Dorian pushed open the door to Cullen’s office, finding Cullen with his head in his hands. The lyrium box sat in front of him, open.
Not this again. They’d fought about it before, Dorian fully aware that a part of Cullen still linked the lyrium to having a sense of control. I should just drop a fireball on the box and get it over with, but that will not solve the problem.
Sighing, Dorian crossed the room and slapped the box shut. He picked it up as Cullen pulled his hands away. Setting it back on the shelf, Dorian sat across from Cullen and stared at him. He folded his hands and put them on the desk, noticing how Cullen’s demeanor had completely changed since just a couple of hours ago when they’d sat in front of the fire. That had started with Dorian trying to comfort Cullen, but had ended with Dorian’s head in Cullen’s lap. Cullen smiling down at him and stroking his cheeks, just one of the absurdly affectionate things he did.
The contrast between that and the restless man before him caused Dorian to tense up and frown. They’d been over the lyrium many times, of course, and every time both Zaire and Dorian assured Cullen that he didn’t need to be on it and in fact should not be on it. “We’re not having that conversation again, are we?”
“Leave it, Dorian.” Cullen rubbed at his face, his skin more pale than usual. “This really isn’t a good time. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry.” Dorian leaned back and crossed his arms. “So now you won’t talk to me because your past comes back to haunt you?”
“It’s not like that. It’s just that…” Cullen drew in a shaky breath. “My past is complicated.”
“Ah yes, and everyone else here is living such simple lives.” Dorian reached forward and put a hand on Cullen’s arm. “Are you choosing the past, or a future?”
“What do you want me to tell you?” Cullen pulled his hand away and got to his feet, pacing across the room to in front of the fire. He remained turned away from Dorian.
Don’t shut me out now, don’t you dare. They’d come so far. Dorian rose to his feet, smoothing out his robes. He turned to Cullen. “The truth, then.”
“The truth.” Cullen slumped. “The truth that I was a Templar. That I’ve done terrible things to mages. I’ve hurt them.”
All of that for this? “This is a secret to precisely no one, Cullen.” He started to reach up to put a hand on Cullen’s arm, but found himself too afraid of being pushed away. “Did you think anyone here thinks you are innocent? Everybody knows. I’ve had mages try to warn me away.”
Cullen’s eyes widened. “I didn’t know that.”
“Of course you didn’t. And you can see how well I listened. Because I can see that you’re not that same person. You and I wouldn’t be where we are right now if you were.”
“That’s what I thought at first, but...” Cullen closed his eyes. “I’ve been reminded of…” He drew a breath. “I don’t know if I have the right to…”
“The right to what, Cullen?” Dorian demanded, grabbing Cullen by the shoulders and turning him towards him.
Cullen opened his eyes, and finally met Dorian’s gaze, his eyes sad. “It’s not right for me to love you.”
Dorian stared at him, stunned. Cullen had never brought that word into the conversation. He’d never said love. And Dorian had certainly never wanted to bring that into it, because as soon as love came into it… so did the risks. “And now you tell me this? After…” After I’ve already fallen for you. His heart threatened to burst from his chest and he felt his vision swimming.
“You had to know that’s how I felt.” He tried to step out of Dorian’s grip but Dorian grabbed his shoulders more tightly.
He wasn’t letting Cullen sidestep this. “That you love me, or that you don’t think you should love me?”
“Both.” He swallowed. “Either.”
“I’m a mage, not a mind reader.” He gritted his teeth and let go of Cullen’s shoulders, throwing his arms up. “Do you think you could have hurt me as a Templar?”
“I could have, yes.”
Dorian snorted, taking a step back. “High opinion of your abilities, you have. I’m from Tevinter, we don’t have the fear of Templars that Ferelden mages have. We don’t hold back.” A realization dawned on him, one that caused his stomach to settle somewhere in his left boot. “Is it as Anders said? Do you not trust me?” He took a step towards Cullen. “Are you afraid of me?”
Cullen cringed away from him and Dorian felt his hopes burn up. Maybe Cullen thought he loved him, but this wasn’t love. He didn’t know what this was. Had he read all of this wrong? Was he reading it wrong now?
He had to get out of there, to think, before he said something he’d regret. “I think I should take my leave,” he said, turning and starting for the door.
“Dorian, wait!” Cullen reached out and grabbed his arm. “It’s not you, I promise you that, it’s not you. I don’t even think of you like a mage.”
Dorian spun on him, and the look on Cullen’s face showed that he knew that was a mistake.
“Well, that answers that, then.” Dorian pried Cullen’s fingers off his arm, trying to not think about how much he hurt. “Magic is what I am, Cullen. If you can’t accept that, then you don’t accept me. I won’t just be… whatever it is you think this is supposed to be. You’re no better than my father if you can only accept part of me.”
Cullen started to step forward but Dorian held up a hand to stop him, resisting the very strong urge to put a glyph on the floor to stop him in his tracks. It would only make it worse, but it’s so tempting.
“Do you know what you didn’t have the right to do, Cullen? It was to give me a false hope.” Dorian turned and left, managing to get through the door before Cullen could say anything else to keep him there. What had he expected? What was he to Cullen, really?
Which begged perhaps the hardest question of all. What was Cullen to him? An occasional fuck when Cullen wasn’t so completely uptight? Half the time, Dorian was coaxing him to stop working, or just stop being so rigid.
But the rest of the time… He’d thought they’d been good together. He thought he’d perhaps he’d found acceptance. A friend, then a lover. Long nights staying up late talking about their families. Touching, always touching. Warm, casual, comfortable in a way that made Dorian’s heart ache and he blinked a few times to clear his eyes. Damn you, Cullen Rutherford.
Damn him for giving Dorian hope, for the way he held Dorian after they’d worn themselves out in Cullen’s bed. Damn him for his stupid ceiling with the blasted holes that he tolerated only because he’d started to care too much about Cullen.
Dorian took a shaky breath, torn between turning back around and giving Cullen a piece of his mind, or leaving before this hurt him any more. He took a deep breath and headed back to the library, hoping to do something at least halfway useful with himself. Research to help with saving Alistair, perhaps. Or forcing himself to deal with Fiona’s prickly demeanor, that would be good for a distraction.
Barring that, he had two bottles of wine waiting for him hidden in a corner.