It was the change in light that woke Dorian. The mage’s eyes fluttered open, squinting against the bright sunlight that settled over his eyes
Dawn? My bed doesn’t face east…Dorian thought, the words drawling even in his mind. Another slow blink and the mage remembered.
He looked beside him to the left, eyes catching on a bright flash of red against pale ivory sheets. Alexander. The Inquisitor was sprawled on his stomach on the bed still deep in sleep. His left arm reached out for the mage underneath the sheets but falling inches short from Dorian’s bare skin.
Dorian let out a pleased hum at the sight, the sound catching in his dry throat, as he pushed up onto his elbows. He blinked sluggishly, awakening in inches. Dorian slid from the bed one leg at a time, careful not to waken his lover with the movement.
Dorian stood, stretched his arms high above his head and then below his tailbone, and breathed in deep. Latent eagerness stirred low in his gut as he remembered his desire to return to his alcove in the library. He had been forced to abandon his latest written obsession the night previous and its fascinating chapter on unconventional uses of fire magic.
Heating the water in the air to create a dense fog that impairs movement and sight? Imagine the possibilities, Dorian thought.
He continued to muse on the matter as he dressed, careful to keep his movements quiet lest he wake Alex. For once, the mage was awake before the other man and Dorian took the chance to gaze at Alex who was, for once, at utter peace with himself.
Dorian perched on the far corner of the bed, the metal points of his boots catching on the overhanging silk sheet as he settled himself.
With the threat of war table meetings and reports assuaged for the night, Alex’s brow was smooth and his posture lax in slumber. The fine strands of his hair were splayed in a fan of red over the pale, ivory pillow covers. Without the aid of oil to hold his hair in place, a few strands curled against the tanned skin just above the man’s thick eyebrows. The sight made Alexander seem softer, his usually tidy appearance sleep mused and graceless.
Dorian paused to tug the thick quilt higher over the man’s bare shoulders before making for the library by way of the servants’ passages. Early as it was, he never knew who might be waiting in the main passageways to see him leaving Alex’s quarters.
Dorian had been so eager to return to his studies in fact that only the Tranquil was in the library at the early hour. The female elf was already absorbed in her reports on the other side of the room, quill scratching over parchment at a steady pace. The various mages and couriers were gone leaving the library as quiet as it could be beneath the crows’ cages.
His nook, however, was not the same as when he had left it. The tome Dorian sought was closed and placed on top of the nearest stack of books, a thick leather bookmark hopefully marking his place.He frowned at the sight. He could have sworn that he had left the book open on the seat of his chair as he had no bookmark on hand to stick between the pages.
Dorian reached out and tugged the book open, nodding in relief when it opened to his desired chapter. It was only then that he noticed the new addition to his corner.
A thick fur blanket was draped over the back of the chair, the weight of the material causing it to slip further down the red velveteen backed chair and pool over the seat cushion.
Dorian glanced around the near-vacant library, unsure how to react to the new addition.
Did someone come by already and leave it here to claim the spot? He wondered though it didn’t seem likely.
As always, his curiosity got the better of him. He reached out to the blanket, wondering if it was a decadently soft as it appeared. The soft fur tickled Dorian’s palm as he ran his fingers through the white and tan strands of the hide—Ram, his mind supplied—his callouses catching on the fine material as he thought.
The mage had commandeered the corner for his use when he wasn't out on missions with the Inquisitor. Over the course of his stay in Skyhold, Dorian had added a few personal affects to the nook to further claim the area as his own. The various stacks of books and scrolls surrounding his chair were those he had personally pulled from the shelves and kept close at hand. The area had been dubbed "The Tevinter's Hoard" by the scholars and mages who roamed the library. Dorian suspected the name didn’t come from the accumulation of texts, but from his reaction when a scholar had took a book without consulting with the mage first. ‘Draconic’ was the word of choice more often than not.
Really it was only the one time, Dorian rationalized, and the book was better used in my studies than that fop’s attempts at conjuration.
Dorian gave a firm tug on the soft strands to ground his wandering thoughts back on the matter at hand.
He was early enough that it seemed unlikely that another had come by that morning so that left last night. A frown pulled at the corners of his lips as he recalled the previous evening.
He had been reading after dinner (as he often did) and would have kept on reading never mind that it was nearing the first bell if Alex hadn’t intervened. The Inquisitor had entered the library with a soft smile and tired eyes, and he had reminded Dorian of the hour and the necessity of sleep. Dorian had waved the man’s concern aside and continued to read despite the drooping of his eyelids at the mention of sleep.
If I can just finish this chapter, then I’ll go to bed, Dorian had thought. He had been telling himself the same for the past two hours.
The Inquisitor had huffed and continued to prod Dorian into abandoning his book, “Just for the evening, Dor. It will still be here in the morning.”
“Why leave it for tomorrow when I am here now?” Dorian had quipped back.
“Because you have not left that chair for ages,” Alex had explained patiently. “And I would like to see you in a bed before it’s truly tomorrow.”
“Posh.” Despite his words, Dorian’s mind had swayed between wakefulness and sleep as the thought of a bed—especially the Inquisitor’s bed—was a pleasant one, but not yet. The author’s proposal on the uses of fire was simply fascinating.
In the end,Dorian had clung to the chair until Alex had all but dragged him from the room by the collar, lips firmly attached to Dorian’s to stem his complaints and convince him to finish for the evening. Dorian had been far more amendable to leaving after that.
A wicked smirk crossed Dorian’s lips as he thought back to his amatus’ actions. The man’s concern had been sweet but his kisses were sweeter by far.
A soft cough drew his attention away from his memories and he spared a glance over his shoulder toward the sound. There, framed by the curved archway of the library’s staircase, was Alex. A thrill ignited low in Dorian’s gut at the unexpected sight. To see the man once in the morning was a rare treat but Dorian had seen him twice now.
Within the same hour too, Dorian thought and licked his suddenly dry lips.
“Ah, just the man I was thinking of,” Dorian said. He watched Alex draw closer, the man’s booted feet making only the faintest tapping sound as he strode across the stone floor to the mage. The gait of a rogue and not the Inquisitor. “Perhaps I have some power of thought that draws you near whenever I think of you. You would never be far if that were the case.”
He could never resist a chance to tease Alexander. Dorian took great pleasure—and pride—from the blushes that he managed to draw from the other man.
“Really, Dorian,” Alex said, shaking his head fondly, that beautiful haze of red creeping in under his startling blue eyes. “It’s not even eight bells into the day and already you tease me.”
Dorian reached out for the other man’s arm and tugged him close, emboldened by the early hour and the lack of an audience to comment on his actions.
“It’s just so easy, amatus,” Dorian said, brushing his lips over Alex’s cheek in greeting.
Alexander rolled his eyes and it was then Dorian noticed how stiffly the man held himself. The Inquisitor’s shoulders were held straighter than usual and a pinch had developed between his eyebrows.
He looks nervous, Dorian realized. It was not a look he was familiar with seeing on the other man when in Dorian’s company, and it set the mage on edge.
“What has you in such a mood? No sweetbread at breakfast?” Dorian teased but he could not hide the edge of concern from creeping into his words.
“It’s nothing,” Alex said almost reflexively and the man furrowed his brows further as if surprised he had said them at all. “I mean, hopefully nothing. It’s just—what do you think?”
The non sequitur took Dorian by surprise but he attempted to answer nonetheless. “On any matter in particular? If you’re referring to this moment than I would have to say that you are acting quite odd.”
“Forgive me. Just nervous,” Alex said in a clipped tone that had Dorian’s brow furrowing. “I meant: what do you think of your gift?”
Dorian put the pieces together. There could only be one thing the Inquisitor was referring to and his actions the previous night became clear as well. No wonder Alex had been so keen to remove Dorian from the space if he had a gift to deliver.
Dorian glanced back to the chair where the fur blanket rested and could tell even from a distance that it was made from a Hinterland’s Ram hide—one raised by a shepherd if the quality was anything to go by.
He stepped away from Alex and reached out to run his hand through the soft strands once more. It felt just as heavenly as his first touch. The fur had been brushed and cleaned until the white strands felt like silk beneath his touch. Even the coarser tan strands felt soft and Dorian marveled at the craftsmanship. He had not seen such fine pieces around Skyhold; although Josephine and Vivienne often spoke of importing such goods into the keep.
Dorian let out a pleased hum as he rolled the strands between his fingers, enjoying the high quality of the gift and the lick of warmth that erupted in his chest at the knowledge that it came from his lover.
To think that Alexander is giving me such a fine ware, Dorian thought with pleasure.
True, Alex was known to be a giving man but this was far beyond the usual candies and wooden dummies he sent Josephine and Cassandra. This was the gift one expected to be exchanged between lovers: decadent and beautiful.
“The winter winds are beginning to come. I thought you might appreciate the added warmth when you’re hidden away up here,” Alex said, reaching out to twine his fingers with Dorian’s still caught in the fur.
Dorian’s heart stuttered at the other’s admission. Trust Alex to give a gift that was not only gorgeous but practical as well.
“I can’t have you freezing up here. What would people say? The mighty Tevinter Altus felled by the weather before he even made it out of his chair,” Alex said, his quick tone giving away just how nervous he was.
Now that won’t do, Dorian thought. He brought their entwined hands up to his lips and brushed a kiss over each of Alex’s knuckles in a slow drag. It worked far better than any combination of words to sooth Alex’s fears, but Dorian tried to speak all the same.
“Thank you, truly,” he said. Heartfelt honesty not something he was used to but it was becoming increasingly more common in his interactions with Alex. “It is a wonderful gift.”
Alex positively beamed at his answer.
“I am glad, I thought…well I’m not quite sure what I thought,” Alex admitted, his thumb rubbing over Dorian’s in their entwined grasp. “But I am pleased that you like it.”
The Inquisitor dropped a quick kiss to Dorian’s lips before he nudged the other down into his chair.
“Ooh, Inquisitor, how daring,” Dorian teased. He kept his grasp on the other’s hand keeping the pair suspended between the two men. “And so early in the morning too. If I have been remiss in my nightly duties, you must tell me. I would be eager to rectify any problem.”
“You are the most audacious man,” Alex said and dropped another kiss to Dorian’s lips as if he could not help himself and wasn’t that a wonderful boast to Dorian’s ego? “But I have a council meeting soon. It would not do to have Josephine send a runner only for them to find me here kissing you rather than in attendance.”
“It would be far more fun here, don’t you think?” Dorian said, the words more jest than an actual offer. He understood how important the war table sessions were and would not keep the man from the meetings that kept the Inquisition running. Not for the sake of a few pleasurable moments, however lovely they might be.
More besides, what people would say about such an act, Dorian thought with a shudder he barely managed to suppress.
Alex only hummed in agreement, understanding Dorian’s tease.
“I have kept you from your book for far too long, and I know that you have been desperate to get back to it.” A soft grin graced Alex’s full lips and Dorian felt pleased that he had erased the man’s earlier look of anxiety. It didn’t last. The smile faltered and a hesitant quirk, pulled crooked by the scar along the man’s left tanned cheek, came to the corner of Alex’s full lips. “Will I see you for lunch?”
Even though they had shared every mid-day meal since the start of their relationship, Alex still phrased the line as a question, as if he was afraid Dorian's answer would change and the mage would suddenly decide not to show.
The thought caused a pang in the mage’s chest. It seemed Dorian was not the only one unused to being in a relationship. Even the mighty Inquisitor needed reassurance and Dorian was more than willing to provide it with a soft grin. “Of course.”
Alex nodded then turned to walk down the curved stone stairway. As he left, Dorian noted all the changes that occurred that took the man from “Alex” to “Inquisitor Trevelyan”. The man’s shoulders drew back and his spine straightened into a firm line. The thick fur collar of the winter coat Alex had taken to wearing became the mantel of a king no matter the man’s true position as leader of a supposed heretical band. Alex walked smoothly, each limb moving in a controlled and measured manner that spoke of authority but never arrogance.
Gone was the little sway that Dorian adored to see in Alex’s hips when he walked; the soft step of his boots against the stone replaced with a steady ‘thud’. The Inquisitor could not hide or subdue his presence the way Alex did.
It was aweing to see and it broke Dorian’s heart each time.
Dorian settled back into his chair, unconsciously rubbing his cheek against the soft fur of the blanket as he thought. It was a long time before he opened his book and resumed reading.
Skyhold’s lower guard tower rose from the mountain pass as the troop rounded a bend in the trail, the high stonework nothing short of glorious to Dorian in that moment. While the keep itself was little more than a grey shadow off in the distance, they were finally within Inquisition territory again. After a fortnight on the road to and from Crestwood, this was their first sight of rest. Rounding up the last of the bandits plaguing the village had taken the better part of four days, and Dorian was more than ready for the mission to end.
Dorian let out a sigh of relief as they rode past the familiar stonework and he was not the only one.
“Andraste’s blessed ass,” Blackwell muttered. “I thought we’d never see it again.”
“You doubted our beloved Inquisitor's ability to get us home?” Varric teased from his place beside the Warden. The archer leaned over and shot a wink towards the man in question at the head of the pack.
The other caught on quick and Alex called back from his place at the front of the troop to the Warden.“You wound me, Blackwall,” Alex said, feigning a hurt tone. “And here I thought we were finally getting along.”
“It’s not you I doubted,” Blackwall said, slumping over the horn of his saddle. The wound he had taken from a bandit’s mace apparently still aching even days later. “But my ability to remain in a saddle long enough to make it to a bed.”
Dorian saw the smile fall from Alexander’s face at the warrior’s words, and the Inquisitor pulled his golden Ranger back to fall into place next to the Grey Warden.
“Do you need a potion?” Alex said patting the nearest saddled bag as if hoping to find a small phial tucked away. A fruitless endeavor since they had used the last of their stock that morning. “I’m sure there’s one somewhere. Dorian, would you--”
“It’s fine, Inquisitor,” Blackwall said, uncharacteristically cutting off their leader. “We are not far and I wouldn’t want to delay our return. I can make it the few miles we have left.”
A flush rose over what little could be seen of the Warden’s cheeks through his thick beard and the man gazed resolutely down at the horn of his saddle. Looking at Blackwall’s rigid posture, Dorian understood what was troubling the other man.
Appearing weak in front of another was never easy for a man like Blackwall and, given his current tenuous status in the Inquisition, an unwise decision. Any weakness could prove to be grounds for expulsion after all.
While Alex had accepted the man back into his group of companions with an oath of complete transparency from the Warden, there were still those that thought the decision a mistake.None dared approach the Inquisitor and challenge his authority directly, but that did not stop tongues from wagging. It was an experience Dorian was more than familiar with.
While he may not be particularly close to the other man, Dorian could empathize with Blackwall’s situation. After all, Dorian’s own status within the Inquisition seemed tenuous at the best of times given who he was.
For that reason he intervened before the Inquisitor could push the matter. “We could always tie you to the saddle should you start to lean, Blackwall. I’m sure we could find enough rope to fit around that ridiculous set of armor you wear.”
“It’s called proper protection, mage,” Blackwall huffed, a look of relief crossing his features. Good. He knew what Dorian was doing. “You might want to look into a few sheets of steel yourself. Cotton won’t hold up against the blade of a Red Templar.”
“Cotton?” Dorian gasped, scandalized. “My dear man, this is fustian velvet. Surely even a man such as you can tell the difference?”
Blackwall waved a dismissive hand at the mage’s words and sent a smirk his way. “It’s all fabric, Dorian.”
Companionable silence followed Blackwall’s words and the troop pressed on, eager to cross Skyhold’s bridge and find rest on the other side. The final miles passed easily and Skyhold’s main gate towered over them shortly after the sun had reached its zenith.
The quartet crossed the threshold into Skyhold’s lower courtyard and, like a cloud finally moving from the sun, they all relaxed with an audible exhalation of air.The men dismounted and led their steeds to the stables, stretching their sore muscles as they walked. They reached the row of pens and made short work of removing their travel packs and weapons from the saddle bags.
A blur of motion from the corner of Dorian's eyes caught his attention and he tensed, battle instincts kicking in. The past fourteen days spent on constant alert for any sign of danger had drained the mage, but it took only one moment for the situation to change, even in Skyhold.
Maybe especially in Skyhold, Dorian thought reaching for his staff. Better cautious than dead.
Darting from the base of the kitchen stairs was a female figure. Her short and stocky stature gave her away as a dwarf and Dorian’s grip fell from his staff at the sight of her green hood and beige tunic—a messenger. She must have been lying in wait for the Inquisitor to return to relay her message.
“Ser!” The dwarf said, snapping off a sharp salute and waiting to be acknowledged.
Alex glanced up from his horse, his blue eyes hardening as he took in the messenger. His shoulders drew back subtly and he nodded for her to continue, a near palpable aura of authority falling around him. It might have been Dorian’s imagination, but he could have sworn that the messenger stood just a little taller when Alexander’s full attention fell on her.
“Inquisitor, have something for you,” the messenger said, crowding the man the moment he stepped from his horse.
Dorian rolled his eyes at the dwarf’s tenacity and turned back to his Talisian Strider. He continued to remove his travel pack from his mount but kept half an ear on the conversation behind him in case he needed to react to the news.
“What is it?”
“It’s about your order, ser.”
Dorian relaxed at her words. Nothing too serious then,he thought—a spot of personal business for the Herald and not a new mission or errand to run.
Thank the Maker, Dorian thought. Alex had a tendency to bring Dorian along on his missions, and while the mage was flattered that the Inquisitor often sought his company and battle expertise, right now a new mission seemed impossible.
With a final pat to his horse’s flank, Dorian handed the mount off to the stable boys for it to be properly dressed down and returned to its pen.
The mage turned to head towards the nearest entrance into the Keep, eager to change into a fresh set of clothes. Already his mind was drifting to the research he had left behind and the fascinating treatise on the Fade by Genitivi that he had claimed the night before leaving. If he was lucky it would still be squirreled away in his nook, but he wouldn’t put it past Solas to have snapped it up in his absence. He would have done the same to the elf.
“Dorian, wait a moment if you would?” Alex asked, waving the mage down before Dorian had taken half a dozen steps away.
“Of course,” Dorian said, ignoring the grin Varric shot his way as the dwarf ambled past on his way to the tavern with Blackwall in tow.
Alexander shot him a small smile before turning back to the courier. The man finished the exchange with a few curt words and sent the dwarf off into the bowels of the keep with his answer. Dorian wondered on the purpose of the short meeting but had little time to think on it before his attention was grabbed by his lover.
Alex had walked to stand beside the mage and bent his head close to speak to him.
“Would you care for a stroll around the battlements later?” Alex asked. The question surprised Dorian as they had spent the better part of the past fortnight doing nothing but walking, riding, and fighting. His legs, while stronger by far since he’d joined the Inquisition, felt sore enough to warrant a long soak in the officer’s baths. A glance at Alex’s face killed his refusal before it had even fully formed.
The man’s blue eyes shone up at Dorian, crinkling at the corners from a smile with an ease that never existed while the man was outside of the keep. To be the one to wipe that look from Alex’s face for the sake of momentary comfort would be unthinkable. Dorian Pavus was many things but intentionally cruel was not one of them, especially not towards those he considered dear.
“Very well,” Dorian said, nodding towards the staircase to the upper walkway of Skyhold just off the main gate. “I’ll meet you there in an hour. I need time if I’m to look my dashing best.”
Alex chuckled and drew closer to the other man, remaining just outside of the mage’s personal space. The man had caught on quickly to how skittish Dorian was with public displays of affection. Since then Alex had taken to ensuring that any move he made was acknowledged by Dorian first before he pushed for more, a fact for which the mage was grateful.
Dorian dipped his head towards Alex, silently acquiescing to the other’s desire for contact. He was met with a brilliant grin and a soft kiss to his cheek for his efforts. The simple contact caused his heart to skip a beat and automatically sent his eyes searching around them for an audience.
For once, luck was on Dorian’s side. The courtyard near the entrance was empty save for Cole. The spirit-boy was seated in a patch of flowers near the outer wall, utterly engrossed in examining them, and gave them no heed.
“You always look your best, Dorian,” Alex said. Covered in a week’s worth of grime and dust from their travel to and from Crestwood, Dorian felt anything but his best. He knew that he was handsome—even covered in hastily cleaned off dust—but he would need a quick bath at the very least to feel human let alone nice enough to spend time with his lover.
“No wonder you do so well in Val Royeaux’s markets; you lie so convincingly.”
“I don’t know,” Alex said brushing bodily against Dorian as he walked to the staircase leading to the entrance hall. Trevelyan drew to a halt a few paces away, looking over his shoulder to continue his remark. “There’s something about a man being so dirty that I quite like.”
“Oh?” Dorian said, stepping after the other in mock challenge. He adored these moments when Alex allowed himself to be so playful. “Perhaps I should be jealous of Blackwall then. I don’t believe the man has ever met a bar of soap in his life.”
“Stop,” Alex chided although his tone was noticeably less amused. Dorian knew the Inquisitor never cared for the petty grievances his party members shared between themselves, harmless though they might appear. He often complained to Dorian in his more dramatic (and inebriated) moments that it was those petty differences that would be the undoing of the Inquisition.
Dorian, chastised and unwilling to spoil the mood further, reached out for the other man. When his hand met the other’s arm without incident he sent up a silent cheer.
“Only joking, my Lord Inquisitor,” Dorian said, pleased when his words wrung an amused huff from Alexander. “I will see you in an hour’s time. Try not to be late.”
“When am I ever, Dorian?”
Dorian emerged from the heated baths a little under an hour later with his tan skin shinning a healthy pink and feeling properly civilized for the first time that week.
He had nearly rubbed his skin raw to eliminate the smell of decaying wood that permeated Crestwood and which clung to those unlucky enough to travel through its borders. While he was unsure just what the Inquisitor had in mind for their stroll, it never hurt to present one’s best at all times. Especially not if Alex wanted to make up for lost time and exchange more than a few brief kisses.
Dressed in the usual leather and metal under armor he wore around the keep Dorian felt almost human. He stopped to grab his white lambswool overcoat from his room, knowing from experience that the battlements were the coldest areas in the keep by far, before heading out to meet Trevelyan.
Oh yes, Dorian thought with a wicked grin. I know that quite well.
They were, after all, the most secluded area in Skyhold during the day if one knew where to look. Warming up required inventive methods but Dorian and Alex had been more than willing to explore all of them.
On his way through the Great Hall Dorian could almost pretend he couldn’t hear the hushed whispers of the visiting nobles trailing after him.
The average member of the Inquisition had accepted his presence in Skyhold—even if they were not pleased by it—and had given up on whispering behind his back. The visiting Orlesian and Fereldan nobles, however, still found places to prod that hurt.
Dorian was nothing if not resilient, however, and he drew his personality tighter around him in defiance and added a slight swagger to his hips as he walked.
If the visiting snakes thought they could unnerve him, then he would never give them proof of it. Dorian could bluff with the best of the Imperium, and no Southern noble could say that they had trumped the House of Pavus.
None save for one, Dorian thought, his eyes alighting on Alex’s form at the base of the stairs.He wasn’t alone.
A small gathering of soldiers and couriers had cornered the man against the stonework of the keep’s wall. Dorian felt his eyebrow twitch at the sight. The man couldn’t even go an hour without being hounded by the Inquisition.
Suddenly, Alexander looked up over the head of the nearest soldier and locked gazes with the mage.
Dorian held the contact and a flicker of wickedness light in his gut. He drew up short, relaxing back against the rounded wall of the keep a few yards away from Alex and his gathering. He made sure that no onlooker was paying him any attention before beginning. This show was only for the Inquisitor's eyes.
The mage brought his index finger to his mouth, his tongue a flicker of pink as it wet the digit, and he brushed the calloused pad over his bottom lip in a slow drag all while keeping his gaze trained on Alex’s face. He made a second pass then pressed firmly against the soft flesh and dragged down to show the briefest flash of white teeth. A flick of the wrist and his fingertip left his mouth and moved along his jaw down to his neck. The mage trailed his nail along the tendon to his cloth covered adam’s apple, arching his neck slightly the lower he went. Finally, he crooked the finger into the stiff collar of his overcoat and tugged.
Across the courtyard Alex’s gaze was riveted on the small movements, blue eyes tracking each small tug Dorian made. The people around the Inquisitor, ever oblivious, continued to talk to the man whose attention was yards behind them.
Dorian continued to pull down, only stopping when he was halfway down his pectoral and his collar was gaping obscenely. He waited a moment, gauging Alex’s expression, before letting his hand drop back to his side taking care to brush it against his stomach on the way down.
Then Dorian turned and walked away. He made his way towards the upper courtyard, hips swaying slowly with each stair he climbed.
He knew Alexander would finish meeting with all of the soldiers and messengers—ever the dependable Inquisitor—before joining the mage on the ramparts, but there was no reason not to give him a little incentive to finish faster.
“You are a cruel man, Pavus.”
“I wonder which of us is truly the cruel one, my Lord Inquisitor?” Dorian drawled. He continued to lean against the rampart, arms crossed and elbows perched against the cold stone, looking out over the snowdrifts in the valley below Skyhold. “We planned for a date yet when I go to meet you, what do I find? My lover surrounded by half a dozen men all vying for his attention. That sounds far crueler than my innocent tease.”
Despite what Dorian might say, he knew Alex would get him back for his little stunt. The prospect was far more exciting than he anticipated.
“You make it all sound so sordid,” Alex said walking over to join the mage. The younger man pressed their biceps together until no space existed between them.
Here, on a rampart high above the milling crowds in Skyhold's courtyards, they could be together without reservation. Only soldiers patrolled the far corners of the walkways and Dorian and Alex had long since learned their schedules to avoid any untimely interruptions. Besides, the mage preferred the private moments between the two men when he didn’t have to worry about the presence of others.
It wasn't that he was ashamed of their relationship; the truth could not be further from that. He just had a reasonable understanding of the situation. The Inquisitor could not be seen fawning over a Tevinter Altus or—Andraste forbid—making out with one like a hormonal youth. The Inquisitor needed to be a symbol and a symbol could not be seen to have the same needs and desires as a common man.
At least, Dorian tried to convince himself that was the case. It had nothing to do with not wanting the world see the two in a relationship only to witness its end. The aftermath would wreak havoc on the stability of Dorian’s mind never mind his heart.
Shaking such maudlin thoughts from his head, Dorian turned his attention back to the here and now. In this moment, nothing mattered but the warmth of the Inquisitor against his arm and the teasing glint in the man's blue eyes.
Dorian swayed in place to bump his hip against Alex’s. “It was positively indecent. I’m surprised the Chantry mothers didn’t fall in a dead faint at the sight.”
“Perhaps you’re just jealous that others gain my attention so easily?”
The mage turned sharply at the comment and was met by a pair of soft lips for his trouble.
Sensation hit him all at once. The brush of the Inquisitor's fur collar against the sliver of his still bare neck; the smell of sweat that clung to the other man signifying that he had yet to break away long enough for a full soak and made due with a brief wash; the sharp inhale of air from his own lips and the answering exhale from Alex’s; and the bright taste of the other man matched only by the hue of his eyes so close to Dorian’s own.
Kissing the Inquisitor was like drowning in his senses. It was marvelous and terrifying and Dorian craved it like nothing before.
All too soon Alex pulled away and Dorian’s senses snapped back solely to himself though not in the same condition. Where once Dorian had felt on edge, slighted by the delay to his date with the Inquisitor, now he felt at ease.
“Much better,” Alex said. His hot breath brushed against Dorian’s cheek with each syllable that sent shivers racing down the mage’s spine. “I was afraid you would continue to be cross with me.”
“I might yet still be,” Dorian said though he didn’t mean a word of it. Alex appeared to know and he dropped another quick kiss to Dorian’s lips before pulling back to his original position.The two men remained at ease, neither talking nor moving as they watched the slow moving river far below.
After some time spent in comfortable silence, the mage felt Alex tense. It was no more than a slight shift to his weight and arm position, but to Dorian it felt like a blow from a practice staff. He glanced at Trevelyan from the corner of his eye in an attempt to gauge the other’s mood but could gleam nothing from the sharp features.
Alex ducked his head once then spoke to Dorian in profile, eyes staring out across the mountain peaks.
“I have something for you, Dorian,” Alex said. Another short duck and then Alexander turned to face Dorian fully. “A gift.”
“Really? That’s two in a month, Alexander.” He knew his pass at chastisement was little more than a farce. Dorian adored receiving gifts, especially those from his lover, but some small traitorous part of his mind whispered doubts and fears with each one. “What will people say?”
“What will people say?” Dorian already knew. He had heard their whispers; words that echoed in the Great Hall just as they did in his own mind.
“Dorian Pavus, that one. The Tevinter Magister.”
“The one using the Inquisitor?”
“Have you seen the gifts the Herald lavishes on him? And not one protest from the magister himself.”
“I think he encourages the Inquisitor.”
“Uses him, really.”That was the same haunting thought that had dogged his mind all those months ago when Alex retrieved his family amulet.
However, he could not remember that without calling to mind Alex’s answer, “Go ahead and use me, Dorian. Or are you all talk?”Remembering those words eased the knot inside of the mage and Dorian allowed himself to enjoy the prospect of an unexpected gift.
“One might think you’re playing favorites,” Dorian teased.
“Hush,” Alex said. “I know how much you adore gifts.”
“I’ve never said that.”
“You never needed to,” Alex said, withdrawing his hand along with a small square box from the inner pocket of his grey velveteen winter coat. “The way your eyes light up gives you away.”
“Lies and slander,” Dorian said reaching for the gift.
“See?” Alex said. He pulled the gift away from Dorian’s grasping fingers to place a feather light kiss over the dark mole at the corner of the mage’s eye. “Just like that.”
The mage’s throat felt as if someone had filled it with cotton and he struggled to form words. The place where Alex had kissed throbbed in time with his heartbeat and he barely managed, “the gift?” through his suddenly hoarse throat.
In answer, Trevelyan reached out for Dorian’s hand and folded the mage’s fingers around the palm-sized box.
A cursory exploration gave no hint towards its contents. So far as Dorian could tell, it was just a small wooden box tied together with a length of white string that weighed no more than two ounces.Dorian made short work of the knot and had the lid open before he knew it.
Inside, nestled in-between layers of cotton, was a snake’s head. For a moment Dorian almost thought it was real so perfect was the likeness, but upon closer inspection he found it to be made of metal.
The dark, olive green of the gift gave it away as a piece of worked serpentstone, a highly fitting choice given its subject matter. Small scales had been painstakingly cut into the metal and Dorian felt the small ridges with the tip of a finger. The metal had been worked with a polishing cloth until it shone like water, a sheen matched only by the silverite worked into the exposed curved tongue and mouth. It was no larger than an egg but it was perhaps the most gorgeous thing Dorian had seen in the South.
With trembling fingers Dorian removed it from the white nest of cotton and rotated the metalwork to glance at the gift from all angles. The bottom had been smoothed flat and the added latch and hook gave it away as a broach, one used to secure a cloak or high collar in place.Perhaps more catching than the appearance of the gift was the faint hum of magic the mage felt emitting from the piece.
Curious, Dorian peered at the broach and probed it with his own magic in an attempt to figure out just what magical property it had. Beyond a general sense of warmth however, he was at a loss for what enchantment had been used. Whoever had crafted the work had the skills of a master and Dorian could only think of a few people in Skyhold who could boast such skill.
“I take it you like it?”
“Like it?” Dorian said with an overwhelmed laugh. “I couldn’t possibly accept this!”
“What? Why not?” Alex said looking strangely frantic at the notion of Dorian not accepting his gift. “I had it specially made after the design on your armor. I thought it important; you wear it so often.”
Alex’s admission caused Dorian’s gut to clench further. So the snake wasn’t just a coincidence.
“If…if it is truly not to your taste then I can perhaps return it—“
“No!” Now that he had the gift in his hands it would take a dragon to separate it from his hold. It wasn’t simply a matter of the gift being gorgeous.
Even though Alexander hadn’t known why Dorian used that particular design, he had picked up on its importance to Dorian and had gone to great—and expensive—lengths to create a personal gift for the mage. Knowing that Alex had ordered this perhaps weeks ago and had modeled it, even unknowingly, after the Pavus house moniker he wore was humbling. This was no mere bauble hastily picked up from a merchant on a trip to Val Royeaux; this was Alex’s way of showing that he truly knew Dorian, even on so small a detail as his robe’s design.
To have another know him so well was not an experience Dorian was familiar with but one he was quickly becoming addicted to.
The swell of emotions rolling in Dorian’s gut confused the mage, and he would be hard pressed to name all of them, but he could clearly feel love and adoration towards Alex.
“Dorian, you’re not making any sense,” Alex said, rubbing his hand against the shorn hair at the side of his head. Dorian absently noted that the short crop Alexander usually kept on the sides and back would need another pass with a blade soon. “You just said you couldn’t accept it.”
“That’s true, I did. I only meant—“Dorian bit his tongue before his words spilled out uncontrollably. How could he make Alex understand that he ached to keep the token but that by doing so he would only encourage the man’s behavior? Dorian would have no problem with it if it weren’t for what the people would say to see the mage receive so many gifts.
“Is it that you…want to keep it, but you don’t think you should?” Alex said carefully, slowly, testing each word before moving on to the next.
Damn and bless Alexander for getting it, Dorian thought overwhelmed.
Alex reached a hand out and laid it over Dorian’s trembling one. Funny, he hadn’t noticed that he was still shaking.
The man’s strong fingers held the mage’s in a firm grasp, their owner closing the last of the distance between them at the same time. The broach was locked between their strong grasps and further cradled by their tightly pressed chests.
“Go ahead and use me, Dorian,” Alex said, his voice no louder than a soft murmur, echoing his words from so long ago. The same words that had passed through the mage’s mind but minutes prior.
Dorian let out a helpless gasp of air. How could this man know exactly what he needed to hear to accept the situation?
“Or are you all talk,” Dorian finished. The mage knew then that is wasn’t just a flirty response used to ease Dorian’s discomfort, but a declaration of Alexander’s own feelings for him. So far as Dorian was beginning to understand it, Alex’s gifts were just a means of showing that affection.
“Forgive me, I let my shock get the better of me,” Dorian said. “It is gorgeous, amatus. Thank you.”
While a please smile crossed the Inquisitor’s face, a troubled pinch remained between the man’s thick brows.
“If it truly disturbs you, I can…refrain from giving you any more gifts,” Alexander said. The look of rejection on his youthful features seemed odd to Dorian, expressing a magnitude of emotion beyond what the situation called for.
But then, Dorian reasoned, if I rejected the gifts I would be rejecting the man himself.
Gift-giving was an inherent part of Alexander Trevelyan and Dorian would never think to reject the other for that nature. The Inquisitor gave gifts not for favor or bribery but because he enjoyed seeing the look of pleasure on the recipient’s face. And after all, Dorian did adore receiving gifts.
“It seems that I am doomed to receive all your gifts with ill-grace,” Dorian said.
“So long as you accept them,” Alex retorted with a small nervous laugh.
“Amatus, I think I’d accept anything you gave me,” Dorian teased, delighting in the pleased flushed it elicited in Alex’s cheeks. “Come, let’s walk a while.”
Dorian and Alex strolled around the battlements and Dorian, emboldened by the snake broach tucked away into his coat pocket, linked his arm through the Inquisitor’s as they walked.
The pleased smile on the other man’s face was worth the itch of eyes on the back of his neck when they neared the garden overlook.
“I am surprised you got me an enchanted gift, amatus,” Dorian said, clasping his hands together to keep them from shaking. He could not tell if it was from the attention they were receiving or from the temptation to experiment and figure out just what type of enchantment had been placed over the broach. He wished it was the latter.
“You can tell it’s enchanted?” Alex looked genuinely surprised at Dorian’s comment.
“Of course I can,” Dorian said perhaps sharper than the response called for, but it was his default reaction to someone questioning his abilities as a mage. While his own specialty lay in casting and not enchanting, he could tell that some spell had been placed over the stone even if he couldn’t—loath as he was to admit—figure out just what exactly it was. Having Alex point out his limitations, however, was an unwelcome feeling. It felt as though he had failed the other in some way.
“I meant no offense.” Alex brushed his fingers over the arm Dorian had locked with his own in apology, the fleeting touch sending shivers down Dorian’s spine and soothing his mood. “Only the, ah, person I commissioned it from promised that it wouldn’t be detectable. At least, not until the right moment.”
“The right moment?” Dorian had heard tell of high level enchanters who were able to hide the enchantments on their weapons and artifacts when not in use. Perhaps the broach was the same? If it was, Dorian could only think of two enchanters within the hold with enough power to do so: Dagna and Vivienne. Either woman created wonders in their work and he was even more curious to find out what they had been roped into helping with. “Whatever is it?”
“You want me to just tell you?” Alex asked. “That’s surprising. I would have thought you’d want the challenge of figuring it out on your own.”
“You’re right, of course,” Dorian admitted, warmth flaring in his chest at the other man knowing him so well. “I’ll have to be careful when I examine it. I wouldn’t want to lose an arm or my hair by accident.”
“I would never give you something that might hurt you, Dorian.” Dorian drew up short at the intensity in the other man’s voice. He glanced over at Alex’s face, taking in the firm line to his mouth and the blue eyes that shone with sincerity. It was breathtaking.
“Of course not, amatus,” Dorian said, the words barely more than a breath of air. How did this man keep pushing him off balance? Alexander took away his words so easily that it frightened him at times. The power Alex wielded over the rifts was nothing compared to the power he had over Dorian, and the man didn’t even know it.
“But you know how it is,” Dorian said, desperate to regain some semblance of control over his heart and the conversation. “A spell here, a dispel there, and boom—there go my eyebrows.”
“I find that hard to imagine,” Alex said with forced levity. “I can’t imagine you’d endanger any part of your face for the sake of knowledge.”
“I suppose you don’t know me as well as you might think,” Dorian said. “Have I ever told you about the time when I was a student in Qarinus? I spent the better part of a month with bruises over my face because I couldn’t get this ice spell to work…”
Dorian continued to regale his lover with tales, subtly drawing the man back along the ramparts to the eastern end and its seclusion.
Later that evening, Dorian stopped by Skyhold’s seamstress to have the broach attached to his favorite set of Enchanter armor, a set he had painstakingly commissioned from Harrit (the blacksmith may have cursed him every step of the way, but the man made a damn fine set of armor). The elf cooed over the workmanship, but Dorian remained tight lipped on its source. So far as he was concerned, the gift was his own business and none need know that Alex had given it and he told her as much.
The seamstress had frowned but promised to have it done as quick as she could, but that it would have to wait until she was done with the latest batch of soldier’s uniforms. Dorian could not fault her for that loath though he was to wait. It was far more important that the officers had proper protection in the field then for him to have a new bauble attached to his clothes.
He returned a few days later to pick up the garment and smiled in pleasure at the contrast between the dark green metal and the soft white of the silk robe. Even the dark red Higher Weave of the overcoat worked nicely alongside the metal.
Dorian changed into the robe in a corner tucked behind a series of hung tapestries that offered a modicum of privacy. The seamstress cooed over her work and how well it suited him as Dorian left, the elf’s praises bringing a slight flush to the mage’s cheeks.
Leaving the seamstress’s quarters in the Keep’s lower level, Dorian fiddled with the broach and once more tried to figure out the enchantment. It didn’t seem likely that Alex had gone to Dagna for the commission if he wished to keep the enchantment a surprise—she would be far too excited to keep such a feat silent and would tell any who asked about the process in exacting detail. That left only Vivienne and he would be loath to get the answer from her. She’d tease him for weeks.
He could hear her now, “What, darling? A Tevinter Altus unable to find the answer to a Southern barbarian’s magic? How delightful.”
That left it up to him to figure it out.
How marvelous, Dorian thought with a grin.
A discreet cough to his left brought him out of his musings as he crossed through the lower antechamber. He paused and looked over, a scowl pulling at his mouth when he saw the noise’s source—Mother Giselle. The Chantry Mother approached him sedately from the base of the staircase that lead up to the Great Hall.
“A word, young man,” she said, her thick Orlesian accent carrying across the distance between them. To the mage, it seemed to echo ominously in the large space around him despite the hall being quite crowded.
Dorian glanced around, hoping to catch sight of a friendly face he could join to beg off the coming confrontation with the woman. Servants darted through the area laden down with bundles of fabric or platters of food, easily moving between the various persons scattered in the enclosed area, and nobles clustered in small groups tittered and boasted in turn.
No such luck, Dorian thought and his mood dropped further. While there were many faces in the area, none of them were friendly.
With a sigh, Dorian turned back to the woman. “Yes, mother?” he said, placing heavy sarcasm on the word and its implications. Dorian had never cared for his mother interfering in his life and he cared even less so for the Chantry mother’s attempts. Going by the pinched corners of the woman’s mouth she had understood his word play and did not find it amusing in the least.
“I had hoped to converse with you as reasonable adults,” the mother said, anger getting the best of her and thickening her accent as a result. “But if this is how you wish to conduct yourself, I can see my efforts are wasted.”
Damn her, Dorian thought. She had trapped him. To refuse further conversation would credit her point and make Dorian the fool. He had no choice but to continue.
“You have my fullest attention,” Dorian said but neglected to add “until something, anything, takes it away.”
“It has come to my attention that you and the Inquisitor have been spending time with one another,” she began and Dorian jumped on her sentence at once. He had no wish to relieve their conversation from the rookery some weeks ago.
“Yes, as he does with all of his companions.”
“Yet not the same at all if I am not mistaken?” Again she had trapped him and he berated himself for falling so easily into her traps.
You are better than this, Dorian, said a voice in his mind that sounded suspiciously like his father. He remained silent and waited for her to continue.
Giselle’s mouth had pinched once more at Dorian’s silent affirmation.
“There have been rumors of…favoritism in the halls, young man,” she said, pausing delicately and intentionally over the term. “I am sure you can understand how such a condemning act could undermine the Inquisition’s efforts, yes?”
“What does that have to do with the Inquisitor and I?” Dorian said. Favoritism? The man was as generous to a perfect stranger as he was to Cassandra or Solas. One need only ask and the Inquisitor would have it done, by his hand or those of his forces.
“There has been talk amongst the people that the Inquisitor has been paying you special attention.” With those words, Dorian’s heart dropped. The phrase was both wonderfully vague yet damning in its numerous implications.
“Special?” Dorian didn’t realize he had spoken until he felt the final syllable roll from his tongue.
“The ornament at your throat came from him, if I am not equally mistaken,” she said, brown eyes darting down to the new attachment when she spoke of it. At once, the broach felt far heavier on his throat than moments prior. He resisted the urge to grasp at it if only just.
“I don’t know, are you?” Dorian hedged, desperate to get away. What she was saying, the implications, did not sit well with the mage. “The mind is the first thing to go, as they say. You might want to see the healer if you’re—“
“You understand,” Mother Giselle said over the babbling mage. “How such a thing appears? The Herald bestowing gifts on a man from the same country as the enemy? Word will undoubtedly spread to our allies. They will say, ‘see our Inquisitor, used by a Tevinter magister for gifts and riches. How can we trust ourselves to this man?’ and they would not be wrong.”
“Now see here!” Dorian said unable to stop from advancing on the woman. The look of triumph on her face at the act only increased his anger. He forced himself to remain still and took a step back. If the woman thought his aggression a sign of his guilt then he needed to correct her.
“As I’m sure you know, Mother Giselle, the Inquisitor is an uncommonly kind man,” Dorian began evenly while his mind raced with ways to defuse the situation without revealing too much. He and Alexander may have agreed on more, they had never discussed what, exactly, ‘more’ entailed; the fault for which lied with the mage. Out of fear, he had curbed Alexander’s attempts to discuss the matter, distracting the man with kisses until he let the matter go. “If he sees fit to share gifts amongst his followers, then surely we cannot begrudge the man his kindness?”
“We are not swayed by displays of wealth, Tevinter. Bribery and extortion may be the norm in the Imperium, but it is not so here.”
“You are suggesting that our lord Inquisitor is engaging in bribery?” Dorian said, smirking as the woman pressed her lips together, for once caught by her own words. “It would crush him to hear that is how the people perceive him. If you could tell me these rumors, I would be able to share them with Trevelyan.
“Or perhaps,” Dorian said, crossing his arms over his chest with easy grace. “He would wish to know from where exactly these rumors began. It is always better to cut the head off a snake than suffer its poison continuously.”
Mother Giselle’s mouth pulled into a flat line at the mage’s words. Her eyes darted down to the broach at his throat and spoke her next words without raising her eyes from the metalwork. “I too share the same concern.”
“There is no cause for concern, you reverence,” Dorian nearly hissed the last syllable at the Mother unknowingly proving her point. “As Alex has already told you.”
Finally, Dorian had driven her into a corner. She would not openly show derision over her Herald’s words, especially not to the man’s rumored lover and in so crowded a place. If the woman had any further concerns, she would have to take them to Alexander and explain in detail the reason for her words.
Dorian would have paid to see such an occurrence. To watch his lover remind the woman that her place was to support the Inquisition and not to spread rumors about its leader or those he spent time with.
Interfering where she is not wanted or needed, Dorian spat in his mind. He didn’t wait for the woman to excuse herself merely turned and walked past her up the stairs into the Great Hall.
A visit to Alex is in order, he decided though he had no intention of sharing the encounter with the man despite what he told Giselle. The Inquisitor had enough to deal with without adding the petty grievances of a Chantry Mother to the list. Besides, Dorian was more than capable of dealing with the woman—provided it was just false rumors she had been speaking and not some shard of truth.
A shiver of unease traced up his spine and he quickened his steps. While he might not tell the man about it, he could still draw comfort from Alexander’s presence and touch.