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the eighth beat

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He finds Talen in the cellar, scowling. The floor beneath him is dusty, save for the wide tracts that look almost polished and form intricate patterns across the floor. Virion stops at the bottom of the dark staircase, unseen, eyes falling on the tight line of Talen’s shoulders as he paces away.

He’d meant only to stop by the forgotten little library nook to see if he could find some book Dorian had been going on about – a tome that apparently supported Dorian’s claims in their lively little ongoing debate about distorting the flow of raw power when drawing from the Fade. Though Virion is a rift mage and thus feels confident indeed in his understanding of the more untamed arcane methods, he would like to see if the theoretical text in question is as illuminating as Dorian claims. After all, he’ll give Dorian the benefit of the doubt and assume he at least believes he’s correct – though that does seem to be his default assumption.

Still, he hadn’t expected to find Talen here, arms crossed hard against his chest, jaw set in a stubborn line. Talen, who spends most of his time tucked away in their quarters, or playing cards with Varric, or teaching dice games to servants in the tavern, if he hasn’t convinced some over-armoured soldier to test his skills on the training grounds.

But he’s never – well, tracking inexplicable circles in the dusty cellar.

“Stupid,” Talen hisses under his breath, kicking the dust beneath him, a truncated and frustrated gesture. Virion thinks distantly that perhaps he ought to speak with Josephine about having the cleaners do a thorough airing out in even the less frequented nooks and crannies, but he’s distracted, suddenly, by the way Talen twists his waist in a languid stretch. How he rolls his shoulders and his neck.

With a long, huffed sigh, Talen wanders again to the centre of the room.

Virion’s head tilts. It’s not often that Talen’s distracted enough to not notice when Virion enters the room. Maybe he should say something, or –

Talen raises one arm steadfastly in a firm gesture to one side. Though his back is to Virion, Virion can almost see the pantomimed smile as it works its way down his neck and across his shoulders. An affected posture. An imagined reality.

And then he moves forward. Two steps. A half turn, one of his hands tucked firmly in the small of his back.

Virion blinks.

He’s – dancing. And, judging from the tracked circles, the familiar shapes, the particular way he’s extended one arm and tucked the other, he’s –

They’ll be leaving for the Winter Palace in a fortnight, and Talen is practicing. Creators know Virion’s been schooled in those same steps, that he’s listened to what feels like hours upon hours of instruction in the intricacies of Orlesian dances, of which there seem to be an unending number and variation.

And here’s Talen, alone in the cellar, repeating those very same steps. Certain and steady, his limbs held with that extraordinary precision that makes him so deadly on the battlefield. Certainly, the Clan held plenty of dances, but those were of a different sort, and then, too, Talen tended to –

Stand in the shadows. Linger at the far edge of the fire, watching with that stormy stare.

Something warm flutters beneath Virion’s ribs. He takes a step forward, just as Talen turns in the tight loop that’s been causing Virion nothing but trouble.

Talen’s eyes flash up. He stops, abrupt. Straightens, a frown flashing across his face.

“Vhenan,” says Virion, walking across the dusty stones. “To think you’ve been having dances in the cellar and haven’t invited me!”

Talen’s neck is stiff. He glances away. “I –”

The rest of the sentence falls to silence. Virion might laugh at Talen’s usual secrecy, but instead he draws close and presses a kiss against his forehead, hand curling against the back of Talen’s head for a moment.

That seems to draw some of the tension out of him. A quiet breath, and Talen’s palm finds Virion’s arm, resting there. Warm. “You’ve spent hours practicing,” he says after a quiet moment. “And,” gaze flashing upwards for a moment, a brief smile curling one corner of his mouth, “knowing you, if we’re both there, you’ll want to dance.”

Virion laughs. Though, “If we’re both there. Is that a question?”

Talen goes still for the span of a breath, the smallest crease forming between his eyebrows. “I didn’t want to – assume,” he says finally. “You’re surrounded by people a great deal more experienced than I am at all of this, Virion.”

It’s familiar, this reticence. Talen’s desire that he not impose. Though of course he couldn’t ever be an imposition. Virion runs his thumb along the line of Talen’s cheek, tracing the shape of his vallaslin to where is ends near the dark shadow of his hair. “We’re trying to stop an assassination,” Virion says. “Who better to catch an assassin than my very own?”

Talen huffs, then, his stare softening before he turns his mouth into Virion’s palm, pressing an errant kiss there.“I’d rather the killing than the dancing, truth be told. I’m –” He sighs, lips tightening with a flicker of frustration. “The number of times I’ve been through these steps, vhenan.”

Virion watches him, close as they stand, Talen a familiar warmth next to him. His vhenan, who would practice on his own for hours for Virion’s sake, without ever assuming his place at Virion’s side was guaranteed. Who’s travelled this far with him, as steady as the earth beneath him, as bright as the sun above, even as he insists he stands in shadows. Unseen and hidden, unless Virion drags him out.

He smiles. “Well, then,” says Virion. He takes a firm step backward and extends one hand, which hovers in the air between them. “We might do better if we learn them together. It’s Vir Adalhan, in a way.”

Immediately, Talen laughs, dry. “Unity and strength for Orlesian dances?”

“If ever we needed Andruil’s guidance,” Virion intones, shaping his features to a mock seriousness he knows Talen finds amusing, “It will be to deal with the Winter Palace.” Still his hand hovers, an invitation.

Talen’s eyes flick up, something that would be an eyeroll in someone else, though still the corner of his mouth is curled. “Yes,” he says, dark gaze flashing with a wickedness that is incredibly alluring. “After all, I will have shems to hunt.”

“Terrorizing Orlesians is simple,” says Virion, “It’s these steps that have been causing me endless difficulty. Josephine had me twirling until I was dizzy yesterday. If we could only master that –” His hand turns over in a minute gesture: a truncated twirl, ending with the clasping of raised hands.

Talen nods, reaching out. His hand fits firmly into Virion’s, thumb moving against Virion’s skin in a warm, quiet caress. “On the eighth beat? In the second half?” he asks, slipping into position at Virion’s side. Shoulders drawn up into a graceful line.

“The eighth beat,” Virion sighs, pulling himself into similar posture. Shoulders up, back straight, feet held just so. Worse, even, than learning combat forms. Which is a pity – he’s always found dancing rather fun before all of this. “The eighth beat is what I see twirling behind my eyelids when I’m in an especially dull meeting, and it is neither more interesting nor less frustrating than discussing the nuances of the Ferelden taxation system.”

A brief laugh. Talen squeezes his hand. “Well, let’s see if we can’t make it at least slightly more engrossing than taxation.”

And like that, with Talen murmuring steady counts, they move forward. Virion glances over at his lover, though he’s meant to look straight ahead. Talen’s forehead is creased with concentration, his stare dark and distant and fixed perfectly at an unspecified point in the distance.

Hours in a cellar, for Virion.

When they finally do manage the turn, which takes far longer than Virion would like, Virion is so delighted that he misses the next three steps and chooses, instead, to catch Talen’s wrist and draw him in for a kiss. Talen laughs, one hand tangling in Virion’s curls as the other tugs him closer, pressed firmly to the small of his back.

“Again?” asks Virion a moment later, the syllables slightly breathless in a way that the dancing doesn’t account for in the slightest. As warm as though he’s been basking in the sun for hours.

Talen nods and they draw back into position, beginning the whole process again. And, like that, they spend the afternoon dancing, the book Virion was after long since forgotten. In the end, Virion thinks, even Talen will have to concede that Orlesian dances may not be so bad after all, though better here in the dusty cellar than in the Winter Palace. Better here, just the two of them, than anywhere else – Talen’s hand steady in his, the looks they share brighter than all the chandeliers in Orlais. And certainly, the grand finale they manage alone in the cellars – drawing into the forgotten little library as Talen tugs insistently at the fastenings of Virion’s robes, mouth hot against Virion’s as he kicks the door shut behind them with those clever feet that have entirely mastered the cursed eighth beat – is infinitely better than any Halamshiral could manage.