Tumbling back out of the Fade feels somehow more dreamlike than falling into it. Not that Dorian’s complaining if this is a dream or some elaborate Fade construct. After the Wardens are conscripted by the Inquisitor, who might still be in shock, Dorian is almost immediately shuffled off to Cullen’s tent.
That’s the part that feels unreal – Cullen leaves his underlings to the clean-up and against all of Dorian’s complaints is currently tending to an ugly cut on Dorian’s shoulder.
“No comments about my choice of dress? Are you well, Commander?” It’s perhaps not the time to tease, but Dorian has to say something. Cullen looks serious and paler than usual. He’s also unamused by Dorian’s attempt at distraction. It’s disconcerting, since he has in the past taken quite a few shots at Dorian’s beloved clothing styles and the chance something might take a swipe at his shoulder one of these days.
Now that it’s happened instead of saying ‘I told you so,’ he cleans Dorian’s wound with faintly shaking hands.
Dorian would appreciate a good ‘I told you so’ at this point, to be honest. Cullen is close enough, that Dorian can see ‘temptation’ written in stone before his eyes.
Fitting, since it was Cullen he thought of when standing in that creepy little graveyard. Temptation that Dorian still has trouble resisting. It’s different from everything else he’s ever wanted that much. He’s desired before, of course, but never so strongly that it could rival the temptation of power, of knowledge, all the things he feared would be his undoing.
Cullen, though, is irresistible and at the same time utterly out of reach.
There was a moment in the Fade when Dorian was certain he would throw himself at Cullen the moment he saw him again, if only he could live long enough to escape the Nightmare’s lair. It passed the moment Dorian’s feet hit solid ground again. When he laid eyes on Cullen’s worried face, he knew it was never going to happen.
Dorian is, perhaps, a coward. Not a vice he’s ever considered a particular weakness of his, but he’s willing to admit to it easily, if it means keeping his friend. It’s not that hard to keep his mouth shut – well it is, but Dorian has a hundred other things ready to say every time he gets the urge to do something incredibly foolish like confess his feelings.
Instead he’s torturing himself by letting Cullen treat his wounds and just generally fret over Dorian.
It’s both very similar and very different from how he used to feel about Felix – Cullen is a good friend that absolutely deserves better than Dorian. The difference is, it was quite easy to look at Felix and feel the fleeting lust dissipate. Cullen on the other hand keeps reappearing in all of Dorian’s deepest dreams and desires.
“Careful, I might start to think you missed me,” he says, to break the heavy silence. Dorian isn’t built for serious silences.
Cullen, on the other hand, takes the attempt at levity badly. His face looks like a stormcloud for the briefest of moments, and then he manages to somehow become even paler.
“Do not– ” he stops and rubs his face with his hand. “Do not jest about it, please. I cannot bear it.” He looks at Dorian with a pleading expression that Dorian can’t resist.
“A serious conversation, then? I’ll try, for you, but I make no promises.” Dorian would, if Cullen asked it of him, though they would both come to regret it.
“I.” Cullen paces the few steps to the other side of the tent and then back again a couple of times, visibly agitated as he gathers his words. Dorian can feel a faint sense of dread settle over him. “I did not believe you would come back from it – how could you; how could anyone?”
“Well, I wouldn’t recommend anyone else try it, I can tell you that,” Dorian says and means it wholeheartedly. “It was not a pleasant experience.”
“Not a – You fell into the Fade! Physically!” Cullen’s eyes look a bit crazed, like the very thought is driving him mad.
“I’m quite aware,” Dorian says and can’t quite keep his voice even enough.
“I can’t talk to you about this now, I’m sorry, I–” Cullen rubs his own face again and looks away, his expression something between annoyed and terrified. It’s fascinating how he can show all that on his face – Dorian doesn’t know how to show his own weaknesses like that. Lately he sometimes wishes he could.
“Never fear, Commander, I’ll leave you to your duties.” Dorian doesn’t have the energy to follow it up with a joke or a flirt that he could pretend is a joke. Minutes ago he found sitting in Cullen’s presence torturous, but now the thought of being anywhere else is even worse.
Cullen watches with a strangely pained expression as Dorian gets up and tests the bandage on his shoulder. He keeps watching him in silence until Dorian inclines his head in thanks. “Thank you for patching me up.”
“It should hold until you can see a healer.” It seems Cullen doesn’t know what else to say and the narrow space between them slowly turns awkward in a way that’s unfamiliar to Dorian.
“I should go, then,” he says, and yet doesn’t move. He should, but suddenly he can’t make his feet move – what guarantee does he have that another rift won’t swallow one of them the moment he steps out of the tent?
When he was in the Fade, he believed he’d never see Cullen again, and their last meeting would forever be a bawdy joke that Dorian told him in passing. Not even a good one at that, but he’d wanted to see Cullen smile before walking into a fortress full of blood mages and demons.
Now Dorian has another chance, and he knows he’s going to let it pass once again.
He can see Cullen’s hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, so he silently inclines his head one more time and takes a step back. And another. He turns away towards the exit, takes a deep breath and –
“Wait!” Cullen calls behind him and stops Dorian with a hand on his shoulder. He hesitates for only a moment before he surges forward and, impossibly, kisses Dorian.
His lips move against Dorian’s without a shred of finesse and Dorian would still swear this is the best kiss he’s ever had. Cullen’s arms envelop him and with a hand in Dorian’s hair Cullen tilts his head just right. Suddenly there’s plenty of finesse, and Dorian forgets to breathe. Cullen’s lips are exactly as soft as they look and his fingers in Dorian’s hair are sublime.
It feels like a dream.
Then Cullen lets go and tries to step back suddenly, and Dorian grabs his ridiculous fur wrap to stop him.
“Sorry! I’m so sorry, that was extremely inappropriate of me,” Cullen babbles and that’s not what Dorian wants to hear.
“Oh, you’re going to be sorry, if you stop now,” Dorian says and drags a sputtering Cullen into another kiss.