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Dorian barely has time to throw up a shield before the bear attacks.

“Oh kaffas,” he curses, straining under the weight of the spell. A well-timed mind blast knocks the bear back, but just barely. “Do you not understand that these are my only pair of trousers, you great brute?”

If the bear understood at all, that didn’t change its response. It rears back on its hind legs, opens its mouth, and roars in a way that Dorian didn’t know bears could. It takes all his effort not to ruin his own trousers at that point.

Because, see, the problem isn’t that Dorian can’t take down a bear. Properly armed, he’d wager he could take down two bears, maybe even three! But this, armed with only a cheap dagger, staff long-sold for food? There was only so much mana that could safely be channeled through one’s own skin; that was why they invented staffs in the first place.

“Nice bear, calm bear,” Dorian says, hoping to placate the beast long enough so that he can fire off another mind blast. “Oh come on you idiot rug,” Dorian grumbles, when the bear shows no sign of retreating. “I am not about to die in Ferelden, of all places!”

Dorian frantically looks around for something, anything, and then the plan comes together in his mind just in time for him to enact it. He spurts off a fireball--nothing too intense, but enough to temporarily blind and confuse the bear--and uses the time he’s bough to scramble up the nearest tree, force magic helping slightly.

“Hah!” Dorian exclaims, once he’s settled on the highest branch he’ll trust. He sends a few sparks down at the bear’s face when it tries to climb the tree, and that seems to stop it, for now at least. “Now I’m just up a tree,” Dorian muses out loud, “with a bear at the bottom.” He purses his chapped lips. “Lovely. I knew I should have never left those traders.”

Because, up until recently, he had been traveling with a caravan of very nice, if not a touch unhygienic, Ferelden Druffalo traders. They’d met traveling south and Dorian had sold himself to them by claiming he was a bard--the strange accent and dagger, apparently, had been all the convincing they needed. It had been nice, spending the weeks stinking of Druffalo and telling the southerners Tevinter tales with the names changed. But of course they were bound for Denerim and he, Redcliffe, and so they had parted.

And now Dorian was up a tree, alone. He wondered if the southerners had a charming idiom about this situation.

“Hello!” a voice calls out, and Dorian has to blink and look around for a moment because surely the bear did not just try to talk to him. “Are you okay up there?”

Dorian finally spots the source of the voice and it’s not a bear at all, but a man. A blond man with broad shoulders and a strong jaw and-- “Is that a staff?”

The man, who’s standing a fair distance away from the bear-surrounded tree Dorian is stranded in, takes another step back. “That won’t be a problem for you, will it?” he asks.

“I can pay,” Dorian spurts out, worried the man will leave. He doesn’t know much about the south, even after all his time here, but he does know that southerners, particularly those from Ferelden, will do anything for a bit of coin. “Slay that foul beast and you can have all the coin in my pocket.” It’s a well-chosen phrase; Dorian only has a few silver in his pocket. His coin purse, on the other hand, is in his pack.

He seems to take a moment to consider, and Dorian is just about to demand that he hurry up and get on with it when the man says, “On one condition: keep your eyes closed.”

Dorian agrees, makes some elaborate hand gestures, and then buries his head in the crook of his arm as instructed. He can hear sounds of a fight, but all Dorian cares about is the way in which this position reminds him of his own current shortcomings. He hasn’t shaved in weeks, hasn’t seen a pot of eye makeup in even longer, but he can, unfortunately, remember exactly how many days it’s been since he bathed--and the number is in the double digits. His clothes were bartered from a trader on the road, with his one good set of Tevinter robes carefully hidden at the back of his pack.

Even without the bear, this would still be a nightmare.

There are sounds of fighting, sounds of screaming, some particularly magical noises--fire?--and then the man calls out, “Alright, all done down here. You can come down now.”

The words break Dorian out of his thought process, and he tries not to look at the man as he--very gracefully, of course, and not at all like a man who hasn’t eaten properly in days--lowers himself out of the three. Of course, his legs give out right when he hits the bottom, but Dorian supposes that’s all par for the course.

“Here,” the man says, pushing a waterskin toward Dorian,” drink this. It will make you feel better.”

Dorian takes the waterskin, mumbles a thanks, and tries not to let his fingers, with all the dirt under their nails, touch the other man’s. But the water is blessedly cold, and Dorian guzzles down half the waterskin before realizing he’s closed his eyes. With a self-deprecating chuckle, he hands the waterskin back and wipes his mouth off with the back of his hand--a horribly southern custom he inadvertently picked up.

“Thank you,” Dorian says finally, because he’s no barbarian, “for everything.”

The man looks down at Dorian, narrows his gaze, and then finally sits down on the ground across from him, sitting his staff on the ground too. It’s calm and cool under the shade of the tree; it would almost be picturesque without the dead bear carcass not a stone’s throw away. So much of Ferelden would be picturesque without the bears.

“I couldn’t just let you die up in that tree,” the man says, as if helping out a total stranger is as normal as breathing.

“You could have, you know,” Dorian replies. “You Fereldens are rather like that.”

The man laughs, but Dorian doesn’t see what’s so funny. “No, I couldn’t of. I really couldn’t of. But that’s enough about me,” the man says suddenly, as if he’s given away too much. “Are you alright? Do you have any other injuries or--”

And before Dorian has time to say anything else, the roar of yet another bear cuts through the Hinterlands’ air. “Kaffas,” Dorian swears again, “oh vishante kaffas, another one?”

“I’m not really in much shape to take down another one,” says the man, who’s already up and on his feet, staff in hand, as if he means to try regardless of how much mana he has left.

There’s a terrible, terrible moment then when Dorian feels something tug at his stomach and can taste Tevinter in the back of his throat-- Felix would say something like that too, just the same. And when has he ever been able to say no to a man prone to self-sacrifice? So Dorian pushes some errant hair out of his eyes and makes a grab for the other man’s staff. “Then you’re just going to have to trust me.”

The man blinks, as if he’s not sure how he lost his staff, but he doesn’t reach for it back. “Please try not to get yourself killed,” is all he says. “There’s a limit to what I can heal.”

Staff in hand, Dorian smiles. He hasn’t had a good fight, a real fight, since coming south, and his bones ache for it. The first thing he does is throw up a proper shield around the two of them, before firing off a few basic attacks to get a feel for the staff. “Oh-ho! Now this is a staff!”

He could have taken the bear down with a few fire spells, maybe even added some more spirit magic for good measure, and it would have been a clean fight. Instead, Dorian is seized by the imprudent need to show off. He sends out a blast of ice to temporarily freeze the bear, buying him enough time to--

“Andraste’s ass, what are you doing?”

Dorian just throws his head back and barks out a laugh that sounds as deranged as he probably looks. “What better way to take down a bear than with another bear?” he asks, and then it’s done, the dead bear is up again, reanimated for a time by the necromancy spell. The two bears duke it out on the grass, and with very little extra magic from Dorian, soon there are two dead bears in the grass instead of one.

Dorian finishes the necromancy spell with a flourish, and then lets the energy dissipate back into the Fade. He’s expecting a look when he turns back to the other man--he did just use necromancy, after all, which would garner looks even in Tevinter--but he’s not expecting this look.

His mouth is open, his eyes are wide, and he looks a shade paler than Dorian thinks he should. And yet he hasn’t moved, hasn’t backed away, hasn’t even asked for his staff back. When he finally does talk, he says, “That magic, and those words you said, those curses. I’ve heard those words before. You’re from Tevinter, aren’t you?”

“I suppose there’s no point lying about it now then, is there?” Dorian asks as he hands the staff back and waits to be accused of practicing blood magic. The man, predictably, takes the staff without looking at it and steps back. Even then, Dorian could see how good looking the man really is, and it’s almost infuriating that Dorian should meet him here, of all places, and not behind the canapé table at some Tevinter soiree. At least then Dorian would be presentable.

“I might not look it,” Dorian begins, “but my name is Dorian Pavus, scion of House Pavus, and an Altus of the Tevinter Imperium.” He bows because, again, he’s polite, and all mages, regardless of station, bow to other mages. “And you are? Not going to kill me, I hope,” Dorian adds, laughing despite the very real threat.

Anders raises an eyebrow. “Have you been getting a lot of death threats recently?” he asks, but doesn’t give Dorian time to finish. “It figures. They’re convinced here that all mages are dangerous abominations waiting to happen, and thus need to be leashed by the Templars at all cost. I mean--” Anders pauses, blinks like he’s just remembering where he is, and then coughs softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” he gestures vaguely at himself and Dorian nods as if he understands.

“No death threats yet,” Dorian replies. “But one can never be too careful. And I still haven’t caught your name?” He asks it with a hint of a smile, wondering if his charms will still even work when buried under this atrocious beard and Druffalo-stink.

Whether it’s because of the smile or the lapse in manners Dorian isn’t sure, but either way Anders lowers his head blushes slightly, a faint pink tinge to his cheeks that has Dorian thinking all sorts of inappropriate things about where else this man might blush like that. “My name is Anders,” he says, and adds, “an apostate,” by way of clarification.

Dorian nods at that. He’s been here long enough to gather what that term means, and why anyone wouldn’t want to be a part of a circle, at least not here. “Don’t worry,” Dorian tells Anders with a wink, “my lips are sealed--provided that you let me travel with you, at least until the next town? It’s not every day that a handsome mage saves me from a bear, and I doubt that’s the worst thing this Maker-forsaken wilderness has to torture me with.”

Dorian is, of course, prepared for any sort of response: acceptance, rejection, skepticism as to his motives. What he doesn’t expect is the way Anders smiles back and asks, “So you think I’m handsome, do you?”

It’s so unexpected that all Dorian can do is laugh. He laughs and laughs some more before clapping Anders on his feathery shoulder and declaring, “Don’t let it go to your head."

They walk and walk and the Hinterlands rolls by them, an endless sea of grassy hills, sturdy trees, and the occasional decrepit ruin overgrown with moss and vines. The air’s bright with the tang of embrium flowers, and if it wasn’t for the fact that Dorian can’t see a town, or anything other than a hill, in any direction, he might find the place charming. At the very least, the company is quite enjoyable.

The thing about Anders is that he has questions about everything, about magic and Tevinter and Necromancy and of course about Dorian himself. Dorian answers what he can, deflects where he needs to, and tries not to let it show how much he enjoys being the center of someone’s attention.

They walk until the sun begins to set, and when Anders has set up camp, caught a nug to roast over the fire, and still hasn’t asked Dorian to leave, Dorian assumes that means he can stay. And it’s pleasant, especially then look Anders gives him when Dorian shows him how to work a ward spell that will let both of them rest instead of taking watch.

“And now, if you don’t mind,” Dorian begins to says through a yawn, curled up by the fire with his pack under his head, arms around it as if he’s still worried someone might pilfer it, but he never finishes the sentence.

The days roll on just like the hill do. It’s slow work, but Anders claims to know the way to Redcliffe and Dorian is in no position to argue. They talk and walk until Dorian goes hoarse and can’t remember what it’s like to have feeling in his feet.

“I could take a look at them, if you want,” Anders offers after a moment, without looking over at Dorian.

But Dorian just scoffs. “If you think I’m letting you anywhere near my feet with the state they’re in, then you are sorely mistaken, my friend.”

“Thought you were the one that’s sore,” Anders counters, and the familiarity of it makes Dorian smile.

“I am. But--”

They reach the top of a rather large hill, and the view steals away anything Dorian might say. From here, past the trees, Dorian can see a sprawling lake. Beyond the lake are the tallest mountains he’s ever seen--the Frostbacks, his mind supplies. And there, north between the lake and the mountains, the structure that must be Kinloch Hold, the Ferelden Circle. It stretches up out of the earth like a spike, a spire, the center of a martyr pyre. He’s heard the stories, knows of the death and blood magic and how not even the south’s precious Templars could stop it.

“I can’t imagine living there,” Dorian says to no one but the view. Not even the lowliest Laetan would let their child live there.

“You don’t want to.”

Dorian may be callous but he knows when not to press, especially when he can smell the lakewater on the wind, can see where its waves lap at the gritty shore, and most importantly, can see the outlines of what must be Redcliffe in the distant south.

So into the tense silence, Dorian turns to face Redcliffe and asks, “How cold do you think that lake of yours is?”

“Lake Calenhad? It’s largely fed by snow from the Frostbacks, I think, so fairly cold. Dorian,” Anders says, the warning clear in his tone, “I don’t think--”

“Anders, you listen to me. This is the first large body of water I’ve seen in an amount of time I will not admit to. I am going to bathe in it, and I don’t care if I lose all my toes in the process.” It’s a tad hyperbolic; Dorian is actually very fond of his toes, but it has the desired effect on Anders, who shrugs and mumbles something about how Dorian is lucky to be traveling with a healer.

Dorian takes off running down the hill. He can feel his beard bouncing as his sore feet struggle to keep up with the pace, but finally he’s there, so close that he can touch the water. He drops his pack into the coarse sand and begins to strip away the mismatched traveling clothes, ignoring Anders completely. The Archon himself could be standing ten paces behind him, Dorian knows, and that still wouldn’t keep him from bathing.

He keeps his smalls on for some semblance of dignity, and then, scruffy and nearly-naked in the Ferelden wilderness, Dorian summons a circle of fire magic onto the water nearest the shore. It’s not enough and he knows it, but he can’t do more without a staff and--

“I’d rather you keep all your toes,” Anders says, leaning his staff on a nearby tree and apparently content to just sit and watch Dorian wash himself.

Dorian wastes no time half-jumping, half-falling into the temporarily not-frigid water of Lake Calenhad. It’s colder than he would have liked but it’s water , and the moment Dorian’s head is above the water line he moans loudly. “I haven’t felt this good in weeks!” he exclaims, before diving back down into the water. He grabs fistfulls of sand, uses it as makeshift soap, and scrubs at every inch of skin he can reach until he feels raw and nearly frozen. Finally, and with great effort, Dorian drags himself out of the lake and begins the arduous process of drying himself off.

“That’s the one good thing about not having a staff, I suppose,” Dorian muses, as he runs his hands over his skin and lets the mild magic do its job. “I don’t have to worry about accidentally burning myself.”

He looks up at Anders, who seems to be doing his best to look anywhere but at Dorian. Not that Dorian blames him--from the shoulders down, at least, and now that’s clean, he’s still his old self: dark skin, firm muscles, smooth and scarless skin. He knows he looks good, and if he spends a little more time than is strictly necessary bending over and drying his legs off, well, who could blame him?

Anders coughs like he’s trying not to choke on something, and when Dorian looks back up the poor man is wearing that beautiful blush again. It’s not something they’ve talked about. Dorian looks at Anders, how could he not, and occasionally he does feel Anders, for whatever reason, looking back at him. But it’s due to the fact that they’re the only living souls the other has seen in weeks, Dorian tells himself, and nothing more than that.

They’re close enough to Redcliffe now, though, that Dorian feels like he can risk it. Anders won’t kill him, after all, and if he ends up abandoning Dorian for it, well, Dorian can see his next destination and he’s perfectly capable of getting there, or so he tells himself, without Anders help.

“Just wait until I get this mess off my face,” Dorian says as he pulls on his trousers. The greasy fabric rubs against his now-clean skin and makes him cringe and consider walking the rest of the way in just his smalls, but he decides against it. “I used to cause quite a stir in Minrathous.”

“I’ll believe it,” Anders says with a laugh. Dorian finishes dressing and the two begin walking again, albeit at a slower pace. “I bet,” Anders begins, looking pointedly at his feet, “that those magisters kept their wives locked up when you came around.”

Dorian laughs as well, laughs until he can’t feel the anxiety crawling over his insides like a horde of darkspawn. “I can see how you might think that, given my current rugged good looks,” Dorian replies, gesturing to his beard. It’s an impressive thing, if he were the type to have a beard. “But actually, it was more of the other way around.”

They walk in silence for a moment, and then a moment longer, and Dorian is about ready to spurt out something about how he was just joking when Anders says, “You know, I never did ask you if you left anyone behind in Tevinter.”

Dorian offers Anders a smile and he reciprocates, but barely. It’s not good enough. “You never asked because, if you’ll remember, I distinctly told you not to ask about my personal past. But, ah, no. I didn’t leave anyone, not like in the way I think you mean. Friends of course, but,” Dorian lets his words peter out. Their meaning is obvious enough.

“I thought I had someone,” Anders all but blurts out. It’s enough to make Dorian stumble. “But I was wrong.”

At the admission, Dorian can feel all the terrible curses and scathing spells he knows bubble up behind his lips, arcane words to call down real damage on whoever had the gaul to hurt a man who would go out of his way to save someone, anyone, trapped in a tree by a bear and then walk them to the nearest settlement without accepting any payment.

“I apologize for bringing up the subject,” Dorian says, even though, really, Anders did. “How about you let me make it up to you in Redcliffe? We can find a bottle of whatever you southerners call wine, and I’ll show you the real Tevinter pastime: drinking.”

Anders’ smile widens, seems to soften, and Dorian counts that as a victory. “You mean the Tevinter national pastime isn’t blood magic?”

“I never said the two were mutually exclusive, my dear friend.”

The conversation stays firmly on wine for the rest of the day, and by the time the sun sets the are, as if by magic, at the gates of Redcliffe. The village on the lake is bigger than Dorian expected it would be, less lakeside shacks and more solid buildings, businesses, and even a fairly respectable pub and chantry. At the sight of the chantry, both mages look at each other and roll their eyes.

“Buildings! Shops!” Dorian exclaims, arms wide. “Civilization! I was beginning to doubt you had any of that down here.”

“You finally made it to Redcliffe,” Anders says by way of agreement. “Are you planning on, uh, meeting someone here?”

Dorian blinks at Anders. He doesn’t know how to read the look on the man’s sun-weathered face, and he’s not sure he wants to. There’s such familiarity in those blue eyes, that mop of golden hair, that Dorian can’t imagine what it would be like to walk the countryside without him. He’s not yours, Dorian reminds himself; you can't keep him.

“I actually don’t know what I planned on doing once I got here. This was, well, this was the plan: get to Redcliffe.”

“And now?”

“And now,” Dorian repeats, “I need a drink and a drinking partner.”

They end up in the local pub, the Gull and Lantern, where they reserve a room. Then they sit, sandwiched between two groups of fisherman, splitting as much food as they could afford and a bottle of red liquid pretending to be wine. The pub itself is warm, lit with probably too many candles and braziers to be entirely safe, and the entire place seems wrapped in an odor of sweat, wood, and fish. But it’s worth it, it’s all worth it, for the way the foreign voices reverberate off the walls, the feeling of life around them, the way in which Dorian finally feels like he’s part of a world again, even if it’s not his own.

“It’s still not wine,” Dorian complains, when half the bottle’s gone.

“Fairly sure you’re whining enough to compensate,” Anders teases back. He nudges Dorian with his shoulder and Dorian lets him, leans close afterward as if the playful contact gives him the right to lean against Anders like this.

He’s never done anything like this, not in public, but he can allow himself these small indulgences, at least here.

“What I really should be complaining about is this thing on my face,” he grouses, pushing his fingers up into the dark scruff on his cheek. The hair is coarse, rougher than the hair on his head and even though it is, now, blessedly clean, it doesn’t make Dorian miss the thought of a close shave and a pot of moustache wax any less.

Anders laughs, loud and alcohol-fueled. He goes to push Dorian’s hand away from his face, but instead of reaching in front of Dorian, he reaches behind, pushing Dorian’s hand away and letting his arm then drape over Dorian’s shoulders.

Dorian freezes, tries not to even breath. “Anders.”

“Sorry!” is the first thing out of Anders’ mouth. He yanks his arm back as if Dorian had set it on fire. “I’m sorry. That was too forward of me. I mean, we’re friends, and--”

“Anders,” Dorian repeats, but it’s softer this time. He breaths in through his nose, out through his mouth, and wonders how the rest of the pub can go on acting like nothing is wrong even though a man just put his arm around another man like that in public . Not that Tevinter was a nation of prudes by any means, but there’s, well, acceptable displays of affection in public and then there are those that would make your own father try blood magic on you--and this, clearly, was in the latter category.

What doesn’t help is the look that Anders has on his face, the way his eyes are wide in shock and the way his lips are pursed. Dorian feels as though he can read every emotion on Anders’ face and he hates it, hates that he knows this man that well and hates even more than he hurt him.

But isn’t this what you escaped for? a small voice in the back of his mind says. Didn’t you want this freedom too?

By now Anders has moved as far down the bench away from Dorian as he could. The pub is crowded, but the sliver of space between them feels like leagues. So Dorian breaches it, scoots closer to Anders so that their thighs are flush against each other like they were before, like they should be. He sees the way Anders looks down, and then back up, and before Anders can say anything, Dorian beats him to it.

“I’m afraid you may have misinterpreted my meaning.” He finishes the sentence with his mouth open, intending to say more, but can’t.

“Dorian,” Anders asks, “are you at a loss for words? By the Maker, I never thought I’d see this.”

But it’s not that at all. Dorian has the words, all the words, more words than he wants--but he doesn’t want to tell them to Anders, doesn’t want to make his problems Anders’ problems. It’s not who is he, and it’s not what he wants Anders to think of when he thinks of Tevinter. “I think it’s the wine,” Dorian says finally. “It must have gone to my head.” And before Anders’ frown gets any bigger, Dorian finishes with, “Why don’t we retire to our room? I am so looking forward to sleeping on an actual bed.”

What happens next happens so fast that Dorian doesn’t even know it’s happened until it’s over. It’s only after he sees Anders moving back, the worried look on his face, the way he’s biting his lip, that Dorian realizes Anders just leaned over and kissed him .

“Say something,” Anders says, though it’s more of a desperate plea than anything else. “Dorian, please.”

Dorian can’t help it. He reaches up, touches his face, his lips, as if to make sure it was real. He can still feel a tingle on his lips. “It seems to be my turn to apologize again,” Dorian says softly. “No one has ever done that before.”

“No one has ever kissed you before?”

“Not in public, no.”

“Oh, Dorian,” Anders says, before he leans over and kisses Dorian again.

He’s not ready for it this time either, but Anders keeps kissing him, and after a beat Dorian’s body, at least, remembers what to do. He moves his mouth, bites down on Anders’ lower lip, makes a soft, keening noise when he feels Anders’ hand on his thigh. They kiss and kiss until Dorian thinks he might drown in it, and only when he hears a particularly loud wolf-whistle does Dorian pull away from Anders.

Dorian looks around the pub, expecting torches, pitchforks, a portal to open up right into the Fade itself--but there’s none of that, only a few mildly-annoyed patrons looking at them; the rest of the pub seemed unconcerned, even oblivious. It’s enough to make Dorian smile, to make him giggle, and when Anders stands up and takes Dorian’s hand, he lets the other mage lead him up the stairs and down a hall

It’s slow going. They pause every few steps and take turns pushing each other against the pub walls, kissing and kissing until one of them breaks down laughing and leads the other farther down the hall. Finally Anders stops them, mutters that it’s the right room, and has the door opened and then two of them in as fast as he can.

“Off,” Dorian demands, pawing at Anders’ clothes. “Fasta vass, take these things off. I want to see you.”

They’re not even kissing anymore, just standing close, pressed together, breathing each other’s air as their hands fumble to undress one another. It’s more intimate than kissing, in a way, but Dorian can’t help the way he pulls Anders closer, once he has the man’s feathery overcoat off, so he can bite down on the man’s shoulder. Anders whines, keens into it even as the bite turns to kisses.

“I could say the same thing to you,” Anders replies when his senses seem to have finally come back to him. Dorian’s traveling clothes come off easily, the poorly-tailored shirt and trousers so much less complicated than anything Tevinter-made.

They kiss and bite and touch until they’re down to nothing but their smalls. Anders somehow managed to get Dorian pressed up against the bedroom wall with his naked high between legs and Dorian doesn’t care how he did it. All he cares about is holding on to Anders, rocking against him and moaning into the crook of his neck.

Anders moans out Dorian’s name, interspersed with curses, as he hold him, tangles his fingers in Dorian’s overgrown hair, and just lets him be. It’s not enough, it’s hardly anything in fact, but it’s so much more than Dorian thought he would ever be able to have again and it’s Anders , beautiful, fearless Anders.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Dorian gasps by way of warning, and all Anders does is hold him tighter.

Anders drops soft kisses into Dorian’s hair, his neck, and into his ear he whispers, “Shh, it’s okay, Dorian. Dorian, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

Dorian comes with those words in his ear, and his mouth open against Anders’ skin in a silent scream, a silent prayer, a litany that is nothing but Anders over and over until Dorian’s body finally stops shaking.

After a moment, Anders asks, quietly, “How are you?”

“Fine,” Dorian answers, though his voice is hoarse. He’s still holding Anders, speaking into the man’s neck, nuzzling him with his forehead. “Better than fine,” Dorian elaborates. He pulls back from Anders slightly. “Do you?” Dorian asks, trailing off the end of the question but also pointedly looking down at the bulge in Anders’ smalls.

Anders doesn’t say anything, but he does nod, and Dorian takes that as his cue to snake his hand down the front of Anders’ small clothes. His hands feel weak, the bones feel like feathers, and yet he manages to wrap a hand around Anders’ cock. “Next time,” he says, picking up the pace, reveling in the muscle memory of how to make this as good as possible, “next time you’re going to take me properly .”

“Properly?” Anders asks, but his voice is more of a squeak than anything else. He has his eyes closed, his head on Dorian’s shoulder now, hips rocking forward into Dorian’s expert touch.

“You heard me, properly: on a bed.” Dorian can feel the places where sweat is beginning to build up between the edges where their bodies meet, can smell it in the back of his throat. “We can find some oil, something,” Dorian goes on to say, mouth getting the better of him as his hand responds to what pace and movements make Anders’ breathing hitch. “You can open me up with those strong hands of yours, stretch me open so I can take this big cock.”

He means to say more, he really does, and he has so much more than he wants to say. But when Anders starts groaning, Dorian quiets himself, focusing on stroking Anders through his orgasm with a constant stream of, “Yes, yes, yes ,” until his hand is covered in Anders’ come.

They hold each other after that, still yet shaking as they catch their breath. When they finally move apart, Dorian reaches behind Anders to wipe his hand on Anders’ smalls. Anders makes a mild protest, and Dorian’s retort is even weaker, just a soft grunt.

“Bed,” Dorian groans, and they shuffle awkwardly toward the bed, collapsing together in a pile of sticky, sweaty limbs and small bubbles of laughter. The blanket scratches at Dorian’s skin, but he’s not on the ground and he has Anders’ arms wrapped around him, so he can’t find it in him to complain.

They lie like that, tangled together, until Dorian assumes Anders is asleep and begins to drift himself. It’s peaceful in the barely-lit room, with the sounds of the pub sneaking up under the door. It’s only when Dorian moves slightly, tries to get just a little more comfortable, that Anders finally speaks.

“I’m not sure I should stay.”

Dorian feels as though someone just stabbed him in the stomach with a dagger made of ice. The cold, twisting pain makes bile rise in the back of his throat. “No,” he counters, voice tight. He worms his way out of Anders’ hold to sit on the edge of the bed, where he sits with his feet on the floor and his back to Anders. “I should go. I wouldn’t want to impose myself on you.”

Of course he didn’t want to stay , Dorian thinks. Why would he? Weeks of forest-forged friendship with one night of poorly-planned coupling was hardly a reason to sleep next to someone.

The bed shifts, and Dorian fully expects Anders to begin getting dressed. And yet Anders’ feet never touch the floor. Instead, he kneels behind Dorian, wrapping his arms around him in a way that makes Dorian wince against the potential onslaught of tears. “If you want to leave, then get out, or at least let me leave,” Dorian spits, with all the force he can muster. It’s not a lot. “This, well, now you’re just being cruel.”

But even then, Anders doesn’t leave. “The last time I did this, you have to understand, it didn’t end well. For either of us. It’s easy to think--”

“That you don’t deserve anything more?”

Even the noise from downstairs seems to soften at that. Anders hugs Dorian, kisses his shoulder, and then leans back. “You deserve so much, Dorian. So much more than this, than me. And before you can say anything,” Anders adds, cutting Dorian off, “it’s true. But I can give you what I have.”

Dorian has no words for that, for what he’s feeling, and so he sticks with, “I guess that will suffice, for now.”

Tomorrow, Dorian will wake up to an empty bed. The sheets will be cold, and no one will have left a note. Tomorrow, Dorian will realize the full extent to which Redcliffe is in danger. But tonight, tonight he allows Anders to pull him back down to the bed, to cover him in that Maker-forsaken blanket, and to hold him once more.