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It means I love you, Dorian.

I love you.

Love.

Dorian sat alone in the Rest, nursing a bottle of the best swill the place had to offer. His own personal stores were far superior, but he wanted to avoid his usual places tonight. He didn’t want to be found. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. He didn’t want to see anyone. He definitely didn’t want to play the witty mage for anyone. In fact, he’d be happy if everyone just politely fucked off right about now.

Of course, they wouldn’t, so, here he was in the darkest corner of the inn he could find, drinking what could only be loosely referred to as wine, hiding from the world. His face was dark with agitation. Every raucous laugh, every shout, every note from Maryden’s lute, they all set him on edge tonight. Everything was wrong. Everything annoyed him.

Why did he have to ruin it?

He took another sip with a grimace and sniffed. Something was different…

Andraste’s tits, I smell like him.

The image of the commander, his ruddy face and golden eyes heavy-lidded with desire, illuminated the mage’s mind. His heart beat faster as he remembered the feel of Cullen’s rough fingers tracing a tender line down his jaw. Everything about the man made him melt, even the adorably awkward way he’d tried to ask for a kiss.

Oh, that kiss.

Without realizing it, Dorian’s hand moved to his face, thumb brushing his lips before he began biting his thumbnail in frustration. He closed his eyes and remembered the way Cullen tensed at first when Dorian went in for the kiss. For a moment, he was afraid he’d crossed the line. The doubt was extinguished before it really caught fire, though, as the commander let go and pressed into the kiss. Everything was warm and there was only the feel of Cullen’s lips and the stubble on his cheek and those strong arms wrapping around his waist and then…

Dorian groaned low in his throat as he relived the moment the commander had parted his lips and tentatively brushed his tongue lightly against his own. The mage had responded in kind as playfully soft flicks of their tongues gave way to deeper explorations, a deeper hunger.

Maker, Dorian wanted more. He’d been patient. He’d let the man take his time to find out what he wanted on his own. And now, the mage wanted everything the commander’s body had to offer. It was within reach. Painfully close.

He just had to make sure. He had to ask. Every time he’d helped the commander through his withdrawal episodes, the man clung to him as if his life depended on it. Every time, he claimed it was only due to the pain. He said he didn’t know what he was doing.

This can’t be like that. He has to actually want me, too.

Dorian pulled himself away from the man’s strong arms and intoxicating kiss with a sigh. He configured his face into the most serious expression he could muster and asked the question, “Commander, what does this mean?”

He’d half expected the commander to back out, which would have been fine. He’d have been upset, but he’d have moved on and given up on his infatuation with the Lion of Skyhold, once and for all.

He’d hoped, however, that Cullen would tell him (or show him, since words were difficult for the commander) that he really wanted him.

Those were the only two outcomes Dorian anticipated.

The damn fool had to ruin it and go with a third, one that Dorian never dreamed of.

It means I love you, Dorian.

“Aaaagh!” Dorian exclaimed as he stared into his cup. He couldn’t quite contain his frustration, it seemed. A few people turned to look at him, but he waved them off. “Bit my tongue. No worries!” he said genially.

Bit my tongue indeed.

Dorian’s knee bounced up and down in agitation as he went over what had happened next.

I’m such a fucking idiot.

The shock was too much for him. Love? Love? Really? He had no witty retort, no quip to smooth the awkwardness he felt so they could continue with… whatever it was they were going to do. All he had was laughter.

So he laughed.

“Love?” he managed between breaths, “Don’t be ridiculous, man.”

“I thought… all those times… that maybe you also… well, I suppose I have my answer, then,” Cullen’s face clouded and Dorian realized what he’d done – what he’d said.

“You may take your leave, Ser Pavus.”

“Cullen, listen, there’s just no way…”

“Leave.”

The big man turned his back to Dorian and walked to the window silently.  

“Cullen?” Dorian said quietly.

Cullen’s voice was even, but Dorian could tell the current of emotion was running, deep and strong, beneath the surface.

“I won’t ask again.”

So here he was, getting drunk alone and trying his best to just disappear. It was Cullen’s fault for bringing love into it, wasn’t it? It was ridiculous. The commander of the Inquisition, in love with him? Even better, he thought bitterly, an ex-Templar in love with a disgraced mage from Tevinter. Preposterous. Ludicrous. Unheard of.

“Fucking impossible,” Dorian grumped.

But hadn’t Cullen’s heart been racing? Wasn’t his touch soft and his embrace warm? Wasn’t his kiss passionate?

“Ah, passion does not mean love,” Dorian muttered to himself under his breath as he poured another glass of wine.

Why is it so strange that Cullen would love you?

“Because he doesn’t. It’s beyond reason.”

Why?

“It just is, Maker damn it. He might feel something. Infatuation. Lust. Not love.”

Why can’t he love you, Dorian?

“Because these things, they’re never about love. They’re about the deed. Sex. You fuck, you move on. It’s over. You might think it’s love for a time, but it’s really just attraction. That’s how it works.”

Is that what you want from him? Just sex?

“Who cares what I want?”

Is that what you want?

“No, damn it all, no. That’s not what I want, but I can’t afford to hope for more.”

You love him, too.

And there it was. The internal dialog stopped dead in its tracks. There was no way Dorian could retort because as soon as he thought it, he knew it was true.  

You love him, too.

How else could he explain how much it hurt to see the commander in pain during those damnable withdrawal headaches? How else could he explain the way his heart skipped a beat when Cullen laughed? How else could he explain why, even now, he ached just to be near him? If it was just an attraction, why would he have spent the past year getting to know who Cullen really was… and letting Cullen know him, too?

No, this was more than attraction. This was more than physical.

This was terrifying.

But it was also exhilarating. The corners of Dorian’s mouth curled upwards in a smile as the fog lifted and his heart thumped.

I love him.

“But, shit, I’ve probably already ruined it… I suppose there’s nothing for it but a little humility and hope. And a lot of apologizing.”

He stood, meaning to leave the Rest and head back to the commander’s office. Body electric with nervous energy, he bound up the steps to the door that led to the battlements, taking them two at a time.

“Maker help me, I’m like a giddy teenager,” he thought to himself as he opened the door and stepped into the brisk night air.

“Ah. Dorian,” the tone was flat, but the voice was familiar.

“Commander? I was just… I was on my way… I wanted to talk, you see… and…”

“I believe enough was said, don’t you?”

“Yes… no! No, not enough was said! You sent me away before I could say everything.”

Anger flashed in the commander’s eyes before he composed himself again.

“No, you spent your time laughing, as I recall. If you’ll excuse me…”

Dorian looked down as Cullen moved to pass the mage and enter the Rest.

Can you really let this end before it begins?

No.

“No.”

“No?”

“No, I won’t excuse you. I’m going to talk to you, and you’re going to listen. After that, you can do whatever you want with what I tell you, but I’ll have at least tried.”

Silence fell between them as the moon outlined Cullen’s features in silver light. Maker, did the man not know how beautiful he was? Dorian pushed the thought away as he took a breath and continued.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for laughing. I’m sorry for not believing you. I’m sorry that I’m so fucking broken I can’t accept it when someone genuinely cares about me.”

Cullen’s eyebrows raised as his scowl softened.

“I only laughed because I was scared. I felt a trap closing around me, and my only defense has ever been pushing people away. So I pushed.”

Dorian heard Cullen’s sigh and saw his shoulders drop.

“I pushed when I should have held on,” Dorian continued, “I couldn’t even admit to myself that I…”

The mage swallowed hard and met the commander’s honey gold eyes. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it right.

“I love you, too.”