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Ten of Cups: Inverted

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“Don't you walk away from me!” Cullen cried to Dorian's receding back. The taste of blood was in his mouth, choking copper that flowed from a laceration, clean and precise, above his eyebrow. Another scar. “Why?! WHY DORIAN? The Inquisitor is your friend… I'm your…”

Swift staccato strides brought Dorian in front of Cullen where he knelt, grasping the hilt of his sword for support. Strong hands tipped in talons clutched at either side of Cullen's chin, pinching into tender skin with a cruel force. With a jerk, Dorian snapped his wrist and tilted the commander's head up so amber met cold steel. And they were cold, Dorian's eyes. Had Cullen once mused he'd seen love in those eyes? Had they really seemed like soft, charcoal velvet roaming over his body? Had they ever been sparkling for him, brighter than the most polished silverite? As Cullen looked up into that hard face, fine features twisted with disgust, it was hard to imagine the smiles, the laughter, the care that he'd known. Who was this man before him?

“Don't flatter yourself, commander,” that once musical voice sneered, “You were the entertainment, amatus… and I am no longer entertained.

Just as roughly as Dorian had grabbed him, Cullen was released. Reeling. Not right. This was a dream. It had to be. But the way his body screamed against his injuries… the way Dorian's magic crackled around him with sinister force... the way he'd hissed that single word - amatus - Cullen knew it wasn't a dream. Eyes wide with disbelief and horror watched as Dorian turned, pulling a hood up to hide hateful eyes as he did, and completed the uniform.

Venatori. He was venatori all along.

----

It took some time for the wounds on Cullen's body to heal. The wounds in his heart, his soul… those were still jagged tears that bled and screamed out in the dark of night. Idly, he remembered sparring with Dorian in the practice ring, the both of them boasting that they'd surely best the other in a real fight. Now, in his bed for days with healers working long hours over him, he knew. He never had a chance. Dorian had let him win in the ring… in real life, however, the full fury of the man's power had staggered Cullen completely. The full truth of his deception had done the rest.

More the fool I, he thought bitterly, followed by, it doesn't make any fucking sense.

Neither Leliana nor Bull had an inkling of the disease at their heart. The Inquisitor had trusted him implicitly. Sera had called him friend. Cullen had loved him.

But none of that was really him, was it?

Yes, it was. It WAS. He showed you his heart. He cried real tears with you... for you. He loved the Inquisitor. He laughed with Sera and shared key information with Leliana, even though it meant betraying his homeland. He wanted to make his home better. His father had broken him, but he was mending. He was helping you mend. He was passion and intelligence and the deepest emotion under layers of wit and charm. That's who he was. Who he is.

I won't believe this. There has to be a reason.

----

When the Inquisitor finally gave him leave to oversee the search, Cullen threw himself into finding Dorian with a dogged fervor that frightened his men. He justified it by saying that if they found Dorian, Corypheus would surely be close by. For the most part, the Inquisitor allowed it. She was hurting just as much as Cullen was, after all. So he searched. Systematically, methodically, he combed Thedas for signs of the mage from Tevinter.

It was only a matter of time, Cullen knew. Only a matter of time before he stood before Dorian and made him explain.

Why?

----

The Emprise. He was at Emprise du Lion, or so the scout told him. He was at the Emprise, overseeing the harvest. Cullen dismounted, far away from where Dorian was supposedly set up - deep in some quarry Corypheus had taken from the little town down by the lake. From how the woman responsible had described it, Dorian had had a hand in the dealings. Only he was silver-tongued enough to make a shrewd lady like her believe she was getting the better end of the deal even as the townsfolk disappeared and the world around her froze.

Focused. Every muscle electrified and alert. Cullen saw everything, heard everything. From the way his breath puffed from his lips in icy clouds to the crunch of snow under his feet, he was alive and in the moment. Present. He was ready.

He'd come alone, without anyone but that one informant even aware that Dorian was here. That was the way Cullen wanted it. It felt right to him, balanced, that they'd end this the way it'd started when Dorian had so soundly broken him and revealed his deception - alone. Together. Facing each other across a battle line with bared hearts and bared teeth.

There'd been a moment before Cullen left, brief but sobering, when he'd thought lyrium, you can't beat him without lyrium. But he'd defeated that particular demon with Dorian's help, and, Maker take him, he'd die before he let the vile stuff run in his veins again. Besides, he hadn't come here to beat anyone. Not really.

This could very well be a one-way trip. He'd squared with that. He was all right with his Maker. It was with that confidence - that clarity of purpose - that he moved silently into the mine proper. Cullen had never been one for striking from the shadows, had always preferred a direct fight to subterfuge, but to get close to Dorian, he was willing to abandon his bright armor for dull leathers and take down the unfortunate soldiers who stood in his way with silent finesse.

At least it was over quickly for them, poor, twisted souls.

----

He didn't know how long he stalked those tunnels, bereft of armor and his trusted sword and shield, armed only with two daggers, sharp as death. It couldn't have possibly been as long as it felt. No alarm had sounded for the bodies in his wake, in any case, but it felt like Ages. The song of the red lyrium called to him, caressing him in a discordant lullaby. He'd been there long enough to feel the madness around the edges, corporeal, tangible, terrible. There was a shake to his hands now and a sense of panic choking him, thick and throttling. Horror. Horror because his body was yearning for the poison. It was all around him, so potent, all he had to do was reach a bare hand out and touch it.

But on he staggered, and there were fewer men in his way now - thank the Maker. Those who were there met their ends sloppily, painfully. The commander was coming undone there, deep in the cold earth and so close to the scourge that was driving him closer to madness with each footfall.

Still, he was dogged. Still, he was determined.

Why?

----

Doors opened onto more paths. Paths led to more doors. Cullen couldn't find his way out of this labyrinth if he wanted to, if he could even fathom turning around now. He couldn't. That question - why - drove him. The command - forward - ensured each footfall pressed onward.

Until, finally, Cullen opened the door. The last of all doors, and there he was. Hunched at a desk over some document. Writing furiously. Face pinched in concentration, Dorian didn't even notice the intrusion. Not until…

“Dorian!” Cullen bellowed victoriously, though he was swaying in place and falling apart. “You'll answer to me, Void take you. It's time to confess.”

Grey eyes flew wide and, for a moment, Dorian's jaw hung slack as the air hung heavy between them

He'll try to outwit me. He'll try to lie. He'll try to… try to…

But where Cullen expected the cold disgust that had haunted his dreams since Dorian left, a sorrow so intense, so pure fell over Dorian's face that, for a heartbeat, Cullen wondered if the whole thing had really happened. Heartbreak, is what that expression said. Regret. Mourning.

“No, no you can't be here. Not you. Never you,” Dorian answered in hitching, panicky bursts.

“And yet I'm here. Will you come back to Skyhold and answer for yourself?”

“Cullen… you have to go… You don't know...” But Dorian's words were cut off as his eyes focused past Cullen, brimming with horror.

“Then fucking tell me…” Cullen began, and took a shambling step forward. I love you still. Tell me, please, was the plea on his lips, but his breath was stolen from him before the words could be uttered. Crushing and sudden, the weight on his chest was unbearable, and a strangled cry tore from his lungs as he feel to his knees. From somewhere above him, he heard laughter, cruel and deep as it echoed in his bones. In a flash, he saw Dorian's face, twisted in rage. Another flash, and Dorian was neatly disarmed, dispelled. Another flash and Dorian was there, over him, collecting him in arms Cullen had once spent many lazy hours wrapped up in, content and comfortable. Safe and secure. Stronger. 

“You wanted him so much, he's yours. And you're mine. Completely now. No more ravens. No more secret missives sent with shipments. No more Inquisition.”

That voice, Cullen wondered as reality bent and warped and bled. Corypheus?

Something was eating him. Something on the inside, and it was as wrong as it was darkly wonderful. His eyes locked on Dorian's face as he wondered why the man was so angry. There were words, so many words shouted and they all ran together and hurt Cullen's head. He couldn't follow them, but he was happy still. Dorian was there. Dorian was holding him. And now, Dorian was smiling down at him, though tears poured down like rain.

“Oh, Cullen, my Cullen.” Lips, warm and soft and trembling pressed against his, and Cullen felt the wet hot tears falling on his cheeks, sliding down, even as his mind went numb, washed away on waves of lovely discord. “I tried, Maker save us, I tried to keep you safe. To keep the Inquisition safe. It was my idea, but Leliana agreed… and we knew… we knew we had to make you believe it. You above all. It wasn't… it wasn't supposed to go this way. It broke my heart to break yours, but I did it. I did it because I was always going to come back… back to you. Back to my heart. Because I love you. I love you, amatus….”

Dorian's words surrounded him and blanketed him with warmth. I love you, amatus. Cullen smiled up at Dorian from that place of slow, spreading bliss. The pain was fading, sliding into fulfillment. Sliding into perfect content. Amber eyes drank in every detail of Dorian's face, every fine feature, every line, every curve. Those eyes shining like silverite glinting in the sun. Dark, soft hair that felt like the finest silk under his fingers. The dark mole that Dorian had sniffed and called a blemish while had Cullen had laughed and called it a beauty mark. The curled mustache that tickled in all the best ways. Those full lips that could smile so bright, so beautifully for him. Warm skin that glowed like burnished bronze. All he could see, his whole world, was Dorian. His whole world was beauty. His whole world was love.

His whole world was red.

----

Years after the Inquisitor finally defeated Corypheus and Thedas was fighting to right itself, there was a bard. This bard was unlike any other before her. She didn't play the lute - she couldn't with only one arm. She didn't have a strong presence or charisma. She didn't even have a particularly good singing voice. What she had, though, was a story. A story sung with such raw emotion that her lack of skill or accompaniment was overlooked. A story that made bar patrons leave their ale unfinished to go home and hold their loved ones close with tears in their eyes.

It was a truly unique story. In that age of songs sung of the heroes of the Inquisition, it was a story about a red templar and its venatori keeper. It was a story about the lengths that venatori went through to keep that templar alive, and how that templar would have fleeting moments of clarity where it protected the venatori in turn. It was a story about how they cut through Inquisition forces together, always and forever together. It was a story about how, finally beaten, the venatori stood next to his templar against the Inquisitor and begged for an end. It was a story about how, tears in her eyes, she granted that end to her old friends.

It was a story about sacrifice. It was a story about deception and loss.

It was a story about love.