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Apogee

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“You can’t sleep either?”

Dorian turned toward the voice, watching Blackwall closely as he approached him. From the look of him, Blackwall had been prowling the ramparts all night. It was a wonder, then, he hadn’t run into Dorian before now.

Dorian typically wouldn’t be out here at all. He usually preferred the library when he wanted to go somewhere to think. He’d step in, perhaps plucking a book at random from the shelf nearest the staircase, settle down in the plush chair by the candleabrum, and let his thoughts wander until the long shadows of sunset were swallowed by the gloom of night. He always put himself there just in case he needed to be found--and he often was, by their grand Inquisitor no less, who often came to complain about the assortment of baubles constantly flooding in, sent by dignitaries and nobles and all the like, to congratulate him on his ascendance to the leadership of his own faction.

“It isn’t mine,” he’d grouse, picking at the formal clothes he’d been forced to wear to yet another political soiree. “It’s ours. It’s all of ours.”

And Dorian would laugh in his chair, not able to help it, watching the Inquisitor’s lips quirk just slightly in an unwilling grin. “I don’t think anyone would say the same,” he would say between chuckles, “but we appreciate the sentiment.”

Dorian hissed quietly to himself, covering it with a stretch before leaning back against the stone balustrade and brandishing his most charming smile. “What can I say? I’m in a committed relationship with the nightlife. I just can’t seem to give up my playboy ways, even for the Inquisition’s sake.”

Even with only the dim moonlight to light them, Dorian could see that Blackwall’s unrelenting, stoic gaze did not falter. He appraised Dorian as if he were about to train him, about to trim off the fat of his faults with a sharp word.

It discomfited him, but he held himself well.

“I suppose you don’t approve. Ah, well,” Dorian breathed, turning his back on Blackwall to face the snowy mountain peaks, resting his hands on the stone before him. “The vigor of youth isn’t so easily kept by everybody, now is it?”

Another moment’s quiet ensued, during which Dorian hoped (and maybe prayed a little) that Blackwall had gone. But then the heavy footfalls of his boots grew closer, and his burly body settled in next to Dorian, his elbows resting by Dorian’s hands. Dorian chanced a small look at him, but Blackwall was far away, his eyes wandering the barren landscape, catching on sharp angles and swooping through the dips of the valleys.

Dorian expected himself to care, in some capacity, that Blackwall was pretty solidly imposing himself on Dorian’s silence and personal space in equal measure, but something in him couldn’t find the will to mind. He swept his gaze across the landscape, too, wondering what Blackwall saw in the darkness that he didn’t.

Perhaps--it was foolish and terrible to think, but perhaps--Blackwall saw the Inquisitor. Perhaps he saw Trevelyan, in those last few moments. What Trevelyan’s eyes must have told him; what they must have said to make Blackwall hide, to make him wait for two days in the rain and mud and cold, to make him limp all the way to the Hinterlands proper; to make him stay standing upright in the middle of a throng of Inquisition agents at the Crossroads until he had said everything he could; to make him carry himself to near-death and will himself back to life from a week-long, heavy fever, one the Inquisition feared he could not break.

Dorian hoped to the Maker that wasn’t the case. He hoped things were better in Blackwall’s head than his, but he was highly doubtful. All Dorian could see in the dark of the mountaintops were the shapes of the bloodstains on Blackwall’s armor, and the ichor of something foul matting in Blackwall’s hair, in his beard. The strand of saliva and bile running from his lips as he croaked the reply to Dorian’s question: “The blood isn’t mine.”

“Your thoughts are troubled.” Blackwall’s rough baritone shivered through the crisp night air. “If it’s been caused by me, I apologize. Making a scene was the furthest thing from my intentions, but that doesn’t change the fact that I did.”

Dorian couldn’t keep the scoff from scraping free of his throat. “I hardly think you expect me to rail at you for coming to notify us that the Inquisitor was captured,” (his heart caught in his throat, his fingers drummed rapidly on the balustrade, he almost couldn’t breathe ), “and that you were in dire need of medical assistance.”

Blackwall met his gaze, as he always did, with something in his eyes Dorian couldn’t fathom. “I suppose I don’t,” he said. “But I also know that what happened up there could have been prevented. I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Dorian blinked. He blinked again, hard . “What are you insinuating?” Dorian tried to temper his voice, but it broke like a sword hot off the forge, quenched too fast.

“The Inquisitor was relying on me. I did not do my duties in helping to protect him. I take full responsibility for that.” Blackwall’s voice did not falter, not for a moment. He seemed a man resigned to his fate.

It infuriated Dorian. “You were supposed to be on a routine check through the Hinterlands for Warden artifacts, yes?”

Blackwall nodded.

“Then you must indulge me, because I haven’t the faintest clue--why do you think we would blame you for the Inquisitor’s disappearance? You were just as badly attacked. I saw you with my own eyes.”

“I don’t think the Inquisition, or even any of the Inner Circle, would blame me for failing to protect the Inquisitor.”

Dorian huffed, his voice lowering into a hushed rumble. “This is no time for circumlocution, Blackwall. What on earth are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about you.”

Ice water shot through Dorian’s veins, freezing him in place.

He chuckled. “Whatever do you mean?”

Blackwall was unwavering. “I mean that I can see how badly the Inquisitor’s disappearance has affected you. I know how close you are.”

Dorian snorted, trying for derision and coming out with frustration. “I’m about as close to the Inquisitor as the rest of you are. Look,” he said, interrupting Blackwall’s opening mouth, “I understand you’re trying to be, what, sympathetic? Apologetic? Well, it isn’t necessary. You shouldn’t be sorry to me in particular, and furthermore, you shouldn’t be sorry at all.”

Dorian leveled Blackwall with an even gaze. “We’ll find him. I’m not worried about that. What does worry me, however, is the fact that you’re out of bed, walking about in the cold shortly after recovering from a life-threatening illness. Is this a Warden thing? Some sort of rite of passage, perhaps?”

Blackwall chuckled, his impassive demeanor finally breaking. “You’d be surprised,” he said. “But you’re right. I ought to get some rest. You ought to, as well.”

Dorian nodded, giving a glib sort of salute. “I’ll get around to it. I’ve been mulling over Arwynsson’s A History of Necromancy. The sheer amount of inaccuracies is enough to keep me awake at night.”

Blackwall shook his head. “You’d know better than I,” he replied. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

Dorian bowed slightly. “Warden Blackwall.”

Blackwall nodded before leaving, his heavy footfalls echoing down the stone steps. Dorian listened for a while until he could no longer hear Blackwall in any capacity before allowing his face to fall into the drawn, tired expression he’d worn before. It had been a long week, and he didn’t expect things to get any better.

He resolved to stay awake a while longer, hoping the damned southern cold would wear him out. He wanted not to dream when he fell asleep, for fear of seeing a familiar face contorted in pain and hearing a voice begging him for help.