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Light In This Darken'd Time Breaks

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A loud rapping at their door is what officially woke the pair the next morning.

“Boots up, boys,” a voice called from the other side of the door. Leliana.

Dorian groaned as he opened his eyes. Light streamed through windows whose curtains had never been drawn the night before. He wondered if they’d overslept, or if their party was simply ready to put the Winter Palace behind them. Either way, Dorian wasn’t ready to be roused from sleep.

It had overall been a rather sleepless night. Cullen’s nightmares unfortunately weren’t completely subdued by Dorian’s presence. Dorian would awaken to Cullen clutching at him, muttering words under his breath that the mage couldn’t always decipher.

But every time Cullen stirred, he found himself still in Dorian’s embrace, surrounded by his warm, spiced scent, a steady heartbeat sounding underneath the ear pressed to the mage’s chest. Lips would be pressed to the top of Cullen’s head, murmuring reassuring words. He swore Dorian was humming something, swore he could feel the vibration in the mage’s chest. Then Cullen would drift off again, even if it was fitfully.

Dorian wondered if Cullen realized he was running a hand up and down his chest, or if the Commander was still half asleep, Cullen not even realizing his own actions. Probably the latter. Now that day had broken and the nightmares had dissipated, it seemed unlikely that a fully awake Commander would still be exhibiting the intimacy Dorian so craved.

It pained him, but Dorian disentangled himself from the Commander. He took care to stretch out a still sore shoulder as he picked his way around the room, getting dressed for the day and making sure he had his belongings ready to go.

Cullen was slower to rise, feeling like he’d been trampled by a herd of halla overnight. He swung his legs over the side of the bed, scrubbing at his face with his hands.

“Sorry for keeping you up,” Cullen mumbled, voice still rough with sleep. Not ‘if’ he kept Dorian up, because he knew for a fact he must have. “It’s why I don’t keep much company in my bed,” he continued with a scratchy laugh.

“’Much?’” Dorian questioned. “You have others you make put up with how much you sweat in your sleep?” he asked, turning up his nose. Of course it was from the pain, the nightmares, but Dorian wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to give Cullen a hard time. Especially as it was a good distraction from the way something pulled in Dorian’s chest when seeing Cullen so disheveled, voice and movements still thick with sleep.

“Funny,” Cullen droned. “It’s too bad they don’t have circles for jesters, you would have been a star pupil.”

Dorian’s eyebrows shot up, and amused look on his face. He was surprised by Cullen’s good humor, especially in consideration of the past handful of hours.

As they made to depart a short while later, Cullen stopped short with his hand on the door handle.

“You know you have to twist it, right?” Dorian drawled.

Cullen didn’t say anything at first, but his shoulders slumped forward a fraction. “I haven’t yet said thank you for last night,” Cullen said. “There was no reason for you to do that, but still you did.” He peeked over his shoulder to see Dorian looking at him like he was the most foolish person in all of Thedas.

‘Absolute lummox’ was the first response that sprung to Dorian’s mind, but he managed to bite his tongue. “’No reason,’ he says,” Dorian muttered shaking his head. He couldn’t believe how someone as smart as Cullen could simultaneously be so daft.

The Commander scowled. Dorian was notoriously blunt, but also had perfected the art of never truly saying what he meant when he was trying to deflect. Cullen didn’t often wish Cole was around, digging through people’s thoughts, but right then it would be great to know what the mage was thinking.

Could he care for a Templar? Could he care for him?

And Cullen was sure he was projecting, mapping his own fears onto a mirror of the words Cole had stolen from Dorian’s mind and shared with Cullen back at Skyhold. But Cullen truly couldn’t see why Dorian would care for him, comfort him. All Cullen had done in the time they’d know each other was harass Dorian, harm Dorian.

“I—Thank you,” Cullen said again, stepping over the threshold and into the hallway where other guests and servants alike were milling about. He looked back at Dorian to see if he was following, and after letting out a long sigh, Dorian did.

--

“I have requests for information on your lineage from a few… Interested parties at the Winter Palace, Commander,” Josephine said, hiding a smile behind her hand. They were supposed to be debriefing their time in Halamshiral around the war table, but the other advisors seemed to have their own agenda, which involved making Cullen turn redder by the moment.

“Andraste preserve me,” Cullen muttered, shaking his head. “Feel free to use those requests as kindling.”

“No, I shall take them,” Leliana laughed, plucking a few sheets off the table before Cullen could swipe them. “I want to know who pines for our commander. We can use this to our advantage.”

“I'm not bait,” Cullen protested.

“Hush, just look pretty,” Dorian said, the amusement clear in his eyes over top of the letter he managed to snag. “Orlesians may not like discussing politics, but they sure do like discussing your—”

He was cut off by Cullen ripping the letter from his hand. Cullen gave him a look that the Commander probably thought was threatening, but Dorian was way too amused to be put off by it.

“And do we think we should be expecting any more proposals for our Commander’s hand?” Leliana asked it as if it was a general question to anyone, but a pointed look was given to Dorian and Cullen.

Her words knocked the wide grin off Dorian’s face. Cullen waved off the question, pacing away from her as he rubbed at the back of his neck. Leliana looked absolutely pleased with herself.

The Winter Palace hadn’t been discussed by the men, and it didn’t seem like either one was going to start that conversation. But every time Cullen laid eyes on Dorian, he couldn’t not think about that entire evening. Giving in and dancing with Dorian, the song drifting from the ballroom, the mage’s lips brushing against his skin.

And then later. Hands on Dorian’s bare skin. The taste of lyrium on Dorian’s tongue. That’s usually where the shame started to creep in. That taste shouldn’t have aroused him as much as it had. Part of his mind was trying to convince him that it was the only reason he’d let Dorian kiss him in the first place. That same part of his brain was ignoring the way he’d felt about the mage earlier in evening when there were no traces of lyrium.

Dorian was content to fall back into his pre-Halamshiral avoidance routine, only interacting with the Commander when it related to Inquisition matters. He felt he had royally screwed up with Cullen. The Commander would hardly make eye contact with him now, and Dorian blamed it all on his action. He shouldn’t have tried anything with Cullen.

But that was all Dorian wanted. He couldn’t stop thinking about picking up where they had left off. Maybe now that the pain in his shoulder was down to a dull ache, Cullen could be convinced…

Dorian shook his head to clear his thoughts. He had to remember he was still in room full of people. If he dwelled on it too long he wasn’t going to be able to hide the evidence of his arousal, and Leliana really didn’t need any more material against him.

His mind started to wander again. He wasn’t particularly interested in the talk in the war room as it shifted to talk of the enchanter they’d brought back, Morrigan. Yes, she was powerful. Yes, she was of questionable trustworthiness. But so had they thought of him when he arrived. And as Celene had named Morrigan Liaison to the Inquisition, they weren’t getting rid of her.

“Before we adjourn,” Josephine began, further distracting Dorian, “there’s a new matter that sprung up while we were away.”

It was always something. And this time is was red lyrium smugglers in the Emerald Graves. Dorian tried to pay attention as much as possible after Trevelyan indicated he’d likely be in the accompanying party as they tracked down the smugglers. While Dorian wouldn’t mind some relaxation after only just returning from Halamshiral, he had to admit that the lush atmosphere of the Emerald Graves wasn’t the worst place he’d been sent with the Inquisitor.

--

Cullen hated watching Dorian—the entire party, he scolded himself—leave so soon. Trevelyan headed off with Cole, Dorian, and Iron Bull only days after returning from the Winter Palace.

Though it was early, Cullen watched from the battlements as the party left. Their mission troubled him, despite the fact that he himself had stressed the fact that intercepting any of the smuggler’s caravans could be a great help.

Samson—and Maker, did it hurt to think about him—was in charge of the Red Templars. Despite the man being hopelessly addicted to lyrium, he had still once been a decent Templar, and now it appeared he was a force to be reckoned with. They needed to find the source of the red lyrium and destroy it. That would weaken them and their leader. Any disruption of the caravans could help in taking the man down.

All Cullen hoped was that the party didn’t take the red lyrium lightly. Trevelyan had taken a mage with him, and that troubled the Commander. Unlike regular lyrium, red lyrium had a strong anti-magic effect and he would hate for that to ultimately be detrimental to their mission. And Dorian.

In the end he’d had to trust that Trevelyan knew what he was doing in taking Dorian along. Still, he found himself thumbing at the coin in his pocket, watching until the party disappeared between two mountain peaks.