"The world is dreadful," I told the internet.
"So I've heard," said the internet.
"Politics...everything...I'm gonna write fanfic."
"You do that," said the internet, flipping through a magazine.
"Not the tasteful stuff. I might even describe actual things happening in actual detail! With actual parts! Tastelessly!"
The internet raised an eyebrow. "Sure you will."
"M/M slash!" I screamed at the internet. "I'll do it! I swear I will!"
The internet, going back to its magazine, said "You've never written that in your life."
I rolled up my sleeves. "Then it will be terrible," I said grimly, and began.
You were warned.
Inquisitor Mahonen Lavellan had red hair, pale skin, and a jawline you could slice cheese on. The left side of his face was tattooed nearly solid black, although sun and time had taken its toll and the lines had faded to deep blue.
For a Dalish elf, he was considered burly, which meant that by human standards, he looked painfully thin. This had never bothered him until he became Inquisitor. Now he would come through a village and little old ladies would rush out and insist on feeding him. If he said that no, he had to go kill red Templars, and please forgive his rudeness, they would press meat pies and homemade cookies on his companions, along with insistences that they make sure that nice Inquisitor boy was eating properly.
Varric and Dorian thought this was hilarious. They started taking bets as soon as they entered a village—"I say it's the little gray haired one on down the way."
"No, it'll be the lady there with the dog that looks like a breakfast sausage."
"It'll be both," said Iron Bull, "and maybe a third. I can smell the meat pies from here."
They no longer bothered to pack food if they were going to an inhabited area. It was embarrassing, but, as Dorian pointed out, it was better than trying to cook for themselves.
"Can any of you cook?" asked Lavellan one evening, gazing at the bounty of please-make-sure-the-Inquisitor-is-eating spoils.
"In my own kitchen, yeah," said Varric. "On a rock in the middle of the Hinterlands? Why bother?"
Bull shrugged. "I can kill things, cut them up, and put them on a stick."
"See, that's not cooking," said Varric.
"Sometimes I put a little sprig of parsley on the stick."
They all looked at Dorian.
"What? I can set things on fire," said Dorian. "Putting them out at the proper level of done-ness is a different sort of skill."
"I thought Tevinter was supposed to be civilized," said Lavellan.
"Yes," said Dorian, "which means we hire cooks. And pay them extravagantly not to poison us."
"What about you, boss?"
Lavellan rubbed the back of his neck. "About like you, I'm afraid. Meat on a stick. I can do a few things with herbs. And roasted tubers and whatnot, if I have time. But I was a scout, and mostly you eat standing up or on the move."
"Then thank Andraste for little old ladies," said Varric. They all raised meat pies in salute.
Fortunately for everyone, there were cooks at Skyhold, and no one was reduced to meat-on-a-stick, with or without parsley. Josephine had even imported a cook from Orlais who was really quite good, although Dorian described his attempts at Tevinter cuisine as "creative" and "almost, but not quite, entirely wrong."
A meal from that most excellent cook sat half-eaten on the table next to Lavellan. He had been grabbing bites between poring over maps in his quarters.
The Inquisitor straightened up, rubbing at his back. He should not hunch over. Hunching over the maps did not improve them. The strategic situation was still dreadful and would continue to be dreadful for the foreseeable future. Throwing his back out would not help. Lavellan was a Reaver and respected pain, but not even Breaker Thram could find a good use for lower back spasms.
He was grateful when he heard someone coming up the steps to his quarters. He knew the sounds of most of his companions' footsteps—Cole was difficult, admittedly, and Sera occasionally came in through the roof—but they had done so much construction to the stairwell that the echoes changed from one day to the next. He turned his head, just to make sure it wasn't assassins.
It was hardly ever assassins, but there was no point in pressing his luck.
The door opened and Dorian strolled in.
Lavellan smiled. He always smiled when he saw Dorian, he couldn't help it. Dorian was as vain as a peacock and just as gorgeous. More gorgeous, actually. Lavellan had never had any desire to make passionate love to a peacock, presumably to the relief of ornamental fowl everywhere.
Dorian was wearing robes, not his full armor. They were deep red, which set off his tanned skin magnificently. His left shoulder was still bare, though.
Lavellan wasn't sure why the mage always seemed to leave that arm uncovered. For ease of making magical gestures, perhaps.
Probably not because the Inquisitor had a strong urge to kiss the bare skin, run his lips down from shoulder to elbow and plant a kiss in the palm of the mage's hand.
Almost certainly not.
Well, a man could dream.
Unfortunately dreams were all that he had at the moment. Dorian flirted as casually as breathing, and Lavellan was never sure if the flirtations meant anything.
There had been a single moment stolen in the library. The mage had slipped his hands around Lavellan's waist and leaned his forehead against the elf's, and their lips had met, a half-dozen kisses as light as mothwings.
For a few seconds, Lavellan had thought there was something in Dorian's eyes, a hunger that he was sure were mirrored in his own…and then they'd broken apart, and it was right back to casual flirtation and unrequited lust.
He thought about that kiss multiple times a day. This was extremely distracting when you were trying to save the world. There was nothing quite like planting your greatsword deep in a behemoth's skull, standing astride it, wiping a splatter of gore from your eyes, and thinking …Does he still want me? Did he change his mind? Did he ever want me?
It occurred to Lavellan that he had been gazing at Dorian with a vague, appreciative smile for quite some time…and the mage was posing in the doorway, damn him.
"Enjoying the view?"
"Always." Lavellan raised his eyebrows. "As you well know. Can I help you?"
"Mmmm." Dorian scanned the room with the air of a man appraising the furniture. "So this is the Inquisitor's bedroom."
"In all its glory," said Lavellan dryly. He knew full well that the room was hardly luxurious, but it seemed wrong to ask for more when half the soldiers were still sleeping in the courtyard and using swords made out of pot-metal. Besides, he was used to camping outdoors. The windswept tower very nearly qualified. If he left the balcony doors open too long, snow would come in.
"Austere." Dorian strolled into the room. "And here I had visions of you draped in furs and velvets."
The Dalish man laughed. "I do, in fact, have several furs, but only because it is blessedly cold up here." He waved toward the bed. "I fear they'd disappoint you, though. It's whatever the quartermaster could dig up. There's a druffalo hide that's older than I am."
Dorian shook his head. "Appalling," he said. "The Inquisitor should have far more exotic things in his bed."
Lavellan was capable of recognizing a hint when it fell on his head from a great height. Oh, hot damn.
His pulse quickened, but he kept his tone light. "Things from Tevinter, perhaps?"
"Well," said Dorian, "one thing at least." He circled Lavellan, looking positively predatory.
I will not yell "Mythal's grace, at last!" and pounce on him. That would be excessive.
I will be calm. Tevinters hold these pleasures lightly. I will be calm.
He did not feel particularly calm.
Dorian's hands slid around his waist and settled on his hips. He could feel the mage's breath against his ear.
"All this flirtation is very nice," murmured the mage, "but—"
The door banged open.
Dorian jumped back like a startled deer. Lavellan clasped his hands in front of his waist, hoping it looked casual and not like he was trying to hide a very visible arousal.
It was Cullen. He had a sheet of paper in one hand and a line between his eyes. "Inquisitor!"
Well, this is lovely. I get to talk to my military advisor while hiding an erection. How delightful for everyone.
Dorian, who at least had concealing robes, pretended to be examining the drapes.
"It's Blackwall," said Cullen.
Oh. Joy. Lavellan could think of few things less erotic than Blackwall in general and Blackwall's beard in particular.
Dorian muttered a Tevinter obscenity under his breath.
"What's he done now?" asked Lavellan wearily.
"Apparently nothing for quite some time," said Cullen. "He's dead. The real one, I mean. Our Blackwall's an imposter. Also, he's in prison in Val Royeaux. Also—oh, hello, Dorian."
"Don't mind me," said the mage. "I was advising the Inquisitor on…ah…"
"Venatori," said Lavellan hurriedly.
Cullen looked from elf to mage and back again. Lavellan could see a suspicion starting to form in the former Templar's mind.
At least we both still have our clothes on. If he'd walked in five minutes later…
Relief warred with intense frustration. Given how long it had been, five minutes might be more than enough time, and how sad was that?
Lavellan focused on the matter at hand. "So Blackwall is an imposter?"
"Yes," said Cullen, picking up the thread again. "Apparently he is actually a man named Thom Rainier. And he's due to be executed."
"No wonder he didn't feel the Calling," muttered Lavellan. He rubbed his forehead. The only thing stiff about him now was his desire for a stiff drink. "Well, that's…something I'm going to have to deal with, aren't I?"
"He apparently turned himself in," said Cullen. "To save the life of a man named Mornay, who had been under his command."
Lavellan groaned. "Of course he did. There was no way that it would be straightforward. Not with Blackwall. All right."
"He left you a note," said Cullen, and handed over the sheet of paper.
The Inquisitor read the note, balled it up, and flung it violently against the wall.
"Bad news?" asked Dorian.
"No, the bastard thanked me for being an inspiration. Mythal's hells." He rubbed his face. "All right. All right. Have Leliana's people arrange for a stay of execution until I get there. We'll leave within the hour."
Dorian muttered an even fouler curse, even farther under his breath.
"It's a long way to Val Royeaux," said Lavellan, as much to himself as to Dorian. "And you know that idiot won't say a word in his own defense. Probably ask them to move up the execution."
"Indeed," said Cullen. "I shall have the horses prepared at once. I will go with you."
"Probably for the best," said the Inquisitor. "Thank you."
He turned to Dorian, and, hidden from Cullen's view, rolled his eyes in frustration. "Dorian, I believe we shall have to continue this conversation at a later date."
"Perhaps in Val Royeaux," said Dorian.
Cullen held the door open. As the mage moved past Lavellan, his fingers trailed over the elf's back, waking shivers in Lavellan's spine. Then he was through the door, and mage and Templar went down the stairs together.
The Inquisitor rubbed his hands over his face. "I'm going to kill Blackwall," he muttered to his empty room.
"No, you're not," said the Iron Bull several hours later.
"I am," said Lavellan. "Dead. So dead. Deader than a…a really damn dead thing."
They had ridden hard for half the night and stopped at a posting station, where Inquisition forces brought out fresh horses for them. (Bull, who weighed twice as much as any of the others, had a remount tied behind the saddle as well.) There was just time to grab a bite of food and attend to necessary business before climbing back in the saddle, which was why Lavellan was uttering dire threats on Blackwall's life.
"No, you won't," said Bull. "You'll forgive him and say something inspirational about how he can do more good fighting Corypheus than dying here, and by the end, he'll be begging you to take him back."
There was a lengthy silence. Cullen rubbed the back of his neck. Dorian had his hand over his mouth to hide his smile.
"And you'll believe it too, boss," added Bull ruthlessly. "You'll mean every word you're saying. That's why it works."
"Bull," said Lavellan, watching the stablehands lead a string of horses toward them.
"You can stop knowing me too well any time now."
Lavellan gave him a skeptical look. "I'm starting to think that your fear of demons poking around in people's heads is actually a question of job security. You just don't want any one else reading minds."
"Might be a factor, boss."
"It isn't, though," said Cole, looking puzzled. "The Iron Bull? That's not why you're—"
"It's a joke, Cole," said Lavellan.
"Oh." The spirit frowned. "But it didn't start with 'knock-knock.'"
Varric patted Cole's arm and said "I'll explain later."
They mounted the horses. Lavellan wished vaguely for a halla, as he always did, but a halla would not be content to cool its heels in the stable, waiting for a string of strange riders. Horses were better for this sort of work.
The stablehand holding Cole's horse looked around in confusion. "Why did I bring a horse out here? I thought…" Varric leaned over and took the reins from him.
"She's a nice horse," said Cole happily. "She likes carrying people. She doesn't think people are very bright, but if they're on her back, she can carry them out of trouble."
"A mare after my own heart," said Dorian. "No one awake at this hour can be very bright."
They spurred their steeds forward, and on to Val Royeaux.
It took another change of horses to reach the ferry across to Val Royeaux. By that time, they were all profoundly exhausted, except perhaps Cole, who didn't really understand exhaustion, and the Iron Bull, who pretended he didn't.
They collapsed inside the ferry cabin. It was barely big enough for all six of them, even with Cole fading into nonexistence in the corner. Cullen had two Inquisition guards stationed outside the door. Dorian draped himself over a couch and complained bitterly about the water, the waves, horses, Blackwall, and idiot Grey Wardens.
"He's not a Grey Warden, though," Cullen said, from the floor. "He's an imposter."
"He should be a Grey Warden," Dorian shot back. "He's got the obnoxious self-sacrifice part down perfectly. Why are we even rescuing him, anyway? He'd probably enjoy being hanged."
The Inquisitor was on the flat piece of furniture that passed for a bed, face down in the pillow. Dorian would have preferred to be stretched out next to him, perhaps letting his hip casually rest against the Dalish man's own, perhaps stroking his fingers over the Inquisitor's palm, where no one else could see them…
Varric, however, had claimed that side of the bed on account of riding horses being harder on dwarven anatomy, and so Dorian had taken the couch, which had the best view of the Inquisitor.
The Inquisitor in question turned his head so that he was looking at Dorian out of one bleary eye. "Because it's the right thing to do?"
"Oh, sure, play the righteousness card."
"And also he knows far too much about the Inquisition," said Lavellan wearily. "And Leliana grabbed me on the way out of Skyhold. Word is that Orlais is going to try to extradite him. How much do you want Orlais to extract from our erstwhile Grey Warden?"
There was a glum silence in the cabin.
"Red knows what's up," rumbled Bull. "Either he comes out of that prison cell with us, or he comes out feet-first."
Dorian sighed. Lavellan rolled his one visible eye. "Mythal, I'm tired," he said, to no one in particular.
The tattooed side of his face was turned to Dorian. The mage could just see the spot on the elf's lips where the dark blue ink stopped. When he had kissed that spot, weeks ago, he had half-expected there to be a difference in the feel of the skin.
There hadn't been, but he wouldn't mind checking again, just to be sure.
The Tevinter mage considered giving Lavellan a smoldering look, but decided against it.
At the moment, my smoldering looks will be distinctly sub-par. And there's not much we can do about it anyway…
And even if they had been alone, with all the time in the world...well, after spending all night on a horse, Dorian's thigh muscles were in no shape to ride anything else. Or anyone.
No matter how delightful I may find that face…or those hands…
One of the Inquisitor's hands dangled off the side of the bed. He had long fingers, scarred from blows and callused from sword work. Dorian could easily imagine those fingers moving over his body.
Had been imagining it for weeks, if he was being honest.
And in a room with Cole, even such thoughts were dangerous. Dorian turned his mind firmly to a recitation of magical theory, and fell asleep before he'd even finished listing the secondary aspects of the Fade.
Val Royeaux was beautiful, even for the barbaric south. The sheets were not silk, but they were soft, and the mattresses thick and yielding. The food was exquisite. There was a suite of rooms for the Inquisitor and a lovely room for each member of his entourage.
Dorian would have approved wholeheartedly, except for one small problem.
He could not get time alone with the Inquisitor.
There had been a single glorious moment when he had cornered Lavellan in his bedroom and advanced on him like a stalking cat. Subtlety had fled completely.
Lavellan had looked up at him and smiled: the crooked, welcoming smile that made the mage's blood heat. "Dorian…"
"I thought we'd never have a moment alone," said the mage. "People always barging in and wanting thi—"
As if on cue, Cullen barged in. "Inquisitor, I—oh. Dorian?"
"So, you were saying about the Venatori," said Lavellan, a bit desperately.
"Awful people," said Dorian. "Not hugged enough as children." He did not scream and freeze Cullen to the ground on the spot. Freezing Templars was apparently considered a faux pas in the South. He was rather proud of his restraint.
"Noted," said the Inquisitor. "Perhaps we could compile a list of personality traits, which might allows us to—ah—consider where to look for hidden Venatori—in—ah—the future—"
"Not a bad idea," said Cullen gruffly. "Inquisitor, I'm stationing two guards in the room with you and I've asked Cole to stay here as well. We can't vet people as closely here as we can at Skyhold, and you know what Orlesians are like."
"I'm sure that won't be necessary," said Lavellan weakly.
"Let's hope it's not," said Cullen. "But better safe than sorry. Dorian, is your room safe?"
"Oh yes," said Dorian. "No one going in or out without the whole world knowing."
Cullen was oblivious to the trace of bitterness in his voice, even if Lavellan wasn't. They shared a heated glance behind the former templar's back.
After about two days of this, Dorian was ready to fall to his knees and work the Inquisitor over in the Chantry confessional, if that was what it would take to get his hands on the Inquisitor's body and his lips around the Inquisitor's cock. Kaffas! This is infuriating!
He was used to such things in the Imperium, of course. Stolen kisses, subtle caresses, culminating in a forbidden dalliance. Liasons played out over weeks or months. Sometimes the waiting was half the pleasure—or more than half.
But Maker help him, it had been the better part of a year. And he could not remember ever wanting anyone half so badly in his life.
He had gone to the Inquisitor's suite just that morning, to catch the Dalish man dressing. Cullen, thinking nothing of it, was reading him one of Leliana's reports.
Dorian stood in the doorway, his eyes tracing the sinuous lines of tattoos down Lavellan's torso, feeling faintly dizzy.
"Like snakes made of ink," said Cole. "But they hurt?"
"They did hurt," said the Inquisitor, as Cullen paused to flip pages. "It is done with needles."
Cole looked baffled. "It's a different hurt, though?" he said, looking from the tattoos to Dorian and back.
Lavellan looked up and saw Dorian in the doorway. "It's different when you want it," he said, smiling into the mage's eyes.
Dorian rubbed his hand over his face, since the alternative was screaming and biting something. Cole looked even more baffled.
"Leliana says that they have found someone who can pass for Rainier," said Cullen, oblivious. "Someone that, as they say, deserves the noose. But you'll need to convince Bla—Rainier—to go along with it."
Lavellan sighed. "I'll go talk to him," he said. He shrugged into his shirt and then into the armor.
"Let me help you," said Dorian, stepping in to thread the leather straps through their respective buckles. He had a vision of getting a chance to put his hands on the Inquisitor, but that rapidly vanished under layers of leather and chain. "Let me see…here and here and this bit goes here and…Maker! You need a valet."
"A squire," said Cullen. "Squires put on armor. Valets put on clothes."
"Get him one of each, then," said Dorian irritably. "Does this bit go on the arms or legs?"
"How do you put on your armor?" asked Lavellan, amused.
"With magic, like a sensible person. There's a cantrip to do up the clasps I can't reach."
"Clasps like to be closed," observed Cole. "They don't mind being open, but anything can be open. Being closed is what they do."
"I'm glad that I'm providing them with job satisfaction, then."
"Rainier is in the cells," said Cullen, who was capable of extraordinary single-mindedness. "You should speak with him soon. They are already demanding extradition to Orlais."
"Lead the way," said Lavellan, giving Dorian an apologetic glance.
The Tevinter mage slunk back toward his room, feeling generally ill-used.
Iron Bull was reading a book in the suite's common area. He glanced up and raised his one good eyebrow. "You look like a cat that got stroked the wrong way."
"Is that a Ben-Hassrath opinion?" asked Dorian bitterly.
"Nope," said Bull, turning a page. "You don't want the Ben-Hassrath opinion."
"Don't—no, you're right, I probably don't."
"Saltpeter in your food will clear that right up, though," said Bull, and went back to reading his book.