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(There are stacks of letters inside faded envelopes. Some carry pressed flowers and colored ribbons in their folded creases. Most are illegible and were never stamped to be sent, the words scribbled and crossed out a hundred times over.)

My Dearest Dorian,

    I hope this letter finds you well and settled. Forgive me, but I do not possess the same gift of turn-of-phrase as you do. Writing has never been my strong point. I would ask Varric to help but could not bear the mortification of such a thing; you will have to endure my clumsy hand unfiltered.

    A strange quiet has blanketed itself over Skyhold since the luster of Corypheus’ death faded. I wish I could say that I am enjoying it, but it is ominous. When the snow melts I feel there will be ice in its place. There are rumors from parts of Fereldan that the Inquisition is too powerful. From Orlais, nobles everywhere are crying out for their chance to shake my divine hand. I’ve been dressed and trussed like a Wintersend turkey more times than I can count for these illustrious banquets and festivities. Josephine and I are no less busy than we were before. It would not be so arduous, if I had you at my side. Yes, I can hear you all the way from Minrathous saying, “A party without me? Why, that’s no party at all!” And you’d be quite right. They’re all very dull. I do love the food as always, though.

    I miss you. A piece of me left when you did. I carry this emptiness wherever I go. However I’m sure you miss me far more than I do you. You’ve always been such a romantic– I can picture you dabbing your tears with that fancy knitted cloth you carry in your pocket while gazing tragically at the southern sunset. It is very dramatic and heartbreaking, I assure you.

    I regret not leaving you with some trinket, or taking something for myself, some token of remembrance. I also regret not saying I love you once more before you left. So here it is, though it falls on deaf ears in this form. I love you. I hope to be near you again soon.

Inquisitor Basil Lavellan

P.S.

    Letters like these always make one sound so stiff. Ink sucks the joy from words dry.  

(The letter is finely creased in four corners, as if it’s been carefully opened and read countless times. Inside is a dried peony.)

Amatus,

    It is my singular pleasure and delight to hear from you so soon– another perk from the Inquisition, I assume? Typically a letter to Minrathous would take several months. I received yours in only one, while I happened to be settling into my quarters not a week after entering the Golden City. Now it has been another two since I’ve had a moment to breathe and write back. But oh, the things to tell you, the faces I’ve encountered, the drama I’ve revived! I’ve met up with an old friend– Maeveris Tilani– whom will be my right hand in dismantling the moldy scaffoldings that keep traditionalist Tevinter upright. It will be no small task; Mae has a head start in plucking out the few rowdy ideologists who might have potential, but we must sort out the loyal. We are digging our fingers into the cockles of an archaic corpse. There will be festering things, old quarrels and feuds that we’ll reanimate by dragging them into the light, like wriggling worms or some other bug thing. Eugh.

    It saddens me to hear that you cannot reap the fruit of your spoils. The world demands everything from you, you give it, and yet it still demands more. Corypheus imploded quite spectacularly, you single-handedly sealed the Breach in the sky (forgive my pun), and still it is not enough. Unfortunately, this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. You have much work to do, as do I.

    My presence might have burdened you that much more. But I dread a missed opportunity for a scandal! Imagine, the two of us sipping zinfandel at one of those parties, sneaking away like the hopelessly in love fools we are so that they might have something to snivel about at dessert? What a thought. A shame we couldn’t try such a thing at Halamshiral.

    I often think back to our last night together. The memory of you keeps me company when the day’s madness simmers down, and I am left to my own mundane devices– you, amidst a field of halla and gleaming stars, telling me that I am your world. I am beside myself with longing for you, but I must keep my head straight. Tevinter isn’t going to right itself. We’re going to make a difference, just like you have. You are the driving force behind my actions and choices. You support me, even when you are not here.

    It will always be as such. Someday, you will be here with me, and we will guide each other hand in hand.

    Love you, forever and always,

Magister Dorian Pavus

P.S.– I’ve sent you a small token from my homeland, since you asked. Marigolds are rather common here, and happen to brew one of my favorite herbal teas.

(The words are spaced strangely, as if each letter was written with slow care. In some places the ink dries up and then blotches out the letters of the next word.)

Dorian,

    I find myself seeking opportunities to write to you, even when none present themselves. I am busier than before– people with more titles than hairs on their heads are pushing things onto me that I can’t conceive. I have had to deny six separate deeds to small estates and properties of ‘well-wishing’ landlords. A few of the daughters they offered were very pretty, but they lack one essential asset that requires no explanation for reasons already self-evident. Yes, you’ve guessed it: a curling mustache. These Lords all ask the same thing in return; Andraste’s blessing. At this point I do not know what to say. I am tired of spitting out the same rhyme. They will not listen and I’m not fond of having to muddle through the confusion I cause when I, an elf, say that I do not believe in the Maker.

    I am sorry that this letter is arriving to you so late. I agonize over every word that I put to paper. It is good to hear that you are keeping busy– those scaffoldings won’t topple themselves. I’d brag to others that my dear bonnie-lass is dismantling a supremacist establishment all by himself, but I feel that’d be in poor taste to bring up in polite company. Orlais and Ferelden are breathing down my neck more overtly. I take extreme caution tiptoeing around words, which clearly comes as a challenge. You know how well I excel at holding my tongue. I have a small heart attack every time I open my mouth. It reminds me of our debacle at the Winter Palace more than a year ago.

    Send my regards to Maeveris. If she is anything like you then I am sure to enjoy her company. Someday, we will all sit and have tea while discussing politics– or, and this is more likely, discuss how atrocious Leliana looks in robes of the Divine.

    I should send a drawing. Really, it’s laughable. The hat’s what does it, I think.

    Yours,

Basil Lavellan

(The paper has the scent of smoldering wood and sage.)

Amatus,

    I greatly enjoyed your last letter, as did the servants who stole it from my room and read it aloud to the kitchen staff. That small scandal was the only bright spot in the whole month; I’m almost disappointed you hadn’t written anything more risqué. I imagine you already flushing flaming red at the thought, but do not hate them. They are just as bored as I, without the comfort of your letters to entertain them. Minrathous is utterly and completely dull without you.

    Maevaris and I have been meeting with our fledgling Lucerni party, now a dozen junior magisters with a burning hatred for the corruption of the Imperium, and little idea how to change it beyond shouting incoherently. It's going to require a lot of work from Mae and me to turn them into shrewd Magisterium politicians. Don't laugh.

    Worry incites my migraines at the thought of you speaking at length to a crowd, but I have utter confidence in your decisions. Undoubtedly you’ve already converted countless nonbelievers and swooned a favorable damsel or two with your unwavering smile. I’d be worried if I weren’t certain of your preferences, particularly in gorgeous Tevinter Magisters with upper lip hair. I can already hear their heart broken sighs; though tragic, they do not outweigh the sadness of my own heart tearing itself to pieces over missing you.

    I know you're too tangled up in Inquisition business to get away, but we must find a chance to meet. Letters are a poor substitute for your company.

    Love,

Dorian Pavus

(The paper has been crumpled and reopened. Crosshatchings fill the sides with unintelligible notes.)

Dorian, I miss–

Dorian, Skyhold is terribly–

I understand the expression of distance and growing fondness but–

(There are others, letters that have been removed from their drawers only once and then thrown back in hastily. Words are scrawled as if by the hand of a child; clumsy, blocky, and with much hesitance.)

I want to see you–

The nightmares are unbearable without–

Some nights I cannot sleep. I ache want to see your smile. It thaws the ice freezing over my heart. My heart is numb–

There’s love enough in me but not to–

The anchor is getting–

I cannot–

(The shortest letter of them all. Each word was painstakingly carved to appear fluid and natural.)

Dorian,

    It’s been too long. I am in a rush to throw all pretenses aside and say that my heart has had enough. But that would be selfish. I see you in the sparks of candlelight at my bedside. I feel you in the warmth of my sheets and the dents the ink leaves in the folds of your letters. I feel it too, when my stomach gnaws at itself like hunger and my hand sparks and flares like a demon might crawl out from its crevice. Stop yourself from worrying before you start. It is nothing. I am working as hard as ever, and if anything, I am driven to higher diligence, to forget the shadow that is missing from my side. This has all become foolishly sad; what I’m trying to say is that you are here with me, even through the aches and pains of loneliness that are like physical wounds.

    I must end the letter here. When I will write next, I’m not sure; Orlais and Ferelden are at my doorstep and I must keep a steadfast balance. Write to me, for every word of yours that I have is another day that I can keep standing.

Basil

(This letter is disclosed with more flowers and a delicate ribbon. It smells of summer.)

Amatus,

    How time flies. One thing I missed about Tevinter was the warmth that persists through the seasons. How I bested the cold of Emprise du Lion is beyond me; nowadays I can hardly stand the frigidity of a faint autumn’s breeze swept in from the mountainsides. My skin has become the rich chestnut brown of my youth, and I am the envy of my fellow moon-skinned heretics. Mae cannot stand in the sun without acquiring another spot or two, and it’s a fond reminder of the time you took a nap atop the tavern and burned a few freckles into your cheeks. A shame they faded so quickly– you were the picturesque, speckled innocent of a dream. I fancied imagining I’d whisked you away from some quaint seaside village as I traced my thumbs over them. Yet I am glad that they faded. They made me feel old. Ridiculous, because my skin is a model of perfection.

    Enough discussing the obvious: Tevinter has taken an interest in the Inquisition. Not an overt one that is, but I am hearing whispers of it. I’d say it’s nothing to worry about as of now, but keep your eyes open; with Orlais and Ferelden at your backs an encounter with Tevinter would not bode well. Be cautious, my love, and remember to keep those you trust close.    

    Your words of devotion leave me pained with longing, and I return them one thousand-fold. Every day I deeply regret not staying, or not bringing you with me. But we both have duties that we must attend. While I am not at your side, know you this; do not lose sight of what is true. Glamor and power have never been agreeable with you, but you have a talent for standing firm for what you believe is right. Even false conviction is moving. I have faith that your choices will lead the Inquisition to where it needs to be. Do not lose hope.

    Yours,

Dorian Pavus

P.S.

    Mi’nas’sal’inan. I dearly hope I spelled it correctly, the servant that I asked could not write.

Basil looks up. The sky is cloudless. He has a perfect view of the ugly, pulsating green scar floating above the palace of Halamshiral.

    The marble bench he’d sat himself on allows him a moment of privacy. He’s winded. Mother Giselle had caught him so quickly after he arrived. The housemaid had barely handed him the keys to his accommodations before she swept him away for a stern talk. Basil had been preparing for the Council scheduled the following day, now today, the exhaustion of sitting through hours of pursy men blathering back and forth about the state of affairs, but he had not expected Dorian. Of all the things to drain him, it is the mere thought of a surprise appearance from his lover.

    He’d already been feeling raw. The others– Varric, Sera, Vivienne, Josephine and Cullen– they’d all returned with the Inquisition. He’d spent most of his first day at the Palace catching up. His heart is heavy and sore, his face aching from how much he’d been smiling. How he’ll face Dorian without crumbling–

    A pang of anxiety shoots through his stomach. He takes an unsteady breath and folds the letters back into his pocket.

    The second day of the Inquisition’s arrival marks the beginning of the Council, and Dorian’s official arrival as ambassador. Inevitably, Basil drags out their reunion as long as he can. He first speaks to all of his friends about everything that’s happened since Corypheus’ defeat. Today he meets with those he hadn’t yesterday– Blackwall, Cole, and Bull– and it’s sobering to hear them speaking so comfortably after so long. They are all happy to see him and give their best. Basil hopes his own smile is half as convincing. They’re eager to share their opinions of the Council and he’s glad to listen; anything to keep him from moving towards the eastern wing of the garden.

    And then he talks to Cassandra.

    “Marriage?” Basil says, bewildered.

    “Of course, Dorian being Tevinter will raise eyebrows across the Empire, but if that is your…”

    He stares.

    “You’re not proposing. To anyone.”

    Basil can neither nod nor shake his head. How had everyone known Dorian would be here except himself? Enough, even, to spread rumors? It has never been a question that he and Dorian would spend their lives together. But marriage was never openly discussed. The more Basil thinks on it, the further his mind drifts from the conversation. Dazed, he answers the rest of her questions half-heartedly.

    He can’t avoid Dorian any longer. Speaking finally to Leliana, her words bode an ill omen. The disbanding of the Inquisition would mean so much more than less funding and resources. People would lose their homes. The workers of Skyhold relied on the Inquisition for their primary income. Soldiers who’d lost friends and family would have nowhere to go. It’d be the end of so much more than just an organization.

    On his list of priorities, the Exalted Council is quickly making its way to the bottom. The letters weigh down his pocket like stones. He reflexively touches them, gathering strength in the familiar feeling of parchment on his fingers. Rattled with unease, Basil treads to the conversing Orlesian and Tevinter Ambassador.

    Their eyes meet.

    The ice around Basil’s heart shatters like sunlight striking through pellucid glass. It kicks into overdrive, thrumming hard against his ribcage and squeezing his lungs. He can’t breathe suddenly, can’t move.

    Dorian is more gorgeous than he ever remembers. With his curling grin of self-assured smugness, he suits the finery of Orlais so well that Basil is sick with envy and longing. He wears robes made of genuine silk, a finer material than he was ever able to provide for himself in the Inquisition. His skin is darker like he’d described, but rather than rested, he looks tired. Yet his posture doesn’t betray an ounce of exhaustion. Basil can’t help it; he sighs, feeling two years of distance disperse as smoothly as storm clouds.

    It doesn’t take long for Dorian to spot him. His smile blossoms, eyes catching the light as he recognizes Basil. Basil’s legs shake.

    “But you’ll have to excuse me! I see an old friend I must greet.”

    He’s coming closer. Basil sucks in a breath. Two years. Two years it’s been, and Dorian’s smile still manages to break his heart.

    “Amatus! Wading through all the pomp and circumstance, I see.”

    The moment he hears his voice, Basil’s nerves fracture and melt into the warm pool of happiness that floods his chest. Anxious for a new reason, his words tremble as he leans towards Dorian, extremely aware of where they are, of what he wants to do and can’t while so many eyes are on them.

    “You’re back after being away in Tevinter for two years, and this is how you greet me?”

    Dorian doesn’t hesitate. “I have an apology ready.”

    He steps forward with two swift bounds and envelopes Basil, and Basil is reaching before he tells himself to. His eyes close and he makes a small, fragile noise when their lips meet.

    An unavoidable pinch of sadness lodges in his throat. Basil swallows it down, and reins in the tears prickling his eyes. He can’t give Dorian the kiss he wants, the touch he’s thought of every night the Anchor woke him in a terror, or every time he considered sawing it off. He remembers reaching over and touching the cool, empty side of his bed, and instead clutching dry parchment. Dorian’s lips are warm and alive and kiss like he cannot express the thousands of things he wishes to say. At some point, Basil realizes he’s not breathing. His hands slide down to Dorian’s throat and feel the pulse thrumming under his skin. He presses his thumbs in, a quiver like dread and love. Dorian’s sighs spill into his mouth, his gentle murmur of encouragement sweet and quiet.

    It’s too chaste, and it ends far too quickly. Basil sees Dorian’s closed eyes as he pulls back, the slow slide of them opening as he resurfaces from the trance he’d sunken into.

    “Your coloring is perfection,” Dorian says under his breath. Basil sighs as Dorian’s knuckles brush across his cheeks, his thumbs lingering to fondle a stray lock of red hair.

    “We’re…” Basil swallows, and tames his thoughts before they stray. “We cannot do this right now.”

    Dorian nods. “Later, come talk to me.”

    “Yes.” A physical anguish pulls his hands as he moves away from Dorian. It’s tense and fraught, he only wants to hold Dorian again, but there’s work to be done. The Orlesian Ambassador’s eyes are on them. They have been, Basil presumes, the entire time. “What have you learned about this Council?”

    Dorian doesn’t skip a beat. “Orlais wants the Inquisition tamed, Ferelden wants it gone, the Chantry meddles, and Tevinter sends but one ambassador. That’s me, by the way,” he says with false pride. It’s clear Dorian knows as little as everyone else, and that puts Basil somewhat at ease. “A ‘Reward for my interest in the South.’ Thankfully, ‘Ambassador Pavus’ is a token appointment. Call on me as you like.”

    As he leaves Dorian keeps his playful smirk intact. Basil’s eyes follow where he can’t, and it’s not until the Orlesian is right in front of him that Basil collects himself and relocates his attention.

    The man’s careful compliments about the Inquisition are difficult to trust. He’s a true politician, and there are layers to his friendly comments and an edge to his admittance on how much power the Inquisition holds. At least the Arl of Redcliffe was upfront about his opinions; the Duke is shady, and speaking to him reminds Basil so much about his previous heist in Halamshiral that he is eager to politely slip away.

    The effervescence that’d bubbled in his stomach after seeing Dorian is gone. Exhausted, he escapes the balcony, and seeks to revive what little energy he can before the Council begins. At the bar, he buys himself a drink and eats something small– a sandwich with far too little lettuce and far too much tomato. Bull and Sera aren’t there, but he doesn’t pay any mind. He acquaints himself with the blacksmith and herbalist. The drink turns into two by the time he’s finished.

    His wandering doesn’t take as much time as he would’ve liked. With about an hour to spare before the meeting, Basil takes a chance and seeks out Dorian again, hopefully for something more than a brief chat. The garden is quiet and emptying out. Basil quickly spots a familiar mustache in the lounging area and makes his way over.

    He hadn’t noticed all of the people surrounding Dorian. They’ve been drinking, and Varric sways on his stubby legs, Sera with her lanky limbs thrown over the couch, and Cole standing awkwardly by the potted plant. Bull is long gone on the floor. The air has the light amiability of a party’s toasting, except for the brisk chill coming from Dorian’s end. Dorian sees Basil approaching and stiffens. He gestures sharply for Varric to stop.

    “What’s going on?” Basil says, stopping a few steps back. Dorian looks at him, and Basil sees his eyes flash with panic.

    “Inquisitor! You’re just in time,” Varric exclaims. “Sparkles, the Imperium doesn’t deserve you. Or want you. It may kill you. But we’ll miss you, if it counts.”

    Basil looks from Varric to Dorian and frowns. Cool dread grips his stomach. To avoid his gaze Dorian glares at Varric. Heavy silence looms.

    “Aaaand you didn’t know.” Varric scratches the back of his neck. “Okay, folks! Time to take the party elsewhere.”

    Everyone begins dispersing. Dorian separates himself from the others, and walks alone towards the garden gate.

    The splash of the fountain is thunderous, pounding against his ears. Basil hesitates as he observes the golden outline of his lover’s figure. Two years spreads like an ocean between them. There’s an undeniable rift. Inevitable, he thinks. Unavoidable. They’ve lost the easy back and forth, the relaxed company. The fault is no one’s. But Basil wants so badly for things to return to the way they were. It’s only Dorian, he tells his racing heart as he stares at his broad back. Basil bites his lip before joining him by the dais. Dorian doesn’t have to turn around to know he’s there.

    “It’s true.”

    Basil stops. He waits as Dorian turns. Schooling his face is impossible; a small but visible frown remains on Basil’s lips.

    “I couldn’t stay away from Tevinter forever. I’m leaving as soon as the Exalted Council is done.”

    Hearing it from Dorian is different. Something shatters, and the cold numbness of acceptance washes over him. Basil remembers all of the promises in his letters. He has no idea what to say. Dorian has hardly returned to him, and it feels as if he’s already left. “…You know I’ll miss you.”

    “I don’t want to leave, Amatus,” Dorian pleas. Basil purses his lips. “My father is dead. Assassinated, I believe. I received notice this morning: a perversely cheerful letter congratulating me on assuming his seat in the Magisterium.” He’s dredging out each word, his fingers firm over his bicep. “We only met a few times while I was home. He didn’t say anything about keeping me as his heir.”

    “Your…” Basil slinks back, something like guilt sinking inside his stomach.

    Dorian nods once, solemnly. “This ‘Ambassadorship’…his doing, I’m told. He must have wanted me away when the trouble began. I have to go back.”

    All Basil can think is how they’ll be apart again. Selfish. Quietly, with little else to offer, Basil murmurs, “I know it was complicated, but…I’m sorry about your father.”

    The corner of Dorian’s mouth lifts a fraction. “Thank you. It still doesn’t feel real.”

    He feels cold. Basil almost can’t say it. “What of us? This is it, then?”

    “Nonsense. There will always be an ‘us.’ We’ll just be…farther apart, for a time.”

    For a moment, he can’t bear it. He can’t bear to look at Dorian, so close and yet completely out of his reach, the singular thing he’d wanted more than anything in the world for two years– untouchable. Basil looks away, his heart falling out of his chest. A stab of pain flares in his hand, but he’s so used to it that it goes unnoticed. Basil fights back tears and it burns.

    “Now, now, Basil, don’t pout. They’ll put that expression on a statue, and then you’ll be sorry.”

    “You think this is funny?”

    Dorian looks like he wants to come closer. Basil hates that he doesn’t. “Nothing about this is funny. I am sorry, for what it’s worth.”

    He gathers himself, takes a short breath. A topic change seems the better way to go. “So you’ll…truly be a magister?”

    Dorian easily slips into his shield of sarcasm. “Oh, yes. I can’t wait to degrade the Magisterium with my presence. A new outfit is required.”

    “And then what?”

    “I find my father’s killers and kill them back. Then I find those giving Tevinter a bad name and kill them. They’re most likely the same people, so that should make the job easier.”

    “You’ll need help,” says Basil. But he feels he already knows the answer. “I could go with you.”

    Sadness glints in his eyes, so quickly repressed that Basil nearly misses it. “Not this time, Amatus. I won’t be entirely without support. Maeveris has gathered other magisters who feel as we do– I’ve mentioned them in my letters, but I still have yet to know them individually. We’ll be an actual faction in the Magisterium. I’ll teach them manners, take them shopping. It’ll be fun!”

    Dorian has resorted to the recluse, witty manner of speech he favors when he’s miserable. It upsets Basil deeply; after all this time, all they’ve been through, Dorian still has to hide how he truly feels. Basil cannot crack a smile. He can’t even pretend. This was supposed to be their reunion, their permanent rejoining as a couple. He’d thought about all the days they’d spend together, making up for the years they were apart. Alone, possibly in the woods or even close to the city to keep Dorian happy. When he breathes, sharp needles mince his throat. “You don’t have to go back, Dorian.” He hears himself, hates how desperate he sounds. “You put it behind you. You still could.”

    “And give up a golden opportunity for martyrdom? Perish the thought. Here,” Dorian says, and he reaches into his pocket and offers Basil something. “A present. A going-away present.”

    Carefully, Basil takes the object, and twists it in his hands. It’s a large pendant, gold and gaudy with a strange translucent gem in the center. A notch on the side allows him to crank it, almost like a music box; as he winds the gold metal encasing the crystal spins. There’s a high-pitched ringing like a small bell. He looks up at Dorian. “It’s…it’s beautiful, but I don’t…”

    Dorian chuckles. “It’s a sending crystal. Amazing what friendship with the Inquisition gives you access to. If I get in over my head, or you’re overwhelmed with sorrow for lack of my velvety voice– magic.” Basil looks back at the pendant in his hands, marveled. Dorian laughs again. “What– you didn’t think I would leave and you’d never hear from me again, did you?”

    Yes, Basil almost says. The pendant catches the light of the sun so spectacularly it nearly blinds. He meets Dorian’s eyes and opens his mouth to say something, but Dorian is stepping closer. Basil tenses, a boiling pot of nerves and raw emotion.

    “You are the man I love, Amatus. Nothing will truly keep us apart.”

    When Dorian kisses him for the second time that day, Basil lets himself take what he needs. He digs his fingers into Dorian’s collar, and then decides to cup his face and pull him closer. Skin scalds where it makes contact, each brush profoundly intimate. Basil doesn’t hold back his small, helpless whimpers, or fight the gnawing fear that’s clawing its way up his throat. Two years of love and heartache pour into his rough, tenacious kiss.

    Basil keeps his arms around Dorian’s neck as they pull apart. He almost kisses Dorian again, seeing his red lips and dark skin.

    Dorian smiles, and moves his arms to rest on his hips. “Now let’s finish the good wine before the others get back.”

    Having a drink with Dorian sounds like something ripped from a dream. Basil grins softly, but remembers the Exalted Council. He retracts, and looks away. “Not yet. The meeting is in less than an hour, and I’ve already had a fair bit of alcohol.”

    It doesn’t damper Dorian’s smile. “Who knows? A little more might loosen the nerves. Or the tongue.”

    Basil smiles, genuinely, for the first time since arriving at the Palace. He embraces Dorian, his eyes closing and his heart beating fast against Dorian’s chest.

    “Later,” Basil says beside his ear, and kisses the spot. Later, because saying it feels more binding than anything he’s ever scrawled into ink.

    Later, he thinks, as the Ambassadors gather in the grand hall. They sit high above him, eyes bearing both judgment and cool indifference. Eyes that say he is neither worthy for the position he’s in or responsible enough for the power he holds.

    Later, as the meeting is postponed and their eyes turn resentful.

    Later may never come, Basil realizes, as he looks down at the Qunari body in full militant attire.

    “Prepare my team’s supplies,” Basil orders one of the Inquisition servants. Leliana confirms what Basil had dreaded most: an attack on the Winter Palace invoked by the Inquisition’s presence. He paces in front of the tavern as bystanders gather to see what the commotion is about.

    Basil had thought on what he was going to do with the Inquisition. While it made sense to disband the organization after its initial purpose was accomplished, many see the Inquisition as more than just a military force. Arl Teagan was not wrong in accusing Skyhold of having the resources of a small country. Their presence is intimidating, and with Corypheus vanquished, no longer necessary. This sudden attack is a perfect addition to their argument, and something that Basil will have difficulty challenging.

    But.

    Basil thinks about his friends. They’ve done a lot of good through the Inquisition. They could still do more.

    Admittedly, Basil is frightened. Frightened of an end. Frightened to let go of the last place he can call home.

    The trail of blood leads to an Eluvian hidden inside a cluttered storage room. Basil calls his friends before daring to go near it.

    They’re all apprehensive about entering the ancient magical object. Even Dorian, for all his scholarly intrigue, hesitates a step after following Basil through.

    They stumble out of the mirror like thieves through a balcony window. Water thunders into a constructed river of rocks and pours over a cliff’s edge where it falls into an infinite abyss. Varric peers over it warily, and tightens his arms over his crossbow.

    “Where the hell are we?” he asks for everyone else.

    “These are the Crossroads,” Basil says, startled. The colors are more vibrant than he remembers. He sees paths to mirrors, winding staircases and stranded islands of rocks with mirrors, a vast tangled maze of immeasurable ways to get lost and infinite ways to be found. Basil takes a step back, overcome, glancing over his shoulder at the Eluvian they came through. “…Let’s keep going. The trail of blood leads here.”

    Basil had been prepared to be transported anywhere, from the middle of a Qunari ambush to the furthest edge of the Fade.

    He hadn’t expected Elvhen ruins. Ancient magic pulses in the air, flowing like static wind before a storm. Basil’s hand glides over the mosaics, grand artistic depictions of the Elvhen gods. The land surrounding the colossal monuments, which double as fortresses, is untouched as far as his eyes can see; miles upon miles of grassy fields and rolling hills surrounded by uninhabited lakes and forests. Basil feels the spirits. Their energy pulls at the Fade, a magnetic tug with the epicenter inside his left hand.

    Dorian is the only one that seems to share his awe. Either way, they are all silent as they follow the messy trail of Qunari bodies.

    Basil is enveloped by the next Eluvian, his body dipping through the cool pool of magic and thrown into the reflection on the other side. He emerges stumbling, clutching his head. Traveling through them is like getting his lungs pushed through a thin tube, his head squeezed between mallets. It takes him longer to recover than his teammates. Basil blames it on the Anchor. He looks up, and stills.

    Towering spirits guard the entryway. Dorian pales at his side. Basil had been ready for a fight, but not with ancient elvhen spirits. His elven greetings go unheard, and without prompting, the spirits immediately attack. Basil parries its first powerful swing. Cassandra joins his side, and a green barrier springs up around them. They end the fight quickly.

    “They were offended,” Basil says to the others when he returns his bloodless sword to its sheath. Dorian has a split lip, and Varric has blood dribbling down his forehead. He and Cassandra are untouched. “They were offended that I spoke Elven to them.” A shem, he thinks. To them he was only another shem. It reminds him of the guardians at the Temple of Mythal.

    “We are intruders,” Dorian says, easing a hand over Basil’s shoulder. “To them we are all equally foreign.”

    His words help, a little.

    The suspense sets Basil’s teeth on edge. Every time they sink into a mirror, he expects to be killed before his eyes adjust to the watery refraction. Instinctually he grips his sword, and his friends naturally fall into formation. They’re following down a bunker filled with cobwebs and more dust than breathable air. It hides a third mosaic about Fen’harel, and Basil feels a sick knot form in his stomach. He ignores it in favor of focusing on the pain in his hand.

    Inside is a large pillar branching inward like a warped tree, crackling with magical energy and electricity like green lightning. Basil steps near it, and cries out. The mark blazes bright inside his palm.

    “Are you alright?” Dorian asks, rushing forward.

    “I’m…not sure. It’s stopped at least.” He flexes it subconsciously and knows Dorian’s eyes are on him.

    More spirits appear, and they are immediately hostile; Basil would not fight them if he didn’t have to. His only consolation is that they’re spirits, or at least, projections of once living beings. He’s not actually killing ancient elves.

    They’re able to cross the bridge and enter the Qunari sanctuary. The entrance to the stronghold is fortified: Qunari rush out to them, armed and unwilling to talk like everything else in this place. Basil had hoped that, when they were found fighting the same Elvhen spirits, there would be less killing. Maybe even negotiations, and a joint search to solve the mystery of the Qunari bodies. By the end of it Basil is drained, drenched in gore, and ready for a warm bowl of broth and slice of bread and cheese.

    He sits by the final Eluvian, his hand rubbing the back of his neck as he reads the Qunari orders. A dark shadow hangs over his face.

    “Two parties, then. The Qunari, and the mystery agent determined to stop them.”

    His heart has not calmed since the fighting stopped. It hammers against his ribs and his breath comes out in tight, restrained ribbons. Fen’Harel, a God of Misfortune, is actually an ordinary elf, a being seen as a beacon of hope and salvation. Freeing slaves from the Evanuris. Vallaslin, the mark of a slave. Dorian pats him on the back, and the hearty touch drags him back to the present.

    “Alright?” Dorian asks quietly, inviting a response low enough so the other two might not hear.

    Basil’s mind wanders to his hand, its pulsing, bone-deep ache. He thinks about the day he got his Vallaslin and how excited he was to show everyone in his clan.

    “I’m fine. C’mon, we have to warn people about the Qunari’s designs on the Winter Palace.”

    Basil tucks the notes they found in his pockets, just beneath his letters. He leads the three of them through the Eluvian, out into the bright light of the Crossroads.

    When they return to Halamshiral, it’s dusk.

    The only ones left on the grounds are Inquisition soldiers. They startle when they see the intimidating party hulk through the door sweat-soaked and smattered in blood. Basil requests his advisors for immediate council. After a brief rinse in his quarters, he meets with them in a secluded, candle-lit office, and bitter nostalgia hits him. The only thing missing is the War Table.

    Poor Josephine is more stressed than anyone. After the meeting, a tense back and forth where Basil hardly spoke, Basil pulls her aside and apologizes.

    “I understand that what you’re doing is stressful. Leave it to me; I’ll head to the Crossroads tomorrow and end this.”

    Her eyes shine. “Thank you, Inquisitor.” And then she chuckles. “It feels a lot like old times, yes? I only wish you didn’t have to throw yourself into peril once more.”

    “I think I’ll manage. What’s a political council without a few dead bodies?”

    Unfortunately, Josephine doesn’t think this is very funny. He bids her goodnight on a flat note, and heads as quickly as he can to his room.

*

Basil never had time to enjoy the luxury of his suite. There’s a bed and bath with fresh water, which is already plenty. As soon as the door is shut behind him, the lock clicking into place, Basil shuffles to the bathroom and slips into routine.

    The porcelain vanity is enormous and an uncomfortable reminder of the dozens of mirrors he’s fallen into today. But this one does not ripple ominously, or pulse with magic. It only throws his tired, battle worn frown back at him. He watches himself undress, his teal eyes staring blandly back. He’s not paying attention. The red coat falls off his body.

    As he’s unbuttoning the suffocating tunic, his left hand seizes. Pain buckles him against the sink, and he grabs its cool surface, feeling the cold urge to vomit rise up in his throat. It’ll go away, he tells himself. Give it time. Breathe.

    He shakes as he yanks off the tunic. Buttons clatter into the sink and across the tile. His bare chest heaves, and he catches glimpses of himself in the mirror. The Anchor churns violently. With each pulse of energy, green reverberates up the veins of his arm. It reaches all the way to his shoulder. Basil clutches his arm and squeezes, gritting his teeth hard enough to forget the agony throbbing in his neck.

    There’s a knock on the door. Basil’s eyes shoot up, and he sees his gaunt, petrified face before scrambling to pull his tunic back on.

    He flinches hard when stretching his hand through the sleeve. The knock comes again. “I’ll be right there!”

    Basil gives himself a moment to catch his breath. The pain has quieted, but the Anchor’s light still froths and seethes. He grabs what he can from the suite’s complimentary basket of sanitary supplies and wraps the hand tightly in a bandage.

    When Basil opens the door, he’s braced with a smile. His smile falls as Dorian is revealed before him.

    “Well aren’t you just chipper to see me.”    

    Basil rakes his right hand through his hair. “I…Sorry, I should have expected you, but I haven’t tidied up or prepared or anything.”

    “Nonsense.” Dorian pushes past Basil and stands at the center of the room, peering around with his judgmental eye. “Hm. I knew they’d give you the finest, but I didn’t think that’d entail a suite fitting the Queen herself.”

    Basil shuts the door and breathes. It’s only Dorian. He keeps his left arm twisted behind his back. “I haven’t had any time to enjoy it.”

    “That’s what I’m here for.” Dorian smiles, and Basil feels warmth return to his veins. “Now let’s bring some light to this gloomy golden dungeon.”

    Basil is too tired to help him. As Dorian flits about the room, lighting every candle with the tip of his finger, Basil carefully removes his boots and lies face down on the bed. The quilt is scratchy. He’s nearly asleep in seconds.

    “You know, I didn’t come here for you to sleep on our first night together.”

    Basil flinches, and with enormous willpower opens his eyes. Dorian is watching him from the reflection of the vanity. Basil hadn’t even noticed when he changed out of his formal robes. He’s fidgeting with one of the buttons that popped from Basil’s tunic.

    Basil looks away. “Sorry.”

    His eyes soften. “You’re so tense.”

    He feels Dorian’s searching gaze, but doesn’t have the energy to move or respond further. Two years of coming back to an empty room– he doesn’t need to tell Dorian how strange it feels.

    “I thought…you’d like some time alone. To talk. But if you are too tired-”

    “No,” says Basil. He forces himself to sit up, but only manages to lie on his side. Basil moves his hand, his right one, and sweeps it over the empty side of the bed. He smiles.

    The light in Dorian’s eyes shifts. He turns away from the mirror to face Basil and steps forward. The soft glow of the candles kisses his dark skin, the sharp slant of his cheekbones and sculpted nose. He isn’t just attractive– he’s devastating. The bed dips with his weight as he leans over Basil and eases on his side.

    They gaze at each other. The candles are melting, and as the light drains from the room, Basil’s eyes begin to droop.

    Dorian’s hand slides into his curls. He struggles to speak. “I…”

    Basil comes forward and kisses him.

    Dorian’s kisses have never had the restrained bite of his sarcastic quips. His body always betrays him. This kiss is a homecoming, sweet, longing and honest. His fingers are gentle on Basil’s jaw. Basil allows himself to miss Dorian, to let the sorrow of their long separation crush him. He takes slow, hungry gulps of Dorian’s mouth, their bodies pressing together, trembling where he tries to clutch Dorian’s robes and push them aside.

    “I can’t believe it’s been so long,” Dorian breathes, running his heated palms down newly exposed skin.

    “Around two years.” His voice is cracked. He’s counted nearly every day.

    “Too long, Amatus. Did you miss me?”

    Basil manages a smirk. “Oh, a little bit.”

    “’A little bit,’ he says. I’ll show you a little bit. Just you wait.”

    Dorian kisses him onto his back. Basil’s legs spread of their own accord, and he’s breathless, writhing with the need to be closer. Their bare skin unravels him, near-drunk with how much he’s missed this, his rising passion kindling uncontrollably with every hard stroke between his legs.

    “I missed you,” he says through heavy gasps. His throat is tight, eyes stinging. He closes them. “I missed you, I missed you…”

    “You’re ruined for me, aren’t you,” Dorian murmurs against his ear, his lips grazing down his neck. “You love me.”

    “I love you.” Basil says it like it’ll tear him apart if he doesn’t. “I love you. Please, Dorian. Please.”

    Dorian smiles. “You always know what to say.”

    The strain that’d held between them all day, that tense, strange unfamiliarity, shatters into millions of painful shards that catch in his throat each time he inhales. He can’t stop the flow of tears when they come. Basil pushes aside everything that’s happened, the Qunari, Fen’harel, and stows them away to deal with tomorrow. His arms are a vice around Dorian’s neck and his legs hug his hips.

    It’s fast the first time, as if, now finally together, they can only hurdle towards the end. Basil finishes with his thighs over Dorian’s shoulders and two fingers beckoning inside him. The next, Dorian indulges himself inside Basil’s body, who can only lie the mess of his own pleasured exhaustion. The candle’s flame has gone out, and Basil smells the wisps of smoke, mixing with the scent of slick on his thighs and Dorian’s skin, shining in the darkness.

    He’s too tired to speak afterwards. Dorian cradles his head against his chest, their legs hopelessly tangled. Inside his chest, Basil’s heart beats lethargically, on the edge of sleep.

    “I love you too,” Dorian says. Basil curls closer. “I love you, Amatus. Basil.”

    He hears the broken anguish in Dorian’s voice, and his heart moves. Basil lifts onto his elbows and takes Dorian’s face between his palms.          

    “We have each other now.”

    Dorian’s eyes glisten. “But, afterwards…I have to-”

    “Now. Now, we are together.”

    He kisses his lips hard, intimate. Dorian is soothed, whimpering before relaxing against the sheets. Sleep comes like the dawn, a slow, cold premonition.

*

3rd Day of the Exalted Council, 7th Solace 9:44

   

    On my first day of arrival at Halamshiral, nothing out of the ordinary occurred; I visited with old friends, reacquainted myself with the Winter Palace, and dined with members of the council. There was no suspicious activity. Upon the second day, which began the Exalted Council, a Qunari body was found in full armor inside the reading room across Viraund’s tinctures. My team and I followed the Qunari’s blood trail, which inevitably led to a full-scale attack. No negotiations were exchanged, and it was clear to me that these Qunari were prepared to attack the Inquisition on sight. In addition to the Qunari threat, I discovered a second hostile party in opposition to both the Qun and the Inquisition; however it is likely that this second party, which includes powerful mages and followers of Fen’Harel, is not necessarily at odds with the Inquisition but hostile only to intruders. Regardless, we fought both guardian spirits and Qunari. Inside the Qun’s stronghold I found orders written in both Qunlat and common tongue about stationing men for infiltration, and a map through the Crossroads to more Eluvians. That is where I traveled this morning with my team, and pursued the Qunari into the Deep Roads.

There, we met a man called Jarren (human, deceased) who explained the plans of the Viddasala named ‘Dragon’s Breath’. The Viddasala, leader of the Ben-Hassrath, had been excavating lyrium mines to fuel their Saarebas, or Qunari mages, in order to ‘save the south.’ As Jarren said this could only mean an invasion. They learned to mine the lyrium with gaatlock explosives, which we used to detonate their processing center and flood them out of the Deep Roads. It is still unclear why there were Eluvians in an old dwarven mining center, but there was evidence of trouble with Fen’Harel’s agents there as well. It is the Qunari’s assumption that we are allied with these agents, but it is evident that it’s not the sole reason they’re attacking us.

Upon returning to the Winter Palace during the late afternoon, I was informed of the scuffle between my guard and the Orlesian servant. The intension of the servant was to bring barrels of wine into the hall of the palace, inevitably full of powerful Ambassadors across Thedas. But these barrels were filled with gaatlock powder, explosives meant to exterminate as many southern leaders as possible, as swift and clean as ‘dragon’s breath’, leaving the south vulnerable to attack. By the barrels we found another note in Qunlat, directions through the Eluvians, which presumably will lead to more Qunari outposts. Tomorrow at dawn I will be heading there myself and attempt to put an end to this Dragon’s Breath rubbish.

This is all that I am informed of currently. My stance on my guard’s actions is firm; I do not believe her to be guilty, but will happily pay the cost to release her from custody. As of now, I hope you can all understand why I am unable to be present for the Council, and offer my sincerest apologies. Once these plots and conspiracies are taken care of I will return with my final decision and dismiss the Exalted Council.

Also, I request that my bed be replaced with a wyvern down one. It’s urgent.

Signed,

    Inquisitor Basil Lavellan, Herald of Andraste

*

“That last touch was a bit much, don’t you think?” Dorian says, following Basil down the rocky slopes towards the next Eluvian. The three of them all stick very close to Basil, especially with the rocks that like to magically vanish once they step off them. “You don’t even believe you’re the Herald.” He pauses. “Do you think you’ll really get the bed?”

    “Anything that’ll solidify my credibility,” says Basil. “It’s bad enough that I’m not there for the negotiations. That I am not present for my own guard’s trial looks very poorly on me and my respect for my men.” He looks back at Dorian. “And yes, about the bed. Probably.”

    “Nobody actually thinks that, Fireball,” Varric says, gripping Bianca close to his chest. “At least not anyone important. We know the shit you have to deal with on a daily basis. They don’t, so their opinions don’t really matter.”

    “Their opinions are the ones that will decide the fate of the Inquisition, so I think they do matter,” adds Cassandra, as thin lipped as ever. They had all read Basil’s report before it was whisked off to the assembly to be read aloud in his absence.

    Basil heaves a great sigh and climbs up the final curve of the staircase. They come upon bookshelves like play sets taken from a life sized toy library, an Eluvian, and more Qunari orders.

    “An Eluvian marked by a bookshelf. This should be it.”

    “Let us get answers from this Viddasala,” says Cassandra.

    Basil nods, and pushes his hand through the mirror. The glass ripples and swells around him like limpid water, until it swallows him entirely, his lungs compressed for several unbearable seconds before the breath returns to his chest like rushing blood.

    Light pours into his eyes, and his surroundings come alive in the glare. Basil takes a sharp breath.

    The bookshelves from before were only a small portion, a cut from the whole; this library is ripped from a dream where trees can walk and clouds are vessels. His teammates gasp breathlessly, and beside him, Dorian is paralyzed by awe.

    “Is this some sort of old, Elvhen library?” Basil says.

    “It saw a massive magical backlash sometime ago.”

    Basil glances at Dorian and then back at the enormous library, which seems to stretch on infinitely in every imaginable, whimsical direction. “Let’s hope we can find the Viddasala in all this.”

    Despite their press for time, they all take a moment to themselves and snatch up a book. Basil sits atop the table, unfolding the paper that translates its words not through sight, but directly into his inner thoughts like a daydream or idle cogitation.

    They waste a good half hour meandering through the shelves. It’s easy to search the books– most do not have words, and those that do are near incomprehensible, scattering off the page as meek mice would or dripping off like wet ink. The ones with any information are conveyed through flashes of feeling rather than text: warm summer skies, towering castles– serenity and calm, fear and power, apprehension, loathing, and passion. Basil sets the tomes down, wary of their powerful, overwhelming images. Taking Dorian away from them is a much more difficult task.

    “Think of what we could discover here, the history once thought to be lost!”

    “I understand Dorian, but we have to follow the Qunari,” he says, easing his distressed lover away from his latest find. The book’s images vanish once separated from Dorian’s fingers.

    Passing through each Eluvian is taxing, the anticipation of what could be on the other side as exhaustive as his Anchor. He is constantly flexing it– wisps of pain that shoot up his arm and make his shoulder twinge. He rolls it and pops his neck. His teammates seem to buy it as a sore muscle, which he is glad for. But when they come across another tree-like Elvhen artifact, crackling with electric light and magic, his hand surges with sharp agony and he cannot restrain his cry.

    Dorian is quick to say something. “Did you notice? Your Anchor is flaring up near magic. Elven magic.”

    His blood pulses heavily in his palm, weighing it down, as if someone has wound a rope so tightly around his wrist that the blood has been cut off. “What does that mean?”

    “I’m not sure. Tell us if it gets worse.”

    Basil already knows he won’t. He’s only lucky that Dorian has not seen his mark yet, fully revealed in the light. But that is because Basil has been careful not to. The night before, after trudging back to the palace soaking wet from the Deep Roads, he’d waited for Dorian to fall asleep so he could wrap the Anchor in a secure bandage. When he woke he changed it again, before Dorian could see the blood oozing from the skin the Anchor had split open during the night. Seeing Dorian’s face so stricken with worry reaffirms his decision to keep it secret.

    Unfortunately it happens again, and this time the pain makes him stagger. Basil watches his hand as it cracks and sparks like the artifact, shaking it wildly as if to shuck off the magic inside.

    “Inquisitor we must look at your hand.” Cassandra’s voice strains as she and Varric gather at his side to stare.

    “The pain stopped,” Basil lies.

    “It keeps coming back,” says Varric.

    Dorian has taken on the stance of a stern, disappointed parent. His eyes say ‘Later’ and Basil is already anticipating the conversation and how he will dodge it. He gives him a small, guilt-ridden grin, and proceeds.

    They fix the pathways, somehow. It’s become ordinary to expect the unordinary, and Basil doesn’t think much on the devices that shift stone through air, the floating, upside down islands, or the paintings on the wall that seem to dance like candlelit shadows as soon as he turns away. The spirits are what frighten him. He can almost hear the voices of the ancient elves, their stunned betrayal, the screams of his ancestors as they fell to their deaths. Every time they speak another piece of the foundation Basil has stood on all his life crumbles. His hand, once negligible, is now a constant and prominent ache.

    Dorian is the only one that seems ecstatic about this. His eyes are bright and his hands wondrous as he dips them into the Eluvians. He is the most disappointed of them all when he explains the unlikeliness of bringing any books back.

    “Do you realize what this means? What this place is?” Dorian says, a near whisper. “The actual history of the elves could change everything.”

    Basil grows very quiet.

    With the pathway repaired, they travel through the final Eluvian. His reflection is compressed then inverted, a rippling pool of glass and light. To their credit they do not stumble as they emerge on the other side into the waiting arena of Qunari warriors. The courtyard is filled with the hulking giants, weapons brandished and teeth bared. Basil throws his arm before Cassandra, who is preparing to unsheathe her sword. At the top of the raised platform, a woman speaks, and her powerful voice carries effortlessly.

    “Survivor of the Breach. Herald of change.”

    A qunari woman steps forward. Basil’s eyes narrow.

    “Hero of the south.”

    “The Viddasala, I presume,” he says calmly.

    “After fulfilling your purpose at the Breach, it is astonishing to hear you still walked free among your people. Your duty is done, Inquisitor. It is time to end your magic.”

    “The Anchor repairs tears in the Veil. I would think you’d approve of that.”

    “Is that all it does? Tell me, why hold your hand as if it’s begun to pain you?”

    His hand forms a fist, and he feels his companions shift behind him. In turn the qunari react, and shift their weapons in hand. The Viddasala has the cool detached air of authority, and acute control of her men. Basil knows they will not act unless directly ordered.

    “I am no stranger to catastrophe,” she continues, “but this chaos in the south defies comprehension. The Qun left your people to curb your own magic. You’ve amply proven we should have stepped in long ago.”

    Basil’s words bite without need of any inflection. “Is that what Dragon’s Breath is for? Murdering our heads of state just to control our magic?”

    “Do you believe closing the Breach solved everything, that its consequences stopped there?” The qunari are moving, and Basil recognizes a formation. “The day we saw the Breach, the Qun decided its action. We would remove your leaders and spare those who toil. This agent of Fen’Harel has disrupted everything. Lives that were to be spared, lost for him.”

    “Who is this agent? Why would you think they work for the Inquisition?”

    But she’s leaving, dismissing them without a backward glance.

    “Kill the Inquisitor, then follow me to the Darvaarad.”

    Darvaarad. Darvaarad. Basil repeats the word a hundred times in his head before he rams his sword into the nearest Qunari’s torso. With his boot he kicks the body away and dislodges the sword as blood and flesh make a satisfying splash into the water. Cassandra is at his side, and they’re back to back, wiping the battlefield clean of competition as Dorian and Varric fight at a safer distance. Basil had been hoping for a challenge, a battle of pure wild strength, to immerse himself in the clash of steal and breathless lungs and sore muscles. But they pose no difficulty, and by the end of it he’s hardly exerted himself. Varric is panting a bit, and Dorian is bouncing between them checking for injuries, but they’re all unscathed.

    Basil rummages through the Saarebas’ mangled body and finds a keystone. His hand comes away with blood. He wipes it on the Qunari’s armor carelessly with a lingering touch of venom.

    “Basil,” Dorian says, approaching him cautiously. Basil’s heart has not slowed since the battle even though he barely put forth effort. His hand is flaring again, probably because of how much lyrium the Saarebas had been pumped with. He doesn’t know or care. “Basil, your…”

    He whips around. “What?”

    Dorian steps back, and Basil frowns. There’s fear in the subtle lines of Dorian’s face, expertly hidden behind a practiced, handsome mask. But Basil catches it.

    “What? Dorian, what is it?” He hadn’t realized how harsh his voice was. He’s still craving a fight, a desire to use his muscles until they’re cold and trembling.

    “Nothing.”

    It isn’t nothing, it’s never nothing with Dorian– but Basil hasn’t the energy to press it now. He turns away, and heads for the spirit guarding the exit. They’ll talk later.

    Later, he thinks to himself, and snorts. Very soon he’s going to hate the word.

*

The sun is setting over the hills when they return. Events happen in fragments, memories, much like the books he read in the Vir Dirthaara. Basil floats, aimless, as his armor and sword are swept off for cleaning and he’s shoved towards his room for a shower. He’s barely rinsed off the blood in his hair before he’s informed that his advisors are ready for him. Spruced and tailored, exhausted and admittedly very hungry, he meets the three in that dark cellar, already arguing before he’s stepped into the room.

    Thankfully they fall quiet when the door clangs shut behind him. They take in his haggard appearance but say nothing.

    Without even saying hello, Basil gives a quick run down of his day. He realizes he misses several details, things about Dread Wolf statues and floating library books, and goes back to explain, creating a looping, disjointed recount of what happened that probably makes a lot less sense than he hopes. It’s nonsensical, impossible, and as Basil is saying the words ‘Inverted Library Island of Upside-down Qunari’ he realizes that it sounds fantastical. But none of them blink twice. Josephine is scribbling everything down so quickly Basil thinks her quill is smoking, and Cullen paces in the dark. Leliana stares at him coolly, a weathered statue of steel.

    By the end of it, Basil feels empty. He thinks of his bed, soft linens and wyvern down, and the warm body that he hasn’t felt pressed against his for too long. Imagining it is enough to fall asleep standing.

    “The elven servant handling the barrels confessed to working for the Qunari,” says Leliana.

    “But the servant was Orlesian. That implicates Orlais, not us,” says Josephine.

    “But the barrels arrived at the Winter Palace on the Inquisition’s supply manifest.”

    Cullen sighs heavily. “How are we supposed to fight a war when we can’t even trust our own people?”

    Basil asks his part, but half his mind is elsewhere. “Do you know who got the barrels onto the Inquisition manifest?”

    Leliana nods solemnly. “Yes. Several of the Inquisition’s elven workers have gone missing. I had their backgrounds checked. They joined the Inquisition after fleeing the chaos in Kirkwall.”

    Cullen has his hand flexed over his sword belt. “I remember when Kirkwall was at its worst. Many of the city’s elves converted to the Qun, trying to find a better life.”

    “And the Qunari turned them into spies,” Josephine says, plaintive and hurt.

    “The Inquisition stopped Corypheus and saved the world. We can’t let an outside threat change who we are.”

    It’s like they can’t even hear him. Josephine’s voice breaks and her eyes water, the stress of the last couple days cracking her down. Basil’s frustration runs cold, and he means to apologize, or something, but she starts to speak with heated fervor.

    “I fought to protect the Inquisition in this Exalted Council. And for what? So we could deceive and threaten those we claim to protect?”

    Cullen interjects. “Once we locate the spies–”

    “This isn’t about the spies! You hid the Qunari body, you’ve all but seized control of the Winter Palace! Do you know what this has cost us with Orlais and Ferelden? They are planning to dismantle us as we speak!” Her eyes fall, and she retreats into herself. “And perhaps they are right.”

    Cullen is prepping for a fight, and Basil can see in their eyes, Leliana’s cool, biting counter in sweeping defense of her friend, Josephine fierce retort, and the bickering that will follow. Basil steps forward and readies to raise his voice–

    “Argh!”

    He’s blinded– white strikes his vision and he’s breathless, his lungs crushed against the bones in his chest as he gasps around the agony that shoots up his arm to his jaw. He tilts, stumbling, grasping his palm as if to staunch the pain slicing his tendons. The Anchor hisses and cracks like an enraged, vengeful storm. The cry that rips from his throat is unrecognizable.

    When he returns to himself, his vision having gone black for several moments, his advisors are surrounding him, frowning, delicate concern in their eyes that says they are worried but know better than to ask.

    He hates it. He hates how they look at him like a condemned rabbit; pity, sorrow, regret. He hates how fragile he appears, how his life is slipping from his fingers and tumbling out of his control. Nothing is his own anymore– not his beliefs, not his lover, not his life. It’s vanishing as quickly as the time he has left, and he’s angry.

    Basil’s voice is pure, crackling fury, and sparks and hisses like the mark in his palm.

    “Shit, dammit! We save Ferelden, and they’re angry. We save Orlais, and they’re angry. We close the Breach twice, and my own hand wants to kill me! Could one thing in this fucking world just stay fixed?!”

    He’s heaving, legs shaking with residual tension. He wants to punch something, throw a book or a chair or a desk, anything, but instead he grabs his arm and squeezes like it’ll fall off if he clenches hard enough. He sucks in a cool breath and tries to control the quaver in his voice.

    “I need to get to the Darvaarad. You all can fight amongst yourselves once I’m…” And he looks up at them, at each bewildered face, and realizes that this might be it, his final goodbye, and he expended all of his hurt and anger onto the three people who least deserved it. He swallows his apology and hopes his softening voice is enough. “Once I’m back.”

    Leliana speaks first, reluctantly. “Thank you, Inquisitor.”

    “Would you…would you like us to inform the Exalted Council of the danger?” says Josephine, visibly stunned by his vulgar language. Basil realizes he’s never cursed in front of them and restrains the inappropriate urge to laugh.

    “Yes,” he says. “If we fail, the Exalted Council needs to know what happened.”

*

‘Maker watch over you.’

    It’s not until he’s left the meeting room that he buckles down and laughs. Uncontrollably loud, gasping, clutching his stomach like he’s going to be sick, Basil laughs until there are tears forming in his eyes. His hand hurts so much he might vomit. A guard comes to ask if everything’s alright, and he nods and waves them off.

    Leliana’s last comment was too hilarious to bear. Maybe he should put more faith in the Maker. At this point, He seems more reliable.

    The chefs graciously open the kitchen for his late meal. He eats whatever’s shoved at him without tasting it. Urgency is a cold rush in his blood. Another full night of battle is ahead. He imagines Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana waking each of his teammates and dragging them out of bed to fight right after a whole day of fighting. The Qunari may be one step ahead too many, but that won’t stop them from complaining. As he waits for them, Basil goes for a stroll around the grounds to shake off his exhaustion.

    The stars are glinting behind the explosion of fireworks as colors rain from the sky. People clap and cheer, the sound muted coming from the other side of the palace. Basil breathes in. The air he breathes out is vaporous and heavy. He gravitates to the water fountain, and finds himself in the little lounge where Dorian had played chess with unlucky passerby for the past two days.

    As his fingers touch the soft sofa, he remembers the Deep Roads.

    “Cold stone, dark tunnels, and surrounded by extremely hostile Qunari. Not the place I’d have chosen for a romantic homecoming, Amatus.”

    Basil had gazed over the abysmal stone cliff. “I’m just happy you’re back. It was hard being on my own again for so long.”

    “Well, yes, being deprived of me for so long would test anyone.”

    Basil had put in for the wyvern down bed before heading to the Vir Dirthaara. They’ve yet to try it.

    As he’s turning to leave, a glint catches his eye. At first he thinks it’s the moon on the water, and he stands for several moments staring into the fountain. The glint stabilizes into something round. Basil rolls up his sleeve and dips his hand in.

    At first, he thinks the ring is a simple silver band. But it shifts in the shining light of the stars, and as water slowly drips off its surface, the silver morphs and slithers around his index finger like a snake. The tail hugs him warmly. Two gems made of diamond glitter in the snake’s eyes.

    Basil knows this wasn’t here before. He combed the palace thoroughly last two days, inside and out, and especially in this area where Dorian liked to linger. Nothing had been here. He pulls the ring off and watches as it slinks back into an unassuming silver band, undoubtedly Tevinter in style. He’s cold, and yet so warm he might melt through the ground.

    “Inquisitor?”

    Basil whips around and looks up. He hides the ring behind his back.

    “Yes?”

    His team waits for him on the second floor. Cassandra leans over the railing and waves. Dorian and Varric are beside her; she seems to be the only one with any energy.

    “We haven’t a moment to spare. The Qunari already have a strong lead.”

    “Yes.” Basil steadies his voice and tightens his grip around the ring. Dorian meets his gaze. “I’ll…I’ll be right there.”

    Basil joins up with them a moment later. His friends are quiet and say little other than pulled smiles as he changes into his armor. The ring is left in his formal wear. He wishes he could wear it, he wants to, it’s his and he knows it– but Dorian had tossed it into the fountain for a reason. Basil wasn’t meant to know.

    He remembers his conversation with Cassandra. For all of five minutes, he was able to imagine something impossible, an image of white robes and aisles of seats filled with his friends, of two men before an altar so in love they couldn’t tear their eyes apart.

    He knows why Dorian threw it away. The veins in his left arm throb, and he feels an old scar from when he was little rip open. They won’t have a future. Not together, or not at all.

    The Eluvian shines, and they melt inside. Out in the colorful burst of the Crossroads it feels like daylight, and it saps some of the exhaustion from their bodies. Basil holds the key to the Darvaarad in his aching palm. He says nothing. The mirror activates. Cassandra and Varric lag in the back, waiting. They’re acting strange. At first Basil thinks it’s the fatigue, but their wary and refrained posture says different. Dorian is behind him, holding his arms around his chest.

    Basil cannot face him when he starts to speak.

    “Leliana told us about your little pyrotechnic display during your last chat.”

    They know. Pain twinges in his palm. Whether it’s from being near the Eluvian or stress, he can’t tell, but it’s heavy with the weight of Dorian’s stare.

    “Why didn’t you say something? I could have… I don’t know, something!”

    Dorian, in full view of the others, is nearly in tears; he breathes shallowly and burns with tension. Basil can’t disregard this anymore.

    He turns, takes two deliberate steps and reaches, his hand coming up to hold the curve of Dorian’s flushed cheek. Dorian averts his gaze but leans into his touch.

    Basil looks from the mirror, warped with energy ready to devour them, and Dorian, lip quivering, ruined because Basil had been too closed off about his hand. He should have told him. He should have savored the time that they had here. He should have asked him to stay, long ago, been selfish and kept Dorian for himself all of two years; two years that were gone and could never be recovered because he is dying, and he knows it.

    “I’m sorry.” He’s a whisper only for Dorian’s ears. “All of this is my fault. I shouldn’t have brushed this off. I should have faced it. But I couldn’t knowing that…not knowing what would happen and putting you through this again.” He closes his eyes, and reopens them to see Dorian holding his breath. “Just. Just know that, whatever happens…” Basil caresses Dorian’s cheek, battling to keep his voice steady, “I wouldn’t trade the years we’ve had together for anything. I love you.”

    Tears fall from Dorian’s eyes. All the anger, exhaustion, and frustration from the past several days melts away and Basil is a trembling, vulnerable disaster. He almost falls, but Dorian has him in his arms and clings like he’ll never let go.

    “I knew you would break my heart you bloody bastard.”

    They come together simultaneously. The kiss is at first soft, light as if fearful of each other– but it changes, and becomes rough, ravaging, ruining Basil’s last barrier until he is clawing for Dorian. Tears burn down his skin and fall into their meeting lips. He aches for this, was made for this, and he realizes with a start that he meant what he said. Basil wouldn’t change anything. He would lose his clan, he would receive the mark, he would fall into the Fade if it meant having Dorian at his side.

    He calls on a tremendous amount of strength to pull apart from Dorian. The few inches between them are a physical ache, hurting more than the energy pulsating in his palm. He wipes his face spitefully.

    Dorian is the one to lace their fingers together. He smiles at Basil, and though it’s weak and reveals the burden of his thoughts, Basil is healed by it, and his courage returns.

    “Uh, you know, I get that this is an emotional moment, but we really need to catch up to the Qunari.”

    They both startle and turn to face their waiting companions. Varric and Cassandra had been patiently lingering by the stairs but had just rejoined them. Basil flushes hard. He hadn’t realized how much time he and Dorian had spent…talking.

    Dorian’s grip tightens. “Varric, you are one word away from being incinerated into a smaller than average pile of ash.”  

    Varric throws his hands in the air. “Calm your mustache, Sparkler. I was only–”

    “No, you weren’t.”

    “Dorian–”

    Basil brings his hand to his cheek; it’s hot, seeping through the leather. Dorian’s eyes say he’s had enough, that he can’t take any of this anymore. But Basil grabs his attention and mouths the word.

    Later.

    Dorian seems appeased by it. The moment his strange burst of anger fades, the whole group relaxes. Basil reknits their hands and gives him a telling smile, before stepping into the Eluvian. He prays to every God that he knows, every damned deity whether false or not, that they will have a later.
Trespasser

Dorian slams his fist against the glass. It ripples and rumbles like thunder.

    “Blessed are they who stand before the corrupt and the wicked and do not falter. Blessed are the peacekeepers, the champions of the just.”

    He pounds his fists over and over, waiting for it to shatter. Beside him Cassandra’s prayers are a slow trickle of fire down his spine.

    “Blessed are the righteous, the lights in the shadow. In their blood the Maker's will is written.”

    “Seeker I know you’re as upset as the rest of us but you need to stop it with that Chant. It’s driving me nuts– like that banging coming from Sparkler’s– Dorian, would you stop beating on the glass or it’s going to break and Fireball really will get stuck on the other side!”

    Dorian slides to his knees. His forehead leans on the warm glass, fingers clawing at stone. A flash of deranged thought draws him to his staff, crackling with fire and lightning; he could electrocute it, incinerate it. They’re not trying everything.

    Basil is on the other side of the Eluvian, and there’s nothing Dorian can do to help him.

    They’ve been fighting throughout the night and well into the day. The sun dawned unwanted over the Elvhen Ruins, marking the longest any of them have ever endured battle. Dorian’s mouth tastes sharply of copper and the forty health potions he’s downed. He needs another, the stray arm of a demon had broken his rib, but only one is left. Basil will need it when he comes back. Dorian refuses Cassandras’ offer for it again.

    Dragon’s Breath is done; the dragon is freed and the Viddasala’s army is exterminated, but it doesn’t matter. The moment Basil’s body dipped inside the watery surface of the mirror, the Eluvian solidified, and they could no longer see the reflection of the world on the other side. It’d been locked. The glass is flat and reflects Dorian’s own miserable, heartbroken eyes. Whatever is on the other side, Basil must face it alone.

    “He needs us,” Dorian mutters, heaving his heart through the words. “He needs us. And we’re not there for him.”

    “Basil is a strong fighter,” Cassandra says, though she fails to hide her wavering voice. She moves to sit behind Dorian and places a hand on his shoulder. “He will make it through.”

    “But his hand.” He glares at the ground and grits his teeth. “He’s falling apart, he could barely walk without stumbling. Blood was dripping down his fingers and it wasn’t from an injury. H-He was rubbing his jaw–”

    “He will make it.” Her grip hardens. Varric, who has reserved himself to picking at his crossbow, frowns deeply at the charred circle where the Saarebas was defeated. “He will. Absolutely.”

    Dorian remembers Basil’s screams. He remembers the Anchor lifting him into the air, his legs flailing, and the fatal seconds it took for him to stand up. Basil couldn’t keep still while he slept in Dorian’s arms, and green electricity pulsed in his veins and split skin open until it bled. He couldn’t hide the blood on the sheets when they woke behind his smile or the urgent way he slipped out of bed to wrap his arm tight so blood wouldn’t reach his fingers. He couldn’t lie, though he tried. He tried so hard to keep Dorian from worrying, even as poisonous green tinted the soft blue in his eyes.

    Enraged, hot tears spill down his cheeks. He can’t breathe under his cracked rib. “Liar.”

    He speaks directly to the mirror.

    “You promised me. You promised me ‘Later.’

*

(These letters were never sent.)

Dear Basil,

    I saw my father the other day. He apologized to me. I cannot describe how empty it feels, or maybe how sincere. I think he means it. The fact that I can’t tell is probably what’s hurting me so. It’s too little too late. But what I know is that I need you. I would be able to sort these feelings through if you were here. Battling loneliness and this boyish sorrow is unbearable. I miss you. Terribly.

Dorian

Basil,

    I fear for my life. Being a political outcast is as dangerous as I feared. I need you– you were the only one I could trust to watch my back. Believe it or not you’re as strong if not stronger than I. I need you. I miss you.

Dorian

Basil

    I can’t bear this anymore

    You didn’t ask me to stay

I want to go home.

*

The Eluvian shines. Dorian looks up, and they all stumble back as Basil steps through.

    And falls, into Dorian’s open arms.

    He blubbers with joy. Varric shouts victoriously, and behind him Cassandra’s eyes glitter with tears. He cups Basil’s face and kisses and kisses him. Varric and Cassandra crowd around them.

    “Basil, Amatus, I was…I…” Basil is white, and breathes in harsh heaves. Dorian rummages through his robes. “Here, drink this. It’ll be alright.”

    Basil’s lips barely move. The red liquid slides down his chin, but he manages to gulp it down. At once he comes alive and his hand flies to his arm. He grits his face and groans, stooping to bottle his agonized cry. Dorian’s heart pounds, each breath a stab of pain in his rib that he ignores. He has to grab Basil’s jaw and force down every drop of potion as sweat glistens on his forehead and his fingers tremble around the glass.

    “Solas.”

    They stop. Basil writhes in Dorian’s arms, his eyes squeezed tight like he’s speaking through a nightmare.

    “Solas. It was Solas, all along, everything was his fault from the beginning…”

    “Shh, please, let me–”

    Cassandra sucks in a sharp breath. “His arm!”

    Basil doesn’t stop speaking as Dorian’s eyes drop to Basil’s fingers. They’ve turned to stone.

    “Solas is Fen’Harel. They were Solas’ agents, all of this is his doing…”

    No electric green light pulses around his body. His veins are hidden under bloodless, pale skin.

    “Solas gave Corypheus the orb. Solas created the Veil. He’s the reason I have the Anchor, and he…”

    His left arm falls limp. Beneath Dorian’s gaze, Basil’s fingers crumble and turn to dust. Hidden by armor, the dust grows.

    Varric turns away with a frightened choke. Cassandra slaps her hand over her mouth. Basil doesn’t seem to feel it and continues speaking.

    “I’m sorry, Dorian. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

    When he opens his eyes, they’re pure ocean blue and flooding with tears.

    “I promised. I promised and I didn’t…I couldn’t…”

    “No.” Dorian holds his face in his hands. With a deep breath, he hauls Basil into his arms as gently as he can. Basil’s left gauntlet clatters to the ground along with more grit and stone. Dorian keeps his eyes up. “You kept your promise, Basil. We will have a later.”

    Cassandra speaks meekly. “Should I…help with…”

    “I’ll carry him.”

    In all his armor, Dorian can barely lift him. The tremor in his legs rattles up to his stomach and chest, but he pays it no mind. Basil is in his arms and he’s safe. He’ll be alright.

    “You’ll be alright,” he says as he starts running towards the Eluvian at the opposite end of the courtyard. Cassandra and Varric stay close on his tail. Already his chest is stitching, rib pulsing, an unrelenting stab of hot anguish. Dorian chokes down cold spit and blood, the metallic taste of death and terror. “You’ll be alright.”

    Basil is looking at him. Trying to. His misted eyes seek Dorian’s as his cracked and parted lips attempt to move. Dorian suspends his breath despite his lungs crying out for air. “My…” His lips twitch, and the corners slowly lift. “My hero.”

    Dorian begins to laugh. It opens the floodgates, and suddenly he’s weeping openly, unable to stop the laughter between broken chuckles and sobs. Basil closes his eyes and doesn’t stir or speak again.

    As the mirror approaches Dorian sees the reflected image warp and change. He catches glimpses of blue and white, golden spires liquefying into golden lions. He doesn’t question it. Dorian plunges inside and feels the world behind him shatter, and the new reform in blinding, sparkling silver shards of light.

    Afternoon is nearing, and the palace is alive and thriving. Outside the iron gates is the entire Exalted Council waiting for the fifth day of negotiations to begin. But a quiet hushes over them when they see Dorian, covered in blood and carrying the Herald of Andraste, sprint by without a sparing glance. Varric and Cassandra are swarmed and stay behind to explain to an outraged Arl and Orlesian ambassador, and Josephine, Cullen, and Leliana, everything that’s happened in the past several hours.

    Basil stays unconscious all the way to the healing ward. Dorian kicks the door open, and the healers audibly gasp.

    “Please. Help him.”

    He must’ve been a sight. Blood streaks his face, and the limp elf in his arms is missing an appendage. A man and woman rush to take Basil from him. The moment the weight is lifted, Dorian collapses.

    “Come now, dear. You as well.”

    Dorian struggles to stand, but with help, he is lead to a private wing. Speaking is suddenly tremendously difficult and his eyes cannot focus on one thing without drooping or slipping shut for several seconds.

    “No, where’s Basil?”

    “The Herald?” an older woman says. “He is being taken care of.”

    “I want to be with him.” He’s laid onto a cot, and it’s so soft, the pillow so cool that he almost forgets his intentions. It’s been more than a day since he slept. Dorian speaks to the blurs scrambling around his bedside. “Please. It’s been two bloody years since I’ve been with him. I will not let sleep or my own weakness get in the way of being by his side.”

    They don’t listen at first. He can’t relax, and doesn’t comply when they offer a change of sanitary clothes and health potions. His head is trapped halfway between the Fade and the waking world, but he keeps afloat by a thread. It’s not until Dorian is actively wandering around the ward that they allow him into Basil’s wing, along with an extra cot that takes some mathematical maneuvering to get inside the room.

    The cots are pushed together. Dorian disregards his own and climbs into Basil’s, collapsing onto his stomach. He draws on the last reserves of his energy to keep awake long enough to gaze at Basil.

    Basil is deep in sleep. They’ve given him another health potion, in the blurred time between arriving here and persuading the others to let Dorian share his room. But it hasn’t returned the color to his lips, or fixed the dull luster of his hair. He has aged. Barely a man and already showing grayness at his temples, Basil has been tried and pushed too far. It’d not been there five days ago; neither had his dark circles, or the deep line in the corner of his mouth that steals his radiant innocence. In his deepest sleep, Basil is troubled.

    Dorian is not reminded of Basil’s arm. It lies covered underneath the bleached white sheet. When he presses closer, he kisses his cheek, and lies down as close as he can without stirring him. Sleep comes reluctantly, but is blessedly dreamless.

 

*

Dorian wakes before dawn to Basil’s sobbing. It’s been more than twelve hours since he was conscious. He’s in his own cot and wearing clean clothes, and thinks for a moment that they’re at Skyhold and Basil has woken from another nightmare. He goes to comfort him, but the dream shatters when Basil shoves him away.

    “Don’t look, don’t look…”

    Dorian sits up. His exhaustion evaporates. A healer hovers over Basil, helping his left arm over the edge of the bed where he can’t see. Basil covers his eyes with his right hand. Claw marks rake his chest and shoulder.

    “Please, I can’t look, it hurts. It hurts.”

    “Basil,” Dorian says, immediately going to him. Basil accepts his touch this time and withers into his hold. “It’ll be…it will…”

    His words die. Sitting upon the bed, Dorian now sees what the healer is doing. Three assistants help her.

    “He’s experiencing phantom pain,” she says as Dorian blanches. He can’t stomach it, and turns his nose into Basil’s hair. What remains of his limb soaks inside a basin of water. Chunks of stone swirl in the transparent liquid. The healer’s hands glow, and the water shivers around the end of Basil’s damaged skin. “I am healing what is left of the Herald’s severed bone. He is lucky; there is no blood loss, and a prosthesis can easily replace the limb. Movement, however, will require ample bicep and back strength. He will need a decent amount of rehabilitation.”

    She seems unconcerned with why his arm has literally crumbled, and asks no questions about the Anchor. Her confidence is admirable, but Dorian finds her likeable because she makes no comment on how he cradles Basil and dries his tears.

    “Dorian, it hurts. It hurts so much, how can it hurt when it isn’t there…

    “I-I know, it’ll be alright.” He looks to the healer, his eyes pleading for her confirmation. “He’ll be alright.”

    “I’ve done all I can, but yes, he will be fine.” She dabs the sweat off her forehead and hands her assistants the bucket of tainted water. She’s given a roll of cloth, and with a gentle hush takes Basil’s arm and wraps the healed end. Dorian gets a glance at it. The skin is smooth and nearly scar-less, as if it’d naturally grown around the wound. Basil can’t even bear that small touch; his muscles seize and he turns his head into Dorian’s chest to hide his grimace. “Hm. I’ll be back later to check in and administer more salve. Call for me if you need anything else.”

    She gives Dorian a few things: water, ice packets, a basket of soothing creams just in case. They quietly discuss how to use the medicines as he pets Basil’s cheek. He’s settled, mostly. But every soft whimper, every twinge of discomfort and restrained groan, pains him through to his bones. Where he’d cracked his rib stings and flares hot. He’s having trouble breathing, and the healer notices. He eagerly accepts her offer for a potion and drinks it after everyone has gone.

    Empty, the room becomes a dim, bleak tomb. There are no windows, and the lanterns flickering on the walls emit an uncomfortable amount of heat. A vase filled with flowers wilts by the bed in addition to a spare set of robes. Dorian is having trouble keeping his eyes open while watching the lantern’s flame. He’s feeling better and doesn’t want to move now that Basil is calm and likely falling asleep.

    A weak voice murmurs in the dark.

    “I never wanted any of this.”

    He looks down. Basil’s eyes are closed. His warm tears spill onto Dorian’s skin.

    “I only. Wanted to be with you. I never wanted the Anchor, none of this about slaves and Fen’Harel. But I’ve lost. I’ve…” His breath shudders from his chest. “I lost.”

    The last dangling pieces of his fragile heart shatter. Dorian enfolds him in his embrace and rocks him steadily. Basil weeps, trying his hardest to speak and breathe around his sobs.

    “I’ve lost everything. My faith, my family. And now I can n-no longer brandish a sword, or wrap you in my arms, or hold your hand…” His fingers clasp the front of Dorian’s robes. “How will we get through this? It’s gone, and you can’t…no matter what you say this isn’t going to be alright. It’s horrific, and ugly, and I’m–”

    “Stop it,” Dorian says, verging tears. He squeezes Basil hard. “I won’t have you saying these things.”

    “I have no power. No leverage. The Anchor is gone, a-and they will not…no one will have any reason to follow me. I’m just an ordinary elf. And now you’re leaving and the world’s in tatters and I am losing the one thing that can pull me through this–”

    “Stop.”

    He makes Basil look at him. Basil doesn’t stop crying, and staring at him directly as his tears flow over Dorian’s fingers makes him so profoundly upset that he can’t cry. He can do nothing but beg Basil to stop.

    “You are everything to me. You are the breath in my lungs and the blood under my skin. I get out of bed because the thought of you moves me. Basil, listen to me.” He won’t have this. His heart has been broken and remade a thousand times since meeting this little elf. He will not let go now. “I am glad that your arm is gone. The Anchor is what caused all of this, all of your sorrow, every miserable tear that’s fallen from your cheeks. And now it’s gone. I must get used to it, just as you, but I love you every ounce as much as I have before, and as I will in Tevinter. You will not leave me. Not now, and not because of this.”

    His blue eyes shimmer. He’s bitten his lips raw. Dorian tsks him softly, unable to help the few tears that slip out. Basil reaches up and touches them. His hand remains on his cheek, and Dorian holds him there.

    “Marry me.”

    Dorian’s eyes fly open.

    “I…found the ring you tossed in the fountain. It’s beautiful. I-I should have told you, but I thought you’d be embarrassed and take it back.” He traces Dorian’s lips as he speaks. “I wanted it. I wanted to keep it, and imagine that we’d have…we’d have a chance at a normal life together. But now I see that that’s just foolishness.”

    He’s slinking away. Dorian snatches his hand as it’s falling to the bed and pulls Basil back. Warmth pinks his tired face. He smiles, brushing his knuckles under Basil’s fringe.

    “A long time ago, I recall you encouraging us to be foolish.”

    Light slowly returns to his blue eyes. “So that’s a yes?”

    “You insufferable fool. Yes. Of course yes. You’ve been mine for years.” He laughs, and minds Basil’s left side as he hugs him. “Only I was the one meant to propose.”

    Basil chuckles into his chest. “You should’ve done so earlier.”

    “I missed my chance.”

    “And now you have it.”

    With Basil’s worn and cracked grin smiling up at him, Dorian cups his cheeks and kisses his lips. “Marry me.”

    Basil sniffs loudly. “I asked first.”

    “Always the joker.”

    Separating from one another is painful. But he does it to fetch the ring, which Basil says was left in his formal wear back in the armory. Outside the room he speaks with one of the assistants, who insists he’d rather get the ring himself than have Dorian leave the hospital. As the assistant goes to get it, a hundred arguing voices barge through the opened door.

    “You!”

    He looks around. “Me?”

    The Arl of Redcliffe storms into the clinic followed by a crowd of disgruntled ambassadors. A vein pulses in Dorian’s temple.

    “Where is the Herald? We have waited all morning for him to show.”

    He bows graciously to the Arl. “I’m afraid he’s unavailable. He’s lost a limb, terribly inconvenient I know, but he needs his rest.”

    “Y-Yes.” The man clears his throat. Some whisper among each other. Dorian realizes that they knew, Cassandra and Varric already told them what happened; they’re only here to be nosy. “I am aware. Is he well enough to receive an audience? I don’t care if he’s bedridden. He needs to give us his decision.”

    “Absolutely not,” Dorian smiles. Healers who overheard the commotion start to pop up behind him. “Now if you don’t mind, I need to catch up on my beauty sleep. Who knew saving Thedas could be so taxing to the pores.”

    “Wait here just a moment–”

    Dorian gets a glimpse of his reddening face as he turns heel. The healers usher everyone out and slam the doors shut. The echoing silence brings a smirk to his lips.

    Before he enters Basil’s wing, he’s caught by the shoulder. The assistant opens his hand, revealing the silver band that Dorian had thrown away. He takes it with a sad, thankful smile, and reenters the dark room.

    Everything falls away when he sees Basil’s sleeping face. Not as disturbed, but still tense, his eyes flicker and lips purse in his dreams. Dorian carefully climbs into the bed. As he slips the ring onto Basil’s finger, he stirs. Basil’s dazed eyes watch the snake coil until it’s a snug fit, and its diamond eyes wink at them. Dorian kisses his fiancé’s hand, and then lies by his side while they admire it together.

    He explains that the diamonds are traditional in Tevinter. What’s more traditional is passing the stones on from the mother’s wedding ring, but Dorian didn’t want to take her last token from his father. So he bought new ones, and decided that they’d start their own line to pass on. The talk is distracting Basil, who pales every time he moves or shifts his shoulder. The sheen of sweat gleaming on his skin sticks his hair to his forehead. Dorian occasionally pushes it out of the way and drones on. The sound of his own voice is putting him to sleep.

    “I hope you can show me some of your own elven traditions,” Dorian says. His thumb smoothes over Basil’s knuckles, and he remembers lying awake for hours in Skyhold, talking in whispers until their eyes couldn’t stay open. He’s drifted off several times, as has Basil.

    “After the Council,” Basil mumbles. “I’ll have to end it. Soon.”

    “But you aren’t nearly ready. There must be a way to postpone it, even for a few months.”

    “No.” Basil desperately needs sleep. His voice has dropped several octaves. “I’ll end it tomorrow. Let’s be done with this nightmare and…” He squeezes Dorian’s hand. “And go home.”

    Home, meaning Skyhold. Dorian has been longing to return there, to his home, for two years. But he can’t anymore. Tevinter will be his home, and though he’s called it home longer than Skyhold, it doesn’t feel right anymore.

    “You are my home, Amatus.”

    Basil gazes at him. Glassy-eyed and tired, so tired, he nuzzles Dorian’s nose and asks to sleep. They do their best with their draping limbs and aching bodies, but sleep comes, and afternoon slowly turns to evening.

    After their nap and a hearty meal, Dorian is fully recovered from two days of nonstop battle. Though he stays by Basil’s side as the night progresses (he regrets sleeping so much, almost twenty four hours), he walks around the ward to stretch his legs and finds Varric and Cassandra. Healed and lounging in the recreational room, they’re happy to see that Dorian is well and ask about Basil. Apparently they’ve been denied entry to visit, so Dorian welcomes them in. Basil is elated to see them. The healer is there changing his bandages. They don’t bring it up.

    “I don’t remember much of today or yesterday. I’ve been sleeping for most of it,” says Basil, who eagerly eats through a small pre-cut steak and bowl of potatoes. It’s the first meal he’s had for more than a day.

    “Nothing has happened with the Council,” says Cassandra. She wears the same luxurious sanitary blue robes that Basil, Dorian, and Varric wear. “I have heard shouting from outside the ward however. Tensions are rising. These politicians, they have no patience.” She makes a disgusted noise, and Basil smiles tiredly at her. “Either way they refuse to proceed without you.”

    “Egotistic pricks,” Varric huffs. “They’re all just bored sitting around eating their roasted duck or whatever while the four of us get no sleep. They’d love to see us all collapse in the middle of negotiations.”

    Dorian, who has remained quiet for most of the conversation, speaks up. “Please convince this dolt to stay in bed another day. He needs rest.”

    Cassandra’s brows shoot up. “What?”

    “No, Fireball. You can’t be serious.”

    Basil throws a glare Dorian’s way, which Dorian shrugs helplessly at. “I’m alright.”

    All of them scoff in unison. Basil flushes, but continues.

    “I’ve slept nearly all day, and will have another evening to rest. Tomorrow morning I will end this disaster. It’s gone on long enough.

    “The past week has been punishing. I have learned that my faith…all of my beliefs that have been the foundation of my decisions…are false. But I still choose to believe. My hope is not wrong, and the strength that I derive from them is not wrong. They, and my fiancé,” and he pauses to look at Dorian then, and Dorian relishes in Cassandra’s shocked and delighted gasp and Varric’s smirk, “will be my strength tomorrow when I stand before the Council, and announce that I am putting an end to the Inquisition.”

    Cassandra thinks very long on this. As Dorian brings Basil in to kiss his forehead, Varric starts to laugh.

    “Finally! Honestly Fireball, you need about four years worth of naps to make up for the hell you’ve been through. Maybe you and Sparkler can come visit me in Kirkwall and make use of that estate?”

    Dorian chuckles, but he can see that Basil’s eyes are far away. The healer’s hands are emitting a brighter glow. He takes advantage of the subject change. “Actually, that sounds like a marvelous idea. What do you think, darling; a honeymoon in Kirkwall, appropriately named the least attractive vacation destination of the Free Marches?”

    This makes everyone laugh. Basil gives a half hearted yes and smiles along. He’s finished his food, and is starting to shift and fidget. The bandages are off, and the skin around the limb is red.

    The others notice. His cheeks grow clammy, and he loses his smile. Cassandra and Varric tell Basil that they look forward to seeing him tomorrow at the meeting. He’ll do well, they agree, and then bid tense but well-meaning goodnights. Dorian admires their perceptiveness. When they’re gone, Basil drops the façade and pushes his food aside with a green look.

    She examines the limb. Her hands glow, and blue pulses in his veins. Dorian looks away. “Sensitive?” she says.

    Basil nods. “The bandages. They were rubbing against…”

    “Alright dear, let’s have some of that salve.”

    Dorian holds his hand as she rubs ointment on Basil’s skin. It’s completely healed, she tells them, but physical recovery is only a small portion of rehabilitation. The muscles in Basil’s back have become incredibly stiff in just the past few hours. A knot as hard as a rock has formed under his shoulder blade. Dorian massages it out as she wraps his arm using a gentler type of fabric.

    “Avoid touching it,” she says. Basil’s cheeks are waxy and he takes hesitant breaths between his lips. “The skin may be healed but the slightest impact will hurt like you wouldn’t believe.”

    “Madam.” Dorian speaks as Basil’s head rolls against his chest. “Please tell him not to attend tomorrow. He will not listen to me, but maybe if you explained that he’s not ready–”

    “You’re going to conclude the Exalted Council?” she says and stares at Basil. Basil nods. Dorian thinks she’s about to lecture him on health and safety, like a good homely old lady, but instead she heaves a great sigh. “It’s about time this fiasco ended. You’ll be more than fine to give a good solid word tomorrow.”

    Dorian sputters. “But, he lost his arm–!”

    “Right, but he didn’t lose a leg did he? He can still walk and talk.”

    Basil laughs. It’s reluctant and soft, but it breathes life into the dark hospital room. Dorian doesn’t have it in him to be cross.

    “He will heal faster out there than in this room. I believe he should do it.”

    Basil looks up, and Dorian meets his eyes. He pokes out his tongue. Dorian pinches his nose and tells the healer he must be alright if he can still make fun. He should’ve known. Basil is brave, and can be unbearably stubborn.

    Dorian couldn’t be prouder.

*

Basil storms out of the assembly with fire blazing his steps, and the people are left gasping in the smoke. A handful applaud, but the most noise comes from Bull, Sera and Varric. Dorian chases after him and is quick to close the door.

            The only ones to witness Basil’s collapse are the two guards stationed outside the gates. Dorian catches him swiftly and lowers them to the ground.

            “Wonderful, absolutely wonderful, Basil,” Dorian says, beaming at him as Basil catches his breath. “You were a sight, walking as if you’ve been missing an arm your entire life.”

            Basil grins toothily. “I was great, wasn’t I?”

            “Yes, you were.” He kisses him and helps him stand. Basil’s legs wobble, so Dorian slings his arm around his shoulder and helps him walk in the direction of the healing ward. “I couldn’t be prouder to call you my Amatus. It only makes me look better.”

            Basil laughs. “I’m just here to improve your image, aren’t I?”

            “What, did you think I fell for you because of your terrible jokes? Absolutely not.”

            He laughs and laughs, all the way to the hospital, where his healer smiles and congratulates him on his speech. Basil spends the remainder of his day resting in bed, and receiving visits from members of the council giving their compliments and opinions on his performance. Cullen, Josephine, and Leliana also stop by. Josephine offers a hug that Basil gladly accepts. Dorian sits in the room’s lounging chair and listens to the four discuss their plans for traveling back to Skyhold tomorrow. It’s difficult to bear.

            After they’re gone, Basil sighs. He looks Dorian’s way. “Would you like to go for a walk?”

            Dorian nods, and helps him out of the bed. He hasn’t taken off his formal wear from the speech, and gives his hair a quick comb through with his fingers to look presentable. Dorian knits their hands together and leads them out to the palace garden.

            It’s late noon. The sun is setting over the Winter Palace. By morning, the ambassadors will be leaving, and Halamshiral will be empty. Basil will be gone.

            They find themselves standing over the balcony overlooking the vast rolling hills of the palace’s property. Dorian remembers their dance at Halamshiral more than three years ago. Music lilts from opens windows along with breathy sighs of laughter and hummed gossip. Basil breathes in the cool air. He’s gazing ahead, far past the hills and into the future. His eyes glisten.

            He laughs a bit. “You know, I can’t quite believe I’m engaged yet.”

            Dorian raises a brow. “Really?”

            “Yes. Well, I never considered that I could be. I’m not surprised that I was the one to do it, though.”

            “That’s not true. I was going to, but things became…complicated.”

            Basil gazes at his ring with a smile. It glitters and shines in the orange sunlight.

            “You’ll come visit, right?”

            Dorian pauses. The answer is clear, but not probable. Visiting with the turmoil in Tevinter will be nearly impossible. “Of course I will. Every summer. And…we will have the sending crystal.”

            Basil bites his lip. His hand moves to his chest, where he pulls out the pendant dangling from his neck. He turns it in his fingers as he speaks. Dorian involuntarily moves to touch his own weighing down his pocket. “And you’ll write to me?”

            “Yes.”

            “Every day?”

            “Yes.”

            His lips quiver. He quickly wipes his eyes, then turns into Dorian’s chest and hugs him. He squeezes with all his strength. Dorian easily envelops him and chuckles, his eyes stinging.

            “Always with the crushing hugs.”

            “I love you,” Basil shudders, and laughs in bursts. “I love you. I always will. Two years will not go by before I see you again. I won’t allow it.”

            Dorian swallows thickly. His throat aches, a tight numbing pain that stretches all the way to his stomach. He pushes aside his witty comeback and grips Basil tightly. “I love you too,” he whispers, and buries himself in Basil’s hair. “We won’t be apart long.”

            More promises are exchanged. Arms entwined, they whisper plans about a wedding, about vacations and a honeymoon. Basil talks under his breath about visiting Tevinter, and Dorian imagines Basil in his childhood home, sleeping in his bed and sharing memories of precious foods and places. They talk well into the evening, and into the night, with Basil tucked safely under his chin in their wyvern down bed, warm and sleepy beneath the soft linen sheets.

            The sun eventually rises. Dorian helps Basil slip into his suit and prepare for his journey. They say little. He can barely hold his gaze without tearing up.

            It’s a beautiful day for travelling. No clouds, and a cool breeze sweeping over the hills. Dorian goes out with the rest of the Inquisition’s procession, and all of Halamshiral, to watch the Inquisitor leave.

            Basil pats his hart. He’s avoiding this. Dorian shifts his footing and uncrosses his arms, tsking loudly. They’re being watched, but it doesn’t stop Dorian from going to Basil. He’s going to take advantage of every last second they have.

            Their hands touch. Basil seems to startle, like he’d been focusing so hard on adjusting his hart’s saddle that he hadn’t noticed Dorian come over. His chin slowly lifts, and their eyes meet. His cheeks are a supple pink.

            Dorian sweeps him in for one last, achingly drawn out kiss. Basil makes a quiet noise and weaves his fingers through Dorian’s hair. He tries to imprint this into his memory: the cool press of the ring against his neck, Basil’s heart thundering underneath his hand, his soft, warm mouth. The gathered crowd cheers, and when they pull apart Basil smiles against his lips.

            “You should have dipped me.”

            Dorian laughs and hugs him. Basil returns his embrace, and kisses his chin one more time before slipping away. They look at each other, and something profound is exchanged. Another unspoken promise. Dorian nods, and helps him mount his hart. He can’t say goodbye. Neither can Basil. He doesn’t let go of his hand as Basil begins to march out of the Winter Palace’s front gates. There’s a shout, and the Inquisition’s army follows. Basil’s eyes don’t leave his.

            But he has to let go. Basil squeezes his hand and smiles. His lips mouth the words ‘Later’, and his hand slips out of Dorian’s to wave. Basil’s hart takes off. The Inquisition and its Herald ride out into the plains and sun soaked valleys. Dorian watches, and watches, until the dust around him settles and the ivory striped hart has become a distant spot on the horizon.

            Basil is gone. And Dorian knows, in his heart, that it will be a long time before he sees that vibrant red hair again.

            Something rings. It needles its way into his thoughts. Dorian rubs the wetness from his cheeks and reaches into his pocket. The crystal is spinning.

            Dorian grins and answers it. “Miss me already?”

            Basil laughs, ringing as clear and bright as if he were right next to him. “More than you know.”