Casually, Dorian knocked on the open door to Cullen’s office with one knuckle. Even more casually, he leaned on the door frame, kicking one foot out to cross over the other. Completely without a care in the world, just stopping by to see a friend, nothing more.
Every bit of it was a lie, of course. Dorian was practically quivering with… well, whatever the opposite of ‘casual and careless’ was. He didn’t bother thinking about that, however. There was a facade to maintain, after all. “Busy?” His voice was light, almost bored, the same tone Dorian had perfected during his years chasing Rilienus.
Cullen looked up from his reports. His distracted frown turned into a wry, ever-so-slightly dirty grin, the one only Dorian got to see. (Except that’s not true, is it?) “Never too busy for my favorite mage,” he said.
(My favorite mage. Smile, not too wide, he means nothing by it.) “Working on anything good?” Dorian gave a nod at the desk, sauntering closer.
“Requisitions,” Cullen sighed. “So, yes, if by ‘good’ you mean ‘crucial’.” He pointed at the chair opposite the desk.
“Mmm.” Dorian sprawled lazily, hitching one leg over the arm of the chair, deliberately provocative. (Just the way he likes it. Just the way he likes me. Nothing’s wrong, nothing’s wrong.)
“Something the matter?” Cullen asked, tilting his head.
(Vishante kaffas, don’t say anything. Don’t say anything.) “Of course not,” Dorian smiled. “I see Hawke’s Warden is here,” he noted, examining his fingernails. (Shut up, shut up.)
“Alistair, yes. Arrived yesterday,” Cullen said, a hint of suspicion creeping into his voice. “He’s here for a week, on his way to the Western Approach.”
“Mmm,” Dorian hummed again. He really should stop staring at his fingernails, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to meet Cullen’s eyes. “Yes, I saw him on the battlements.” (I saw you both on the battlements. I saw the way you looked at him, the way you laughed, the way he laughed, the way your hand lingered on his arm, that smile, your smile, my smile, Maker, why do I care? I don’t, I don’t.)
“Did you.” Cullen set the quill down and folded his hands on top of the desk. “We’re old friends.”
“Are you?” Dorian murmured, as if it was the most boring topic in the world. The rosettes carved into the arm of the chair were much more interesting; he traced the relief with one finger.
“Is that a problem?” Cullen’s voice had a bit of challenge edging it.
“What? Good lord no, of course not,” Dorian scoffed automatically, his smile not coming close to his eyes. “Why would that be a problem?” He glanced at Cullen. The man’s face was intent, neutral, unreadable. Dorian let his gaze slide to the bookshelves.
“Well we were very close,” Cullen said, putting extra emphasis on the word, as if Dorian hadn’t already known that, as if Dorian were blind as well as stupid, as if Dorian didn’t know Cullen had a past full of other lovers and would have a similar future once their dalliance (casual, casual, nothing more) came to a close.
“Oh?” Dorian managed, and now the facade was crumbling as his traitorous voice trembled. “Good for you. He’s very handsome.” (Stop. Just stop. Try counting the books on the top shelf. One, two, three…)
“Yes. He is,” Cullen said, his voice even.
Dorian blinked rapidly, staring at the fourth book on the shelf. (Some nonsense by Genitivi. Really, Cullen shouldn’t be reading such trifle.)
“Does that bother you?” Cullen continued, implacable.
“Why should it?” He was trapped now, and he knew it. Cullen had outplayed him, just as surely as if they were sitting at the chess board. It had been a long time since Dorian had blundered this badly. The only way forward was to continue to insist that nothing was different. To admit jealousy would mean admitting he cared. And that wasn’t an option.
“Does that interest you?”
“What?” Dorian’s head snapped to look at Cullen so fast he felt his neck crick. He unhooked his leg from the chair and sat up straight. “What are you talking about?”
Cullen gave a disinterested shrug with one shoulder. “As you’ve said, this…” he waved vaguely between them, “is just a casual thing. I thought maybe you were interested in Alistair.” He shrugged again and reached for his quill.
But Cullen’s hand shook. Dorian saw it. Dorian saw it, and he almost burst into laughter. (Had the sun been streaming through the windows this whole time, or had the room gotten brighter?) “I could ask you the same thing,” he blurted, the words jumbling out.
Cullen looked up at him, his jaw working. “Is that why you’re here?” He didn’t seem happy. At all. If anything, he seemed put out.
Things had unspooled so rapidly that Dorian no longer had any idea what was happening. “I’m… I’m sorry?” It wasn’t an apology, more an acknowledgement of his own confusion.
Cullen grit his teeth together. “Why are you here?”
Dorian’s elation curdled in his gut. He wasn’t good with direct questions. Maybe five minutes ago he could’ve spun some dross and called it silk, but not now. “I saw the two of you talking. Last night. I….” (Don’t want this to be casual. It isn’t casual, not for me, it never was, Maker, please let me not have ruined this.)
Silence stretched between them. This time it wasn’t Dorian’s imagination when the room dimmed. Through the window, he saw the sun slip behind a cloud, and the room seemed that much colder for it.
Cullen rose, tugging his uniform straight. He came around to Dorian’s chair and knelt beside it, curling gloved fingers around one of the spindles. It was his turn to examine the rosettes. “I know you want to maintain some distance, and I respect that.”
(I don’t, I don’t.)
“Alistair is… a very good friend. I greatly enjoyed my time with him, and he means a great deal to me, even now….”
(Why can’t I breathe?)
“But my admiration for him is nothing, less than nothing, compared to how I feel about you.” Cullen looked up at Dorian.
“Oh god,” Dorian whispered. He tugged Cullen closer, frantic. And then they were kissing and gasping and running hands over each other, as needy as their first kiss, maybe more. (More, more, never enough, never.)
“Dorian,” Cullen said his name, nuzzling along his ear. “Dorian, I want more. Maker, I want so much more from you.”
“Yes. Anything. Everything.” He murmured into Cullen’s neck. (What was I scared of? It seems so simple, now.)
“For now, I’d settle for another kiss,” Cullen said.
Dorian laughed, breathless. “Not a problem.”