Chapter 1: The Kindest
Dorian was not made for stealth. He preferred firestorms to glyphs and unnecessary aplomb lined his every move. It was how he was taught from a very early age; be the best and ensure everyone can see you doing it.
Hiding in the stairwell in the garden was not something he did naturally, but he had to make sure. Paranoia was something that came to him, though perhaps not naturally and through a bit of botched blood magic.
“Do you-,” came Cullen’s voice, the tremble back in his voice despite how much he and Dorian had practiced this. “Do you think we should end t-this?”
“This?” Lavellan’s voice followed and Dorian has to congratulate her on how steady it was.“You mean our relationship?”
“I’ve seen how you look at Solas,” Cullen said and there was some of that confidence back. Some of the well placed anger Dorian had witnessed when he’d walked in on Cullen throwing anything he could get his hands on in his office. “I would not want to come between you both.”
“Here I thought you were going to confess your devotion to the Tevinter to me,” Lavellan’s voice had turned to ice. “Your interests turned you elsewhere, Commander. Did you think I didn’t notice?”
“He has nothing to do with this,” Cullen hissed. “I was devoted to you and only you. What I feel for him came long after your liaison with Solas.”
Dorian’s chest constricted as he fought to breathe. They had never discussed what was developing or had developed between the two of them. Cullen was still too muddled in his thoughts, his wants, for Dorian to push him into anything otherwise would be unworthy.
“‘Liaison!’” Lavellan laughed. “You’re sounding more like him everyday. What in Maker’s name could a Tevinter magister offer you that I couldn’t?”
‘Loyalty,’ Dorian wanted shout. 'Compassion. Understanding. Empathy.’ Basic human fucking decency.
“Altus,” Cullen replied hotly. “And I came to you for help and advice-.”
“And I gave it!”
Cullen had told Dorian exactly what that advice was when the mage found the Commander on his office floor, lyrium kit in hand.
“Take it, Cullen,” she’d said. “We need you at your best.”
And Cullen wasn’t a dull man by any stretch. He’d heard the statement for what it was. 'I need a tool. Not Cullen Rutherford.’ How do you tell someone that? How do you tell Cullen, survivor of Kinloch Hold and Kirkwall, that he didn’t need to be a person to be useful? That his wants were less than nothing to the woman he cared for.
The Iron Bull catching Lavellan and Solas kissing and embracing was simply the last offense in a long line of them.
Dorian heard a chair scraping and he pressed himself back against the wall. “I will give everything I have to this Inquisition and its cause until the Breach is sealed.” The promise of him leaving once the world was safe couldn’t have been made any clearer even if Cullen had said it aloud. “Until then, Dorian will be moved to my room where he will assist me. If you even think about hurting him, I will march half of my army across Thedas and convince Queen Surana to wage war against this Inquisition. Breach or no breach. Am I clear, Inquisitor?”
“You believe me to be so petty?”
“I believe you to be a lot of things, Inquisitor. Petty is the kindest.”
Chapter 2: The Foulest
Thank you again for reading, and I hope you like it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Cullen knows something is wrong when he is a few yards from his room. The air is tinged in a red haze and it sings in a discordant way. It reminds him of Kirkwall and a statue that no one dares to approach.
The realization that red lyrium is in Skyhold sends the Commander racing to his office and he throws open the door with a force that nearly fractures the wood. "Dorian!" Cullen shouts. The song of the blighted lyrium is stronger in his office and he knows it's here, he just can't see it.
The sound of pounding fills the room and Cullen looks up to see the floor of his loft shaking. Someone is stomping on his floor and Cullen hopes--prays--that it isn't Dorian. "Dorian!" Cullen shouts once more because that's all he can do. All he thinks of as he sprints to his ladder, climbing up the rungs fast enough that his hands slip a few times. There's a sound of something hitting his floor hard that he only barely hears over the jostling of his plate mail.
Three pairs of rough hands haul him up the last few steps and a blade is pressed against his throat the instant his feet hit the floor. Red lyrium seeps against his skin from where he is held and the incessant song addles his mind for a brief moment.
Cullen's vision clears and he thrashes against the hands holding him tightly, uncaring of the blood that runs down his neck as cuts himself on the still blade. Before him are four Templars tainted with red lyrium holding onto Dorian. The Tevinter mage is on his knees in the painful hold the Templars are keeping him in, head held up by a glowing red hand harshly pulling his hair. Dorian's gray eyes are wide and there are unshed tears in the normally exuberant gaze. He's saying something, though the sound is muffled by a Templar's hand wrapped around his jaw. But Cullen had waited so long to hear Dorian call him by his name that he knew the sound of it on Dorian's lips, muffled or not.
"Such love on his face, Commander," says the one voice that Cullen doesn't want to hear. Lavellan steps around her red Templars and in front of Dorian, grinning widely at Cullen in a way that is clearly unhinged. "How well you've fallen for this Magister's tricks."
Cullen knows--knew--that Lavellan was starting down a dangerous path. The advisors had talked about removing her from the seat of power but this....This was so much more than Cullen ever thought her capable of. "Let him go," Cullen says, his voice stronger than how he feels.
"Your duty should be to your Inquisitor, Commander, not to this Magister," Lavellan says. She steps towards him and Cullen sees blood running down her arm. There are three precise cuts on her arm, a sight Cullen has seen more than he would care to. "He's blinded you to that fact."
"I have no loyalty to a woman who resorts to poisoning her soldiers!" Cullen yells. "What in Andraste's name made you bring red lyrium to Skyhold?"
"My soldiers were getting out of control," Lavellan replies. She runs a delicate hand across the cheek of one of the Templars. The man doesn't even flinch as he tightens his grip around Cullen's shoulder. "You showed me that. How could I trust my men if their leader was so easily led astray by a fucking Tevinter shem. How many of my people has this Magister enslaved? How many has he forced into his bed, hm?"
Dorian shouts from behind Lavellan, but his protest couldn't be deciphered. Cullen knows the answer and while Dorian has...problematic views on slavery, he was open to debate and rearranging his beliefs. He had never taken any into his bed though, as he had sworn to Cullen. Never raised a hand against one either.
But Lavellan is clearly beyond reason. The eight blighted Templars in the room proved that. "Lavellan, if you wish us to leave, we will leave," Cullen says in a soft tone. Anything to get Dorian out of the corrupted hands. "Say the word and we will pack to go, Inquisitor. You may do what you wish, then."
It wasn't true. The army was turning against the elf. Cullen's departure would be the last tipping point and the army would disband and flock to the Commander. Josephine would go back to the Antivan court, Cassandra to the Seekers, and Leliana...Cullen would bet his life that the Spymaster would leave the hold. The body count she would leave would be impressive, and Cullen hoped that Lavellan would be among the dead.
"Leave? No. Why would I want you to leave?" Lavellan moves her hand from the Templar to Cullen's face. She steps to Cullen's side and turns his head to look back into his frightened lover's. "I want you to witness what obedience looks like. I want you to know what happens to those that take from me."
Lavellan waves a hand and the Templars around Dorian move, one kneeling to Dorian's side and with a practiced efficiency, cuts a gash in Dorian's check large enough for blood to pool down his chin and drip onto the floor.
"Let the Templars remind you what they're good at. What you should be good at." Lavellan leans down to run her lips against Cullen's ear, the good soldiers tightened their grip on Cullen and that blade presses down hard on the underside of Cullen's jaw. "Where should the brand go, Knight-Commander? I know it's typically on the forehead, but I was thinking of putting it beside those traitorous lips. Or perhaps on the heart you seem to believe you've claimed."
Cullen's eyes widen in realization and he tries to break free from his captors, digging his neck into the blade, but he can't feel the pain. All he knows is that he can't let this happen. Not to Dorian. Not to anyone.
"HELP!" Cullen screams as loud as he can. "Somebody help!" It's a blessing he never let Dorian convince him to patch the hole in the roof, and all Cullen could do was pray that was enough. "HEL-" A Templar shoves his hand over Cullen's mouth and muffles his cries.
"This Magister has twisted the mind of one of our most loyal soldiers," Lavellan says in that authoritative voice that she adopts when sitting in judgement. "He has poisoned the Commander against me and such a transgression will not go unpunished. Let his sins set an example to those who would defy me. Perform the Rite."
Cullen watches helplessly as Dorian tries to break free, as fire curls about the mage's body only for the red Templars to Silence him. Dorian catches Cullen's eyes for a brief moment and the Commander begins his struggles anew. The Tevinter's eyes hold such abject terror in them and it brings memories of the mage's voice to Cullen's mind. 'He tried to change me.'
Another of the mindless red Templars steps in front of Dorian and raises the lyrium brand with one hand and brings its own bloody hand to the cut on Dorian's cheek. He monotones the Rite and the ritual that Cullen knows by heart, the blood between Templar and mage mixing and glowing.
Cullen can do nothing as the Templar removes his hand from Dorian's face and rips open the Tevinter's robe. All Cullen wants in that moment is to see Dorian's face. To meet his eyes and try to convey everything that he was too terrified to say to the mage beforehand. But his head is held in a vice like grip and the Templar in front of Dorian lifts the brand to Dorian's chest.
Please, Maker, do not let this happen. If there is such a thing as justice, then You cannot let this happen.
There is a commotion from downstairs, voices calling for Cullen that he knows he recognizes but he simply can't afford to think of it now. The only thing he can do is pray and watch that brand hover an inch above Dorian's bared breast.
"Now," Lavellan hisses to the Templar and there's nothing Cullen can do but watch that brand get pulled back and scream into the hand that's holding his jaw. Not Dorian. Not now. Please. Please.
The Templar begins the bring the brand down on Dorian's skin, but it's wrong. The brand tumbles in the Templar's hand as a crossbow bolt flies from somewhere behind Cullen and sticks the man's neck. But the brand falls the wrong way and scrapes against Dorian's skin, leaving a path of charred flesh in its wake.
Everything in that moment happens so fast, Cullen's not exactly what does happen. He hears Bull, Solas, Varric, and Vivienne, but he doesn't pay any attention to what they're saying. All he can do is yank himself from the distracted Templars' grasp and sprint over to the fallen Dorian.
The Templars are distracted by the newcomers and leave Dorian by himself, unconscious on the floor. There are swords flying, spells cast, and Varric's bolts crossing the room but Cullen pays them no attention. He grabs Dorian, limp in his hands, and pulls the mage's head onto his lap.
"Come on, Dorian. It's just a graze," Cullen says as he looks at the three inches of charred skin. It was supposed to be in the shape of the Inquisition's eye, but instead looks like a gash from a dragon's claw. "They didn't finish the Rite. You're not branded. You're still here. Tell me you're still here, Dorian. I can tell Hawke to fetch Anders. You won't even have a scar after he heals you. Just tell me you're still here."
The noise dies down around him but he can hear Lavellan's high laugh and Solas saying something about the anchor. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters until Dorian opens his eyes. He has to.
"Curly...." Varric starts, placing a hand on Cullen's shoulder that he violently pulls away from.
"Fetch Cassandra," Cullen says as he runs his hand through Dorian's hair. It's meant to be an order but it sounds like a plea. "He'll be fine just...fetch Cassandra."
Varric mumbles something but he can hear the dwarf leaving the room. "I'm sorry," Cullen says as he wipes Dorian's blood off his chin. "I didn't mean to involve you in this. If I had just waited after ending things with Lavellan, but you were so perfe-." Cullen bites back a sob because Dorian wasn't perfect, he is perfect. "Don't be broken. Not you. Not after everything, just tell me you're here."
A few minutes pass of Cullen rocking Dorian back and forth in his lap, muttering his pleas to the mage and mixing in the recitation of the Canticles, just in case. The others in the room have long since left. Solas was the last as he picked up the brand and muttered something in Elvish as he passed the men on the floor.
Dorian begins to stir as Cullen rips part of his robe to wipe away at the blood on the mage's cheek. His eyes clench and the mage flinches away from Cullen's hand as he begins to blink awake.
Those gray eyes don't find Cullen's face for a long time, but when they finally do, Cullen's heart drops. There's nothing in them, not fear or pain or the mischievous glint always behind Dorian's eyes. "Cullen," Dorian says finally in the careful cadence and monotone of the Tranquil.
Thank you so much for reading! I know it's not the happiest story, but there you go. As always, comments and kudos keep me alive and writing!
You can find me on tumblr where I take prompts like this one and most of them have happy endings. Most.