Cullen let out a ragged breath. The newest in a long line of lyrium withdrawal storms had passed, thanks to Dorian’s expert hands. He was dizzy and still weak, but the nausea had passed and the insufferable throbbing in his head had lowered its screaming to a dull roar.
How many times had Dorian been here to help him through these? He thought back to that first time. That particular episode had been overwhelming. The pain was so intense, he barely knew himself. Dorian had stumbled upon him in his office and had somehow just known what to do. His was the weakest ice spell Cullen had ever seen, but when the mage coated his hands with the blessed cold and placed them over his eyes and the back of his neck… it was a heavenly release.
In his weakened state, he’d grabbed the man for support as the rough seas in his body swelled and then calmed. As he clutched onto the mage for dear life, Cullen had noticed for the first time how comforting Dorian was to him. The mage’s scent had filled him, and he’d felt warmth radiating through his body, starting from his chest and moving outward. Succor is what Dorian gave him that afternoon. Sweet relief from misery.
Each time he felt another attack coming, Dorian was somehow at his side, flashing his smile and placing his wonderful, icy hands on him to banish the hurt.
Each time, he grasped the mage tightly until the pain passed and he was himself again.
Each time, Dorian asked him what his desperate embraces meant.
Each time, he said he didn’t know, and pretended not to notice the disappointment that flickered across the mage’s face.
“Sounds like love to me,” the Inquisitor had beamed at him when he finally decided he had to tell someone… or burst from the frustration. Then, they argued about whether he was really deserving of love, and she’d left him with one piece of advice.
“Tell him. You’ll feel better.”
After that, he found it difficult to look the mage in the eye without turning red and tripping over his own feet.
It was a word that felt alien to him, but he knew it was true. Every time he sat with the mage to play chess or just chat and drink at the Rest, he found himself losing track of the conversation and getting lost in those damned beautiful eyes or the flash of his throat as he tilted his head back in laughter.
“Feeling better, commander?” Dorian asked him, “Because if we’re done here, I happen to know that Orlais has sent us boxes upon boxes of their fancy little cakes….”
“We’re not,” Cullen murmured. He still had a fistful of Dorian’s cloak, and he gripped it tighter.
Maker, what am I doing?
“We’re not what? Getting cake? I assure you I am most certainly getting cake. Beats this heavy Ferelden slop you people seem to be so found of any day. And why is there so much of it? Just gallons of meat and potatoes and no taste!”
“We’re not done here,” Cullen cut the mage off before he could lose his nerve.
“Oh, still in pain? It’ll be awhile before I can cast that particular spell again… at least if I don’t want to lose my hands to frostbite.”
“I… I need to talk to you… to tell you,” Cullen sighed and stood up, pulling away from the mage as he did. He couldn’t do this after all. And why should he? They’d become close since Haven. Why should he risk a friend over something so silly as love.
Love. Maker’s breath, that word again.
“I’m ready to receive your news,” Dorian prompted, one dark eyebrow arched in curiosity, “Waiting with bated breath and beating heart, as it were.”
The commander gave him a calculating look. Andraste’s blood, the inquisitor had told him, hadn’t she. She couldn’t keep a damn thing from him, it seemed.
He pursed his lips as he decided to give her a stern talking to about confidentiality and trust later.
“No, really, what’s wrong? Are you still ill? Just a few more minutes until I can cast it again…”
The look of worry that fell over Dorian’s face was Cullen’s undoing. For all his grandstanding, the mage truly and deeply cared about a great many things.
… perhaps he also cared about him? It was suddenly too much to just wonder. Cullen had to know. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Why did he always lock up and lose his mind in times like this? Why couldn’t he just say the words in his heart?
He found he didn’t have to use words. The need was too great to wait on his awkward brain to form coherent statements. His body acted almost on its own as he pulled the dark-haired man from Tevinter into his arms. Against his chest. Against his racing heart.
“Can you hear that?” he murmured into Dorian’s ear and felt the mage relax against him.
“I can,” Dorian replied.
“Do you know what it’s trying to tell you?”
The mage chuckled softly as he responded, “I have an inkling.”
“And?” Dorian pulled his head back to look the commander in the eyes.
“What is your reply?”
“I’ll show you,” the mage’s voice was silky and deep. He untangled himself from Cullen’s arms and took the commander’s hand, guiding it to rest on his own chest.
His heart was racing, too.
Cullen tentatively raised his other hand and allowed his fingers to brush the line of the mage’s jaw. Maker, but his skin was beautiful. He wanted to touch all of it. To know every inch of it. He was almost overwhelmed by the sudden strength of his desire. His heart was pounding harder and he could feel the burning sensation of blood rushing to his face.
“Can I? I mean, do you think I could ki…”
But that was as far as he could get before Dorian renewed their embrace, pulling him in tighter and pressing his full lips against his.
Cullen’s body stiffened and then relaxed into the kiss. He could think of nothing but the feeling of those soft lips upon his own scarred set. And Dorian. The mage filled his senses completely, leaving him wanting more. Cullen parted his lips to deepen the kiss, and Dorian responded. Hungry mouths melded as tongues met and danced.
Dorian pulled away suddenly, face stern, as if waiting for bad news.
“Commander, what does this mean?”
Cullen’s brows knit together as he tried to make sense of Dorian’s sudden reversal. His eyes widened as realization dawned on him. He understood what he meant. Their ritual. This was the part where he would usually tell Dorian he didn’t know what his actions meant – that he had just been in so much pain that he was only responding to the comfort.
And before today, that was the truth. He really didn’t know.
But now he did. He knew why he grasped the man so tightly. He knew why he wanted him near.
And just like that, all the fear ran out of him and the words tumbled from his mouth in a strong voice.
“It means I love you, Dorian.”