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Light In This Darken'd Time Breaks

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Cullen groaned and rolled over, half asleep, an arm reaching over to the other side of the bed. Of course, he was grasping at nothing. Cullen’s eyes snapped open, a sudden tightness in his chest. He tried to think back on his dreams, trying to think of why he expected someone to be there. Or who he expected.

He stood slowly from bed, stretching as he did, testing how he felt. Cullen’s whole body was sore, but he hoped once he was up and moving, he could shake some of the stiffness. So he began to ready himself for the day. Cullen could tell he was getting a late start to his day, his room was brighter than it usually was when he awoke.

The sounds of swords and shields clattering together greeted Cullen as he made his way to the training grounds. He still tried to make a point of overseeing some of the training, participating where he could. It was good for the troops to know that even though he was their Commander, he was also one of them.

“Too many late nights, Commander?” Cassandra questioned, catching up with him. “You usually beat the sun to rise, I thought,” she teased, a smug look on her face.

“Believe it or not, I called it an early night,” Cullen told her.

“Is that so?” Cassandra asked. “So you haven’t been having any more evening visitors than usual lately?”

Cullen scowled. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” he told her. Cullen didn’t think a few evenings spent with company were anything to talk about, but considering the company he kept, and considering sometimes there wasn’t much else to do around Skyhold except gossip, he shouldn’t be surprised.

“Excuse me,” Cullen said, refusing to speak more on the subject.

--

Dorian stood with his arms folded across his chest, his fingers digging into his arms. He was trying to refrain from tearing into Mother Giselle after the woman had approached him in the library. She came under the guise that she ‘just wanted to talk’ but that had quickly deteriorated into accusations against his character.

And that was when Trevelyan came up the stairs, stepping into the middle of their conversation.

“What I’m trying to say is—Oh, I… Hello Inquisitor,” Mother Giselle said, her mouth pressing into a tight line.

“What’s going on here?” Trevelyan asked, his tone firm.

“It seems the Revered Mother is concerned about my ‘undue influence’ over certain members of the Inquisition,” Dorian snapped. He wasn’t thrilled about dragging the Inquisitor into the conversation.

“It is a just concern,” the Mother insisted, turning to Trevelyan. “You must know how this looks.”

Dorian took one look at Trevelyan’s confused expression and told Mother Giselle, “You might need to spell it out, my dear.”

“This man is of Tevinter and—” Mother Giselle began.

“And he is my friend,” Trevelyan cut in, putting a hand on Dorian’s shoulder. And while Dorian appreciated his support, it wasn’t about the Inquisitor, not entirely.

“His presence at your side is enough to fuel rumors, but now the Commander too?” Mother Giselle said shaking her head. “People hold him up as highly as they do you, your Worship.”

Trevelyan’s head snapped to the side, turning his confused expression on Dorian. “The Commander? Is there…” But then he shook his head. It wasn’t his business to pry into. At least not at the moment.

“I told Mother Giselle I’d love to hear what these rumors are, but it seems now that cat has her tongue,” Dorian said

“I… Could not repeat them,” the Mother said, looking away.

“Repeat them?” Trevelyan questioned, eyebrows raising. “So you’ve shared them before?”

“I meant no disrespect, Inquisitor,” Mother Giselle said. “Only to ask after this man’s intentions.”

She excused herself after that, leaving Trevelyan rubbing small circles into Dorian’s back in an attempt to calm him down. Dorian’s whole body was rigid.

“Well… That’s something,” Dorian said.

“Don’t let her get to you,” Trevelyan told him.

“It takes more to get to me than thinly veiled accusations,” Dorian scoffed. But he pulled himself away from the Inquisitor, pacing around his alcove.

“Do you know the rumors she speaks of?” Trevelyan asked timidly.

Dorian sighed, coming to a stop to gaze out the window. “I have some inkling,” he began. Trevelyan’s raised eyebrow prompted Dorian to finally break down and say, “There are some who assume we’re… Intimate.”

“You and I?” Trevleyan asked, surprised.

Dorian let out a dry laugh. The only one who he’d confirmed who thought that was Cullen, for however brief a time. “No, do you recall when you met my father? People mostly assume I’m manipulating for my own gain.” A pause. “I speak of the Commander and I,” Dorian said.

He threw a look over his shoulder to gauge Trevelyan’s reaction. Dorian had been aware of the rumor prior to that day, but he wasn’t sure who else was. Including Cullen. He occasionally wondered if that was why the Commander got so nervous at his flirting, or if it was just the good Chantry boy in him that made him bashful.

“So… Do you? Have an ‘undue influence’ over our Commander?” Trevelyan asked.

Dorian didn’t like the way the Inquisitor said ‘our,’ as if Cullen could ever be the least bit his. The mage’s eyes darted away, back out the window.

“I think we both know he is too stubborn for anyone to truly have an influence over him,” Dorian said, deflecting the question.

Trevelyan’s brow scrunched as if he was thinking hard on something. Finally he said, “I think he may be more susceptible than you think.” One side of his mouth pulled briefly into a smile.

Dorian found that cryptic at best. There always seemed to be more that Trevelyan wanted to say, but either wouldn’t let himself or thought better of. It drove Dorian and his penchant for blunt honesty crazy, if he was to be truthful.

“Find me if you need me,” Trevelyan said as he departed. “Or maybe find Cullen. Get ahead of the rumor.” The inquisitor shrugged, waved, and left down the stairs.

--

Dorian didn’t find Cullen. In fact, though he would never admit to it, Dorian started avoiding the Commander. He wasn’t sure if that was making people more or less suspicious about his relationship with the man, but it made Dorian feel better, feel like he wasn’t tarnishing the Commander’s reputation further.

They’d see each other in passing. Or at meetings in preparation for their trip to the Winter Palace. But Dorian didn’t request any chess games, didn’t drag the Commander on any more walks.

At first, Cullen would send runners with messages asking Dorian to drop by his office for a game, but after several poor excuses sent back on behalf of the mage, the runners stopped finding Dorian. Cullen didn’t know what he did wrong, but he did know how to take a hint. He wasn’t going to continue to embarrass himself by seeking out Dorian’s company too persistently.

Cullen wracked his brain trying to figure out where he went wrong. He thought on Dorian’s and his last conversation on the roof of the mage tower, when Dorian asked him if he could ever care for a mage. The inkling that Dorian was speaking of himself always nagged at Cullen, despite the mage trying to play it off. Maybe Dorian wasn’t okay with only friendship.

Or maybe it was just him, Cullen thought. Maybe Dorian had finally had enough of Cullen and all his complications. Enough of Cullen lashing out at him one minute, and being a pathetic mess the next. That would make sense. Cullen wouldn’t blame Dorian. The thought felt like a punch to the gut regardless.

--

Everything regarding their visit to the Winter Palace ended in a debate. They had one final decision to make, and no one thought it would be such a pain. Where would they stay? Their options were to either stay at an inn in the High Quarter or in the guest quarters at the Winter Palace itself.

“Even the High Quarter is not looked upon favorably,” Josephine said. It was a far cry better than anywhere in the Ash Quarter, that was for certain. In some places it was like a miniature Val Royeaux, with its many shops and its gaudy inhabitants. But those who resided in the Winter Palace still looked down on the area.

“Even with a looming assassination attempt, the Winter Palace is likely more secure than anywhere else,” Leliana added.

This was bad news to Trevelyan, Cullen, and Cassandra, who’s main argument was not wanting to spend any more time around Orlesian nobility than necessary. But ultimately they agreed if there were any attacks, it’d be better to deal with scheming nobility than the common but unpredictable criminals that ran amok in the Ash Quarter.

With that final matter settled, everyone began to make their way out of the war room. Everyone had their individual preparations to make before they departed in a few days.

Cullen took his time gathering up loose papers that had been scattered across the war table. But when he looked up the flutter that had been building in his stomach instantly dissipated.

The room was empty. Dorian, who usually lingered behind after meetings so that he could tease Cullen about anything possible, had been one of the first out of the room. Cullen cursed himself. It was foolish to think that the mage would be there, that things were the same as they had been.