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“Cullen, what the fuck was that ?”

Amber eyes blinked in rapid succession at her outburst. He should have expected it, really. Saoirse had been seething nearly all through dinner, but the normally soft-spoken Saoirse Lavellan didn't swear. Or yell. Her even keel was why Cullen even agreed to the double date Dorian had suggested in the first place.

“What was what ?” He asked irritably as he strapped into his seat belt. He'd been off all night, inexplicably aggravated by everything. Honestly, it would have been better if he'd called the whole thing off and stayed home.

“You… you were a complete jackass. To me. To Rilienus. To Dorian. The whole night. If you didn't want to go out with me , you should have said no. No one's gonna be mad at you for being honest.”

“I did want to… I don't know what you're talking about. The guy was an ass.”

“Are you kidding me? I thought I'd try since Dorian had such nice things to say about you, but it's so obvious you're not interested in me .”

“So it was a bad date - back to being friends, then. Why are you so angry?”

“Really?! Pardon my language, but get your head out of your ass, Cullen. I'm getting a taxi. Go home and think about it, alright?”

“What the fuck is her problem?” Cullen groused when Saoirse had closed the door and walked away. He put the car in gear and pulled out of his space… but he didn't point it home. Not yet, anyway. As had become his habit, he didn't like being there when Dorian had… company. At first, it had been ok, of course it had. They both lived in that little apartment, after all. They were free to live their lives.

But as time marched on, Cullen found himself more and more annoyed each time. At first, he assumed it was because there was a new person in his space, that he couldn't relax in his own living room because someone he didn't know was there. He'd grunt a hello and disappear into his room, feeling unsettled and heavy. Pacing or trying to pass the time on projects from work or playing video games.

As it got worse, he decided it was because each guy Dorian brought home was a prick. Ostentatious. Styled to the nines and full of themselves.

But tonight… well, Rilienus had been more of the same, Cullen had expected that. What he hadn't expected was just how sick he felt when Rilienus reached out and grabbed Dorian's hand at the table or how his stomach turned when Dorian leaned in to whisper something in the man's ear. Something that made him smile in a positively filthy way. Something that told Cullen maybe he didn't need to go straight home tonight, lest he hear things he didn't want to.

Why? Why does this bug me so much? It's not because he's gay. Shit. Is it because he's gay? Is that what she meant when she told me to get my head out of my ass?

It didn't make any sense. None whatsoever. He'd gone out with Sera and Dagna before without that feeling of angry disgust settling into his bones… and, as couples went, they were grossly adorable, what with Sera’s ‘my Widdles’ and their constant affectionate smooching. He'd tolerated Dorian's relentless flirting, it had made him smile, in fact, and he'd shot off a few return volleys in jest. Cullen was comfortable enough with who he was… joking around didn't shake him. It was fun.

So why did he get so fucking sick when a man showed up at their apartment for Dorian?

He contemplated all these things, stomach twisting into knots as he drove without a destination or goal. For all his thinking, he found no answer, though, and his state of mind suffered for it. The heavy restlessness was so great that he finally gave in and pulled over, phone already in hand and ringing the one person he knew would give it to him straight.

“Cassandra Pentaghast speaking.”

“I can't believe you answer your personal cell phone that way.”

“Clients call me all the time. What do you want, Cullen. Bit late for you, don't you think?”

“Am I a bad person?”

“I'm sorry… what?”

And so Cullen launched into his story, getting through it in stuttering fits and bursts. He told Cassandra all the thoughts running through his head, all the things that had happened, including Saoirse’s odd outburst that evening. For her part, she listened and added “uh-huh”s when appropriate to keep him talking.

“So that's it… and I just have to wonder… am I a bad person? Am I…” and here he lowered his voice to a whisper, though he was alone in his car, “am I homophobic ? Is that what Saoirse meant?”

To his extreme surprise and chagrin, he heard the sound of Cassandra laughing on the other side of the line.

“Cullen,” she said once it was out of her system, “Cullen, you're not a bad person, nor are you homophobic. I think I know you well enough after all these years.” She stopped to laugh again, and the relief Cullen felr at her words melted into annoyance.

“Laugh it up, I'm genuinely glad this is amusing to you… but why am I so… angry all the time?”

“Well, your date was perhaps a little harsh, but she wasn't wrong. Pull your head out of your behind and think about it. You can be so obtuse sometimes, I swear,” she said with another infuriating laugh. “Think about it. Good night, Cullen.”

“But I have been…”

“Not in the right way. Good night.”

And the call was ended. Just like that, it was Cullen confused and alone with his own thoughts again.

How am I supposed to think about this? Those guys are all assholes. They don't appreciate him.  

Hold on. What was that?

Blond eyebrows drew together over confused honey eyes. That line of thinking… that was new. He filed that away and continued trying to find a new way to think.

Ok. So. Why else are they assholes? Make a list.

They don't want him for him. They don't know him, or even try.

So, I'm being a protective friend?

Maybe, but there’s more. What else?

They’re in my space and I don’t know them.

But you know Dorian. He wouldn’t bring anyone bad into the apartment.

I know that, but still…

Then why? And why does it make your stomach turn to see him with them?

Because.

Because why, though?

Well, if I knew that, I wouldn’t be on the side of the road, avoiding my own home.

Come on. Why? Why?

I don’t know.

You do. Why?

Because, if they weren’t there, he’d be spending time with me. They’re taking him away from me. Why are they so much better than I am?

“Oh,” Cullen breathed, slackjawed and surprised as a light went on in his head and everything suddenly fell into place.

Saoirse was right. It was obvious. Ridiculously so, and Cullen burned with embarrassment that he hadn’t realized it sooner.

Well, but I’m straight. Is this just like some… strange friend jealousy thing?

Oh, stop it. You know what this is. It’s jealousy, but not like that.

But… I’ve never… not with a guy…

There’s a first time for everything… and this isn’t any guy. It’s Dorian. It’s Dorian and you like him. Maybe, after all this time together you…

“Love him.”

Those two words made his heart pound. They were terrifying. They were completely freeing. They were… well, they were the truth.

Focused. There was no more room for procrastination. If he didn’t get this out, he’d explode - so Cullen turned his car toward home without a second thought.

----

“Glad you decided to come home. Saoirse called… from a cab . Imagine my surprise,” Dorian commented from where he was lounging on the couch with a book. His tone was light, but it was clear that Dorian was fairly furious. Cullen couldn’t blame him, considering.

“I thought… I thought he’d be here?”

“Oh, no,” Dorian replied as he snapped the book closed and sat up, “You pretty much ruined that . Funny, he didn’t fancy being glowered at all evening... and I grew tired of trying to explain why my roommate is such a royal asshole.”

Cullen sighed. He deserved that. He really did. It was his fault for being so… how did Cassandra put it? Obtuse. Gingerly, he moved to sit on the couch… Closer than he may have normally, but not too close.

“Listen…” he began, not caring for the way his voice shook and his knee bobbed up and down, “I have to tell you something.”