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It started when, of all people, Helisma approached the Inquisitor with a complaint ready on her lips. Shocking though that event was already, her normally stoic face was slightly pinched at the corners of her eyes; her mouth dipped downward. More so than her even wanting to complain about something, it was the sight of her being displeased at all that was so startling. Inquisitor Trevelyan found himself at a loss for words, and hardly able to pay attention to what she was saying until he came across the words, "cats" and "Dorian," following each other and he knew he had to back up.

"Wait..." he put up his hands, shaking his head. "I'm sorry. I wasn't listening. Say that again?"

Helisma sighed. It amazed him how patient she was, as she then very carefully restated it all. "There are five cats roaming around the library, and they are interfering with my research. I think you should consult Dorian about them."

Ruen Trevelyan stared at her for the span of two minutes. "...cats," he slowly said.

"Yes. Cats, Inquisitor. That is what I said."

"Yes, I know, but..." ...cats? He looked at her for a moment more. Cats?

Helisma sighed again, the same sigh as before. "They are small, furry creatures pertaining to the mammal family. Their diet consists of-"

"-yes, yes, thank you. I'm aware of what a cat is. It's just..." Ruen shook his head, still baffled. "How did we get them...?"

"That is why I think you should consult Dorian."

Ruen wasn't exactly sure he wanted to know where the cats came from. It's not as if the small things could just wander inside Skyhold. It was a fortified fortress, for Andraste's sake-practically out in the middle of nowhere. And yes, while they had quite good trade and many carts leaving to and from them every day, he highly doubts that five cats would just be stowing away in one of them to hop out as soon as they got there. Devilish beasts he knew they could be, they weren't organized like that.

"Dorian...?" Ruen called as he walked up the stairs to the library. He peeked out of the stairway, but the mage was nowhere to be seen.

He came up to the landing and peered around. Hm.

There came a clatter from the rookery above, and a shout, and shit—he had a feeling he knew where Dorian was, then. Cats. The library. The rookery. Of course. That couldn't bode well. He raced up the next pair of stairs, trying not to swear too much under his breath—Andraste forgive him—and when he reached the rookery he looked up just in time to duck under a crow that was wildly seeking escape.

"Dorian Pavus, you take care of those little monsters right this instant!"

Oh, shit.

Ruen looked up and saw the Tevinter mage cradling three little furballs—one tucked in the elbow of his right arm, the other in his left, and the third clawing onto his shoulder, mewing with fear as he held it in place with his hand. "They're—they're not monsters, Leliana—!"

"They're about to make dinner out of my crows!" The spymaster shouted, waving a hand. "That makes them monstrous enough! Now, go on! Get them out of here!"

"But—but I have nowhere else to put them—they're supposed to be wonderful for libraries—"

Just as Leliana's mouth opened to retort, Ruen decided to skip inbetween them quickly, grinning nervously. "Friends! Hello! Yes, um—let's just—calm down, and…talk this over nice and civilly..."

Both parties looked entirely too relieved to see their Inquisitor. Leliana sighed, closing her eyes briefly. All the tension in her face wiped away instantly and Dorian, on the other hand, lit up, immediately blurting out before either of them could say another word, "Inquisitor! So good to see you—you see, I was going to come talk to you about this. I seem to have—er—I may have accidentally, sort of adopted five cats."

Leliana rubbed at her forehead, sighing softly. Ruen felt like doing much the same. "Yes, okay, about that…Dorian, can I ask why—"

"—cat!"

One of the scouts shouted out in warning, and all three persons turned to watch a small calico tabby pawing curiously towards the floorless circle in the center of the room. Ruen's heart nearly leaped out of his chest and he darted forward for the small thing, quickly swiping it up before it could fall over the edge and cause other disastrous harm—to itself and others.

He held the kitten curled towards his chest, and felt its small ribs under his fingers. It was so soft and so delicate, and once he heard the mewing, small paws clawing at the front of his shirt, in one instant he knew why Dorian had somehow, "accidentally" adopted five of them.

There was something…adorable about them. He walked back up to the other two, curious. "That's…four. Where's the fifth one?"

Dorian chuckled. "Probably crawling up the back of my left leg. He tends to do that, for some odd reason. He probably thinks I'm wearing curtains instead of actual clothes. Ha!"

Leliana and Ruen shared a look that read, I won't tell him if you don't.

"Anyway, regardless," Dorian spoke up, clearing his throat. "We have five cats, now. Evidently, the library is not a fit place for them, so we need to find another place where they can stay where they won't be a danger to anyone—or themselves."

Leliana crossed her arms over her chest. Ruen sighed softly. "Dorian, Skyhold isn't a place for pets. I don't know where you think we can keep them, but—"

"We can find somewhere…" Dorian muttered, nearly pouting. "Come now, Inquisitor. Haven't you always wanted a pet?"

Ruen wasn't about to say "yes" even though the answer to that question was most definitely a "yes." He baited his breath, trying not to be drawn into the trap. He better go around it, just to be safe.

"…weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllll…"

Leliana's eyes snapped to his and Ruen began to sweat nervously. Fortunately, he was saved from having to say a word when a small poof sounded behind them, and there was a quiet, softspoken voice saying, "…I know where they can stay."

"Cole!" Ruen spun around, relief coloring his voice, his face. Gosh, but he had never been happier to see the spirit. "That's great! Where did you have in mind?"


The mages in the tower at first were uncertain of what to think. But soon, however, the cats became a delight and a welcome addition to their study quarters, despite the new fur the mage robes quickly became decorated with. They were spoiled, did not go without love, and the mages who were so far from home quickly enjoyed the comfort a purring companion could give.

They were also quickly named. Sparky for his love of watching young mages practice lightning spells, Pillow for her tendency to sleep on the mages', well, pillows, Scoundrel for getting into troubling positions relentlessly such as climbing up the back of people's legs, Kittenquisitor because one of the mages thought they were being particularly clever and Dorian Jr. for…other obvious reasons (namely a certain Tevinter mage believed since he was the reason they have the kittens, one should be named in his honor).

Quickly, the kittens enfolded themselves in the daily business of Skyhold. They made a home for themselves, making a space in the hearts of the Inquisition, and all was well.

For a time.

Chapter Text

It started when Cole felt a small tug in Cullen’s direction one morning.

It was a small thing, not necessarily a giant pull or a shove, but something quiet and soft. He was missing something.

Laughter. Home. The smooth wood of the dining table. Syrup stuck on my fingers, can’t get it off. That’s okay. Mia’s got it in her hair. Mother rolls her eyes. Cool water and warm hands. Rubbing. Soothing. The scent of maple as we dash outside.

Cole hummed in thought and tilted his head, considering this. Memories, nostalgia. There was a certain pain underneath it all, deep in Cullen’s bones, but overlapping with it were these particular snapshots of sunshine and summer, reoccurring again and again, almost desperate in an attempt to dull the other hurt. This—breakfast together—together-breakfast?—had happened a lot in the Rutherford household.

And their Commander, for whatever reason, missed it terribly now more so than he had ever before.

(There were other factors, other pains, at work here, too—probably culminating in this certain moment, Cole knew. But this one, at least, had an easy solution.)

And really, he didn’t intend to scare the Inquisitor senseless. When he appeared beside the man’s bed that same morning, ready to inform him that Cullen was in distress and he needs their help to quell it, he didn’t know that humans could jump quite so high or scream quite so loudly.

“W-what are you—Cole—?!”

Inquisitor Trevelyan yanked up the covers to his eyes, staring at the spirit in shock.

Cole blinked back, startled at his own self for having scared his friend. “I—I’m sorry—“

Ruen puts a hand over his heart and sits up a little bit, watching him. “No, no, wait, it’s okay, it’s just…might not want to do that again, okay?” He lets out a long breath, whistling a little bit. It seemed to calm his racing heart and the Inquisitor cleared his throat. “…yeah, okay. Anyway. So w-what are you doing here…?”

Cole nodded, calming down as the human before him seemed to do. “Breakfast,” he supplied. “We need to have breakfast together. Everyone.”

Inquisitor Trevelyan blinked at the spirit.

“Yes. It is important,” Cole murmured, answering the question before the Inquisitor could ask it.

Ruen nodded slowly. But considering who he was talking to, when Cole says its “important,” he knew that most likely meant it was for someone else’s healing. He looked down at his lap, pushed off his covers, and moved to stand. “All right then,” he said back. “But why come to me about this?” What is Cole thinking he can do…?

“They listen to you,” Cole responded, stepping back so the Inquisitor could stand. “You brought them together. You can bring them together for this, too.”

Ruen looked at him for a moment. His baby blue eyes, and the earnestness in his pale, drawn face, framed by shaggy blonde hair. There was nothing he did without complete sincerity, and touched by it, the Inquisitor nodded. “All right, then. I suppose we’ll—we’ll have…breakfast together.”

The joy that lit up Cole’s face he’d remember for a week.

“Great! I knew we could count on you,” he was saying, and he disappeared for a moment, before returning. “Where will we be eating?”

Inquisitor Trevelyan found Cole’s joy contagious. He couldn’t stop smiling back. “Not quite sure yet. But I’m sure you’ll find me once we find a place,” he answered. Cole nodded and disappeared again and the Inquisitor felt the joy drain from him as the silence rose to meet him.

Wait, so…how was he supposed to make this happen?

Cole made things sound so much easier than they were in practice.

Varric was readily available to eat breakfast, and actually seemed, in his own smug and cocky way, excited at the idea. Solas took no persuading at all, and was openly delighted to join them. Dorian scrunched up his nose, made a few jokes, and even though he made it sound beneath him, he declared he was, as well, eager to have breakfast with everyone. “Seeing how Southerners’ table manners are first thing in the morning should be interesting,” he said. “All right. Count me in!”

Sera would not wake up, no matter how much the Inquisitor tried to wake her, so he left her a note to invite her to join them whenever she did awake. Blackwall blinked at him and in his own kind way, agreed, something odd in his face as if he was touched that he should be asked to join them for breakfast. Cassandra was confused by the entire invitation, particularly since she already ate breakfast, which made Ruen sweat quite a bit, until she sighed and reluctantly agreed to be there anyway, crossing her arms over her chest and tilting her head. “I may not understand why it is necessary, but I will be there if it is so important.”

Leliana seemed amused, and agreed easily with her usual grace and coy smile. Josephine was delighted, and took the initiative to immediately head over to the kitchens and inform the cook that they were having breakfast together. All of them—the entire inner circle of the Inquisition—so they had best start preparing now.

Vivienne was tickled by the idea, but was the only one to politely refuse. “You’re sweet, darling, but I’ve already eaten,” she murmured. And when Ruen informed her Cassandra had eaten as well, but she was still joining them, she added with a chuckle, “Yes, but her choices do not need to affect my own, my dear. Go on. Have fun. You know where to find me if you need me for anything else.”

Cullen was the only one who reacted the most strangely. When Ruen peaked his head inside of his office, asking him, “Commander…? Would you like to join us for breakfast?” his head jerked upward so fast, the Inquisitor was worried he had hurt himself.

“Wait, I’m sorry. Say that again?” Cullen asked, clearly bewildered and not in pain.

Ruen straightened up a little, clearing his throat. “Breakfast. Um, everyone is having breakfast together this morning. We’re…trying something new. Would you like to join us?”

Cullen stared at him openly for a long stretch of time, until finally something…soft and vulnerable swept over his features, like he had been putting on a front for so long and finally saw there was no reason to hide anymore. It was rare and it was strange and Ruen watched, bewildered, as Cullen visibly gathered himself back together and then stood. He had a small, knowing smile on his face. “…this is Cole’s doing, isn’t it?”

Ruen’s not sure what to say to that, but it suddenly just him who this “important” thing was for. “Oh.” He flailed for words. “Well, I—“

Cullen waved a hand and walked over. “—I would be happy to. Forget I asked.” His smile gentled and came over, hand on the hilt of his sword as always, as if it were a constant comfort and familiar companion. Ruen watched him with wonder as he neared, having never seen this side of him before. It was—unique.

“Well?” the Commander asked, gesturing with his hand once he reached the Inquisitor. “To breakfast, then, Inquisitor?”

“Um!” Ruen blinked and straightened, jerked out of his trance. “Yes! Breakfast. Come on, Josephine’s setting everything up in the kitchens, so…”

And so there they sat, on the stone stairs leading up to the kitchens, all eleven of them, knees brushing against heads, and butts turned cold on the stone even as their hearts grew warm. Together they watched the sky shift from pink to blue, gradient glories with soft clouds drifting along, looking as lazy and comfortable as they felt, gathered together so early in the eve of day.

Sera, when she did show up, was entirely thrilled with the idea. She settled herself among them quickly, blabbering about the awesomeness of this—how good it felt to see them all together—“Same level, yeah? No more big people and little people; now we’re all the same!”—while meanwhile, Cole just continued to watch Cullen, situated as he was between Dorian and Leliana.

There was much laughter and chatter among them all, and it was good, Ruen thought, as he watched them. This was very good. This should happen more often.

It became a tradition, once every week (a development that Cullen did not mind in the least).

Chapter Text

It started when Solas began to feel a stirring in his chest that was foreign and reserved only for the spirits to which he knew and tended regularly like family. It was strange where even this stirring should come from—because it began when he thought of the Inquisition, and the people who had made it what it was.

After all, the thing that baffled him the most about them was, they all started somewhere.

Every single one of them had come in a journey to get here. And, most likely, in one place, each of them had an instant in which they had to determine who they were. Separately, so far from each other with whom they had become entangled, they solely determined what they were going to let defeat them, and what they weren’t.

A young girl in isolation month after month, so alone and so cold. So hungry. But believing it was right. Voiding herself of all emotion so that she would become the most faithful. The perfect Seeker. The perfect follower. But the young girl is still in there. She has ideas, too. She wants to believe she is doing the right thing, but is that of her volition? Or because she was Touched…

A young man, tortured and screaming, insides ripped apart by all the forces he’d ever been taught to fear—only to learn that what he should have feared all along was the very service he had devoted his life to. Now they’ve planted a monster under his skin, caged beneath his ribs but hungry for what they fed him. He doesn’t want it, but it’s oh so hungry and it’s killing him…

A young woman, standing at the top of the stairs at a broken body, terrified and horrified at her own hands. What has she done? What has she done? This was never meant to happen; she never wanted this. She wanted more, but did not know the cost. There is regret inside, deep and heavy that weighs her soul. She’s afraid of herself, of her own hands. If they would just stop shaking…

A young spy, looking up at the man who she once believed would save them all from the Blight. Again she has witnessed betrayal, someone dear poisoning that which she held most sacred. She doesn’t know who to turn to, doesn’t know where to go. Who can she trust anymore? There’s scars within her heart, too deep to reach and mend. And it hurts, it hurts, Maker, stop the pain…

A young dwarf who makes up stories to hide the hurt, betrayed by his brother who kneels before him, so sharply different than before. He’s hurt, too (so of course he can’t pity himself). The song. They saved him, but he goes away. Who does he have left? He tries to forget his parents, and there is one friend who knows him, but fate sent her away. So he is alone. Always alone…

A young mage, not perfect enough. Never enough. He lies on the floor, cheeks wet and heart slow; his father’s blood magic couldn’t change that which was so wrong about him. The world is blurry and he knows he can’t stay. Father will never be proud of him. So he escapes. He started screaming inside the moment the spell started and since then, he doesn’t think he’s stopped…

A young elf, betrayed by the woman she looked up to. There’s pain in the world and she doesn’t know how to stop it. Sometimes she’d cover her pointed ears in her room and curl in a ball and wonder why everyone lied. Why couldn’t everyone stop being stupid. She wouldn’t be. She’d make things right. She’d care for the little people. Then, life could be simple and not so hard

A young man, who did not expect the darkspawn to be what they were, and did not expect to find so much in common with those beasts whose soul was twisted black. He stares at the broken corpse of the Chevalier and knows he’s lost his compass. He can’t do this on his own; he’s so wrong. He is not good inside, never will be good inside. If he could just be someone else…

A young and hopeful upstart who never meant anything her entire life. Overlooked and overshadowed and never important, never noticed. She stares at the Circle walls, her cage, and decides she will make herself with her own hands. She will carve her life from the nothingness so no one forgets her. And if she loses herself along the way, who cares? No one else ever did…

A young spirit who is too late to save the boy. His screams are so loud, he’s in so much pain—Guts. Eating themselves. So, so hungry—but he wasn’t fast enough and that pain, his own, becomes too much. But where other spirits would twist into demons, he became the boy. And he used to like himself until he remembered what he was; now he wonders when he should die…

A young mage who’s grown up with a heart too soft to ripple the waters. When the Templars came to kill him, he knew only fear and pain and didn’t know how to speak up so he would not be killed. He knows not why fate chose him for this, only that it has chosen the wrong person. Now he’s called to lead and save order, when he could not even speak up to save himself…

Sometimes Solas looks at them, and he marvels at the paths they have lead which took them here. He’s painted them onto his walls, watched the firelight flicker over the symbols that represent them, and he’s curious that they should mean so much to him, when most of them are not even his people.

He folds his hands behind his back and does not leave his room for days. It is troubling, these pasts that these people have endured. Where are their gods? Where is Andraste? Where is the Maker? That they should let such scourges happen upon their own chosen and draw such poor souls together. Unless that was their plan, all along? Wound them, hurt them, but string them together so that they bind and they heal each other as much as they heal the land.

It is a strange plan, he admits. Not what he would have done. Although he does not believe he is fully entitled to ask himself what he would have done, considering what he has done…

But the more important question to ask, he supposes, is why does he wish to protect them?

Solas wanted to save the world, yes. He wanted to right his own mistake, fix what his own hand had done to cause this mess. He’s well aware he has his own role to play in the events that are ongoing.

But he did not expect to find the people he would surround himself with as…friends. To care for them, as he does. To wish them good fortune and good lives and want to…stay.

He can’t actually stay, of course. He knows that. But that does not stop the wanting, and it does not solve the problem which has kept him locked up in his room for quite some time. There is good here, he feels it. Still, sure, and steady, threaded through the beating heart of Skyhold, these people are a life force breathing change to Thedas.

But they are not all elves. They are not what he knew. This is not Arlathan.

So it is new. And it is good.

And for the first time, he’s thinking maybe it can be…just as good.

So when he finally emerges from his room, he starts to address them as “friend.” They do not comment, and each one reacts differently to the word. Ruen, he could swear, gets starry-eyed when he says it, happy and enthusiastic about the change. Varric stares at him strangely, startled, as does Cassandra who nearly drops her sword. Sera scrunches up her nose and tells him to get out, and Dorian laughs but it’s slightly awkward. Josephine blinks but smiles and nods and accepts it graciously, while Leliana is enchanted and delighted and responds just as warmly. Cullen stares at him and clears his throat to stutter back a flushed answer, and Blackwall freezes, looking at him, before he sombers and nods back with touched respect. Vivienne takes it in stride with just the hint of a larger, pleased smile, and Cole…

…Cole is gentle, but startled when Solas calls him, “Friend.” The spirit clearly waits for a beat, another beat, and then he responds back, quietly as ever, “…we’re friends?”

“Yes,” Solas answers. He clasps his hands behind his back. “It took me quite some time to come to terms with it, admittedly. But I do not see why every single one of you should mean so little to me. After all we have been through together, we’re friends, are we not?”

He can allow himself that much, he decided, during his time in his room.

Cole nods back, scarcely believing it. He rolls the word around on his tongue, tracing the letters with tongue against teeth. “Friends,” he murmurs. “It tastes…nice.”

Solas gentles. “Then I am glad. It feels…nice.”

And it does. Freeing, perhaps, as well. But nice. While it lasts, that is.

Then Cole smiles at him. That definitely, definitely feels nice.

Chapter Text

It started when the others began to notice how Dorian started to retreat more and more into himself during their early days at Skyhold, and also, coincidentally, soon after Iron Bull and he began seeing each other, much to the rest of the team’s…mild surprise. It was strange, they noticed, for someone who was so loud and so boisterous, to so suddenly and so sharply become so quiet. And it worried them.

Naturally, they sent Ruen to go and address the problem. (“After all, isn’t that your job?” Varric had asked, grinning. His hands were crossed over his chest, and he cocked his head at the tall mage. “That’s what you’re here for, right? To figure shit out? So why don’t you go…inquire for us as to what’s going on, Inquisitor?”)

But the so-called Inquisitor didn’t expect what he would find.

He didn’t get anything out of that conversation that first attempt sitting down with Dorian in the library, of course. Just a lot of jokes and clever avoidances, dances around the topic of trying to address what was at the center of what was bothering Dorian, instead of any real answers.

The problem with being friends with a Tevinter mage, after all, Ruen sighed afterwards, was that they were just that—Tevene. They were used to politics and the nuances of speech in order to remain in control of any given situation, and like breathing, they used whatever rhetorical devices they had up their sleeves in order to hide what they wanted to hide, and reveal what they wanted to reveal. Dorian was born and bred with a knack for such dialogue, and Ruen, having been raised as a cloistered Circle mage, did not. He was vastly out of his playing field, and Dorian knew it, and used it to his advantage to sequester himself away even more.

Ruen wasn’t even sure he was helping at all. Perhaps he was making things worse.

He tried again the next day. Dorian looked at him oddly for such a repeated visit, but still did not give any answers as to what Ruen was prying for. He was stubbornly buckled shut, shuttered away inside, and hurting, and Ruen could see it now that he was really watching for it—the drifting eyes, the stillness in his limbs. The shadows, and slackness of expression, like his very soul was slumped over.

It wasn’t right. He was used to the proud Dorian, the boastful Dorian. The Dorian that sometimes got annoying, but who you loved because he was unbelievably kind, too. He cared, so much more than he let on.

Ruen just wished he would let them care about him, too.

But no, the reality of the situation became apparent in a startling way, and not by anyone’s intentions at all. It was while they were out on a mission to the Hissing Wastes and the chilly dessert night was silent around them, save for the chirps of crickets and soft noises of half-asleep life.

It was quiet, there in this vast desert, sand in their shoes, the folds of their clothes and stuck to the bits of their hair, not making a sound as they trekked along the mounds. And perhaps, in the end, the silence was why Ruen heard what he did, instead of before. Varric had asked both Iron Bull and Dorian, who were with them, about their relationship—“So Bull, you and Dorian?”—and it had been an easy conversation. As usual, Varric was getting fuel for his next book, drawing inspiration from the people around him to make his own characters that much more real.

And it didn’t alarm Ruen until he heard the way Dorian spoke as he intercepted the conversation from time to time.

“Could you make it sound angrier?” Iron Bull had asked Varric. “Love is a bit soft.”

Ruen looked behind himself at the three, and visibly saw how uncomfortable and pinched Dorian’s face seemed. “Please stop helping the dwarf,” he uttered, but Varric ignored that wish, too, and asked the qunari, “How about passion?”

Iron Bull lit up. “Yeah, that’s better,” he gruffed. “Love is all starlight and gentle blushes. Passion leaves your fingers sore from clawing the sheets.”

Lewd, as always. There was no shock in that. But Ruen had never seen before the discomfort and—pain?—on Dorian’s face as he did in that moment, the shadows flickering there and off as he quickly shifted his old mask into place. “You could at least have had the courtesy to use the bedposts,” he then uttered under his breath, to which Iron Bull shot down quickly, “Hey, don’t top from the bottom.”

And that comment, in particular, earned him a glare that Dorian kept up in Iron Bull’s direction for the rest of the trip. Varric laughed, and the qunari, meanwhile, perched pretty on his victory of wit while they went about their tasks of investigating the dwarven ruins. But the Bull noticed Dorian’s sudden silence and cold shoulder to him through the rest of their mission. Oh, did he notice—and he grinned, the entire time. Pleased. Ruen couldn’t stop looking between them, an uneasy feeling beginning to settle in his gut.

When it finally came up again, the Iron Bull and Dorian talking to one another about Dorian’s current and heated glaring match at the qunari’s expense—that’s when Ruen’s nerves stood on end.

“…you stand there, flexing your muscles, huffing like some beast of burden with no thought save conquest!” Dorian was saying, anger lacing his words, and something tired, so tired, underneath it all.

But the Iron Bull only seemed more pleased, and even more, somehow, turned on. “That’s right,” he drawled. “These big muscled hands could tear those robes off while you struggled, helpless in my grip.” He straightened up, almost—towering—over Dorian, and Ruen watched with wide eyes as he uttered, lowly and sensual, “I’d pin you down, and as you gripped my horns, I. Would. Conquer. You.”

And the look on Dorian’s face—that—that wasn’t—

“—we’re leaving!” Ruen doesn’t know where he found his voice, but he did and he stood up and his nerves were jumping and he was scared. Suddenly, so scared for his friend. He hadn’t known—shit he hadn’t been aware! “Pack your things. We’re going back to Skyhold.”

He turned away from the odd faces his party gave him, setting to his work of heading off in the direction of their camp. And in reality, he felt like they couldn’t get back to their fortress fast enough.

Ruen made sure, personally, the entire trip home, that he sat between the Iron Bull and Dorian every possible moment. He put his sleeping roll between theirs, claimed Dorian for tent-mates, despite the odd looks it got him from both Varric and Iron Bull, and never left his fellow mage’s side for a moment as they walked or rode mounts, heart beating too fast to allow any margin of error or separation.

“…Inquisitor?” Dorian had finally asked, curiously, one evening as once again Ruen grabbed his wrist and pulled him inside his tent. And the question, even though it hadn’t been asked, was clear.

But all Ruen could say back was, “I’m sorry.” And he was so desperate, so earnest, somehow Dorian understood. I’m sorry I never noticed before. I’m sorry brought him onto the team. I’m sorry—

Dorian only stared at him for a moment, startled. And then, after a long, long pause, stillness settling around them, he nodded back. He lowered his eyes.

“Don’t fret, Inquisitor,” he finally murmured back a few beats later. He gave a hollow shrug, and there was a small, bitter quirk to his lips. His eyes seemed so… “…you know how it is.”

That night, the two slept a little closer together. Bent heads nearly brushing, twins in form—if they looked more alike, they could have been mistaken for brothers. And when Ruen, later, heard the tell-tale hitched breathing of crying from the bedroll beside him, he didn’t comment. He only reached out with a hand outside of his blankets, and offered it to his friend.

After a pause, he felt Dorian’s tentatively wrap around his.

They slept soundlessly that night, undisturbed by everything except for the looming expectation of what this was going to mean, and what they were going to do, when they got back to Skyhold.

It made Ruen more nervous than he could possibly admit.

Chapter Text

Each step up to the library felt heavy.

Dorian let his hand trail slowly across the stonework on his left, the day’s events after they had returned from the Hissing Wastes replaying in his mind.

It had been quiet in the courtyard, so much quieter than it had ever been before. Despite how Ruen had expressed he wanted this to go, the sight of the qunari packing and loading his bags onto a cart had attracted a crowd.

And oddly enough, it was the little things about that moment he remembered the most. He remembered the horses at the front of the cart and how the snickered, pffted, flicking their tails at the gathering flies around them. He remembered feeling a little jealous as he watched them. After all, at least they did not have to be aware of what was going on. At least they had the luxury of being so mindless, so carefree. Lucky bastards.

He also remembered the bizarreness of it. Ruen hadn’t sat his fancy butt on his “Inquisitorial” chair to give their ally his sentence at all, but he had made it anyway, with all the authority he could muster.

“Either you call off your relationship with Dorian now, and allow yourself to never be in contact with him alone again—or you leave Skyhold, the Inquisition, and never come back. That’s it. That’s all you have.”

Naturally, Iron Bull had been furious. Baffled.

And if he were to be honest, Dorian was a little offended as well by the Inquisitor’s nose butting into their own personal business. But at the same time, he felt…relieved by someone, anyone, taking action for him, on his behalf. Defending him.

For once.

It was quite odd, he thought, to finally have someone (that wasn’t Cole) hear your silent screams, and come to your aid. It was odd to finally be listened to, to be protected and pulled behind, instead of attacked and shoved forward.

It was nice, yes. But still odd. Very odd.

It had all happened hours ago, of course. And it was the silence that Dorian remembered the most. The frightening stillness that had blanketed Skyhold when Iron Bull first gave a frustrated cry at Ruen’s given options. For a moment, Dorian had thought he would be sick. For a moment, he had felt so utterly guilty and oh so foolish. Should he have said anything? What did he do wrong? Surely everything wasn’t so bad that Iron Bull deserved this

But then he’d remember the pain and the misery and he’d not know what to believe.

“If Dorian has a problem with me,” he could remember Iron Bull bellowing, “He can damn well tell me himself!”

And he remembered the way Ruen visibly worked to keep his spine straight. How resolutely he kept his arms crossed over his chest, his feet shoulder-width apart. He may have blinked, but to his credit, he didn’t waver. “I will speak when those who are not given the room to speak need to,” was all he said—like a mantra or something he memorized to prepare for this moment.

No matter what the Inquisitor said, or what he tried to make the Ben-Hassrath agent understand, Iron Bull could not see what he was doing as wrong. He scoffed, he shook his head, he back-pedaled, he tried to start, “But Dorian should have—“, “But—“

Eventually, Iron Bull got offended. He did not even want to stay anymore.

So he took option two.

The Chargers…surprisingly, did not. One by one they were given the option whether or not to leave with their boss, or to stay hired by the Inquisition. When they had heard what had happened—nothing involving Dorian’s own name, he was assured—each of them then took their own time to make an individual decision.

It gave Dorian an even odder feeling in his chest when he was later told that none of them wanted to leave with their old boss.

So Dorian watched the qunari go. It was not an unfamiliar sight, watching a lover’s back as they turned to walk away. To leave, after they got what they wanted. But somehow, this time, in this moment, it was different.

He watched Iron Bull until the last bag was loaded, and he watched the Bull’s back muscles flex as he himself stepped onto the cart and he watched as the qunari did not take one look back.

It wasn’t until Dorian could no longer see the Iron Bull that he too, turned away. He left for the library, which is where he found himself on the way to now. Suddenly, in the aftermath of everything, he longed for his plush chair and the warm, window-filtered sunlight and the smell of old books, and yellowed pages worn underneath his fingers. That corner somehow seemed more comforting than anything else.

When he finally got up to the library, he took a seat. Pulled out a random book from the shelf. Tried to read.

He wasn’t surprised when Ruen joined him a moment later, silently. He didn’t even say hello; Ruen didn’t either. It felt like perhaps he had been waiting for the Inquisitor to join him, anyway. Some part of him inside had expected it. So wasting time by greeting him seemed…foolish, somehow.

The two of them sat in a companionable silence for a long time. Sifting through pages, reading idly.

When he felt it was finally appropriate, it was then Dorian murmured it.

“…thank you.”

Ruen looked up from the book he was reading. He paused. “You shouldn’t have to thank me,” he admitted quietly. Dorian fought the urge to look at him. “It shouldn’t have even happened in the first place.”

“Yes, well,” Dorian tried, but he—didn’t know what to say. It shouldn’t have? “All the same.” He cleared his throat, idly turned the page he hadn’t finished reading. “Thank you.”

Ruen nodded back, smiling just a little, and turned back to his own book.

The Inquisitor stayed as long as he could until he was summoned away again. His work was never done, Dorian noted, smiling softly as the scout told Ruen he was wanted by Leliana. The Circle-raised mage couldn’t hide his wince. He knew this was coming. Forcing their Ben-Hassrath ally to leave would…well, understandingly cause some political turmoil they would have to navigate.

Dorian felt a prick of guilt that it was at his expense.

But then there were more footsteps, long after Ruen had left. And, curious as to who it could be, Dorian looked up.

He didn’t expect who he would find.

There was an awkward blush painting those familiar pale cheeks. The Commander’s shock of gold hair even brighter in the sunlight, and best of all, Cullen looked slightly out of place in his armor all the while surrounded by books.

The Commander cleared his throat at Dorian’s surprised stare. “I was told what had happened. Do you…want to be alone right now?”

Dorian stared for a split-second. And then he couldn’t help it; he smiled and chuckled. “Well, I’m never opposed to company, no, Commander.” He gestured to the chair the Inquisitor had vacated. “By all means, join me!” He watched the Commander, moving stiffly, finally sit before he added, “I’m honored that you’ve shown up. There’s…no pressing matters to attend to? No new recruits to train? No end of the world business to take care of in the War Room or other such nonsense?”

The corner of Cullen’s mouth quirked upward into that soft smirk of his that did funny things to Dorian’s gut. “Of course you would call it ‘nonsense,’” The Commander murmured under his breath. He shifted in his seat, straightening, and responded, “Yes, there are always pressing matters to attend to. But fortunately, right now, I only have one task. And that is to ask you…” He shifted in his chair a bit to look at Dorian and smile. “…if you would like to join me for a game of chess?”

Ah. Of course.

Dorian smiled a little and leaned back in his chair. “Should I thank the Inquisitor? For putting you up to this?”

“I—what?” Cullen blinked at him in surprise, and from the look on his face, Dorian could quickly see his assumption had been wrong. “I—no. I was just thinking that…I don’t know, you perhaps wanted to take your mind off of things. I thought I—I don’t know—I thought I could—Maker’s breath—“

The Tevinter mage quickly interrupted what he could tell was a spiral of doubt. “—sorry. I assumed. Forget I said anything.” He shut his book and turned to the Commander, letting silence fall between them for a brief moment. Finally, after it stretched on long enough, he smiled. Warmly. Delighted—touched, even, too. “I would be delighted, Commander. Thank you.”

To that, Cullen eased, smirking back.

And it finally felt like, to Dorian, things were going to turn out all right.

Chapter Text

It started with a great pinching, right behind his eyes. Awful and annoying, it stayed there, like someone was trying to pull Cullen’s eyes back into his head with little success. He scowled, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. He swore quietly.

Maker’s breath, but he couldn’t work like this. Why did the lyrium withdrawal have to act up now? For a stretch of days, he had been doing well. Stiff moments occasionally, some soreness here and slight itching but nothing too pressing. Nothing like this, where it took his focus and his ability to concentrate and stomped it so acutely underfoot.

He put down the report he had been looking at and pressed the palms of his hands into his closed eyes, sighing softly. Maker have mercy, he needs to get this done but he can’t even…

“…having difficulties, Commander?”

Shit, when did the door open?

Cullen snapped to his feet, and squinted his eyes, ignoring the ache, at who had entered his office from the south door. “Madame de Fer?” he asked curiously, eyes still narrow and squinted even after the door had been shut and the woman strolled inside. He cleared his throat and shifted his weight. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Vivienne smiled and waved a hand as she walked up to his desk. “Oh, no need for formalities, dear,” she drawled. “’Vivienne’ is fine.” Like a cat she perched herself in the chair across from his desk, crossing one leg over the other smoothly. “And you can take a seat. I doubt you want to be standing for long, what with the way you’re feeling.”

Cullen frowned at her. He shifted his weight again to look at her properly. Gosh it felt so hard to focus on her, he had his cheeks scrunched as if to ease the strain behind his eyes. “How did you…?”

“You forget I’ve grown up around your kind, Commander,” Vivienne murmured, her smile never faltering. “Or rather your old kind now, I suppose. Many of my closest friends were Templars.” She motioned her hand to his chair, and he felt the seat of it press against the back of his legs encouragingly. She’s…

…hesitantly, he sat down. A sigh escaped him when he leaned back, and the mage tittered. “See what I mean? You’re exhausting yourself, Commander. No wonder its acting up more so than usual.”

Cullen, feeling at peace enough to openly rub his forehead while in her presence, did. He grimaced. “That brings up another question,” he muttered. “How did you know about—“

“—the lyrium?” Vivienne gentled. “Again, most of my closest friends were Templars. I saw quite a few of them try what you are doing now—although none of them achieved success.” Her voice sobered, and her eyes drifted from him, almost indifferently.

Cullen lowered his eyes and sighed. “I was afraid of that.” Just another handful of stories about how what he was attempting was impossible. Figures.

“Not that I believe that indicates you should give up, my dear,” Vivienne added, and she placed her hands elegantly on top of one another, resting on her knee. “On the contrary, I encourage you to continue. What it would mean—if a Templar finally was able to leave the lyrium behind for good.” Her eyes came back to him, and they weren’t soft. They were firm. “It’s necessary, not only for yourself, that you survive this, darling. But it’s going to get harder. I hope you know that.”

Cullen nodded to her and took a breath, straightening up in his seat. “I know. I’m not quite…looking forward to it. But I’m aware.”

Vivienne smiled, pleased. She turned her head away, eyes drifting to her hands. Cullen watched her for a moment more before he shifted again in his seat, slightly leaning forward and asking, “But I doubt you came here to just talk to me about lyrium. What brought you here?” Surely this wasn’t just a social visit?

The Madame’s grin widened, curling and coy and she turned to him, straightening up. “I just have a few favors to ask.” She slipped a paper onto his desk, folded neatly and pristine. “It’s nothing that should cause trouble. Just something I think that should be arranged for the good of the Inquisition. We all must make necessary sacrifices accordingly, my dear.”

Her voice worried him and he pressed his lips together in concern as he reached for the note and opened it up to read. His eyes scanned over the words, and then he frowned. “…’barracks for recruits with Templar training should be relocated to the barracks under the mage tower. At all times while studies are progressing, there should be Templar knights stationed on each level, keeping watch over the—‘” Cullen did not read anymore. He looked up and held the page towards the ceiling, eyebrows furrowed. His headache intensified. “You’re wanting to make the mage tower a Circle?”

“Why yes, my dear. Of course.” Vivienne did not bat an eye; instead, she raised her eyebrows. “Seeing as how our dear Inquisitor has made the mistake of making an alliance with the rebel mages, our current students within the tower have no authority, and thus, no safety net to catch them should something go wrong. It is downright negligence to not have a security measure in order, such as the Templars we have, in case of an emergency—not just to them, but to the entire Inquisition.”

Cullen fought a grimace. Maker’s breath, this wasn’t helping his headache at all. He braced himself, gritting his jaw as he considered her words, rereading her missive, tapping the fold of the paper against the wood of his desk idly. “I see what you’re saying,” he finally murmured after a long pause. “Believe me, I do—but to be honest, what do you think they are going to get into up there?”

He looked to her, and Vivienne’s lips were pressed together thinly. “Why, my dear, that’s exactly the point,” she finally said, her voice dipping lower, more curt. “They could get into anything as it is right now. I’m trying to see to it so that they don’t.”

“Great,” Cullen responded and nodded and he tossed the paper to the desk. “So see to it that they don’t.” And at her stillness, her telling silence—no open display of confusion, no frown or furrowed brow—but just clean tranquility that spoke volumes on her bafflement, he added,Ergo, don’t make them prisoners. Be a—I don’t know—mentor, or something. But for the good of the Inquisition, don’t risk our relationship as it stands with the rebel mages. Lord Trevelyan has decided to call them ‘friends.’ So we will treat them as such. Not captives.”

The stretch of Vivienne’s mouth was enough to let him know of her…displeasure at his response. She sat for a long time like that, back straight, all lines and beautiful angles as she stared at him tightly. Then she finally spoke. “I’m disappointed, Commander,” she said, and though her tone did not change, its pitch was different. Lilting almost. “Of all people, I thought you would understand my intentions.”

“I do.” Cullen’s splitting headache as of now was evidence enough of that. “Believe me, I do. But there are other ways to supervise what goes on in that tower, and until it is necessary, I will employ those other ways as much as possible.”

The Madame turned away momentarily, her chin still held high. She paused, considering this. And then she stood, turning to smile at the Commander again, something icy in her eyes. “Very well, then. Have it your way, my dear. I will personally see to the studies of the mages in the tower with whatever time I can manage—but the instant something goes wrong, let me make it perfectly clear that it will not be on my head the axe will fall.”

Cullen baited his breath and sighed as she left the room in a whirl. When he was finally alone, it was then he pinched the bridge of his nose, still trying to abate the nasty headache pulling at his temples. Her words didn’t worry him. Not really.

After all, what’s one more axe, he couldn’t help but think, when I’ve got so many others I’m still waiting on to swing.

Chapter Text

It started soon after Vivienne had just started settling into her new role of “somewhat mentor” of the mages in Skyhold tower. Despite her reserves, the mages there accepted her warmly, and she herself found her own heart warming towards them. They were eager to learn what she could teach them, and eager to study magic with her at their side, aiding them and looking over their shoulder and making suggestions or corrections where assumptions were incomplete.

She started to like it, far more than she would ever admit. Even with the cats. And the mages began to look up to her, too—a wonderful feeling that she had forgotten since it had been ages since she herself had direct contact with students. She had missed it.

And then, one day, soon after she herself had returned from slaying the dragon that had been pestering the western farms in Crestwood with the Inquisitor, she found a group of the mages tucked together, heads bowed. She could hear them quite plainly whispering furiously among one another. Scoundrel was on the broad one’s back, mewing and trying to eat her hair. Vivienne smiled, coming forward and gently prying the kitten from the mage. As she did, she couldn’t help but overhear—

“—he took her with him again!”

“Yeah, I saw that! And did you see them by the gate as they walked back into the courtyard?”

“Oh, the way he was looking at her!”

One sighed dreamily.

“He’s so head-over-heels for her. It’s so obvious….and it’s so cute!”

“I bet she doesn’t even have a clue!”

A few giggles and snickers. Vivienne, curious, a small grin curving her features as she cradled Scoundrel firmly to her chest so he wouldn’t budge, stepped forward. “And who is it, may I ask…? That does not have a clue?”

The gathered bunch jumped and spun around, eyes wide. They stuck their hands behind their back immediately upon seeing who it was.

“Madame de Fer! Oh!” the eldest, a redheaded and green-eyed girl with many freckles stuttered. “We were just, um—well, you see, uh…”

“I have two perfectly good ears, my dear,” Vivienne murmured, and shifted Scoundrel who was trying to get away into another tight hold. “I could hear very well what you all were discussing. The only issue is, I know not who.” After all, any good gossip is definitely her business. Especially as Grand Enchanter and even more so as one of the members of the Inquisition’s Inner Circle.

She stared at them pointedly, her eyes roaming over them. It was the small, deep-brown skinned girl who looked like she couldn’t hold it in anymore. She nearly jumped as she burst, as if surprising herself by her own volume and excitement, “The Inquisitor and Cassandra, ma’am! They’re just…!”

Another dark-skinned boy spoke up, too, muttering politely, “We were just observing how…close they were getting.”

Vivienne, who had very much witnessed the same thing herself, smiled widely, catlike. So that’s what it was. The rumors were starting, then. As she has expected. “Oh really…?” she purred, playing innocent.

The round-cheeked mousy elf among them grinned back. “Yeah! He takes her on, like, all of his missions now.”

“And she, like, never leaves his side!”

The polite boy nodded his head most solemnly, eyes wide.

Vivienne tried not to laugh. “That is most curious.” She hummed thoughtfully, and then turned and let Scoundrel down on the desk nearby. He quickly hopped to the ground and scampered away; he never tried to walk up Vivienne’s legs. He knew better than to do any of that.  

“…Vivienne?” one mage piped up.

The Grand Enchanter turned.

“Think they’re gonna get together?”

Now this was an interesting question. Vivienne entertained the idea carefully, pursing her lips. She already knew her answer, but the mages always seemed to listen better when she gave her own response a careful pause before she spoke. Artfully, when she was ready, she turned around to look at them as she said, “It’s a smart match, by any means. They would make a strong pair to lead our Inquisition against Corypheus.” She looks to the younger students and she crosses her arms over her chest.

They do not blink their eyes as they watch her.

“But love is not a game to be trifled with, my dears,” she speaks slowly, distinctly. “Whatever they have between each other, they must work out themselves—and they will proceed to do so, in due time, whenever it fits them best.”

She knew exactly what they had been hoping. Their shoulders sagged under the indirect tell to, “No, do not play Cupid,” eyes averting themselves from her and chins dipping in embarrassment.

Vivienne almost laughed, but she settled for letting her mouth curve into a wide smile. She turned away and waited until the disappointment was just ripe for the plucking, and then she added, “Oh…by the way, will someone take Cassandra’s book back to her?” She turned around.

Just as she suspected, their eyes had snapped to hers. “She left it quite carelessly on the banister outside, and I would oh so hate for her to lose it or her place—she seemed to me to be quite taken with it.” She tilted her head to the side, as if trying to recall a memory. “Oh, what was it called…”

Swords and Shields?”

Vivienne turned to the correct youth and grinned, coy. “Yes…! That’s the one. I do believe I left it on my desk upstairs. If one of you would return it to her, I think she would be very grateful.”

She knew what they would do, what the eager looks they passed each other as they tumbled up the stairs meant, and she was not surprised when, the next day, her prediction was correct.

She watched from her place up by the railing on the second floor, as Cassandra came into the main hall quickly, and the Inquisitor, having just left Solas’ room, nearly ran into her. They held out arms, caught each other, and stepped back once they each made sure the other was okay. An awkward silence then fell between them and Cassandra straightened shoulders pulled back as she dipped her head again.

She was thanking him.

“For what?” she could see, more than hear, Ruen ask her in return.

As Cassandra mentioned her returned item, still holding the book in particular in hand—and evidently holding it in such a way as to let her hand hide the cover away from any prying eyes—Vivienne smiled.

Yes, her students were very astute indeed.

Chapter Text

It started while Dorian and Cullen were having a pleasant conversation in Cullen’s office one fine, sunny afternoon like they had many times before. It was friendly, it was light. It was about nothing at all. And most importantly, it made both of them forget the day’s worries, as well as anything else bad that had happened for a while.

It made the old ache within Cullen’s bones ease, the itch underneath his skin, clawing to get out and finally relieve its hunger, simmer down to a quiet growl. It felt hardly noticeable anymore, hardly acknowledged. Words felt like flowers and smelled like wood and old books, and they drifted lazily between them in a haze of comfort.

And when Dorian left, he took all of the fragrance of spring with him. Cullen missed him instantaneously—as soon as the door closed behind him.

Then Vivienne came, in a gust of chilly wind.

She entered his office without a word, even as he immediately stood, and she perched herself on the chair opposite his desk. Her movements were brisk, focused. Still graceful, somehow, despite being so rushed.

Cullen had called her name, but she didn’t even hear. Now he gazed at her and her face that she would not turn towards him, and just as he opened his mouth to speak, she beat him to it. Curtly.

“I am not so much a fool as to not admit when I’m wrong.”

At first, the Commander had no idea to which she was referring to. But then it struck him, and slowly, carefully, he sat. He clasped his hands on his desk, the edge of the desk digging into his resting forearms.

Vivienne baited her breath and then spoke again, and this time, oddly enough, her leg—crossed over the other just like last time—bounced. “Do not be fooled. I still find use in the Circle, and I will support it until another, more thorough, method of containment and protection exists. However…” She began and she paused, before she painfully turned her face more towards Cullen. She still gazed away, of course, perhaps not able to look at him as she confessed her mistakes. Her chin was lifted slightly. “…I will admit:  there is hope in the idea of mentoring, in mage supervision over other mages—although overall, I still find the thought idealistic at best.”

Cullen tried not to smile, but the corner of his mouth eased upward just a little. He dipped his head, gazed at his hands and let his thumb rub against its other for a moment, before he straightened up and murmured, “Right now, hope is one of the Inquisition’s greatest weapons. With as much help it is giving to defeat Corypheus, I’m sure it will do just as well giving something besides the Circle a chance.”

Vivienne gave a short, “Hm.” She thought for a moment, a long stretch of minutes, and then promptly stood. “That is all I came to say. Forgive me for taking up your time, dear.”

It had been a brief conversation, but the Commander smiled regardless and watched her as she turned to go. “It was no trouble,” he called after her, and leaned back in his chair once she was gone. A most curious encounter.

But from then on, the day seemed good. Several days seemed good, actually.

And then the Inquisitor came back from a mission, and Skyhold flew into a wild buzz. One of their own had been injured, Cullen finally heard from one of the scouts when someone was finally able to talk to him. Bad, it was. They said it was a dragon. The group hadn’t been wanting to attack it. They wanted to slip right on by to the tomb beyond, because it was sleeping. But something woke it—it being a Sandy Howler, one of those horrible fire-spitter’s, you know. They were in the Hissing Wastes, while their Inquisitor was trying his hardest to find what the Venatori were looking for before they did. And one of those blasts of flame had hit him and—oh, wait, who’s him?

Dorian. It was Dorian.

That was all Cullen managed to take in before his feet were alight and he hurried to the infirmary in the lower grounds of Skyhold’s courtyard.

Dorian was hurt.

Dorian—

—he had a tent to himself, Cullen noticed as he stepped inside. Most likely the Inquisitor’s work, although the man wasn’t to be seen. He felt a swell of gratitude that Ruen should think of this:  that Dorian had enough pride that being seen injured probably did nothing to help.

But carefully, while the nurses busied about trying to help the Tevinter mage and stem the bleeding from excessive and heavy burns, the Commander stepped to the side. When they finally cleared away enough, wiping sweat from their brows with considerably less stressed faces, he came forward.

Dorian was not awake, but he looked far too pale than Cullen was comfortable with. He stared for a moment watching the young man sleep, before he pulled up a chair. His eyes critically and carefully skimmed over the mars in Dorian’s flesh that he could see, peeking out over bandages and staining his skin ugly, shades of clotted red and crusted brown-black. He waited for an even longer time, then, just sitting and watching Dorian lay alive and breathing, before he remembered he had work to do.

He returned as many times as he could throughout the day to see not a change in Dorian’s health or consciousness.

And later that night, when he returned, he did not leave. He sat in his chair, and watched Dorian sleep, his folded his hands together as he tried to still their shake. The itch was sharply bad, unlike the stream of days before. It screamed at him, now, clawing; an unpleasant underbuzz to the other mottled feelings of worry and anxiety for his friend that were already so loud and earnest.

He didn’t know what to do but he knew he wasn’t safe in his own room.

The tent flap opened. He felt before he saw someone else join him, pulling up a chair and sitting down with harsh, sharp movements.  He just didn’t expect to see who he did.

Cullen didn’t say a thing, and she didn’t either for a long time. But he could see, in the gentle torchlight, tears glistening on her cheeks, dotting her eyelashes like small crystals. And yet, even so, Vivienne was the embodiment of grace and refinement. Politely, Cullen turned his gaze away to look back at Dorian as she was. Her hands were tightly clasped in her lap, too.

There was a long, long silence.

And then finally, after what felt like hours crawling by, Vivienne whispered slow and soft, “…I believe…that I owe you an apology, Commander.”

The Commander looked to her again, startled. She did not look back, and he did not look away. Her lips did not tremble. If not for her quiet breathing, and the small tears slipping down her cheeks, she would have appeared as stone.

“…I…beg your pardon?” Cullen whispered back, because to speak louder seemed wrong.

Vivienne’s did not change. She blinked once, a flutter of movement. It made her ashes shine like stars.

She took a measured breath.

“Always…I have maintained a careful and clinical distance from the people around me,” she said, and her voice was levelled. Controlled. “It was much easier—in fact, it was necessary—to purge the thoughts of those I would trample underfoot in order to focus on what must be done, on what needed to be done, so that I might get to wherever I wanted to go.” The Grand Enchanter paused. Her body was carefully still. “And usually, so it would go that once I got there, I would…manipulate those under me to trust me and love me—even though it was they who, in the first place, I had betrayed to get where I was at all.”

The corner of her mouth lifted, but her eyes were hollow. She tilted her head towards him to a small degree. Her eyes were still so distant. “That is…only just a small part of my Great Game, darling. Of which I know I am a magnificent player.”

Something was being said here which felt delicate. A small spider weaving a web to build a home, a string of lace strung and carefully tatted to hem a gown. Cullen felt that to move, to react, or to say a word would have shattered that which was being placed and laid so carefully before him.

He didn’t dare breathe.

“…but it was my fault,” then came the strained whisper. Vivienne swallowed. “Do not ask me how it happened, do not ask me what I was after; I will not tell you. Only know that it was my doing that woke the beast and it is my fault Dorian has been hurt. That is all there is to be said.”

But the way Vivienne’s lips pursed after she said that told a different story. Her eyebrows furrowed, her mouth stretching, and then finally she added, “And I am—“ –she struggled so visibly for a moment with the next words that the vulnerability with which she suddenly spoke, when she did, and the honesty behind it, startled him, compared to the rest of her careful and guarded speech, “—I am sorry for what I put into motion, dear.”

And Cullen stared for a long while as the vision of what had happened in the Wastes unfolded before him. He watched as the Iron Lady trembled just the slightest with her pain and sorrow—and really, if the Commander had not been looking for it, he would not have noticed.

But he let her cry, and slowly, minute by minute, Madame de Fer softened beside him. He let her take as much time as she needed; he did not say a word to interrupt. And for that, she seemed grateful. When she was done, more composed and still once more, she did not wipe her face. Instead, the Grand Enchanter left her tear tracks on her cheeks. She sat poised and beautiful, but her back had not been as straight as before.

She asked only one question into the following silence.

“Will you be staying with him?”

Cullen paused. But he could find no reason to lie. He nodded.

Vivienne nodded back. She sniffed. “Good.” And then she stood and turned to leave.

But as she opened the tent flap, letting in the cool night air, Cullen found himself calling out, leaning forward, “Vivienne.”

She turned one last time to the Commander and met his eyes. It hit him that’s the first time he’s called her by name. By the look on her face, this fact had not escaped her as well. In that one rare moment, she looked vulnerable again. And Cullen shifted and swallowed, braced himself. He leaned forward, lowered his eyes, clasped his hands together and propped his elbows up on bent knees.

“It’s not a weakness,” he finally murmured after a pause, and then raised his eyes to hers again.

Vivienne didn’t answer. It was hard to read her face, to tell what she was thinking, but she seemed to at the very least, hear his words, before she turned and left.

It was quiet that night, but the itch in Cullen’s bones was thankfully long forgotten.

And the day Dorian was well enough, everyone had together-breakfast in his infirmary tent. Huddled, they sat together, either on the grassy earth, on Dorian’s cot, in a chair, or leaning against each other, while they laughed and were glad for their health and that their Tevinter mage was healing, too, at a steady rate. There would be no lasting damage to be found, they had been told. The news was sweet relief.

When Vivienne opened the tent flap, they only grinned and welcomed her in warmly. Blackwall quickly stood from the chair he had been sitting in to let her take it, a kindness which—much to Ruen and Blackwall’s surprise—brought Vivienne to touch his arm and thank him for. The other ongoing conversations rolled on without missing a beat.

So there the Enchanter sat in the midst of them with all of the prim grace she always carried with her, somehow softer around the edges than before, and nobody said a word of it.

And when she didn’t think anyone was looking, if Cullen watched close enough, he thought he could have spotted something like fondness rounding her cheeks and softening her eyes.

The Iron Lady was not without a heart after all.

Chapter Text

It started…

…well, no one’s quite sure how it started, but the important thing was:  first thing anybody knew, one day, the Inquisitor was not the Inquisitor they knew.

Cassandra stared at him. Leliana stared. Cullen stared. Josephine stared. Dorian stared.

No one else was allowed in to the war room; they had all unanimously agreed that no one else even of the Inner Circle was to be told what had transpired. It was deemed much too tragically dangerous to the image and purpose of the Inquisition if anyone actually knew what had happened, so only they were entrusted with this sudden secret that was the little boy standing on the edge of the war table, with much too-large clothes practically draping off of him like curtains, and an unhappy, guilty look upon his face as he gazed back at them.

“…Inquisitor…” Cassandra started, but the boy scrunched up his face when she called him that. She quickly cleared her throat. “L-Lord Trevelyan, but how did…but how did this happen…?”

The light boy sighed. He looked down and kicked at the edge of wood. “I think I did something wrong…”

Dorian scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest. The shock of seeing their Inquisitor much—um—reduced in both size and age had worn off by now. “Yes, well, I think we can certainly see that.”

Quickly, Ruen’s eyes flooded with tears of shame, his lower lip pouting, and at the sight, Josephine quickly stepped forward. “But it is no matter!” she said and she waved a hand. She looked awkward, up close by their child Inquisitor, and quite honestly, the ambassador did not know whether to touch him, hold him or pet him in order to comfort him now. “It will not be a problem. We can fix it. After all, you know how to reverse this, yes?”

But that did not help stop the tears; when the child Inquisitor looked up at her, he wore a look of such pitiful distress on his face that immediately, they knew the answer.

Cullen sighed collectively with everyone else gathered. “…of course it couldn’t be that easy…” he mumbled under his breath and rubbed the back of his neck. His face was especially tight today, every movement jerkier than usual.

The appearance of this sudden issue seemed to stress him more, and Dorian, watching the Commander, took a deep breath, and then stepped forward. His eyes shifted back to the small mage and he put a bright grin on his face with more bravado than he felt. “Not to worry! You have me here, after all! I’m sure between the two of us, there’s something we can figure out. Not all is lost just yet, Inquisitor, right?”

The boy sniffed. He nodded and wiped at his face with a sleeve hanging over his hand. “R-right,” he said back, small and determined.

Leliana had to bite a finger to keep back the “aw” that so nearly came out of her. Josephine’s eyes shot to her and together their cheeks turned pink from trying to stifle their giggling. Cullen glared at them.

“This is a serious matter, ladies,” Cullen uttered and placed his hands on the left edges of the war table as he gazed at them. (“Oh yes, very serious,” Leliana whispered to Josephine which earned her another stifled giggle, this one hidden discreetly behind a tanned hand.) “We have to deal with this quickly and quietly, before anyone notices.”

“The Commander is right,” Cassandra nodded and agreed. Her earlier shock had also worn off and now she crossed her arms over her chest plate. “There are several matters the Inquisitor must deal with today, as he does every day; and while he may still tend to them, he must not be seen doing so until we can get him back to…” Her voice trailed off and Leliana bit her lip. The former Seeker sighed. “…normal size.”

As spymaster and ambassador surrendered to another quiet, harshly hushed fit of giggles. Cassandra’s face reddened slightly, and Dorian even chuckled—which made Cullen grin.

Ruen shifted his weight on the table, loosely covered hands fiddling with themselves. “Okay,” he muttered quietly. He looked at everyone for a moment, wide red eyes a bit worried. A bit shiny. “I’m sorry, guys…”

Leliana shook her head and stepped to him, holding out her arms. “You have nothing to be sorry for—I promise you.” Her bright grin was very telling. “Now come on. Let’s get you into some better clothes, and then get to work for the day, hm?”

Ruen nodded and let her pick him up. It felt odd—to be carried by someone who had only known you as an adult and yet here you were, so small and a child again.

He tried not to be embarrassed about it but really he was very, very embarrassed.


 

The hardest part about being a child again, Inquisitor Trevelyan quickly found, was that all the traits of his albinism which he had steadily worked toward adjusting over the years with his magic while in the Circle, had been reversed. He had very poor eyesight again, found himself stumbling into things from time to time because he wasn’t watching (he had forgotten how once upon a time, he very carefully had to). He was particularly sensitive to sunlight once more—which was all the better, seeing as how hard Cassandra and Leliana kept him from sight and indoors at all possible moments—which mostly meant to all the shadows and nooks and crannies of Skyhold, anyway. His eyes also moved a lot on their own again, and that part, he felt the most embarrassed about.

He kept expecting Dorian, who was with him for the most part, researching to try and find a way to reverse the wrong magic that had made this happen in the first place, to say something about them. He kept waiting for him to say, like all the other young mages had in the Circle, “Can’t you make that stop?” or “Ew, gross,” or something to that nature that would make him feel bad and curl up and remind himself how abnormal he was.

But Dorian didn’t even seem to notice. Ruen wasn’t sure if that made him happy or made him sad, but he appreciated the lack of a comment regardless. For the most part, it was mainly Cassandra who Ruen was afraid of; he didn’t want her seeing him and his “crazy eyes” as they were before he had…fixed them.

(He hated that word, anyway. “Crazy.” What a horrid word, he used to tell himself and scrunch his face up and wipe the tears and snot away on his suede mage robe sleeves—as if having any sort of disorder or disability was wrong in the first place…)

But whenever Cassandra did come by to bring him something, he kept his eyes carefully away from her, trying to look away. Trying not to be seen. He wasn’t a “pretty” child. He knew that. So he couldn’t help but feel it was embarrassing. It was completely embarrassing to see himself for what he had really been instead of what he had made himself into after such very cautious study and very careful, guarded magic.

Yet the day was not completely sad. Actually, it was kind of fun being young again. And it was Dorian’s idea to have some fun with it anyway, in the first place, which made it all better.

“You’re like a mouse, now!” The Tevinter mage had crooned, and laughed. “Come, now we have to steal from the kitchens. It’s our only chance! They’re never gonna yell at a little kid…” He chuckled and grinned and wistfully added, “Always wanted another one of those cherry pastries again, anyway…such a shame they don’t make them more often. But I hear they have some down there now…!”

And so Ruen made frequent missions down to the kitchens from his quarters to nab him and Dorian snacks. They munched and giggled over breadcrumbs dotting old scrolls and sticky fingers pressed to smiling mouths, and it made Ruen maybe felt a teeny bit guilty stealing—but he felt better after the one time he had gone down and seen Cole there, also grabbing some plums and stuffing them into his sleeves. The spirit hadn’t said a word at seeing him grab more pastries. So maybe it was okay after all.

But then, one time, on his way back down to the kitchens, he heard a statement from the main hall that stopped his heart, and made time stutter to a halt.

“…the Inquisitor’s a child.”

Ruen froze behind the door.

For one split, horrible second, he thought he had been found. For one moment, he thought someone had seen him and he had gotten too careless in his scampering down the shadows of the Skyhold stairways and oh, he should have never listened to Dorian!

But then the voices continued, and—

“Oh it’s so true! Honestly!” A woman’s voice with a heavy Orlesian accent agreed. She wasn’t loud—in fact she paused, carefully, and then lowered her voice to a sultry murmur. “I don’t know how they expect him to lead this entire organization, or save us from Corypheus!” There was a tut and a tsk in answer, and suddenly Ruen didn’t think he had been seen anymore.

He also started to not feel so good anymore.

“Just how has he managed to do what they say he’s done so far? C’est impossible! No. It is an utter lie, all of it. A ruse to unite the people of Thedas under one banner and take down that awful darkspawn. A man like that could never actually do any of those things.”

“Did you see the way his knees shook as he took the sword—that day he was named Inquisitor?”

“Oh, I wasn’t there, but my sister told me how his voice broke as he gave his speech, too. What a disaster! That’s utterly embarrassing! How does anyone stand behind a leader like that, nonetheless, elect him to become Inquisitor?”

Ruen’s eyes drifted from the door to the stone floor beneath his feet, listening to the voices chatter beyond. He felt strangely hollow inside. It was getting harder to breathe, or was that just the dust he suddenly could feel layering in his lungs? It was so terribly heavy all of a sudden, inside his chest. So, so heavy. He leaned back against the wall.

“And now, somehow, he’s built an entire army. It’s the biggest joke I’ve ever seen! History will be mortified to recount the tale!”

“That army is more so the work of his three advisors, I can promise you that, than anything he’s done. He’s only good for shutting the rifts.”

“Tsk. No wonder the Trevelyans never spoke of him before this whole mess with the sky started! If you ask for my opinion, I’d say that boy is not fit as a source for any actual inspiration.”

“Right? Pfft—‘Herald of Andraste,’ my ass. I tell you:  if Andraste really is behind all this, why did she have to choose him? That was a mistake, if I ever saw one.”

The stone felt very cold through the clothes on his back, such a sharp contrast against the searing heat underneath his skin.

“Yes, I agree! Surely there could have been someone better…”

Anyone would have been better.”

He turned away from the door and sharply pulled away from the wall. He stood there and stared down the darkened stairsteps that lead to the lower level—that lead to where he would find the kitchens—and he tried to breathe but each time he did, it felt like he could take in more than he could get out. He shook and reached for the wall, carefully navigating himself down to the second step. His fingers dug in and followed the stonework until he paused and could not move. He sank to the step. He sat. He lowered his head and gathered himself together. Or tried to.

The tears, when they started falling, dripped until he was sobbing quietly, and Ruen pressed his crumby hands into his face.

Chapter Text

Cassandra supposed she should not have been as surprised as she was that Ruen wasn’t in his quarters with Dorian. She was well aware that no one else was taking this situation as seriously as she and Cullen. So of course Dorian would talk the Inquisitor in to using his new height and age to their advantage. Of course, she should have known better than to leave those two alone together. Of course, of course, of course…

But when she heard quiet crying on the back stairways and finally found the mop of supremely light and fair hair that was their Inquisitor, she found herself more surprised than she had been before.

She watched him for a moment, completely still. Curious as to what she was hearing was what she thought—but yes, it was. It was the sound of small, subdued sobs. Strange, since she hadn’t ever seen the Inquisitor actually cry in person, though she had seen his eyes water plenty of times. She had always assumed any crying he did, he did in private and she respected him for it. But here, and now…

Cassandra moved slowly, stepping softly so as to not startle him. When she landed on the step he was curled upon, Ruen jumped anyway. His eyes snapped to her, those wide, glassy (and slightly cloudy?) red eyes and their tears meeting her own curious browns before he hurriedly turned away. He wiped at his face.

“I—I’m sorry—“ was the first thing that came out of his mouth. Cassandra, baffled, shook her head.

“I see no need for you to apologize,” she muttered and she carefully sat beside him. She placed her hands on her knees, looking to him. He was, she noticed, turned away at an angle that made it difficult for her to see his face. How curious. She dipped her head to the side slightly. “Other than stealing pastries from the kitchens, as I’ve heard…” and something in him stilled like a caught animal. Cassandra smiled a little bit. “…but not for tears,” she added.

Never for tears; but she let hang in the air between them.

When he did not say anything in response, she, too, let the silence lay itself bare. Perhaps, she thought, he might feel invited to share what was troubling him the longer it went on. But he didn’t, and the quiet, undisturbed, blanketed them thick and awkward with no one and nothing to fill it.

Cassandra let her fingers tap against her knee, considering what to say.

And then, just when she was beginning to consider if she should rather leave him alone, the Inquisitor sniffed. He wiped at his face. He sighed and bowed his head, long and thin silvery-yellow locks falling against his sticky cheeks. “…Cassandra, do you…think I’m a mistake?”

The Seeker blinked. Her eyes snapped to the boy beside her, and for a moment, she was so reminded of Alexius’ words—“You were never supposed to exist”—and she’s…baffled that those words from so long ago should come up again. “Is…that what this is about…?” she asked quietly, and Ruen winced as if she had struck him.

“No…never mind,” his voice wobbled dangerously and he pinched his eyes shut.

Something lurched from Cassandra’s chest and she reached for Trevelyan instinctively before she paused. She put her hand up on the step behind them instead. “No, no, tell me,” she insisted. “Is that what is upsetting you…?” She gave him room to answer. When he didn’t, she added firmly, “Because none of that is true. Do not believe it.”

Ruen sniffed and kept his face bowed. He pressed his lips together, and he raised a hand and wiped at his eye with slow, shaky movements. He hiccupped softly. “So y-you don’t…think y-you made the wrong guy Inquisitor…?”

“No.”

Cassandra muttered her answer firmly, without blinking and without wavering. It was the sternness with which she spoke which drew Trevelyan’s attention to her. And for a moment, he stared, as if daring to believe her simple answer. But then his face screwed up and she saw his eyes dart; a small involuntary movement like a reflexive jerk. He didn’t even look away—perhaps didn’t even realize his eyes had done that—and he covers his face with his fists.

“E-even now that you’ve seen me crying…?” he gasped, and cried, and he sounded so young, Cassandra involuntarily smiled.

She bowed her head modestly, amused. “Well…if you are curious to know, I believe that your tears are more so a result of your current…predicament…than anything else.” She slid closer just a little bit, their legs close to touching. Her hand she lifted from the step again, and this time, she closed it over his opposite shoulder gently. She felt him lean in to the touch, lean in towards her. Just a bit. “But you are not ‘the wrong guy.’ I did not believe it when I said you should be the one to lead us. And I did not believe it even when you told me you didn’t want this. And I still do not believe it, even now.”

And there it was, a small smile. Finally. Tiny and uncertain, but still there. Somehow as Ruen always was.

He was silent for a long time until he finally whispered, “…faith, huh?”

It was not the reply Cassandra had been expecting. But she humored him anyway. “…faith…?”

“Faith,” he affirmed. The Inquisitor lifted his head and looked up to Cassandra again. He sniffed, and wiped at his face. His movements were gentle, if slightly shaky. And when he noticed his hand was trembling in the darkness of the stone stairway, he looked at it, and the pale lines in his palm. His small fingers, softly bent. The crumbs had fallen away. “Cole calls you that, sometimes. I think…I see why.”

There was something incredibly tender in his voice, in what he was saying and how he was saying it. Cassandra watched him, unsure what to say in return.

Ruen turned to her. His eyes moved again, but he never truly looked away. “You’ve always believed, Cassandra. In me, in the Inquisition. Even when I didn’t, and don’t, see how.” He swallowed hard. “And honestly, I think that makes you a better fit for a leader than me, but—“ he cut himself off. They were old words, spoken before. They will be spoken again, more than likely. But this was not their place nor their time.

Trevelyan let the breath he was holding go. “…if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I believe in you. So if you have faith—the kind of faith that changes things and has changed things—then…then I’ll believe in it, too.” Even when I can’t believe in myself, hung the words, draped between them.

“I’ll believe in you,” he murmured. His eyes moved.

Cassandra didn’t know when her hand gently slid to the back of the boy’s head. She hadn’t been keeping track of it. Varric would laugh, she knew. He’d have a hoot and strike a joke that the Seeker was feeling, but.

Varric wasn’t here. No one was. It was just them and the silence and fragile, string-tied faith.

She leaned forward and placed her lips on the crown of his head, right where hair met skin.

Somehow, it seemed enough to suffice for all the words she didn’t know how to say.

Everything, this moment, these words, this time—was enough.


 

Cole and Varric sat at the fireplace table in the Inquisition’s main hall, watching as their Inquisitor and Seeker talked. It had been a while since they saw Trevelyan. He had long, dark bags under his eyes like he had been sick the day before—instead of actually having exhausted himself performing a powerful spell.

They knew why Ruen had been absent yesterday. It was worth it to have Cole as a good friend, if only to have him pop up at his side and say, “The Inquisitor is…little again. Or, he looks little. But not is little. He’s…”

That had been quite the riddle to figure out, and when he did, the dwarf had had a good, hearty laugh. Oh what he would have given to see Trevelyan as just that—a kid!

But now, watching them, sitting in his chair and Cole beside him on the table, legs swinging to a rhythm the dwarf couldn’t hear, Varric could only tell it looked like the two were relieved Ruen was back to normal. He supposed he should be, too. If anyone had even heard that their Inquisitor had been reduced to a child…

“…they work together. Faith…and Hope,” Cole muttered. He dipped his head and nodded as he watched them. Varric turned to the kid. “Faith stands steady where—and when—Hope does not. The mark is not the Anchor he needs.”

Varric frowned. He shifted in his seat, trying to pick apart what the kid was saying. He knew Cassandra and Ruen were getting remarkably closer and closer. And despite himself, despite his snarky relationship with the Seeker himself, he…cared about her. Deeply. She was a good woman. And sometimes, if he was honest, he worried she didn’t care about herself as much as she should, either.

“Okay. But…what about when Faith can’t stand? What will Hope do?”

“What Hope does best,” Cole answered. He looked to Varric, pale eyes sharp and knowing. “Remain.”

Cole looked back to the two, a small smile on his lips. “They work together,” he repeated, warm, and Varric, at the sight, at the words, slowly started to ease, too.

Chapter Text

It started with an off-hand comment from Hawke to Varric as they were sharing drinks in the Herald’s Rest. She had just returned with the Inquisitor and the Grey Warden Alistair from the Western Approach, and had been kicking up her feet to try and forget everything she had seen out there. Varric himself hadn’t gone, much to his initial displeasure, but after hearing from Hawke what had gone down, he found he could reluctantly be glad about it. Demons? Grey Wardens sacrificing themselves?

He knew she was thinking about Carver, and that made it all the worse, wondering if he was okay—or if he had somehow found his way into that mess.

And then she said, “…what’s that Tevinter mage’s name—DeLorean?  D…D—it starts with a D, damnit…”

Varric grinned. “You mean Dorian?”

“Yeah! That one,” Hawke tilted the mouth of her bottle towards him. A soft frown was upon her face. “Him. He’s got a nice ass.”

The dwarf at her side tried not to let his smile grow too big. He rolled the bottom of his glass against the wooden bartop, watching the ice clink inside. “Not gonna exactly ask how you’ve seen it under all those layers, but…you do know he doesn’t swing your way, right?”

Hawke rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. And I’m not exactly on the market, but I can still state a fact, right?” She took another swig, mouth pinched in a frown. She shrugged. “So he’s got a nice ass. That’s all. Not trying to say anything more…”

Varric tried not to laugh. He waved for Cabot to pour him another glass, and tapped his fingers against the grain of the bartop. “Well, if you ask me…word around Skyhold is that Curly’s got the best ass this side of the Frostbacks. So…”

“Curly…” Hawke hummed. “Wait, who’s that again?” The mage blinked, frown deepening as she squinted her eyes and thought about it. “That’s…Cullen?” She looked to Varric and scrunched up her nose. “Ew, what? Him? Hell no.” She shook her head quickly, face pinched and squeezed shut and that time, Varric did laugh. “Maybe I’m biased, but nah. If you asked me, Dorian’s is much better. No contest.”

Varric grinned, taking the new glass Cabot offered him with a thanks. “I wonder how many people agree with you,” he murmured, and took a sip. He paused, thinking about it.

And then his grin widened. “…no, actually, I really wonder how many people agree with you—maybe we should find out. Take an official vote on the subject.”

Hawke blinked at her best friend. She started to grin back. “…what, like, go around actually asking people who’s got the best ass of the Inquisition?”

Varric’s eyes alit with good humor as he looked to her. “Exactly. We’ll call it, the ‘Inquis-ass-ion.’”

And Hawke laughed. She slapped at the table and declared it made, and so it began.

For a long time, they managed to keep the entire thing secret. The only way it spread was by whispers over mealtime, bowed heads walking down stone hallways, and occasionally, hushed but heated debates between scouts and soldiers who were very vehement upon who they thought had the better ass.

Even the mage students in the tower caught wind of it and passed in their votes—which then brought Vivienne’s attention to the entire thing, who, to everyone’s great surprise, participated, too.

From there, it reached nearly everyone of the Inner Circle. Sera tried desperately to rig the results, but Varric and Hawke managed to keep her away from any of the official tallies. Dorian and Cullen, of course, were the two who were absolutely not allowed to know—although they certainly did get suspicious with all the secret mumblings that went on around them.

The vote only came to a head when the Inquisitor found out about it (from Cassandra who was politely refusing to participate, stating that, “We have much more important matters to focus on this than this…drivel,”) and so, left afloat without any idea who to vote had the better ass, he tried to discreetly talk to his two female advisors about the entire thing. Should he vote for his best friend? Or should he vote for the Commander of his armies? How do you even decide these things? It felt ridiculously stressful for no reason at all.

Unfortunately, trying to talk to Josephine and Leliana about this around the war table while both Cullen and Dorian were there was, as he would find out, not wise.

“They won’t know who you voted for,” Leliana pointed out, whispering to him.

“But I know who I voted for. How do I decide…?” Ruen whined. The tallies were almost finished. He was one of the last few who needed to vote, and then it would be over—and then finally everyone could know who really had the Inquisassion. And by this point, people were ready for the official verdict.

Josephine shook her head. “Do not think so hard about this, Inquisitor. It is just for fun—neither of them are supposed to even know.”

“…wait, neither of who are supposed to know…?” Dorian asked, crossing his arms over his chest and looking at the three huddled heads at the other side of the table. The awkward silence that followed—Josephine clearly hadn’t been expecting to have been heard—made the mage shift his weight and look to an equally puzzled Cullen. “Strange. Do you get the feeling we’re the ones who aren’t supposed to know something, Commander?”

Cullen exhaled softly, straightening up. He rested a hand on the pummel of the sword at his side. “Yes, quite. In fact…” He sizes the three guilty-looking faces up. He frowns. “I’ve been having that feeling for quite a while.” From his men, from his coworkers…just thinking about it made his frown deepen. He hadn’t been expecting that Dorian was also left in the dark about whatever was going on. “Just what is it that I—that we—haven’t been allowed to know about?”

Ruen looked the guiltiest, with wide eyes, and a caught-puppy frown. His shoulders bunched, and then fell. “There’s been—“

Leliana whacked his arm with the back of her hand. Her face was the most unreadable, giving absolutely nothing away—in fact, it hardly looked like she had struck the mage at her side at all, save for Ruen wincing and hissing and clutching his arm. Josephine covered her mouth politely with a hand to hide her amused smile that threatened to break into giggles.

“Leliana, don’t hit the Inquisitor.”

“Sorry, Commander.” But she was clearly not sorry. Ruen pouted at her. She cleared her throat. “Now, it’s nothing of import. I’m sure we have much more important matters to discuss. There’s the matter of Sera’s new…suggestion…”

But Cullen had to know. He shifted his weight, looked to Dorian, who also looked back, amused as much as curious, and he turned his gaze to the other three again.

“If this is that trivial, then why is it so critical that you keep it a secret?” Dorian asked, arms still crossed over his chest. “Can’t we know about it? It would only take two minutes…”

Finally, Josephine sighed. She looked to the other two. Ruen looked back. Leliana didn’t look over at all. But she knew Leliana would not strike her in the same fashion as she did Ruen; the two were too close of friends for that.

So with that safety net in place, she came clean.

“The…Inquisition is currently…inquiring after another measure,” she began, if awkwardly. She shifted her weight, her quill pen twisted between her fingers as she thought of how to explain this. “It’s—“ She paused. She frowned. She tried again. “—well, you see, we are trying to—“ She stopped. She swallowed. She flushed, and she bowed her head. “—oh, how can I put this…”

And so finally, at a loss for words, because even as a master of language, there simply wasn’t any way to put this eloquently, she decided to put it simply.

She set down her board and quill, and held up her hands, as if calling the two on the other side of the table to imagine what she was going to say between them. She glanced at both of them across from her. She took a careful breath. And then she uttered two words she promised herself she would never utter again:  “Ass poll.”

And once Dorian and Cullen heard that, they stared with shock at Josephine. Cullen flushed a brilliant, bright red and Dorian—well, Dorian laughed.

“What, you mean between the Commander and myself?” He gasped. And oh, immediately, he wanted to know who he should thank for thinking of this delightful poll that they could participate in. He also declared he wanted to place his own vote, which made Cullen all the more red, spluttering at the mage’s back as he turned to go and do just that.

“You can’t be serious,” Cullen gasped at the others as soon as Dorian left. That’s really what had been transpiring behind their back? Who had the better ass?

“Oh, we’re very serious, Commander,” Leliana responded, and the corners of her lips were hiked up in amusement. “You should vote, too. The poll’s set to close this evening, so you’d best hurry up and think of who you want to vote for…” She looked to the other two advisors and grinned, winking. “…it’s all harmless play, of course. No one’s going to tattle or even see who you vote for—so you could vote for yourself, for all we care. Just have fun with it.”

And though he struggled at first to even form words, settling for rubbing his face and sighing, “Maker’s breath…” at the whole thing, having “fun” with it was actually exactly what he decided to do.

Because while Dorian would never tell anyone, since they all assumed he voted for himself, and that was fine by him—he had indeed very much voted for the Commander.

But Cullen?

Well, Cullen placed the vote that won Dorian the competition. Leliana said to have “fun” and he did.

He voted twice.

 

Chapter Text

It started when the Inquisitor lost track of Cole in the Winter Palace (which is not advisable, he would say, in hindsight).

As one of the three members of his Inner Circle who he had brought with him to the ball, Trevelyan knew how vitally important it was to have all three present and accounted for at all times. And even though they were separated, stationed at different points throughout the palace as he himself investigated the predestined murder, it was not terribly difficult to keep an eye on where each agent was. Not at first, at least.

But the ball had barely even lasted two hours before Cole went missing.

Even when Ruen snuck back into the library, where he had seen Cole before, to check if he was still there, the spirit was nowhere to be found.

Despite himself, the Inquisitor found his heart racing. Where could he be? Why would he leave? Was he helping someone? Believing he was helping someone? And if so, who? Didn’t he know what was at stake…?

Ugh, this couldn’t happen. Not now. He had just gotten a key to the servant’s quarters. He needed Cole for this, if they were going to investigate! Where could he have gone?

“Inquisitor.”

Ruen turned around quickly to face Dorian and Cassandra at the end of the library. Both of them had pinched looks on their faces, as uncomfortable with Cole’s disappearance as he himself was; they knew what had to be done. They didn’t have time to wait and find their friend.

Ruen wanted to protest. It wasn’t fair; they couldn’t. Not just yet. Without Cole, that left two mages, and one swordfighter. If Cole was here, he would balance the team out with his own blades. But without him, they were vastly imbalanced in power. Would they be able to handle whatever came at them as soon as they got into the servants’ quarters? As few and lopsided as they were?

The Inquisitor took a breath and reluctantly nodded as he regrouped with them. They were going to have to try anyway…regardless of whether or not they believed they could.

But then they found the dead bodies. And the notes, and the blood, and the bitter remains of the elves that had been killed by the Venatori infiltrators they stumbled across—and all for what? Ruen’s heart fell with every step he took in the servants’ quarters. He felt ill. Was there a reason for this…?

“…Inquisitor.”

It was the second time Cassandra had called him by that title alone and nothing else, and to Ruen, it communicated everything. He looked to her, met the Seeker’s eyes and knew precisely what she was thinking at that moment. It appeared Dorian was thinking the same thing, as well. His eyes were grim, lips pressed into a thin line. Ruen’s heart skipped a beat.

If these people were freshly dead, then…

Cole.

A cry resounded out.

No—!”

And they knew exactly who that was.

Their feet launched them into action.

It was second instinct, to run. To push and chase that voice. Trevelyan’s heart would not stop beating in his throat; he could barely breathe. He could barely get there fast enough.

And as soon as they jumped down into the servants’ gardens, it was as if time had stopped.

The Inquisitor’s booted feet hit the stonework. His red eyes snapped up, took in the dead body of the council’s emissary. They took in the Harlequin, and took in Cole, fighting the assassin. And then, Ruen had barely blinked before he saw one of the masked assailant’s blades pierce his friend straight through.

There was the sheen of metal, a splurt of red. A strangled gasp.

It was Dorian who yelled.

Cole—!”

The Harlequin stepped back and was gone in smoke in the next blink. Cassandra raced forward, Dorian on her heels. Ruen couldn’t feel his feet.

When he finally, stumblingly joined them, his staff clattered to the ground. Cole had been brought to his knees, Dorian holding him upright with a hand on his shoulder. Cassandra was on his other side, and had already pulled the dagger out, tossing it far away from them as if it were a vicious snake. Her hands then grasped for the boy’s face under his wide hat.

She called his name endlessly. “Cole, are you all right? Listen to me. Can you talk? Cole…!”

Ruen couldn’t breathe. It all seemed like it had happened too fast. Too sudden. It wasn’t right. It couldn’t happen like this. He couldn’t lose such a close friend in such a way...! He had—he—

“Yes.”

The mage’s eyes snapped to the spirit. Collectively, Dorian and Cassandra exhaled. Ruen stumbled around them, to the front of Cole, falling to his knees before him. He didn’t even notice when Cassandra then reached for him and he took her hand in return, squeezing it. It seemed like second-nature.

The spirit’s ever-blue eyes met his and...they were clear? They were fine. If Trevelyan had not been there in the garden yard himself and seen it, he would not even think Cole was hurt. He looked all right; his face wasn’t tightened in pain. Cassandra withdrew her remaining hand away hesitantly as this must have registered to her too, and as Cole looked down, so did the other three.

His hand was pulled away from his middle, tilted up. Open.

It was bloodless.

“W-what…?” Ruen stuttered. He blinked away the sudden onslaught of tears, now that they were unnecessary. He looked to his friend.

Cole looked back. He looked at all three of them, and all of the faces of confusion and surprise that faced him. He peered back with equal bafflement. He answered, “I’m all right. Are you not?”

And then Dorian smacked his hand against his own forehead, a pained groan coming from him. “Spirit. Of course. He’s a spirit. Oh, kaffas…”

That’s right.

“At least, I hope to be,” Cole added onto that softly. Cassandra leaned back with a relieved sigh. The spirit watched her and then looked to Ruen, as if he might somehow understand better than the others. “It’s all right. I can be all right, as I am now. I’m not a person. Not fully, anyway. So I’m all right. I’m sorry to worry you.”

Ruen felt there were so many things he wanted to say. Not a person? Cole—But you almost died? Or I thought you—? But he found he could only shake his head instead; a small laugh left him. He bowed his head.

It was Dorian who finally sighed and clasped his hand on Cole’s shoulder, drawing the spirit’s attention to him. “Just…don’t make a habit of scaring us like that again, Cole, hm?” And at Cole’s apparent confusion, he met his eyes and added, “Or running off like that to handle a matter that vastly outnumbers you. You can get us, you know.”

“But they were hurting,” Cole immediately protested. “The people in masks were killing them, and they were just doing their jobs. They hadn’t done anything wrong…”

Dorian swallowed tightly, his eyes pained. “I know.” He took a deep breath and squeezed Cole’s shoulder. “I know, Cole…but you are just one spirit. They are, quite literally, a militia group.” The mage’s eyes, firm, softened just a bit. “Anything could have happened to you—“

“—like the stabbing?”

The Tevinter mage winced. “Yes. Or…worse. Had they known what you are.”

And there was something in Dorian’s voice that said he knew exactly what it was supremacist people from his homeland were capable of, if they knew and got their hands ahold of Cole’s complex human-spirit nature.

Ruen swallowed and nodded. His hand squeezed Cassandra’s, and suddenly, he became aware that he was even holding it. He released it immediately, and Cassandra passed him a look he barely saw while trying to avoid her gaze. The Inquisitor felt heat flare beneath his cheeks and he cleared his throat. “Yeah...uh, about that:  I don’t really like interrupting moments like these, but we do still have a murderer to catch, so…”

Cole gasped and nodded. “Yes.” He raised a hand and pointed beyond them, to a balcony on the second floor across the gardens. “There. He’s there. We should hurry.”

Dorian scoffed, even as they stood to their feet. “Hurry. Ha. As if we have such a good track record for being on time for these sort of things, anyway…”

There was a shout to their right. Metal gleamed as a Venatori agent, stepping into view from behind the greenery, raised his sword in challenge. There were two mages that quickly followed step behind him, each holding their staves and books at the ready. It would not be easy to get up to the Harlequin’s location—and they still needed to examine the emissary’s body first. That dagger looked strangely familiar.

“Yeah,” Ruen sighed as he readied himself for another fight. “I wonder why…”

Chapter Text

It started in Redcliffe, when heated words were spoken and old wounds were harshly cut reopen, and it remained until the trip back to Skyhold, where even harsher silences made the echoes of What Once Was far too loud.

Because the thing was:  Dorian never considered himself a man to dwell too much on the past. But when the past had its methods of keeping up with you, it was rather hard to leave it all behind.

Sometimes, Dorian still found himself wanting to go home. Sometimes, in the quiet moments, tucked away in his corner of the library, his father’s voice would get inside his own mind. And sometimes, when the voice carried on for too long, he’d remember the way he would smile with pride after a particular feat Dorian would display. He’d remember the way he would laugh, and the smile his father would reserve just for him when he was particularly being clever. Sometimes, he’d remember how desperately and deeply he wished to fulfill all of the expectations his father had laid out before him, just to see him cry one day out of sheer pride.

Sometimes, he’d remember just how much he looked up to the man named Halward Pavus.

Because at the end of the day, the lineage, and the pedigree and the legacy that his father prioritized—all of those…they weren’t evil.

Sometimes, Dorian still very much wanted that. Sometimes, he still wanted to uphold the Pavus name, wanted to raise children who would become Pavuses. Wanted to talk to so-and-so and so-and-so with a glass of wine in hand, and all of his peers could gasp and smile and preen about how grown his children were. He wanted the pride that came with being respectful and respected and living a long, handsome life that everyone could and would happily speak well of.

He wanted to be a part of that.

There were Chantry churches in Tevinter that he dreamed about being married in. Great, huge, gorgeously-sculpted testaments to the heavens, that he used to sit in the pews of when he was little and watch with breathless wonder as people were brought together in matrimony. Some were lined with gold, had dragons writhing along their corners. Some had vaulted ceilings, painted a deep velvet blue and gold like star-studded night skies.

His dreams were of these places. Of stained glass and ribbon-lined aisles and sheer, tall white pillars that would frame him and his love one day in front of the holy altar.

What pained him, what truly brought on ache that still stung even after all this time was that he truly believed that he could still have that. That he could still keep the Pavus name respected, could still give his ancestors honor—could still continue being dutiful to his family after all the generations that had gone before—even as he was. Even with a partner of his choosing who…may not be able to bear children.

That was perhaps one of the most frustrating things:  that Dorian could envision a future where what he was fit in with everything he had ever known—but everything he had ever known had no future to envision that fit who he was in it.

Not to mention, of course, his father’s opinion of the whole affair. That this future was so impossible, so inconceivable, that he had thought it would be better to try and erase this essential part of his son by blood magic instead of giving him a chance. Instead of inviting the potential of loving another son just as much as he loved Dorian, and—

—it wasn’t fair.

At least, on his good days, Dorian could believe that.

Sometimes, on the bad days, Dorian pitied his father. Sometimes, when the quiet was too much and the familiar dark thoughts took hold of him, just before he would reach for another bottle, Dorian could swear that maybe even his father was in the right. Maybe his father was the victim, and he, instead, the culprit. After all, wasn’t it selfish of him? So terribly selfish to want to be happy and love another man, and bring tarnish upon the Pavus name, after such a proud and respectable heritage? Wasn’t it selfish to dishonor his family—after other Pavuses before him, decades upon centuries, have always made similar tough choices—just for the sake of the Name?

Who was he, to think he alone deserved to be happy?

He was the one thing wrong that his father never deserved, and really, maybe he should have changed. Maybe he should have let Halward go through with it, so that he could have the son he always dreamed and the Pavus line could continue for many more generations, as proud and perfect as ever. Maybe he should have just toughened it out. Put on his Altus cape and made the decisions others have had to make before him countless times. Maybe he should have…

…Dorian never had a good answer for those thoughts, though he tried.

Thankfully, that’s where mindless bliss usually would seep in. Where the alcohol would finally take effect and relieve him of every heavy burden.

But in the silence after returning from Redcliffe, in the aching pain remaining even after speaking with the Inquisitor himself, Dorian…suddenly found himself desperately wanting not to drink. For the first time in his life, Dorian wanted to actually find an answer to the age-old question:  Who was he, to think he alone deserved to be happy?

He wanted a response. He wanted confidence. He wanted…

…he wanted to believe. To know that what he had done, fleeing, leaving everything behind—that that was right. That that was okay.

“You had said, ‘help,’” Cole suddenly said very softly, as if it were a fragile word web-spun.

Dorian hadn’t even known when the spirit appeared, but he scoffed. It was weak. “I did not.”

“Yes.” And the single word beat any more dissent out of Dorian. He didn’t even look at the young man. “You’ve been saying it for a long time.”

The Altus mage felt his chest both loosen and tighten. He finally let his baited breath go in a tired sigh, his gaze out the window drifting down to the dusty edge of the sill. Half of him wondered:  if he dragged his finger through it, just how dirty would it come back?

Cole did not answer that thought. Dorian did not look back to see if he was still there.

But a single “Yes,” was all that Cole said—a whisper. An answer to the question he again did not ask.

Yet, it was more comforting than he thought it would be:  not being alone while you were trying to stave off the desire-need to drink away the screaming. Every once in a while, as he stood there at his window and Cole remained behind him, the spirit would murmur again, “Yes,” when he began to get most worried that perhaps he had been left alone. It was…nice. A yes, I am here. Yes, you are not alone. Yes, I will help you. Yes, you can get through this.

Yes, you deserve to be happy.

And then, suddenly, Cole said something different. “It’s because he stopped. That’s why you’re here.”

That startled Dorian. His eyes jumped away from the Commander’s tower across the courtyard to Cole, finally looking at the spirit for the first time since he had been here. “What…?” was the first thing out of his mouth.

Cole only smiled; a hint of sunlight. He was standing by Dorian’s “reject” pile of books, idly, fingers touching the top of them. “He did it first. So that makes it easier, the stopping. That’s why you’re here, not there. He did it first.”

And something in Dorian shuttered away tightly, suddenly. “That’s…”

He didn’t finish, but Cole understood. He always did. He nodded. “…private.” He raised his eyes to Dorian’s. They met tentatively, and the shutters lifted. Dorian found himself laid bare; but it was not frightening. It was warm. “Yes.”

A pause. Careful, pressed lips. Then Cole added, “But not unimportant.”

Silence fell over them. Dorian did nothing to refute Cole’s statement, so Cole continued. “It’s nice, to have someone who sees you. Sees You, and thinks you deserve better. It makes you think maybe you do, too.”

Dorian’s chest felt tight. Hot. It burned, right underneath his sternum, in an odd way that was both unpleasant and exhilarating.

“There’s a first for everything,” was all Cole quietly said, and then he was gone.

Dorian was left in the silence for a moment—but just a moment.

And surprisingly—or perhaps, not so surprisingly—he was ready, then, when the Commander appeared, just like last time. Just like the other significant time in Skyhold when he had been so grievously hurt, Cullen was there. Suddenly. With his proud armor, his back straight, and his hand resting idly against the pommel of his sword. There. Here.

He knew he would come. Somehow. Dorian lifted his eyes very carefully to the Commander’s golden ones.

They were kind. As always.

“…chess, Dorian?”

To ‘take his mind off of things,’ he supposed, hm? To care for him, in the only way the Commander knew how:  so that he wouldn’t turn to the drink.

 “I…would be deeply honored, Commander. Thank you.”

They work together.