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Feathers

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It had dawned in him during the debriefing. The debriefing which had been mandatory--he was the commander, after all; Cullen had to know what had happened at Redcliffe Castle while he remained cooped up poring over reports, maps and lists of supplies--but which had unsettled him, if he were honest with himself, prompting more questions than answers.

He'd interrogated the mage, after first hearing from the Inquisitor that the mages trickling in across the great span of stone leading to Skyhold would not abate. Would, in fact, grow ever larger as word got out that the Inquisition was welcoming the rebel mages with open arms. Cullen had grown angry then--so had they all, honestly; they'd expected to have more time to decide, to plan, to stall--and stormed out of the debriefing before it had been proper. He'd had to call the mage back later, alone with Leliana and Josephine, for a more detailed explanation of the specific kind of magic afoot in Redcliffe Castle.

"How do you know it was a year in the future? A year exactly? That's awfully...precise," he'd demanded.

Dorian, oddly muscled for one whose heaviest accoutrement was his staff, shrugged beneath the equally odd rope-tied covering he wore and sniffed disdainfully. "Time magic. Another idiot Tevinter sticking his nose where it doesn't belong, playing with powers he doesn't understand. Is that what you want me to say?"

"No! What does that have to do with anything? I want to know how you could possibly have known it was precisely a year gone! Is that such a hard question?"

"I just waltzed up to a guard and asked him the date, before cheerfully blowing his head off with a fireball. Obviously."

"Dorian--" Josephine began, the familiar diplomat's placation putting its feelers out.

Cullen had no patience for it all of a sudden. He was not in a mood to placate, not after losing what chance they'd had to fix all the wrongs of the templars--or at least to have tried--and not after trying and failing to get the details out of some strange man who had appeared out of nowhere, right before an invasion that cost them their base and hundreds of lives. He slammed both hands on the war table, causing the figures representing various factions to topple. Josephine's eyes met Leliana's with a look whose complete lack of surprise frustrated Cullen all the more.

"How. Did. You. Know." He kept his voice flat and level as one of the measuring rods the dwarves were even now using in the Great Hall, trying to keep the floors level as they rebuilt them.

He met the man's gray-eyed stare glower for glower, and finally Dorian did roll his eyes and used it as an excuse to look away--out the windows, toward the lengthy sweep of shadow pouring down off this side of the peaks at day's end.

"I asked Leliana," he said.

The spymaster--for that was what she was, whatever anyone wished to call her--allowed her eyebrows to rise, but tucked any other reaction tightly away where Cullen couldn't read it. "Me?" she said lightly.

Dorian's eyes remained fixed on a point beyond the mountains. "Yes, you. You were there! You were...the year of Corypheus's reign had been...difficult. You and Cassandra and Solas were there. You...died for us. For us to come fix this." His face hardened. "For us to come fix the mess Alexius will make if his beloved Corypheus has his way."

Cullen would never have ranked himself among the most observant of men, and in truth he admitted to himself later that he might have missed it completely had he not noticed Josephine's wince. But wince she did, right as the Tevinter mage's voice twisted on beloved, and Cullen thought he understood a little more what led the man to be so nasty about the events at Redcliffe.

"I'm sorry," he said suddenly, surprising not only himself but Leliana, who actually allowed her eyebrows to fly skyward a second time.

Dorian looked away from the mountains then, his gaze sharp and guarded as a hidden dagger. "What an odd thing for you to say. We're all back in one piece after all, aren't we? Demons vanquished, damsels rescued, happily ever after and all that?"

"I'm sorry for calling you in before you'd had a chance to--" Cope? Cullen suspected that mouth under that ridiculous mustache would twist cruelly were he to even suggest such a thing. "--Before you'd had a chance to rest."

"My dear commander, a mage I may be, even one from the tepid north, but made of glass I assuredly am not," Dorian replied, rising gracefully in a rustle of silks that were (miraculously!) only slightly worn from travel and near-death experiences. "While you were here arranging your toys, after all," he glanced downward at the troop movement markers Cullen's outburst had knocked over, "I was travelling through time to amend my former mentor's disastrous mistakes. I hope you'll understand from this that I am hardly some fragile creature in need of constant coddling in order to be of any value to your cause." A sudden smile streaked across his face, like a rabbit startled out of a bush--there then gone. "Though I wouldn't mind a bath, if we are discussing coddling. A real one, in a tub. You do have tubs here in the south, don't you? Or are we supposed to leap into frigid rivers and come out frozen solid, to keep down the smell?

"The Inquisitor has spoken for you," Josephine interjected smoothly. "Your value is not in doubt. And I do believe we have a large copper tub, yes, just recently arrived as a gift from one of our wealthier Orlesian adherents. Commander, unless there is more information you require...?"

Cullen blinked. His mind had gone rather too far down the path of copper tubs and steaming torrents of water for his liking, and he knew Leliana, at least, was not unaware of his discomfiture. "Yes, well. I believe we've gathered all the information we need to at present." He coughed, resting his eyes on the rope bindings at the mage's shoulders rather than his eyes. "You are dismissed."

"So kind of you," Dorian drawled, wearing an expression Cullen kept himself from seeing by staring at the knots. Cullen saw the swirl of his mage's robes, though, as he turned to follow Josephine out of the war room and toward the hoped-for loan of the copper tub.

When he turned away from the doorway he realized Leliana was smirking at him openly, and he felt the inescapable flush claw its way up his cheeks.

"Not a word," he snapped.

Leliana pursed her lips in a perfect moue, the picture of Andrastian innocence. "I was only curious as to your thoughts on the merits of Orlesian copper tubs versus--what was it? Throwing yourself into a frigid river in the Ferelden fashion?"

"That's several words, if I'm counting right."

"Perhaps as a Ferelden you are unfamiliar with the concept of a decent bath? Great shining tubs of near-boiling-hot water, gouts of steam curling upward, bathing the skin in a sheen of sweat before you even sit down--if you hurry you might ask Josephine if she could order enough water for two."

Cullen hoped his glare was like twin daggers. Straight into the innocent spymaster's smirk.

"I'll leave you to pick up after yourself, then," Leliana quipped in a perfect imitation of Dorian's speech and cadence, grinning when she saw Cullen realize this. "We wouldn't want people to think we were invading Lake Calenhad, now, would we?"

"Indeed. Not."

Leliana gone, Cullen plucked the fallen soldier from Lake Calenhad and righted it squarely over Redcliffe Village. Where this mage had, apparently, gone forward in time. Where he had lost any hope of redeeming his one-time lover. And from which he had returned, against all reason or expectation, here. Now. To Skyhold. To join the Inquisition.