It happens at the Storm Coast but it’s not until night falls and they resolve to take shelter when realization strikes him like a bolt of thunder. The world takes a long deep yawn while his ears clog up, his lungs stop working and he loses his gaze ahead, the cask half-way to his mouth, ale dripping to the floor.
“All good, boss?”
After listening to The Iron Bull’s voice, the world goes back turning, but the realization remains clutched to his heart and leaves him motionless, his arms and legs and his entire body at the mercy of a tickling uneasiness, as if anything he thought he was before belonged to him no more; his brain suddenly lost, words not coming out of his mouth as smoothly and cheeky as they tend to do, even more so when talking to the Bull or…
He takes a deep sip from the cask. Ale now drips from his chin and he doesn’t stop drinking until there isn’t a single drop left. He cleans his mouth with the back of his hand and, before he can even notice, he’s looking to the gravel by his feet and tries to hold his restlessness back to no avail. However, sitting down on the floor, his boots end up drawing intricate patterns on the sand and the smell of smoke from the pipe Varric is smoking at the other side of camp makes him feel as if everything were almost all right. Almost. At least for a moment. He focuses on the sand and breathes through the nose, deeply; the smell of smoke and the sea and the crackling bonfire ahead relieve him from the inside as a potion would do. However, though he wishes that comfort were eternal, it only lasts until a sudden need to look up again haunts him down his spine.
He’s there. Dorian’s still there.
He realizes he’s been rejecting the name inside his head all the time. Dorian, he tries to himself, trying to make the restlessness go. But it doesn’t. It doesn’t get better either. If so, it gets worse. He even likes the sound of the name through his own voice.
Dorian seems to be engaged in solemn conversation with Vivienne although he cannot listen to what they’re saying. So they might very well be arguing. Or threatening to kill each other. All options are possible. There’s a moment when he gestures and then he wonders how long he’s been looking at them. A sense of shame urges him to look down again but then Dorian raises his hand; his features darken while he waves his arm in his customary grandiloquent manner and then produces an abrupt yet intense ray of purple light.
He can’t stop staring.
Vivienne grunts and produces a green spark with no effort. Dorian smirks. He seems about to say something. He knows it by the way his lips have just curved. He also knows that after the smile he’ll raise an eyebrow and a couple wrinkles will appear round his eyes, next to his mole. He doesn’t know why he knows. He just knows. Dorian licks his lips and now he’s ready to throw a sharp knife on Vivienne’s lack of mannerism.
Instead, he turns his head and looks at him.
Their eyes clash for a moment, his blood heats up inside each vein and then he’s not sure if his heart is pounding just like in front of a pride demon or if it has simply stopped beating. He doesn’t know. He feels naked, exposed, betrayed by his own self and can’t help but look down again and focus his entire attention on the patterns his boots are drawing on the sand.
But he can still hear Dorian laughing.
He swallows saliva. He wishes he could turn a deaf hear to his laughter, to his words, to his… being there. But he can’t. Now he knows it, he simply can’t and fear crawls through his veins like a snake. He doesn’t even dare to put what he’s feeling into words, into any kind of thought. His whole body is a chain reaction he can’t subdue after that first realization, when he discovered himself staring at Dorian, wondering about the origin of his olive skin, noticing the way the wind and the dampness at the Storm Coast curled up his hair and he detested it, the way the shadows by the bonfire made his face somewhat different depending on the way he looked at him, the way his whole persona had occupied his entire mind, the way his voice always, always, soothes him.
“Bubbles. Gleam. Heart aching. The world upon his shoulders and he screams inside but no one listens.”
The words are like a whip lashing his mind so he turns around abruptly. He gasps; his hands round the empty cask as if it were the only weapon available. His mind’s even more blurred now as he realizes what Cole’s been able to put into words and he hasn’t.
“Not now, Cole”, he mutters.
“But I listen”, replies his companion in that cheerful but creepy manner of his.
The way he looks at him, that enormous hat, his hands fixed to his body, thin as a stick, motionless, staring, expecting; his words still resounding inside his brain; all that unnerves him to a point he doesn’t know how to withstand. It’s almost the same stare he sees on everyone at Skyhold, the same reverence he can see on Cassandra’s eyes, on Cullen, on Josephine –well, on everyone except…
“Not now, really”, he repeats and Cole leaves as swiftly as he came to his side.
He feels bad for rejecting him but he can’t help it. He can’t stand the stares; that silence uncalled for, always lingering on what he has to say, on what he has to decide, as if his words were truly the Maker’s. But not. He’s repeated it countless times: He’s not the Herald. He’s not a savior. He’s not a chosen one. He’s not… what they think he is. He’s not holy; he’s sinned as much as anyone. But still… Cole is right and even though he doesn’t know how, the world is fucking literally upon his shoulders and now he has accepted to be the Inquisitor, it’s simply too late to go back.
And he’s seen… things. He’s seen the looks on the refugees at the Hinterlands, he’s seen despair. Families broken. He’s seen hopelessness. Entire villages burnt to ashes. He’s seen tears. How could he simply step aside?
He just can’t.
But fighting demons, closing rifts, helping people, sealing the breach, saving the fucking world seems easier than fighting against that heat inside his chest.
He just can’t.
He gets on his feet. The bonfire smoke is watering his eyes; he’s kind of sweating now. Were it not dangerous he’d run to the beach and throw himself to the water. He needs to be alone. At least for a moment, just alone and calm his heart and his thoughts and regain his own self. He can’t afford to lose it. He has to stand his own ground, advise, giver orders, command. He can’t afford to be thinking what he’s thinking, he can’t allow feeling whatever he’s feeling and he won’t be able to until everything’s finished.
However, he has to look back just one more time. One more and it’ll be over.
Dorian’s on his own now, he’s sitting on a log and seems distracted, deep in thought. He wonders what he’s thinking about. Dorian’s also drinking but that doesn’t surprise him. It’s the first thing he does when they camp. And, well, when they kill a demon. Or when they get out from a cave. When they kill the last spider around, Dorian drinks too and now he wonders why. He’s always ready, he complains a lot but never holds back; and now he thinks of it, sometimes, when he speaks, he can trace a sad and bitter aftertaste behind his witty remarks. He hasn’t realized up until now but sometimes his eyes say something opposite to what he says through his lips. Now he’s not speaking; now that Dorian’s only gazing out, he gets the feeling it’s his eyes that always speak the truth; just Dorian’s amber eyes and then he can feel the real one, no artifices, no perfect outfit, no elegant demeanor. Just the naked truth.
Although he’s moved away from the fire, he can still feel the heat. He takes his hand to his face and rubs it, but it does nothing, the heat is still there. So he walks away and knowing it’s the last time he will allow himself to look at Dorian like that hurts more than he ever thought. What’s happening to him? The question sounds ridiculous in his head. He perfectly knows what’s happening. It’s not the first time he feels it and because it isn’t, it’s easy for him to know the answer; but it doesn’t make the going away any less painful. It hurts not to look, not to gaze, not to desire.
He stops halfway through. Just one last time. He can’t stand not looking at him. Not looking feels like not being in the same world as him. He feels his own heart shrinking, an unexpected urge for crying. At least, when he looks at Dorian he knows where he is, who he is with; what he’s doing. And he feels stupid for feeling so childish. He doesn’t know how many times he’s gone up the rotunda to the library to check up on him. His feet always take him there and it’s only now he’s realized why.
Everyone’s wrong. They say he controls the Inquisition, Skyhold, that he’ll control half of Thedas. But they’re wrong. He can’t and won’t control any of those if he doesn’t manage to control the enticing rush of joy he feels when he’s close to Dorian, the way his heart beats when he’s passing by, when he listens to what he says, when he hears his laughter, when he sees his moves so precise while fighting.
He’ll have to find a way to stop it. He has to stop flirting, he has to stop thinking about him, about his eyes, his lips, his voice. He has to stop staring in the distance or he’ll fall. Definitely. And then there won’t be a way to end it.
He never thought it’d be so difficult.
He feels he’s far enough when the sounds from the camp blend with the roaring from the sea. He breathes deeply in what seems ages and leans on a nearby tree.
He’s still facing the tree and can’t see him, but he’s sure a crooked smile has just appeared on Dorian’s face. He knows he hates the title. He also doesn’t need to see him to guess he’s just crossed his arms for the rustle of his clothes. A soft breeze starts blowing and then a smell he knows very well reaches his nostrils; Dorian’s got a distinctive aroma. He always distinguishes it among the rest. However, he doesn’t know what it reminds him of. He just knows, and has just also come to the realization, that he’s dreamt about that smell. More than once. He feels his lips tremble a little. He is going to miss it.
“Don’t call me that, Dorian”.
“Why? Do you prefer ‘Your Illustrious’?” Dorian asks, “Nah, too shabby. ‘Your Serene Inquisitious Highness’ perhaps? What about ‘Your Anointed Holiness’?”
Despite everything, he can’t help but smiling. It’s a weird feeling because he’s smiling but, at the same time, he feels something else, something humid, warm and comfortable down his stomach. It also tastes like tears but it’s something else. It’s the urge for him to get closer. And, at the same time, it’s the need for him to step back, to go away. He shouldn’t have come and the reason is simple. He was pretending he wanted to be alone, that he needed a moment’s rest but all that was fake. All he intended was to try and see what it felt like to be apart from him. His coming to where he is doesn’t help.
Any other time? Any other time, he’d have laughed. He’d have made up even larger-than-life titles for his own self. He’d have made some others for Dorian and his huge ego. He’d have agreed on all of them. He’d have joked on the sheen of his choice of armor. Dorian would have agreed on that too and would have added it’s simply necessary one in the group showed good taste. And, no, Vivienne’s not a good example for that. They’d have shared the rest of the ale and maybe (just maybe because it’s just happened once before) they’d sit together on a log and they’d chat. About anything; about Tevinter, Ostwick. The Free Marches or Minrathous. What it is to be a noble, the weight of expectations. They’d be talking until dawn and then he’d notice (as happened that once before) he’d be half asleep, his cheeks red, his brain dazed because of Dorian’s velvety voice.
Any other time? He’d have done that. This time? He can’t. He simply can’t. It’s like opening a door to a place he can’t afford to go.
“What do you want, Dorian?” he replies after a long pause.
“Me? Many things; but one can’t just expect fresh grapes in the back of beyond. Or a mattress stuffed with pheasant feathers. Let alone a decent Garbolg's Backcountry Reserve.” By this time, he has already turned, has crossed his arms over his chest and, despite the turmoil of emotions he feels in his stomach, he’s still smiling. “Shall I go on?” continues Dorian, “I do have a list.”
And there it is. He was expecting that. This last sentence he always produces, almost in whispers, all intention and passion and wit. It doesn’t need to mean anything. ‘He has a list.’ He may very well have a list, in fact. But it doesn’t matter. He could have said anything. Anything. It’s the rhythm with which he pronounces every word that counts; the way he lowers his voice and bents forward him, the way his eyes gleam implying something different he isn’t able to apprehend. It’s the camaraderie, the moist warmness of his breath to his neck.
He closes his eyes for a second. Breathes in through the nose. Dorian’s scent breezes in neat inside his body now but he still can’t decipher what it is. He doesn’t mind, however. He’s just closed his eyes for a second but he knows he’s fallen already. He knows that there is no turning back despite all his inner uprising. He’s fallen already and he might have for a very long time without knowing; since the very beginning. And he knows it because the only thing he can think of, now that his smell has taken control of his entire body, is for Dorian not to break away from him. For him to keep talking, whispering, teasing. He longs for his lips to grow closer to his, for his lips to stop talking and kiss him.
And he finally opens his eyes after that second which has lasted an eternity just to realize Dorian hasn’t moved. Dorian’s there, he’s still there. And then he whispers “I was simply checking up on you. I thought it was fitting. For a change,” and his whole body surrenders in gratitude, his hands itching to touch his face and feel his smooth skin, his own tongue dry in a stupor, his own throat unable to swallow, his mouth unable to speak, his heart pounding so loud he’s afraid Dorian’s listening.
But it’s worse.
It’s worse when he realizes he finally recognizes Dorian’s smell, his sight fixed on his. It’s worse when he looks at Dorian’s amber eyes and he understands what they’re saying. It’s worse when he realizes that’s what he’s wanted to listen all along. It’s worse when he knows he won’t be able to step back.
"You’re just a man”, they say and the unspoken words slide gently to his mind as a caress. “You’re just a man” and that’s when he falls in love definitely. “You’re just a man” and Dorian’s the only one since all of this begun that has always told him the truth.
He answers nothing when Dorian grins and takes a bow which feels as pompous as it feels ironic. Then, he goes back to camp. He looks at him now he’s walking and smiles to himself. To fight against his own feelings has always been a fruitless battle. He can’t fight them. Because he needs them. It’s the man Dorian sees in him what lets him be what he’s become. And he wouldn’t be able to stand not seeing his own reflection in his eyes. He needs him. He loves him.
He breathes in through the nose just one more time. Deep. Dorian’s now in the camp but he can still feel him close. It’s his unspoken words that remain. And the scent of sandalwood.