“Why are they here? They shouldn’t be here.”
Cole’s words made Dorian reach after his staff before realizing that the kid wasn’t commentating on anything happening to them here and now, but on someone’s past pain. He visibly relaxed and tried once again to curl up as close to the fire as possible. He had no idea how the southerners could stand cold like this.
It felt awful to admit, but by now Dorian had stopped paying attention to Cole, at least when he started going on like that. It felt weird listening to him, too private for Dorian to be comfortable with it. It was better to act like he didn’t hear a thing when Cole talked about others and just hope that he wouldn’t take a tour in his head as well.
"Closing in on us, like wolves on a newborn halla.”
That was not the kind of allegory Dorian had been expecting. Now he knew for sure that Cole wasn’t digging around in his brain, because he would never think or say such a thing. But he had a hard time picturing Cassandra do it either. This rather sounded like…
He noticed that Mahanon had tensed at his side. As far as Dorian knew Cole had never said anything about Mahanon’s past. Until now, apparently.
“Screams echoing, tears heavy on my cheeks. ‘Please don’t leave me, mamae.’”
“Cole, stop.” Mahanon’s voice was barely a whisper, but Dorian could still hear the pain in it, clear as day. He was convinced anyone in the camp could hear it.
But Cole didn’t stop, of course he didn’t stop.
“Unseeing eyes, never coming back. Why did they have to die? ‘This is what shems do, da'len. They kill, they destroy, they take.’"
“I said stop!” Mahanon was standing up, and his lilac eyes looked like they were on fire. He was breathing heavily, and he looked far more tormented than Dorian ever had seen him.
Cole jerked back like a scared animal at the raised voice, and Mahanon’s gaze somewhat softened.
“I’m sorry, Cole. I didn’t… I…I have to go.” And with that he took off in the night, before Dorian even had the chance to stand up.
Dorian was unsure on what he should do now. He wanted to go after him, try to comfort him, to talk, but if Cole’s word meant what Dorian thought they did…. How could he possibly help? He was after all human, and if humans had killed…
Cassandra made a sound that was the perfect combination of disgusted and weary. “Don’t just sit there, Tevinter. Go after him!” she prompted, and for once he actually listened to her.
Mahanon hadn’t gone that far, but Dorian still managed to get somewhat lost along the way. He wasn’t made for walking around in the woods, that was one thing he was certain of.
When Dorian finally reached Mahanon, he was sitting next to the river, staring intensely at the water.
“Are you alright?” Dorian asked.
“No. Not really.”
Mahanon kept looking at the whirling water. “It’s not your fault, Dorian.”
“No, but if humans…”
Mahanon scoffed. “Humans have done a lot of awful things throughout history, and you’re not responsible for any of that. I don’t blame you for the attacks on my clan, I blame the people who did it.”
“Attacks? There were several?”
Another scoff. “My clan and I have defended ourselves against shems more times than I can count. And for as long as I can remember. They were the monsters the elders used to scare us with, but they were real and ever present. It was not unusual for them to come for the children; we were easier to kidnap than grown hunters and could fetch a decent price in the slave market. I guess that if you’re willing to kidnap a child you won’t have any qualms about forcing it into slavery either.”
Dorian felt sick. “Did humans try to kidnap you?” The thought was too horrible to really imagine.
“Killed my parents? Yes.”
“How old were you?”
“You have to be a bit more specific than that.” Mahanon gave him a grim smile. “Are you asking about the first time I’ve encountered shems? Or when they tried to kidnap me for the first time? Or when they killed my parents?”
The nausea just kept on rising, and Dorian wished he knew the people who had done all that, just so he could kill them himself for all the pain the brought to his amatus.
He wouldn’t blame Mahanon for wanting to kill them either, he actually took for granted that it was the case. But it didn’t seem enough, not if his species had done all that to the elf.
“You should hate humans.”
Mahanon laughed, a cold mirthless laugh. Dorian didn’t like it one bit.
“I did, ma vhenan. For a very long time I did. But hate doesn’t solve anything. Many of my people seem to have forgotten that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. My clan fueled my hatred for shems all my life, told me about how awful, merciless your people were. But they shouldn’t have done that, shouldn’t have filled my heart with such hatred.” He sighed deeply, like he was tired to his bones. “Hate can never rebuild, only destroy. I see that now. Not all shems are evil, the Inquisition has taught me that.”
“Did you still hate us when you attended the Conclave?” Even if that hate would have been justified Dorian felt a knot in his stomach from talking or even just thinking about it. The thought that Mahanon (not long ago) would hate him on sight, just by principal, hurt. More than he cared to admit.
“Not as fiercely as I did in my teens. But yes, I didn’t exactly care for shems.”
“Why did you stay?”
“My Keeper had asked me to, and as her First I felt obligated to...”
“No, not at the Conclave. After.” Mahanon looked confused so Dorian added, “After the explosion. You could have left the Inquisition before all this began. I wouldn’t have blamed you if you did - or well, I never would have met you if you did – but you catch my drift. If humans only had brought you pain before...”
Mahanon chuckled lightly, and to his eternal gratitude Dorian noticed that it was with some actual amusement. “There was a big hole in the sky, Dorian. It’s not something you walk away from, especially not if you actually have the means to close it.” His lips curved in a half smile. “To stay was simply the only sane solution. Not to forget that I was technically a prisoner at the time, and Cassandra would probably have chopped my head off if I tried to leave.”
“Yes, I can see how she could charm you into giving us humans a second chance.”
“I despised her in the beginning.” Mahanon said flatly, almost matter of fact. “She would talk about my people with no knowledge at all, and yet act like she had the answers to everything. I remember her asking me if me not thinking I was the Herald of Andraste meant that I didn’t believe in the Maker, and I answered that I believed in my gods, my people’s gods. She said something in the lines of ‘and you can’t make room for another god?’ as if my beliefs were just harmless stories for children that could be altered to suit the situation. I hear that in so many other people’s words, the thought that something elvhen can’t possibly be of value and is not a matter to be taking seriously. I wonder how they would react if I suggested worshipping June or Mythal alongside the Maker… But, no, that is, of course, not the same thing because we all know that shemlen ways are always the right ways and my people are just barbarians living in the woods.”
“Amatus.” Dorian sat down beside him, put his hand on the elf’s shoulder.
Mahanons eyes crinkled at the corners and a hint of a sad smile crossed his face. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you listening to me rant. It’s just…” He sighed heavily. “…sometimes I miss being with my people.”
Dorian moved his hand from Mahanons shoulder to his back, allowing him to get closer to him. “At least you have Sera and Solas.” He regretted those words the moment they left his mouth.
“Yes, I have. Sera, whose first words to me was something about her hoping that I would not be ‘too elfy’ or Solas who constantly criticizes the Dalish, viewing himself above them.” Mahanon sighed again, before putting his head on Dorians shoulder, leaning into his embrace. “No, ma vhenan, in this I am alone.”
They sat in silence for a while, Mahanons head on his shoulder, Dorian’s arm around the Inquisitors back. It was almost peaceful.
“Does it bother you? That I’m human?” Of course Dorian would have to ruin the mood with a question like that, but he didn’t try to take it back. This was important, and even if the answer may not be to his liking he wanted to know.
“I’ve already told you, I do not hold you responsible for..”
“I know. But surely I must be ignorant as well in some matters, even if my charm obviously makes up for it. There must be moments when I also say something infuriating and very human and annoy you with it… What I mean is – would you preferred if I was…”
Dorian nodded, and a small smile grazed Mahanons lips.
“You wouldn’t be able to have a mustache if you were one of the people.”
“What a dreadful thought.”
Mahanon laughed softly. “It would be… simpler if you were elvhen.” He admitted after a while. “Simpler, but not necessarily better. Sure, I would be able to complain more about everything, and you would understand how I felt but… It would not be you. I do not know how I would feel about an elvhen-Dorian, but I do know that I fell in love with the human one. That is all that really matters. So, no, it doesn’t really bother me that you’re human. What counts is that you’re Dorian.”
Something warm fluttered in Dorian’s chest, and he pressed his lips to the Inquisitors white hair. “The things you say.”
Once again silence fell over them, and Dorian noticed how Mahanon moved even closer to him.
“And you? Would you rather have me human?”
“No. I quite like your tattoos; they are rather fetching.”
“The only thing I dislike about you being an elf is that I know so little about them. It makes me feel inadequate, and that is an unfamiliar and extremely unpleasant feeling for me. I don’t like being another human to you, someone who insults you without realizing it because my knowledge of your people is so limited. I hate that you might view me as ignorant in some matters.”
Mahanon hummed, as if to show that he was listening before lifting his head of his shoulder and turning his gaze to Dorian. “If it’s any consolation you are my favorite shemlen. Without question. You do know that, right?”
Dorian didn’t, as it seemed remarkable that such a fantastic creature would care for him at all. But he didn’t say that. Instead he leaned closer and kissed Mahanon, hoping that he could convert all his feelings into the kiss. Talking about his feelings was unfamiliar territory for him, and he was terrified he would say the wrong thing and destroy it all. Actions were easier, they didn’t take as much courage as words. Someday he hoped he would be able to say those things out loud but today he settled with showing them in his kiss.
Mahanon gasped for breath when he pulled away, so Dorian assumed the elf had felt at least some of the things that he had tried to say.
“If you ever feel like you need to complain out loud you can always talk to me, amatus. I may not always understand why things may upset you - I am after all only human – but I’ll listen. It is quite refreshing to hear the great Inquisitor complain, you’re usually so terribly polite and noble. It’s a nice change.”
“Ma serannas…No, I mean…”
“If I’m fine with you complaining about humans, I’m sure I can handle some elvish as well.“
Mahanon shoulders dropped, and Dorian couldn’t help but wonder how many times a day he had to stop himself from saying something in the Elven language. He had never meet a Dalish elf before Mahanon, so he had simply thought that they didn’t use Elvish that much. Apparently he had been wrong, and having to censor himself obviously put a huge strain on Mahanon. If he could help to ease it he would gladly do it.
“Are you sure?”
Dorian snorted lightly. “Of course I’m sure, you big idiot. You don’t have to pretend with me.” He desperately hoped Mahanon knew that.
“Thank you, ma vhenan.”
Dorian wrapped his arms even more tightly around Mahanon, like he was trying to protect him from all the dangers of the world. He knew that he couldn’t though, so he settled for being able to ease some of his pain. That was good enough.
“Don’t mention it, amatus.”