A tear rolled down Dorian’s cheek onto the letter he was reading.
“Oh,” he said aloud. He hadn’t realized he was crying.
Dorian quickly wiped his face, lest anyone see. He retreated to the chair in his alcove in the library, pouring over every word in the letter that had been sent to him.
Felix had gone to the Magisterium, to the senate floor. Felix had spoke of the inquisition, making waves among the folk back home. Felix had died.
Dorian wondered if Alexius had learned of the news yet, or if his jailers were keeping him in the dark. He wondered if he should visit his former mentor, but he didn’t think he could bear to see him. So instead Dorian let his heart break in solitude.
He was leaning next to the window in the nook, watching Skyhold’s daily routine unfold, when Cullen spotted him as he was on his way up to the rookery. The Commander decided his question for Leliana could wait. Despite how Dorian was holding his head high, there was a slumping of the shoulders, Dorian curling in on himself, that Cullen knew wasn’t normal.
“Pavus?” Cullen said. He startled Dorian who whipped around towards him, a piece of parchment clutched to his chest. “Is everything alright?” The Commander asked.
“A letter from Tevinter,” Dorian stated, holding up the paper in hand. “Regarding Felix.” At Cullen’s confused look, Dorian reminded him saying, “Alexius’ son.”
Dorian briefly explained the contents of the letter, what Felix had done and said. “I’m sure we’ll be hearing of the reactions soon,” Dorian said. Felix had promised he would speak to the Magisterium and he had. “Felix always was as good as his word,” he mused sadly.
“I’m sorry,” was all Cullen could manage to say. He took a few steps into the alcove as Dorian all but collapsed into the chair there. “Are you alright?”
“I will be,” Dorian sighed, folding the letter and setting it aside.
A beat passed. Then another. Cullen drummed his fingers on one of the bookshelves, wanting to say more to comfort Dorian. “Small talk feels too small…” he muttered, shaking his head. He was useless at this.
“What was that?” Dorian asked, his attention caught.
“Oh. Nothing, just something I once read,” Cullen said, rubbing at the back of his neck. He didn’t know the mage had even heard him. “‘In the aftermath of death, small talk feels too small—”
“Big talk too enormous,” Dorian finished, the faintest hint of a smile. Something sparked inside Dorian’s chest as he looked at Cullen. “Why Commander, I never would have guessed you to be the literary type.”
“I aim to surprise,” Cullen said, giving him a tight smile. “If there is anything I, or anyone else can do for you, do not hesitate.”
“There’s no better help than that which I’ll receive in the Tavern this evening,” Dorian said. A joke that wouldn’t have fallen so flat if he wasn’t so frequently mending his hurt with ale. “But thank you,” he tacked on.
Cullen hesitated another moment. What was he supposed to do? He cursed himself for not being the hugging type. He gave Dorian a curt nod of his head and continued up to the rookery. When he came back down after speaking with Leiliana, Dorian was gone from the library.
The tavern was by far one of the most consistently warm places in all of Skyhold, and that wasn’t only because Dorian was already several drinks in. Dorian savored the heat as he savored the cup of mead in his hands.
“I’ll grab another round.”
“Good man, Bull,” Dorian said, draining the rest of his drink. Sera nodded her agreement as did Trevelyan, who was freshly back from the Western Approach and looking to decompress. Varric got up to help Iron Bull with the drinks.
His friends figured that if Dorian was going to drink his feelings instead of dealing with them, they might as well supervise so Dorian didn’t do anything stupid. Trevelyan had sent discreet missives to some of their companions that were closer to Dorian, suggesting they provide the mage some company at the tavern.
Dorian was loathe to admit how much Felix’s passing was affecting him. He knew his friends were doting on him, but he couldn’t be bothered to reprimand them for the moment. The list of people Dorian cared deeply for was not exceedingly long, particularly if you were only counting people from his homeland. But Felix was the best of them.
Cullen had every intention of joining everyone at the tavern. After seeing Dorian in person and then later receiving the brief note penned by the Inquisitor, he decided to call it early with his work and head over, taking his time walking around the battlements and entering through the tavern’s door on the third floor.
He paused on the second floor, leaning his elbows on the railing as he surveyed the floor below. His eyes easily found Dorian and the others. Cullen watched the mage lean into Trevelyan next to him, watched the easy way Trevelyan slid his arm around Dorian’s shoulders.
Something clenched in Cullen’s chest at the simple gesture, at what he couldn’t bring himself to do earlier. Possibly, Cullen thought, because he wasn’t sure where he stood with Dorian. It seemed like almost every time they had a conversation, an argument was to be had. And Trevleyan’s actions were that of a friend, they were… Intimate. The thought made his face flush.
Cullen was suddenly very aware of his position within the inquisition. His rank had always set him apart from people who might otherwise be peers. Friendships were always at an arm’s length because despite trying to make a connection, people still saw Cullen as their superior.
He didn’t get to be Cullen, here to support a grieving friend. He would only be the Commander, there to put a damper on everyone’s night. He decided to keep his post, telling himself Dorian was being seen to enough and that he wouldn’t be missed, that he should go back to his work.
Glasses were raised in unison. “To men better than any of us sorry lot,” Dorian said with a dry laugh. A few more drinks and he’d be slurring proper.
“To Felix,” Trevelyan concurred, staring down at Dorian with his big blue eyes and a sympathetic smile, giving the mage’s shoulder a squeeze.
Dorian downed nearly half his pint in one go. His eyes drifted around the tavern as he willed them not to get misty. Something caught his eye a floor above him. A fur collar. Golden hair.
“I’m going to get some air,” Dorian said, sliding himself out from the table. When he was met with a few concerned looks he added, “I’ll be back. Company like mine shouldn’t be denied to anyone, I would never do that to you all.”
Dorian started heading up the stairs on legs that thankfully weren’t as wobbly as he expected, then up another flight. He was glad that Cole seemed to be lurking somewhere else for the time being. Dorian didn’t think he could handle the spirit sifting through his thoughts at the moment.
He stepped out into frosty night air and instantly regretted walking out without any sort of cloak around his shoulders. Dorian rubbed his arms against the chill. Cullen was leaning against a parapet not too far down, staring into night beyond the walls of the hold.
“I thought I spotted you inside,” Dorian said as he approached, copying Cullen’s positioning. “Why did you not say hello?”
“No one wants to drink with their Commander,” Cullen said with a shrug. Dorian realized Cullen wasn’t wearing his typical armor, the surcoat instead sitting over a simple shirt that fit him snuggly.
“But what about their friend?” Dorian asked, his eyebrow raising as he tilted his head to look at Cullen. Cullen shook his head but Dorian watched the way the scar across his top lip pulled with the effort of stifling a smile. They fell into silence.
“I wanted to say again that I’m sorry,” Cullen said. “About Felix. It is never easy to lose a loved one.”
Dorian gave his head a slow nod saying, “He truly was the best of us,” in a wistful voice.
“Were you two… Involved?” Cullen didn’t know if it was an appropriate question, but he had to wonder.
“Felix and I? What an odd question,” Dorian said with a breath of a laugh. “Why do you ask, Commander? Do you see my mourning as your open window?”
It was a joke, Cullen knew it, but his face flushed anyway. “No, I think I’m sworn off mages now,” he said, trying to deflect. Besides, it seemed to him like it would have been Trevelyan seizing that window of opportunity anyway. There was a little too much bitterness behind the thought.
“Now?” Dorian’s interest was piqued, his face amused as his eyebrows raised. “Do you mean to say that—”
“I only mean—” But Dorian cut him off with a laugh.
“Settle,” Dorian told him, “I’m only teasing you. No, I had no intention of abusing Alexius’ hospitality by seducing his son.”
Cullen nodded his head thoughtfully, willing the redness of his face to go down. “You should go back inside,” he said to the mage. “You must be freezing. With how clever you always say you are, you would think you’d learn how to dress for Southern weather by now.”
As if on cue, Dorian shivered. “And hide all this—" he gestured to himself, “—under something dreadful like that?” he questioned, aghast, gesturing to Cullen’s fur. “I’d rather freeze.”
Cullen’s head titled back and he let out a gentle laugh. That was enough to provide the warmth Dorian was seriously lacking.
“Will you come back inside too?” Dorian asked.
Cullen shook his head with an apologetic smile. He thought that may have been disappointment on Dorian’s face.
“I have more work to be done. But come around my office after evening meal tomorrow,” Cullen offered. “You still need to try to reverse your miserable losing streak.”
“Don’t you get cocky, Commander,” Dorian said with a wag of his finger.
Another quiet laugh. “Goodnight, Dorian,” he said.
That made Doran pause in his retreat indoors. He threw a look over his shoulder, an odd smile creeping onto his lips, but Cullen found his expression unreadable.
“Is something the matter?” the Commander questioned.
Dorian shook his head and slipped back inside. It shouldn’t have been a big deal, but Dorian wracked his mind as he headed back downstairs. It struck the mage that that may very well have been the first time he’d heard the Commander use his first name. And oh, how he’d liked it.