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Light In This Darken'd Time Breaks

Chapter Text

“What were you thinking? Turning mages loose with no oversight!” Cullen practically spat as he paced the war room at Haven. Josephine, Leliana, and him were being debriefed on the events of Redcliffe. He hadn’t expected Trevelyan to come back from the Hinterlands with more mages than they knew what to do with. And a full alliance? The mages should have been conscripted into the service of the Inquisition, Cullen thought, not given practically free rein.

“You were there Seeker, why didn’t you intervene?” he continued. Cullen shook his head in disdain, not even looking at Cassandra as he spoke. Trevelyan had been surprising enough. Bad enough. With his family’s close ties to the Chantry, the Commander had thought it far more likely they would have sought the help of the Templars before any mage. And now Cassandra too?

If his head hadn’t already been throbbing before their meeting, it definitely was now. How many days had it been that he’d gone without lyrium now?

“While I may not completely agree with the decision,” Cassandra said, carefully measuring her words, “I support it.” The Seeker may have been unsure of her own words, but she dared anyone to challenge her on her stance.

“The voice of pragmatism speaks,” another voice said. Dorian of House Pavus. He had also come back from Redcliffe with the other mages and just the sound of his voice was enough to send another volt of pain shooting through Cullen’s head.

Cullen’s eyes trailed the mage as he sauntered into the war room. Dorian was so lithe and silent on his feet that the Commander hadn’t even noticed his entry in the midst of his ranting.

Dorian had been in Haven only briefly, but already there was no love lost between the two men. Though Dorian was much better at concealing it. Always quick with a quip to cover his actual distaste for the former Templar.

Cullen stopped his pacing. “Did someone invite this man?” he asked of Trevelyan and the other’s in the room.

“Don’t stop arguing on my account, I was just beginning to enjoy the circular arguments,” Dorian said. Cullen’s forehead creased when he scowled.

“I asked him to join us,” Trevelyan politely explained before Cullen could verbally—possibly physically—tear into Dorian. “He was there with me in that… Dark future. He should give his recount as well.”

Cullen firmly believed that the warrior’s account of the events at Redcliffe would be perfectly satisfactory, but the sharp pain in his temples kept him from arguing further. Circular arguments, the mage had pointed out. Cullen had no patience for it right now. His brow furrowed as he glanced around the room, gauging if anyone else might speak up in support of ousting the Tevinter from the meeting. No one did.

“We need to look into these things you saw in this dark future,” Leliana continued.

“But perhaps we should reconvene after a short break. After Lunch, maybe?” Josephine suggested. The tension in the war room was thick and it would prove beneficial to let it dissipate. She shot a pointed look at Cullen, hoping her eyes conveyed the message that he better get it together before they reassembled.

Cullen scrubbed his hand over his face. He knew he was more irritable than usual, the headaches always had that effect, but the mere presence of the Tevinter was only adding to his foul mood. He knew he needed to not let Dorian get to him so much, especially with how much faith the Herald was already putting in the man. He had a feeling Dorian would be sticking around the Inquisition for a while.

“Tevinter,” Cullen called as everyone began filtering out of the war room. “May I have a word with you?”

Dorian stopped in his tracks. Everyone else stalled in their departure, casting wary looks. A look of mild annoyance was quickly replaced by that of amusement on Dorian’s face, one eyebrow raising.

“Commander, Perhaps…” Josephine began, but Dorian waved everyone else away, dismissing their concerns.

Whatever comment Cullen wanted to spit at him, he could handle. He’d already overheard Cassandra’s less than flattering remarks about him, despite the air she was putting on for everyone in the war room.

“Treat Dorian with caution,” she had told Trevelyan. “It's possible he could be what he seems… But what if he is not? At best, his presence makes the Inquisition appear to have questionable allies.”

A questionable ally. That smarted a little. Dorian expected Cullen’s comments to be along a similar thread, only spoken to his face instead of behind his back. Ferelden’s certainly were transparent in their opinions. But he was positive that he’d heard much worse from people much closer to him than the Commander.

Cullen leaned over the war table and dropped his head, eyes squeezing shut against another flash of pain. “Evil magisters, assassinations, red lyrium… It all—"

“Sounds like something a Tevinter cult would do, hm?” Dorian finished for the Commander. He sauntered back to the war table, leaning back into it next to Cullen. Dorian’s arms folded across his chest as he looked around the room. No windows. Shame. Though he supposed that any light streaming in would only serve to show off all the dust hanging around in the stuffy room.

“Orlais falls, the Imperium rises, chaos for everyone,” Dorian continued, sounding almost bored, flourishing his hand vaguely in the air. He turned his head to Cullen, eyebrow again raised.

Cullen slammed a fist on the table before squaring up in front of Dorian. Any inkling he’d had about apologizing to the mage for his earlier short tone slipped away from him. His sudden movement had made him dizzy. Or maybe it was the spiced smell that seemed to be rolling off of Dorian.

“You mock the gravity of the situation,” Cullen said, inching forward. “I have half a mind to believe your being here is for less than altruistic reasons. Why should I trust you, Tevinter?”

Tevinter. Always said like it was a curse, here in the South.

“You mock the fact that some of us have fought for eons against this sort of madness,” Dorian said, voice low, more serious than Cullen had ever heard it. He placed a hand on Cullen’s armored chest, giving it a few light pats as if he were no more than a petulant child.

You wouldn’t know it by the apathetic look on his face, but Dorian’s heart was racing. This was the most excitement he’d experienced since coming to Haven, but it was also dangerous. On the last pat he was more firm, an attempt to put a few inches of space between him and the Commander. All he succeeded in doing was causing Cullen to grab at one of the many straps that adorned his standard outfits, pulling him in tighter.

Dorian kept his hand planted firmly in the center of Cullen’s chest. The tiniest extra space between bodies that were otherwise practically touching. Dorian needed a way out of this situation.

Cullen wasn’t that much larger than him, but his foul mood made him seem more imposing than usual. Dorian had no desire for a physical confrontation. He wondered if the Commander might actually strike him, or if his respect for Trevelyan was the only thing keeping him from doing so. He didn’t wish to find out. Think, Dorian.

“I was there, lost in time with Trevelyan,” Dorian said. “We both saw what could happen, what this… Elder One and his cult are trying to do.” It was like he was trying to talk the Commander down from a ledge. Slow, deliberate words. “Do you truly believe I’d let that future come to pass?”

Cullen was silent, breathing heavily. You could almost see the gears turning as his scowling face searched Dorian’s for any hint of a lie. It struck Dorian then, how to worm his way out of this.

“When will you learn, Commander,” Dorian began. His tone changed, his eyes narrowed. His free hand slid between them as well, smoothing across his breastplate before smoothing the ugly, ugly fur trim on the surcoat Cullen always wore, hanging loose over his armor.

“Not everything from Tevniter is terrible,” Dorian continued, practically purring the words. His fingers wound into the fur, pulling Cullen in. His gaze burned into Cullen.

Cullen was all too aware of how close they were now, how Dorian pressed his hips forward until they touched Cullen’s, that damn eyebrow ever raised. The fire of his anger that had started in his chest spread lower, lower.

“Right,” Cullen said, clearing his throat. He backed away from Dorian hastily, rubbing at the back of his neck. “You’ve given me something to think on, mage.”

He ignored the subtle way Dorian’s mouth would pinch at the different ways Cullen addressed him and instead rounded the large table and made for the war room doors. Cullen threw up one hand as a hurried sign of goodbye as he all but fled from the room.

“Ta,” Dorian muttered, mirroring Cullen’s gesture. He mentally noted the scarlet color that had crept up the Commander’s neck. Dorian let out a long, slow breath, willing his heart to stop hammering.

Chapter Text

After lunch had been more of the same. On reconvening, Trevelyan and Dorian were prompted into once again explaining what they had witnessed in the dark future at Redcliffe. Theories were postured, ideas were shot down, and plans were made as to where they should go from here.

Dorian wasn’t needed for most of it and stood leaning against the back wall, trying to stay out of the way. He’d tried to give a basic explanation of how the time magic they’d experienced worked, but the more he talked, the more convoluted it sounded even to his own ears. They’d come to the conclusion a full written report on the topic might actually be the easier option in this case.

Now he was stuck in the war room unless he could think of a polite way to excuse himself. Dorian hoped his body language at least spoke to the fact that he was utterly bored and wished to depart.

Throughout the meeting, Cullen fluctuated between avoiding eye contact with Dorian at all costs, or fixing him way too intensely with an amber stare. Dorian was glad he wasn’t a more bashful person, the way those eyes set on him. The mage once more felt he could see the gears in Cullen’s brain working overtime to unravel some mystery that Dorian had apparently posed to him.

As matters drew to a close, Dorian stated regally, “It is my duty to stand with you. That future will not come to pass.” He repeated words similar to those he’d said to the Commander just a short while earlier. Dorian was serious about very little, but about his he was.

“You’re staying then?” Trevelyan and Cullen asked at the same time, though their tones were very different.

“I must say I’m a little surprised,” Trevelyan continued, casting a sideways glance at Cullen who chose that moment to focus on the markers dotting the map on the war table. The Commander wasn’t the only one who had been less than kind to Dorian since his arrival. As much as Trevelyan would value fighting alongside the mage in the future, he would have understood if Dorian wanted to move on to somewhere potentially less hostile.

But Dorian nodded his head. “Indeed,” he said simply. “And as that’s the case, I’d love to see that rift up close, if you would indulge me.”

“We can arrange that,” Trevelyan said, a smile spreading across his face.

Trevelyan clapped Dorian on the shoulder with one large hand as they left the war room, having been dismissed for the day. “I’m glad you’re staying,” he told the mage. “There’s no one I’d rather be stranded in time with.”

Dorian looked up at the warrior. The Maker was smiling on the Free Marches the day Trevelyan had come into the world. He was a dashing brunette. Tall. Taller than Dorian. With soft blue eyes that were smiling down at him, causing a smile to curl on to Dorian’s own lips.

“Of course” he said, patting the hand on his shoulder. “But let’s not get stranded again any time soon, yes?” he added, eliciting a deep laugh from Trevelyan in response.

Everyone, including Trevelyan himself, had been surprised at how quickly the Herald had taken to the mage. They supposed that not only being thrown into a highly possible apocalyptic future, but surviving it together, warranted skipping over a few preliminary stages of friendship.

Cullen’s eyes trailed the pair as they left, a frown pulling over his features. He pinched the bridge of his nose, his eyes shutting.

“Well, he seems unscathed,” Leliana commented, Josephine and her flanking the Commander on either side. “It wouldn’t do well to take in a Tevinter Altus only to have the Commander of the Inquisition’s army eat him alive. Don’t worry, Commander. We are keeping an eye on our new… Friend.”

He may have been a questionable ally, as Cassandra had put it, but Dorian was still an ally. One that came with very fragile ties they would do best not to break.

Josephine nodded her agreement and the pair departed, quiet conversation passing between them.

Cullen was left standing in the threshold separating the war room from the rest of the old Chantry building. Alone, he allowed himself to reach out a hand to steady himself against one of the heavy doors. His tent. He would find peace in his tent.

There were stacks of reports waiting for him in the tent that served as his makeshift office and quarters here in Haven. The reports would either take his mind off the pain or contribute to it further. He was praying to the Maker for the former.

--

After spending most of the rest of the afternoon in back and forth, mind numbing banter with Sera, Dorian had opted to spend more time in the tavern that evening, throwing back what the tavern was passing off as ale, before retiring to where he’d been given a place to reside next to Adan’s cottage. The man tolerated Dorian’s presence at best, and Dorian was doing his best not to get on his bad side.

Haven was desperately lacking in good books, Dorian found. But that night, after blowing out all the candles except for the one on a nightstand, he found an acceptable piece of literature to take to bed with him.

Dorian also found his thoughts were beginning to wander. The words on the page blurred as he stared into space, reflecting on his day. Particularly on Cullen. Being pinned against the war table by the Commander was something he only expected to occur in one of the lusty novels Varric churned out.

Dangerous, Dorian had thought at the time. Cullen had faltered when Dorian made a come on, backing down as the mage had hoped. Awkward had a tendency to break through any other mood, diffusing it.

But Cullen could have just as easily become angrier at Dorian’s rather forward actions. It wouldn’t be the first time that someone’s response to his brazen antics was to lash out at him. Dorian was lucky not to have left the war room with a black eye, considering how hot headed the Commander had been acting.

And as impossible of an outcome as it was, Dorian couldn’t help but dwell on yet another way his side meeting with Cullen could have ended. If the Commander hadn’t shied away from him.

One hand still held the book that he was pretending to read, the other slipped below the blankets to palm at himself over the fabric of the breeches he was lounging in.

He couldn’t stop his mind from thinking about dropping to his knees in front of the Commander, undoing the laces of his breeches, taking him in his—kaffas!

Dorian cut off his own thoughts with an audible curse, snapping the book shut. Maker, he was lonely. But the realization didn’t stop him from reaching down the front of his bottoms, taking himself in hand, working himself.

His actions toward the Commander had only been in jest, but even if they hadn’t, men like Cullen didn’t fall into bed with men like Dorian. They didn’t fall into bed with men, period. He would know. He’d tried on multiple occasions. Men like Cullen were, however, easy fodder for times like these. It was the appeal of such an elusive bedding that caused Dorian’s imagination to work overtime.

The image of the Commander with his head thrown back in pleasure, one hand bracing himself on the edge of the table, the other wound in Dorian’s hair as he fucked into Dorian’s mouth was plastered in the mage’s mind. The Commander would finish down Dorian’s throat before lacing himself back up and spitting something like ‘clean yourself up,’ as he left the war room, Dorian’s company no longer wanted.

Unwanted.

Dorian spent in his hand and the shame instantly washed over him. For a moment, he just lay there on his back, soaking in the dim glow of the candle burning low, as well as his own self-loathing.

He got up to use the wash basin on the other side of the room, wiping his skin clean of the mess he’d created. Dorian cursed aloud in quiet, sharp Tevene. That had been indulgent and foolish of him, letting his mind wander to someone he would have to work alongside, someone he would actually have to see outside of one night in his quarters and then never again.

But how often did Dorian ignore his better judgement before diving headlong into a questionable idea?

Chapter Text

The headaches were never the worst part of the withdrawals, just the most frequent. When it was just the headaches, Cullen could still function. Did he snap at his recruits more? Did teasing from Varric get under his skin that much more? Well, yes, but he could still go about his day, just with an added layer of irritability.

But the headaches hardly ever came alone. Almost always there was the deep ache in his muscles, in his bones, like an injury that had never quite healed right. Worse yet were the fevers that brought the rotating feeling of either fire or ice water coursing through his veins.

Above all, Cullen hated the nightmares. He would lay in bed, sweat soaked, tossing and turning. The Fade showed him visions of his past he was learning to suppress so skillfully in waking hours. Nightmares had plagued him since Kinloch, but since he’d ceased taking lyrium, they’d only become worse.

Cullen jolted awake, disoriented in the cold darkness.

It took too long to shed the demons that chased him from his sleep and realize that he was still in his tent on the training grounds. He’d fallen asleep at his desk, and not for the first time in recent days.

A chill started to creep through his body as the cold air began to dry his sweat-slicked body. Cullen shed his armor piece by piece and fumbled around in the dark, searching for fresh clothes to change into. The actions seemed to take more effort than usual. His body felt like someone had kicked the crap out of him, like when he was a new Templar recruit.

Culled peeked out the tent flap before climbing under the blankets on the cot in the tent. It was still pitch black outside, he hadn’t been asleep long. But long enough for the nightmares to take him.

All was quiet, all was okay he assured himself, but as he lay there, Cullen couldn’t quiet his own mind. He stared into the darkness, thinking about how short of a time there was before he would have to re-don his armor and face everyone in Haven as if he didn’t feel like his body was trying to eat itself from the inside.

In the dark, it felt like the demons could be hiding in any corner of the tent, waiting for him. Cullen squeezed his eyes shut tight. Words from the Chant of Light sprung quietly from behind clenched teeth.

Blessed are they who stand before
The corrupt and the wicked and do not falter.

Sleep eventually came to him once more, if only for fleeting moments.

--

Dorian awoke, sleepy eyes blinking slowly as he took in the room. With how much he had traveled, moved around—fled, his thoughts scoffed—or simply woke up in a bed that was not his own, he could never get accustomed to the room he saw over his head. Be it the rough material of a tent, an extravagant canopy on a bed, or now, the beamed ceiling of the little cottage in Haven, it always took him a few beats to remember where he was this time.

At least when he rolled over, he didn’t have to confront a conquest from the night before. Dorian had long since abandoned believing that morning afters had to be awkward, or that he even needed to be cordial. If a man was still there when Dorian opened his eyes, he’d help them gather their discarded clothes but would hurry him out the door. It wasn’t his problem if that man was stumbling away half dressed, the fog of interrupted sleep still clinging to him.

But that didn’t seem like it was ever going to be a problem at Haven.

Trevelyan was astonishingly handsome, something Dorian had mentally noted almost immediately upon meeting him in Redcliffe and had made sure to drop not-so-subtle hints about to the warrior himself. But even if there was a deeper connection, he probably shouldn’t screw up a relationship with his only real ally, his only friend, in the settlement, and possibly in the South as a whole.

There was some… talent among the recruits, both mage and mundane, but to find one who wasn’t terrified of him, or didn’t hate him on principle, was proving difficult. It gave Sera great joy on the evenings they’d spend together drinking the swill the tavern was calling ale.

She’d give that impish laugh of hers, watching Dorian’s failed attempts at seduction. Sometimes a recruit would forget themselves for a moment, temporarily falling under his spell. They’d allow themselves to be pulled into Dorian’s lap, let ringed fingers bush against their arm, their cheek.

But they’d always catch the disapproving eye of one of their fellows and the illusion would come crashing down in a flurry of bashful apologies and brush-offs. They’d scurry back to their friends, snickers ensuing. Laughing it off as if it was a game to see who could get closest to the evil Magister. Dorian would catch an eye, though, and see a look he knew all too well. They would if they could, the look said.

“So you’re… ya know,” Sera said one evening, waggling her eyebrows and gesturing vaguely from Dorian to a young man, now as far across the tavern from him as possible, that Dorian had previously had his eye on.

“I’m certain I don’t know what you’re implying,” Dorian said, knowing full well what the elf was playing at, but wishing for her to come out with it.

“Don’t be stupid,” she laughed. “You’re ‘inclined toward the company of other men’ or some other fancy Tevintery way you’d put it, huh?” Sera questioned, showing off her terrible impression of a Tevene accent.

Dorian had pursed his lips, scowling at her. He’d been far less discreet about his… proclivities since coming South, but to actually hear it put to words by someone else didn’t sit well with him. It had damped the appeal of flirting with anymore recruits.

“Pieced that together on your own, did you?” Dorian sighed, to which Sera crinkled her nose and laughed.

“I suppose what I am, is failing miserably,” he’d told her, followed by mutters that sounded like a disdainful “Southerners” and “no taste.”

And then of course there was Cullen, but he was so tightly wound that—

Cullen.

His lapse in judgment from the night before came fully into focus in him mind. Guilt still sat like a rock in his stomach. Dorian wiped his hands across his face and groaned. He tried telling himself there was really no harm in letting his imagination wander, but it sounded like a lie in his mind.

--

Dorian had thought it would be tense, downright weird even, to see Cullen. Between the war room and his bedroom thoughts, the mage had planned to give the Commander some space for a while.

Which is why he bristled when, as he was taking a leisurely stroll through Haven, a familiar voice called, “Tevinter,” from behind him, catching Dorian off guard. Cullen was jogging over to him, having peeled himself away from where he was overseeing his recruits running training drills.

“Sorry,” Cullen said, looking uncomfortable. “What I mean to say is, Master Pavus, do you have a moment?”

Dorian frowned at the title but nodded his head. “Come to tell me more about how I’m a sneaky bastard unworthy of your or Trevelyan’s trust?” he drawled, trying to look disinterested. .

Cullen winced before his amber eyes softened, and for a moment he was at a loss for words. “I’ve come to apologize, if you’ll hear it,” he stated.

That caught Dorian’s attention. He folded his arms across his chest, waiting for the Commander to proceed.

“The way I behaved in the war room yesterday…” Cullen started, rubbing at the back of his neck. “To say the least, it was unbecoming of someone of my position. Unbecoming of any decent person, really.”

His voice was softer than you’d expect when looking at him, Dorian thought. A far cry from the one he used when barking orders. Completely lacking any of them venom from their last encounter.

“Why Commander, I might think you’re actually starting to warm up to me.”

Cullen’s mouth pressed together in a tight line. “You’re our ally now,” he said to the mage. “Trevelyan trusts you, and because of that, so must I.”

Dorian gave Cullen a disbelieving look. They both knew the Commander expected him to sabotage the Inquisition’s mission at any moment. But he was trying.

“I’d like to make it up to you, ”Cullen told him. “If you’d allow me.”

Dorian’s eyebrow raised. “Oh, Commander,” he purred. “I would have never suspected—”

The lethal look in Cullen’s eye cut off the rest of what Dorian was going to say, but the mage still grinned wickedly. Cullen looked like he was going to call it off, change his mind, declare them mortal enemies instead of declaring a truce. But instead he forced a tight smile.

“Do you play chess, Master Pavus?” Cullen asked, a sigh behind the words.

Chapter Text

While Dorian didn’t doubt the sincerity of Cullen’s offer of chess, the opportunity to take the Commander up on it didn’t arise in the following days, weeks even. There were more pressing issues, requiring divided focus from the Inquisition.

Trevelyan had several loose ends to tie up. Redcliffe had initially taken precedence over everything, but with the reports all submitted and the matter discussed to exhaustion, the focus shifted in other directions.

A young man clad in armor showed up in Haven one day. He was shorter, with tanned skin not unlike Dorian’s, chestnut colored hair, and a youthful face.

“Excuse me,” he’d said as Trevelyan stepped out of the Chantry. “I’ve got a message for the Inquisition, but I’m having a hard time getting anyone to talk to me.”

He had the Herald’s attention. His name was Cremisius and he’d come with an offer from the Bull’s Charger’s Mercenary Company. He suggested some members of the Inquisition come to the Storm Coast, see how the Chargers function, and see if the Inquisition might be interested in contracting them for some work. It was decided the Herald could spare a few days for the trip.

When Trevelyan returned to Haven, a small crowd gathered as the party approached, and everyone was startled to see a large Qunari warrior riding proudly alongside him. He dwarfed even Trevelyan in comparison.

The Iron Bull. That’s what he called himself. And with him he brought his ragtag band, including Cremisius—Krem.

Dorian had to admit he was overjoyed when the Quanari became the temporary object of skepticism instead of him. Iron Bull was a self-declared spy for the Ben-Hassrath, and that alone took way more debriefing than his mere appearance ever had.

Leliana hardly gave Trevelyan time to breathe before she was pressing a report into his hands. It was back to the Hinterlands with the Herald. A man had been seen in full Grey Warden attire, and after so many Wardens had disappeared after the death of the Divine, they had to check it out.

Blackwall was a fierce fighter, something he’d demonstrated immediately as Trevelyan and his party had been attacked as soon as they tried speaking with the Warden. The Herald insisted he come back to Haven with them, even after Blackwall insisted he didn’t know the Warden’s had gone missing at all. Trevelyan was convinced he was still a trove of useful information.

There was one more matter that Trevelyan was hoping he wouldn’t have to consider. He was hoping that they’d spend so long in the Hinterlands that they would fully miss the opportunity to take Madame de Fer up on her offer to meet at her salon at Duke Bastien de Ghislain’s chateau.

But here he was, feeling alarmingly underdressed for the occasion, and listening to slights about the Inquisition. Trevelyan had attended enough functions with nobility to know that people would talk, but the brazen way they made their comments to his face was shocking.

Vivienne de Fer had stepped in, whisking him away for a private chat. She offered her services directly, insisting it was only right. Trevelyan had to admit he was weary of her intentions, but curious of her abilities. Vivienne became a permanent fixture around Haven after that.

--

Preparations to close the rift were in full swing. Dorian was whisked off during the days to study the rift. Cullen poured over reports in the time that wasn’t spent making sure the new mages we prepared for the task ahead. Everyone had their role to complete.

“The best of the mages are ready, Herald” Cullen confirmed. “Be certain you are prepared for the assault on the breach. We cannot know how you will be affected.”

He was gathered around the war table with Trevelyan and the other advisors as well as Cassandra. Cullen’s last words hung heavily in the air. Trevelyan’s throat bobbed as he swallowed hard. No one understood more than him that there would be unknown consequences from attempting to seal the rift once and for all.

Trevelyan nodded his head. “I’m prepared to take my chances. The rift must be sealed.”

“We will not fail,” Cassandra assured. She offered the faintest of smiles to Trevelyan.

--

Watching the solemnity with which Trevelyan stepped toward the huge, glowing rift made Dorian’s chest ache. The young man didn’t know if he was going to make it out alive. The Herald so narrowly escaped the fade the last time he was at the chantry, and he was trying to fight the doubt that he could be so lucky twice.

Dorian and Solas had come with Trevelyan to aid their magic in any way they could, along with the other mages. They were quite the opposite looking pair standing next to each other, but the differences went deeper than their appearances. In Dorian’s quest to prove he wasn’t the evil Tevinter everyone made him out to be, he had so far been unsuccessful in cracking the Elven apostate.

“The differences between us are not technicalities to be discarded, Dorian,” Solas had told him once.

“I... was hoping we might find common ground, that's all,” Dorian had said in response. But he had given the elf a wider birth since then. Some people took longer than others to realize just how dashing and how much of a pleasure to be around he was.

Now, Cassandra called, “Mages!” Each mage stood at the ready, staff in hand.

“Focus past the Herald,” Solas instructed. “Let his will draw from you.”

Trevelyan raised the hand that held the anchor. Bright green light flowed between the rift and the warriors outstretched arm. Dorian, with the other mages, braced himself as Trevelyan pushed through tendrils of the swirling green light. The light grew brighter and brighter and he had to fight to focus and not shield his eyes.

Dorian was left in awe. Bathed in the harsh light, he could almost believe Andraste was the bride of the Maker as Southerners claimed she was.

Then the breach sealed with a deafening whine followed by a loud crack. The force of the energy that was released threw everyone back to the ground. Dorian lay there stunned. For a moment, all he could hear was the ringing in his ears. He sat up to see Cassandra pushing through mages trying to right themselves, making her way toward where the Herald was crouched on one knee.

Slowly, Trevelyan stood. A cheer went up through all present.

“You did it,” Cassandra said, breathless. The sound of her voice barely audible over the noise of the mages.

--

Haven had not seen so much joy in its entire existence. The people danced arm in arm as news of Trevelyan’s success spread. To see the rift gone had thrilled them enough, but to learn their Herald had survived the ordeal elated everyone.

“Solas confirmed the breach is sealed,” Cassandra said, approaching where Trevelyan surveyed the merriment happening around him.

“We have reports of lingering rifts, and many questions remain, but this was a victory,” she affirmed, turning to the warrior. “Word of your heroism is already spreading.”

“Clearly,” Trevelyan said, gesturing to the celebrating people of Haven.

An alarm bell rang out, shattering the illusion of peace they had been under.

“Forces approaching,” Cullen yelled. “To arms!” Around him, his troops began to scramble.

Trevelyan rushed forward towards the gates with Cassandra where they ran into Dorian and Iron Bull. The alarm bell disrupted a heated conversation comparing the demerits of being a Quanari spy to a Tevinter mage and making a competition out of who was the most disliked.

Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana hurried forward then. Cullen gave a brief response on the nature of the forces approaching through the mountains. They marched under no banner.

Before they really had time to consider the implications of that, there was a banging at the gate that startled the lot of them.

“I can’t come in unless you open,” cried a voice from the other side of the gate. In a split second decision, they had the gate opened to reveal a boy, younger than the rest of them, standing in a ring of slain bodies.

“I’m Cole. I came to warn you,” the boy informed them. “The Templars come to kill you.” Cole was pointing directly at Trevelyan. His tone was eerie but no one was able to pin down just why Cole was so unsettling to them.

“Templars?” Cullen question, his fury rising. But Cole explained in a disjointed way that they were Red Templars under of the Elder One. A Darkspawn Magister. Corypheus.

Cole pointed and everyone turned to look in that direction. Cresting the hill was the Elder One himself.

There was hardly any time to formulate a plan. Cullen’s mind raced as he scanned their surroundings. He knew that if they were to have any chance of surviving, they would need to control the battle. His eyes flickered to the trebuchets, then do the faces around him.

Cullen turned to face the mages and inquisition troops that had gathered behind this. Dorian caught himself staring as Cullen launched into a rousing, if not brief call to arms. With the added effect of the fur donning his shoulders, Dorian thought Cullen looked like a proud lion as he strode back and forth before his people. He was completely in his element. Beautiful. Deadly.

The sentiment was short, Cullen was not one to mince words, but the recruits were hanging on every word. Dorian found he was as well.

“He will not make this easy,” Cullen roared. “For your life! For all of us!”

A reverberating cry sounded through the troops.

Chapter Text

They needed to retreat. Cullen hurriedly directed everyone inside the gates, sending them on their way to the Chantry. Haven wasn’t meant for this type of attack. Especially not from a… Whatever that beast was flying through the air. The Chantry building was their safest bet.

Dorian aided in getting villagers safely to the Chantry. Horrid creatures that may have once been Templars swarmed the place. His arms flew out to catch an injured Chancellor Roderick as the older man all but fell through the doors of the Chantry.

“A brave man,” Dorian said as he eased the Chancellor into a seated position. “He stood against one of the Venatori.” The Chancellor waved off his comment as if it were nothing, wincing in pain.

Cullen had been working on building his trust in Dorian. In that moment, as he watched with approval as Dorian helped the Chancellor, Cullen thought he might have found his sign that the mage really was on the side of the Inquisition.

A plan needed to be made, but they very clearly didn’t have the time or resources to come up with many viable solutions.

“There is a way, but it will take time,” the Chancellor offered, hesitant.

One last avalanche, they decided. It would completely bury Haven, wiping out the entire town, but it may give the villagers the time they needed to escape. Chancellor Roderick informed them of a little known path through the Frostbacks that yes, would lead them into unforgiving mountain weather, but also could be their only chance at survival.

“The Elder One doesn’t care about the village. He only wants the Herald,” Cole commented.

“If it will save these people, he can have me,” Trevelyan said, long since accepting that his fate as the Herald surely only ended in death.

The only problem was that someone needed to stay behind to cause the avalanche.

“And what of your escape,” Cullen demanded when Trevelyan informed everyone he would be the one to do it. Trevelyan was silent. Both seemed to be willing to accept the Herald probably wouldn’t be escaping.

“I’m sorry, this is really our plan?” Dorian cut in, his expression incredulous.

“This is no longer survivable,” Cullen barked, face grim. “What choice do we have?”

“That’s unacceptable,” Dorian said, throwing up his hands.

“Should we submit?” Cullen was shouting now. “Let them kill us? We’re dying, but we get to decide how. Many don’t get that choice.”

“Dying,” Dorian began, practically spitting the word, “Is typically a last resort, not first. For a Templar, you certainly think like a blood mage.”

“You insolent—!” Cullen had taken a lurching step toward Dorian, but next to him, Trevlyan threw out his arm to halt the motion. Ex-Templar.

“Enough!” the Herald shouted. Cullen and Dorian had the good sense to be ashamed at having a row at a time like this.

“Perhaps you will surprise it, find a way,” Cullen said. His voice was much softer now. He tried to make his words sound hopeful even though he was filled with sorrow and dread. But there was no time to waste with getting misty eyed.

“You have to hold them off ‘til we’re above the tree line,” Cullen told the Herald. “If we are to have a chance, if you are to have a chance… Let that thing hear you.”

Trevelyan gave a single nod before exiting through the Chantry doors to go stare death in the face. Cassandra, Dorian, and Cole ran off behind him. They would help their Herald until the last possible moment.

Cullen spared the party a last look. From a pocket he produced a silver coin, rubbing his thumb over it as he watched them go. Maybe it was silly, but he considered the old thing a lucky charm. And right now they could use all the luck they could get.

Maker, protect them.

--

After that came marching. Endless marching in the endless snow.

Dorian’s preferred armor, while impractical for most of the South in general, was even more useless against the cold in the middle of the mountains. His arms clutched at his body, trying to brace himself and stop his shivering. His hands, normally warmer from the thrum of magical energy just under the skin, were chilled to the bone.

They had left Haven with so little that it was hard to even spread it amongst their surviving people. It seemed like ages ago that they had been rejoicing in their village, but it was a trick of time created by their mourning.

There was very little conversation to be had. A line from a book Dorian had once read sprang to his mind. ‘In the aftermath of death, small talk feels too small, big talk too enormous.’ No one wanted to confront just what they lost, but any other conversation felt wrong in the wake of that loss.

Most had lost hope. There were many among them who believed the Herald to be dead, and more still who saw no end to their wandering with or without a Herald.

Dorian was part of the latter group. He did his best to keep his complaints to a minimum. There were larger problems than the numbness seeping into his limbs. But Dorian refused to believe that Trevelyan was gone.

He lashed out at anyone who dared think differently. Dorian had a finger poking roughly into the chest of one of the remaining troops, magic crackling in his free hand, when Cullen pulled the mage away. The soldier was still ready to launch himself at Dorian but his friend was trying to talk him down.

Cullen’s grip on Dorian’s forearm was severe as he led the mage away, but Dorian still turned his head to spit, “See that you never again open your fool mouth regarding topics you have no clue about,” at the offending soldier.

Dorian was released from the Commander's grasp with a slight push. He offered no defense of his actions, only folded his arms across his chest, looking indignant.

“How does infighting help our situation, Tevinter?” Cullen snarled.

The mage knew he must have screwed up for the Commander to go back to calling him that. “Honestly,” Dorian deflected, rolling his eyes. “I thought we were past this ‘Tevinter’ business,” he said, fake sneering at the word as Cullen did when he said it.

Cullen’s brow knit together, so Dorian sighed.

“I get ill-tempered when I’m cold,” Dorian said, trying to make his tone sound indifferent, like he hadn’t been moments away from zapping some recruit. “And since we seem to have no shortage of snow or ice or wind around here… I have no shortage of foul mood.”

Cullen shook his head, and turned to walk away. He had no patience for Dorian’s flippant attitude. Less than usual, even. But Dorian opened his mouth to speak again and it gave the Commander pause.

“The soldier... He said he was dead,” Dorian said. When Cullen looked back at the mage, their eyes locked. There was a storm roiling behind Dorian’s eyes. “He said that Trevelyan was—”

Dorian couldn’t make the words come out. His voice cracked and he had to look away, no longer able to hold the Commander’s eye. Before Cullen could even get a word in, Dorian was waving away the conversation, hastily making his way back to fall in with the other survivors to trudge on for eternity.

Sorrow gripped Cullen’s chest like a vice. He wanted to reach out to Dorian, wishing he could let the mage know he wasn’t alone. After all, Dorian had been trying to speak what Cullen feared most.

--

Dorian marched on in a daze. He was pondering how much heat a giant Qunari like the Iron Bull might give off, and if he were to stand close enough, if he might soak up some of that warmth. Desperate times called for desperate measures, he thought, wrinkling his nose.

It was another source of warmth enveloping him that startled him out of his thoughts. Cullen draped a blanket over Dorian’s shoulders, practically making him jump.

“Don’t the people need this?” Dorian questioned, but even so he was tugging the grey, scratchy fabric tighter around him. It smelled faintly of pine and something vaguely minty. Much better than Qunari.

“Are you not part of ‘the people?’” Cullen asked. Our people.

Dorian was trying to formulate a retort but decided he shouldn’t seem too ungrateful for the kindness.

“See that it warms you enough that you don’t torch any of my soldiers,” Cullen said. A flash of light heartedness that their collective dire situation needed. But then Cullen added on a more somber note, “I don’t have many left to spare,” before wandering away to check on villagers.

Dorian huddled in one of their makeshift tents that evening. He watched as Cullen circled around the fire, making sure everyone had been attended to. Bowls of what was mostly broth were doled out, some of which were handed out by the Commander himself.

Cullen caught Dorian’s eye and the mage noticed how they were like liquid honey in the firelight. The Commander’s face looked desperate in the fleeting moment before he broke eye contact to continue his rounds. Cullen couldn’t keep still, not even for a moment. If he didn’t stop moving, then Haven couldn’t catch up with him.

The Commander was walking the perimeter of the camp with Cassandra when the impossible happened. They had been talking in low voices, hushed discussions about hard choices that needed to be made. Movement caught his eye, coming over the crest that led to their campsite.

His fingers rested on the hilt of his sword before he recognized the form and started running forward as fast as he could through the deep snow, Cassandra right behind him.

“There! It’s him!” he shouted.

“Thank the Maker,” Cassandra said.

Trevelyan’s world went black around him as he fell to his knees in front of the Commander and the Seeker.

Chapter Text

Trevelyan slept, slept some more. The collective relief of everyone in learning that the Herald was still alive was palpable. But even though it was a miracle that Trevelyan was brought back to them, it didn’t change the current predicament they faced.

There was constant bickering amongst Cassandra, Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana.

“And who put you in charge?” Cullen spat after Cassandra insisted upon her latest, and in Cullen’s mind unhelpful, plan.

“We need a consensus or else we have nothing,” the Commander continued.

“Please, we must use reason,” Josephine begged.

“Enough, this is getting us nowhere,” Cassandra said, exasperated

“At least we agree on that much,” Cullen told her with as much snark as he could muster before storming away.

They had been fighting around the fire in middle of camp. Not their most shining moments, but no one had meant for the conversation at hand to escalate so far. Luckily, the severity of Cullen’s tone, a tone not even the recruits were used to hearing, made most prying eyes and ears steer clear of the area.

Cullen didn’t stop until he hit one of the veilfire torches that marked the perimeter they’d established around camp. He seemed to instantly deflate as soon as he was away from everyone. His shoulders slumped and he rubbed at the back of his neck. Every moment that passed was harder for Cullen to stand than the one prior. He was not keeping it together well.

Take the lyrium.

The thought persisted, over and over, banging around his skull until Cullen squeezed his eyes shut in a wince. The withdrawals didn’t care that he had bigger problems to deal with. In fact, they fed off of it.

It wouldn’t be an issue to get his hands on a kit. They’d managed to salvage enough even with their sudden departure from Haven. But Cullen had cut himself off. When he became the Commander of the Inquisition’s army, he vowed to himself that he would never take it again.

He’d told his vow to Cassandra as well. Cullen wondered if she could tell how much he was struggling. He figured she was already mentally creating a list of replacements for him. Especially with how poorly he’d been responding in any of the informal meetings they held with the other advisors.

Discussions were going nowhere. Cassandra had definitely been right about that much. And much of it may have been Cullen’s fault. At this point he found all of their voices maddening and he had half a mind to tell them all as much.

A light layer of sweat dampened Cullen’s brow and as a gust of wind whipped by, it chilled him to the bone. He shivered.

Unfortunately for Cullen, Dorian was not one of those people deterred by harsh words. He paced after Cullen as he had stalked off.

The Commander turned his head at the sound of boots crunching through snow. His face was bathed in eerie shadows and the blue-green glow of veilfire. The harsh light emphasized features that had previously gone unnoticed to Dorian. The dark circles under his eyes, the gauntness of his face.

He looked positively unwell, the mage thought. Dorian wondered if the Commander had come down with something while they had been exposed to the elements. There were many sniffles and coughs spreading through their party of survivors. Stress and cold would do that.

Dorian hesitated some feet away. When the mage offered no words, Cullen jerked his head away, staring blankly into the middle distance. Dorian moved to stand next to the Commander, unwilling to break the silence.

He had hoped something clever would spring to mind to say to Cullen. Even if it was the wrong thing to say, then at least the Commander would have somewhere to direct his anger. But any quip he had been planning on making died on his tongue before it could reach his lips.

A sharp intake of breath came from Cullen as Dorian dared to rest a hand on his shoulder. Neither man looked at the other. Lazy snowflakes drifted down slowly around them.

From across the camp came a voice. Multiple voices. A faint song carried on the winter air to where the two men stood, gazing out across the endless snow. Cullen recognized the Chantry hymn, but it was less familiar to Dorian.

Cullen’s lips moved almost in silence. It took Dorian a moment to realize he was murmuring the words of the song that floated to them from back at camp.

For one day soon,
The dawn will come.

The words sat in Cullen’s chest like the fluttering of wings. They turned to face each other and for a moment, Cullen held Dorian’s gaze. Those amber eyes seemed to be pleading with him, but for what, the mage did not know. Cullen then dropped his head, feeling like his skull might crack open.

Dorian wanted to aid the Commander but couldn’t fathom how. In that moment he decided to be bold. He slid his hand over Cullen’s shoulder and up his neck, thumb grazing his jaw. To Dorian’s surprise, the Commander allowed himself to be touched by the mage.

“Cullen…” Dorian murmured, taking a step forward. Snowflakes were sticking in the Commander’s hair, the fur along his shoulders.

Cullen didn’t always like to be touched. He could show gentle affections to others, pats on backs, squeezes to shoulders, but he tended to freeze up when someone did the same to him. He surprised even himself when he leaned into Dorian’s touch. He was too exhausted to fight the urge not to.

Despite the chill, Dorian’s finger were warm where they touched the Commander. A ringing had started building in Cullen’s ears, his head felt like it was spinning. But that single word falling from Dorian’s lips had cut through to him.

Not Commander, Cullen.

“Cullen, are you—” there was sudden concern to his voice. He opened his eyes and saw Dorian staring at his face, puzzled.

Cullen snatched at the hand by his face that now seemed to carry too much weight. He held fast to Dorian’s wrist and the mage found himself unable to easily pull away. Cullen’s jaw tensed but the look on his face was unreadable.

He had realized what Dorian had been staring at. He felt it. Cullen’s free hand moved to dab at the trickle of blood coming from his nose.

“Shit,” he muttered. “Must be the altitude,” he continued. A weak excuse.

“Commander, if you wouldn’t mind…” Dorian said of the vice like grip on his wrist. He wasn’t sure what had snapped within Cullen, but the behavior was not unlike that he’d experienced in the war room at Haven.

The Commander hesitated, eyes locked on Dorian.

More footsteps were heard as Trevelyan and Solas approached, seemingly in the middle of a quiet discussion. They paused when they saw the other pair and Cullen very swiftly released Dorian from his grasp.

“Excuse me,” Cullen said flatly to Dorian. He managed to add, “It is good to see you up, Herald,” to Trevelyan in passing as he quickly made his way back to the tents, wiping his nose as discretely as possible on the back of his hand.

“Is he… ?” Trevelyan didn’t know how to finish the question. Dorian shook his head and similarly, made his way back to camp.

Cullen lay wide awake on his bedroll. It did little to protect him from the elements, but he had willing given up the blanket he had been using to someone who needed it more. He considered bedding down among his troops. They all slept huddled close together, body heat shared among them. But he knew he wasn’t fit to be around anyone in his current state.

Unable to sleep, Dorian was crouched next to the fire, stoking it. No one was worried about the light catching anyone with ill-intent’s attention out in the middle of the nowhere, so it was kept burning high all night long in an attempt to offer some warmth and comfort.

The blanket he had been given was draped around his shoulders like a scratchy cloak. A breath hissed out through his teeth as he stared into the flames. He was trying to relax.

Dorian pulled the edge of the blanket up higher around his neck, bracing against a cold wind that ripped through camp. The smell of the blanket seemed familiar and he was trying to place it. Pine. Mint.

--

The survivors struck out early the next morning, Trevelyan finally fit to travel. He was now blazing the way, scouting out front. His talk with Solas the previous night had given him a renewed sense of purpose that the warrior had been lacking.

The path was not easy, but the sun was shining brilliantly, making the snow beneath their feet glitter. It lifted spirits, if only minutely. Warm sunshine on one’s windblown face could have that effect.

And then there is was, looming regally up ahead. As they crested a hill, the structure came into full view, though it was still hazy in the distance. No one could help but to stop and stare in awe at their saving grace. It was so close, safety was so utterly tangible.

Voices chattered, paces quickened. Everyone had a new vigor to them as they pushed forward to their new home.

Skyhold.

Chapter Text

A crowd gathered to watch as Trevelyan was named Inquisitor. The warrior raised his sword triumphantly overhead, a solemn look on his face. This was not a title that we would take lightly, and he would spend the rest of his days showing he deserved to be called as much.

There wasn’t much time for any sort of formal celebration. The Inquisition’s work would never take a break. Their time in time in the Frostbacks had set them back enough. Ravens were now coming in daily with news of darkspawn in the Western Approach, civil unrest in the Exalted Plains.

Supplies rolled in as more people joined them each day. News of the Herald’s victory, his survival was spreading and noble houses were eager to get in the Inquisitions good graces.

During the period in which everyone was settling into the keep, Varric had informed Trevelyan that he had a friend who might be able to aid the Inquistion. He confessed it like it was a secret, but Trevelyan didn’t understand why.

It was enough to raise the hackles on Cassandra, though. She stalked around Skyhold, demanding to know more of this ‘friend.’ Trevelyan was at a loss when it came to soothing her. He had no more information than she did, and didn’t know why she was so worked up.

--

“Hawke stood with the mages when the fighting broke out at Kirkwall,” Cullen explained.

The Inquisitor had sent runners out to his advisors to meet in their new war room shortly after he had met with Varric on the battlements.

“So you were on opposite sides then?” Trevelyan questioned. Hawke seemed like a valuable asset in their fight against Corypheus, but Cassandra’s reaction to his presence had given him pause. He was curious as to any other opinions on the man.

“At first,” Cullen confessed with some hesitance. The less he had to think back on Kirkwall, and times even earlier than that, the better.

“In the end, Hawke’s stand against Knight-Commander Meredith saved us all. I’m grateful for any help he can offer.”

That settled the matter for Trevelyan.

At the adjourning of the meeting, Trevelyan called after Cullen, asking him to stay for a moment. It felt like there was a vice tightening in Cullen’s chest as he anticipated further questions about Hawke.

The Inquisitor was staring down at the map but his real focus seemed to be on phrasing whatever it was he was trying to say.

“I haven’t had a chance to speak with you privately since we’ve arrived at Skyhold,” Trevelyan began.

Cullen nodded his head. He relaxed the smallest amount when it seemed like the Inquisitor’s topic of interest wasn’t Kirkwall related.

“Back when we were in the mountains…” Trevelyan stalled, his brow scrunching. He seemed to think better of whatever it was he was initially going to say.

“Dorian isn’t giving you trouble, is he?” the Inquisitor asked.

Cullen hadn’t been expecting that. He was, frankly, astonished, and his face must have shown it because Trevelyan continued, racing through his words.

“Back in Haven,” Trevelyan began again. The both flinched at the mention and it took Trevelyan a moment to collect his thoughts before he could continue.

“I thought you were finally warming up to him. Dorian is my friend, but if he is causing trouble…” Trevelyan trailed off, giving his head a little shake. “Do I need to speak with him?”

Cullen let out a sigh, suddenly exhausted. He gave a vague wave of his hand to imply there was no issue. No need to mention it wasn’t Dorian at all, but him that was the problem. Cullen had to wonder how much Trevelyan and Solas had seen in the mountains, but he was fairly certain it was only the tail end of his interactions with Dorian.

His thoughts were suddenly filled with the feeling of soft fingertips against his skin. It was such a small gesture, but Cullen had been pushing it out of his mind since that night. He’d shown weakness in front of the mage and that had angered him. Cullen recalled wrapping fingers starting to numb from cold around the mages wrist, unsure of what to do next, blood leaking down his face.

Cullen was actually thankful Trevelyan and Solas had shown up.

“Tensions were running high,” Cullen said, straining to sound as casual as possible. “It was a small.. incident. Think nothing of it.”

The response satisfied the Inquisitor enough to not ask about it further, but his brow still furrowed.

Cullen needed to find a way to better handle the lyrium withdrawals. They were causing him to act out, and while that in itself was an issue he felt guilt for, now it seemed other people were beginning to notice as well. He would have to let the Inquisitor know of his condition soon, and Cullen dreaded it.

--

The tower closest to the rotunda containing the library and rookery had been transformed into an office for Cullen. He had insisted it wasn’t necessary, but Trevelyan wouldn’t hear it when the Commander said he could set up in a tent with his troops like he had in Haven. They had the space, and the Commander deserved it.

Trevelyan had also tried to push Cullen into getting real quarters, saying he shouldn’t be working in the same place he’s sleeping, but the Commander drew the line. The space above his office, up the ladder in the corner, would do just fine.

Even the hole in the ceiling didn’t bother Cullen. He hadn’t allowed for its repair. As he lay in bed at night, swallowed by the blankets and furs protecting him from the cold, he could see the stars. In those moments, he felt like he was suffocating a little less than usual.

Unbeknownst to Cullen, Dorian had been putting in just as much effort to avoid the Commander as the Commander was putting into avoiding him.

In their first days at Skyhold, Dorian had spent much time in his room above the garden. After so much marching through frozen mountains, he was taking time to defrost under a pile of blankets, a fire burning in the fireplace. A grey scratchy blanket lay over the end of his bed.

But as his room slowly began to bore him and the library slowly became stocked with various tomes, books, and notes, Dorian decided it was a change of scenery. He’d unofficially claimed a nook at the top of the stairs as ‘his’ area. If anyone dared take his chair, Dorian would find some way to bug them until they vacated the seat. Eventually people got the hint.

“Yes, the hint that you’re an absolute brat, Dorian,” Trevelyan had laughed. He had come to get a quick update on a research assignment Dorian had been tasked with, but soon gave up on trying to understand what the mage was saying. Most of the technicalities of magic went straight over the Warrior’s head.

Trevelyan was flicking through a book he’d randomly selected off one of the shelves in Dorian’s nook when he asked, “Did you ever take our Commander up on that offer of chess?”

The Inquisitor recalled when, back in Haven, Dorian had first told Trevelyan of the proposition. Dorian had been in the cups as they’d thrown back ale at the Tavern, and he was keen to rant on any topic. That evening it had been the topic of Cullen’s hot and cold attitude.

“And get this,” Dorian had slurred. “He thinks chess will fix it.”

Now, Dorian raised an eyebrow. “Maker, that seems like ages ago. I’d almost forgot,” he told Trevelyan.

“You should consider it,” Trevelyan pushed. “There’s a few boards around this big place.”

“So insistent, Inquisitor,” Dorian said, setting down the book he had only been halfway reading. Trevelyan pulled a face at the mage's use of the title. He’d insisted countless time that Dorian need not address him so. At that point the mage only really did it when he was ribbing him.

“Are you giving up on that title so soon and switching to ‘matchmaker’ instead?” Dorian joked, then prodded, “Might there be more here than you’re letting on?”

Trevelyan was quiet for a long beat. He didn’t look up from the text in his hand.

“We’ve lost a lot of people,” Trevelyan stated, blue eyes as forlorn as Dorian had ever seen them. “I need to keep the people we still have together.”

He, personally, needed to. Trevelyan had personally put the task on himself to make sure their people, their circle, their entire Inquisition stayed together. If Dorian had still doubted his place in the Inquisition prior to that moment, he no longer would.

Trevelyan was often so light hearted and good natured, one never spent much time considering how being thrust into the role of Herald, or Inquisitor now, affected him. He felt responsible for all of them.

Dorian crossed over to the Inquisitor and patted him sympathetically on the arm, his head tilting as he offered Trevelyan a kind smile.

“I’ll see that I pay him a visit soon,” Dorian assured him.

“You two play nice,” Trevelyan warned, a shaky smile spreading on his face.

Chapter Text

“Enter,” Cullen droned when there was a knock at his office door. He was expecting another runner, bearing another document to add to the growing piles on his desk. He hadn’t been expecting Dorian.

“Pavus,” he greeted, startled. He began shuffling papers around to hide it. Cullen hadn’t spoken a word to the mage since the Frostbacks.

“Is now a bad time?” Dorian asked, but he was already closing the door behind him, crossing the small room, leaning a hip into Cullen’s desk.

Cullen sighed at the reports before him, at Dorian’s presence. “Can I help you with something?” the Commander asked, trying to be polite. He still wouldn’t look up at Dorian.

Dorian visually assessed the Commander. He looked perpetually tired. His hair was slightly mussed as if he had been anxiously running his hands through it, but in the late afternoon light streaming in from the window behind Cullen, it was shining gold.

“You need a break,” Dorian concluded. Cullen let out a short laugh at the thought.

“Truly,” Dorian insisted. He had finally worked up the nerve to approach Cullen, he wasn’t going to be brushed off so easily. He dared taking the report Cullen was reading right out of his hands. “Can this not wait a half hour?” Dorian questioned, waving the paper in the air.

“Pavus,” Cullen said in a warning tone, snatching the paper back. Then he sighed, Trevelyan’s worried face springing to mind. “And what do you suppose I do for that half hour?” he asked.

“Well, I could think of a few things,” Dorian said, reaching out and trailing a finger up the Commander’s arm, “But I’d much rather take my time—”

“Enough,” Cullen barked, swatting Dorian’s hand away.

Dorian cradled his hand to his chest, feigning hurt. When Cullen looked unmoved, Dorian sighed and gestured to the corner of the room where a chess board was visible, sticking out from where it sat on top of the bookshelf. Pieces were still set up, as if Cullen had started a game against himself before duty called him away.

“I believe someone owes me a game,” Dorian said.

“If you insist,” the Commander said, trying to keep his tone neutral, not wanting to admit Dorian was right. He needed a break. He’d read so many letters that day he couldn’t remember if the roan they were now housing in the stables was a gesture of good will or a declaration or war at this point.

Cullen cleared some space on his desk for Dorian to set the board in, and began setting it up as the mage dragged over a chair. They were silent as they began to play. Neither man knew what to say, but a game of quiet contemplation like chess gave an excuse not to say anything.

“Are you responsible for sending me to a dustbin like the Forbidden Oasis?” Dorian questioned, breaking their silence. He was to head out with Trevelyan the next day and wasn’t excited about the prospect of sand working its way into crevices on his body he didn’t know it could get to.

“The Inquisitor has final say on who he brings with him,” Cullen said. “Some of the ruins there are Elven, some are of Tevinter origin. He thought you’d want to be there. Solas too.”

Dorian groaned. He wasn’t looking forward to a long trip with the elf. Solas was still rebuking all of Dorian’s attempts at civility, usually with jabs at his heritage.

“Besides,” Cullen continued, removing one of Dorian’s captured pieces from the board, “Of all the ‘dustbins’ you could have been sent to, at least this one has ‘oasis’ in the name instead of ‘wastes.’”

“Like it matters,” Dorian scoffed, trying to study Cullen’s moves. “Do you see me sunning myself at the edge of the warm pool of the oasis? Because I see myself elbow deep in Venatori,” he said. “And sand,” he added, as if that was somehow worse.

Cullen let out a quiet chuckle, shaking his head. Dorian’s mouth slowly turned up in a smile.

“I suppose you’re right,” Cullen conceded. “Check.”

The smile slipped off Dorian’s face as he watched a smirk spread on Cullen's. “What? Impossible,” he said, frowning down at the board. “You cheat,” he declared.

“I cheat?” Cullen questioned. “That’s rich, coming from you.”

Dorian tried and failed to defend his king. A dramatic sigh followed. “Checkmate,” he said for Cullen, pushing the piece over himself.

“And I do not cheat,” Dorian said. “They’re simply Tevinter rules.”

“And how did your ‘Tevinter rules’ work out for you?” the Commander asked with a smug smile.

Dorian was staring at his mouth, the way the scar on his upper lip pulled when Cullen actually allowed himself to smile. Cullen cleared his throat and Dorian blinked, looked away. There was red creeping up the Commander’s neck.

Cullen started resetting the pieces on the board and they lapsed back into silence. Neither man took initiative to start a new game. Dorian was idly twisting one of the pawns between his fingers, starting to feel like his ability for forced small talk was coming to an end. He thought maybe he should excuse himself, but something still nagged at the mage.

“So, Commander,” Dorian began, taking initiative in starting a new game. “Are you… feeling better?”

“I suppose this break has succeeded in easing the urge to light every report on my desk on fire. So that’s better,” Cullen told the mage.

His eyes were too busy studying Dorian’s hands to catch the mage rolling his eyes. Watching for any cheating, Cullen told himself as he watched nimble fingers move piece around the board. Not remembering them against his face.

“As much as I relish in telling you ‘I told you so,’” Dorian laughed, “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

Cullen glanced up at Dorian. His brow knit together, a puzzled look on his face.

“I mean…” Dorian trailed off with a sigh. He was trying to pick his words carefully so as to not spook Cullen. “In the mountains, after Haven… You seemed… Unwell.”

Cullen felt his chest tighten, and not just at the mention of Haven. Dorian’s words were reinforcing the concern Cullen had that other people were starting to notice his odd behavior, his deteriorating health. Of course, he knew Dorian couldn’t know the reason behind it, but that fact he noticed Cullen wasn’t doing his best was concerning enough.

“Few hot meals, biting winds, boundless amounts of stress… Who wasn’t feeling a little… Under the weather?” Cullen countered. He was scowling down at the board and Dorian couldn’t decide if it was from his words or if he was just considering his next move.

“So are you feeling better?” Dorian repeated his original question.

Cullen made the mistake of raising his eyes to meet Dorian’s. The mage’s stormy eyes pierced through him, as if he could see whatever lie Cullen was about to say even before it tumbled from his mouth.

“It comes and goes,” Cullen said. It was the most honest way he could think to put it without letting Dorian know he was on the path to discovering a secret that the Commander held dear. Dorian nodded his head, but one eyebrow crept up. Cullen hated it.

“Well, Commander,” Dorian said with an exaggerated sigh. “It seems you’ve bested me again. Perhaps I should quit while I’m less behind.”

Dorian stood and Cullen followed suit, his chair scraping loudly across the floor. The Commander hesitated, unsure of the protocol here. He opened his mouth as if he might say something, but no words came.

“I can certainly find my way out on my own, Commander,” Dorian joked with a wink. Cullen could feel his face get warm. “Don’t make me wait too long for a rematch. I’ve taken up far too much of your time for now, but I can’t possibly let our current record stand.”

He strolled casually out the door sighing things like “beat me!” and “twice!” before shaking his head, the door closing behind him.

Cullen exhaled audibly as the door shut, scrubbing his face with a hand. Cullen had never been much for small talk, but that hadn’t gone terribly. Even in spite of the awkward turn conversation had taken in the end.

He dwelled on Dorian’s words as he sat back down at his desk. Cullen thought about how he should have responded, firmly telling the mage he was fine. Or asking him why he cared at all, it didn’t affect him in anyway.

Well, that wasn’t true. In fact, Dorian had probably been on the receiving end of his mood swings more than any other one person. The mage just had a way of getting under his skin, especially when he was already in a bad mood.

Cullen felt a sudden guilt about it. He thought about a warm hand on his cheek, or the offer of a much needed distraction from work. Dorian had never been hostile towards him, Cullen was always the one to escalate a situation.

He wanted to tell Dorian they didn’t have to continue the chess games, the charade of friendship. Trevelyan was probably encouraging it, but he wanted to let Dorian know that he didn’t have to suffer his company just because the Inquisitor wanted them to all be friends.

But as Cullen sat in the fading light filtering into the room, his eyes focused on the chess board and he found he was already eagerly anticipating their next match.

Chapter Text

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.

“Was?”

“He’s dead.”

“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.

Chapter Text

The day seemed to drag on, the sun making no progress across the sky. Dorian found his thoughts too unfocused to make any real progress on the spell he was working at.

Though he never tried to say otherwise, Dorian was a poor excuse for a healer, but he was trying to remedy that. He thought of all the times that his companions would look to him on their long journeys for healing spells, and he’d have to remind them for the millionth time that mages weren’t interchangeable and he was, thank the Maker, not Solas.

Dorian was working on a theory that he could use his aptitude for necromancy in helping him with bodies before they passed through the veil into the void. But right now, he was reaching levels of frustration that would soon see him torching his own notes on the subject. He was struggling to figure out a way to heal someone else without sacrificing his own life force to do it.

He found himself striding down the stairs that led out of the main hall and right down to the training grounds. Discarded boards were in no short supply when they first made it to Skyhold, and they had been gathered up and fashioned into a sort of sparring ring. A ring at which Dorian now found himself joining the small crowd that always seemed to linger, watching for entertainment.

The ring was frequently used by Bull and his Chargers, or troops settling bar bets over who had more might, or Bull proving to said troops that he hands down always had the most might. It was frowned upon for the mages to practice any spells there after one too many artful doges caused spells to hit unintended targets outside of the ring. They were still encouraged by the Commander to practice non-magical combat, though.

Dorian typically came for the show, preferring to watch young, strapping, and frequently shirtless men knock practice swords, but lately that had been changing. Dorian was getting antsy within the walls of Skyhold. It had been too long since Trevelyan had taken him on one of his missions. He didn’t expect to always be at the Inquisitor’s side when he left the hold, but Dorian was itching for some action.

Which is how he found himself starting to call next in the ring. Others were hesitant at first, not wanting to go toe to toe with the Tevinter, but several promises not to use magic and some skillful goading of hot headed recruits eventually started getting him some matches. The novelty of it was too hard to pass up in the end.

While typically used to channel spells, Dorian was proficient in using staves in physical combat as well. It was always satisfying to knock a soldier on their ass after they underestimated his ability for close combat. Of course, he tended to bow out when Iron Bull started indicating he wanted to get in on the action.

--

That evening saw him bathed and changed into fresh clothes before heading through the rotunda and over to Cullen’s office, the offer of a chess rematch not forgotten. He stretched his arms as he strolled, muscles pleasantly sore from his time spent in the ring earlier that day.

Dorian knocked on one of the tower doors. Waited. Knocked again. Annoyance built as no answer was received the second time either. He stopped a scout, Jim he believed his name to be, who was patrolling up and down a stretch of wall and asked, “Is the Commander not in?”

The scout shrugged saying, “Must have stepped out.”

“Honestly man, what good are you?” Dorian said, exasperated. “If you see him, let him know I’m waiting in his office.”

Dorian figured he could get the board set up while he waited. Cullen had been the one to invite him, so he was expected, and Cullen must have lost track of the time. Maybe a meeting with the advisors and the Inquisitor was running later than planned.

What Dorian didn’t expect was to be greeted by a loud thud and some clattering above him as he entered the office. “Commander?” he questioned, peering up the ladder into the area he knew was what Cullen considered his private quarters. “Is that you?”

A quiet gasp was heard and alarm started to creep through Dorian. He grabbed the rungs of the ladder, slowly ascending. “Commander, you better be decent, or I swear—”

Dorian didn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t Cullen on the floor, slumped against the side of his bed. An old barrel that typically served as Cullen’s nightstand had been pulled over in a failed attempt of Cullen trying to right himself. An assortment of candles and a well-worn book had skittered across the floor in the fall. Cullen sat with his head in his hands, muttering words Dorian couldn’t make out.

Venhedis,” Dorian hissed, scrambling the rest of the way up the ladder.

“Cullen, what happened? Are you alright?” He was at the Commander’s side, but Cullen didn’t seem to be registering his words.

The ringing in Cullen’s ears was too loud. A handsome face swam in his vision, but he couldn’t focus on any part of it. Dorian.

Cullen remembered hearing Dorian say his name. The suggestion of a healer. The suggestion that maybe Dorian could help him. Cullen was shaking his head weakly.

“No magic,” Cullen muttered, trying to put as much force into the words as possible. At least, he’d hoped he said the words out loud. He couldn’t tell.

“A healer then. They don’t have to use magic.”

Cullen was still shaking his head, but Dorian was adamant. “It won’t take me but a minute to run down and grab someone. Or Jim is around, I can send him and—”

“You can’t,” Cullen said, his eyes pleading with the mage as he tilted his head up to meet Dorian’s eye. Or at least, his best attempt at making eye contact when he couldn’t make the image before him stay still. Dorian swore again. Tevene words Cullen didn’t know but could grasp the gist of.

“You’re bleeding,” Dorian said. Now that he could see the Commander’s face, he could see the blood that trailed down from his nose, across his lips, down his chin, his neck. “Maker Cullen, how long have you been sitting here?”

Cullen’s only response was a shrug and Dorian sighed. He slung the Commander’s arm over his shoulders, attempting to haul him to his feet, at least long enough to get him into the bed. He silently thanked the Maker that Cullen had either already managed to get out of his armor, or more likely yet, never put it on that day. Dorian didn’t know if his tired muscles would be able to handle the extra weight of the metal plating.

The Commander was burning up. With Cullen stumbling against him as he tried to maneuver him into bed, Dorian could feel the heat coming off of his skin, the sweat soaking through his thin shirt. With some effort, Cullen finally made in under the blankets and furs of his bed.

Cullen protested. Something about being too hot. An attempt to struggle out from under the blankets. Dorian pushed Cullen’s shoulders back, coaxing him to lay back in the bed. He had a rag in hand, damp from the wash basin in the room, and he was sitting on the edge of the bed next to Cullen, dabbing at the drying blood on the Commander’s face.

“You must let me get someone to help you,” Dorian insisted yet again. Another shake of the head from Cullen as he squeezed his eyes shut against a wave of pain and dizziness. Dorian sighed, he was at a complete loss, but he didn’t want to betray Cullen by fetching someone who might be of more use.

Cullen was silent for so long, Dorian was sure he’d fallen asleep. Dorian stood, intending to right the overturned barrel, gather up the scattered objects, but as he stood, fingers wrapped weakly around his forearm.

“Stay,” came Cullen’s voice. “Please.”

This obviously wasn’t the first time Cullen had grabbed him, but it was different than all the other times. No fingers digging in too tight, only ice cold fingers, reaching out in need. Dorian resumed his post, sitting back down on the edge of the bed.

“Please stay,” Cullen murmured again, his eyes fluttering open. His eyes were unfocused but searching Dorian’s face. The mage wondered who’s face Cullen thought he saw staring down at him in his delirium. Certainly not Dorian’s, or else he suspected those trembling fingers wouldn’t be reaching for him so needily.

Cold fingers found Dorian’s cheek and the mage gave the hand a gentle pat before Cullen’s hand fell away. Dorian again thought he might have drifted off.

Dorian scooted back so he was leaning against the headboard, gazing down at Cullen’s head nestled on the pillows. Cullen’s brow was slick with sweat. He looked even paler than usual. Something squeezed Dorian’s chest like a vice.

Slowly, gently, Dorian ran a hand through Cullen’s hair, ignoring the slight dampness. He had flashes of the few times he’d been utterly ill as a child. A tune his mother has softly sung to him as he sweated out a fever drifted to him on a memory. He hummed it quietly, stroking Cullen’s hair, unsure of what to do next.

Chapter Text

Dorian awoke gasping. Gasping more. Why couldn’t he catch his breath? Where was he? He registered a weight over top of him, pressure at his throat.

Moonlight filtered into the room. Cullen’s room. He had fallen asleep sitting in the Commander’s bed with him. A Commander who was now straddling him, pinning him to the bed, fingers wrapping around Dorian’s throat. His eyes were glassed over, unseeing.

Asleep. He’s asleep.

Dorian tried to call Cullen’s name, to shout for help, anything. He thrashed underneath Cullen’s weight, tearing at the hands around his neck, but Cullen didn’t even flinch. Dorian realized the Commander was speaking. Hushed words falling frantically from his lips.

“This trick again? I know who you are, it won’t work. I will stay strong. You broke the others, but I will stay strong.” Cullen was repeating the words over, over again.

Dorian’s vision started going dark around the edges, tears were welling in his eyes as he strained to catch a breath.

“Sifting through my thoughts, tempting me with the one thing I’ve always wanted but could never have. Using shame against me. My ill-advised infatuation with her.”

The words came out too fast. Dorian couldn’t fathom their meaning.

“A mage, of all things,” Cullen practically spat.

Dorian knew what he had to do. He wrapped his fingers around one of Cullen’s wrists, focusing his magic into his hand until Cullen’s skin burned under his touch. It startled Cullen enough that he released Dorian, and Dorian used the opportunity to shove him with all the strength he had left.

The Commander toppled over the side of the bed, the collision with the floor enough to jolt him awake. He was holding his wrist to his chest, raw pink flesh in a vaguely handprint shape shining on his skin.

Dorian scrambled off the bed, chest heaving, coughing greatly. He wondered if he could slip past Cullen and down the ladder before the Commander regained all his senses. But he stood frozen, panting, as Cullen seemed to be piecing some things together.

Cullen looked from his burned wrist to Dorian, pain and confusion written on his face. “Dorian? Dorian what happened?” His eyes were flicking around the room as if he was missing some clue as to the answers to his question.

While last night, Dorian had felt a small thrill at hearing his name come from the Commander’s lips, now he couldn’t stand the sound.

“Dorian?” Cullen repeated. “Please…”

The mage was rubbing gently at the marks he knew were developing around his neck.

Cullen took a step towards Dorian. The mage hesitated only for a moment, then he bolted, brushing past Cullen while shaking his head. He was down the ladder and out the office door, trying to keep his pace even as he fled across the battlements. He wasn’t sure of the hour, but there were always patrols, and no one needed to see him full on sprinting from the Commander’s tower.

Dorian forced himself to take a deep breath, now that he could.

Deep breath, even pace.

It was like a mantra as he wound his way back to the gardens. He swore he heard whispers, giggles from behind one of the pillars. Lovers meeting in the night, no one who would notice him. He was glad they were at least having a better night than him.

His pace quickened as he took the stairs up to his room above the gardens, so close to what he deemed as safety. Dorian closed and latched the door, forehead leaning into the solid wood.

Deep breath.

--

A mage, of all things.

Dorian was surprised that he had fallen asleep at all again. This time when he awoke, it was not with Cullen’s hands around his throat, but with his words in his head.

He dragged himself out of bed, dreading the assessment he was about to give himself in the mirror. The kohl around his eyes was smudged, with lines streaked down his cheeks from shed tears. Bruises had bloomed overnight. Long, dark purple, wrapping around his neck. He didn’t even think the higher collared pieces he owned would cover the marks adequately.

Dorian could feel all eyes on him as he tried to go through his normal routine for the day. He again cursed himself for not being better at healing magic, but wondered if he’d use it on something as minor as a bruise anyway. Natural healing was always preferred.

“You uh… Got a little something,” Varric said at breakfast, pointing to his own neck. The joke fell flat.

Dorian received a missive instructing him to meet in the war room after midday. The good news was that likely meant he was getting out of Skyhold for a while, selected for one of Trevelyan’s missions. The bad news was that who ever heard of a war room meeting that took place without the Commander.

He was the first to arrive for the meeting. Josephine and Trveelyan filtered in together. Blackwall. Leliana. He wasn’t sure if Cole physically walked in or just sort of simply materialized there. But no Cullen. They waited briefly before Leliana suggested that they get the meeting underway.

Cullen practically stumbled into the room as they were discussing Crestwood. He looked absolutely wrecked. Cullen’s skin was as pale as it had been the night before, his hair was disheveled, the circles under his eyes so dark they almost looked like bruises. Bruises.

The Commanders eyes flickered instantly to Dorian who was staring at him, still with that unreadable expression. Dorian didn’t look afraid, didn’t look pissed. But Cullen couldn’t place the look.

His eyes drifted down Dorian’s face to his throat. Cullen felt like he’d been punched in the gut when he saw the bruises there. He might not have been able to fully piece together last night, but he knew he was the cause of Dorian’s injury.

Someone cleared their throat and Cullen realized he was staring.

“Commander?” Leliana said. “I asked if you were alright.”

Cullen waved off her question saying, ”Just feeling a little ill. Believe it or not, I’m going straight back to my bed after this.”

“I hope it’s not catching,” Josephine worried. But Cullen coming down with a bug seemed to be a satisfactory enough answer for everyone. Everyone except for Dorian, who’s eyes dropped to the floor as he fidgeted with his collar.

“We can try to make this quick,” Leliana said.

The reports coming in from Cretswood seemed to follow one after another. Underwater rifts. Venatori. Droves of the undead. And, Hawke had made contact with his Grey Warden informant who agreed to meet up with them while they were in the area.

Their general plan of attack was squared away fairly easily, and they’d get a more up to date report from Scout Harding when they got there.

As Dorian could feel the meeting drawing to a close, he started getting impatient to leave. Packing for their departure in a few days would be a good distraction from his thoughts for a while.

So of course Trevelyan asked Dorian to hang back after the meeting. Cullen lingered briefly, but with no real reason to be there, he had to take his leave as well. Besides, the way Dorian was staring daggers into him now made him feel like if he didn’t get out, he might find himself at the pointed end of an actual dagger.

When the heavy war room doors shut, the remaining pair stared at each other in silence. Trevelyan’s arms folded across his chest.

“Well if there’s nothing else, then…” Dorian said, taking a few steps towards the doors.

“Are you going to make me pry it out of you or are you going to just tell me what happened?” Trevelyan asked.

“I’m from Tevinter. I’m so used to attempts on my life that I don’t even think of it as a talking point anymore,” Dorian said, trying to keep his tone passive, like the conversation bored him.

“Dorian, please.” Words that made him flinch, words too similar to the Commander’s last night.

“Would you believe it was foreplay gone too far?” the mage asked, raising a suggestive eyebrow. He was only met with the same stern look the warrior had been fixing him with the entire conversation.

“A joke, obviously,” he mumbled. Dorian was carefully selecting his next words. He had no intention of ever speaking of what had happened, not to Cullen, and definitely not to anyone else. But there seemed to be a bigger issue at stake if Dorian didn’t open up.

“Has the Commander seemed… ‘ill’ more frequently?” Dorian questioned

--

“Gasping. Breaths that will not come. A name said with affection, a title said with malice. Mage. Could he care for a mage?”

Cullen’s hand flew to his chest, startled by the reappearance of Cole as he walked. Cullen hadn’t lied about going back to bed after the meeting, he felt like a walking corpse, but he needed to find Cassandra first.

For once it seemed like the spirit had been rooting around in someone else’s head besides the Commander’s. Cullen blanched when he realized who’s mind he must have delved into for those snippets.

“I don’t think Master Pavus would appreciate you sharing his thoughts with other people,” Cullen remarked. Cole tilted his head, watery blue eyes peering at him from under the brim of his hat.

Cullen turned to say goodbye to Cole before he walked into the forge where he hoped to find Cassandra, but the spirit was already gone.

Chapter Text

“You asked for my opinion and I’ve given it,” Cassandra said firmly, folding her arms across her chest. “Why would you expect it to change?”

“What I expect is for you to keep your word,” Cullen growled. It took a lot of effort to be angry in his current state, but having the one person he’d told about his decision to stop taking lyrium no longer seeing eye to eye with him was enough to push him over the edge.

“It’s relentless. I can’t—” He didn’t want to finish the sentence.

“You give yourself too little credit,” Cassandra told him.

“I hurt someone, Cassandra,” he reminded.

Cullen had already finished telling the Seeker about what had transpired the night before, throwing in many mumbles of “don’t give me that look” and “it’s not like that” at the surprised and amused faces Cassandra had initially made. He really hadn’t wanted to tell her he’d had the mage in his bed, because it wasn’t like that, but Cassandra needed to understand the gravity of the situation. She’d needed to know just what he’d done to Dorian.

Now Cullen pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to collect himself. He was a liability at this point, he needed to be replaced, but Cassandra refused to see reason. He had trusted her above all else, but she was failing him now.

“Would you rather save face than admit—” Cullen’s words were cut short as the Inquisitor came into the forge.

“We will speak of this later,” Cullen said in a low voice. He shook his head as he brushed past Trevelyan and slammed the door behind him.

“And people say I’m stubborn,” Cassandra said. “This is ridiculous.”

Trevelyan laughed quietly, saying, “Well, are they wrong?” Cassandra scowled and Trevelyan had to laugh again.

“I was actually looking to speak with the Commander. Someone said they’d seen him come this way,” Trevelyan continued. “That seemed important. Was I interrupting?”

Cassandra paused, carefully choosing her words. Cullen was already mad at her, she didn’t need to perpetuate it by completely airing his business, even if it was to the Inquisitor.

“We’ve… had an agreement since long before you joined us,” she began. “Cullen has asked that I recommend a replacement for him. I refused.”

Trevelyan looked stunned, he opened his mouth to speak but Cassandra held up a hand to stop him.

“You should speak with him about it. It’s not my place.”

--

Cullen was hunched over his desk, hands splayed on the surface, one on either side of a lyrium kit. He was starting to see few other options than going back to taking it, especially if Cassandra was going to be so bullheaded on the matter.

He felt like he was failing the Inquisition, but if he started taking the lyrium again, he’d feel like an even bigger failure to himself. It was a no-win situation. Cullen was fuming. He picked up the kit and whipped it across the room.

This, naturally, scared Trevelyan half to death as he opened the office door, the box hitting the wall right beside him. The wood of the box splintered, the glass vials shattered. Trevelyan hesitated, wondering if he should come back later.

“Bad time?” the Inquisitor asked.

“Maker’s breath, I didn’t hear you enter,” Cullen gasped. He looked from the Inquisitor to the shattered remains of the lyrium kit and rubbed the back of his neck. “I—Forgive me.”

Cullen deflated. The adrenaline of his anger subsided, taking with it all of the Commander’s energy. He stumbled against the desk, holding up a hand to stop Trevelyan’s approach to steady him.

“Cullen, if you need to talk…” Trevelyan’s voice took on a soothing tone. He made it sound like the Commander had an option, but he really needed some answers.

“As leader of the inquisition, I suppose there’s something I must tell you,” Cullen said with a resigned sigh. He knew it would come to this eventually. “I’ve stopped taking lyrium,” Cullen stated simply.

“You stopped?”

Cullen nodded. “When I joined the Inquisition.”

“This could kill you, can it not?”

Another nod from Cullen. “But it hasn’t yet. Whatever the suffering, I accept it. But I do not wish to put the Inquisition at risk. I’ve asked Cassandra to… watch me. If my ability to lead is compromised I wish to be relieved of duty.”

Trevelyan was staring at him, so Cullen clarified saying. “I think it’s time.”

“That can’t be,” the Inquisitor told him.

“Look at what I did to Dorian!” Cullen said, his voice rising, his anger returning.

“That’s partially what I came here to talk about,” Trevelyan confessed. Dorian had refused to go into detail, the Inquisitor had respected that, but he still knew that the Commander was the cause.

“I’ve had issues controlling my temper around him in the past,” Cullen said with a sigh. “I fear what he must think of me now.”

Cullen rubbed absently at the vambrace on his arm as if it would soothe the raw flesh below. Dorian had burned him, used magic on him. While it created a feeling of dread in him that he could not shake, he couldn’t harbor resentment toward the mage. Dorian did what he needed to do.

“I don’t need to remind you of what happened with the Ferelden Circle, with Kirkwall,” Cullen continued. It was a topic they’d touched in the past. Trevelyan eventually had come back to him with questions about Hawke and their conversation had gone down the rabbit hole after that.

“I get nightmares,” Cullen said. “The images of what happened… They seem so real. It’s been getting worse, that much I knew, but I didn’t realize how bad.” He never imagined he would assault someone in his sleep. A more grim bout of humor thanked the Maker that his love life was nonexistent.

“Cullen, I had no idea. I can’t believe I thought…” Thought that Cullen had outright attacked Dorian, attacked their friend.

Culled shook his head, he was pacing now. “You should be questioning what I’ve done. It was inexcusable. I should be taking the lyrium, I should be—" He slammed a fist into the bookshelf, sending a few books tumbling down.

He saw Trevelyan flinch and guilt washed over him. Was this the way people would start seeing him? The bad-tempered Commander who lashed out at anything?

“You give enough, Cullen. I’m not asking for more,” Trevelyan said. He approached Cullen like he would a skittish animal, slowly reaching out and rubbing his arm calmingly. Cullen had to force himself not to recoil.

“The inquisition can be your chance to start over, if you want it to be,” Trevelyan told him.

“I don’t know if that’s possible,” Cullen scoffed.

“It is,” the Inquisitor urged, giving Cullen’s arm a squeeze. “But in order to do that I think you need to make some amends first.”

Cullen nodded his agreement. “Perhaps I should wait until you all return from Crestwood. Give him some time.”

Maybe when the bruises had faded, Dorian would be more receptive to an apology. Trevelyan didn’t seem to think that was the worst idea.

“Can I ask about one more thing,” Trevelyan asked, some hesitance to his voice.

“Of course,” Cullen told him.

“If this is too forward, forgive me but…” he appeared to be carefully selecting his next words. “You and Dorian… When did you get so… Close?”

“I’m not sure I catch your meaning, Inquisitor.” Dorian had insinuated they may be friends the other night outside of the tavern, but Cullen was certain any amicable feelings were gone now.

“Well, you mentioned nightmares. Those tend to happen in bed. And Dorian was there, so… Also in your bed…” Trevelyan was blushing. Cullen was too now that the Inquisitor’s thought process was starting to sink in.

“I’m sorry,” Trevelyan said. “It is not my business to ask. I was only curious, you two had such a rocky beginning and now… Well, things certainly change don’t they?” An awkward laugh.

“It’s not like that,” Cullen said with perhaps too much haste, mirroring his earlier protests to Cassandra.

“You don’t have to explain—”

“We had a meeting set up in my office. When he arrived…” Cullen was trying to piece together his own foggy memories. “He found me on the floor in my room. I—I’m not entirely sure what happened after that.” Not until he came to on the cold stone floor, a sensation like fire all through his arm, Dorian staring at him like a cornered animal.

Trevelyan nodded slowly, chewing on his lip as he seemingly mulled over an unshared thought. Cullen wondered, and not for the first time, if the Inquisitor himself felt something more than friendship towards the mage.

“Get some more rest, Commander,” he finally said. “You could use it.”

--

“I swore she was actually going to kill me,” Trevelyan said. They were headed by foot from their camp to the meeting location for Hawke’s Grey Warden friend.

“’Maker take you,’ she said as she swung. I think she forgot we were just sparring. I’ve never been more aroused,” he continued, almost wistfully.

Blackwall gave a hearty laugh. No one was quite sure how serious Trevlyan was about being smitten with the Seeker, but it made for good conversation to pass the time.

“The scent of pine and mint. And leather. Like looking at the sun. Could he care for—”

“That’s enough, Cole, thank you,” Dorian said. If Dorian was prone to blushing, he might have in that moment. Every time he thought he was making progress on having the spirit not make his private thoughts public, Cole seemed determined to prove him wrong.

“The mage has his eye on someone too, hm?” Blackwall teased.

“That’s enough,” Dorian repeated.

Chapter Text

There was a different energy to Skyhold without the Inquisitor around. Business rolled forward steadily as usual, but it seemed so much more mundane. It was as if without Trevelyan’s presence, it was any other keep, not the home of the Inquisition.

The Commander had more time to himself when the Inquisitor wasn’t around as well. For one, meetings were less frequent and lasted shorter times when key members were missing from them.

While Trevelyan was away in Crestwood, much of Cullen’s free time was spent sparring with Cassandra or the recruits once he had recovered some strength.

Cassandra took little pity on him, despite Cullen being sick and the added disadvantage of him feeling entirely sorry for himself. She insisted she was only trying to keep him sharp, but Cullen suspected she was still furious at him after their conversation in the forge.

Cullen had intended on spending his spare time on his own, thinking of a way to approach Dorian, but the Seeker was relentless in her attempts to get him out of his office. He dwelled on the situation with Dorian, even during their sparring, but after he’d taken a few hard knocks from Cassandra, he realized he needed to focus his attention elsewhere for the time being.

Maybe that was Cassandra’s intention, he thought. Trying to get him out of his own head, if only for a little while. He would never admit to her that it was working.

On the day the Inquisitor and his party were due back, anxiety gripped Cullen and he was searching for a good distraction. He decided to be a little more hands on that day, personally grappling with some of the recruits as they practiced unarmed combat.

Cullen was just finishing up when a crowd gathered at the approach of the party. He dared steal a look at Dorian as he gracefully dismounted his horse, handing the reigns off. But that was Cullen’s mistake. The recruit he was with charged him, his head colliding directly with Cullen’s.

The Commander gently tongued at his lower lip. Split lip, a little blood, could have been worse. The recruit was groaning, holding his head. People were staring. So Cullen laughed it off, taking any tension out of situation even as the recruit profusely apologized.

“And that,” he said, “Is why we crouch down, tackle low.” The recruit nodded his head. A lesson he wouldn’t soon forget. Cullen had him go join the other troops as he went to greet the party.

“Cullen!” Trevelyan greeted, clapping him on the back and laughing. “Are the newcomers getting the best of you already, old man?”

The comment bit a little considering their last conversation, but Cullen knew he meant it as nothing more than a joke. Cullen rubbed at the back of his neck, giving a sheepish smile. The motion made his lip sting more.

“You’re alright?” Dorian couldn’t stop himself from asking.

Cullen’s eyes slid from Dorian’s mouth, forming the question, down to his throat. After almost two weeks of being away, the bruising had started to fade. He couldn’t make words come from his lips, so instead the Commander gave a quick nod of his head.

“I’ll get my report in as soon as possible,” Dorian told him, dismissing himself.

Trevelyan’s sympathetic eyes were on Cullen. He had thought of talking to Dorian while they were on the road, if only a little. But he knew it wasn’t his story to tell or his apology to give.

Cole looked like he was itching to say something, fidgeting more than normal. Cullen thought to indulge the spirit, but Cole had vanished.

--

Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall the Maker be my guide.

The door leading to the shrine to Andraste in the garden creaked open behind Cullen. He was crouched before Her likeness, head bowed in a silent prayer.

“I’m glad you haven’t lost your faith,” Dorian said, only a hint of teasing to his voice.

Cullen’s head whipped around. It wasn’t uncommon for residents of Skyhold to visit the shrine, but he had never expected the mage. He gave Dorian a tight smile as he moved sit on a bench that was pushed against the wall.

Dorian lingered just inside the doorway as if he might change his mind about having a conversation at any moment and leave.

“I didn’t take you for the religious type,” Cullen said. He didn’t trust he was able to make eye contact so instead he gazed up at the statue.

“If you define ‘religious’ as sitting in a Chantry and listening to a blithering hen tell you how to live, then I suppose I’m not,” Dorian told him. “But if you define it as believing in the possibility that something larger than yourself exists, then...” Dorian shrugged. He took a seat as far away from Cullen as the bench would allow.

“I’ve questioned my faith at times. But I’ve found comfort in faith when life offered little,” Cullen confessed. The two different sides were constantly in competition with one another.

For a while, they sat in silence, lost in the stillness of the room, the sun filtering through narrow windows. Cullen knew this was his time to say something, but he still hadn’t fully worked out what that something was.

“I—” Cullen cleared his throat, losing his nerve when he looked over to see Dorian’s stormy eyes already on him. “I need to say something to you,” he finally blurted.

Cullen persisted even after Dorian began shaking his head. “I cannot ask your forgiveness. What I did was unthinkable,” the Commander began.

Dorian was trying to look anywhere but Cullen’s face. He didn’t want to be having this conversation, but those honeyed eyes were pleading with him, begging him to listen.

“I only ask that you don’t let it reflect on your opinion of the Inquisition,” Cullen said. Dorian rolled his eyes. Of course that was his concern.

“And know it has nothing to with you,” Cullen added. “You were just…”

“Wrong place, wrong time. Welcome to my life, Commander,” Dorian mused.

“Dorian, please,” Cullen said. This was hard enough without Dorian’s flippant attitude, without Dorian’s hand on his rubbing circles into the back of Cullen’s hand with his thumb. When had he started doing that?

Dorian shouldn’t be comforting him, of that he was not worthy. Cullen’s hand balled into a fist under Dorian’s touch and the mage quickly retracted his hand.

“Are all you Southern Chantry boys this passionate about waxing poetic about your sins?” Dorian asked, deflecting his nerves into the question. “I’m no Sister, you know.”

Cullen sighed. “What I mean is, I will do my best not to bother you anymore.” Avoidance of Dorian seemed like the best way to stop having him on the receiving end of his mood swings.

“I didn’t ask for that,” Dorian said, standing. He smoothed down his robes beneath the leather he passed off as armor. Or maybe these ones were just for decoration. Style, he could hear Dorian say. Cullen could never be sure.

“Your attempts to avoid me in order to maintain your winning streak in chess will not work,” Dorian joked. “I still haven’t gotten my rematch.”

Cullen’s eyes lingered on Dorian as the mage headed for the door. His words drifted to his earlier prayer, left unfinished after Dorian’s arrival.

I am not alone. Even
As I stumble on the path
With my eyes closed, yet I see:

“Expect me soon.” A flicker of a smile graced Dorian’s lips before he ducked out the door.

The Light is here.

--

Cullen dwelled on the conversation for far too long. It had not gone as planned. He had never expected Dorian to approach him first.

He hadn’t lied when he said he didn’t expect forgiveness from Dorian, but the mage seemed willing to work past what had happened. It seemed that the Commander might be the one to stall the process, as he couldn’t look upon Dorian without feeling immense guilt.

You need to tell him.

The thought plagued Cullen. Dorian deserved to know why, on more than one occasion, he’d treated the mage like dirt. He resolved that he would make Dorian listen to him a bit longer, even if he could already imagine the sighs, the eye rolls, as Dorian tried to brush off the seriousness.

Cullen was trying to think of the most pared down version of his story that he could tell while still feeling like he’d given a good explanation for his actions. Not an excuse, an explanation.

Tell him of your shame. A whisper from a dark part of his mind. Tell him of your ill-advised infatuation with that mage.

Cole’s words from days ago sprung to his mind. Did Dorian truly worry the Commander wouldn’t accept him because he was a mage? Cullen rubbed his temples. He thought he had been fair in his treatment of mages, perhaps more so since they’d moved to Skyhold, but Dorian hadn’t necessarily experienced the same treatment from the Commander.

Cullen sighed. He didn’t know how he was going to mend the rift between Dorian and him. Especially if Dorian was bent on pretending there wasn’t one.

Chapter Text

“I could heal that for you,” Dorian told him, leaning across the desk and reaching out a hand towards Cullen’s face. “Probably.”

A shrug from Dorian. He was by no means a great healer, but he was making progress. He should at least be able to get rid of a split lip.

And maybe he wanted to do it for a slightly selfish reason too, as he couldn’t stop watching the way the Commander would idly run his tongue over the wound. “It’s never going to heal if you keep doing that,” he told Cullen, probably with more sharpness than necessary.

Cullen snatched Dorian’s wrist before the mage could touch him. “No magic,” he practically growled. He could tell he was squeezing too tight and quickly released Dorian. “Maker’s breath, I’m sorry. I keep—"

Dorian waved off the rest of whatever Cullen was saying, trying to rub at his wrist as discreetly as possible.

“How’s your arm by the way?” Dorian asked as he wandered over to the bookshelf and began fingering through the titles. In his office, it seemed Cullen mostly kept stuffy texts on the history of Ferelden and beyond. He wondered if the book he recalled being on the Commander’s night stand was of a similar thing, or if he allowed himself some less dense reading in the privacy of his quarters.

“It’s of no concern,” Cullen said. He wasn’t quite sure the flesh wouldn’t always carry a sort of hand-shaped scar, but it’s not like it would be the first scar left by a mage.

That’s unfair. Cullen bit back his guilt at his initial thought. He had to remind himself that Dorian had done what was needed, and if he hadn’t, they likely wouldn’t be able to be here having this conversation.

“It’s funny you Templars are so anti-magic, yet you utilize magic all the time,” Dorian remarked after a brief lapse in conversation. He was leafing through a particularly thick book.

“Ex-Templar,” Cullen reminded, already unamused by the topic, wishing they could go back to chess. He had to wonder if this was a ploy to distract him long enough until Dorian could think of a way to cheat his way to a checkmate. “And what are you on about now?”

“Lyrium, smites… It’s all magic,” Dorian said.

A scowl pulled over Cullen’s features. It didn’t seems like chess would be happening. He pushed back from the desk and started pacing back and forth in front of it.

“It’s not the same,” Cullen told him. “Templars take lyrium so that they can cancel out magic.”

“Yes. With other magic,” Dorian drawled, eyes focused on the pages he was flipping through.

Cullen stopped before him. He snatched the book from Dorian’s hands, snapping it shut, and slamming it back into the bookcase in annoyance.

“Do you mean to intimidate me, Commander?” Dorian questioned, his eyes narrowing as he took a step closer to Cullen. Cullen responded by taking a step back, but soon Dorian had him backed against the side of the desk.

Dorian had had enough. He had tried being patient with Cullen, making excuses for the Commander, like that he must be under tremendous amounts of stress. But there came a point where he couldn’t brush off Cullen lashing out at him anymore. He stood before the Commander like a Viper ready to strike.

“Back off, mage,” Cullen warned. He could practically feel the magical energy crackling off of Dorian.

“Do you think you threaten me?” Dorian continued, ignoring Cullen, inching closer.

“I said, back off.”

“Or what? You’ll choke me again?” Dorian questioned with a short laugh. He leaned into the Commander, their bodies touching. Cullen had never heard so much venom in Dorian’s words.

Dorian wound one hand into the stupid fur of Cullen’s coat, pulling the Commander in tight, one of his legs rutting between Cullen’s. The other hand lifted, and out of his peripheral, Cullen could see sparks dancing between Dorian’s fingers. Cullen swallowed hard, a wave of conflicting emotions washing over him.

“Do you think a little burn is the worst I could do to you? Or will you use one of your Templar smites on me before I get that chance?” It was like Dorian was calling a bluff. He’d wondered before how little provocation the Commander would need before hitting Dorian with a smite.

“Ex-Templar,” Cullen said through gritted teeth.

“A Templar will always be a Templar,” Dorian spat. He made the title sound like the most lowly thing a person could be called.

Cullen was breathing heavily. Dorian felt something press against his thigh and his eyebrow crept up. Trevelyan’s love-struck rambling from their time in Crestwood came to mind.

“I thought she was going to kill me… I’ve never been more aroused.” It appeared the Commander and the Inquisitor had something in common.

“Commander?” Dorian purred playfully. For someone who hated hot and cold behavior, Dorian sure excelled at switching between emotions at the drop of a hat.

Cullen put a hand on Dorian’s hip, meaning to push him away, but the push never came. His cheeks were deeply flushed. Cullen was absolutely mortified and trying to search for some sort of excuse but was coming up blank.

“Smites require lyrium,” Cullen all but stammered, feeling like a bashful sixteen year old.

“Is there a shortage that I didn’t hear about?”

“No, but it would require me to take it,” Cullen said.

It wasn’t the intention of his words, but that statement made Dorian take a step back. “Commander?” he repeated, as if he wasn’t sure he was catching Cullen’s meaning. “Are you saying…?”

Cullen’s hand lingered just a moment longer than it should have at Dorian’s hip as the mage backed away from him. Cullen turned away from him, but Dorian could still see the Commander nod his head, even with the way his shoulders hunched as he leaned over his desk.

“It’s been months now,” he told Dorian.

“This… This could kill you.” It wasn’t a question like when he told Trevelyan. Dorian, as a mage, was much more familiar with the consequences of the use—and disuse—of lyrium.

Cullen nodded his head again. “I’m aware,” he said bluntly.

“But why?” Dorian asked. It was a decision few made, based on the fact few survived.

Cullen’s eyes were darting around the room. Trying to think what the least complicated answer was. He sighed. It was all complicated.

“You know your history…” Cullen began, pushing papers around his desk as if this were idol chit chat as he went over reports. “Are you aware of what happened with the Ferelden Circle?”

“It was taken over by abominations, yes?”

“Templars—my friends—were slaughtered.”

“You were there?”

“I was tortured.”

Dorian tried to reach out to place a hand on one of Cullen’s hands that had balled into fists, but the Commander quickly moved away, circling to sit in his desk chair. Dorian took the one opposite him.

When Cullen rested his elbows on the desk, placing his head in his hands, Dorian wasn’t sure he was going to say anything else, but quiet words came spilling out of him. Cullen felt like he was oversharing but couldn’t stop his mouth from moving.

“They tried to break my mind,” Cullen mumbled into his hands. “How could I be the same person after that?” He looked up at Dorian then and the mage saw the desperation in his face, eyes searching Dorian as if he might hold the answer.

“And then they sent me to Kirkwall where a Knight-Commander, who I put my trust in, had her fear of mages end in madness. Innocent people died in the streets because of her. Us. That—all of it—is why I stopped taking the lyrium.”

“But is it worth it?” Dorian asked.

“Of course,” Cullen said, adamant. “Can’t you see why I want nothing to do with that life?”

“I do,” Dorian told him sincerely. Pieces of the words Cullen had said to him during his nightmare were starting to make sense.

“The withdrawals… there are many symptoms,” Cullen told Dorian. “The pain, the aggression—”

“The nightmares,” Dorian said. Cullen nodded.

“It does not excuse my actions, my behavior towards you,” Cullen said. “Please know you don’t deserve the way I’ve been treating you. Please—"

It was a similar sentiment to earlier in front of the statue of Andraste. But Cullen didn’t know how he meant to finish it. Please what? Forgive him? Cullen didn’t deem himself worthy of asking that.

Dorian bit back a comment about it probably not being the worst he’d been treated in his life. Though the strangulation was new. He wanted to go on being mad at the Commander, but ‘mad’ was never what he had been. Terrified? Confused? Absolutely. But never mad.

Not to mention that with each ‘please’ he’d ever heard come from Cullen’s mouth, Dorian had had a hard time not agreeing to whatever followed the word. Like that night in Cullen’s quarters.

Please stay. And Dorian had. In the following days he’d kicked himself for the decision, unsure of why he’d remained. He couldn’t abandon his friend when he was so ill, Dorian convinced himself. He wondered if it would have been better to have gone against Cullen and gone to get a healer.

Dorian, please. The Commander, coming out of his nightmare, had asked what had happened. The man had just had his fingers wrapped around Dorian’s throat, but Dorian had considered staying, even if the consideration had lasted only a fraction of a moment.

It was a dangerous revelation and Dorian thanked the Maker that Cullen didn’t finish that last ‘please.’

He realized he had been silent for too long. Cullen’s amber eyes were searching Dorian’s face, for what the mage did not know.

Dorian realized what was still bothering him, what the disconnect was between the words hissed at him during Cullen’s nightmare and the story the Commander told him now.

“Who was the mage?” Dorian asked.

“Who?” Cullen questioned, not understanding.

“You were… friends with a mage? Before what happened at Kinloch?”

“Not tonight, Dorian,” Cullen sighed. “I can’t.”

“Then will you please stop stalling and give me my rematch,” Dorian asked, gesturing to the board they’d abandoned.

It wasn’t forgiveness, but it was moving forward.

Chapter Text

Dorian needed to hit something.

He’d woken up in foul mood that morning and skipped breakfast in favor of heading to the library. Finding an area of the Inquisition’s library that was particularly lacking, and then complaining about it until items were put on a requisition list could probably distract him for a short while.

But then there Trevelyan was, holding out a folded piece of parchment to him. Dorian recognized his family’s seal immediately.

“Your father sent a letter,” the Inquisitor told him. Dorian snatched it out of his hand.

“And you opened it,” Dorian said, noting the broken wax seal. “Charming.”

Trevelyan ducked his head. “Well, Mother Giselle did, actually. It was sent to her. She didn’t think I should show it to you.”

That was… unsettling. Dorian’s eyes scanned the letter quickly taking in the words. His father wanted to meet. More accurately, wanted someone to trick Dorian into meeting with a retainer of Halward’s. And partially due to curiosity, partially due to masochism, Dorian decided he would meet with the retainer.

“I’ll arrange our travel with my advisors,” the Inquistor told him.

“If you could do me the favor of being as discreet as is allowable, you would have my appreciation,” Dorian sighed.

Trevelyan nodded his understanding and then left Dorian to his thoughts.

I know my son.

Dorian scoffed as he recalled the words of the letter. What Halward Pavus knew of him wouldn’t even fill a thimble. Yes, Dorian needed to hit something

--

It didn’t take long for Dorian to find himself at the sparring ring. The day was warmer than usual, the sun hanging bright and warm in the sky. That meant plenty of people were milling about, giving Dorian many options for challenges, and many opportunities to be fawned over.

“I could do this all day,” Dorian said with a laugh, catching the swing of a practice sword against the length of his staff.

Dorian had command of the ring. He translated his bad mood, his anger at his father, into a persistence that, coupled with his elegant if not a little showy combat style, was captivating to the people watching. The novelty of fighting the mage had returned.

He commanded the attention of Cullen as well. The Commander had been crossing through the yard, hoping to find Cassandra, when he’d spotted Dorian sparring ring. He stopped to watch from the fringe of the crowd, arms crossed in front of him.

Dorian moved with dexterity and poise that Cullen didn’t see in his soldiers. This was good practice for them. He was struck by the fact that Dorian could have so easily retaliated any of the times Cullen had been aggressive towards him, but until the other night, the mage hadn’t shown any hostility toward him.

The longer Dorian stayed in the ring, the more he began to sweat. As it was truly unbecoming of someone of his magnificence, Dorian began to shed items of clothing until he was bare from the hip up.

Of course, Cullen thought. Dorian’s leather trousers, slung low on his hips, seemed just as annoyingly strappy and inconvenient as the rest of what he wore. His eyes were drawn to Dorian’s left hip. Cullen swore he saw what looked like ink just above the mage’s waistband, but tattoo wasn’t a common practice in Tevinter.

Dorian was breathing hard, leaning on his staff for support. The sun illuminated the trickles of sweat trailing down Dorian’s tanned, toned chest and arms.

He was trading quips with Iron Bull, trying to goad him into challenging Dorian. The smirk on Bull’s face, the roll of his eyes, only indicated that the mage was getting close to provoking the Qunari enough. The mage seemed to have a death wish, but devilish smile on his face, Dorian wouldn’t back down.

“That staff’s in pretty good shape,” Iron Bull deflected. “Do you polish it often?” he asked, waggling his brow. Dorian groaned.

An unfamiliar face approached, leaning forward on the barrier of the ring. The man had dusky skin, long, dark hair pulled back into a loose knot at the nape of his neck, and eyes that flashed with an eagerness to get into the ring. Dorian suspected he was some sort of visiting dignitary that Josephine had advised them about, but no name came to mind.

A few words were exchanged, and then the man was pushing himself over the barrier and into the ring. Dorian wasn’t sure if he was allowed to spar with, likely, the son of some minor lord, but no one had stopped him. Yet.

“You think you’re so impressive, hm?” the man said. He prowled around the ring, testing the weight of the practice sword he was given in his hand.

Dorian smirked, trying to place the man’s accent, and gestured widely around him. “I don’t think I’m the only one who knows I’m impressive.”

Antivan. It was definitely an Antivan accent, Dorian decided. No wonder he was so eager to duel, it was in the man’s blood.

The other moved to strike first. He didn’t outright hack and slash like many of new recruits did. He had experience. Dorian grinned.

Their bout ended when Dorian expertly dodged one of the lunges from the man. The miss left the man way too close to Dorian to attempt any sort of parry. Dorian hooked the end of his staff behind one of the man’s ankles and pulled, sweeping his leg, exploiting his wide stance. The motion threw the man off balance and Dorian saw his opportunity.

The man just barely had time to block a hark knock from Dorian and the force of it sent him sprawling to his seat.

Dorian extended a hand to help him up but the man swatted it away, climbing to his feet on his own and brushing off his trousers. He held his head high as if he hadn’t just been properly humbled.

“You certainly are… Something, mage,” the man said. His eyes scanned Dorian up and down, causing the mage to smirk.

“Something,” Dorian began, “Including impressive, Ser,” he drawled. The man scowled, having his words turned on him in that way.

Deciding to end on a high note, Doran stepped from the ring, leaving it to a pair of recruits who wanted to fight out and ongoing spat they were in. He gathered up the pieces of his discarded clothes, almost tempted to use the robes to wipe the sweat from his brow, but deciding he wouldn’t dare do that to such an exquisite fabric.

--

“And those eyes,” Josephine giggled to Leliana, “What color are they anyway? Hazel? It’s a shame he’s… You know.”

Dorian’s earlier display in the sparring ring hadn’t gone unnoticed, including by the women of Skyhold. Even Josephine and Leliana were reduced to gossip as they, along with Cullen, waited for Trevelyan to meet them in the war room.

The Inquisitor had sent out a missive to the three of them earlier, asking them to meet that afternoon. The trio was curious, as Trevelyan usually wasn’t the one to call a meeting first. Usually it was one of the advisors, having received some vital new report.

“Grey,” Cullen said, not looking up from the report in his hands. Silence. “His eyes? They’re grey.”

The Commander was met with stares. Leiliana’s eyebrows slowly crept up and Josephine covered her mouth to stifle another giggle.

“Is that so, Commander?” Leliana teased.

Cullen scowled and turned back to his report. Josephine and Leliana lowered their voices, but returned to their idle gossip.

“And does he…?” Josephine whispered, placing a hand over her right hip. The tattoo. Josephine had said it as if it was the most scandalous aspect about Dorian. Humans in general didn’t often tattoo their bodies, and Tevinter wasn’t on the list of regions in which the practice happened with more frequency.

Cullen thanked the Maker that Trevelyan walked in before the Commander could foolishly point out that the inked image was on the left side, not the right.

“Dorian and I need to go to Redcliffe on a… personal matter,” Trevelyan explained to them. “We’ll be heading to the Gull and Lantern tomorrow afternoon. I estimate we’ll need four days.”

It wasn’t a proposal, it was matter of fact. They’d arrive in Redcliffe on the second day to speak to the retainer. A raven had already been sent. They’d stay overnight in the rooms above the tavern and then promptly leave the next morning.

“Taking a vacation in the middle of saving the world?” Josephine teased.

Trevelyan smiled uncomfortably. “It’s… It’s not for me. But Dorian is requesting privacy on the matter.”

It didn’t appear that the Inquisitor would be offering any more information about the reason for the trip. Trevelyan also was insisting they didn’t need a whole party, that they wouldn’t stray from main roads so the patrols would be enough to protect them.

A knot started twisting in Cullen’s stomach. He didn’t like the idea of the two traveling alone. But a whisper from a darker part of him revealed what else was bothering him.

You don’t like the idea of them spending time alone together.

Cullen had to keep reminding himself that the pair weren’t going on a lover’s getaway. Whatever they were up to seemed serious. Perhaps Dorian would tell him more over a chess game once they returned. Cullen could hope.

Chapter Text

That night, it rained. The warmer weather they’d had meant it wasn’t cold enough for snow. And what an absolute downpour it was.

Cullen woke in the night to the light patter of rain against the stone floor, coming through the holes in his roof. As the rhythm increased, a thunderstorm picking up, he groaned. He was thankful he’d positioned his bed just so, making sure it was under a solid section of roof that would protect it from the elements.

When it was just a dusting of snow, that was tolerable. It would melt, there would be areas of his room that were a little damp, but it never caused a problem. Now, Cullen could hear the water dripping down the ladder and into his office floor. It was going to be a mess, but it wasn’t one Cullen could bring himself to deal with at the moment. The rain wasn’t getting the bed wet, and that’s all that mattered to the exhausted Commander.

In the morning, the rain had stopped but the damage was done. Water still dripped down from his quarters above. The rug on his office floor was absolutely soaked, spare blankets and rags were piled around after Cullen’s attempt to dry everything, but the office and his room remained absolutely damp.

Dorian didn’t wait for an invitation to enter the office after he knocked. A hand went to his chest, appalled at the state of disarray the office was in. Cullen was sitting at his desk, scrubbing his face with his hands.

“Jim, I swear—Oh!” Cullen said. Surprised, he stood too fast from his desk, the chair scraping against the floor with a grating noise that only irritated Cullen’s brewing headache further.

“Your scouts giving you a hard time today, Commander?” Dorian asked, an eyebrow raising as he toed at a pile of damp rags on the floor. His eyes trailed up the ladder, following the sound of dripping water. The holes in the roof.

“How many times have people told you to—”

“Don’t,” Cullen grumbled. He knew he should have had the roof patched a long time ago, but it hadn’t been a nuisance until the prior night. Dorian had the nerve to chuckle and it made Cullen scowl.

“I’d offer to help, but I think it’s a little beyond my current capabilities,” Dorian said, peering up through the gap and at the broken stone high above. Maybe if he downed a lyrium potion he could maneuver the stone and wood into place, but that would still only be a temporary fix at best.

“Did you need something?” Cullen questioned a little too forcefully.

Dorian sighed dramatically at the Commander’s tone and handed him the slip of parchment he’d come in with. “A final itinerary, as requested,” the mage said.

Cullen ducked his head. “Thank you,” he said, sheepish. He still wasn’t comfortable with the Inquisitor and Dorian heading out on their own. They didn’t have enough protection for how important they were, and Cullen didn’t have enough information on the trip as a whole.

Dorian made to leave, but a thought struck the mage before he got to the door. “What if I told you I knew of empty quarters you could stay in for a few days, on the condition you get yours fixed proper?”

“There’s bigger projects that need undertaking before something so trivial,” Cullen said.

“How long are you going to keep saying that?” Dorian asked.

When Cullen didn’t look like he was going to respond, the mage continued. “This is an unacceptable place for our Commander to have to operate out of. I’m telling you I know there’s an empty room—a dry, warm room—that you’d be able to stay in. But you have to promise me you get your roof fixed.”

Cullen sighed in resignation. He was too tired to argue, and the prospect of working somewhere that didn’t have constant dripping in the background did sound appealing. “Is there a desk?”

Dorian nodded, managing to avoid rolling his eyes. “Your missives and reports will not be able to tell the difference, I promise.”

With it settled, Dorian explained to Cullen where the room was. “There’s a key behind the candle in the wall sconce next to the door,” he told him.

“Do I want to know how you know these things?”

“I know many things,” Dorian said, “It’s part of my charm. I promise it won’t bother anyone that you’re there.”

--

What Dorian had failed to explain was that it was his room that he had offered up to the Commander. The mage new there would be far more protesting if Cullen knew. He was hoping that despite the ruse, Cullen would stay there, and more importantly, have his own quarters repaired.

Needless to say, Cullen was immensely confused upon stepping into the room the following evening. He had expected a truly unused space, not clearly occupied quarters. For a moment, Cullen feared he’d entered the wrong room.

A quick assessment of the room made it clear who it belonged to. The piles of books and scrolls, the shelves full of oils and potions, the spiced smell that lingered in the room. Every aspect spoke of Dorian, and Cullen felt absolutely foolish for not catching on earlier that the mage had been offering his own room while he was away.

Cullen carefully piled the loose papers on Dorian’s desk into neat stacks, wondering if there had been any order to Dorian’s madness in the first place. But even with room for him to now work, Cullen found his motivation lacking.

He’d slept so poorly the prior night and he felt like the dampness had seeped into his bones, causing an ache throughout his body. Perhaps, he thought, the rest of his work could wait until after tomorrow’s morning drills.

Cullen lit a small fire in the hearth in the room and began undressing from his armor to prepare for sleep. But then he hesitated. It felt oddly intimate to be climbing into Dorian’s bed, with or without the mage in it. There was little else Cullen could do though.

He slipped under the pile of Dorian’s blankets. Cullen tried to relax back into the pillows, but the smell of Dorian washing over him was distracting. He pulled the blankets up around him, finding it surprising that the bottom layer was some scratchy grey blanket, but there wasn’t much time to dwell on the thought before he drifted into sleep.

--

The ride back from Redcliffe was quiet. Dorian and Trevelyan rode almost entirely in silence. The mage didn’t seem ready to talk about the meeting, and Trevelyan sure wasn’t going to push the subject.

It hadn’t gone well. There was no retainer, but Halward Pavus in the flesh. Dorian had wanted to leave immediately, but Trevelyan had convinced him to stay, talk to his father. Halward seemed so sincere in his attempt to reconcile with his son. Now the inquisitor was wondering if he made the right choice in insisting on conversation.

They rode harder on the way home than they had on the trip there, arriving back at Skyhold ahead of schedule. The sky was the faintest grey, the sun just barely starting to rise, when they returned their mounts to the stables.

“Thank you, Trevelyan,” Dorian said before the Inquisitor headed to his quarters for some brief rest. “You are a true friend.”

Trevelyan squeezed Dorian’s arm, giving him a soft smile. “Find me if you have a need to talk,” he insisted. The sincerity in his big blue eyes let Dorian know he meant it.

Dorian nodded and headed off to his own room. He sucked in a sharp breath as he entered, completely forgetting about his offer to Cullen. But there the Commander was. In his bed. Shirtless, Dorian noted.

Cullen’s back was facing him, shoulders only ever that relaxed in sleep. Dorian couldn’t help the way his eyes traveled over the broad muscle, the smattering of freckles on his shoulders, the various scars.

Dorian hesitated near the bed, thinking maybe he should just turn around, leave, let Cullen sleep a while longer, when a voice, husky with sleep, questioned, “Dorian?”

Cullen rolled over, blinking at the mage in the early morning twilight. He rubbed a hand over his face, trying to clear away the sleep.

“I’m sorry,” Cullen said, the blankets falling away as he pushed himself into a seated position. Heat flushed his cheeks, feeling Dorian’s eyes sliding over his chest, his arms, his face. It was hard to hide being bashful when he was still half asleep. “I didn’t expect you back ‘til this afternoon. I would have been gone long before.”

Dorian shook his head. “We made good time,” Dorian explained, sitting at the foot of the bed. “It’s my mistake. I forgot…” He trailed off, his eyes taking in Cullen once more.

Cullen shifted uncomfortably, his head bowed. Dorian instantly felt guilty, like in viewing the Commander this way he was taking in something that was not his. The mage averted his eyes, standing back up and clearing his throat.

He does not want this. He does not want you.

The thought stung more than it should have, because of course Dorian knew that. He wasn’t confused by their albeit complicated interactions.

“I’m okay with letting you kick me out of my own room,” Dorian said with a smile.

But Cullen was already up, searching for where he’d peeled off his shirt the night prior.

“You’ve already shown me this kindness, I won’t overstay my welcome,” the Commander said, pulling on his boots.

“Oh Commander, you know you’re always welcome in my bed,” Dorian joked, a sly smile on his face.

“Pavus…” Cullen warned, but the scar on his upper lip pulled like he was trying to contain his own smile.

As Cullen finished putting on pieces of armor, Dorian pretended to busy himself going through papers on his desk. He was distracting himself from the thought that whatever woman ended up getting to see the Commander this way every morning better realize how lucky she was.

Chapter Text

The tavern was calling to Dorian. The conversation with his father played on repeat in his head.

We’re alike, you and I... Too much pride.

Once, Dorian would have been overjoyed to hear his father say that. But now? He wasn’t so certain.

Dorian caught Trevlyan in the library earlier that day, lurking around, pretending to be asking questions of Fiona or looking for certain books. But Dorian could tell the Inquisitor was itching to approach him, worried eyes constantly flickering over to the mage.

Eventually, when Dorian was sure Trevelyan was moment’s away from worrying himself out of existence, he waved the Inquisitor over. Dorian sighed at the way Trevelyan still lingered just outside the alcove.

“Well… Out with it then, man,” Dorian said.

“Are you… Alright?” Trevelyan responded, voice timid.

“No,” Dorian told him bluntly. “Not really.”

“Thank you again for bringing me out there. It wasn’t what I expected but… It’s something,” Dorian continued. His mind might be a whirlwind of conflicting emotions at the moment, but he thought it was for the better that he went.

“I hope that display doesn’t change how you think of me,” Dorian said, his voice wavering uncharacteristically . “Maker, I can only imagine…”

But Trevelyan was shaking his head. “I think nothing but good things,” he said with a small smile.

“At any rate, it’s time to drink myself into a stupor. Care to join?” Dorian questioned, the normal humor returning to his voice, even if it was self-deprecating.

Nothing would clear his mind better than a stiff drink and some pleasant company. Dorian hoped Trevelyan didn’t think he was planning on opening up further on the Halward Incident, as he was calling it in his head. He was not ready for that, but he also no longer wished to sit and stew in his own miserable thoughts.

--

Trevelyan was already sitting at their usual table in the tavern when Dorian wandered in that evening, taking a seat across from him. The Inquisitor pushed a cup across the table to the mage.

“Mead,” Trevelyan said simply. Dorian accepted the drink with much enthusiasm.

Others joined them as they drank. Bull pulled himself away from his chargers to sit next to Trevelyan. Sera made brief appearances, mostly to mock one person or another, but the small elf couldn’t sit still for too long. Even glimpses of Cole were caught as he flitted around the tavern.

“Did you know we’ve been invited to a ball,” Trevelyan told Dorian, taking a big glug from his cup.

“’We?’” Dorian questioned with raised eyebrows.

“Yes ‘we.’ You’re obviously coming with to the Winter Palace. You have some concept of how this great big ‘game’ works,” the Inquisitor said, rolling his eyes at the word. “I can’t imagine it’s that much different in Orlais than Tevinter.”

“C’mon Boss, you know you’re just trying to cause a scene by bringing a Vint. A Vint mage, no less,” Iron Bull laughed.

Trevelyan tried to keep the sly smile from his lips but he was failing. “I can’t say that the entertainment value isn’t a bonus to having Dorian come,” he admitted.

“Oh great,” Dorian drawled. “Is that all I am to the Inquisiton now? A fun toy to show off at parties?”

Trevelyan grinned. “You know that’s not how it is. We’ll have a meeting about it soon. Or you can ask the Commander about it yourself,” Trevelyan said, gesturing behind Dorian with a nod of his head.

Cullen was descending the stairs from the floor above, scanning the tavern. He paused when he noticed his friends’ eyes on him.

Dorian noted that Cullen wasn’t wearing his armor, but still wore the fur, like he had last time Dorian had seen him at the tavern. He wondered if it was an attempt to blend in, as if that would ever be possible. Especially with the way he looked in the soft light of the tavern.

Mea leo,” Dorian breathed, glad no one around knew a lick of Tevene, glad the words were swallowed by the noise of the tavern.

The scarred side of Cullen’s mouth pulled up into a smile as he remembered how to move, coming the rest of the way down the stairs and coming to stand next to their table.

“May I join you?” the Commander asked.

“Commander!” Bull bellowed. “What brings you to see us lowly rabble?”

“Everyone can use a break now and again, can they not?” Cullen said.

Trevelyan had approached him after an earlier meeting in the war room, insisting that the Commander join him at the tavern that night. Now the Inquisitor was looking positively pleased that Cullen had actually obliged.

“Who are you and what have you done with our Commander,” Dorian joked.

“I’ll get the next round,” Cullen said with a small chuckle.

“Here, here!” Bull said, downing the rest of his current drink.

Cullen was back in a flash, Varric now trailing him, helping to carry drinks. Dorian tried to ignore the way Cullen’s and his shoulders, knees bumped as Cullen settled himself at the table next to him.

Varric goaded the Commander into telling a story about having to fish young Templars out of some brothel in Hightown. And a few drinks in, Dorian found himself dwelling on how clever the Commander was. Funny even.

Conversation stalled as someone else sauntered up to the table. The man Dorian had sparred with days before leaving for Redcliffe.

“Haven’t seen you in days. I thought the Inquisition finally got some good sense and sent the Tevinter packing,” the man said with a mischievous smile.

Everyone at the table tensed. There was some general grumbling around the table. Trevelyan looked a little taken aback at the man’s words. Eyes were on Dorian waiting for a reaction. The mages eyebrows crept up. There was something familiar about him that Dorian was trying to place.

“You’re still here?” Dorian droned. “I thought were doing a good job cleaning debris and rubbish out of Skyhold, but here you still are.” His eyes scanned up and down the man’s form.

“Had to wait around to figure out what all the fuss is about surrounding you,” the man said. “I can’t say I’m that impressed so far.”

“Did you come to that conclusion before or after I knock you on your ass in front of a gaggle of people?” Dorian asked. “I thought we agreed that was plenty impressive.”

“Perhaps you’ll have to show me just how ‘impressive’ you are outside the ring before I have to depart Skyhold,” the man said. He raised an eyebrow like it was a challenge. With that he was taking his leave, sauntering out of the tavern.

Dorian’s eyes trailed him out the door. Silence followed, only broken by Varric and Bull dissolving into laughter.

“Maker, was he trying to flirt?”

But Dorian wasn’t listening. He was still staring at the space left vacant by the man’s departure. A hand on his shoulder startled him back into focus, and he was surprised to find it was Cole, standing over him.

“Rilienus. Skin tan like fine whiskey. Cheekbones shaded. Lips curl when he smiles.” Watery blue eyes were blinking down at Dorian.

Cole’s words hit Dorian like a punch to the chest. The realization setting in of just who the visitor had reminded Dorian of.

“I’ll… Thank you not to do that again, please,” Dorian told the spirit. He felt like he was being smothered by the weight of everyone’s gaze on him. He could tell there were questions waiting to pop from everyone’s mouths, and he had no desire to give them answers.

“I think that’s enough for this drunkard for one night,” Dorian said, hastily standing from the table. “Any more and I don’t think I’ll be able to find my quarters.”

--

“Someone should check on him,” Cullen suggested after Dorian left. “He seemed… upset.”

Cullen looked around the table from man to man. Bull and Varric just shrugged.

“Perhaps we should give him some time,” Trevelyan said. “He’s um… Kind of having a bad day.” The inquisitor explained, choosing his words carefully.

“Sparkler will be fine,” Varric said, clapping Cullen on the shoulder as he got up to get another drink.

Cullen was less convinced. After bidding everyone farewell, he found himself wandering the battlements toward the garden instead of his tower. Cullen hadn’t really formed any sort of plan about what he would say, but all words left him when he saw them.

The man from the tavern had Dorian against the wall outside the door to the mage’s room. Their limbs intertwined. Dorian had his eyes closed, his head tilted back. The man pressed lips against Dorian’s throat, replacing the faded marks from Cullen’s hands with new ones from his mouth.

Cullen froze but his boots on the stone must have caught Dorian’s attention because the mage’s eyes fluttered open. The two locked eyes, but the other man from the tavern was none the wiser, hands still running up and down Dorian’s body, hungrily pulling him closer.

Dorian’s eyes darted away from Cullen’s, unable to stand the way the Commander stood there staring, mouth slightly agape. The look on Dorian’s own face might have been described as shame.

Cullen did an about face, hastily heading back in the direction he’d come from. He could feel heat coloring his neck and cheeks red.

He lay in bed back in his tower, staring up at the now-repaired roof overhead. Cullen wished for the stars in that moment. Maybe they would spell out a reason as to why he was so bothered by seeing Dorian entangled with another man.

Chapter Text

Cullen lie awake in his bed, the first hints of morning light starting to filter into the room. It was still dark when he awoke from his nightmare, and since then, he’d been replaying it in his head.

He’d dreamt he was a Templar again, stationed as he was back in Kirkwall. He watched helplessly as mages turned into abominations, as innocent people were slaughtered in the streets.

And then standing before him was Dorian. Cullen stood there as a demon tore apart the mage’s body, turning him into an abomination like all the rest. In his dream Cullen had raised his sword and swung, no hesitation in the movement. But then there at his feet lay a perfectly human-looking body. Dorian. Dead. And by Cullen’s hand.

Cullen fell to his knees, and as he pulled Dorian’s bloodied, broken body to his chest, he woke up.

Even if he’d wanted to talk about it with someone, Cullen didn’t know where he’d turn. Trevelyan had left for the Western Approach taking both Cassandra and Dorian, as well as Blackwall with him.

As they had feared, Wardens had fallen under Corypheus’ control and, led by a Venatori Magister, were planning some sort of ritual at an ancient tower in the Approach.

Word arrived later that day that the party was on their way back. A sudden wave of nerves washed over Cullen. He had admittedly been avoiding Dorian since catching him in the midst of his tryst.

Even during the briefing for the mission to the Approach, Cullen had spent an inordinate amount of time studying the map, studying reports, anything to avoid eye contact. When he did accidentally catch Dorian’s eye, Cullen was fighting back the crimson that threatened to spread across his face. He couldn’t stop his mind from wandering back to that night. Dorian, head titled back, lips gently parted, fingers digging into the hips of that man as he pulled him in closer.

And then that look of shame, like not only did Dorian feel guilt for what he was doing,, but for being caught by Cullen specifically.

--

Rilienus.

Dorian couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard the name spoken aloud. But there Cole had been, dragging out of Dorian’s mind a name, a time in his life, his best kept secret.

He never learned the dignitary’s name. It hadn’t mattered. Because the long hair he was running his fingers through, the tanned skin underneath his hands, the curve of lips as they pressed against his… It all spoke of his Rilienus.

He was never yours.

But Cullen had appeared and broke the spell, staring agape at Dorian and his would-be conquest. Dorian wished to be able to read the expression on Cullen’s face better, but he could feel the disapproval rolling off the Commander.

Suddenly everything came in to focus. Everything about the visitor was wrong. His eyes, his accent, even his scent. This wasn’t Rilienus and this definitely wasn’t what he wanted now. The hands on him were too rough, he felt like the man was smothering him, and he decidedly didn’t wish for his company anymore.

--

“I wasn’t sure you would come,” Dorian said as the Commander sat down across from him. The day was nice, so the chess board in the garden seemed far more appealing than the one in Cullen’s office.

Cullen gave him a tight smile. He was hoping his avoidance had gone unnoticed, but of course he wasn’t so lucky.

“I…” Cullen began, but soon trailed off. He really didn’t have a retort to that. It was true. When a runner had come to his office, handing Cullen a short note in Dorian’s elegant scrawl, he’d considered refusing the invitation for chess.

“Is this still about the night after the tavern?” Dorian questioned, making the first move on the board. When Cullen’s cheeks flushed, Dorian continued saying, “Honestly Commander, I didn’t know you were so repressed. That was quite tame from what you could have witnessed if you’d stayed.”

Cullen ducked his head when Dorian winked, scowling down at the chess board, planning his next move.

A thought occurred to Dorian, something they’d never really discussed. “Or does it just bother you to see—”

“It didn’t ‘bother me’ to see you with someone,” the Commander cut in with maybe a little bit too much force. Well that was convincing.

Dorian’s eyebrows slowly raised. “What I was going to say, is does it bother you to see a man with another man. I’m not entirely sure how you Ferelden’s feel about the subject.”

Cullen was pink to the tips of his ears. He made a hasty move that he instantly regretted as Dorian immediately captured one of his pieces.

“Many Ferelden’s would find it strange,” Cullen said, refusing to look away from the pieces. “But it’s not unheard of, not forbidden or anything… Is it not the same in Tevinter?”

“It certainly isn’t,” Dorian said with a dry laugh. “If it were, I don’t think I ever would have come south in the first place.”

That earned Dorian a curious look from Cullen. The mage let out a long exhale, thinking on how he wanted to broach the topic. Why he wanted to. Possibly because the Commander had, all those nights ago, opened up to Dorian about his past, and now the mage felt he owed it to him to be open as well.

“Did you know I was arranged to be married?” Dorian asked. That seemed to surprise Cullen. “Absolutely brilliant woman. I detested her. And instead of committing myself to a woman that I hated for the rest of my life, I fled.”

At least, that was the condensed version. Dorian could feel Cullen’s eyes boring into them, shining amber in the bright sunlight. They both knew Dorian was holding back.

“I need a change of scenery,” Dorian declared, standing up from their game. He was itching to move. “Would you walk with me, Commander?”

“Is this a forfeit?” Cullen teased. “You know that means I win. Again.”

Dorian laughed and Cullen felt a flutter in his chest.

“Whatever you say,” Dorian said. He gestured for Cullen to follow him.

--

They strolled along the ramparts as the sun began to dip in the sky, a silence hanging between them, but not the most awkward one they’d ever faced.

“How do you feel about heights?” Dorian finally asked. When Cullen shrugged, Dorian took him by the arm and started leading him towards the tower they’d renovated for their mages.

Inside, they said a few polite greetings to mages who were milling about, taking the stairs ever upwards, before Dorian was directing Cullen to a ladder that lead through a hatch in the roof.

When Cullen climbed up and onto the roof, he was floored. You could see absolutely everything from on top of the tower.

“If you can stand the chill, the view is worth it. Especially at this time of day,” Dorian told the Commander. The sun was starting to dip below the trees now, and the low light of sunset set all the snow glittering.

They leaned over the parapets, lapsing back into silence that was only broken when Cullen asked, “Do you ever regret leaving?”

“Never,” Dorian responded almost immediately. Regret was not the right word.

“You recall my trip with Trevelyan to Redcliffe, yes?” Dorian asked. Cullen nodded. “We went to meet with my father. He wanted to… Apologize to me.”

“For trying to force you to marry someone you did not love?” Cullen asked.

Dorian snorted. The notion that any marriage in Tevinter was ever truly about love was laughable. “For trying to change me,” Dorian breathed.

A shiver went through him, part from cold, part from the memory. Cullen took a small step closer to the mage, their shoulders now touching. He wished he had a blanket to offer him for warmth like he had when they marched through the Frostbacks.

“My father doesn’t approve of the fact that I prefer the company of men,” Dorian explained. “To him, it’s a flaw, deviant and shameful, because my dalliances won’t lead to the creation of the next generation of perfect mage leaders. So I was to hide it.”

“Can you believe he even went so far as to accuse me of sleeping with our Trevelyan in the name of personal gain? Not that I haven’t heard the same thing from Mother Giselle, but…” Dorian sighed, shaking his head.

“Does that mean you… Are with the Inquisitor?” Cullen questioned, trying to quash the same uncomfortable feeling he’d had when he saw Dorian and the dignitary together. He would never have accused Dorian of sleeping his way into power, but he’d always had an inkling that there were some deeper feelings between the mage and the Inquisitor.

“Maker, no!” Dorian said, trying to keep the snarl from his voice. No need to release his anger on the poor Commander for simply asking a curious question.

“Oh,” was all Cullen said. And they lapsed back into silence.

“My father, who had always taught me how wrong blood magic was, was fulling intending on using it on me if I wouldn’t go through with the wedding,” Dorian said at last. He thought on the way Halward had tried to say he just thought he was doing what was best for Dorian, and Dorian gave a sad laugh. “All in the name of his fucking legacy,” Dorian spat.

Once I had a son who trusted me. A trust I betrayed.

Dorian was pulled from his thoughts by the sensation of Cullen’s hand rubbing small, soothing circles against his back. Dorian leaned into him more, pleased when the Commander didn’t pull back.

“Maker, Dorian… I had no idea,” Cullen said. It never occurred to him to a parent could be so cruel.

“He asked me for my forgiveness but I—” Dorian’s voice cracked and he cleared his throat to try to cover it.

Cullen was shaking his head. He turned Dorian so they were facing each other, hand on either shoulder, holding the mage at an arm’s length. “Dorian, I hope you know your father’s actions are nothing but deplorable. There is not one thing about you I would change.”

The sincerity in Cullen’s eyes and voice practically bowled Dorian over. Dorian nodded his head, but he could no longer hold that gaze. His vision instead drifted to the Commander’s mouth and it occurred to him how greatly, in that moment, he desired to feel that scar under his own lips.

Chapter Text

Another dawn saw Cullen lying wide awake in bed before it could break. This time it wasn’t nightmares, but a regular dream. Well, not ‘regular.’

Cullen dreamt of Dorian again. He dreamt of waking up once more in Dorian’s bed, but this time with the mage curled next to him, the spiced scent of Dorian’s room and oils and skin filling him. Cullen dreamt of tan skin beneath his hands, his lips, and of finding out where the tattoo that started at Dorian’s hip ended.

He dreamt that Dorian was his.

The actions were so natural to the Cullen of his dream, but the Cullen of the waking world was left with questions he didn’t have answers to.

--

As soon as Dorian sauntered into his office, a bottle of brandy in hand, Cullen had a bad feeling about that evening’s chess game.

“West Hill,” the mage informed, holding the bottle aloft.

“Stumbled upon last time we were in the Western Approach, so I suppose the trip wasn’t a total waste,” Dorian said. Never mind that they’d been there to stop a Venatori Magister from manipulating any more Grey Wardens. “And since our Inquisitor doesn’t have much of a taste for the stuff, he happily let me take the bottle.”

“You… found it?” Cullen questioned. “And now you want to drink it? Who knows how long it has been out there. Are you trying to poison me?”

“So what you’re saying is it’s vintage,” Dorian said with a smirk.

“I don’t have anything to drink it from in my office.”

“What is a bottle if not an odd shaped cup,” Dorian said, opening the bottle, taking a swig, and handing it to Cullen.

Cullen sighed, but accepted the bottle from the mage. He took a cautious sip and tried to suppress making a face. “How do you drink this?”

“I have a talent for stomaching the awful. I am of Tevinter after all,” Dorian joked. “And speaking of my homeland, I propose one of my many ‘Tevinter rules’ for our game.”

There was a sly smile curling onto Dorian’s lips that made the Commander weary. Dorian’s ‘rule’ was that every time one of them captured their opponent’s piece, the person who’s piece was captured had to take a swig of the brandy.

Cullen was hesitant. Something told him Dorian had already been taking pulls from the bottle before showing up in his office.

They had not spoken about their conversation on the roof of the mage tower. But Dorian seemed to be spending noticeably more time in the tavern than usual. Cullen decided that tonight, it would at least be better to give Dorian company if the mage was set on drowning himself in liquor.

--

“I need some air,” Dorian said after the conclusion of one of their games. He’d had considerably more drink than Cullen. The more the mage drank, the worse his chess playing became, which in turn led to him drinking more. An endless cycle.

Dorian stood from his chair and headed toward one of the side doors of the office. Cullen was unsure if he was supposed to follow until Dorian asked, “Are you coming?”

It didn’t take long for Cullen to realize Dorian was leading them to the mage tower again. Inside they headed up all the stairs, all the ladders, and to the roof. Cullen extended a hand to a less-than-sober Dorian, helping him up the last few rungs.

Dorian stumbled into Cullen as he was pulled up and the Commander’s hand came to rest on the mage’s waist, steadying him. And for a moment they stay like that, Dorian fighting every urge to slide his arms around Cullen.

But then Cullen cleared his throat, paced away from Dorian, coming to a stop with his hands gripping the edge of a parapet. His head tilted back to look at the stars that were just starting to twinkle to life up above. He was aware that Dorian had come to stand next to him, his back leaning against the stone, but Cullen was busy trying to identify constellations above him.

“Did you leave anyone behind in Kirkwall, Commander?” Dorian asked. Cullen always seemed to be so hesitant around him, and not simply in a ‘not interested in men or their advances’ way, but like there was someone specific waiting for him that would disapprove of Dorian’s antics.

That, and Dorian hadn’t forgotten the mention of some mage in the midst of Cullen’s nightmare. His ‘ill-advised infatuation,’ Cullen had hissed at him. Or the time outside the tavern that Cullen made the offhand comment that he’d ‘sworn off’ mages.

A mage, of all things.

Cullen seemed to deflate at Dorian’s question, like the topic exhausted him to even think about. “No. I fear I made few friends there,” Cullen said, his voice soft.

“No one special caught your interest?” Dorian prodded. Tell me about the damn mage.

“I can’t say I was looking,” Cullen said, his mouth pressing into a tight line. “Honestly, I was not good company back then.”

“I… might enjoy your company, now,” Dorian said with a smirk, running a hand up Cullen’s arm. Cullen couldn’t conceal a flinch at the touch, causing Dorian to glower, but remove his hand.

When Cullen didn’t seem like he was going to say anything else, Dorian sighed, asking, “So who is she then? Or was she.” He knew he was pushing it, but the liquor wouldn’t let him shut his mouth.

“What are you talking about?” Cullen questioned, his brow furrowing.

“Don’t be daft, Cullen. I’m talking about the mage,” Dorian retorted. Cullen’s jaw clenched but he said nothing, so Dorian continued by saying, “You know… the one you choked me near to death over?”

That was unfair and Dorian knew it. Cullen looked like Dorian had slapped him. The mage instantly wished he could take it back.

“Who’s Rilienus?” Cullen deflected. He hadn’t forgotten the words Cole spoke at the bar, upsetting Dorian.

“Who’s is she?” Dorian asked again.

“What I am trying to show,” Cullen began, trying to keep his temper from rising, “Is that we all have people we wish not to dwell on.” The words came out more harsh than he intended.

Dorian turned to leave, annoyed at the lack of answers but also with himself for not being able to stop pushing.

“There’s no one in Kirkwall because it was before Kirkwall,” Cullen said quickly before he could think better of it. “Kinloch.”

That was enough to cause Dorian to stop in his tracks. He circled back to the Commander, resuming his earlier position of leaning next to him.

“It was nothing. Only some youthful infatuation on my part,” Cullen said.

“Are you saying you never acted on it?” Dorian questioned.

“She was one of my charges,” Cullen confessed, shaking his head. “Even if she felt the same way it would have been… inappropriate.”

Cullen couldn’t look at Dorian. It felt like something he shouldn’t be telling anyone outside of confession to a Revered Mother. ‘Inappropriate’ seemed to be putting it lightly. But his feelings for her had persisted nonetheless.

Solona.

The name he dared not think in waking hours shot through his mind like a spike. Cullen gripped at the stone of the parapet.

“In Kinloch… They used the image of her to torture me. I was in a sorry state when she found me,” Cullen continued. “The things I said were… unkind. I regret them now. I wish she knew that.”

“Why not find her?” Dorian asked.

“No,” Cullen sad solemnly. “Not after everything that has happened with mages.” What they’d done to him. What he’d done to them.

Cullen shook his head, a sad sigh escaping him. Dorian placed a hand over the Commander’s, and for a moment they stayed like that.

“Could you ever care for a mage?” Dorian asked, his voice quiet. He wasn’t looking at the Commander.

“That’s…” Cullen pulled his hand out from under Dorian’s, instead rubbing at the back of his neck. “I value your friendship, Dorian. I’m afraid I cannot offer more. Please, I trust you’ll understand.”

And of course Dorian would, because his Commander had asked it of him. Dorian instantly regretted opening his mouth. He should have never gone to Cullen’s tower in the first place. He was in a mood, he had been drinking, it was bound to lead to him doing or saying something stupid.

He could count on his fingers the amount of friends he had and now he was going and making it awkward between one of them. Unless he could talk his way out, that was.

A strained smile forced its way onto Dorian’s face. “Maker, Commander, I wasn’t speaking of me,” Dorian said with a laugh he hoped was convincing. “I was merely curious. Such a high population of mages around here nowadays, I thought for sure one would have caught your eye.”

And one had. Stormy eyes, a charming smile, and the quickest wit he’d ever encountered… Cullen would have been a fool not to notice the mage standing next to him.

Ill-advised infatuation. There it was again. Dorian had awakened in Cullen a feeling he’d sworn he’d forsaken. But Dorian was a mage. And a man. And it would be unfair to Dorian for Cullen to pretend he knew how to deal with either of those facts, unfair to say he could truly offer any more than friendship to any person at this point.

“O-oh,” Cullen stammered. “Forgive me, I thought…” He trailed off, his cheeks flushing.

Dorian forced another laugh. “You wouldn’t be the first to tell me I come on too strong,” he said with a wink.

Chapter Text

“You will not catch me dead in matching outfits,” Dorian protested. “Vivienne, don’t you have a tailor in Orlais? I’m sure they could make accommodations.”

Dorian looked to the other mage for an answer. He knew he wasn’t her favorite person in the world, but surely she would have to agree that matching outfits were absolutely unacceptable. Fashion taste seemed to be the one thing they could agree on. And good wine.

The room filled with groans. Josephine thought she was making life easy with her wardrobe suggestion for their visit to the Winter Palace, but Dorian planned to fight her as hard as possible if she continued to insist they all wear the same outfit to the ball.

“You couldn’t have chosen more… agreeable companions for this trip?” Leliana asked Trevelyan, but the corner of her mouth twitched like she was suppressing a smile.

Cassandra, Dorian, and Vivienne would be accompanying Trevelyan and his advisors to Halamshiral. They all had their fair share of interactions with nobility, Orlesian or otherwise, which Trevelyan and his advisors thought would make the event go more smoothly. That, and Trevelyan couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see Cassandra in formal attire.

They’d been invited to the Palace by Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons in a bid to gain the Inquisitions favor for his claim to the throne, but Trevelyan had made it very clear to his advisors and companions that they would be keeping a very close eye on the man and would, in fact, be protecting Empress Celine at all costs. But the Duke was their way in the door.

“Perhaps we could consider some… Other options for attire,” the Inquisitor said, not entirely opposed to the idea. He was torn between a look that showed they were a unified group to be reckoned with, or something a little more personalized that could help them stand out and look impressive.

Cassandra and Cullen were glowering. They had no time for the pageantry of the event. Cullen in particular had no patience for the conversation. He’d felt miserable all day, barely wanting to drag himself from bed that morning, and the fact they were spending an obscene amount of time on wardrobe choice instead of an actual plan was wearing on an already frayed Commander.

In the end, Vivienne coordinated with Josephine to have her tailor temporarily brought to Skyhold. Swatches would be needed, measurements would be taken, but in the end they’d have non-matching outfits, much to Dorian’s delight.

--

As they called the meeting for the evening and everyone began to leave the war room, Cullen lingered behind. He slumped against the wall, exhaustion overtaking him, unsure if he could trust his legs at the moment. Cullen put his face in his hands, scrubbing at it.

All he had to do was get back to his quarters, he told himself. He could shirk any other work he was planning on doing and instead climb into bed. He knew there was a book on his nightstand that had remained untouched for quite some time now. He could dig into that instead of reports. That was, if Cullen could get his head to stop spinning for long enough to focus on any words.

Cullen figured he’d go unnoticed, but of course Dorian had to look back over his shoulder, unable to keep from stealing glances at the Commander.

Kaffas,” Dorian muttered, turning back. He was at Cullen’s side in an instant, despite the Commander trying to wave him away.

“I’m fine,” Cullen said before Dorian could even get a word out.

“Clearly,” the mage said. “I knew you didn’t look well.”

“Shocking, Dorian Pavus finds he’s right once again,” Cullen droned.

Ignoring the surprising sass from the Commander, Dorian said, “I’m glad we can agree I’m always right.”

Dorian began tugging at Cullen’s arm, despite the Commander’s half-hearted attempts to swat him away. “Come on,” Dorian said. “We can go slow. A seemingly casual stroll back to your room.”

“We?” Cullen questioned. “I don’t need your help, I’ll manage.”

Dorian was entirely unconvinced as the Commander pushed himself away from the wall, meaning to make his way out of the room, but only managing to take a few stumbling steps forward. Dorian slid an arm around Cullen’s to steady him, eyes filled with concern as he stared at a Commander who wouldn’t drag his eyes away from the floor.

“It’s not going to look like a ‘casual stroll’ with you holding me,” Cullen pointed out.

Reluctantly, Dorian released him. “Slowly,” Dorian said again as they started to make their way out of the war room. They crossed through the rotunda, choosing to ignore the scrutinizing gaze of Solas as they did.

Inside Cullen’s office, the Commander first insisted Dorian could take his leave, and then when the mage refused, insisted he could at least make it up the ladder to his room just fine. Dorian had originally considered offering his own room to the Commander again—stairs seemed easier to manage than a ladder—but after their last conversation on the roof of the mage tower, it hadn’t seemed like a good idea to invite Cullen back to his quarters.

Dorian followed up the ladder after Cullen, causing the Commander to groan. Cullen sat down heavily on the edge of his bed, putting his face back in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees.

“Truly, you may go,” Cullen said, muffled from behind his hands. “For someone who so readily fled his problems in his homeland, I’d think you would take the opportunity to flee from this problem too. Especially since it’s not your problem to have to deal with.”

Dorian did his best not to look hurt. “Do you think a few rude remarks will be enough to get rid of me? I’ve heard worse from my gardener back in Tevinter. Honestly.”

He was standing over Cullen, his arms folded across his chest. “And you’re right,” Dorian said, his tone shifting to one that was surprisingly gentle, “I don’t have to deal with this. But I am choosing to. So let me.”

Cullen stared up at the grey eyes boring into him. He could tell the mage was daring him to challenge his decision further. Cullen felt his face flush, and maybe it was from a fever, or maybe it was from the fact he was used to people giving up on him where Dorian would not.

Dorian took Cullen by the arm, pulling him up to standing. Wordlessly, Dorian’s hands went to work, alarming Cullen at first. “Let me,” Dorian repeated, taking the Commander’s hands temporarily in his as Cullen tried to push away the mage’s touch.

Trust the mage, something whispered in the back Cullen’s mind.

The fight went out of Cullen as Dorian carefully slid hands over the Commander’s shoulders, pushing back the fur trimmed coat, setting it aside on the bed. Nimble fingers worked at removing Cullen’s armor piece by piece until the Commander was down to just trousers and a roughspun shirt.

Even though he was still technically fully clothed, Cullen felt exposed as he stood in front Dorian. His eyes slid to the floor, one hand rubbing at the back of his neck.

That’s when it caught Dorian’s attention. The faded pink scar, handprint shaped, wrapping around Cullen’s wrist. Dorian grabbed Cullen by the forearm, trying to be tender. “I’m sorry,” he said, rubbing a thumb gently over the marred skin.

Cullen looked taken aback that Dorian would even think to apologize. His hand went to the mage’s cheek, Dorian’s fingers still gently wrapping around Cullen’s wrist, perfectly lining up with the faded burn.

“I could have killed you,” Cullen said, the realization overwhelming him once again. “Do not ever apologize.”

Dorian tuned his head, lips brushing over the palm that had been against his cheek. Cullen felt like the room was spinning, and again maybe it was because he was ill, but maybe it was from Dorian’s too intimate gesture.

“You weren’t in control of yourself,” Dorian said, guiding the Commander backwards to his bed. “That wasn’t you.”

“That’s the problem,” the Commander muttered, sliding beneath his blankets.

“I’m okay now, Cullen,” Dorian said. And he was, mostly. Though being back in Cullen’s room did call up the memory of hands around his throat. He was trying to replace it with the image of a hand against his cheek.

Dorian sat gingerly at the end of the bed, not wanting to overstay his welcome, but wanting to make sure Cullen was settled first.

Cullen started to drift into sleep, only managing to murmur, “You may go, Dorian,” once more.

Dorian hushed him, rubbing a hand up and down one of Cullen’s legs. “Mea leo, you don’t have to be strong any more tonight. The pride will survive without you ‘til morning. Sleep now.”

Cullen didn’t have the energy to dissect Dorian’s words. He let sleep take him.

Then Dorian slipped as quietly as possible, down the ladder, out of the office. He would be lying if he said he didn’t consider staying. He could slide next to Cullen in bed, pull the Commander to him, make sure he was okay. But that hadn’t gone well for Dorian last time.

--

Dorian lay in his own bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling. He was trying not to dwell on how easy it would have been to kiss Cullen. It would have been wrong. Cullen was in a fragile state, plus he had made his intentions very clear the other night. Friendship, and nothing more.

But they had stood so close, soft touches exchanged between them. Dorian had almost slipped, almost pulled Cullen in, slid his arms around him, finally tasting those lips he didn’t realize he was so desperate for.

Dorian was ashamed that the thought of a simple kiss was enough to make him slide a hand underneath his waistband, but his rapidly growing hardness didn’t seem to care one way or another.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

They arrived at the gates of the palace to a small reception welcoming guests and were promptly shown to their quarters by an elven servant who’s hatred for her job was very thinly veiled. She led them through ornately decorated hallways before stopping in front of a block of four rooms.

“The suite for his Worship,” the elf said, sounding bored and gesturing to one of the doors. “And… the rest,” she said shrugging and motioning to the other three doors. Then she flitted away before anyone could mention they thought they would all have separate rooms.

A peek into the rooms revealed that the one the elf had indicated as being for Trevelyan was the largest, with a single, huge bed dominating the space, and there was a large hearth with a chaise and plush looking chair in front of it. The room was very lavish, and the Inquisitor kept asking if someone, say Vivienne, might be more comfortable staying there.

Naturally, they all refused. The inquisitor deserved something nice. So he bid them a temporary farewell, reminding them what time they were to meet up with Duke Gaspard at the entrance.

The other three rooms were more modest in comparison, but not by much. Two beds outfitted each room, a hearth separating them. Trevelyan’s companions started eyeing each other, mentally trying to determine sleeping arrangements.

Josephine and Leliana were the first to split off, giggling with excitement like two young girls. Apparently the joy at the prospect of a sleepover knew no age between close friends. Then Vivienne guided Cassandra away by the arm.

“Come darling, I still must see if I can’t convince you to wear something different,” Vivienne said. “You know, I had that dress sent along with us. The vibrant red one with the modest neckline.”

Cassandra groaned loudly but allowed herself to be led away. Which only left Cullen and Dorian standing there.

“Well… That’s that then,” Dorian said, gliding into the room as Cullen held the door open for him. It was going to be very hard to ignore the Commander when they were sleeping only a handful of feet away from each other.

Dorian spent his time getting ready wondering how much he could drink while still being a functioning part of the mission. That question was only reinforced as the Commander began to strip from his usual armor and change into his outfit for the ball. This evening was going to require a lot of alcohol.

He was trying to be polite and not stare, truly Dorian was, but he couldn’t stop his eyes from wandering over the exposed skin of the Commander’s back which was turned toward him. Dorian thought he was being discreet, but the way Cullen’s shoulders hunched, the way his head drooped, it seemed like the Commander could feel Dorian’s eyes on him.

Dorian thought of the last time he’d seen that strong back, those well-defined arms, completely exposed. His mind was on a sleeping Cullen, tucked into Dorian’s bed. A ridiculous part of Dorian’s mind wondered how he could get that view again

“Getting a good look?” Cullen said, throwing a look over his shoulder at Dorian.

It was enough to snap Dorian out of his thoughts. The mage’s mouth hung open for a moment as he scrambled for something to say. “Simply wondering if you’re going to attempt to incorporate that dreadful fur into your outfit,” Dorian said, motioning to where the coat lay over a highbacked chair.

Cullen’s mouth pressed into a line. It went without saying that he would much prefer to wear his standard attire, but he was reminded multiple times that armor would send the wrong message. The formal jacket he’d be wearing, the kind that high ranking officials usually wore in a display of power, wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it still made him uncomfortable.

“Unfortunately it was vetoed,” Cullen said, turning toward the mage.

Dorian, in an attempt to not let his eyes crawl across Cullen’s bare chest, started fumbling with the buckles and clasps on his own clothing. Fingers that could normally do the act in his sleep struggled in that moment. Dorian scowled when he heard a laugh from the Commander.

“Your outfits are so complicated that even you can’t figure out how to get them off now?” Cullen teased. “I never understood how all… that works,” he said, gesturing vaguely at Dorian’s entire outfit.

“Do you often think about me disrobing, Commander?” Dorian asked with a raised eyebrow. It was enough to make Cullen’s face flush and he turned back away, busying himself with redressing.

As Cullen assessed himself in a large mirror, he looked past his own image to the reflection he could catch of Dorian behind him. Lean muscles under tanned skin, hair slightly mussed from pulling his shirt off over his head. And a gentle curve of black ink poking just above his waistband.

“I’ve heard someone mention they think you’ve been tattooed,” Cullen said, casually, as if he wasn’t staring at the proof, curved along the mages hipbone.

“Is that so?” Dorian questioned, a subtle slyness creeping into his voice.

“You know how people in Skyhold will talk,” Cullen said with a shrug, finishing fastening the rest of the double-breasted buttons on his jacket.

“I know how certain people talk,” Dorian drawled. Mother Giselle. Leliana. The list went on. He was just surprised to hear the bit of gossip come from the Commander, regardless of the fact it was one of the least scandalous things he’d heard about himself.

“You don’t see a lot of humans with tattoos,” Cullen pointed out, trying to keep the disappointment from his face as Dorian began to redress.

“You do if they’re Rivaini sailors,” Dorian said with a smirk. “And thus you see them on this human when he loses a drunken bet with said Rivaini sailors.”

Cullen opened his mouth, itching to know more, but Dorian held up a hand, cutting him off by saying, “Ah ah, that’s a story for another time,” and giving Cullen a wink.

Dorian was just finishing with the last of the golden fastenings that stood out starkly against an otherwise black outfit. It wasn’t too much different from his normal outfits: strappy leather over robes, but the fabrics were more expensive, more regal.

Between the dark ensemble and the fresh smear of kohl around his eyes, Dorian looked absolutely striking. Cullen knew he was staring, especially when he saw the corner of Dorian’s mouth curling up into another smirk.

“Were you specifically trying to go for ‘evil mage’ with this outfit or does that just come naturally to you?” Cullen asked.

Dorian sauntered over to the Cullen, running his hands over the Commander’s shoulders, down his chest, all under the guise of smoothing out the epaulettes, smoothing out wrinkles that weren’t really there. This is why Dorian had chosen avoidance as the best method of dealing with Cullen. Once he was around the Commander, he couldn’t help himself.

“Not all of us can throw on yet another red garment and call it a day,” Dorian said. He thought Cullen looked absolutely dashing in the rich, deep red. He looked every bit the impressive commander that he was. It suited Cullen just as much as the red blush starting the creep up his neck and into his cheeks.

“We should be heading back to the front gate,” Cullen said, putting some distance between Dorian and himself. “It wouldn’t do well to keep the Duke waiting.”

Dorian nodded his agreement, doing what he could to conceal his disappointment when the Commander slipped away from him.

They were quiet as the headed side by side back down the hall to their meeting place. A less than comfortable silence only broken once by Cullen.

“Dorian?” he began, not looking over at the mage. “I don’t know what I did but…” Cullen trailed off momentarily as he searched for the right words to say. “I’m glad you’re speaking to me again.”

The mage stopped so abruptly that Cullen had already taken several steps away from him before realizing Dorian was no longer at his side. Dorian was mentally flipping through all the possible responses he could say. He didn’t know what he expected. He thought maybe Cullen hadn’t even realized that his avoidance was purposeful.

Dorian quickly caught up with Cullen, taking one of the Commander’s hands in his. Cullen was too startled by the action and by the serious look in the mage’s eye to pull his hand away.

“You did nothing wrong,” Dorian said, searching Cullen’s face for a sign that the Commander believed him. “Please, please don’t think you did.”

Dorian didn’t often care about the opinion of others, or at least he tried very, very hard to pretend that was so. So he was loathe to admit how much Mother Giselle’s talk had rattled him. It was one thing for rumors regarding his own reputation to spread, but he would let those rumors tarnish the Commander’s good reputation.

Cullen opened his mouth to say something, then seemed to think better of it. His eyes flickered down the hall at the sound of voices. More guests making their way toward the soon beginning festivities. Cullen cleared his throat, snatching his hand back from Dorian.

“We should…” Cullen said, motioning vaguely down the hallway. They really needed to find Trevelyan and the others.

Dorian gave a single, curt nod of his head and began to stride away without another word.

Chapter Text

“The Grand Duke is only too happy to have us at this ball,” Josephine began, casting a warning look at those around her. The dress she wore was modest, but the fact is was made entirely out of gold fabrics, from the sash around her waist to the ruffles at her sleeves, made her stand out regally. She kept her voice hushed as she continued. “Whether we act as his allies or upset the balance of power, he gains an opportunity.”

“We’re not his allies,” Trevelyan reminded, adjusting a navy colored coat not too dissimilar from the one the Commander wore. It only further emphasized the Inquisitor’s blue eyes. Dorian wondered how many marriage proposals they’d be sorting through from Orlesian nobles once they were back at Skyhold.

A pair of guards guided them up the walk toward an elaborate fountain outside of the entrance. When they parted from the guards, the Inquisition members were intercepted by the Duke himself.

“Inquisitor Trevelyan,” the masked man said. “We meet at last. I’ve heard so much about you.”

Pleasantries were exchanged. The Duke dropped very unsubtle hints that he thought he was the rightful Emperor in Orlais. He left them all with the knowledge that he believed an elven woman named Briala had intentions to disrupt the negotiations, and Trevelyan barely managed to not roll his eyes at the way the Duke seemed to be trying to get the attention off of his own plans. Assassination attempts were likely more disruptive than whatever this woman had in mind.

Trevelyan said he would look into it, and that much he did mean. That seemed to appease the Duke for the time being.

“We’re keeping the court waiting, Inquisitor. Shall we?” the Duke asked, gesturing towards the curved stairs leading up the entrance of the palace itself.

Josephine took a brief moment to take Trevelyan by the arm as they made their way inside. “When you meet the Empress, the eyes of the entire court will be upon you,” she said to him quietly. “Every word, every gesture will be evaluated for weakness.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” Trevelyan said sarcastically. “It might be a good idea for the others to hear this warning. Cassandra is… Usually not the subtle or cautious type,” he said with a smile that he quickly wiped off his face when he caught Josephine’s serious look.

Trevelyan cast a look over his shoulder at the Seeker. It appeared that Vivienne hadn’t been able to convince Cassandra to wear the mentioned red dress, which left her instead in a jacket like his and the Commander’s, but bearing Nevarran heraldry upon it. She didn’t need any gown to look impressive or beautiful, the Inquisitor thought.

“Andraste watch over us all,” Josephine muttered.

--

Trevelyan was doing a fantastic job of winning over the nobles. Between the inherent novelty him and his guests provided, plus the Inquisitor’s natural charm, the nobles didn’t stand a chance.

If it was possible, the people of the court seemed just as taken with the Commander as they were with the Inquisitor. Dorian tried not to stare daggers across the ballroom at the gaggle of men and women alike that were fawning over Cullen. The mage threw back the remains of a glass of punch, finding a way to excuse himself from a conversation he wasn’t paying attention to anyway, and left the ballroom.

Much of the Inquisitor’s investigating took place on his own. It was less obvious if only one of them went missing at a time than a group of them. So Dorian mostly milled around, trying to look unassuming and trying not to see the light duty as an excuse to drink too many glasses of punch. He kept his ears open for any new tidbits of information that might be relevant, but nothing jumped out at him that would add to the leads Trevelyan already had.

The gardens offered Dorian a reprieve from the large groups in the ballroom. He was still forced into small talk with this or that person that dared to speak to him, but it was nothing the mage couldn’t easily breeze his way through. Eventually the comments, whispered behind hands with obvious nods in Dorian’s direction, started to subside as guests determined he wasn’t there to sabotage the event.

When Trevelyan did step out into the gardens, he was intercepted by three identically dressed women before he could fetch Dorian.

“Popular, aren’t you?” Dorian laughed after the ladies excused themselves and Trevelyan made his way over.

“Apparently our Empress is willing to offer her full support to the Inquisition,” Trevelyan said. “That is, after we handle her problem with the Duke.”

Dorian sighed dramatically. “There’s always strings attached, of course.”

Trevelyan nodded his head before moving on to business. “We need to check out a situation that appears to be unfolding in the servants’ quarters,” the Inquisitor said. “Let’s make a brief appearance back in the ballroom, then you, Cassandra, Vivienne, and I will break off one by one to meet at the quarters.”

Dorian, itching for action at this point, was more than happy to comply.

--

Back in the ballroom, Dorian found himself leaning over the railing, feigning interest in the swirling and swaying on the dance floor below. But again, his attention was actually being captured by the Commander.

Cullen didn’t know why this group of people was still pestering him. He knew he was being curt company at best, hardly making return conversation, forcing tight smiles. But either the nobles didn’t notice or didn’t care. The Commander swore that if he felt one more touch against his arm, his lower back, and cheekier touches even lower, that the perpetrator was going to lose their hand, blighted be the consequences.

“Thank the Maker,” Cullen muttered as Dorian swooped in at just the right moment.

“Forgive me,” Dorian began, “But I really must borrow our Commander for a moment.” There was honey dripping sweetly from his voice in a way that Dorian hoped prevented him from any further explanation.

Dorian was already leading Cullen away from the group and out through the balcony door nearest to them before anyone could make much of a protest. Thankfully, no one else was out there. Cullen strode across the balcony to the railing, gripping the stone as tightly as it allowed. The remaining, albeit thin, veil of togetherness fell away from the Commander.

“I am not made for things like this,” Cullen said, gesturing vaguely around him. “How do you do it? How do you put up with this?”

Dorian placed a hand on Cullen’s forearm, giving it a gentle squeeze. Cullen found, surprisingly, that the mage’s touch had quite the opposite effect on him than anyone else’s had that evening. The Commander let out a long breath, trying to let some of the tension melt out of his shoulders.

“The fear that my mother is going to materialize from the crowd at any moment and criticize my manners is enough to keep me on my best behavior,” Dorian joked. “Don’t fret, Commander. While this is very familiar to me, Maker knows it isn’t for most people. It takes practice. And surviving an attempted poisoning or two.”

Dorian was smiling over at Cullen, rubbing the Commander’s arm with his thumb. Cullen tried to return the smile but he knew it came out shaky.

“I assume Trevelyan told you we’re ready to move?” Dorian questioned, thinking a conversation about official business might distract the Commander. But watching the worry pull over Cullen’s features, Dorian almost regretted saying anything.

Cullen gave a nod of his head. Then, as they had many times prior, they stood there in silence staring into the night. It was a clear night, and Cullen’s eyes focused on the stars above him. He tried not to think of it as an ill-omen that the constellation that stuck out to him the brightest in that moment was that of Kios. Cullen didn’t like to admit how superstitious he could be.

He placed his hand over that of Dorian’s, still on his arm. “Be careful,” Cullen stated, tearing his eyes away from the stars to instead fix them on the mage. “All of you… Be careful,” he said again. They still didn’t exactly know who their main enemy was here.

“Careful is my middle name,” Dorian said, a spark of mischief in his eye. “I know, I know, not nearly as good as ‘Stanton.’”

Cullen groaned. He was never going to live down the members of the Inquisition learning his middle name. He made a mental note to kill Josephine, knowing she was the one who sent over the final list of attendees and also knowing full well that she could have left that bit out. It’s possible that the only one who had had it worse during their introductions to the court was Cassandra.

“I’m pretty sure your full name is Dorian ‘pain in my ass’ Pavus,” Cullen muttered.

Dorian let out an honest laugh, but he was moving away from the Commander then. “Don’t stay out here too long, Commander. I’m sure you’re already dearly missed inside.”

Cullen watched Dorian depart, then his hand moved to the breast pocket of his coat. Pressing this fingers against the fabric, he could feel the familiar shape of his lucky coin within the pocket.

Chapter Text

Waiting for Trevelyan and the others to reappear in the ballroom was agony each time, even though realistically, once events were set in motion, they were transpiring in rapid succession.

There were slaughtered servants, a dead emissary in the gardens, Venatori in the apartments.

There was running into the court arcanist Morrigan, finally meeting Briala, dancing with Duchess Florianne.

In the end, Empress Celine was saved. The Duchess was exposed as the assassin before the entire court. Mercifully, Florianne would be brought back to Skyhold to face judgment.

And then, in true Orlesian fashion, the ball continued.

Trevelyan excused himself momentarily, needing air and a moment to process the night’s events. He wasn’t entirely surprised to find Cullen out on the balcony as well.

“Celine told me I was ‘truly the instrument of Andraste,’” Trevelyan said with a snort, making his way over to the Commander. He’d never asked Cullen what his opinion on the “Herald of Andraste” business was, but Trevelyan had made it clear he thought it was pretty much nonsense.

“Let her believe what she wants, as long as we’re now receiving her support,” Cullen said with a quiet laugh.

They were interrupted from further conversation by Cassandra clearing her throat, lingering in the doorway between the ballroom and the balcony. Cullen watched the way Trevelyan’s face lit up at her appearance and couldn’t help a smile from creeping on to his own face.

Cullen decided then was probably a good time to excuse himself. He raised his eyebrows at Cassandra in passing and the scowl she gave him was enough to force a laugh from Cullen. He noted the faint blush that had made its way into her cheeks, but decided he probably shouldn’t mention it. She may very well end him right then and there if he did.

Inside, Cullen instantly spotted Dorian directly across the room from him. Dorian stopped dead, looking guilty ever so briefly, like he’d been caught doing something bad, then a sheepish grin spread across his face. That’s when Cullen noticed the mage was holding two full bottles of wine by their necks in one of his hands. Dorian motioned toward the balcony door opposite the one Cullen had just entered from.

Cullen heard a voice call his name from somewhere in the ballroom, sickly sweet, and his mind was made up. There was no way he was staying to find out who that voice was attached to and what they wanted from him. He hastily followed Dorian out on the balcony, pleased to find only the mage there, sitting on a bench, but no one else.

He sat down next to Dorian who handed him the open wine bottle he’d just taken a long pull from. Cullen hesitated briefly, bottle in hand.

“The fight is over, at least for the night,” Dorian told him, sensing Cullen’s hesitance. “I think you can have a drink now. I certainly have.”

After such a long day, it was all the encouragement the Commander needed and he was soon swigging from the bottle as well. Cullen was tired, his body ached, his head pounded, and he wanted nothing more to retire back to his quarters, but with the festivities still in full swing, he figured it would be a faux pas he wouldn’t get away with. So he hoped the wine could at least help him get through the rest of the night.

“You sure you want to be sitting out here with me instead of in there sweeping some Lady off her feet?” Dorian questioned once they’d finished off the first bottle of wine. Truthfully he was delighted that Cullen seemed to be having no issue keeping Dorian’s company exclusively, matching him drink for drink.

“I don’t dance,” the Commander told him. It was one of the many, many reasons he had no desire to be back in the ballroom.

Dorian looked aghast, one hand flying to his chest, though Cullen was sure half of it was just the mage being dramatic. The wine definitely only added to Dorian’s usual theatrics.

“Nonsense,” Dorian said. “I’m sure you have moves that make every woman sigh, wishing it were her you were spinning around the dance floor.”

Cullen didn’t have time to dispute Dorian’s words, because with one more large gulp from the second bottle of wine, the mage was standing before him with an outstretched hand.

“I don’t dance,” Cullen said again, firmly this time.

“Nonsense,” Dorian repeated as well, just as firm. He took one of Cullen’s hands, trying to tug the Commander up to standing. “Show me how you make all the Ladies swoon,” the mage said dramatically, rolling his eyes.

Cullen didn’t know if it was because of the wine or his desire to get Dorian to shut up, but he gave in, using Dorian’s hand to pull himself up. Then he hesitated, hand in hand with Dorian, as if all of his—admittedly, limited—knowledge of dancing went out the window simply because Dorian wasn’t the usual gender of his dance partners.

Dorian was staring at him, an eyebrow raised, and Cullen realized he needed to stop staring back and take action before the flush threatening to spread up his neck and face did just that. So Cullen pulled Dorian closer, lifting their clasped hands and resting his other at the small of Dorian’s back. They swayed in time to a song that drifted to them, muffled, from the ballroom.

Cullen wasn’t the best or worst dancer. He hadn’t had much use for the skill, or time to practice, but his sense rhythm of was good and he managed not to step on the mage’s toes. He hadn’t said that he couldn’t dance, Dorian supposed, only that he didn’t.

Dorian fixed Cullen with a look so intense, a smile curling his lips, that Cullen knew he was definitely blushing now. Cullen was glad it was after dark, but the bright moon overhead was still likely illuminating the flush in his cheeks.

“And what about you,” Cullen said, picking up a conversation from earlier. He was trying to distract himself from the way Dorian was pressing himself into him. “Isn’t there some young Lord you want to be stealing away with right now? Surely you found a mark as soon as we stepped foot in that blighted ballroom.”

Dorian leaned his head forward, resting it against Cullen’s shoulder. Cullen could feel the warm puff of air against his neck when Dorian let out a quiet laugh. “You think that’s what I want?” Dorian murmured, and Cullen could feel the mage’s lips brush against his skin with the words.

“Well what else?” Cullen said, playing dumb. He swallowed hard, mouth suddenly feeling incredibly dry. Cullen wondered if he could peel himself away from Dorian under the guise of getting another drink, but he also wasn’t so sure he wanted to pull away either.

They weren’t dancing anymore. Cullen wasn’t sure when they’d stopped or when his hands had come to rest on Dorian’s hips. All Cullen had been focused on was the way Dorian was still brushing his lips gently up his neck, stopping at his jaw, just below the ear.

“I think you know what I want,” Dorian said, his voice low and heady. He nipped lightly at Cullen’s jaw. Any alarm bells that might have been going off, telling Dorian this was a bad idea, were drowned out by wine and his own desire at having Cullen so close.

If Dorian heard Cullen’s breath hitch, he didn’t mention it. Dorian only persisted, one hand on Cullen’s shoulder, the other gripping his bicep, as he pressed kisses down Cullen’s neck.

Cullen knew he should push Dorian away, and he easily could, what with his fingers still digging in at the mage’s hips. They were out in the open. They had been drinking. This was still technically a mission.

And then Cullen did push Dorian away, probably more roughly than necessary, as a wave of orchestral music, louder now after the balcony door had been thrown open, startled the Commander. Dorian looked momentarily hurt before he regained his composure upon seeing who had interrupted them.

Leliana took a few steps out onto the balcony, her expression unreadable. It wasn’t enough to fool either of the men into thinking she hadn’t seen them in their precarious position.

“Empress Celine wishes to address the Court one final time for the evening,” she told them. Leliana’s mouth pressed into a tight line as she looked from one man to the other, then wordlessly slipped back inside, leaving the door wide open as clear indication they should follow promptly.

Dorian managed to scoop up the bottle of wine that wasn’t empty, taking a long pull before handing the remains to Cullen. “Thanks for the dance, Commander,” Dorian told him, winking and following it with a devious smirk before he headed inside.

Cullen stood there long enough to down the rest of the bottle of wine before discarding it and following the others inside. He wondered if there was anyway Vivienne might agree to switch rooms with him so that she and Dorian could cluck at each other like hens all night. Cullen knew Cassandra wouldn’t pry into what was going on in his head.

That was, if Cassandra would even be in the room. The Seeker made herself out to be a pillar of decency, but It seemed the ball was leaving everyone feeling a little… less than chaste, Cullen thought.

Chapter Text

Cullen was relieved to find he was the first one back to their quarters. Maybe Dorian really was stealing away with some young Lord like he’d suggested earlier that night. And Maybe Cullen could pretend to be asleep before the mage came back, if the mage came back.

But apparently Cullen had used up all his luck earlier, because he was barely changed out of his formalwear when Dorian slipped back into the room, leaning back against the door after he shut it behind him.

“What a night, hm?” the mage hummed. Cullen wasn’t sure which part Dorian was referring to, but it appeared to be a rhetorical question anyway.

Dorian was rummaging through the belongings he had with him. His fingers stopped as they slid over a glass bottle. A lyrium potion. Dorian had figured he’d be expending a lot of magic energy that day and the potions were brought as a precaution, but that had been before he knew he was going to be sharing quarters with Cullen.

He had wanted to down one of the bottles. Dorian was exhausted and who knew what challenges the night might bring. It might be better to give himself a little recharge in case the unexpected happened. But one glance at Cullen had him second guessing whether it’d be… polite to consume anything with lyrium in it.

“What is it?” Cullen said, pushing himself up onto his elbow from how he’d been lounging on his bed, flipping through a book he’d had the sense to bring. “I can feel you looking at me.”

Dorian hesitated before pulling out one of the bottles. “It’s been a long day. I’m sorry. I didn’t think—”

“I’m not going to jump you for a potion, Dorian,” Cullen said, mild annoyance tinging his words. “Do what you need to do.”

And so Dorian did, swigging from the potion as he began to undress. Cullen kept peering at Dorian over the top of his book. Maybe he wouldn’t jump the mage over the potion, but no promises about the disrobing.

Cullen mentally cursed at his thought at the same time Dorian hissed a swear aloud, clutching at his shoulder. “Are you okay?” the Commander questioned, quickly sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed.

Dorian waved him off saying, “It’s fine, one of those damn spellbinders got me earlier. Without the wine or the adrenaline I suppose I’m starting to feel it now.” It was slowing down the undressing process, but eventually he had his upper body bare.

“Maker, Cullen,” Dorian sighed, rolling his eyes. “You can see it if you’re really that curious.”

Cullen instantly averted his eyes, jaw tensing, hands gripping the edge of the bed. He hadn’t realized he was staring at the hint of ink he could see now that the mage was bare chested.

Dorian was sauntering over to him, a smirk that the Commander tried to convince himself he found absolutely annoying plastered on the mage’s face. Dorian stopped in front of Cullen, reaching down to take one of the Commander’s hands. He slid Cullen’s fingers over the tanned skin at his hip until the Commander found the edge of his waistband, then guided Cullen’s hand further still until the Commander was pushing the fabric down on one side.

“Dorian…” Cullen objected. But even though Dorian let go of Cullen’s hand, Cullen didn’t move his hand from the mage’s hip. Cullen was running his thumb over the area of skin he’d exposed, tracing the lines of the tattoo.

An elaborate series of lines came together to form the head of a snake, the body of which disappeared somewhere further down Dorian’s leg, but Cullen dared not move the fabric any further. It was a fitting tattoo for someone who Cullen had more than once thought reminded him of a venomous viper.

Vibrant, deadly. Beautiful.

“It suits you,” Cullen said, ignoring his thoughts on just how it did.

“Do you want to see the rest?” Dorian asked. Cullen wasn’t sure how serious the mage was, but after their encounter earlier, his heartbeat started racing, his fingers gripped just a little too hard at Dorian.

Dorian put his hands on Cullen’s shoulders and climbed into his lap so he was straddling the Commander. One of the mage’s hands moved the back of Cullen’s neck and he pressed their foreheads together. Cullen’s eyes fluttered closed and he licked his lips in anticipation.

With Dorian that close, he consumed all of Cullen’s senses. One hand slid up Dorian’s back, the other still at his hip, trying to pull him even closer.

Then Dorian couldn’t wait any longer. His grip on the back of Cullen’s neck tightened. His lips crashed into Cullen’s. It was inelegant, too needy, but the Commander didn’t seem to care, hungrily kissing him back.

Cullen’s tongue pushed into Dorian’s mouth. The taste of the mage seemed especially intoxicating, and even when he realized why, Cullen still couldn’t stop himself from deepening the kiss, hips rolling up to meet Dorian. It was the potion. It was the damn lyrium potion, he could still taste it on Dorian. And Cullen wanted more.

He wrapped a strong arm around Dorian, rolling them so Dorian was flat on his back on the bed, Cullen over him. Cullen pinned Dorian to the bed by his shoulders, eliciting a hiss from the mage. His shoulder. Cullen had already stupidly forgotten.

In an instant the illusion of desire slipped away. Cullen rolled off of Dorian, resuming his position of sitting at the edge of the bed, letting the mage regain himself.

“Cullen, I’m fine,” Dorian said, pushing himself up so he was sitting next to Cullen. He ran a hand suggestively up the Commander’s inner thigh, kissing the top of his shoulder.

Cullen shook his head and when he looked over at Dorian, the mage looked hurt, but not because of his shoulder. Cullen cupped the side of Dorian’s face in one of his hands. He wanted to kiss Dorian, but he also wanted to be sure that it was the mage he actually wanted and not just the taste of the lyrium.

For some reason, Cullen couldn’t bring himself to voice that to Dorian, so all he said was, “We should go to sleep.”

Cullen’s touch at Dorian’s cheek did nothing to soothe the hurt in his eyes. Without another word, Dorian brushed away Cullen’s hand, crossed the room, and climbed into bed.

“It’s… not you,” Cullen muttered, his face in his hands. The words sounded lame even to his own ears.

All Dorian did was roll over so his back was facing Cullen, mumbling something that sounded a lot like “should’ve bedded the Lord.”

Because it was always Dorian, wasn’t it? He was the mage. He was the man. And it wouldn’t be the first time he’d pushed someone too far, even after explicitly being told not to.

Friendship, nothing more.

And now, Dorian supposed, not even that.

--

At first, Dorian wasn’t sure was made him stir awake. He lie there, listening to the subdued crackling of the remains of the fire in the hearth between the beds, hoping he would fall back into sleep. But instead of drifting off, what sounded like quiet whimpers floated over to him.

“Commander?” Dorian said quietly. “Cullen?”

There was no response either time. Dorian rolled over, peering across the room. All he could see in the faint glow was the silhouette of Cullen, tossing and turning.

Dorian sighed, lying flat on his back, drumming his fingers against the mattress. His impulsive tendencies were wrestling with his better judgment. His better judgment, per the usual, did not win out.

He slipped from his bed, quietly padding the short distance over to Cullen. Dorian faltered then, not entirely sure what his plan was. Last time he put himself between a bed and a sleeping Cullen, it hadn’t worked out in his favor. But Dorian couldn’t let him just lie there, shedding tears even as he slept.

Dorian sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, staring down at Cullen’s face. Even in the dim light he could see the faint sheen of sweat across the Commander’s forehead.

“Cullen?” Dorian whispered again, rubbing what he hoped was a soothing hand over the Commander’s arm.

That was enough to startle the Commander. Cullen thrashed below his blankets, trying to fight off Dorian’s touch. He clutched at the mage’s forearm, eyes wide and fearful as they settled on Dorian.

“Not this trick again,” Cullen muttered, fingers digging into Dorian. Cullen was shaking his head, eyes now darting around the room as if he was trying to place where he was.

The words were familiar to Dorian, he’d heard the same thing during the last nightmare of the Commander’s that he’d witnessed. Dorian chose to ignore the slight bite of Cullen’s nails against his flesh, instead placing his free hand over the one Cullen had wrapped around his arm.

“No trick,” Dorian said. “I’m here, I’m real.” He repeated the words. He would do it as many times as was necessary until Cullen believed him.

Cullen pushed himself up to sitting, his grip on Dorian going lax. He allowed Dorian to take his hand, allowed it to be pressed the mage’s still bare chest. Dorian’s skin was warm under his clammy touch.

“I’m real,” Dorian said once more.

And Cullen could feel that now, he could feel Dorian’s heartbeat under his fingertips. And although it seemed faster than normal, it was there. Dorian was really there, not some figment conjured up by a demon.

Cautiously, not wanting to spook Cullen, Dorian slid further into the bed alongside him. They sat there, Cullen’s hand over Dorian’s heart, one of Dorian’s hands over Cullen’s, the other against Cullen’s cheek. The Commander’s heart rate eventually slowed in time as Dorian’s did.

Dorian pulled Cullen to him, easing them both back until Cullen was lying with his head on Dorian’s chest, the mage’s arms threading around him.

Cullen want to protest. He didn’t like being, what he considered, coddled. But he was exhausted and Dorian’s arms felt secure around him. The hand running through his hair calmed him more than expected. Cullen’s eyes drifted shut.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

The entirety of the trip to the Emerald Graves was a test of Dorian’s patience. Namely because of Cole. Dorian couldn’t completely blame the spirit, he’d partially brought it on himself. He knew he asked a lot of questions of Cole positively baffled at the nature of his being, but it was on that trip that Cole pointed it out.

“I’m curious about you,” Dorian had responded. “I had no idea something like you was possible.”

“I'm curious about you too,” Cole said, head tilting to the side as he regarded the mage.

“You can ask me questions if you like,” Dorian said with a shrug. “I'm not sure why you'd want to, but—”

“Good! Thank you!” Cole responded.

That was when Dorian knew he’d made a mistake. Cole already spent too much time poking around his thoughts for any questioning from the spirit to end well.

--

“Dorian, you said I could ask you questions,” Cole stated as they picked their way carefully along a steep ridge.

“It's true. I did say that,” Dorian droned. He’d much rather be watching his footing than entertaining the spirit at the moment.

“Why are you so angry at your father?” The spirit inquired.

Oh good, so they were getting right to the fun stuff. Dorian briefly regarded the others around them. He was with the people he was closest with in Skyhold, all of them had varying notions of what had unfolded between his family and him, but it didn’t make it an easy subject.

“He wants to help and you know he does, but...” the spirit continued before trailing off.

Dorian could feel those watery blue eyes on his back even without turning to look. “I'm not certain I can explain it to you,” Dorian sighed.

“You love him, but you're angry. They mix together, boiling in the belly until it kneads into a knot,” Cole said, trying to work out the emotions like the pieces of a puzzle.

“Sometimes...” Another sigh from Dorian. “Sometimes love isn't enough, Cole.”

--

The questions persisted over the extent of the journey. Sometimes related to trivial matters like what the Winter Palace had been like, or what it felt like to cast a spell. But most frequently they were about Dorian leaving home, about his relationship with his father, about things that cut him deep.

Again, Dorian reminded himself that he’d brought this on himself, and he tried to indulge Cole to a courteous degree, preferably out of earshot of others.

"’Love isn't enough,’" Cole mused as the splashed along a river bed, repeating Dorian’s words from the previous day. “Enough what? You didn't explain, Dorian.”

Dorian didn’t initially respond, and so Cole continued in that eerie, too fast way that usually indicated he was pulling the words directly from someone’s memories. “His face in the stands, watching as I pass the test. So proud there's tears in his eyes. Anything to make him happy, anything.”

The displeasure was clear on Dorian’s face. Trevelyan put a hand on Cole’s shoulder, indicating that maybe he should let the subject go, but no one claimed Cole was good at reading social cues.

“Why isn't that true anymore?” Cole asked anyway.

“Cole, this... is not the sort of discussion for walking around. Please drop it,” Dorian said, a harsh tone rising in his voice.

He’d barely discussed his father, what happened in Redcliffe, any of it. Not even when he was deep in his cups when words tended to spill more freely. He wasn’t going to confront the subject just because Cole was irritatingly persistent and his will to argue was weak, drained with the rest of his energy by the red lyrium they’d been dealing with.

--

“I'm hurting you, Dorian,” Cole noted later that evening as their party sat around the fire at their camp. “Words winding, wanting, wounding… You said I could ask.”

“I know I did,” Dorian said, trying not to let the irritation he felt creep into his words. “The things you ask are just… very personal.”

“But it hurts,” Cole said. He only wanted to understand, to fix that hurt, like he was used to doing. “I want to help, but it's all tangled with the love, I can't tug it loose without tearing it.”

Dorian’s face twisted up as he stared into the flames of the campfire. He wondered how much trouble he would get in for turning those flames on Cole just to shut him up.

Love, Cole said, making it sound as simple as that. Dorian scoffed.

“And there’s someone else,” Cole persisted. “You hold him so tightly. You let it keep hurting, because you think hurting is who you are. Why would you do that?”

Now the attention of the others had been caught. There were, of course, always rumors about Dorian seeing someone. The accusations ranged from innocent recruits to Corypheus himself, so usually Dorian’s friends paid the rumors no mind.

But to receive even a kernel of information that implied Dorian actually might be with someone, and that it was decidedly not going great, was enough to catch their ears. Even though Iron Bull and Trevelyan had been doing their best to mind their business when Cole started on the extra personal questions, it was hard not to listen in.

“Can someone tell him to stop?” Dorian spat, ignoring the racing heart in his chest. “Anyone know how to banish him back to the Fade or something? I never thought I’d wish Solas was around.”

“Cole wants to help you. Maybe you should let him,” Trevelyan said softly, moving to take a seat next to Dorian. He leaned into the mage, giving him a nudge.

Trevelyan had definitely noticed that Dorian had been acting odd, and he had a certain inclination as to why. Not that Trevelyan would say so in front of the others. The Inquisitor had far more tact than the spirit. But his conversation with Dorian post-argument with Mother Giselle still stuck in his mind.

“Marvelous! Everyone's so helpful!” Dorian scoffed.

“I'm sorry, I keep making it worse,” Cole said, burying his face in his hands.

“No, I'm sorry,” Dorian said, shaking his head as he rose to his feet. “Of course you don't understand. Just... leave me with it for now.”

Dorian informed everyone he was going to take a stroll around the perimeter of their camp before bed and then bid them goodnight, heading away before anyone could get another word in. Iron Bull and Trevelyan shared a look that asked if one of them should go after the mage, but Bull ultimately just shrugged.

Trevelyan couldn’t sit there idly and let Dorian work through whatever was particularly bothering him about Cole’s words, though. He stood and took a few jogging steps in the direction Dorian had gone until he located the mage who he would describe more as ‘pacing’ and less as ‘taking a walk.’

“Fasta vass,” Dorian cursed at the Inquisitor’s approach. “Can no one take the hint that I wish to be left alone?”

“Sometimes that’s not in a person’s best interest,” Trevelyan said. “Come on. You said you wanted to walk, so let’s walk.”

And so they did. Trevelyan said nothing as they walked, only strode beside Dorian as the mage lost himself to his thoughts.

“He’s right… It does hurt,” Dorian finally said, breaking the silence. “But it’s a hurt I need to work through on my own, not just because a spirit ripped it from my mind into the present.”

Trevelyan didn’t ask him which part of what was said he was referring to, only said, “You don’t have to, you know. Work through it on your, that is.”

Dorian nodded his head thoughtfully as if he may be considering it, but Trevelyan wasn’t going to hold his breath.

“I… Thank you,” Dorian said. “You’ve always been nothing but a friend to me.”

Trevelyan patted him on the shoulder, offering a kind smile. “Right. Remember that. I’m your friend, “ he told Dorian. “And my friendly advice is to not dwell on it tonight. Get some sleep soon, okay? We still have one more caravan to track down and I plan to head out bright and early.”

Dorian groaned. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

With a squeeze to Dorian’s shoulder, Trevelyan headed off to bed himself.

--

When Dorian circled back to the heart of the camp, Cole was still sitting before the fire. Dorian sighed. Of course the spirit was there. Dorian didn’t even know if Cole needed to sleep.

Dorian considered retiring to his tent immediately. Even Bull’s snoring would be better than more conversation with Cole. But ultimately Dorian sat himself back by the fire, not looking at the spirit but keeping him just in his peripheral.

“I've been trying to imagine how to explain it to you,” Dorian said, not taking his eyes from the flames. “The thing is, sometimes the ones you love are also the ones who disappoint you the most.”

A quick glance at Cole showed the spirit was listening, head tilted to the side in interest, so Dorian continued. “You think that if they love you, they should understand. They shouldn't want to hurt you. So when they do, you feel betrayed. You say things you can't ever take back.”

“Get out. You are no son of mine,” Cole said, unable to reel himself in.

“Yes, like that,” Dorian said with a wince.

“I value your friendship. I cannot offer more.”

The words made Dorian freeze. “That’s… not exactly the same,” Dorian explained.

“He wishes he hadn't meant it,” Cole said.

“Which one?” Dorian questioned. But when he turned to look at Cole, the spirit was gone.

Chapter Text

“These were exactly what we needed,” Cullen mumbled as much to himself as he did to Trevelyan. He was pouring over the letters the Inquisitor had found at the smuggler camps in the Graves, pacing back and forth in his office.

“Are you familiar with the Dales?” Cullen asked, tearing himself away from the letters he’d already read countless times. “Their main supply of red lyrium is coming out of a town there called Sahrnia.”

“I’m off to Emprise du Lion, then?” Trevelyan asked.

Cullen nodded. “Destroying the mine there will cripple Samson’s operations.”

“Excellent work, Commander,” Trevelyan said. “I think we could use a few days to recover, but then we will investigate the mine.”

As much as Cullen was itching to strike such a huge blow against Samson, he had to agree with Trevelyan. It wouldn’t do well to send anyone back out at half strength.

“Will you be taking the same companions as before?” Cullen questioned. “I can speak with your other advisors, start setting it up.”

“Let me think on it,” Trevelyan said, his face scrunching up in thought. “I may want to make some changes.”

That gave Cullen pause. “Did something happen? I didn’t see anything in the reports.”

Trevelyan shook his head, letting out a small chuckle. “No, nothing like that. Dorian—”

“Did something happen?” Cullen repeated, beginning anew with his pacing. “I told you bringing a mage around red lyrium was a bad idea, I—”

“Commander,” Trevelyan said firmly, cutting off Cullen’s pacing, placing his hands on the Commander’s shoulders.

The inquisitor’s mouth pressed into a line as he attempted to stifle another laugh, but Cullen could see it in Trevelyan’s eyes. Cullen scowled. He didn’t enjoy feeling like he was being teased, particularly when he didn’t know what about.

“All I meant to say was Dorian and Cole could probably use some time apart,” Trevelyan said. “I… don’t know if Cole can technically ‘die,’ but I think Dorian is willing to give it a shot after the way Cole…”

Trevelyan trailed off for a moment, regarding Cullen with an expression that the Commander couldn’t quite place. “The way Cole... pestered him the entire trip,” the Inquisitor finally finished.

Cullen opened his mouth to say something. Closed it. Decided it wasn’t worth it. To Cullen, it seemed like there was something more Trevelyan wasn’t letting on to, but the Commander decided to let it go.

“If you don’t trust my word that he’s fine, why don’t you go see him and see for yourself?” Trevelyan said with a small smirk.

“Of course I trust you,” Cullen said hastily. He turned away from Trevelyan, busying himself with tidying the papers on his desk.

“I’ll let you know who I want with me first thing in the morning,” Trevelyan told Cullen. Then he took his leave of the Commander.

Trevelyan did have a few things to consider. Being around the red lyrium couldn’t have been easy for Dorian. The Inquisitor could tell it was draining the mage. He watched Dorian’s sluggish movements each night around the campfire, watched him down more lyrium potions than usual. It couldn’t have helped Dorian’s irritability at Cole’s questioning either.

Maybe Cullen was right and he should head to Sahrnia without any mages.

--

Cullen was trying to work, really he was, but he kept realizing he wasn’t actually reading the words on any of the pages before him. His foot perpetually tap tap tapped against the stone floor, annoying even himself at that point. Trevelyan’s words, though not a completely serious suggestion, repeated in his head.

Go see him and see for yourself.

He was up and moving before he could stop himself. Cullen crossed from his office over to the rotunda, taking the stairs two at a time up to the library. He was surprised when Dorian wasn’t there. Cullen tried to ask around as casually as possible if anyone had seen him, but the most he got was Fiona telling him that, despite it being well into the afternoon, she hadn’t seen the mage all day.

Which is how he found himself wandering from the library towards Dorian’s quarters. With no luck in the library, and it seeming too early for even Dorian to be drinking at the tavern, it seemed to be the next best guess.

Cullen stood before Dorian’s door, fidgeting uncomfortably, before he finally broke down and knocked.

“Enter,” droned Dorian’s muffled voice from the other side of the door.

Cullen stepped into the mage’s quarters, blinking in the dimness of the room. A curtain was drawn over the window. Dorian was draped over a chair in front of the hearth, wrapped in a grey blanket, a book in his hand. There was both a half-finished bottle of wine and a lyrium potion on the end table pulled up next to his seat.

The Commander did his best to keep a frown from pulling his mouth down. Apparently he had been wrong about it being too early for Dorian to start drinking.

“I see you’re… Recovering from your trip,” Cullen remarked, eyes sliding over every detail of the scene before him. He was less certain of Trevelyan’s assessment that the mage was ‘okay’ now.

Dorian turned his nose up, trying to brush off the feeling that Cullen’s judging eyes drummed up in him. “And what of it?” the mage questioned, straightening himself up in the chair. He reached out a hand, skimming over both the wine and the potion bottle, before ultimately grabbing the wine and taking a swig.

He didn’t need to be downing the potion in front of Cullen as more evidence that maybe the Commander had been right, maybe it hadn’t been the best idea for him to be in such close proximity to so much red lyrium.

And though the wine was likely to do little for the headache he’d been harboring for days at that point, it did help dull the memories that conversation with Cole had brought back to the surface.

“You’re doing okay then?” Cullen asked, skeptical.

“Utterly,” Dorian said flatly, taking another sip of wine.

Cullen’s mouth pressed into a tight line, his brow furrowing. He dragged over Dorian’s desk chair and sat himself before the mage. His normal courtesy which would have made him ask for an invitation to do so was replaced by concern. And annoyance. Between Dorian and Trevelyan, someone was holding something back from him.

“Trevelyan will be heading to the Emrpise in a few days,” the Commander informed. “You know, If he asks… You don’t have to go with him. You could request not to, in fact.”

“And why would I do that?” Dorian asked, defensive. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, eyeing Cullen.

“There will be more red lyrium,” Cullen explained. “Likely a large amount.”

“And?” Dorian prodded.

“And look at yourself,” Cullen said, gesturing at the mage. “I don’t think you’re fairing nearly as well as you’re letting on. If the red lyrium affected you so greatly, it should have been in a report.”

“Wouldn’t want to interfere with your blighted reports now would we?” Dorian muttered. How to explain that his discussions with the spirit had probably exhausted him more than the lyrium deposits.

Cullen stood, shaking his head. “You’re drunk,” he stated, tugging the bottle of wine from the mage’s hand.

“What concern is that to you?” Dorian asked, standing as well. He made a grab for the bottle but with Dorian’s currently wine-dulled reflexes, Cullen easily kept it out of his grasp. The mage grunted in discontent.

Dorian made another grab for the bottle. Cullen took a step backwards, causing him to stumble over his chair. The bottle fell from his hand, hit the ground, broke. Wine began to leak out over the floor. Dorian swore, something sharp and Tevene.

“I’m—I’m sorry,” Cullen mumbled. “I’ll clean it up.”

Cullen was looking around for any sort of cloth he could use to clean up the spill that Dorian wouldn’t absolutely murder him for soiling when the mage squared himself up in front of him. The Commander took a step back, then another.

“Why did you come here?” Dorian all but hissed, his eyes narrowing. Every step Cullen took back was one that the mage took closer. Dorian was tired. Tired of mixed signals, tired of a Cullen who pretended to care.

You let it keep hurting, because you think hurting is who you are.

Cole’s words bubbled up in Dorian’s mind as he stood toe-to-toe with the Commander. It maddened Dorian. What did Cole know of him? What did Cullen know of him?

“I wanted to make sure you were alright,” Cullen said, his hands raising defensively, placating.

Dorian scoffed. ”But why?”

Cullen’s brow knit together. He found himself unable to string together any logical response, so he just shrugged. He reached out a hand toward Dorian, which the mage promptly swatted away. Cullen tried not to react, but his patience was wearing thin.

“You know why,” Cullen finally said.

He tried again. Cullen put a hand on the mage’s shoulder, surprised when he wasn’t met with more obstinance from Dorian. Cullen slid his hand up Dorian’s neck, feeling the mage’s rapid pulse under his fingertips. The Commander's other hand went to Dorian's hip, rubbing absently with his thumb.

Dorian finally let himself notice the worry in Cullen’s brow, the concern in his eye. Something shifted in the mage. He leaned into Cullen. Dorian was staring at the Commander’s mouth. He tilted his head, started to lean in.

Not like this.

It was the Winter Palace all over again. Too much wine, too much lyrium. Cullen moved both his hands to rest on Dorian’s shoulders, gently pushing the mage back.

Dorian grabbed fistfuls of Cullen’s fur collar, pulling him back close, but the look on his face was no longer that of someone who wanted to kiss the Commander. He was angry all over again, including at himself. Dorian didn’t know how he kept misreading signals from the Commander, he didn’t know how he kept letting Cullen lead him on.

Cullen swore that if the mage had more magical energy to expend then he would have felt it crackling off of Dorian. “Maker, what is wrong with you?” Cullen snapped, muscling Dorian off of him.

The mage stumbled away, catching himself with a hand on his desk. Dorian leaned there, breathing heavily, looking as contemptuous as Cullen had ever seen him.

“Sleep it off, mage,” Cullen growled as if he was talking to any other delinquent recruit. And oh did it cut Dorian.

Cullen righted his armor, smoothed hands over his coat, then with one more disdainful look at Dorian, Cullen left the room, muttering under his breath.

Chapter Text

“The day after next, then,” Trevelyan said with finality. That meant they had all day tomorrow to get prepared, and then they would leave for Emprise du Lion the morning after. The war room began to clear out after that.

Cullen was fuming during the entire meeting. He’d already been displeased since that morning when Trevelyan informed him who he’d be taking to Sahrnia. Cassandra, Dorian, Varric.

Dorian may or may not have had influence Trevelyan’s picks. After Cullen had left his room the previous afternoon, Dorian had sprawled out on his bed, content to wallow in self-pity for the remainder of the day, and soon slipped into a nap. But when he’d awoken with a hangover and Cullen’s words ringing in his head, the mage decided that he could drown both with more alcohol.

Trevelyan had been sitting on a stool at the bar, chatting Cabot’s ear off, when Dorian walked into the tavern that evening. Something clicked into place in the mage’s mind as he strode over to the Inquisitor, plopping himself onto the stool next to him.

Dorian had insisted on going with to the Emprise. He came up with some noble excuse, saying he wanted to see it through all the way if it was related to their last mission.

“Even if Cole is there too?” Trevelyan questioned.

“Even then, I suppose,” Dorian had responded, trying not to show too much of his displeasure at the prospect. That seemed to be a good enough response for Trevelyan. No one needed to know that half the reason Dorian insisted on going was because Cullen suggested maybe the mage shouldn’t.

Now, Cullen questioned, “Is there something you need?” barely glancing up from the report in his hand.

It was only Dorian and him in the war room and the mage just stood there, arms folded across his chest, regarding Cullen. Dorian’s expression still read as pompous, but the corner of his mouth flickered at Cullen’s words, disrupting the smirk that had been driving Cullen mad all evening.

Dorian realized he didn’t have a plan. His original one had been to get under the Commander’s skin, and based on the expressions, the posture during the entire meeting, that had been successful. He supposed he could rub it in a little further.

“I figured I’d save you the trouble of seeking me out later to deliver whatever tongue lashing you’ve prepared,” Dorian droned.

“I have no lecture for you,” Cullen said curtly, turning his back on Dorian and leaning over the map on the war table.

“Truly?” Dorian said, disbelieving. He strolled closer to the Commander. “You truly have nothing to say?”

Dorian could see the way Cullen tensed. The Commander’s fingers sought for purchase as he gripped at the edge of the table, forcing himself not to curl his hands into fists.

“Trevelyan made his choice,” Cullen sighed. “Everyone knows my opinion, but…” He paused then, shrugged. Fingers drummed against the table, as Cullen decided if it was worth it to spit out his next thought. “So you get what you want, as usual.”

Dorian scoffed. Sure, he still frequently put on the act like the spoiled brat he once was, but he thought someone like the Commander would be to tell it was in jest—mostly. Besides, the clear proof that he didn’t get everything he wanted was there right before him, hunched over the war table.

“Then why don’t I get you?” Dorian let slip. He winced, not meaning to sound so petulant. Embarrassing.

What is wrong with you?

Cullen’s question from the prior night played over and over in Dorian’s head. The answer to Cullen’s question was likely the same answer to the one Dorian had just asked, and also rooted firmly somewhere in the way that Cullen had spat the word mage at him before leaving his room.

In remembering the Commander’s words, Dorian’s feeling of embarrassment was soon replaced with a fresh wave of gall. He couldn’t keep more words from tumbling from his mouth. “Are you embarrassed of me? Which aspect disgusts you the most? My heritage? My magic? My gender?”

Cullen was stunned, initially. He’d be daft to not notice there was something between them despite him saying there couldn’t be, but to hear Dorian put it in words that the mage wanted him was unexpected to say the least. He wouldn’t admit to the way his heart sped up at that.

But Dorian only kept talking, rattling off supposed problems with himself at the Commander. Was that really what Dorian gleamed from all their interactions? Cullen knew that the best way to describe how he approached his relationship with Dorian, be it friendship or otherwise, could best be described as ‘with hesitance,’ but he thought he had been doing a decent job of showing that Dorian didn’t mean nothing to him.

Last night probably hadn’t helped. Cullen might have felt more guilty if his patience hadn’t been so thin.

He wheeled around on Dorian lightning fast. The mage took a startled step back, but Cullen closed the gap between then in only a few rapid paces. Dorian forced himself not to flinch as Cullen drew to a stop before him. If the record of their interactions was anything to reflect on, Dorian wouldn’t have been surprised if their conversation took a physical turn.

But Cullen didn’t do anything. And for a moment he didn’t say anything either. He only stood there, his arms crossing in front of his chest, staring Dorian down. Then he just sighed.

“I can’t do this,” Cullen said flatly, pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes momentarily squeezing shut.

Dorian’s foot tapped against the floor as he tried to hold in another flood of questions. Couldn’t do what? Fuck him? Love him? He cringed, pushing away the unbidden thoughts. But it wouldn’t be the first time someone told him as much.

“People are not something you ‘get.’ I’m not another one of your many conquests,” Cullen told Dorian. “If you weren’t possibly the most childish, self-important person I’ve ever met, you might realize that.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Cullen continued quickly, cutting off anything else before it could bubble out of him. “So this? Whatever this is?” he said, gesturing vaguely at a hurt looking Dorian. “Save it.”

“Is that really how you think of me?” Dorian managed to question. He wished Cullen wood have actually hit him, the way the words stung.

“I don’t think of you,” Cullen responded. He looked the mage up and down, then shouldered past him and out of the room.

--

It wasn’t true. Of course it wasn’t. And as Cullen stormed back to his tower, he was already cursing his words to Dorian. Just because the mage was being a fool didn’t mean he had to be one as well. He’d almost gone as far as to accuse the mage of not being capable of any human emotion outside of arrogance and smugness, but he had at least held his tongue there.

For how could he say that about Dorian? Dorian who didn’t begrudge Cullen his past actions. Dorian who confided in Cullen about his father. Dorian who held Cullen during nightmares.

Cullen had awoken what felt like hours ago now, drenched in sweat and panting for air, well before the twilight that was now creeping into the room. His thoughts had immediately turned to Dorian. Last time he’d had such an intense nightmare, Dorian had been there. Not only within the nightmare itself, but when he’d awoke as well. Now only one was true.

He thought of Dorian, holding him, whispering reassurance, comforting him. Cullen recalled the feeling of Dorian’s heartbeat under his fingertips. His hand went to his own chest then, feeling a still too rapid beating under his touch.

Cullen sighed. They never discussed his nightmares outside of the general fact that he had them, though Cullen thought it might be easier that way. Cullen didn’t think there was a good way to tell the mage that he’d watch him die so many gruesome deaths in his nightmares that he feared so deeply for the same to happen to him in the waking world.

He had never fully expressed just how grateful he was for Dorian’s presence. Now he wondered what good it would do to mention it.

There was so much they didn’t discuss. And in the stillness of the morning, Cullen dwelled on it all.

Why don’t I get to have you?

Dorian’s words stuck in his mind. Cullen had a thousand responses, but none of them seemed to capture what the root of the problem was. Himself. He was the one who obtusely kept pushing Dorian away, whether he was conscious of it or not. No wonder the mage was so frustrated with him.

Cullen wasn’t ready to confront the way he felt about Dorian. It wasn’t fair to lead Dorian on while he worked through that. He’d put that in the nicest way possible, he thought, when he’d told Dorian he couldn’t offer him any more than friendship. But still, Dorian dragged out of him feelings for a person that Cullen didn’t think would surface again. Particularly for someone like Dorian.

He cursed aloud, fist slamming against the mattress.

Cullen started his day earlier than usual, making neither himself nor his troops happy. He pushed them hard, judging every mistake more critically. Cullen even jumped in on drills, though knocking around soldiers did little to ease his bad mood.

“That’s a shield in your hand, block with it,” he barked, slashing again at one of his men. “If I were your enemy, you would be dead.”

The soldier nodded his head solemnly, wondering if he had done something in particular to draw the ire of the Commander.

“Go back with the rest,” Cullen instructed with a sigh. He knew he should ease off. He was misplacing his emotions. But the lingering guilt and confusion couldn’t seem to find another outlet.

Maker, what was wrong with him.

Chapter Text

If they could weaken Samson’s armor, they could weaken Samson. That’s what they’d determined. After reading the letters and orders found in the quarry, they’d learned that something about Samson’s armor was giving him extraordinary power.

Something from the orders found in Sahrnia bothered Cullen. They mentioned the name ‘Maddox,’ a name Cullen hadn’t expected to hear. Maddox was a mage he had been familiar with back in Kirkwall. Samson had helped Maddox out by delivering letters between the mage and the mage’s lover.

When Samson had been found out, he was expelled from the Order and Maddox had been made into a Tranquil. A Tranquil with a knack for crafting magical items. It must be why Samson had found him, taken him in. All in the name of crafting incredibly powerful armor. It shouldn’t surprise Cullen that Samson would use a vulnerable person in such a way.

In the end the armor was what led them to where Samson was hiding out. Armor of that caliber required very specific and powerful items to create it. And with a few favors called in, they found a place where all the requisite materials were being sent. The Shrine of Dumat.

In the days before the Inquisitor and his party were to leave for the shrine, Cullen finally spoke on something that he had been turning over in his mind since they started getting more information on Samson. He wanted to go with the Shrine. The Inquisitor had seemed surprised at first, but had readily agreed to have the Commander alongside them.

“It is… Complicated,” Cullen told Trevelyan. “But I—I should be there.”

Trevelyan gave him a warm smile, clapping Cullen on the shoulder. “Say no more, Commander,” the Inquisitor said. “You’d be an invaluable resource to have with us.”

Cullen thought it was entirely too flattering, particularly for someone who wasn’t seeing much combat any more, but he took Trevelyan’s words in stride. He only hoped he could be as useful as the Inquisitor anticipated.

--

It was clear as soon as they arrived at the shrine that Samson had known they were coming. The camp was already in the process of being destroyed, and the Inquisitor and his party, including Cullen, found themselves instantly set upon by Red Templars.

Cullen found it exhilarating to be in the field again, having spent too much time within the walls of Skyhold since their arrival. The most fighting he’d seen since joining the Inquisition had been at Haven.

He was worried he’d lost his touch, gotten too used to blunted swords and play sparring. What he was most worried about was fighting without lyrium running through him. He’d been thrown into the fray at Haven and hadn’t had time to consider how it was different at the time, only afterwards when he allowed himself to dwell on the battle.

Cullen had always wondered if anything would have been different about that day if he hadn’t, months before, ceased taking lyrium. Would his mind have been sharper? Would his movements have been swifter? Would it have made a difference? It ate at Cullen, wondering if because he wasn’t in top form, it had led to more losses than were necessary.

The Commander cut through enemies with a trained precisions, but not without some remorse. It was hard to set aside the fact that he was cutting down Templars. Or what used to be Templars. So much wasted life. Cullen abhorred the fact that if his life had gone down an even slightly different track from the one he was on, he easily could have been one of them.

“Commander! Behind!”

Cullen heard someone shout off to his side but was slow to turn, slow to see the Red Templar already rushing him, sword raised. Before Cullen could lift his own sword or even his shield, Iron Bull was at the enemy’s back. His great axe came down in an arc, coming down hard through the Red Templar’s shoulder.

As Bull dislodged the axe from the enemy’s body, the resulting spray of blood spattered across Cullen’s armor, across his face. Bull grinned at him as if nothing could be better than this fight before he jogged off, but Cullen felt frozen, felt like ice was filling his veins in direct contrast to the hot blood across his face.

The blood itself wasn’t the issue. Cullen knew absolute carnage, a little blood was nothing to upset him. The issue was the lyrium the blood contained. The smell was so much stronger as it ran down his face than when it was dripping off his sword. Even in blood, the scent of red lyrium was so much stronger than that of the regular kind. Cullen used the edge of his coat to frantically wipe at his face, turning his head to spit for good measure.

His attention was dragged away from its racing thoughts by Dorian shouting, “A little help over here,” as the mage was backed against a crumbling wall by a pair of Red Templars. Licks of electricity crackled around the hand that wasn’t gripping his staff, but even that offered the mage very few attack options in such close combat.

There in an instant was Cullen, bashing one of them with his shield. It sent the Red Templar sprawling to the side and Cullen lunged, driving his sword through the enemy’s body. It gave Dorian the space and time he needed to dispatch the other one on his own. Dorian paused for a moment, looking Cullen over, before he gave the Commander a single nod and ran off to join the rest of the fight.

They fought their way through the shrine, through smoke billowing from the fires meant to destroy it. The towering spikes of red lyrium only added to the sweltering heat in the shrine.

It put Cullen on edge. It called to him. The nagging need for lyrium was only emphasized under the red glow of the crystalline spikes. He could be stronger if he would just take the damn lyrium. He could be more effective. Cullen ground his teeth, forcing himself look away from the spikes, gripping the hilt of his sword ever tighter to keep from reaching out and touching any of them.

Cullen felt the creeping feeling of shame settling over. He had given Dorian so much grief about dangerous it was for the mage—any mage—to be around the red lyrium, how Dorian should avoid it at all costs, but Cullen had never stopped to consider his own reaction. He was the one who shouldn’t be there, his distraction due to the lyrium was what was really dangerous.

Though all before me is shadow,
Yet shall the Maker be my guide.

Cullen did his best to center himself. He did it as he’d always done, with words from the Chant of Light springing into his mind. The words tasted wrong in his mouth as he mumbled them under his breath, delving deeper into the shrine.

--

Only there at the heart of the shrine did they find Maddox, sitting alone, destruction all around him. No Samson. Maddox greeted them peacefully, and Cullen instantly knew something was wrong. He crouched down before the Tranquil, insisted they should send for a healer.

“That would be a waste, Knight-Captain Cullen,” the Tranquil said, an eerily pleasant smile on his face. He’d already consumed a vial of blightcap essence, he informed. He’d be going any time.

Cullen had to fight the urge to correct him on the title. There was a time and a place, and in front of the abandoned, dying Tranquil was neither. Even if the previous title caused his stomach to turn to hear it now.

It was more than the title making Cullen feel sick to his stomach. In order for Samson to escape, he’d left Maddox behind. Maddox’s death, the deaths of all the Templars, meant Samson’s survival. They all threw their lives away without care, all for that monster and Cullen could not fathom why, or what was in it for them.

“Samson saved me even before he needed me. He gave me purpose again,” Maddox said, faint smile lingering. It was like he could read the Commander’s thoughts. With that, the Tranquil’s eyes fluttered closed.

Cullen cursed, more bothered by Maddox’s death than he expected to be. The inquisitor put a hand on Cullen’s shoulder as the Commander still crouched in front of Maddox’s now lifeless form. Trevelyan told him they could have Maddox’s body removed from the Shrine, that he could be properly laid to rest. He deserved at least that much. Cullen gave a nod of approval, swallowing hard.

They searched the rest of the camp. Maddox and the Templars hadn’t been able to destroy everything before they arrived. They found the Tranquil’s tools among the wreckage and would be sending those back to Skyhold for Dagna to study. Maybe she could wring something useful out of them, ease the bitter taste left in all their mouths that came from Samson evading them.

“I’m not—No. Tell Cassandra to. They’re friends.”

“Aren’t you…”

“I said no.”

Dorian and Trevelyan’s voices. Cullen grimaced as he picked up the hissed bits of conversation while they continued to poke around the shrine, making sure they hadn’t missed anything. He cast a sharp look over his shoulder, barely managing to catch the pair staring at him before they quickly turned away, looking innocent.

Maker, was it that obvious that the mission had left him feeling so unsettled?

Cullen had no desire to linger within the shrine. He made a weak excuse about how he should check on the situation outside, see if their handful of soldiers had found anything useful. He told the rest of their party not to linger long, the place was a deathtrap that wouldn’t hesitate to come down around him.

He knew his words must sound as thin as they did in his ears in the ears of his friends, because Cullen could feel several concerned pairs of eyes boring into him even as he turned and started to march out of the shrine.

Chapter Text

Cullen didn’t realize how late it had gotten until he noticed how low his candle had burned. Almost as soon as they’d arrived back at their camp, he’d set himself up a makeshift desk at a supply crate next to the tents and he’d been penning messages back to Skyhold ever since. Paperwork meant grinning and bearing it at the passing jokes about how he never ceased working, but it also meant that for the most part, he’d be left alone.

With only a nub of a candle left, it was time to turn in. Soon, he wouldn’t be able to see the words he was scrawling on the page.

There was still one person sitting before the fire and Cullen recognized the silhouette instantly. Dorian. For a split second Cullen considered ducking right into a tent, hoping the mage wouldn’t notice him, but instead he found himself taking a seat next to Dorian.

Dorian sighed immediately. “Come to gloat about how you needed to rescue me?” the mage asked. “Maybe use it as more reasoning for why I shouldn’t be out here?” Dorian was already exhausted, like Cullen’s presence had sapped his remaining energy right out of him.

“Are you doing alright?” Cullen asked, ignoring the mage’s attitude. Dorian was justified, Cullen thought, but he wasn’t going to let himself react to it. Cullen stretched out his hands out toward the fire as if maybe he could warm the ache out of them. Between holding a sword and holding a quill, he was in for it.

Dorian shrugged. “Doesn’t sound like the type of question someone who can’t spare a thought for me would care about,” he sneered.

Then it was Cullen’s turn to sigh. He stared hard into the fire. Of course his words wouldn’t be forgotten by Dorian, of course they would be turned against him. His brow scrunched up as mentally mulled over where to begin in responding.

“Maker’s breath, Dorian,” Cullen finally said, exasperated. With Dorian or himself he did not know. “Of course I think about you. I can’t get you out of my damn head.”

The words fell from Cullen’s mouth hastily, a little too loud. He looked around, rubbing at the back of his neck, making sure he hadn’t drawn unwanted attention. Cullen could feel Dorian’s eyes on him but the Commander looked anywhere but at the mage’s face before his gaze finally settled back on the fire.

“I… dream of you,” Cullen said, quieter this time. “I dream of you being taken over by demons, or the red lyrium. Of crimson spikes jutting from your body. Of you dead and me not being able to do a damn thing about it. So of course I care about whether you’re doing alright. I care about you.”

Cullen cut himself off then, knowing he had said far too much. He felt heat rise in his cheeks and didn’t know if it was from anger at the prospect of his nightmares ever becoming reality, or from embarrassment at having spoken his fears aloud.

Dorian said nothing. He only leaned over, closing the gap between them, leaving the faintest kiss at the corner of Cullen’s mouth, right over the scar through Cullen’s upper lip. Cullen’s breath hitched. It was the farthest thing from the reaction he’d expected from the mage.

“I’m sorry,” Dorian blurted. He stood abruptly, thinking he shouldn’t have done that.

Cullen’s hand shot out, seizing Dorian’s wrist. “You don’t have to go,” he told Dorian. He still wasn’t looking at the mage.

So Dorian sat back down, shoulder to shoulder with the Commander. Cullen released his grip on Dorian’s wrist, his hand instead coming to rest instead on the mage’s knee. And for a while, that was how they remained. Cullen may not have had a proper grasp on his feelings toward Dorian, but he did know that right then, he wanted the mage next to him.

“My words to you recently have been… unfair,” Cullen eventually said. “For that I apologize.”

“I mean it,” Cullen said, turning his face toward Dorian when the mage’s only response had been to shrug. He didn’t want the mage sweeping it under the rug like he tended to do with all of Cullen’s transgressions. “I’ve asked you to hear my apologies so many times I wouldn’t be surprised if you no longer wish to hear it, but I am sorry. I’ve been completely out of line. You’re—”

Cullen wasn’t entirely sure how he meant to finish that, too distracted by Dorian putting his hand over the one that Cullen had on the mage’s knee. The Commander resisted the impulse to jerk his hand away. He was so busy staring at their hands that he didn’t notice Dorian staring at him.

“I’m sorry for every time I’ve made you feel like less than what you are,” Cullen said.

It was nowhere near as eloquent as Cullen meant for it to be, but it was as sincere as he could make it. He dared a glance at Dorian. The mage’s eyes were dark like the smoke curling off the fire, and when Cullen locked on them, he couldn’t for the life of him figure out what Dorian was thinking.

Dorian felt like his heart skipped a beat. He mentally cursed. Damn Cullen and his earnest words. All he wanted to do was grab Cullen by his collar, pull him into a better kiss than the last one. Almost did, too. Which is when something occurred to the mage.

“I’m sorry for always pushing you,” Dorian said. “And I mean that more than in the literal sense. You set a boundary and I keep crossing it.” Maybe, Dorian thought, he should drink less wine, throw himself at the Commander less.

Cullen shook his head. That wasn’t exactly the issue. “It seems too much for me to ask but—” Cullen trailed off for a beat. He turned his hand over under Dorian’s, loosely intertwining their fingers. “Please, I ask for your patience while I… figure some things out.”

It seemed beyond unfair to ask that of the mage. Cullen knew he already owed so much more to Dorian, but couldn’t fathom how to express it. He thought of all the times Dorian had excused his aggressive behavior. He thought of Dorian, bruising on his neck barely fading, brushing off his apology like it wasn’t due. Cullen really couldn’t grasp why the mage kept seeking his company, but he really wanted Dorian to continue to.

“Patience,” Dorian remarked, “Has never been my strong suit.” He rubbed circles on Cullen’s hand with his thumb.

But patience Dorian would give. Did it mean that Dorian was likely setting himself up for failure? Probably. He would give Cullen his patience and then be in over his head by time the Commander ‘figured out’ that this, that Dorian, wasn’t what he wanted.

It still seemed worth it to the mage, especially with the way Cullen then dipped his head, eyes flitting back up to Dorian’s face, before he almost timidly said, “I think I would like it if right now you, as you said, crossed the boundary I’ve set once more.”

It took Dorian a moment to catch Cullen’s meaning, but when he did, the mage’s eyes widened. Cullen moving his hand to the back of Dorian’s head helped get the message across, fingers threading into the mage’s hair. One side of Cullen’s mouth turned up in a smile, pulling at the scar through his lip in a way that Dorian adored.

Dorian leaned in slowly, tentatively, still giving Cullen an opportunity to back out. He was minorly surprised the Commander didn’t, even though he’d been the one to suggest Dorian push him a little. His hand went to the side of Cullen’s neck. Cullen’s eyes shut, lips parting gently in anticipation. Dorian brushed a brief kiss to Cullen’s lips, then again with more insistence.

No lingering taste of a lyrium potion, no taste of wine, just Dorian. And for a moment the taste of the mage’s lips were all Cullen could think about and not the soreness settling into his bones, or the vexation of not capturing Samson, or even how he’d almost wished Dorian did taste of lyrium for how desperate for it he had been after the shrine.

The clinking of approaching armor alerted them both. They jerked apart, facing forward as a soldier on night patrol strolled by. Cullen chuckled nervously after she passed, stretching his hands out toward the fire like he had when he first sat down, fingers curling and uncurling. Dorian could see the red tinging Cullen’s cheeks in the flicker of the firelight.

“Do they hurt?” Dorian asked of Cullen’s hands.

“Not so used to gripping a sword anymore,” Cullen said with a shrug. The ache went beyond his hands and he knew it’d only be worse by morning. “You never answered. Are you doing alright?”

Dorian nodded. “As I ever am,” he said. “Far more unscathed than I would have were you not around.”

They had to call it a night eventually, they’d be heading back to Skyhold early in the morning. Cullen had insisted that a command tent wasn’t at all necessary, this was only a brief mission, but it left sleeping arrangements limited.

They decided that cramming into the same tent as Bull was a better option than one of them going to sleep in the same tent as Trevelyan and Cassandra and possibly interrupting something they wanted no knowledge of. The thought amused both of them.

Dorian stopped Cullen right before the Commander entered the tent. He took Cullen’s hand, laying it against his own chest, thinking that with the way his heart was hammering, Cullen might be able to feel it even through the layers of his clothing.

“I’m here,” Dorian said, one side of his mouth turning up in a small smile. “Decidedly not dead.”

Cullen’s free hand went to Dorian’s hip, thumb rubbing idly. His eyes flickered down momentarily to Dorian’s mouth before he caught himself. He abruptly stepped back.

“Not dead,” he mumbled, repeating Dorian’s words. Then he nodded his head and ducked into the tent.

--

Cullen couldn’t sleep. He was exhausted, but he almost feared drifting off. What if he had a nightmare? The best case scenario was that he was a shaking, blubbering mess in front of people who were supposed to respect him. The worst case was having another situation on his hands like the night he’d choked Dorian.

He couldn’t stop thinking about the red lyrium. The smell of it had been so thick in the air the entire time they were at the shrine, the song more urgent than urgent than ever. Cullen thought about how the Red Templar’s blood had spattered across his face, about how it was so tempting, how it would’ve been so easy to just lick his lips, taste the red lyrium in the blood on his tongue.

Fingertips brushing against his upper arm in the dark of the tent jolted him out of his thoughts as he was beginning to spiral. Dorian, reaching across the space between them.

“I can hear you thinking from here,” Dorian said quietly, not wanting to wake Bull. “Is everything okay?”

Cullen frowned, realized Dorian couldn’t see it. He put a hand over the fingers at his arm. “Sleep,” the Commander said in lieu of an actual response. Just because he wasn’t, didn’t mean the mage shouldn’t as well.

“You too, mea leo,” Dorian murmured.

Cullen furrowed his brow, sure he’d heard Dorian call him that before. He wanted to question the words but he could hear in the mage’s voice that he was already half asleep. Another time, then.

Chapter Text

The tools were given to Dagna. They had been used to make Samson’s armor, and they were sure the dwarf could figure out how to use them to unmake the armor as well. The had him. They’d be able to take down Samson. He wouldn’t be able to evade them forever.

In the days following the party’s return from the shrine, Skyhold seemed to be facing a renewed wave of recruits. Among them were some ex-Templars, which meant Cullen was quickly thrust into a new wave of problems upon his return as well.

New recruits always meant more infighting, especially when there where former Templars involved. Old biases towards mages died hard. It didn’t help that requisition orders were still being processed for additional lyrium kits and doses for those that had come to them from the Order. It was keeping everyone on edge, including the Commander.

All Cullen really wanted to do was catch up on some rest. His lack of sleep over the course of the mission was getting the better of him then as he sat at his desk, reading over reports in the hazy late afternoon light coming through the window. His head, supported by his hand, kept lolling as he unintentionally drifted in and out.

He kept finding excuses to get up from his desk, move around the office, try to keep himself awake. The most recent lap around the office had seen Cullen shedding his armor, stretching out muscles still sore from their mission. He’d feared worse was in store for him than a bone-deep ache, but somehow he managed to escape a full episode.

And thank the Maker, Cullen thought, because he needed to focus, there was much to be done. Chasing after Samson was a nice distraction, but there were bigger plans being put in motion as well.

There was still the matter of the Grey Wardens, still being manipulated by Corypheus’ influence. The Warden’s had fled to an old fortress of theirs, Hawke and his Warden friend, Stroud, confirmed, and the Inquisition was growing ever closer to mounting an attack. There were only a few more details to work out, favors to arrange.

Cullen jumped when the door to his office swung open that evening. He jerked, tipping over an open ink pot. Cullen frantically began grabbing at papers, moving the out of harms way. There was another set of hands helping. Cullen watched ringed fingers moving around the surface of his desk, trying to contain the mess. Cullen looked up into the smiling but apologetic eyes of Dorian.

“I didn’t mean to startle,” the mage said, handing a stack of papers back to Cullen once they’d finished cleaning off the desk.

“It’s not your fault,” Cullen sighed. “I’m… tired,” he stated simply. Cullen slumped into his desk chair, rubbing at his temples, ignoring a concerned look from Dorian.

“Are you—?” Dorian began, but before he could even get the question out, Cullen was waving the words away.

“Tired,” Cullen mumbled again. He sighed, glancing up Dorian who stood on the other side of the desk, arms folded across his chest. Everything about Dorian’s expression said that he didn’t believe the Commander was simply ‘tired.’

“I’m sorry,” Cullen said. “I haven’t even asked why you’re here. Can I help you with something?” He was definitely trying to change the subject.

Dorian’s expression changed, the probative look he had been giving Cullen melted away. He realized that he didn’t, in fact, have a reason for being there. Dorian’s eyes flitted around the room as he fumbled to come up with an excuse. An excuse that wasn’t something like ‘I’ve missed you.’

“Oh… Were we not scheduled for a game of chess? I could have sworn…” Dorian trailed off, giving the Commander a shrug. It was a very thinly veiled lie, but it was the best he could come up with.

“Were we?” Cullen questioned, too exhausted to see through Dorian’s fib. “Forgive me, my mind isn’t always what it should be.” He shook his head but he was already standing from his chair, pulling down the chess board from where he kept it on top of the bookcase and putting it on the now-clean desk.

Dorian felt a moment of guilt at making Cullen feel bad for believing he’d forgotten an appointment. Perish the thought. But as they delved into the chess game, Dorian was glad he’d chosen it as his excuse.

Cullen rolled up the sleeves of the thin shirt he wore, brow furrowed in concentration as he carefully considered each move. Dorian wondered if the Commander was aware of the way he poked at the scar through his lip with the tip of his tongue when he was deep in thought. Cullen smirked at Dorian as he captured one of the mage’s pieces. That small expression was enough to make Dorian want to throw himself over the desk, kiss that stupid smug look right off his face.

It was the red coloring Cullen’s cheeks that let Dorian know he was staring for too long. It worked out in the mage’s favor, though, as he was able to make up his own loss by knocking one of the Commander’s pieces off the board. It seemed they were both distracted.

Cullen stared hard at the chess board, doing his best to focus on the game. That was particularly hard with the way Dorian was now reaching out, running a hand over the forearm Cullen had resting on the desk. Warm fingers just barely glanced over his skin.

“I thought it would have faded more,” Dorian said, hand still on Cullen’s arm. Any excuse to touch him.

It took the Commander too long to realize that Dorian was referring to the faded, but still present, burn the mage had left on him. The skin wasn’t so pink anymore, but there was still an unmistakable sheen of a scar that refused to disappear.

“You certainly know how to leave a mark on people, don’t you?” Cullen said, surprising Dorian by teasing him. The corner of Cullen’s mouth pulled into a small smile.

“Not really how I intended to do so,” Dorian said dryly.

“And what was your intention? Kind acts all across Thedas? Showing everyone you’re not just another evil Magister? Make your mark as the good Tevinter?” Cullen teased.

Dorian could tell that the Commander was trying to goad him, get him to make a mistake in the game. But Dorian was willing to bet he was better at creating distractions. He stood from his seat, slowly rounding the desk. Cullen eyed him warily all the while.

The mage came to a stop behind Cullen, his hands resting on the Commander’s shoulders. Dorian leaned over, his lips just barely brushing the shell of Cullen’s ear.

“I can think of a different mark to leave on a person,” Dorian murmured, eliciting a small shiver from the Commander.

Dorian pressed his lips to Cullen’s jaw, then down along his throat, tongue trailing over skin in the wake of kisses. When Dorian bit down, he heard Cullen gasp. The Commander’s hand reached for Dorian, his fingers winding into the mage’s hair. It was all the permission Dorian needed to keep biting and sucking at the skin.

Oh, Cullen thought too late, that kind of mark. “Dorian,” he breathed. “That isn’t going to be very… becoming of someone like me.” He could already imagine the purple-red mark on his skin and the attention it would bring should he not be able to conceal it.

The mage didn’t know whether or not that was a sign to stop. Cullen was the Commander first and foremost and a semi-hesitant participant in Dorian’s antics second. He had a reputation to uphold and Dorian, honestly, didn’t want to be the one to ruin it. No one would forgive him for it. So he pulled back, nuzzling at the Commander’s neck.

“Of course,” Dorian purred. “Can’t let anyone know that the Commander had a shred of fun.” He ran his hands down Cullen’s shoulders, over his broad chest, unable to make himself stop touching the Commander altogether.

“And with the evil Tevinter, no less,” Dorian sighed a more dramatically than necessary. He straightened himself up, hands resting back on Cullen’s shoulders. “Without a doubt there would be outcries about how I used blood magic to ensnare you. Why else would their golden Commander be with the lowly mage?”

Dorian meant it as a joke. Sort of. Accusations regarding his character had certainly died down in the days since he’d first arrived in Haven, but there were always the lingering stares, the whispered comments.

He felt Cullen tense under his hands and Dorian mentally cursed himself. Perhaps he’d gone too far, struck a chord with the Commander. Perhaps Cullen really did worry over the damage Dorian could do to his reputation.

Cullen stood suddenly, turning to face Dorian. The mage’s last words repeated in his head. Why, Dorian had joked. Why would he ever be with Dorian?

“Do you still think that’s all people see in you?” Cullen asked. Dorian shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. Yes. He did believe that. But whether or not it bothered him depended on the day.

“It only really matters to me what… certain people see in me,” Dorian said. The words came out more reserved than he intended and he very pointedly avoided looking at Cullen. It was only recently that he’d been under the impression that Cullen himself didn’t think very highly of him.

Cullen pushed the chair between them out of the way. Taking Dorian’s hand, he pulled the mage toward him. They were almost instantly interrupted by a knock at the door and had but a moment to separate themselves. The scout that walked in looked none the wiser as she greeted them.

“Well this makes my job easy,” the scout said, handing each of them a folded missive. With a salute, he was back out the door, leaving them to scan roughly the same message scrawled on the paper in their hands.

“Adamant, hm?” Dorian remarked. The missive gave them a date and time that they would be meeting to discuss their attack on the fortress. “We’re ready to move?”

“Mostly,” Cullen said, but something else was occupying his mind. “Trevelyan has asked you to go?”

“It appears that way,” Dorian said, ignoring the concerned eyes boring into him. “Anyway, I believe any thought of it can wait until morning,” the mage said, sauntering back to Cullen, a sly grin spreading on his face. “Where were we…”

If not now, then when?

Cullen shook his head. “It’s late,” he said. But he reached out, ran knuckles over Dorian’s jaw.

Dorian was displeased to say the least, but he had to remember his promise to Cullen for blighted ‘patience.’ That didn’t stop him from stepping closer to Cullen, reaching out, putting his hand on the back of the Commander’s neck. His thumb brushed over the red mark that had already started to bloom on Cullen’s skin.

“Sorry about that,” Dorian said, but his mouth was curling into a smirk.

Cullen cleared his throat, saying, “Yes. Well…” He adjusted his collar as if it would provide any coverage for the mark. Pink tinged Cullen’s cheeks. Dorian looked positively smug.

Dorian’s grip on the back of Cullen’s neck tightened as he leaned in. He stopped just short, lips barely brushing Cullen’s as he said, “Until next time.” Dorian gave the Commander a pat on the chest then left the office.

Chapter Text

“If we want to stop an army of demons from being raised, we’re going to need some serious power to breach Adamant’s defenses,” Leliana said.

“Fortunately for us,” Cullen began, “It was built before the age of modern siege equipment. A good trebuchet will deal the damage we need. And thanks to our Lady Ambassador…”

Josephine was smiling proudly at the Commander. “Our allies have been pleased to be of assistance. The trebuchets have already been delivered,” she said.

“That’s great,” Trevelyan concurred. “But what about the demon army?”

“If the Wardens already have their demons, then there are choke points we can use to limit the field of battle,” Leliana informed.

Trevelyan was hesitant. The attack was going to cause a lot of bloodshed, including from their own forces. But their soldiers knew the risks, they knew what they were fighting for. He vowed to make sure no one died in vain.

“Give the word, Inquisitor, and we march on Adamant,” Cullen said.

Everyone seemed so confident in the plan, Trevelyan thought. Everyone but him. He looked around the room. Cassandra, Dorian, Varric. His advisors. They all put their faith in him. Trevelyan was terrified to let any of them down. The consequences would be dire if he did.

As their meeting concluded, Cullen said, “Dorian, if you have a moment?” indicating for the mage to hang back.

Leliana put on a hand on Cullen’s shoulder, leaning in so only he could hear her words. “Is there going to be another ‘training accident’ if we leave you two alone?” Leliana asked with a barely concealed smile.

A training accident. It had been Cullen’s excuse as to the mark on his neck, which Leliana had, of course, instantly pointed out as soon as Cullen had entered the war room for their meeting. The Spymaster was only ever as discrete as she wanted to be. Heat had flooded the Commander’s cheeks right to the tips of his ears, which didn’t help the way everyone was already raising their eyebrows at him.

“Goodnight, Leliana,” Cullen grumbled, dismissing her. He knew it had been a weak excuse, but he didn’t need her making a thing of it. He cursed himself for being able to keep his head under pressure, but not under abashment. He knew the red creeping up his neck and into his cheeks did nothing to keep the glib smile off of Leliana’s face.

Leliana patted Dorian on the shoulder knowingly as they crossed paths on her way to leave the room, and the mage blanched. Nothing good could come of the look on Leliana’s face, the mage thought, or from the way Cullen was now pacing.

“She thinks she knows something,” Dorian said, putting a hand on Cullen’s arm to still him. “It bothers you.”

Cullen didn’t respond right away. Dorian hadn’t posed it as a question anyway. But the lack of reply had Dorian biting the inside of his cheek to keep from saying anything he’d regret.

He’s ashamed of you.

It wasn’t the first time the ugly thought had wormed its way into Dorian’s head. He was an ‘ill-advised infatuation,’ like whatever mage before him. Worse, even. It may have been an unfair thought but with every carefully concealed touch or glance when others were around, it nagged at the mage.

“Well, get on with it,” Dorian said, imagining the conversation Cullen meant to have with him. “Someone knows. The proverbial cat is out of the bag, as they say.”

Cullen shook his head, his brow furrowing. “Excuse me?” he questioned, confusion written on his face. “All I meant to keep you for was to say that I’m going to be busy in the coming days. I imagine you will be too. I didn’t want you to think I was avoiding you after… everything.”

Dorian raised an eyebrow, arms folding across his chest. He was less than convinced. “It bothers you,” he said again.

Cullen sighed, he didn’t have time for another display like this. “I’m sorry, Dorian, what do you want from me?” Cullen questioned, annoyance rising. “Am I supposed to climb to the highest of the battlements, shout to everyone about how I—” Cullen paused, bit his tongue, calmed himself.

“How you what?” Dorian asked. He felt his heart race.

“I’m… A private person, Dorian,” Cullen said, ignoring the question. There was a red flush creeping up his neck. “Please, I thought you understood.”

Cullen took steps toward Dorian, rested a hand on the mage’s cheek. Touch, Cullen was learning, seemed to be something Dorian understood. He could do that much for the mage. Cullen’s other hand went to Dorian’s hip, drawing him closer, thumb rubbing absently.

Dorian wanted to continue being obstinate but he found himself leaning into the touch. He covered the hand Cullen had against his face with his own hand, nodding his head.

“Of course,” Dorian said, looking properly admonished. He turned his head, kissing the palm that had been against his cheek, taking it as a good sign that Cullen didn’t pull away.

Private was different from shameful, Dorian reminded himself. He repeated the word ‘patience’ in his head like it was straight out of a Chant. He hadn’t lied when he told the Commander that patience was a virtue left rather undeveloped in him.

He was used to coded looks and speech draped in innuendo for the sake of discretion, but the reward had always been swift in its delivery. The right look, the right words, and he’d have a man back in his quarters, or when the situation called for it, tucked into the corner of a dark hallway or behind a pillar in an empty garden.

Dorian thought about how Cullen had insisted he wasn’t another one of the mage’s ‘conquests’ and he had to mentally scold himself. The Commander wasn’t wrong, the mage didn’t see Cullen as simply another prize to be won. If that was the case, Dorian, who did not chase, would have dropped the game long ago. Cullen was more.

More. The thought gave Dorian pause. That was not a thing he looked for. It couldn’t be.

“So you’ll be busy,” Dorian said, repeating Cullen’s words, drawing himself out of his own thoughts. The Commander nodded. “No matter, I’m sure I can entertain myself without you,” Dorian said, giving the Commander a wink.

“I have no desire to know what that entails,” Cullen droned, but his mouth turned up in a smile.

Cullen allowed Dorian to take his arm as they walked out of the room and down the hallway, only breaking apart as they stepped into Josephine’s office. In the main hall they wavered, needing to go opposite directions but not sure how to say goodbye, not with others still milling about.

But when Dorian said, “Goodnight, Cullen,” a smile curving onto his lips, it was like there was no one else around.

--

Distracting himself, or at least distracting himself in any preferred fashion, was coming harder to Dorian than anticipated. The only thing that seemed to keep his mind occupied and not focusing on the imminent battle at Adamant was dwelling. Specifically on Cullen and the dangerous territory the mage had unwittingly tumbled into with the Commander.

The territory of more. That was never something Dorian got to have. Ferelden may be different from Tevinter, but it still seemed an impossible thing.

Dorian supposed even with his… Abrupt departure from Tevinter, he’d have to return eventually. Halward Pavus wouldn’t live forever, and with no other heir but Dorian, it would be his legacy to step into one day. Regardless of how begrudging both parties were for that to happen.

Cullen, on the other hand, was destined for a mundane life after the Inquisition, and Dorian meant that in the best way. It was what the Commander deserved after going to the Void and back multiple times over. Dorian could imagine Cullen settling into a cozy home somewhere in the Hinterlands. Maybe with some farm animals, definitely with a dreadful, slobbering mabari. And a wife.

The thought needled at him more than it should have, more than it had any right to.

Dorian cursed under his breath, slamming shut the tome he was just barely reading at that moment, shoving it roughly across the table he was sitting at in the library. The loud scraping of his chair over the stone floor earned him a raised eyebrow from Fiona who stood across the room. He turned away, retreating into his alcove, pretending to busy himself looking for a specific title amongst the shelves of books.

It only been recently that Dorian had the thought of being ‘in too deep,’ and then, he’d thought of it in the future sense, something that was likely to happen down the line. He realized now what a fool he was, for he was already in over his head. Likely was before he’d even had the thought the first time.

Dorian tried to pinpoint it. The moment he stopped only imagining the Commander taking him roughly over the war table and started to think about what it would be like to wake up in Cullen’s arms every morning. The moment overt flirting to get a rise out of the Commander turned into honest pursuit of Cullen.

Perhaps it wasn’t one moment but a series of creeping incidents that snuck up on him. It was Cullen quoting a line from one of Dorian’s favorite books without knowing it. Or the huskiness of Cullen’s voice when he first woke. Or even the way Cullen wasn’t afraid to call the mage out on his normal bullshit.

Whatever it was, Dorian knew one thing for certain. He was completely fucked.

Chapter Text

“A prayer for you?” Dorian asked, startling Cullen’s quiet words before the statue of Andraste. Cullen quickly got to his feet, turning to face Dorian as the mage stepped into the shrine room, shutting the door behind him.

A few days had passed since the meeting regarding Adamant. Dorian had been trying to give Cullen his space and time, but his resolve was only so robust. He intended on holding out until Cullen came to him, but the mage soon found himself tracking Cullen down. There were… matters with which Dorian needed to speak to him about, and he had decided the matters couldn’t wait.

“For those we have lost,” Cullen said, fixing too-sad eyes on Dorian. The Commander opened his mouth to say something, paused, reconsidered his words, tried again. “For those I am afraid to lose,” he said, much quieter. His gaze lingered on Dorian a moment, but then Cullen had to look away.

Dorian swallowed hard, wondering when his mouth got so dry. He took a few slow steps toward Cullen and was surprised to be met halfway. Neither one spoke, but Cullen’s eyes seemed to search the stormy depths of Dorian’s.

It had to be a sign, Cullen thought. Dorian finding him in the shrine in the garden. The Commander had come for guidance, and the mage’s appearance was a reassurance to a question he hadn’t even prayed on. Cullen was glad Dorian was not some sort mind reader. He could only imagine the relentless teasing, sure the mage would joke that Cullen was some sort of zealot for believing as much.

Cullen reached out, fingers brushing against Dorian’s, then loosely intertwining.

If not now, then maybe never.

No, Cullen couldn’t think like that. But regardless, he didn’t hesitate any longer. Cullen took Dorian’s face in his hands, pressing an all-to-brief for Dorian’s liking kiss to the mage’s lips. Then again, lingering, tongue tracing over Dorian’s bottom lip. He had the mage chasing the kiss as he pulled back to rest his forehead against Dorian’s.

“Whatever happens, you will come back to me,” Cullen breathed against Dorian’s lips.

Dorian didn’t know there could be so much ferocity in such quiet words. It left him at a loss for a reply. Something stirred in his chest, something stirred further down. The only response Dorian could manage was to kiss Cullen again. Hard. Desperate. A hand wound into Cullen’s hair, his free arm sliding around Cullen’s waist to pull him in tight. Cullen made no objection.

Wasting no time, Dorian turned them around, guiding Cullen backwards until he had the Commander pinned against the door to the shrine. He wasn’t going to let this moment escape him. There were certain things Dorian needed to say he’d done before going to stop a demon army and stare death in the face.

He tore his mouth away from Cullen’s only long enough to nip at the Commander’s jaw and down his neck. As he slid his hands over Cullen’s chest, Dorian mentally cursed the heavy armor Cullen wore. He wanted to feel every part of Cullen underneath his fingertips.

Dorian pushed a leg between Cullen’s thighs, rolling his hips forward to meet the Commander’s, letting him feel Dorian’s arousal pressing against him. The quietest groan slipped from Cullen’s lips which did nothing to slow the kisses that Dorian was pressing to his neck.

Encouraged, the mage slid his hand down, palming at Cullen’s growing bulge over the fabric of his trousers. Dorian briefly considered suggesting they head somewhere more private, his room wasn’t too far, but there was a sense of urgency and need filling him that wouldn’t allow him to get the words out.

“Dorian…” Cullen said, voice breathy but tinged with trepidation. His brain was cycling through a million reasons why the mage shouldn’t be touching him like that. He was entirely unprepared for how quick this had escalated. They were by no means in the most ideal location. Andraste herself may just strike them down where they stood for such a display. The list went on.

Any protest, mental or otherwise, was cut short by a sharp bite to Cullen’s neck. His breath hitched, his fingers digging into Dorian’s hips. That was going to leave a mark, Cullen thought, as Dorian’s tongue trailed over the affected area. Another one. He wasn’t entirely sure he minded, even if it meant dealing with Leliana’s cheeky comments and smug looks.

Dorian sunk to his knees before Cullen, and Cullen was positive that what was to follow was filthier than any sin this shrine had ever heard confessed. He didn’t know how he’d ever be able to bow his head in prayer again, not with the way Dorian was looking up at him with nothing but lust in his eyes, deft fingers unlacing Cullen’s trousers.

The mage moved slowly, giving Cullen time to object if he truly wanted to. He really hoped Cullen didn’t want to. As Dorian rucked the trousers down Cullen’s hips, freeing him from the fabric, Cullen still hadn’t uttered a single word of protest.

If not now, then maybe never.

Cullen’s eyes were darting around the room as if someone was going to catch them in the act, despite the fact they were barricading the door with their bodies. But as Dorian began working Cullen with his hand, the Commander’s eyes snapped shut, his head lolling back against the door behind him.

He should stop Dorian, really, he knew he should, but the words caught in his throat as the mage mouthed hot kisses against his inner thighs, hand continuing to stroke him.

Cullen’s heart was hammering in his chest. He slid a hand into Dorian’s hair, biting back something between a curse and a moan as Dorian ran his tongue down the entirety of his length and back up again, tongue swirling around the head of Cullen’s cock.

The hand in Dorian’s hair pulled as the mage finally took him in his mouth, eliciting a small hum of pleasure from Dorian. That in turn caused Cullen to jerk his hips forward and Dorian had to dig his fingers into Cullen’s thighs, holding him in place. Dorian had waited too long to be able to do this, he was going to be the one to set the pace, take his time in taking Cullen apart with his mouth.

Fasta vass, Dorian almost couldn’t believe it was happening, not after having fantasized about getting Cullen in this position since his first days at Haven. But none of the times that Dorian had imagined getting on his knees in front Cullen had done justice to the real thing. The taste of Cullen on his tongue was better than he could have ever imagined, the noises Cullen was making had him straining in his leathers, and soon Dorian found his resolution to take his time dissolving.

Cullen recalled the last time Dorian had found him in the shrine. The mage had said he wasn’t particularly pious, but he had Cullen doubting that now. Cullen had never known someone to be as devout to a practice as Dorian was to pulling pleasure from him in that moment.

Dorian’s pace quickened, licking and sucking, until he’d taken Cullen completely in his mouth. Above him the Commander’s breath was coming out ragged. He was biting his lip to keep moans at bay. There were always people milling about in the garden, and a closed door would only drown out so much. Dorian moaned around the Commander as he looked up at him.

Cullen bucked his hips again and this time Dorian didn’t hold him back, only moaned again. The Commander’s grip in Dorian’s hair tightened but he had little room to consider whether he was pulling too hard as he was too lost to the sensation of Dorian’s mouth, hot and wet, around him.

This had to be the most blasphemous thing he’d ever done, Cullen thought. The statue of Andraste towered over them but Cullen could hardly be bothered as he fucked into Dorian’s mouth.

Maker’s breath. Fuck.

Cullen didn’t have time to utter a warning before he spilled down Dorian’s throat. He only cursed, his grip in Dorian’s hair keeping the mage’s head in place as Cullen buried himself deep in Dorian’s mouth.

Dorian’s eyes widened, gripping at Cullen’s thighs. Cullen released the mage and there they remained for several beats, panting hard, staring at each other.

“Well…” Dorian said, standing, smoothing his hands over his clothes. “I think we may owe our Lady an apology.”

Cullen let out a quiet laugh, finishing lacing his trousers back up. He reached out, taking Dorian by the hand and pulling the mage against him, pulling him into a kiss that lacked the earlier urgency but none of the heat. Dorian tasted of him, Cullen noted as his tongue dipped into the mage’s mouth, but if anything it only made Cullen deepen the kiss.

“Keep kissing me like that and we’re going to end up defiling the sanctuary further,” Dorian purred.

“Do you want me to… you know…” Cullen trailed off, sliding his hands down Dorian’s sides to his hips. One hand tugged gently at Dorian’s waistband.

It was absolutely what Dorian wanted, but he felt like he’d be taking advantage, pushing Cullen too far in one go. “I think I’ve taken up enough of your time this afternoon,” Dorian said, taking Cullen’s hands in his. His mind was screaming at him for turning down the offer.

The flush that had finally been leaving Cullen’s cheeks returned in full force. He hid it by pulling Dorian into an embrace and burying his face against the mage’s neck. For a moment, Dorian tensed. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been held so affectionately. There was a familiar flutter in his chest that seemed to come on whenever Cullen was near. Dorian made himself relax, wrap his arms around Cullen.

“I should get back to work,” Cullen agreed regrettably. Muffled words spoken against Dorian’s shoulder. He sighed and stepped back from the mage. “Find me this evening after our meeting? Please?” he asked, Dorian’s hands clasped in his.

Dorian nodded his head in response. After all, he’d actually sought Cullen out for a purpose, while the encounter had gone far better than expected, very few words had been spoken. He would make up for that tonight.

Chapter Text

A brief note in the Cullen’s blocky handwriting was delivered to Dorian in the library, asking him to meet at the mage tower that evening following their final mission briefing on Adamant. Cullen was already there, arms resting on top of the parapet, when Dorian climbed up onto the roof. The smile he gave Dorian, although noticeably shaky, set something aflutter in Dorian’s chest.

“I head out with my men at first light,” Cullen said as Dorian assumed his position next him.

Dorian nodded his head. “We won’t be far behind you.”

Details they’d just discussed over the course of the meeting. Then silence. Neither one looking at each other, neither one knowing where to begin with what they really wanted to say.

A slight shiver from Dorian caused him to lean into Cullen, who instinctively put an arm around the mage, rubbing up and down his arm to generate heat. Cullen could feel the chill of the night creeping in more than usual after opting to forgo his armor for the evening.

Dorian looked over to Cullen who wasn’t looking back, but continued rubbing at Dorian’s arm. Cullen was staring into the night, brows knit together, jaw clenched as tight as his fist resting on top of the stone wall. It was almost eerie, Dorian thought, the differences between ‘Cullen’ who stood before him and ‘the Commander’ act that he usually had on.

“You’re scared,” Dorian said. It wasn’t a question.

Cullen opened his mouth as if he were going to refute the claim, then simply sighed. He turned toward Dorian and Dorian did the same toward him. Snow floated lazily down from the skies, standing out starkly where it was sticking in Dorian’s dark hair. Cullen’s fingers brushed against the mage’s, still hesitating even after their earlier encounter.

Dorian readily took the Commander’s hands in his, giving it a light squeeze. Concern passed through him. Maybe this was it. Cullen looked far too serious to be telling Dorian anything other than that earlier was a mistake, that they needed to go into battle clear headed and it wouldn’t do for Dorian to be pining after him while they were trying not to die.

“You’re about to be thrown into danger’s path again,” Cullen said, staring down at their joined hands, thumbs rubbing lightly over Dorian’s fingers. “Andraste preserve me, I’m the one ordering you into it,” he said, shaking his head.

“I thought Trevelyan had final say on who was by his side,” Dorian said lightly, recalling one of their first conversations over chess when he had accused the Commander of purposely sending him off to the desert to spite him.

“That may be so, but I orchestrated this entire siege. I’m responsible if anything happens,” Cullen said. If anything happens to you.

Dorian pulled free one of his hands, instead putting it on Cullen’s cheek, finally coaxing the Commander into looking at him again. “I won’t be alone,” Dorian said. They were ready. They could do this. Especially with Cullen’s brilliant tactical mind putting the plan together.

Then Dorian’s hand fell away from his face, something like concern pulling over the mage’s features. Stormy eyes, inky in the darkness, searched Cullen’s face as the mage searched for the right words.

“Is something on your mind?” Cullen prompted.

“Cullen, I care for you and—” Dorian cut himself off with a sigh. Not a good start. His words sounded entirely too sappy for his liking. Now it was Dorian who couldn’t look at the Commander as he took a moment to rethink his thoughts before he came off as any more of a sentimental fool.

“You left the Templars,” Dorian began again, mouth momentarily pursing. “But do you trust mages?” Dorian asked. Another sigh. “I think what I mean to say is, could you think of a mage as anything more?”

Or had their meeting in the shrine been a one-time thing, something done on an impulse, fear of what was to come fueling them into actions that otherwise wouldn’t have ever come to pass. Dorian left that part unspoken. He needed to know whether they whether they were just killing time, or if Cullen thought…

There was that word again. More. He felt it sitting like a rock in his throat.

It seemed like so long ago they’d had a similar conversation in the very same place. Then, Cullen had rebuked Dorian, even if the mage had tried to play it off as if he hadn’t been talking about himself. There was no pretending he wasn’t talking about himself now.

“I could. I mean… I do. Think about it,” Cullen said. It was his turn to sigh. He scrubbed a hand over his face saying, “And I think about what I might say in this sort of situation.” Any notion of what that was completely left his mind in that moment, though, making him feel like as much of a dolt as Dorian liked to tease that he was.

“Then what’s stopping you from saying it?” Dorian asked.

“You haven’t always seen me in the best light,” Cullen said. “I didn’t think it was possible.”

“And yet I’m still here,” Dorian mused. Cullen wasn’t wrong. There had been some rocky moments in the time they had known each other. But Dorian was surprised to hear it as reasoning behind why it’d taken Cullen so long to come to terms with how he felt about him.

Cullen was stepping toward him, positioning them so that he was backing Dorian against the parapets. The mage found the ability to be as flippant as usual leaving, no smart remark would come to him.

“So you are,” Cullen said, a hand sliding its way onto Dorian’s hip. “Even though it’s always seemed too much to ask for.”

The look in Cullen’s eyes said all he wanted to do was close the gap between them, but Dorian could tell by Cullen’s words that he was still wary as to whether it was okay. Cullen tilted his head, just starting to lean into Dorian when he was cut off by a sharp, “Commander. I was told you’d be up here—Oh!”

Cullen wheeled around on the interrupting scout, Dorian rolling his eyes behind him. And there was that switch, Dorian thought. As easy as snuffing out a candle was Cullen’s switch into command mode.

“You wanted a copy of Sister Leliana’s report,” the Scout—Jim, of course it was Jim—said meekly.

“What?” Cullen snapped, prowling toward Jim.

“Sister Leliana’s report…” the scout repeated. “You wanted it delivered ‘without delay,’” he said, mirroring words that Cullen was now cursing himself for speaking earlier.

Cullen folded his arms across his chest, glaring down at Jim. Between the Commander looming over him and the way Dorian stood there staring anywhere else but at the scout, expression somewhere between amused and annoyed, Jim seemed to get the hint.

“Or… To your office. Right,” Jim said, clearing his throat and shuffling the papers in his hand. He backed away a few steps before fleeing back down the ladder.

Dorian felt a trace of guilt. Of course Cullen was busy the night before they moved out. And Dorian felt like he’d already taken up enough of the Commander’s time. “If you need too—”

But he didn’t get a chance to finish. Cullen already had a hand on the back of Dorian’s head, pulling him into a fierce kiss. Dorian gasped—surprised—against Cullen’s lips, giving Cullen the room he needed to slide his tongue into Dorian’s mouth, fingers winding into his hair.

It was over far too soon and Dorian made a noise of protest as Cullen pulled back, stealing one more quick kiss from his Commander.

Cullen put only enough space between them to pat himself down, searching for something he knew was tucked away on his person. “I… Have something for you,” Cullen said, feeling a blush spread on his face.

Dorian looked down as Cullen took his hand, feeling something being pressed into his palm. A silver coin. He eyed Cullen curiously.

“It’s… something my brother gave me the day before I left for Templar training. I think it just happened to be in his pocket, but he said it was for luck,” Cullen said, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Templars aren’t supposed to carry such things. ‘Our faith should see us through,’” he continued, as if he was quoting from someone directly.

Dorian supposed that was what amounted to rebellion in the Order and it forced a smile onto his lips. “A little luck can’t hurt,” he said, regarding the token in his hand.

“I suppose not,” Cullen responded. “Realistically I should have died in the Blight. Or Kirkwall. Or Haven. Take your pick,” he said with a short laugh. “And yet I made it back here. Suppose it may have some luck.”

“Humor me,” Cullen said, closing Dorian’s fingers around the coin.

“Cullen, I—” Dorian cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t want your luck to run out.”

“Nor do I,” the Commander said. “Not when I finally have some.” The fondness with which he looked at Dorian had the mage averting his eyes, but the corner of Dorian’s mouth turned up in another smile.

“But who knows what you will face before the end,” Cullen continued. “As you said, it can’t hurt.”

Dorian gave his had a single nod. He had no idea the Commander was such a sap, and he almost ruined the moment by saying as much. Luckily Cullen saved Dorian by leaning in and kissing him once more.

“I wish I had something for you in return,” Dorian said.

“All I need is your word you’ll come back,” Cullen told him.

You will come back to me.

Cullen’s arms wrapped around Dorian, embracing him. Dorian would never admit it, but in that moment he had no problem burying his face into the fur of Cullen’s collar. He breathed in the scent of Cullen, one that had been bringing him comfort since before he could place it. Mint. Pine.

“Oh, mea leo,” Dorian murmured against the fur, letting the name slip from him his lips. He wondered if Cullen could feel him tense and had to repeatedly remind himself that Cullen had next to no knowledge of Tevene, especially no knowledge of stupid pet names.

Whether Cullen could sense any sort of meaning or not, or if he had even heard Dorian at all, he squeezed the mage tighter.

“You really should go read that report,” Dorian said, even if he was loathe to untangle himself from Cullen yet.

Cullen sighed, but Dorian could feel him nodding his head in agreement, saying, “I’m sure we both have last minute preparations to finish.”

They walked back toward Cullen’s tower together, Dorian wanting to remain by Cullen’s side for as long as possible, even if it was the long way around to his own quarters. Fingers brushed, shoulders bumped, but neither of them had the nerve to take the other’s hand now that someone might see.

As soon as the stepped inside the office, though, Cullen halted Dorian by taking the mage’s hands in his. His thumbs rubbed over the backs of Dorian’s knuckles, over the rings along his fingers. Dorian wondered if the smile on his face was as goofy as the one on Cullen’s. He suspected so.

A thought so painfully romantic , so sweet came so suddenly to Dorian’s mind that his face flooded with discomfort. Cullen was so alarmed by the prospect of thinking he’d done something wrong to make Dorian’s face fall like that that he dropped Dorian’s hands, eyes going wide, red tinging his cheeks.

Dorian chuckled, took one of Cullen’s hands back in his. He’d removed one of his rings, was now pushing it onto Cullen’s index finger, glad that it fit so that the embarrassing gesture wasn’t a waste. His actions did nothing to stifle the blush on Cullen’s face. Again Dorian thought that their faces likely matched.

“Please don’t,” Dorian said, holding up a hand to stop Cullen when he opened his mouth to speak. There was a pause in which Dorian couldn’t even bring himself to look at Cullen. “It may not be lucky, per se, but I’ve had it as long as recent memory stands and I’ve made it this far in life so it’s not not lucky.”

Cullen said nothing as requested, kissed Dorian instead, hands on the mage’s waist dragging him into it. As Cullen pulled back, his eyes briefly flickered over the ladder up to his room, and it was almost all the invitation Doran needed. But he managed to simply give Cullen one last kiss, chaste as possible, right over the scar through his upper lip.

“Well,” Dorian said, stepping back. He was trying to ignore the fact that Cullen reduced him to a sappy mess and regain his usual composure. “Aut cum scuto aut in scuto, and all that. Do try to get some sleep tonight.” A smile turned up one side of Dorian’s mouth. “Goodnight, Cullen.”

“Goodnight, Dorian.”

Dorian took a few steps backward, unable to drag his eyes off of Cullen. He had to go. If he didn’t, he’d never leave, spend all night kissing that stupid grin on Cullen’s face. Dorian turned on his heel and left, clutching Cullen’s coin in a tight fist against his chest as he headed back toward his own room.

Chapter Text

Flaming boulders soared through the air, hurled by the trebuchets. Hunks of rock and more gruesomely, bodies, fell away from Adamant’s ramparts. Ally and foe alike were taken down, even as they heaved the battering ram at the gates. But it was working. It was really, truly working.

And then they were through. Instantly there were shades upon them, but the Inquisitor and his companions made quick work of the things. There was a lapse in action after that. What would probably be the only moment to catch their breath.

“Alright Inquisitor, you have your way through. Best make use of it,” Cullen said, determination written on his face. “We’ll keep the main host of demons occupied for as long as we can.”

“Just keep the men safe,” Trevelyan said with a firm nod of his head.

Cullen let himself slip, let his eyes flit to the side, to Dorian who was locked in some discussion with Stroud. What Cullen wanted to say to Trevelyan—to plead to him—was to please, please do the same. But what Cullen did say was, “We’ll do what we have to, Inquisitor.”

They clapped each other on the shoulder before Cullen was running off to join the rest of the fight, while the Inquisitor and his party moved further inside, fighting their way up to the battlements. They needed to get them cleared in order to get more of their men over the walls. Hawke was up there somewhere, already doing what he could, but they needed more support.

Cullen did his best to focus on the fighting around him and not what was happening deeper in the fortress. Trevelyan and his companions could handle themselves. The Commander wasn’t doing a terrible job of not worrying about others until an inhuman screech pierced the air.

There, flying overhead, was the high dragon Corypheus wielded as a weapon against them. Cullen couldn’t tear his eyes away from it, stared in terror as it touched down inside the fortress.

He was running before he could think about what he was doing. Deeper, deeper into the fortress, pushing on to where he suspected the dragon was—and more importantly, where Trevelyan and his companions were.

Cullen wasn’t the only one with the idea. He broke through into the courtyard with a handful of other Inquisition soldiers alongside him. They were only in time to watch as a walkway in the courtyard fractured before absolutely shattering, sucking down the dragon, but also Trevelyan and the others too.

No!

--

He was going to die. Dorian was certain of it as the ground started to fall away under his feet. And then they were all falling through space. The last thing Dorian remembered was being consumed by the green glow, bright as he’d ever seen it.

Coming to with the rest of their party did nothing to ease his suspicion. The Fade. The raw Fade. That’s where they were.

Trevelyan cautiously led them through the terrain, heading up a rough staircase. They all stopped dead in their tracks at the top.

“Divine Justinia?” Cassandra gasped, eyes wide.

Trevelyan put a hand on the Seeker’s arm to still her. They couldn’t be sure it was really the Most Holy. But whether or not it was truly Divine Justinia, the woman explained that she was there to help. Their presence had been detected by the Nightmare, a fear demon greater than any they had ever experienced. But she could help them escape.

She explained to the Inquisitor that before they’d be able to escape the Fade, he needed to recover the parts of him that were stolen the first time Trevelyan walked out of the Fade at the Temple of Sacred Ashes. His memories.

“Told you this blasted thing wasn’t from Andraste,” Trevelyan muttered as the first of his memories returned. He stared down disdainfully at faintly pulsing green light in his hand.

They waded through muck, battled demons, and tried to keep it together while the Nightmare, choosing to take the voice of Corypheus, tried to pull them apart through their worst fears.

It tried shake Cassandra’s faith, saying the Inquisitor was a fraud, that there was no Maker. It accused Varric of once again being the one to endanger Hawke’s life. It implied that Stroud was the reason the Wardens fell. It told Hawke that nothing he ever did made a lick of difference, that he was a failure. It suggested that Dorian was no different than his father.

“Rather uncalled for,” Dorian mumbled, mouth pressing into a line. But if that was the worst this demon could do, he could handle it. It was tame even in comparison to Dorian’s own thoughts about himself.

They had to forge onward. It wouldn’t do to let the fear creep in, overtake them. Bit by bit they started to put Trevelyan’s memory back together again. Corypheus at the Temple. The death of the Divine. How he escaped the Fade the first time. The Divine had sacrificed herself so that Trevelyan was able to escape.

There wasn’t time to dwell on her sacrifice. Every time they sat still for too long, the Nightmare found them, sent more demons or fearlings upon them. But finally, the rift was in sight, they were so close to getting back to their plane. All they had to do was go through was go through the Nightmare’s lair first.

Their party sprinted for the rift, but there was the Nightmare in the flesh, taking the form of an impossibly large spider, blocking their path of escape. The Nightmare in this form was horrible to look at, with its giant beady eyes, the long, barbed legs, the pincers dripping a viscous liquid no one wanted to spend too long considering.

Divine Justinia’s form appeared to them one final time. One final time to help them. One final time to sacrifice herself for the Inquisitor. Her spirit form glowed, glowed even brighter, so much that they had to shield their eyes against it. It was like a nova erupting, and it was enough to stun the great beast of a demon.

Cassandra and Varric dodged and weaved through the legs, practically throwing themselves through the rift. Dorian was doing his best at the task, but when he looked back, the rest of their party wasn’t moving. Trevelyan seemed to be locked into a debate with Stroud and Hawke, and with a giant spider demon lingering over them, now was not the time for whatever their quarrel was about.

The Nightmare seemed to agree, leveling one of its giant legs and swinging it at the group. Dorian saw it happening before anyone else. He ran back shouting, “Move!”

Stroud and Hawke took the advice, but Trevelyan was slower to move. The Inquisitor looked up in terror as the leg started to come down on him. Dorian threw his body into Trevelyan’s, knocking him out of the way.

That unfortunately meant that Dorian himself caught the barb on the spider creature’s leg. It tore into his side, right through the leather of his armor, and knocked him to the ground. As Dorian lay there he could feel the hot wetness of the blood starting to pool. Luckily, he managed to roll to the side as the Nightmare tried to finish the job it had started.

“Time to go,” Trevelyan said urgently, trying not to blanch when he saw Dorian’s wound. The inquisitor helped pull him up from the ground, slinging Dorian’s arm over his shoulder when the mage stumbled, his arm going around Dorian’s middle for support.

Dorian’s free hand went to the wound in his side as Trevelyan all but dragged him toward the rift. Magical energy glowed around Dorian’s hand as he tried to at least temporarily stop the bleeding. He cursed himself for not pushing himself enough to make his healing magic better.

--

A small crowd of Inquisition soldiers and Wardens alike had gathered a safe distance from the giant rift that had torn open inside of the fortress, everyone waiting on edge as the Inquisitor’s companions started to come through from the Fade.

Cullen was on Cassandra and Varric the instant they were through. “Where’s—?” He let the question linger, eyes darting between them and the rift. This couldn’t be it. Far more of them had fallen through the rift, more than two had to come out. Cullen felt the fear twist in his gut.

“Everyone else should be right behind,” Varric said. “It’ll be fine, Curly,” he added before breaking off from their group as soon as Hawke stepped out of the green light. Varric would never admit to running to his friend, but he certainly hurried.

Cassandra gripped Cullen’s shoulder. “They’re coming,” she said confidently.

Six had gone through the rift. More had to come out.

Only five did. Stroud would not be coming back. The rift sealed behind Dorian and Trevelyan as they stumbled from the Fade.

Trevelyan only reluctantly released his hold on Dorian after the mage kept insisting, “It’s only a flesh wound, I’ll have it fixed up in no time.” Even though, despite his continuous efforts, Dorian had not been able to manage to stop the bleeding for more than a few moments at a time.

Cullen hustled over to the pair, Cassandra right on his heels. It took everything in Cullen to not actually run to them.

He pulled up short in front of Dorian. The mage looked awful, Cullen thought. The Inquisitor physically having to support Dorian hadn’t been a good sign, and up close Dorian looked even worse. Blood soaked through the mage’s robes, through the leather of his armor, through fingers pressed to whatever wound he was concealing from view.

“We should get you to a medic,” Cullen said, his brow knitting together.

Dorian took his hand off the wound in order to wave off the suggestion. “Nonsense, it will be fine,” Dorian said, patting Cullen’s chest with the hand that been pressed to his side. It left a bloody handprint in its wake, which Dorian only smeared further as his fingers sluggishly dragged down Cullen’s chest plate.

“Oh,” Dorian said flatly. Well, wasn’t that a lot of blood.

Cullen’s lips were moving and Dorian was nodding his head in response, but the mage couldn’t actually make out any of the words. The buzzing in his ears was too loud. Dorian took a step toward Cullen, stumbled, fell to one knee.

“I’m a shit healer,” Dorian muttered.

Then the world went sideways. Then black.

Chapter Text

This time, Dorian thought, this time he really must be dead. He wouldn’t get so lucky as to escape the veil again. But as his eyes fluttered open, the sharp pain in his side gave the definitive answer that he had made it. No afterlife would allow him to hurt like that. No good one anyway.

Dorian slowly took in his location. The last thing he could definitively remember was hitting the ground at Adamant, knees cracking against the stone before he collapsed sideways. He gad flickers of other details he could recall, like a face hovering over his, or a hand gripping one of his tight, while sweat-soaked hair was pushed away from his forehead. But nothing solid.

Now he’d determined he was in what appeared to be the infirmary back at Skyhold. Huh.

A soft murmuring caught Dorian’s attention and his head lulled to the side toward the sound. There Cullen sat in a chair next to his bed. His head was bowed, his hands clasped discretely in his lap, and quiet words that Dorian couldn’t make out slipping from his lips.

“Are you praying,” Dorian practically croaked, voice hoarse from disuse.

Cullen’s head snapped up. “Dorian,” he breathed, and the relief filled his face, flooded every part of him was palpable.

Dorian tried to sit up and instantly regretted it as pain shot through him. Well, that was going to be a bother, he thought.

“Careful,” Cullen chided, easing Dorian back down with a gentle hand on his shoulder. He moved his hand down to rest at Dorian’s hip, careful to skirt the bandage in its path, thumb brushing soothingly along the curve of the inked snake head just poking over Dorian’s waistband.

That was also going to be a bother. He didn’t need anyone fussing over him. But Cullen’s touch was warm against his skin, so he allowed it for the time being. That’s how Dorian realized he was bare from the hip up, giving him a full view of the bandage wrapped around his middle.

Dorian tested out running his fingers over the cloth of the bandage, trying to be tender, but still making himself wince as he prodded at the healing wound. It felt like there was more damage than the tear through his side. He suspected a broken rib or two.

“Careful,” Cullen stressed again, more firm this time, ignoring the sour look from Dorian as he waved over the surgeon.

“Welcome back to the world of the living,” she said with a wry smile before she set to work checking him over.

“Enough,” Dorian finally said, tiring of being poked an prodded. “I’m alive. That’s more I can say for some of the people here if you don’t go bother them instead,” he told her, motioning to the various other bodies in the cots around the infirmary.

“Very well,” she said, mouth puckering. “But I’ll be back with some poultice soon.”

There was silence between Cullen and Dorian after the surgeon wandered away. “Do I want to know how long I’ve been out?” Dorian finally asked.

“We’ve only been back in Skyhold a few days now, but it’s been a little more than a week,” Cullen told him. “You’d already lost a lot of blood before we could even get you to a healer. And the poison made the task no easier.”

Dorian grimaced. “Poison?”

“Whatever that.. demon was that attacked you, it left some sort of poison behind in the wound,” Cullen told him. He’d heard the details of their trip to the Fade from Trevelyan, but Cullen was still having a hard time wrapping his mind around it. “The healers both mage and otherwise had quite the time trying to rid your system of it.”

“I really didn’t think it was that bad,” Dorian mumbled. The adrenaline must have kept him from realizing he was bleeding out. Maybe he’d already gone into shock. Maybe he was just an idiot.

“Well what were you thinking?” Cullen snapped. “You got hurt, and then you didn’t tell—"

“I was thinking that it was in everyone’s best interest if I saved our Inquisitor’s life,” Dorian said back, doing his best not to sound as hostile as the Commander. “And I was a little preoccupied successfully doing that to notice anything else.”

“This is a place of healing, not fighting. That’s what got you lot here in the first place,” the surgeon reminded from across the room.

Between Dorian’s and the surgeon’s words, Cullen looked properly abashed, dropping his eyes to the floor. Of course he knew Dorian wasn’t trying to get himself hurt, get himself killed. But it had scared Cullen to death.

He’d watched as Dorian had careened toward the ground at Adamant, skull knocking against the stone with a dull thud. Cullen was immediately down by his side, pulling Dorian into his lap. He paused, panicked, didn’t know what to do. All he could think of was to press a hand against Dorian’s wound as if it would do anything to staunch the bleeding at that point, and shout for a healer—for anyone—to help.

Cullen wondered if Dorian remembered lying there, not quite unconscious but barely holding on. There was a wild, unfocused look in Dorian’s eye and it took Cullen a minute to realize that the rattling sound coming from the mage was a dry laugh.

Dorian had reached up towards Cullen’s face, completely missing in his trajectory the first try, before his hand came to rest on Cullen’s cheek. Dorian’s thumb brushed over the scar through Cullen’s lip. Then the damn bastard grinned up at Cullen like the whole scenario was hilariously sardonic in some way.

Cullen had been bustled aside after that so that Dorian could get some actual medical attention. Trevelyan intercepted him as Cullen stumbled away, guiding him a short distance away from the pair of healers seeing to Dorian.

There was a wetness that Cullen had been able to feel on his cheek and he had the brief fear that he’d managed to start crying. His fingers came away red as he rubbed at his face. Blood. Dorian’s blood was on everything. He couldn’t fathom why Dorian hadn’t thought to share that he was so badly injured.

Cullen had scrubbed and polished at his armor long after Dorian’s blood left its surface. Scrubbing the blood from his hands had been much the same. It was too much like his dreams. Dorian had looked so pale, so fragile, and Cullen feared he would never see the mage’s eyes open again.

So when Dorian put his hand on Cullen’s cheek now in the infirmary, thumb rubbing over the stubble, Cullen had to try not to flinch at the memory of the smear of blood. The corner of Dorian’s mouth turned up in a smile when he felt Cullen finally lean into the touch.

This had to be the least clean shaven Dorian had ever seen Cullen. The Commander looked like he’d been losing sleep, looked like he’d hardly moved from the chair next to Dorian’s bed and Maker, the mage hope that wasn’t the case. He had a feeling it was.

“I came back,” Dorian said quietly. “Just like you asked.”

Cullen let out a choked laugh that, had they been anywhere more private, might have been a full sob. Had they had been anywhere more private, he might have cut off that sob by pressing his lips to Dorian’s.

“Not exactly how I imagined you would.” He turned his head to kiss Dorian’s palm, mirroring the mage’s gesture which Cullen had found himself on the receiving end of a few times now. He covered Dorian’s hand with his, forgetting for a moment there were others around.

Forgetting, that is, until the surgeon cleared her throat, standing over them with a small bowl in hand, filled with what could only be assumed to be the aforementioned poultice. Cullen and Dorian both quickly retracted from each other.

“I need to change that,” is all the surgeon said, pointing at the bandage.

The Inquisitor arrived while the surgeon was still tending to Dorian’s wound. He’d hurried down to the infirmary as soon as he heard the mage had awoken, barreling through the door right to Dorian’s side. Trevelyan, who cared not what anyone’s opinion of him was, took Dorian’s face in his hands, ignoring the surgeon who’s way he was only sort of in, and beamed down at the mage.

“My friend,” Trevelyan said simply.

“’Chevalier in shining armor,’ is more like it,” Dorian retorted. He patted one of the hands the Inquisitor had on his face.

With one more stern look from the surgeon, Trevelyan stepped back from the bed so that she could finish redressing Dorian’s wound. He stood instead at Cullen’s side, resting a hand on his shoulder. Cullen looked down at the point of contact, then up into Trevelyan’s smiling eyes.

“Our Dorian. Quite the fighter, eh?” the Inquisitor said with a quiet laugh. Cullen’s only response was to flush and look away, so Trevelyan gave his shoulder a squeeze.

Once the surgeon had taken her leave, Trevelyan set upon Dorian once more, asking even more times than Cullen—if that was possible—if he was doing okay. And The Inquisitor could not thank Dorian enough for saving his life. Every time, Dorian would squeeze Trevelyan’s hand, tell him it was not a big deal, tell him he would be just fine.

Maybe eventually someone would believe him.

The days following passed in much the same way. Trevelyan would stop by to dote on Dorian. The surgeon would deal with their nonsense with the utmost professionalism. And sometimes, Dorian would awaken to either hear that the Commander had dropped in, or to find the man there in the flesh, lingering around Dorian’s bed.

Dorian had to order him away, insisting that the Commander had a real job to attend that didn’t involve hovering around, driving him mad. Cullen tried to comply, really he did, but he wasn’t doing a good job of staying away. And it wasn’t going unnoticed. Not by Dorian, and not by a growing number of other people as well.

Cullen had flushed when Dorian pointed out as much one evening. He sat at Dorian’s side, hands neatly folded on the bed not quite touching where Dorian’s rested.

“I can… Make myself scarce if it’s bothering you,” Cullen said, ducking his head as he stood. “I’ll take my leave.”

“Don’t you dare,” Dorian said, grabbing Cullen’s hand before he could turn to leave.

There was a flicker of a smile at the corner of Cullen’s mouth as he sat back down. He took Dorian’s hand more firmly in his, and after only a—to his credit—discreet look around, Cullen brushed his lips against the mage’s knuckles.

Cullen stayed until Dorian fell asleep, stayed a little longer even. He ran a hand through Dorian’s hair, pushing the mussed strands away from his face. The tension that had been twisting his chest for days finally started to uncoil.

One day, Cullen thought. One day he’d be able to wake up to that sleeping face every morning.

Chapter Text

“You really scared him, you know,” Trevelyan said, pretending not to notice the grip Dorian had on his arm tighten.

Dorian had finally been able to convince everyone that he should at least be able to be bedridden in his own room, and no he would not be transported there via stretcher. But it was slow going as Trevelyan helped Dorian pick his way toward his quarters, the mage trying to keep his wincing to a minimum lest the Inquisitor try to insist they make the move another time.

“Need I remind you—both of you—that I am alive?” Dorian sighed, trying to ignore the pang in his chest. He didn’t even have to ask who Trevelyan was referring to.

Now,” Trevelyan stated bluntly. That fact wasn’t always a given.

“I can only imagine the battle you two had over who was more at fault for me getting hurt,” Dorian droned, trying to deflect. “The Commander and the Inquisitor, martyrs always.” He knew his injury was the only thing keeping him from being on the receiving end of a playful shove or a punch in the arm.

“You just… You really scared him. All of us,” Trevelyan said again as they drew to a halt in front of Dorian’s quarters. “Can I help you get settled?”

“Trevelyan, you know I adore you and your company, so don’t take it the wrong way when I tell you to please, please go,” Dorian said. “This will be the first time in days I’ll be in a room that isn’t filled with moaning and groaning. And that includes from you and the Commander.”

The Inquisitor let out a snort of a laugh. Still, he lingered. It looked to Dorian like there was something further Trevelyan meant to say, wanted to do. Maybe insist that he stay and keep the mage company a little while longer.

“I can manage, I promise,” Dorian reassured Trevelyan, trying to keep the sigh from his voice. “And I’ll be good. Right back into bed with me.”

“It’s not that, it’s…” Trevelyan seemed to chew over whatever he was going to say next. He put his hands on Dorian’s shoulders, staring down at him with his brow furrowed. “Be good to each other, okay?”

“It’s not like that,” Dorian said too quickly. “He worries about everyone, everything.”

“Sure,” Trevelyan said simply.

“What’s that supposed mean?”

Another pause from Trevelyan. “It means—” He didn’t know if it was his place to be saying, “You… Didn’t see him. After. When you—”

The inquisitor sighed, running a hand back through his hair. Dorian hadn’t seen the stricken look on Cullen’s face after he’d had to move aside for the healers. He hadn’t seen the way that Cullen, the definition of calm under pressure, had come to a complete standstill, lost for what to do. Trevelyan had helped to wipe the blood from Cullen’s face, had watched as Cullen scrubbed his hands raw even though the blood was long gone. Dorian hadn’t seen that.

Dorian didn’t push him to say more. “I’ll… Brush up on my healing magic,” the mage said, eyes fixed on the ground. “Funny how different bringing something back from the dead is from trying to keep something from dying in the first place.” A flicker of a smile. That something being himself.

Trevelyan softened, not intending to make Dorian feel guilty. “Right back to bed with you,” he told the mage, fixing him with his sternest look before a smile spread on his face. With a final squeeze to Dorian’s shoulder, he took his leave.

Dorian grumbled to himself all while easing into his bed. Trevelyan’s words stuck in his mind, leaving Dorian able to think of little other than the Commander. He knew Cullen cared, but to such an extent? Unfortunately, being impaled by a giant spider demon hadn’t put them in a good place to resume their pre-Adamant conversation.

Dorian put it from his mind, pulling up the blankets around him. If he slept, he wouldn’t have to dwell on it.

--

A quiet knock caused Dorian to stir that evening. He’d slept on an off all day, and was still so drowsy he almost wasn’t sure if the knock was real or part of a dream.

“Come in,” Dorian called, knowing it would take him far too long to get up and open the door himself.

Cullen stepped through the door, small stack of books tucked under his arm. “I figured you might be getting bored,” Cullen said, placing the books on Dorian’s desk, and on top of them a deck of cards.

“I could think of ways I could be entertained now that you’re here,” Dorian told him with a smirk. His heart was only half in the innuendo. He gingerly scooted himself over, patting the bed next to him for Cullen to join him.

One side of Cullen’s mouth quirked up before he rolled his eyes. While he chose to ignore Dorian’s words, he did position himself at the edge of the bed.

“You’ve shaved,” Dorian said, reaching out and running knuckles over Cullen’s jaw.

“I may have been a little… lax on keeping up with grooming lately,” Cullen admitted. What he didn’t say was that he hardly left Dorian’s side long enough to do so.

“It wasn’t all bad,” Dorian noted. Some stubble suited the Commander. Gave him a good reason to reach out and touch Cullen’s face, too. That was a definite advantage.

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Cullen told him, one side of his mouth turning up in a smile.

He held the deck of cards out to Dorian. “These were easier to transport than a chess board,” he apologized. “Varric keeps saying everyone needs to get together for a game of wicked grace, and I don’t know if you’ve ever played the dwarf before, but I definitely need to brush up after what happened last time.”

Dorian opened his mouth to question the statement, but Cullen cut him off. “Win a few rounds and maybe I’ll tell you about it,” Cullen said, a sly smile making its way onto his face.

As is it turned out, Cullen was nearly as miserable at the card game as he made himself out to be. Though at that point, there was more talking than card playing happening.

“And then they made me walk—bare assed, mind you—back to the barracks,” Cullen laughed. “I’ve refused to play cards with them ever since.”

“Shame,” Dorian said. “I think I would enjoy seeing you lose.” His eyes swept over Cullen. The simple shirt the Commander wore did little to disguise the strong muscles Dorian knew were underneath, and he couldn’t say he minded.

“I don’t need any extra help embarrassing myself in front of you,” Cullen said. There was a light flush spreading across his face, but he couldn’t entirely conceal the smirk on his lips.

Dorian set his cards aside. He tugged at Cullen’s sleeve, trying to draw the Commander nearer to him. Cullen seemed to grasp Dorian’s intention, but he wouldn’t budge.

“I should let you rest,” Cullen said. “It’s getting late.”

Dorian was sure Cullen had a million excuses, but he didn’t want to hear a single one. “I’m not going to keel over from exhaustion if you stay with me a while longer,” Dorian told him, trying to tug him closer once more.

Cullen seemed to consider that for a moment, then he shook his head. He brushed fingers over Dorian’s cheek, leaning over to briefly press his lips to the mage’s temple.

Dorian wasn’t going to let Cullen get away with such a brief touch. As Cullen started to back away, Dorian grabbed him by the collar, pulling him right back in, kissing him. When the Commander didn’t immediately protest, Dorian released his grip, sliding his hand instead to the back of Cullen’s neck.

He kissed Cullen, soft and slow, savoring every moment of it. Dorian couldn’t believe he’d done something as stupid as almost get himself killed. Not when he had this to come back to.

Cullen parted his lips to Dorian, repositioning himself on bed and slipping an arm around the mage. He all but sighed against Dorian’s lips when the mage’s tongue delved into his mouth. Cullen hadn’t realized how much he’d been looking for the right opportunity to kiss Dorian again, and now with the mage’s mouth on his he was finding it hard to stop.

“Rest,” Cullen said a little breathlessly, breaking himself away from Dorian. He stood before he could be tempted again by the mage. Cullen made for the door, pausing briefly to throw one last smile over his shoulder at Dorian before leaving.

Dorian grumbled to himself, kicking his legs over the side of the bed, foot tapping a frustrated rhythm. Cullen had a real knack for avoiding his advances even before he’d been injured. He could only imagine how chaste he’d be now that Dorian had been deemed ‘fragile.’

Still pouting, he snatched one of the books off the desk and took it back to his bed. Dorian ran a thumb over the spine as he settled. It occurred to him that the book was definitely the one that Cullen kept next to his bed. He was entirely surprised to find that it was a collection of poetry.

Dorian flipped through absently, stopping on the one dogeared page in the book. He didn’t know if it was purposeful for Dorian to find, or if it was Cullen’s way of marking the page he’d left off on, but his heart skipped when he read the title.

‘Carmenum di Amatus.’ A Tevene poem. A love poem. Dorian was familiar with it and recalled the first time he had stumbled across it. It had always been considered a 'scandalous' piece, and Dorian was pretty sure the Chantry had actually banned it at one point. That’s what happened when one man wrote an ode of love to another, Dorian supposed.

Familiar as it was, as Dorian read the words now, it was as if he read them anew.

“Oh you fool,” Dorian murmured down at the page, tracing the lines with a finger. He didn’t know if he spoke of Cullen or himself.

Chapter Text

The surgeon still thought it best if Dorian moved around as little as possible, fearing reopening of the wound that, thanks to magic and medicine, had finally decided to start healing. That left Dorian confined to his quarters most of the time. The mage was starting to go crazy. He swore if he paced about his room any more that he was going to start wearing ruts into the stone.

Cullen did what he could to take Dorian’s mind off of it. Did what he could, that is, except for the one thing Dorian insisted would distract him best of all from the recent monotony of his life.

Dorian could get away with some less than chaste touches or even with stealing some positively indecent kisses, but any time the mage tried to push for more, Cullen balked.

“Dorian…” always came the warning when the mage’s hand slid too far up Cullen’s thigh or underneath the hem of his shirt, fingers splayed across Cullen’s stomach. Sometimes Dorian played innocent, but mostly he protested.

“You’re not going to hurt me,” Dorian would always say. “I’m not a delicate flower.”

But Cullen was less than convinced, his expression always saying as much, and it infuriated Dorian. He liked to think that he knew his body and what it could take better than anyone, but the Commander seemed determined to be the one who knew best. Especially when the last time Dorian had thought he was doing just fine, it ended with him almost bleeding out in a dusty old fortress in the desert.

That didn’t mean Dorian didn’t keep trying. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that the that the easiest way to get Cullen to start to melt was with lips pressed to his neck. The Winter Palace had shown that. Time in Cullen’s office had shown that. So Dorian resolved to take advantage of just that.

With Cullen sitting next to him in his bed, it was easy for Dorian to lean over, brush kisses to Cullen’s skin. He’d gotten so far as to be able to climb into Cullen’s lap one night, nipping at Cullen’s throat, savoring each small gasp from the Commander.

Cullen let Dorian peel his shirt up and over his head, tossing it to the side, but before the mage could dive back in, it was he who paused for once. Dorian ran his fingers over the thin cord around Cullen’s neck to rest at the center of his chest where hung the ring Dorian had given him prior to leaving for Adamant.

The sight of it set something fluttering in Dorian’s chest, as did the look in Cullen’s eyes as he rested his hand over top the one Dorian had against his chest. Dorian thought of the earmarked page in Cullen’s book, he thought of the words of the poem. Maker save them, they were both fools.

Dorian brushed the knuckles of his other hand along Cullen’s jaw before gently cupping his face in his hand. He leaned forward, brushing a kiss to the scarred side of Cullen’s mouth. Then he pulled back, eyes briefly studying Cullen’s face before he was kissing him again. And again. Dorian slipped his hand out from under Cullen’s, wound it into his hair instead, tugged his head back, pushed his tongue into Cullen’s mouth.

Cullen ran hands down Dorian’s back, unable to say he disliked the fact the mage opted for being shirtless most days as of recent. ‘Letting the wound breathe,’ Dorian would claim. Cullen was pretty sure he was mostly trying to show off, entice him into more. It, admittedly, wasn’t entirely unsuccessful.

But when Dorian reached down between Cullen’s legs, palming at him over the fabric of his trousers, Cullen had gripped at the mage’s waist, a soft groan spilled from his lips. Any other time Dorian would have loved the bite of Cullen’s fingers against his skin, but the hold was too tight, and Dorian was unable to conceal the hiss of pain as he batted Cullen’s hand away and wrapped his arm gingerly around his middle.

Cullen flew into apologies but Dorian wouldn’t hear them. It was fine, he’d be fine. Dorian tried to pick up where they’d left off, placing Cullen’s hands onto his hips, grinding down against Cullen’s lap, but he was shut down entirely. Cullen pushed Dorian back, nudging the mage until climbed off of him.

Then there they sat, side by side, not touching, a silence hanging between them.

“I’m sorry,” Cullen said for what might have been the millionth time. “Perhaps…. You know, when you’re better…” He didn’t want to make any promises.

Dorian’s response was to scoff. “’Perhaps,’” he mocked.

When Cullen reached over, running his hand up and down Dorian’s arm, the mage waved it away, shrugging off the touch.

“I’ll—I’ll take my leave then,” Cullen said, retracting his hand. “Goodnight, Dorian.”

He stood. Paused. Waited until he was sure Dorian wasn’t going to say anything further, and sighed when it became evident Dorian wasn’t going to do more than pout.

Dorian wasn’t going to try to get him to stay.

Cullen wasn’t going to try to kiss him goodbye before leaving.

--

Cullen paced around his office, curses mumbled under his breath. Though Dorian likely wouldn’t believe it, he was frustrated too.

A very large part of him was concerned for Dorian’s well-being. It was not long ago when Cullen couldn’t even be sure he’d get another moment with the mage. Sometimes he could hardly look at Dorian without seeing him as he was at the fortress or in the days following. Lying in a pool of his own blood. Then feverish from the poison, pale from the blood loss. Dorian had looked so fragile that Cullen had feared even taking his hand as the mage groped around in a delirious state for anything solid to hold on to.

But Dorian really was healing. He got to see the progress first hand when a healer came change the bandage. The worst was definitely over, and he really liked seeing the proof before him.

He also didn’t mind seeing all that skin too. Cullen was more than a little guilty of waiting only until the healer stepped out to sweep in next to Dorian in the bed, run a hand over his stomach and up his chest. But Dorian would try to pull Cullen over top of him and that’s when he’d have to call it to an end.

Maker, if it wasn’t getting difficult to have to tell Dorian they needed to stop. Now that Cullen knew he did get more moments with the mage, he wanted to spend as many of them as possible with his hands and mouth all over Dorian.

He wanted Dorian. Period. There was no denying it. Images in Cullen’s mind of an injured Dorian were slowly being replaced by images of Dorian on his knees, lips wet and shining, wrapped around his length. Images that, after Cullen climbed into bed that night, he called to mind as he took himself in hand.

Cullen came with Dorian’s name on his lips.

Afterward, as Cullen lay sprawled on his back on the bed, he let out a great sigh. He really didn’t know how either of them were going to keep it in their trousers long enough to not extend Dorian’s healing process.

--

Some of Cullen’s work made it into Dorian’s room over the course of the next few days, as did the Commander himself.

“I believe you are the one who once told me that the paperwork doesn’t care if I do it here or in my office, so…” Cullen had shrugged, rubbed at the back of his neck. “I’m doing it here.”

Truly living up to his inability to stay away, despite the less than pleasant terms they had parted on the last evening they spent together. But Dorian wasn’t going to complain about something that meant getting to spend more time with Cullen, even if it also meant that his desk had become particularly chaotic as of late.

It was as Cullen sat at the desk one evening, hunched over a stack of papers, quill gripped in his hand, that Dorian snapped the text he was reading shut with a loud sigh. Bored of the subject, he tossed the book aside. A peek over at Cullen revealed the entire the Commander had been entirely unfazed by his dramatics.

“Read me something,” Dorian said.

“You want me to…read you something?” Cullen questioned, holding up the reports he had been skimming.

Dorian sighed again, rolled his eyes. “One of the books,” he said, flapping a hand towards where the stack of books Cullen brought were piled neatly on one corner of the desk. “The one on top.” The book of poems.

The Commander sat there, hand hovering over the book as he hesitated to grab it. “You really want me to… read to you?” Cullen asked again. He wasn’t one to recite poetry to sweethearts, and the prospect of doing so had him turning red in the cheeks.

“Mm,” Dorian responded affirmatively. He patted the mattress next to him until Cullen retrieved the book and climbed onto the bed, settling in next to Dorian, snaking an arm around him as the mage rested his head on Cullen’s chest.

It still took Cullen a minute to find his voice, but when he did, he fell into a gentle rhythm most pleasing to Dorian’s ear.

Cullen fumbled through some of the pieces that were more romantic in nature, cheeks aflame as he tried to keep a stutter at bay. But Dorian liked the way Cullen’s mouth formed around the words in that soft Fereldan accent. Maybe one word common in the poems more than others.

Chapter Text

After that night, what started out as a bored whim of Dorian’s turned into a regular thing. The next evening that saw Cullen in Dorian’s bed—and not in the way the mage would prefer—was much the same. They sat shoulder to shoulder, propped up against the headboard, each lost in their own reading.

Dorian had Cullen fetch the poetry book and when he came back, Dorian settled in against him, resting his head on Cullen’s chest. This was entirely too cuddly for the ulterior motives Dorian had.

He took the book from Cullen, pretending to skim through it, and handed it back to him at the dog-eared page. “This one.” Dorian could feel Cullen’s heart speed up under the ear pressed to his chest.

“Please,” Dorian prompted.

On aching branch do blossoms grow, the wind a hallowed breath…” Cullen started out with the normal hesitance in his voice, but found a quiet, gentle rhythm to fall into. “It carries the scent of honeysuckle, sweet as the lover’s kiss.

As if to punctuate the words, Dorian tilted his head up, pressing kisses along Cullen’s jaw. It made Cullen falter in his words, which only made Dorian grin, nip at him lightly.

It brings the promise of more tomorrows, of sighs and—Dorian. What are you doing?”

What he was doing was climbing into Cullen’s lap, straddling his hips. Dorian ducked his head, kissing Cullen’s neck before murmuring, “Keep reading,” against his skin.

Of sighs and whispered bliss,” Cullen continued, less sure of himself now. But there was indeed a sigh as Dorian’s tongue traced lightly along Cullen’s throat.

“Are you even listening?” There was a roughness edging into Cullen’s voice that Dorian adored.

“Mm.”

Another sigh, this one born from exasperation, then Cullen read on. “His lips on mine speak words not voiced, a prayer.”

Cullen drew in a sharp breath as Dorian bit down on his throat. The mage rocked hips, pressing down against Cullen’s lap, running his hands over the Commander’s shoulders, down his chest.

Which travels down my spine like flames that shatter night.”

Dorian started to crawl his way backwards, pressing lips to Cullen’s chest, his stomach, wishing he would have gotten him out of his shirt again first. Cullen caught him by the arm, halting his progress.

“It’s okay,” Dorian said firmly, staring him down. Cullen wasn’t going to hurt him. “Keep reading.”

Cullen remained wordless, but let Dorian pull his arm from his grasp. Dorian continued downward. Pushing down the waistband of Cullen’s trousers, Dorian grazed his hip bone with his teeth before tracing over it with his tongue.

His eyes reflect the heaven’s stars, the Maker’s light.”

Cullen’s voice was getting breathy with anticipation as he gazed down at Dorian, and the mage relished in it. He slowly undid Cullen’s laces, and when Dorian tugged at the waistband, Cullen’s helpful lift of his hips was all the ascent Dorian needed to pull the trousers the rest of the way down.

Dorian gave Cullen, already hard, a few experimental strokes with his hand. He bent forward, glad Cullen’s eyes had fluttered shut so that he didn’t see the wince the movement caused, and dragged his tongue from the base of Cullen’s cock to the tip, swirling his tongue around the head.

Cullen’s breath caught. He didn’t know how his mouth was supposed to form words when Dorian’s mouth was now wrapped around him. All he could do was watch as Dorian’s head bobbed between his legs.

Dorian stopped only long enough to nip at Cullen’s thigh and tell him, “I said keep reading.”

Cullen groaned both at the loss of Dorian’s mouth and at his insistence on the damn reading. But if it’s what it took to get that touch back…

My body opens, filled and blessed, my spirit there.”

Dorian moaned around Cullen, and then again as Cullen gasped, bucking up into the heat of the mage’s mouth.

Not merely housed in flesh, but brought to life.”

The words were a barely contained moan from the Commander by the end. He let the book fall from his hand, instead threading his fingers into Dorian’s hair. Cullen’s head fell back as Dorian pulled off of him with a wet noise. The fabric that still remained between Dorian and him was almost too much for Cullen to bear as the mage crawled back up to straddle him once more.

“Dorian…” Cullen murmured. And for once it wasn’t a warning, wasn’t a hint to stop.

Cullen took Dorian’s face in his hands, crashing their mouths together. The kisses were desperate, hungry for more, with Cullen already tugging at Dorian’s trousers. The mage was more than happy to comply with the unspoken request, even if it meant he had to move away from Cullen however briefly to remove them.

It gave Cullen the opportunity to kick his own trousers the rest of the way off and onto the floor, where he promptly dropped his shirt after peeling it off as well. He didn’t let himself think. If he did, he would second guess everything. It was already hard not to focus on anything but the bandage around Dorian’s middle when it was the only thing covering the mage’s skin now.

Dorian wanted to pause, take a minute to appreciate the naked Commander in his bed, but he was afraid to let the moment slip away. He climbed back into Cullen’s lap, very deliberately making sure they rubbed against each other as he did. Dorian took them both in his hand, wrapping the other one around the back of Cullen’s neck.

Cullen shivered at the touch, barely holding back from thrusting into Dorian’s hand. He seized the mage’s mouth with his, hands snaking behind Dorian to grip his ass.

“I want you to take me,” Dorian said against Cullen’s lips, his grip around their cocks tightened as he kept working them slowly, pulling Cullen apart more and more with each stroke. Cullen moaned into Dorian’s mouth in response.

Dorian reached over the bedside table, fishing out a bottle of oil. He took Cullen’s hand in his, slicking the Commander’s fingers for him first, then his cock. Dorian shifted upward, guiding Cullen’s hand between his legs. Cullen drew Dorian tighter against him, and the mage circled his arms around Cullen’s neck.

A finger massaged at Dorian’s opening briefly before sliding inside him. Dorian gasped, lips pressed to Cullen’s ear, and it only seemed to encourage him further. There was soon a second finger sliding in.

Dorian tried fuck himself back against the fingers in him, but Cullen stilled his movement with a hand against his hip. Cullen’s movements were slow, deliberate, he was taking his time. Kisses were planted on the tops of Dorian’s shoulders, along his collar bones, against his neck.

Festis bei umo canavarum,” Dorian groaned into the crook of Cullen’s neck, feeling himself come apart under his touch. He wanted more. He needed it.

Cullen withdrew his fingers, but the sensation was replaced by a blunt pressure against Dorian’s opening as Cullen lined himself up. That was the first time Cullen hesitated, but Dorian didn’t miss a beat. He lowered himself slowly, inch by inch onto Cullen until they were flush against each other.

The Commander swore under his breath. One hand gripped Dorian’s hip, the other traced down the top of Dorian’s thigh, following the winding lines of his tattoo until it disappeared around the back of the mage’s leg.

Dorian tried to match the earlier slow pace. He arched his back, leaning back to rest his hands on Cullen’s thighs, and gave a roll of his hips. It was easy to ignore the pull in his side when he was eliciting such breathy gasps from Cullen. Dorian swore they were the most beautiful noises he’d ever heard.

But Cullen didn’t seem content to go slow anymore. He bucked his hips up to meet Dorian’s movement. Dorian leaned forward, circling Cullen’s neck with his arms, gasping as Cullen hit just the right spot.

“That,” Dorian urged breathlessly, mouthing at Cullen’s skin. “Do that.”

Cullen squeezed a hand between their bodies and wrapped it around Dorian’s cock, adding on to the rhythm of his hips. Dorian’s head fell against Cullen’s shoulder, breath coming out in shallow pants. He wasn’t going to last much longer. Not after how long he’d waited to get to this point.

Dorian spilled over Cullen’s hand with a sharp bite to his neck, feeling the hot mess spread over both their stomachs. It was enough to send Cullen over to edge too. Dorian could feel Cullen’s hips stutter, and with a few final thrusts, he stilled.

They sat there, wound around each other, breathing heavily for long moments. Dorian feared if he let Cullen go, the man might disappear on him, for this must be a dream.

“You should hear that poem in the original Tevene,” Dorian said, still breathless. He leaned back just barely so he could look at Cullen, running his hands over his broad chest. Cullen didn’t look like he immediately regretted that, so that was a good sign. “Imagine the effect that has.”

Cullen chuckled lightly, pulling Dorian into a gentle kiss. He brushed fingers along the mage’s sides before pulling back, practically inspecting Dorian’s bandage, fingers gingerly brushing over the cloth.

“You’re not… Hurt are you?” Cullen asked, already anticipating the snarky answer he’d receive.

Dorian’s only response was to sigh and roll off Cullen onto the bed. He tried to make it look as effortless as possible despite it being the opposite. It wasn’t so bad that Dorian thought he’d made the wound worse, but it hurt. He knew he was going to be sore. Worth it.

Cullen searched around the room for something they could use to clean themselves up, but froze on his way back to Dorian, cloth in hand. His eyes took in every inch of the mage as he lounged in the bed.

“You are truly a sight to behold,” Cullen said, unable to stop the words before they came out. A flush instantly spread across his face. Dorian was pleased to see how far down his chest it went.

Dorian scoffed. This was coming from the man who looked like a statue to the gods, Dorian thought as Cullen slid back under the sheets.

“You’re not leaving?” Dorian questioned, finishing wiping himself off and throwing the cloth over the side of the bed.

Cullen froze. “Am I supposed to?”

Silence. Dorian didn’t know how to voice that yes, that’s typically how it went. They’d take their pleasure of each other and then go their separate ways.

“No,” Dorian said. He slotted himself against Cullen’s side, draping an arm over him. “No.”

Cullen was quiet for so long after that that Dorian thought perhaps he’d fallen asleep. That was, until he murmured, “I miss my stars.”

“I used to have a good view as I fell asleep,” Cullen continued, sounding like he was indeed on the verge of sleep, “But someone insisted I get my roof fixed.”

“Oh forgive me, I’ll let you be soggy and frozen next time you decide to hole up in a derelict, sorry excuse for a room,” Dorian said.

That caused Cullen to let out a quiet laugh. He gave Dorian a gentle squeeze. Something about the stars overhead had always helped him fall asleep easier, but this… Maybe this could work just as well, Cullen thought.

Chapter Text

Cullen had imagined waking up next to Dorian on so many occasions that as he slowly came to that morning, he swore it must have been yet another dream. There Dorian was in his arms, head resting on Cullen’s chest, arm slung over his stomach. Cullen pressed a kiss to the top of Dorian’s head before letting his eyes close once more.

He needed to get up, he knew that, but Cullen didn’t know how, when he had Dorian draped over him, still fast asleep, he was supposed to drag himself away to go run drills, field reports, attend to whatever other important business was put on him. The only truly important thing seemed to be staying right where he was, holding tight to Dorian.

“You’re squeezing me,” came a grumble from Dorian, only half awake. Then he let out a content sigh as Cullen pressed his lips to his temple.

“I have to get up,” Cullen told him.

“Too early, mea leo,” Dorian protested, nuzzling against Cullen. Ear to Cullen’s chest, Dorian could hear how his heart sped up at the words.

Dorian blinked his eyes open and began ghosting fingertips over the freckles dotting Cullen’s chest. He knew Cullen missed having the stars overhead, but Dorian was content to form constellations out of the marks across Cullen’s skin.

“You can go back to sleep, but really, I must go,” Cullen said, suppressing a shiver at the light touches and untangling himself from Dorian so he could slide from the bed.

Dorian pushed himself up to sitting, sighing as Cullen pulled on last night’s clothes. He hoped for Cullen’s sake that no one else was up and about, strolling the hold yet. It wouldn’t do to have Cullen spotted sneaking out of his room in clothes rumpled from lying on the floor all night.

“Yes, yes. Go. Before anyone sees you looking like you dared to have a fun night,” he teased.

An expression flickered across Cullen’s face that led Dorian to believe that maybe he hadn’t considered the implications of leaving the mage’s room at dawn. While discretion had slipped following Adamant—hard to explain away the Commander cradling Dorian to him, spending near every moment at his side after—Dorian still wasn’t sure where they stood. Dorian hoped Cullen wasn’t second guessing their entanglement, wasn’t regretting the previous night.

But Cullen stooped to kiss Dorian before he left and the mage craned his neck up to meet Cullen’s lips. Dorian slid a hand around the back of Cullen’s neck, pulling him further down toward him. Cullen bent one knee up on the bed, kneeling over Dorian, pushing him back against the mattress as they kissed.

“On second thought, can’t you be a little late?” Dorian questioned. He moved Cullen’s collar aside, sucking at the skin over his collar bone. The fingers that had wound their way into Dorian’s hair tugged, and Dorian responded by nipping at Cullen.

Cullen was on him in an instant, straddling his hips, and Dorian was painfully aware of how nude he still was and how nude Cullen was not. He wanted to do something about that, but Cullen had him pinned to the mattress by his wrists. Dorian made a half-hearted attempt to fight against the grip as if he wasn’t enjoying it.

Then Cullen leaned in, lips brushing over Dorian’s throat and up his neck to stop right next to his ear, husky voice saying, “I have to go.” He nipped at Dorian’s ear, then crawled off of him, smirk curling up the scarred side of his mouth.

“And people say I’m the evil one,” Dorian mumbled, trying to pretend, as Cullen left his quarters, that he wasn’t as flustered as he really was.

--

Cullen rushed into the garden, straight to where Dorian was seated before the chess board, and immediately questioned, “Are you hurt?” He leaned over Dorian, taking the mage’s face in his hands.

Dorian looked around nervously. “As much as I love being the center of attention, I’m not sure you do,” Dorian said, scanning the others in the garden. Eyes lingered on the pair, most simply surprised by the Commander’s sudden appearance.

After a quick sweep of the garden with his eyes, Cullen quickly withdrew his hands and took the seat opposite Dorian. Cullen was still looking at him expectantly, brow knitting together.

“If I was hurt, would I have set up for chess?” Dorian asked, gesturing at the board. He couldn’t tell if Cullen was more relieved he was fine, or more furious that he’d pulled him away from whatever he was doing for a game.

“Are you serious?” Cullen asked in disbelief. “You told the scout it was urgent!”

“It is urgent,” Dorian said, trying to look innocent. “I’m bored.”

Truth be told, Dorian hadn’t thought about the panic he might induce by sending a runner to find Cullen with the message that he was urgently needed in the garden. But now that Cullen was already there anyway… Dorian made an opening move on the chess board.

Cullen took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, trying not to strangle the man before him. “Aren’t you the one the one who told me that I have a real job that doesn’t involve bothering you?”

“That was before you lot confined me to my bed,” Dorian complained.

Cullen scoffed, shaking his head, but a smirk was already working its way onto his face. “Right. No more time in your bed, then.” He moved one of his pieces.

“Now let’s not be hasty…”

--

They left the garden together after their game, Cullen insisting on walking with Dorian to the library. Shoulders bumped together as they walked and Dorian swore that the way Cullen’s fingers brushed against his was purposeful.

It shouldn’t have caused such a flutter in Dorian’s chest. This man truly would be the death of him, Dorian thought. Never in his life had such simple, innocent actions reduced him to such a love-sick fool. And oh, Dorian thought. There was that word again.

Luckily Cullen distracted him from further thought on it, teasing Dorian by asking, “So what’s this look you’re going for? Rakish pirate?” as they crossed into the rotunda, nodding their acknowledgement to Solas in passing.

On the few occasions Cullen had seen Dorian actually wear a shirt as of late, the mage had opted for something looser, tucked partially into the front of his trousers, making him look every bit like one of the Rivaini sailor’s he’d been tattooed by.

They had just started up the steps to the library when Dorian stopped in his tracks, turning to Cullen. Dorian raised an eyebrow raised as he stepped closer until he had Cullen with his back against the stairwell wall. “Oh, so you think me ‘rakish,’ hmm?” He could accept that, Dorian thought as he slung his arms around Cullen’s neck.

Cullen leaned forward, touching their foreheads together, his hands coming to rest on Dorian’s hips, pulling the mage against him. “I think many things of you,” Cullen said, voice dropping to a pitch that reverberated all the way down Dorian’s spine. “In fact, I think you’re—”

“Interesting how these stairwells echo, isn’t it?” Solas called from around the corner.

There was no hiding the blush on Cullen’s face, but he let out a quiet chuckle. Dorian could feel his grin even as Cullen pressed a brief kiss to his lips. Cullen separated himself from Dorian, but he took his hand the rest of the way up the stairs, only letting it go as they got to the top, and giving a small smile that Dorian would almost describe as apologetic.

Dorian walked directly to his alcove, Cullen trailing behind him. The mage ran a hand over the spines of the books on one of the shelves, looking for a particular title. More poetry. He plucked it off the self, quickly flipping through until he found the piece he was looking for, then he folded down the corner of the page before holding it out to Cullen.

“To replace the book of yours I still have,” Dorian said. “It only seems fair, as I think I’ll be hanging on to yours for a while. I like to read it when I’m feeling…” Dorian paused, eyes dragging over Cullen, head to toe. “Sentimental,” he finished, smirk plastered on his face.

Cullen’s grip on the book in his hands tightened. He had no misconceptions about Dorian’s meaning and took quick steps toward him, closing the small gap. Dorian didn’t miss the way Cullen looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking before cupping his face with one hand, delivering another brief kiss.

“Behave,” Cullen said with a smile, pulling away from Dorian. “And thank you,” he added, holding the book up.

“Start with the one I marked,” Dorian told him.

Cullen didn’t even make it down the stairs before he was flipping the book open, and as soon as he read the first words on the page it was almost enough to send him right back up to Dorian.

If I could play at kissing your honeyed eyes as often as I wished to,
300,000 games would not exhaust me.

Solas opened his mouth to say something as Cullen strode back through the rotunda, but the Commander held up a finger to silence him. “Not a word,” Cullen said, unable to keep the smile from his face.

Chapter Text

“And I’m to join you?” Dorian confirmed.

“If you’re up for it.” A shrug from Trevelyan.

Dorian reached out toward the eluvian they were standing before but stopped short before actually touching the rippling surface. “Interesting…” he muttered more to himself than anything.

“We’re waiting on some more solid information before heading to the Arbor Wilds but… it’ll be soon,” Trevelyan continued. There was a sideways glance at Dorian who was nodding his head slowly.

So, Dorian thought, there’d be no easing him back into missions. He told Trevelyan, “I’d be delighted to join you,” before he could think too much about it. He didn’t want to acknowledge the twinge of nerves that came along with the knowledge that it would be his first time leaving Skyhold since he almost died, and he was certainly loathe to relive that experience.

A grin spread on Trevelyan’s face, delighted to have his friend back in the field with him again. “Consider speaking to Solas on the subject,” Trevelyan told Dorian, nodding toward the eluvian. “He will be joining us as well, and he knows a lot about well, a lot, so I’m sure he has insight.”

“I’ll consider it,” Dorian groaned. Solas wasn’t typically someone he liked to deal with on a normal day, but now the elf seemed even more impossible to deal with, what with the raised eyebrows and the barely concealed smug expression.

--

Dorian was utterly failing in his attempts to distract Cullen from his work until he mentioned, “The Inquisitor wants me at his side as when he we head into the Wilds.”

Cullen’s hand stuttered in its writing, a line of ink jutting errantly across the page. He sighed, crumpled the piece of parchment in a ball, and set it aside. He leaned back in his chair, staring up at Dorian, brow furrowed.

It was enough to confirm what Dorian had suspected. Trevelyan had left it up to Dorian to tell the Commander that it appeared he was officially cleared for combat again.

“Is that not too much for… someone in your condition?”

“My condition?” Dorian scoffed, placing himself between the desk and Cullen in his chair. “I’m not with child.” Cullen’s mouth only pressed into a tighter line, so Doran continued by telling him, “I’m fine. Look.”

He drew up the edge of his shirt, exposing his side to Cullen. The area bore a raw, angry scar, but it was a far cry from the gaping wound Cullen still couldn’t get to leave his mind. Cullen ran a hand up Dorian’s stomach, fingers splaying gently over the scarred area.

“Tragic, I know. My flawless physique has been forever marred,” Dorian drawled.

Cullen’s response was to pull Dorian toward him by the hip until the mage was close enough that Cullen could brush light kisses up and down Dorian’s stomach, his side, any bare skin that he could reach.

“You’re perfect,” Cullen murmured against Dorian’s skin. “You’re so beautiful. Scar or not.”

It was enough to make Dorian want to blush like Cullen so often did. The hand that wasn’t gripping the fabric of his shirt, holding it back so that Cullen could continue his litany of kisses, threaded into the Commander’s hair.

Cullen pushed down the edge of Dorian’s waistband, tongue tracing down his hipbone before biting at it, sucking a mark into the mage’s skin. He pressed Dorian back against the desk, sliding out of his chair so he was on his knees before the mage.

“Someone could come in,” Dorian pointed out. He cursed himself as soon as the words left his mouth.

There was only the smallest pause in Cullen’s hands, running down Dorian’s hips, his thighs, before the motion started again. He mouthed at Dorian over the fabric of his trousers, willing himself not to think too hard. Cullen, admittedly, didn’t know what he doing. But he did know what he liked, and Dorian had no problem being vocal, so he hoped the rest would flow from there.

He pulled Dorian’s trousers down his hips, taking only a moment to marvel before wrapping a hand around the mage’s length. He gave Dorian a few strokes, still kissing and nipping at his hips, mouth everywhere but where Dorian wanted it to be.

Dorian gasped, gripping the edge of the desk, as Cullen repeatedly dragged his tongue from his base to tip, always swirling his tongue around the head of his cock with each lick. He knew he should be quiet, but the thrill that someone could walk in at any moment was only adding to Dorian’s arousal. He couldn’t bite back the moans when Cullen finally took him in his mouth, working in time with his hand still wrapped around his base.

With how good Dorian felt on his tongue, Cullen couldn’t think of why he hadn’t done this sooner. He moaned around the mage and Dorian let out a curse in Tevene, hand moving to pull at Cullen’s hair. It took all of Dorian’s willpower not to buck into Cullen’s mouth. He let his head fall back, lost to the pleasure, feeling the tension of it building in him, hot and tight.

Kaffas. Cullen I’m going to—” came Dorian’s warning, cut off by his own moaning as Cullen tightened his grip, increased his pace, coaxing Dorian towards release. Dorian spent in Cullen’s mouth with another sharp curse, feeling Cullen vibrate around him with a moan.

Cullen pulled off of him slowly, inelegantly wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He kissed his way up the mage’s body, relishing in the way Dorian sighed at each small touch.

Dorian took Cullen’s face in his hands, kissing him urgently, tongue pushing into the his mouth. He could taste himself on Cullen’s tongue and it had him threading his fingers back into Cullen’s hair, kissing him harder.

“Does anything ever get done on this desk besides work?” Dorian questioned.

Cullen smirked. He reached around Dorian, sliding an arm over the desk, sending papers scattering.

Dorian raised an eyebrow, but he couldn’t keep the surprise from his face when Cullen turned him around, bending him over the desk, keeping Dorian pinned there with a hand between the mage’s shoulder blades.

Cullen was achingly hard and had to stifle a moan as Dorian ground back against him. He leaned over Dorian, tongue teasing the edge of Dorian’s ear.

“What I want to do on this desk definitely is not work,” Cullen practically growled in Dorian’s ear. He slid a hand down Dorian’s side to his hip, gripping it, pulling the mage back tighter against him.

There was a rapping at one of the office doors causing both men to curse, panic.

“Wait!” Cullen shouted, storming over to the door. He slammed it back in the runner’s face just as it cracked open.

Dorian scrambled, yanking his trousers up, trying to make himself look presentable and like he wasn’t moments away from being fucked over the Commander’s desk. He made himself look interested in the bookshelf, scanning titles, pretending to flip through a book.

Cullen seated himself at his desk, still very much needing to conceal his arousal, before bidding the runner to enter. A nervous looking scout popped into the office, documents clutched in his hands.

“I apologize,” Cullen said. “We were… Discussing a… Sensitive matter.”

Dorian gave a small scoff at that, and the corner of Cullen’s mouth threatened to turn up in a smirk.

The runner looked from the papers scattered around the floor, to the back Dorian had turned to him, to the Commander’s stern face. Hesitantly, he approached the Commander, holding the documents out to him.

“From Sister Leliana,” he said. “She said you would know what it’s regarding.”

Cullen dismissed the scout, sighing over the new documents he was handed.

“That seems important,” Dorian said, noting Cullen’s entire change in demeanor. The sighing, the scowl on his face. “I take it we won’t be continuing our ‘sensitive discussion,’ then?”

Cullen’s face softened as he looked up at Dorian, an apologetic smile sweeping onto his lips. “I’m sorry…” Cullen began.

Dorian held up a hand, indicating Cullen need say no more. There was no way Dorian could actually be mad, especially not when looking at that face. Dorian moved to Cullen’s side, brushing fingers under the Commander’s jaw, tilting his head back so that he could steal a kiss before leaving Cullen to his work.

“Come back to me tonight,” Cullen told Dorian. “Perhaps then we may continue our… Discussion.” And the smirk he gave Dorian earned him another kiss.

--

Much of Dorian’s time after that was spent in the library, pouring over texts on ancient elven artifacts, temples, the Arbor Wilds themselves. Whatever might help them feel more prepared for whatever lay ahead.

Cullen would seek out Dorian only to find the mage’s presence missing from the tavern and his quarters, sand only would be able locate Dorian once he headed to the library. Usually he’d find Dorian hunched over a book, muttering under his breath, with everyone else long since left the library for the evening.

On some nights, Cullen would find Dorian at a table in the library, head rested on his folded arms, snoozing peacefully on top of a text. Cullen almost hated to wake him, but he knew if he did, it meant coaxing Dorian back to one of their beds, it meant getting to curl up next to him.

The night before they pushed forward to the Temple of Mythal in the Wilds was one of those nights. Cullen quietly pulled out the chair next to Dorian’s at the table, gently stroking the mage’s hair. Dorian sighed contentedly before realizing where he was and fully jerking awake.

“Bed,” Cullen instructed.

“Yours or mine?” Dorian asked with a yawn.

Cullen offered his arm for Dorian to take, already leading the way toward the gardens. “Yours. I have to be up earlier than usual in the morning. I can’t imagine the diabolical plot you’d devise if I kicked you out of bed before the sun even rises.”

“Smart man,” Dorian said.

“I’m heading to the Wilds with our men. We need to get established before the Inquisitor—and the rest of you—show up,” Cullen said, and Dorian tightened his grip on his arm. “I know it’s last minute, but we’re acting as information comes in. Trevelyan and his other advisors will brief you all tomorrow sometime.”

“Well, if you must go,” Dorian sighed.

Dorian was pulling Cullen toward the bed as soon as they entered his room, eager to fall back into his interrupted sleep from the library.

“No funny business,” Cullen said, semi-reluctantly letting Dorian peel his shirt up and over his head.

“I am a pillar of morals and seriousness,” Dorian assured, even as he ran his hands over Cullen’s body, delivering kisses to Cullen’s collar bone, to his chest. “Don’t… Die before we get there and save the day,” he added.

Cullen wrapped his arms around Dorian, burying his face against the mage’s neck. “I’m not the one with the history of flirting with death while on Inquisition business,” Cullen remarked, squeezing just a little tighter.

Chapter Text

Cullen had made a correct assumption about trying to rouse Dorian before the sun. The mage grumbled, trying to get bleary eyes to focus on the face hanging over this.

“I have to go,” Cullen said, a gentle smile on his lips. Dorian had a feeling he had already said as much at least once already, but Dorian had been too drowsy to comprehend it. “I’ll see you in a few days,” Cullen added.

Dorian reached out, pushing a lose curl back from Cullen’s forehead before his hand came to rest on Cullen’s cheek. Cullen put his hand over Dorian’s, turning his head to press a kiss to Dorian’s palm, before leaning down the rest of the way and brushing a kiss to Dorian’s lips.

“A few days,” Dorian confirmed.

--

The fighting was almost immediate upon reaching the Arbor Wilds. With their master nearby, the Red Templars seemed to be fighting harder than ever. Corypheus had finally been seen heading toward an Elven ruin in the north part of the Wilds—the Temple of Mythal.

Trevelyan and his party had very little time to be briefed at camp upon their arrival. The Inquisition’s soldiers were already cutting a path through Corypheus’ army for them, they needed to move out.

Dorian’s relief was immense when they stumbled on Cullen and a band of soldiers, fighting away outside of the entrance to the temple. He had been worried ever since gleaming the information at camp that the Commander had led the charge against the Red Templars at dawn and had been fighting ever since.

“That man hasn’t slept more than an hour two days running,” a scout had said, and Dorian had to withhold a sigh, not wanting to give away that he was eavesdropping.

Cullen jogged over to their party, out of breath and covered in blood and Dorian tried to do a quick visual assessment. He looked drained, worn, and Dorian wasn’t sure what blood was the Commander’s and what was from someone else, especially with deep gash above one of Cullen’s eyes, leaking blood down his face. But overall, he looked relatively unscathed.

“We’ll continue to hold them off, get to the Temple,” Cullen briefly said to the Inquisitor.

Trevelyan nodded and ran off, but Cullen snatched Dorian’s wrist before the mage could follow. Cullen opened his mouth, closed it again, couldn’t find the right words to say.

“I know,” Dorian said. “I’ll come back.” He gave the Commander a smirk to smother his own nerves, then was dashing off to catch up with the others. It did nothing to settle Cullen’s worries.

--

Skyhold was quiet in days following the Temple of Mythal, with their soldiers slowly filtering back to the keep. Cullen would be one of the last to return, helping to organize the remaining troops as they cleared the area of the remaining Red Templar presence.

A quiet keep meant Dorian had too much time with this thoughts. He couldn’t stop thinking about their encounter with the ancient elves at the temple. The connection with the Imperium. What it meant for Tevinter’s future. How he fit in to that.

“You speak frequently of Tevinter as of late,” Trevelyan noted, scanning the titles on the shelves in Dorian’s alcove.

A quiet keep also meant the Inquisitor got to spend more time with his friend. A friend who would not stop reminding him that he had once again had to drag the warrior through another portal to save his pretty ass, as Dorian had so politely put it.

The eluvian had glowed to life in the sanctum at the temple just as Corypheus burst in. Trevelyan had paused in his efforts to wave his companions through the mirror to throw a look back over his shoulder and the sight of Corypheus had him frozen in place.

But Dorian learned his lesson last time in the fade. “I’m not turning my back on you for a moment, not again,” the mage had said as he wrapped his fingers around the Inquisitor’s wrist, dragging Trevelyan through the eluvian behind him.

Dorian, now sitting in his chair in front of the window in the alcove, shrugged. “What happened at the Elven temple… It got me thinking,” he said, eyes never leaving the page he was reading. “I should go back, shouldn’t I? To Tevinter. Once this is all done, of course.” He glanced up Trevelyan, trying to gauge his reaction.

Trevelyan nodded his head slowly, like he was really taking in Dorian’s words. But the mage could see how the Inquisitor’s jaw clenched, how his foot tapped, how he was moments away from laying into Dorian with whatever was on his mind.

“That elf… Abelas,” Dorian quickly continued, not wanting to give Trevelyan that opportunity. “He said the Imperium wasn’t what destroyed the elves. My people would never accept that. It would destroy our legacy, no matter how terrible. But we should accept it, take our history down a peg. Maybe not all of us want to, but… that could be altered.”

Dorian set his book aside, standing from his chair. He took one of Trevelyan’s hands. “If you can change minds, so can I,” Dorian said, a small smile breaking onto his face. “Would it surprise you to know you’re the one who inspired me?”

Trevelyan just winced. “To face what’s coming next, I need people at my side that I trust,” Trevelyan said, big blue eyes fixing on Dorian.

“Oh don’t give me that look,” Dorian said. “You look like someone just kicked your dreadful little mabari.”

“But is it working?” Trevelyan grinned.

Dorian sighed. “I’m not saying I’m leaving now, but I make no promises after we save the world.”

Trevelyan squeezed Dorian’s hand, but with his other, he playfully punched the mage in the arm. “And what did our Commander say on the matter?” The mage only blanched. “Dorian! You haven’t said anything to Cullen?”

“And why should I?” Dorian questioned, turning his nose up. Then he added, “Besides, when would I have had the time?”

Trevelyan had long since stopped pretending he didn’t know there was something there between Cullen and Dorian, but that didn’t mean Dorian had to acknowledge it too, the mage thought. What was the point if he would only be leaving.

“’Haven’t said anything to Cullen’ about what?”

The voice startled both Dorian and Trevelyan. Heads whipped to the source—Cullen—lingering hesitantly at the precipice of Dorian’s alcove, having come up the stairs without either of them noticing. Cullen looked at the men’s clasped hands, then from one face to the other.

Dorian and Trevelyan both threw their hands up, innocent, placating. “Not that!” they said at the same time. It did little to ease the dread that was filling Cullen.

“I thought you weren’t due back until tomorrow?” Trevelyan questioned.

“I found I was anxious to get back,” Cullen said, the smallest uneasy smile on his lips. Now he wasn’t so sure he should have stayed in the field longer.

“I’ll leave you to it…” Trevelyan said, ducking his head before fleeing out of the library.

There was a pause where neither Cullen nor Dorian spoke after the Inquisitor departed. A beat that felt like an eternity to Cullen.

“Haven’t told me what, Dorian?” Cullen finally asked again.

“I… Think it would be wise if I returned to my home after Corypheus is dealt with,” Dorian said, not bothering to beat around the bush. “I think I should go back to Tevinter.”

Cullen felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He didn’t know how he was supposed to take Dorian’s words. The mage said it so openly, like he was planning a small getaway to Redcliffe instead of talking about moving back across the continent.

“All my talk about how terribly wrong things are back home but what do I do about it?” Dorian questioned. He had started to pace. “Nothing.”

“You’re not doing nothing,” Cullen said. “You came here. You’re fighting with us.”

“But when the fighting is over?” Dorian asked. “I want to save my home.”

Cullen felt rooted to the spot, felt like if he tried to take even a single step his legs would fail him. Dorian kept speaking of his ‘home,’ and Cullen finally had to say, “I thought your home was here. In Skyhold.” With me.

Dorian tsked at him. He went to Cullen, took his hand, pulled him more into the alcove and away from prying eyes.

“We encountered ancient elves, Cullen,” Dorian said. “A piece of history. Something the Imperium didn’t destroy. Maybe my people can atone for what we’ve done. I’m of the belief there is still something left to restore.”

“So you would just leave?” Cullen demanded, his temper rising. “What about…” Cullen couldn’t bring himself to ask.

“Us?” Dorian finished for him. “Trust me, amatus. It would give me no pleasure to leave your side.”

That was different than the name Dorian usually called him, Cullen noticed, but it was hard to dwell on it when he felt as if his heart would hammer right out of his chest.

Dorian’s face softened as he studied Cullen. He noted the still-healing cut over Cullen’s eye, reaching out to brush fingertips gently along it before letting his hand come to rest cupping the side of Cullen’s face. All Dorian wanted was to was press his lips to the Cullen’s, but he could already feel the resistance at the small touch he’d given.

“If that’s what you have to do, I understand,” Cullen forced himself to say. But he turned his head away, took a step back as Dorian tried to stroke his cheek.

“Oh. There you go, breaking my heart,” Dorian said, trying not to let his voice crack. A wistful smile pulled its way onto his lips.

Cullen opened his mouth to say something, then shook his head, waving it off as he left the library without another word.

--

Night found Cullen still awake, lying in dark of his room, alone. He cursed Dorian, blamed him. It was Dorian’s fault he couldn’t shut off his mind. Right down to the fact the mage was the one who made Cullen finally fix his ceiling. It was making him feel claustrophobic, like the roof was going to collapse in on him at any moment.

Cullen got up from bed, started pacing, scrubbing his face with his hands. He stopped in front of the window in his room, pressing his forehead to the cool glass, trying to take deep breaths.

Below, one of the office doors opened and Cullen froze. When the ladder up to his quarters started to creak, Cullen sighed, returning to his bed, lying on his side so his back was facing Dorian as he climbed into the room.

It was quiet for a moment, then Cullen heard soft footsteps coming toward the bed, the mattress shifting as Dorian climbed in. He instantly settled against Cullen’s back, draping an arm over him.

Dorian slid his hand up Cullen’s chest, pressing them closer together, feeling the flutter of Cullen’s heartbeat under his palm. No words were spoken, Dorian only brushed kisses to the back of Cullen’s neck, the tops of his shoulders, whatever he could reach.

Cullen put a hand over Dorian’s, holding it tight to his chest. And like that they lie in silence, neither knowing what to say. It was Cullen who finally broke it.

“Dorian?”

“Mm.”

“I love you.”

Cullen heard Dorian suck in a ragged breath. He buried his face between Cullen’s shoulder blades, clutching at him. Dorian thought of the words he’d once spoken to Cole.

Sometimes love isn’t enough.