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Ar lath ma, vhen’an

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Dorian stood by the window in the massive mansion which had once been his father’s, and laid an un-gloved hand on the carved columns of the stone casement. Gold rings flashed in the setting sunlight, but he hardly noticed them or the thrumming enchantments they bore any more. Tiredness seeped daily into his bones until he was utterly suffused with exhaustion, but he and the Lucerni had made real breakthroughs in recent months.  

He inhaled deeply and allowed himself a wan smile. That very morning they had finally won sufficient votes in the Upper Circle to push through a massive reform bill which would rock Tevinter to its very foundations.  

But his victory felt hollow.  

The sending crystal, which he still habitually wore, now hung empty and cold around his neck, just as it had for almost a year now. Since ending things with Ciúin, he had devoted himself doggedly to his work, to his country. Without Ciúin by his side, however metaphorically it had been before, this was all he had left. Part of him hoped that one day the crystal would sputter to life, the warm glow of it reigniting in his palm, and he would hear that husky, delicate voice he had come to adore so much while with the Inquisition.  

But it was not to be. He knew that. He had made sure of that when he had driven the elf away on the pretext of being unable to maintain such a secretive and unrealistic relationship. Dorian Pavus was nothing if not stubborn-headed, and on this, he would not be moved. Dorian’s heart, feeling already blackened and desiccated, clenched painfully and his fingers gripped the windowsill just to keep himself standing.  

Lost in thoughts of green eyes and the dark lines of elegant tattoos, in long hair hanging plaited down a lithe back and the oh-so-perfect curve of the elf’s backside, Dorian didn’t catch the movement on the roof opposite.  

He didn’t notice the shadow-wreathed figure taking aim.  

He didn’t sense the little dart fly true, but he sure as hell felt it embed itself in his throat.  

Gasping and clutching at it, he reeled back from the open window and staggered to his knees as whatever poison it carried began to take effect already. The brightness of the window above him bleached out half of his vision, and the figure who stepped silently up beside him, melting out of the shadows, was on him before he could raise his hands to cast. He still tried, however. 

“Oh no, magister ,” the figure snarled in a harsh, rasping voice that was neither distinctly male nor female. A tight, firm grip took hold of his wrists and Dorian struggled against it. “No, no, none of that now.” 

Dorian wheezed, desperately trying all the while to cast, but the Fade slipped from his grasp the more he reached for it.  

“What… What have you done?” he choked, wrenching the barbed dart from his neck and clutching at it as hot blood rolled down his dark-skinned neck and soaked into his pale silk robe. “Who sent you?” 

The assassin drew a hideous, serrated knife from a sheath and knelt down beside him. Tight hands gripped the front of his clothes, and Dorian just caught a vague, pulsing red glow as the dagger was raised in front of his blurred vision.  

Red lyrium.  

“Venatori?” he wheezed. “Impossible...” His mouth was filling with an acrid tasting foam, and some of it dribbled out down his chin as he coughed and spluttered, weak as a baby in this skinny assassin’s grasp.  

The laughter which echoed oddly in his ears was suddenly cut off as the expression on the assassin’s face sharpened. “You know, I expected a little more from you. After all, your little elf had a lot more fight in him,” that cruel voice snarled, and the bottom dropped out of Dorian’s stomach.  

He flailed weakly, spitting curses in Tevene. “If you’ve so much as… laid a… finger on him…” he wheezed, his tongue feeling thick in his mouth.  

“Oh?” came the laughing response, and something was drawn from a pocket and thrust in his face.  

It took him a horrible, lurching moment to realise quite what he was looking at, but when he did, his lips fell open in a silent snarl, and his eyes rolled shut. The hunk of flesh in front of him was a tatter of elven skin, and the lines upon it were vallaslin. They were a deep, olive green, and Dorian recognised enough of them to know that they were of the god June. Ciúin had had those lines marked on his skin, from his beautiful face right down to the small of his back.  

“No,” Dorian whimpered. “No, you… I… I’ll…” he choked and more of the foam bubbled up as his throat closed and his vision warped. “I’ll kill you…” he hissed through clenched teeth. “No, I’ll do much worse… than kill you…” 

At that, the knife was drawn back, and suddenly Dorian knew with a horrifying clarity that he really was going to die.  

Summoning the last of his magic, he prepared a curse which would at least tell someone – Maevaris perhaps – who had done this to Dorian. It was a mixture of mind blast and some other wicked magic, and he poured everything he had left into it. As the knife was rammed home, driving deep into his belly as if into the carcass of a pig on a butcher’s hook, he released the curse.  

“House Amladaris sends its best,” the assassin hissed in his ear, driving the blade deeper into Dorian’s body, serrations ripping flesh and organs apart.  

Even as his vision tunnelled and faded to nothingness, Dorian only smiled in grim satisfaction at the sight of the assassin’s surprise as their body was suddenly locked in a rigour of death as the curse took effect.  

They would be unable to move until someone uttered an appropriate counter spell, and even if they did, the assassin would have become something similar to a Tranquil mage: docile, like a man in his dotage, dead and yet still alive.  

Magister Pavus’ head hit the silk rug of his study floor and his silver-grey eyes rolled back into his head. Blood soaked out in a wide pool around him, and his left hand clutched tightly around the sending crystal. Amatus , he thought, a single tear rolling from his eye to soak unseen into the weave of the silk rug beneath him. Forgive me .  

 

---

 

The door opened only minutes later, and the man who had been carrying the tray of fine, gilded porcelain dropped it with a shout of horror and a crash of shattering crockery. A runner was sent for Magister Tilani, and in the space of fifteen minutes, she was kneeling by Dorian’s side, working the strongest magic she knew how to save her best friend.  

Exhausted, almost four hours later, Maevaris washed her hands, unable to get all of the blood out from under her nails, and accepted the glass of brandy proffered by Dorian’s loyal manservant.  

“Magister Tilani,” he murmured, ashen faced and sweating. “What… What do we do now? He has no heir, no family in Minrathous…” 

She sighed and drained the glass, feeling the searing burn down her throat. “We contain it. He always knew this was a danger, but we never… I… I never thought what would really happen if…” She stifled tears and pushed her blonde hair back out of her red-rimmed eyes. Now was not the time for emotion. “I will have to write to his mother in Quarinus.” 

“Very good,” Owain said. “Pen and paper will be provided for you.” She nodded her thanks and Owain added, “And another brandy.” 

  

Soft pillows.   

Pain.   

Watercolour light.   

Aching.   

Gulls calling, waves whispering, salt air.   

Thirst.   

Gentle hands and s pirit healing.   

White , excruciating agony.  

Oblivion.   

 

Dorian was vaguely aware that things around him were… different, but he was too weak to open his eyes and find out why everything smelled like iodine and salt water. Even breathing was difficult, and absolutely everything hurt. His muscles felt mired in quicksand, unresponsive and heavy, and the pain was worst in his lower stomach.  

He felt the cold shiver of healing magic sweeping through him, and he couldn’t puzzle out who could be working such magic on him, or why, but there was a familiar taste to it nonetheless. It somehow reminded him of Ciúin’s particular brand of healing magic.  

Ciúin , he thought, trying not to picture his beautiful face being carved up by that knife, and concentrating instead on the cool wash of magic that flowed through him. It was dextrous and skilled, delicate and sensitive, coaxing rather than commanding. He let it wash over him because it took away the pain, and he’d never been very good with physical pain. Any amount of emotional pain he would quite happily heap upon himself, but his threshold for pain of a more mundane type was very low.  

He knew the moment he came to awareness a second time that he was in the Fade. Everything was too crisp, too new, like a show-room in Orlais rather than a real bedroom. And then the demon was simply there . At first it was merely a shadow, a doubt in his mind, but the things it whispered to Dorian filled his heart with despair.  

“He’s gone, Dorian, and you killed him.”   

“You kept him from your side and they still killed him.”  

“He died alone , thr a shing a nd screaming.”  

“He’s dead because of you, Dorian.”  

“You could have protected him if you’d allowed him to remain by your side.”  

“They tortured your amatus before they took his life, Dorian. Tortured him for days.  

“What good is all your magic, all your power, if you couldn’t protect your ‘amatus’ ?”  

Dorian screwed his face up and screamed wordlessly at the demon, waking drenched in sweat and shaking, but unable to move a muscle on his own.  

Something cold and damp dabbed at his forehead and he heard vague crooning, shortly followed by a wave of spirit healing.  

Dorian passed in and out of the Fade, an unknown length of time slipping by in a sweating, trembling blur of pain and despair. Every time he slipped into the Fade, he fought to stay out of the grips of the despair demon who was circling him, taking its time with him, toying with him like a fox with a caught field-mouse, but when it started to take on Ciúin’s form, Dorian found his resolve wearing down at a rate he feared he would no longer be able to restore.  

Ciúin’s lithe form danced before him, laughing, teasing him, then disfiguring, the ink of the vallaslin turning to blood, pouring and slipping down his face, his innocent expression melting into one of hurt realisation and horrified shock as he regarded Dorian. He shook his head, lips parted, as he died, over and over in front of Dorian in every way it was possible to end the life of an elf.  

Dorian hovered on the ragged edge of madness for weeks, though he himself had little idea of the passage of time. To him, it was an eternity of torment, without end, and without hope. And yet something made him cling on each time, refusing to give in to temptation, to perhaps his truest, greatest fear.  

Gasping awake, tears rolling down his face and melting into the pillow beneath him, Dorian opened his eyes and found himself locked in a rigour of shattered, despondent weakness.  

“…getting worse,” a woman’s accented voice muttered somewhere nearby.  

The sounds of muted conversation floated in and out of focus, like the picture seen through a badly aligned lens in a laboratory, and he only caught snatches of their talk. “… be here by now… coming from Kirkwall… long way, my lady…”  

This time, when he blinked, Dorian was able to make out a blurry shape above him, and he frowned. His brain was sluggish. Why wasn’t anything making sense? Who was coming from Kirkwall? Where the fuck was he? Those ringlets looked familiar as the figure dipped lower, and he caught a flash of gold and turquoise at the woman’s throat.  

“Mother?” he tried to croak, but a flare of healing magic wiped the brief flash of consciousness from his brain and tipped him into blank, blessed oblivion before he could discover any more.  

 

---

 

Qarinus, technically named Ventus now, was a sprawling mass of white-washed buildings and gilded domes, encrusted with dragon sculptures and towering statues. It was dazzling to behold, but Ciúin had no eyes for that as the carriage of the Lady Aquinea Pavus rattled and rumbled through the streets and out into the coastal countryside beyond.  

The elf was almost crawling up the walls of the infernal box on wheels, which she had insisted on sending for him, by the time it rattled and rumbled into the courtyard of the vast, clifftop house of the Pavus country estate. He could have ridden his elk flat-out without fear of tiring her. He could have been here days ago.  

He flung himself from the door before the horses had been drawn to a full halt, his long black plait swinging behind him, and hissed, “Take me to him,” at a servant who had stepped out of the shadows of the front portico to meet him.  

“Yes, Lord Inquisitor,” the man said, bobbing a brief bow. 

“It’s just Lavellan now,” he barked, and fell into step behind the servant.  

The man moved too slowly.  

Ciúin wanted to run, to dash ahead, but he’d never been here before and was forced to crawl at the servant’s pace. In fact the pace was fairly brisk, but even a galloping hart at full tilt would not have been fast enough for Ciúin now.  

He didn’t take in the fine marble of entrance hall the columns, nor the inlaid stone of the floor with designs of swirling peacock feathers and white snakes, nor the ornate glass in the upper storey windows, nor the carpeted stairs, nor the oil paintings or the alabaster statues in niches along the corridors.  

All he cared about was his vhen’an .  

He’d never believed Dorian when he’d told him it was over, and he’d begged him and begged him through endless streams of distraught tears not to call their relationship off, but Dorian had insisted, and so, eventually, he had obeyed, utterly broken hearted.  

The letter from Dorian’s mother to Clan Lavellan had been forwarded to him in Kirkwall by his Keeper, and he’d almost died of terror when he’d read it. His knees had gone out from under him, and Varric and Hawke had actually had to catch him between them.  

The journey across Thedas had passed in a blur, and now here he was, at last, at Dorian’s bedroom door.  

He had been ushered upstairs by the servant, who informed him at the threshold to Dorian’s bedroom that he would fetch his Lady.  

Then Ciúin was left alone in the open doorway to Dorian’s room, staring in mute horror at the sight before him.  

The mage was lying in a bright room which overlooked the sea, on a bed with pale sheets, his face almost the same colour as the silk surrounding him. Dorian’s hair was longer now, still shaved short on the sides, but the rest had been left hanging long, down to his collarbones almost. But what shocked Ciúin the most was the gauntness of his face.  

His eyes were closed, but they sat deep in the sunken hollows of his skull, and his cheekbones and jaw – always so sharp and well-defined – now looked awkward and harsh, as though the rest of his face had been eroded somehow. In short, he looked like a man on the threshold of death.  

“Oh good,” a woman’s voice said quietly from behind him, making him jump. He hadn’t realised just how long he’d been standing there. “You’re finally here.” Ciúin’s perception of the world slipped sideways at her words; they were almost the same as the ones Dorian had uttered to him upon their first meeting all those years ago in the Redcliffe Chantry.  

“Dorian,” he croaked, unable to tear his eyes from the wraith of the man in the bed. “Creators, look at him…” 

“Yes, my son certainly has seen better days,” she said, sweeping past the elf and into the room. Lady Pavus wore a charcoal grey dress covered with frothy black lace that reminded Ciúin of mourning clothes already, and his stomach twisted painfully.  

“What… What happened ?” 

She stepped close to his bedside and stroked her son’s hair back from his face. He didn’t look like a man in his mid thirties, but a man much older. Her fingers trembled as she reached for him, and her voice caught in her throat. “As I said in my letter, he was poisoned, and then cut open from hip to sternum.” Ciúin’s hearing warped and he clutched the doorframe for support as she went on. “Only his enchanted robes and amulets spared him initially. He still almost bled out on his study floor before Magister Tilani was able to bring him back from… from the brink.” 

Ciúin didn’t move. He couldn’t. He couldn’t bring himself to go over to him, in case his skin really was just the waxy flesh of a corpse. Dorian looked that close to death still. “You said in your letter that this happened months ago. Why isn’t he healing?” he asked in a very small voice. 

She stretched out her hand and invited Ciúin to move closer. Reluctantly, with legs feeling like the rusted mechanisms that lay corroding and lost forever down in the Deep Roads, the elf obliged.  

“You are a mage, are you not?” she asked. She had Dorian’s bone-structure, he noted: his nose, his grey eyes, his lips.  

He nodded, and she took his hand. Her fingers were icy cold.  

“You know how to delve?” she asked, and he nodded a second time. “Then delve him. Be cautious though.” 

Ciúin obliged, slipping his magic beneath Dorian’s skin and discovering the icy tendrils of the Fade clinging to every part of his soul. Horrified, he withdrew and staggered back, retching. “The Fade,” he gasped. “It’s… It’s…” 

“It’s killing him,” she said. “He’s caught in the tangles of a demon, Ciúin, and I cannot free him. We have done all we can for him, physically, but… we cannot reach him.” 

Ciúin’s eyes flickered reflexively to the empty sleeve of his own left arm. He had a fancy prosthetic packed amongst his belongings, but he rarely wore it unless he had to. “I thought I was done with the Fade,” he hissed bitterly.  

A slight shift in the atmosphere made him frown. It was like the last heartbeat before the first roll of thunder or the first flash of lightning, and a distinctive prickling shivered all over his body. Magic. Dorian’s magic.  

He and the Lady Aquinea looked down at Dorian as one, and Ciúin caught the flicker at Dorian’s brows, the deepening of the creases at the corners of his closed eyes, and the slight twitch of his lips.  

“He’s battling even now,” she murmured.  

And then Ciúin reached for him again. He grabbed the bony hand which lay atop the covers and squeezed it. “Ma’vhen’an,” he whispered, “Ma’nehn, come back to me…”  

He stroked Dorian’s thick hair, matted and a little greasy, and kissed his clammy, cold forehead. He reached out for him then with his magic, wondering if his elven training could reach him where human magic would not.  

It made little difference.  

Dorian’s eyes flickered back and forth behind the lids, and soon he began to sweat profusely. His mother unleashed a gentle ice spell to cool him, and Ciúin began to cry in silence. Head bent over Dorian’s chest, barely able to hear the rasping inhale and exhale of his lover – former lover, he reminded himself, though somehow the distinction seemed frail and empty in that moment – as Dorian struggled for his soul in the Fade.  

 

---

 

Dorian came awake after the hardest battle he had yet faced with the despair demon who haunted his dreams. This time it had even smelled like Ciúin as the demon had stepped close to Dorian, winding its arms around him, grinding its body -  Ciúin’s body - against Dorian’s; it had sounded like Ciúin as he’d confessed undying love and then in the next breath accused him of abandoning and betraying him; and it had even tasted of Ciúin as he’d kissed him on the lips, with first tears and then blood pouring down his tattooed cheeks.  

He was drenched in sweat, and someone was dabbing at him with a cool, wet washcloth. The sheets were pulled back, and he barely had the energy to open his eyes. He mustered the strength to frown, however, when he heard the low murmuring of a male voice. Until now, the only person who had been anywhere near him, to his admittedly limited knowledge, was his mother. But this voice was male, and it was speaking a language he didn’t understand.  

Elven, he realised with a jolt.  

“Oh no,” he groaned, and the figure drew back with a sharp inhale of surprise. There was a loud clattering crash as a metal bowl full of water was knocked off the bed, and the figure who had been sitting beside him suddenly leapt up and leaned close.  

A long, black braid swung down and hit the pillow beside his head.  

“Oh Maker, no,” he croaked. “Please…” 

“Vhen’an?” the voice said.  

He knew that word, that voice. He’d heard it only moments ago in the Fade before he’d woken. But it seemed he hadn’t woken after all. He’d only been transported to a newer and more terrible vision.  

“Dorian, ma’nehn, can you hear me?” Urgent fingers slid into his own and the voice continued, excited, animated, and desperate. “Vhen’an, if you can hear me, squeeze my fingers. Please… please Dorian.” 

Resignedly, Dorian obliged and squeezed. He had no more fight in him now. The demon had won.  

A moment later, he succumbed to exhaustion and slipped into unconsciousness.  

 

---

 

Ciúin could hardly believe that he’d almost had Dorian back, even for a moment, but something had still been wrong. Dorian hadn’t believed him. There had been a strange disconnect, as though something had broken in him. If he had, as Ciúin suspected, finally given up after his monumentally long struggle, Dorian would be in the most danger now.  

Ciúin knew what he had to do. He should have done it the first night he’d been there.  

His heartbeat trebled in pace at the thought of it, and he stared down yet again at the stump of his left arm which ended just below the elbow.  

Beneath the silk ‘sock’ he wore around the sensitive nub to protect it from rubbing on his other clothes or from getting scratched, he knew a network of white and green scars snaked and stretched right up his arm to his shoulder, and even spidering their way over his back a little. Something seemed to pulse in him then, like the phantom hand he still felt he had at times, and he knew it was his own magic trying to connect with the former magic of the Anchor. It was as though the Fade was already calling him, gleefully trying to suck him in and ensnare him once more in its tangled grasp.  

He knew that in order to save Dorian, he was going to have to go into the Fade, but at least this time his body could remain behind.   

Lady Pavus wasn’t particularly surprised at his request, but despite everything, she hardly seemed all that keen to let an elf – even one who had quite literally saved the world – spend the night alone in her son’s bed. Hitherto, Ciúin had slept – or attempted something resembling sleep – in the adjacent room. Ciúin might have laughed if Dorian wasn’t in such peril.  

But as she stood back, Ciúin lay down beside Dorian and laid his head on Dorian’s eerily still chest. It barely rose or fell with his breathing, and Ciúin prayed he was in time. “Wait for me, vhen’an,” he murmured, stifling a yawn. His vision was already blurring. “I’m coming. I’m… coming…” 

Awakening once again in the Fade was a truly horrible experience.  

Panic rushed through his veins and clenched at his lungs, rendering him stupid and senseless for a moment. Ciúin half expected the monstrous form of the nightmare demon from last time to be looming large over the landscape like a bloated corpse, but instead, he found only empty passageways and crumbling rock. It reminded him so strongly of the time they’d all tumbled into the Fade at Adamant that he couldn’t breathe for a moment as bile rose in his throat and fear clutched at his lungs. 

And then he heard a soft voice. Dorian’s soft voice.  

It was coming from a nearby passageway, and it shocked him out of his terrified stupor. Still wheezing from his swirling panic, Ciúin set off at a dead sprint, ignoring the way the Fade tilted and rocked slightly around him, as though it sensed the memory of the power he had had over it once.  

Focus on Dorian , he told himself as he sprinted along the gritty passageways. 

Barrelling round a corner like a winded bronto, he saw Dorian standing there with his head bowed low. Physically, he looked exactly like the Dorian he remembered from their years with the Inquisition, with his hair short, and his figure fuller than the Dorian lying in the bed beside him as they slept, but there was an eerie, despondent set to his shoulders and a looseness to his fingers as they hung by his side that sent a thrill of ice down Ciúin’s spine.  

Before him stood a despair demon.  

The air around it frosted and billowed like steam on a winter morning, and it reached its hand triumphantly out for Dorian’s chin. “Now you are mine, mage,” it hissed softly. The man didn’t flinch as it drew closer. Ciúin kept expecting him to lash out with his magic, or snap some kind of pithy retort, but nothing happened.  

“Dorian!” he yelled, starting forwards.  

The mage jumped, and looked around at him with dead, grey eyes, hard as old steel left too long unpolished.  

“Dorian, it’s me. Don’t… Don’t give in. Please… vhen’an…” 

“One last test?” Dorian snorted bitterly. He turned back to the despair demon, which had withdrawn its icy, clawed fingers and seemed to be gathering energy for an attack. “You want to watch a broken man’s heart well and truly shatter?” he asked it.  

“Dorian!” Ciúin snapped. “It’s me !” 

He ran towards him, and since it was the Fade, and nothing but the demons and their presence was real, he summoned his staff to his hand with a thought. Not everyone could do this, he had discovered from Solas, but with his Tevinter ‘dreamer’s’ blood, Ciúin could manipulate the Fade around him with relative ease. He could attack without his staff, but having its familiar heft in his hand would help him focus. Without much extra thought, he summoned the one Dorian had favoured back when they’d fought Corypheus side-by-side, and tossed it at him. The one Ciúin  had made for him in the forge at Skyhold.  

Ciúin also didn’t notice that here in the Fade, he had two arms once again. 

Dorian caught his staff, more out of reflex than anything else, and stared at it. “Ciúin?” he breathed. “It can’t be you this time… It has to be a second demon, or... amatus ? ” he whispered, eyes full of pleading hopelessness.  

“Believe it, vhen’an,” Ciúin growled grimly, setting his feet and drawing in as much mana as he could bear to hold without breaking. “It’s time we broke this demon’s hold on you. Together.” He cast him a sidelong look and caught a spark of the old Dorian, the familiar Dorian, the cocky, arrogant Tevinter with the heart of purest gold, and the elf grinned savagely.  

“Together,” Dorian muttered hesitantly, as if trying out the taste of the word again.  

Ciúin unleashed the first attack, placing a powerful fire rune right under the despair demon’s feet. It shrieked and howled as its robes caught light, and a blast of ice shot out from it. Ciúin instinctively fade-stepped the beam of congealing air, letting the frost pass through him, and returned fire with an arcing blast of lightning that stunned the demon into a stupor. This left Dorian free to cast his first attack, which he did with some hesitation, as though still not quite believing that Ciúin was really there and that this was genuine.  

But he was fighting, and that was enough for Ciúin for the time being. 

Once the demon hissed and spat at him, turning the full force of its ire on Dorian, however, the mage seemed to realise just what was happening, and he sobbed aloud with relief. “You’re really here, amatus?” he choked in between attacks.  

“It’s me, vhen’an,” Ciúin replied, and the weight of his relief spurred him on to fight all the harder.  

Once the demon was finally little more than a smouldering pile of damp rags, Ciúin let go of his staff and it disintegrated into luminescent green shards before it hit the ground. He flung himself at Dorian and held him tight. “Wake up, vhen’an,” he whimpered into Dorian’s neck, peppering him with damp kisses. “Wake up, and I’ll really be there this time.” 

“Promise?” Dorian asked in barely a whisper, standing stock still and unmoving beneath him. 

“I swear it, ma’nehn. I swear it. Just hang on a little longer, I promise.” He took Dorian’s face in his right hand, his left now a mere stump resting at Dorian’s ribs as he thought about it, and added, “I took a… draft, so I might take longer to wake, but wait for me, alright? Your mother keeps watch over both of us.” 

“Oh, that isn’t awkward or uncomfortable in any way,” Dorian remarked, and Ciúin suddenly burst into tears.  

“There you are. That’s my Dorian,” he said, thumbing a fond arc along Dorian’s cheekbone. He kissed him once more, relishing the feel of that ridiculous moustache against his lip once again. “I’ll join you as soon as it wears off, I swear it.” 

“Alright,” Dorian said, and then he was simply gone.  

 

Dorian gasped as he awoke, the sheets sticking to his sweat-soaked body, and he felt a weight on his chest so heavy he could barely breathe. When he managed to crack his eyes open enough to let in the blinding light of the afternoon sun which flooded the room, he saw a mass of shiny, black hair, so dark it was almost blue, and he knew that the Ciúin of his vision in the Fade had not been a lie.  

This was real. Everything hurt too much, and he was far too sweaty and uncomfortable for this to be some demon’s fabrication, and he wept.  

Tears tracked down from the corners of his eyes and soaked into the pillow beneath his head. He began to choke and his chest heaved as he sobbed his relief that this was all finally over, and that Ciúin was really there.  

“Shh,” his mother’s voice said, and a wash of healing magic swept through him, its chill as familiar as the caress of the cool cloth across his brow which followed a moment or two later.  

“Mother,” he croaked, his voice painfully harsh and scraping from long disuse. “Wake him up, please…” 

“Oh Dorian,” she cooed, “It worked! Of course, I’ll administer the antidote…” 

“Antidote?” he scowled.  

“You were so near death yourself that a simple sleeping draft would not have been sufficient for the elf to reach you, my darling,” she said, and the weight on his shoulder vanished as she cupped Ciúin’s head, raising it enough for her to pour in a few drops from a crystal phial.  

Dorian blinked, stunned. Too weak to lift his head enough to watch, he waited with baited breath, until Ciúin took a longer, deeper inhale, and stirred in Lady Pavus’ arms.  

“Dorian?” was the first word off his lips, and he floundered weakly, desperate to sit up and look around.  

Lady Pavus eased him with a gesture, “Shh, he’s alright. He awoke before you. Take a moment to gather yourself, Inquisitor, and –” 

“It’s just Ciúin now,” he said as he twisted in her grasp and sat upright. When his brilliant green eyes found Dorian’s, he teared up all over again and bent over him, sobbing. “Oh thank the creators you’re alright, vhen’an,” he wailed, his long hair falling down in its thick plait as a heavy weight on the bed beside Dorian.  

“You’re… You’re not angry with me?” Dorian rasped, unable to move so much as a finger to touch his amatus. His muscles felt like water, and his bones like cast iron. He was so fragile and so weak, and it galled.  

“Angry? Why would –?” Ciúin asked, sitting bolt upright, and then he laughed bitterly, stroking Dorian’s cheek the way he had in the Fade. It made Dorian’s heartbeat jump. “Oh, you mean… us …?” 

“Yes,” Dorian said, guilt tinging that single word with a heavy, dark colour.  

Ciúin swallowed visibly, looking as wounded and betrayed as a kicked puppy, but his eyes remained kind. “No, Dorian. You always sought to protect me, if not from demons and raging cultists, then from Tevinter herself. I understand. I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive you for hurting me like that, but I do understand.” 

“You’re…” Dorian began, but a dizzying wave of tiredness washed over him and his eyes rolled closed, his breath catching suddenly in his throat.  

“Shh, vhen’an,” Ciúin smiled. “Shh. Sleep. I’ll be here. No demons will prowl around you now, I swear it. Rest, and we’ll talk more when you’re stronger.” 

“You’re more than I ever deserved,” Dorian managed to wheeze before he succumbed to the exhaustion that had swept over him since the despair demon had been defeated. “I…” he said, unable to finish the sentiment that fizzled out into nothingness on the very tip of his tongue.  

“I know,” Ciúin said. “Ar lath ma, vhen’an.”