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Reassurance

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The trip to Minrathous from Skyhold could be made a lot of ways. Maker above knows that Dorian was not immune to trekking through the wilderness with only the vaguest idea of where he was going. After all, it's how he made the trip from Qarinus to Haven.

Though, a copious amount of alcohol also helped on that front.

When Trevelyan asked Dorian to play ambassador to Minrathous--a symbolic gesture of 'look how esteemed your pariah is here' in a ploy to attract more like-minded pariahs--Dorian resigned himself to being assassinated.

Which was, of course, why Cullen tagged along. How Cullen had managed to convince Trevelyan to allow him the month away from Skyhold was anyone's guess. Dorian liked to think that Cullen wasn't forced to stoop to using their...relationship as a piece of emotional manipulation. But no matter what Dorian would like to think, he knows the reality is probably a touch more sickening.

Regardless, Cullen was the one to plan the trip with a small retinue of forces. So when he mentioned they would stop in Kirkwall, Dorian was a little baffled and, frankly, worried.

The city was--as it always was--a shithole. Children "played" in the streets. They had a nearly convincing act, only if Dorian hadn't seen a few of them pass bits of gold back and forth between one another. The sick littered the street without anyone to care for them. Worst of all, everyone continued about their day as if this were simply how every day worked in Kirkwall.

"Rest a few hours," Cullen told his men after a quick glance about. His men nodded and saluted in response, ever the dutiful soldiers. "We'll meet back here at the sun's peak. Make use of your freedom," Cullen said with smile.

The expression didn't last on his face once the last of his men disappeared into the throngs of Kirkwall. It slipped of his face with little finesse. Cullen couldn't fake an emotion for longer than a few moments, no matter how hard he tried.

"Well," Dorian started once they were alone, "not that I doubt your ability to plan a trip, amatus, but is there a reason we've stopped here?"

Cullen turned his head to look at some point in Kirkwall beyond the buildings in his way. His hands were firmly clasped on the hilt and pommel of his sword, as if simply waiting for the inevitable time to draw it.

"I-" Cullen started, wrenching his gaze from the spot beyond the buildings to look at Dorian. His expression was the same one he wore when he's awakened from nightmares. Broken. Shaken. Hollowed.

But there was a tendril of resoluteness in his eyes as well; wavering and fleeting.

"I need to see...." Cullen trailed off, his gaze swinging back to the the direction of whatever it was he needed to see.

"Would you like company?" Dorian asked without pressing. Simply being within Kirkwall's borders was enough of a step for the once Knight-Captain. Certainly more than he needed to do, at any rate.

Dorian couldn't see Cullen's face, but knew by the way that the man's hands flitted about his sword that he was considering his answer. "Please," he said after a time.

"Of course, amatus."

Cullen led Dorian deep into the city near the docks. A fortress loomed tall in front of them, spikes jutting from the building with grotesque statues decorating the space.

Cullen's gait became slower as they approached the steps that would lead to the Gallows proper. Dorian stayed at his side, unwilling to rush his lover. Finally, Cullen came to stand a few yards away from the kneeling statue of red lyrium. The figure clutched at its head, a scream forever frozen on its face.

Why in Maker's name Cullen had decided to confront this....

Knight-Commander Meredith gave off the same sickly red glow and heat of the red lyrium Dorian had seen in Emprise. The fact that it engulfed a person seemed to not matter to the Blighted lyrium.

Dorian pulled Cullen's hand off the pommel of his sword to clasp in his own. The Commander's other hand stayed on the hilt of his sword and Dorian couldn't fault him for his paranoia.

"It didn't have to come to this," Cullen said finally, through a shaky breath.

"It did," Dorian answered back resolutely. Cullen had gone over the variables, the history, the what-ifs, and the should haves with Dorian extensively. Every night a nightmare came, Dorian would whisper to his lover that there was nothing he could have done. Kirkwall was bound to fall. Meredith was too far gone. Cullen was still recovering from Kinloch.

No matter any moves Cullen made, this was where it was always going to end up. He could have been kinder. Could have tried to save mages instead of condemning them. Could have tried to wrest power from Meredith earlier.

They'd both played enough chess to know that the move of one small pawn rarely turned the tide of a game. Cullen was a lone Templar, too late to stem any of Meredith's madness. Too blind in his hatred to see the corruption all around him.

"It shouldn't have," Cullen said, thumb moving to caress the large ring on Dorian's index finger that hid a blood magic scar.

They were both men of their circumstances, despite all of the could haves.

"No," Dorian agreed. "It shouldn't have."