the Word of Andraste to.

After all that had happened, Cullen began to look at the homes and people with fresh eyes. Before he had rung Dorian’s doorbell two days ago, he had viewed this area as filled with blasphemous non-believers. As he jogged past the early risers who were out working in their gardens, he realized that they probably just good, hard working people. Many of them were probably Andrastrian, just not members of the Andraste’s Witnesses.

Cullen’s own family had been Andrastrian, although they were part of one of the more progressive branches. Cullen had always been devout, finding a great deal of comfort in the words within the Chant of Light. After what had happened in the past few says, he realized that despite having helped him get back on his feet, the Andraste’s Witnesses had probably been too extreme, even for him. He had desperately wanted a place to belong, but that hadn’t been right place for him.

Coming to that realization seemed to lift a weight off his shoulders that Cullen hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying. The jog did a lot to help clear his head and helped Cullen come to terms with what had happened. He knew wasn’t any less devout for the experience. He just needed to find some stability now, if he was going to truly get his life back on track.

As he returned to Dorian’s house, after having wended his way through the neighborhood, a part of him really hoped Dorian would help him find that stability and belonging he needed. Once back in the house, Cullen took a long, hot shower before making his way back down to the kitchen. He decided to start making breakfast, hoping the smell of fresh brewed coffee might rouse his new host.

Just as Cullen finished placing breakfast and coffee onto the kitchen island, Dorian stumbled into the kitchen, once again dressed scandalously in that sheer robe of his. Cullen couldn’t help the blush that crept up his cheeks seeing the man in such a state of undress.

“You made breakfast?” Dorian asked sleepily. “Thank you. I can’t remember the last time someone made me breakfast.”

“It’s the least I can do, and you did ask me to help you around the house,” Cullen reminded him.

Dorian slid into the barstool and grabbed his cup of coffee, taking a long draught before humming in contentment. “Hmm, yes so I did. Still, I appreciate the effort. I forgot I even had a waffle maker.”

Cullen joined Dorian and drank some of his own coffee. “It was down there in that cabinet,” Cullen pointed. “My mom used to make waffles every Sunday before services. It’s probably why Sundays are still my favorite day of the week.”

Dorian took a taste of is waffle and hummed happily. “I think you’re a keeper Cullen Rutherford. I don’t think I’ve ever had a waffle quite this excellent before.”

“If you like how I make waffles,” Cullen laughed. “Just wait until you’ve had my pot roast!”

They both lapsed into silence as they enjoyed their breakfast. Once finished, Cullen stood to clear away the dishes while Dorian poured himself another cup of coffee.

“So, I was wondering,” Dorian mused. “Were you raised as an Andrastrian Witness? I know you said they had helped you out of some trouble, but I gather you were raised Andrastrian, right?”

Cullen nodded. “Yes, my family was Andrastrian, although we belonged to a more progressive congregation. We were not part of the Andraste’s Witnesses.”

“I am, as you probably know, originally from Tevinter,” Dorian said. “Our version of Andratrianism is much more, orthodox, shall we say. It’s one of the many reasons why I left and came to Ferelden over a decade ago. Also, why I am not overly fond of the Andraste’s Witnesses. They remind me a bit too much of home for my liking.”

“Is that why you decided to mess with me the other day?” Cullen asked pointedly.

Dorian nodded. “You woke me up, so I felt I needed a bit of recompense for that. Again, I am sorry that I caused you so much trouble.”

Cullen shrugged. “What’s done is done. Look can we sit and talk for a bit? I told you yesterday I have some things you need to know. If you decide you want me out of your house afterwards, I’ll understand.”

“As long as you’re not going to confess to being a serial axe murderer,” Dorian joked.

Cullen laughed. “No, nothing like that.”

Cullen poured himself another cup of coffee as well and looked over at Dorian who was sitting down on the couch. When had it become so easy to laugh around this man? Wasn’t he just a nervous, stuttering idiot a couple of days ago? Something about Dorian just seemed to put him at ease, and Maker he didn’t want to lose that now.

Cullen sat down had a couple of sips of his coffee first. “Alright, there are a lot of things I need to tell you, so you understand how I ended up at your doorstep, and then sleeping on that bench.”

Cullen started with how he had fallen in love with Dorian’s first book and how it had made him want to also pursue being a Chantry historian, so he worked hard to keep his grades up and he managed to win a full-ride scholarship to the University of Denerim.

Then Cullen explained about his mounting insecurities, wanting to get the best grades so he could possibly one day intern with the great Dr. Dorian Pavus.

“Wait, you wanted to become my intern?” Dorian interrupted. “Didn’t you know I never work with interns?”

Cullen looked up at Dorian and blushed shaking his head. “No, I had no idea, but it was that dream that drove me forward.”

“Then what happened?” Dorian asked.

“Samson happened,” Cullen sighed regretfully.

Cullen told Dorian how Samson had convinced Cullen to try lyrium in order to get through his finals. One hit was all it took to get Cullen hooked. From there his life slid down-hill quickly, so that he cared far more about getting his next hit than his grades.

Cullen then hung his head as he shared how he had ended up expelled from the university after having lost his scholarship, how he turned to panhandling and turning tricks in order to get his next hit, and how that led him to eventually meet Elder Josiah.

Cullen looked up at Dorian, expecting a look of disgust from the man but instead all he saw was sadness. Cullen sighed, running his hands through his hair before continuing.

“Elder Josiah saved me, got me clean, helped me find a place to live and a job,” Cullen explained. “I owed him and the congregation everything, so when I was told I needed to train and go out into the field to spread the word of Andraste, I gladly accepted.”

“Word of Andraste my ass,” Dorian harrumphed mostly to himself. “Please, don’t mind me. Go on.”

“So, that brings me to the other day,” Cullen continued. “After I left your house, I went straight back home. I couldn’t face talking to anyone else.”

“How did this Mildred take seeing you home so soon?” Dorian asked.

“Better than I expected, or so I thought,” Cullen explained. “I went back to my room and fell asleep. I…um…woke up later in a rather compromising position.”

“Oh? Do tell,” Dorian prompted.

Cullen stammered out a half-explanation as he blushed several shades of red.

“Wait, let me see if I understood that,” Dorian looked like he was trying to suppress a laugh. “You had a wet dream about me?”

Cullen barely nodded in acknowledgement.

“I had more of an effect on you than I thought,” Dorian observed with a wry smile. “So, then what happened?”

Cullen told Dorian about having lunch with Mildred, going back to his room to start reading Dorian’s latest book, then leaving to take a walk and clear his thoughts. Dorian actually looked concerned when Cullen related his brief encounter with Samson, but seemed relieved when Cullen assured him he never touched the vial that Samson had slipped into his pocket.

“So, when I got back, I was surprised that Elder Josiah and several others from our congregation were in Mildred’s apartment,” Cullen said. “Mildred called them because she found evidence of my sinful thoughts after rummaging through my laundry basket. After that they found the vial in my pocket and accused me of lying about having spoken to you that day. So, I was excommunicated and thrown out. Afterward I wandered for hours, until I found your park and decided to take a rest there. That’s where you found me.”

“Have you been in touch with your family at all?” Dorian asked.

Cullen shook his head. “No, I have been too ashamed to contact them.”

Dorian put down his empty cup and came over to sit next to Cullen. He took Cullen’s cup from him and then took his hands in his. Cullen was shocked to find Dorian’s eyes brimming with emotion. “I am so sorry for everything you’ve been through. To know I was the catalyst for all of it. Can you forgive me?”

Cullen was stunned. “Forgive you for what? For the poor choices, I made in my life? You aren’t the one who talked me into taking my first hit of lyrium. That was my foolish choice. I’m just relieved you aren’t trying to kick my sorry ass out of your house.”

“I have no intention of throwing you out. I still can’t believe you felt so driven to be perfect in the hopes of working with me,” Dorian sighed. “What’s funny is the fact I have started to think I might want a research assistant so I can have a bit more free time.”

Cullen’s eyes widened at that news.

Dorian raised a hand to the right side of Cullen’s face, his thumb skimming over the scar above his lip. “How did you get this?”

Cullen ducked his head in shame. “First time I turned a trick. I had no idea how to give a blow job and I scraped my teeth on the guy. He got mad and kicked me in the face. I was lucky he didn’t knock any teeth out, but he split my lip really badly and I had no money to go get stiches. He was wearing a pair of those steel-toed boots.”

“You poor dear.” Dorian leant in then and placed a gentle kiss on the scar and Cullen felt a flood of affection for Dorian.

“You keep kissing me,” Cullen pointed out.

“I won’t deny I’m attracted to you,” Dorian admitted. “However, you have thrown me for a bit of a loop. I’m used to a quick tryst in a broom closet. If you hadn’t protested the other day, we would probably have just had a quick shag and then I would have sent you on your way.”

“And now?” Cullen asked.

“Now, I think I’d really like to get to know you better,” Dorian smiled. “It’s not something I’ve ever wanted before. I know you’ve been through a lot the past few days, but would you be willing to…explore…what we could have?”

Cullen took a deep breath. “I’ve had it drilled into me for the past year how…wrong…such lustful desires are, especially between two men…but I’ve already been damned to the Void according to the Witness’ teachings so...”

“So?” Dorian prompted for Cullen to continue.

“So…I think you’re a very beautiful man, Dorian Pavus,” Cullen confessed. “I would love to get to know you better and see…where this goes. If we go slow. I…I can’t just give in to my carnal desires that easily.”

Dorian nodded. “I understand and I agree. I’d like to see where this could lead, rather than just have my usual tryst. Are you at all opposed to at least sharing the occasional kiss?”

Cullen laughed. “Since we’ve shared a few already, I wouldn’t be opposed to just that, for now.”

“I’m happy to hear you say that,” Dorian smiled as he leaned in for a quick, chaste kiss. “Now that we have all that cleared out of the way, I meant it when I said I’ve been thinking about bringing a research assistant on-board. With your eidetic memory, and passion for the Chant of Light, you’d be ideal.”

“Are you actually offering me a job?” Cullen asked.

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Dorian smiled. “Having you living here and working with me couldn’t have come at a better time. My new book, as you know, is about to come out and my publisher is anxious for me to begin work on my next book. I expect the new book will cause quite a stir and I’ll probably have to spend quite a bit of time talking to the media, so I won’t have as much time to do research to begin my next work. That’s where I could use your help.”

“But…I never even finished my undergraduate degree,” Cullen said. “How could I possibly be qualified?”

“You don’t need a degree in order to be my research assistant,” Dorian shrugged. “Although if you really want to complete your education, I’d be more than happy to help you with that, if you’re interested. I pay for your tuition in exchange for your time helping me complete my research?”

“Dorian…I don’t know what to say…this is too much,” Cullen stood, pacing back and forth nervously. “I…I…don’t know what to say.” Cullen began to feel the rising anxiety he had felt back in college again. Too many expectations. Mostly from himself.

Dorian seemed to sense the problem and he stood, coming up behind Cullen and wrapping his arms around him. “Hush. Just think about it. No pressure. I will not be disappointed if you say no. Alright?”

Cullen took a deep breath and relaxed in Dorian’s embrace. “Alright.”

“For now, just help me keep house,” Dorian said as he gave Cullen a quick squeeze before letting go. “Then the rest of your time is your own.”

Cullen nodded. “Alright. I’ll think about your other offers. I just need some time to just…adjust to all the changes.”

“That is completely understandable,” Dorian smiled. “Now I must get upstairs and get some work done. Please feel free to come up and knock on my door if you need anything.”

“I will,” Cullen promised.

As Dorian headed upstairs, Cullen went about cleaning up the kitchen. He then spent the rest of the morning familiarizing himself with Dorian’s home, before deciding that some dusting and vacuuming were in order, followed by some laundry.

Doing the housework seemed to calm his mind and Cullen began to feel a bit more at ease. The thought of getting to know Dorian better gave him a warm feeling that he couldn’t describe. He’d never felt like this about anyone before. It should terrify him, but somehow it didn’t.

For the first time in a long time, Cullen allowed himself to relax and just see where life would take him next.

Chapter Text

A month of living at Dorian’s has Cullen settling into a routine. Every other morning, he and Dorian would go jogging together. On the mornings Dorian slept in, Cullen would just go jogging alone. Afterward, he always took a shower and made breakfast before Dorian would sequester himself in his office, often not even coming down for lunch. Cullen learned to start making quick, easy lunches that were easily stored for later, just in case.

Generally, Dorian would join Cullen for dinner, although sometimes he doesn’t come down until late because of a long call with his agent or publisher as they prepared for the launch of the new book.

Dorian invited Cullen out a few times as well, and while Cullen shied away from calling them dates, that’s basically what they are. Cullen is happy that Dorian hasn’t attempted another seduction, although they have enjoyed a few wine-fueled make-out sessions in the great room after dinner. Dorian has come to call these his dessert, for how sweet he found Cullen’s kisses. It made Cullen blush every time.

***

One afternoon, Cullen is in the laundry room, folding Dorian’s freshly washed unmentionables when Dorian popped his head in. “There you are! I wanted to ask you something.”

Cullen stops folder. “What’s on your mind?”

“Well as you know, there’s this big shindig this weekend as part of the launch of my book. The official launch party. I was wondering, would you care to join me?”

Cullen felt a curious mix of happiness and terror at being asked. “Are you asking me to come along as your…date…in public?”

Dorian frowned. “Well, if you’re not keen on the idea, it’s perfectly alright,” Dorian said with a slight sigh as he turned to leave.

“No, wait!” Cullen cried out to stop Dorian. “I didn’t say that. I’m just…well, I don’t have anything appropriate to wear.”

Dorian quirked a smile and gave Cullen an appraising look. “Hmm, you and I are roughly the same build. I could let you borrow one of my suits. I’d take you shopping but I have absolutely no time before the party.”

“Um, okay,” Cullen shrugged. “Are you sure you want to be seen in public with…someone like me?”

“You mean with a ridiculously handsome blond?” Dorian asked. “This book is meant to cause heads to turn and I think it’s about time I also came out to my readers as well. After what happened to you, it’s made me realize I shouldn’t be hiding in the shadows anymore. I know it’s a lot to ask of you, to basically come out with me, but it’s not as scary than doing it alone.”

Cullen was quiet. His heart was racing but seeing the expectant look on Dorian’s face made him melt and in the moment, he realized he had come to terms with the fact that he liked Dorian. A lot.

Cullen nodded. “I think you’re right, it is less scary if we do it together. I’ll do my best to support you through this. This certainly can’t be any worse than what I’ve done in the past.”

Dorian looked relieved. “Thank you. So much.” Dorian pulled Cullen into an embrace and kissed him thoroughly. “You have no idea how much that means to me to know you’ll be there.”

Cullen took a deep breath and went back to folding laundry. The thought of coming out with Dorian in such a public setting, sent a combination of excitement and fear through him. In the back of his mind he was beginning to worry if he would ever be good enough to deserve someone like Dorian in his life. By the time he’d finished all the housework for the day, Cullen was on the edge of a full-blown anxiety attack.

Cullen was pacing the kitchen. He should be making dinner but his mind was racing and he felt that damnable itch under his skin again. He didn’t even hear Dorian come downstairs, he was so caught up in his downward spiral of thoughts.

Cullen startled as Dorian stepped up behind him and put his arms around him. It took a moment for him to relax into the embrace. “Hey, what’s got you so worked up? I could hear you pacing from all the way upstairs.”

Cullen hung his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can go to the party after all. You…deserve to go with someone better than I am. I’ll never be good enough…”

Dorian grabbed Cullen by the shoulders and spun him around. “You look at me, Cullen Stanton Rutherford. You are a remarkable human being, one that I happen to care about I might add, and I would be proud having you at my side at that party.”

Cullen ducked his head. “How can you say that? After all the things I’ve done?”

Dorian took Cullen’s hand and led him over to sit with him in the great room. “I’ve done a bit of investigation on you over the past month. I needed to know for myself how much of what you told me was true. Do you know what I found?”

Cullen shook his head.

“I read about a young man who was so determined to break away from his farm-boy existence, that he studied relentlessly, in order to earn the highest grades of his high school class,” Dorian began. “That same young man won a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious university, where he was also earning high marks and praise from his professors.”

“Yeah, until I fucked it all up,” Cullen sighed.

“No, you didn’t,” Dorian said. “That fellow…Samson was it? He fucked it up. Don’t you know how these drug dealers operate. They manipulate you into believing that you need a hit of whatever it is they are selling. They make you completely dependent on them, practically a slave who will do anything in order to pay them for this drug. Tell me, did he ever use you physically in exchange for a hit?”

Cullen flushed red and nodded weakly. Those were the most humiliating encounters.

“I bet he would tell you how worthless you were,” Dorian deduced. “How without him you were nothing. How many other addicts did he have dependent on him like that?”

Cullen thought back and shrugged. He hadn’t paid much attention to the others at the time, he was always either in the midst of a high or desperate for the next one.

“Well I will say one thing, at least the Andraste’s Witnesses helped get you away from that situation and helped you get clean,” Dorian mused. “However, they did nothing for your own self-esteem or self-worth. Cullen, you are a remarkably intelligent man. I would be proud to have you at my side at the launch party and you absolutely deserve to be there.”

Cullen looked at Dorian and saw nothing but sincerity in the man’s eyes. “Thank you. I am still struggling to believe that, but thank you.”

“Now come on,” Dorian said, standing and holding out his hand. “Let’s go out for dinner tonight.”

Cullen took the offered hand and followed Dorian.

***

Dorian helped Cullen dress and style his hair the afternoon before the launch party. Cullen was still nervous about being seen in public with Dorian like this. “Why did you decide tonight was the best time to come out?”

Dorian laughed. “As you probably know, being gay in Tevinter is rather illegal. Anyone caught having same-sex relations, of any kind, and they get hauled off to special facilities designed to fix what they see as wrong. From what I understand they just beat and them into submission. I’ve heard rumor that they will go so far as to kill those who refuse to break.”

“Yeah, I’d heard about that,” Cullen replied. “It sounds awful.”

“It is, rather,” Dorian replied, sagging slightly.

“Wait, were you?” Cullen asked. “Were you sent to one of those camps?”

Dorian took a deep breath. “I don’t really want to get into it now if you don’t mind. Let’s just say once I arrived in Ferelden, I saw how much more open people were able to be. There are still small pockets of prejudice like the Andraste’s Witnesses, but in general, people here are far more accepting. After living here for over a decade, I think it’s about time I am true to myself.”

Cullen nodded and came up behind his benefactor, for the first time reaching out and wrapping is arms around the man. “I’m sorry you had to go through that, Dorian.”

Dorian leaned into the embrace. “Thank you, but there is nothing for you to apologize for.”

Dorian turned around his storm-grey eyes sparkling. “I could get used to that, you know.”

Cullen’s brow furrowed. “Used to what?”

“You giving me a hug,” Dorian smiled. “I think that was the first time you did that.”

Cullen blushed then. “Well, it looked like you needed one.”

Dorian stepped back and looked at Cullen. “You do clean up nicely. I really must take you shopping so you can throw out that endless array of khakis you are always wearing.”

“What’s wrong with khakis?” Cullen asked as he grabbed the suit jacket and slipped it on.

“Don’t even get me started!” Dorian joked. “Oh my, don’t you look handsome!”

Cullen blushed as he smoothed his hands over the front of the jacket. “You really think so?”

Dorian stepped closer. “Yes, indeed,” Dorian affirmed before pulling Cullen into an embrace, giving the man a quick kiss.

“Now, we should get going,” Dorian said as he stepped away from Cullen. “There are several pre-party press engagements we need to attend.”

Cullen took a deep breath. “Alright, I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

Dorian drove them to the location. All the press engagements and the party were being held at the same location, so Dorian gave the valet his keys before escorting Cullen inside.

All the media and press engagements were a whirlwind for Cullen. Dorian kept his hand firmly in his grasp, almost as if Cullen were a lifeline. Cullen tried to say as little as possible, letting Dorian do most of the talking. The few times a reporter focused on Cullen and asked him either about his relationship with Dorian or his opinion on the newest book, Cullen found himself utterly tongue-tied. I knew I should have finished reading the book.

Cullen hadn’t read any more of Dorian’s latest book since being kicked out of the Witnesses. He hadn’t been prepared for what he’d read so far and he was afraid to read the rest, much less discuss any of it with Dorian. His entire world had already been turned upside down and he just wasn’t prepared for another paradigm shift just yet. Thankfully Dorian had never pressed him on it, but now Cullen was feeling woefully ill-prepared.

By the time Dorian was through with all the press and paparazzi, Cullen was actually ready for one of the fancy cocktails they were serving at the party. Cullen wasn’t usually much one for drinking, but his nerves were frayed and that all-too-familiar itch under his skin was back. He hoped a couple of drinks might ease that itch.

“Hey, how are you holding up?” Dorian asked when they finally had a quiet moment without being surrounded.

Cullen shrugged. “I’m alright. I just hope I didn’t say anything too bad to the reporters earlier.”

“I’m sure it will be alright,” Dorian reassured him. “Just remember to take everything the press reports with a sizeable grain of salt. They do love to twist our words, but as they say any press is good press. So, don’t worry.”

“What did your agent have to say?” Cullen asked.

“Oh, she’s positively thrilled!” Dorian laughed. “Nothing like a good scandal to sell more books!”

Dorian was then pulled away again and Cullen found his way out to a terrace to get some fresh air. Dorian was far more in his element here than he was. It had been a long evening and he was exhausted.

Just as Cullen took in a few breaths of fresh air, that’s when someone joined Cullen on the terrace, causing Cullen to groan inwardly. He had just wanted to find a little peace and quiet for a few minutes.

The woman who approached him had a look on her face like a huntress stalking her prey. “You look like you could use a little pick-me-up,” she said with a wink. She withdrew something from the handbag she was carrying and pressed it into Cullen’s palm.

Cullen’s heart lept into his throat when he realized it was a vial of lyrium.

“Um no, th…thank you,” Cullen stammered as he tried to give the vial back. “I can’t. I really can’t.”

Before Cullen was able to press the vial back into her hand, she had already turned and left, leaving Cullen holding the damnable thing. Cullen stared at it for several long moments. The itch under his skin seemed to get markedly worse and the temptation to just take it, to slip into the utter, unimaginable bliss again was strong.

Cullen realized he was shaking as he fought with himself not to take the temptation. It was the thought of how disappointed Dorian would be with him that kept him from downing the entire vial right then and there. Not knowing what else to do, he shoved it into his pocket and stalked back into the party, looking for Dorian.

Cullen spotted Dorian at the center of an intense looking discussion and felt guilty for wanting to disturb him. So instead Cullen grabbed another cocktail from one of the waiters serving them throughout the party. He downed it quickly, followed by two or three more. Cullen wasn’t sure. He’d lost count after the pleasant buzz of the alcohol began to hit him.

By the time Dorian found him again, Cullen could barely string two words together. “Hey…D’rian. Great party, idn’t it?”

Oh Maker, I turn my back on you for a few moments,” Dorian admonished. “I suppose it is getting late. Wait here and I’ll let my agent know we’re heading home.”

“Yes’sir!” Cullen slurred.

Once Dorian made his excuses, he helped Cullen out to his waiting car. The ride home was a blur for Cullen, as he slipped into semi-consciousness.

***

Cullen woke the next morning with the worst hangover he could ever remember having. The birds outside were chirping far too loud and cheerfully for his liking, and so he groaned and turned away from the window, burying his aching head under his pillow.

“Finally awake, I see,” Dorian announced his presence.

Cullen groaned and sat up, seeing Dorian sitting in the reading chair in the corner of the room.

“Were you watching over me all night?” Cullen asked as he held his head in his hands. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Dorian looked…upset. A mix of both worry and anger crossed his face as he stood and walked over to the bed and sat down next to Cullen.

Dorian produced the vial of lyrium, holding it out for Cullen to see. “So, when were you going to tell me about this?”

Cullen groaned. “I’m sorry, I should have just thrown that out. I forgot I had put it in the jacket pocket before I decided to get hammered last night.”

“So, this is why you got so drunk?” Dorian asked.

Cullen nodded. “I went out to the terrace for some fresh air and some…woman…followed me and just…gave that to me.”

Dorian’s entire demeanor changed. “I…I was afraid you’d met with Samson and had taken that vial with you in case you needed a fix during the party. You were so drunk last night at first I thought you had taken a hit after I found this, but the vial seems completely sealed still.”

Cullen shook his head. “No, I didn’t take any. Maker knows I wanted to, but I resisted. I was afraid of how disappointed you’d be if I did. I went back into the party to find you and when I did you were in the middle of a discussion with several people and I didn’t want to disturb you. The last thing I remember was downing a couple of those fancy cocktails from last night.”

“Well, I’m relieved to hear you hadn’t tried to meet with this Samson in order to obtain the lyrium,” Dorian sighed. “I was afraid of what you would have had to do to get it, since I know you have no money of your own. Please, promise me you won’t ever go near him? I’ll dispose of this and we can forget all about it.”

“I’m trying Dorian,” Cullen said. “I don’t want to fall back into that life again. I…I don’t want to disappoint you like that. You’ve been so good to me. I have no idea who that woman was or why she gave me that vial.”

“Well, don’t worry about it anymore,” Dorian smiled. “You wait here, and I’ll bring you some coffee and an aspirin.”

After Dorian left, Cullen sank back into his pillows and groaned. Last night had almost been a complete disaster. He could have ruined everything for Dorian. Cullen just wanted to hide from the world for a while.

“Here we go,” Dorian announced as he returned with two mugs of coffee and a bottle of aspirin.

Cullen accepted the coffee and medicine gratefully, quickly taking two aspirin and washing them down with gulps of coffee. Dorian was about to settle himself in the chair when Cullen blurted out. “Care to join me?”

“Mr. Rutherford, are you propositioning me?” Dorian asked in mock horror.

“I…um…I…just thought it might be more comfortable,” Cullen shrugged.

Dorian smiled and slipped under the covers next to Cullen. “Why I do believe you are correct. It is more comfortable.”

As they drank their coffees they discussed the events of the evening before. After a while, Cullen’s head stopped throbbing quite so badly. He put down his cup of coffee onto the nightstand and without thinking about it, snuggled up next to Dorian.

Cullen began to drift back to sleep just as Dorian wrapped his arms around him.

Chapter Text

Dorian and Cullen finally got up around noon, and went to their respective bathrooms to shower. Cullen’s head still ached a bit from his overindulgence the night before and chose to skip going for a jog that day.

Cullen dressed in a comfy set of sweats instead of his normal khakis and button-up, before making his way down to the kitchen to fix them both some lunch. He was surprised to find Dorian already in the kitchen setting out the fixings for grilled cheese.

“Isn’t that supposed to be my job?” Cullen asked, as he settled into his seat at the kitchen island while Dorian flitted around.

“Nonsense,” Dorian said. “I am perfectly capable of cooking once in a while, and as I recall you mentioned that grilled cheese was one of your comfort foods?”

Cullen nodded. “Yeah. Oh, and here’s a trick Mildred told me before I was kicked out. Toast both sides of the bread with butter in the pan before adding the cheese. It makes a big difference!”

Dorian looked at Cullen skeptically but proceeded to make the grilled cheese the way Cullen had requested. When Dorian took the first bite of his sandwich after he’d finished cooking, his eyes widened in surprise. “You’re right, it does make a difference.”

Cullen just laughed.

Everything with Dorian was just so…easy. Cullen had felt comfortable and welcome from the moment Dorian had brought him home after finding him sleeping on that park bench.

“Dorian, I want to apologize again for last night,” Cullen said as he stood to clear away their dishes. “I shouldn’t have started drinking like that. I could have made a complete fool of myself and you.”

“You were fine,” Dorian said. “You were a bit tipsy but you didn’t cause a scene whatsoever. I am just relieved you never took any of that lyrium last night. Please, promise me if you ever feel a strong enough compulsion, you’ll come talk to me first? Please?”

Cullen nodded. “I’ll try. I will. Thank you, Dorian, so much. Are you sure I’m not too much of a burden to have around?”

“Not at all, and I quite enjoy your company,” Dorian smiled. “I’ve never had the opportunity…to take things slowly like this before. I find I rather like it.”

Cullen blushed. “I do too. I always hoped one day I’d meet you, but I never imagined…this.”

Dorian chuckled. “I suspect neither did most of my fans. There may be quite the hubbub today after last night’s launch. I’ve deliberately kept my phone turned off so we could have a bit of peace and quiet today. Next week may turn into quite the whirlwind.”

“After last night, I am appreciating a bit of peace and quiet today,” Cullen admitted. “Mind if I brew us more coffee?”

“By all means,” Dorian gestured at the coffee maker.

As Cullen started the coffee, Dorian relocated to the great room. Cullen sat next to him, handing Dorian one of the mugs of fresh coffee he was holding.

“So, yesterday you may have surmised a bit of my past,” Dorian said after taking some sips of his coffee. “You’ve told me all about your sordid past, so it’s only fair I share mine with you, I think.”

Cullen shook his head. “You don’t have to, not unless you want to.”

Dorian sighed. “I think I should. I really haven’t told anyone everything. Not even my therapist. I think it’s about time I did and I…somehow I really want you to know.”

Cullen nodded then. “Alright.”

“I don’t quite remember exactly when I realized I was gay,” Dorian began. “I just know I thought it rather odd how my fellow classmates, when I was in middle-school in Qarinus, began to go crazy for our fellow female classmates and all I could think about was this really cute boy in my class.”

Cullen nodded at Dorian with understanding. “I’m pretty sure I’m bisexual. I had a crush on a girl in middle-school, but then when I hit high school there was this boy on the soccer team that I couldn’t stop thinking about.”

“Did you ever ask him out?” Dorian asked out of curiosity.

Cullen shook his head vigorously. “No. I didn’t know any other guys that liked guys. So, I kept it to myself.”

“Very wise,” Dorian said. “Unfortunately, I was a bit more…impetuous. I asked the lad out and he turned me down, and told our instructor as well as his parents. Who naturally told my parents. I think that was probably the harshest scolding I’d ever received up until that point. Father even had a slave take a belt to my behind so I would never forget. Boys do not ask out other boys.”

“Oh no,” Cullen said sympathetically. “I’m so sorry. That’s wrong to punish a child so harshly, especially over something they cannot even control.”

“Indeed,” Dorian agreed. “All that taught me was to keep my desires secret. Once I was older, I learned how to spot other boys who were like me, and after a couple of awkward missteps, I’d learned to seek my pleasure in a quick fumble in broom closets.”

“But your father eventually found out, didn’t he?” Cullen surmised.

Dorian nodded. “After I graduated from University, he had arranged for me to marry the daughter of an influential Magister. I absolutely refused and stormed out. Two nights later he found me in bed with the son of another Magister. We had holed up in a brothel we both frequented.”

“Oh no,” Cullen said as he realized what probably happened next.

“As you can imagine, I was promptly sent away to one of those infamous conversion therapy camps,” Dorian frowned. “That’s when my real nightmare began.”

Dorian described horrific abuse at the hands of his so-called therapists. The worst was when they strapped sensors into his cock and showed him hours and hours of pornographic footage. If his cock twitched even the tiniest bit at gay imagery, he was shocked with electricity and given a demerit. If his cock showed interest in any of the heterosexual imagery, he earned a merit instead.

The merits could earn him rewards, like a warm blanket to sleep with, or a decent meal. Demerits earned him a session in the stocks and strokes with a cane. “I never earned any merits,” Dorian confessed.

Cullen looked horrified. “I’d heard rumor of torture, but I had no idea. Dorian, I…I don’t know what to say.”

“There is nothing to say,” Dorian sighed. “It took me several months but I finally managed to escape and I just fled Tevinter entirely. I kept traveling south until I reached Ferelden and finally decided to settle here. They had just passed the legalization of same-sex marriage here and it made me feel like I could finally be true to myself here.”

“Yet, you kept being gay a secret for the past decade,” Cullen said. “After what you experienced, I can hardly blame you.”

Cullen could see Dorian was on the verge of breaking down after recalling those awful memories, but he was clearly fighting to maintain his composure. Cullen moved closer to him and reached out, offering a hug. “Come here.”

Dorian accepted the embrace and for the first-time Cullen heard the man let out a sob of anguish. Dorian just seemed to melt into Cullen’s arms, as he began to tremble and cry into the crook of Cullen’s neck.

Cullen just held him, whispering words of comfort. “That’s it, let it out. You’re safe. No one will ever hurt you like that again. Not as long as I’m around. I promise to keep you safe.”

They sat there for a long time, until Dorian had cried himself out. When he finally lifted his head, his eyes were puffy and bloodshot. Cullen reached out and cupped Dorian’s face, wiping away the tears with his thumbs.

“Feel better?” Cullen asked.

Dorian nodded. “Yes, thank you. I…I haven’t let myself break down like that in a very long while.”

Cullen smirked. “Look at the two of us. What are the odds that a couple of broken fools like us would find each other?”

Dorian smiled. “I am very glad you rang my door bell that morning. I think I never realized how lonely I was before I met you. I don’t think I feel quite so bad about being the catalyst to getting you kicked out of the Witnesses now. If I hadn’t been, you wouldn’t be here right now.”

“I’ve thought a lot about it,” Cullen said. “I am grateful for them getting me off the streets and off lyrium, but Maker they twisted my head around regarding sex and love. Not that my sex-life was all that healthy before then, but still…”

“Perhaps…we can relearn…together?” Dorian asked hopefully. “I think I am rather smitten with you, Cullen Rutherford.”

Cullen blushed all the way to the tips of his ears. “I…think I am starting to feel the same,” he admitted. “I’m sorry I’ve been so hesitant about it all. Everything was just happening so fast when you took me in. I needed time to take a breath and consider my choices.”

“I understand if you still need more time,” Dorian said. “I’ve just really enjoyed having you here.”

Cullen studied Dorian’s face for a moment and saw the sincerity reflected there, along with…something more. Caring. Definitely caring.

“I think I’m ready to give…this…us…a try,” Cullen said, smiling when Dorian’s eyes flew open in happy surprise.

Cullen leaned in the and placed a quick kiss on Dorian’s lips. Dorian quickly deepened the kiss and Cullen just relaxed into it, enjoying the faint taste of coffee on Dorian’s tongue. After the kiss broke, they just snuggled in companionable silence for a while.

Dorian broke the silence first. “I am feeling rather self-indulgent. How do you feel about ordering a pizza and watching a movie tonight?”

Cullen agreed although they debated for nearly an hour regarding pizza toppings and movie title. Ultimately, they settled for a cheese pizza, and an independent Orlesian film that Dorian has been wanting to see called Eastern Boys, all about a young Rivaini boy who migrates to Orlais and ends up in a gang of ruffians and hooking for a living, until he meets an older Orlesian businessman that falls in love with him. Cullen isn’t much on foreign films, but he’s willing to give this one a try.

When the pizza arrives, Dorian surprises Cullen with the fact he actually has beer in the house. It had been stocked away in a separate refrigerator Dorian kept in his garage. “I don’t drink it often, but I find it is the best beverage to go with pizza.”

They settle in to watch the movie, which Dorian found on one of the various streaming services he subscribes to.

Half-way through the movie finds Cullen and Dorian curled up together on the couch, having had their fill of pizza and beer. Cullen was sitting up while Dorian was stretched out along the length of the couch, his back propped up against Cullen’s chest and Cullen’s arms wrapped around him.

Cullen tries to pay attention to the movie, but he finds following along with the subtitles exhausting. Cullen is instead drawn to the warm weight of Dorian leaning up against him and he thinks to himself. This is nice. He has no idea where any of this was going, but he could almost imagine spending the rest of his life with Dorian.

That thought scares him for a moment, but then he halts himself. Why should that scare him? Just because Dorian is a man? If Dorian had been a woman, would that frisson of fear have ever crept through him at all?

Cullen is brought out of his reverie as Dorian shifts and sits up and Cullen groans, realizing he missed most of the second half of the film as the credits roll.

“That was unexpectedly poignant,” Dorian yawned.

“Uh, yeah,” Cullen lied as he stood to clear away the pizza box and dishes.

“Leave them,” Dorian insisted. “It can wait until morning. Come up to bed.”

Cullen shrugged and followed Dorian upstairs. As Dorian headed towards his bedroom, Cullen veered off into his own bathroom in the hall. Dorian turned back then and leaned up against the door frame of the hall bathroom. “Since we’ve already been doing everything ass-backwards, I thought perhaps you’d be amenable to continuing the tradition? Can I ask you to sleep with me in my room tonight? Please? I promise not to molest you.”

Cullen considered it for a moment. It had felt good to fall asleep in Dorian’s arms earlier in the day. “Okay, just let me get ready and I’ll join you.”

Dorian flashed a sleepy smile and then left Cullen to his ablutions.

Cullen normally just slept in his boxer briefs but he decided to add an undershirt as well for this occasion. He had never shared a bed with another person before and being topless made him feel far more…vulnerable.

Dorian was already in bed when Cullen finally entered the master suite. Dorian had a king-sized bed and had left one side turned down for Cullen. Once Cullen had slipped under the covers and settled himself in, he felt Dorian reach out to him. “Jus’ wan’ to cuddle,” Dorian mumbled sleepily.

Cullen relaxed into Dorian’s arms and happily drifted to sleep in the warmth of Dorian’s embrace.

Chapter Text

It was Monday morning, and Dorian asked Cullen to join him in his office. Dorian knew there would be a lot of fallout from the launch party of his book, and he wanted Cullen’s moral support to help deal with it all.

They both settled into a chair, fresh cups of coffee in hand, as Dorian restarted his phone and logged into his email on his laptop. Almost immediately the phone began a long stream of buzzing, and the email account dinged repeatedly with the notification of multiple messages. Dorian took a deep breath. “Alright, here we go.”

Cullen didn’t know what to expect from all this. He hadn’t finished reading the book, but from he had read, the revelations Dorian was making regarding Chantry history was bordering on blasphemous. To top it off Dorian publicly acknowledged his homosexuality and introduced Cullen as someone very special to him. Cullen could only imagine the scathing sermon Elder Josiah must be composing after that bit of news.

Dorian had decided to check his phone first. There were numerous voice mails and text messages to wade through, most of them from his agent and publisher. Some were from the press who apparently had found Dorian’s private number. Dorian deleted those.

Apparently, there had been a lot of press coverage the day after the launch party, and there seemed to be a mixed reaction between praise for his groundbreaking new work, to outright condemnation of what Dorian’s book revealed. Those condemning the book almost universally focused on Dorian’s “shameful” revelation that he was gay.

At one point Dorian laughed. “Well this comes as no surprise. ‘The Tevinter Imperium Bans Ex-Patriot’s Newest Work.’ Apparently, they are organizing bon fire in Minrathous and insisting everyone who bought a copy bring it for burning.”

“A book burning? Wow,” Cullen said. “Such a waste of paper.”

“True,” Dorian agreed. “Alright, it’s time I call my agent. I’ll put us on speaker, alright?”

Cullen nodded and took a deep breath. He was nervous that all this negative press would have serious consequences for Dorian’s career. Worst of all he feared that the agent and publisher might drop him because of the scandalous revelation of his sexuality.

Dorian made the call and switched on the speakerphone before placing it on the desk between them.

Denerim Literary Management, how may I direct your call?” a voice said after the call rang through.

“This is Dr. Dorian Pavus,” Dorian greeted. “I believe Sylvia is expecting me to call.”

Oh! Yes!” the voice said excitedly. “I’ll put you through right away!”

The phone rang through and another voice, presumably Silvia’s answered. “This is Silvia Loring.”

“Silvia! It’s Dorian and Cullen here,” Dorian said

Oh, thank the Maker!” Silvia said sounding relieved. “I was just thinking I might need to go by your house and check on you. Where have you been?”

“I decided to keep a low-profile yesterday,” Dorian explained. “I wanted one day of peace before facing the fallout of the press from our announcements at the party. I’ve been going through my emails and text messages and it has seemed to stir up quite the fervor, but thankfully nothing threatening as far as I can tell.”

Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case, but I wanted to tell you myself and not just leave a message,” Silvia said. “You’ve both received death threats. The most concerning ones are coming from someone named Elder Josiah. Something about condemning both of your souls to the Void before either of you can spread more of your sin and blasphemy.

Cullen groaned. “Oh no. I hadn’t thought they would go as far as that. He loved preaching about sending blasphemers to the Void, but I always assumed it was just rhetoric.”

Which sect does this Elder belong to?” Silvia asked.

“Andraste’s Witnesses,” Cullen replied. “I…had been a member of their congregation until recently.”

Silvia was quiet for a moment. “That explains a lot. I think he blames you for corrupting Dorian and now he needs to ‘cleanse Thedas of your taint,’ or something along those lines.

“What do you recommend we do?” Dorian asked.

I think it would be good if you both left Denerim for a while,” Silvia suggested. “I want to move the dates of the press tour up a few weeks and extending it by an extra month. How soon can you be ready to travel?

“Always keeping business first, eh Silvia?” Dorian chided his agent. “I think Cullen and I could be ready to leave in a couple of days. I need to take the man shopping for some better clothes first. Also please don’t book everything back-to-back like last time.”

A press tour is the only way I can justify paying for your expenses and you know that,” Silvia replied defensively. “I promise, you will have a day or two between engagements.”

“Alright,” Dorian agreed. “Cullen? Are you up to doing a bit of traveling?”

Cullen was frowning. “I’m so sorry Dorian. This is all my fault. If I hadn’t…”

“Nonsense,” Dorian said. “I’m guessing this would have happened regardless, and I always do a press tour after a book launch anyway. We just hadn’t planned it yet because we usually wait to see how the book sells, so we can better target the best places to travel. Tevinter is the only place I’ve always refused to travel to, regardless of how well my books sold there in the past.”

Tevinter is definitely off the table, indefinitely,” Silvia said. “So, I won’t be trying to convince you to travel there this time.”

“How have the initial sales been?” Dorian inquired.

Off-the-charts,” Silvia replied happily. “I wish it didn’t have to include death threats, but all the controversy has been really good for sales.”

“Well, that’s something at least,” Dorian said. “For the press tour, could you include a budget for Cullen? Besides the food and accommodations? He’s in dire need of a better wardrobe.”

That shouldn’t be a problem,” Silvia said. “He is at least partially responsible for the meteoric launch of this book.”

“Um that isn’t really necessary,” Cullen pushed back. “There’s nothing that wrong with my clothes.”

“Your wardrobe screams religious zealot,” Dorian complained. “You will let me buy you a better wardrobe. I absolutely insist upon it.”

Cullen sighed. “Alright, alright. If it will make you happy.”

Dorian smiled then. “Yes, it would. Very much.”

Now that that’s settled,” Silvia interrupted. “I am hiring you a security detail for as long as you’re still in Denerim, just to be safe. One member of that detail will also go with you as you travel on the press tour as well.”

“Is that absolutely necessary?” Dorian grumbled.

I’m afraid so,” Silvia insisted. “This Elder Josiah indicated he knows where you live. I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Alright, when should I expect this detail?” Dorian asked.

I think I can have them at your home by this afternoon,” Silvia clarified.

“Thank you, Silvia,” Dorian said before hanging up the call.

Cullen hung his head. “I’m so sorry Dorian. I’m fucking everything up again.”

“Cullen Rutherford, look at me,” Dorian commanded and waiting for Cullen to lift his head and look at him. “None of this is your fault, do you hear me? This Elder Josiah is very much like the zealots back in Tevinter. They will find any excuse to spread their hate. Don’t let him get to you.”

Cullen nodded slowly. “I’ll try,” he lied.

“I think perhaps we should take a break? I don’t know about you but I could use something a bit stronger than coffee,” Dorian suggested as he stood, holding his hand out to Cullen.

“I’ll join you in a bit,” Cullen agreed, before heading towards his room. “I just need a moment.”

“Alright,” Dorian said. “Just don’t take too long.”

Cullen couldn’t believe his life was spiraling out of control. Again. Or maybe he could believe it. Nothing in his life ever went smoothly, so why should he be surprised at yet more turbulence. He just felt bad that he had dragged Dorian into this mess as well.

Cullen looked around at the room he had been occupying for the past several weeks. He couldn’t remember having been as happy and content as he had been here, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Cullen grabbed his old duffel bag out of the closet and began stuffing his meager belongings into his bag. He hesitated at taking the book Dorian had gifted him, but he still wanted to finish reading it. Trying not to think too much about it he finally snatched it and threw it on top of his clothes before zipping the bag and throwing it over his shoulder.

Cullen made his way quietly down the stairs and very quietly made his way out of the front door. He wished he could give Dorian one last kiss good-bye, but he knew if he hesitated now, he would never leave. Tears were threatening to crest as he slowly and determinedly walked away from Dorian’s home and out of Dorian’s life.

***

Cullen made his way through the park that he and Dorian had often jogged through. The same park that Dorian had found him sleeping on a bench in all those weeks ago. Cullen sighed when he spotted that bench, but kept going. He couldn’t remain here or Dorian would eventually find him.

His heart ached at leaving, but what choice did he have? If he stayed, Dorian would continue to be targeted and Cullen couldn’t risk that. One thought did bring a brief smile to his lips. At least he had finally had a chance to meet his favorite author. Dorian had turned out to be very different from what Cullen had originally imagined him as. Now that Cullen knew him, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

As Cullen continued to angle his way through the large park, he eventually reached his favorite jogging path. It was a long stretch of gravel trail surrounded by dense foliage. The other end of the trail would finally take him out of the park and towards the outskirts of the city. Cullen had decided it was probably time to leave Denerim. He didn’t have money for bus fare, but perhaps once he’d reached the main highway out of town, he might be able to thumb a ride from someone.

It was midday on a weekday, so it was no surprise that the path was deserted. Most people were at work at this hour. Cullen tried to enjoy the quiet solitude of the nature path as he continued to make his way. He was startled out of his reverie when he nearly collided with a small group of men as he rounded a bend in the path.

Cullen didn’t even look at them, just mumbled an apology and was determined to continue on his way when one of them grabbed him.

“Hey look! It’s Cullen!” the man exclaimed. “Fancy meeting you out here faggot.”

Cullen looked up startled at the mention of his name and realized he was surrounded by several members of his former congregation. Two were wielding baseball bats.

“Look, Elder Josiah made his point with his threats. I’m leaving town,” Cullen said as he raised his hands in a placating gesture.

“Oh, no,” the man who had grabbed him said. “Elder Josiah was very clear. We’re to beat some sense into you and your fag lover.”

“What?! No! Leave Dorian alone! Please!” Cullen pleased. “Jacob, we prayed together so many times. How can you condone this?”

“You were clearly not paying attention during those prayers,” Jacob sneered. “C’mon brothers. Let’s teach this fag a lesson!”

Cullen felt one of them tear his duffel bag from his grasp just as another one kneed him in the crotch, causing him to double over in pain. From there it was just a matter of them pushing him over on the ground before they began beating him with the bats and kicking him repeatedly while shouting every homophobic epithet he’d ever heard.

In order to protect himself, Cullen instinctively curled into a fetal position, covering his head as best as he could, as they continued to beat him bloody. He distinctly heard several bones crack as they pummeled him with the bats. Eventually, the pain was too much and Cullen sank into unconsciousness. His last thought was of Dorian. I’m so sorry.

Chapter Text

The first thing Cullen was aware of was an incessant beep. At first, he thought perhaps he’d accidentally changed the alarm tone on his phone and he blindly tried to reach out and turn it off.

That’s when he realized he couldn’t move his arms easily. As he became more alert, he felt a rising sense of panic. He tried to open his eyes but it seemed very difficult to do. Where was he? Why was it so difficult to move? He tried to take a breath and realized there was something in his throat and that’s when he began to panic. The beep increased in tempo.

Then there was a flurry of activity around him. He thought he heard voices but they seemed muffled for some reason. Then he felt hands on him. One pair clearly trying to calm him, while others were there, removing the thing in his throat, others slowly unwrapping what must be bandages from over his eyes and around his head.

Cullen still found it difficult to open his eyes, but as soon as the offending thing was no longer down his throat he tried to ask. “Whr’m I?” He immediately regretted it as his throat felt as if it been chaffed raw.

“You’re in the hospital Cullen.” It was Dorian. Dorian was there. Why was he in the hospital though?

Then the memory flooded back to Cullen and he let out a pained groan as he remembered vividly being beaten into a bloody pulp. He was so sure he was being beaten to death. Yet, here he was, still alive and breathing. Well, barely.

“Do you remember what happened?” Dorian asked. Cullen just nodded.

“Thank the Maker,” Dorian sighed. “We were half-afraid there would be severe brain damage. Don’t try to speak yet. Let me tell you what I know, alright?”

Cullen nodded again as Dorian placed a hand on his forearm, caressing it gently.

“I don’t understand why you left,” Dorian began. “And don’t try to apologize for it. I’m sure you had your reasons and I’m sure they seemed like good ones at the time. Enough about that. When you didn’t join me down in the kitchen I went upstairs to look for you and that’s when I realized you’d left.”

Dorian sighed. “I do wish you’d have come talk to me first, but I am not angry with you for wanting to leave. We can discuss that later. Anyway, as soon as I’d realized you were gone, I called Silvia again and she had her security detail rush over, along with calling the police. After questioning me as to where you might have gone, they began to search.”

It hadn’t occurred to Cullen that Dorian would actually search for him. He let out a huff of surprise when Dorian told him.

“You didn’t think I’d come looking for you, did you?” Dorian sounded pained. “Foolish man. I care about you and I was worried, so of course I would search for you.”

Cullen tried his best to smile, but his entire face hurt and it probably came across more like a grimace.

“I think it was about an hour or so later when someone found you in the park and called 911,” Dorian continued. “That was roughly two weeks ago.”

Cullen grunted in surprise at that. Two weeks? That meant Dorian was missing his press tour.

“Before you even try to argue,” Dorian placated him. “Silvia insisted that I remain at your side. It wouldn’t do for me to introduce you as my paramour, and then rush off on a press tour while you lay in a hospital bed. Besides, I would have insisted on postponing the press tour regardless.”

Then Cullen heard more footsteps. “I’m sorry Dr. Pavus, I need to ask you to leave while I examine Mr. Rutherford.”

Cullen felt Dorian squeeze his forearm gently before he heard him moving away. “I’ll be back later.”

Once Dorian was gone Cullen heard shuffling as someone was clearly looking through papers. His medical file probably.

“Now then, Mr. Rutherford,” the voice said. “I’m Doctor Victoria Simpson. I have been in charge of your case since you were admitted. I must say I’m glad to see you’ve come out of your coma.”

Cullen nodded in agreement.

“I know it will be difficult to speak, after having a ventilator down your throat for 2 weeks,” Dr. Simpson said. “Don’t try to force it. I can get most of what I need if you just nod or shake your head. Do you understand?”

Cullen nodded.

“Excellent,” Dr. Simpson said, as Cullen heard her take notes.

“First, do you want me to tell you about your injuries?” Dr. Simpson asked.

Cullen nodded again.

“Very good,” Dr. Simpson said as it sounded like she was wheeling a chair closer to his bed. “Your injuries were extensive, but now that you’re awake, I think you have a good chance of making a full recovery.”

Cullen nodded and grunted positively.

“Your recovery will not be easy, and many of your injuries will take many weeks to heal,” Dr. Simpson explained. “However, with proper care and physical therapy, full recovery is a strong possibility. You are just going to want to work hard to get there.”

Cullen nodded in understanding.

“Your worst injury was the blow to your head, which cracked your skull,” Dr. Simpson began. “That’s what gave me the most concern and we will need to test your cognitive functions once you have had more time to recover.”

Cullen immediately tried to do a self-assessment of his mental faculties. He remembered who he was, how he’d gotten here, and other past events. He had an internal sigh of relief.

“We suspect you were hit with a blunt object, like a baseball bat,” Dr. Simpson stated and Cullen nodded, while the doctor made another note. “You were clearly hit hardest in your shoulder and hip, and I suspect you were probably in a fetal position, trying to protect yourself?”

Cullen nodded again.

“It must have been after you passed out that they managed to reposition you and went after your face. You were clearly left for dead and I believe they wanted you to be unidentifiable based on the injuries,” Dr. Simpson said. “We’ve done some reconstructive surgery, but there will be scars. We can fix some with additional surgery, but I’m afraid your appearance will never be the same.”

Cullen groaned at that. He never took much stake in his looks, but there was a fear that began to creep up his spine. A fear that Dorian would find him hideous and not want anything to do with him anymore. Yet, why did that even matter? Cullen had resolved himself to separate himself from Dorian anyway. Perhaps this would help Dorian finally let him go.

“You will need to remain here for several more weeks as you begin to recover,” Dr. Simpson continued. “After that, you will need to either go into a hospice where you can convalesce, unless you have someone at home who is able to help care for you as you continue to recover.”

Dr. Simpson looked over the paperwork. “It looks like Dr. Pavus listed your address as his own. I will discuss your convalescence options with him.”

Cullen wanted to say no, that he didn’t want to burden Dorian like that. However, he hesitated a little too long and Dr. Simpson stood. “I’ll send Dr. Pavus in to see you in a moment. He really cares very deeply for you. I have no doubt he will make sure you receive the best of care.”

Cullen sighed and nodded. Then he was left alone with his thoughts. He had tried to leave Dorian behind, but every time he’s tried to distance himself, he was pulled back towards him.

Cullen had a sudden realization then. What if this had been a sign from the Maker that he wanted Cullen to be with Dorian? Had it been more than a mere coincidence that Dorian’s house had been the first one he visited all those weeks ago? The fact it had been Dorian who had found him sleeping on the bench after he’d been excommunicated from the Witnesses have been a sign as well? What were the chances that Cullen would have aimlessly wandered until he happened to find himself in the very park Dorian went jogging in, on a bench on the path Dorian always chose, out of dozens of paths in the large park?

Cullen felt like a damned fool, having run from Dorian a second time and ending up in this situation. He was glad Dorian seemed alright and Cullen wondered what had happened to the men who had planned to attack Dorian next after they’d finished with him.

Just then Cullen heard the door to his room open and Dorian came back in.

“Hey there,” Dorian said softly. “Still awake?”

Cullen nodded, looking at Dorian in a whole new light.

“I just finished speaking with the doctor,” Dorian said as he sat down. “I assured her that you would be coming home with me. If I need to, I will hire a nurse to help out until you’ve recovered. I won’t take no for an answer either. Whatever it was you were running from, we’ll deal with it and talk it through. Once you’re fully recovered if you really still want to go, I will not stop you. Until then, let me take care of you, hmm?”

Cullen nodded again and said. “’kay.”

***

Dorian visited Cullen every day while he was in the hospital. He would regale Cullen with the latest news stories and reports of book sales. It took nearly a week until Cullen was able to speak without discomfort again.

The next week Dorian came to visit along with a couple of detectives from the Denerim Police Department.

“We’re glad to see you’re on the mend,” the lead detective said. “Would you be up to answering a few questions?”

“Yes, sir,” Cullen said.

“Did you know your attackers?” the detective asked first.

Cullen sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. They are members of the local Andraste’s Witnesses congregation. I was…recently excommunicated.”

“Why do you think they attacked you?” the detective asked next.

“Elder Josiah had been making death threats against Dorian and myself after the official launch party of his latest book. I…decided to leave. I wanted to keep Dorian safe and I thought I could do that by leaving town. I thought perhaps I could just go somewhere else and start over.”

The detective was writing furiously in his notepad. “Why were you in the park?”

Cullen shrugged. “Dorian and I had jogged in that park together often and I had fond memories of it. Also, the one path I always have enjoyed the most leads to the outskirts of Denerim. From there I could make it to the highway and try to thumb a ride.”

The detective huffed. “What did the men say when they attacked you?”

Cullen recounted the vile words that had been said to him before they attacked him. Dorian had been holding his hand and he squeezed a bit harder at hearing what Cullen was recounting.

“Sounds like it was clearly a hate crime,” the detective said. “You claim they also made threats against Dr. Pavus?”

Cullen nodded.

“I wonder if they were scared off when they saw the security detail at my house,” Dorian mused. “The detail has remained in place at Silvia’s insistence. They’ll keep us both safe.”

***

When Cullen was finally released from the hospital, he still had a cast on his arm and shoulder and his hip was still healing and he would require physical therapy to be able to walk again. Dorian hired a very large, muscular nurse named Mike to help care for him, as he would need help getting in and out of bed and his wheelchair.

Cullen wasn’t at all sure how he was even going to manage to get upstairs, but Dorian surprised him by having converted the front sitting room into a very luxurious looking bedroom. It had all the equipment the nurse would need to help care for Cullen until he was literally back on his feet again.

“Dorian, this is too much,” Cullen protested after the nurse helped settle him onto the bed.

“Nonsense,” Dorian admonished. “Just let me take care of you, alright? I’ll go make you some tea.”

“What I really would love is a cup of your coffee,” Cullen suggested.

“Oh, no you don’t Mr. Rutherford,” Mike said as he was checking over all the equipment in the room. “You know caffeine doesn’t mix well with the medications you’re on.”

Cullen sighed. “Alright, tea it is.”

“Chamomile or something similar,” Mike recommended to Dorian, who shrugged apologetically at Cullen.

Once Dorian was out of ear shot Cullen looked over at Mike. “Hey, Mike, could you do me a favor and find me a mirror?”

“Are you sure?” Mike asked. “You haven’t seen yourself since before the accident, have you?”

“Is it that bad?” Cullen asked. He hadn’t even had the courage to feel the damage, much less look at it.

“Look, I’ll get you a mirror if you remember that you’re due for more reconstructive surgery in a couple of weeks,” Mike reminded him. “It won’t be that bad once they fix you up.”

“I…I just need to know,” Cullen said.

Mike nodded and left the room, coming back a moment later with a small mirror, which he handed to Cullen. He steeled himself and took a deep breath before lifting the mirror up. “Oh, Maker!” Cullen cried and dropped the mirror. The brief glimpse was all he could take. His face was crisscrossed with scars, still held together with stiches. His nose was…all wrong. Everything was wrong.

If he could, his first instinct was to run and hide but he was in no condition, so instead Cullen just screamed in frustration. That had Dorian rushing from the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” he asked when he spotted the small mirror and shot a dark look at Mike.

“Hey, don’t look at me, he insisted,” Mike shrugged.

Cullen tried to turn away from Dorian, ashamed of his appearance, but Dorian wasn’t having it. “You look at me Cullen Stanton Rutherford!”

Cullen looked up at Dorian in shock. “How do you know my middle name?”

“Don’t change the subject,” Dorian growled. “You are not to hide your face from me again, do you understand? Your appearance doesn’t matter to me whatsoever. I keep telling you that I care about you, and that doesn’t mean just that pretty face of yours.”

Dorian grabbed the mirror. “Now no more of that nonsense until you’ve been all patched up.”

“Why?” Cullen asked, forcing himself not to turn his face away again.

“Why what?” Dorian asked.

“Why do you care about me? Why doesn’t my face horrify you?” Cullen demanded.

“I don’t know exactly why I care so much,” Dorian confessed. “All I know is that I’ve felt drawn to you from the moment we met. There’s something about you that just brings out the desire to take care of you and to have you in my life. I think that’s why I wasn’t able to seduce you the first time we’d met. I realized that I wanted something…more…than just a quick fumble in the sheets with you.”

Cullen remembered that day. He had come so close to giving in and letting Dorian just have him, and at the time the thought had terrified him. Not that he’d been a blushing virgin, since he was far from that, but because he felt like he would be betraying himself after finally getting back on his feet again.

Dorian reached out and caressed Cullen’s cheek. Cullen tried to shrink away but Dorian was gentle but firm and finally Cullen gave in and leaned into the touch. “As for your appearance? I will confess I found you ridiculously handsome from the start, but honestly? It doesn’t matter. What truly matters is you and the person you are. You are clearly kind and conscientious. You were somewhat brainwashed by those charlatans, but they weren’t able to corrupt your soul. I don’t care one whit about your appearance, Cullen. I care about you. Even with a completely different face, you are still the same person I’ve come to care for.”

Cullen felt tears prick in the corners of his eyes and he reached up to cover Dorian’s hand with his own. “Thank you. For everything.”

Chapter Text

It had taken months of rehabilitation, but Cullen was slowly starting to feel like himself again. If he could just avoid looking in the mirror he could almost forget it ever happened. Almost. The plastic surgeons had done an admirable job, but there were still visible scars and his nose was still not quite right and never would be. Dorian insisted it was actually an improvement.

As for the men who had assaulted him, they were arrested and put on trial. They stupidly incriminated themselves during the trial by spouting homophobic slurs at Cullen and Dorian while under oath. They were found guilty of aggravated assault, attempted murder and several counts of hate crimes. In the end, they were given twenty-year long jail sentences.

Elder Josiah and his remaining followers were forced to leave Denerim in the wake of the very public trial. The last they heard was that the group was headed to the Korcari Wilds to start their own enclave. Good riddance as far as Cullen was concerned.

Cullen was back to sleeping in his bedroom upstairs, now that he was able to climb stairs again on his own. The sitting room was soon restored after that. It had been slow going at first but Cullen began going for his morning jogs again, joined by Dorian, at his insistence. With his attackers in jail, the security detail had been canceled, but Dorian still worried.

***

One morning Cullen was stepping into his shower after their morning jog, and his thoughts drifted to Dorian. They often enjoyed companionable silence as they jogged together, side-by-side. Being with Dorian was comfortable.

Cullen thought back on when he first met the man, and how quickly he found himself living with him. Right from the start, living together had just been…easy. Dorian was so easy to talk to, not to mention easy on the eyes, despite that ridiculous mustache and the way he…

It was then Cullen realized something. He should have realized it sooner, but the thought only now came unbidden. I love him. Maker’s Breath, he was in love with Dorian. Did he feel the same? Dorian often reminded Cullen how much he cared about him, but did he love him?

Cullen spent so much time deliberating what to do with his newly realized feelings, that the shower had begun to run cold. The cold water finally woke Cullen from his reverie and he quickly finished washing his hair before shutting off the water.

Once dressed, Cullen headed downstairs, already smelling the coffee brewing in the kitchen. Cullen didn’t quite understand why, but he suddenly felt a mixture of nervous and excited to see Dorian, despite having just gone jogging with the man.

As Dorian handed Cullen his cup their fingers briefly touched and Cullen felt a hot flush creep across his face. Dorian definitely noticed as he gave Cullen a very curious look, but said nothing.

“What shall we have for breakfast?” Dorian asked. “I’m rather craving a bit of your French toast if you don’t mind?”

“Um, no, I’ll be happy to make some,” Cullen smiled and then busied himself with making breakfast.

Once breakfast was ready, Dorian suggested they eat out on the back patio. “It’s such a lovely day, let’s enjoy some fresh air, shall we?”

The day was indeed lovely. Warm with a gentle breeze and a few puffs of cloud in the sky. There were birds chirping happily throughout the neighborhood. They enjoyed their breakfast in companionable silence. Cullen seemed to feel Dorian’s presence so much more today and he couldn’t keep his heart from racing.

Cullen startled a little when he felt Dorian’s hand cover his. “You seem a bit distracted this morning, is something the matter?”

“Oh, um,” Cullen blushed as he turned his hand over and threaded his fingers with Dorian’s. “I…sort of…came to a realization this morning.”

Dorian squeezed his hand. “Go on.”

Cullen took a very deep breath and then looked up into Dorian’s eyes. “I came to realize that I’ve fallen for you,” Cullen paused as he heard Dorian’s breath hitch. “Dorian, I’m in love with you.”

Dorian just stared at him for a moment, his eyes clearly brimming with emotion. “Oh, Amatus…I had hoped you would eventually feel that way, but I…I wasn’t sure. Especially when you chose to leave that day…”

Cullen turned his chair to fully face Dorian and he held both of his hands in his. “I know. I’m sorry I walked out that day. I…blamed myself for everything. I thought if I left, the death threats against you would stop. I was the one Elder Josiah really wanted to punish. I wanted to keep you safe.”

“You foolish man,” Dorian chuckled. “Did you care for me that much even then?”

Cullen thought about it and he realized it was true, although he hadn’t consciously realized it yet. “I guess I must have.”

Dorian stood and pulled Cullen up with him, before drawing the man into his arms. Dorian leaned in, barely brushing his lips over Cullen’s. “Just to be perfectly clear, I’m in love with you too.”

Cullen the surged forward, kissing Dorian. He tried to put as much of his feelings and emotions into the kiss. His heart sang as Dorian returned the kiss with equal fervor. Cullen began to feel Dorian’s arousal against his hip and he smiled into the kiss.

“What is it?” Dorian asked, pulling away.

“I was just reminded of the first day we met,” Cullen explained as he pressed his hip against Dorian. “I do believe you had intended to seduce me that day, isn’t that right?”

Dorian’s cheeks darkened as he blushed. “Yes, well, it can’t be helped, when I’m so close to such a handsome man as yourself.”

Cullen ducked his head a bit at the compliment, shaking his head. Dorian immediately grabbed his chin and forced him to look up. “Don’t you do that, Cullen Rutherford. When I say that I find you very handsome, I mean it. Even now, I can’t take my eyes off you. You’re a gorgeous man, scars and all.”

To prove his words, Dorian kissed him with so much passion, it left Cullen lightheaded and breathless.

Cullen’s own arousal was beginning to feel uncomfortable within its confinement, so he took Dorian’s hand and led him back into the house. Dorian followed along mutely as Cullen led him up the stairs and into the master bedroom.

Cullen then turned and returned Dorian’s kiss with equal passion while he ground his hips against Dorian’s, emphasizing his own burgeoning need.

“Tell me,” Dorian breathed as he broke off the kiss. “What is it you want? I need to hear you say it.”

Cullen gave Dorian a wry smile. “I want you to finish what you started on the day we first met. Seduce me. Ravish me. Please, Dorian. I. Want. You.”

Dorian groaned at hearing those words from Cullen. In between pecks on Cullen’s lips, he whispered. “Then. You. Shall. Have. Me.”

They fumbled quickly out of their clothes, and then Dorian shocked him by sinking to his knees and taking Cullen’s cock into his mouth. Cullen groaned. Cullen had sucked off plenty of men during his darkest days, but until now he’d never had someone’s mouth on him. The wet heat of Dorian’s mouth was almost too much as Cullen did his best to not cum into Dorian’s mouth like an overeager teenager.

“Nnnggg,” Cullen gritted through his teeth. “Wait. Stop. Please.”

Dorian removed his mouth and looked up in confusion.

“It’s too good,” Cullen confessed. “I don’t want to cum until you’re inside me. Please.”

Dorian licked his lips as he stood. “Alright, Amatus. Get on the bed.”

Cullen did as he was told while Dorian fetched a condom and some lube.

Cullen blushed as Dorian knelt on the bed at his feet, putting the condom on before picking up the bottle of lube. “How long has it been? Do you need some prep?”

Cullen shook his head. “Just open me up with your cock. Please, I just want to feel you.”

Dorian growled as he lubed up the outside of the condom and then smeared a generous amount of lube over Cullen’s hole before tossing the bottle aside and crawling up between Cullen’s legs.

Cullen’s heart was racing and his cock twitched the moment he felt the head of Dorian’s cock rub against his furled entrance. Then, before he could overthink it, Dorian began to kiss him, sweet and tender. Cullen relaxed into the kiss as Dorian slowly began to push his way inside.

The initial burn was intense as the head of Dorian’s cock breached Cullen, causing the blond to tense. Dorian paused, letting Cullen adjust. Dorian kept kissing him, getting him to relax further before sliding all the way inside of him.

Cullen clenched around Dorian, making them both groan. After another moment, Dorian began to thrust, slow and deep, while Cullen buried his face into Dorian’s neck moaning with pleasure.

“That’s it Amatus. You’re taking me so well,” Dorian praised.

Dorian made love to Cullen, keeping his thrusts slow and deep, wanting the blond to feel every inch. Cullen reached between them and began stroking his own cock, the sweet torture of Dorian’s slow lovemaking driving him close to the edge once again.

After many minutes, but still too soon, Dorian moaned. “I’m close. Please, cum for me, Amatus. I want to feel you cum.”

“Close too,” Cullen groaned as his hand moved faster. “Almost there”

Dorian began to feel Cullen’s hips stutter as he neared his end and that drove Dorian to speed up his thrusts. Moments later Cullen came with a shout as he spurted all over his chest. As Cullen came, he clenched down onto Dorian, driving him over the edge moments later as his own thrusts began to become erratic. One last thrust and Dorian filled the condom while buried as deep as possible within his Amatus.

Cullen’s heart was singing as Dorian lowered himself onto him without pulling out. Cullen wrapped his legs around Dorian, encouraging him to maintain the connection between them for a bit longer. Dorian kissed him again, and Cullen got lost in the feel of his lips, tongue and the tickle of that mustache.

Finally, they were forced to separate when Dorian softened enough to just slip out and there was a moment of awkwardness as they disentangled themselves and Dorian went to toss out the condom and grab a washcloth. They wiped each other down before snuggling back into each other’s arms.

Cullen finally broke the silence with a question. “Can I ask, what does Amatus mean?”

Dorian chuckled. “It translates as something akin to my heart or my love.”

“I love you, Dorian,” Cullen declared again. “I guess that makes you my Amatus as well, right?”

Dorian nodded. “Indeed.”

“I’m so glad you were the first house on my route that day,” Cullen sighed. “Despite everything that’s happened since you’re definitely the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.”

“Do you think we can make this work?” Dorian asked as he tensed in Cullen’s embrace. “You won’t try to leave again?”

Cullen pulled Dorian into a tighter embrace. “I can’t imagine anywhere else I would rather be, than in your arms. No, I won’t try to leave again.”

Dorian relaxed again and sighed. “Good. Make sure that you don’t. You are the love I’ve always wanted and I don’t think I could bear to lose you.”

“Dorian, you won’t,” Cullen reassured him. “You are the love in my life. That won’t ever change.”