It is supposed to feel good to return to Haven after their trip, but Aerin'ahl has long since become accustomed to being wrong about these kinds of things.

After that—Creators, that disaster in Redcliffe, she expects the sights of the gates to give her the same sense of relief the aravels of her clan once did, back when she was younger and her ideals had not yet turned to ash in her mouth; seeing those crimson sails fluttering above rolling fields of knee-high grass always seemed to ground her, to remind her that she was home and safe. The Inquisition doesn't have aravels, of course, but when the grey, weathered stones of the chantry tower come into sight, banner fluttering lazily in the breeze, she still expects to feel that familiar sense of crushing relief—

But it never comes.

She feels nothing. No release, no respite from the tension that has taken up residence in her neck and shoulders from the moment she fell through time and into a scarlet nightmare built of her own failures. The feeling of suffocation only gets worse as she nears the gates; the Frostbacks suddenly seem much closer than when she left, looming over her like they intend to crumble and demolish all she has helped build, and every hushed whisper from the soldiers hits her harder than a blunted arrow. She glances sidelong at Cassandra—her regal chin is lifted high in the air and a small, satisfied smile plays at her lips, looking every bit the storybook hero returned home. On the other side of the Seeker's horse, Varric looks similarly relieved to be back as he tells Blackwall one of his numerous jokes, eyes bright and laugh uproarious.

They all look so—

So happy.

How? Her mind struggles to grasp their reasoning with numb, clumsy fingers. How can they look so blithe, so carefree? How can they smile? The fate of the world hangs in the balance, the possibility of total destruction more real than it has ever been, and they dare to laugh like nothing has happened?

But that's just it, isn't it, Aerin'ahl thinks—nothing has happened. Bile creeps up the back of her throat, as sour and unwelcome as the realization itself.

Unbidden, Aerin's eyes dart over her shoulder in Dorian's direction. His horse is near the edge of the group, slightly separated from the rest of them by a good twenty feet; she quietly wonders if he is struggling as much as she is with the memories of that dreaded future. If he notices her staring, he does not show it.

There is no catharsis when she hands the reins of her hart to Master Dennet at the stables, nor when she carefully peels her dented, ill-fitting armor off in her cabin. There will be time for a bath later, she tells herself, and she pulls on a fresh white shirt and crimson cloak before setting out once again. She leaves her staff in her cabin in hopes of lessening the weight on her shoulders, but it does not work.

She gives her report to her advisors in the war room—Cassandra sticks close by, always within arm's reach should Aerin's quivering knees finally give out beneath her. She retells the events of Redcliffe in a hushed, hollow voice that sounds unfamiliar to her own ears: she tells them of the Elder One, the lyrium, the templars; of the fall of the Inquisition, battered to nothingness against the walls of the castle after countless siege attempts; she even tells Leliana of the part she played in the nightmare in a shaky, brittle voice that threatens to shatter. When she begins to struggle with her words, Cassandra calmly informs them of the alliance with the mages. Josephine and Leliana take the news in stride and immediately begin preparations.

Aerin'ahl cannot bring herself to look at Cullen—his stony silence says more than enough.

The knot in her chest does not loosen when she bathes later that night, taking the time to extricate the dirt and blood and soot from every crevice of her body. She scrubs herself until she is pink and raw and hurting, almost as if the washcloth is capable of wiping away the memories that haunt her—memories of a future stained red with lyrium and blood and so much death.

For the first time in years, she quells her inner fire and embraces the frigid water until she shivers. Being numb is a more appealing alternative.

The days pass slowly after that. The people of Haven are watching her more closely than ever before and their concerned looks weigh on her like armor, heavier than the light, flowing mage robes she is used to. She still hears the whispers of maleficar from many of them; their eyes are peeled for any sign of weakness, but she does not dare give them the satisfaction of seeing her stumble. Her footsteps are steady and sure as she makes her rounds and attends to tasks left neglected during her absence, pretending to be everything she isn't and nothing she wants to be.

She gradually falls into a routine, which helps a little bit: she practices her reading in Josie's office, huddled on the floor behind her desk with a book in one hands and a small flame in the other for light; she walks the Fade with Solas, learning all she can about the People and focusing the source of her power; other times, she finds herself laid out on her back underneath the war table, carving small symbols and Elvhen words into the wood—no one ever thinks to look for her there.

The rest of her day is usually spent working with Harritt on a new set of armor that can "deflect more than a damned butter knife." She offers him the use of her flames in exchange for his gruff, companionable silence and smithing expertise, which he gladly provides. They spend hours smelting, forging, and hammering out thin, delicate plates of metal until they fit her curves like a second skin, chain clinging closely and scarlet fabric draping across her shoulder and waist elegantly.

"Armor fit for a Knight-Enchanter," Harritt tells her—and for a moment, she is pleased.

But these are only temporary distractions, tasks she has assigned herself to keep her mind from wandering back to Redcliffe. At night, she avoids her nightmares by crafting runes instead of potions. She does not go to Adan's anymore for fear of stumbling upon Cullen. With the sudden influx of mages, he has been more temperamental than usual, or so say the recruits in the tavern—Aerin doesn't know if she has the strength to stand having that anger turned in her direction, so steering clear of him is probably best for now. Her midnight stints in the apothecary eventually turn into snowy treks out to the Inquisition logging stand near the north side of the lake, where she whiles away the hours by gazing up at the swirling Breach; she is perfectly content to sit there in the snow and turn her ironbark puzzle box over in her hands again and again until the sun peeks over the tips of the Frostbacks the next morning, staining the sky pink rather than its usual sickly shade of green.

The routine has helped. She still feels like she is drowning, suffocating—but at least she can feel enough to know how much she hurts. It's an improvement.

Varric and Solas worry, as do the rest of her companions: Vivienne offers her tea in the chantry one evening, an invitation she politely declines; Sera and Varric suggest going to the tavern and getting drunk, but she has never enjoyed the sharp, acrid taste of human alcohol and turns them down, too; the Iron Bull gives her a rather large stick and tells her to hit him—she actually agrees to that one, but it doesn't help much. One by one they try to speak to her, to pry out her pent-up emotions, but she always manages to slip away before she loses her carefully-maintained composure. She makes her excuses and hides—behind the chantry, in the woods, behind the locked door of her cabin sometimes—before she crashes to her knees, gasping and sobbing.

The only one who doesn't bother her is Dorian. She doesn't quite know what to make of the Tevinter mage at first—he chooses to sit by himself at meals and hides away in the chantry library, poring over the books and muttering to himself in a language she does not know. He watches her sometimes, whenever she makes her rounds or blows through the chantry on the way to the war room. It may be a trick of the light, but she thinks the shadows beneath his eyes are the same ones that plague her so readily, staining her tanned complexion like bruises. Their eyes do not meet often, but when they do she always makes sure to find the strength to give him a shaky, understanding smile. He always returns it.

Then one day, he approaches her at breakfast, silently taking the seat next to her with his food and a thick spell tome under his arm with unreadable words. He does not say anything to her—he offers no platitudes, no promises of a time when she will feel better, because he knows just as well as she does that that time will never come. He simply sits next to her and devours his meal, the only sound between them being the shuffled turn of a page every now and then.

And after a few days of this companionable silence, he offers her a grape.

"Oh. Thank you," she says, taking it from his fingers and popping it into her mouth. She chews slowly, savoring the tartness.

Dorian turns another page, eyes flicking up to meet hers for the briefest of moments. "Do not thank me just yet. That chantry mother of yours saw that little exchange. I expect you'll be on the receiving end of a lecture before the day is out."

Aerin'ahl glances surreptitiously in the direction of Mother Gisele, who does indeed look rather horrified. "You think so?"

"No question about it, my dear. You might even have a food taster by the end of the week."

The corners of her mouth quirk upward unevenly, stiff with disuse. "I see. In that case, may I have another?"

Dorian smiles, closes his book, and offers her half the cluster. Things are easier after that.


"So, tell me," Dorian says, peering closely at the flames licking Aerin's fingertips, "have you always been able to do this? I've never seen anything quite like it."

The fireball in Dorian's hand is bright and well-contained, the wild orange tendrils of his spell ghosting over Aerin's skin painlessly. His expression is an endearing mixture of awe and bewilderment; he has been trying to burn her for an hour now with little success—or any success, really. He first tried to do it with sparks, then with the smoldering end of a twig, and now with an open flame. With a snort, she dispels the flames in his palm and allows her hand to fall back to her side.

"It's difficult to say," she tells him truthfully. "I didn't exactly make a habit of touching fire before my magic manifested. And I'm not completely immune."

Dorian hums, eyebrows furrowing. "Please elaborate, my dear."

"Which part?"

"All of it, preferably. I'll die of curiosity if you don't—or maybe frostbite. I'm not sure which is worse at this point."

"I don't see how you could possibly get frostbite. You're wearing half of all the pelts in Haven." She looks him up and down; he's bundled up in layers of fur and woolen mantles to help stave off the bitter cold of the Frostbacks. Aerin thinks he looks quite amusing in such a puffy state. "Planning on using my methods for yourself?"

To prove her point, Dorian shivers and pulls his velvet collar tighter. "Yes. Sweet Maker, if you don't tell me, I might be forced to side with this so-called Elder One. I bet he's got his whole operation set up someplace sunny and… I don't know, civilized."

"Orlais, then? Or are you talking about Tevinter?"

"Orlais is certainly an option. Tevinter might be a bit avant-garde for someone targeting Ferelden in his quest for world domination." He sneers at the frozen landscape. "Ferelden, of all places. What is the world coming to?"

She doesn't say anything, and Dorian winces at his own words. They know the answer to that question better than anyone in Thedas, even if they wish they didn't.

"Come on," Aerin'ahl murmurs, elbowing him softly. "Let's finish our walk."

Wordlessly, he holds out an arm for her to take and they continue their stroll past the stables, feet crunching rhythmically in the snow. She nods and smiles to passing messengers and waves at Harritt, who holds up a hammer in greeting from the mouth of the forge. The smithy is alive and bustling this morning in preparation for the march on the Breach. A fortnight, they'd decided. Then it will be over.

A pang of sorrow pierces her chest. Fourteen days feels like a heartbeat compared to the months she's spent with the Inquisition. Against her will, Aerin'ahl's eyes dart over toward the training grounds where the soldiers are finishing up their morning drills; Cullen is watching over the recruits in silence, eyebrows furrowed and mouth set in a thin line—another headache, no doubt. She wonders if he has already gone through the tea she gave him before she left for Redcliffe.

"You're extra quiet today," Dorian murmurs, resting a hand over hers on his arm. "Trying to come up with an answer to my question?"

She sighs. "Forgive me. I was just thinking."

"Well, think a little closer, if you don't mind. You're hotter than a furnace."

Aerin'ahl laughs and leans her weight into his shoulder. She stokes her inner fire in compliance, ignoring the seeping wetness of rapidly-melting snow between her toes. "Better?"

"Much," he says, but his brow furrows in confusion. "Normally, I would thank you for expending so much mana for my benefit, but I— well, I actually can't sense how much you're using. It's almost embarrassing to admit. I would say I'm losing my edge, but we both know that's not possible."

She waves him off. "Don't worry about it; I'm hardly using any."

"Truly?"

"Oh, yes," she says, shrugging lightly. "I think I was about ten when I figured out I could keep myself warm in the winter by reserving some of my mana each morning. I guess I never stopped doing it. It sort of just… happens now. I don't have to consciously cast the spell anymore." He opens his mouth to ask another question, but she quickly adds. "The fire immunity came later."

"Fascinating. Your mana stores must be vast—much larger than any apostate I've ever been around, at least," he marvels. He pauses and purses his lips to think before adding, "Do me a favor and never go to Tevinter. I don't think they'd ever let you leave."

"I'm guessing that's not a compliment?"

"A backhanded one, I suppose. The magisters would never be careless enough to let someone like you out of their nasty little clutches—you'd be their favorite party trick for no less than two seasons."

Aerin'ahl shudders at the thought. Dorian has told her many things about his homeland, but only a handful of them have been good; Minrathous reminds her of some of the rarer plants she studied in her youth—breathtakingly beautiful, but more poisonous than deathroot. Deceitful in all the right ways. She huffs determinedly and squeezes his arm tighter.

"Who needs Tevinter for that?" she says bitterly, her voice low. "I've heard what the soldiers say about me when they think I'm not paying attention. I'm nothing but an entertaining sideshow to these people, these… shemlen. You'd think they've never seen a mage before."

"They've seen mages, my dear, but not ones like you," Dorian says. He taps his index finger lightly against her forehead, once, twice. "Had you been in a Circle, you would've been made Tranquil whether you liked it or not. Solas, too."

A shiver runs down her spine. "Don't even joke about that."

Dorian looks down at her gravely, the corners of his mouth twisted into a grimace that looks remarkably out of place. "I may joke about many things, but I never joke about Tranquility. I am merely stating facts, as cruel as they may be."

She clenches her fist, crushing the fabric of his sleeve. "Of course," she tells him quietly. "Forgive me. I knew about Tranquility before I left my clan, but seeing it firsthand and talking about it is... difficult."

"A barbaric practice," he agrees, leading her past the stables. Aerin'ahl's hart bugles softly and tosses his antlers as they pass. "One of my first cousins was made Tranquil many years ago. We were quite close when we were younger. He was… oh, I don't know. Thirteen, maybe? I can't remember exactly. Haunting stuff, that."

Unbidden, a memory of bright eyes and lips stained blue with lyrium flashes through her mind. Tel'din ashalan.

"Yes," she says hollowly. "Haunting."

Dorian glances sidelong at her, one eyebrow arched. "Someone you know?"

"Knew. She has been dead for many years."

"Ah. I see. Were you close?"

"As close as a mother can be to her daughter."

She feels the muscles in his arm jump beneath her fingers in shock, but he is careful enough to keep it from showing on his face—for her sake, she knows. Dorian studies her with concern etched into his expression as they approach the gates of Haven, his mouth curved into a small, sad smile. "For what it's worth, I am sorry."

She manages to muster up a warm smile. "It is worth quite a bit, actually. Thank you."

He leans over to plant a chaste kiss on the top of her head, right next to the looping braid by her right ear—Theriel always used to kiss her before he left for his hunting trips.

"Would you care to talk about it?" Dorian asks hesitantly. "I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most comforting person in the world, but I've been told I make a rather dashing listener."

She shuffles closer to him and leans her head on his shoulder. They turn toward the dock by the edge of the frozen lake, footsteps slow and steady against the backdrop of clanging swords and grunts of exertion from the training grounds. "It's kind of you to offer, but there's not much to talk about," she says. "I miss her, yes, but I feel no sorrow over her loss. Death was far better than the alternative, in any case."

"Tranquility being the alternative, I assume."

"Yes," she says quietly. "She was only Tranquil for four moons before Falon'din guided her to the Beyond. Her passing was a blessing in many ways."

Dorian makes a low humming noise in his throat. "I risk sounding like a bumbling moron here, but I wasn't aware the Dalish used Tranquility."

Aerin's jaw clenches. "We don't," she mutters.

He makes a soft ah sound and inclines his head forward; the corners of his mouth are tight with displeasure and grim understanding. "I see. Templars?"

Aerin'ahl nods mutely and gazes out across the frozen lake in the direction of the Breach. The dry wood of the dock feels pleasant against her bare feet, warm from the sunlight despite the chill in the air. With a soft exhales she releases Dorian's arm and sits down at the far edge of the dock; her feet dangle over the edge, toes barely brushing the blue-green ice below. Dorian sits next to her, for once not complaining about the dirty ground and the state of his robes. Several beats of silence pass them by, the only sound between them being the noise of the recruits and echoes of the smithy in the distance.

He breaks the silence first. "I can't imagine what it must be like to have your mother taken away. Mine is always drunk, but that's hardly a comparison," he murmurs, and looks up at the Breach with a frown. "Kaffas. And then that thing just had to come along and make your life more difficult. I don't know how you do it, my friend."

"My sorrows are old, so my burden is not as heavy as you think," she assures him. "I joined the Inquisition out of necessity in the beginning, but I have stayed because it is the duty Mythal has bestowed upon me. Besides, I have the same level of responsibility as everyone else."

At this, Dorian laughs loudly. He bumps her with his shoulder, eyes still crinkled around the edges with true mirth. "Come now, you can't truly believe that, can you? You're the Herald of Andraste, their bloody savior! You've got more heaped on your plate than anyone in Thedas."

Aerin'ahl shrugs. She leans back against the dock and closes her eyes against the brightness of the sun, enjoying the roughness of the dock against her back through the thin material of her shirt. "But I have no power—I control no spy network, I hold no sway with the nobles, nor do I control our armies. I am a servant of the Inquisition, same as those soldiers over there," she says, pointing blindly in the direction of the training grounds. "My advisors have much harder jobs."

Dorian's voice is dry, "Yes, it must be terribly difficult to sit behind a desk and write letters all day. Swinging a sword at demons is somuch easier." He turns to look back toward the practicing soldiers. "Quite frankly, I'm not convinced our lovely Commander's job doesn't solely consist of him standing around and looking angry all the time. Please tell me I'm not the only one who's noticed."

She smacks his arm blindly. "Don't be cruel. The commander is not that bad."

"Not that bad?" he asks dubiously. The Tevinter turns and looks back in Cullen's direction with his head cocked to one side, contemplating. "He's not that bad to look at, for certain, but I find his manners to be a bit… I don't know, lacking? Nonexistent?" He snorts. "Kaffas, look at his face. He looks angry enough to start three wars by sundown."

At his words, Aerin'ahl goes to defend him—

But she hesitates. She has never before had the luxury of a friend like Dorian. There was Tannyll, of course, and a few hunters she conversed with every now and then, but she isn't quite sure if friendship is done the same way in Tevinter as it is back home. Is she supposed to laugh with him, agree with every belittling comment he throws in Cullen's direction? If she defends him, will Dorian be upset? She doesn't know.

She decides to take her chances.

"Try to understand," she says slowly, her voice smaller than before. "This has been a rough couple of days for him—he's not used to being around this many mages. I think we make him nervous."

"Mages making a templar nervous? I'm shocked."

She lets out a breath she didn't realize she'd been holding—he sounds amused, not angry. A good sign.

"Cullen's not a templar anymore," she explains, "so you can't really hold that against him. It took me a while to see that. He was in Kirkwall when the rebellions started, you know."

At this, Dorian's eyebrows fly up into his hairline. "Kirkwall, really?"

"Mm. He told me a while ago. He was stationed at the Gallows."

"I'm... surprised he's not dead."

"By all rights, he probably should be," she tells him. "I wasn't there, but my clan was only a day or two from Sundermount when it all happened. The stories we heard were horrible enough—but Cullen was there when it happened, for all of it. The whole thing." She shakes her head slowly, deliberately. "Creators. After something like that, I think he has every right to be afraid of us."

Dorian's face softens around the edges, and he tilts his head to one side. "You truly believe that?"

"I do," she says. "Fear like that doesn't come from nowhere. Whatever his reason, I'm sure he's justified in his distrust of mages, just like you and I are justified in our distrust of the Order."

Dorian is quiet for several moments as he mulls over her words. His fingers are tapping a steady rhythm against the dock and the trees are rustling their branches in the gentle breeze; the noises of the forest are almost strangely hesitant, muted, and far-away. Aerin misses the sound of rustling leaves—the Frostbacks are too cruel to allow anything to grow here except bare, spindly branches and bushels of nettlesome pine needles.

"I suppose I can see your point," Dorian says finally, and she looks up at him. He is staring out across the frozen lake, his face wistful for a brief moment before he shakes himself and frowns. "Still, I don't think he likes me very much. I can at least hold that against him."

She snorts. "You know, for a while I was convinced he hated me, but he came around eventually. It just took him a few weeks to warm up to me."

"Ah, yet another stain on his character," Dorian quips, and looks down at her with a cheeky grin. He answers her questioning look, "He didn't immediately fall in love with you like the rest of us—that scary Seeker lady notwithstanding, or so I heard. Varric told me she threw you in prison and tortured you for a week before she let you out."

Aerin'ahl rolls her eyes and scoffs. "He likes to exaggerate. I was only chained up for a little while."

"What a shame. It made for an excellent story," he mutters. "I guess this means Commander Cullen didn't pull his sword on your when you first met?"

"Blood of Mythal, no. We didn't have the best start, certainly, but it was nothing like that." Aerin bites the inside of her cheek, her thoughts drifting. "I think he was frightened of me when we met. Sometimes I think he still is." She looks up at Dorian with wide eyes. "I'm not that scary, am I?"

"When you're fighting, you're bloody terrifying," he tells her lightly, "but right now, not so much. You're about as threatening as a freshly-baked sweetroll." He glances over his shoulder in the direction of the commander, mouth twisting. "He's going to wrinkle prematurely if he keeps that up, though."

With a grunt, Aerin'ahl arches her back and rises up on her shoulders, tilting her head to look toward the training grounds. Cullen looks strange upside down but she can clearly see the lines of strain in his neck and shoulders and the deep crease between his brows. His lips are thin and turned down at the corners in displeasure—or is it pain? He begins to speak to Knight-Captain Rylen about something and Aerin'ahl sees the commander wince when he turns too quickly to answer a question.

Definitely pain.

Rylen leaves with a barked order she can't understand at this distance, the words lost to the rustling of the trees in the breeze. Cullen turns back to the recruits and crosses his arms over his chest as he watches them, shouting out orders and corrections.

"See?" Dorian prods her, but she is only half-paying attention to him. "I'm half-expecting those soldiers to burst into flames."

She hums noncommittally in response, only half-listening to her friend as she studies Cullen's face; his shoulders are impossibly broad under his pauldrons and his jaw is set firmly as he observes the remainder of afternoon drills, eyes narrowed and arms crossed over his chest in cold indifference. His hair reflects gold in the sunlight, a harsh contrast to her own cold, quicksilver tresses. Cullen stands resolute in the clearing, feet planted in the same spot as always, and the familiarity gives Aerin the sudden urge to go over and strike up a friendly, familiar conversation. It would be so easy.

Then, as if he can feel her gaze on him, Cullen suddenly tenses and tears his eyes from the recruits, searching the grounds with an even deeper scowl than before. He turns toward the dock—

His molten gaze falls on her, and suddenly she can't tell which way is up.

She feels an odd, sharp lurch in her chest like her heart has stopped for the briefest of moments; it's the same pang of pain-but-not-pain she experienced that night in Adan's when he finally used her name, the strange syllables rolling off his tongue in a way that both fascinated and frightened her. Cullen's eyes widen fractionally when he realizes she's staring straight back at him, two spots of color blossoming in the apples of his cheeks even redder than the tip of his nose in the frosty air. She cannot help but grin—he looks like a halla frozen in torchlight, eyes wide with shock and faint horror but unable to look away from the source.

Across the clearing, Cullen blinks at the sight of her smile and his lips part slightly in surprise. He is only off-balance for a moment, though. He glances surreptitiously back at the recruits to make sure no one is watching before turning back to give Aerin a faint half-smile that makes her heart pound erratically in her chest.

"Oh," Dorian says quietly. "Oh."

"What?" she murmurs distractedly, still watching Cullen. He's rubbing the back of his neck, eyes darting between her and the practicing recruits rapidly before he chances a small wave in her direction. She bites her lower lip and waves back.

"Sweet, flaming Andraste. Could you be any more obvious?"

She manages tears her gaze from Cullen and shields her eyes from the sun, squinting up at Dorian with an irritated expression. "Are you planning on clarifying anytime soon?"

Dorian leans over her, blotting out the sun, and flashes a knowing grin. He clucks his tongue against the roof of his mouth and slowly shakes his head back and forth. "You little minx. You're sleeping with him, aren't you? I'm almost hurt you kept something so juicy from me."

At first, she frowns, not understanding his meaning. Why would she need to sleep with him? They both have their own cabins, they're perfectly capable of—

And then Aerin remembers a particularly raunchy story Varric told her a few weeks back about a pirate captain from Kirkwall, and suddenly the words make a whole lot more sense. She lets out a strangled noise and jackknifes into a seated position.

She sputters a strange mixture of Elvhen and Trade that sounds more like noise than actual words before her brain catches up."What? I'm not— fenedhis, no! How could you say such a thing?"

Dorian lifts a skeptical eyebrow and quickly dispels the sparks that are spitting uncontrollably from her fingertips like a lit fuse with a wave of his hand. He jerks his head in the direction of the commander. "You were ogling each other like lovesick teenagers. What was I supposed to think?"

"Anything!" she cries, waving her hands around wildly. "Anything else but that. Creators, Dorian, have you no shame?"

"None whatsoever. It's why I'm so popular at parties back home," he deadpans. Dorian holds up his hands in mock surrender, still chortling, and ducks out of the way of a firm punch to the shoulder. "All right, all right, I'll stop! There's no reason to hit me."

"There's every reason to hit you."

He scoffs, "I was only stating the obvious! For the love of Andraste, he saw you and blushed up to his ears like a chantry boy in a brothel! And you," he says, pointing a finger at her, "were grinning like a fool. A fool, I tell you. It seemed like a perfectly logical conclusion."

With an aggravated huff, Aerin'ahl flops back down on the dock and crosses her arms over her chest indignantly. The clouds are suddenly very interesting and her cheeks are very hot. "Well, you're wrong. We're just colleagues." She pauses, considering. "Or, we were before Redcliffe, at least."

"Sounds ominous. I take he didn't approve of the alliance?"

"You could say that," she grumbles. Then uncertainty slips through the cracks and she sighs. "At least, I think that's the reason. That was the first time he's made eye contact with me since we came back."

"He looked happy enough to see you," Dorian says suggestively, raising one eyebrow. "Tickled pink, even, and I mean that literally."

She shoves him. "Shut up. He did not."

"He did."

"No he didn't."

"I'd venture to say he looked rather enamored with you."

"Please stop."

"I bet you would have adorable childr—"

With a shriek, Aerin lunges toward him in an attempt to— well, she doesn't really know what she wants to do, but incinerating his mustache seems like a brilliant start.


Had to cut this one in half. It was getting ridiculous. Hope you liked it!