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The Demands of Good Men

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This was quite the motley crew that Dorian found himself joining. Sure it was all for a good cause, save the world, kill an Archdemon, try and exonerate his country as best he could, blah blah blah. But the company the Inquisitor kept!

Solas was an alright sort, if not strange. Vivienne was an utter bitch which was why Dorian found himself sipping wine with her often and making catty remarks about Ferelden fashion (or lack thereof). Sera was mad as a sackful of cats though rather fun in her own way, when she wasn’t talking about using his ‘Tevinter arse as a pincushion’. Varric was someone Dorian could listen to for hours on end, however the chest hair was terribly distracting. Cole was—well, Dorian was wary of him, not just for the fact that he was some sort of Fade being but also because he continually blurted out whatever someone near him might be thinking which proved quite embarrassing. Cassandra glared at him at every turn but Dorian became used to it when he realized she did that with everyone (especially Varric). Blackwall was as interesting to Dorian as the color grey, a fact that was at least amusing in its own right.

But then—then there was the Bull.

All the rabble Beatrix surrounded herself with Dorian could stomach, Void, even find something he liked about them. But Iron Bull?

Never mind that he was qunari, the people who had been attacking and killing Dorian’s countrymen for centuries now. That alone would be an unredeemable trait on its own but no, no Bull was more than just a qunari. He was also loud, brash, sweaty, smelly, unapologetic, crass, deviant and utterly obnoxious. Dorian muttered about wanting to throw a fireball at his head more than once and Bull would just laugh at him and make some dirty remark about splitting Dorian on his sword in return. Beatrix would intervene at that point and Dorian would stomp off in a huff, cheeks burning. Bull would laugh louder and then apologize to his ‘boss’ as she shook her head at him fondly.

“I hope—“ Dorian began in the spirit of diplomacy or what little of that ideal he could muster up, “—it doesn’t bother you to travel alongside a ‘vint’, Iron Bull…”

The qunari glances over his shoulder at the mage with his one good eye, the giant metal thing he was using to turn their adversaries into wet red stains on the ground held up against his other arm.

“That what you are? You people all kinda look the same to me,” The Bull replies, falling into step beside Dorian, mostly to avoid Sera and Beatrix playing with jars of something that was humming angrily.

Dorian snorts, wondering if Bull was really that stupid or making an actually clever comment—after all, his people thought the ‘ox-men’ all looked alike. “I’m also a mage,” he adds, eyes thinning. “Would you prefer me bound and leashed?” Dorian asks, nose tipped up as he walked a pace ahead.

Bull lets him and Dorian can hear the smirk as he replies, “I’d buy you dinner first.”

It is years of social graces and etiquette that keep Dorian from tripping over his own robes. He has to take a fortifying breath, glaring back at Bull while the bigger man grins shamelessly.

“Hopefully before you sewed my mouth shut,” is Dorian’s prim reply, before he hurries ahead. Or tries to, anyways. Bull puts his hand on Dorian’s shoulder to stop him and the Tevinter freezes, a spell on his lips—

Bull points ahead where Sera and Beatrix are screeching. There’s a broken jar between them and a horde of angry—are those bees?! –insects chasing the two women all the way to the lake where they both jump in and take cover.

Bull laughs, lets go of Dorian. “And that last bit depends on how much you keep yapping,” he says and walks ahead to rescue the girls from the stinging insects.

Dorian stays back, surprised by the fact that the qunari didn’t just let him walk into a cloud of bees. Dorian’s behavior certainly warranted such comeuppance. No. Suspicious, he corrects himself. Not surprising. Not at all.

It’s a few days later that Dorian dares to continue the conversation. They’re on the Storm Coast and Dorian’s robes are soaked through with rainwater. The scent of the ocean waves crashing is enough to make him seasick. Bull, on the other hand, looks completely in his element, smiling into the salty air with his eye shut.

Dorian’s mostly pissed off that Bull looks so happy while he feels so miserable.

“Nothing at all, Bull?” he asks, breaking the qunari’s reverie and getting that eye turned on him again. “No trouble having a ‘vint behind you?”

Bull’s face splits in that telltale grin and Dorian’s eyes trace absentmindedly the rain that runs down the laugh lines in his face, trailing down the thick column of his neck.

“Hope you like the view,” he replies easily and Dorian rolls his eyes in response, looks away disdainfully.

“You can’t deny you enjoy butchering my people,” Dorian responds and they’re falling into step again. Beatrix and Cole are ahead, the former chatting happily to the latter about all sorts of things. Cole’s smiling under his hat which might be adorable if the… whatever Cole is… wasn’t so creepy at the outset.

“Hey…” Bull sounds almost wounded but he’s still smiling. Dorian wants to punch him if he wasn’t certain it would hurt his own hand. “Butchering implies I’m gonna eat ‘em. Most ‘vints are just gristle and fat in a red wine marinade.”

A laugh bursts from Dorian’s lips before he can stop it. “Well, that much is true…” he admits and Bull winks at him and Dorian wonders if he knows how ridiculous that looks with one eye.

It’s almost as ridiculous as Bea wearing Cole’s hat while he puts on her cowl. The blond looks confused at first, like he’s wondering why it is so funny. Then a laugh is startled from young spirit when the Herald of Andraste pretends to sneak from the shadows to jump on Bull’s back and ‘assassinate’ him with a pair of twigs. Dorian’s laughing too, they all are and for a moment he feels perfectly comfortable despite being soaked to his smalls with freezing rainwater.

That first laugh Bull gets from him is a prelude to others. Mostly they get on each other’s nerves and the Inquisitor has to chide them to ‘play nice’ but it’s all in good fun. Even when Dorian accidentally sends a patch of ice in front of Bull’s foot or Bull puts Dorian’s staff up on his horns so that the mage has to jump for it and curse up a storm as Bull stops him with a hand on his head.

They even manage to talk normally, sometimes. Bull’s more traveled than Dorian had thought and he knows a bit about Tevinter as well. They talked about that one place in Minrathous with the dancers and Dorian laughs at Bull’s story about how a very pretty one of those performers overlooked a magister for Bull’s favor. “I wish I could have been there to see that,” he said and meant it, shockingly enough.

It is, of course, too good to last. They’re climbing over some bloody big rocks in the Hinterlands and Dorian’s swearing in a way that would turn even one of the Chargers scarlet, feet scuffling against the stone. He’s surprised Bull isn’t ahead of all of them, he certainly has the upper body strength for this nonsense. Not that Dorian has noticed or anything.

“Better hike up your skirt, mage boy,” Bull rumbles and Dorian scowls, turns his nose up at the offered hand.

“I’m not wearing a skirt!” he hisses in response. He’s sweaty and rumpled and dirty and not in the mood for Bull’s nonsense.

The qunari snorts—“You trip on that bustling whatever, don’t come crying to me.”

Dorian cusses at him in Tevene and makes a point of clambering ahead of Bull even though it means digging his fingers into mossy stone and getting grit under his nails.

A sharp smack echoes in the canyon and Dorian gasps, looking over his shoulder where Iron Bull still has his hand guiltily on Dorian’s rump.

“What? I’m trying to motivate you to keep moving!” the qunari says and no amount of Ben-Hassrath training could make that face look innocent.

“Vishante kaffas— unhand me you lummox!” he says but the ‘motivation’ works and he’s up and over the hill quickly, joining Beatrix and Cole on the other side.

“You and Bull playing nice?” Beatrix asks, blinking at Dorian who knows he’s red-faced and huffing from his exertions among other things.

“Pain blossoms through him, but it isn’t all pain, it burns but doesn’t hurt, not like it should. It excites and it reminds of what is different and what is the same. Are there degrees of disappointment? Of depravity? He doesn’t know and it scares. It terrifies and tantalizes and ties him…” Cole rattles off, big eyes sympathetic.

“Fasta vass!—yes we are quite fine. Buddy-buddy. Joined at the hip, even!” Dorian declares loudly before Cole can say anything further on the matter.

“Joined at the hip? You’d think you’d buy a guy a drink first at least…” Iron Bull slides down to meet them in the valley just in time, smirking in that self-satisfied way that Dorian really hates. Dorian curses at him in response and Bull’s grin widens.

Beatrix laughs a little, shaking her head. “You two are so cute when you’re flirting,” she says and Dorian pales until he realizes she’s joking. “Come on, help me set up camp, Bull. Dorian, you mind sending up a signal so they can bring the wagons around?”

Dorian happily throws a hand up in the air, shooting a fireball off in the sky before going to stomp off and burn things.

Later that night, the two of them are the very definition of thinly veiled hostility. Bull’s not acting any different really, but Dorian is showing his irritation quite plainly. He curls his knees up to his chest, staying close the firelight.

“Why is it always so cold? How do you southerners stand it?” Dorian complains through chattering teeth. It probably doesn’t help that his shoulder is bared thanks to his Tevinter-made robes. The question is to Beatrix, but she doesn’t hear him because requisition officer is asking her to sign off on something.

“What’s the matter?” Bull asks, fingers and mouth greasy from the fried druffalo meat (the result of Dorian’s fit of burning everything he could find). “Not enough slaves around to rub your footsies?”

Dorian curls his lip in a sneer of disdain. “My footsies are freezing, thank you!” he snaps in response and huddles closer to the fire. Bull chuckles and continues eating, the sound disgusting as he sucks grease from each finger. Bull then leaves the firelight with a belch of satisfaction to head towards the tents.



Dorian has almost completely tuned everything out when something heavy falls onto his shoulders. It’s a rough, homespun blanket and it smells musky but it is warm. Dorian instinctively pulls it around him like a cocoon.

“…thank you.” he says and it’s genuine because he’s not a completely thankless arse.

“Ain’t gonna rub your feet though, ‘vint,” Bull says and then adds, “Get some sleep, Dorian.”

Dorian waves Bull off with a flick of a well-manicured (though now somewhat mossy) hand. Bull snorts and lumbers off.

The next time they have occasion to talk is in Skyhold. Dorian vacated the library because Mother Giselle decided to take residence and she always seems to stare at him with such distaste. Normally he wouldn’t be bothered, would even happily be drawn into confrontation—but it is a very clear day and reading out of doors is not entirely out of the question.

So he sits up on the ramparts, balancing a book on his ringed fingers, his other hand bringing a raspberry to his lips. They’re scarce and sweet and so he’s trying to savor them as he turns the page.

“They finally kicked you out of the tower then?”

Dorian very nearly falls off the ramparts at the low rumble of Bull’s voice. With quicker reflexes than one would think someone of Bull’s size would have, he catches Dorian around the waist and tugs him back before he goes tumbling.

The breath goes out of Dorian’s lungs as he’s pulled against a very wide, grey chest. And he’s surprised because Bull’s skin doesn’t feel like he thought a qunari’s would—like tempered steel or rough stone. It’s soft over the firmness of his muscles. It’s—

Dorian jerks away, face hot. “I wasn’t kicked out, I merely wanted to get some air.”

Bull has saved the bowl of raspberries as well, munching on them without restraint as Dorian balks. “Uh-huh. Because you and cold southern air get along so well.”

“I’m adapting. What are you doing out here? Run out of ale at the tavern, did they?” Dorian retorts, reaching to snag the bowl back but Bull’s a two year old at heart apparently and it is easily pulled out of his reach.

“How would you know if they did? Pretty sure you about-faced outta there the second you heard that dwarf tell you the wine selection was limited to ‘the red stuff and the white stuff’,” Bull says with that big boisterous laugh of his.

Dorian marks the page in his book and shuts it, chuckling as well. “I’ve faced so many demons and deranged mages and crazed Templars with lyrium growing out of their everything—and I can tell you with no uncertainty that that situation terrified me.”

“Oh, I don’t doubt it, Dorian. Viv’s—I mean, Madam Vivienne—is getting some better wine in from Orlais. Maybe even some ‘vint’-age stuff,” Bull says with another stupid one-eyed wink that was not charming at all.

“That was a horrible joke. But it’s so very kind of Vivienne to think of such an insignificant person as myself while she’s sitting in that ivory tower of hers.” Dorian states, looking towards the main hall. Vivienne was, of course, haunting the upper balcony as per usual. Bitch. Nobody lectured her, save maybe the Inquisitor on occasion.

“I mighta mentioned the whole incident to her in passing…” Bull explains carefully, finally putting the bowl (now half-empty) between them. Dorian is surprised by both gestures and unsure of what to say.

“I see,” he manages. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it, Dorian. Man needs his drink—even if it is froofy,” Bull declares, earning another roll of eyes from Dorian. He pops a final berry between those scar-slashed lips and adds in a low voice, “Sides… something sweet isn’t too bad every once in a while.”

He’s looking right at Dorian as he speaks. Dorian knows that tone and his face burns. Of course Bull’s gotten a read on him already. Not that Dorian tries to hide it but he does flirt happily with Beatrix and she flirts back just as eagerly. It’s a good cover considering he’s more interested in eyeing the commander and Cullen seems to be trying to find more and more reasons to be around their lady Inquisitor.

Whatever denial he’s thought of, Bull’s gone before he can issue it. Dorian sighs, both parts relieved and worried, rubbing at the back of his neck.

It’s difficult to sleep at night in the south. The cold is biting, worse in Skyhold. Even when Dorian keeps the fire in the grate lit magically, tries to keep it roaring—it really doesn’t matter. He’s burrowed in comforters and blankets and has managed nothing other to make himself shivering and sweating.

And there’s not just the cold. The loneliness gets to him too. But that is no different than it was in Tevinter, really.

Sure, he had managed to have a lot more… encounters back home… but they were brief and discreet and Dorian would leave quickly. Or they would leave. Always, someone would go and not take a second look back. It was how it had to be. It was one of the many reasons Dorian couldn’t stand being there.

Right now he is not in Tevinter, however. Dorian kicks off the pile of blankets, stretching out on the bed and staring into the fire with an arm pillowed behind his head. He’s not. He could, if he wanted…

His fingertips skitter over his sleeping shirt. It’s rucked up a little with his fitful rest, his fingertip swirling around his own navel. Heat building in him and without a touch of magic. Always fascinating.

Dorian considers some old paramours, but the memories have dulled considerably. Instead, the commander comes to mind. Yes, Cullen would do nicely. So clean-cut and perfect, muscular and blond. Dorian imagines what it would be like, pinned underneath the proud, strong man and his hawk-like amber eyes. Dorian’s fingers slip under his pajamas, under his smalls as he strokes himself.

The commander wouldn’t relent, he’d take and take until he was satisfied. And Dorian would love every moment of it, love being rocked into, the bedframe shaking. He would kiss Cullen’s mouth, licking at the scar that split it at the corner. Licking that one and… and the other one too… and feeling a rough unshaven face grind against his own, feel blunt teeth with slightly pointed canines tear at his mouth as he reaches helplessly upward, grasps a rough horn under his fingers as he’s fucked into the bed so hard he can hear the headboard crack and give under the qunari’s strength—

Dorian’s climax is shocked out of him by the image, spilling his seed over his navel. His arm is over his face now as he gulps for air, overwhelmed by it.

Drowsily he lifts his hand, drops still clinging to his fingers. Bull can never know about this, of that much Dorian is certain. And if he ever found out Dorian used him as wank material, well…

…it’s his own damn fault for not wearing a shirt.

Chapter Text

Watch out. The pretty ones are always the worst.

Bull’s first impression of the ‘vint wasn’t wrong. Dorian was the worst. Worst at acting superior, worst at being distant and worst at trying not to give a damn. Even without Ben-Hassrath training, Bull could read him like an open book.

The weird thing was Bull kept picking up the book to re-read it. He could claim Dorian started it by poking and prodding at him at every turn for a reaction, but Bull could have easily ignored the ‘vint. Instead he’d respond and one-up the man at every turn until their weird rivalry was a staple of every trip Beatrix brought them along on.

Bull was starting to think she was doing it on purpose, making sure they were getting on alright. Beatrix was good as an Inquisitor because while she wasn’t afraid to make the hard decisions—she was also a peacemaker. The mage wasn’t an idealist but she cared for all living things, human, elven, qunari—all nations of people.

Well, except Corypheus. She would agree eagerly with Sera that that creature needed an arrow shot right through his danglebag. Yeah, Bull wasn’t going to piss either of those two women off—and they both liked Dorian in their own ways so…

So he kept it civil. Or at least as best as he could. Dorian’s own fault, really, leaving all those openings for Bull to slip in a perverted comment or three—

Watch where you’re pointing that thing!

Dirty!

Vishante kaffas—I meant your weapon!

Bull smiles to himself, thumbing at his lip, leaning over the table and the half-written letter sat next to his tankard. He had long since settled with the fact that the Tevinter mage was sexy, all that smooth skin the color of coffee with a touch of crème like they made in that little café he had frequented in Seheron. Before it got blown to shit by ‘vints, ironically enough. Bull often walked behind Dorian, noting the slight sway of his hips and the way his robes were tailored taut over his ass. He both hated and loved that little tease of flesh in the Tevinter-made outfit Dorian wore about Skyhold, just a bit of his shoulder and chest showing, nothing more.

Much as Dorian would paint him as a mindless horny beast, he was no such thing. Well, not entirely. Bull liked aesthetics, he liked beautiful things. He liked to have them in his hands and wreck them and put them back together again.

Dorian would look amazing wrecked. But it wasn’t going to happen and there was no use dwelling on it. Well, outside of when he was bored and giving himself a hand. Right now though, he needed to focus and thoughts of pretty ‘vints tied to bedposts weren’t really helping get his report done. Bull put the quill back to the parchment and continued his letter.

“Now that is a strange sight.”

Bull snorts, dotting a few i’s before turning to look Dorian’s way, because of course the mage had finally decided the tavern wasn’t such a bad spot the moment Bull had enough peace to write back to his superiors.

“You quietly writing,” Dorian voices, sitting casually beside Bull. Bull is surprised that he doesn’t have wine, rather, a dark Ferelden lager. “Rather like a mabari walking on its hind legs.”

“Right. Next time I’ll bleed one of our enemies dry and use the blood to fingerpaint my letters. Wouldn’t want to fall short of your expectations,” Bull says in return, taking a drink and then wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. That was the other problem. Dorian’s image of the qunari was ignorant as any other ‘vint but there was a touch of innocence about it—the mage really didn’t know any better but unlike most he seemed to actually give a shit about learning what he didn’t know.

It shows in the way Dorian’s eyes (the color of fade-touched veridium) widen fractionally before he gets out a quick, defensive, “That’s not what I meant, Bull.”

“I know,” Bull replies easily enough, waving a big hand in a gesture of peace. “Don’t worry about it.” He picks up the quill again and continues to scratch it along the parchment carefully. The feathered pen is small and delicate and Bull is careful with it. He’s always careful when laying his hands on anything breakable.

Dorian fidgets to his left. Bull doesn’t have to see him to feel the movements, the rustle of robes like a thunderclap. Bull’s lost an eye but all his senses are honed as keen as any blade he’s held in his hand.

“Surprised you came down here,” he says, conversationally, because even though Dorian deserves to stew in his own shame, Bull can’t think with all that fussing going on next to him.

Dorian looks up in surprise when he’s addressed but recovers his wit quickly: “Well, it’s actually tolerable without that bard going on and on about her idiotic crush on Sera. If I have to hear that damned song one more time I’m going to burn this place to the ground, I swear it.”

Bull snickers. There, that’s better. Dorian all haughty and regal again, touch of pink to his face from the beer.

“I’m surprised I actually caught you on your own, what with your ‘boys’ always around…” Dorian adds after a beat.

Bull’s brow rose slightly at that. Now what was he supposed to make of that statement? He could brush it off—Dorian would prefer that, certainly—but he couldn’t. Force of habit, needing to know things, to pry and poke and see what comes of it.

“Aww, you trying to get me alone, Dorian? Could always just ask, you know…” he says with a smirk. “'Vint or no, I wouldn’t mind being alone with you for an hour or three…”

This gets a reaction—Dorian choking into his mug before scowling at Bull. Bull decides not to tell him he’s slopped beer down his front.

“You are just—you’re—you’re the worst!” Dorian declares, standing up and stomping away in a huff.

Bull watches him go and shakes his head.

That’s the problem. Dorian’s the worst, but so’s Bull.

The qunari finishes his letter, sends it off with one of Leliana’s little ravens. He tries not to notice Dorian is absent from his favorite chair in the library.

Some days later, however, he has to say something about it. Or rather, do something about it. Dorian’s out of the library more, but not in the tavern. No, instead he’s taken to playing chess in the garden with the commander. Bull at first, just heard it in passing. Observed it once or twice from the ramparts.

Today he’s standing against a pillar, watching and resisting the urge to roll an eye at Dorian’s smirking and preening while Cullen ponders the board. The commander has absolutely no idea, throwing himself into the challenge while Dorian’s eyes skip merrily over the line of Cullen’s jaw, his strong shoulders pitched forward as he thinks.

Bull thinks the commander’s not bad looking at all. He also knows Cullen is straighter than the laces of an elderly Orlesian dowager’s bodice. Dorian is barking up the wrong tree.

“Gloat all you like—I have this one,” Cullen says from across the garden.

“Are you sassing me, Commander? I didn’t know you had it in you…” Dorian replies with his usual dramatic tone.

Worse, Dorian has no idea why Cullen has such interest in beating him. It certainly wasn’t some roundabout attempt to woo the ‘vint.

It was more about her. Dorian and Beatrix were thick as thieves and Cullen knew it. Bull’d seen the way the commander’s brow furrowed unhappily whenever Dorian would come up behind the Inquisitor and goose her before dancing out of smacking range. The blond would thunder into the barracks and announce surprise drills every time Dorian flirted with the boss during the day.

Cullen had no clue about Dorian trying to get into his pants just as he had no clue Dorian had zero interest in getting into the boss’s. It was a mess and none of Bull’s business at all, but—

“Hey boss,” he greets Beatrix. “Thanks for coming out here. Just wanted to let you know I sent my latest report to my people. They haven’t gotten back to me yet, but we can consider that a good thing, yeah?”

Beatrix raises a brow, the gnarled scar that ran down through her left eye moving with the motion. Bull likes how she parts her hair the other way and doesn’t hide the mark like she could.

“And you interrupted my meeting with Josephine and the contessa to tell me that?” she replies, looking amused.

“Yup! You’re welcome,” he says and then steps aside casually so that Dorian and Cullen are visible. Beatrix’s eyes light up at seeing two of her favorite people (not that Bull isn’t someone she is fond of) getting on together in such a way.

“They’ve been at it for a while. Maybe you ought to make sure they’re being good boys, yeah?” Bull states and Bea rolls her eyes but takes the bait all the same.

The qunari knows he should probably duck out, but he doesn’t. He watches instead as the commander nearly upends the board in his urgency to stand when Beatrix approaches.

“Inquisitor!” Cullen says, half-way up when Beatrix puts a hand up, urges him to sit. He does, obedient as a mabari pup and eager as one too.

Dorian’s hiding his disappointment well enough—“Leaving, are you? Does this mean I win?” he asks and Cullen’s eyes harden with determination.

“I was just checking to make sure you two were playing nice.” Beatrix explains, pinching Dorian’s ear affectionately.

The mage bats the hand away, laughs, “I’m always nice.” His eyes are on Cullen, dancing brightly. Bull snorts and wonders if the ‘vint knows he’s already lost and not just the game. “You need to come to terms with my inevitable victory. You’ll feel so much better.”

Cullen’s lip curls into a handsome smirk and Bull notes that the boss can’t take her eyes off him then, Dorian forgotten by both the Inquisitor and commander. “Really?” Cullen says and places a piece in a game finishing move. “Because I just won. And I feel fine!”

He laughs and Bea does too while Dorian fumes and pouts. The mage folds his arms across his chest lightly and looks away while the two mock him—and that’s when his eyes find Bull’s. And Dorian does not look pleased at all to see him. Unsurprising, but Bull doesn’t retreat.

“Don’t get smug. There’ll be no living with you.” Dorian dismisses Cullen, nodding to Beatrix as he saunters off. He makes a beeline to Bull which would be flattering if he didn’t look that (rather sexy) combination of pissed off and embarrassed.

“Enjoy the show, did you?” he asks dryly.

“What, you losing? Naw…” Bull replies with a roll of his shoulders. “That, though?” Bull points across to where Beatrix has Cullen setting up the board again. They’re talking, Cullen’s eyes all for her and her eyes on him as well. “Cullen blushing like a schoolgirl and our charismatic Inquisitor all tongue-tied? Completely entertaining. Wish Varric was here, he’d enjoy writing about this kinda crap.”

To his credit Dorian watches, his face crumpling a little as his indignation cools. He recovers quickly, all the same, and manages a wistful sigh. “Yes. Lovely when this sort of thing works out. Boy meets girl and all that rubbish.”

There’s silence between them for several minutes, neither man moving as the romance plays out in front of their eyes. Laughter and smiles over the chessboard and her eyes meeting his.

“Thank you,” Dorian says, out of nowhere. It’s the third time he’s said it to Bull and meant it.

Bull, despite being world-wise Ben-Hassrath and despite seeing so much in his life, is taken aback for once. He had been prepared for a tirade about minding his own business and making assumptions and instead…

“What for?” he asks before he can help himself.

Dorian snorts, lightly hits Bull on the cheek with a palm. Dorian’s hand is soft, callouses from his staff the only roughness that touches against Bull’s face.

“You know why. Don’t make me say it, you idiot,” he replies and leaves, waving. “When you’re done writing secret spy letters you ought to try your hand at penning some stories, Bull. Give Varric a run for his money with the romance drivel,” he calls out behind him.

Bull watches him go. Dorian’s got weight on his shoulders, but he’s bearing it well. The ‘vint is stronger than he looks.

And that's what gets Bull off about Dorian. Not just how pretty the man was, but his strength. He was damned good with his magic, unafraid to use the blade at the end of his staff to gouge out an eye or slash a throat if called upon. He had a surprising amount of battle sense for a pampered 'vint and Bull liked that.

That night Bull racks his armor, thinking about how he'd like coming into his room with Dorian already in his bed. Tied up and teased utterly, oiled and stretched. Bull would slide easily into the 'vint and Dorian would take it so well. His bound wrists would settle against Bull's chest as he was rocked into. Dorian wouldn't just take it though, no. He'd be a biter. A scratcher.

Bull's nails aren't the same as what Dorian's manicured, shined and buffed ones would feel but he tries to imagine it, dragging his nails down through the hair on his chest, catching on a dark nipple. The hand wound around his cock tightens so he has to push, fucking into his fist. Bull likes it like that, tight and hot, he growls deep in his throat, horned head bowed like he's ready to charge...

He thinks of the way Dorian's bright eyes widened earlier, thinks about them shutting tight as the man moans a breathy curse in Tevene.

Bull finishes, one hand on himself and the other on the wall as he spends over his fingers and the flagstones. There's a lot of it and he gives a satisfied, "Yeah..." as his hand milks out the last few drops before letting go with a sigh.

In hindsight, he probably should have waited until he laid down but now there were no messy sheets, right? When Bull framed it that way it was easier than thinking he'd been so overwhelmed by desire for a prideful mouthy 'vint he couldn't even finish getting his gear stowed before jerking it.

Yeah. He’s the worst. Bull thinks. And now that he knew the mage better-- it wasn't just because he was pretty. Vashedan.

Chapter Text

Bull flirts with everyone in their merry little band. He is overtly sexual, whether it’s admiring Cassandra’s battle prowess and quote-unquote sensible armor, teasing Beatrix to try and get her talking about Cullen’s ‘assets’ or—as he was currently doing—talking to Sera about some barmaid they’d spied a few towns back.

“Wot?” Sera tips her head at Bull as they walk together. “The one with the huge diddies?” she asks, impish curl to her lips.

Dorian rolls his eyes. Typical.

“No— I mean yes,” Bull says with a long suffering sigh. “But what about the fancy bow on her apron? Dangling all long and sassy, so someone could ease it open with one slow pull…”

Bull’s voice has taken on that rumbling tone that somehow echoes in Dorian’s bones, shaking him just a little. He grasps his staff a bit tighter, wishing Beatrix would hurry up with her talking to this Fairbanks fellow so he wouldn’t have to hear more of this.

“You have to see the little details to get the whole person, Sera.” Bull’s lecturing her now somehow and Dorian wonders how he’s gotten to this point in his life where these are the conversations he’s forced to endure. “There’s a woman behind those tits.”

“Yeeeeah…” Sera says with a laugh. “Waaaaaaaaaaay behind.” She puts her hands to her own breasts and gestures outward, imitating a wobbling bosom.

“I may vomit,” Dorian speaks up finally, giving the duo a withering look. Bull raises an eyebrow at him, amused by the disagreement.

“Wotsamatter, Dorian?” Sera says, grinning from ear to pointy ear. “Don’t like ‘em with big diddies?”

Dorian reddens considerably, clearing his throat. “No, I—I don’t have any interest.” At all.

“In diddies?” Sera asks, tilting her head slightly.

“Yeah, Dorian. What kind of women are you into…?” Bull says playfully, fixing Dorian with a knowing look.

Dorian feels on the spot and although he cares very little about the opinions of his party (or at least has told himself he doesn’t) it is hard for him to come up with a response. He’s lived too long in Tevinter. Southerners have the luxury of not caring too much about these things, save amongst the nobility, perhaps. And even then, standards are extraordinarily lax compared to where Dorian’s from. So when he wants to say what he truly feels—well, the words stick in his throat.

Thankfully, before he can open his mouth and insert his foot into it all the way up to his knee, Beatrix arrives and announces they have a lead on the red lyrium smugglers. Cullen asked her to look into this situation as a favor and she’s been rather gung-ho about it for Maker knows what reason.

Dorian’s glad that Bull intervened before he tried something stupid with Cullen. Their lovely Inquisitor has never burned brighter than she has now, determined to help the commander.

The subject of Dorian’s bachelor status comes up another time, though it isn’t thanks to Bull being perverse. Instead it’s Varric, always one for knowing a story when he sees one and Dorian knows the dwarf is quite interested in his motivations for being here with the Inquisition. Thankfully in a less interrogatory way than Cassandra.

“Shouldn’t you be married off by now, Sparkler?” the dwarf asks, wiping down that arrow spewing monstrosity of his by the fire. “Little mage-lets running amok?”

Dorian’s warming his fingers by the fire and lightly toying with the flame, bending it to and fro with his magic. “If my family had their way…” he says, dry as paint.

Bull appears, sitting heavily beside Dorian. He gestures at Varric for the oil rag, which is tossed his way easily. Bull uses it to clean the haft of the bloody big battle-axe he’s been carrying about all day, the oil softening the leather as it works away the remnants of blood. Dorian tries not to watch too closely as that massive hand moves up and down on the halla bound silverite.

“Had someone lined up for you then?” Bull interjects and of course he’d been listening. Dorian chuckles, shaking his head.

“Lyvia Haradanus,” Dorian says and manages to sound dreamy and disdainful all at once. “Bright girl, hourglass figure, wicked tongue. Relieved I’m gone I expect.”

Varric chuckles—“Sounds like you two would have made a happy couple.”

“Oh yes. Trading coy insults at every party would have been a delight,” Dorian enthuses sarcastically.

“Eh. She’s probably jealous your tongue’s wickeder than hers,” Bull says, smirking at Dorian as he passes the cloth over his weapon again. Slowly. Deliberately.

Dorian glowers at him even as his face warms. “Quite,” he says primly and leaves it at that. Varric stands and excuses himself because he is truly a smart dwarf.

“That staff’s in great shape, Dorian. You polish it often?” Bull asks with a waggle of his brow and Dorian sighs outright and rolls his eyes so hard he’s sure it’s audible.

“Would you please desist with these attempts to… I don’t know—embarrass me? I don’t care, Bull. Just because I’m not shouting it to the skies doesn’t mean I’m ashamed, I’m just—“

“Afraid.”

“—not wanting everyone involved in my business,” Dorian corrects, eyes narrowed in annoyance. “So you can stop now. With the poking and prodding and the… the suggestive comments about my sexual proclivities. You’ve had your fun, alright?”

Iron Bull’s brow raises high, lifting his eye patch a fraction with the expression. “You think I’m doing this all just to make fun of you, ‘vint?”

“Yes and it’s juvenile. I much preferred it when you were playing keep away with my staff…” Dorian says mulishly.

“You’re the one playing keep away with it now,” Bull rumbles and Dorian flushes indignantly. “Lucky for you I don’t mind a little bit of playing hard to get.”

Dorian’s the one who is flabbergasted now, jaw dropped. “…huh?” he says stupidly. Bull just gets up from where he’s sitting, shoulder briefly brushing Dorian’s as he moves and leaves the mage gripping his staff tightly by the fire.

Yes—Bull flirts with the entire Inquisition and Dorian is no exception—but after that conversation the qunari’s advances had become more… advanced. They’re traveling through the Emerald Graves, hunting down the last of the lyrium smugglers. Unfortunately, they cross the path of some giants and it gets bloody fast.

The Iron Bull throws himself into the battle. He’s laughing as he sweats and bleeds and hefts that huge axe overhead like it weighs nothing at all. His chest is dripping with perspiration, glistening. Shining even more when Dorian casts a barrier on him just in time to deflect a rather large boulder that comes flying his way. The boulder splinters as it crashes harmlessly against the blue veil and one of those broken rocks catches Dorian in the temple, the wound bleeding profusely down the side of his face. He’s annoyed, but keeps casting until the behemoths are down, dead in the grass.

Bull’s whooping, excited by the fight and their spoils while Varric and Beatrix are just resting, exhausted and checking on one another. Dorian futilely wipes the blood from his cheek and glares. As far as he’s concerned they wouldn’t have even gotten tangled into the fight if Bull had disengaged like Beatrix tried to call out to him to do.

“That’s quite the stink-eye you’ve got going, Dorian…” Iron Bull says, laugh lines sharp all over his angular face. He’s ridiculously happy and Dorian really wants to smack him right between the legs with the large orb at the end of his staff.

“You stand there, flexing your muscles, huffing like some beast of burden with no thought save conquest!” Dorian hisses at him, furious. They could have been killed and Bull is laughing, for the love of the Maker!

Bull’s eyes are dark. Dorian has never seen them look so, the pupils huge and dilated like he was drugged. And maybe he was. Dorian had heard of it, of qunari bloodlust. He thought it was a fiction, like many he’d been told about the race.

“That’s right,” Bull says, grinning. His axe thumps into the dirt, blade cleaving into the earth heavily. He steps closer and Dorian takes a hesitant half-step back. Bull’s hands spread wide. “These big muscled hands could tear those robes off while you struggled, helpless in my grip.”

Dorian’s back hits a wall of rock. He hadn’t realized he was moving until he had nowhere else to go. Varric and Beatrix are looking over the dead giants for supplies and they’re so far away…

The worst part is Dorian isn’t frightened. Not at all. Quite the opposite. His breath quickens, heart pounding…

“I’d pin you down and as you gripped my horns: I. Would. Conquer. You.” Dorian feels the words more than hears them, Bull’s chest vibrating with how he growls them out, so close to Dorian’s ear.

“...wh-what…?” Dorian manages in a fluttering, frantic voice and strangely enough, Bull pulls back, blinking at Dorian curiously.

“Oh—is that not where we’re going?” he asks dumbly and Dorian is consumed with the urge to hit him again because it is ridiculous how quickly Bull snapped back into his usual annoying self from that… that dark sensual creature that was tempting Dorian just moments ago.

“No, it was very much not!” Dorian squawks, bats Bull’s arm away so he can duck under it and get some much needed space between them before their companions come over. “You need to stop throwing yourself into fights like this, I can’t always protect you, you know! That’s what I wanted to say!”

Bull looks confused as Dorian huffs and stamps off. Dorian hears the bewildered, “You protect me?” and resists the urge to throw fire at Bull’s stupid face.

They return to Skyhold without delay, the last smuggler rounded up and tossed into the prisons for questioning. Dorian’s temple has been healed up and he’s taking in the brief luxury that is a hot bath. One of the perks of being a good friend of the Inquisitor was the use of her private bath chamber and Dorian was never more thankful for that friendship, sinking under the bubbles happily.

He washes all the dirt from the road off, shampoos his hair and gets the inky strands glistening again. Once that’s finished, he lingers in the tub, soaking in all the warmth and perfumed scent of the water, relaxing from the events of the day.

When he closes his eyes, however, all he can see is Bull. Snapping a giant’s femur. Head-butting the creature when it fell to its knees. All those muscles bunching in his arm as he brings the axe down. The scars slashing across that massive chest, damp and shining with his sweat…

Dorian’s hard, unbearably so. Perhaps a little staff polishing was in order, much as he hated to admit defeat to Bull’s lascivious commentary.

I. Would. Conquer. You.

Dorian’s hand grasps at his cock, squeezing strongly. It’s hard to picture Bull, but he imagines a rougher, larger hand holding all his need like that. A throaty chuckle against his skin as he’s stroked, base to tip. Slow because Bull would do that, would want to torture him just a little.

“Maker—ah… please…” Dorian moans softly, bringing his knuckles to his teeth and biting down. He couldn’t be loud. Not here. No telling who was wandering outside the door, who could hear him…

Bull wouldn’t care. He’d pin him down wherever he wanted and Dorian wouldn’t be able to resist. Physically or mentally. He’d want it, arch and hold onto the qunari as he was toyed with.

Dorian hardly needs the palm full of bath oil, twisting around in the tub. Water splashes over the side, he doesn’t care. His fingers hook inside of him, taking two so easily. This is what he wants, what he needs. What he likes.

His knee is thrown over the edge of the tub as he rocks against his own hand, cock throbbing and bobbing against his stomach. He reaches and he can’t get deep enough. Bull could. His fingers were longer and bigger than Dorian’s and the mage bites on his lip, whining in his throat. Both hands work between his legs, one pumping his fingers in and out rapidly while the other twists over his prick, jerking faster now.

Bull pinning him down. Bull ripping his robes apart. Bull having his way with him. Bull taking Dorian as a trophy, a conquest…

He clenches tight around his fingers as he shoots, hole fluttering around the digits with every spurt into the now completely dirtied bathwater. Dorian finishes, leaning his head back against the tub’s edge. He has taken his hand off his prick, but his fingers still lightly rub inside of himself. They rock, nice and slow, and he imagines what it would feel like. If someone didn’t pull out in a hurry. If someone stayed with him as long as they could.

Bull’s not that person. Even though he’s become the new star of Dorian’s idle fantasies (apparently even when the mage was cross with him) Dorian has no delusions about who they are to one another. That sobering thought helps him get up out of the bath, rinsing off with the pitcher before stepping out onto the cold floor.

The towels aren’t the thick fluffy variety he is used to, but they’re serviceable despite being thin. He winds the white cloth around himself and dries off as best he can, skin goose-fleshed.

Dorian just barely keeps from jumping out of his own shivering skin when the door to the chamber flings open hard. He covers himself in the linen as best he can, bunched up to his chest in a fist like a semi-translucent shield.

“Boss, I—“ Bull says and then stops. And stares, at a loss for words apparently. His eyes are not on Dorian’s face. “Uh. You’re not the boss.”

“Fasta vass—no, really?! Get out!” Dorian snarls, throwing a scrub brush at Bull’s head, face crimson.

“Sorry—I was looking for the boss and this is her bath chamber—“ Bull argues, the scrub brush bouncing off his horns. He looks surprisingly panicked and it’s not from seeing Dorian in his altogether with only a thin towel for cover.

“She’s lending it to me for the afternoon and I do not want to know how it is you two are so comfortable with one another that you would burst in on her in the bath,” Dorian growls, but he can see Bull isn’t himself, much like when he was talking about ‘conquering’ Dorian. Except less dark and desirous and more high-strung and harried. “I’d try the commander’s quarters. And do us all a favor and knock first?”

“Right,” Bull says and leaves quickly. Dorian sighs in relief, putting a hand to his forehead and shutting his eyes.

Wonderful.

It doesn’t get much better either, when he finds out why Bull was so frantic.

“So the qunari want to ally with the Inquisition? That’s uncharacteristically diplomatic of them,” Dorian remarks when Beatrix calls upon him to consult on the matter. He has absolutely no idea why she’s asking him about this. Josephine would probably be far better suited to the task of gauging qunari sincerity. Dorian has just barely gotten the hang of reading Bull’s tells, after all.

“They didn’t really refer to it as diplomacy, but yes. Bull told me they’d read his reports. They don’t like Corypheus or his venatori…” Beatrix explains, leaning over the intelligence reports set between them. She is in her bedclothes, a light peony dressing gown that went to her bared ankles. Her auburn hair is pulled into a short braid that hangs down her neck.

“And they really don’t like red lyrium. For obvious reasons,” The Inquisitor adds, giving Dorian a meaningful look, her hand raising with a flicker of magic at her fingertips. “They’re afraid not just of what Corypheus and the venatori will use it for, but all of the Imperium.”

She sighs, rubbing the back of her neck, gown shifting. “That’s why I wanted to ask you what you thought. I don’t agree with a lot of what the Imperium does, Dorian, and neither do you. But the tone of their request—this fear mongering against mages... I don’t like it. It makes it hard to trust the qunari when I know that if I had the bad luck to be born one I’d be collared and chained like a dog.”

Dorian’s chest rises and falls lightly, letting out a cleansing, considering breath. “I feel as though you should be discussing this with the ambassador, personally. I am hardly an authority on the qunari and their campaign against my homeland… and mages,” Dorian says, folding his arms across his chest. Beatrix blinks at him in surprise.

“Really? But you and Bull talk about it all the time—“

“And now I realize how much I don’t know about the situation,” Dorian admits and quickly adds, “Please don’t tell him I said that. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

The Inquisitor stares for a beat, long enough that Dorian feels uncomfortable. Then she smiles slightly. “You’re questioning yourself, aren’t you?”

“…I don’t know about that. The Qun is not the answer to everything, this I know. But neither is a magocracy. I’m sorry, I don’t really have an answer about whether or not this ‘alliance’ will benefit the Inquisition. The qunari have great military strength. You’ve seen one of their Ben-Hassrath in action. However they are a volatile, demanding sort of people…” Dorian forces himself not to think of Bull when he makes that appraisal. I would conquer you. “You alone must make the judgment, I’m afraid.”

Beatrix’s eyes trace the table as she leans forward over it again. Her hair moves and Dorian’s eyes widen a fraction. There’s a small bruise on her throat. Not dark, nor large, nothing she sustained in battle.

“I want you to come with me, Dorian. You and Varric,” She says after a time, Dorian’s eyes leaving the love bite for the moment to meet her stare again. “You are the best resource I have about the venatori and Varric knows red lyrium. We’ll go to the Storm Coast with Bull and the Chargers. The qunari are bringing in one of their dreadnaughts, but the force on the ground has to be small—we want to avoid tipping off the smugglers.”

Dorian sighs, wants to argue that he’s hardly the best person for this. However, he gave himself to the Inquisition as a resource and he wasn’t going to falter just because… because of whatever mixed up feelings he was having about Bull and the qunari and his countrymen. Especially the ones about Bull.

“I am at your command, my lady,” Dorian says with a sweeping bow and then turns to leave. And Maker, he cannot help himself— “Oh and do tell the commander that it is entirely unnecessary for him to mark his territory like that, would you?” he adds playfully, gesturing to his neck and enjoying the blush Beatrix gets when she claps her hand over her own to hide the bruise.

Dorian skips down the stairs, whistling merrily away and brushing by Mother Giselle with a spring in his step, despite all things. Well, at least one of us is having some fun.

Chapter Text

Dorian returns to his quarters to prepare for the trip—packing extra smalls and a heavier cloak. He swears this time he won’t be a completely drowned rat on that bloody rocky beach.

There’s a knock on the door to his quarters and Dorian pauses in his task to go and open it. He’s surprised to see Iron Bull standing there.

“Mind if I come inside?” he asks. Dorian shrugs and nods easily. This of course this gives Bull license to let out one of his terribly inappropriate jokes—“Really? And here I thought you’d be too fussy about the mess.”

Dorian groans and very nearly slams the door in the brute’s face for that. Instead he returns to packing his things. Bull doesn’t continue with his perverted commentary, easing carefully through the doorway with that slouch Vivienne had been chiding him about. One horn, then the other. The qunari clears his throat awkwardly and Dorian wonders if sometimes Bull jokes because he doesn’t know what to say and is stalling for the time to think on it.

“Well, out with it, already. You don’t want me to go to the Storm Coast,” Dorian surmises as he plucks through the drawer of smallclothes. He picks up a silky pair of red boxer briefs to examine momentarily, then sets them aside on the dresser top. If he got as soaked with rain water and ocean spray as last time, they’d be ruined, comfy as they were. “I understand completely and if it were my choice I wouldn’t go. Beatrix asked me and I can hardly refuse.”

Bull steps closer, leans on the dresser to look at Dorian’s face. “I know that. And it’s not that I don’t want you to go, Dorian. It’s just… I want to know if you’ll be alright.”

Dorian paused, arching an eyebrow. “Alright?” he echoes, perplexed.

Bull idly toys with the silk smalls between his fingers, another delaying tactic. If Dorian wasn’t so curious as to what Bull had to say he’d probably have set him on fire for messing with his favorite pair of underwear.

“I mean you’ll be meeting with my people. Followers of the Qun. They’re not going to take kindly to a ‘vint being involved in this operation,” Iron Bull says, storm gray gaze lifting to meet Dorian’s.

Dorian blinks back at Bull, then laughs. “You think I care what they think of me? Honestly…” Dorian waves off Bull’s concerns, turns to continue packing. “Besides, aren’t you a follower of the Qun? And look how swimmingly we get on!”

Bull seems like he’s going to stay stone-faced, but then those laugh lines break out over his angular face like he can’t quite help himself. “Yeah. I guess that’s true,” He says, straightening up and walking closer to the mage. He then adds after a beat, “But I mean it, Dorian. They’re not going to play as nice with you as I do.”

Bull’s behind him, hovering close enough that Dorian can feel the heat coming off his skin. He hates Bull a little, for being like a shirtless furnace while Dorian freezes away. It’s so very distracting and Dorian bites the inside of his cheek to focus on what he’s doing. It wouldn’t do to show weakness after all—he was not afraid of this mission and he would not let Bull doubt his ability to compartmentalize.

“I don’t think you play as nice with me as you seem to think, Bull,” Dorian replies, licking his lips as he turns to face the taller man. He folds his arms across his chest protectively. “I’ll be fine.”

“…” Bull looks taken aback for a moment, then smiles. “Alright. We’re leaving for the coast at dawn. Try to get some sleep, ‘vint.”

He almost goes in to ruffle Dorian’s hair, but the death glare stays his hand mid-way and Bull pats the mage’s shoulder instead before taking his leave.

Dorian holds his breath until the door closes behind Bull and then sits heavily on his bed, hand going to touch his own shoulder and squeeze there. He shuts his eyes. It’s warm.

The trip to the coast is a three day affair. The skies grow cloudier with every mile they ride. Dorian’s popping his aching lower back, sore from the saddle, when Bull calls him to the fire.

The Chargers are all around it, as is the Inquisitor. Varric had turned in earlier to get some writing done or some such. They’re talking away as they drink by the fire and Dorian feels a little awkward in the company as his sits on one of the felled trees Bull’s pulled up by the fire. He gives a little hiss, shifting to get comfortable. His arse is killing him.

“You alright, Dorian?” Bull asks in concern.

“Just a little sore from riding,” Dorian replies and catches that gleam in Bull’s eye. He doesn’t hesitate to hit him in the shoulder even though it hurts his knuckles. “Don’t even start.”

Bull’s not the only one who laughs and it startles Dorian to see most of the Chargers snickering at Bull being chastised.

“First time I ever seen the chief actually shut his gob when someone tells him to. You have a gift,” says one, raising an ale to Dorian.

He’s got the lilt of an Imperium accent and is pitching his voice low, but Dorian’s not an idiot. He’d had friends who had worked hard to pass in Tevinter. Another thing the Imperium came down on harshly. He pours him a tankard and he accepts gracefully.

“And here I thought I was the only ‘vint that your chief socialized with…” Dorian says, chuckling a little as Bull pouts at his soldier. “Dorian Pavus. I don’t believe we’ve met…”

The soldier reaches to take Dorian’s hand easily, squeezes firmly like a man would. He passes rather well, to be honest. “Doubt we would have back home. Soporati,” he states. “Cremisius Aclassi. Prefer Krem if you don’t mind.”

“Krem,” Dorian says, nodding easily in agreement.

Beatrix pipes up curiously, “What do you mean by soporati?”

“Non-magical folk. Pretty much a rung above slavery, back in the Imperium,” Krem states with a shrug. Dorian feels like shrinking in his seat as Krem goes on to explain his homeland’s class system to the interested Inquisitor. Bull elbows him lightly and Dorian looks over at him while Krem and Beatrix talk. Bull winks again—so idiotic with one eye, not at all comforting—and encourages Dorian to tip back his drink.

Dorian does so. The thick dark ale makes his shoulders loosen as his belly warms with it. A few pulls on the tankard later and his tongue is easier, looser around the Chargers. Bull introduces them to him, one after the other. Dorian laughs as ‘Dalish’ insists she is not a mage and rolls his eyes as ‘Stitches’ comments about Bull eating poultices. They talk late into the night but eventually a few wander off to the tents to sleep.

“When did you know, Krem?” Beatrix asks, out of nowhere it seems. Bull’s gone to grab something from his tent so it’s just the lieutenant, the Inquisitor and Dorian around the fire.

Krem doesn’t seem taken aback by the question, smiling instead as he stares into the fire. “I always knew. Not the best thing to know about yourself, but I don’t care to look back. The chief doesn’t mind. Apparently qunari have something called Aqun-Athlok. It means something like ‘born one gender and living another’. They don’t treat them any differently either. Under the Qun, I would just be considered a man, nothing more.”

Dorian’s brow furrows, hearing that. “And in Tevinter you would be a freak. An outcast. As soporati, you could very well be killed for trying to pass, especially in the military,” he says. “Sorry, that was unkind,” he adds after a beat. Krem holds up a hand.

“No, it’s fine. I’ve already experienced that. In fact, the chief’s the one who saved me. When they found out about me, well, things got rough. Bull lost his eye taking a flail to the face to protect me. Didn’t have nothing to do with the Qun or Imperium, Dorian. Just one guy stickin’ his neck out for another,” Krem explains and then chuckles into his tankard. “Big idiot. Didn’t even know me.”

Dorian watches as Krem drinks and he can imagine it. Bull being the one to stand up and say ‘no’ to an injustice. Krem was right. It didn’t have to do with the Qun, no matter how much better the way they dealt with people like Krem was compared to Tevinter. It was Bull’s choice to intercede and help and though the man was a qunari, Dorian felt like it wasn’t the Qun that pushed Bull to make that decision.

Beatrix smiles. “That’s Bull all the way through. The courageous part and the idiot part,” She laughs and stretches her back as she stands. “Nngh—I’m wiped out. See you two in the morning.”

The Inquisitor leaves for her tent, Krem and Dorian on their own for the time being. He awkwardly taps his fingers on his tankard.

“So when did you know?” Krem suddenly asks out of nowhere, startling Dorian. Dorian stares at the man for a full minute, mouth agape and silent, before he recovers.

He considers playing dumb or lying outright. He doesn’t, though.

“…since I was a boy,” he says, staring at the dregs of his ale instead of looking at Krem. His hands are shaking. He hasn’t had occasion to talk about this out loud since—

Get out! You are no son of mine!

Dorian shuts his eyes briefly, pained. Krem shakes his head, takes a long gulp of his ale.

“That bad, huh?” he says.

“…yeah.” Dorian replies, biting his lip. “I tried so hard to hide… I still do, sometimes. I flirt with women all the time… sometimes it’s just to joke… other times it’s just… wanting to seem normal, whatever that bloody means…”

“I can understand,” Krem says. “My parents were always trying to marry me off to some merchant or other. I’d put on a dress, stare at myself in my father’s shaving mirror and just… hate myself.”

Dorian can sympathize. His stomach clenches, seeing a kindred soul in Bull’s lieutenant. It’s no wonder Bull accepted so easily and no wonder he was always pushing Dorian as well. Dorian stares into the fire, mulling it all over.

“Cremisiu—Krem…” Dorian begins. He’s hesitant but he has to ask the question, “If you could change yourself all the way… say with magic… would you?”

He’s not thinking of Krem’s situation when he asks, but the answer unties the knot in his stomach—

“Maker, no!” Krem declares, shaking his head. “Wouldn’t want magic like that near my body. I’m perfectly fine the way I am. Good bindings and a well-placed sock and I’m happy.”

Dorian’s tension releases significantly and he’s able to put his father’s voice out of his mind. He laughs. “Well I wasn’t offering, I promise you that.”

“What’re you offering now, Dorian?” Bull’s back and he plops a familiar blanket on Dorian’s shoulders. Dorian doesn’t question it, pulling it around his body easily. Krem raises a brow ever so slightly at the gesture, but says nothing.

“Nothing you’d be interested in,” Dorian replies primly even as he finishes off his ale. Krem pours him another from the cask’s dwindling supply, pours one for Bull as well.

“Try me,” Bull says with a waggle of his brows. Dorian chuckles faintly, warmer now and feeling at ease.

The night passes this way, joking and drinking until Krem turns in. Dorian’s saddle sores are at the back of his mind, feeling so pleasantly drunk and comfortable that he stays by the fire late. Bull doesn’t leave either and they’re talking about all sorts of nonsense, from discussing the politics of their respective homelands to wondering whether Cullen knows Josephine’s been smuggling Antivan chocolates into Skyhold regularly to feed her addiction and finally a heated debate about whether or not mabari could look up.

The sky clears enough that the stars are visible. Bull’s pointing upward and saying something about the constellations, telling stories about qunari heroes that can be seen in the heavens. Showing Dorian how to connect the dots to see the pictures that the qunari sees.

Dorian’s leaning into Bull’s side before he knows it, eyelids heavy from exhaustion and ale. He falls asleep just as Bull is telling the story of the fourteenth arishok and using his finger to trace the many horns he saw amongst the stars.

When Dorian awakes, he’s still wound up in the blanket. It smells like Bull. Musky, heavy, masculine. It is undeniably comforting to Dorian, who wiggles deeper into it before the chirping of birds makes him realize the hour. He starts to waking, surprised to see that he wasn’t still outdoors, but rather in his own tent. He can’t remember walking back to it, nor can he remember taking off his robes and folding them beside himself and his boots.

Dorian can hear the sounds of camp being broken up and hurries to dress himself, fixing his mussed hair and moustache in his mirror as best he can without taking overly long. He’s somewhat less put together than normal, but nobody seems to notice.

Well, almost nobody. Bull glances over his shoulder at Dorian as he helps load up the wagon. Again he winks.

This time Dorian makes a rude gesture in response. Bull laughs and with that exchange the matter of being carried to bed and undressed like a child is settled in Dorian’s mind. He doesn’t need to ask and doesn’t want to know.

They march on to the coast. The rain starts when they’re three hours out and Dorian feels marginally drier thanks to his wiser wardrobe choices. He pulls his cowl over his head, protecting himself from the downpour. He grins like a rake when Beatrix comments how dashing and mysterious he looks with his face shadowed like that.

They reach the rendezvous point in the middle of the thick forest of the coast. A small encampment has been set up, hidden in the trees and bushes.

Dorian pushes his hood back to get a better look as Bull takes point to lead them into the campsite.

“Alright…” Bull says. “Our qunari contact should be here to meet us…”

“He is.” A slender elf appears, stepping so lightly through the undergrowth Dorian didn’t recognize his approach until he was standing in front of Bull and Beatrix. Bull’s eye lights up and a smile brightens that face that is wet with rain and lightly coated with vitaar. “Good to see you again, Hissrad.”

“Gatt!” Bull enthuses. “Last I heard, you were still in Seheron!”

The elf, Gatt, smiles back. “They finally decided I’d calmed down enough to go back into the world.”

Bull chuckles at that and then turns to Beatrix. “Boss, this is Gatt. We worked together in Seheron. Gatt, this is the Inquisitor—Beatrix Trevelyan. And those two back there are Varric Tethras and Dorian Pavus. They work with me and the boss,” he introduced unnecessarily.

Gatt’s green eyes narrow into slits and Dorian can feel the heat of that glare directed entirely on him. Dorian folds his arms across his chest and says nothing. He told Bull he would be alright with this and he was damned well not going to let some jumped up elf get to him.

Gatt looks away to focus on Beatrix thankfully, nodding in deference to her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Inquisitor. Hissrad’s reports say you’re doing good work.”

Beatrix smiles graciously. “It’s so nice to hear friends say good things about me in their secret spy reports,” she says with a chuckle. Bull grins shamelessly back at her.

“He does. But they’re not really secret, are they?” Gatt replies and Bull’s face crumples slightly.

“Look, Gatt…” he begins but the elf raises a hand to silence him.

“Relax.” The elf smiles and Dorian decides at that point that he really doesn’t like Gatt. What was the point of him prattling on anyways? “Unlike our superiors, I know how it works out here.” Gatt locks eyes with Dorian again, lip curled in a blatant sneer. “We’re in this together. The Tevinter Imperium is bad enough without the influence of this venatori cult.”

Bull looks back over his shoulder worriedly but Dorian can’t stop himself. The words fly off his tongue, dripping with disdain—“Yes. Filthy, decadent brutes, the lot of them. I’m certain life would be much better for all of us under the Qun.”

Bull’s lips turn downward but Dorian looks past him at the irritating elf. He doesn’t want to see the disappointment he knows is on the qunari’s face.

Gatt bristles in response. “It was for me, after the qunari rescued me from slavery in Tevinter.” He replies, voice darkening. “I was eight. The Qun isn’t perfect, but it gave me a better life.”

“Yes,” Dorian sneers. “One free from all that pointless free will and independent thought. Such an improvement.”

Bull looks like he’s about to say something but it’s Beatrix who cuts in, stepping between Dorian and Gatt to break up their glowering contest. “The Imperium and the qunari both have their problems, Dorian,” she states, echoing Dorian’s own observation from their earlier conversation about this mission.

Dorian bites his lip slightly, feeling ashamed of himself for getting riled by the matter. It was true. “Fair enough, I suppose,” he finally settles on and walks away from the conversation. Varric sighs and follows Dorian to the edge of the camp. Beatrix returns to discuss the plan with Gatt and an increasingly uneasy looking Bull; they would take out the venatori camps on either hillside and cover the dreadnought while it sunk the smuggling ship.

“You doing alright, Sparkler?” Varric asks and Dorian sighs, hugging his arms around himself.

“No,” he admits. “I wish I hadn’t come. No matter how hard I try it will never matter to people like Gatt. I might as well be trying to drain the Waking Sea with a thimble,” Dorian states with a flippant wave of his hand at the rolling ocean in the distance.

Varric chuckles. “Hey, you think of Gatt as a ‘person’. That’s one thimbleful. And you’re here with the Inquisition instead of the venatori. That’s another.”

“…but it’s not enough,” Dorian says wearily. “It won’t make up for what the Imperium’s done to this world.”

“You’re probably right. And you probably can’t drain the ocean with a thimble, Sparkler,” Varric says and gives Dorian’s arm a light thump of a fist. “But I’ll bet you ten royals you’re gonna put one hell of a dent into it trying.”

A laugh is startled out of Dorian’s throat and he shakes his head a little. “I’ll take that bet,” he says, feeling better, nose tipping up in the air regally. “I win either way.”

“Haha, there he is,” Varric says with an easy chuckle of his own. “There’s our Sparkler.”

“All flash, no heat,” Dorian says with a smirk. He is able to return to the group where Beatrix and Bull are wrapping up the battle plans with Gatt.

“So…” Beatrix glances over at Bull. “Iron Bull’s name is Hissrad?”

Gatt is as self-important sounding as ever as he explains, “Under the Qun we use titles, not names.”

Bull notices Dorian’s return and looks a little less tense than before. But not by much. “My title was ‘Hissrad’, because I was assigned to secret work. You can translate it as ‘keeper of illusions’ or—“

“Liar,” Gatt says in a dull tone. “It means liar.”

“Well you don’t have to say it like that.” Bull replies with a defensive jerk of his chin, lips curled into a pout.

Dorian snorts into his palm lightly, but says nothing. Instead he walks past the group to the Chargers, seeking out Krem.

“Are you ready for this?” he asks, watching Krem adjust his chest plate. It must hurt to wear with Krem’s physique, Dorian imagines, but Krem doesn’t look pained.

“Ready as we’ll ever be,” Krem replies easily. The other Chargers are getting prepared a distance away, but Krem’s voice lowers as he adds, “The chief told me y’know… he’s never liked covering dreadnought runs. Too much shit that can go wrong.”

If Dorian didn’t know better, he’d think Krem sounded nervous. But the soldier straightens and smirks like Bull himself might before throwing himself at giant.

“But we know you’ll have our backs. You and Varric and the chief and Her Worship,” Krem says with confidence.

Dorian tips his head to Krem graciously, grinning a little himself. “Of course. I couldn’t let my fellow ‘vint down, now could I?”

Krem chuckles and then straightens suddenly. A shadow casts over Dorian, the rain that’s sweeping sideways no longer pelting him.

“Oh, hello you,” Dorian declares, tipping his head back towards Bull instead of turning to face him. The qunari is standing over him with a curious expression. Or as curious as one can look with one eye. “Finally decided to stop reminiscing with your little elf friend and join us?”

“And here I was worried about you…” Bull rolls his eye. “Next time I’ll warn my people about you instead of the other way around.”

Dorian’s lips curl under his hood. “I shall take that as a compliment.”

“You would.” Bull snorts but he doesn’t seem as annoyed. He turns to address the Chargers, Dorian stepping to the side to watch as he talks to them. Bull sounds confident enough, but tense too, in a way. Krem’s sigh of ‘yes, mother’ is not completely unwarranted with how Bull tries to direct every little thing.

Bull’s worried. Dorian can feel it, see it on the man’s face. It worries Dorian too, a little clench in his gut that he can’t quite ignore. The feeling is not unlike that of climbing downstairs in the darkness, thinking there’s one more step when there isn’t—that quick shot of adrenaline cold and heavy, flowing from stomach to chest…

He shakes it off and he hears Beatrix talking to Gatt in the distance about Bull. About how Gatt met him.

“Sure, Bull…” Gatt says. “Share the secret Ben-Hassrath reports but keep the bit where you rescue the elven boy to yourself…”

Oh. Gatt’s protectiveness of Bull is not completely unwarranted. If the elf knew how we are with one another, always complaining at one another, arguing… he’d know I am no threat to Bull’s dedication to his people, that much is certain…

Bull hitting on him and putting him to bed and all that aside, of course. Dorian refuses to acknowledge it as anything more than how Bull is with everyone. He was just… friendly. Right?

Keeper of illusions. Liar.

Dorian bites the inside of his cheek, but looks up when he hears Bull rumble, “Chargers—horns up!” to his men, who respond without hesitation. Surprisingly, Bull doesn’t go with them, Krem leads them off to the northeast hilltop.

“I’m going to come with you guys. Krem’s going to lead the Chargers,” Bull explains unnecessarily to Dorian and the rest.

Gatt snorts, derision with a touch of fondness. “You gave them the easy assignment,” he accuses Bull.

Bull doesn’t look Gatt’s way, following Beatrix and standing shoulder to shoulder with Dorian (well, relatively speaking). “Did I now?” he asks, keeping his face blank and tone neutral.

“Lower and farther from the smugglers’ ship? It’s much less likely to be heavily defended,” Gatt notes with scorn. Dorian is about to tell Gatt somewhere lower and farther where he can shove his opinions when Bull’s fingers brush Dorian’s wrist as he passes him by. The touch startles the mage so much that he loses his train of thought.

Bull smiles back at Dorian briefly. “Suppose we’ll do the heavy lifting then.” He turns to address Gatt, “Just like old times.”

They move forward through the forest as a unit. Quieter now as they come closer to the venatori camps. Gatt warns them to be careful, that there would be opposition ahead of the main encampment.

“We’ve all done this a few times, Gatt,” Bull replies easily enough. The elf merely raises a brow at his friend.

“You’ve been living outside the Qun for years now, Iron Bull,” Gatt says, the name spoken like a punchline. “Just wanted to make sure your reflexes hadn’t gotten as soft as the rest of you.”

Bull takes the criticism better than Dorian would have. “Ouch,” is all he says, shrugging it off as they approach the small unit of venatori patrolling the border of the main camp.

The battle is quick and relatively quiet. Gatt is a menace with his daggers and Bull brings his axe down on the frozen statues Beatrix and Dorian make of the guardsmen. Varric shoots the venatori mages right in their throats before they can so much as gurgle out a spell.

It’s over and they’re all catching their breaths when Gatt addresses Dorian suddenly. Whether it is the rush of the battle or the fact that Bull took a blow so that Dorian could cast that emboldens him to do so, Dorian is uncertain…

“You must wish you were back in Tevinter, mage,” Gatt sneers at Dorian. “No soldiers to guard you here. No slaves to wait on you…”

“It’s the lack of fashion that really strikes fear into my heart,” Dorian replies acidly before the others can intervene. He steps toe to toe with the elf, head raised high.

Gatt glares up at him with those beady green eyes of his. “You know nothing of fear,” the elf growls.

Dorian smiles nastily, voice taunting, “And do you intend to teach me?” Wisps of magic curl threateningly at his fingertips. Dorian isn’t a fan of lording his magic over others—something that made him even more of an outcast in his homeland—but right now he wouldn’t mind sending Gatt’s body convulsing with a few sparks of lightning just to laugh at the jerky, pained dance.

Bull gets in between them. “Dorian!” he snaps.

Dorian’s lip curls in a grimace of anger. “…he bloody started it,” he mutters, glaring at Gatt and turning away. He ignores the elf’s reply—

“…he serves the Inquisition and the Ben-Hassrath wish an alliance. For now that is enough… Tevinter scum or not.”

Dorian zaps an unfortunate nug nearby to a crisp and hurries ahead, missing out on Varric telling Gatt to stuff it and Beatrix ordering them all to knock it off. They managed to regroup quickly enough, joining Dorian near the main encampment.

There’s more venatori here. More mages. They throw fire and lightning down on them, raining death. Dorian notices a mage flanking an unknowing Gatt who is struggling with a guard in heavy plate. The venatori launches a volley of fire at the elf that never reaches Gatt because Dorian is there, casting a barrier over them both. The fireballs bounce off the barrier and knock the guard Gatt was fighting back into a smoldering heap of metal and flesh.

Dorian gives an exaggerated bow to Gatt. “Compliments of the Imperium,” he declares and returns to the fray with a little bit more enthusiasm at having gotten Gatt’s face to look like he’d just stepped in mabari shit.

They approach the signal fire after finishing the fight. Gatt kneels by the fire pit, putting a little of the explosive powder on it. It shoots up a bright red flare into the sky, signaling the dreadnought.

Bull’s not paying attention to that though. He’s looking downhill, towards the east. He’s smiling, proud. “Chargers already sent theirs up. See ‘em down there?” he says.

Dorian stands beside Bull and looks. Krem salutes him from across the way, looking a little weary from the fighting but otherwise fine. “What a proud papa you must be,” he teases Bull even as he waves back at the Chargers, glad that this was almost done with.

“Heh.” Bull thumbs his nose. “Maybe,” he says quietly to Dorian, smiling.

“I knew you gave them the easier job,” Gatt states as he steps away from the signal fire. Bull’s smile remains and he shrugs in a ‘so what’ sort of way.

The large qunari warship pulls up to the coast alongside the smugglers’ ship, flanking it. Bull’s chest puffs up and he steps closer to the edge of the cliff. Almost as though with every step closer to the dreadnought meant a step closer to his home, his people. Dorian remains standing a ways behind him, watching.

“Haha, that brings back memories…” Bull says with a boisterous laugh as the dreadnought blows the ship out of the water. “Nice one!”

Dorian looks away. He feels a strange clenching in his chest at the sight of Bull so happily watching the scene, watching the dreadnought. It felt strange. Like he was… losing something. Dorian could hardly understand the feeling himself.

However, he didn’t have much time to dwell on it. Looking away meant his eyes had turned towards the beach where there was a group of venatori marching towards the hill the Chargers were holding.

“Bull—!” Dorian’s voice is urgent as he grabs the man’s grey bicep to get his attention. Bull looks surprised and then distressed when he sees the situation.

“…crap.” Bull says.

“Indeed.” Dorian agrees, heart racing in his throat as he watches Krem draw his sword. “There are quite a few of them…”

Varric rumbles in agreement. “They’ll be slaughtered, Bull…” he says, looking up at the taller man. Beatrix says nothing, shocked by the scene.

Bull’s throat bobs hard. “…yeah…” he states, face tense.

Gatt steps forward and Dorian moves a pace back as the elf shoulders past him. “Your men need to hold that position, Bull,” he says in earnest.

Bull’s voice is low, more of a growl than anything, “They do that, they’re dead.”

“And if they don’t, the venatori retake it and the dreadnought is dead.” Bull shakes his head, turns away from Gatt who raises his voice to be heard, “You’d be throwing away an alliance between the Inquisition and the qunari!”

Gatt’s voice hardens, “You’d be declaring yourself Tal-Vashoth!”

Dorian doesn’t know the word, but the way Bull reacts is like Gatt’s slapped him across the face or spit in his eye. Like the word hurts, like a hot blade sinking in between his ribs.

“With all you’ve given the Inquisition, half the Ben-Hassrath think you’ve betrayed us already! I stood up for you, Hissrad! I told them you would never become Tal-Vashoth!”

Bull’s voice is quiet and dark as death as he responds, “They’re my men.”

Dorian can hear it though. The wavering. The uncertainty in Bull’s tone. He cannot be considering this! Dorian thinks, heart beating in his throat. He can hear Krem calling to the Chargers, rallying them for the oncoming fight. His voice, pitched deep, so practiced—it carries over the vast distance like any man’s would.

“I know,” Gatt begins to say and Dorian cannot help himself—

“No, you don’t. You don’t know them. You don’t know any of them!” Dorian shouts. “Bull, you cannot be considering this lunacy. Call them back!”

Gatt growls at Dorian, “You have no say in this! For all we know you’re a part of this whole operation, ‘vint!” The elf appeals to Bull again, “You need to do what’s right, Hissrad. For this alliance and for the Qun!”

Bull’s paralyzed with indecision. Dorian has never seen him so and it scares him. Bull’s watching helplessly, the horn to sound the retreat held in a trembling hand—

“Bull!” Dorian yells and makes a grab for the horn to use it himself. Hot pain sears through him as a blade cuts across his flank and he withdraws in response to the sting, cupping his bleeding side. As he stumbles to the ground his vision falters, but he still sees Gatt being held aloft by his neck, Bull’s fist tight around it.

“Call the retreat!” Beatrix orders and Bull throws Gatt to the ground, bringing the horn to his lips. Gatt tries to rise to stop him, but Varric shoots an arrow at his foot.

“Next one’s going between your eyes,” the dwarf warns, cocking Bianca threateningly.

The horn is blown and as Dorian lays on the mossy, wet ground, holding his side, he can just make out the sight of the Chargers withdrawing safely from the hill. Only when they’re gone completely does he turn his face, choking, vomiting onto the dirt and grass. It’s unbecoming and messy and he can’t help it because he feels like his side is on fire. His face is streaked with tears of exertion that the Inquisitor dries away on her sleeve as she kneels by him.

Beatrix helps him keep pressure on his wound and calls to Varric for a poultice. Gatt doesn’t go after Bull, but he stands, pacing the wet ground furiously.

“All these years, Hissrad, and you throw away all that you are. For what? For this?” Gatt’s finger points right at Dorian, who is using a trembling hand to wipe his mouth. “For them?

Beatrix glares at Gatt, eyes steely. “His name is Iron Bull,” she says with finality.

Gatt’s shoulders fall and he looks at Bull, who is staring at the horizon. “I suppose it is,” he says in a defeated tone and walks away from the group. Varric keeps Bianca trained on him until he is out of sight.

The venatori on the beach ready their spells. Bull watches helplessly. “No way they’ll get out of range…” he says as the venatori fire expertly at the stern of the ship, where the gaatlok is kept. “Won’t be long now.”

His voice is despondent, hopeless, helpless. Numb like Dorian’s side is as Beatrix applies the poultice Varric’s retrieved to try and ease the pain. She looks up from her work for a moment, eyes sympathetic for Bull—

“Bull… when the dreadnought sinks—“ she begins, already thinking of a rescue effort no doubt.

“Sinks?” Bull cuts her off. “Qunari dreadnoughts don’t sink,” he says gravely and then shields his face from the brightness of the dreadnought’s explosion. Even from his position on the wet ground Dorian can feel the wave of heat from the ship’s detonation as it ripples outwards.

Dorian’s eyes open and close rapidly, vision blurring. The cut isn’t deep but it is long and it hurts badly. More than it should. It festers. Acid? Poison? He doesn’t know. It hardly matters. His whole body is convulsing in turns and he’s fairly certain he’s dying. He wants to say something witty because that’s how he wants to go out, with a smart remark—but he can’t think or speak. He can just make out Bull kneeling by him, saying something to the others. He feels himself being lifted up into warm arms before he passes out.

Chapter Text

Bull carries Dorian back to camp. The weight of the shivering, bleeding mage is nothing compared to heaviness Bull is feeling. He knows what will happen now. There is no way to spin this, no way to talk his way out of it.

Tal-Vashoth. ‘True grey.’

Bull remembers when he’d first considered the idea. He’d seen so much shit in Seheron. He’d fought until he felt like he was going to die or go crazy or both. He’d seen so many dead innocents and they haunted his dreams, especially the lifeless eyes of children. One morning he woke up and asked himself ‘why’. Why was he doing this? What was the point? Why would the Qun demand this of him? All this fighting, the deception, the pain?

He turned himself into the re-educators that same day and after they finished with him he was reassigned to Orlais. He’d moved around on Ben-Hassrath business ever since then, but never back to Seheron.

Bull continued to be one of their best outside of Seheron, continued to serve the Qun. But with every step he took away from it, from his homeland and his people—it was strange how much lighter it made him feel.

Then when Bull met Krem and the rest, formed the Chargers… it was the closest he’d ever gotten to touch that idea of ‘family’. And as he became more familiar with it, he realized why such a concept was so important, why he’d seen mothers run into burning buildings to rescue their children in Seheron, why brothers would risk everything to see one another even though they were on opposite sides of the struggle.

There were no families under the Qun. No mothers or fathers. They were all ‘brothers and sisters’.

So it was unsurprising when the Qun returned to his life the first thing it demanded was his family. And Bull had frozen, pulled between two equally strong forces. His duty and his family.

Dorian is cold and wet. His side continues to bleeds sluggishly as Bull lays him down inside the tent, hunched over him on his knees. Dorian’s normally dark, rich skin is pale with sickness, his lips slightly tinged blue as he breathes weakly. Bull knows this. Saar-qamek.

It can’t be too strong a dose. Dorian would be sicker if it were. But he still needs care, care Bull told Beatrix only he could provide when she tried to employ her magic. Healing the wound would only seal the poison inside, after all.

Bull cannot even appreciate Dorian’s finer features as he divests the mage. Dorian’s skin is sweaty with fever. Caramel colored nipples pucker from the cold when Bull takes up a wet cloth to sweep over Dorian’s skin, getting him cooled down first before focusing on the wound. It’s nasty and jagged but not too deep thankfully. Dorian has a good chance, even though the fever-rush is already settling in, Dorian mouthing words that make no sense, babbling to himself.

Bull can make out the words ‘father’ and ‘please’ and ‘sorry’, tears running down from Dorian’s fluttering eyelids as he’s tormented from within.

“Do me a favor, ‘vint?” he says, touching a big thumb to Dorian’s cheek, sweeping away tears. “Don’t die,” he insists, even though Dorian is beyond hearing him.

Bull picks up the bottle of oil he’d asked for. It’s for softening leather and is going to taste like tar, but he swishes it around his mouth anyways. When his lips and tongue are thoroughly coated with the stuff, he brings his mouth down to the wound, careful of his horns.

He squeezes hard around the wound and Dorian cries out. He sees the slightly yellowish fluid ooze from the injury. It was still at the surface, not completely absorbed.

Good . Bull thinks before he puts his mouth on Dorian’s skin and sucks hard. Dorian whimpers again, a hand flailing out and landing on Bull’s horn.

“Please—please—“ he begs nonsensically. Bull ignores it, lifts his head just enough so he can spit some of the saar-qamek into a bowl he’s set up for that purpose.

He brings his head down again. Dorian’s fingers tighten, white-knuckled on Bull’s horn as the qunari sucks the poison from his injury. He does it as hard as he can, Dorian’s skin will likely have a bruise the shape of his mouth when this is finished, but it’s a small price to pay.

Dorian’s whimpering becomes less marked and his fingers fall slowly away from Bull, drooping down the qunari’s pointed ear and the nape of his neck until they fall to the mat. Dorian’s relaxing somewhat, abdomen clenching and convulsing only a little now.

Bull washes out his mouth thoroughly with water and then with a long swig from his personal store of Garbolg’s backcountry reserve. It could take paint off a wall and eat into the wood; Bull figured it could get rid of anything lingering in his mouth. It helps him keep warm too, for the half an hour he watches Dorian’s breaths slowly normalize. When he’s certain Dorian won’t just throw it up, he brings a bottle of antidote to the ‘vint’s curvy lips. Dorian doesn’t resist, but he doesn’t help either, the curative dripping down his teeth and mouth.

Bull snorts. “And here I thought you’d be the type to swallow,” he jokes, but he’s tense and nervous. He has to get Dorian to take the medicine or it is all for naught. Vashedan

“I really hope you don’t remember any of this and set me on fire later…” Bull says, course decided upon. He balances Dorian’s head on his thighs so it is propped up and tries to ignore the way the mage’s head sways slightly, causing his cheek to brush against Bull’s crotch briefly before the qunari repositions it.

Bull takes a pull off the vial, holding the antidote in his mouth. Leaning over Dorian’s prone form, he uses his thumb to hold the mage’s chin and lower lip, parting it just so before leaning in and pressing his mouth to Dorian’s.

He feeds him the antidote like this, fingers of his other hand rubbing over Dorian’s throat to encourage him to swallow. This works better than his first attempt, but it takes more time. Bull comes back a second time and then a third. On the fourth, he’s finished the phial and Dorian’s coloring is already improving.

Bull sighs, pulling back and taking a steadying breath of his own. Dorian’s lips are softly parted still, slightly damp from the antidote and their mingled saliva, glistening in the weak lamplight. The mage sighs, long eyelashes flickering as he sleeps. Bull traces Dorian’s face gently with a fingertip, down his jawline, over the bridge of his well-defined nose, trailing over high cheekbones, touching that little beauty mark by Dorian’s right eye…

All these years, Hissrad, and you throw away all that you are. For what? For this? For them?

Bull’s still touching Dorian’s face, brushing fingers over his neck under the guise of checking his pulse. He draws away after a moment, feeling strangely guilty. It feels like he was trying to take something that he didn’t fully understand himself and that Dorian certainly would not offer him.

“I’d do it again,” he says confidently of his choice to walk away from the Qun and gently cards his fingers through Dorian’s hair strictly because he can without losing a hand right now. Besides, it’s already a sweaty unsalvageable mess. Bull shifts away, letting Dorian lay back on the bedroll and leaving to call Stitches to keep watch over the mage until morning.

Stitches is able to sew Dorian up with Bull’s blessing at dawn. Dorian looks disoriented but no worse for the wear otherwise.

“Why does my mouth taste like tar…?” he mumbles as Stitches finishes up. “Tar and ugh—is that window cleanser…?”

Bull shifts about but keeps his face blank. There was no reason to talk about what had happened. Dorian wouldn’t want to know either, that much Bull was sure of.

The journey back to Skyhold is somewhat solemn. Dorian rides in the wagon rather than on horseback and plays cards with Varric and Krem inside the covered cart while he recovers. The Chargers know that Bull picked them over his own people and don’t have much to say, full of gratitude and guilt in equal parts. Beatrix can’t even keep the mood light. Bull knows she’s thinking about the effects on the Inquisition and of retaliation by the qunari over the loss of their dreadnought.

Bull has to let them know it is okay, that it was his choice and it wasn’t their fault. So when they get back to Skyhold he immediately tells them that they’re going to run practice drills the next morning—and that that evening he’ll be breaking open a keg of Chasind sack mead to celebrate their good work. It works. Their wary, guilty gazes fall away and they smile and salute Bull.

Krem is especially relieved it seems. He walks a little unsteadily— “Still sore from fighting those ‘vints, chief,” –but it’s the same Krem Bull has always known and cared for there.

Dorian’s still recovering from his bout with the poison in the sick bay, so it is Beatrix who passes on his thanks that morning. Unfortunately this also means when Gatt arrives to debrief Beatrix regarding the mission, Bull is standing right there to witness it.

“Inquisitor, it is my duty to inform you that there will be no alliance between our peoples,” Gatt says, not looking at Bull at all. Which makes sense. Bull is Tal-Vashoth now. Worse than bas. “Nor will you be receiving any more Ben-Hassrath reports from your Tal-Vashoth ally,” he says, spitting out the term.

Bull doesn’t react. He’s better trained than Gatt ever will be, face neutral as he asks the obvious question, “You under orders to kill me, Gatt?”

A savage part of Bull, restrained by the Qun and now free, wishes Gatt was here to kill him. Then he’d have an excuse. Bull is always looking for an excuse. Cole pegged him on that weeks ago.

You’re a fast little guy, Cole.

Do you wish you were faster, The Iron Bull?

Naw. Just as soon let them come to me when they’re ready to die.

“No,” Gatt says and that mad, angry part of Bull feels denied. He swallows it back, pushes the feeling down deep so that no one sees. “The Ben-Hassrath have already lost one good man. They’d rather not lose two.”

Gatt was always a sharp one. That’s why Bull liked him. He doesn’t like him now, now that Gatt has submitted to the Qun. Doesn’t like that he’s no longer the little eight year old kid who had been afraid until Bull rescued him from the ‘vint who had hurt him over and over. Doesn’t like that Gatt cuts him off so easily and doesn’t even have the decency to give Bull the satisfaction of a real fight.

Then it’s them, not you. You don’t want to kill. You want to defend.

Hey! Don’t go around saying crap like that. I like killing.

But you give them a chance. You let them choose, so it’s their fault.

Gatt bows his head ever so slightly to Beatrix. She doesn’t know how to hide her emotions as well. She glares coolly at him as the elf takes his leave from Skyhold and even gets a passing guard to ensure Gatt is ‘escorted’ off the premises. It’s her diplomatic way of telling the elf to ‘get the fuck out of my fortress’ and Bull would laugh if he could muster the energy to.

Bull sighs. “So much for that, boss,” he says when he turns to Beatrix, smiling lamely at her.

“I’m proud of you, Bull,” she replies because it’s her and she’s like tama was, encouraging and so certain of Bull even when he’s mixed up about how he feels about himself.

He laughs, remembering how to, “Thanks, boss.”

It is then that Krem arrives for the training session Bull assigned for him. Dorian is by his side with one hand supported on the man’s shoulder and the other using his staff as a cane. Bull is surprised, but doesn’t show it.

“You’re late,” is all he says as Krem helps Dorian to sit on the bench near the training field. The mage has a couple of books with him as though intending to stay there for a while.

“Sorry, chief,” Krem replies, nods to Dorian. “This one was begging to be helped out of the sick bay so I took pity on the poor bastard. Had to help him up to the library too. Good to see you, Your Worship,” he addresses Beatrix, who now has her arms folded across her chest and is looking at them both with a scolding eye.

“You shouldn’t be out of doors, Dorian. You’re still recovering,” Beatrix chides and the mage motions with his hand, brushing off the concern like dust on his sleeve.

“Ha, hardly! I refuse to be caged in like an animal at the tender mercies of your dear Mother Giselle. I asked the woman to bring me a decent book, but apparently Skyhold’s library contains nothing of Tevinter history. However if you want to read twenty volumes on whether Divine Galatea took a shit on Sunday, the kind Mother will be more than happy to locate it for you,” Dorian declares with no small amount of malice.

Krem snickers, “See what I had to put up with, chief? Hardly can blame me for being tardy.”

Bull smiles fondly as Dorian opens his book, glancing up over the edge of it at Bull briefly before looking away again. “Alright, you’re excused,” he says, feeling lenient.

“It seems fair,” Beatrix adds, laughingly, “That fight with the venatori was pretty touch and go. I would hardly blame you for being late thanks to dealing with more grumpy Tevinter mages…”

“I heard that!” Dorian says from his seat, crossing his legs huffily.

Beatrix laughs, “But really, are you all alright?”

Krem nods affirmatively, “We knew that you and the chief had our backs, Inquisitor. Chief’s even breaking open a cask of Chasind sack mead for the Chargers tonight.”

Bull frowns at his lieutenant and tosses Krem the shield for their practice roughly, “Damn it, Krem, that’s the kind of thing you don’t have to mention to the Inquisitor!” he grumbles.

Krem flushes slightly, catching the shield with ease all the same, “Sorry, chief,” he says, biting his lip and preparing to be charged.

Bull doesn’t hold back much against his boys. He knows how easily he can hurt people, how easily he can break things, but he doesn’t hold back his full strength either. He thinks about how if he does, they’ll never be ready. He thinks about how if he does, there will be another situation like the one he faced on the coast, where his boys were in danger and outnumbered and unable to fight.

Krem, to his credit, holds his ground. He’s learned to put his weight into the block instead of against it. He’s learned to use the advantage of the fact that his lower body strength can outmatch Bull’s upper body strength; instead of trying to use his arms like the other men might. It makes Bull proud to see as he’s rebuffed, falling a step back and smiling.

“Ah, forget it,” Bull says of the training session, shaking his head, “You’re doing fine, Krem.”

“I rather agree,” Dorian says from the bench because of course he’s watching instead of reading, “I wouldn’t trade the Chargers for all the dreadnoughts in the Qunari fleet.”

“Me either,” Beatrix voices, beaming.

Krem swallows hard. He’s bad at hiding his emotions too and Bull admires the way he puffs up his chest proudly. He deserves to. He did great at holding that hill as long as he could and Bull would take Krem over Gatt, Ben-Hassrath training or not, any day of the week.

“Go have fun with the boys,” he says, dismissing his lieutenant and picking up his axe. Beatrix excuses herself as well, citing business at the war table as her reasoning. It does show a little, how out of sorts Bull is, that he doesn’t suggest that Cullen might be her business to do up on the war table.

Dorian stays even when Krem offers to help him back indoors. He opens his book again, rustle of the pages barely heard over Bull’s grunts of exertion as he puts himself through his paces. Every time Bull turns his back on the ‘vint he can feel eyes tracing his torso, dancing over the scars that decorate his back. He says nothing of it and when he finishes, he sits next to Dorian on the bench, sweaty and satisfied. He’s gotten out most of his anger on the splintered training dummy. He’s safe from that consuming feeling of rage for now.

Dorian makes a show of wrinkling his nose at him and sliding over a bit. He still closes the book however to look at Bull, eyes skipping over the ripples of the qunari’s torso a moment because the mage really can’t help himself. It’s flattering, but not enough to lift Bull’s spirits much.

“I did get that wretched woman to find me something worthwhile in the library,” Dorian announces out of the blue and holds up a battered copy of something called The Qun: Transcribed and Interpreted by someone named Nigel Hawthorne.

“Doubt is the path one walks to reach faith,” Dorian recites from a dog-eared page, “To leave the path is to embrace blindness and abandon hope. Existence is a choice. There is no chaos in the world, only complexity. Knowledge of the complex is wisdom. From wisdom of the world comes wisdom of the self. Mastery of the self is mastery of the world. Loss of self is the source of suffering. Those that never walk the path of the Qun are of no worth and we shall call them bas for they are just things with no soul and no purpose. Those that willfully walk away from the path of the Qun are lost to our people and we call them Tal-Vashoth for they have nothing in common with their brothers and sisters save the grey of their skin.”

Bull hangs his head as he listens to the familiar passages from his people’s religion. Not my people anymore… he thinks to himself.

“You’ve got good pronunciation,” he says as a delaying tactic, not ready for this conversation, but corrects, “It’s ‘b-ass’ though. You made it sound like you’re saying ‘bath’….”

“Excuse me, this is the first time I’ve bothered to read anything related to the Qun,” Dorian replies, “And I was fairly certain if I asked outright, you wouldn’t have told me what Tal-Vashoth meant.”

Bull is quiet and still for a long moment. He flinches when Dorian touches his shoulder, sweat of his skin gone cool and clammy.

“…will they retaliate?” he asks, tone sincerely concerned.

They will. Bull knows this but, “You read the book. We’re a lost cause to them.”

“You were Ben-Hassrath. You know more than most about your people, you know their secrets, oh illustrious ‘Keeper of Illusions’,” Dorian insists, “You cannot tell me in all honesty that they won’t do something in return for your betrayal.”

“Why would I be honest with you? Gatt told you. It means ‘liar’,” Bull says with a smirk.

Dorian’s bad at hiding his emotions. Not as bad as most, but still Bull catches the slight shock in the widening of his eyes, the gentle parting of lips that Bull keenly recalls the feel of.

“…right,” Dorian says dryly, “I’d almost forgotten we’re on opposite sides of that proverbial line in the sand. Thank you oh so much for reminding me why I shouldn’t be concerned about your wellbeing, you buffoon!”

They’re quiet for a long time then, sitting on the bench, staring at one another. Bull’s palms itch. He wants to grab the ‘vint and… do something. Something to make Dorian understand.

Dorian’s temper cools quickly, however, his eyes turning away first to trace the grass.

“Thank you for saving my life,” he says. “Krem told me about what you did. I had a guess or two considering the lovely bruise you left on my side.”

Bull snorts. “Great,” he says, “Not only are you poking around the Qun, but now I have to be concerned about what Krem’s saying to you about me.”

“Ha! You needn’t worry. Mostly we were joking about your lovely leather brassiere there…” Dorian says with a twist of his lip that makes his moustache raise in a rakish, devilish way.

“…it’s a harness,” Bull grumps in response, used to the familiar teasing.

“…and it does so much for your figure. Makes your cleavage so much more alluring!” Dorian taunts in return and the earlier silence that felt like a misstep is gone as they fall back into their typical song and dance.

“How would you know? Thought you weren’t interested in cleavage,” Bull retorts and Dorian grins lasciviously.

“Just because I don’t want to sleep with one doesn’t mean I cannot appreciate the female form. Lovely, elegant, expressive, intelligent—women are far superior to men in every possible way. And if I had my druthers I would be with women until my dying day…” Dorian declares passionately.

“…but you prefer big hard cocks,” Bull says with a big grin of his own and Dorian gives a short bark of laughter even as he looks around to make sure nobody heard that.

“…yes, quite,” he agrees with a roll of his eyes. “Though I would have put it better.”

Bull chuckles, “Oh I’m sure you know how and where to put it better.”

Dorian elbows Bull in return. Bull laughs and leans back on the bench a little, gives Dorian the gentlest push back for that, “Come drink with me and the Chargers tonight.”

Dorian’s surprised by the request. It shows in that ridiculously expressive face of his. “Truly? Well how can I refuse such an invitation from my knight in shining leather brassiere?”

“It’s. A. Harness.” Bull insists and this time he pushes Dorian right off the bench into the grass.

Dorian needs help to get back down to the tavern. Bull’s the one who brings him from the infirmary this time and Dorian doesn’t even need to lean on his staff because Bull can hold him up with ease. This becomes problematic when Bull scoops up the mage’s legs from under him before they walk into the tavern together, announcing he’s ‘carrying him over the threshold’.

Getting his face covered in frost is well worth the scowling pout Dorian gives him as the Chargers laugh and get settled around the cask of mead.

Hours later they’re all pleasantly drunk, Dorian as well even though the ‘vint initially refused the quote-unquote foul-smelling rat piss that they were so eagerly consuming. He probably drank more of it than Bull, judging by how rosy his dark skin is and how he’s leaning into Bull’s side again, just like he did at camp those few nights ago.

That and the fact that he’s singing along with the group, slurring his words as they bellow out the Charger’s song again—

“Noooooooooo man can beat the Chargers ‘cos we’ll hit you where it hurts. Unless you know a tavern with loose cards and looser skirts!” Dorian slurs happily, arm thrown around Krem as they clank tankards together, “For every bloody battlefield, we’ll gladly raise a cup! No matter what tomorrow holds, our horns be pointing up!”

Bull smiles fondly at them all even as he extricates himself from Dorian’s arm. The man doesn’t seem to notice because he’s teasing Grim and Krem about something or other.

Bull walks out of the tavern into the cool night. He stumbles because that’s what they expect of him, slaps the pretty red-headed bargirl’s ass on his way out. That’s what they want to see. Him the stumbling bumbling fool, drinking the sorrow of being exiled from his people away, losing himself in debauchery.

But he’s not drunk and he’s not horny (well aside from the ones on top of his head). He knows what’s coming for him and who. He whistles the Charger’s song merrily as he pretends to struggle up the stairs to the ramparts, leaning heavily on the stone edge with a hand. His other goes to tug his belt up and his trousers down just enough to take a piss off the wall, the cold night biting slightly into his skin.

Bull’s tugging them up and turning when the attack comes. He’d heard the distant footfalls clear as thunderclaps. They were approaching him from his left because they were cowards. Well-informed cowards.

The first knife is easily deflected as he shoves his attacker away with a heavy forearm like the man weighed nothing at all. The second, however, is thrown into his shoulder, sharp pain burning through his flesh, enraging him. He takes a hand axe from his belt and throws it, getting the smartass with the throwing knives right through the chest, instantly killing him.

He’s yanking the blade out of his arm when the first attacker regains his footing, glaring darkly at Bull.

Ebost issala, Tal-Vashoth!” he yells and Bull readies himself for the charge that doesn’t come. There’s a shot of blue light that whips by Bull’s shoulder, chilling it slightly as it hits the assassin.

Dorian’s behind him, stepping forward (and he is actually stumbling drunk, Bull is surprised he even made it upstairs let alone that he was able to aim) and sweeping his hand upwards sharply. The now frozen statue of a man is cast up into the air and thrown from the ramparts with a gesture. Bull watches as he falls and then shatters on the rocks below.

He snorts a little because it’s very ironic, “Yeah, yeah,” he says, “My soul is dust. Yours is scattered all over the ground, though, so…”

Bull turns to look at Dorian, who is laughing a little wearily, leaning against the wall opposite. Bull grunts a bit, rubbing at his smarting wound.

“You knew this was coming,” Dorian accuses, because even inebriated the ‘vint isn’t an idiot. Another thing to admire at him. “You knew and you refused to tell any of us because you are incop—incomper—incomprehenstile—you’re an arse,” he finishes.

Bull snorts at that, going to help Dorian stand as his shoulder bleeds sluggishly. The saar-qamek stings like a bitch, but Bull’s been drinking the antidote since they left the coast. He’ll be fine.

“I don’t know why you’re surprised by that,” Bull responds, “You know why I didn’t. Change in the guard rotation tipped me off, let me know it was going down tonight. Didn’t wanna worry the boys or the boss and besides—have you all gone through years of Ben-Hassrath training to hide facial expressions while I wasn’t looking?”

Dorian’s face crumples tellingly. “See?” Bull states, hands on the other man’s shoulders gentle but supportive, “Thanks for having my back though, ‘vint.”

“Will they be back?” Dorian asks, staring beyond Bull at the dead assassin with the axe still sticking out of his sternum.

“Naw. I wasn’t even worth sending professionals for…” Bull says easily, “Two guys with blades against me? That’s not a hit. That’s them letting me know clearly that I’m Tal-Vashoth.”

Bull sighs, lowering his head because right now? He can’t hide his expression.

“…Tal-Va-fucking-shoth,” he says and it makes it real now, clear. Bull jerks in surprise when he feels Dorian’s hands, still warm despite the coolness of the evening, touch his face, tug his chin upwards.

“Hey. You’re still you,” Dorian insists. “Still an annoying horned idiot with men who care about you, who would die for you. That’s worth more than anything.”

Bull scoffs but he puts his large hands over Dorian’s, leaning into them a little. Their foreheads touch and Dorian’s breath tastes honeyed with the Chasind mead. Bull’s nostrils flare slightly, taking in the scent of him. He’s got that expensive cologne from Tevinter on too, cinnamon and spice and musk heavy on the tan length of his neck, dotted behind an ear.

Dorian withdraws first, slowly. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” he says.

“Give me a break—I’ve hurt myself worse fooling around in bed…” Bull complains, but Dorian silences him with a few fingers on his lips. Bull shuts up.

“I don’t doubt that for an instant but this is not pity, Bull. This is payback. I owe you my life. The least you can let me do is bandage you up. No magic, I promise,” Dorian says, knowing Bull is wary of what he can do.

“…” Bull nods once, tightly, “I’ve got some stuff in my room.” It’s not an invitation for more, persay, but Dorian’s eyes light with amusement all the same.

“Oh, I’m sure you do,” he replies and shakes his head. “C’mon, let’s go then…”

They walk together and even though Bull’s the one injured, Dorian is the one who needs to be helped kept on his feet. Dorian sniffs a little at Bull’s quarters, complains about the missing bits of ceiling but is impressed that Bull actually keeps his things organized neatly in a military fashion. Bull brings out the length of linens he keeps in case one of the Chargers gets a lucky shot in practice and actually manages to make him bleed.

He sits on the edge of the bed, muscles flexing with tension that he doesn’t understand. Dorian kneels up on the mattress beside him, using a rag and the washbasin to clean the wound for Bull. Once all the blood is cleared away, Dorian rips one of the linens into a tidy line of cloth.

He leans in close again as he winds the bandaging around Bull’s shoulder. “Told you it was stupid that you lot don’t wear armor…” he remarks.

“You don’t like the view?” Bull chuckles in return and yipes as Dorian cinches the bandage unnecessarily tight in response. “Ouch.”

“Baby,” Dorian chides and leans into Bull’s side again, eyes fluttering sleepily as he yawns. “Mmnph. I don’t mind it. Mostly because you’re far more comfortable this way than if you were in heavy plate…”

Bull glances to his side, Dorian’s slightly mussed hair touching against his bicep as he rests his head there. He wants to touch it again, but instead flexes his fingers into the bedspread. Bull stares straight ahead and the words start to flow from his lips.

“You wanted to know more about Tal-Vashoth… well, it’s more than just exile. The Qun keeps us in check, keeps us balanced. You weren’t entirely wrong when you were saying all that Tevinter bullshit about us. We are bloodthirsty, uncompromising. We prefer conquering over conversation. We fight and we fight and we fight. And after years in Seheron, I got tired of it all. I asked myself what in the name of Koslun I was doing with my life. I wanted to let my enemies kill me but I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction either. I was even thinking of that tonight. Of just letting them take me out for good. Before I do something stupid, hurt someone innocent because I’m no longer bound by the Qun… and maybe I never was…”

“I’m afraid of what I might do, Dorian. To the boss. To the Inquisition. To you. Do you understand?” he asks and dares to glance to his side for an answer.

Dorian’s dead asleep and drooling on Bull, face pleasantly pink and slack with exhaustion. Bull watches him a moment and then laughs outright.

“Yeah. Better you don’t know,” he says and tucks his arm around Dorian instead, careful of his injury as he lets the mage sleep.

Chapter Text

When Dorian wakes up in his own bed again he immediately wonders if he smells bad. Or snores. Or farts in his sleep. There had to be some reason Bull was so morally opposed to having Dorian stay with him overnight that he actually bothered to carry him to his own bed. Especially considering the fact that Bull had all but told Dorian in no uncertain terms he wouldn’t mind romping around with him.

This was twice that he’d fallen asleep practically on top of Bull and twice that he woke up comfortably tucked in his own bedding. And once again there’s Bull’s own blanket, resting on top of the multitude of others Dorian keeps in his quarters. It’s the same one Bull always keeps with his pack when they venture out from Skyhold and the same one he’d given Dorian to keep him warm several times when they were out journeying in whatever horribly freezing part of Ferelden the Inquisition was called to.

Dorian’s not complaining, not really. He’s especially pleased Bull brought him to his own quarters and not to the bloody infirmary. He’s sure Mother Giselle will be screeching about the evil Tevinter mage escaping or some such but for now he’s happy and comfortable, glad not to be in one of the uncomfortable hospice cots.

However, he’s also curious. The night prior Bull had been saying something to him and Dorian couldn’t quite remember what it was. Something about being Tal-Vashoth? He sat and shut his eyes and thought hard but couldn’t recall the words. While his actual memory was fuzzy and indistinct, his sense memory was stronger, overpowering. He can’t remember the man’s words but he recalls clearly how Bull’s grey skin smelled like leather and metal. Like the salty spray of the ocean and damp cedar. It should be a repugnant combination but Dorian was starting to find it less offensive and more comforting.

Having the blanket so close probably didn’t help his memory get any less foggy. The thing smelled strongly of Bull and Dorian pulled the worn greyed fabric to his nose, breathing in just a little. There was a scent of smoke to it as well, strangely earthy and herbal stuff like incense—and not the overpowering perfumed stuff they’d use in the Chantry.

He wondered why Bull carried this around with him. It was worn from use and the fabric wasn’t expensive, a homespun weave of fennec fur and august ram hair that may have been dyed a royal blue a long time ago. Dorian passed the fabric through his hands, corner to corner. It was definitely warm and soft. It seemed like utility had been favored over embellishments up until Dorian’s fingers touched something that was embroidered onto the corner, so small one might miss it if they didn’t know where it was.

Dorian brings the edge up to his face to examine it closer. There is a dragon stitched expertly into the material, done in silver thread that’s slightly worn from someone passing their fingers over it. There are letters beside the image. Faded yet legible.

“F-3-8-U-1-1…” Dorian read the string of numbers and letters aloud to himself, brow furrowed in confusion as to why someone would stitch that onto a blanket. “…tama loves you, my little bull.”

Dorian stares for a moment at the message from long ago, his thumb running over the dragon repeatedly. He feels strange, like he’s seeing something he shouldn’t. Something secret.

He drops the blanket back on his lap after a while, sighing as he touches his side and examines the mark that is slowly healing. It’s easily done because of course he doesn’t have a shirt on. Bull also seems to object to Dorian wearing clothing when he sleeps. It gets Dorian wondering about how Bull sleeps. Come to think of it, he had never seen Bull pack away pajamas in camp, so…

Dorian’s face burns like a brand, thinking about the Iron Bull laid out in his tent, completely naked with nothing covering him except—

Except the blanket currently on Dorian’s lap. The blanket which had probably rubbed up against Bull’s bare nether regions at one point or another. That is if his hunch about Bull sleeping au naturale (as the Orlesians might say) is correct.

Said blanket now had a good sized bump in it from Dorian’s cock deciding to wake up and greet the day. He groans, putting his head in his hands while dumping the blanket off the side of the bed with a few well-placed little kicks.

This was ridiculous. His fantasies were going way, way too far now. Jerking off to idle thoughts of a muscled qunari merc was one thing. Doing so while huffing a blanket that smelled like said qunari was just depraved and sad. Dorian wasn’t that desperate. Dorian was gorgeous. He could have any man in Skyhold if he wanted.

(Well, maybe not Cullen. He didn’t want to be thrown into a Rift by Beatrix.)

So why wasn’t he taking out his energies on some doe-eyed stable hand? Some pretty, naïve dignitary that came calling? One of Cullen’s goodie two-shoes Templar wannabes who wanted to walk on the wild side by fucking a mage?

Five minutes of fidgeting and glaring at the ceiling later, Dorian reached down to retrieve the blanket from the floor.

He felt better afterwards, spent and satisfied, giving a pleased stretch like a feline relaxing in the sunlight. He took care not to get anything on the blanket—it was important to Bull. The mage felt a little badly for misusing it but also confused as to why Bull continued to lend it out to him, if it really was that important to him.

Dorian really didn’t know for sure. Bull was so hard—er, difficult—to understand. But Dorian felt like he was getting there, slowly but surely. And somehow that felt like a real accomplishment.

The mage is glad when Beatrix actually calls for him at the war table with the others. He’d been ignored for the past few meetings which made him feel rather put out, however he knew complaining about it would only make Bea keep him in reserve longer so he bore with it. Took the time to write a few letters home, assessed venatori threats utilizing his contacts in Tevinter.

They’re given their assignments and Dorian will be traveling with the Inquisitor, unsurprisingly. He knew she would want to keep him close until she was certain he was well enough. Bull and the Chargers were to be deployed to Haven, doing recon and looking for any stragglers that had yet to make it to Skyhold.

Dorian wondered if Bull had told Beatrix about the attempt on his life or not. Bull had shrugged it off so easily, calling it ‘a formality’ rather than an assassination. Dorian was concerned but he knew it wasn’t his place to go tattling to ‘mommy’ either. He’d trust in the Chargers to keep a watch over their chief and leave it at that.

Cassandra and Cullen were handling some business involving intelligence on Lord Seeker Lambert’s movements up north. With Bull and her gone, it meant there was only one sword-arm among their inner circle. And this was one of the few people Dorian hadn’t figured out and wasn’t getting on with at all—

“You have something to say, mage?”

Dorian’s mind is miles away and he doesn’t realize he’d been staring off in Blackwall’s general direction until the man gruffly addresses him. They had gotten off fabulously on the wrong foot when Dorian remarked how he’d heard about Grey Wardens being made up mostly of criminals ducking out from their punishments via the Rite of Conscription.

It was actually truth, unlike most of the Tevinter Imperium propaganda he’d been fed. However, commenting on it aloud had Blackwall snarling more than any barbs Dorian had thrown at the warden about his hair, personal hygiene or how he talked with his mouth full.

“If I had something to say, I’d say it,” Dorian replies primly, not in the mood for Blackwall’s grumbling.

Dorian knows why Beatrix took him on this trip instead of letting him go with the Chargers or to help with the military mission up north. Not only can she keep an eye on him this way, but the trip itself is light duty. The Hinterlands have cooled significantly thanks to their efforts—there are no longer Templars and mages battling every five feet. They’re going as a favor to Master Dennet, who had left his family and freehold behind to help tend the stables at Haven and then Skyhold.

It’s bandits and brigands and little errands, nothing more. They’re not striking any blows against Corypheus by sending some wastrels running for the hills, that’s for sure.

“That’s it?” Blackwall snorts, “I’d expect more from a man who can’t stop talking about how clever he is.”

“And I’d expect no less from a brutish thug,” Dorian shoots back breezily. For someone who talked a big game about acting honorable Dorian was finding more and more that Blackwall can be a real moody bastard when he wants to be.

“Better that than a pompous brat,” the older man replies, glowering at Dorian under those horribly bushy eyebrows. Honestly, had the man never heard of tweezers?

It is at this point that Beatrix overhears their bickering, excusing herself from a conversation from a worried looking farmer to address the duo. “What’s going on here, you two? Honestly, if we’re going to fight at each other’s side, we need to get along,” she insists, brows knit together in a pleading expression while her eyes are hard—she is not going to accept them continuing on even if she’s asking nicely at the moment.

“Tell that to Mr. Barely Concealed Envy Issues!” Dorian snaps, not dropping it. It’s not Blackwall that has him on edge, not truly. Dorian knows this but it doesn’t mean he’s going to back down either.

Sera rolls her eyes from where she’s perched on a barrel like a cat. “You two are such men,” she says, unimpressed as she twangs the string of her bow.

Blackwall snorts at Dorian with derision. “Well, I’m a man,” he says, giving Dorian a dismissive once-over, from his fancy boots fitted to his calves to his impeccably groomed hair. It is an assuming, knowing look that the mage knows all too well.

Dorian’s throat clutches tight, face burning as he snarls back, “Best pound your chest, so nobody doubts! Oh wait, that’s gorillas, isn’t it? My mistake— although you do have the hairy and smelly part of that down pat!”

Blackwall comes at Dorian with a fist raised and Dorian readies a fireball but the girls are faster than them. Blackwall has to jump back from an arrow whizzing by him and nearly shearing off part of his beard and Dorian’s fireball flickers out when Beatrix dispels it with a gesture of green light.

“You two need a time out!” the Inquisitor declares, glaring at them both.

“He started it!” they say in unison and then glower at one another menacingly.

“I don’t care!” Beatrix says, finger raised in the air like a frustrated mother about to issue spankings, “You two keep it up and I’ll finish it by letting Sera use you two for target practice!”

Sera looks delighted, “Really? Will they be standing all still or can I get ‘em free range like?” she asks, making a running gesture with her fingers across a palm, ears twitching hopefully.

Beatrix sighs heavily. She glances over her shoulder at the farmer, who looks troubled by all the arguing on his property and then gets a very devilish look on her face.

“…actually, I have a better idea,” she says.

Dorian is filled with an immediate sense of dread.

His feeling is well-warranted as an hour later he’s trudging through a bleak section of the Hinterlands with Blackwall searching for a lost druffalo.

“This is so degrading…” Dorian says bitterly.

Blackwall snorts. He isn’t happy about their ‘special mission’ either but isn’t above continuing their earlier argument either, “Oh yes, helping others without expecting anything in return? Horrible.”

“That is not what I meant and you know it, you hairy lummox!” Dorian snarls back, frustrated, “I mean getting banished to menial labor while Beatrix and Sera are probably sipping tea and eating bon-bons back at camp!”

Blackwall gives Dorian a perplexed look. “What in the Void are bon-bons?”

Dorian throws his hands up into the air. “Maker, give me strength—” he says and then straightens sharply when he hears a faint mooing noise coming from a dark ravine. “Oh thank Andraste, finally. Come on!”

They find the beast far to the back of the ravine. The idiot thing is balanced precariously up on a ledge, only a foot or so above the ground. It is glowering at the foggy forest floor with trepidation, unmoving save to moo helplessly on occasion.

Blackwall frowns even as he follows Dorian, “Wait a second… this doesn’t feel right…”

“Doesn’t feel right?” Dorian questions, giving Blackwall a very flat look. “Don’t tell me, you speak druffalo now? That makes so much sense, you wouldn’t even believe.”

“To the Void with you, you bratty little—I mean there’s got to be some reason that the animal’s not moving from that spot. It’s not like a druffalo to be climbing on rocks like that. They’re not goats or rams, they’re plains animals. Flatlands creatures,” Blackwall insists.

“So it got spooked and jumped up on a rock and now it can’t get down, is that all?” Dorian questions in return. Blackwall shifts about, scowls. “Very well then, let’s help the beast down so we can get back to camp, alright?”

“Fine,” Blackwall agrees begrudgingly.

The duo walk towards the druffalo, who does a turn on its rocky platform and moos at them, louder. Just as Dorian is about to tell the animal to shut it, he feels his foot stick to the ground and stay stuck fast. He doesn’t get a chance to warn Blackwall before the other man is also glued to the ground.

“What in the Void—” Blackwall says and pulls at his foot, trying to work it free. He bends to do so and his knee gets stuck too—then his hand.

“It looks like strands of something—hand me whatever sharp pointy thing you’ve brought with you, I’ll cut myself free and then you,” Dorian suggests.

Blackwall scoffs, “There’s no way I’m giving you my weapon, mage.”

Dorian gives Blackwall an offended glance. “Are you seriously saying you don’t trust me? You know I am dangerous with or without a weapon, right?”

“Aye, but if I have my weapon I have a chance,” Blackwall responds. “Sides, why can’t you just burn it up or somethin’ if you’re so special?”

Dorian sighs heavily, “Because, you ignoramus, this material is very light and very flammable. We’d get burned up with it. Now if you please—

That’s when they hear it. Wet clicking noises coming from all around them. The druffalo moos again and actually steps down into the mess of what Dorian now recognizes as spider webbing, licking at the threads like it was grazing. Dorian shudders as huge spiders descend from the ceiling.

Dorian hates spiders.

Using fire isn’t an option and Blackwall’s useless, batting at them with his shield since he can’t get his hatchet free anyways. So Dorian shoots ice at the spiders as they leap towards them, freezing a few solid before they can reach them. It’s futile and webbing shoots over Dorian’s face, covering his mouth and silencing his incantations. Blackwall’s yelling but Dorian can barely hear him, sticky fluid hardening over his ears, muffling the sounds.

Then it all goes dark.

Something wet and hot is lapping at his throat. Dorian shivers a little, smiles dreamily, “Bull… knock it off…” he mumbles.

“Wake up,” a deep voice insists and Dorian pouts, presumably at Bull, refusing.

“Hey!” Dorian feels himself being jarred roughly, “Wake up!”

“Stop shouting already…” Dorian complains, keeping his eyes stubbornly shut.

“…you’re getting kissed by a druffalo!” a voice shouts and Dorian recognizes the gruff tones. It is not Bull.

Dorian’s eyes fly open just as a thick wet tongue runs over his face, catching on his nostrils, dripping foul-smelling saliva. He sputters, twisting away from the sensation.

Eugh!!!” he cries out and spits repeatedly—as best as he could anyways, given that he’s hanging upside down in some sort of cave. Beside him, the animal moos affectionately and then licks his hair, causing the strands to stick up sharply.

“Shh—!” Blackwall hisses. Dorian has to blink his eyes a few times to adjust to the low lighting provided by a few deep mushrooms that are growing along the walls. He can just make out Blackwall hanging next to him. They’re wound up in sticky webbing, hung upside down beside one another. There are others cocooned up nearby but they are considerably deader—their skin shriveled up like they’d had all the fluids drained from them. In the distance there’s clicks and hisses, clatters of thick limbs on the rocks.

Dorian shudders again, looks away. “Can you get free?” he asks, coughing a little.

“If I could do that you’d think we’d still be hanging here?” Blackwall mutters in response.

“…fair point,” Dorian responds, shutting his eyes and trying to think.

They sway in silence like that for a few moments. Dorian can speak but if he uses a fire spell to burn through the webbing they will definitely be burned alive now. The cavern is covered with the webbing. It would go up faster than dry hay. Blackwall, to his credit, doesn’t ask him about that possibility again. Apparently the warden could learn.

“…you ever imagine it would end like this, Dorian?” Blackwall asks out of nowhere.

Dorian glances over at their furry companion, who is navigating around the webbing rather well, licking at the ground now and then before stepping forward. The druffalo is nibbling on the deep mushrooms here and there.

“The druffalo is a surprise,” he says evenly enough. Blackwall actually chuckles, surprising the mage slightly. Another quiet moment passes before Dorian pushes aside his ego, “…so I hit a nerve with the whole… ‘murderer Grey Warden’ business…” he begins delicately.

Blackwall stiffens slightly beside him but Dorian forges on before the other man can dismiss his words, “I just want to say, for the record, I admire that. Wanting to atone for one’s actions. I can understand that.”

The man beside him gives a characteristic grumbling sound—though Dorian has learned enough about the swordsman to know that that’s his ‘considering’ noise. “Is that so?” Blackwall questions, uncertain of Dorian’s sincerity. Which is fair, given their history.

“Yes. And I know enough to know when I’ve stepped in it. So I apologize,” Dorian states, with a heavy breath. “Will you forgive me?”

Blackwall’s still quiet and Dorian wonders for a moment if he was even listening.

“…you… do not have to apologize to me, Dorian,” the warden finally states, sounding guilty for some reason or another.

Dorian laughs—quietly, the spiders are still clicking away further down in the cave—“You know, people who say that to me are usually wrong.”

“I mean it,” Blackwall grumbles. “…I… am indeed a murderer. And I escaped my past to become a warden. Like many others before me…”

Dorian is surprised by the honesty in it. Touched even, given how much animosity existed between the two of them. “I can understand that motivation as well… wanting to escape…”

“…I do not understand you, Dorian…” Blackwall says, shaking his head as much as their bonds allowed him, “My life was easily given to the Inquisition. But you come from a life of privilege, so you must understand why I question your motivations for being here…”

The mage sighs as he swings, stares into the darkness briefly, the light illuminating the frown on his handsome (though slightly druffalo-saliva sodden) face. “…that’s because I haven’t really been entirely honest about them. Yes, the situation with the venatori concerned me greatly, especially since Alexius was trying to use magic I had invented to do harm to others…”

“But…?” Blackwall says, always one for getting right to the point instead of puttering about.

“…my preferences for male bed partners was a problem thanks to my privileged existence,” Dorian gets out in a rush, face burning a little. “I couldn’t live the lie anymore so I left.”

There’s a moment of quiet that makes Dorian’s stomach turn over and he cannot believe that Blackwall has ended up being the second person he’s actually admitted it aloud to amongst the Inquisition.

“So your family had a bug up their arse about you liking to be buggered up your arse?” Blackwall clarifies and Dorian can’t help the laugh that bursts from his throat, breaking the tension.

“Well that’s one way of putting it…” he says, “It’s more complicated than that, but… yes, essentially.”

“Hmph,” Blackwall seems to consider the situation a moment before saying, simply, “Well Dennet owes me a sovereign, provided we escape this mess…” There’s another stretch of quiet and Blackwall adds, “I accept your apology, Dorian. Not liking where you came from… I can relate to that.”

“…oh really?” Dorian says with a flutter of his eyelashes that is absolutely wasted in the dim lighting but he does it anyways. It unnerves Blackwall either way.

“Not that much, mind,” the warrior states with a rough chuckle, “Keep your pants on, mage.”

“Well considering I can’t move, that’s easily done…” Dorian states and sighs, cracking his jaw a little as the druffalo wanders past him again to the other side of the cave to graze, flicking his face with its tail along the way. “Though it is nice to have my mouth free—I have this image of me dying with a clever remark, you know, and—”

Dorian paused, replaying the initial fight with the spiders in his head. He’d gotten his face completely covered, he remembered not being able to talk—“Wait a minute… Blackwall, how did that happen?”

“What, you being such a clever little snot? I’d say around two years old when you found out you could order your elven nanny about…” Blackwall states and Dorian swings into him in lieu of not being able to kick the other man for the idiocy.

“No, you dolt—I mean my head was swathed in webbing when I passed out and now—” Dorian twisted his head to and fro for emphasis. “How did we get free?”

“Oh, that—” Blackwall states, nodding to the druffalo. “You aren’t the only one who got a rude awakening. I think that thing licked the webbing away, ate it or something, I don’t know. All I know is I never want to smell druffalo breath again for as long as I live…”

“…that’s it,” Dorian says, “The saliva, it must have some sort of component in it; something that helps dissolve the webbing!”

Blackwall’s quiet again and Dorian cranes his head to look at him. The warden’s face is unreadable, he’s staring straight ahead with trepidation, but the clicking of mandibles from the distance brings him out of this stubborn silence…

“So you mean…”

“Yeah,” Dorian says, nose wrinkling.

The druffalo moos curiously.

Thirty minutes later they’re free and herding the druffalo back towards the farm. Both of them are slimy from head to toe and smelling like chewed up, half-digested grass.

They hitch the druffalo up and strip down to their smalls, washing in the river as best they can. Leaving their clothing out to dry after beating it on the rocks, Dorian and Blackwall shiver on the shore while their furry friend makes little lapping motions of its tongue at them. If Dorian didn’t know better, he’d think the creature was trying to flirt with them.

“We never speak of this,” Blackwall states firmly, hirsute torso still damp from the dip in the river.

“Agreed,” Dorian replies while trying to fix his hair into some semblance of order. They shake hands on it.

They watch the water rush over the rocks and the clouds lazily drifting along. “So have you told anyone else about that? Why you left Tevinter, really?” Blackwall questions.

Dorian raises a brow at Blackwall, “Have you told them about your past?”

“…fair enough,” Blackwall replies, “I’ll keep that secret too then, if you will keep mine.”

“Of course. Though to be honest, mine is becoming less and less of a secret. Bull already knows, that much is for certain…” Dorian mutters, rolling his eyes a little. He wonders how Bull is doing back at Haven, wonders if he’ll be back by the time Dorian returns to Skyhold. He wonders if Bull’s missing the blanket that is in Dorian’s pack back at camp currently.

“Not surprising to hear that. He fancies you,” Blackwall says with a snort.

“He ‘fancies’ everything that’s bipedal and breathing,” Dorian replies, but his face is warm as he sets his chin to his knees.

“You think so?” Blackwall says, scratching through his beard, “I don’t know about that. As a soldier, I can see why he puts on that persona. Makes it easier. Keeps your feelings out of it. Last thing you want to do when you’re on the battlefield day in and day out is getting your emotions all mixed up.”

Dorian scoffs, “Right. Are you saying Bull loves me? Is that it? He’s pining?”

“No. I’m saying he could and you shouldn’t dismiss that possibility of him being able to care about you or anyone else simply because of how he acts when everyone’s around. For example, I thought you were just a spoiled noble brat before…”

“And now?”

“You’re still a spoiled noble brat. But there’s also a good man under all that. One who wants to do right. And I’m glad I took the time to see that,” Blackwall states simply.

Dorian gives a short, scoffing sound at that. “Kaffas—we don’t have to hug now, do we?”

“Try it and I’ll chop your arms off and beat you with them,” Blackwall responds, Dorian laughing in response. The mage feels lighter, somehow, having talked all this out.

He’s still uncertain about it all, of course. He has no idea what to do if Blackwall is right about Bull. Dorian isn’t used to being ‘cared’ about and the idea makes him anxious.

But now he feels like he has both feet on the ground, so to speak.

Which of course means that the second he gets back to Skyhold—Champion of Druffalos as he and Blackwall are now known, thanks to Sera—everything has to get pulled out from under him again.

Chapter Text

Haven is a mess. Bull remembers it as a thriving place, living and breathing. Beatrix had kindled so much hope there, out in the ice and snow. He stands just outside the gates, touches the low bit of stone wall where he used to relax and talk shit with Krem while watching Cullen put his soldiers through their paces. It’s buried deep in the snow but he can touch the corner if he crouches.

Bull thinks about the events leading up to the attack, thinks about the days before and if there was anything that could have been done. Bull was good at threat assessment, but nobody could have predicted what they saw. The red Templars. A dragon dropping from the heavens. Some crazy ‘vint asshole stomping in and calling himself a god.

Okay, maybe Bull was used to seeing the last one, back in Seheron, but the rest was a bit of a surprise.

The rest of the Chargers are finishing up their sweep of the area. Bull’s pulled two wagons worth of bodies from the wreckage of the Chantry. He’s tired and no one questions when he walks off to take a break. Bull kicks at the snow drift so he can uncover more of the stone wall—or what is left of it anyways—and sits down, staring out at the frozen river.

The place isn’t Seheron, not close to looking like burnt streets and scorch-marked buildings that are ready to be shuttered up at a moment’s notice. But it’s close enough to make Bull feel nauseous with sense memory of the smell of dead flesh and the heavy silence that follows destruction.

Bull shuts his eyes like tama taught him, takes a breath and then another. Normally when he feels this way, this combination of fear and anger; thinking of his friends past and present, his squad in Seheron and the Chargers, would take it away from him. But after losing his connection to the Qun, becoming Tal-Vashoth… it wasn’t enough. The thoughts were tainted and would not take him away from that dark place in his mind.

He’s about to give up and open his eyes to just try and deal with the chaos when a thought comes to mind, unbidden. The scent of heavy rich cologne and cheap honeyed mead. The pouty curve of sleep-slackened lips. Warm weight against his arm, heavy and trusting.

The image calms him. Dorian, whether the ‘vint admitted it or not, trusted him. Bull still doesn’t completely know how to feel about that or what to do about it. Dorian doesn’t know him well enough, doesn’t know what Bull sees in the world. Doesn’t know that Bull thinks about it, how he’d take down each of the inner circle if he had to. Even if he’s no longer under the Qun, Bull is Ben-Hassrath—an elite spy and a soldier.

Bull can remember the way Dorian breathed in his sleep, the soft noises he’d make from time to time. Not snoring, but more like little mumbles and murmurs. He remembers how tempted he was to just take Dorian into his own bed and how he’d resisted that temptation. He bundled Dorian up in his blanket, the one tama gave him so long ago, and carried him across the ramparts once it was dark enough that no one else would be wandering the walls save for the night watch.

Dorian didn’t want to be seen with him after all. Especially not like that. The mage was so mixed up about himself—who he was and who he wasn’t. Bull could relate to that but he didn’t have the time or patience to deal with it. Not now. Not so soon after losing everything.

So it made infinitely more sense to tuck the sleeping, drunken mage into bed, leave for the tavern and lose himself in the pretty redheaded barmaid and her rather open-minded friend. That was simple. That made sense.

Yet here he was now, not thinking of the curve of breasts or the dots of freckles on a slender shoulder. The way that Dorian’s impeccably styled hair was softer than it looked fascinated him more.

Tama, I’m scared. If it gets into my head, how do I cut it out?

Close your eyes little bull. Find something good, something pure.

Something pure?

Something you care for. Hold it in your heart, in your mind. Think of it in all your senses. How it looks, how it feels, how it smells…

I can see it… I can feel it, tama… I’m not scared anymore.

“You were too damn smart, tama…” Bull says to himself with a smirk, opening his eyes and sighing, rubbing the back of his head, “I’m sorry I disappointed you again. This time will be the last.”

The sound of cawing stirs him from his thoughts. He glances to his right, where one of Red’s ravens is hopping about. The thing looks thin and haggard—has it been waiting here at Haven this whole time? It has a letter, slightly sodden from snow but the ink is still legible.

Bull coaxes the bird to him with a piece of hard tack and while it eats the crumbs he scatters on the ground he takes the letter. The seal is an expensive looking coppery wax, imprinted with the image of a dragon. He doesn’t have to flip it over to know the addressee, the symbol is pure Tevinter, but he does anyways. ‘Dorian Pavus of House Pavus: Care of the Inquisition, Haven Chantry, Ferelden’.

Bull shakes his head, pockets the letter all the same and feeds the raven another biscuit from his pack. “What’s that saying? Think of a demon and it’ll show up?” he says to the bird, who just caws at him in return.

Dorian was hardly a demon but he did fill Bull’s thoughts more than the qunari would like. Sure, Bull never made a big deal of their differences, but they were on opposite sides of an age-old conflict. It bothered Dorian, certainly, otherwise why would he continually bring it up? Bull on the other hand had taken Dorian’s presence in the Inquisition in stride because he knew that as much as the ‘vint griped about the ‘barely eye-watering slapfight’ between the qunari and his countrymen—Dorian was essentially a civilian. A non-combatant by the virtue of being born into the altus class.

He didn’t know war. This small ruined village was probably the closest Dorian had ever come to it.

No qunari would accept a Tevinter mage so easily—unless it was a ruse. When should I expect a knife in the back?

You ever use that fancy magic of yours to burn down a dormitory full of kids?

The look on Dorian’s face at that, the shock and horror and the stammered sarcastic denial were fresh in Bull’s mind even a month after that particular exchange. Dorian wouldn’t ever be able to understand it. How leaving the Qun was more than just defecting from one’s country. The man was nobility, was privileged. That didn’t change because he ran away to fight for the Inquisition.

Er… not today…

Then I wouldn’t worry. Lot of other people need a knife in the back first.

Bull stands, brushes the snow from his pants and pockets the letter. He can hear Krem approaching, waves to him.

“Chargers, clear up and move out!”

It’s week-long journey back to Skyhold, made longer by the wagons of dead and the survivors that were injured or sick. Qunari don’t fret over their fallen like humans do but Bull can understand the idea of it. Wanting to know for certain, wanting to say goodbyes and honor the dead.

He knows he brings a lot of peace to some when he arrives back at Skyhold, but also pain. Cole is kept busy by it all, tending to those who have had their losses confirmed.

Bull’s watching as the kid does his little mind tricks on the barmaid from the night prior. Bull had brought back her dead brother, tangled limbs and ginger hair covered with frost. Her face is blank for a moment and then relieved the next, holding a small token in her palms. Cole smiles wearily under his hat and even though Bull was wary of the weird boy at first—he really appreciates what Cole does for others.

Bull blinks as a mug of dark Ferelden lager is pushed in front of him.

“Welcome back,” Dorian says easily enough, “How was Haven?”

“Pretty shitty,” Bull responds stonily and takes a long pull off the tankard. It helps. “Thanks.”

The flash of concern on Dorian’s face vanishes as he shrugs off the gratitude with ease, drinking his own flagon with far more measured sips. “Well at least you were doing something useful. I was stuck in the Hinterlands with our resident grumpy Grey Warden herding druffalo…”

Bull finds it in himself to smile. He’s already talked to Sera. “I heard something about that, yeah…”

“Laugh it up. Sera doesn’t even know the half of it,” Dorian mutters, rolling his eyes.

Bull raises an eyebrow at him questioningly.

Dorian stares back a moment and then huffs, looking away.

Bull smirks, takes a slow drink, eye fixed on Dorian.

Dorian fidgets in his chair, glowering silently.

Bull’s grin widens a few molars more…

“…okay fine, but I swear if you tell a soul…” Dorian begins and an hour of what has to be highly embellished storytelling ensues. Bull can’t believe half of it, but it is hilarious nonetheless.

His belly aches after, he was laughing so hard. Dorian and him have had at least three beers over the course of the tale and Dorian’s laughing too, face flushed with embarrassment and amusement in equal amounts. It’s a good look for him but Bull’s not drunk enough to let that one slip. Yet.

“Blackwall’s going to kill me now,” Dorian says, laying his head on the bar with a long lazy sigh, “I swore I wouldn’t breathe a word of this.”

“Ehn, it’s not like I’m going to tell anyone else…” Bull replies, wiping the tears from his eyes. A beat later he adds, “…thanks.”

Dorian raises his head slowly, like the act is effortful. He’s so buzzed and it’s really adorable how little it takes. Bull makes a note to introduce him to some heavier stuff just for the novelty of seeing the mage tripping over his own feet some more.

“What for…?” he asks.

Bull shrugs. “You know why,” he replies, echoing Dorian’s own words from weeks back when the ‘vint was still pining after the commander. “Don’t make me say it.”

Dorian stares a moment and then nods because somehow he does get it. He gets how this stuff can get to Bull because of his past and accepts it. Bull’s throat feels tight with the knowledge and he distracts himself from that sensation with another slug off his tankard.

“Oh, I found something of yours at Haven,” he mentions to change the topic, digging around to locate the letter, “Here. One of Red’s birds wound up hopping around Haven because we forgot to forward our mail, apparently…”

Dorian takes the letter, turning it over in slight surprise, “Oh—this is my friend Perdra’s family seal…” he notes, breaking it with a finger. He pulls out the one sheath of parchment. The ink is a little water-spotted in places but Dorian seems to be able to make it out alright.

Bull watches as his mouth moves as he reads and wonders if Dorian realizes he’s doing that. Bull finishes his beer and is ordering another when he hears the slight hiccup from the mage, looking over in concern.

Dorian has a hand over his mouth. He pulls it up over his face, hiding his expression. It doesn’t matter, the tear still streaks down his cheek, visible when it catches on his chin and drops onto the paper he’s holding in a weary hand.

“Dorian—”

“It’s nothing I hadn’t expected,” Dorian is quick to say, rubs his eyes with the heel of his hand and taking a deep breath. It’s pretty amazing how quickly he can recover even when his defenses are down. Bull’s impressed. He wonders how long Dorian’s had to keep a lid on his feelings, to be able to shut them down at a moment’s notice. “You remember Felix?”

“The son of that magister from Redcliffe? Yeah,” Bull replies, tipping his head. “What about him?”

Dorian chews the inside of his cheek slightly, “He’s dead. The Blight caught up to him. It was only a matter of time, of course. His mother was killed outright by those darkspawn and Felix was tainted… Alexius never forgave himself for it. It was no wonder he was driven mad… perfect prey for Corypheus…”

Bull doesn’t say anything. He just listens.

“Felix went in front of the Magisterium—gave a glowing account of our little outfit and especially of our beloved Lady Inquisitor…” Dorian notes, voice melancholy, “Everyone back home is talking, apparently, for better or for worse.”

Dorian sighs, stares at the letter again, “Felix was always as good as his word.”

“Are you going to be alright?” Bull asks.

The mage shakes his head, shrugs, a testimony to mixed feelings even as he coolly says, “He was ill and on borrowed time anyhow.”

Bull scoffs and Dorian frowns at him for it. “Look, I’ve seen more people than I cared to see get upset over dead people today. You’re talking like you’re qunari and you’re not. You don’t have to pretend you don’t give a shit around me, Dorian. Just because he was sick doesn’t mean you can’t regret his death.”

Dorian’s throat bobs slightly, “I know…” he begins and then sighs again, “Felix used to sneak me treats from the kitchen when I was working late in his father’s study. ‘Don’t get into trouble on my behalf,’ I’d tell him. ‘I like trouble,’ he’d say.”

The mage looks out the window, pensive. It’s starting to rain a little, pattering against the window lightly. The sound is comforting to Bull but he knows Dorian is like a cat when it comes to getting damp, all hisses and raised fur. The poor weather means Dorian won’t be rushing away from this discussion like others they’d had.

“Tevinter could use more mages like him. Those who put the good of others above themselves,” Dorian remarks, sounding fond.

Bull licks his lips, orders them another round on his tab. “So were the two of you…” he begins, trailing off. It’s probably too soon to ask such a thing but a part of him really wants to know.

Dorian’s eyes widen a fraction, “Felix and I? What an odd question…” he remarks and then shakes his head firmly. Bull’s pleased Dorian’s not just outright denying his orientation, it makes conversation a lot easier when the ‘vint isn’t stomping away due to the suggestion of his sexuality. “No. I had no intention of abusing Alexius’ hospitality by seducing his son.”

Dorian nods his thanks to Bull for the beer, taking a drink from it happily. He’s got foam on his moustache and Bull’s not sure whether he wants to make fun of him for it or lick it away.

“Not that I’ve been proper my whole life, by any means, but—it wasn’t like that,” Dorian says with a weary smile.

“Now if there’s one thing I’d never accuse you of, Dorian—it’s being proper,” Bull replies and earns a laugh for that.

“Arse,” Dorian replies without missing a beat, drumming his ringed fingers on the tankard, “Even in illness, Felix was the best of us. With him around you knew things could be better.”

Bull scoffs slightly, “Not for nothing, Dorian, but you’re no slouch yourself. You’re making it sound like he was a better person than you.”

Dorian chuckles, “Preposterous. Few people are better than I.”

Bull raises an eyebrow at Dorian, who sighs and throws up his hands, “Alright. I do think so. A better person, surely. Though not quite as handsome.”

Bull snorts into his mug as he drinks, “I’ll agree with the latter part at least. Thankfully, your friend wasn’t the only decent mage in Tevinter.”

Dorian blinks at Bull, who avoids his gaze by finding his drink suddenly very interesting. Dorian laughs softly and elbows him slightly, Bull snorting and jostling him back in return.

“I knew I’d grow on you,” Dorian declares happily.

“Like a fungus,” Bull replies with a grunt.

“Ouch! I’m hurt, Bull!” Dorian says, putting a hand to his chest comically.

“You, hurt?” Bull laughs, “I kinda doubt that one.”

Wounded, Bull!” Dorian insists, “I don’t know how I shall ever recover!”

Bull shakes his head, laughs at that. “I’m sure you’ll think of something…”

Dorian tuts, shaking his head, “And here I thought we were getting on so well… swapping stories, making mockery of your manly brassiere, drinking together… you even shared your blanket with me. I was touched by the gesture, truly— even if it did reek of ox-sweat.”

“Tch. Forgot about that thing,” Bull replies with a shuffle of his shoulders.

“I’m sure,” Dorian says and then presses, “So what is F-3-8-U-1-1 anyways?”

Bull rolls his eyes because of course Dorian found the message tama left him there. He’s just glad the mage didn’t press on that part of it. “Believe it or not, that’s my name. My real one. The one the Qun assigned me.”

“Oh,” Dorian says, blinking a little and mouthing the letters and numbers to himself for a moment before deciding, “I rather prefer The Iron Bull.”

Bull chuckles, “Me too.” Then he raises his mug. He’d seen some of the Chargers do this before and others he’s observed. He hadn’t had occasion to make a toast like this because as qunari, it never really occurred to him to care for the dead like this, “To Felix. One of the good mages in Tevinter.”

Dorian smiles, cherub-bowed lips tilted under his still foam-frosted moustache.

“To Felix,” he says, hitting his mug against Bull’s warmly and draining it of its contents.

Dorian needs Bull’s shoulder that evening to get back to his rooms. He’s grabby tonight, tugging on Bull’s harness and being a pain when Bull helps him get his boots off so he can get into bed. Dorian’s face burrows into Bull’s neck and he breathes in deeply, warm curvy lips devilishly distracting against Bull’s skin.

“Knock it off you lush…” Bull complains, tugging Dorian away, “Thought you said I stunk.”

“You do,” Dorian agrees, slurring his words, “You stink. But I like it. Like the way you smell. Mmnph…” Dorian’s necking at him again, fumbling and without finesse, bejeweled fingers traveling the expanse of Bull’s chest, catching on his nipples—“Why d’you keep putting me to bed instead of just… just doing it. Seen you looking at me, Bull. You could you know… conquer me and all that…”

Bull swallows hard. Void yes, he knows that. Animal instincts war with sense. Dorian’s pliant and willing, loose-limbed from the drink. It’d be so easy to just take him now, just have his way with the mage…

“No,” Bull says firmly and easily picks Dorian up and plops him into the bed, batting away the grabbing hands until they give up, fall onto the mattress tiredly. Dorian whines at him drunkenly a little longer before his eyes are closing heavily, lips parted in that lazy ‘o’ of exhaustion.

It would have been easy. Dorian was drunk and sad and looking for company. Bull could have been that, been the man who was just there at the right time and in the right place. It would have been fun.

Bull leans down and takes a kiss instead, just the one. He remembers how Dorian’s mouth felt when he was feeding him the antidote and this is better. Dorian’s lips are warm this time and his body isn’t trembling with fever.

Bull pulls away before Dorian can lick into his mouth, the mage mewling sulkily as the qunari withdraws from him. He shakes his head, making his way to the door and looking back as Dorian burrows into the blankets.

“You’d hate me in the morning,” he jokes, shaking his head and shutting the door behind him before he has any second thoughts about his choice.

As Bull walks down from Dorian’s room he very nearly runs over Mother Giselle who is looking rather concerned.

“Ah—Monsieur The Iron Bull…” she says, “My apologies.”

“Just The Iron Bull is fine,” Bull replies, helping right the priestess. She’s dropped something, a letter. She hastily picks it up but Bull’s already seen it. Gold seal, fine stationary, dragon motif. It’s Tevinter and he wonders why it’s in her possession, Ben-Hassrath instincts flaring.

“I was wondering if you had perhaps seen Her Worship… I have looked in the main hallway and her rooms and could not find her there…” Giselle begins, wringing her hands a little after she’s secreted the letter back into the sleeve of her robes.

“Ah, yeah…” Bull rubs the back of his head. Cullen had been out of sorts—a lot of the dead men Bull had dug out of the wreckage at Haven were Cullen’s young recruits. Beatrix had forced the commander to stop working and got him up on one of Dennet’s horses to take a ride.

They hadn’t returned to Skyhold—probably waiting out the now torrential rain somewhere. Bull hoped it kept storming. They deserved a night to themselves, those two…

“She’s actually away from the keep on business with the commander. Important stuff,” he says and normally he wouldn’t pry but, “Whatcha need the boss for? Maybe I can help?”

The Revered Mother fidgets in place. She has the absolute worst poker face and her eyes flick over to Dorian’s door tellingly, “Oh, I couldn’t bother you with this, Monsie—The Iron Bull. It is a matter for Her Worship alone, I am afraid…”

“Really?” Bull remarks and glances over his shoulder at Dorian’s door, “You mean that it has to do with one of Her Worship’s companions, so I can’t know because I might say something about it. Or do something.” Bull flexes purposefully, distractingly.

It works, the Revered Mother’s face burning ever so slightly, “How did you even—”

“Ben-Hassrath,” Bull says with a smug smirk, “And well, I saw the seal on the letter. Tevinter seals are kinda flashy and obvious…”

Mother Giselle sighs heavily, “Alright, alright. It seems I cannot put anything past you. It does concern Monsieur Pavus but I still must address Her Worship alone with regards to the details. I apologize.”

Bull nods. At least she’s confirmed his suspicions. “Don’t worry about it, Mother, I’m just giving you a hard time. The Inquisitor should be back in the morning at the latest, I’m sure. I’d wait for her in the main hall if I were you.”

Giselle nods gratefully and doesn’t even know Bull’s manipulating her. He almost feels bad about it. “That is a good idea. Thank you, The Iron Bull.”

“Of course.”

“And… will you please keep this from Monsieur Pavus?” she requests.

“No worries there, I don’t even know what you have to talk to him about,” Bull says, raising his hands in innocence. Except that she now all but told him with her tone of voice whatever the letter concerned was bad news for Dorian. Which worried Bull somewhat because what could be worse for Dorian than the news of his friend dying anyways?

Bull’s able to find out easily enough. The stone archway in the main hall is an easy space for even someone of his bulk to hide behind and eavesdrop.

Beatrix returns to the keep early, looking a little sleepy and rumpled but with a glow to her cheeks. Bull makes a note to tease her later, if Dorian doesn’t get to her first. Giselle catches her in the main hallway before Beatrix can escape to her quarters to make herself decent. The Revered Mother was right where Bull had wanted her to be and it was easy to make out the details of their conversation.

“My Lady Inquisitor, may I have a moment of your time?” Giselle queries and Beatrix has to stop, blush and brush her rain-tangled locks out of her eyes.

Cullen’s following a few paces after her, similarly waterlogged and flustered. Bull gives the commander a warning tap on the shoulder, nodding towards the presence of the Revered Mother. The blond reddens and mumbles his gratitude for the discretion, taking a quick turnaround towards the barracks instead before anyone notices he’s missing his furred cape. The one that Beatrix has around her shoulders right now as she straightens and tries to look like she hasn’t been caught red handed so to speak.

“I have news regarding one of your… companions,” Giselle begins. Bull notes the hint of distaste with which she says the word. Dorian’s own fault for comparing her hat to a hen’s crest. “The Tevinter.”

“He has a name, Mother Giselle,” Beatrix responds. Nothing gets past the boss either and the Revered Mother’s dislike of Dorian is pretty well-known in Skyhold. “Dorian isn’t his country.”

“Yes, of course. Apologies, Inquisitor,” Giselle responds, wringing her hands, “I admit his presence makes me uncomfortable, but my feelings are not relevant to the situation I bring to your attention.”

The next thing she says surprises Bull, “I have been in contact with his family, House Pavus, out of Qarinus. Are you familiar with them?”

Beatrix is similarly perplexed, “If you’re asking if I’ve met them, no, not at all. I do know that Dorian isn’t exactly on best terms with his family, however. May I ask how it is that you’re in contact with them…?”

“I am not. They contacted me, you see…” Giselle replies, “The family sent a letter describing the estrangement from their son and pleaded for my aid in the matter.”

The letter Bull saw from earlier exchanges hands, gold seal glittering in the firelight. Beatrix opens it and takes out the sheath of fine stationery, eyes darting over the words on the page as Giselle continues—

“They’ve asked to arrange a meeting. Quietly, without telling him. They fear it’s the only way he’ll come. Since you seem to be on good terms with the young man, I’d hoped…”

Beatrix’s eyes flick up sharply at the suggestive note in the Revered Mother’s voice. “I hope you are not suggesting I lie to him. Dorian is my friend, I would never deceive him so!”

“I was afraid you would say that…” Giselle sighs, “There is deceit in bringing the young man to this meeting without his foreknowledge, I know. But… does it not lead to a greater kindness if there is potential for reconciliation?”

Beatrix doesn’t look convinced. Good on you, boss. Bull thinks to himself. He knows too well how religious types will try to justify their bullshit with that kind of reasoning.

“Just what kind of ‘meeting’ do they have in mind?” Beatrix asks, shifting under the thick bear fur. She’s practically swimming in the garment, Cullen’s shoulders are at least twice the width of her own if not more.

Giselle doesn’t seem to notice, replying, “I believe they just want to talk. To understand why Dorian felt he had to come here. Somewhere private. Away from Skyhold, but not in Tevinter.”

“Well that’s a relief. I’d rather not end up with my head decorating a magister’s porch just because I wanted to help a friend…” Beatrix mutters, flipping the letter over and sighing.

“I don’t think you should worry. You make them nervous, I believe. They don’t understand why Dorian’s with the Inquisition. They want him to come home.”

Beatrix scoffs softly, “I’d be worried too, if my son ran off to join some gauche foreigners on a crusade…”

The sarcasm flies right over the dear Mother’s pointed hat—“So would I. But I suspect there’s more to it than either of us understands.”

“If they wanted to make contact, why go through you, Revered Mother?” Beatrix asks.

“Because they don’t know you, Inquisitor. And while I am not of the Imperial Chantry, they know what I represent,” Mother Giselle replies dutifully, “These are parents concerned about the welfare of their son—how could I not do whatever possible?”

“And I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with the ‘pleasant’ idea that this may convince Dorian to return to Tevinter?” Beatrix says, dry as paint.

Giselle flushes tellingly, but keeps her expression neutral. “The young man does not care for me, this much is true, which is why I come to you. If any good can come of this, we must try. That is the whole of my stake in this matter, I assure you.”

Beatrix doesn’t seem to be buying it but lets it drop. She’s nicer than Bull would have been at least. “Still, it seems odd that they don’t want Dorian to know.”

“It appears they believe the young man would refuse to come and the letter implies he’d have cause. Yet they are remorseful for whatever came before. This is a chance for dialogue.” The Revered Mother closes Beatrix’s hands over the letter in a meaningful gesture. “I leave this in your hands, Inquisitor. I know you will do what is best by that young man.”

Giselle leaves Beatrix standing there in the hallway. Bull’s not terribly surprised when the Inquisitor calls out to him—

“Did you catch all of that, then?”

Bull smirks to himself fondly before sidling out from his hiding place. “No idea what you’re talking about, boss.”

Beatrix rolls her eyes, she is in no mood. “I really don’t know what to do about this… the secrecy of it… how can we be sure it isn’t some venatori trap?” she asks.

“You can’t. That’s why you bring me along with you,” Bull responds. “I’ve dealt with more ‘vints in my lifetime than anyone else in this Inquisition. I’ll go with you and Dorian. Things go south, I’ll have your backs.”

The relief is obvious in her green eyes as she looks up at him, nodding. She stares at the letter and sighs again, “Then there’s the other problem. Whether or not I tell Dorian where I’m bringing him and why…”

Bull’s shoulders stiffen. “You don’t tell him and I will, boss,” he says sternly, surprising the Inquisitor. Bull clears his throat, he hadn’t meant to come off so hotheaded, but— “He deserves the chance to decide. We drag him there without his consent, we’re no better than his family is.”

Beatrix smiles softly, “And we wouldn’t want that, now would we? The Iron Bull never lets his family down.”

“Don’t go spreading that crap around. I have an image to maintain, you know,” Bull scoffs softly.

“As does Dorian. One would never want to imply you two could ever be friends… the scandal of it!” Beatrix teases in return.

“Almost as scandalous as the Inquisitor taking the commander for a ride?” Bull responds without missing a step, grinning as she blushes and swats his arm in response. “It’s alright. You don’t tell Dorian I’m worried about him and I won’t tell Mother Giselle her beloved Inquisitor isn’t nearly as pure as she thinks.”

“Tch. As if I care. You know I used to have a mad crush on one of the Templars at Ostwick? Now that was a real scandal…” Beatrix comments wistfully.

“Oh, so it’s Cullen’s Templar-ness that gets you going? Forbidden love and all that?” Bull jokes.

Beatrix sticks her tongue out. “If that’s the way of the world then when can I expect a happy announcement from you and Dorian?” she shoots back and Bull takes a moment to recover when he realizes she’s just making fun. “Cullen isn’t just a Templar or a commander or a soldier. Not to me. It’s the man I care for, not his armor or heraldry or whom he bends a knee to.”

Bull smiles, tugs Cullen’s cape up over Beatrix’s shoulder where it has slipped slightly. “Pretty sure you’re the one he bends his knee to now, boss,” he says simply. “I’ll get everything ready to head out. You go tell the ‘vint.”

Bull leaves the matter of telling Dorian in Beatrix’s hands. She’d be better suited at it than he. He knows Dorian won’t want him along on this but he’s not giving the man a choice in the matter.

Dorian had helped him from making a terrible decision back on the Storm Coast, whether he knew it or not. Bull just wanted to even the score. That was all.

Chapter Text

That morning Dorian’s nursing another hangover along with his bruised ego. He knows he made a pass (or three) at Bull that evening after drinking to Felix’s memory. He also knows he woke up alone in his room with rumpled robes and a horrible headache.

This time Bull had only bothered to remove his boots. Dorian remembers flailing and grabbing at the other man’s shoulders and arms, feels his face heat in memory.

“Another marvelous maneuver by Lord Dorian Pavus, king of subtlety and charisma…” he mutters in disbelief at himself, laughing a little until he realizes that makes his head hurt more. He staggers to his dresser, finding the draught of embrium and crystal grace with a touch of elfroot—marvelous for migraines due to overindulgence. Dorian drinks down the thick fluid, making a face when he finishes, but his head is infinitely clearer now.

He looks at himself in the mirror, hair all messy, moustache askew and eyes weary. “Kaffas…” he grumps and spins the mirror to face the other way while he pulls himself together.

It is just as well that Bull denied him. While Dorian knows he’s already done quite a lot of things that would have heads turning at home—such as joining the Inquisition, drinking Ferelden beer and wearing anything made of plaidweave—fucking a qunari was a whole new level of scandalous.

Are there degrees of disappointment? Of depravity? He doesn’t know and it scares. It terrifies and tantalizes and ties him.

“Shut up, Cole,” Dorian says aloud as the thought comes unbidden. He goes to the washbasin and strips off his robes, swearing at the cold, before beginning to clean himself up to a more presentable state.

One of the cook’s flavorless Ferelden mince pies has Dorian feeling a little perkier and a little less peckish as he takes to the library. There’s a copy of The Incendium Compendium that's been calling his name for weeks now. As he curls up in his favorite chair, book in one hand and teacup expertly balanced on the other, Dorian is able to take his mind off all that troubles him.

Up until the Inquisitor appears before him.

“Good book?” Beatrix asks, reading the spine. Dorian shrugs from where he’s sitting. He places the teacup down on the saucer in an aristocratic fashion, pinky cushioning the bottom so it wouldn’t clink loudly.

“In this farce you call a library? It’s adequate,” Dorian replies, putting it down all the same. He reflects on the murmurs he’d heard among the kitchen girls this morning about the commander and the Inquisitor trudging into Skyhold together all rain-soaked and smiling. Dorian figures he’d better get his punches in before Bull takes all the good taunts, “So, have a thing for strapping young Templars, do you?” he asks, smirking.

Dorian feels a bit put out that Beatrix only rolls her eyes, obviously she’s already been teased about this today. Shame. “And if I do…? Is there something the matter with that?” she shoots back, arms folded across her chest.

“Oh, nothing at all. Just one of those things I find adorable about you,” Dorian replies playfully, “So, what’s on your mind, Inquisitor? Unless you came here simply to watch me look pretty, in which case, by all means, continue to gawk…”

“Dorian…” The way she sighs his name makes Dorian’s dazzling smile shorten by a few perfect white teeth. “There’s a letter you need to see…”

“A letter?” he scoffs. Bea’s face is very grave and it troubles him. “Is it a naughty letter? A humorous proposal from some Antivan dowager?”

“Not quite. It’s from your father,” Beatrix says softly, the words echoing in the quiet of the library.

Dorian’s smile disappears completely, lips downturned. He forces down the acid that immediately rises within his throat at that very word. ‘Father’.

“From my father… I see. And what does Magister Halward want, pray tell?” he says, voice sharper now.

Dorian doesn’t know what he’s expecting to hear. Carefully chosen words designed to prey upon his guilt and loneliness. Curses and rebukes for his selfishness. An official missive of disownment with the Tevinter seal at the bottom as confirmation…

“A meeting,” she says and that was not something Dorian anticipated at all.

His mouth trembles, “Show me this letter,” he demands and he tears into it the second it leaves her fingers. He walks to the window for the better lighting and yes, that is his father’s penmanship upon the page. He knew it so well, the curved slant of the characters drawn by a left hand, the heavy decorated parchment…

I know my son; he would be too proud to come if he knew—even just to talk.

The thought of Dorian in the south, placing himself in the path of such danger, alarms us more than I can express.

We are at our wit’s end.

Dorian’s pacing like a caged tiger. He knows it but he can’t stop himself, waving the letter around as he rants to his audience of one—“I know my son—I know my son! What my father knows of me would barely fill a thimble! This is so typical!” Dorian hisses through clenched teeth.

Beatrix, to her credit, sits quietly in his chair with her knee up to her chin, watching him spin around the library stacks like a top. She says nothing, letting him get all his frustration out.

“I’m willing to bet this ‘retainer’ is a henchman, hired to knock me on the head and drag me back to Tevinter…” Dorian sneers, crumpling the edges of the parchment with how tightly he’s gripping it. It is the only thing that makes sense. It has to be a ruse, some sort of trick. There is no way his father would be reaching out to him now without some sort of angle to it. Some deeper form of treachery.

As Dorian thinks this, a memory floats to the surface of his mind.

He’s five and playing in the garden when his father brings him the toy. A gift, just because, just because…

You are my greatest creation, Dorian.

Dorian spends the rest of the day happily walking the toy duck around the garden and conjuring bubbles from the wooden bill that opens and shuts with every click-clack of the wheels...

“You think your father would actually do that?” Beatrix asks, her words an echo of his own conflicted thoughts.

“No…” Dorian admits after a moment, biting at the corner of his lip, “Although I wouldn’t put it past him.”

Dorian looks at the letter again and makes a decision while he’s still got his nerve. “Let’s go. Let’s meet this so-called ‘family retainer’. If it’s a trap, we escape and kill everyone. You’re good at that!” he enthuses to Beatrix. The Inquisitor coughs, glances over her shoulder towards a faraway bookshelf.

“I am,” she says, “But he’s better at it.”

Dorian follows her gaze to the long shadow beside the shelf. Iron Bull is there, quietly assessing. He doesn’t look like he’s going to take the piss out of Dorian for this but that doesn’t mean the mage is happy seeing him there. He’s about to say as much when the Inquisitor interrupts, “So if it’s not a trap, Dorian?”

Dorian clears his throat, turning away from Bull, “If it’s not… then I send the man back to my father with the message that he can stick his alarm in his ‘wit’s end’!” Dorian snaps.

Bull’s barely stifled chuckle echoes in the library as Dorian folds his arms defensively across his chest. Beatrix looks like she’s at her wit’s end, so to speak.

“If I may ask, what’s going on with you and your father? There seems to be bad blood between you and your family—” she begins to say.

Dorian’s the one laughing now, but only because if he doesn’t laugh at that unfortunate wording he’ll cry instead. “Ha! Interesting turn of phrase,” he says, glances to Bull briefly, “But you’re correct. They don’t care for my choices, nor I for theirs.”

“Because you wouldn’t get married?” Bull asks, stepping nearer, because of course he picks up on Dorian’s hesitance, “Because you left?”

Dorian doesn’t feel like he owes Bull a real response, with all that skulking around and eavesdropping. “That too,” he says simply enough, closing himself off to further discussion of the matter.

“Dorian—I don’t think you should just write this off. I think you should meet with this retainer and find out what your family wants, not just stick your tongue out at them and go ‘nyah nyah’ like a child…” Beatrix chides softly.

“I didn’t ask what you thought, did I?!” Dorian snaps in response and then withdraws at the twin looks of surprise on Bull and Beatrix’s faces. His own crumples, eyes shutting as he lets out a hiss of shame, “That… was unworthy. I apologize.”

“Damn rights you do,” Bull says.

“Bull—”

“Is there a particular reason he’s here?” Dorian demands.

“He’s here because he wants to be,” Beatrix states firmly, “Just as I do.”

Bull looks like he wants to say something but he doesn’t. The qunari just shrugs his big shoulders helplessly, face that usual dimwitted grinning mask that Dorian was starting to see the edges of. The mage wonders what he’d see there, if he pulls it away.

“…there’d be no harm in hearing what this man of my father’s has to say,” Dorian admits finally, taking a deep breath through his nose, “However, if I don’t like it, I want to leave.”

Beatrix appears satisfied by that response, even as she sarcastically remarks, “At this point I’m having trouble imagining any scenario where you’d like anything he said.”

“So am I,” Dorian agrees, “But who knows? Maybe my father has something new in mind.”

Beatrix nods. She’s so hopeful it almost hurts Dorian to look at her sometimes. “I’ll make the necessary preparations for the trip,” she says and nods to Dorian and Bull both, walking downstairs towards Solas’ study.

Dorian sits heavily in his armchair, dropping the letter onto the stack of books to his right. “She’s making you come, isn’t she?” he accuses Bull. It’s the Storm Coast all over again, except this time Bull’s going to have to deal with Dorian’s people. And while Gatt was a real piss-bag (as Sera might say) the viddathari elf had nothing on those in the higher echelons of the Tevinter magocracy. Bull might as well walk into the meeting with a target painted on that distractingly sculpted chest of his.

“No,” Bull answers, “I volunteered.”

Dorian sits up a little in surprise, “You volunteered?”

“Did I stutter, Dorian?” Bull almost seems uncomfortable as he speaks. “Look, I’m with you on this. The whole thing sounds fishy. I don’t know what’s up with you and your old man, but if it’s a trap and if there’s ‘vints and venatori involved, I’m your guy,” Bull explains with ease. “Besides, I owe you one.”

“Owe me for what, exactly?” Dorian asks sharply, kneading his forehead. Bad enough that this is happening, now Bull is coming along for the ride? What in the name of the Maker has he done to deserve all of this?

“Making me do the right thing back on the coast,” Bull replies succinctly, turning to go, “Pack warm socks for your footsies. The meeting is in Hinterlands and they’re going through a cold snap.”

“What, you’re not going to rub them for me?!” Dorian shoots at Bull’s back. It’s not even a moderately good retort and he reddens when even the Tranquil researcher stares at him for it.

The journey to the Hinterlands is a quiet one. Normally their travels are loud and full of stories and jokes, pranks and lighthearted arguments. It’s just Beatrix, Bull and Dorian though and Dorian is in no mood to speak.

With every step they take towards Redcliffe, Dorian feels the urge to run the other way as fast as his legs will take him. Bull catches him one night like this, far from the circle of fire and their tents. It’s freezing, he’s freezing, but he’s looking at the road opposite the one leading to Redcliffe. And it looks ever so inviting, even in the dark and cold.

The blanket winds around his shoulders, big hands smoothing it into place before withdrawing. Dorian responds by whipping it off and petulantly throwing it at Bull. It lands on his horns satisfyingly enough, looking ridiculous until Bull tugs it (carefully) off.

“Stop doing that. Stop. Just stop,” Dorian orders, voice quaking just a bit.

“Fine. Freeze for all I care,” Bull responds gruffly and turns to go, “You run away now, you’re going to regret it. Trust me.”

Dorian says something complex and unflattering in Tevene that basically translates to ‘your mother breeds with rabid donkeys’. He stays outside of the camp until his nose is running before scurrying into his tent and wrapping himself up tight, not even bothering to change into bedclothes.

He’s standing before the ornate vessel. The lyrium, pure sickly sweet blue like candy floss, shines and sings in front of him. Dorian closes his eyes, focuses. Can feel his father’s eyes from the stands, watching, waiting. Worrying too.

Dorian reaches out and then he’s passing through the veil, lyrium infusing his veins making it possible. His Harrowing. His test.

He opens his eyes to see a palace of silks and gold. Beautiful, marvelous. As he walks the massive halls curiously, he hears a deep clearing of a throat, turns.

The man is beautiful. Carved muscles sloping magnificently, skin bronzed, shoulders wide. Dorian’s voice catches in his throat as his eyes trail along that gloriously sculpted figure to where a simple sarong hides away the more tantalizing parts of the man’s anatomy.

And a part of him is so thankful that this part of his Harrowing is for his eyes alone.

“Welcome, Dorian. I’ve been waiting for you…” the man says, cupping a hand to Dorian’s jaw warmly.

Dorian leans into the touch. He knows this isn’t real, but this is as close as he’ll get to having this. Might as well luxuriate, enjoy while it lasts.

“I know you have,” he tells the Desire Demon, his eyes twinkling brightly, lips curving as the demon drags his thumb down over them. He sucks it between his lips, runs his tongue over the rough pad.

What feels like hours is only minutes, he knows this. The sex is marvelous, of course, as is the conversation after, Dorian nude and lightly tiptoeing his fingers over the demon’s chest. And as the demon feeds him grapes, Dorian reaches sneakily for his staff where it has rolled under the divan that they have copulated on multiple times. His fingers catch on the polished wood and just as he bites into the vine fruit, he stabs the man through the chest.

He doesn’t give the demon a chance to shift into its full form. A whisper and freezing magic emanates from where the staff pierces the demon.

This is the part of himself that must die, Dorian thinks. This is what is unsavory and wrong and must be hidden away. This is temptation, this will be his ruin. This is his demon and he cannot let it possess him.

The burst of light as the demon’s body explodes isn’t what brings a tear to Dorian’s eyes as he returns to the waking world.

He sees his father in the stands, Halward near tears himself with pride. Dorian wipes his eyes quickly, smiles and bows to the gathered assembly, soaking in the applause.

Anything for him. Anything...

Dorian wakes up gasping, holding his chest. It hurts. When Bull pokes his head in to wake Dorian up, he gets a boot thrown in his face for his trouble.

Thus the journey was very uncomfortable and tense for all. Dorian knows it is chiefly the due of his foul mood but he cannot help it. He ran away from all this for a reason, a good reason. He only hopes that Beatrix… that she doesn’t think less of him.

“I can’t believe my father’s gall… of course he couldn’t come to Skyhold…” Dorian grumbles as they enter Redcliffe.

“Calm down, you’re all nerves,” Bull advises.

“I am not!”

“You’ve been twisting your rings so much your knuckles are getting rubbed raw,” Bull notes, “You’re messing with your hair too, you never touch it if you can help it. That and the fact that your buckles are all twisted and done into the wrong notches—”

“Vishante kaffas—when are you going to remember you’re not a qunari spy anymore?!” Dorian spits out and goes to fix the leather straps at his shoulder. His robe slips, baring a good portion of his chest as he works at them. Bull clears his throat and sounds a little uncomfortable while Beatrix is barely stifling her laughter.

“Hey… once Ben-Hassrath, always Ben-Hassrath,” Bull replies with no small measure of satisfaction. Dorian can’t really blame him for that, the qunari’s put up with a lot of being hissed at the last few days.

“Come here, you…” Beatrix says and fixes Dorian’s robe for him. She smiles and tiptoes up, kissing his cheek softly. It’s surprisingly comforting, Dorian feeling able to breathe again. “You’ll be fine, Dorian. Bull and I will be there for you.”

“…thank you, Inquisitor,” Dorian finally manages, clearing his throat. They’re not far from the Gull & Lantern and Dorian rallies his nerves, puts his nose to the air. “Well… shall we?”

“Yeah,” Bull says, “But if this bar’s fulla venatori assholes, drinks are on you, ‘vint.”

Dorian laughs quietly, biting the inside of his cheek. “I will gladly foot the bill if that’s the case,” he replies. Oh let that be the case he thinks before pushing the door open and walking ahead of the other two.

The tavern is empty, devoid of life. A cold heaviness fills Dorian’s stomach as he looks around, brow knit in worry.

“Uh oh… nobody’s here… this doesn’t bode well,” he says in concern, turning, the suggestion they leave on his lips—

“Dorian,” a familiar, dour voice says. Dorian freezes in place a moment, turns towards the source.

“…father,” Dorian replies, eyes cold.

Magister Halward is wearing his official robes. Dorian looks so much like his father, he knows this, but the conservative dress of the Magisterium has never suited Dorian’s tastes. It suits Halward, skin a few shades darker than his son’s, forehead weathered from years of thought and worry. The same thick black hair that crowns Dorian’s head Halward slicks back into a more mature style. The only aberration from the put-together appearance the magister presents is the fact that Halward leaves a bit of stubble about his cheeks and chin rather than going clean-shaven. Much as Halward would protest the idea, Dorian knows he gets a bit of his roguish style from his father.

Dorian is so happy to see him and so angry too, because once again he’s been lied to and it hurts.

“So the whole story about the ‘family retainer’ was just… what? A smoke screen?” he asks and is proud that his voice doesn’t break.

Halward steps down the stairs, fingers interlacing. His father is uneasy, his eyes skipping over Beatrix, pausing on Bull briefly and widening in slight affront before returning his gaze to the Inquisitor.

“Then you were told…” Halward says, sounding disappointed, “I apologize for the deception, Inquisitor. I never intended for you to be involved.”

“You’re apologizing to the wrong person,” Bull interjects from where he’s leaned up against the corner, eyeing Dorian’s father like he’s sizing him up. “You really ought to be apologizing to him.”

“Bull…” Beatrix warns softly, raising a hand.

Halward’s jaw clenches slightly. “If you knew the circumstances you would understand my reasons, ox,” he replies with derision, “There’s more to it than just—”

“No, no there really isn’t,” Dorian cuts in, stepping forward, dander up, “Magister Pavus couldn’t come to Skyhold and be seen with the dread Inquisitor. What would people think?”

Halward breathes out sharply through his nose and Dorian hates how that sound of frustration is so similar to his own.

“What is this exactly, father? Ambush? Kidnapping? Warm family reunion?” he demands, “If the former two, I’m afraid they might have some strong opinions about that…” he says, gesturing to Beatrix and Bull.

“Might?” Bull questions, arms folded firmly across his chest. Beatrix doesn’t say a word, focusing on the magister, who looks back at her helplessly.

Halward sighs again, shaking his head, “This is how it has always been,” he says, appealing to Beatrix for a sympathetic ear.

She’s not unfeeling, but she isn’t happy either, “You went through all of this to get Dorian here. Talk to him,” she orders, voice stern and soft all at once.

Dorian bites at the inside of his cheek, tastes copper. “Yes, father. Talk to me. Let us all hear how mystified you are by my anger.”

Halward’s jaw ticks again, Dorian’s aware that his father knows what words are about to leave his lips, “Dorian, there’s no need to—”

“I prefer the company of men,” Dorian says to Beatrix, getting it out in the open, finally, “My father disapproves.”

Bull nods in approval but Beatrix appears baffled by the statement. It’s unsurprising, seeing as Dorian has never given her reason to question his sexuality.

“I’ll… need you to explain that,” she says looking to Bull who manages to school his face into his own look of surprise, a fact that only serves to annoy Dorian further.

“Did I stutter? Men, and the company thereof. As in sex. Surely you’ve heard of it!” he snaps in response.

Halward shakes his head at this, lowering his face in embarrassment. Beatrix’s brows are so high they’re almost touching her hairline.

“I just…” she begins delicately, “…didn’t expect that.”

Dorian grumbles, face burning like a brand—“Well, it’s not as if I introduce myself that way. ‘Hello, my name is Dorian! I like men!’” he says in a faux cheerful tone. From the side, Bull guffaws and Dorian shoots him the most ball-witheringly furious look he can. Bull appears chagrinned, mumbling an apology and trying to make himself smaller (a rather impossible feat, but he does try).

Dorian sighs heavily, touching his chin to his chest. “Maybe I should start. Some days it seems that’s all anyone cares about…”

“This display is uncalled for,” Halward says, tone like ice, furious and destructive and cold. So very cold.

Get out! You are no son of mine!

Dorian’s not having it. He’s not going to be silenced, not this time. He turns his glare onto his father. “No, it is called for! You called for it by luring me here!”

Halward’s glare almost rivals Dorian’s own, frustration clear on his older face. “This is not what I wanted,” he starts to say, but Dorian’s got two people behind him whereas Halward has none. The Magisterium, all of the Imperium—all those who would support Halward’s position on this matter are so far away now. They don’t matter and Dorian feels emboldened by that fact—

“I’m never what you wanted, father, or had you forgotten?” Dorian shoots back harshly. Halward looks stunned by the words and then lets his eyes fall to the floor. He almost appears… distraught. But why?

“I’m still confused—” Beatrix says, shaking her head, “So that’s… a big concern in Tevinter, then?”

Bull fields this one, “The ‘vints give us qunari shit about our breeding programs, yet they’re the ones intermarrying to make the perfect mage. Perfect body, perfect mind. A perfect leader…” Bull eyes Dorian blatantly from head to toe and then gives Halward a thumbs up, “You know, honestly— you didn’t do so bad, pops. Cheer up!”

Thank you, Bull!” Dorian snaps, heat burning in his face. To Beatrix, he adds, “It’s an impossible standard to live up to. It means every perceived flaw—every aberration—is deviant and shameful.” Dorian turns his gaze on Halward, throat tight, “It must be hidden.”

Halward, who had been giving the qunari a bewildered gaze, turns to his son. His eyes are strangely desperate, making Dorian’s throat fog up, seeing his normally proud father so. They tilt downward, sweeping the floor again.

Beatrix shakes her head, “So that’s what this is all about? Who you sleep with?”

“That’s not all it’s about…” Dorian replies and he’s near the brink of tears, fighting them back.

Halward raises his gaze, takes a step forward. He stops when Bull raises his axe threateningly, backing away a pace, “Dorian, please, if you’ll only listen to me—”

“Why? So you can spout more convenient lies?” Dorian demands and he is crying now, damn it all, eyes hurting and wet. His finger points accusingly in his father’s face as he snarls, “He taught me to hate blood magic. ‘The resort of the weak mind.’ Those are his words!”

Dorian turns his back on Halward, not wanting to see the downturn of his father’s lips. Because it isn’t disapproval, much as he wants to twist it to be so in his mind. It was sadness, despair, pain. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care… Dorian thinks desperately.

“But what was the first thing you did when your precious heir refused to play pretend for the rest of his life?” Dorian says through a clenched jaw. He does turn then, his own eyes full of hurt, so much hurt—“You tried to change me…”

Beatrix’s gasp is not without warrant, a hand clapping over her mouth as realization hits. Bull growls. Dorian knows the qunari probably hates blood magic more than demons. He must have seen plenty of the damage it could do, back in Seheron…

“I only wanted what was best for you!” Halward says, desperately.

“You wanted the best for you! For your fucking legacy! Anything for that!” Dorian accuses and walks away, bracing his hands on the bar. His shoulders shake, tears coming unbidden, furious and hot down his face.

Beatrix begins to step forward, but it’s Bull’s hand that falls on Dorian’s bare shoulder. Heavy and warm, squeezing slightly.

“You want to get out of here, just say the word,” he says quietly.

“I don’t… I don’t know what I want,” Dorian admits, hand reaching up and touching Bull’s for want of something to ground himself with. He doesn’t even care that his father is watching this, watching a qunari being familiar with his son. Let him watch. Let him see that he’s no longer the Dorian that let himself be pranced about like a show dog.

Beatrix shakes her head, coming up on Dorian’s other side, “No. Don’t leave it like this, Dorian,” she insists, “You’ll never forgive yourself.”

Dorian wants to leave, to run away. Bull’s offering the door to him and he wants to take it and run. Hell, he wants Bull to carry him out because not only would that probably give his father a heart attack, it would also help considering the fact that his legs felt like they’d suddenly turned to stone.

You are my greatest creation, Dorian.

Anything for him. Anything...

Dorian pats Bull’s hand, eases it off his shoulder and nods to Beatrix once, approaching his father again. What he thought was derision creasing Halward’s brow he now recognizes as worry. What appeared to be disappointment was actually sadness.

“Tell me why you came,” Dorian demands quietly, face streaked with tears.

Halward’s own eyes are damp, but he’s always been more in control than Dorian. He doesn’t allow the tears to fall. “If I knew I would drive you to the Inquisition…” he begins and Dorian has to stop him right there—

“You didn’t!” Dorian says with exasperation, “I joined the Inquisition because it’s the right thing to do. Once… I had a father who would have known that.”

With that said, Dorian turns to leave, stopping only when he hears his father’s voice again. It’s thicker, heavier with tears left unshed.

“Once… I had a son who trusted me. A trust I betrayed,” he says sorrowfully, “I only wanted to talk to him. To hear his voice again. To ask him to forgive me.”

Dorian is silent, stunned. He looks to his friends for help. Bull’s face is blank but Beatrix nods, slight slant of an encouraging smile on her full lips.

Dorian shuts his eyes and takes a breath. “Thank you both for coming with me. I would like a moment alone with my father, if you please,” he says.

“Of course,” Beatrix replies with a gracious nod. She turns and leaves the tavern as requested.

There’s a long moment of silence and the sound of the two Tevinter mages breathing through tears before Dorian clears his throat, annoyance obvious in his tone—

“You too, Bull,” he grumbles.

The qunari mutters something in Qunlat undoubtedly profane, hefting his battleaxe and giving Dorian’s father a glare. “Fine. But we’ll be right outside,” he says, before shutting the door behind him and causing the sign above it to fall on the floor and break.

Dorian lets out a long sigh, lifting his head in surprise when he hears his father chuckling.

“You really have gotten in with a motley crew, haven’t you…?” Halward notes with slight amusement, voice daring to be a touch warmer.

Dorian sniffs, rubs his red nose. He must look disgusting right now but he cares very little about that. “You have no idea…” he replies.

Two hours later, Dorian emerges from the tavern. His nose and eyes are still red and puffy, but he brushes off any concerns on the part of his companions. He’s quiet about the whole situation until after nightfall when Bull approaches him. He’s cautious about it, seeing as the last two times he got something thrown at him.

Dorian doesn’t resist the blanket being put on his shoulders this time, taking a deep breath as Bull sits silently by the fire with him.

“Are you doing alright, Dorian?” he dares to ask after several minutes without Dorian snarling at him. “I know family stuff can be rough.”

“What would you know about it?” Dorian snaps and then feels like an arse, thumb absently tracing the embroidered bit of Bull’s blanket, “True qunari don’t have families…”

Bull’s watching him and Dorian ceases to touch the letters stitched into the blanket, just burrowing in it. Bull shakes his head and replies, “Finding out you don’t fit in with the people who raised you? Having to walk away from everything you grew up with, knowing you’ve disappointed the ones who loved you? Burning out so hard you have to leave everything you’ve known and start over?”

Dorian’s silent because what is there to say to that? Bull’s not wrong about any of it.

“I might know a bit,” Bull says and his hand is on Dorian’s shoulder again. Squeezing, massaging. Not a drop of alcohol in either of them either. No excuse. Dorian leans into him anyways, shuts his eyes. They hurt from crying.

“Takes a tough man to do it too,” Bull states, not resisting when Dorian makes his way under his arm, just winding it around the man’s shoulders warmly. “So good on you… you big old fop.”

Dorian rolls his eyes in response and jabs Bull hard in the side, earning an ‘oof’ for his efforts. He may not be strong, but his elbows are nice and pointy and he’s found they’re perfect for getting right between qunari ribs.

Yay,” he enthuses, shutting his eyes again, “Good on me.”

Bull chuckles, the sound making his chest rumble pleasantly.

Chapter Text

Dorian wakes up in his own tent unsurprisingly, but this time he’s been cared for, boots and all removed and put aside; he’s bundled up warmly in Bull’s blanket along with his own bedroll. He shuts his eyes to catch a few more minutes of sleep.

 

This time when Bull pokes his head in to wake him Dorian notes his boots are far out of reach. He’s fairly certain Bull did that on purpose.

 

“C’mon, ‘vint, rise and shine! We’ve got bacon and eggs instead of that porridge shit for once!” Bull announces, pulling the tent flap open wide and letting in the dreaded sunlight and southern chill.

 

In lieu of not having a boot to throw, Dorian grumbles and shifts a second with his hands under the blanket. He responds to the request by launching his smallclothes at Bull with a finger and thumb, managing to hook them on a horn much to the qunari’s bewilderment.

 

“Cute,” is all Bull says, taking them off his horn and tossing them back on Dorian’s stomach, “You have one minute before I eat your breakfast, ‘vint.”

 

“Eat my breakfast and I’ll freeze your smalls,” Dorian replies drowsily, but sits up, rubbing his eyes like a child.

 

“Joke’s on you,” Bull says, smirking, voice all sex as he tugs down his waistband a few inches showily, “I don’t wear any.”

 

Dorian reddens considerably and sputters at the other man, clutching his blankets to himself.

 

Bull has the audacity to whoop-whoop-whoop as he runs from the tent flap that’s now spewing magic at him.

 

Dorian’s feeling like himself again, although his father’s words still weigh in his heart. They’ve reconciled and yet they haven’t. He’s still walking a tightrope with his family but this time it is at least on his own terms.

 

The return journey to Skyhold is far more pleasant, Dorian excusing himself once they reach the gates. He tidies himself up and returns to the library. The Incendium Compendium is still there, open and set on its face where he left it.

 

Dorian doesn’t feel much like reading, unsurprisingly. He stands by the window instead, staring out sightlessly at the world until a soft cough disturbs him.

 

Beatrix stands there, looking a combination of sympathetic and strangely enough, proud. Dorian’s smile in return is more of a wince.

 

“He says we’re alike. Too much pride,” Dorian states, knowing why she’s come to him, “Once I would have been overjoyed to hear him say that… now I’m not certain. I don’t know if I can forgive him.”

 

Beatrix bites her lip, comes a few steps closer to Dorian. “You said he tried to change you, Dorian… what did you mean by that…?”

 

Dorian sighs, leaning against the wall. “It was out of desperation. I wouldn’t put on a show, marry the girl, keep everything unsavory private and locked away. Selfish, I suppose, not to want to spend my entire life screaming on the inside…”

 

“I thought you said it was about sex,” Beatrix prompts insightfully. Dorian flinches. “If it was just sex, well, surely you could play house and have something on the side, yes? I’m sure it’s not uncommon in a place with such odd ideas about relationships…”

 

Dorian bit his lip, hating how she knew him so well, “It’s not but… I suppose it actually is more than sex to me…” he admits. “Not that it’s yet—I haven’t ever been in—”

 

Beatrix raises her hand, quieting him, “I know. How could you, in an awful place like that? I’m so sorry, Dorian…”

 

“Heh… it’s quite alright. I’m a big boy,” he replies easily, shaking off the matter. Love was for children anyway. “So because of that… he—my father—he was going to do a blood ritual. Alter my mind. Make me… acceptable. I found out. I left.”

 

“Blood magic can really do that?” Beatrix asks, doubting. She doesn’t know the extent of the magical art, of course not. Not coming from the southern Circles where such matters were never studied or discussed.

 

“…maybe. It could also have left me a drooling vegetable,” Dorian explains, hurting from the thought of it alone. “It crushed me to think he found that absurd risk preferable to scandal. Part of me has always hoped he didn’t really want to go through with it…”

 

The very thought of it…

 

“If he had… I can’t even imagine the person I would be now,” Dorian says, voice breaking slightly as he turns to look at the Inquisitor sadly, “I wouldn’t like that Dorian.”

 

Beatrix touches his shoulder. Her hand is petite compared to Bull’s but no less strong and comforting. “Are you alright?” she asks and Dorian smiles wearily, clasping his hand over hers.

 

“No. Not really,” he admits. “Thank you for bringing me out there… it wasn’t what I expected, but… it’s something.”

 

It was, truly. Dorian and his father had embraced a final time before they parted ways. While they still disagreed, it had given Dorian a small measure of hope that maybe, just maybe, his father could accept him someday. A small hope, but better than none at all.

 

Dorian eases Beatrix’s hand away, shaking his head in embarrassment. “Maker knows what you must think of me now, after that whole display…” he begins, an apology ready on his lips.

 

Beatrix’s eyes sparkle and she laughs softly, “I think you led me on, actually.”

 

Dorian does blush then, lowering his eyes in shame. “Ah, the flirting…”

 

 

He’s nine years old all of a sudden. The girl is standing there, offering a flower to him, smiles and bats hers eyes. He refuses, tells her it suits her better and walks away, ignoring her sniffling, her look of hurt.

 

“You’re a remarkable woman, Inquisitor…” he begins carefully, “I mean that in the best way. In another life…” he trails off. Beatrix is still looking at him, letting him fumble over his words like an idiot. For a man who likes other men, Dorian’s almost certain women are going to be the death of him, pretty and poised and not letting him get away with anything. “I… I m-meant no offense… I’ll… I’ll desist, if you prefer—”

 

Her laughter at his words makes him flush further, feeling a fool. Beatrix smiles, reaches for him, embraces him warmly. She kisses his cheek again and he recognizes it for what it is. Friendship. He is her friend and nothing more, always has been. It is a relief to know he hasn’t hurt her.

 

“Desist?” she asks in his ear, no doubt enjoying his blushing and fidgeting like a schoolboy, “Don’t you dare.”

 

He’s laughing then, pulling back with his eyes gleaming with equal mischief, “I stand so instructed!” he declares and shakes his head, smiling as they pull apart. He clears his throat, it’s so strange, feeling so light and so heavy all at once, but he’s getting used to it.

 

“At any rate—time to drink myself into a stupor. It’s been that sort of day,” he says with a stretch, “Will you join me?”

 

“Ah, I wish I could…” Beatrix says and now she’s the one who looks embarrassed, “But I ah—there’s some documents I need to review with the commander—”

 

Dorian laughs bawdily and she swats at him. “Say no more, say no more, though I would like to make a point of saying I am rather cross at you for gallivanting off with another man when you have this specimen of perfection before you…”

 

“There’s our Dorian,” Beatrix enthuses, “Well, now I know you’re alright.”

 

“I am. Thank you, Inquisitor,” he lies convincingly enough and bows his head graciously as she exits out the door to the ramparts. He waits until she’s gone before he lets his shoulders fall, sighs. He hears a throat clearing rather dramatically from a nearby bookshelf and his eyes fall upon Mother Giselle. She has a harsh look to her eyes, narrowed in on him with suspicion and distaste.

 

“…oh sod off you hag,” he says, skipping down the stairs and making a beeline for the tavern before she can scold him.

 

Dorian’s already on his third drink when he realizes Bull’s not in his usual spot and neither is Krem. There’s hooting and hollering coming from the back of the tavern, the sound of coins clinking on the tables. He finds Bull in the crowd quickly, considering that even sitting down he’s heads and shoulders above everyone else.

 

Bull’s got his arm up on the table, cracking his knuckles. A big dwarf with forearms the size of tree trunks swaggers up and sits across from Bull. Coins drop on either side of the table, Grim silently counting them out, making exchanges for larger currency. How he manages that without saying a word to anyone is amazing in and of itself.

 

Dorian steps closer to observe. Krem counts out, “Three, two, one, start—!”

 

It’s over in seconds, the dwarf wailing as the back of his hand hits the table hard, the wood cracking, wobbling precariously. The crowd ooos and ahhs and swears in equal measure as coins exchange hands again, several of which are dropped into Bull’s satchel.

 

Dorian shakes his head, makes his way up to Bull’s side. “Why am I not surprised to see you engaging in a violent display like this?” he wonders, talking a little louder to be heard over the din.

 

“It’s not violent, it’s profitable!” Bull replies easily, laughing. His one eye is so bright, angular features cut through with laugh lines, lips curling playfully. Dorian swallows hard, looks away towards the table and Bull’s winnings.

 

“It’s stupid. As if any of these buffoons have a chance against you…” Dorian complains, rolling his eyes as a beefy soldier comes up to challenge Bull. Coins clink on the unsteady table again, “I wonder what the Inquisitor would say about you crippling her forces…”

 

“What she doesn’t know can’t hurt me…” Bull says and uses his other hand to drain his tankard as the occupied one slams the man’s hand down so hard onto the table the soldier’s knuckles scrape and bleed. “Another!” he bellows happily, slapping the barmaid lightly on the ass as she takes his tankard to refill it. She responds with a knowing sort of wink that makes Dorian wonder how many of the serving staff Bull’s had in his bed or if he limits it to the redheads.

 

“Well,” Dorian says, taking Bull’s drink from the girl when it arrives and draining half of it. It burns down his throat and he almost chokes; but Dorian’s on a mission and he’s not about to look weak. “Considering Bea’s not here to do it, someone ought to take you down a peg…”

 

Dorian sits primly in the recently vacated seat and daintily sets his elbow upon the table, holding out his hand, his multitude of rings and his well-manicured nails shining in the low light.

 

“Shall we?” he says, all innocence.

 

Dorian’s entirely unsurprised when the whole of the bar, Bull included, begin to laugh at his challenge. The qunari’s wiping tears from his eye but Dorian waits it out, doesn’t move. Bull’s brow raises high in interest.

 

“You’re serious?” Bull asks, incredulous.

 

“As the Blight,” Dorian replies, wiggling his fingers to warm them up.

 

Bull frowns, picks up his half-empty mug and finishes it off, sizing Dorian up with a slow sweep of his eye. “Alright then, you’re on, but don’t cry about it when you lose…” he says with a shrug.

 

Unsurprisingly there’s a pile of gold pouring onto Bull’s side, but one lone sovereign finds its way to Dorian, rough fingers with bitten nails dropping it in place.

 

“Aw, Krem, how could you?!” Bull complains as his lieutenant smirks.

 

“Not for nothing, chief, but I think you’ve met your match tonight,” Krem says with a smirk, “Prolly in more ways than one,” he adds quietly.

 

Dorian’s not sure what was meant by that, but he beams up at Krem, giving a gracious tip of his head. “Will you do the honors of counting us down, Krem?” he requests.

 

Bull shifts uneasily in his seat. Dorian smirks, tan fingers flexing against Bull’s grey ones.

 

“Three, two, one—”

 

Magic tingles up Dorian’s arm, focusing in his fingertips and where his forearm crosses with Bull’s. When the qunari feels the expertly directed electricity it is far, far too late.

 

“Start!” Krem calls out.

 

Dorian slams Bull’s hand to the table before the man’s muscles can unlock from the temporary paralysis. The whole tavern goes silent even as Bull grunts, snatching his slightly twitching hand back from Dorian and shaking it out. Dorian finishes off another dark foamy mug of beer with relish, giving an aaa! of satisfaction when he finishes. The mage makes to scoop up all the coins towards himself, grinning as Bull glowers.

 

“All mine then?” he asks playfully, making to put the gold in his own pockets when the table, worn from all the abuse, wobbles and all the coin spills on the floor loudly. Everyone stares at it, a few of the men Bull has crippled chewing at their lips, looking at Dorian and then at the money on the ground.

 

Bull’s giving him a withering look as Dorian’s raising his hands in a gesture of peace. “Now wait a minute, here— gentlemen, let’s not be too hasty—”

 

An hour later, Dorian’s still nursing a split lip, spitting out blood. Bull and he are sitting up on the ramparts with a not insignificant pile of ill-gotten gold between them.

 

“I think I chipped a tooth…” Dorian complains, opening his mouth wide, finger catching the side of his cheek. “Can you see?”

 

Bull’s got Dorian’s silk handkerchief plugging up his bloody nose and he’s smiling from ear to ear. “Yeah, it’s chipped. Don’t worry, you’re still pretty.”

 

“Shut up, arsehole,” Dorian says and then makes Bull do it, snatching the handkerchief back and kissing the mouth the motion reveals. They’re both sore and aching and the kiss tastes of blood and beer.

 

It’s perfect. Even moreso when Bull cups his face with one big hand and deepens the kiss, tongue pressing into Dorian’s mouth firmly. Much too soon the qunari pulls back and sighs, shaking his head.

 

“You’re drunk. Again,” he says, “Let’s get you to your room.”

 

Dorian glowers, resists Bull’s hands. “No,” he says firmly, “I am not that drunk and I am not going to my room. Not this time. I want this. I want you. Wanted it for weeks now. I want you to fuck me, Bull.”

 

Getting the words out, finally, has Dorian’s face burning bright, but he forges ahead with a sarcastic, “Do you need me to pen out instructions? Draw you a diagram? A map?”

 

Bull’s getting hard, those ridiculous pants of his making it all the more obvious as they loosely tent over his erection. Dorian sets his hand on his lap, kneading there as he leans in and kisses at Bull’s neck.

 

“Wait, so all this time that was you flirting?” Bull asks skeptically.

 

“What did you think I was doing?”

 

“I don’t know, being a tease? You send mixed signals, Dorian, you can’t deny that. How’m I supposed to interpret a boot to the head as ‘come get me, big boy’?”

 

Dorian punches Bull in the arm. “First of all, I wouldn’t say that. Secondly, you’re an idiot. Thirdly—” Dorian leans in and kisses Bull, making his point clear, grasping at a muscled neck as they eat at one another’s mouths feverishly, tongues sliding together. The ramparts are cold but every point of Dorian’s body that touches Bull’s feels pleasantly warm.

 

“You could have just asked, you know…” Bull rumbles disapprovingly as they break away for breath. Dorian laughs at this, breathless, and clears his throat—

 

“Oh mighty, strong, powerful Iron Bull of the Qunari,” he begins with a dramatic flair before waggling his eyebrows in a lascivious fashion— “Care to conquer some Tevinter territory?”

 

Bull laughs outright at that and slides a hand under Dorian’s knees, hauling him up into his arms. This time the mage doesn’t resist, curling his arm around Bull’s shoulder with ease, mouthing at his neck, grey skin tasting of metal, bruised from the bar fight.

 

“You forget,” he says, voice that same rumble that makes Dorian’s knees go weak, “I’m not of the Qun anymore. Anything I conquer… I take for myself.”

 

Maker,” Dorian breathes and Bull hoists him away to his room. Dorian’s only been here once before and yet he knows his way to the bed even though the fire’s out in the grate and all he has to guide him is moonlight and the fireflies lazily humming around the space.

 

His knees hit the back of the mattress as he tugs his robes hurriedly over his head, buckles slipping free easily. Even buzzed as he was, Dorian was very good at getting out of his clothing in a hurry when called up. Back home, he took chances where he could find them and everything was fast-paced, urgent…

 

Bull chuckles in between their mouths as Dorian wiggles out of his pants and his smalls. He’s already hard, rubs up against Bull’s leg, “Clothes, off. Now,” Dorian demands, tugging at the horribly ugly belt that’s cinching up the equally horrendous pants.

 

Bull bats his hands away easily, hauling Dorian up and dropping him on the bed like he was feather-light. In the light of day, Dorian would hiss about such manhandling. Right now? He was hurriedly pulling his legs apart in anticipation.

 

The qunari’s taking his time getting out his clothing and he wasn’t kidding about not wearing smalls. There’s a snap-snap of buckles, a swoosh of fabric and a clunk of metal hitting the floor. Then Bull’s standing at the foot of the bed without a stitch on him.

 

“Come on,” Dorian demands desperately as Bull stands there staring, “You don’t actually need a diagram, do you—”

 

“Shut up,” Bull says, but does come closer, putting a knee on the bed. His whole body is huge and imposing from what Dorian can make out from his folded up position. His thighs are muscled and thick, scarred like the rest of his body, the low lighting casting shadows on his carved torso. Dorian wants to lick every inch of him. “I’m enjoying the view.”

 

Dorian’s throat goes very tight and his face heats, feeling shy and proud and turned on all at once. “Well I am not here to get gawked at, so if you would please—!” Dorian aims a kick at Bull’s head and that is apparently what the qunari is waiting for. He catches Dorian’s ankle easily, tugging it over his elbow as he leans in, mindful of his horns.

 

“Oh, I’ll please,” he growls and Dorian’s cock aches at the sound alone, “Don’t you worry, ‘vint.”

 

Bull bows his head then and Dorian gasps, fingers letting go of his other leg as Bull’s mouth wraps around the tip of his prick and sucks vigorously. His calf settles on a length of rough horn, his captured leg held akimbo by Bull. His fingers grasp into the bed sheets to stabilize himself as Bull goes at him without a bit of hesitancy, the qunari giving deep pleasured sounds in the back of his throat that vibrate through Dorian’s body. The slight rasp of stubble and scarred lips against his skin feels amazing, making Dorian moan louder.

 

Dorian wants to watch, to see, struggling to get an elbow under himself. Bull denies him simply with a heavy hand on his chest, pushing him back down to the mattress as he continues to work his mouth, slurping and sucking around Dorian’s shaft. Dorian whines and wiggles, hips undulating helplessly as he’s forced to just feel everything being done to him.

 

Maker,” he breathes again, eyelashes fluttering. Bull’s mouth pulls off and moves south, sucking at his sac and getting his bollocks wet with long lashes of his tongue. “Fasta vass!—that feels good, ah… Bull…!”

 

As Bull’s mouth returns to his cock the qunari decides to get his fingers into play as well, running through his own saliva, teasing wetly at Dorian’s balls before dipping lower. Dorian gives a soft hiss and then a sigh as one bluntly presses inward, teasing at his entrance before sinking in just to the first knuckle.

 

Bull’s fingers are proportional. Dorian’s gasping as one and then two are crooked within him, barely slick but certain and skilled. Bull’s mouth bobs on his prick, a hot, silken sheath, as his fingers rub up inside Dorian’s body, expertly manipulating that spot that causes the mage to see stars behind his eyelids.

 

“Oh fuck—Bull… Bull!” Dorian tries to warn, smacking at the qunari’s shoulder with a flailing foot. All he gets for it is Bull leaning in and taking him deeper, nose pressed all the way to Dorian’s groin. Bull shoves his fingers in deep and that’s it for Dorian, who turns his head, biting at the pillow to stifle his cries as he loses himself in several toe-clenching spurts.

 

And of course, Bull, because he’s an utter prick, pulls his fingers free just before Dorian climaxes. The mage feels utterly teased, cheated as his body clutches down on emptiness. He’s about to give Bull a piece of his mind too, but the qunari is climbing up over his body now, lips in a tight pucker.

 

The kiss is absolutely filthy and wet, Dorian tasting himself on Bull’s lips and tongue. Stubble scrapes roughly over his face as Bull licks into his mouth, a fresh burst of flavor on each pass of his tongue. Dorian’s got a hand grasping at Bull’s horn, the other at his shoulder, by the time they finish. The mage falls back against the pillows, overcome and slightly sulky.

 

“You were supposed fuck me, you big idiot,” he declares breathlessly. “I think the diagrams might be a necessity at this point…”

 

Bull raises a brow high at that, laughs, “Wait, you don’t think that’s the end, do you? And here I thought you were the clever one… I’m not even close to finished with you, Dorian…”

 

Dorian absolutely does not whimper, instead responding with another kiss, arms thrown around the larger man’s shoulders. They slide together this way, tongues tangling in a mimicry of their bodies. Dorian’s hand trails over Bull’s impressive physique, down his stomach and hips until he reaches his cock. His thumb and forefinger have to stretch a bit to get around the girth of it, Dorian twisting his neck so he can look down between them, throat going dry at the sight of the dark thick cockhead sliding through his fist…

 

Maker,” Dorian whines, squeezing his fingers as Bull bucks, fucks into his hand, “Get in me already.”

 

Bull gives a rumbling laugh in response to that, sucks at Dorian’s earlobe and bites it, “Someone’s eager…”

 

“And someone else is dragging his feet—among other parts of his anatomy!” Dorian snaps in return, feeling so out of his depth with how much he needs this.

 

Bull laughs and easily extricates himself from Dorian’s grabbing hands. He’s standing up, walking away from the bed and Dorian’s this close to throwing a fireball at him when Bull returns with a jar of salve. Immediately Dorian decides all is forgiven, knees up to his chest instantly. Bull chuckles again, kisses at the inside of Dorian’s thigh as he takes the top off the salve.

 

It’s thick and cold, but works very well, allowing Bull’s fingers to slide easily into his hole. Dorian’s still relaxed from his climax so it isn’t long until Bull has three fingers inside him deep, stroking and stretching him slowly. The salve’s warmed nicely now, gone perfectly slick and making filthy wet sounds with every thrust of Bull’s thick fingers. Dorian’s face burns as he grips at his own legs with white-knuckled hands and sweaty fingers.

 

“A-anytime you’d like…” he complains, slight catch in his breath as Bull rubs his thumb just above his hole, pressing against that spot outside and in.

 

I’d like to take it slow,” Bull replies, shifting closer now. Dorian’s hips lift, his ass cradled onto Bull’s giant thighs. The man’s leaning into the motions now, fingering Dorian with skillful movements of his wrist and forearm.

 

I’d like you to hurry up before I decide to burn your face off,” Dorian snaps out breathily, chest heaving. He’s so hard now it hurts, prick jumping against his stomach with every thrust of fingers inside of him.

 

“So impatient,” Bull chides, smirking. He knows what he’s doing to Dorian and is enjoying it, using his weight and strength and fucking Dorian with his fingers so fucking strong

 

Vishante kaffas—come on!” Dorian demands, twisting his hips wildly, reaching to where Bull’s inside him, trying to get him to move, to do something

 

Dorian’s not sure if he hears the loud crack of Bull’s hand crashing onto his upturned ass before he feels it. The sound is loud in the quiet of the bedroom, but not quite as loud as the deep moan Dorian gives in response to the smack. He covers his eyes with his arm, face burning with embarrassment as his chest heaves with his breath.

 

Oh,” Bull says, sounding like it’s Satinalia and Dorian’s given him the absolutely perfect gift.

 

Dorian shivers and refuses to look at Bull at all until he feels his world turning on its end. Dorian wonders if it’s the alcohol making his head spin, but no, he really is being laid across Bull’s thighs, well fingered ass hitched high in the air. It’s at the perfect angle to catch the slaps Bull gives it: one, two, three in succession. Bull squeezes slightly at a cheek and Dorian gives in, moaning again at the feel of it, the sweet sting and the heat.

 

“Yeah… you would like that, wouldn’t you, Dorian…” Bull rumbles, sounding so pleased, “Want me to do it again?”

 

Dorian wants to deny it but he’s already grinding against Bull’s thigh eagerly, tipping his hips up invitingly, “Yes, damn you, I—”

 

The next slap knocks him into Bull’s thighs again and Dorian shuts up, gasping for breath. Bull’s other hand strokes along Dorian’s back and shoulders a few times before resting on the small of his back, holding him down easily. The blows fall irregularly on each cheek, stinging and surprising each time. Dorian’s sweating under the strain, shaking, hips squirming with what little leverage Bull’s allowing him. He’s caught between the two sensations, unsure of whether to angle his hips higher for the next slap or to grind his cock more fervently against Bull’s lap.

 

Dorian ends up rocking back and forth, gasping, moaning, nonsensical words falling from his lips. His ass is warm from the blows, stinging in a way that makes his prick throb in time with the smacks. Bull is like some unstoppable force, not giving Dorian any choice but to experience what’s being done to him. Dorian doesn’t know who it surprises more when he comes again, his spend slick against Bull’s thickly muscled thighs.

 

Bull ceases then, massages Dorian’s ass with a careful hand, gripping one stinging cheek tight and giving a rumbling growl of pleasure as Dorian gasps out an ‘aaa-aaa-aaa’ at the sensation. Dorian’s out of his head, achy in all the best ways when Bull drags him to sitting upright on his lap, kisses him again. Bull parts his legs just so, reaches beside him for a pillow to cast on the floor before guiding Dorian down to his knees.

 

“Give me your mouth,” he orders and Dorian thinks that is the best idea he’s heard from Bull all evening.

 

Dorian’s grateful for the pillow that he rests his knees on even though the room is still a bit too chilly for him to be so far from the other man’s body. Bull makes up for it with how huge his legs are, Dorian easily encircled by them as he strokes his hands up ridiculously muscular thighs. Dorian’s breath catches in his throat as he gets his first good look at Bull’s cock and his whole body heats, his sole objective to get that the fuck in him any way possible. It’s long, thick and already wet with precome, foreskin withdrawn and the flesh dark with blood, twitching with the pounding of Bull’s pulse. Dorian’s fingers trail up the length of it and pulls it toward himself for a taste, swirling his tongue around the tip before letting go and allowing Bull’s prick slap back wetly against his stomach. Spitting into his palm, Dorian works his hand up over the incredible length with an expert twist of his wrist, earning a groan from Bull and a dribble of precome that he allows to drip down before lapping it up with a long sinuous swipe of his tongue.

 

“Now who’s the tease…?” Bull grumbles, knee knocking against Dorian’s shoulder impatiently.

 

The mage laughs in response to that, eyes bright in the semi-dark—“Me? A tease? Perish the thought…”

 

Dorian doesn’t resist the hand that cards through his hair all the same, humming pleasantly at the sensation of blunt nails scratching over his scalp as he leans in again, licking his lips so they’re soaking wet when he pulls them around Bull’s cock again. The flat of his tongue presses hard against that throbbing vein underneath the man’s prick and he makes his mouth tight, so tight that Bull has to push against the resistance there before Dorian’s opening his throat in a rush, taking him down as deep as he can.

 

Bull’s enormous and while Dorian is an old pro at this, he’s struggling to keep up. He chokes and Bull is so aware he pulls free well before Dorian can panic. Bull’s chuckling a little as he strokes over his prick from base to tip, working Dorian’s saliva shiny over his cock.

 

“This is the best way to shut you up, I think,” he jokes meanly and Dorian rolls his eyes even as he sticks his tongue out wantonly, letting Bull rub his prick all over it, drinking in the sound of the larger man’s satisfied groans. He tastes amazing, Dorian’s tongue digging slightly into the slit in search of more. “So… how deep do you think you can take me?”

 

It’s a stupid dare and Dorian knows it. But resisting temptation’s always been his weak spot and he’s grinning up at Bull wickedly as he replies, “Let’s find out.”

 

Bull laughs, hits Dorian lightly with a knee again before dragging a big hand up through his hair. Bull’s other hand is on his cock, stroking it as he stares at Dorian’s mouth longingly. It seems to take forever for the man’s hand to pass over himself completely and Dorian can already imagine all of that spearing inside of him, fucking him so deep and hard. Maker.

 

He tugs and Dorian follows, pulling his mouth obligingly over the qunari’s thick cock. Bull controls the pace and depth, grunting as he sheaths himself repeatedly between Dorian’s lips. He pulls Dorian down just a bit more on each pass, stopping the second he feels Dorian’s throat fluttering and backing off to let the mage breathe before fucking his way into his mouth again. There’s no other sounds in the room beside the filthy wet noises of Dorian’s lips and Bull’s continual groans and whispers of praise. Bull’s hand passes over his face, feeling where Dorian’s lips stretch around him, cupping his jaw, his neck, stroking there as he fucking owns Dorian’s mouth.

 

Dorian’s jaw’s aching, lips spit-slick and swollen by the time Bull pulls him off all the way, dragging Dorian upwards, hands going under his armpits to haul him back up into his lap. Dorian’s dizzy, achingly hard again and he doesn’t resist at all as Bull kisses him hard, smearing wetness between their chins, stubble rasping over Dorian’s sore lips. His tongue forces its way into Dorian’s mouth, pressing so deep, like Bull’s trying to retrace the path of his cock. Dorian braces himself on the other man’s shoulders, trying to give back as good as he’s getting even though he’s half out of his mind with pleasure. It shows in the way he all but whines when the kiss is finished, Bull stopping him before he can get his mouth back on Bull’s cock.

 

“No, get back up here,” Bull says, tugging Dorian onto the mattress, “I’ve got to fuck you.”

 

Dorian wouldn’t be Dorian if he didn’t reply, “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all evening, you oaf.”

 

Bull chuckles, swats at Dorian’s haunch as the Tevinter climbs back into the warm bed. Bull helps spread him out on his back, kisses his way down the length of Dorian’s neck before going to locate the jar from earlier. As he waits, Dorian slips a hand under himself, fingers sliding between his cheeks, testing the give of his hole, one finger easily sinking in all the way to the silver ring he’s wearing on it.

 

Vashedan.”

 

Dorian laughs as Bull curses, withdrawing his finger and wiggling his ass teasingly towards Bull. Dorian enjoys the way the man’s face looks so wide-eyed and boyish at the sight of Dorian playing with himself. It’s almost as good as the way Bull looks as he slicks himself up, face dark, crumpling with blatant unbridled want.

 

But Bull is the embodiment of restraint and Dorian’s the impatient one once more as the larger man pushes slowly into him. Dorian just barely gets to feel the stretch before Bull pulls out with a pop, Dorian swearing indignantly. The qunari leans in, does it again, and again, a bit further each time—so that when he finally sinks in fully Dorian’s shocked breathless by it, bunching the sheets up into fists as he moans. The stinging stretch doesn’t soften his erection much at all and Dorian’s thinking he might just get through this with a few shreds of his dignity left when he realizes that Bull’s still pushing inward. That was not even the whole thing. Dorian whimpers.

 

“You alright?” Bull asks, kisses Dorian’s face, his neck, his shoulder. The attention is so knowing and it makes Dorian relax, breath coming a little easier.

 

“…y-yes… ah… Maker…” Dorian breathes, pulling his hands one finger at a time from the sheets, reaching for Bull’s shoulders to grasp onto instead as the bigger man rocks inside of him.

 

“You sound like you’re hurting…” Bull worries. Gentle, so gentle for someone so giant and deadly. Dorian is utterly lost to the way Bull enters him, so steady, taking his time...

 

“N-no… move, dammit!” Dorian insists, wiggles towards Bull with single-minded focus. But it’s futile, Bull’s got him folded in half and he has no leverage to meet the other man’s thrusts with. So he just has to take it, take it all as Bull slowly pounds into him, bottoming out with a long groan right into Dorian’s ear.

 

The qunari straightens, gaze fixed at the point where he’s spearing into Dorian’s body as they begin to rock together. The headboard thumps against the wall, Bull’s hand sliding over Dorian’s chest and stomach, so close to his cock before Bull bypasses it in favor of grasping Dorian’s hip to angle it better, plunging deeper into him.

 

Dorian tries to meet the thrusts, twists futilely in Bull’s grip. A big hand falls onto his throat, making Dorian still and shiver with the surprise of it.

 

“My way,” Bull says sternly.

 

There’s no pressure there, not unless Dorian rears up against the hold. Then and only then does Bull press his thumb into Dorian’s neck, just enough to make breathing slightly more difficult. Dorian’s never done anything like this and it’s mad how hard it gets him, putting his life in Bull’s hands, letting him have all this control over his body. He sobs as Bull continues to take his pleasure of him, Dorian feeling like he’s burning up all over.

 

Dorian’s not unfamiliar with that sweet spot inside of himself but he’s certain it has never received such a firm, persistent battering as this. It’s Bull’s size, no getting around it, the way he can fold Dorian up, maneuver his legs the way he wants them—the way his cock stretches Dorian so wide and full and achingly good. Dorian’s own prick is dripping against his stomach, aching for even the lightest of touches and he can’t move, can’t do anything but take it, moaning mindlessly all the while.

 

His trembling fingers catch on Bull’s forearm, the same hand that’s squeezing his throat just a little. Bull’s looking down at him, face a mask of concentration and Dorian’s desperate for Bull to be at least half as affected by this as he is…

 

“Come on…” he pleads breathlessly as Bull releases his neck to sweep that big hand up through Dorian’s sweaty tousled hair. “Bull, come on already…”

 

“No,” Bull replies, “Gotta take it slow.”

 

Why?!” Dorian demands, feeling utterly overwhelmed and confused.

 

“Because,” Bull says, teeth tracing Dorian’s shoulder, biting down, “You’re gorgeous like this. Because you deserve this. Because I can.”

 

Dorian can’t think of a single retort, mind blank as Bull steals his mouth again, kissing him at the same languid pace with which he is rocking into his body. He’s never done it like this before. Most of the time it was fast fumbling fingers in dark rooms. On a rare occasion or two he has had some marathon sessions, though usually those consisted of enthusiastic bouts of fucking with lazy catnaps on silken sheets in between. Nothing like this, with someone’s focus completely on him, steadily taking, conquering him, taking care of his needs so thoroughly…

 

Dorian refuses to just lay back and accept it, trying a different tactic to spur Bull onward. He squeezes down around Bull’s cock when the man’s all the way inside of him. Dorian moans into Bull’s mouth as the idea backfires brilliantly, feeling the whole of the other man’s length stabbing hotly inside him. But it does earn him a muffled swear against his lips all the same.

 

“Fuck, you’re so tight… should get someone to fuck you first, loosen you up for me…” Bull rumbles, thinking aloud. Dorian tries to keep his face blank but the idea of it—coming to see Bull with his thighs dripping with another’s spend, soaking wet and open—Bull sees through him in an instant, just like he had with the spanking earlier, because he’s a stupid Ben-Hasshole as Sera would say.

 

“Hrm… Grim would do it… Stitches too…” Bull muses, eye alight with the idea, “We could—”

 

Dorian doesn’t bother with hearing the rest of it, because he’s got enough leverage to arch up against Bull’s next thrust, moaning as he takes him deep. He’s laughing at his victory, the way Bull’s eye has rolled back in surprise, when suddenly the qunari is pulling out.

 

“No no no, I’m sorry, I’m sorry—” Dorian panics, but Bull shushes him.

 

“Shut up, turn over,” he orders roughly.

 

Dorian tries to comply, but his legs are completely useless, falling to the bed when Bull lets them go. Bull grunts impatiently, throwing Dorian over onto his stomach and tugging his hips up and back. Dorian screws his fingers into the sheets, holding himself up on hands and knees. He whines when he feels Bull’s fingers sliding in him instead of his cock, fucking him slow and easy; Dorian’s body giving no resistance at all.

 

“Mmn yeah… could just tie you down, just like this…” Bull rumbles and Dorian can hear the distinct sound of the man stroking himself off with his free hand.

 

Dorian laughs shortly, face hot even as his body undulates back against the touch. Bull’s still thinking about the Chargers taking turns with him and Dorian’s not sure he has any objections at present, save that he doubts he’d need tying down. Dorian doesn’t exactly have any plans to move anytime soon. Bull’s fingers pull free and he’s pushing into Dorian from behind, cock re-slicked and easing in on one frictionless slide.

 

Bull’s finally picking up the pace, Dorian moaning as the man’s balls slap against his thighs with the sharp thrusts. The bed’s shaking dangerously with their efforts and Dorian’s elbows finally collapse under him, chest pressed to the bed as Bull fucks him faster, faster. Dorian feels hot all over, needy and burning as he sneaks a hand down between his legs to stroke himself off. He all but whines when Bull’s hand gets there first, squeezing firm and locking the pleasure up inside of Dorian with the motion even as Bull continues pounding his prostate.

 

Please,” he begs, close to tears. Dorian knows more words, he’s certain of it, but this is the only one his lips seem able to form, “ Please.

 

“No,” Bull says sternly, swats Dorian’s hip. “You come again and you’ll have nothing left to give me when I’m really fucking you.”

 

Dorian feels hysterical hearing that, he laughs and cries and moans in equal measure, face rubbing against the pillow, hopelessly overstimulated—

 

“You’re full of shit. You’re all talk. Show me, then. Show me how you’d really fuck me, Iron Bull,” he demands.

 

Bull delivers. His huge hands hitch Dorian’s hips higher and this time when he pulls out almost all the way he lunges back in quickly, making Dorian’s teeth rattle with the force. He does it again, faster. Harder. Deeper. This is what Bull was holding back in favor of. He wasn’t joking about that. This is real, every thrust feeling golden, causing lights to flash behind Dorian’s shut eyelids. They’re sweating and swearing as they saw together, Dorian unable to hold back the low whines Bull is fucking out of him.

 

Bull’s hand falls onto Dorian’s back, heavy and present. The tips of his huge fingers press in a little, just shy of bruising as he uses the other hand on Dorian’s hip to pull the mage back into his thrusts. Sweat drips from Bull’s body onto Dorian’s as the bed bounces precariously, wood groaning under the strain. Dorian doubts he can even manage to get his hand on himself while he’s bracing against all that force, so he’s thankful when Bull does it for him. He spends himself in an instant over Bull’s knuckles, moaning loudly as he climaxes. He falls forward, gasping into the pillows. Dorian’s dimly aware of Bull continuing for a few moments more before he suddenly stills, locked inside of Dorian, breathing like a bellows.

 

Bull’s hand pulls away from Dorian’s back and the mage misses the heavy presence of it instantly. Dorian’s sweaty and shaking and sore, feeling like he’s been fighting for hours under the sun of the Hissing Wastes or like he’s been riding (ha) for days on a journey to the Emerald Graves. Bull withdraws from him, squeezing and stroking comfortingly at his side as he does so and Dorian just collapses into the now oddly uneven mattress.

 

This is the point where they should be getting their things together and hurrying off their separate ways. But Dorian can’t find it in him to move and Bull isn’t like anyone Dorian’s ever had sex with. No, he’s still touching Dorian, fingers skating along the mage’s heaving ribs, sliding over his ass, his thighs…

 

“C’mon, Dorian… open your legs a little for me…” Bull urges, thumbs spreading Dorian’s sore cheeks with what little space he was being given. “Let me see what I’ve done to you…”

 

“…oh, nothing much you know… you just wrecked me for every other man in Thedas and possibly the world,” Dorian responds blearily into the pillow, earning a laugh from Bull. “No worries,” he adds sarcastically even as he obediently shifts his legs apart as best he can.

 

Bull chuckles, continuing to touch Dorian. He’s tracing his fingers up through where his seed’s shining between Dorian’s cheeks, sinks one inside. Dorian hisses softly, toes clenching a little as Bull draws it out slowly.

 

“…knock it off, you beast…” Dorian mumbles, aiming a shaky swat of a hand at Bull that doesn’t even come close to contacting.

 

Bull just gives a rumbling noise of consideration and Dorian feels Bull’s mouth tracing down along his sweat-shiny back. Down, down and Dorian whimpers as Bull’s hands squeeze his ass cheeks together before pulling them apart wide…

 

“Dorian…?” he asks, breath right there

 

Dorian just waves his hand at Bull in an oh go on, you sexy evil qunari bastard sort of way. The message gets across and Bull’s leaning in, running his tongue between Dorian’s cheeks. Dorian shifts, squirms slightly as his eyes shut, spine lazily rippling in response to the tongue eagerly lapping over his ass. There’s absolutely no chance he’s going to get hard again. He wishes someone would tell that to his cock, which is making a valiant effort as Bull eats him out, tip of his tongue digging into Dorian’s hole. Bull alternates the long swooping laps of his tongue with hard jabs, making Dorian melt and moan into the pillow, utterly overcome.

 

Bull finally slows, yawning and cracking his jaw loudly as he sets his stubbly chin against the round swell of Dorian’s ass. Dorian’s boneless in the bed, feeling very clean in one manner of speaking and wickedly filthy in another. Bull’s hands are clumsier now as they pat at Dorian’s thighs fondly. The mattress is sagging a little in the middle, Dorian’s suddenly realizing the reason it is so uneven is that they broke one of the slats of the bedframe. So that’s what that cracking sound was. Ah well.

 

“Mmn… s’almost morning…” Bull notes and Dorian squints up through the hole in the ceiling at the pinkish hues starting to appear in the sky.

 

“…no adventuring tomorrow,” he decides, burrowing into the warm bed. Bull doesn’t join him up there, apparently comfortable where he’s at for now. He makes a mental note to let Bull know his ass isn’t a pillow. Later. “Tell them you finally got fed up and killed me.”

 

Bull laughs at that. “Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve killed someone with my dick…”

 

“Mmn… well you know me, Bull,” Dorian says, shutting his eyes and smiling sleepily, “I’ve always wanted to go out with a bang.”

 

Dorian falls asleep to the strangely pleasant sensation of Bull’s raucous laughter warming the small of his back.

Chapter Text

It doesn’t really surprise Bull when he wakes up and Dorian’s not there. Disappointing? Aw, maybe a little. He was hoping for a quickie before breakfast at the very least. Bull turns around onto his back, pillowing a thick arm under his head as he stares up at the ceiling thoughtfully.

That was good. Damn good. Dorian’s a kinky little bastard underneath that cold untouchable exterior…

Of course, Bull knows he probably took it a bit too far. Dorian may have been enthusiastic in the moment about being spanked and manhandled, but Bull knows it is better to talk these things out beforehand. Set up boundaries. Take care of each other afterwards. Discuss likes and dislikes.

Without the Qun to guide him Bull forgets about these things. He’s having a harder time keeping his animal side in check. Even now he absently strokes himself to the thought of Dorian’s soft lips, red and slick from being used so thoroughly. The sound of him moaning for more, how he spread out onto the bed after, all boneless, the very picture of satisfaction…

Squeezing the base of his dick, Bull sulkily takes his hand off of himself, grumbling about ‘stupid sexy mages’ as he gets out of bed. Dropping to the side of it, he does a set of a hundred push-ups instead, grunting with the effort. When he finishes, he’s not hard anymore and his thoughts are clear.

He decides he’ll let Dorian make the next move. It’s better that way.

Dorian naturally doesn’t act any different with him when Beatrix gathers them around the war table. Bull can’t help but smirk at that slight limp he’s sporting, the Inquisitor giving Dorian an odd look when he doesn’t flop down into his usual chair.

“Dorian, you can sit if you like…” she offers.

Dorian clears his throat, face a touch pink, “Ah, I’d rather stand today, thank you. So where are we gallivanting off to now…?”

Bull chuckles to himself, earning a glare from the ‘vint when everyone else is focusing on the map. He merely winks back at Dorian, who rolls his eyes in response and turns away from Bull. Bull wonders if he’s imagining Dorian tipping his hips up just a little as he leans over the table, pointing something out on the weathered parchment. It shows off his fantastic ass and Bull swallows hard, attention torn between what Beatrix is saying and watching the curve of Dorian’s back.

“The shards we’ve been finding around are apparently part of a legend. Thanks to Josephine’s efforts we’ve managed to locate a temple out here in blah blah blah blah blah Dorian’s ass looks fantastic, doesn’t it blah blah Forbidden Oasis blah you could just take a bite out of it couldn’t you Bull blah blah blah keys to unlock greater power blah blah…”

“Catch all that, Bull?” Dorian asks over a shoulder, smirk lifting his mustache at a devious angle.

“Huh--?” Bull gets out and wipes at the corner of his mouth quickly but Dorian and the rest have already seen the drool, “Uh. Yeah. Um… the shards and uh… temples… and stuff…?”

Beatrix shakes her head at him—greatly disapproving. “Bull, please take this seriously, will you?”

“Yes, Bull. Do take this seriously,” Dorian echoes, grin widening and Bull realizes that he is not imagining anything and Dorian is being a blatant, unapologetic cocktease.

Oh you little shit... you’re gonna get it so bad… Bull thinks before reining himself in, grunting an assent to the Inquisitor. Okay so maybe this whole… let Dorian come to me thing isn’t going to be as easy as I was imagining…

“By the way, you two,” Beatrix adds, giving them both her ‘you’re getting sent to the corner for being bad’ look, “I believe you owe me a new tavern.”

It takes about a week and some days to get there, but soon enough they’re walking into a place called the Forbidden Oasis. It’s fucking hot and even Bull’s feeling it, sweat dripping down the back of his neck. He’s glad his skin doesn’t burn, poor Beatrix with her auburn hair is getting completely dotted with freckles due to the intense sunlight.

“You think the ‘forbidden’ in the name would have put off the Inquisition, but oh no…” Dorian mutters, sweeping his hand over his forehead again, hair deflating in the sweaty sticky heat. “Let’s traipse into the boiling hot hell-hole. Why not?”

“Seriously? First you’re too cold, now you’re too hot, is there anything you’re not whinging about, Dorian?” Sera asks in annoyance. She’s normally fairly sprightly and upbeat, but the heat’s getting to her too, apparently.

“I have sand in places I never wanted to ever have sand in, thank you very much,” Dorian complains, “So yes, it’s put a decided damper on my typically pleasant humor.”

“Quit it you two,” Beatrix sighs and peers around the desert landscape, “Look, there’s a bit of shade over there. Let’s have a break. According to Scout Harding, the temple’s further into the canyon.”

“Wonderful,” Dorian mutters, but he all but collapses against the shady outcropping of rock, sighing heavily.

Bull shakes his head a little at that, sitting beside Sera while Beatrix unfolds the map on an abandoned crate a few feet away. The furrow to her brow as she expertly sketches out the terrain is always interesting to watch, Bull noting how similar it looks to Cullen when he’s placing pieces onto the war table. Cullen’s skillful at looking at the big picture while Beatrix excels at detail work. They’re a good match for one another…

As he’s thinking Bull wordlessly passes his canteen to Dorian, maintaining a respectable distance from the ‘vint. It earns him a quizzical stare even as Dorian snags the water skin and guzzles from it greedily, water running down his chin as he swallows thirstily.

Fuck, those lips… Bull thinks and then shakes his head to clear it. Thankfully, Sera’s fairly distracting, poking at his arm with the feathery tip of an arrow to get his attention. Bull’s grateful she’s not using the pointy side, which he can absolutely see her doing so if he ignores her any longer.

“What is it?” he asks.

“I was just wondering, Bull—your women… what are they like?” Sera asks, blinking up at him curiously.

“The tamassrans? Terrifying,” he says with a shake of his head. Dorian gives him a skeptical glance. “…and inspiring. They teach you everything you need to know. Give your life purpose.”

“No,” Sera scoffs, shaking her head, eyes bright with mischief, “I mean are they like you? All big and… phwoar!

Bull can’t help but laugh at that, grinning from ear to ear. “Oh shit, yeah!” he declares, “And their tits are always so perfect and big. You just wanna… rrr….” Bull growls, mimicking rubbing his face into something nice and soft. Then again, the last time he did that it wasn’t a pair of tits getting his attention.

“Hahahaha, woooow…” Sera sighs. “So like the horns an’ all tha’… you ever, y’know… grab onto ‘em and shout ‘yipee-ki-yi-yay!’?”

“Why would I shout—uh, no. But they are useful. Mine are a pretty good pair. Wide, straight. Perfect for the girls to throw their legs over, or use as handles… most tamassrans have the kind that curl back and it’s hard to get a good grip… kinda prefer grabbing hair to horns, myself…”

Ugh,” Dorian says, all but throwing the water skin at Bull’s chest. “You two are like mabari in heat. Revolting.”

Bull glances over and Dorian’s not looking at him at all, but he’s blushing down to his neck, throat bobbing even though it could hardly be dry after all the water the mage has been guzzling. Bull grins wide, because after the war table last week, he’s due a bit of payback. Dorian looks like he’s decidedly uncomfortable, shifting about on his rump in the sand.

Sera blows a raspberry the mage’s way in response to his nagging, Dorian shooting her a dirty look in return.

“Oh come off, you and me are both all ‘bout playin’ for the same teams, Dorian. No need to get snippy just because Bull an’ I are talkin’ about womanly bits,” Sera complains, sticking her tongue out at him. “Or d’you only like to play hide the staff ‘cos you still think girls have cooties?”

“What?! No! It’s not that part of it that’s bothering me, it’s just—rrgh!” Dorian grumps in response. He’s not been dealing all that well with everyone knowing his business. Especially when half of the Inquisition’s response was, ‘wait, you thought we didn’t know you were gay?’

That and well, it’s probably not tamassran horns the mage is thinking about grabbing onto… Bull thinks smugly but he’s not mean enough to point that out. He rumbles out a laugh instead, remarking, “He’s right, it’s not that, Sera. See I know what your problem really is, Dorian…”

Dorian’s expression is markedly unimpressed, brow arching at Bull in challenge. “I have only the one?” he questions haughtily.

“You see, you carry around this picture of the qunari in your mind… you see us like we’re this terrible, forbidden thing…” Bull’s voice darkens, suggestive, “And you’re inclined to do the forbidden…”

Dorian’s ears go bright crimson and it has absolutely nothing to do with the burning sun overhead. Bull knows he should stop but he can’t help it, the way Dorian wiggles about and how his voice goes all tight and high is so worth it, “I—I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

Bull smirks from ear to ear, tipping his head to Dorian playfully, showing off those horns. “All I’m saying is: you ever want to explore that… my door’s always open.”

Dorian’s eyes go wide and dark, breath catching in his throat. Sera’s holding her sides, laughing like a banshee and rolling around in the sand as Dorian stands up sharply.

“You are impossible!” he declares with no small amount of affront, “This is—rrgh!

Bull laughs even as Dorian stomps away from them, the mage kicking piles of sand as he goes. Fire blasts from his fingertips—the sand falling in shards of jagged glass that stab furiously into the ground. “Good! I like that energy! Stoke those fires, big guy!” he encourages, getting a middle finger and a few choice words in Tevene for his efforts.

“You two are real weirdies, you know that?” Sera says when she recovers from her fit of giggling, brushing sand out of her blonde uneven hair.

“How so?” Bull asks, leaning back against the rock as Beatrix stands up and goes to follow after Dorian worriedly. The redhead had missed the whole conversation since she was looking over the map. A good thing, Bea has her own shit to worry about without needing to look in on Bull and Dorian any more than she already has.

“I mean, you’re qunari, kinda. And he’s Tevinter, kinda. And you two kinda get on alright, but then one of you says somethin’ stupid and shits it all up. It’s funny an’ all tha’, but it’s gettin’ old too. Can only bend somethin’ so far ‘til it breaks,” Sera states, surprisingly perceptive. Bull’s blinking, considering her words when she suddenly says, “Oh, you know what? Next time he goes all high-and-mighty Tevinter on you, wham-! Pie to the face. Heh heh, it’d be brilliant!”

Bull snorts, shaking his head. In the distance Dorian’s shouting and Beatrix is trying to calm him down. This song and dance is going to get old.

This is why teammates aren’t good for one-nighters… stupid… Bull thinks. We’re just too different, too messed up by our own people… can only bend so far until we break. I don’t want to break. If I do… if I…

“For a second there, you almost said something smart, Sera,” is all he says, sighing and brushing the sand from his pants as he stands.

“Thanks!” Sera says brightly and then pauses, “Hey, wait a minute--! Arse-biscuit!

They’re climbing through the twisting turns of the canyon. Dorian looks like he’s wilting against his staff as Beatrix pulls the energy from another rift, sealing it with a gesture of her hand. Bull’s actually starting to worry that Dorian’s getting heatstroke, but the mage just ignores him when Bull offers his water skin again, plugging his nose instead.

Vishante kaffas!—Don’t you ever bathe?!” he demands, waving Bull away in annoyance.

The girls are far enough away that Bull feels comfortable enough replying with a taunting, “You like it.”

Dorian stares at him with a very dull expression in return, not taking the bait this time.

“…sometimes,” Bull amends, smirking shamelessly, “You want to watch, don’t you?”

Dorian glowers at him in return, “I’d rather stand upwind.”

Bull rolls his eye, “Human sweat smells like pork that’s been left out in the sun. Just saying.”

Dorian frowns at that observation, but still lifts his own arm and sniffs underneath it. He recoils from his own stench, a look of repulsion on his face. “Ugh—well, you’re not wrong,” he admits, miserable, “What I wouldn’t give for a cool bath—”

“THANK ANDRASTE’S GORGEOUS PERKY TITTIES--WATER!” Sera all but screams from a few feet away.

Bull hears the sound of a splash and Beatrix yelping. When Dorian and he walk around the corner, he sees the Inquisitor and Sera playing in a giant spring that the cliffs shade, the duo laughing and shouting happily as they throw handfuls of water at one another.

“Wish granted,” Bull says, nudging Dorian with an elbow and getting a light punch in the bicep and a dazzling smile in return.

Maybe Sera’s wrong. So far they are okay with one another, inappropriate comments and gestures aside. It’s a delicate sort of balance, but it’s working. It’s enough. They can just keep on like nothing happened. I’d be okay with that instead of it being awkward and shit… instead of it messing us up…

They set up camp beside the springs, the forward scouts bringing supplies after Beatrix sends the signal up from their location. The area is clear of danger and the sun isn’t as burning hot here, the waterfall nearby cooling the air pleasantly.

Bull’s taking Dorian up on his suggestion-slash-insult. He’s found a spot in the pool that’s deep enough for someone of his size to use to bathe. It’s close to the waterfall too, so he can let the cool waters pound on his aching back. Carrying around an axe the size of a Bronto’s arse can wear down anyone after so long, even someone as big and strong as himself.

He’s sweeping water up under his pits, brushing away salty sweat from his chest with a rag when he hears a quiet splash. The pool ripples tellingly and he smirks as another reflection joins his in the water.

Okay so we’re not pretending nothing happened…? is all Bull manages to think before Dorian’s launching himself at him.

Dorian grabs at Bull’s shoulders with wet fingers. He’s all but growling as he mashes their mouths together, biting at Bull’s scarred lips, his tongue pressing in deep and demanding. Bull simply drops the rag, grasping at firm hips and that curvy ass that was begging to be pinched and squeezed. Dorian hitches his legs up, knees fitting perfectly to Bull’s sides.

This time Bull’s on the bottom, partially because the rocks wouldn’t be kind to Dorian’s back or hands and knees—and chiefly because Dorian all but shoves him down into the spring. There’s fire in the ‘vint’s eyes that sears through Bull, makes the big qunari docile as the mage all but sits on his face expectantly. Bull’s more than obliging as he licks into Dorian until the man’s moaning and gasping above him from the feel of Bull’s tongue and stubbly chin, the fingers that work up inside once Dorian is loose enough for it. All the while Bull’s stroking himself with his free hand, the taste and scent of the other man turning him on so fucking much; his cock thickening at how tight that sweet little hole grips his tongue. Dorian finally rewards Bull for his attentions by shimmying down his body and just sinking down fully on his achingly hard dick.

Dorian’s tan hands brace behind him on Bull’s thick thighs as he rocks eagerly up and down on him. The mage is twisting his hips like a belly dancer, milking out every glimmer of sensation. Bull doesn’t try to take command, just watching as Dorian’s bronze abdomen flexes with every slow undulation of his body. Dorian knows what he wants and Bull lets him have it, enjoying that tight heat that’s squeezing around his prick.

The water splashes rhythmically, louder, faster slaps as they grow closer. Dorian grabs Bull’s hand and puts it on his cock, Bull obliging him, stroking him off in time with their wild motions. The heavy crashing of the waterfall covers their sounds of completion, Bull roaring as Dorian throws his head back and moans deep, spilling against Bull’s stomach in several spurts.

Bull sits in the water, looking up at Dorian as the man nonchalantly hops off his lap and goes about the business of washing himself as though nothing had passed between them. The blush that’s spread all the way down to Dorian’s chest and the wet trickle of Bull’s seed down his inner thigh are the only indications of any naughty goings-on, and the latter Dorian’s already sweeping away with a handful of water.

“You know, if this is you scolding me, it’s not really working,” Bull notes, jawing a sprig of elfroot to clean his mouth out. He’s enjoying the view with his hand on his dick, stroking it slowly, already chubbing up again from watching Dorian bend to scoop up more water in his hands.

Dorian scoffs as he runs the rag he’s stolen from Bull over his shoulder, brown skin shining in the sun. “I’m not scolding you, Bull. You were making invitations, I am merely answering them…”

Right. So it’s all my fault you rode me like a bitch in heat. Bull thinks to himself. I can work with that.

Bull knows Dorian’s still so wound up in his Tevinter upbringing, despite walking away from it. It makes sense though, that Dorian’s still struggling with it. Dorian’s dad is a piece of work, definitely, but Bull can get why Dorian still worries about disappointing him. Bull tries not to think of tama. She must know about him by now. What she thinks of him, what she would think of this fling with a Tevinter mage so soon after turning from the Qun… especially considering—

Bull inhales sharply when Dorian’s suddenly there, straddling his stomach warmly and kissing his forehead, right between the horns.

“…you’re thinking too much about this and it’s annoying. Stick to what you know, Bull,” Dorian advises. There’s a wariness in his eyes though and Bull wonders if Dorian’s fearful because of Bull thinking too much or because Dorian himself is thinking too much.

“And what’s that?”

“Drinking, breaking beds and fighting,” Dorian says and Bull can’t help chuckling at that.

Simple. I can do that. Bull thinks, nodding and accepting the slightly approving kiss Dorian favors him with, taste of mint and citrus from the elfroot lingering between their lips. Dorian turns, tosses the wash rag at Bull. He’s straddling Bull’s thighs and is cruelly ignoring the fact that Bull’s practically poking him in the back with his hard-on, just letting it rub up against his ass.

“Now wash my back,” he demands and Bull rolls his eye, just barely resisting the urge to throw him into the waterfall instead.

They bathe together and Bull’s reward for his thorough washing of Dorian’s back is Dorian’s mouth on him, bringing him off once more. Bull returns the favor with his hands—one sliding thick fingers up into Dorian’s tight ass and the other on his cock, stroking him until he comes, gasping and clutching at the back of Bull’s neck for stability before he sags in his arms with a sigh of contentment.

They return to camp, Beatrix announcing that she finally has their bearings and that they will set out for the temple tomorrow morning. They talk by the fire as Bull makes dinner for them all. Bull’s happy that there’s finally the right stuff to make proper kebobs and he’s not wasting the opportunity to show off a little.

“Mmn—this is delicious!” Dorian says, voice full of surprise, “Are you quite certain this is a qunari recipe?”

“What, you didn’t think us savages knew how to make food?” Bull asks even as he hands Dorian the last kebob off his own plate, which the mage has been eyeing for about five minutes now.

“No, it’s just… I didn’t expect it to taste so good, I suppose. Your lot are all about practicality and all that so it didn’t really seem to make sense that you’d be able to make something flavorful when something bland takes less effort…” Dorian explains, tearing the meat off the skewer. At first the mage turned his nose up at eating with his hands like a quote-unquote animal. He was doing it with vigor now, making Bull grin a little at the sight of him, sauce staining Dorian’s fingertips.

“Maybe out in the battlefield where you can’t have a fire going for too long. At home in Par Vollen it’s different,” Bull explains with a shrug.

“This is great, Bull,” Beatrix enthuses, smiling even as she helps herself to more water. “Spicy though!”

“If you think this is bad, you should try some of his people’s food,” Bull says, nodding towards Dorian. “Three words: Valarian Dragonsblood Chiles. They put them in everything, even chocolate! Too much of those and they’ll tear off your taste buds.”

Dorian scoffs at that, smiles, “They’re only unkind to those of an inferior palate, Bull.”

“A pal-what?” Sera asks. Dorian sighs audibly in response and just points to his tongue in explanation. “Ooooh. Why not just say that?”

Beatrix laughs as Dorian rolls his eyes heavenward and continues to scarf down the food. “You’re a really good cook, Bull. Did you have to learn it as Ben-Hassrath? Survival training or something?” the Inquisitor asks curiously.

Bull rubs the back of his neck, not sure how to respond. He could lie, of course, he was good at that but… but Dorian’s looking at him curiously, although he’s not pressing the question like Bea is.

“Naw. I mean, yeah, we needed to learn the basics, making a fire, boiling water to clean it, how to field dress game…” Bull begins, “This kind of cooking? The tamassrans taught me.”

“Ah. Well I’m thankful for it anyways,” Beatrix says with a smile, smacking Sera’s hand away from her plate firmly. “Breakfast is on me though, you earned the right to sleep in with this dinner.”

“Heh, thanks boss,” Bull replies, lips tipped up in a smirk.

The fire’s lower as Bull finishes cleaning up the utensils and plates from supper. Sera’s already snoring away in her tent and the Inquisitor’s lantern is still lit in hers, Bea turning in early to write some letters back to Skyhold.

“Unusual,” Dorian says from behind him, sitting back a little from the crackle of the fire. He’s got Bull’s blanket wound about his shoulders loosely, keeping off the chill of the desert night. “I thought your tamassrans only taught you what you needed to know and nothing more…”

Bull shrugs, continuing to scrub at a particularly sticky plate. Sera’s. She’s licked it clean but it’s still tacky and gross. “The tamassrans are supposed to just evaluate us and teach us our jobs, yeah...”

“But they taught you how to cook extraordinarily well because…?”

They didn’t,” Bull replies, shoulders stiff. Just leave it alone, Dorian…

Dorian catches onto Bull’s reluctance but because it’s Dorian, he doesn’t let up. “…are we playing a game here? Is there a code I’m supposed to be deciphering or some such?” Dorian asks sarcastically. “Is this one of those secret qunari spy things?”

“No, this is one of those drop it and leave it alone things,” Bull says, eyebrow twitching slightly.

Dorian knows he’s hitting a nerve and Bull doesn’t know why he continues to pursue it. But he does and it’s not good:

“Was it this tama who taught you?” he asks, indicating the corner of Bull’s blanket with a hand.

Bull’s not sure who is more surprised when the plate in his hands cracks in two, shards splintering and slashing his hand. He had no idea he was holding onto it so tightly until it was already shattering.

“Maker’s balls, Bull!” Dorian says, throwing off the blanket and rushing over as Bull just stares at his bleeding hands. “What was that about—oh, never mind, just let me—”

Dorian’s fingers glow with green light in the darkness as he murmurs foreign words, eyes flashing with magical energy. Bull shoves him backwards hard before he can touch him. Dorian yells as he falls into the nearby water with a loud splash.

Before Dorian can start swearing or throw some magic that was less curative and more deadly at his head, Beatrix throws open the flap of her tent, coming out with her hair tied up in a plaidweave cloth.

“What is going on out here?” she demands, looking to them for explanation.

Bull’s at a loss for words. He hasn’t lost control over his emotions like that in ages and he doesn’t know what to say or do. What is going on with me? Why am I acting like this? I…

“It’s nothing,” Dorian says, words breaking Bull out of his stupor, “I think I had a bit too much of that horrible dwarven swill Harding foisted on us. Took a bit of a tumble but I’m fine. The freezing cold water is doing wonders to clear my head.”

Beatrix raises her brow at Dorian like she’s not finding him particularly convincing. She looks back to Bull. Bull manages to make his face blank, shrugs and reaches to help Dorian up out of the water—

“Bull, your hands!” Beatrix says with alarm.

“Ah, yes, that. I may have unwittingly wounded our warrior on my way into the water…” Dorian says with finesse, not taking the hand and hauling himself up out. He’s sopping and shivering a little from it.

“Dorian!” Beatrix chides, going up to Bull, “Let me see.”

“It’ll be fine—no magic,” Bull says, drawing his palm away. Dorian’s walking towards his tent, squeezing out his robes along the way when Beatrix stops him with her words.

“Dorian, I really think you ought to say something to Bull!” she insists, looking like she’s the one with slashed hands.

Bull’s about to tell her it’s not necessary, about to laugh it off, to pile some more lies about being fine on top of Dorian’s lies when Dorian stops and nods. The mage puts a hand to his heart and bows in a way that isn’t mocking at all.

“I apologize for hurting you, Bull,” he says, words sincere. His eyes meet Bull’s for a long moment before he turns away, disappearing into his tent.

Beatrix shakes her head at that, looking up at Bull curiously. She’s smart, so smart for being so young and it is obvious to her that something is amiss. But she’s not demanding or prying, at least not with her friends. Bull is glad to be one of her friends and not one of her enemies.

“What was that all about, really?” she asks even as she helps bind up Bull’s palms. Dorian’s slender hands appear from his tent flap, dumping all his wet clothing outside of the flaps, nudging the pile towards the fire in hopes that they would dry.

“…I don’t know,” Bull says and it’s not even a lie.

Bull stays out by the fire for a long time after that, tending it. Beatrix is asleep and Sera’s still snoring. Dorian’s light mumbling sounds start in around the same time Bull’s taking the mage’s clothing and wringing it out properly, placing it closer to the fire and turning it until it is mostly dry. The morning sun will take care of the rest.

Before he knows what he’s doing, Bull’s slipping underneath the flap of Dorian’s tent. The mage is asleep, breathing softly and murmuring away. Bull is very careful as he touches his shoulder to wake him but Dorian startles anyways, gasping before realizing who it is in his tent.

“Kaffas—Bull, you nearly gave me a heart attack…” Dorian whispers sharply.

“Sorry,” Bull says lamely, “For that and… for earlier. I’m not normally—”

Dorian puts three fingers to Bull’s mouth, stopping him from continuing.

“It’s like you said before, Bull. Family stuff can be rough. I shouldn’t have pried,” Dorian replies quickly, sounding a little anxious himself.

Bull doesn’t know what to think or say, this situation so new to him and strange. Scary too, in some ways, but he won’t admit that, not to Dorian.

“But if you really want to make it up to me…” Dorian says, voice all suggestion.

Simple. I can do that… Bull thinks, reaching under Dorian’s bedroll. Dorian’s slapping his already smarting hands away in an instant. “Ow!”

“Not that way, you idiot,” Dorian huffs and then maneuvers himself so his back is against Bull’s chest, pulling the other man’s arm around his bare waist. Dorian feels chilly still and Bull suddenly understands what the mage wants. He tucks his body around Dorian’s, radiating heat.

“Mmmph…” Dorian sighs in pleasure, sinking back into Bull’s arms. He shuts his eyes and starts to doze off, but not before mumbling, “You better be back in your tent before morning. I am not dealing with Sera’s mockery if she sees this…”

Bull snorts, rolls his eye. “…fair enough,” he agrees.

True to his word, Bull wakes before the sun. Dorian’s drooling slightly, hair a mess from having dried overnight and moustache skewed so one side is pointing up and the other is pointing down rather than being perfectly curled. Bull chuckles at the sight of him, wondering if anyone else has gotten the privilege of seeing Dorian so imperfect, doubting it.

He slips out of the tent after extricating himself from Dorian’s limbs and tucking the mage into the bedroll. The sun’s already heating the air and Dorian’s clothing is only a bit damp to the touch. Bull notices his blanket is still sitting by the smoldering firepit from when Dorian threw it off the night prior.

Bull picks it up, brushing the sand off it. He examines the corner of it with a sigh, thumb passing over the dragon sewn into the fabric. Hidden away. Always. Had to always hide that we loved each other, you and me tama…

He puts his nose to the blanket. Dorian’s cologne overwhelms but Bull can still smell the ancient smoky scent of spices and herbs deep in the folds of the fabric.

Bull is eight. His horns are barely stubs but he’s big for his age. The tamassrans have already got him pegged for military work and he’s okay with that. He likes to punch things.

Being so big has disadvantages when living among people who ration everything. Bull’s never gone hungry persay but…

Tama’s back is to him as she finishes setting the skewers on the platter. It’s full of them and each of the children will get three a piece for dinner, no more, no less. Bull licks his lips.

She turns suddenly and Bull throws himself into hiding. Her hazel eyes pass over the kitchen curiously before she shrugs and continues to chop vegetables, not wasting a piece.

Bull’s shoulder bumps against a bag of potatoes, one rolling free. He catches it before it makes too much noise. Holding it in his hand, he smirks, looking over to where the pots and pans are hanging over the ovens.

He’s not just good at punching. He’s got great aim. The pots and pans go crashing down, tama cursing in a way that would get Bull a harsh spanking if he dared copy the words. She rushes to the other side of the kitchen to pick up the mess and Bull makes his move.

He gets nine skewers, running from the kitchen, from the compound, from everything. His heart is pounding from the thrill of his crime and he tears into his prize with delight, fingers and mouth sticky with sauce when he finishes, hands on his now rounded stomach.

He washes his hands in the stream, his face. Much as he hates to do it—the skewers taste so good—he chews elfroot to mask the spice on his breath. Walking back home, he has his nose in the air, feeling pretty damn good about himself.

Up until he sees the Ben-Hassrath agent standing at the doors to his compound. Tama’s next to the hulking male, her arms folded across her chest, expression radiating frustration.

“F-3-8-U-1-1?” he addresses Bull, who swallows hard, feeling like he may throw up his ill-gotten gains. “I have some questions for you…”

The questioning goes on for thirty minutes. Apparently one of the other kids (W-3-A-5-E-1… Bull’s going to kick his ass) saw him running from the compound but didn’t see much else. The skewers were missing and three children were to go hungry without them. Everyone knows it’s Bull’s favorite dinner and he’s the only one who was out of doors during the time the skewers vanished.

“I’m telling you, I don’t know what happened to them!” Bull insists, passionately.

“And I’m telling you you’re lying,” the Ben-Hassrath growls, “Confess now and the consequences will be less harsh, F-3-8-U-1-1.”

Bull’s heart is pounding in his throat even as he replies, “If you’re wanting me to confess then that means you don’t know whether or not I did it. So I ain’t gonna say nothin’ but what I already said: I. Didn’t. Do. It.”

The large man looks a little taken aback by Bull’s severity, eyes searching, seeking. Bull takes a breath and another like tama taught him to do when he was scared. His face goes lax, expressionless, giving nothing away…

“…I swear on Koslun’s horns, sir,” he says quietly.

“If he says he didn’t do it,” Tama suddenly interjects, eyes harsh on the Ben-Hassrath, “Then he didn’t do it. Now are you going to let him and two children go hungry because some rats got into the kitchen and stole their dinner or are you going to give us the rations we need?”

The big man looks cowed. Tama’s much younger than the Ben-Hassrath, but she’s a female, a tamassran and when she speaks the men listen .

“…very well. The supplies will be delivered shortly,” the man finally says, sighing, “My apologies for casting suspicion on one of your charges, tamassran.”

“You were only doing what you are supposed to, Ben-Hassrath,” tama replies. Bull’s feeling victorious but he can’t help but notice tama is still tense. She remains so until well after the man leaves, the rations sitting on her kitchen table.

Bull’s edging out of the kitchen when she says, “Bull.”

She doesn’t say it unless they’re alone together. And she never says it so seriously. The name she’s given him. Not the Qun. Her.

He goes to her side obediently, “What is it, tama—” he barely gets out before her hand crashes across his face. He tumbles, eyes watering as he crouches low, face sore and shocked.

“Do you know what they would have done if they found out? Do you even understand, Bull?!” she hisses. She can’t yell. The other children are playing in the other rooms, his ‘brothers and sisters’. Other tamassrans are wrangling them together in anticipation of the dinner bell.

“I didn’t do it—” Bull starts and then ducks when she raises her hand again. She doesn’t hit him this time, breathing hard. Tears form at the edges of her eyes.

“Don’t lie to me, Bull,” she says and then sighs, gesturing him to come near. She touches just under his jaw, finger coming away sticky with a stray drop of red sauce. It normally looks appetizing, but held so accusingly on her fingertip it looks like blood. “Never lie to me.”

Bull’s eyes feel like they’re swollen. His chest hurts. It’s so… it’s…

“They would have taken you away from me, Bull,” she says and he’s crying, throwing himself into her apron, apologizing over and over. She doesn’t refuse him, doesn’t coolly pat him on the head like the other tamassrans, doesn’t say ‘there, there’ in that dispassionate tone…

Tama crouches, throws her wide arms around him and hugs him tight to her bosom. She smells like the earth and the herbs that are drying in the window. She’s crying too and he can feel it. How scared he’d made her. He’s sorry, so so sorry…

Tama composes herself because she has to, they both do. They can’t be seen like this, all feelings, raw and lain bare for all to see. It’s too much like a mother and child and there are no families under the Qun. Not like that.

She wipes her eyes, then his, edge of her apron cleaning the snot from Bull’s face. She takes a breath and then another, smiles wearily.

“I love you, you know that, right? You know that,” she insists and Bull nods.

“Then you must never do anything like that again, do you understand?”

Bull nods again, more fervently. Tama sighs in relief and then straightens. She looks over her shoulder, the dinner bell is still far off and no one but Bull would sneak into the kitchens like this.

“Well then…” Tama tosses her spare apron at Bull. “…the least you can do is correct your mistake. Come on, over here… chop these ones first…”

Hand over hand, tama teaches him to chop and stir and cook. Bull takes it in as thoroughly as he would any religion or combat lesson, asking questions. The conversation eases them both, she rubs the stubs where his horns will be coming in and smiles softly.

“Lying to a Ben-Hassrath and getting away with it… I think you would be wasted in the military, little bull,” she remarks as they look happily at the completed meals laid out on the table. She draws her hands away when the dinner bell rings and shoos him from her side.

They can never be this way together. Not in front of them. Not in front of the eyes of the Qun.

They return to Skyhold a week later after fighting through some creepy magical crypts. The boss had gotten struck by some strange light—reporting she felt stronger after it, somehow. Bull figures she’s used to that kinda crazy crap by now, doesn’t worry himself.

He’s in his rooms rather than down in the tavern for once, carving into a hunk of wood with a blade. He’s not like Blackwall, has no talent for this. All he does is flick the thick shavings into the fire, watching them popping and burning and blackening in the flames.

Fire is an element Bull is very familiar with.

Dorian comes to him, throwing open the door carelessly and kicking it shut behind him. Bull raises an eyebrow, setting the wood block aside.

Dorian’s gait is haughty and regal, fingers curling into the hem of the royale sea silk shirt he’s wearing today—pulling it up and over his head with a roll of cocoa-colored skin that is very nearly Bull’s undoing.

“Pants off, now,” he demands, snapping his fingers at Bull, “And if you toss them on the fire after, I’ll give you a real show…”

“No,” Bull responds, stabbing the blade into the block of wood for safekeeping.

“What do you mean, no?” Dorian says, looking aghast. His face pinks too, obviously taken aback by being denied.

“I mean no. N-O,” Bull says, “How do they say it in Tevene… non certe?” he questions and Dorian’s looking incredibly put-out, arms folding protectively across his bare chest. The mage seems strangely vulnerable too, a touch shy.

“…may I ask why the sudden reluctance, Bull?” he asks unhappily, picking up his shirt and fussing with it, not meeting the other man’s eyes. “…is it because… is my being a Tevinter mage a problem now?”

It really should be.

“No,” Bull replies. “Us not talking about any of this is a problem.”

“What is this?” Dorian asks, uneasy, “Don’t tell me you’re wanting to venture into mutual domesticity. I cannot imagine the difficulty of picking out china patterns with you…”

“No, of course not,” Bull says quickly and arches an eyebrow at the flash of… something… across Dorian’s face. He just misses the expression because Dorian’s throwing his shirt back on, which is a damn shame, “I mean talking about what we’re doing. The sex.”

“…oh,” Dorian says, chewing at the inside of his cheek, “So I take it—”

“—oh you do. Very very well—” Bull jokes and grins at the way Dorian just rolls his eyes and continues.

“Shut up. I assume there is some measure of dissatisfaction on your part?”

“None at all,” Bull says, “But if we’re going to do anything further, we need to lay down some ground rules. I don’t like going into this sort of thing blindly—”

“—says the man with one eye—” Dorian interjects because he’s not about to Bull get away with making fun without getting a few punches of his own in. Bull barely resists the urge to smack Dorian on the ass for that one. It’s a good thing the other man withdrew in reaction to being denied, is out of range of Bull’s annoyance.

“What I mean is, if we’re going to continue—which I would very much enjoy—we need to talk this out. Boundaries. What you like and you don’t like. How far you’ll let me push you,” Bull explains, gaze running up and down Dorian’s body covetously.

The mage shivers in place, tucks his arms closer to his chest, huffs. “Well… first off, don’t expect me to call you ‘daddy’ anytime soon…” he says, voice very dry.

“Kinda figured that one. How about tying you up?”

“I prefer rope to chain, though cuffs are fine so long as they’re lined… I’d rather not twirl a staff around all day with chafed wrists,” Dorian says.

“Bruised ones though?” Bull asks, voice a touch rougher.

“…I… mmn…. maybe,” Dorian manages, throat sounding dry, bobbing as he swallows hard. Bull smirks at that, he’s also getting hot just talking about this with the mage. Dorian’s drawing nearer, like Bull’s pulling him closer by an invisible length of rope. “I’ll admit it, I’m not terribly familiar with this sort of thing having a ‘protocol’ to it. Most of the time it was just spur of the moment. Spontaneous. It was fun… sort of. Different…”

“You didn’t like it, did you?” Bull surmises.

Dorian sighs, “It was all fun and games until my fingers went numb and he’d off and fallen asleep so I had to burn my way out of the rope…”

“Amateur,” Bull says, shaking his head. Damn shame, that. “You use a watchword?”

“No—what’s that?” Dorian asks, sitting on the bed beside Bull now. The curiosity in his eyes makes Bull want to rip his clothing off and just show him. Bull clenches his fists in the bedspread, resists the animal urges.

“It’s like a code word… something you say when you want to stop whatever we’re doing…” Bull explains.

“And why wouldn’t just ‘stop’ be sufficient?” Dorian wonders, arching an eyebrow.

Bull smirks slightly, “I know you, Dorian. You like to play with fire, even if you get burned. The watchword will help us keep you from getting singed too badly, trust me…”

And me. It’ll keep me safe too… he thinks but doesn’t say because Dorian doesn’t need to know that and wouldn’t understand anyways.

“Do you have one?” Dorian wonders, blinking at Bull.

“Mmn,” Bull nods, “Katoh.”

“Katoh? Is that Qunlat?” Dorian wonders, “What does it mean?”

“Stop,” Bull explains simply and Dorian snorts.

“Wow, how creative…”

“Heh, it works with non-qunari pretty well. Among my own people I just use ‘stop’ because most of ‘em don’t know common tongue. S’easy to remember. And besides… you wanna pick something you’re not likely to shout out by accident…”

“Besides…” Bull cracks his neck, rolls his huge shoulders and flexes his pectorals, the movement meaningful, suggesting strength. “You’d have to be pretty damn good to get me to say ‘stop’ or ‘katoh’…”

Dorian’s bright eyes narrow and Bull chuckles because he knows now that Dorian’s not going to back down from this. “So how about you?” Bull asks.

Dorian hums, thumbing at his lip as he thinks it over. A moment later, he’s got it, glancing over at Bull as he says, “Maleficar.”

Bull already figured that would Dorian’s answer, but hearing it aloud still makes him shudder inside. Makes him think of fire and the second lie he told tama. It’s a powerful word to Bull as well as Dorian.

It’s what Dorian never wants to become and what Bull fears him becoming. It’ll work.

“That’s a good one,” is all he says, nodding. Dorian’s sitting near him and Bull reaches for him, pulls him closer. “I want you to know, Dorian… I will never hurt you without your permission. You will always be safe with me. If you’re ever uncomfortable, if you ever want me to stop, say ‘maleficar’ and it’s over. No questions asked.”

“It’s a little unnerving how you have this down to a system, Bull…” Dorian notes but Bull can see how his shoulders loosen, how his whole body seems to lean in towards Bull’s, like the bigger man’s body is stability and Dorian needs to ground himself.

Bull smirks, leans over and kisses Dorian. They go at it for a few moments, tongues tangling, before he parts from the mage, “Systems are comfortable,” he says and his voice Is a rumble as he adds, “…and my goal… is for you to get very comfortable…”

Dorian’s breathing harder, eyes darkening with need, excitement. The curl of his lips as he smiles is so sensual and earnest…

“Good,” he manages to say, fingers exploring Bull’s chest, “So now that we’ve got that business all settled nicely…”

“Pants. Off. Now.” Dorian’s voice is more of a growl than actual speech.

Bull grins through scar-split lips. Bossy bottom. Didn’t need Ben-Hassrath training to figure that one out…

“Can do,” he says and twists them around, pinning Dorian firmly to the bed.

Dorian’s gone in the morning again. The sheets are a mess. Bull hauls himself up with a groan, knowing he should probably do something about that.

There’s a whisper of silk against the left side of his face. Bull turns, can’t see what’s touching him so he brings his fingers up to his face to capture the cloth. He tugs and realizes the cloth is attached. Tipping his head to the side, he manages to ease it off his horn.

Bull looks. And laughs, stretching the fabric between his fingers in recognition. It’s the red silken smalls he’d seen in Dorian’s room before they had gone to the coast. Bull’s not sure what to make of Dorian leaving them behind so blatantly but it makes him feel lighter, happier.

He’s not going to keep this feeling to himself. Not this time.

Their typical morning meeting around the war table is done. The Inquisition now has an invitation to Halamshiral for the peace talks that are to be held at the Winter Palace. There’s rumors of assassination but Bull’s not finding that particularly shocking because, well, Orlais.

Iron Bull tugs Dorian’s shoulder to get his attention. The mage raises an eyebrow at him quizzically and Bull asks in a mock-whisper, “So, Dorian, about last night…”

Dorian turns bright red and nobody’s talking all of a sudden, focusing on the two of them. Sera’s mouth is hanging open wide like a fish. Blackwall merely holds out his palms to both Varric and Cassandra, who slap royals into them bitterly.

“Nngh… Discretion isn’t your thing, is it?” Dorian asks in return, ignoring everyone’s reactions in favor of tapping his foot at Bull, arms folding across his chest.

“Three times!” Bull crows proudly and Dorian’s face is amazing to watch because he’s trying to be cross with Bull and it isn’t working. Dorian’s biting the corner of his lip trying not to smirk as Bull drapes himself over him. “Also, did you want those silky underthings back or did you leave those like a token… or, wait… did you ‘forget’ them so you’d have an excuse to come back—you sly dog!”

Dorian rolls his eyes and elbows Bull to get some breathing room. “If you choose to leave your door unlocked like a savage, I may or may not come!” he declares, not even bothering to try and lower his voice.

Bull doesn’t let him get away, snickering as he throws his arm back around the mage’s shoulders. Dorian doesn’t push him off even though his ears are burning hot. Papers flutter out of Josephine’s hands onto the floor and Cullen nearly brains himself on the table going to pick them up while still staring at the unlikely duo.

“Speak for yourself,” Bull says suggestively, giving a salute to Beatrix—who is just barely managing to stifle her laughter at the scene—as he ducks under the lintel and heads out the double doors with Dorian.

Chapter Text

Dorian’s struggling through the book Cassandra lent to him. He’s in the middle of a rather steamy but hilariously inaccurate description of a charmingly heterosexual coupling between the stalwart knight-captain and the Carta spy when Beatrix comes to call on him.

“…Swords and Shields?” she questions with a raise of an eyebrow.

“Believe it or not, it was a recommendation from your lady Seeker. I can feel my brain dribbling out my ears with every turn of the page,” Dorian replies, shutting the book and tossing it to the Inquisitor with a bark of laughter. Bea catches it, looking over the cover and chortling as well.

“Written by Varric Tethras—wait, Cassandra’s actually reading Varric’s writing? I thought she couldn’t stand him!” Beatrix gasps in surprise, eyes bright with mischief.

“The man, yes. His lewd scribblings, not so much. She’s quite the fan, actually,” Dorian explains, lounging back in his chair. He can see the new practice yard the Inquisitor put in from there. It’s a nice view, especially right now. Cullen and Iron Bull are sparring and the former has decided to join the latter in the ongoing campaign against wearing shirts.

Bull’s laughing as Cullen charges into him and tries to grapple him around the middle. The former Templar’s boots skid on the wet earth as he grunts and shoves against Bull. Bull stops laughing when clever Cullen smashes said boot on his in-step so the qunari will take the wrestling match seriously. Bull’s stomach flexes with his pained breaths, his abdomen rippling with that growl that Dorian’s become intimately familiar with as of late.

Dorian doesn’t realize how quiet he’s being, nor that he’s got the tip of his pinky caught between his teeth, biting down hard as he watches. He doesn’t realize it until the book thumps into his lap and Beatrix clears her throat loudly for attention.

“Ah, my apologies, woolgathering. What was it you were saying my lady?” Dorian says smoothly, clearing his throat and crossing his legs.

Beatrix rolls her eyes, appearing entirely unconvinced of his innocence. “Alright, let’s have it. What’s going on between you and Iron Bull, exactly?”

Dorian has some decency left in him, enough to warm his cheeks as he faces the Inquisitor’s curious gaze. “You were at the war table, were you not?” he asks and then sighs, rolling his eyes, “Honestly, if there were only a single discreet bone in that lummox…”

“You didn’t seem too terribly put out at the time, Dorian,” Beatrix reminds, leaning on the bookshelf across from him. Her eyes dart to the window and she just barely hides a smirk as Cullen manages to wrench Bull down into the mud with him. There’s a lot of on-lookers now, cheering and bets exchanging hands. “Then again, both of you do have a flair for the dramatic…”

Dorian sighs. He really isn’t upset about it—the matter was bound to get out at some point and better that the Inner Circle knew now instead of finding out much later when… if something went wrong. Which it wouldn’t because they weren’t—it wasn’t like that. Not like Beatrix and the commander— the latter currently being pinned down by a heavy qunari arm.

“Do you truly wish to know?” he asks, glancing up at her, their eyes meeting, “Is this an official concern or…?”

“How can I mock you properly if I don’t know the whole of it?” Beatrix teases and laughs at Dorian’s less-than-amused expression.

“Well I wouldn’t want to deprive you of that joy, now would I?” Dorian replies bitterly. Bad enough the whole circus about his sexuality, now there would be a whole other uproar that he’s having sex with Bull of all people. He takes solace in imagining his father soiling his smalls over the matter. It makes him smile a little.

“I’m asking as your friend, Dorian,” Beatrix insists, sounding put-out that he would even question her true intentions. Dorian’s not used to having friends—especially here in the south. The servants at Skyhold avoid talking with him if they’re able, the tavern master just grunts when Dorian orders at the bar and the blacksmith simply spat in response to his introduction. “How could I not know about this?”

Dorian sighs, rests his head back into his chair as he passes a hand over his warm face. “I wouldn’t want anyone to know about this… just like I wouldn’t want anyone to know I fancy Ferelden beer.”

Beatrix laughs, tuts, “Oh the shame, Dorian…”

Dorian’s mood lightens a little as he chuckles at that notion, straightening in his chair. He doesn’t have much of a choice at this point and he’d rather she know what’s going on than not. “Well… it’s something…” he begins, licking his lips, “A whole lot of something.”

He glances to his left, down into the courtyard. Bull’s muddy but victorious, Cullen wiping muck out of his blond hair and cursing, judging by the way Bull’s laughing at him.

“At first it was an ill-considered night after drinking… then there was a second time… and then…” Dorian trails off because Bull’s looking up towards the tower and he swears the qunari is looking right at him.

“Ill-considered?”

Dorian clears his throat, “Ah, well, it was the same night we laid waste to your tavern. Still quite sorry about that, by the way…”

“Sorrys don’t patch the spots of roof that lightning crashed through, Dorian,” Beatrix reminds. “I’m just concerned that this ‘something’ will affect how we work as a team. You two are always bickering anyways and that’s one thing but…”

Don’t tell me you’re wanting to venture into mutual domesticity. I cannot imagine the difficulty of picking out china patterns with you…

No, of course not.

Dorian shakes his head, looks away from the window. “I wouldn’t concern yourself, Inquisitor. It’s a dalliance, nothing more. I don’t know what’s ‘going on’ to be honest and I suspect neither does The Bull…”

He can’t truly blame Beatrix for her unease, however. It is all so new. New and a bit alarming. Who had ever thought that this could be? A Tevinter altus and a qunari, even one who is Tal-Vashoth?

Unheard of. Profane. Unseemly. Perverse.

Dorian’s smiling so hard his cheeks hurt from it and he laughs, unable to help himself.

“Now that I’ve said it aloud my ancestors are officially turning over in their graves,” he declares and leans back into his chair contentedly. “Ah well.”

“I would think your ancestors would be the least of your concerns,” Beatrix notes with slight amusement.

“And I,” Dorian says with renewed vigor, gliding from his position to grasp the Inquisitor around the waist and land a playful kiss upon her cheek, “Would think you have rather more to worry about than who is warming my bed, Inquisitor. Unless—ah, you’re jealous, aren’t you? Oh, my sweet Beatrix—you know you’re the only one for me, don’t you? If I were interested in the fairer sex I would take you in a manly fashion, right across that reading table over there—”

“You’re impossible and that is mahogany—you wouldn’t dare scratch it and you know it, you prat,” Beatrix sighs, batting Dorian away laughingly all the same. “Alright, fine, keep your stupid secret love affair then…”

“Ugh, don’t use that word…” Dorian complains, rooting through the bookshelves for need of something to do with his hands. He finds yet another copy of some Chantry nonsense, making a show of hurling it over the banister so that the already thoroughly scandalized Revered Mother sees the sunburst symbol drawn upon the leather go flying by. He feels a little badly when he hears a hiss of “Fenedhis!” from below. Whoops. Sorry, Solas

“What, ‘affair’?”

“No, the other one… the… l-word,” Dorian says, making mockery of the idea. “It’s not like that. We’re having sex, not making wedding vows and talking about whether we’ll raise the children under the Qun or the Chantry…”

Beatrix tilts her head, giving Dorian a curious look as she thumbs at her lip thoughtfully. He really hates that expression of hers because it means she’s thinking and that’s not always a good thing considering her penchant for meddling in the affairs of others. Dorian easily keeps his blasé expression intact and the moment thankfully passes.

“Very well. But don’t expect the others to let you two carry on without comment,” Beatrix says with a roll of her eyes, “I’ll try to tell them to mind their own business but that’s probably not going to do much. You know how everyone can be when there’s something new to gossip about.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Dorian replies easily enough.

He’s wrong though. Very very wrong.

Not only does he have to deal with freezing his bollocks off in the Emprise du Lion, closing rifts near the wrecked town of Sahrnia—there’s also this:

“HAHAHAHAHAHAAA!” Sera laughs loudly, slapping her knee. It’s the first time Dorian’s traveled with the archer since the war table incident.

“Something particularly funny?” he asks, humors decidedly foul. He’s burrowing into his cowl further, nose dripping unbecomingly into his moustache as he sniffles, rubbing his arms to keep warm.

“You. And Bull!” Sera says, snorting and cackling like a witch of the wilds.

Dorian reddens, scowls, “I… I’m glad it amuses you!”

Bull’s up ahead with Beatrix surveying the damage. The buildings of Sahrnia are burnt out hovels with hungry eyes peering out desperately. Bull’s still shirtless despite the freezing weather. How he does it, Dorian doesn’t know. But he’s very envious, shivering away in the layers he has on to try and combat the bitter chill.

“But what I get from my affairs,” Dorian begins primly, eyes tracing the interesting slopes and curves of the multitude of muscles in Bull’s wide back, “…is my affair.”

Sera snorts, elbows him with a smirk and Dorian glowers at her for catching him gawking. “I know what you get,” she says tauntingly, “It’s like falling through a tree into custard.”

“….what in the Void does that mean?” Dorian wonders as they walk over to their comrades. It is, of course, a mistake to ask.

“Too high! WHAM! Too fast! WHAM! Leaves! WHAM! SPLAT!” Sera imitates—with accompanying motions, wiggling her finger in front of her nose like a moustache to indicate Dorian’s squawking lines and putting her thumbs to her temples to pretend to have Bull’s horns while making a very lewd thrusting motion with her pelvis.

Dorian’s not sure if he should laugh or cry at the display, putting his face into his palm in embarrassment. “I’m not sure what’s worse: the mockery or the accuracy…” he says and then jumps when he hears Bull chime in suddenly—

“Ehn… depends on how much rest the tree’s had!” the qunari grins, because of course he’s listening in.

Sera breaks off into peals of giggles as Dorian makes a rude gesture at his horned ‘paramour’ for the unnecessary commentary. Bull just winks, taking it—all of this, really—in such stride that Dorian’s feeling envious of it. Almost moreso than he is of Bull’s ability to be a living furnace—though not quite.

That night he still waits for Sera to be off snoring before he shivers his way across the camp, kicking through the slush with a whimper of, “Cold cold cold cold!” before sliding under the flap of Bull’s tent. The qunari grunts in response to being woken up out of his light slumber. Bull seems to recognize who it is very quickly even though Dorian still witnesses his hand go to the haft of the hand-axe just behind his pillow in reaction.

“Go back to sleep,” Dorian says, curling up against Bull’s chest and putting his cold face against warm scarred skin, huddling under the blankets. “It’s just a dream.”

“If it was a dream, you’d be naked and oiled… and not so damn cold,” Bull mumbles, sliding his arm around Dorian all the same.

“Mmn, can’t say I mind your dreams,” Dorian replies, shutting his eyes once the shivering stops. His hand trails over Bull’s shoulder, vitaar still painted onto it in intricate patterns. Hardened, the poisonous substance is no longer hazardous for Dorian to touch and it makes Bull’s skin like steel. It reminds him, like the flashes of yellow and red scales on a serpent’s sinuous form, that Bull is a dangerous weapon.

Before I let you go to the market, Dorian… tell me what do you do if you see a hostile qunari coming towards you?

Put up a barrier, flashfire incantation if he tries to close in, then run to the Magisterium to get you, father…

That’s my good boy. Be safe.

Dorian only means to stay until however long it takes to stop feeling like his toes are icicles—Bull’s a whole head and a half taller than him so he can tuck his feet around the other man’s calves, warming them easily. But the hours pass faster than he expects and when he’s cracking his eyes open it’s nearly dawn, cool grey sunlight blinking through the slight part of the tent’s flap.

“No… don’t…”

Dorian startles, he’s pulling on his boots to go back to his tent when he hears Bull muttering. He is about to reply when he realizes Bull’s not talking to him. His eye is still shut, eyelid flickering rapidly as he murmurs.

“You idiot… I told you… so much… so much blood… get away from him… get away…!

Bull’s shaking. Hands balling into fists at his side. Dorian’s heartbeat swells sickly in his throat. Again he’s facing a moment he’s certain isn’t his to witness, another secret. He should finish lacing his boots, the others will be up soon…

“Bull—you’re having a nightmare. C’mon you big idiot, wake up—” Dorian demands, feeling unnerved and strangely helpless. He puts out a hand to shake Bull’s shoulder—

There’s an explosion of movement that almost takes the tent down around them. Dorian’s back hits the ground hard, one big hand around his throat, choking the breath from him. Bull’s got the hand-axe in the other, has it at the ready. Dorian squawks in panic, freezing like a fennec caught in the eyes of black wolf, eyes bulging and desperate as he protects his airway as best he can with a hand. Bull looks disoriented, looking at Dorian, his surroundings, the axe in his hand…

“It’s me, Bull,” he manages to get out through the bare snatches of air he’s allowed. “It’s Dorian. I’m your friend.”

Bull’s breathing hard through his nose, chest working like he’s run countless miles. Slowly his hand eases up off Dorian’s throat and the axe is set on the ground—cast away at a distance as though Bull is fearful of picking it up again. Dorian sits up, coughing into a palm and rubbing his tender neck. He doesn’t know what to say. Never in his life has he ever seen—

Why are their people at war with ours all the time? It’s all ancient history, isn’t it?

They’re not people, Dorian, not like you and me. They’re wild animals, mindless oxen. They consume, they rut and they kill. So we kill them first. It’s for their own good, like putting down a mad dog…

“I’m… I’m sorry…” Bull manages, face a mask of pain. Sweat pours from his temple as he puts a palm against his forehead, eye scrunching shut. “I don’t know what… Dorian, I forgot you were there… just… just give me a second…”

Dorian shakes his head quickly like it will rid him of Magister Halward’s pedantic speech, stumbles out of the tent with unlaced boots fearfully. He nearly trips over the loose lacings, manages not to and gets into his own tent before the rest of the camp awakens.

He spends an extra ten minutes in bed clutching his pillow to his face tensely. Tellingly, it’s Sera who comes to complain about his tardiness instead of Bull, threatening to shoot an arrow in his butt if he doesn’t start moving it.

Bull doesn’t act any differently around the camp as they make ready to go into Sahrnia to offer relief, having closed the nearby rifts threatening the town the day before. The qunari’s actually very quiet, save for when he’s handing out blankets to the children. The little refugees look as uneasy as Dorian feels as they approach the horned giant from the broken buildings. It seems but a blink of an eye until they’re hanging off his horns, his arms, and every part of him. Laughing and cheering as The Iron Bull bears their weight with an easy smile and a big laugh.

It’s only after they’re gone, those who have parents and homes still running to them, others finding refuge in Inquisition-created shelters—that Bull sits down heavily and puts his head in his hands. Dorian’s still wary, but he can’t help but notice how worn Bull looks for someone who was just happily spinning children around in his arms.

They’ve got some time before the ball at Halamshiral and there’s enough distraction in the interim to keep Dorian busy. He hasn’t spoken to Bull since the incident, having taken to wearing high collared robes until the fingermarks on his neck have gone. Bull’s keeping his distance as well and it is only serendipity that causes their paths at Skyhold to cross when they do.

Dorian’s familiar with the poking and prodding that comes with a fitting. Bull is not apparently, judging by how he crashes through the curtain that separates their dressing rooms. He’s swearing and sending the tailors and seamstresses ducking for cover until he realizes Dorian’s standing in front of him in his stocking feet and dress pants.

“Shit—sorry, Dorian,” he apologizes and even covers his eye with a hand politely despite having already seen every inch of Dorian’s body many times before. Dorian’s unease all but vanishes at that boyish gesture. He’s ridiculous.

“Not good with needles, I take it?” Dorian wonders, swallowing around that lump in his throat. Bull’s a mess—he’s popping through the seams of the jacket they’re trying to get on him, missing the button of his trousers and his sash is far too short for his figure.

“Pretty sure they’re trying to kill me in there,” Bull replies and doesn’t need to see Dorian’s flinch to realize that he’s misspoke. “Shit. I didn’t mean—”

They’re not people, Dorian, not like you and me.

Dorian bats Bull’s hand away from his face so the other man will look at him. There’s no marks upon his neck and that is where Bull’s eye falls first, meaningfully so, guilt clear on the taller man’s face.

“You’re an absolute disaster,” Dorian declares, throat catching as he speaks. He unceremoniously shoves at Bull to get him walking back to his dressing room and calls to the servants to return. Bull doesn’t resist Dorian pushing him back up on the dais, nor does he react when Dorian orders extra lengths of velveteen and silk brocade to be brought in. Dorian helps pin the new materials to Bull’s outfit, guiding the seamstress to let out the jacket enough for Bull to have breathing room—though not too much to hide his physique of course.

Bull watches him do this quietly, not a single smart remark slipping between his lips. Dorian’s hands shake as they skate the expanse of Bull’s chest but he doesn’t give any other indication of discomfort, rattling on about who knows what, filling the air between them with words.

“Oh, oh-! Dorian, can you help me too? This outfit feels uncomfortable…” Cole asks, suddenly appearing from behind another dressing screen and making both of them jump.

Cole’s pale skinny shoulders are bare and it takes Dorian and Iron Bull a long minute of silence to take in the whole image. Cole’s long toes poke out from the hem of the full-length ball gown, the material a soft gauzy periwinkle with ribbons trailing behind and little gems sewn into the bodice stretched across his slender chest.

Bull looks at Dorian, Dorian looks back and they both burst out into laughter, unable to help themselves. Bull’s practically wheezing and Dorian’s face is ruddy when he finally catches his breath. Cole just blinks at them in confusion, hands bunching in the gown and lifting it up to his pale calves so he can walk without tripping.

“L-let’s get you sorted out, Cole...” Dorian manages, “Besides… periwinkle? I see you more as a vision in white or scarlet at the very least…”

“I like blue,” Cole says petulantly, “…dresses are nice and airy and they look pretty when they spin… but I keep tripping over the edges… can you tell them to stop doing that, Dorian?”

“That’s not how clothing works, Cole, trust me. I’ve been trying to order mine around for years now. C’mon, off with that…” Dorian helps him out of the gown, calling for another Inquisition uniform to be brought up for a fitting.

Cole’s sitting beside Bull on the dais, still wearing the white slip, his bare toes crossing over one another. Dorian’s fussing over his own sash in the mirror when he hears Cole speaking to the qunari.

“Buildings burnt out and battered, children cry in the streets. Vasaad was angry, he went first because he wanted to fight,” Cole says, touching Bull’s arm carefully, “Taking point; then points take him, red on his neck…”

Dorian catches Bull’s expression in the mirror—it isn’t the cautiously blank stare he normally gives when Cole pries into his mind. Raw hurt shows in Bull’s face and he’s looking right back at Dorian.

“Idiot, I told him, so much blood—so much blood,” Cole states, voice a poor mimicry of Bull’s gruff tones, swallows hard, “Get away from him, you damn vintsget away!

“Kid, you in my mind again?” Bull asks wearily, “Could give a guy a little warning before you do that…”

“Even if you went in first, there would have been another fight,” Cole insists, “Another time he didn’t listen. It wasn’t your fault.”

Bull shakes his head, “Yes, it was. I was in charge. I should have found a way to…”

Before Cole can argue his point further, Dorian’s there, putting the newly-arrived uniform into the boy’s arms. “There you are, go and put this on,” he says, all but wheeling Cole back behind the dressing screen. Only when Dorian notes the boy pulling the slip over his head, skinny arms tangling over the top of the screen, does he sit beside Bull.

“I had no idea it was that bad,” Dorian says.

Bull, to his credit, doesn’t try to play dumb or act aloof about the situation. He swallows, nods once, tightly.

“Sahrnia… those orphans and refugees… hit closer to home than I thought it would,” Bull admits. A beat later, he turns towards Dorian urgently, “Dorian, I didn’t mean to—”

Dorian grips his fingers on Bull’s rough horns, tugging him down for a brief silencing kiss. I know. It’s terrifying, but I know.

“Tell me what you need,” Dorian says, earnest. He glances over his shoulder, Cole’s still fussing with his outfit behind the screen. “What you need to make this right between us.” Dorian’s certain that a simple ‘I forgive you’ won’t suffice and he’s right.

Bull nods, relief clear on his face and he leans into Dorian’s ear, tells him.

Later that night the fire’s crackling away in the grate in Bull’s room because Dorian refuses to undress until he deems it warm enough to do so. The tails of the flogger trail along Dorian’s thigh. They’re cool to the touch, but they’ll warm up soon enough. Dorian adjusts his grip on the handle of the device, runs his fingers along the braided cords of soft halla leather.

“…are you sure about this?” he asks, chewing on his lip. Dorian’s nervous but undeniably aroused by the sight in front of him. A dark cloth is wound over Bull’s nose, both eyes blind for the moment as he turns his head towards the sound of Dorian’s voice.

Bull’s naked on his knees on the bed, black rope pulling his huge arms back.

Earlier in the evening Bull showed Dorian how to do it properly, taught him how to loop the ropes through one another, where to put pressure and where to let the ties slacken.

Now, with Bull’s back arching to compensate for the stress of the position, all that silvery muscular skin is bare for Dorian’s perusal. His throat is dry and he’s not sure where he wants to look first. Sloping shoulders, biceps the size of melons, chest twice the breadth of his own, thick corded thighs and further down…

Bull laughs shortly, like he knows Dorian’s eyes are on his round, muscular arse. “Losing your nerve already, Dorian? That’s not like you…”

Dorian’s hand crashes lightly on Bull’s haunch, earning an approving rumble from the oaf. “Oh shut up,” he says, embarrassed, but then clears his throat, asking, “Do you remember your watchword?”

Bull stops laughing, face turning serious as he nods, “It’s katoh. Yours?”

“Maleficar,” Dorian replies and takes a breath. This is exciting and strange and arousing. All this power Bull’s giving him. Yes, Bull could probably break his restraints if he really tries—but he isn’t trying. Bull’s giving Dorian his trust because he wants Dorian to trust him in turn. It makes Dorian’s breath catch more than the way the leather whispers along scarred grey skin, Bull’s muscles bunching and tensing in anticipation.

Dorian strokes his fingertips up the same path the leather’s taken, up between where sweat already beads between Bull’s shoulder blades, round his nape and over the curve of his throat. The bristles of Bull’s dark scruff tickle the pads of his fingers as his turns the other man’s head so he can kiss him. Bull responds eagerly, tongue urgent against Dorian’s own, breath leaving the qunari in a gust that’s half a laugh when Dorian’s teeth pull roughly against his lower lip.

“You’re so good at that,” Bull rumbles, praising Dorian, “Your lips are so damned delicious, fuck… more…”

Dorian’s breathing hitches. The approving words excite him more than the way Bull begs him for another kiss with his words and his body too, presenting his mouth as he tracks Dorian’s position from simply listening to him breathe.

Dorian’s teeth snap roughly by Bull’s ear, dragging against the point of it. “No,” he denies Bull and his instincts for this are right on, Bull moans at the denial. “You have to earn it.”

The mage backs away, breathing a touch harder as he trails the flogger along an angular jaw, watching how Bull’s nostrils flare as the qunari eagerly inhales the heavy scent of the leather. Bull turns towards the braids like he’s leaning into a kiss, damp lips parting slightly in anticipation. Dorian’s erection strains in his smalls and the big idiot has absolutely no right to look so sexy.

Dorian had taken a few practice swings earlier, smacked at the side of his thigh with the flogger just to see how it felt. It was a sharp sort of pain that melted into a warmth that suffused Dorian’s skin. Even if it didn’t seem to be too painful—it still boggled Dorian’s mind that Bull wanted this from him.

Bull’s groaning, frustration showing in his form as he bends further, shoulders lowering a touch more towards the mattress. His knees shift apart, showing off his half-hard cock bobbing between them. The way Bull’s physical stature, so huge and imposing, contrasts with the submissive pose just goes straight to Dorian’s dick. His grip on the flogger tightens, leather squeaking with the way he clutches it.

“Are you ready?” he asks, last touch of uncertainty clinging to him.

Yes,” Bull groans in response, “Dorian, please…”

The leather braids make a satisfying crack as they collide with Bull’s skin. Bull’s muscles bunch up in response and he hisses between his teeth. He doesn’t say katoh so Dorian continues, another strike to the other side, a touch harder. The shaking in his hand ceases and now Dorian’s going at it with vigor, figure-eights of the tails catching the round curve of Bull’s ass from every angle. His grey skin takes a lot of strikes before it even starts to flush, Bull groaning as he bows down to bear his weight on his shoulders, teeth biting the sheets.

Dorian pauses for a moment to admire his work, running his hand over the marks. The skin is so warm under his hand and Bull groans at the kinder touch.

“Does it hurt?” Dorian asks, throat tight, pulse pounding like he’s the one being whipped.

“No,” Bull starts to say, then shakes his head to deny the lie, “Yes. I mean, it’s good. I like it. It feels good, Dorian. This is the kind of hurt that… fuck… Dorian, please…”

He doesn’t make Bull explain himself. He will, at some point, but not now. Taking up the flogger again, he strikes harder, learning how to wield it better with each blow. The snapping motion of his wrist is not unlike the way he flourishes his staff and so it’s no trouble to do this. Still, he flinches when an ill-timed blow catches the inside of Bull’s thigh, making the other man’s voice catch in discomfort.

Kaffas-! Sorry, I’m sorry—” Dorian starts to say, hand stilling.

Bull growls in that way that makes his whole chest vibrate with the force of the sound: “Don’t. Stop.”

Thus instructed, Dorian continues—lightening the strikes for a few moments after that until his confidence builds back up. He can see that Bull’s enjoying this, even though he can’t completely understand why. Bull’s cock hangs rock hard between his spread thighs, balls flush and tensing with each strike. His spine curves, chest pressing to the bed as he arches himself back, presenting his arse higher to invite the blows. His ribs expand with every heavy breath. The word katoh never passes his lips even when his skin is bright red with welts.

Dorian’s stomach tenses, blood pooling unbearably in his groin as he realizes how much Bull is getting off on this. He stops a moment, runs his wrist over his forehead to wipe away the sweat gathering on his brow from the intensity of the scene. Bull’s breathing fills the room, so deep and masculine and needy.

Dorian runs his palms up from Bull’s thickly muscled thighs to the other man’s perfectly round arse. It’s all muscle and fever-hot from the strikes. Bull groans when Dorian’s hands squeeze over the marks possessively, but he doesn’t tell him to stop, doesn’t whisper the watchword. Instead Dorian’s name drops from his lips on a breathy huff. Dorian feels so important in that moment, Bull trusting him with his pain and his pleasure.

Dorian’s hand slips sneakily between the man’s legs. Bull’s balls brush the inside of his forearm as he runs his palm up along the other man’s rigid length, feeling it pulse in his hand. His foreskin is fully retracted, glistening head easily accessible for Dorian’s fingertip to tease around in slow circles. Bull moans, thrusts his hips as much as he can in his bent over position. Dorian’s teeth scrape over his shoulder, bear down hard and Bull stills, cursing.

“Do you need more?” Dorian asks and it’s crazy that he’s hoping Bull says yes when hours ago Dorian was approaching this with trepidation.

“Fuck, yes,” Bull manages to respond, grinning against the bedspread, breathily laughing, “I want to come but… just a little more… knew you’d be so good at this, Dorian, fuck…”

Dorian smirks, kisses the bite mark. “Bossy bottom, remember?” he teases Bull back with the words Bull had thrown at him the last time they’d had sex. It feels like forever since then, since he’s had this body all to himself…

He leans back, contemplates Bull’s figure a moment before he says, “Twenty more, then I’ll let you come. Will you count them for me?”

Bull nods once and his rumbled response, “Yes ser,” makes Dorian shiver.

Dorian takes up the flogger once more, waits to land the first blow. Bull’s body cords up in anticipation but the second it slackens Dorian strikes.

Fuck!” Bull curses but quickly follows with a, “One, ser. Thank you, ser.”

The mage tenses, he didn’t ask for Bull to thank him for the flogging and it’s so euphoria-inducing, all this praise and focus Bull has on Dorian and what Dorian’s doing to him and what they’re doing together. Dorian feels untouchable and powerful and responsible.

He lands the next five strikes sharply, fast in his eagerness before he realizes he needs to slow down. He doesn’t want this to be over so soon. Dorian reaches into his smalls with his free hand, squeezes hard around the base of his cock as Bull breathes out his gratitude. The next strike is harder and Dorian waits a moment, just dragging the leather braids over Bull’s arse until he lets out a flurry, one-two-three, Bull’s voice catching as he counts—

“Eight, ser, thank you ser—fuck!—nine, ser, thank you ser! Ten, ser, thank you ser!”

Across, up, down, the blows fall, irregular. Whenever he catches Bull by surprise Dorian feels victorious, loving the way the other man curses and praises him in equal proportion. A droplet beads off the end of Bull’s cock, dampening the sheets as he spreads his thighs wider with a deep groan. Tension and need is written in every cord of muscle in his huge body; Dorian wonders in a haze of fantasy and lust if Bull could actually come from this alone…

“Nineteen, ngh—ser… thank you ser—twenty, ser-! Shit—thank you, ser…” Bull breathes out, chest rising and falling heavily, fingers flexing in his bonds.

Temptation tells Dorian to give Bull another lick of the whip, just a few more. He likes it, after all…

Dorian firmly puts the flogger down, licks at heated skin and feels Bull shudder at the wet sensation of his tongue, cool against the welts…

“Tell me what you need,” Dorian asks, breathy and sweaty, arms winding around Bull’s body. Bull’s hands stretch out, fingertips brushing against Dorian’s belly in desperation to touch him back. The ropes groan and for a moment Dorian’s thinking Bull might just rip out of them.

“Anything, just—let me come, please, please, Dorian,” Bull pants, “I need you, your hands, your mouth, your arse, your dick— anything-!

Dorian kicks the flogger off the edge of the bed in his mad rush to scramble up on it. The oil goes everywhere but he doesn’t really care because they’ve got scant seconds before they both burst. Dorian’s smallclothes hit the floor and he’s got slick hands up between Bull’s thighs, slapping them shut with his cock nestling between. Grasping Bull’s shoulder with one hand, the other slips underneath to cup the other man’s straining erection and Dorian arches forward. Bull catches on quick, keeps his thighs tight together for Dorian, moaning whenever the other man’s body slaps against his battered backside, renewing the sting.

It doesn’t take long before Bull is spilling over Dorian’s fingers and the sheets, copious amounts of cum staining the linens, dripping over Dorian’s knuckles. Dorian follows an instant later, slipping from Bull’s thighs and up against the crease of the other man’s arse—spilling over it in several spurts, striping that reddened skin with white.

Dorian leans heavily into Bull’s body, sweaty and shaking. He’s so out of his head with strange, bone-deep satisfaction that it takes a moment to realize Bull’s got his arms around him, embracing him tightly.

“Uh, we might need new rope…” Bull says sheepishly, blindfold hanging around his neck like a kerchief. “Sorry.”

Dorian laughs, shaking his head and just sighing as he rests against the other man’s muscular body. “You’re forgiven,” he says and glances up at Bull, hoping the other man realizes how much he means that.

Bull’s smart, catches on and smiles. “Alright,” he replies and then winces when he shifts his position in the bed, “Damn… that was… damn. I needed that.”

“My pleasure,” Dorian replies with a smirk, kissing Bull slowly and then slipping away from the bed after distracting Bull thoroughly.

“Hey, where’re you going…?” Bull complains but Dorian returns soon enough with a jar of salve in hand. Bull gives him a very flat look but Dorian simply makes a twirling gesture with his finger and Bull sighs, flopping on his stomach. Dorian perches on Bull’s thick thighs as he applies the salve to the welted skin. No blood at least. Not bad for my first time with a whip in hand, I must say…

“Seheron was really fucked up,” Bull admits in the quiet, safe space as Dorian continues to run the cooling ointment over his skin. “It… really fucked me up. I don’t dream about it… qunari don’t really dream like you humans do. It’s more like… memories. Flashes of things. I don’t know what’s real or not when that happens…”

“I’m sorry I scared you,” Bull says, staring ahead.

Dorian doesn’t deny it because they are far past that point, but, “It’s fine, I panicked… after all, I was taught to fear your kind since I was a child. But you’re different, Bull. I never imagined ever meeting and talking with a qunari, let alone one like you,” he states and then hesitates to say more because this conversation is already too deep for a ‘dalliance’, but he needs to know—

“How can I help you? Next time it happens?”

Bull’s intake of breath is sharp. Surprised. He turns part-way, looking at Dorian for a long moment with something like awe. That feeling fills Dorian again, that importance, that state of being the only one on someone else’s mind…

“Well,” Bull says, rubbing the back of his head, “Wake me from my toes.”

The heavy mood breaks instantly. “…what?” Dorian deadpans and Bull laughs.

“I’m serious! You start yelling my name and shaking me from above or to my side I’m gonna come up swinging—but if you’re down by my feet and calling my name I’ll have enough time to come out of it before I do something stupid,” Bull explains with small smile, “Plus I’m ah—ticklish there.”

Dorian’s eyebrow raises high and he grins from ear to ear.

“Oh really?”

Bull’s face falls when he realizes what he’s done, putting a weapon like this in Dorian’s hands.

“Aw, crap.”

Dorian wakes up with the dawn, chiefly due to the fact that Bull’s quarters are still missing bits of roof and the sun is irritatingly bright. He’s bone-tired and well-fucked—Bull upending him mid-tickling-attack last night and giving it to him good in response. They went at least two more times after that, the last slow and drowsy like Bull was rocking him to sleep with the motions.

Dorian slips out from under Bull’s arm with expert ease. Instead of getting dressed, he tucks his knees up to his chest and sits for a moment beside the sleeping man. There’s no bad dreams, Bull’s sleeping with a stupid sated smile on his face.

Well… it’s something… A whole lot of something.

“Truer words have never been spoken,” Dorian says to himself, shaking his head. He slips out of bed, hissing at the cold and needing a moment to stabilize himself on shaking legs. Note to self, having one’s knees up to one’s ears for an extended period of time, not the best idea…

He’s going to need a bath too, making a face as he puts his clothes back on over slightly tacky skin. He’s semi-presentable when he finishes and heads out the door only to see Bull’s second-in-command standing there with his hand up, ready to knock.

Krem gives Dorian the once-over and there’s a slight tilt of his lip but he’s kind enough not to say anything outright, putting his hand down. “The chief awake yet?” he asks.

Dorian glances over his shoulder at the door and then shakes his head. “No,” he says, smiles lamely at Krem, “Let him rest.”

Dorian walks briskly across the ramparts—or as briskly as he can on aching, trembling legs. Damn qunari’s going to be the death of me… The mage’s folding his arms up against his chest, chin tucking in to conserve warmth. Thus he’s not paying attention to where he’s going so the collision with Cullen is extraordinary—Dorian very nearly goes falling back on his ass because it’s almost as bad as running into Bull, a solid wall of muscle meeting his slightly slighter figure.

“Maker’s breath, Dorian--!” Cullen says, catching Dorian by a shoulder and righting him easily. Cullen’s a little worse for the wear too—appearing almost as if he was hung-over. Which Dorian doesn’t begrudge him for if it’s true; personally he’d hate to feel the gravity of responsibility for all the lives Cullen commands in his ranks. “My apologies, I was… distracted…”

“Fair enough, I’m quite distracting,” Dorian teases and Cullen rolls those whiskey-colored eyes of his. They’re still very nice to look at, although Dorian hasn’t really been considering the commander’s finer features too much of late. “Well, then… good morning, commander.”

Dorian tips his head, makes to bow out of further conversation because he knows he looks utterly sex-tousled and that isn’t a conversation he wants to have with Cullen even if the man knows already.

“Wait, Dorian!” Cullen says, grabs Dorian’s arm to stop him, surprising the mage. Cullen lets go a second later, biting at the scarred edge of his mouth and going a little red. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so… forward… I’m not really myself this morning I’m afraid…”

Well. This is something. Dorian stops, folds his arms across his chest, tipping his head at the commander. “You have my full attention, commander,” he declares, “What troubles you?”

Cullen laughs, rubbing the back of his head, passing his hand over his face and scratching through his stubble tiredly. “So much,” he jokes, shaking his head, “But that’s not what I wished to discuss with you. It’s… good that I caught you alone, Dorian…”

The big blond shuffles about awkwardly and Dorian really wishes he would get on with it. Cullen’s got a nice thick pelt to keep him warm, Dorian’s shivering in the light samite robes he was wearing the day before. Walk of shame indeed. I should burn these robes, what was I thinking yesterday? Samite and willow weave? Disastrous. Bull’s terrible taste must be contagious, it is the only possible explanation…

“Dorian, there’s a…” Cullen licks his lips again, eyes focusing on Dorian’s face and then darting away, “…a pressing matter that I need your help to attend to, if you’ve time to indulge me.”

Well. Dorian blinks a few times. That’s definitely something.

Chapter Text

The main hall of Skyhold is dark, the firepits full of nothing more than glowing coals that provide little light and littler warmth. The torches flicker away, casting long shadows on the floor.

It really does nothing to set the mood for this encounter. Dorian thinks to himself, assessing the situation carefully. But seeing the commander out of his armor? So very worth it.

Cullen clears his throat, standing before Dorian in simple leathers. They have plain fennec fur trimmings of course, because Ferelden fashion is so very dull and utilitarian. Cullen shuffles his feet, blushing like a schoolboy.

“Well then,” Cullen says, ears crimson. “I uh, wanted to speak with you about something…”

“I gathered that when bumped into me on the ramparts this morning and requested this clandestine meeting, commander,” Dorian replies with amusement, arms folding across his chest.

“Yes! Yes, of course…” Cullen repeats, fumbling his words. Dorian swears he hears Cullen’s voice crack. “So I… well… there’s something that… I’m just… afraid if Her Worship asks it of me I will be… ill-equipped to… perform.”

Did he just…? Dorian’s eyes go very wide at that, blinking a few times. He laughs, says, “Ah, well, I am rather the worst person to go for advice on that front, commander. I mean really, after that ridiculous display at the war table you ought to know better than ask me…”

Cullen blinks and reddens at the reminder, shaking his head, “I er, don’t know what that has to do with this but… I’m surprised, honestly. That you wouldn’t be able to help with… this….”

I cannot believe he’s asking me about this… Dorian shifts a little uncomfortably, thinks about it. Well, I am Beatrix’s companion and I would hate for our Inquisitor to go ‘unsatisfied’ with Cullen’s performance…

“I rather thought you’d be good at it,” Cullen adds innocently and Dorian chokes out a laugh, blushing a little himself.

“Well, of course I am but I fear my experiences are of a different… caliber,” he says with a chuckle, “I suppose I could advise you on the matter still. I have heard that your Templar Order isn’t very keen on educating you lot on the subject so seeking instruction is not so shameful, commander…”

“Yes, they didn’t look highly on it. Thought it frivolous and unnecessary,” Cullen agrees, shifting his weight and smiling, “Thank you for your discretion, Dorian.”

“I can show you a few moves, but first… have you been eating right, commander?” Dorian asks, “Getting enough rest and all that?”

“I… not really, no,” Cullen replies, looking bewildered, “But what does that have to do with—”

“Oh, everything, commander!” Dorian lectures, tsking at Cullen. “It affects your stamina if you are not taking care of your body… fine an instrument as it is…” he adds, peeking south because he is still a bad bad man.

“Stamina? I don’t know what—”

“I mean, if you want any chance of lasting long enough to satisfy the Inquisitor, you must take better care with yourself. Proper diet is very important too, if you’re hoping to increase your—”

“Whatever are you talking about, Dorian?!” Cullen squawks, looking scandalized.

Dorian’s eyebrows raise high and he feels rather confused. “…well what are you talking about?” he asks in return.

Dancing of course! I never learned!” Cullen shouts at first—but then lowers his voice to a hiss, anxiously peering at the door that leads to Beatrix’s chambers upstairs.

“…..ooooooooooooooh!” Dorian says, laughs, “Well, that makes infinitely more sense!”

Cullen’s putting his face in his hands, groaning, “D-did you truly believe I was asking you about sex, Dorian?”

“Well, like you said, I am good at it—”

“I never said that!” Cullen yelps and Dorian’s laughing again, shaking his head.

“It’s still rather surprising that you would ask this of me, commander,” Dorian remarks, rubbing at his chin, “I mean, you and our dear spymaster and ambassador are thick as thieves. More importantly, they’re women. Far easier to practice with.”

“That’s just the thing!” Cullen says, pacing the floor a little with his fists folded behind his back. He looks so distraught and Dorian can’t help but note how adorable it is, all this fuss over a dance. “I… I get all thumbs around every other woman. I act an absolute fool. But with the Inqui—with Beatrix… I feel like… I can be a fool. And that that’s okay…”

Cullen stops running a furrow into the floor, looking at Dorian. “Does that make even the slightest bit of sense?”

Dorian’s brow crumples as he thinks about the idea.

I’m also a mage. Would you prefer me bound and leashed?

I’d buy you dinner first…

What are you doing out here? Run out of ale at the tavern, did they?

How would you know if they did? Pretty sure you about-faced outta there the second you heard that dwarf tell you the wine selection was limited to ‘the red stuff and the white stuff’.

You could have just asked, you know…

Oh mighty, strong, powerful Iron Bull of the Qunari: Care to conquer some Tevinter territory?

…no adventuring tomorrow. Tell them you finally got fed up and killed me.

Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve killed someone with my dick…

Mmn… well you know me, Bull. I’ve always wanted to go out with a bang.

“I may,” Dorian begins carefully, shaken a little by his own thoughts on the subject but hiding it well, “…have some inkling of the notion, yes…”

Cullen smiles brilliantly, “Then… you will help me?”

Dorian recovers from that knot building in his stomach, banishes thoughts of his own issues far back in his mind and grins back. “Well, commander, I cannot say the idea of dancing the Antivan Tango with you has no appeal,” he teases. “Very well. Dance position, if you please!”

Fortunately for Dorian, Cullen at least knows this part of it, even though he rolls his eyes at Dorian’s suggestive remark. “Antivan Tango?” he asks, biting at that scar that slashes his lip through, “…I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”

Hours later it’s Dorian who is regretful, begging Cullen to stop as he sits in one of the high-back chairs Beatrix ordered for the main hall. He winces, rubbing his poor stinging foot.

“I’m so sorry, Dorian,” Cullen apologizes, face crestfallen.

“No no, it’s fine. I probably didn’t need all ten of my toes anyways…” Dorian replies. Cullen hasn’t improved a bit—in fact, Dorian thinks his feet are being trod on more than they were when the dance lesson started.

“…I’m rubbish at this,” Cullen says, falling into the chair across and covering his face in his hands. He looks weary and not just from dancing. “I don’t know what I’m thinking. I mean, bad enough she’s the Inquisitor, the Herald of Andraste… she is also of a noble house. I have no title outside of the Inquisition—”

“Oh do shut up,” Dorian snaps and Cullen’s head shoots up like a kicked mabari at that, eyes big and hurt. “I know nobility, Cullen. For many of us it’s like a weight around our neck, it affects how everyone looks at us, treats us. Sometimes it’s all well and good and fun to be admired and feared just for standing there looking pretty, but a lot of the time we just… want to be seen as us. You do that for Beatrix. You make her feel like a person instead of a symbol. That’s important and if you cannot recognize that she wants you and not some foreign prince, then you hardly deserve her, you dolt!”

Cullen swallows hard, nods after a moment, “…thank you, Dorian. You’re right, of course… but… that changes very little. I still…” Cullen smiles lamely, rubs the back of his head, hair curling adorably from sweat. “I still would like to dance with her like a prince, instead of a soldier. Just… just the once.”

Dorian tilts his head. It astounds him a little, the idea of it. Of wanting to be someone better for your love. Making that effort just to see them smile the once.

“Well,” he says, licking his lips, “I am hardly a miracle worker, but we’ve still time before the ball… let’s try again tomorrow evening, shall we?”

Dorian thrusts a hand out to Cullen, who accepts it gladly. As Dorian bids the commander goodnight at the doorway of the main hall, he hears a slight scuffling across the floor. Turning around, he sees nothing in the dimly lit area, shrugs it off. Rats, probably…

The next day goes by without much fanfare, others in the Inquisition attending their fittings for the uniforms they’ll don in Halamshiral. Dorian, for once, is free from doing any research and has his afternoon to himself.

He picks up a volume by Genitivi and settles in his armchair.

He remains there for approximately eight and a half minutes before he’s shutting it and seeking out Bull.

“Mmmn…” Dorian sighs in satisfaction.

It’s been two hours after he quit the library and he’s in Bull’s bed, laying on his stomach on top of the larger man. They broke their record—again. The qunari is half sitting up, huge arm slid behind his head and looking far too smug. Fortunately Dorian’s too worn-out and content from the afternoon delight to take him down a peg or three just yet, simply tracing his fingers over Bull’s pectorals. “That was just what I needed…”

“I aim to please,” Bull replies with a grin, shifting a little, huge hand cupping against the small of Dorian’s back as he sighs as well.

Dorian pinches a dark nipple roughly in response but this only earns him a hiss of pleasure from Bull so he stops. He instead starts tiptoeing his fingers across every scar he can see. Some are barely there, others are raw and deep, like they never quite healed right. There’s so many

“Bull,” he says, licking his lips, “Do you know how to dance?”

The other man raises his brow high at the question and his grin widens. “You already know I know how to move my hips, Dorian. Unless you want a refresher—ow!”

This time Dorian digs his elbow into Bull’s ribs meanly, glowering at him. “I’m being serious, you horny goat!”

“Hmmph…” Bull’s hand runs slowly up and down Dorian’s back in thought as he considers the words, squeezing at a thigh on the down-stroke, rubbing Dorian’s shoulders when he reaches them again. The act always makes Dorian so drowsy and comfortable and he hates Bull for it even though he’s practically purring.

“Yeah,” Bull finally answers, “I do. Ben-Hassrath, remember? We had to blend in, acclimate to any situation. Even if it is a stupid fancy party. Why are you asking?”

It’s not too terribly surprising for Dorian to hear and he just sighs, rolling away from Bull’s body and sitting beside him instead, staring at his toes. “I was just wondering if there was a particular methodology to teaching a soldier how to dance without getting one’s feet trod upon…”

Bull laughs in response, shifting around, hovering over Dorian. A kiss lands on his forehead, his neck, down, down. Bull cups his foot, tan toes slightly puffy and red from the exertions of the night prior, and puts his tongue to Dorian’s skin. Kisses and licks. Dorian shivers—now that was not a sensation he had ever felt and it was just so… worshipful. He bites back a moan as teeth nibble his little toe.

“Cullen?” Bull guesses as he leans back, rubs his thumbs firmly up the arch of Dorian’s foot and massages.

Dorian’s sliding down the headboard as Bull tends to his feet, throwing an arm over his eyes; finally just giving in and letting the little satisfied sounds slip. “Got it in one,” he says when he can manage, “Nngh. You know I can’t quite recall why I ever fancied that clod. My toes are going to be so swollen they won’t fit into the lovely boots Leliana acquired for me to wear to the ball…”

Bull laughs, shaking his head. “You liked him ‘cos he’s a pretty boy,” he observes, rubbing Dorian’s other foot expertly, kissing at his big toe, rasp of stubble making Dorian’s foot clench. “That’s your thing.”

Dorian lifts his arm away from his face and snorts, lightly pushes his foot against Bull’s face in reproach for the oversimplification of his taste in men. “Oh truly? I had no idea!” he declares as Bull chuckles at his antics, “Well then—if that’s my thing, I’m certainly slumming it as of late, aren’t I?”

Then Dorian freezes in place, realizing what he’s accidentally let slip. That he likes Bull, pretty boy or no.

Bull, to his credit, doesn’t make mention of it, doesn’t react or demand anything of Dorian. “Hey,” he says, letting go of Dorian’s foot so he can crawl over him instead, big arms caging the mage in, “Do I sound like I’m complaining?”

Bull leans over suddenly and buries his teeth into Dorian’s shoulder with a playful, “Rrhh!” The shoulder that Dorian typically leaves bare.

“Ouch!” Dorian squawks, hits at Bull lightly and laughs because he can’t help himself. The mark throbs in a really nice way, not unlike how his arse feels from the light slaps Bull had given it during their earlier coupling…s. “You brute!

Bull chuckles, licks apologetically before leaning back, contemplating Dorian. Sometimes Bull just looks at him like this and it’s overwhelming and addictive. To be the center of the qunari merc’s attention, to be everything on that (surprisingly sharp) mind of his.

“Explain it to him like a battleplan,” Bull advises, “None of your fancy words, no impetus or adagio crap… basic movements. Like you said, Dorian; he’s a soldier. Give him orders, he’ll figure it out.”

Dorian blinks up at the other man thoughtfully. “Hmn… that’s not a bad idea,” he admits and smirks, sliding his arms up around Bull’s neck, “Though I think I should have practice beforehand. You know. With giving orders…”

Bull chuckles and lets Dorian tug him downward.

“As you wish, Lord Pavus,” Bull teases, mouth happily crashing into Dorian’s.

That evening, Dorian and Cullen meet as they had promised to the night prior. Cullen’s about to say something, probably another apology for the night prior when Dorian just snaps his fingers at him and points in front of himself. Cullen startles, but approaches, assumes dance position without complaint.

Two and a half hours of sharply barked orders later, Cullen’s gliding with Dorian across the floor, hand at his waist guiding Dorian along with such ease that one would assume the commander had been dancing his whole life. Bull was right, Cullen’s problem wasn’t that he wasn’t athletic or graceful enough to dance—it was that he didn’t understand how it was done.

“Huh—this is rather easy once you get the timing down, isn’t it?” Cullen remarks with surprise. Dorian’s no longer yelling ‘one two three’ at him, Cullen’s eyes on the other man’s face rather than down at their feet. They turn step turn in complete harmony, Cullen’s smile growing.

“Yes, yes, you are very skilled, commander,” Dorian says with a roll of his eyes. He gasps when Cullen surprises him by dipping him, something they hadn’t actually practiced but Cullen bears his weight easily, smirking with confidence. Beatrix is a lucky lady, that smirk should be outlawed…

“Very cute,” Dorian says and brushes his thumb against the corner of Cullen’s mouth. The commander frowns, about to say something. Dorian thinks about what Bull said about having a ‘thing’ for pretty boys. Ah Void, why not—?

“Mmph!” Cullen gasps into Dorian’s mouth when the mage surges up and kisses him. He promptly drops Dorian onto the floor, rubbing at his mouth and making a face. “Dorian!

Dorian’s laughing raucously, holding his stomach. Locking lips with Cullen was interesting, to say the least, but he had to admit there was another pair of scarred-up lips he’d rather be kissing. Scary though that admission was.

“Oho, your face, commander!” Dorian laughs, pointing as Cullen grumbles and spits.

“What in the name of the Maker was that for?!” Cullen hisses at Dorian.

“Showing you what you should do at that moment, of course. ‘Tis but another step in the dance,” Dorian explains, sitting up with a knee tucked under his chin, looking up at Cullen. “And it is payment, of a sort, for my services…”

“Payment…?” Cullen questions, arching his eyebrow.

“I used to have an awful crush on you, commander,” Dorian replies, feeling better for just admitting it. It was like he was letting it go. That image of some golden prince on horseback, all shiny hair and ridiculous chivalry.

Cullen blinks in surprise, “Maker’s breath… I had no idea.”

Dorian’s not surprised to hear that, takes Cullen’s hand when the other man offers it. “Not to worry, commander. I’m well shot of it now,” he says, brushing off his clothing, “Just make sure you don’t make those terrible fish lips when you kiss the Inquisitor, alright?”

Cullen looks more at ease then, chuckling a little, face still warm. “I suppose now you want to give me kissing lessons, is that right?”

“Well if you want—”

“I do not want!” Cullen says quickly, blush worsening.

Dorian laughs again, stifling it with a hand. “That hurts, commander.”

“Not as much as Bull’s fist in my face would,” Cullen replies dryly.

Dorian’s eyes flutter in surprise at the remark, throat bobbing a little. He looks away, uneasy. Fusses with a bit of hair at his temple and then stops, remembering Bull remarking once that was one of his ‘tells’ when he was nervous. “That’s… he wouldn’t do that.”

“…oh? After the war table incident I was under the impression you two were… familiar,” Cullen says, clearing his throat a little as he uses the word oh so delicately.

“Oh, we are very familiar,” Dorian agrees, laughingly, “But… familiarity and intimacy are two very separate concepts, my dear commander.”

“…are they…?” Cullen wonders, sweeping those tawny eyes over Dorian’s face searchingly.

Dorian’s throat bobs, feeling tight. “They are,” he replies and then walks past Cullen quickly towards the door to Solas’ study and the gardens, “Good night, commander. Thank you for the dance.”

Cullen stares after him as he walks away firmly, then shakes his head, leaving the opposite way. Thus he doesn’t see Dorian’s anxious, wet eyes, nor the moment where he nearly bowls over Mother Giselle who was lingering in the doorway. He startles at the sight of her, rubs his eyes with the heel of a hand quickly and growls out a ‘kaffas’ under his breath before rushing away to his room.

It’s not like Dorian’s unused to hearing whispers and gossip about himself. It isn’t like it never happened back in Tevinter when he was turning up his nose at every pretty girl they presented to him over the years. He’s proud of the incredibly thick skin he possesses, laughed it off easily when Vivienne taunted him for being ‘one Tevinter rat among many’. Those sort of comments don’t hurt him.

The rumblings about his unnatural relationship with Her Worship and the commander, his ‘influence’ over them… this hurts. Not because Dorian’s trying to be ‘the good Tevinter’ or trying to prove something for his homeland’s sake. It’s more than that. Beatrix and Cullen are… they are his friends. The implication that he would treat them so feels like a cold knife sliding into his gut and sticking there, bleeding sluggishly only for the hand that put it there to yank it free, slam it in again but deeper.

He’s out in the courtyard, hiding away from everyone in a small corner behind the l-shaped steps that lead up into Skyhold’s main hall, when the Revered Mother approaches him. She clears her throat loudly, thrice, before simply pushing Dorian’s book down from the front of his face to get his attention. He claps it shut loudly, glowering at her.

“Yes, Your Hatliness?” he greets, pulling himself to standing, “Did you want something from me?”

“What are you up to, Tevinter?” Giselle asks pointedly, eyes narrowing into beams of disgust. Like Dorian’s a cockroach scuttling around her feet.

Dorian hikes the book under his armpit, bites back the ‘sufoca pe un pomum porcus’ that he wants to spit out bitterly. “First I was reading, now I am leaving,” he declares simply, turning on his heel to do so. He’s thinking about rushing up the stairs into the main hall, but there’s more whispers there. His feet turn automatically towards the far corner of the courtyard where the tavern is.

The Revered Mother actually follows this time, instead of letting him stomp off. She hikes her robes to her ankles so she can rush in front of him, blocking his path. She puts an accusing finger in his face, “You will answer me, young man. What exactly do you think you are doing?”

“Evidently,” Dorian replies, voice raising and turning heads, “I’m being clucked at by a hen!”

The Revered Mother looks shocked for a moment, obviously not used to being snapped at in this manner. She scowls, voice just as sharp, “I see quite clearly what your intentions are. Do not play the fool with me, young man!”

“Ha! If I wanted to play the fool I could be rather more convincing, I assure you! Maybe I could take some lessons from you, Revered Mother!”

People are staring now, but Dorian refuses to back down. This is the kind of staring he really doesn’t care for but he’ll be damned to the Void before he turns his back on the robed witch.

“Your glib tongue does you no credit, Tevinter!”

Dorian laughs outright, runs his tongue over his lip lasciviously to make her cringe in distaste. “Oh, you’d be shocked by the credit my tongue gets me, Your Reverence…” he taunts.

Mother Giselle’s lip curls into a sneer but Dorian’s gibe backfires marvelously as she replies, “I would hardly think something given away so freely would be of much value to anyone.”

Dorian’s throat catches and he hides the hurt on his face with rage. He drops his book into the grass, raising his hands. Energy pours into them as a dark aura envelops him, fragments of terror pulled from the Fade gathering around him, hissing as they wind around his arms like black snakes of smoke.

“You want me to be the evil magister so badly—fine! Here you are then!” he declares as people around gasp and scatter, Mother Giselle falling back a few steps in fear.

Dorian gestures outward and the snakes open their mouths wide, fangs shining with venom as they make to spring—

“What is going on here?!” a familiar voice demands and Dorian can hear the feet running down the steps before he feels a sudden drain on his powers, snakes disappearing in a ray of white light. He stumbles back, unused to the sensation, head pounding.

Beatrix and the commander are there, the latter’s brow furrowing in focus as he dispels the magic with a gesture. Sweat pours down his temple and when Dorian’s magic vanishes completely from the physical plane, Cullen suddenly stumbles, falters. Falls to his knee as Beatrix gasps.

“I’m alright,” the commander says, despite how pale he appears. He waves the Inquisitor away as he breathes hard, hand over his face as he grimaces. “Just… a headache. It’s been a while since I’ve used my Templar training, that’s all…”

“Oh, Cullen…” Beatrix says, swiping her hands over his brow, massaging a thumb gently into his temple. He breathes in relief and she lets him go, standing to address Dorian and the Revered Mother with a fire in her eyes. “What is this about?”

Dorian answers before Giselle, glaring at the woman hatefully. “Apparently the Revered Mother is concerned about my ‘undue influence’ on you,” he states, voice a hiss, “…both of you.”

Cullen looks up with a small sound of surprise, turning his eyes to Giselle as well. She has the decency to flush, looking away from the commander towards the Inquisitor.

“Is it not a justified concern, Your Worship?” the Revered Mother states, up and dusting off her robes. She’s keeping her distance from Dorian even if she’s not outright retreating. “You must realize how it all looks. It is quite suspect, how this young man has ingratiated himself with you… and the commander.”

Cullen moves to standing, sags briefly with Beatrix catching him but still snaps, “I don’t believe I care for your insinuations, Mother Giselle.”

“Oh? Then perhaps I imagined you dancing with the young man in the hallway the night prior? Kissing him?” Giselle replies sharply and Beatrix’s eyebrows shoot upwards, turning to look at Cullen in surprise.

“I—that was not—”

The Revered Mother shakes her head. “I would think a Templar would recognize when he is under a thrall, even one who has turned from his training…”

Now Cullen’s angry, more than Dorian’s ever seen him being. He rises from his hunched position, swaying only slightly as he points an angry finger Giselle’s way, “You listen here, woman, I know more about Maker-be-damned blood magic than you will ever know and I am not under any fuc—”

“Enough!” Beatrix shouts to be heard over their bickering. Her pulse is pounding in her throat and Dorian feels terrible for bringing this upon her. “Dorian would never practice such an art. I know this. There is an explanation and it does not involve blood magic.”

Dorian relaxes minutely hearing that, thankful for Beatrix’s cool temper once more.

“This man is of Tevinter. It is a common practice among his people. I see even you allowing him to be… familiar with you, Inquisitor. Even if the young man has no designs on either you or the commander, the rumors alone…” Mother Giselle insists, floundering for reason in the face of her Herald of Andraste shutting her down without a second thought.

“Just because he’s Tevinter, he’s using blood magic on Cullen and me to win our good favor? Really?”

The Revered Mother sighs, begrudgingly states, “I am aware that not everyone from the Imperium is the same, Your Grace.”

“Oh, how magnanimous of you to notice!” Dorian spits out bitterly. “And yet you still cow to the opinion of the masses?”

“The opinion of the masses is based on centuries of evidence, Monsieur Pavus,” Giselle responds, “As well as your own particular… proclivities. What would you have me tell the people?”

“The truth, preferably!” Dorian snarls.

“Dorian…” Beatrix warns and he quiets—even as he makes a point of lightly scratching his nose with his middle finger at Mother Giselle when Beatrix’s back is to him.

“The truth is I do not know you, and neither do they,” Giselle says testily to Dorian, looking then to Beatrix, “Thus these harmful rumors will continue…”

“You seem quite knowledgeable about these rumors, Revered Mother,” Beatrix notes, folding her arms across her chest, “May I inquire as to how they began?”

“I…” Giselle falters, “Could not share that now, Your Worship…”

“Ah, so you’ve shared in their conception, then,” the red head responds critically.

The Revered Mother quiets at that, looking guilty. She straightens, clearing her throat, face flushing. “I… see. You have already made up your mind on the matter. I suppose I must trust your judgment, Inquisitor. I meant no disrespect—”

Dorian coughs behind a hand to mask his response of, “Liar!”

“—merely to inquire about this man’s intentions. My only concern is for you and the Inquisition, Your Worship. If both you and the commander feel he is without ulterior motive… then I… humbly beg for your forgiveness. As well as that of the young man.”

Giselle takes a breath through her nose and bows her neck to all three of them delicately, before making her exit. Dorian takes some pleasure in that while putting the scare into her, she fell into the mud and now has a nice brown stain running up the back of her robes.

Cullen sighs, sitting heavily down on the bottom step and holding his head. Beatrix glowers at the gawkers and that sends them all running back to their errands.

“So,” she says, raising an eyebrow at both of them, “Making out behind my back are you? For shame…”

Cullen blushes and Dorian chuckles wearily, sitting on the step next to the commander. “Do you wish to explain or shall I?”

Cullen waves his free hand to Dorian in the universal ‘go on’ gesture, nursing his aching head while Dorian speaks for them both.

Fifteen minutes later, Beatrix is sitting beside Cullen as well, looking at the commander with adoring eyes. “You really were practicing dancing? For me?” she asks, voice so very fond.

“Yes… Dorian was helping me out and the kiss, well…” Cullen glances at Dorian with an accusing raise of his brow.

“A jest, nothing more…” Dorian explains, waving the concern away. Not that Beatrix appears particularly concerned, holding the commander’s hand gently on her lap.

“She didn’t get to you, did she?” Cullen asks Dorian, because he really is that ridiculously dashing prince type, “I mean, for you to use your magic—”

“It wasn’t the fact that she was painting me as the wicked magister. It takes far more to get to me than thinly veiled accusations, commander,” Dorian states, bites his lip. “…it was the idea that I was using… obscene methods to ingratiate myself with you both.”

Cullen frowns, reaches to squeeze Dorian’s shoulder in camaraderie. Dorian’s been the butt of Inquisition jokes for weeks, first for his sexuality and then for his choice in a bed partner. It’s obvious how sick he is of people speculating about what he gets up to in the privacy of his own chambers. Dorian’s been trying to weather it, but this is too much.

“You’re not just referring to blood magic, are you?” Beatrix says, glancing over the commander at Dorian with worry.

Dorian waves it off, lump in his throat not bothering him quite as much. “It matters little. Yours is the good opinion I care about, amicus.”

“Amicus…?”

Dorian’s moustache lifts at a rakish angle as he smiles at the Inquisitor. “My friend,” he translates. He stands then, brushing invisible dust from his clothing as if ridding himself of the matter entirely.

“Inquisitor… commander… I think of you as my friends. I have precious few friends. I never imagined I would find any here in the south.”

“I—” Beatrix begins and Dorian puts a finger to his lips, gesturing for her silence.

“No no, none of that now. I detest confessions, so I’ll make this quick: I will be true to this Inquisition. I will stand with you against whatever we face—be it Corypheus, my countrymen or even spurious rumor—so long as you will have me.”

Beatrix stands as well, leaving Cullen’s side with a squeeze to the commander’s hand. She smiles, reaches her hand out to Dorian’s. He takes it and she’s got him; tricking him into an embrace. Dorian’s throat tightens and then he returns the gesture, face hidden in the fabric of her uniform for a moment as he recovers from the difficult encounter.

Dorian bids the duo good day, citing a headache as his reason for retiring to his rooms early. There are suspicious eyes on him and he feels each and every stare acutely when normally he would easily ignore the looks. Despite the friendship and trust he feels from many in Skyhold, from the Inquisitor and the Inner Circle… Dorian often feels terribly alone. When people gawk at him with mistrust in their eyes he remembers how foreign and alien he is to them. When they talk about him behind his back, make suggestive remarks—it stings.

Imperfect as his life in Tevinter was, Dorian misses his home. The warm sunlight, the lapping of the gentle blue waters, the timeless architecture. There wasn’t a stone set in Qarinus that was from this century. It was beautiful and it was—still is—home. His friends were there. The people who cared for him the most were there.

The mage shuts the door to his room, tossing the now slightly grass-stained copy of Genitivi’s work onto the nightstand without care. Dorian is about to flop face-first on his bed when he notices it.

There’s a carved piece of wood on his bed, sanded carefully but still somewhat crude in form. He picks it up slowly, recognizing it after a moment. A duck. A wooden duck.

Dorian sits heavily on the edge of his bed, holding it, staring. He remembers a warm day and the clacking of the toy’s wheels and his father’s loving words.

That something that has been building up within—that tension and anxiety and pain—it finally breaks inside of him; he cries and clutches the carving to his chest as if it will heal the ache there.

Dorian misses his father as well. Despite everything Halward has done to him, he misses him. The little boy conjuring bubbles and trailing his toy duck behind him on a string still exists inside of him. Still wishing to just be enough for his family. Still wishing to be a good boy, a nice boy, a boy who can marry the girl and make his family proud.

Instead of falling in love over and over again with other boys. Instead of engaging in obscene acts with other boys. Instead of having nothing to show for it but broken pieces of his heart and the towering walls built around it to keep that from ever happening again.

Mother Giselle’s incendiary remarks sting and ring in his ears. I would hardly think something given away so freely would be of much value to anyone.

“Hey, Dorian, are you doing alri—” Bull doesn’t knock because they haven’t been knocking for weeks now. Dorian looks up, eyelashes damp and clumping together, kohl lining his eyes running slightly down his cheeks. Bull’s face instantly crumples, expression distressed and uncomfortable. “Aw, shit.”

Dorian makes an absolutely pathetic sound, letting the carving tumble onto the floor and covering his face with his hands. He doesn’t yell at Bull or throw anything at him or demand he leave.

The qunari seems to understand what that means, shutting the door behind him and walking over to the bed. Bull’s boots hit the floor and then Dorian feels him crouching in front of him. Bull gently unlaces Dorian’s boots for him, one and then the other. Removes his socks, calloused palm running up the back of his calf soothingly. Dorian lets his hands fall away from his disgustingly tear-stained face so that Bull can undo the buckles of his outfit. It’s telling how easy it is for the other man, he has Dorian out of the top of his outfit in moments, the bottoms following.

Dorian snuffles, rubs his eyes and his nose with a palm, chest rising and falling rapidly. He moves then, getting up on the bed and parting his legs invitingly.

“Well? Go on then,” Dorian states bitterly, “It’s all I’m good for, evidently—”

“Shut up,” Bull snarls fiercely, making Dorian jump slightly in reaction, “You say that one more time and I will never go to bed with you again, ‘vint.”

Dorian blinks in shuddery surprise but closes his legs, sitting up a little. Bull’s back is to him now—he cannot see the look on the qunari’s face at that moment. He wants to but can’t bring himself to ask Bull to look at him. There’s the sound of water flowing and finally Bull comes over to sit beside the bed with the washbasin and a clean cloth. He gestures at Dorian to come closer and the mage does so.

He shuts his eyes, shivering a little at the first touch of the cool damp towel to his face. Bull patiently cleans him up, stopping to wring out the cloth every few moments or so. The water darkens from the makeup Dorian uses to line his eyes, but soon the towel is coming back clean and Dorian no longer feels the feverish flush of tears tracking down his face.

Bull sets the towel down then, brushing his thumb over Dorian’s cheekbone, tapping against the mole by his eye once.

“Almost thought this wasn’t real,” Bull remarks off-handedly.

Dorian’s throat bobs and he leans into Bull’s hand a little, feeling so tired from the sudden release of all that pain.

“It’s real,” he says and means so much more than just his beauty mark. The wall around his heart is already unsteady, mortar and bricks weakening like they have been blasted by gaatlok. It scares him but he has no desire to stop it, to try and fortify his defenses again.

“I heard about what happened in the courtyard,” Bull explains unnecessarily. He stands, loses the rest of his gear and climbs into the bed with Dorian. “Are you okay?”

Dorian shrugs, thinks about it. “Yes. No. I don’t know,” Dorian says with a shake of his head. Bull’s arms wind around him and he folds the blankets around them both because he knows Dorian hates being cold. Dorian sets his cheek to Bull’s chest, quiet for a long moment. Bull doesn’t speak, feels no need to fill the air with words. Waits for Dorian to be ready to talk.

“…she got to me. Suggesting that I was some sort of trollop, fucking my way up the ranks of the Inquisition…” he finally grits out, hides his face against the other man’s body. He thumps a fist angrily against Iron Bull’s pectoral and the qunari barely seems to feel it, doesn’t flinch or jump.

“Well,” Bull says, “If she knew you started with me she probably would realize how stupid that sounds.”

Dorian laughs weakly, fingers clutching against Bull’s shoulder. Bull is always willing to make a joke of himself and even though Dorian should be scolding him for daring to make light of the situation—he cannot find it in himself to do so. Bull’s making him smile even though he doesn’t want to. Damn him.

“Precisely,” Dorian agrees, rolls a little so he’s straddling Bull’s side, scooting up to tuck his head against Bull’s shoulder. “I guess I could be angling to take the Chargers from you, but that would be like separating a bunch of ducklings from their mama. I’m not that evil.”

Bull chuckles at that, shaking his head a little. “I’m telling Krem you think he’s a duckling,” he declares and tucks a finger up under Dorian’s chin, urging him upwards. “And hey… you’re not evil, Dorian.”

Bull presses a kiss to Dorian’s mouth. Another to his forehead and ear, both eyelids… to his cheek and chin and throat…

“Not…. one… bit… of… you….”

The quiet murmurs soothe Dorian even if he doesn’t entirely believe them. He takes a shuddery breath all the same, luxuriating under the other man’s attentions.

“Damn it, Bull,” Dorian mutters, rubbing his eyes again and laughing quietly. “I am not drunk enough for this…”

“Well,” Bull grins, reaching over the side of the bed to his things and producing a bottle that he hands over to Dorian to examine, “That’s at least something I can help with.”

Dorian sits up, smiling as he runs his fingers over the label. “Sun Blonde Vint-1? How’d you even get Tevinter spirits all the way down in this frozen abyss?” he asks.

Bull rolls his shoulders, cracking his neck confidently with a smirk. “Eh. I got a guy,” he declares and Dorian laughs again.

“You have a guy,” he repeats, arching an eyebrow at Bull.

“Hey, you don’t want it, give it back—” Bull says, starting to reach for the bottle and blinking in surprise when Dorian intercepts him with a kiss.

“I want it,” Dorian replies, sitting on Bull’s lap as he pops the cork. It’s absolutely scandalous but he takes a drink straight from bottle, the taste crisp and light on his tongue. It runs down his throat, warming him from within as he passes the bottle back to Bull, who takes a swig of his own.

“So…” Bull starts to say, passing the bottle back and glancing over the side of the bed, “You gonna explain what the wooden duck is about or—”

“Nope,” Dorian replies, taking a pull off the bottle. He holds it in his mouth and kisses Bull, feeding him the liquor with insistent swipes of his tongue.

To his credit, Bull doesn’t ask again. He kisses Dorian back instead, pulls him on top of himself. They take turns, drinking and kissing. It’s not like anything they’ve done before—there’s no hurry, no worry about anything.

Tongues loosen and not just in one another’s mouths. Dorian talks about Qarinus, Bull about Par Vollen. Dorian talks about how his mother and father hate one another and how he never understood it. Bull talks about living under the Qun and yet still having a ‘mother’ of his own. They both share such shame in their stories, feeling like let downs and freaks. Guilt at not feeling guiltier for it all.

“So ‘tama’ is your mama,” Dorian says and sniggers drunkenly at the unintentional rhyme, slopping the liquor on his chin as he takes another swallow of it.

Bull shakes his head a little—it looks like he’s even having trouble keeping it upright, nodding off occasionally. Dorian doesn’t blame him, he feels drowsy and warm as well.

“Yeah I… I don’t really know if she was or wasn’t…” Bull slurs his words slightly, shaking his head, “But she treated me differently than the other kids. Spent more time with me— helped me when I was having nightmares, when I was struggling with the Qun…”

Bull tips the bottle back, tugs the blanket higher over Dorian’s shoulder when it slips. He pauses, rubbing the fabric of Dorian’s expensive comforter between his fingers like he’s thinking about something. “Every kid gets a blanket like the one I have. But… it’s just supposed to have your name on it, nothing more. Tama… she… stitched the dragon on it… said it would help protect me from bad dreams. And the message too. She taught me the common tongue ‘cos I was gonna be secret police…”

Dorian’s cheek’s pressing against Bull’s chest as he considers the revelation: “So not many qunari could read that message even if they found it… wow, that’s… really clever actually…”

“Yup!” Bull says, sounding proud. His nails absently scratch against Dorian’s scalp and the mage feels so content he can’t even think about griping about Bull ruining his hair. He’s quiet for a moment, bottle hanging from his other hand over the side of the bed. “My eyes look like hers. See… Par Vollen’s really hot and sunny—so most of us qunari are born with darker eye colors…”

Dorian glances upward, Bull’s hazel eye looking back; sometimes green and sometimes gray depending on the light or the angle Dorian looks at him. I like his eyes… eye… he thinks drunkenly, smiling dopily at the other man.

“Lighter colors like mine are pretty uncommon and they can almost be seen as undesirable. Non-adaptive…” Bull says, leaning his head back with a sigh, “Tama was so young. Sometimes I wonder if I was the first she was allowed to carry. Maybe the only—”

Dorian’s stricken suddenly with the realization that Bull may be the only one in the Inquisition who really understands missing home like he himself does.

The bottle drops on the floor, rolls away when the mage throws his arms around the qunari tightly, kisses at his neck and makes Bull’s words stop to a shudder.

“I find your eyes—eye—very desirable. In fact, I desire them all over my body,” Dorian quips with a drunken smile that Bull returns.

“…you’re ridiculous,” Bull says but tugs Dorian up into a warm kiss. It’s slow and sweet, one peck building into another and another until they’re not parting their mouths anymore, drawing breath through their noses as much as they can.

When he wakes up, Dorian’s unable to figure out when the kissing stopped and when the sleeping began. Bull’s asleep still and it’s dark outside. Dorian struggles upward, stumbles to the chamber pot and uses it. He’s going to have a terrible headache and knows it, but it’s cold and instead of fumbling around for a curative in his supplies he returns to bed.

He knows he should probably find somewhere else for the night but he can’t bring himself to bother. Besides… where else would I rather be?

It’s an alarming thought to have when they aren’t ‘together’ in that sense, but Dorian cannot deny the truth in it. He presses his ear to Bull’s chest—the sound of the qunari’s steady, heavy heartbeat lulling him back to sleep.

Bull’s still there when Dorian wakes up. The sunlight hurts his eyes and he squints a little at the other man in fascination. Bull’s awake and reading Dorian’s book.

“You’re still here,” he mumbles, so horribly hungover he can’t seem to filter his thoughts from his words.

Bull raises an eyebrow at Dorian over the edge of the book. “Was I not supposed to be?” he asks.

“…I’m not used to it,” Dorian explains sheepishly, mouth tacky and dry. “It’s fine. I don’t mind.”

Bull’s quiet for a moment, then shrugs. “Alright,” he says and then turns another page in the book, “This is really good shit—I mean look at this thing!”

Bull holds the book open towards Dorian, a sketch of a high dragon covering the right side of the page. Bull grins from ear to ear as Dorian rolls his eyes and laughs. “What I wouldn’t give to see one of these up-close…”

“Trust me, with Bea in charge, we’ll probably run into ten of them,” Dorian says and shuts his eyes, head returning to rest on Bull’s chest.

Bull doesn’t leave, turning the book back towards himself. He actually starts to read from it aloud, getting all giddy about the descriptions of ‘foot-long canines’ and ‘scales stronger than steel’.

The morning passes this way until they’re able to pull themselves out of bed. They walk down the ramparts to the tavern side-by-side and Dorian stares absently at Bull’s hand as it swings with his stride. It’s bigger than his by far. Palm to palm, the mage’s slender fingers just barely span three-fourths the length of Bull’s and are only half the width.

He blinks, shakes his head and looks away. He must be still dizzy from all the drinking. His fingers flex slightly as though in want of something to hold onto.

Bull orders food for them both, bacon and eggs and hotcakes piled high. They only have a few moments alone before the Chargers arrive, Sera and Blackwall following— and then it’s all a ruckus, the group laughing raucously as Sera tells a bawdy tale that involves far more details about the female anatomy than Dorian ever wanted to hear about over breakfast. He’s laughing too though, choking a little on his eggs and having to have Krem thump on his back until he can stop.

Sera trails off as she often does when telling her tall tales. Dorian worries for a moment that the elf is going to ask after him—everyone’s heard about the Mother Giselle incident by now—but surprisingly her sharp eyes fall on Blackwall instead.

“So, you gonna squeeze up to her or not?” Sera asks the warden as Blackwall brushes breadcrumbs from his beard.

“What?” Blackwall blinks, glances to Dorian who shrugs, “Squeeze up to who?”

Sera grins wickedly from ear to pointy ear—“Lady Josie,” she says with a flourish and Blackwall turns bright red, “I’ve seen you, doing that knightly stuff!”

Bull guffaws, “Seriously? You and the ambassador? Aiming a little high there, huh?”

“Maker—Sera!” Blackwall groans, slapping a hand to his forehead. “No! Stay out of it…”

Dorian waggles his eyebrows in a lascivious manner, “Aha—implying that there’s something for her to be staying out of, hm..?”

“You’re not helping, Tevinter!” Blackwall grumbles, sinking lower into his seat and looking around in concern as if Josephine would materialize suddenly out of nowhere and catch them in this conversation. Dorian wants to remind him that that is more Leliana’s style but Sera’s speaking again, laying into the beleaguered warden…

“Hehehe! You’re all shy!” she laughs, reminding Dorian of her pestering him about Bull, “What, you think you can’t treat her right?”

“No, it’s not—”

“I’ll show you!” Sera states happily, cutting off Blackwall’s protests and plucking a peach from the bowl of fruit on the table. She splits it in the soft center, just enough to get at the wet flesh beneath the fuzz. “See, just need a peach, a ripe one yeah? ‘Cos if you do it riiiiight—”

Sera swipes her tongue over the split sensuously, gathering the juice on her tongue with a waggle of her brows.

“Ripe. Down there,” she declares mischievously. The Chargers lose it, Krem laughing the hardest. Blackwall’s nearly purple with embarrassment and Dorian’s leaning against Bull, the both of them shaking with laughter.

Please!” Blackwall begs, head in his hands, “No peaches! Ripe or otherwise!”

Sera groans in annoyance, tossing the peach on the table in exasperation—“Well I can’t teach you bananas!”

“I could,” Dorian provides unhelpfully and Bull snickers, sliding his arm around the mage as Blackwall shakes his head fervently ‘no’.

“That makes me think—y’know the one thing I miss about Par Vollen? The bananas. They’re bigger. Less squishy. And bendier,” Bull comments, Dorian’s ears heating—although not as much as Blackwall’s.

“You’re talking about the fruit, right?” Blackwall groans, “Please tell me you’re talking about the fruit…”

“The way those two are going on they’re liable to turn you into a fruit! Seriously you two, bananas? That would be like teachin’ him swords!” Sera protests and then points to Blackwall, adding in a professorial tone—“Oh! Remember: when you and Josie get up to getting down, do not use it like a sword!”

Blackwall’s at his wit’s end, head against the table, hands pulling at his hair.

“How do I make this stop?” he all but whimpers.

The tavern’s loud with laughter and Sera is the worst offender—Bull and Dorian close second. They manage to catch their breath as Stitches pats the poor blushing warden on the shoulder; Sera going back to her demonstration on the peach with vigor.

“Well,” Dorian says aside to Bull, sitting close to him, comfortable under the qunari’s arm even with everyone there watching. No one’s even saying anything about it either. “…guess we’re already old news, aren’t we?”

Bull glances down at him and his scarred lip curls in a kinder smile than Dorian ever thought him capable of showing. His arm squeezes around Dorian just a touch firmer.

“Missing the attention?”

Dorian considers it, tapping a finger to his lip.

“Surprisingly enough—no, no I’m not.”

Bull laughs and presses a quick kiss to Dorian’s temple while the others continue to tease Blackwall.

“Modesty’s not a bad look on you, Dorian,” he jokes and just snickers as Dorian’s elbow digs into his ribs, all too used to the sensation by now.

“Oh shut up,” Dorian replies before happily snitching the bacon off of Bull’s plate.

They pack that afternoon for the long trip to Halamshiral. Everyone is going so they’re getting better wagons and horses for the journey. It means no saddle sores for Dorian to look forward to, which means that that evening he gets to enjoy Bull in the way he didn’t get to the evening prior when he was too busy moping.

They make the tacit decision to sleep separately afterwards, Bull getting up to retire to his own room for the remainder of the night. There’s a bit of hesitancy about it—at least on Dorian’s part. He interrupts Bull getting dressed no less than five times, dipping fingers under the larger man’s belt and dragging his lips over the scars that slash over Bull’s wide back.

“You keep that up and I’ll never get out the door,” Bull complains, swatting at Dorian’s ass to shoo him away.

Don’t. Don’t go.

Dorian thinks it but can’t say it, flopping back on his bed and barking out a laugh. “Oh? So we’re done? And here I thought qunari had superb stamina…. I suppose all that was just talk—”

Bull’s clothing hits the floor and his body crashes into Dorian’s. They roll right off the bed with a thump, laughing loudly together for several moments before the sounds of mirth change into sounds of passion.

They don’t get much in the way of sleep per say, but they’re together in the morning, sheets tangling around their ankles. Bull’s on his side. It means he has to take up all the pillows to make the position comfortable because of the horns, but Dorian doesn’t really mind. Bull’s bicep is comfortable enough to lay his head on as he dozes.

It’s nice and cozy and it means he’s not at all ready to cover himself when there’s a knock on the door before it swings open.

“Sorry to disturb your rest, Dorian… have you seen Iron Bull? He’s not in his room and the caravan needs some help with heavy lifti—oh sweet Maker!”

Cullen turns his head respectfully, ears red as he blocks his view of Bull’s… endowments with the documents he has in hand. Dorian scrambles to cover himself while Bull just jerks his chin to Cullen, grins and shifts as if to spread his legs more.

“Cullen! How’s it hanging?” he asks and Dorian just barely resists the urge to kick him for the terrible joke.

Cullen doesn’t even get a chance to reply because Josephine of all people is walking up beside him. “Excuse me, commander, is Dorian awake? I’d like to utilize his connections to—oh! Oh my!” Josephine sputters—and unlike Cullen she stares right at it. Dorian scowls, torn between covering himself and covering Bull, who is soaking up the attention.

“I am s-so sorry…” Cullen manages after a moment.

“I cannot move my legs,” Josephine declares, eyelashes fluttering a little.

Dorian’s fairly certain this cannot get any worse. He’s wrong of course, because Cassandra bloody Pentaghast wanders up to see what all the fuss is about. “Is something the matter—ah!” she all but shrieks, steps faltering.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Dorian cries out and throws a pillow at Bull’s crotch while the qunari laughs so hard his belly shakes.

“Do you see this?” Cassandra asks Cullen, her eyes wide like dinner plates.

“No,” Cullen answers immediately, face and neck red.

“So I take it—” Cassandra begins delicately, cheeks pink. Dorian swears again, tries to cover Bull’s mouth before the qunari says what Dorian knows he’s about to say—

“Actually, he’s the one who’s been taking it— ow!” Bull gets punch to his arm for that, pouting at Dorian for it. Cullen sniggers behind the papers shielding his face.

“I apologize for interrupting what I assume was a… momentary diversion?” Cassandra manages to get out, throat tight. She’s really trying not to stare, doing a far better job keeping her gaze above the waist than Josephine.

Damn Antivans… Dorian thinks to himself, shifts so he’s shielding Bull from view. The qunari notices, smirking a little and tiptoeing his fingers annoyingly up Dorian’s back.

“Nothing wrong with having a bit of fun,” Cullen says helpfully.

“I mean, who wouldn’t be a little curious…?” Josephine adds, flicking her eyes southward and then giving Dorian a helpless sort of grin.

“This is more than a momentary diversion, you clods, and Bull and I intend to continue!” Dorian bursts out with, surprising the man behind him as well as the advisors. “Now get out!”

Dorian launches a pillow at Cassandra and the rest, the Nevarran dodging it easily. Cullen laughs, tugging Josephine away with a hand.

“We’ll leave you to it, then. Come along ambassador…” Cullen says, Josephine stumbling after the commander.

Cassandra just makes a disgusted noise—but Dorian notices her lip curls in a smile as she turns to go, shutting the door behind her.

“You okay, Dorian?” Bull asks, rubbing up and down the other man’s back comfortingly.

Dorian considers it a moment, face ruddy. Surprisingly, he is. Very much so. “Better than them,” he says with a slight smirk, “I think we may have blinded poor Cullen. And given Blackwall’s lady some unrealistic expectations for him to try to live up to...” Dorian’s eyes flick down at Bull’s crotch meaningfully.

“Vengeance for your footsies and getting covered in druffalo spit,” Bull states with a snicker, Dorian joining him in laughter. “But I thought for a second there you were going to set Josephine on fire. You really are a possessive little monster, aren’t you?”

“And you’re not?”

Bull shakes his head. “Not in my nature. I figure you’ll let me know when we’re done,” he explains, leaning over to pluck his pants up from the floor, sliding up to sitting to put them on.

Dorian’s gut clenches for some reason, but he shakes it off. He kneels behind Bull instead, kisses at his shoulder and neck until he gets the taller man’s attention, Bull’s head turning towards his.

“Is that so?” he asks and when Bull makes an inquisitive noise he kisses him, says, “And here I haven’t said ‘maleficar’ and you’ve stopped….”

Bull blinks. Smirks. The pants hit the floor again.

They’re fashionably late to joining up with the caravan. Beatrix doesn’t look too annoyed with them, obviously Cullen’s spoken to her judging by the mischievous grin she shoots them both. Bull gives her a thumbs up in response and Dorian smacks the qunari’s hand down with his staff, Bull sulking at him as he nurses his sore hand.

They travel the main roads for once, the caravan making surprisingly good time. When they stop to water the horses, Dorian leaves the relative comfort of the wagon to stretch his legs. Cole is following Varric around like a little lost lamb, tapping the dwarf on his shoulder.

“Hrm? What is it, kid?”

“I want to try again, Varric,” Cole declares with determination.

The dwarf sighs heavily, giving Cole his attention. “Alright kid, lay it on me…”

“Knock, knock,” Cole says.

“Who’s there?”

“Cole.”

“Cole who?”

The spirit boy’s brow knits and he says worriedly, “It’s me, Cole. That is my name. You didn’t forget me, did you, Varric?”

The dwarf slaps his forehead, swiping his hand down his face. “No, no, kid… augh. You’re still not getting it. Keep trying,” he encourages, patting Cole’s arm and walking off, leaving the pouting rogue behind.

Cole crouches in the grass sulkily. It’s hard for Dorian to remember that Cole is a demon underneath all that innocence and interest in the world around him. It occurs to him then that there’s something he needs to ask of the boy and he walks over to him, sitting beside him.

“Oh. Hello, Dorian,” Cole greets, chin set on his bony knees. He always looks half-starved for some reason or another. Dorian’s never seen him eat, so maybe that’s why.

“Cole,” he begins delicately, “That wooden duck I found on my bed… was that you?”

The boy blinks his big eyes at Dorian, confusion clear on his haunting features: “No…. I’m not a wooden duck…” he replies slowly, as if Dorian was the odd one between the two of them.

Dorian sighs heavily, “I mean did you put it there?”

Cole’s features brighten somewhat when he realizes what Dorian’s speaking of. “Yes!” he says, tipping his head at Dorian, hat shading all but his sad smile, “I couldn’t find one with little wheels though. I’m sorry.”

Dorian shakes his head. “Don’t be…” he says, leaning back and looking at the clouds. “It… helped. Thank you.”

Cole wets his lips, brow furrowing under the brim of his hat. “Silver skin smoother than it seems, heartbeat strong under my ear. He stayed. They never stay. I want him to stay. Please, Maker, let him stay…” Cole lifts his head a little, worriedly, “I’m sorry, Dorian. I didn’t mean to make you cry…”

Dorian’s face warms and he shakes his head, “No, it’s fine. I needed to. And it helped me figure things out so I…” Dorian pauses and laughs, “I really wish there was something I could do for you, Cole…”

Cole considers the offer, watches everyone mill around the caravan with keen interest and something like longing in his eyes.

“I’m curious about you, Dorian. You and everyone else… that’s why I can’t help it. Even if I can only know your pain I… I feel like it gets me closer to you all. It feels so real… and sometimes I don’t know if I am…” Cole says carefully, shifting a little in the grass. “…I just want to help.”

“I’m curious about you as well, Cole,” Dorian admits, smiles, “How about this—you can ask me questions whenever you like, yes?”

Cole’s eyes widen and a brilliant smile crosses his normally downturned lips. “I—I can? Oh… oh thank you!”

Dorian chuckles wearily as the boy practically vibrates beside him in excitement. “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” he says, staring farther off to where Bull is helping haul supplies from one wagon to another, muscles barely twitching from the effort when it takes three men working together to lift the crates Bull’s hauling one-handed.

Bull seems to notice Dorian’s gaze, he looks up from his work and grins, smiling and waving. Dorian’s hand comes up to wave automatically, but he stops himself, sticks his nose up in the air instead to deliberately ignore Bull. The qunari doesn’t seem to mind, smile widening as he sets the crate down and goes to pick up another.

“Glittering to gloss a hidden hurt. Unlearning not to hope for more. Stumbling steps where the wall used to be,” Cole murmurs into his knees, glancing over at Dorian, “Wants to be wanted but left wanting in ways. Tries to pick up the bricks but they turn to dust in the hand...”

Dorian sighs, rubbing at his temples.

“Yes, already regretting,” he states, smiles and then pulls Cole’s arm to get the spirit to stand with him, seeking out Varric and Blackwall.

Cole’s rubbish at knock knock jokes but with a bit of work Dorian imagines the boy would make a killing at poker with that unreadable look of his.

Chapter Text

 

The roads begin to transition from rough dirt and mud to cobblestone as they travel across the Empire. Roughly carved out turfs of potatoes and leeks change to frivolous fields of flowers, lavender and lilies overpowering in their scent.

 

“Welcome to Orlais,” Bull says with a snort, rubbing his nose. Blackwall chortles and nods, pinching his nostrils closed as well.

 

The trip isn’t without scuffles, which helps break up the tedium for Bull at least. Bull’s been getting worse at being idle ever since turning Tal-Vashoth. It’s like an itch under his skin, constant and irritating. Dorian’s a good distraction, but what they do together satisfies a different need entirely. Bull knows the tension’s showing in his fighting, all that frustration and fury. He lets enemies come closer than he should because getting a knife to ribs at least makes him remember he’s alive.

 

“Hey, Blackwall—what’s the most limbs you’ve cut off something in one swing?” Bull asks, giving his axe a few practice swipes, slicing off the heads of a few unfortunate sunflowers to his right. It’s been a while since the last skirmish and he’s getting antsy.

 

Blackwall keeps that stubborn look on his face—‘Furrows’, Bull’s taken to calling him—and responds delicately, “For the Wardens, battle is a sacred duty. A vigil kept to guard the world against destruction. It’s not a game.”

 

Bull winces, glances to the decapitated plants sheepishly. “Right, right,” he agrees, lightly kicking the flowers under the fence as he walks alongside the wagon with the warden, “Same here.”

 

Blackwall raises a brow at Bull’s scuffling steps, chewing his lip for a moment before asking—“Do heads count?”

 

Bull grins from ear to ear, he knows Blackwall would get it even if no one else did: “Heads absolutely count.”

 

“Then… three,” Blackwall answers.

 

“Niiiiice!” Bull enthuses, “Down on the collarbone and through right? That’s how I get the good ones.” Beatrix had gotten Harritt to make Bull a new battle axe—he’d chipped the head of his last one during a scuffle with Red Templars in the Emerald Graves. The new one’s made of everite and onyx and the edge is sharper than a high dragon’s tail spikes. It goes through bones and sinew like a hot knife through butter—and it’s really pretty.

 

“Reprehensible,” Solas says from Blackwall’s left. He’s also taken to walking alongside the caravan instead of riding inside the wagon. It’s a nice day for it. However, Solas is looking at the two of them, Bull especially, with disdain.

 

“What? C’mon, Solas, nothing wrong with having a bit of fun with it,” Bull complains, “I mean lookit you—you really kicked the shit outta those bandits a few miles back!”

 

“Unless the fight is personal, violence is a means to an end, nothing more,” Solas rebukes sharply, “It isn’t appropriate to celebrate and it is distasteful to revel in death as you do.”

 

“To be fair, Bull started it,” Blackwall says, stepping a little further back as Solas engages Bull in a glaring contest of sorts, “I er, think I hear the Inquisitor calling me…”

 

The warden beats a quick retreat— while Blackwall doesn’t balk when approaching a fleet of darkspawn, he isn’t an idiot. He isn’t about to get between the guy three times his size and the other guy who can call lightning down from the sky.

 

It’s just as well, Bull making a scoffing sound as he shoulders his axe. “You gotta wonder about anyone who kills as many people as we do and doesn’t have a bit of fun with it…” he reasons.

 

Solas pierces Bull with a look, “We have killed living men, with loved ones and families. And all that they might have been is gone.”

 

“Yeah,” Bull replies with a grunt, “But they were assholes.”

 

“Now that certainly sounds like something a savage Tal-Vashoth might say,” Solas says delicately, looking ahead and not reacting when Bull’s grip tightens on the haft of his axe, “But you are not Tal-Vashoth, Iron Bull. Not truly.”

 

“Well that’s a fucking relief,” Bull replies, voice darkening, furious. “Mind letting Par Vollen know that, egghead?”

 

Solas’ placid expression doesn’t change even at the insult. “Do not misunderstand. You make light of battle, of your enjoyment of bloodshed. But you are no beast, snapping under the stress of the Qun’s harsh discipline. You are a man who made a choice…”

 

Behind them the wagon bursts into sounds of outrage and laughter, startling Bull. Solas glances back as well. Bull can hear Sera shouting ‘shite’ and ‘piss’ at the top of her lungs, Varric’s deep chuckles, Beatrix’s calls for peace—but far more clearly he can hear a masculine, youthful laugh that he’s become very familiar with as of late. Bull thinks of the night before they left Skyhold and how Dorian laughed then too, cheeks dimpled and eyes bright.

 

“Perhaps,” Solas states, bringing Bull back into the conversation, “The first of your life.”

 

Bull snorts, shakes his head with amusement as he slings his axe over his back again, glancing down at the elven mage with an arched eyebrow. Solas manages to smirk back, adding, “Aside from whom you decide to bed, Iron Bull.”

 

“You’d be surprised. That’s actually a big deal under the Qun,” Bull says.

 

“Particularly when bedding the enemy, I would imagine…”

 

“Yeah,” Bull agrees and knows he’s staring off silently for far too long when Solas clears his throat. “Not even getting any information from it either—well aside from fashion tips. Apparently my pants are so out of style they’ve been finding fossilized versions in Nevarran ruins…” Bull continues with a chuckle. He sighs and looks to the sky, taking a deep breath. It smells like rain. Makes him think of damp jungle heat and twisted vines and the spray of salt on the water.

 

“Not that I really have anyone to give information to anymore…” Bull adds. He’s been writing reports anyways, it’s a hard habit to break. They’re cluttering up his pack right now.

 

They start like they always do, bland accounts of what he’s seen and heard. But somewhere around the middle Bull starts writing things like ‘how can you turn me away now after all I’ve given?’ and ‘I don’t know what to do anymore and it’s your fault’ and most importantly, ‘I lied back then: I’m not sorry and I never was’. He writes opinions down, instead of facts. He details the way Beatrix’s smile makes him feel like he can weather any storm, how Krem is like the younger brother he always wanted and how smooth Dorian’s lips taste with a coating of Sun Blonde Vint-1. Some pages simply state ‘fuck the Qun’ over and over again until the words become messes of inky scribbles and the paper is full of holes from the quill nib stabbing through it repeatedly.

 

Those pages make him the most nervous. He crumples them up and burns them, but the rest he saves.

 

“I’ve always liked fighting,” Bull says. He’s talked to Solas before about Seheron when they argued about the Qun; he’s told the elf about Tal-Vashoth and how much he hates them. How could he not, having seen them mercilessly slaughter tamassrans and their children in front of him? Bull still doesn’t see himself as one of them even though he’s turned from the Qun. Maybe it just hasn’t happened yet. He’s been so fucking angry lately, holding it in, pushing it down. Keeping it away from everyone. Dorian only sees a glimpse when he wakes Bull from his night terrors.

 

Maybe it’s just a matter of time. “What if I turn savage? Like the other Tal-Vashoth?”

 

Solas quietly considers this for a moment as Bull stares ahead tensely. He jumps when he feels the elf’s hand light on his arm, glancing over at Solas in surprise.

 

“You have the Inquisition. You have the Inquisitor. And you have me,” he says.

 

Bull doesn’t believe it’ll be enough, still he says, “Thanks, Solas.”

 

“Aww, what a heartwarming sight. Elf and qunari, bridging societal gaps. Brings a tear to my wicked Tevinter eye…” Dorian says, appearing behind them. He makes a point of squeezing into the small space that is formed when Solas takes his hand away, standing beside Bull as if it’s his right to.

 

“Got thrown out of the card game, huh?” Bull asks, smirking a little.

 

Dorian gasps, pulling a hand to his chest. “I’m wounded by the implication, Bull! I merely wished to take a break from Sera’s harpy-like screeches whenever she lost a hand! Whatever makes you think I was kicked out?”

 

“The ace of dragons up your sleeve, for one thing,” Bull replies, plucking the card from Dorian’s garment and waving it in front of his nose laughingly.

 

“However did that get there? It’s a mystery, to be sure!” Dorian proclaims, feigning innocence. Bull merely rolls his eye, about to tell him what he thinks of that when the horses ahead whinny and stall to a stop.

 

“Trouble ahead—a blockade!” calls a forward scout, running back to the caravan with bow in hand, “Thirty or more!”

 

“Banner?” Bull asks, pulling out his battle-axe in preparation. Dorian and Solas both have their staves out as well.

 

“Venatori, sir. They’ve Red Templars with them, they—”

 

The scout doesn’t get to finish, a red Templar assassin appears from behind him and stabs him through with knife-like shards of red lyrium. The creature approaches the two mages and warrior after the scout slides off his daggers, about to strike. Bull steps in front of the mages with axe in hand, ready to intercept when suddenly the horror is screaming, dropping its weapons.

 

Two throwing knives are stuck deep into its eye sockets, blinding the creature. Bull winces in sympathy—he knows how much that kind of a wound stings.

 

Cole appears from out of nowhere and leaps forward, thrusting a long dagger deep into the Templar’s throat, finishing it off in a spray of blood that stains Cole’s clothing and face as he yanks the knife free again.

 

The spirit turns to look at the trio, sweeping bloody blonde locks out of his eyes with a red hand.

 

“He thought it would make him stronger, make the old songs quiet, loosen the Order’s collar,” Cole says. “He was wrong but now the pain is over. Thank the Maker—it is finally over. He’s free.”

 

“Well, goody for him,” Dorian says caustically, “We need to inform the Inquisitor immedia— Bull? Bull!

 

Bull’s running ahead, axe drawn and ready for battle. His vision is red as the deadly lyrium and the Templar’s last thoughts, spoken through Cole, pound in his head. Gratitude for the killing blow that finally set him free from all that tied him down.

 

Bull understands that more than he wants to and it makes him angry.

 

It’s a great battle. They’ve got two of those big guys, the ones that throw shards of lyrium about. Bull leaps the barrier and his axe cuts into one of the behemoth’s knee, taking him down so Bull’s next swing can get at his neck. Bull’s got an arrow in his shoulder and is bleeding from a wound on his side. Still he’s taken one big one out, plus three of the smaller guys, by the time the cavalry arrives.

 

Bull narrowly dodges a blast of ice that freezes a Templar to his right solid. It doesn’t surprise him that it’s being thrown by Dorian, who has a murderous expression on his face. The mage runs past Bull without a backwards glance or apology for the near-miss, swinging his staff into the Templar turned ice sculpture along the way; dashing the man into pieces on the ground viciously.

 

Great. Bull thinks to himself bitterly as he catches a swung mace in his bare hand. He throws it and the screaming Templar attached to it into the path of Madame Vivienne’s lightning bolts. I’m in trouble.

 

Bull feels pretty envious of Cullen and Beatrix at the moment. It’s pretty impressive how they fight in unison considering how different they are, ex-Templar and former Circle mage.

 

Cullen puts up his shield at an angle and there is trust in the maneuver, the silverite surface reflecting the bolts of magic Beatrix sends towards it. The redirected magic hits the second behemoth in the face, blinding it. When it angrily sprays shards of red lyrium with an out-flung arm, the commander catches the Inquisitor under her waist, tucking her close to him underneath the shield, keeping them both safe as she recovers her magic. When the barrage stops they both rush the beast in unison, Cullen cleaving through one leg with his longsword and Beatrix doing the same with a blade made of magic energy. The creature falls onto its face with a moan of pain that Beatrix stifles with a flare of wintery magic. Cullen smashes the frozen monster with a downward thrust of his sword, scattering it into pieces on the ground.

 

They breathe hard from their exertions, looking into each other’s eyes with pure admiration as their chests rise and fall in tandem. Bull’s unsure of who looks away first, he has to turn to engage an enemy momentarily and when he glances back, the duo are on opposite ends of the battlefield.

 

“Mind your head!” Dorian calls snappishly and Bull quickly falls to the muddy ground to avoid a crackle of lightning that carelessly singes the tips of his horns.

 

Yeah. Definitely in trouble.

 

“—running ahead like a wild animal, not thinking of anything but fighting and killing, taking on a platoon of red Templars on your own like an absolute fool—”

 

Bull’s got his chin in his palm, sighing. Beatrix is tending to Blackwall’s wounds and they’re talking cheerfully. Meanwhile he’s got one extremely cranky Tevinter mage taking care of him, running his fingers over the wounds with care. He doesn’t know why Dorian’s griping—he’s even letting him use magic when normally he wouldn’t.

 

“What were you thinking, Bull?” Dorian asks, shocking Bull out of his thoughts. Dorian’s voice catches his attention, it’s softer than the ranting tone that’s been going on for about eighteen and a half minutes now.

 

Bull considers the question for a while, rubbing at his bruised up nose. He’s torn between telling Dorian the truth— that he’s still aching inside and afraid and angry— or lying about it all. Dorian’s opened up to him quite a bit after all and it would be only fair. But then again, all that opening up just proves that Dorian’s got enough shit to worry about without having to deal with Bull’s crap as well. He’s had to wake Bull up from bad dreams at least three times now since they started sleeping together regularly.

 

Bull attempts diplomacy even though it’s not really in his skillset, walking the middle-ground: “You don’t want to know. Just leave it alone, Dorian.”

 

Dorian’s pretty eyes narrow at him and that is apparently the wrong answer.

 

Unsurprisingly, Bull sleeps sans Dorian that night.

 

Could be worse. Bull thinks, staring up at the tarp ceiling of the wagon and listening to Varric snore nearby. The dwarf’s holding Bianca in his sleep and Bull’s kinda worrying that she’s still loaded. He could have set me on fire.

 

That morning, Bull’s even grumpier than the day prior. Dorian’s completely ignoring him, reaching over him at breakfast instead of just asking him to pass the salt. Whenever Bull walks beside him, Dorian declares he’s feeling tired and retires to the wagon. Whenever Bull manages to get into the same wagon with him, Dorian simply puts a book up between them like a shield.

 

Bull wishes he could just make Dorian understand. It wasn’t just that he didn’t want to talk about it—it was that he was afraid to. As though talking about his anger would make it realer, truer. He had seen the way Dorian reacted to his night terrors and while the mage was far more supportive than Bull thought anyone capable of being—he knew he had scared Dorian. Badly.

 

If Dorian knew he was still struggling… knew why Bull was still struggling…

 

Bull growls, taking his fury out on an innocent fence post, splitting it in two with a single swing. No one seems to notice or at least they’re smart enough not to say anything. Except—

 

“Are you feeling alright, Iron Bull?” Solas asks, walking beside Bull calmly, fearlessly. Bull just growls in response, but Solas doesn’t back away. “Perhaps a distraction may help your mood and focus your mind?”

 

Bull snorts, “Well this area’s pretty low on dancing girls, elf. Sadly.” He glances back over his shoulder towards the wagons.

 

The others are playing cards again in the main carriage, but Dorian’s in the wagon nearest to where Bull’s walking alongside Solas. The mage’s sitting on his own reading. It’s unusual for Dorian—sure, back in Skyhold the Tevinter prowls the library like an unsociable house cat— but when they’re taking a trip he’s always chatting with the rest of the group, in the thick of all social interactions.

 

“King’s pawn to E4,” Solas says, breaking Bull out of his reverie.

 

He stares at Solas incredulously in response, “You’re shitting me. We don’t even have a board!”

 

Solas simply smirks at him and asks, “Too complicated for a savage Tal-Vashoth? Perhaps you are put to better use destroying fences like a true bull, then…” Solas nods knowingly towards the splintered wooden post.

 

Bull huffs a breath through his nose and puts his axe away, muttering, “Rrr… smug little asshole…” Solas isn’t leaving him alone anytime soon. Bull glances back over his shoulder and he swears he catches Dorian looking at him, but then the mage is turning a page in his book and Bull’s certain he’s seeing things.

 

“Pawn to E5,” he says, focusing his mind. He can see the board, stark black and white like the robes Dorian’s wearing. There’s no grey and that thought comforts him. It’s simple and all the pieces move by rules that he can understand and follow.

 

“Pawn to F4,” Solas replies knowingly, “King’s gambit.”

 

The distraction’s helping, much as he doesn’t want to admit to it. “Accepted,” Bull says with a smirk, “Pawn takes pawn. Give me a bit to get the pieces set in my head—then we’ll see what you’ve got.”

 

In the afternoon they stop to water the horses. Dorian’s still ignoring him as they all have lunch together. Bull sits away from the group because it annoys him to have to hear Dorian’s voice addressing everyone except him. Beatrix is even beginning to notice it and it’s only a matter of time before she gets her nose into it.

 

Solas comes to sit next to him, handing Bull some bread and cheese from the table. “So,” he says, sitting back with his own meal, popping a grape into his mouth, “Where were we? Ah yes. Mage to C4.”

 

The tension eases from Bull’s shoulders as he chuckles at the move, recalling the board’s state in his mind. He takes a bite out of the hunk of bread, rolling it around in his mouth, “Little aggressive… arishok to H4. Check.”

 

Solas laughs at that, shaking his head. “Speaking of aggressive…” he says sarcastically, “I assume arishok is your term for the queen. King to F1.”

 

“Pawn to B5,” Bull replies and waves to Solas to pass the waterskin—the bread’s good but dry as shit. Much as he dislikes Orlesians on principle, he can’t wait to get to the stupid chateau they’re being put up at, if only to eat food that isn’t stale from travel.

 

The elven mage hands over the canteen with ease, arching an eyebrow at the move. “Alright, you have my curiousity… mage takes pawn.”

 

Bull clears his throat, gives Solas an unimpressed glance—“You call your tamassrans ‘mages’?” he says, not understanding that at all. Tamassran is a better term for the piece that moves on the diagonals. Each tamassran only accesses half the board, meaning that many players overlook them—but they could still easily hinder the progress of many pieces and can easily pin down the king in the endgame. Much like qunari females, unseen and unheard of to hostile outsiders until they had a tamassran’s blade between their eyes. Anyone could pick out a mage as a threat, they pretty much all carry staves. “Hmph. Ben-Hassrath to F6.”

 

“You call your knights ‘Ben-Hassrath’?” Solas questions in return, adding a beat after, “Incidentally, knight to F3.”

 

“Ben-Hassrath makes more sense than horses. They’re sneaky and they can move through enemy lines,” Bull insists and Solas shrugs.

 

“I’m surprised, considering you were once Ben-Hassrath and you are hardly built for stealth, Iron Bull,” Solas replies, giving another one of his implacable smirks.

 

“Ha, shows what you know,” Bull replies, “You know many people who want to wander up to a guy my size and ask what he thinks he’s doing?”

 

“Point taken,” Solas says, “Still your move.”

 

“Right,” Bull says, considering the lay of the board in his mind briefly, “Arishok to H6.”

 

“Pawn to D3.”

 

Bull grins, having expected the move. “Ben-Hassrath to H5,” he says with a flourish and pulls himself to standing as Solas puzzles over the move, “Alright, take some time. Think about your life choices…”

 

Solas scoffs and stands, shaking his head. The others are breaking up to head back to the wagons for the final push into the Orlesian countryside. “You are quite certain in this domain, my friend, whereas in others you seem unsure…” he notes calmly. It’s not really a question, Solas isn’t demanding he talk about what’s eating him, but he’s still lending an ear to whatever Bull has to say.

 

Bull surprises himself when he takes the offer for what it is, replying, “Chess has rules. They don’t change. You can name the pieces what you want—the Orlesians call the Ben-Hassraths ‘chevaliers’ and the Free Marchers call the tamassrans ‘chanters’— but no matter where you go, they all move the same ways.”

 

His eyes fix on the others, on Dorian who is laughing at Sera’s expense apparently, judging by how the elf is sticking her tongue out at him. That damn laugh carries across the field easily, all warm and inviting. Bull wishes he was over there instead of talking with Solas, but frustrated as he feels he’s not going to try and bully Dorian. If the ‘vint wants space, he’ll give him space.

 

“Rules are comfortable,” Bull adds, “Rules make things easier to understand. They keep shit from getting complicated.”

 

“And yet,” Solas remarks, “Chess is seen as one of the most complicated of games.”

 

Bull considers that, laughs, “I guess you’ve got a point there.”

 

“Not to mention—the pieces may move by rules, but it is the individuality of the players that give them strategy. Yes, there are rules, but creativity and thought shapes the game as it is played. In a way, the rules do not bind. They inspire,” Solas explains.

 

Bull’s face falls a little. “The Qun isn’t like that,” he admits, just calling out the Bronto in the room instead of beating around the bush like they were, “But I’ll admit… finding ways around it was kind of fun…”

 

“See? I knew you weren’t Tal-Vashoth, my friend,” Solas says with amusement, “You have to follow the Qun in order to turn from it, do you not?”

 

“Hey,” Bull complains, “I did my best. For fuck’s sake, I even went to the re-educators when I thought my head was messed up and I couldn’t follow it anymore…”

 

“So I have heard you say,” Solas says, making a considering sound. “If I may ask, what happened to cause that?”

 

Wicked eyes, red lips, red like the fire she conjures in a hand. She’s pretty and dangerous and he’s young and stupid.

 

The first fall they meet is his first fall in Seheron. She’s caught in a Fog Warrior’s trap and he’s got his axe in hand, ready to finish her off.

 

She stays still and accepts, doesn’t try to burn or freeze him. Her long dark hair hangs over her royale sea silk clad shoulders like swirls of ink over a piece of fine parchment. She’s shaking but looks him in the eye as he approaches, so Tevinter in the way her chin’s thrust upward in defiance. In pride.

 

He brings his axe down on the trap’s spring, freeing her ankle. It’s bruised and cut and must sting like fuck—but she manages to pull herself to her feet. She stumbles, stares at him and then runs, robes fluttering behind her like a white flag of surrender.

 

The next fall she’s back. They catch sight of one another across a thickly crowded street and mutually make the choice not to fight where so many people could be hurt.

 

The third fall is when they actually talk and he finds out her name is Sicarius. She asks him to call her Cari and he agrees so long as she calls him Bull.

 

Bull shakes his head as if to rid himself of the memory. “Nothing I want to repeat,” is all he says and rejoins the group as they get the wagons rolling.

 

“So,” he begins, catching Dorian alone by the fire that night. When the mage makes to stand and leave, Bull breaks his own rules, grasping the man by the forearm firmly to keep him still. “I’ve caught the hints. You’re angry at me.”

 

Noooo,” Dorian replies caustically with his eyes all wide, because he’s a sarcastic little shit. He pulls to try and free himself from Bull’s grasp, but doesn’t get far.

 

“You know what you can say to get me to let go,” Bull reminds as he holds fast. Dorian frowns at him, but the watchword doesn’t leave his lips so Bull continues, “I’m sorry. For running ahead. I didn’t mean to worry you—”

 

“Ugh, typical,” Dorian interrupts, shaking his head. “That’s not why I’m angry and you know it.”

 

Bull does but he was vainly hoping Dorian wouldn’t want to go there. He takes a breath, shaking his head.

 

“Look, it’s… it’s personal, alright?” Bull insists firmly, “I won’t do it again. That much I can promise you. I told you I would never hurt you without your permission, Dorian. I meant that. I didn’t realize I had until it was already done.”

 

Dorian’s quiet, eyes at their feet. The flickering firelight catches the curves of his cheekbones and Bull marvels for a moment at how young Dorian looks. Without the moustache, he’d have a complete baby face, he can’t be much older than twenty and three. Bull wars with himself momentarily about whether or not it’s wise to continue this… whatever they were doing. Much as Dorian postures and preens, he’s still green and it shows in moments like this.

 

He wonders if Dorian also knows what it’s like to be taken for a ride by someone.

 

Bull’s hand tightens its hold on Dorian’s arm at the thought. Dorian still doesn’t say ‘maleficar’.

 

“Fine,” Dorian states but he doesn’t sound entirely pleased with the outcome. He puts his hand over Bull’s at his arm and the qunari releases without fighting, letting Dorian ease his fingers off one by one. The mage glances up at Bull carefully, his mouth opening like he wants to say something. A beat later he shuts it and shakes his head. Instead of words, he pushes up on his toes and kisses Bull.

 

“I’m cold,” the mage says, giving Bull an expectant sort of look.

 

“You’re always cold,” Bull replies with a snort, but he’s already wrapping his arms around Dorian’s waist obligingly to warm him up.

 

“It’s your fault, you know—we could have been enjoying each other’s company this whole trip, but oh no, you had to be an arsehole and ruin it,” Dorian accuses.

 

“I’m the arsehole? You wouldn’t even talk to me!”

 

Because you were an arsehole. See? All comes back to you.”

 

“Fine, you’re blameless, I’m an arsehole—can we skip to the angry makeup sex now?” Bull asks, lightly butting his forehead to Dorian’s with a smirk.

 

“I really don’t see why I should let you off so easily, I—”

 

“Andraste’s arse, will you two either shag or shut up?!” Sera’s voice carries loudly from across the encampment.

 

Dorian’s face reddens but the comment startles a laugh out of him regardless. The tension leaves his body and Bull presses his advantage, kissing distractingly at his neck.

 

“Oh very well then,” he says, turning to lock lips with Bull in earnest.

 

They stumble and fumble across the camp. Despite Bull encouraging the anger, there’s nothing like it in the way they grasp and clutch at one another. Even the lewd way he grasps at Dorian’s arse in his big hands is more desperate than furious. Dorian bites at his neck roughly, but then breathes softly on it, murmuring in Tevene as he runs his tongue along the mark he leaves behind.

 

Dorian impresses Bull by not complaining about the venue. Bull hadn’t really thought it through, didn’t consider that Dorian would actually accept his apology. So instead of anywhere particularly comfortable or warm, they’ve got some blankets spread under a tree away from camp.

 

The skies are still cloudy, but the moon is shining through the gaps in the grey. Bull kisses and necks at Dorian, who sits perfectly in his lap like a content feline. The mage purrs his pleasure, grinning into Bull’s lips as his ringed fingers run over Bull’s wide shoulders and back. He rocks against Bull’s muscled thigh, hard and needy. Dorian whispers filthily into Bull’s ear, tells the qunari how much he needs to be filled up. How hard it gets him just thinking about Bull coming inside of him, how he wants to be dripping with Bull’s spend.

 

“Hey,” Bull says, laughs huskily as he gets Dorian to shrug out of his robes, “I thought you nobles weren’t supposed to say things like that…”

 

“What can I say?” Dorian grins, cinnamon skin soft in the muted moonlight, “You’ve brought me down to your level, unfortunately.”

 

“You like being at my level,” Bull accuses, shifting, getting his pants off and now they’re both naked, silver against copper, hard and hot and ready.

 

“I love it,” Dorian replies and kisses Bull with purpose.

 

Bull wants to say something, thinks he should, but Dorian’s not letting him. So he doesn’t, because he’s good at assessing people’s needs and Dorian doesn’t need him to speak now. He lets himself be silenced with the Tevinter’s tongue and lips. His hands grab at Dorian’s ass, squeezing, slapping once so he can enjoy Dorian’s teeth bearing down on his lip in vengeance.

 

Dorian’s beautiful—and the mage knows it too. It shows in the way he tilts his hips invitingly for more, showing off that soft curve of his ass. His skin is like burnished copper, Bull runs his fingers over every inch and remembers twists of chain, jewelry in a market stall made of beaten metal, so delicate and fine-looking. Bull buries his face against Dorian’s neck, sucks a mark to replace one that’s fading. The smell of Dorian’s cologne, heavy like incense, rich and so very Tevinter, is strongest there.

 

Their fingers lace together, Dorian’s practically disappearing under Bull’s. They’ve rolled over and off the blankets and Dorian doesn’t even seem to care that his back is against the cool grass, his hands held to the dirt by Bull’s.

 

Down to my level, huh? Bull thinks but doesn’t say, breathing in the small space between their mouths whenever he has a chance. Dorian’s fingers flex with want, but Bull doesn’t let him up, mouthing his way down the other man’s body, sucking at the sharp brown peaks of his nipples—

 

A drop of rain falls on Dorian’s thigh. Another splashes on Bull’s back, dripping from the leaves above. More follow, cooling against their feverish skin. Bull glances down at Dorian. The mage is smiling, strangely enough.

 

“We should probably go back,” Bull starts to say, releasing Dorian’s hands. His breath is stolen from him when the mage surges up suddenly, nails scraping over Bull’s back with urgency as he pulls him back down—

 

“Take me,” Dorian orders, drops clinging to his eyelashes already, dripping down his lips.

 

Bull submits without even thinking about it. Without thinking about rules. Nothing is black and white here, not like the chessboard. Dorian colors his world, with the glimmers of his fancy rings and the smooth scarlet of kiss bruised lips. Dorian inspires him in ways that make his heart stutter.

 

It doesn’t matter that Bull’s the one ripping the edge of a blanket, muscled arms barely jumping at the effort. It makes no difference that he has Dorian’s hands bound behind the proud arch of his spine. Bull’s the one who is being tied and he knows it. Dorian’s mouth meets his, their lips slick with the rain that’s now spilling down from the heavens.

 

Bull can’t look him in the eyes. He’ll be lost if he does—so he tries to position them facing away. Tries to put Dorian on his knees but the mage isn’t submissive and never will be. It makes their sex more than just a release of tension—it’s athletic, competitive almost. Dorian elbows at him, fights. Digs his heels into the dirt and pushes back and Bull’s back hits the trunk of the tree.

 

“Fine,” Bull grumbles, licking the back of Dorian’s ear as the mage makes himself comfortable on Bull’s lap. They’re at least not looking right at each other, Bull able to bury his face into Dorian’s neck as his fingers pump into that tight hole. “Horny slut,” he adds ruefully.

 

Dorian gives a bark of laughter, his bound hands twisting so he can rake his nails deep across Bull’s abdomen like he wants to add more scars to the already abused skin.

 

“You really have… ah… no room to talk about being ‘horny’, Bull,” Dorian replies and then drops his head forward because Bull’s easing up inside him now. Dorian shudders each and every time but he’s never said the watchword, never has come close. He’s so tight around Bull, clutching, holding…

 

“Maker’s balls—that was a horrible… mmn… horrible joke,” Dorian remarks and laughs in delight as Bull begins to move him, happily submitting to the qunari’s will and letting himself be rocked into, eyes shut in bliss. “Rolling… aauh… around in the mud… making puns… really am sinking down to your level…”

 

“Not sinking down enough though,” Bull replies, bites Dorian’s shoulder as he pulls his hips down flush to Bull’s own. Dorian wails, his cock jumping at the sensation of Bull so deep inside him. And thankfully, it means Dorian stops talking, voice reducing to moans and curses in Tevene.

 

Dorian fits perfectly to him and Bull is appreciative of the Tevinter’s flexibility, likes how eager Dorian is to twist himself into knots. Likes pushing his knees up to his ears and hearing Dorian moan for more. Right now though, Bull wants solace, he wants it casual and simple. He wants lines in the sand, wants the sex to stop bleeding into their friendship, and he wants everything to stop meaning more than it should.

 

When it’s a hostile target, you give them what they want. But when it’s someone you care about, you give them what they need.

 

Bull wants rules. But he needs freedom and Dorian gives this to him. The rain soaked slide of their bodies makes the anger fade to a whisper. Dorian’s hands grasp at Bull’s stomach for purchase, his thighs quivering as they move together. Dorian’s heel slides along wet grass as he tries to move faster, breathing harder and begging with every inch of himself.

 

Bull’s hand slides around the damp jut of Dorian’s perfect hips, grasps the other man’s cock. It’s just as pretty as the rest of him, thick and curved, dusky pink at the tip. Dorian’s whole body jumps as the rough pad of Bull’s thumb rubs constant circles along the very tip—wet with more than rain now. Bull brings his thumb up to Dorian’s mouth and the other man’s tongue flicks coyly over it; Dorian tastes himself like he would savor fine wine.

 

Bull can’t help himself—such conceit!—and he has to kiss Dorian, fucking up into him with shorter, firmer thrusts. Aiming right at that spot he knew drove the mage mad with pleasure. He doesn’t touch Dorian further and he can feel how much the man wants him to. Bull simply watches as Dorian’s cock bounces and throbs, dripping constantly…

 

“Please,” Dorian says, face tilting back. Mouth open, eyes closed like one of those Orlesian statues of Andraste praying at the pyre.  His body is bowing in supplication, arching like the curve of a bow as Bull continues mercilessly, free to do so, to take and take and take… “Bull, I can’t…”

 

“Say it,” Bull demands.

 

Dorian bites his lip and then firmly shakes his head no. Bull smiles and kisses him again, greatly approving.

 

“Then you can,” he tells the mage, arches up just a little more—

 

And Dorian does, shuddering as he comes without even the lightest of touches. If Bull had not the forethought to flatten his palm across Dorian’s mouth, the whole camp would have known about it too. The clasping tightness of Dorian’s body only strengthens with his climax and he takes Bull with him, the qunari barely able to thrust at all, Dorian just drawing his orgasm from him. He bites on Dorian’s shoulder as he spills, over and over. Just as the mage wants him to.

 

Bull rests against the tree for a moment before he’s quickly tearing the bindings off Dorian’s wrists. The mage gives a breath of relief when his arms are free to fall at his sides again but otherwise doesn’t make a move to pull away from Bull. Bull takes the time to check each of Dorian’s fingers and both wrists. He rubs soothing circles up arms that had been held back at such an awkward angle for so long, working the feeling back into them.

 

“I’m fine,” Dorian says, hair a rain soaked mess and green eyes glimmering like serpentstone. “Just—ah—a bit sore. In a good way. An incredibly good way.”

 

“Good,” Bull says and then notices, suddenly, that it’s not raining anymore. Or at least, he’s not feeling it.

 

Dorian smirks at Bull’s bewildered expression, twists around. The act pulls Bull’s cock from him and Bull almost whines at the loss. Dorian sets his cheek to Bull’s shoulder and that’s when Bull notices it. The shimmery shield above them, protecting them from the rain.

 

“…are you—you could have done that the whole time…?!” Bull asks, incredulous.

 

Dorian shrugs. Inside the shield is warmer, the heat from their bodies echoing in the magic barrier, making the damp grass and earth almost cozy.

 

“You like the rain,” Dorian says.

 

“…and you hate it,” Bull deadpans in return.

 

“Exactly. Now shut up, you’re ruining my afterglow,” Dorian declares and makes himself comfortable against Bull’s body, watching the raindrops splash above, unable to touch them.

 

Eventually they have to get up and return to camp. They’re somewhat drier, Dorian keeping the barrier up until they duck into the tent. They don’t bother with clothing, just pulling on the blankets over their waists. Dorian settles against Bull’s side, tossing his leg over Bull’s and settling his head against Bull’s pectoral. He sighs in absolute contentment and Bull can’t help but cup the back of the mage’s head. He plays with Dorian’s hair until the other man falls asleep.

 

It takes Bull a little longer, but soon his eyes close as well.

 

“Seheron’s a shithole anyways,” Cari says, rolling her eyes, “I have no idea why the Imperium wants it back.”

 

“Because you ‘vints are greedy fuckers, maybe?” Bull suggests.

 

“Watch it, Bull,” Cari replies with a scoffing sound, “You’re talking about the wonderful people who sent me off to fight a war I don’t actually give a nug’s arse about…”

 

“Oh, right, my apologies,” Bull says with a chuckle as they watch the empty streets from the crumbling roof of a long forgotten temple. No one goes out after dark in Seheron. That’s just asking for trouble. “You probably should have used more blood magic. Isn’t that how you ‘vints get ahead in the magister rat race?”

 

Cari smirks. Her lips are red as blood and they fascinate Bull more than they should.

 

“What makes you think I didn’t?” she taunts and then sighs. “Don’t you resent it, Bull?”

 

“Resent what?”

 

“That they’re making us do this. Fight each other,” Cari insists snappishly, “It’s pointless. Don’t you ever just want to run away from it? Do what you want to do?”

 

“And become Tal-Vashoth? Wild animals who aren’t even qunari anymore? Be hunted forever by my own people?” Bull drawls, flicks a bit of rubble off the roof, “Yeah, I’ll pass.”

 

“You say that, but it’s just because you don’t know any better. I could show you, Bull,” Cari insists. She’s suddenly closer to him, practically crawling into his lap. “Let me show you…”

 

Bull’s transfixed by her eyes and he shuts his own as she kisses him. He’s not sure whether he pretends not to see the flash of indigo in her eyes or if she makes him forget it. Being unsure of that terrifies him.

 

Bull wakes slowly, sweaty and clammy. He struggles up onto his elbows and sees Dorian sitting by his feet, gray morning light haloing the mage’s concerned expression. His hands are resting on Bull’s ankles, having shaken him awake.

 

Bull swallows, reminds himself he’s not a kid anymore and that Dorian isn’t her. He’s Tal-Vashoth now but it was his choice and not anyone else’s. Not even Dorian’s.

 

“C’mere,” he says hoarsely and Dorian obliges him. No questions asked.

 

The road’s easier now that they’re talking again. It keeps Bull’s mind occupied for the most part but he’s still got a game to finish. Dorian’s walking alongside him with a book balanced on his fingertips—Bull’s been keeping him from running into anything with an arm around the mage’s shoulders—when Solas wanders up with a sly look on his face like a wolf in the henhouse.

 

“Alright, Bull,” Solas says with a flourish, “If you are prepared, knight to H4.”

 

Dorian looks up from his book curiously as Bull responds without needing much time at all to recall the state of the board. “Arishok to G5… so, are you giving up the tamassran at B5 or the Ben-Hassrath at H4?”

 

“Neither,” the elf declares, “Knight to F5.”

 

“Pawn to C6. Left your tamassran hanging out…”

 

“And you your knight!” Solas replies with a smirk, “Or… Ben-Hassrath, if you will. Pawn to G4.”

 

“Ben-Hassrath to F6,” Bull says and grins at the constipated look Solas gets on his face, having not expected that move apparently. It’s a tricky maneuver, many moves in the making, but Bull’s all too familiar with how one can lay a trap and slowly close it before the prey even realizes it’s been caught.

 

“Hm. Tower to G1,” Solas grumbles finally.

 

“Ha!” Bull laughs raucously, victoriously, “Pawn takes your tamassran. Or mage. Whatever it is.”

 

“I get the idea,” Solas responds in a withering tone. Dorian shrugs when the elf looks his way, but he’s somewhat amused as well.

 

“Too much time playing with spirits, Fade-walker…” Bull teases. He gave no illusions about being a graceful victor. Under the Qun it was seen as a fault—pride in one’s self something Koslun dismissed as ‘self-indulgence that serves none’. But Bull isn’t under the Qun, not anymore.

 

“We shall see,” Solas says but he isn’t too put-off, adding, “Speaking of spirits, you seem in better ones, Iron Bull.”

 

“Well sex will do that for you,” Bull says and winces when he gets a book upside his face for that, Dorian cursing him under his breath as he makes space between them in annoyance.

 

“He almost says the word, sometimes,” Bull nearly jumps out of his skin because he didn’t see Cole until he spoke. The spirit boy is walking alongside a cart, absently petting the flank of the horse pulling it. “Maleficar… he tastes it in his mouth, sweet release a breath away. Tongue tying it tenderly like you tie him. But he doesn’t—for you and for him— for it’s what you fear and what he fears to be, trust turning to tenderness, into a fuller feeling, a brighter burst—”

 

Bull clears his throat loudly and he can’t believe it but he’s blushing thanks to Cole’s poking about in their heads, staring straight ahead. “And how’s he feel about you saying this in front of everybody?” Bull asks uncomfortably.

 

“If a Rift opened up right now and swallowed me, I’d be fine with that,” is Dorian’s response, hand covering his face. Bull can still see the red tips of his ears.

 

“Provided it tied you down first, one assumes,” Solas adds unhelpfully, grinning in that wolfish way again.

 

Dorian makes a rude gesture Solas’ way, Cole looking distinctly distressed at the effect of his words, the others of the Inner Circle laughing at the display. Dorian snaps out a sharp, “Honestly, you lot—Bull and I are consenting adults, there’s nothing wrong with what we choose to do in bed!”

 

“Not just in bed!” Cole insists and Bull’s sure the kid’s trying to come to their defense, “Sometimes it’s up against the wall! Or on the ramparts! Once on the war table!”

 

Bull can’t help his laughter—especially when he catches sight of Cullen’s face. The ex-Templar looks horrified, his lips forming a weak, “…my maps…” in an inconsolable tone as his horse nickers at him in concern.

 

Sera sniggers, “Pbbbbt! Hope you took him right up the Dales.”

 

Dorian’s laughing too now, struggling to stop as Beatrix comforts the commander with a pat on the back. Blackwall’s howling and Varric’s no better, practically falling out of the wagon in his mirth at the whole thing.

 

“Can we please move on?” Cassandra groans, face just as pink as when she walked in on them. Vivienne’s equally aghast, rolling her eyes from the white horse she’s riding side-saddle.

 

“I could not agree more, my dear,” she adds haughtily, arching a brow at Dorian who merely blows a kiss back at her.

 

Beatrix laughs from her position riding beside Cullen, nodding ahead. “Well that should be distracting enough…”

 

The air is thick with smell of grape vines, acres of them. In the distance, the fine mansion stands above it all—pristine and pricely. A testament to its owner’s prestige.

 

“Welcome to Chateau de Chalons,” the Inquisitor says with a slow whistle at the marble statues that tower on either side.

 

“Thought you would be used to such finery,” Cullen remarks, glancing over at her. She merely arches an eyebrow in response.

 

“I may have grown up in a mansion but I spent most of my life in the Ostwick Circle,” she replies patiently and Bull notes tension in her voice as she addresses Cullen, “Even so, House Trevelyan didn’t have quite such… extravagant decor…”

 

“House Pavus did,” Dorian remarks dryly, sniffing at the gaudy statues. Bull gives him a look and Dorian shrugs, “We had peacocks in the front yard, for one thing… bloody things always snapped at me…”

 

“Well I don’t care as long as there’s food,” Bull says, rubbing his stomach, “After last night, I’m starving.”

 

Dorian laughs at that, rolling his eyes. He still moves a step closer and Bull smiles, placing his hand on the small of Dorian’s back as they walk together.

 

The Grand Duke greets them, his eyes lighting behind the mask he wears as Beatrix dismounts and walks up to him, offering her hand to shake.

 

“My lady,” the duke says, taking and kissing Beatrix’s hand, “What a pretty picture you make on your mount. Like the Prophetess going to war.”

 

“Except a lot less blond haired and ivory skinned,” Beatrix says, wariness in her tone, pulling her hand back. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Grand Duke. The Inquisition is grateful for your assistance in this matter.”

 

“Oh please, call me Gaspard, Inquisitor,” the duke says with a rakish smile, “And I am hardly put out by your request. Having a gorgeous, accomplished woman such as yourself to accompany me to these dull peace talks is not exactly a hardship, Lady Trevelyan….”

 

“Beatrix,” the Inquisitor corrects after a moment, glancing to Josephine as if uncertain of the interaction. The Antivan nods in encouragement. “Ah yes,” she adds as they’re brought into the parlor, “I should introduce the rest of the Inner Circle—I believe you are familiar with the ambassador and spymaster already?”

 

“But of course,” Gaspard says, with a bow to each of the ladies. He doesn’t lavish either with the same close attention as Beatrix however, Bull notices. “It is wonderful to see you again, Lady Montilyet. And who does not know of the famed Nightingale of the Imperial Court? I only hope I am not a target fixed in my lady’s keen sights…”

 

“That remains to be seen, Grand Duke,” Leliana remarks with a quirk of her lip.

 

“And this is my—the Inquisition’s—commander,” Beatrix says, Cullen giving a stilted bow of his head in deference. “Ser Cullen of Honnleath. Knight-Captain of Kirkwall’s Chantry.”

 

“Former Knight-Captain, as it were,” Cullen replies, putting his hand out. Gaspard accepts it and Bull notes the brief squeeze of leather on leather, both men testing the other’s strength with the handshake. Cullen releases first, smiles, “It’s an honor to meet you, sir. Your prowess as a chevalier and a military commander is legendary.”

 

“Ha! Such flattery, commander. They will adore you at court,” Gaspard says with certainty, “But from what I hear of the Inquisition’s forces, you are no slouch yourself, commander.”

 

Bull’s pretty sure Cullen’s on the verge of fainting from the recognition. Sometimes when the commander’s caught off-guard, Bull can see clearly that he’s still a small-town kid, deep down. The kind that probably ran around with a wooden sword taking on bullies twice his size.

 

“T-thank you, ser,” Cullen responds, shoulders held up tightly, “It’s high praise indeed, coming from yourself.”

 

“You must come and watch my men train sometime, it would be my pleasure to allow you access to the chevalier’s practice grounds. Anything to help the Inquisition’s armies, yes?” Gaspard says as he shows them into the main hall. Outside they’re unloading the wagons, the horses being taken to the stables and being cared for.

 

Introductions happen and they’re shown to their quarters. Everyone gets their own room. It doesn’t surprise Bull one bit that Gaspard puts Beatrix’s quarters beside his while Cullen’s are all the way across the mansion. He’s grumbling, passing a whetstone over his throwing axe, mood foul again. This is the kind of bullshit that he hates about Orlais.

 

The axe embeds itself in the fancy portrait of Emperor Florian as his door opens. Solas raises an eyebrow slightly as he watches the haft of the weapon shake from the force Bull’s thrown it with.

 

“So much for being in good spirits,” Solas says dryly as Bull grunts and rises to pull the axe out of the artwork and the wall.

 

“I’m fine,” Bull grumbles, flipping the axe in his hand. “Just restless.”

 

Solas isn’t Dorian, he doesn’t just let things go. “I share your concerns for the Inquisitor. I may not have the same experience in such matters as Josephine or Leliana, but the Fade is rife with stories of spies and courtly conflict. I almost look forward to it playing out before my eyes—were not my friend to be thrown into its path.”

 

Bull grunts again. “Beatrix doesn’t know what she’s getting into. And Cullen’s too busy being starry-eyed about the idea of getting the chevaliers added to the army that he’s not looking out for her,” Bull says and throws the axe again, getting Florian right in the forehead this time, “Pisses me off.”

 

“I would think you were used to such matters. Were you not stationed here in Orlais?”

 

“I’m used to it, just like I’m used to Tevinter bullshit,” Bull explains, “Doesn’t mean I gotta like it.”

 

“Indeed,” Solas agrees, rolling his eyes, “If another person stops me and asks why I’m not in the kitchens I very well may resort to violence…”

 

“Oh? And I thought you were above all that…” Bull says with a smirk, pulling the axe free again. The portrait’s looking pretty wrecked now.

 

Solas laughs, “There’s a reason I’m coming to you now, Bull. I thought you might want to finish our game.”

 

Bull considers the offer, tapping the haft of his axe against a shoulder. “You know we could probably get an actual board here…”

 

“But then it is hardly as much of a challenge, is it not? Will you join me or not?”

 

Bull thinks about it a bit longer, nods and follows Solas out. They take to the gardens, neither of them enjoying the odd looks they get. Most Orlesians haven’t ever seen a qunari and the fact that Solas isn’t a servant is, apparently, groundbreaking.

 

“Let’s see, where were we… ah yes. Pawn to H4,” Solas says.

 

Varric and Sera have also found the indoors too stuffy and austere—Varric’s writing away in his journal while Sera meticulously scribbles moustaches and dicks on every statue in the yard. Bull finds the drawing of a dick with what appears to be a hairy arse and arms and legs pretty impressive, although the caption ‘I AM ZE DUKE GARSEPARD HON HON HON OUI OUI BAGUETTES VAL ROYEAUX!’ is fairly inflammatory.

 

“Arishok to G6,” Bull says, and squints at the drawing because yes, that is another dick poking out of the weird creature’s arse. Oh Sera.

 

“Pawn to H5,” Solas says, taking advantage of Bull’s distraction, “Careful.”

 

“Tch,” Bull grunts, shaking his head, “You’re the one who lost his mage…” Then again, Bull reminds himself, he almost lost his as well. If Dorian can be even called his. If Bull even wanted him to be… “Arishok to G5,” he says quickly, hating how messed up his head was getting. Damn mages.

 

“Queen to F3,” Solas says and then adds after a moment, “Speaking of losing mages…”

 

Bull glances to where Solas is looking and there’s the Grand Duke, walking the vineyard rows with the Inquisitor. She’s being polite as always, but Bull can read body language well. She’s uncomfortable and hiding it. He begins to stride forward to do something about it, but Solas grabs his shoulder and shakes his head.

 

“She would not thank you for it.”

 

Bull’s shoulders slump because he knows the damn elf is right about that. Besides, Beatrix is doing well enough on her own—she’s already put distance between herself and the duke on the pretense of investigating the vines more closely.

 

“Almost trapped my Arishok,” he states after a moment, not sure if he’s talking about the pieces anymore, exactly, “Ben-Hassrath to G8.”

 

“Mage takes pawn, threatens queen,” Solas responds and thankfully Cullen’s riding up the row of grapes on horseback, along with one of Gaspard’s men.

 

The look on the commander’s face is strange as he dismounts—he glances to Gaspard and Beatrix both before shaking his head and greeting the Orlesian commander, talking to him in earnest.

 

“Hrmph…” Bull grunts in annoyance, at the way Cullen looks at Beatrix with something like suspicion. Humans are so annoying. “Arishok to F6,” he says and Beatrix also retreats in similar fashion, Cullen’s eyes tracing her back.

 

“Knight to C3…” Solas responds and shakes his head, “One cannot win a war with a queen alone, Bull.”

 

“Says you,” Bull mutters, caught glowering at the whole thing, “You’re still one tamassran down. Tamassran to C5, by the way…”

 

“Still at it you two?” Dorian’s also out of doors, wearing his casual attire. If anything Dorian wears could be remotely considered ‘casual’. The outfit bares his throat and shoulder and there’s a nice bruise or two there. Bull’s eye widens in surprise at the fact that Dorian’s not bothering to cover them up.

 

“Not for much longer,” Solas declares, “Knight to D5.”

 

“Arishok takes pawn at D2,” Bull replies without missing a beat. Beatrix walks past them all without a word, which isn’t like her at all. Her lips are drawn tight.

 

“Mage to D6.”

 

“What is going on with the Inquisitor?” Dorian wonders, glancing to Bull. “She looks like someone put rashvine nettle in her smallclothes…”

 

“Who knows?” Bull mutters and then adds a beat later, “Arishok takes tower…” Bull’s puzzling out that last move, it’s not like Solas to make a mistake like that, “Check. What are you doing, Solas?”

 

“King to E2,” Solas says and steps out of the way as Cullen’s suddenly striding the same path, following Beatrix. They’re quite a distance away when the blond catches up, grasps Beatrix’s elbow to stop her. Neither of them appear happy, especially when the redhead jerks her arm away protectively.

 

“Alright,” Bull says, tone incredulous, “Tamassran takes tower. Your last tower, by the way.”

 

“Pawn to E5,” Solas replies, serene as always. In the background the Inquisitor and commander make exasperated gestures at one another, voices slightly higher than usual.

 

“Really?” Bull asks, exasperated. He’s watching the scene unfold in his periphery and Dorian is as well, concern furrowing the younger man’s brow. “I have my whole army bearing down on you and you’re moving a pawn? Are you even trying anymore?”

 

“Think about it my friend,” Solas says with a nod, departing. Beatrix takes off simultaneously, leaving a bewildered looking Cullen behind. The commander clenches his fist by his side and then punches the wall, leaving a slight dent.

 

“And I thought I had anger issues,” Bull remarks as the commander stalks off, kicking the dirt as if it has personally offended him. All the while Gaspard watches from the distance, smirking to himself. Lousy smug motherfucker…

 

“Indeed,” Dorian replies, running his fingers over his moustache. “And so The Grand Game begins…”

 

Kids are screaming, everything’s burning around him, smoke choking in the lungs, try to put it out, make it stop, make the screams stop

 

She laughs, high and cruel and inhuman.

 

It was all a game and he lost.

 

“Yeah,” Bull agrees sullenly. This was going to hurt.

 

Chapter Text

Dorian lays in bed, idling away the hours until dinner. They’ll dine with the Duke tonight and tomorrow night they’ll ride with his entourage to the Winter Palace. Dorian sighs, flipping the mask Josephine’s given him around in his fingertips. It’s a pearlescent green with gold filigree—and there’s three long peacock feathers that shoot off from the right corner at a rakish angle. Dorian’s pretty sure this is Varric’s fault but isn’t sure how, exactly. Sparkler indeed.

 

Dorian’s still mad. He’s pushing it down but the fact that Bull isn’t trusting him fully with what’s bothering him is vexing. He knows that it’s just physical between them. It’s all it can ever be, given who they are. Even so, he takes offense at the secrecy Bull operates within in regards to his feelings. They are, at the very least, close friends. Bull should be able to trust him with that much, right?

 

Seheron was really fucked up. It… really fucked me up.

 

Bull’s night terrors are getting worse. Egocentric as it seems, Dorian’s fearful that he’s the cause. After all, he’s the only difference in Bull’s sleeping patterns.

 

I don’t dream about it… qunari don’t really dream like you humans do. It’s more like… memories. Flashes of things. I don’t know what’s real or not when that happens…

 

The night prior to their arrival at the Grand Duke’s was nice. Dorian had always been strict and discreet with his dalliances back in Tevinter. Having sex out in the open, in the rain—that was the sort of thing girls like Cassandra read in those trashy romance novels. It wasn’t something Dorian considered ever happening in reality, let alone to himself.

 

But it did and it was amazing. Especially afterward in the tent, where Bull held him close and teased his fingers through his hair. Dorian drowsed off quickly, but he knew Bull was still awake.

 

I won’t do it again. That much I can promise you.

 

That night Dorian had woken up when the heartbeat under his ear stuttered sharply. Bull spoke in his sleep, strained and scared. His huge hand clawed at the bedroll and Dorian slipped free from under the other before it followed suit.

 

He hates himself now for doing it—but he crouched at the end of the bedroll and watched for a while. Listened to Bull’s whimpers for anything that made sense. Any hint of what was eating at the other man.

 

All he made out was ‘demon’, ‘tama’ and ‘carry’. Over and over again, ‘carry’. Carry what? Carry it where?

 

I told you I would never hurt you without your permission, Dorian. I meant that. I didn’t realize I had until it was already done.

 

He woke Bull up and that was the end of it. Dorian didn’t ask anything, just crawled up close to Bull when the other man bade him to do so.

 

“If you want those chevaliers so badly why don’t you dress up pretty for the bloody duke?!”

 

Dorian lifts his head from the pillow, hearing the Inquisitor’s irritated tone of voice clear through the wall. He pokes his head out into the hallway, catching sight of Beatrix and her advisors standing in a semi-circle. Beatrix and Cullen are toe to toe and not in their usual ‘finding any excuse to be near one another’ kind of way.

 

“Maker’s breath—will you please speak sense into her?” Cullen asks, giving a sigh of exasperation.

 

“Inquisitor,” Josephine begins tentatively, “We must try to maintain an air of diplomacy. The approval of the court is vital to our mission and any deviations from normal decorum will be looked down upon. The Grand Duke is our path to the Empress. If that future you saw in Redcliffe is true…”

 

“Everything begins with Celene’s assassination,” Leliana finishes, glancing to Cassandra and Cullen in turn. “We must prevent that from happening at all costs.”

 

“And better yet, if we gain the Grand Duke’s favor, it will add considerably to our own forces. After Haven, we could use the bolster in both our numbers and morale,” Cullen adds, about to put his hand on Beatrix’s shoulder until a ball-shriveling glare from the redhead has him pulling away with a curt, “Inquisitor.”

 

Beatrix looks absolutely miserable. Her auburn hair has been pulled up off her face into a high bun and she’s wearing a white evening dress that leaves her freckled shoulders bare. Her expression is hard, normally kind eyes fierce with frustration.

 

“Noted, Commander,” she replies coolly, “What say you, Leliana? Should I be worrying about poison in the petit fours?”

 

Leliana smiles slightly, “Well it is Orlais, Your Worship. But I feel we have little to fear. My agents have already set up around the perimeter of the chateau. And making you a matyr is not in the Grand Duke’s best interests. He will at least bring you to court first, if his intentions are murderous.”

 

“How kind of him,” Beatrix drawls, glancing over her shoulder and catching sight of Dorian. She says nothing, however, turning her attention back to the small meeting.

 

“You all forget,” Cullen adds, “Gaspard was a chevalier. They follow a strict code of conduct and he detests The Game. If we want an ally against subterfuge, it is he.”

 

“That remains to be seen, Commander,” Cassandra cautions, “There are, after all, many who train under an oath who break it for their own gains…” Her eyes flick meaningfully up Cullen’s face. “…or sometimes, and less often but more admirably, for the gains of others…”

 

Cullen shifts, appearing uncomfortable. “Then we shall see what the Duke has to offer—with civil tongues and cool heads, yes?” he adds, giving Beatrix a pointed look.

 

“If you’re capable, Commander,” Beatrix replies snappishly.

 

“I am ever your humble servant, Inquisitor,” Cullen responds with an exaggerated bow.

 

Beatrix rolls her eyes with a disgruntled sound worthy of Cassandra, turning on a heel and stomping off. Leliana throws up her hands in exasperation and goes after the Inquisitor.

 

“Really?” is all Josephine has to say to Cullen before she bustles by him to follow after the spymaster.

 

“What did I do?” Cullen cries out and then grumbles, holding his head. Cassandra stands silently by him, her eyes watching carefully. “Oh, stop it—this has nothing to do with that,” Cullen tells her, sounding irritable.

 

“Are you certain, Cullen? You haven’t had any since—”

 

I KNOW!” Cullen bellows, face twisting in fury. Cassandra stills, eyes widening in shock and Cullen seems to come back to himself, staggering a step backwards with a hand on his head. Dorian ducks behind the door frame so the commander doesn’t see him as his steps sway. “I know. I… I’m fine. I just… need to lay down for a while… my apologies—”

 

Cullen rushes past Cassandra to his room far down the hallway, slamming the door behind him.

 

“And I thought I could be a mean drunk…” Dorian says cautiously, stepping out into the hallway beside Cassandra.

 

The Seeker makes a disgusted noise, folding her arms across her chest and glancing at Dorian. Cassandra’s lips purse momentarily as they often do when she’s considering something particularly vexing and then she explains, “If it were merely alcohol I would be less concerned.”

 

“What’s wrong with the commander?” Dorian asks, feeling concern for the man.

 

Cassandra sighs, glancing around the hall before saying, “Lyrium withdrawal. Up until the mage revolution began, Cullen was a Templar. He took lyrium, just as all Templars do.”

 

“All southern Templars, anyways,” Dorian corrects, remembering Cullen dispelling his magic. That sort of ability would be shocking back in Tevinter and Dorian makes a mental note to ask Cullen if he can ‘borrow’ a few of the southern Templars to shake things up in Minrathous.

 

“Yes,” Cassandra says, patiently, sighing, “Mages have made their suffering known—but Templars never have. They are bound to the Order, mind and soul, with someone always holding their lyrium leash.”

 

“And now Cullen’s trying to prove that it’s possible to break that leash. For himself and for any others who would wish to do so…” Dorian says, folding his arms across his chest and shaking his head with a laugh. “How like our commander, so stupidly optimistic…”

 

“What Cullen does is a brave thing, Dorian,” Cassandra rebukes, “You should not dismiss his efforts as being pure fantasy. I believe he can do it.”

 

“Believe in one hand and shit in the other and you tell me which one fills first, Seeker. He’s going to kill himself doing this,” Dorian states, ignoring the grunt Cassandra makes at his crass metaphor, “And worse, he’s alienating himself from the Inquisitor. The one person who might see him through it. Does she even know?”

 

“No, and we mustn’t tell her,” Cassandra says, “It is Cullen’s choice. I should not have even told you, Dorian…”

 

Dorian bites at the inside of his cheek, shoulders tensing as he thinks about how nauseatingly similar the situation is to his own. “He should tell her,” he says, “It’s only fair. Honestly, what is he afraid of? The way he’s acting, it’s not as if she’d think any less of him if she knew why he was behaving so boorishly! Why are men so bloody difficult?”

 

Cassandra raises an eyebrow high at Dorian as he huffs. The mage pauses in his tirade and folds his arms across his chest defensively.

 

“Alright, why are some men so bloody difficult?” he corrects and Cassandra laughs softly, shaking her head.

 

“You would have better insight than I would in that matter, Dorian. All I know is that sometimes the best one can do is be vigilant and ready for when our friend finally calls for our aid. To not hold anger in our heart that they bore it for so long alone. It does no one any good to feel so.” she says, looking up over Dorian’s shoulder and adding, “Hello, Bull.”

 

“Hey, Seeker,” Bull says, slinging an arm around Dorian’s shoulders. Dorian’s in no mood for it, elbowing Bull lightly in rebuke but the man doesn’t seem to mind, “How’s it going?”

 

“As well as can be expected,” Cassandra replies, “Speaking of which, Bull—you are aware his room has a lock, yes?”

 

“Oh grand, let’s bring this up again,” Dorian groans, ducking out from under Bull’s arm in embarrassment.

 

“Sure, I know!” Bull declares pleasantly enough, grinning like an idiot.

 

“Some people may find that useful, in future…” Cassandra adds with guarded amusement on her face.

 

“Yeah, but I’d rather focus on mmphng-!”

 

Dorian’s hand slaps firmly across Bull’s mouth before he can start in with any lurid details. He’s had quite enough blushing for this trip and possibly for the next decade.

 

“Yes, I’m sure the room and its contents are quite distracting, thank you,” Cassandra says with a laugh and a roll of her eyes. “I’ll see you two at dinner. Consider what I’ve said, Dorian.”

 

Cassandra takes her leave and Dorian does think about it, so much so that Bull has to nudge him to get his attention.

 

“Hm?”

 

“You look like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders, Dorian,” Bull observes, frowning softly as he cups a hand against Dorian’s face in concern.

 

Dorian instinctively turns his cheek into Bull’s palm. The hand against his face is huge, deadly, rough with callouses and broken finger bones that never set quite right. Yet it holds him feather-light, a thumb brushing along Dorian’s ear so gently it almost tickles…

 

All I know is that sometimes the best one can do is be vigilant and ready for when our friend finally calls for our aid. To not hold anger in our heart that they bore it for so long alone. It does no one any good to feel so.

 

Dorian shrugs, tries to take Cassandra’s advice as best as he’s able to. “It was a long trip and thanks to someone I have grass stains on my best robes,” he declares haughtily.

 

Bull laughs, creases of mirth lining his angular face. In moments like this, Dorian can admit to himself that Bull’s actually quite handsome. The thought warms him from somewhere

 

Of course he is. I wouldn’t have anything to do with him if he wasn’t. Dorian thinks as Bull pulls his arm back around him and starts going on excitedly about magret de canard and boudin noir aux pommes. Dorian hardly finds it surprising that the bulk of Bull’s knowledge of Orlesian language is food-related.

 

Dorian wears his second-best outfit to dinner that night, royale sea silk with accents of darkened samite and silver buttons and buckles. It fortunately covers his neck and shoulders, which are not fit to be seen by any ‘distinguished’ company at present.

 

Bull’s somehow found a shirt that fits him, surprisingly and it’s a little jarring to see him covered—although he’s decided to share Varric’s distaste for having all his buttons done up. A sliver of silver skin teases Dorian across the table and he mutters something obscene into his wine glass, gulping it down. It’s absurd that he’s getting excited by the little peek of Bull’s chest when the man normally runs about shirtless, but he is. Kaffas.

 

Cullen’s sitting next to him, literally vibrating with annoyance. The blond shifts about, brow furrowing. His eyes look a little glassy and bloodshot and Dorian edges his chair away in concern.

 

“Where is she?” the commander growls to his right, at Josephine. The head of the table is empty, as well as Beatrix’s own chair to the right of it. Everyone else is here, even Sera, who is currently refolding the cloth napkins into flowers. Or… at least Dorian’s convincing himself that they’re flowers and not what they actually are.

 

Blackwall’s face is ruddy as Sera nudges him with an eager ‘huh? huh?’ as she wiggles her finger into the napkin’s folds suggestively. Dorian’s thankful he’s not the one sitting next to the elf.

 

“Fashionably late? She gave me no indication she was not attending, commander,” Josephine says curtly, draining her wine faster than she normally would, looking irritable as well. Blackwall raises his hand from his face, glancing at Josephine in concern but saying nothing.

 

“Not to mention, our host is also conspicuously absent,” Leliana murmurs, frowning. “…I will go look for—”

 

Before Leliana can get up from the table, an elven page arrives, clearing his throat to gain the attention of the table. “My lord, Grand Duke Gaspard, the rightful ruler of Orlais, gives his deepest regrets that he will not be attending the dinner tonight. He will be dining privately with Inquisitor Trevelyan this evening. He thanks you for your patience and hopes you enjoy the meal,” the elf declares, bowing to the assembly and making his way out.

 

Everyone’s face has varying levels of shock. Everyone’s save Cullen’s.

 

The other servants swoop in, serving them the first course dutifully. Dorian swears that Divine Justinia could have come back to life and done a striptease on the table and no one would notice. It’s quiet and still and uncomfortable.

 

“Commander—” Josephine starts to say.

 

Cullen’s fist slams hard into the table, rattling the cutlery beside everyone’s plate and sending the elven lass who was about to serve him some more wine flying away in fear.

 

“…excuse me my friends. I’m afraid I have lost my appetite,” Cullen says, yanking the napkin from his neck and tossing it on the table furiously. He nearly knocks over his chair as he throws it back, stomping determinedly away from the table.

 

Everyone is quiet, save for Josephine, who is breathing a little faster and blinking rapidly to fight back tears. Blackwall finally mans up and puts his hand on hers openly, squeezing tight and comfortingly. Tellingly, Josephine doesn’t brush it off.

 

“…now you see why I can’t stand nobs?” Sera says from her end of the table and helps herself to the bread basket.

 

Annoyed as Dorian is at Bull, he finds himself in the qunari’s bed that night. After that whole display at the dining table he feels ill at ease. Despite Bull’s night terrors, Dorian has to admit he feels infinitely safer in the larger man’s arms.

 

“Well that was interesting,” Dorian remarks, staring up at the canopy.

 

“I’ll say,” Bull agrees, shifting a little, “Would have thought Orlesian beds were a bit sturdier…”

 

Half the mattress is on the floor thanks to them busting the frame, but they’re able to lay on the other side well enough, if Dorian’s on top of Bull.

 

“Not that,” Dorian says, tugging on Bull’s horn in reproach. He turns onto his belly to face the other man. “I meant at dinner. Cullen. Beatrix.”

 

“Oh, that,” Bull says, frowning, “Yeah, that… I don’t know. Beatrix’s been acting really squirrelly. I mean, you can tell this whole situation makes her grouchy…”

 

“…and yet she’s having dinner with Gaspard. Alone. And hasn’t come back to her rooms yet…” Dorian states, glancing over his shoulder. He’s kept the door ajar even if it means having others hear them because he can see into the hall that way—and more specifically he can see the Inquisitor’s door.

 

“…yeah…” Bull agrees with a grumbling sound, “Doesn’t make sense. But then again… guess everyone’s looking to trade up, right?”

 

Dorian’s head whips back towards Bull, blinking in surprise, “Trade up?”

 

“Gaspard’s a creep, but he’s a military genius. Comparing him to Cullen’s like… comparing a full grown bear to a lion cub. Cullen’s got teeth but he hasn’t grown into them yet…” Bull says, “He may not have Cullen’s rugged good looks— but even Bea’s got to be seeing the benefit of getting on Gaspard’s good side…”

 

“You have to be joking,” Dorian replies, shocked, “You cannot really believe that’s what’s happening…”

 

“Hey, I’m just calling it like I see it,” Bull says, “She’s being pretty damn smart, actually. Thought she was going to cut him off at the knees but instead she’s trying to play nice and take advantage of the situation.”

 

Dorian sits up, staring at Bull in disgust. “Is that what you truly think? That… that everyone’s just looking for an angle? That everyone wants to ‘trade up’?”

 

Bull shifts upward, leans against the headboard and looks at Dorian curiously. “Don’t you?”

 

He’s certain his heart stops, just for a moment. “…what?”

 

“Don’t you? I mean… look at us,” Bull says, “This isn’t going to work. You know it, I know it. Eventually you’re going to find some pretty boy and trade up. And I won’t blame you for it, Dorian. Even if we weren’t from two different races, we’ve still got baggage for days… it’s… not good. I’m not good. For you.”

 

Dorian groans, putting his face in his hands. “Fasta vass—please spare me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. If you’re trying to cut this affair off, then for mercy’s sake, Bull—swing the damn axe already.”

 

“I’m not trying to—”

 

There’s movement in the hallway and Dorian flattens his hand over Bull’s mouth with a shushing sound. They watch, quietly, as the Duke’s door opens and shuts. Beatrix emerges at an easy pace, still all prettied up. She pauses in front of a mirror in the hall to try and fix a smudged bit of lipstick, then shakes her head with a laugh and ducks into her own room.

 

They sit in the quiet together for a long moment, Dorian keeping his hand firm over Bull’s lips. He’s about to say something when footsteps fall heavily up the hall.

 

It’s Cullen, in pajamas and bare feet. Once again Dorian’s in awe of southerners and their ability to deal with the cold. The blond starts to raise his hand to Beatrix’s door, but then pauses, sighs and goes instead to Gaspard’s.

 

He thumps on the wood thrice, rudely loud. Gaspard emerges, looking sleek and satisfied.

 

“Commander! What an… odd pleasure… may I help you?” Gaspard asks with amusement.

 

Cullen looks over the man’s shoulder into the room, frowning. The blonde’s bed shirt is done up all wrong, like he threw it on in a hurry and didn’t care, his navel showing as he didn’t bother with the last few buttons. The commander looks an absolute mess to say the least.

 

“I apologize for the late hour, Grand Duke… I was… I thought… is Inquisitor Trevelyan still with you?” he asks, stumbling over his words, an undercurrent of fury to them that he’s barely holding back.

 

“Ah, sadly no,” Gaspard says with a slow smile, “She had to retire early, though I had very much wished she would stay. She is a lovely woman, don’t you think? Such fine… assets…”

 

Bull’s hand comes up to muffle Dorian’s gasp when he sees their commander grab Gaspard by the lapels of his jacket and thrust the man up against the doorframe. Cullen’s looking murderous.

 

“How dare you make such presumptions of my—of the Herald of Andraste! I don’t care if you’re a duke or not, if you think you can coerce her to—”

 

“Coerce her?” Gaspard doesn’t seem to be put off at all by Cullen’s impressive display of force, laughing even. “Why my dear commander—whose idea do you think it was to have dinner together?”

 

“What…” Cullen’s eyes widen as he slowly lowers Gaspard to the floor. The man bats Cullen’s nerveless hands off his jacket, straightens it with a jerking motion.

 

“She invited me,” Gaspard says clearly. “You can ask her yourself.”

 

Dorian glances up at Bull, who is staring intently at the duke, or what he can see of him from the crack in the door.

 

“…he’s not lying,” Bull whispers behind Dorian’s fingers.

 

The duke chuckles, Cullen simply silent and distraught. “I will forgive your ‘impassioned reaction’ this once. If it happens again, I’ll have your head,” he promises, “Good night, commander.”

 

The duke’s door closes and Cullen slumps against the wall, hand covering his face. He looks to Beatrix’s door briefly. Reaches for it, but then draws his hand back into a fist at his side. He stomps back down the hallway. A few moments later, Dorian hears a door slamming shut.

 

Suddenly his bickering with Bull seems very small in the light of other issues. Bull starts to say something but Dorian twists around urgently, kisses him and kisses him and kisses him.

 

Good for each other or not, this was something that Dorian did not want to let go of. Not yet.

 

Bull says nothing more of the matter or their earlier argument. Dorian falls asleep to the feeling of Bull’s hand stroking up and down his back.

 

The next day, Dorian steals into Beatrix’s boudoir. It’s the only way he can think to gain an audience with her, as she’s been frosty to the whole party. Save for Cullen—with whom Beatrix is openly hostile with, much to the Grand Duke’s amusement. Leliana and Josephine’s twin looks of concern do not go unnoticed—Dorian imagines they expected Cullen to have difficulty with the courtly intrigues but not in this capacity. Dorian would go to him if he thought Cullen still capable of listening to reason, but lyrium withdrawal was a frightening thing…

 

“My dear, whatever are you doing in here? Did you take a wrong turning?”

 

Dorian jumps at hearing Vivienne’s voice from the far corner of the room. He blinks in surprise, watching the enchanter idly brushing invisible dust off Beatrix’s gown for the ball.

 

“Vivienne… what a pleasa—well… what a surprise, at least,” Dorian says in a bland tone, walking up to stand beside her and examining the dress. It’s the blue number Cole had mistakenly donned weeks and weeks ago. It’s pretty and will look lovely with the silver mask set beside it on the dressing table.

 

“You haven’t answered my question,” Vivienne reminds, picking up some floral hairpins to match them against the dress. “Bluebells, I think…”

 

“I’m here for the same reason you are, I daresay. We all see what’s going on,” Dorian replies, clicking his tongue and reaching for the bureau. “And that’s far too matchy-matchy—the nightshade flower, I think. Shows up better against her hair.”

 

“How predictable you would choose a poisonous flower for the Inquisitor’s hair…” the enchanter sighs, idly running perfectly manicured nails over all the expensive little pins and baubles. “…and are you quite sure of that?”

 

“That my taste is superior to yours? Absolutely.”

 

Vivienne turns to face Dorian and he notices slight strain in her face. Normally he’d be laughing at it, making mockery of on-coming crow’s feet. At this moment, however, he’s uncharacteristically quiet.

 

“That we are seeing the same thing,” Vivienne clarifies with a severe tone.

 

Dorian folds his arms across his chest, brow furrowing. “Beatrix was one unkind word from striking the commander this morning—and that was just over passing the butter dish!”

 

“Indeed, it appears their relationship is becoming strained,” Vivienne agrees, places the bluebell pins beside the mask and tilts her head to admire the way they sparkle against the silver. “A mage, the Herald of Andraste, and the commander of her armies, an ex-Templar… anyone would see that the differences are too vast between them to be overcome by childish infatuation.”

 

The comment hits far too close to home for Dorian’s tastes.

 

Even if we weren’t from two different races, we’ve still got baggage for days.

 

“Oh yes,” Dorian sneers unkindly, “Such wisdom from the woman who pretends, who wears fancy clothes and whores herself out, hoping no one realizes what a fraud she is…”

 

“Such hissing from a snake without fangs!” Vivienne laughs off his vitriolic speech, examining the Inquisitor’s selection of shoes instead. Leliana has been thorough in her procurement of the latest styles of boots and heels.

 

“Is that how it worked for you?” he presses, cheeks hot from her dismissive reaction.

 

“For me, dear Dorian? I don’t know what you’re talking about…” Vivienne states, turning a high heel shoe critically around in her fingers.

 

“You,” Dorian says, dander up, “And Duke Bastien de Ghislain.”

 

Vivienne’s fingers fumble the heel briefly but she recovers before dropping it on the floor outright. She sets it down primly, taking a fortifying breath through her nose.

 

“Do not presume to speak of matters you don’t understand, my dear,” Vivienne states, standing with perfect poise, heels giving her an extra inch on Dorian so she can look down her nose at him. “My relationship with Bastien is irrelevant to this discussion.”

 

“Is it, though?” Dorian presses, “You speak so highly of the southern Circles, but their systematic oppression of mages robs gifted young men and women of their agency. A southern mage is nothing without some simpering sympathetic patron, someone who gives legitimacy to their existence. Not even the ‘Herald of Andraste’ is free from such scrutiny. The duke opened doors for you, Vivienne and now—now I feel you approve of Beatrix doing the same as you.”

 

Vivienne swallows hard, face steely and unreadable like an Orlesian mask.

 

“I approve of her putting her duty before her heart,” Vivienne says simply. “And you have hardly any room to talk. What are your plans for our dear Iron Bull? Will you return to Tevinter with him in tow, Dorian? Show him off to the family? Whatever would Magister Pavus think, I wonder…”

 

It strikes Dorian in that moment that he hasn’t actually really thought that far ahead.

 

It’s… not good. I’m not good. For you.

 

“…kaffas,” Dorian swears, shutting his eyes as he realizes that the night prior Bull wasn’t talking about the here and now. He was talking about after. Terrible thing, after. Dorian rarely liked to consider after at any length. Especially considering the high likelihood of any number of interesting deaths in their future. Especially for Bull, if whatever was going on in his head didn’t stop.

 

“Indeed,” Vivienne says and sighs audibly, picking up her own mask and touching it in place. “I know the Imperium plays by a different set of rules than Orlais, Dorian, but you must take care regardless. In The Grand Game, not everything is as it seems. Do try and remember that, my dear.”

 

Vivienne turns to quit the room, stopping in the doorway for a moment to look back at Dorian with slow sweep of her eyes.

 

“…and do have Leliana get you better boots. Those ones are ghastly.”

 

Dorian mutters something unkind under his breath, but still peeks down at his boots once Vivienne’s footsteps are far out of earshot.

 

They’re not ghastly! That headdress is ghastly…

 

“Dorian!”

 

Dorian glances up, eyes meeting those of a surprised Inquisitor. She’s in formal riding gear, no doubt provided by their overly generous host; and she carries a dozen perfect roses in her arms. She puts these on the bureau along with her riding cap.

 

“Inquisitor,” he says and swallows around the lump in his throat, “I was hoping you would have a moment to talk…”

 

Beatrix smiles and for a moment seems like her old self, “Of course, Dorian. What do you need?”

 

“I wanted to talk to you about the Grand Duke—”

 

“Oh,” Beatrix replies and beyond all reason she smiles shyly. Fingers the roses on the bureau absentmindedly. “Gaspard? I had a marvelous ride with him through the fields. There are absolutely acres of grape fields here—and oh, Dorian, I had the most marvelous vintage of Orlesian pinot noir—”

 

“What about Cullen?” tumbles out of Dorian’s mouth before he can help himself and he immediately realizes it’s the wrong thing to say with how Beatrix’s face darkens, “I mean, he’s… and you… and Gaspard…”

 

I am normally far more eloquent than this, I know it… Dorian thinks, feeling absolutely out of his depth. Nobody is acting like themselves and it is all quite mad. There may be credit to the idea that there’s something funny in the water in Orlais

 

“There’s nothing to be said about the commander, Dorian. He’s making an arse of himself and while I will continue to work with him professionally within the Inquisition, anything further is…” Beatrix’s lips purse a little, “Well, anything further is not an option.”

 

Dorian’s fists clench at his side. “Listen to me, Bea. Please…” he begins and the information Cassandra has given him is on the tip of his tongue.

 

Does she even know?

No, and we mustn’t tell her. It is Cullen’s choice.

 

“What, Dorian?” Beatrix presses, sounding an aggravating combination of bored and annoyed. She takes a pitcher and sets the roses in a vase, waters them while he speaks. Her eyes sparkle with a keen, girlish gleam at the sight of the red petals. “I have to start getting ready—Maker knows what Leliana and Josephine are going to do with my hair and makeup…”

 

“…nothing,” he says, biting his cheek. His hands unclench, sway helpless at his sides. “Just… don’t trust Gaspard, okay?”

 

Beatrix blinks slowly at Dorian. Something in her face softens for a second, but then she’s turning her nose away, dismissive.

 

“I have to get ready, Dorian,” she repeats and shoos him out with a hand.

 

Dorian leaves the room, defeated and dejected. Along the way out, he notices a small gathering in the hall, Varric and Beatrix’s advisors—minus Cullen— talking to one another in hushed tones.

 

“…I’m just saying, Seeker, I’m worried about Curly. He’s just itching for a fight and while it would be infinitely amusing to see him knock the remaining three hairs the duke has off his head—”

 

“The commander is an extremely disciplined man, dwarf. I do not share your concerns.”

 

“Cass I know you wanna think the best of the guy but I just saw him tottering by with a whole bottle of wine in hand and only half his uniform buttons done up. Classic heartbreak! I couldn’t write this kind of shit because nobody would believe it, it’s that tragic!”

 

I don’t believe it, but I rarely believe anything that comes out of your mouth. And call me ‘Cass’ again and I will rip out your tongue with my bare hands.”

 

“The commander is a liability, I agree. But we need someone to organize our troops—keep them ready should we need backup. I already have my hands full with my agents…”

 

“And I with all the diplomats and palm-greasing. Beyond that… Cullen’s command is respected among the army. We can’t take that away from him. If you are right, Varric… it would kill him.”

 

“Better that than letting an Orlesian assassin do it.”

 

Dorian’s heard enough, turning away to return to his room, dejected. He also has to get ready. With the division in the Inquisition’s leadership—he will have to be at his best.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Bull isn’t very shocked when Dorian’s up and out before he wakes. He’s grateful for a night without terrors. They dog him constantly, thoughts of what-if scenarios…

 

He thinks of months and months ago, right after they first met and Dorian was getting acquainted with the rest of the Inner Circle.

 

“Do me a favor, Dorian—give me some warning if you’re gonna bust out in demons or something…” Sera says, giving Dorian the hairy eyeball over her shoulder as Beatrix shuts another Fade rift with a gesture of her hand.

 

Dorian laughs, warm and amused for several minutes. It’s the first time Bull notices it, how that laugh always manages to make a smile tug at his scarred lips. “How do you picture me ‘busting out’? I’m walking along and ‘oops!’ demon? I mean… it could happen, despite my training. You could also trip and impale your eye on an arrow…”

 

Bull prides himself on being a very easygoing guy. Ever since leaving Seheron behind, he’s become less tense and uptight—less ‘qunari’ amusingly enough. Yeah, he still’s acutely aware of everyone around him, wary of a knife in the back, of poison, of death—but he’s also found such goodness in people that he’s been able to overlook years of programmed suspicions and prejudices.

 

Mages, though… that’s always been a tough one for him.

 

Bull was able to accept Dalish in the Chargers, but even that took a while—with a lot of help from his second-in-command. Beatrix’s an easier sale, she can get anyone to like her if it suits her interests and Bull fortunately is someone she sees as a valuable ally. Solas creeps him out still sometimes with the whole intentionally walking the Fade thing, but he doesn’t seem interested in using his magic to hurt anyone—people in general don’t seem to interest Solas much at all which is somehow comforting. Vivienne’s dangerous but her tight control of herself and all around her, so like a tamassran, makes Bull feel at ease with her presence.

 

 

Bull likes the mage. Likes him a lot. He’s never said the word, but it comes to him when he thinks of the mage.

Kadan. My heart.

 

It scares him.

 

It’s not even the fact that Dorian’s Tevinter—even worse, the son of a magister. It’s how he makes Bull feel that’s frightening. The last time he felt so much for someone… it didn’t end well. It wasn’t real. It was demons and magic and everything Bull had been taught to hate.

 

Bull sits on the edge of the bed tiredly, taking off his eye patch and setting it aside so he can rub his eyes. Well, eye and the scarred up socket of the other one—which somehow maintained the phantom sensation of sleepy soreness in the mornings.

 

Dorian’s not here, so Bull feels freedom to run his hand down his own leg contemplatively. There’s an absolutely wicked scar that runs from his inner thigh to his ankle, twists over his knee in a raised knotty rope. It doesn’t matter that it’s been years, it still hurts like a sonuvabitch. Bull shuts his eye, hisses slightly.

 

Luckily his brace is close by, shoved just under the bed out of sight—this is one of those mornings where it’s effortful to get up on his feet without it. It’s his own fault—he’s been going without it lately. The eye patch is bad enough. He doesn’t want anyone to see him as a cripple. Bad enough his own race saw him as defective in ways far beyond the physical.

 

Krem’s gonna kick my ass if he finds out I haven’t been wearing it… Bull thinks, wincing at the thought of his lieutenant’s furious glare.

 

He gets dressed after making sure the brace is aligned properly. The pants he wears intentionally hide all the metal and leather behind the billowy fabric. The bit that runs around his boot and ankle looks like armor, no one’s taken notice of it.

 

Everyone else has already had breakfast—how long did he sleep in? He doesn’t know, but he’s hungry and nobody’s going to tell him off if he snitches something from the kitchens.

 

He walks carefully but tries to make it look purposeful. Like he’s striding along slow because he doesn’t care. Makes his limp a swagger.

 

The injury’s a souvenir of her spiteful sendoff. The fire was horrible, but not so much as the way she made his own blood boil in his veins, the way she took control.

 

“Have to get out, make it stop. Blood burns in my veins, can’t move, just watching as children crumble to ash, smoke cloying in the lungs. She laughs and laughs and laughs. Forgets the dagger in my hand. If it gets inside my head, how do I cut it out, tama?” a voice whispers from behind him, echoing hollowly in the larder, “How do I cut it out? Cut it out? Cut. Cut. Cut.”

 

Bull very nearly has a heart attack. Cole’s sitting on a barrel in the kitchen, contemplating a ruby red apple he holds in his pale fingers.

 

“Damn it, Cole! Don’t do that!” Bull grunts, holding his chest with a big hand, trying to calm down.

 

He feels a little bad for yelling, the kid actually appears really contrite. He’s not a kid though. Not really. Damn it, why is everything so complicated?

 

“I am sorry, The Iron Bull,” Cole says and sounds like he means it, lip jutting out just a little, “I can only look like how I look—I know it would be easier for you if I looked like the other ones…”

 

Bull suddenly feels like a complete and utter asshole for even having that thought cross his mind. He sweeps his hand down his face, sighs.

 

“Kid it’s… I’m sorry, it’s not you,” Bull says, “I’m just… having a rough morning.”

 

Cole bites his lip softly, but the words tumble out anyways, “Blade burns as I drag it through muscle and sinew. She screams, pain shared in a bond of blood. I am free. No one will ever tie me again. No one.” The kid’s fingers run over the surface of the apple, he sniffs at it like he’s considering taking a bite.

 

He could certainly use it. Bull thinks. He doesn’t remember ever actually seeing the kid eat. No wonder Cole’s all angles.

 

“But you let him, The Iron Bull. You let him,” Cole insists, glancing up under his hat at Bull.

 

“Cole, thanks for remembering the ‘the’—but proper nouns, please?” Bull insists, holding his head a little. It’s probably too early to need a drink, but his eye wanders to the wine cellar door regardless.

 

“Dorian. You let him tie you,” Cole says, “You act like you’re in charge, The Iron Bull, but it’s really him. He decides when and you measure it carefully. Enough to enjoy, to energize, but never to anger. Even when he’s tied, teased, tantalized— it’s tempered to what he wants…”

 

Cole swallows hard, “He submits, but you serve. She made you fear but he makes you free, The Iron Bull.”

 

“Cole,” Bull starts and feels his leg throb, voice breaking just a little, “I don’t want to tal—”

 

There’s a thumping sound behind the wine cellar door, a groan of pain and then slow peals of deep laughter. Bull stands up, leaving Cole to investigate the source of the sound. When he opens up the door, he’s surprised to see Cullen, half-dressed in his Inquisition uniform for the evening. He’s got only one boot on, his jacket’s nowhere to be seen and he’s just wearing his untucked dress shirt with only two buttons done up.

 

Bull would admire the view, but Cullen reeks of wine and it’s not an appealing scent.

 

“A little early to be getting wasted, Cullen,” he notes, walking down the stairs carefully and pulling the man upright. “Think you might wanna wait until after we wrap up the whole assassination business?”

 

“I’m not drunk,” Cullen grumbles, but needs Bull to carry him up the stairs. He snickers a little as Bull lifts him like a child and hauls him to standing against the wall, slumping a little with a sleepy bob of his head. “Okay mebbe I’m a little drunk—you get it? Cos I’m smaller than you an’ I’m drunk…”

 

“Very funny, commander,” Iron Bull says, shaking his head and nodding to Cole, who looks confused, “C’mon, kid, help me get him up to his room…”

 

“Oh. Okay…” Cole says, tipping his head, “But why can’t the commander walk himself…?”

 

“I’ll tell you more when you’re older,” Bull dismisses, bending to pull the commander over his shoulder and nodding to Cole. “You handle the doors, spirit boy—ngh, damn Cullen, you’ve put on a few, huh?”

 

“S’all muscle,” Cullen complains from somewhere in the vicinity of Bull’s mid-back as he dangles uselessly. Cole manages the doors and somehow even though they’re all walking together—a qunari carrying a full-grown man and a kid with a weird hat guiding them along—the eyes of the servants slide off them like they’re not there.

 

Bull quirks his lip a little at that—the idea that Cole is more a spirit than a demon settling in his mind with how considerate the young man can be of others, “…thanks kid.”

 

Cole simply puts a finger to his lips and they continue upstairs to the far end of the hall. They get into Cullen’s room—the ex-Templar only getting brained once on the doorframe along the way—and Bull deposits the inebriated commander on his bed.

 

“Cole, go get me a bucket of water,” Bull says aside to the spirit, “Cold water.”

 

“But why would you—oh. Oh I see. I’ll help, if I can,” Cole states, though he looks at Cullen funnily before running off to do as Bull says.

 

Bull sits beside the bed as the commander’s head lolls uselessly and he mumbles incoherently. The man’s as much of a wreck on the outside as Bull feels on the inside.

 

“What do you think you’re doing, anyways? You’re losing Beatrix, someone who has always cared for you— and you’re too busy being an asshole to do anything about it…” Bull says, frowning at Cullen.

 

The blond levers himself up in the bed, leaning against the headrest. He points an accusing finger at Bull—or rather slightly to Bull’s left because apparently the commander is seeing double.

 

“Now… now see here,” he slurs, “You, you… where’s you—you can’t throw glass inside stone houses, right? ….right?” The last word sounds slightly confused, like a question.

 

Bull’s brow raises slightly at that. “You calling me a hypocrite?”

 

“Yes! A hippo-kit!” Cullen says, snapping his fingers. He gets fascinated doing this for several minutes before he’s able to get his own attention back on the subject at hand. “Dorian, he’s like Beatrix too, innit he? Noble, a mage—”

 

Yes,” Bull hisses out, stopping Cullen before he finishes the comparison. “And both of us have suffered at the hands of mages, Cullen. There are Ben-Hassrath reports of what happened in Kirkwall—and in Kinloch Hold.”

 

Cullen looks a little stunned, eyes very clear for an instant. Then he blinks and it’s gone, bubbles of self-deprecating laughter welling up from behind his lips as he holds his head.

 

“Of course there are… so Iron Bull—what would you have me do, huh?” Cullen says, “Just drop all prejudice, all of that fearand suspicion—and put my faith in her?”

 

Cole arrives in a timely manner. Bull takes the bucket from him with a quiet ‘thank you’ and looks down at Cullen. Bull sees himself in the drunken ex-Templar and it’s not a pretty picture.

 

“No,” Bull says and throws the water on Cullen, who reacts like he’s been slapped by a freezing hand, gasping, “I want you to sober the fuck up so you can do your damn job.”

 

Cole’s visibly fretting and Bull pulls an arm around the kid’s shoulders, guiding him out. He glances over his shoulder at the shivering Cullen and adds:

 

“What you do about Beatrix is your own choice, Cullen. Not the Order’s, not the Circle of Magi’s and not even the fucking Inquisition’s. Don’t blame anyone else but yourself if it doesn’t work out.”

 

Bull shuts the door a bit too hard behind them, cracking the wood just a little. Cole blinks up at him curiously with those sad, pale blue eyes of his…

 

“Curl of a moustache silhouettes a sly smirk as he slides the ace of dragons up his sleeve, tan fingers sparkle, magic and silver shining, Tevinter lilt to his tongue,” Cole whispers, “Too different, too similar, too much… I’m no good for him.”

 

Bull bows his head, chin tucking to his chest. “Yeah. That’s right.”

 

“No, no it isn’t,” Cole says, insists, “Oxen, father called them once… beasts rutting in the dirt, inelegant, savage—but I would be nowhere else, grass and mud slipping between my toes. He surrounds me, warm and familiar like magic, kissing too fiercely, holding too tight—finally safe, free to be myself.”

 

Bull looks up at that, swallows hard. “Is that really what he thinks or is this… is this some demon trick?”

 

Cole doesn’t appear offended, smiles lamely and shrugs. “Your pain is the same as his,” he says, which explains, as usual, absolutely fucking nothing.

 

Bull scratches behind his neck, glances at the door where he hears Cullen shuffling around, probably wringing out his clothes and attempting to get dressed. Good.

 

“So what about him?” he asks Cole, thumb jabbing back at the door.

 

Cole blinks. “I… don’t understand.”

 

“I mean—aren’t you going to do some of that creepy mind stuff on Cullen? He’s in a lot more pain than I am.”

 

“Oh,” Cole says, tilting his head like he’s listening to something. Whatever it is, it makes him smile a little—not sad like usual, but actually amused. “No, I can’t help him, I am sorry.”

 

Bull frowns at that and watches in confusion as Cole wanders off, slipping in a highly practiced manner out of the way of a servant that attempts to walk through him.

 

The antique clock chimes behind him, startling him out of his thoughts. It’s getting late—he really needs to get something to eat before he gets ready for the ride into Halamshiral.

 

Hours later, hunger satisfied and Inquisition uniform on (the sash was a bit of a nightmare), Bull’s standing by the carriages waiting. Blackwall’s already in attendance, helping Josephine (and the multitude of ruffles she’s wearing) into the carriage. Sera’s there too, but she’s wearing the male uniform—undoubtedly due to her refusal to wear a quote-unquote smegging poncy frilly whatsit. Bull has to admit, she probably wears it better than he does.

 

Bull can’t help but give Solas some shit though, raising an eyebrow at the turban.

 

“Seriously?” he asks and the elf smirks slightly.

 

“Jealous, Iron Bull?”

 

“Of what? The piece of rag you’ve wrapped around your pointy ears?”

 

“Of my ability to wear hats in general,” Solas says, tapping the side of his head to indicate the horns.

 

Bull’s lip juts out playfully. “Racist,” he accuses.

 

Solas scoffs—“Did I ever pretend to be otherwise?”

 

“….good point,” Bull admits, “Say, about our game… I’ve thought about it—ready to finish this?”

 

Solas tips his head in acquiescence and Bull begins with, “Ben-Hassrath to A6.”

 

Cullen emerges from the chateau, looking a little bit steadier on his feet. He’s even managed to get his uniform looking straighter and more polished than Bull’s—and Bull tried. Cullen still has to hold the railing of the stairs a moment, a bit green around the gills but coping nonetheless.

 

Solas’ response almost passes him by, he’s so busy watching: “Knight takes pawn at G7… check.”

 

“Mmmhm…” Bull hums, the move expected, “King to D8.”

 

The commander waves off the concerns of the spymaster, citing a stomachache for his poor constitution. Bull snorts, but doesn’t rat Cullen out—especially when Gaspard is the one following him out to the carriages with Beatrix on his arm. Both Bull and Solas have to stop and stare for a moment in awe.

 

Beatrix is normally just as down and dirty as the rest of them. Harritt had forged something called ‘dragon armor’ which didn’t actually include any dragon materials (much to Bull’s disappointment) but was highly ornamental in fashion. Beatrix never wore it unless forced to. She kept to brown leather with the occasional accent of navy blue or forest green. Her robes were more like a coat than anything, light leggings beneath that helped her move quick in battle, get out of the way while she waited for her magic to regenerate. Even though she was nobility and had the Trevelyan signet ring to prove it—she was fonder of practicality than putting on airs.

 

“I thought she didn’t glow,” Sera says from Bull’s right, “I was well wrong about tha’…”

 

“Yes you were, Buttercup…” Varric says with a low whistle that earns him a disgusted noise from Cassandra as well as light cuff to the head. “Ow!”

 

Beatrix is radiant in the light blue gown, floating more than walking. It’s not as big as Josephine’s ruffled monstrosity, nor as sleek and slinky as the black number Leliana’s wearing and it isn’t all shiny like the silvery robes Vivienne’s got on. The fabric just moves like air against her legs, lightly billowing in the breeze. The beading of the fitted bodice accentuates the strength in her torso, bare freckled arms and shoulders taut with muscle from swinging a staff around for countless hours.

 

Cullen stands up straighter and Bull notes how his throat bobs—like a man thirsting in a desert and unable to find even a drop of water to cool his tongue. Bull almost feels sorry for the poor bastard.

 

“Queen to F6,” Solas reminds after a moment.

 

“You’re telling me,” Bull replies, mind abandoning the game completely.

 

Beatrix glances at the commander just a moment before looking away with a roll of her eyes, Gaspard helping her into the front-most carriage by a hand. Cullen lowers his gaze, chin touching his chest as he sighs and then shakes his head, getting into the second one. Varric nods to Cassandra—who looks completely disgruntled in her own dress—and they follow Cullen. The slit of Cassandra’s gown is bit high, showing quite a bit tan leg as she makes to hike her own way up into the carriage. She frowns when Varric’s hand grasps hers to offer her a boost up, snatching it away with another of her grumbling sounds. Varric shrugs helplessly, chuckling as he steps up and into the hansom.

 

“Seems I’m fashionably late,” Dorian says from behind and Bull is taken aback once more.

 

He’d seen Dorian in the mock-up of his Inquisition uniform, of course, but seeing the mage in the fully tailored one was far different. The cut of the suit accentuated Dorian’s features, his trim waist and broad shoulders, the breadth of his chest tautly covered by the rich red fabric. The blue sash hangs at an angle, wound about his hips and cinched with a belt. And of course, Dorian’s done up his hair, moustache impeccably curled at each end.

 

Bull realizes his mouth’s open. He shuts it, but Dorian’s eyes are bright with amusement.

 

“It seems my delay was worthwhile,” he laughs at Bull’s expense. The mage stops, however, when Bull takes his hand. Dorian blinks rapidly at the gesture, speechless for once.

 

“Allow me,” Bull rumbles and brings Dorian to the carriage at the end. Dorian’s cheeks tinge a touch rose, but he’s pleased and it shows in the way he plays along with Bull’s request, letting Bull help him into the coach.

 

The ride into Halamshiral is mostly uneventful, save for the long drive up to the Winter Palace. Many on-lookers gawk at the carriages that clatter along the road to the sprawling royal grounds. Dorian leans out of the window with a self-satisfied smile and waves in a practiced manner that involves just an airy twist of his wrist.

 

“You’re enjoying this,” Bull accuses lightly.

 

“Of course I am,” Dorian agrees, blowing a kiss to crowd and causing at least one woman to faint, “Though not as much as Sera…”

 

Bull glances to his left and groans.

 

“Sera, put your pants back on, for fuck’s sake!”

 

Regardless of mass mooning and swooning, they make it into the palace yard without too much trouble. Bull feels immediately awkward with hundreds of eyes staring at him from behind masks of varying tones of ivory and silver and gold.

 

Dorian waggles the mask in front of his nose again and Bull snorts.

 

“I am not wearing that,” he says, pushing it aside. It was a sharp silver thing with horns protruding from the face of it. Bull had his own horns, thank you very much.

 

“Suit yourself,” Dorian replies with ease and as Gaspard ferries Beatrix through the courtyard, Dorian immediately slips into the thick of it.

 

Bull watches with interest as Dorian—the same Dorian who cheats at cards and drank a whole bottle of dwarven fire whiskey on a dare—bows his neck with more grace than Andraste herself and introduces himself to members of the court with perfect elegance and poise. Even when they turn their noses up in disgust when he explains his Tevinter heritage, Dorian barely blinks or reacts. He seems to be having fun making them uneasy.

 

It’s almost more impressive a sight than the inside of the palace. Almost. The place is dizzyingly bright. Bull never had cause to enter the Winter Palace during his time as Ben-Hassrath in Orlais, so he’s glad he’s gotten the opportunity this time. Because the place is really pretty. Ostentatious as all Void, but pretty.

 

“My dear Iron Bull, what have I told you about slouching?”

 

Bull snorts, puts out his arm to his side. Vivienne smirks through lips painted a sharp steel color and accepts it gracefully. Iron Lady indeed…

 

“Not to, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am,” he replies dutifully, straightening his back. Truth be told he’s hunching over for fear of his horns will hit something expensive somehow. That and he isn’t fond of all the sneers and stares he’s been getting either.

 

“Now, do you remember the steps of the dance of the six candles?” Vivienne prompts as they make their way to the top of the stairs and into the grand ballroom.

 

Bull starts to speak and then pauses, grumbling, “Wait a minute. I know what this is… you’re screwing with me because you look like a tamassran. It’s the whole… ‘authoritative female’ thing. Plus the silver makeup, the hat with the horns… I was trained by the Ben-Hassrath—you think I don’t know how to handle manipulation—”

 

Vivienne raises her brow high. Even the powder on her eyelids is iron-colored, barely visible behind the sleek silvery mask. “Bull,” she begins, patiently, “Step step turn…?”

 

Bull sighs deeply as they approach the edge of the stairs that lead down to the ballroom floor. “Step, shuffle, spin. Ma’am.”

 

Vivienne smiles brightly, pats his arm. “You’ll do fine, my dear,” she reassures and it makes Bull feel better, surprisingly.

 

Beatrix stands at the front with Gaspard. All eyes are on them now, intensely scrutinizing. The music stops, crowds parting. Bull looks across the room—far across—and sees the empress walking to the edge of the balcony, hands folding perfectly in front of her.

 

The seneschal of the court stands above them on the balcony across, pulling the scroll with the Inquisition’s invitation open to read from.

 

“And now presenting,” the guy reads, with a lot of pompousness for a guy that Bull considers to have the title of ‘grand bootlicker’, “Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons.”

 

Gaspard comes forward, taking a deep bow towards Empress Celene. Bull really doesn’t get Orlesians. Qunari don’t bow to their enemies. Why would they? An enemy is bas and unworthy of regard. Humans are really weird.

 

“And accompanying him… Lady Inquisitor Beatrix Andromeda Trevelyan, of the Ostwick Circle of Magi!”

 

Beatrix takes a fortifying breath and glides down the stairs, hand upon the railing. Bull watches Cullen watching her, the commander’s eyes never leaving her for an instant even as she takes Gaspard’s arm.

 

“Vanquisher of the rebel mages of Ferelden, crusher of the vile mage apostates of the Mage Underground!”

 

Varric grumbles to Bull’s right at the way the words twist Beatrix’s accomplishment of bringing the mages into the Inquisition as equals. “This asshole writes better fiction than I do,” he mutters as Dorian smothers Sera’s squawk of, “That ain’t what happened!” with a gloved hand.

 

“Champion of the Blessed Andraste Herself!” the seneschal finishes.

 

Gaspard leans in, whispering something into Beatrix’s ear with a smirk. Probably enjoying all the people gawking and looking pissed off… Bull thinks, just keeping a stony face. He breathes in through his nose, like tama taught him, not paying mind to the wrinkled noses behind shiny masks.

 

“Accompanying the Inquisitor…” the man begins and Bull pricks his ears up because Koslun forbid he miss his stupid cue.

 

“Seeker Cassandra Allegra Portia Calogera Filomena—”

 

“Get on with it!” Cassandra Allegra Portia Calogera Filomena hisses up at the seneschal, making the man sweat in fear.

 

Cassandra’s crushing the edges of her gown in her hands. Varric’s turning purple with the effort of holding his breath and trying not to bust out laughing.

 

“…Pentaghast,” the guy finishes sheepishly as Cassandra walks forward. She’s less graceful than Beatrix, walks more like a soldier than a debutante and it brings a smile to Bull’s face. He wonders how much Josephine had to beg to get her into that dress. It looks good though.

 

“Fourteenth cousin to the king of Nevarra, nine times removed. Hero of Orlais, Right Hand of the Divine!”

 

“Remember to smile, my dear,” Vivienne insists to Cassandra as she is announced next as ‘Madame Vivienne’. She walks beside Cassandra and the woman relaxes—a little. “It’s all for show.”

 

“First enchanter of the Circle of Magi, enchanter of the Imperial Court, mistress of the Duke of Ghislain…” the man continues next with, “Renowned author Varric Tethras, head of noble House Tethras!”

 

Varric blinks in surprise. “They read my stuff in Orlais? Nice,” he remarks and shrugs, following after the girls with amusement coloring his eyes.

 

“Deshyr of Kirkwall to the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild!” the man finishes and then squints at the next name on the list before shrugging, reading aloud, “Her Ladyship, Mai Bhalsych of Korse!”

 

Sera sniggers as she steps forward alongside Varric and surprisingly enough, Beatrix—who has been stony and cold to everyone—has to put a hand to her mouth to keep from laughing as well. Bull’s brow raises slightly at the sight as the redhead struggles for a moment to recover. It only lasts a moment and then she’s glaring again, all business. Huh…

 

“Really, Buttercup?” Varric mutters aside to Sera.

 

“Come off it dwarfy, you loved it,” Sera replies with a bright smile from ear to pointy ear.

 

“…abso-freaking-lutely,” Varric replies, grinning to himself.

 

“Lord Dorian Pavus,” the man announces and Bull glances towards the other man, who raises his head nobly. There’s not many of them left standing on the steps and Dorian strides forward, bowing deep at the waist to the court. Bull tries valiantly not to stare at his ass. Or at least, not get caught staring. “Member of the Circle of Vyrantium, son of Lord Magister Halward Pavus of Asariel…”

 

That however, gets a negative reaction. Not just from the court, but from Dorian himself, his lip curling ever so slightly in a sneer that he recovers from quickly. Bull doesn’t blame him. He doesn’t really know the feeling exactly, but it’s hard for anyone to live under a shadow.

 

He jumps to attention when he hears his name next—of course they would do it in that order. A qunari and a Tevinter standing beside each other in the Imperial Court? Guaranteed laughs. Bull almost wants to walk away and get a drink, but Dorian just glances up the stairs at him expectantly and he finds himself walking down the steps to meet him there.

 

“The Iron Bull, leader of the famed mercenary company Bull’s Chargers,” the man announces and then with a delicate sniff, adds, “As the name might imply.”

 

Bull smirks to himself, bows his head shortly. Dorian’s grinning too as they walk the steps together to assemble with the others.

 

“How they even make you sound pompous and arrogant is beyond my ken…” Dorian remarks aside to him as they walk the length of the ballroom.

 

“…it’s Orlais,” Bull replies and Dorian has to disguise his chortle as a cough into his gloved hand.

 

“Warden Blackwall of Val Chevin, Constable of the Grey. Bearer of the Silverite Wings of Valor…”

 

Blackwall comes down the stairs, bowing with more grace than Bull would expect from the gruff warden. Silverite Wings of Valor, huh? Bull’s pretty sure the wardens don’t tend to get medals. That’s… interesting.

 

But what’s more interesting is whose announcement follows: “Lady Josephine Cherette Montilyet of Antiva City. Ambassador of the Inquisition!”

 

Josephine and Blackwall wear twin looks of astonishment, Josephine protesting softly. Bull can make out the shape of her mouth around a ‘wait, this is the wrong order’—and looks to his right where Sera is sniggering, again.

 

Still, Ruffles recovers easily enough, head high and cheeks hot as she strides down to meet Blackwall. She curtsies beautifully despite the huge golden ruffles she’s wearing and Blackwall offers her his elbow. She hesitates just a moment before taking it, staring at the floor with her red ears just barely hidden by her elaborate hairstyle and the duskiness of her skin tone.

 

“Lady Leliana, Nightingale of the Imperial Court,” the man continues. Leliana seems amused by the switch also—she’s smiling in a way that isn’t scary or intimidating, for once. “Veteran of the Fifth Blight. Seneschal of the Inquisition and Left Hand of the Divine.”

 

Leliana bows and a moment later with the announcement, “The Lady Inquisitor’s elven servant Solas,” the elven apostate joins her, his eyes rolling so hard it’s almost audible from where Bull’s standing at the other end of the ballroom floor.

 

Cullen is, unsurprisingly, the last man standing. He stands at a parade rest, of course, and is unblinking in the face of all the scrutiny. Many of the ladies whisper behind their fans, giggles and shushing sounds following.

 

Bull looks away from Cullen to the Inquisitor. He frowns, nudges Dorian, who scowls but then glances the way Bull’s looking.

 

Beatrix’s eyes are all for the commander, soft smile touching the corners of her mouth as the seneschal announces him. “Ser Cullen Stanton Rutherford of Honnleath. Commander of the forces of the Inquisition. Former Knight-Commander of Kirkwall.”

 

“What in the Void is going on?” Dorian murmurs aside to Bull.

 

“…no idea,” Bull responds as Beatrix seems to notice them noticing her. She turns her nose up and Cullen appears hurt, looking away as well with a scowl. “But whatever it is, it’s weird.”

 

A moment ago Beatrix was looking at Cullen like she was a schoolgirl penning ‘Mrs. Beatrix Andromeda Rutherford’ on every scrap of parchment she could get her hands on. A second later she’s cozying up to Gaspard again.

 

If the empress takes notice of this, she says nothing, simply bowing her neck gracefully to her guests—motley crew that they were, all standing together. It surprises Bull, sometimes, how well this Inquisition works. They’re all from different walks of life, different races and nationalities and religions. But together, they were a team, unified.

 

Except now everything is messed up. Because some of us got too close… Bull thinks and looks to Dorian briefly. …Koslun’s horns, he’s pretty…

 

“Cousin,” Gaspard greets and then nods to the woman at Celene’s right, “And my dear sister.”

 

“Grand Duke,” Celene returns, civilly enough when greeting the man who wants her crown, “We are always honored when your presence graces our court.”

 

Gaspard’s mood blackens a little, catching the note of amusement in Celene’s tone. “Don’t waste my time with pleasantries, Celene,” he rumbles under his breath, “We have business to conclude.”

 

Celene appears unfazed by the short-tempered response, seeming well-used to Gaspard’s ‘charming’ attitude. “We will meet for the negotiations after we have seen to our other guests,” she replies, or rather, orders with finality.

 

Gaspard snorts softly, giving an exaggerated bow. He takes Beatrix’s hand, gracing it with a kiss. “Inquisitor,” he says in parting, “Save a dance for me, will you?”

 

“Of course,” Beatrix replies and Gaspard ascends the staircase to speak with another noble. Bea glances upward as the empress addresses her directly.

 

“Inquisitor, I am intrigued by your familiarity with the Grand Duke. A most fortuitous connection…” Celene remarks delicately.

 

“Gaspard is a very gracious host, Your Majesty,” Beatrix says with a curl to her painted lips. “I am grateful for his patronage.”

 

Dorian barely masks the sound of disgust he makes at that turn of phrase. Bull wonders what’s up with him, nudging him lightly out of curiosity. Dorian glances to him and then just shakes his head, indicating they can talk later on.

 

“Ah. Well, regardless,” Celene continues, maintaining an air of peacefulness, “We welcome you to the Winter Palace, Lady Inquisitor. Allow us to present our cousin—the Grand Duchess Florianne of Lydes—without whom this gathering would never have been possible.”

 

Beatrix looks to the woman at Celene’s right with a critical gaze. She glances over to her advisors and surprisingly enough—Cullen. Cullen’s eyes narrow ever so slightly and he gives a slight jerk of his chin that Bull can’t really figure out. It makes Beatrix turn away again, focusing on what is in front of her.

 

“What an unexpected pleasure,” Florianne says with an insincere smile, “I was not aware the Inquisition would be a part of our festivities.”

 

“Well,” Beatrix says with a shrug, “No one expects the Inquisition.”

 

“That’s true enough,” Dorian says with a slight snort, making Bull chuckle quietly.

 

“Indeed,” the duchess says through thin lips. She smiles after a moment, bows her head to Beatrix. “We will certainly speak later, Inquisitor Trevelyan…”

 

Florianne withdraws, going to intercept her brother Gaspard. Bull follows them with an eye—neither looks particularly pleased.

 

Celene watches that exchange with amusement coloring her fine ivory features, remarking, “My, my… your arrival at court is like a cool wind on a summer’s day…”

 

Beatrix’s smirk grows and it’s nice, honestly, seeing her confidence building in this unfamiliar situation. Even if she’s been acting completely unlike herself. Bull didn’t follow shrinking violets and the Inquisitor isn’t one. Not in the least.

 

“Let’s just hope the breeze does not herald an oncoming storm,” Bea says without missing a step.

 

The court murmurs their approval for her wit, Celene even smiling with more sincerity. “Even the wisest mistake fair winds for foul,” the empress states, “We are at the mercy of the skies, Inquisitor.”

 

“Particularly the giant hole in them,” Dorian remarks under his breath and Bull snickers again, elbowing the vint lightly. Dorian’s not making it easy for Bull to act ‘dignified’ and the man knows it, winking back at Bull. Ass.

 

“How do you find Halamshiral?” the empress asks, pretending not to hear the less-than-courtly comment.

 

Beatrix, to her credit, doesn’t respond ‘with a map of course’ even though Bull knows she normally would say something smart-aleck like that. “I have no words to suffice,” she says and her eyes turn towards where the Grand Duke is conferring with his sister, “Halamshiral has many beauties, and I couldn’t do them justice.”

 

Celene follows Beatrix’s gaze, lip curling a little. She maintains her gracious appearance regardless, “Your modesty does you credit, and speaks well for the Inquisition. Feel free to enjoy the… pleasures of the ballroom, Inquisitor,” Celene says and then smiles a little more sincerely, “We look forward to watching you dance.”

 

Beatrix curtsies and they all ascend the stairs as the empress takes her leave. The music starts up again and couples take to the floor to dance.

 

How they manage that to music without any percussion, I’ll never understand, Bull thinks and shakes his head at the excessive amount of flutes trilling along to the lazy hum of softly played violin. This is going to be a looooong night…

 

The group breaks up, everyone finding a spot to be. Dorian leaves his side to talk with some scholarly looking guys and Bull knows that conversation is going to be a snooze-fest. He chooses to go upstairs, sniffing out the buffet table. Bull finds it unoccupied which makes sense considering how Orlesians fuss over everything—including their weight. He helps himself to heaping piles of everything, loading up two plates before chowing down.

 

The elves serving look at him with disdain but otherwise say nothing to him. The nobles, however…

 

“Oh my,” one masked asshole remarks, “I didn’t realize we invited elephants to the Winter Palace now…”

 

“Oh Jacques, be nice! Besides, he’s a ‘bull’, remember?” a lady with a silver fan titters nearby.

 

“Well he does have the horns, Marguerite, but I suppose tusks can’t be too far off, right?” Jacques replies.

 

Bull knows he shouldn’t say anything, but Josephine’s not there to stop him. He turns, swallows the chunks of braised lamb he’s stuffed down and stares down at the significantly shorter man.

 

“You got a problem?”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Dorian finishes talking to the group from the White Spire with a promise to make recommendations to the Circle’s library. He’s fairly certain anything he suggests will get banned by the belligerent southern Templars but that’s their problem.

 

“Just focus on the mission and not this—girlish infatuation of yours!”

 

“Speaking of belligerent southern Templars…” Dorian says to himself, rolling his eyes as he finds Beatrix and Cullen in a shadowy corner of the ballroom. He edges closer on the pretense of examining a portrait of Emperor Judicael Valmont I and eavesdrops on their conversation.

 

“Excuse me?!” Beatrix responds, her voice pitching high. Dorian’s not the only one listening in but Cullen and her aren’t exactly being discreet with their ‘maritals’. “What exactly are you suggesting, commander?”

 

“Oh come off it—I know you were the one who invited Gaspard for a private dinner!” Cullen barks back, “The man told me himself!”

 

“Oh, and you believe him over me, is that it?”

 

“Yes—no! I mean—” Cullen stumbles over his words, blinking in surprise, “Wait, you… didn’t invite him?”

 

Beatrix folds her arms across her chest. “It’s absolutely none of your business if I did or not, commander. You’re not my mother,” she says, putting her nose up in the air, “But yes. I did make the suggestion to Gaspard. And he was very accommodating.”

 

Cullen’s lip curls in disgust. “Oh I’m sure he was,” he replies. Dorian knows that look on Cullen’s face—it’s one of a man who is being beaten back, defeated by inches. He’s worn it a lot himself.

 

“If I am to forget my ‘girlish infatuation’ then you ought to stop being such a jealous arsehole and get over it!”

 

“Fine. I’m over it.”

 

“Fine.”

 

“Are you saying you’re fine with me being over it or fine with me in general or…”

 

“I’m saying ‘fine’, commander. Nothing more, nothing less.”

 

“…fine,” Cullen says, brow twitching in irritation. He takes a fortifying breath, continuing with a simple, “It will take some time to get our men into the palace. I’ll alert you when we’re ready.”

 

Beatrix shifts about, aware of eyes watching them suddenly. Dorian pretends to find the brushwork on the bland portrait incredibly intriguing and she doesn’t seem to notice him listening in.

 

“Fine,” she replies brusquely again.

 

Cullen sighs at that and absentmindedly tugs at his collar. “…I need to have this jacket let out a little…” he remarks offhandedly.

 

Beatrix snorts at that and responds with a curt, “Perhaps you should lay off those caramels Josephine keeps sending you, hm?” before strutting off with her nose high in the air.

 

“…did you just call me fat?!” Cullen cries out indignantly, reddening when he notices all the eyes and ears turning towards them. Beatrix just keeps walking and Cullen lowers his head, sulkily prodding his stomach while a few nearby nobles titter about the whole situation.

 

Dorian puts his palm to his forehead and prays for sanity. For himself and his friends. A few enterprising young ladies (and gentlemen) find their way over to the commander within moments.

 

“Can I get you a drink, Commander Cullen? It is commander, yes?” a girl in a patterned ball gown asks eagerly.

 

“…yes,” Cullen says, face flat. “Please.”

 

Dorian shakes his head at the worrying display as a flock of admirers swallow Cullen up. Orlais is the city of l’amour and for every broken heart there were many others striving to mend it back together. Unfortunately that usually meant some kind of dire exchange of information, an assassination attempt or three and, ugh, an overabundance of lavender perfume.

 

“Well, well… seems the commander has quite a few Orlesian admirers of his own…”

 

Dorian huffs, glancing to his side and taking the flute of champagne Vivienne offers him. It’s probably the only drink he can trust not to be poisoned. Maybe.

 

“So it would seem,” he agrees, glancing across the way where Beatrix is glittering by Gaspard’s side. Cullen’s eyes also fix there; he’s tossed back his drink so quickly Dorian missed it. The commander’s already holding out his glass expectantly for another.

 

“Oh don’t be so sullen, Dorian,” Vivienne chides, “It’s good for him. For them. The Grand Game may be insidious but it is also quite instructive. Come now, you must have had similar experiences in Tevinter, yes?”

 

“Oh yes,” Dorian sighs, “You could almost mistake this for a soiree in the Imperium. The same double-dealing, elegant poison, canapes… it’s lacking only a few sacrificial slaves and some blood magic. But the night is still young…”

 

“Quite… well beyond the dissension in the ranks, have you noticed anything, dear Dorian?”

 

Dorian shakes his head. His conversation with the fellows from the Circle of Magi didn’t turn up much and he isn’t seeing anything else terribly arcane going on. “I’m trying to keep watch for magic. You know Tevinters. We can’t cross a room without casting a spell…”

 

Dorian nods to Vivienne with confidence: “If there are Tevinter agents here, I will find them.”

 

Vivienne smiles, slightly approving. She gives Dorian a light clap on the cheek, “You do that, dear. I will keep an eye out for the Inquisitor’s wellbeing in the meantime…”

 

“Oh? And here I thought you felt she was ‘putting her duty before her heart’?” Dorian questions, smirking into his glass.

 

“Indeed. You will also note I didn’t mention her brain in that observation,” Vivienne replies airily, chuckling as she gestures for Dorian to slow down on his drink, “Don’t get too drunk now, my dear—I would hate to have you stepping on these new shoes of mine…”

 

Dorian gasps, holding a hand to his heart mockingly. “Why, Madame de Fer! Dancing with the evil magister, in full view of every noble in Orlais? How shocking!”

 

Vivienne’s silvery lips curl in delight. “I’m sure they’ll survive, darling.”

 

“You say that now,” Dorian says with a snort of derision. “Well, if you can find me ten silk scarves, I’ve got a dance that will really shock them…”

 

“How delightful,” Vivienne replies with a soft chuckle, “I shall have to inform Iron Bull—”

 

Dorian doesn’t even get a chance to protest the comment. Vivienne is shushing him with a finger, her eyes looking far off Dorian’s shoulder with keen interest. When he tries to turn and see for himself she takes hold of his chin and keeps his eyes on her with a soft rebuke.

 

“…I’m sorry, my dear, I must attend to another matter…” she says, bowing her neck gracefully and walking off in another direction.

 

When she’s gone, Dorian actually looks over his shoulder, but he cannot tell who Vivienne was glaring at in the gaggle of people. He’s scrutinizing the group so intensely that he nearly jumps right out of his skin when he hears a voice right by his ear—

 

“Stepping into the parlor, hem of my gown snagged—no, adjust before I go in: must look perfect, for myself and for him,” Cole murmurs, watching as Vivienne glides effortlessly through the ballroom, navigating it as though she was born to engage in such intrigues.

 

“We really need to put a bell on you or something,” Dorian remarks once his heart is out of his throat, still he listens—mostly because Cole’s going to go on regardless but also because he is curious about Vivienne. Unlike himself, she had a choice whether or not to engage in this life. Cole’s probably his best shot at figuring out her motives.

 

“Voices inside… Marquise Alphonse…” Cole whispers, his voice turning boorish and cruel as he recites, “I do hope Duke Bastien puts out the lights before he touches her. But then she must disappear in the dark!”

 

The sharp words from a painful memory strike cold in Dorian’s chest and suddenly he feels like a right arsehole for what he said to Vivienne about the duke. He’s been in the same place as Vivienne and it is not fun in the least.

 

“Gown tight between my fingers, cold all over. Unacceptable. If Bastien heard such words… his heart already hurting, have to help him, anything, anything… wheels turn, strings pull…”

 

Dorian notices it then. Leliana’s agents isolating one out of the gaggle of men and women from the rest. They confront the man in the expensive bloodstone mask quickly and quietly. A hand with a cloth goes over a mouth and he’s out in an instant, no one noticing as he’s taken away.

 

Cole’s lip quirks, just a little. “The Marquise hurt you… so you left out a letter, let out a lie so he would do something foolish against the Inquisition… a trap.”

 

Vivienne’s watching from across the room as the unfortunate Marquise is taken into the tender mercies of Leliana’s spies. She notices Dorian looking her way and smiles innocently, raises her glass in a silent toast.

 

Dorian raises his glass in return, finding the whole matter fascinating. Eye opening even.

 

“Cole.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“…do remind me to apologize to Vivienne when we get back to Skyhold, yes?”

 

Cole blinks. Nods. “Of course,” he says, “But Dorian, she’s already forgiven you.”

 

Dorian chokes on his drink in surprise because Vivienne and forgiveness are two concepts he can’t see coexisting well.

 

“What?” he asks, but Cole’s already gone. Figures…

 

“Smile, commander! You’re so handsome when you smile!”

 

“He is just as handsome when he doesn’t….”

 

Cullen squawks suddenly, nearly spilling his drink. He looks a little unsteady on his feet anyways and it surprises Dorian that the man isn’t tripping over his own boots. He wonders how many drinks Cullen’s had in the span of time Dorian’s spent talking to Vivienne and Cole…

 

“Did you just… grab my bottom?” Cullen asks a man beside him, looking scandalized.

 

“I’m a weak man,” the foppish fellow replies in a self-satisfied tone. “But you must dance with me, commander! You cannot stand about all evening…”

 

“I’m afraid not,” Cullen says, sipping his drink and looking uneasy, “Thank you.”

 

Dorian sighs, sets down his drink on the tray of a passing elven servant and is about to go over there and rescue Cullen when a rustle of periwinkle skirts announces Beatrix’s arrival at his side.

 

“Well,” she says, lips pursing unhappily, “Isn’t he just pleased as punch?”

 

Dorian raises a brow as Beatrix glares daggers at Cullen while the man attempts to ward off his would-be wooers. “…you can’t be serious,” he scoffs, “Anyone can tell how much he hates this.”

 

“Of course he does,” Beatrix replies acidly, grabbing a glass from another passing serving tray. She throws back the drink and shoves the empty flute into Dorian’s hands before marching over to Cullen.

 

The poor sod doesn’t even know what’s in store for him, he brightens hopefully at Beatrix’s arrival. “Inquisitor!” he says, urgently drawing closer to Beatrix so that his admirers give him space. “Did you need something?” he asks. Dorian imagines that Cullen feels that the sooner they find the infiltrator, the better.

 

“A report, commander,” the red head responds snappishly, “Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary?”

 

Cullen’s face falls tellingly, but he clears his throat, managing to respond, “Not yet… though it would be easier if people stopped talking to me.”

 

Dorian can only imagine the severity of the death-glare Cullen’s receiving as the blonde stammers out an urgent, “Other people! Not you!”

 

“Hmmph,” Beatrix sneers at the gathering of men and women who surround the commander, “You’ve attracted a following. Who are all these people?”

 

“I don’t know… but they won’t leave me alone,” Cullen says and adds, “And they keep bringing me drinks…”

 

“Not enjoying the attention, then?”

 

Hardly,” Cullen replies with derision, like he’s offended at the very suggestion of it. “Anyway yours…” Cullen stumbles over the words a little, clears his throat and says, quieter, “…yours is the only attention worth having.”

 

Dorian knows it isn’t as smooth sounding as Cullen might hope. Then again, the man is more than a little drunk at the moment. Beatrix seems relatively unimpressed.

 

Still—surprising to Dorian and Cullen as well—she asks, “I don’t suppose you’d save a dance for me?”

 

“No, thank you.”

 

“Oh… after all that practice? Perhaps it wasn’t for me…”

 

“What—no! I didn’t mean to—Maker’s breath I’ve answered that question so many times I’m rejecting it automatically—” Cullen insists, but the damage is clearly done.

 

“That’s fine, commander. Enjoy mingling with your fan-club,” Beatrix declares, spinning on a heel, “I’ve a partner already anyways…”

 

“Inquisitor, please wait! Bea—” Cullen’s words get lost in the shuffle as Beatrix leaves him and his ‘fans’ swoop in, all a titter.

 

“Was that the Inquisitor? How exciting!”

 

“I was wondering, commander—are you married?”

 

Dorian rolls his eyes as the guy in the big feathery hat sidles up close to Cullen again. Apparently someone never learned the meaning of the word ‘no’…

 

“Not yet…” Cullen replies, brow furrowing over his amber eyes, “…but I am… already taken.”

 

“Aha!” the man says, apparently missing the longing way Cullen’s eyes fall on Beatrix’s back as she strides up to Gaspard and holds to the duke’s arm adoringly. “Still single then…”

 

Dorian looks away—even if he goes up to Cullen now, there’s not much he can do for the man. The commander appears completely defeated and therefore useless. Varric wasn’t wrong about him being a liability…

 

Dorian will have to just do his best to sniff out the venatori if they’re present. Get this done so they can go back to Skyhold and figure out all these messy entanglements. However, in order to do that, we need to keep from getting kicked out of the ball for being boorish and crude…

 

He scans the room again. Sera’s talking with some serving elves and Dorian can only imagine her motives are sinister in nature. She’s a lost cause, even if Dorian tries to intervene in whatever she’s getting up to the elf won’t listen. Blackwall’s sticking by Josephine, though a smaller girl—Josephine’s sister, perhaps?—is chattering the warden’s ear off. Josephine’s gone perfectly red but Blackwall looks like he’s enjoying himself immensely. Varric’s happily signing copies of his book while Cassandra stands nearby. Dorian can’t hear them from so far away, but he can imagine the disgusted noises the Seeker’s making in response to the display. Solas is off in a corner on his own, not engaging with anyone—then again as an elf in Halamshiral he’s more invisible than Cole.

 

So that leaves—

 

Dorian jumps at hearing a loud clatter of cutlery and plates from the room down the corner from where he’s standing. Where the buffet table is. Oh Bull he thinks and turns, rushing out and up the stairs. He takes them by twos because the indignation of climbing up steps like a child is far less worrying than having a member of the Inquisition getting kicked out for prematurely killing a ball guest.

 

“Eat it,” Bull demands as on-lookers gasp in shock.

 

The qunari’s got a guy by the hair, the man’s mask gone. Dorian locates it a moment later, set upon the arse of the fancy ice sculpture of a lion in the middle of the table. Bull’s slowly forcing the man’s face down towards a very large chocolate truffle cake. The man resists, yelps, nose touching the frosting—

 

Daaaaaaarling!” Dorian says with gusto and everyone, Bull included, turns to stare. Dorian steels himself, he’s committed now— “I’ve been looking all over for you, my sweet!”

 

Bull stares, looking at Dorian like he’s lost his mind. Which, well—isn’t too far off. “Are you talking to me or…?” he starts to ask when Dorian grasps at his shoulder and urges him to turn. Bull lets go of the man automatically and the nobleman just barely keeps from face planting into the dessert on his own.

 

“Darling Bull, you’re so silly,” Dorian says with a sibilant tone, “Stop playing with other men and dance with the one who brought you, already.”

 

“….” Bull catches on quickly enough, grunts and smirks. “Alright, kadan…” he says and winds his arm around Dorian’s shoulder in a familiar fashion. “You lucked out,” he tells the man behind him who is trying to unstick his mask from the ice.

 

The others all too busy gossiping about the Tevinter and the qunari to really pay any mind to the fact that Bull assaulted a noble—just as Dorian calculated. He tugs at Bull’s jacket, guiding them to an unoccupied balcony before pulling away with a look of displeasure.

 

“So we’re not really gonna dance, right?”

 

“Absolutely not,” Dorian replies, shakes his head, “What were you thinking?”

 

Bull grunts, folding his arms across his massive chest. “Sooner we get to killing the better,” he grumbles, “The nobles keep messing with me, and they think I don’t know they’re doing it. This keeps up, I’m going to wear someone’s skull as my fancy little mask…”

 

“Don’t be absurd,” Dorian chides, “You were a spy, weren’t you? Try to… I don’t know… adapt!”

 

“I’m not Ben-Hassrath anymore, not really,” Bull explains, sighing, “I was defined by that title, Dorian. It was my purpose. And now, well—now that I’m Tal-Vashoth it’s hard to see the purpose in this sort of stuff…” Bull gestures vaguely towards the palace interior.

 

Dorian rubs at his own arm idly. It’s not very chilly at all, in fact the weather is practically balmy compared to some southern nights he’s endured.

 

“I know what you mean,” he admits, “This is all so familiar to me. I half expect my mother to materialize from the crowd and start criticizing my manners...”

 

“Or your choice in friends,” Bull adds, sheepishly.

 

Dorian glances at Bull and shrugs. “It wouldn’t be the first time,” he says with a slight smile, leaning on the banister and looking down at the exterior gardens.

 

Bull joins him a moment later, nudging him lightly. “Thank you, by the way. You didn’t have to do that, you know. I would’ve been fine with getting shown the door…”

 

“Idiot,” Dorian scolds softly and sighs, leaning back against the larger man just a little, “You’re needed here. Ben-Hassrath or not.”

 

“…hmph…” Bull stares up at the stars for a moment before asking in an amused tone, “So… what if your mother were actually here? Where would we be then?”

 

Dorian laughs outright. “Short one mage—after he’s dragged out by his earlobe.”

 

Bull’s shoulders shake with his own laughter and Dorian feels a small amount of victory in the way he’s soothed Bull. The man’s murderous expression is gone completely and he looks calm. Happy, even, despite the embarrassing method Dorian had to use to get him away from the party.

 

“I’m having difficulty picturing that.”

 

“Picture me a young boy of five years, then. She certainly always has,” Dorian says, voice bitter even to his own ears. It’s an old hurt but he’s well over it.

 

“Hmn. Yeah…” Bull agrees, glancing over at Dorian, “Mothers tend to do that.”

 

Dorian scoffs at that. While the mage often wished that his relationship with Lady Mariah Pavus was simply that of a son chafing under the yoke of an overbearing but ultimately affectionate mother... it isn’t.

 

Dorian loves his mother— but while Halward was always into his business, Mariah was absent until she had to be there to intervene. Otherwise she would be reading in the library or ordering the servants around, throwing parties and drinking the day away idly. She would listen to Halward prattle on about business in the Magisterium with curt ‘yes dear’s and ‘no dear’s. Most of her conversations with Dorian were ultimately one-sided and directive—‘sit up straight’ ‘don’t fuss with your sleeves’ and most importantly ‘think before you speak’.

 

Mariah Pavus could be like ice, cold and unyielding; or she could be like fire, burning and destructive. It was hard to tell what you’d get from her, but mostly she went about the world with disinterest and a hint of longing for better days in her eyes.

 

Dorian sees a lot of his mother in himself. It’s not a good thing.

 

“I think,” he says, “There’s a vast difference between your tama and my mother on that front, Bull.”

 

“…maybe.”

 

Dorian tugs absentmindedly at the tips of his gloves and ignores the now very present voice of his mother demanding he stop messing about with them. It’s quiet out on the balcony and it feels like he’s coming up for air after a long time of being underwater.

 

“Speaking of qunari matters…” he says, feeling curious, “What was that word you used just a few moments ago?”

 

Bull blinks and then looks a little nervous, rubs the back of his head.

 

“What one?”

 

“Ka… kadan?” Dorian repeats as best as he can. He’s been practicing, actually, with what little Qunlat the translation of the Qun he’s been reading has in it for him to learn.

 

“Oh,” Bull starts, “That’s just—”

 

Both of them jerk their heads upward at the sounds of yelling from inside, a violin screeching sharply when the music abruptly stops. A woman shrieks and Bull’s eyes meet Dorian’s for an instant before they’re rushing inside.

 

Whatever’s happening, they only catch the tail-end of the show, leaning over the railing above the ballroom floor.

 

“Oh no,” Dorian says, face draining of color.

 

Beatrix’s got her hands over her mouth in shock as she watches Cullen slugging it out with the Grand Duke. Josephine simply fainted out of shock and Blackwall’s working to revive her as the scene plays out.

 

Gaspard’s not just rolling belly-up and taking it, but Cullen’s younger and stronger. He bloodies the man’s lip before the guards jump into the fray to pull the commander off the duke. And even then it takes at least four men to manage it.

 

“DON’T YOU EVER TOUCH HER LIKE THAT AGAIN!” Cullen roars and he’s looking pretty unsteady, words slightly slurring together. “I SWEAR TO THE MAKER IF YOU EVER SO MUCH AS—”

 

“Cullen,” Beatrix says, silent up until this point. Her eyes burn into the other man’s and Cullen stops shouting, staring at her desperately. “…get out.”

 

She turns her back on him and Cullen’s face falls. “Inquisitor—Beatrix, please!” he begs. “Please, I’m sorry, just give me another chance—wait—wait!!”

 

All the Inner Circle watches in shock as Commander Cullen Stanton Rutherford is dragged out of the Winter Palace by force, the huge doors slamming with finality.

 

“Well,” Bull says, “…we’re fucked.”

 

“Quite,” Dorian agrees.

 

Chapter Text

It takes some time but they manage to regroup, Beatrix in no state to speak. Her breaths come quick and sharp, like she’s fighting for every bit of air she pulls into her lungs. Her eyelashes flutter rapidly but remain fixed ahead, determined and dry.

 

“This complicates matters,” Leliana says, lips pursing, “Having the troops in place was key to acquiring the Empress’ security. Without Cullen to command them we lack a safety net. My spies aren’t close quarters fighters.”

 

“Can we not rally them ourselves?” Josephine asks, sipping at the glass of water Blackwall hands to her.

 

The bell tolls the hour, all of them turning their eyes to the clock. Bull shakes his head. The whole situation is still hard for him to believe.

 

“It’ll take too much time to reorganize,” he says with a grunt. Even Cullen not at his best was better than no fighting support at all.

 

“And time is not a luxury we have at present,” Dorian adds, finishing Bull’s thought for him with a furrowed brow.

 

“Then we make time,” Beatrix states, suddenly back in the conversation. Her lip’s quivering ever so slightly and Bull watches as her pulse jumps in her throat tellingly. “And we do this without brute force. We don’t need Cullen.”

 

You mean you don’t need him… Bull thinks, shaking his head a little. He feels for Cullen, whether or not he’s being an arsehole. Wanting someone so much it turns you to jealousy, to anger… well, that’s why the Qun kept relationships simple and straightforward. Bull thinks the qunari would have died out long ago if they hadn’t chosen that path, considering the amount of damage they can do in battle. Except I’ve strayed from that way of life…

 

He doesn’t want to imagine if he ever felt that way for Dorian, that level of possessiveness. He toes the line now, tries to take care and not step over it.

 

“We narrow our field of search down,” Beatrix continues, “Who are our main players?”

 

“Well, there’s Gaspard, of course. He’s the one waging war against Celene as we speak. If she dies he’s next in the line of succession…” Josephine begins, eyes warily glancing at the Inquisitor, fearing a negative response to that.

 

Beatrix does turn a sour face, folding her arms defensively across her chest. But she doesn’t comment, save to say, “And?”

 

“And there’s Briala,” Leliana states, “She’s the unofficial leader of the elves of Halamshiral… and according to our intelligence, she’s also a jilted lover of Celene’s.”

 

“But that is only rumor, is it not, Leliana?” Josephine wonders, biting her lip.

 

“Rumors often hold a few grains of truth in them,” Vivienne advises with a tapping of her toe. “Even if it is false, the fact that it’s so widespread gives us a modicum of leverage…”

 

“Celene had an elven lover?” Dorian echoes, blinking in surprise, “A female elven lover? Well that’s… something…”

 

It is, considering the politics in Orlais regarding the elves. They’re treated better than in Tevinter, of course, but not by much. And among the nobility, same-sex couplings aren’t exactly smiled upon…

 

Could be worse. Could be a pampered vint and a qunari spy… Bull thinks to himself. On the balcony just moments ago… I called him ‘kadan’… it was just for the ploy, but I…

 

“We split up,” Beatrix states firmly, “The palace is large but if we go in groups we can cover more ground. We’re expecting the assassin, right? There’s no way they can hide from twenty-four eyes—”

 

“Twenty-three if we’re going to be technical about it…” Dorian notes, shoots Bull a wink which Bull returns with an additional middle finger.

 

“—more importantly,” Beatrix adds, sounding somewhat strained, “We need to keep our eyes and minds on the main players. Gaspard, Briala and Celene.”

 

“Guess we know where you’ll be then, boss,” Bull says before he can hold it back.

 

Beatrix’s chin jerks upward, fixing Bull with a vicious look in her eyes. “What was that?”

 

Bull chews the inside of his cheek so hard it bleeds. Under the Qun he would always obey orders from a superior. But he’s not under the Qun and right now Beatrix isn’t the superior he pledged his support to back on the Storm Coast.

 

“You heard m—”

 

“Bull and I will explore the west wing,” Dorian says, talking over him with a sharp elbow to the ribs in rebuke that has even Bull wincing a little. “Those scholars from the Circle mentioned seeing some robed people in that area but they didn’t have Circle or Chantry heraldry…. Venatori, potentially…”

 

“And I shall take your pet demon to the gallery,” Vivienne says, surprising everyone, “H—It may be able to give us some interesting information from the heads of the close-lipped Council of Heralds… providing it keeps its tongue silent until it is asked to speak…”

 

“Oh!” Cole says, blinking a few times. Bull jumps, he didn’t even see the kid but he’s clearly in view now, perching on a ledge like a skinny gargoyle. “You almost slipped, Vivienne. You almost said ‘he’!”

 

“Nonsense,” Vivienne retorts, waving off Cole’s comment but her cheeks are burning under the silver flecks of glitter. “Solas, I may require your assistance in this matter as well, so… chop chop, elf.” Vivienne claps her hands lightly as if to call Solas to her side like a dog.

 

Sera snorts a laugh into her hands as Solas’ expression twists, looking like he’s smelling something foul in the air. “My pride tells me I shouldn’t,” he begins with a delicate sniff, “But my curiosity about your intentions is far greater than that.”

 

“There’s a good sport! Good boy,” Vivienne states, cooing at Solas as if he were a puppy she’s calling to heel. Solas grunts in response and Bull barely resists sniggering.

 

“Besides,” Solas adds, “Someone should watch out for Cole.”

 

“Oh, thank you, Solas…” Cole says, “But I should be fine. Vivienne already thinks I’m—”

 

“Enough out of you, demon,” Vivienne declares sharply, “Now, shall we?”

 

Beatrix nods, brow furrowing. “Just be careful in your investigations, our weapons caches didn’t get readied before Cullen…” she starts to say, then shakes her head, “Just don’t let it come to that.”

 

“Of course, dear,” Vivienne says, waving to the group as she splits off with Cole and Solas in tow, “Besides, all three of us are dangerous enough without staves or knives…”

 

“But I’m not—”

 

“Shush, demon.”

 

“…okay.”

 

“She says that now, but without a staff to focus energy magic can be rather draining…” Dorian notes from Bull’s side after the odd trio leaves.

 

“Yeah, I know,” Bull replies without thinking as the others discuss how they’ll be breaking up.

 

“Oh?”

 

“I fought mages back in Seheron, remember?” Bull says, even though talking about this with Dorian leaves a foul taste in his mouth, “We would hold our shields at an angle, deflect the magical fire as best we could, come in close. Breaking the staves was a priority, then we would move in when they were tired and…” Bull makes a gesture with his finger across his throat.

 

Dorian puts his palm to his own neck, swallowing hard. “What lovely vivid imagery…” he replies, though Bull can tell the idea unnerves him.

 

“Leliana and Sera will keep eyes on Briala—”

 

“Oh sure, put the elf with the elf, I see how it is…” Sera says with a snort, “Just so you know, I can’t sense other elfy sorts or nothing.”

 

“No, but I’m sure you’d be able to improvise; throw a sharpened butter knife in her neck from fifty paces if you had to… should she approach Celene to assassinate her,” Beatrix says in short-tempered manner.

 

Sera frowns just a little and if Bull didn’t know better he’d think she was uncomfortable with the idea of killing the self-proclaimed elven ambassador. Still she shrugs and gives a jaunty salute. “I suppose I can at that…”

 

“Blackwall, you stay with Josephine and keep as close to the empress as her guards allow. If anything happens, Blackwall…”

 

“On my life,” Blackwall says, bowing his head and Bull marvels momentarily at the elegance in the gesture, the response a practiced one. There’s a man in there that once lived the good life. This kind of life…

 

“Guess that leaves you and me, Seeker,” Varric says with feigned enthusiasm.

 

“Ugh,” is all Cassandra can muster in response.

 

“I want you two to stick to Gaspard,” Beatrix orders, surprising everyone, “Until I am able to get back to the ballroom and do so myself…”

 

“And where are you planning to be, Freckles?” Varric says, asking the question on everyone’s minds.

 

Beatrix looks around then and seems like she’s actually seeing all of them for the first time in days. Like she’s finally acknowledging the looks of concern and suspicion and worry. She takes a fortifying breath.

 

“I know you all are wondering after that unsightly display but… it wasn’t easy for me to send Cullen away either,” she says, patiently, “And I know he’s part of our strategy. But strategies change, just like people. Trust me, we will be able to see this through. I promise you all.”

 

That sounds a bit more like the woman on the Storm Coast Bull pledged his people to. It gives the qunari some measure of hope as he follows Dorian out of the ballroom. Bull waits until they’re out of earshot of the others before speaking.

 

“You should have let me—” Bull starts to say when Dorian about-faces so quickly Bull has to skid his boots to a stop on the fancy flooring or risk running into an already irritated-looking mage.

 

“Let you what? Start a fight with the Inquisitor that we absolutely do not have time for?” Dorian asks pointedly and Bull opens his mouth to offer a counterpoint but can find none. He shuts his mouth, glowers. “That’s what I thought,” Dorian concludes with a smirk.

 

“That smug shit-eating grin is really unattractive, you know that?” Bull complains.

 

“Oh nonsense,” Dorian replies as they slip upstairs together, under the notice of the others milling about the vestibule, “You adore it.”

 

“Hmmph…” It’s irritating that Bull can’t really deny that. “Maybe.”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

It’s telling that Bull doesn’t say anything about not liking his smile; even when Dorian’s being conceited and holding something over the qunari. Dorian’s had friends—and slightly closer friends— before that would not say the same. Sure, his wit attracted many in Tevinter, especially younger people like himself who would see the Imperium change with the times—but then it would become wearisome.

 

Dorian, honestly—how far do you think you will get on cleverness alone?

The Pavus boy? He thinks he knows everything. Such a bore, always with his nose in a book…

Maybe if you perfect that time magic, my dear Dorian, you could advise your future self not to wear that hideous pendant, yes?

Watch out, here comes the next Archon now! All hail Archon Pavus!

 

The anonymity of the south isn’t a bad thing at all, when he considers that there’s few here who really know more than just his nationality. Sneers and dismissive tones are far preferable to hours of forcing a smile while the small-minded tear at ambition they didn’t understand.

 

Not that it matters. Dorian thinks, remembering his last backward glance at his father. Halward’s eyes were tired and disappointed. Not going to become Archon, or even a Magister, from here…

 

It’s not as if he wants to, though. But all the finery and pageantry and double-dealings of this ball remind him of a time when he did want it. Badly, hungrily, desperately.

 

Just bear it for a while, I used to tell myself. Hide yourself for a little longer. Soon you’ll stand above all of their contempt…

 

“Dorian?”

 

Dorian doesn’t hear the qunari. Bull has to shake his shoulder so hard to get his attention Dorian nearly trips over his own feet in the dark corridor.

 

“What?” Dorian snaps in the quiet, turning to look at his larger companion.

 

“Just checking if you’re still with me,” Bull explains with a quizzical expression.

 

The choice of words, as always, is poor. Dorian shakes his head though, shakes it off, “I’m fine, woolgathering is all…”

 

Dorian hears something then. It’s soft like a whisper but melodious, like a choir singing in the back of his mind. Bull starts to speak again, but Dorian flattens his palm against the taller man’s mouth with a shushing sound.

 

The tone is very familiar, Dorian shutting his eyes to focus on the source. “This way, I hear…” Dorian starts and trails off, leading Bull around the corner. There’s a few pieces of furniture in the hall, a pair of armchairs and a glory box, some bookshelves…

 

Dorian kneels by the wooden trunk, the singing is loudest here. He tries to open it, but there’s a heavy padlock that jiggles when he moves the lid.

 

Bull’s looking down at him curiously, head tilting to the side like he’s a little concerned about Dorian’s’ state of mind. But Dorian knows what he’s hearing and this might be a good clue to who is planning tonight’s ‘festivities’.

 

“Do you mind?” Dorian says, pulling back into a crouch and nodding to the lock.

 

“What?”

 

“Pick the bloody lock!—didn’t they teach you how to do that in secret spy school?”

 

“….why?”

 

“Because it’s—argh, I’ll explain in a moment, yes? Can you pick the lock or not?” Dorian asks, jutting his lip out at Bull in annoyance.

 

Bull rolls his eye. “Move,” he says and Dorian does, though he stays close enough to watch, curious to see Bull working on the device. He has to jump out of the way, however, when Bull just tears the lid off its hinges entirely, huge arms barely quivering with the effort. The big man grins up at Dorian and he’s absolutely not impressed. Not a bit.

 

“So that’s a no on the lock-picking then…” Dorian says, pulling off a glove as Bull places the box up on the chair so they can examine the contents.

 

“You gotta stop reading Varric’s books. All the spy shit is wrong…” Bull states, trailing off when Dorian withdraws a bottle from the box. A glowing bottle. “Is that…”

 

Dorian undoes the lid, dipping his bare finger into the blue substance. He runs it between his finger and thumb, the consistency silky smooth—and the smell of it is familiar, like the air after a lightning strike. The scent is intoxicating, but the taste is better yet. Even the small drop set on his tongue sends a shiver of power down through Dorian’s spine, eyes glowing briefly with magical energy.

 

“Lyrium. Refined lyrium potions. And potent ones too. Someone’s planning to use quite a bit of magic tonight I wager…” Dorian says, wiping the remainder away on a handkerchief to stuff into his pocket, pulling his glove back on. “Be careful not to spill any, lyrium can leave residue behind…”

 

“Residue?” Bull asks, handling the stuff carefully, putting it back with trepidation.

 

“Yes. Nothing dangerous, it just glows for a while before being absorbed or evaporating into the air…” Dorian states, “I actually wrote a monograph on the subject of lyrium absorption rates for my sophomore thesis back in the Vyrantium Circle—”

 

Dorian is suddenly irrationally glad that Bull routinely tunes him out when he starts going on about magic and magical study. It means that when the blast of spirit energy flies right at his head it misses by a mile because he’s being thrown to the ground, Bull’s body covering his protectively.

 

“Stay down!” Bull orders, rising to his feet. Bull’s putting his weight more on one leg than the other, making Dorian worry. Did Bull injure himself just getting on top of him? By trying to prevent Dorian from being decapitated by a wave of magic?

 

Dorian’s not going to stay down, especially when there’s a flock of venatori robes rushing down the hall. Bull’s gone to an ornamental armor display, ripping the halberd out of the chevalier’s gauntlets and turning to face the large group of mages head on.

 

Using the boost given to him by the lyrium, Dorian focuses his power as best he can without a staff. Two walls of ice blast forth from the floor and ceiling, closing sharp and jagged like a dragon’s maw and blocking off the bulk of the group from reaching Bull.

 

Bull engages with three of the venatori that made it past the ice and Dorian sees that methodology Bull spoke of earlier in action. He’s initially defensive, taking hits as they come—then the qunari charges, snapping a staff with a swipe of the halberd, the next getting the venatori across the neck.

 

Bull’s skill fighting mages is amazing; however it’s still unnerving to think that if things were different—they may have fought like this on the shores of Seheron. Dorian wonders briefly, who would win, before casting it from his mind when Bull calls to him.

 

“Dorian!” he yells, knocking another venatori down and taking his staff. Instead of breaking it, the qunari throws it to Dorian.

 

Dorian catches it one-handed and gives it a spin with a practiced twist of his wrist to get the crystal on top pointing the right way. It’s of Tevinter make, at least, but is balanced differently than his own. Staves aren’t like swords, one isn’t like another. But Dorian’s not an apprentice, analyzes the staff composition quickly—veridium and drakestone with a samite lined grip—and sends the third mage flying out a window with a blast of energy.

 

Dorian stands by Bull, facing the ice walls that are keeping them away from the other venatori. An orange glow builds in the center of the structures. Dorian gives his new staff another lazy twirl as he watches the venatori on the other side melt through the thick glaciers.

 

“So… retreat?” he suggests.

 

“…not a chance,” Bull responds with a smirk.

 

Dorian laughs, eyes keen and focused. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

 

Bull smiles at him and it absolutely does not make Dorian feel giddy to have that look of approval turned on him. He’s just excited from the battle, the adrenaline—

 

“Awwck! Gaaah!

 

The glow in the center of the ice walls peters out as they hear sounds of struggle from behind the crystalline structures. Dorian draws closer, attempting to see through the ice and jumps back when blood sprays the surface, clearly visible.

 

“Well that’s… gruesome…” he says and Bull pulls him back by a shoulder.

 

“Stand back,” the qunari says and raises the halberd to the center of the wall where the venatori were attempting to melt through it. Bull gives it a few taps to find a soft spot and then when he’s sure Dorian’s ready to back him up with magic, Bull brings the halberd down and through the wall. The already weak ice shatters, falling in chunks to the floor and getting the carpet soaking wet.

 

The rest of the venatori are down, lying in pools of blood on the floor with knives and arrows sticking out of their backs.

 

“Ha!” Sera declares, pulling an arrow out of a mage, bracing her foot on the dead man’s torso. “Bits up, face down!”

 

“Eloquent as always, Sera…” Leliana states, delicately toeing another venatori over with her high heel and leaning down to retrieve a dagger from his eye socket. All without getting a drop of blood on her dress.

 

Memo to me, never mess with Leliana… Dorian thinks to himself before shaking himself free of his astonishment to attend to reality.

 

“What are you both doing here?” Dorian demands, holding his staff at his side. “We had the situation quite under control—”

 

“Don’t get your panties in a knot, Dorian, we weren’t here to babysit you and your boyfriend,” Sera says, jabbing her thumb behind her, “We were following our orders.”

 

Behind them is another figure, slight like Sera with pointed ears. The fanciful mask and rich emerald of her gown make it clear they’re in the presence of the ambassador to the Halamshiral elves, Briala.

 

“I can see why the Inquisition is seen as so formidable,” Briala remarks, bowing gently to retrieve her own throwing knife from a throat with care. “And this not even the bulk of its force. No wonder Gaspard desires it for himself, so much so that he would invite you all into The Game so readily…”

 

“And does that worry you?” Dorian asks testily.

 

“Should it, Tevinter?” Briala responds without missing a beat. “I have nothing to hide from the Inquisition. It was I who furnished your friends with weaponry. My agents have informed me extensively on your activities… in fact in these months past many of them have left my service to join Lady Trevelyan’s…”

 

“You mean they’re on the inside spying for you now…” Bull grumbles, glancing to Leliana who looks remarkably unruffled by the news.

 

Briala shakes her head, “Not at all. They wished to help. That Blighted madman threatens us all. Elf, human, dwarf, qunari… mages and Templars… and yes, even Grand Dukes and Empresses. My people left my cause to join one that was of greater importance. I receive no intelligence from these former agents.”

 

“I rather doubt that,” Dorian retorts sharply and then yelps when Sera of all people pinches him to shut him up. “Ow!”

 

“Believe what you wish. Gaspard has obviously convinced your Lady Inquisitor that I am here to disrupt the peace talks. I had hoped that you would have open minds…” Briala states simply.

 

“Aren’t you, though?” Dorian presses, dander up. The sooner they ferret out the assassin the better. They can get out of this mad world and back to normal. Dorian can stop thinking so much about how some differences just can’t be overcome just because you want them to. Briala and Celene, Beatrix and Cullen, himself and… “Don’t you have a bit of a personal stake in this matter?”

 

Briala blinks slowly at Dorian from behind her mask and then scoffs softly, looking to Leliana and Sera a moment and shaking her head.

 

“I do not deny that I was Celene’s servant and her friend, long ago. Whatever rumors you heard of our relationship are of no consequence to myself—they’re far more damaging to Celene than I. And they are just that—rumors,” she states without even a waver in her voice. “At the end of the day it matters little to me who wins in these negotiations, be it Celene or Gaspard. I only advocate for my people, the elves of Halamshiral, who have been long overlooked by this Empire.”

 

“That Celene made promises long ago that she had no intention of keeping is of no concern now. I bear her no more ill will than her cousin. Much less, in fact. I gain nothing if Celene falls,” Briala concludes, “So unless you can come up with a better motive, I think you should all consider turning your suspicions elsewhere before it is too late.”

 

“Pardon me,” Dorian sneers, “But skulking around the palace and just happening upon a group of venatori agents doesn’t exactly paint a portrait of innocence…”

 

“Hate to say it, your ambassadorness, but sparklebutt’s got a point…” Sera agrees, nocking an arrow to the bow and pointing it towards Briala. “And so do I. Sides, you’re a bit too elfy for my tastes anyways…”

 

Briala doesn’t even flinch as the arrow tip waves right at her nose. “I am looking for my people. The bulk of the serving staff are my spies but several have already gone missing, including my lieutenant. I took notice of the venatori presence, much as you did—” The elf nods to Bull and Dorian. “—and began my search here accordingly.”

 

The elven ambassador brushes Sera’s arrow aside slowly with the back of her hand. “I have no interest in harming Celene and never have,” she says quietly, “But I never implied I was completely innocent. If you want to shoot me still, very well. I will continue to look for my people otherwise. I do not know the intentions of your Inquisitor, but if you’ve a mind to help me in my search, I would be grateful. And my gratitude, Lady Nightingale, is not insignificant.”

 

This said, Briala makes her exit, walking between them with her chin thrust up proud, mocha-colored skin shining in the moonlight. She stops only a moment to regard Bull, brown eyes blinking up at him.

 

“…take care no one spreads rumor about you, qunari,” she says quietly with a glance at Dorian, “I would hate to see another tarnished for the idle fancies of a shemlen noble.”

 

Bull doesn’t react visibly, but Dorian feels the air choke in his own throat. Leliana pushes Sera’s bow down before she can respond to the whispered advice in her own violent way. Dorian’s almost a little happy for the blonde elf’s solidarity, despite how impulsive and unhelpful it is. Briala leaves them there in the dark corridor.

 

For several minutes there’s nothing but the sound of dripping water, Dorian’s indignant breaths and the faint song of lyrium.

 

“I cannot say Briala’s bid for our favor is without merit,” Leliana says, breaking the silence as Sera begins to cuss up a storm. “I will consult the Inquisitor on this matter.”

 

“If she’ll listen,” Bull mutters.

 

“—bloody buggering smegging elfy bullshit—”

 

Dorian doesn’t say a word. He can’t. Briala’s advice to Bull rings in his mind over and over, along with Vivienne’s words from the morning.

 

Anyone would see that the differences are too vast between them to be overcome by childish infatuation.

What are your plans for our dear Iron Bull? Will you return to Tevinter with him in tow, Dorian? Show him off to the family?

Whatever would Magister Pavus think, I wonder…

 

Dorian bites his lip. Is it really the same? Have I just been using him? When the time comes will I just discard him like Briala was? All for the sake of hundreds of years of war and prejudice that has nothing to do with either of us…?

 

He feels like there’s cotton over his ears, vaguely registering Leliana and Sera arguing briefly before agreeing to return to the ballroom together. Bull tells them about the lyrium and Leliana takes it on herself to hide it away so the venatori cannot use it.

 

Dorian doesn’t speak or move until Bull grabs him firmly by the shoulders. When he looks up, realizing the other two left them alone together, Bull swoops down and kisses him suddenly. Dorian’s eyes widen in surprise and then close again, savoring. Bull’s mouth tastes slightly like lemon chiffon cake and candied almonds.

 

“Dorian, don’t think about it,” Bull orders when he parts from him. “Briala’s playing the same stupid Game as the rest of them. She’s trying to rile us up and if we let her, we’ll get just as lost in it as the Inquisitor and commander have.”

 

Dorian ducks his head so he doesn’t have to look Bull in the eye. “Aren’t we the same, though? Sometimes I feel as though we’re only delaying the inevitable, distracting ourselves from what we both know is going to happen… Maker… what are we doing, Bull?”

 

It’s quiet for a long moment, long enough that Dorian feels awkward and like he should apologize or break the tension with a witty remark or something.

 

He doesn’t get a chance to. Bull lifts him clear off his feet and over a broad shoulder, making Dorian gasp in shock.

 

“Bull! What are you doing?!” Dorian yelps, face reddening with indignation. No one’s here to witness it, unless one counts the dead men on the floor but still… “Unhand me at once!”

 

Bull ignores the request, carrying Dorian down the hall. Dorian can’t see his face but he can imagine it, the stern slope of his brow and downturned lips, “You know what you can say to stop this.”

 

Dorian’s throat bobs and something like relief fills him in Bull taking charge. He doesn’t say it.

 

Bull kicks in a locked door, revealing an ornately decorated guest bedroom. The qunari rumbles in approval, but Dorian’s fairly certain Bull’s admiring the four-poster canopy bed he throws Dorian on more than the lush carpets and crown molding.

 

Dorian looks up at the other man. The Inquisition uniform emphasizes the broadness of Bull’s chest, the tailored sleeves bulging from the thick biceps beneath. He’s so much bigger than Dorian all over. Dorian feels his heart pounding away, breath quickening, blood heating in a way that is so familiar and soothing. He reaches for Bull only to get his arms pinned above his head in a bruising, rough motion that makes his cock ache in his now stifling tight trousers.

 

“Bull…” he gasps as the bigger man prowls over him, kisses him. Tongue, lots of it, heavy and sloppy. Bull sucks on Dorian’s lips, making a feast of them. His mouth stings when the other man’s finally done with it, moving onto the underside of his jaw. Scrape of teeth, hot breath over his ear…

 

“We are nothing like them, kadan,” Bull asserts, voice husky in Dorian’s ear, “And I don’t care if the damn Orlesian empire falls to shit around us, I’ll take as much time as I need to help you figure that out, Dorian.”

 

That word again. ‘Kadan’. Dorian still doesn’t know what it means, but he’s too dizzy to care now. Bull’s winding the velvety cord from the bed curtains around his wrists. Dorian feels himself growing hotter inside, Maker, he’s molten and melting… and all Bull’s, all Bull’s right now and feeling amazing…

 

Bull doesn’t bother with Dorian’s jacket. He goes straight for those straining trousers, holding Dorian’s legs down with his weight. A huge hand falls onto that hard bump developing underneath Dorian’s belt, palming it, squeezing.

 

Dorian’s face is burning as he moans, shutting his eyes and letting his fingers curl on the velvety bindings around his wrists. So hot, burning bright like a star, like magic, like…

 

“Dorian-!”

 

“Nnn yes, yes, Bull!” Dorian cries back excitedly, arching.

 

“No—DORIAN!” Bull says and that sounds less enthusiastic and more alarmed.

 

Dorian opens his eyes to the sight of an almighty conflagration, the canopy above him and the curtains to his sides ablaze.

 

Kaffas!” Dorian cusses. He’s burnt through the rope at his wrists too, so they’re both able to scramble and yank the curtains down together, stomping out the fire under their boots before Dorian remembers he can cast magic.

 

Dorian’s blushing harder now, erection gone in the face of utter embarrassment and shame. Bull’s brushing the snow from Dorian’s blizzard spell off his shoulders with a blank expression.

 

“…I am so sorry…” Dorian says, covering his face with both hands.

 

He’s surprised once again when Bull wraps him up in his arms from behind and kisses the top of his head with a hearty laugh.

 

“Don’t be,” Bull replies with a big grin that he presses against Dorian’s burning cheek, “I can’t think of a bigger ego boost than knowing I got you so hot you literally caught the bed on fire…”

 

Dorian finds it in himself to laugh and he tips his head back, inviting a kiss which is accepted without hesitation. It’s okay, we’re okay… he thinks and hopes he can believe it too, soon.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Bull feels no small measure of relief in hearing Dorian’s laughter, feeling that slighter figure pressing against his. Dorian’s been so in his own head since that argument in bed the other night and Bull blames himself.

 

He doesn’t know how to do more, not really. And Dorian deserves more, whatever that entails. Dorian’s dealt with having less than he deserves from relationships for his whole life and Bull doesn’t want to be just another one of those guys.

 

After all, he promised Dorian. I will never hurt you without your permission. Bull isn’t one to take a vow like that lightly. Even if he’s still having trouble with his own shit, he’s going to do his damnedest to make sure Dorian understands they’re never going to be like Beatrix and Cullen have become, or Briala and Celene…

 

Bull will say ‘katoh’ before that ever happens.

 

“Hey,” Dorian says suddenly, looking towards the slightly charred paneling behind the bed. “What’s that…?”

 

Now that it’s no longer hidden by the curtains it’s clear something’s gleaming there, a little sliver of ivory in the blackened wall. The mage pulls away from Bull to explore, tan fingers curling along the edge of the burnt panel.

 

It pops off and Dorian picks up what’s inside. It’s a small statuette of a halla, the size of Dorian’s palm.

 

“Whatever could this be?” Dorian wonders aloud, tipping the delicate thing into Bull’s palm when he gestures for the mage to hand it over. “This room is too nice to belong to a mere servant, but last I checked, halla were definitely an elven thing…”

 

Bull’s careful with it even though it is obviously made of strong stuff, ivory perhaps? Maybe bone. He turns it over and then chuckles a little at the sight.

 

“It’s not just a keepsake,” he says when Dorian harrumphs at him for an explanation, “It’s a key. See these grooves?”

 

They are subtle and one would miss them if they weren’t looking. Very sneaky. This is the kind of stuff Bull actually finds interesting when it comes to Orlais.

 

“They’ll fit into a certain spot—usually they’re made for doors, but I’ve seen one or two that go to chests. Surfacer dwarves usually put them together for nobles who think it’s too passé to use regular keys like the rest of us. Surprised you never saw any in Tevinter, given how much you vints love the dwarves and all…”

 

Dorian scoffs at that. “You’d be surprised how far some of us take that love. Remind me to tell you about my friend Maevaris sometime…” Dorian says, taking the statue back and turning it about in his fingers.

 

“A halla though… I wonder where it goes…” Dorian remarks, “…hey, there’s some writing around the base… looks Elven—”

 

The bells toll the hour nearby, making them both jump a little, simultaneously turning to view the smaller clock in the room.

 

“We should get back to the ballroom, the others might need us,” Bull says and nods to the statue, “Let’s keep it for now. You never know when you’ll need to open a secret door in Orlais…”

 

“Right,” Dorian agrees, pocketing the small thing, “And Solas might be able to read whatever’s written on it.”

 

Dorian leans over to pick up the staff from where he dropped it earlier. Bull still can’t believe he did that, throwing Dorian around. But he’d felt mad… no… more than mad. He needed to do it. Needed Dorian to understand.

 

Bull bars Dorian’s exit with an arm across the doorway.

 

“Are we okay?” he asks bluntly.

 

Dorian seems a little taken aback, but as always he recovers quickly.

 

“We are fine, aside from the fact that your sash is horribly crooked,” Dorian says, holding the staff in the crook of an arm so he can adjust the blue fabric for Bull.

 

“There we are,” the younger man states, smoothing his hands covetously over the expanse of Bull’s chest as he licks his lips. He’s looking up at Bull with those damn pretty eyes too. “Perfect.”

 

Seriously tempted to let everyone else deal with this Orlesian crap… Bull thinks, but he drops his arm all the same, nodding.

 

“Good.”

 

They return to the ballroom together. There are couples spinning on the floor and Bull’s surprised to see the empress is included in their number—dancing with a dowager or something. She has guards nearby as always, but also—

 

“Ahahaha..!” A young girl leaning on the balcony beside Bull and Dorian is laughing merrily at the spectacle below. Josephine and Blackwall are dancing together to stay near the empress without drawing attention and both of them seem really timid about it. “Very nice form, Josie! Step step turn!”

 

Josephine’s head snaps around to glower at the girl. “Yvette, shush! Try to remember you’re a Montilyet, please!” she hisses before turning her eyes back onto the warden. Blackwall simply smiles, taking the lead and drawing Josephine into the sea of spinning skirts with him.

 

Yvette, who Bull recognizes now as Josephine’s younger sister, sighs deeply to herself. She catches both Bull and Dorian spectating as well and beams from behind her mask.

 

“Ah, it must be la splendeur des coeurs perdus…” she says wistfully as Blackwall turns her sister around the floor. Bull wonders how they’re going to be able to look out for the empress when their eyes are so fixed on one another.

 

“La what of the what what?” Dorian asks, arching an eyebrow.

 

“The splendor of lost hearts,” Bull translates and grins when Dorian gives him a strange look, “I told you I was stationed here for a while. Eventually you have to pick up the language. No idea what it means as a turn of phrase but that’s literally what she’s saying…”

 

“It means,” Yvette says with authority, “A passion that is known but cannot be consummated, even though the would-be lovers wish it with all their yearning…”

 

Bull watches as Blackwall and Josephine dance closer together now. Josephine’s eyes are all for the warden and his for hers. No one could mistake the dance for something platonic with the way they stare at one another. Blackwall’s gloved hand clasps hers all the tighter as he dips her back. Bull wonders again at the warden’s background—he seems to know the Orlesian dances rather well for a mere warden.

 

“Looks may be exchanged. A small token may be left for one to find…” Yvette continues, “But that is all that can ever be. At least so long as my estúpida sister is involved anyways…”

 

Yvette huffs out another lengthy sigh and it’s obvious she’s not delighting all that much in her sister’s discomfort. Not completely anyways.

 

Bull can’t help but think Josephine might have the right of it. After all, they are in the middle of a worldwide war against ancient evil. It isn’t the time for getting in deep with anyone. The last time Bull did that on a battlefield it didn’t end well.

 

“—this is all your fault, dwarf!”

 

“My fault? What was I supposed to do when those three ganged up on me? Punch them out?”

 

“You were enjoying the attention, and now we’ve lost—”

 

Cassandra stops speaking as she and Varric pull up short beside Bull and Dorian on the balcony. Cassandra looks pissed off beyond all reason and Varric just seems stressed out, mopping at his forehead with a handkerchief. He’s wheezing from having to keep up with Cassandra’s long-legged angry strides, obviously.

 

“What’s up, Seeker?” Bull asks, mind returning to the problem at hand. They needed to find the assassin and fast.

 

“Thanks to Varric, we lost sight of Gaspard. He’s no longer in the ballroom, we don’t know where he went, Bull…” Cassandra reports, folding her arms against her chest grouchily.

 

With the amount of neck and shoulders the dress she wears reveals, Bull can see she’s got a lot more scars than just the ones on her face. Bull’s eyes automatically dip further south and then he’s got a sharp elbow in his ribs—Dorian glowering at him silently. Jealous little thing…

 

“Thanks to me?!” Varric cries out, indignant, “You’re the tall one here, I couldn’t see over those giant hats those three were wearing!”

 

“If you hadn’t felt the need to indulge all their cooing over your books and your… chest hair…”

 

“They were not cooing!”

 

“Who are they?” Dorian asks with a long-suffering sigh.

 

“The Empress’ handmaidens,” Cassandra clarifies with a huffy sound. She’s really irritable, more so than usual.

 

“You know, the trio that finish each other’s sentences all creepily?” Varric adds unhelpfully, glowering back up at the Seeker. “They wanted me to sign their copies of The Tale of the Champion…”

 

“And you lost sight of Gaspard. Great…” Dorian mutters, glancing to Bull, “So now what?”

 

Bull considers the angles. The Empress is retiring from the dance floor, Blackwall and Josephine following. Briala’s nowhere to be seen, probably still looking for her people. Sera and Leliana are covering opposite corners of the ballroom. Gaspard’s gone as well and Beatrix still isn’t back either. There’s no sign of Vivienne’s group either.

 

“We consolidate,” Bull says, “We don’t know the assassin yet, but we know the target, right? For now, we protect the empress. You and Varric should help Blackwall and the rest, Seeker. Make sure we have every path to the empress covered.”

 

“Right,” Cassandra agrees, looking chagrinned, “I’m sorry. We cannot let petty arguments get in the way of our goals…”

 

“Are you actually apologizing to me…?” Varric asks in a dry tone.

 

“Don’t hold your breath, dwarf,” Cassandra mutters and jerks her chin. “I’ll take the left side.”

 

Varric watches the woman walk away, shaking his head a little. “Hope she knows how ridiculous she looks marching about in that dress…” he mutters.

 

“Oh, I’m so very sure that’s what you’re thinking when you look at her legs, Varric,” Dorian taunts lightly, smirking just a bit.

 

Varric, master of words himself, sputters at that insinuation. It brings a bit of levity to what’s becoming an untenable situation.

 

“I am not looking at her—oh never mind. But this isn’t over, Sparkler,” Varric grouches before going the opposite direction of the Seeker.

 

Bull chuckles, shaking his head a bit. “Nice, Dorian. Now literally everyone’s pissy…” he states.

 

“Oh please, those two will snap at each other if one of them so much as looks at the other the wrong way…” Dorian says dismissively. “So what is our duty, exactly?”

 

“We’re going to find Gaspard,” Bull replies simply, “I don’t like not knowing where he is. Viv and those guys have the gallery covered, I figure we can check out around the lower hallways. Eavesdrop, try and see if anyone’s seen something strange.”

 

“And maybe we can find Briala’s people…” Dorian adds, brow furrowing.

 

They leave the ballroom together, Dorian snagging his ill-gotten staff from where he secreted it behind a potted plant. They head out into the vestibule and turn left into the grand hallway. Large statues decorate the area, with chaise lounges set upon the Antivan marble. There is a distinct lack of guests milling around, so it’s easy for them to spot Beatrix even though she is half hidden behind a statue of a lion. Someone stands in front of her, wearing a black cloak and an Orlesian military helmet that covers their face and head completely, long black feathers protruding from the back of it.

 

Bull can’t see who she’s talking to, nor can he hear her words at this distance. He catalogs what he can figure out from the brief glimpse.

 

Whoever she’s talking to is taller than her. She has concern in her expression. Her hand goes up to touch the edge of the person’s mask and they don’t flinch away. Someone familiar, someone she’s touched before…

 

The figure draws back, clasping her hand briefly in a gloved hand before heading up the stairs. Beatrix watches a while before she realizes there are eyes on her as well.

 

“Dorian, Bull!” she says, surprised, “What are you doing here?”

 

“I’d say I wanna ask you the same question but we don’t have time for that,” Bull replies grumpily. They really don’t, though.

 

They bring Beatrix up to speed on the events of the evening quickly. She isn’t surprised that they had a brush with the venatori, explaining how she met Lady Morrigan—Celene’s occult advisor—and how Morrigan had killed one of the venatori agents. The advisor had also given Beatrix a key that the agent was holding.

 

“I tried it on several doors already,” Beatrix states with a sigh, “I feel like it might just be a red herring at this point…”

 

“Probably,” Bull agrees. How a key will help them find an assassin he really doesn’t know.

 

Dorian takes the key from Beatrix, examining it. “Bull, didn’t you mention something before about keys? How the nobles tend to favor the more… ornate designs?” he questions.

 

“Yeah,” Bull says slowly, frowning, “But I don’t see what—oh….!”

 

“Iron, shoddy craftsmanship, rough edges, no design nor frills to it…” Dorian states, though Bull’s cottoned onto what the mage is getting at already. Dorian takes a few steps back to one of the numerous non-descript ‘service entrances’—separate paths around the castle that servants take so they don’t get ‘in the way’ of their lords. He fits the key into the lock and twists. The door opens with an ominous creak.

 

“So the venatori agent was holding the key to the servant’s quarters…” Beatrix remarks, stroking her chin, “But… does that mean the serving staff is involved in the plot to kill the empress? Didn’t you two say that Briala’s spies comprise a good percentage of the staff here tonight?”

 

“Yes,” Bull agrees, “But she gave us that information. And she helped kill the venatori we ran into in the west wing. So either she’s playing an extremely convoluted version of the stupid Game or…”

 

“We’re wrong about suspecting her—and should be looking for Gaspard instead,” Dorian finishes for Bull, glancing to Beatrix.

 

The Inquisitor says nothing in response, surprisingly. No outrage or furious denials at all. She actually seems really… calm.

 

What are you up to, Bea? Bull thinks to himself, frowning a little.

 

“I don’t know about Gaspard, but… I would like to see what lies beyond this door first. If Morrigan’s telling the truth about finding that key on a venatori agent then… whatever’s happening behind the scenes is more important than keeping our eyes on the main players. You said the others were still in the ballroom. They can keep watch for Gaspard,” Beatrix concludes and then nods to the open door.

 

“Shall we?” she asks.

 

“After you,” Bull replies with no small amount of distrust.

 

“….” Beatrix is very quiet, but then she gives a tired sort of smile. “As you wish,” she says and goes ahead into the dimly lit servant’s quarters.

 

Bull follows behind with Dorian and nearly trips over Beatrix when she suddenly stills, holding her hand over her mouth to stifle the gasp when her foot hits a dead body.

 

The first of many, if the smell of fresh blood on the air is to be trusted. Dorian gags a little at the stench and Bull just shakes his head. Elves, all of them, wearing servant’s garb. A few, however, have daggers twinkling at their belts, smoke grenades rolling out of hidden pouches, lock picks and other tools of the trade fallen across the flooring…

 

Still there are even more dead beyond these and—and this makes Bull sick now—younger ones as well. They’re around a rickety table, some fallen out of their chairs onto the floor. Others just have their heads down in their plates, blood pooling around mouths frozen in horror.

 

“Looks like we found Briala’s people…” Beatrix says unnecessarily, crouching by one dead elf to examine the body.

 

All three of them nearly jump out of their skin when another voice makes itself known in the room.

 

“Breath painful, stabbing, and then real stabbing… lungs full, frothing, scent of apples as it all goes black…”

 

Death by Apple Pie,” Dorian says irritably, pulse jumping tellingly in his throat as he turns towards the trio who have wandered in behind them, “A lovely poem by our dear friend Cole!”

 

“I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you…” Cole apologizes in a stilted tone.

 

“You’re a demon,” Vivienne declares from his side, “Your intentions matter very little. You’re destined to bring harm to others…”

 

“But I helped earlier! You even said—”

 

“Enough,” Beatrix interjects, “Solas, did you three learn anything new?”

 

“Beyond the fact that Madame de Fer is a contemptuous yet oddly compelling cobra?” Solas says dryly, obviously less than thrilled with their adventure.

 

“Oh my dear, you flatter me so,” Vivienne laughs, “But you had best keep that wool tucked tight around that wolf’s tail of yours, Solas. You were hardly innocent in our machinations…”

 

“I don’t have a tail,” Solas declares, rather seriously, “But I get your meaning. Cole, if you will?”

 

Cole chews his lip a moment, then whispers, “Threats against my house, my children, my life… his eyes are like flames, his breath like smoke and ash, destructive, daring, deadly… I will burn you alive, all of you! All this, because Gaspard desires a throne? Will I have to lose everything for this? My girl, so young, she’ll never understand…”

 

“And there were a multitude of other colorful comments about the same subject. Gaspard’s been dogging the Council of Heralds for quite a while. Making threats and following through on some of them too. One of the Heralds barely escaped an attempt on her life weeks ago…” Vivienne says, walking carefully around the bloodstains on the floor to avoid ruining her shoes.

 

“And tonight,” Solas adds, “One of the Council has gone missing from the ballroom.”

 

“Your pet led us here by—what was that strange thing you were trying to do, demon?”

 

“Tracking his pain,” Cole says, shaking his head and making Bull marvel for a moment at how weird it is to see Cole without his signature hat, hay-colored hair flying every which way, “But there’s so much pain here… I can’t hear him anymore…”

 

“Then maybe we are in the right spot,” Beatrix states, picking up a pair of daggers and tossing them to Cole. Bull scavenges a big old broadsword for himself and Dorian still has his staff from earlier but unfortunately for the other three mages there isn’t much in the way of magical equipment around the bloodbath.

 

As they go through the servant’s quarters they exchange information, catching everyone up on the events of the night. Well, as much of the night’s events that they can make sense of, anyways. Bull doesn’t bring up seeing Beatrix’s clandestine meeting with that masked person and neither does Dorian. It’s not the time to confront her about that now.

 

The rooms don’t give them anything more to go on and they’ve yet to meet any opposition along the way. A door leads out into the gardens and Bull immediately dislikes it. There’s hedges everywhere, blind spots, sharp corners…

 

“Bull.”

 

Bull blinks down at Dorian, realizing he’s got his hand on the mage’s hip, arm slung around his waist pulling him protectively closer.

 

“I know you’re scared,” Dorian teases, easing Bull’s hand away, “But no need to worry. I’ll protect you.”

 

Bull’s face heats a little and he rolls his eye in annoyance, “Ha ha, assho—”

 

“Oh no…” Vivienne says, taking a sharp breath. They’re in the center of the garden now and there are bodies strewn about—one particularly ornately dressed and laid out in front of the fountain with a knife sticking out of its back.

 

“This is no servant,” Beatrix states, turning the man’s face towards hers, “Our missing Council member, I can only presume… but what was he doing here?”

 

“He doesn’t belong,” Cole says, big eyes sad and round like twin moons, “Even if he weren’t dead, he would be wrong…”

 

“Ahuh. That’s not creepy at all,” Bull says, shaking his head as Dorian takes a knee beside Beatrix.

 

“What is this?” Dorian asks, leaning in closer to examine the hilt of the blade, “The Chalons family crest? Well… I suppose we know where Gaspard has been now…”

 

“Potentially,” Beatrix adds and Bull doesn’t know why she’s keeping this up. “But anyone can use a knife with someone’s crest on it, can they not?”

 

“You have a point, Inquisitor,” Vivienne agrees, “But we must also consider the fact that Gaspard also made threats against the Council and has allegedly followed through on some of them. Granted, with less fatal consequences, but…”

 

“…very well,” Beatrix finally says with a sigh, “I suppose it’s time we had a word with the duke—”

 

A woman’s scream cuts off their conversation. An elven servant bursts forth from the brush, crying for help. A mish-mosh of forces follow her, venatori mages, men in heavy plate and a single colorful Orlesian harlequin. The assassin strikes the killing blow on the woman before the Inner Circle can even move to stop it.

 

Bull’s dealt with harlequins before, during his stint in Orlais. They’re mean little assassins, skillful with knives and devilishly fast. This one throws a smoke grenade down, Vivienne’s lightning strike missing by a mile as it backflips up onto a balcony.

 

It tilts its head slowly, the permanent smile of its mask haunting as it steps back into the shadows and escapes.

 

I hate Orlesian masks… creepy shit… Bull thinks, holding up his sword at the ready.

 

“Venatori agents!” Beatrix calls out, gathering her dress up in her hands, pulling it above her knees. She swoops the fabric between her legs and around, girding the cloth at her waist so she can move freely. “Let’s show them what the Inquisition is made of!”

 

Apparently, Bull thinks as he launches himself into the fight, we’re made up of a bunch of people who have no freaking reason to even speak to each other, let alone be friends…

 

The fight is a bit touch and go until Bull and Cole manage to wrest some staves free for the mages to use. Then it’s a thorough rinsing, Vivienne holding up their barriers while Solas dispels hostile magic. Bull and Cole simply get out of the way as Beatrix and Dorian rain down fire onto their aggressors.

 

“Cole, be careful dancing around with those daggers when I’m throwing fire!” Dorian calls out to the boy as an errant flame nearly misses scorching the kid’s backside.

 

Cole smiles cheerily as he throws a blade into a mercenary’s eye socket. Bull winces in sympathy. “It won’t hurt me,” the boy declares, “It’s friendly fire!”

 

Dorian sighs heavily and doesn’t even ask.

 

When everything settles, they’re all still stranding and only slightly winded from the fight.

 

“Glad this uniform’s red…” Bull mutters, noticing a few wet stains on his jacket, scrubbing at them with a thumb and then shrugging.

 

“Iron Bull,” Vivienne says in that tone of voice, glancing over his messy state with disapproval.

 

Bull cringes and feels like he’s five years old with tama frowning at him trudging muck into the kitchen.

 

“I’ll clean up, ma’am. Sorry, ma’am,” he says sullenly, taking his handkerchief from his inner pocket and dipping it into the fountain to wet it. He scrubs at his face and jacket, getting the worst of the blood off himself.

 

“Solas,” Bull hears Dorian ask while Vivienne and Beatrix formulate their next move, “I was wondering if you might take a look at something for me… these characters are elven, are they not?”

 

Solas takes the halla statue from Dorian, looking over it with a slightly approving smile and nods. “Yes… where did you find this? It’s a very good likeness…”

 

“That’s not terribly important,” Dorian says and he’s blushing. Bull grins, recalling how flustered Dorian had been not thirty minutes ago, after setting the room aflame. “I was hoping you could translate the writing, however…”

 

Solas hums slightly, glancing over his shoulder at Beatrix and Vivienne who are too busy conversing with one another to pay them mind. Bull notices Bea kneeling by the Council member again and her marked hand glows that odd green for a moment as she passes it over the body. Huh… what’s she doing…?

 

Meanwhile Cole is busily walking around the edge of the fountain with a light step, murmuring something or another to the water.

 

Tracing his fingers over the letters, Solas mumbles to himself. Bull just hears a vague ‘something something my venison something ham in’….

 

“I rest where my heart truly lies,” Solas translates, glancing at Dorian, “Does this mean something to you?”

 

“…potentially,” Dorian says, pocketing the halla before anyone else spies it and giving Bull a glance as if to check if he’s listening in. “Thank you, Solas…”

 

Cole suddenly stops mid-hop, very nearly falling into the water as he says suddenly, “They’re here, pulsing pounding powerful, promised glory long past…”

 

“Great—more venatori…” Beatrix grumbles, casting her eyes upward where the harlequin escaped as another wave of combatants bursts out of the shadows of the garden.

 

“We can handle this, my dear,” Vivienne states, nodding to Solas to indicate him, “You go after that ghastly creature in the horrendous clown outfit. It just wouldn’t do for Celene to be murdered by someone so sartorially deficient…”

 

Solas scoffs at that, even as he places a barrier over them both. “How you can be concerned with such matters is beyond my comprehension…”

 

“My dear Solas, from your cradle to your death bed you're on view…” Vivienne states, twirling her staff, every part of her silvery gown shining as she casts lightning that chains through the group of attackers, throwing them back to carve a path for the rest of the group to charge through to get to the grand apartments and the stairs to the upper levels. “And dress has always been my strongest suit…”

 

Solas scoffs but when Bull glances backwards there is something like understanding on the elven apostate’s face—Solas might not appreciate Vivienne’s Orleisan fancies but he seems to get that her attitude is a matter of pride.

 

They hurry up the steps together, Bea leading the charge. This means she’s the first to come to blows with the forces waiting at the top of the steps, throwing them back with a blast of energy in reaction.

 

Several venatori mages are there, along with their guardsmen. There’s one who has a huge kite shield that he’s using to protect the rear flank of mages, making them all scramble for cover as Dorian casts a barrier to protect them from the fire and lightning coming down on them.

 

“Kid,” Bull says to Cole, “Remember what I told you about what to do when we run into a guy with a big shield?”

 

Cole glances at Bull, nods, “You are big, boasting, battering and I blend behind, daggers in darkness—one, two, three.”

 

“…assuming that means what I think it means… yeah,” Bull says and nods to the young man. Cole smiles and then disappears just like that, turning to shadow and smoke and then nothing.

 

Bull burst from hiding and goes at the guy full force with sword in hand—“Hey, asshole! You wanna go? Or are you too busy protecting your skirt-wearing boyfriends in the back ranks there?!”

 

The man is thrown by that and advances on Bull, going on the offensive. He bashes the qunari with the shield and Bull lets him, falling down with a grunt and grinning a little as he sees a glint of silver in the darkness.

 

“What were you saying, ox?” The man snarls, sword to Bull’s throat.

 

“Nothing,” Bull replies, “But then again I don’t really know how to go about speaking to the dead…”

 

The man opens his mouth, expression confused at first—and then frozen in place in terror, eyes bulging. His head slants sideway and then falls off completely with a spray of blood that barely misses Bull as he turns aside to avoid the heavy body from falling on him.

 

Cole appears again from behind the man, worrying at his lip.

 

“I am sorry, The Iron Bull, are you alright?”

 

“Never better, kid,” Bull replies, grinning as he hauls himself up, leg aching a little but the adrenaline helps. With the guy with the shield gone, Beatrix and Dorian return to the offensive. “Let’s finish this.”

 

Much as the little guy gives him the creeps, Bull and Cole make a pretty good team on the battlefield. Cole’s quick and quiet while Bull is boisterous and brutal. Bull can take the hits for Cole and doesn’t mind it much either, even though Cole always stares at him in awe each time. C’mon kid… don’t make it weird Bull thinks, shaking his head a bit at the blonde’s starry-eyed expression.

 

They’re spread out a little thin in the hallway—the mages have to dial it back so as to not wreck the whole building. It means that when the elusive assassin appears to pick off the Inquisitor, Bull is way too far away to do anything about it.

 

He recognizes the move all too well. The same strategy he talked to Dorian about earlier that evening…

 

“Aah!” Beatrix cries out, falling back as her staff is sliced to bits by rapid blows of sharp steel. She falls backwards, throws a bolt of lightning that misses its mark. The painted assassin draws the knife back, aiming it at the Inquisitor’s neck—

 

“Beatrix!” Dorian cries out, tries to cast a freezing spell to stop it but another mage is in his way, dispelling his magic. Bull’s charging through the ranks, horns down to aid his movements but he knows…

 

Not going to make it, not going to make it—damn it, no, can’t let it end like this! Not like this…

 

Not with them all arguing and resentful. He’s had too much fun drinking with Beatrix, traveling with her. He owes her a lot too, for pulling them all together.

 

After all, she was the one who invited Dorian into the Inquisition happily, when everyone else—himself included, honestly—wasn’t enthralled with the idea.

 

“Hrrnk…!”

 

There’s the sound of steel slicing flesh in the moonlight, a spray of blood. The wind blows in from an open window to the east, throwing the curtains across Bull’s vision for a moment. When the gust stops and the silky red fabric ceases billowing about, Bull spots the figure in the black cloak from earlier, crouching on the sill.

 

Bull looks to the harlequin, who is frozen over Beatrix’s body. It’s the assassin who choked out that wet, gurgling noise—they fall over to the side, several heavy throwing daggers buried into their chest.

 

Beatrix is breathing hard, eyes wide with shock. She looks towards the window and the figure in the black cloak merely puts its gloved hand to the brow of the Orlesian helm that masks their face, two fingers in a light salute before stepping backwards out onto the balcony and then off the edge of it.

 

Bull runs over while Dorian and Cole mop up the rest of the venatori. Beatrix is fine so he goes by her to look out the window. The figure’s already far off—having simply used the flagpoles poking out of the building to climb across its face. They don’t do any fancy twists in the air like most Orlesian bards might, Bull notices—the person’s movements very utilitarian as they pull themselves up onto the roof. Lot of upper body strength… probably a man, but ehnn maybe not…

 

If there’s anything Krem’s taught him it’s that biological gender really doesn’t mean shit when assessing a target. It’s another qunari, Ben-Hassrath sort of thing he’s trying to unlearn.

 

Bull’s so lost in his own thoughts he misses the prick who tries to run at him with a knife. Fortunately he’s got his own guardian angel, apparently—

 

“Inquisition,” Briala says, so calm for a woman who just threw a knife into someone’s throat, “We have to stop meeting like this…”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Dorian’s wheezing a little from all these exertions. He really hadn’t expected this level of opposition and the night is still far from done.

 

Beatrix kicks lightly at the broken pieces of her staff in irritation. She’s a little shaky from the near-miss, but is practical as ever—taking the blade from the staff’s end and sliding it into her garter for safekeeping.

 

“I’m starting to believe you might just be blessed, Inquisitor…” Dorian says with a short laugh.

 

“You’re telling me…” she mutters and looks up when Briala and Bull approach, straightening.

 

The elf’s eyes dance over Beatrix with interest—particularly Bea’s exposed legs—and she makes a soft scoffing noise as she states, “Such risqué attire… but shouldn’t you be dancing, Inquisitor? What will the nobility think?”

 

Bea snorts as she undoes the knot she’s made in the light blue fabric, letting the gown fall down around her ankles again, secreting what remains of her weapon in a drape of gauzy periwinkle.

 

“No doubt there’s a line of people breathlessly waiting for dances with me,” Beatrix retorts in a dry tone.

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was,” Briala says, “You’ve captured the interest of many here, Inquisitor…”

 

“For better or worse, it seems…” Beatrix adds, glancing at the window where her ‘rescuer’ appeared with trepidation. Dorian saw it too, glancing to Bull who has that furrow browed expression again—yes, the qunari must have caught sight of the person as well…

 

I couldn’t say it was the same person though. Hm, maybe there’s something to the whole Orlesian fascination with masks and disguises… they certainly work

 

Briala looks up and down the hallway with a chuckle. “Indeed. You cleaned this place out… it will take a month to get all the Tevinter blood off the marble…”

 

The elf steps out onto the balcony and Beatrix follows after a moment, Briala still speaking, “I came to save or avenge my missing people… and here the Inquisition has beaten me to it…”

 

“Oh you’re quite welcome. All the magic that did it is compliments of the Imperium, by the way…” Dorian sneers. He’s still a bit sore about her comment to Bull, if he’s being honest with himself.

 

“Not all of it,” Beatrix reminds with a frown and asks Briala, “The Council member in the garden… that wasn’t your work, was it?”

 

“No,” Briala says, tilting her head inquisitively, “Yours?”

 

“If it was do you think I’d be asking that question?” Bea responds, shaking her head, “He was dead when we got there…”

 

“I expected as much,” Briala says, putting a thumb to her lip in thought, “Strange. You arrive with the Grand Duke, glitter on his arm like an expensive cufflink... but you don’t seem to be doing his dirty work…”

 

“Glad someone finally sees that,” Beatrix replies with a sigh, not looking at her companions at all.

 

Bull rumbles a little in indignation, stopping when Dorian lightly stomps on his foot.

 

“Gaspard has been smuggling in forces, this I knew but… killing a member of the Council of Heralds… bringing Tevinter mages into the palace? Those are desperate acts. Gaspard must be planning to strike tonight…”

 

“If you know all of that, then why have you not alerted the empress, Briala?” Beatrix demands sharply, brow knit tightly, “Celene needs to know what’s going on.”

 

Dorian notices it then. The way Briala’s lip turns down ever so slightly at the mention of the empress, at Beatrix’s veiled accusations of Briala’s indifference to the situation. The way her delicate hands fist at her sides like she might want to slug out the Herald of Andraste.

 

“She won’t believe anything I say,” Briala replies coldly, “And she will not flee even if she did. Celene may look like a harmless, pampered housecat, but she’s a lion underneath… moreso than Gaspard, than any of his number of ‘noble’ chevaliers…”

 

“And here you had us convinced that you didn’t care what happens to the empress,” Dorian says sarcastically, earning a scowl from the elven ambassador.

 

“I do not. What I am interested in is what the Inquisition—and specifically the Inquisitor—plans to do,” Briala states, tipping her chin up, “I believe I may have misjudged you, Lady Trevelyan. You may be an ally worth having… I wonder—what could you do with an army of elven spies at your disposal?”

 

Briala’s lips twist into a beguiling smile. “You should think about it.”

 

Beatrix scoffs lightly, brushing a bit of red hair back over her ear from where it’s come undone from the fighting. “You know how to make a sales pitch, ambassador, I’ll grant you that…”

 

“I do, don’t I?” Briala replies, blinking those too-large brown eyes of hers, “I know which way the wind is blowing. I’d bet coin that you’ll be part of the peace talks before the night is over…”

 

“And if you happen to lean a little bit our way… it could prove advantageous, to us both…”

 

Dorian rolls his eyes, shoving his hands into his pockets. It’s then that he remembers the little halla key, walking away from where Beatrix and Briala are talking about alliances. He pulls it out, wandering aimlessly as he examines the grooves and the elven symbols on its base…

 

Bull’s laughter nearly startles him and he glowers as the other man falls into step beside him: “Ha… even the elves are trying to bribe us now… brave new world…”

 

“Tch, hardly,” Dorian replies, walking downstairs. The royal apartments are quiet now, no venatori mucking up the place. They’re actually sort of pretty, if you like an abundance of gaudy gold filigree anyways...

 

“There is so much conniving and backstabbing here… makes me a bit homesick,” he states sarcastically as they pass through a corridor lit faintly by glowlamps.

 

“Speaking of backstabbing…” Bull begins and Dorian nods.

 

“Yes, I saw them too. I rather doubt if we ask about who they are that Bea will give us a straight answer. And she might not actually know…”

 

“Tch, she knows them. Whoever it is,” Bull says with certainty.

 

“Weren’t you talking before about not letting all these Orlesians get us riled up and at one another’s throats, hm?”

 

“That’s… that’s not…” Bull starts and then grumbles, “Alright, fine. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Whoever it was had the pointy side of the blade aimed at the bad guys, so that’s good enough for me. For now.”

 

“Marvelous,” Dorian says, “Because my head can only handle so many mysteries at a time…”

 

Bull stops Dorian’s stride with a hand on his chest, nodding in front of them. Dorian glances up and there’s an ornate panel on the wall of pure gold, domed at the top like the door of a chantry. On the face of it there are all sorts of elaborate carvings and etchings of lions and flowers, fields and rivers with the sunburst symbol of the Chantry overlooking all.

 

“Well I think I figured one out for you,” Bull says and points. Dorian leans in and notices then—there’s little grooves, barely visible, in the golden façade.

 

“Huh, look at that…” Dorian remarks, flipping the halla statue around in his hand. There’s eight little notches, but on the door there’s several places that it can fit.

 

Dorian considers the artwork on the wall a moment, then the words Solas translated for him earlier. I rest where my heart truly lies… not terribly helpful when you don’t know whose heart you’re talking about…

 

The Chantry sunburst is the most obvious one. Most Orlesians are devout Andrasteans—no matter what sinister acts they commit in the name of the Grand Game. But it’s almost too easy and Dorian’s nervous about trying to place the halla wrong, in case there’s some sort of failsafe or if it breaks. They’ve triggered more than their fair share of traps, magical or otherwise, in Beatrix’s service.

 

“Where my heart truly lies… truth… lies…” Dorian mutters to himself, Bull watching him puzzle it out with interest. “The truth and the lies…”

 

“That should be the Orlesian motto,” Bull jokes, laughing when Dorian shushes him.

 

Dorain thumbs his lip contemplatively, chewing on the nail ever so slightly. Suddenly it comes to him, so easily it makes him chortle at the simplicity of the riddle.

 

“What is it?” Bull asks.

 

“Briala said that Celene broke her promises, yes? That the empress doesn’t care about the elves of Halamshiral. Everyone talks about how Briala and Celene are lovers, no matter how much it is dismissed as rumor. A lie,” Dorian says, running his fingers over the artwork until he finds it, a small figure in the wooded glen of the artwork.

 

The character is intentionally unremarkable. It has a rich cloak set on its shoulders and a mask upon its face, curves undeniably feminine. But the most important feature is the set of pointed ears that define it as an elf.

 

A set of eight grooves are set beneath the elven woman’s feet.

 

“But what if it was true?” Dorian says and pushes the halla in place with authority. He backs away as magical light travels through the grooves of the picture, brightest around the figure before spider webbing off towards the edges of the artwork. The whole panel swings inward, revealing a dimly-lit room.

 

“Nicely done,” Bull says with no small amount of awe at the deduction, patting Dorian’s back heartily as they walk inside.

 

Dorian conjures fire in his palm to light the area until he finds the candelabra, lighting each wick with a flaming fingertip. The candles brighten the room significantly and it appears to be some sort of treasury, judging by the stacks of chests and old masterpieces draped with cloth.

 

“Drat,” Dorian says, sniffing derisively at the ridiculously ornate painting of some Orlesian fop on horseback, “I was hoping for something more… intriguing than a mere repository of wealth. Some sort of hidden passage leading to an underground network of tunnels—a secret journal filled with Orlesian spy movements—just… something…”

 

“Seriously,” Bull says, nudging Dorian and handing over a small length of coppery chain with a locket on the end, “You really have to stop reading Varric’s books.”

 

The amulet is cheap-looking when Dorian compares it to the opulence surrounding it. There’s a locket on the end of it, made of serpentstone and carved with a distinctly elven mark, judging by the swirling shape of the rune. Dorian clicks it open and just barely keeps from letting the curl of chestnut brown hair kept inside fall onto the floor.

 

“Well, well…” he says with surprise, closing the copper clasp, “Her Imperial Majesty has a fondness for elven keepsakes I see…”

 

Dorian all but jumps into Bull’s arms in shock when another voice echoes in the hidden room suddenly.

 

“Stored sorrow, hidden hurt,” Cole says, brow furrowing as he stares at the locket Dorian’s now clutching to his chest as if he can ward off the oncoming heart failure from Cole’s sudden appearance, “She couldn’t throw it away.”

 

“I swear to the Maker—a bell! Around your neck, maybe several more on your shoes!” Dorian snaps, face ruddy as he untangles himself from Bull’s arms, the qunari too startled to even mock the mage for clinging to him for protection.

 

“Wouldn’t that look silly…?” Cole questions, lip jutting out.

 

“It would save me the several years your sneaking up on me cuts off my lifespan, so—worth it. Definitely,” Dorian replies with authority, catching his breath.

 

“Still,” Bull says, “The kid’s not wrong when it comes to the whole sensing-hurt-with-creepy-demon-powers thing. This is definitely Celene’s then.”

 

“So the rumors are true,” Dorian remarks—fascinated by all of it. Two women, an elf and an empress? It was material worthy of an Orlesian opera; that much he knew. Plus, Celene was known for spurning suitors left and right so it wasn’t such a stretch that she might be hiding her real interests behind a veil of indifference.

 

I know that game… Dorian thinks dully before pocketing the locket. “We should get back to the ballroom.”

 

“Are we going to tell Bea about—”

 

Dorian shakes his head. “No,” he says, “Beatrix has her hands full talking with the duke as it is.”

 

Not to mention… I don’t trust her judgment on what to do with this sort of leverage… Dorian thinks to himself. While Bull’s been more forthright in his judgments of Beatrix’s actions, Dorian’s been keeping his disapproval to himself, mostly.

 

“Besides,” Dorian adds with a smile and a shrug, “I’ve always wanted to have an audience with an empress.”

Chapter Text

To the kid’s credit, Cole vows to keep their discovery quiet. Or at least, that’s what Bull gathers from the words, ‘Winding a web of lies, a scarlet spider tugging the threads, preparing for prey; needing no more weapons to wield’.

 

Dorian and he return to the ballroom together as the bells toll the hour. They’re running out of time—if Bull knows anything about Orlesian assassins, it’s all about the drama. The empress is due to make a speech soon and it’ll be then that they’ll strike, he’s certain of it.

 

He tells Dorian as much but the mage is hell-bent on talking to Celene without the Inquisitor. There’s a fire in his eyes that Bull can’t quite figure out; but just as all fiery things, he likes it a lot.

 

“You know we don’t exactly have the clout to wander up to an empress, right?” Bull says, arching his brow down at the mage.

 

“I take offense to that,” Dorian declares, “I have clout in all realms of importance…”

 

“Except in the south,” Bull replies.

 

“I did say ‘importance’, did I not?”

 

Bull chuckles at the sass, shaking his head. Like Dorian, he misses the north in ways, but he has to admit he’s a bit fond of the south. Up north everything is about the Imperium and the qunari. Travel a little south and one begins to see diversity again—the thick accent of Starkhaven, the rolling mossy hills of Tantervale, the crashing waves of the Waking Sea against the docks of Kirkwall. Further still made the differences starker—past the Waking Sea there was Ferelden and Orlais, so distinct from one another they might as well be on different continents altogether.

 

Whereas up north—much as either side was loath to admit it—Tevinter and qunari had more in common with one another than the whole of the southern countries. Class systems based on ability, formidable armies, ancient architecture everywhere, a thirst for conquest…

 

If the vints and qunari ever kissed and made up, we could take over all of Thedas together… Bull thinks to himself. It’s a troubling sort of consideration even if it would never happen.

 

They walk along the rich red carpets towards the balcony at the back of the palace. It’s the largest one and even from where Bull’s standing he can see the empress’ back as she stares up at the stars contemplatively. He glances across to the other side of the room, eye widening in surprise when he sees that Gaspard is back. The man looks distinctly ruffled and is talking to the woman from earlier… his sister or something… Florianne?

 

“Hey, Dorian,” Bull says, grabbing the man’s arm and nodding towards the duo, “Gaspard’s back and Bea isn’t… maybe we should confront him about finding his dagger in someone’s back…”

 

“Why?” Dorian asks, “Didn’t Bea—oh honestly…”

 

“What?”

 

“You think she’s not going to talk to him about it, don’t you?” Dorian asks and when Bull remains stubbornly silent, Dorian adds, “Maybe she favors the duke, but Beatrix isn’t just going to ignore coldblooded murder. Honestly, this is the woman who cried for an hour over one of Leliana’s flying rats getting sick and dying…”

 

It’s hard to remember. The Inquisitor isn’t the gentle yet firm woman Bull’s come to know. Instead she’s acting callous and sharp, cutthroat and Orlesian. Still, Dorian has a point. Beatrix isn’t going to just turn a blind eye to the murder of the councilmember.

 

“Alright,” Bull gives in as they approach, three women in masks barring their path to the empress, “But you better have a good idea…”

 

“I don’t have the slightest notion what I’m doing,” Dorian admits, glancing at the keepsake curled in his palm, “But I know it’s important.”

 

Bull presses his lips together in a line, glancing over the determined lines of Dorian’s face. For someone so outwardly cynical when it came to the world, especially interpersonal relationships, Bull’s noticing more and more what a romantic Dorian is underneath that thick skin. It brings the scent of rain to mind; the feel of damp grass and the sight of moonlight hitting the fine mist decorating dark olive skin…

 

“Ah, members of the Inquisition, welcome,” one of the trio of identically dressed women says with a curtsy that the other two perform simultaneously.

 

Varric’s right. That is damn creepy… Bull thinks.

 

“I’m afraid that Her Majesty is not receiving individual guests at this time,” the second says.

 

“But we will be happy to pass along any messages to her, if they are of import,” states the last of the trio with a deferential dip of her neck. Her eyes trace Bull’s chest from behind the mask and he clearly sees her swallow hard at the sight.

 

“Aw, c’mon, ladies,” he says, grinning and placing one hand over a fist, flexing and making his pecs jump clearly through the tailored jacket, “Can’t you make an exception? Please?”

 

Their eyelashes flutter in unison behind their masks, the one in the middle drops her jaw open wide before the one on the right swats her with a fan to get her to stop gawking.

 

“I-I’m sorry, Monsieur The Iron Bull, but we c-cannot just…”

 

“Ugh,” Dorian says, stepping in front of Bull defensively, “I think Her Majesty might want to see firsthand what we’ve come to speak with her about.”

 

Dorian unfurls the elven locket from his hand, holding it in front of the trio’s noses. Their eyes widen more at the sight of it than they did at Bull’s display.

 

“Of course, if she rather we speak to someone else… perhaps the Grand Duke…?”

 

“Oh,” says the first.

 

“Oh my,” says the second.

 

“Oh my goodness,” says the third and shakes her head, “No, there will be no need for that, we will inform Her Majesty immediately.”

 

The trio bustle off hurriedly to the balcony, fretting amongst themselves. Dorian gives Bull a critical look in the meantime.

 

“Really? You were going to seduce your way to the Empress?” Dorian asks, arching an eyebrow at Bull.

 

“Hey, it could have worked,” Bull replies, grinning shamelessly, “Some of that spy stuff Varric writes is garbage, but…”

 

Bull rolls his huge shoulders, cracking his thick neck once with a sigh and stretches, showing off his physique. Dorian chews on his lip tellingly and then looks away with a muttered curse. Gotcha… Bull thinks and laughs at the mage’s expense.

 

“I’ve played the honeypot before,” Bull states simply, “It’s just a matter of giving the target what they want… so you can get what you want.”

 

Dorian scoffs at the notion, but Bull can see the blush warming the back of his neck. “You, a honeypot… now that I would like to see,” he taunts.

 

Bull smirks, leaning in to whisper into the mage’s ear, “Sure. Maybe we can play naughty magister and qunari spy later. Providing we live through the night.”

 

Dorian just gives a choked off noise at the suggestion, hand going white-knuckled on the amulet. Bull chuckles, glad to add a bit of levity to the tense situation. Before he can tease the mage further, the handmaidens are back, gesturing them forward to the terrace where Celene stands waiting for them.

 

The Empress isn’t without skill. Bull’s gaze sweeps over her stature and she’s all poise and grace. The girls had to have told Celene why they’ve come to speak with her and yet she’s got a perfectly blank face on, a mask underneath the physical one she’s wearing. It’s pretty good, in Bull’s professional opinion.

 

“Lord Pavus and Monsieur The Iron Bull…” Celene greets with grace befitting her station. Bull straightens, the presence of an authoritative female always causing that instant reaction of obedience in him. “What a pleasure to speak to you both. I haven’t time to speak to your Lady Inquisitor yet, but I do not doubt you all have questions about many things…”

 

“Your Majesty,” Dorian bows, “We do at that, but I would but ask one…”

 

Dorian unfurls the locket again, letting it hang by its delicate copper chain from its fingertips. Bull gauges Celene’s reaction—it is instantaneous, a hint of longing and sadness making the mature woman’s lips downturn, eyes softening at the edges.

 

“We found this elven locket sealed in a secret vault… a very cheap looking trinket, yet you must have considered it quite valuable, to hide it away so carefully…” Dorian says.

 

Celene takes a quiet breath and to Bull’s surprise—she nods. “It was… sentimental,” she admits with a frown, “I… don’t know why I kept it. It was a foolish thing to do.”

 

“It was Briala’s, wasn’t it?” Bull questions and the empress nods again.

 

“She gave it to me for my coronation…” Celene replies, sad smile touching the corners of her lips, “It was such a small thing… the proud look in her eyes… I…”

 

The empress swallows hard, thrusting her chin up ever so slightly. “I assume you want something for it?”

 

“No,” Dorian says, shaking his head, “I just want to know… what made the two of you part ways?”

 

“She wanted change. And she thought I should deliver it,” Celene explains, glancing at Dorian and Bull in turn with a knowing sort of expression, “My word is law, Lord Pavus, but laws don’t command people’s hearts. Culture does not transform itself overnight.”

 

“Sure,” Bull interjects, “But putting laws and rules in place is a start.”

 

Celene gives him a wan smile, “I’m sure it would be that simple to someone of your background. Alas, humans are more flighty than qunari, I fear…”

 

The empress shakes her head, looking away from them. Her eyes are distant, hurting. Bull’s nothing like Cole but even he can sense the pain in the woman—it had to have been years since Briala and her were together last and yet there was all that anguish, laid raw like an old wound torn open again.

 

“I failed her,” she admits, “I should have dared more. But the past… like so many things… is beyond my command.”

 

“So it’s just a reminder of a missed opportunity? I don’t believe that,” Dorian insists, stepping forward and placing the amulet firmly into the empress’ palms. She stares at it, throat working hard. “I think you kept it because you still care for Briala…”

 

“And I think,” Bull adds, “She still cares for you. She’s tried to warn you about the danger tonight already, right? She wants you to be safe, she’s putting herself at risk to ensure it. I worked for the Ben-Hassrath, Your Majesty. Spies don’t just throw themselves into danger without reason. Briala’s admitted freely that whether Gaspard or you come out on top tonight means little to her cause. So why all the effort? There’s only one reason I can come up with… at least, if I were in Briala’s place…”

 

Dorian glances at Bull in surprise at the speech. Bull doesn’t look back at him, focusing on the empress who is staring at the cheap jewelry in her hand like it’s made of diamonds and gold rather than stone and copper.

 

“…perhaps I do still care for her…” she says quietly and then presses the amulet back into Dorian’s hand firmly, “But I cannot run from these talks at her word. I cannot simply put her above all the people of my empire.”

 

With that said, Celene turns her back on them with a curt, “Dispose of the locket however you like. It means nothing to me.”

 

The empress walks away from them, her guards and handmaidens sealing the path to the balcony once more. Celene’s ivory hands brace on the stone ledge of the balcony—and even from this distance Bull notices the slight tremor in them. They’ve rattled her, for better or for worse.

 

“Wonderful,” Dorian grunts, clenching his fist around the locket like he wants to crush it into dust, “That was our only chance at getting Celene to flee… how can she act so? It’s obvious to anyone she still cares!”

 

“It’s Orlais,” Bull says, patting Dorian’s back, “Tevinter’s not much different. You have something or someone you care about… it just means you have something or someone to lose.”

 

Dorian sighs. “Suddenly I’m seeing why the whole ‘no-families-no-significant-others’ thing your people do is a wise idea…”

 

“Eh… it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Bull replies, glancing at Dorian as he rubs his back and shoulders with a large hand. Dorian doesn’t even bother inching away even though others can see them. “And it’s not like we don’t have those relationships at all either…”

 

“Is that so?” Dorian asks, glancing over at Bull curiously.

 

“Yeah,” Bull says and doesn’t elaborate, taking the locket from Dorian’s hand, “If Celene doesn’t want this anymore though, least we can do is return it to its owner.”

 

“What would be the point of that?” Dorian wonders, frowning at Bull, “It’s a waste of time.”

 

Bull shrugs, prodding at the trinket. Such a small token, but with so much meaning.

 

“I just know if I were Briala I’d want it back. So that I knew,” Bull says, looking up. The spymaster has returned to the ballroom and is occupying another balcony. It’s striking how similar in poise she is to Celene—her back against the ledge as she lounges gracefully, looking up to the stars just as pensively as the empress.

 

“If you’re looking for the Inquisitor,” Briala says, “I believe she is currently being detained by the duchess…”

 

“We’re actually looking for you,” Bull replies and holds out the locket to her, “We found this elven locket among Celene’s things. It doesn’t belong to you, does it?”

 

For the first time in the entire night, Briala actually looks speechless and taken aback, snatching the necklace from Bull’s hand.

 

“Let me see that!” she demands, holding it close. She examines it and Bull knows what she’s looking for. Some sign that it isn’t real, that it’s a fake or forgery designed to manipulate her emotions. However when she opens the locket and finds the lock of hair—her own hair, judging by the little chestnut curl that’s escaped the edge of her mask—the elven spymaster is left dumbfounded. Her breath catches in her throat and Bull can see she’s almost near tears with emotion.

 

He’s becoming more familiar lately with that feeling than he ever wanted to be.

 

“She kept this… what was she thinking?” Briala says, sounding a strange combination of fond and fearful, “If Gaspard had found this… it would have ruined her. Oh, Celene, you silly girl…”

 

“I think it meant a great deal to her,” Bull replies, “But you’re right about it being a liability, which is why we brought it back to you. We both know you want to protect Celene. Even if you’re telling your people your part in these talks is simply to act on the behalf of the elves… we know it’s more than that.”

 

Briala bites at her lip, staring at the locket. She holds it tight in her hand, pressing it to her chest. “…no, I do want a better life for my people, I do…” she insists, “But… I know that Celene is the one who can bring that about. She’s… she’s got such light in her but it’s been tainted by The Game… I just wish I could… that I…”

 

“She feels the same,” Dorian insists, glancing at Bull for approval before stepping in, “She’s scared, Briala, but she can’t show it. She’s not able to run from this and she wants to believe you, believe your warnings. But she thinks she’s doing the right thing by her people too.”

 

“…she’s a good person… the best person…” Briala says to herself, “My favorite person… I just can’t believe… she held onto this…”

 

All three of them jump as another voice insinuates itself into the conversation—“My dear Dorian, there you are,” Vivienne states, looking a little weary but no less glamorous. Bull’s glad to see her, it means that the fighting in the gardens went well, “How often must I shout your little name?”

 

“Nice to see you too, Vivienne,” Dorian states with a roll of his eyes, then jumps in surprise as she pulls him inside.

 

“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about our dance already, my dear,” Vivienne states and nods slightly towards the stairs at the south end of the ballroom where Beatrix and Florianne are descending hand in hand to join the couples on the floor.

 

Bull catches Dorian glancing back at him and he simply nods, “Go on.”

 

Dorian smiles slightly, touching his mask into place. “Of course not, Madame de Fer. Shall we?” he asks, offering Vivienne his arm. Arm in arm, the duo of well-dressed mages descend the stairs to the ballroom floor as Bull watches avidly. Dorian’s really something when he’s in motion, Bull’s noticed it when they go into battle. There’s a simple grace in the way Dorian moves—Cole’s even commented on it before, something about the Veil singing around him, making him brighter.

 

Bull doesn’t know much about magic or spirits or the Veil, but… he knows he can’t take his eyes off Dorian as the other man meets Vivienne in dance position, gliding across the floor with ease.

 

“…about what I said before,” Briala says, showing up beside Bull, “I meant no offense. I hope you know that.”

 

Bull smiles faintly and nods. “I know you didn’t. It hurt his feelings, but he doesn’t understand. Not like you and I do.”

 

“Aye,” Briala agrees wearily, glancing toward Celene’s balcony, “We call them shemlen—‘quick children’—not just for their shorter lives but also for their minds, their hearts... So fleeting and fickle, so determined and rooted in the present yet always looking to the future…”

 

“They’re pretty fascinating, humans,” Bull says, leaning on the banister beside his fellow spy, “Don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching them…”

 

Briala’s lip twists at that, glancing up to him knowingly.

 

“Them? Or him?”

 

Bull chuckles, dropping his head between his shoulders in a self-deprecating manner. He’s supposed to be this great spy, just like the woman next to him, and yet…

 

“He’s a good person,” Bull repeats, “The best person.”

 

Dorian dips Vivienne gracefully, glancing upward at Bull and winking like a scoundrel.

 

“…my favorite person.”

 

Kadan. My heart.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“So I’m assuming by you standing here in one piece that you gave the venatori what for in the gardens, yes?” Dorian queries as he descends the steps with Vivienne. They assume dance position, Vivienne’s gaze focusing on the couples across from them.

 

Beatrix and Florianne stand hand in hand as well, waiting for the music to begin. The red head looks a little uneasy by the arrangement.

 

Surprising considering how buddy-buddy she is with the duke… Dorian thinks with derision.

 

“Of course, my dear, they were hardly a challenge,” Vivienne states as the band strikes up and the dance begins, “I left Solas to finish the cleanup—the elven ambassador’s people were most helpful in that matter. Then again, elves would know best how to scrub stains, yes?”

 

“Ha—and you sneer at my people for being racist…” Dorian chortles, step-step-turning with the enchantress. He remembers how to lead, even though during his practices with Cullen he took the role of the woman. Dorian’s mood dampens slightly, thinking of the commander…

 

“That’s because you are, darling,” Vivienne declares, “I may ask an elven servant to scour a pot, you might ask her to lay out on a sacrificial altar…”

 

“Now now,” Dorian replies, with feigned offense, “Male blood slaves only for me, thank you very much!”

 

Vivienne rolls her eyes and glances over her shoulder, “Shh, we’re getting closer...”

 

They were, Florianne and Beatrix directly to their left, stepping together in unison. Dorian quiets obediently, slowing their dance so they could remain within earshot of the conversation between the duchess and the Inquisitor.

 

“You are from the Free Marches, are you not?” Florianne asks Beatrix as they dance together, “How much do you know about our little war?”

 

“I assure you the effects of this war reach far beyond the borders of the Orlesian empire,” Beatrix replies steadfastly, glancing towards her dance partner with curiosity.

 

“Perhaps it does. I should not be surprised to find the empire is the center of everyone’s world,” Florianne says, going on to add, “It took great effort to arrange tonight’s negotiations. Yet one party would use this occasion for blackest treason. The security of the empire is at stake.”

 

“Neither one of us wishes to see it fall,” Florianne adds gravely, eyes searching Beatrix’s and beyond her as well. Dorian glances away so they do not notice Vivienne and him listening in.

 

“Do we both want that, Lady Florianne?” Beatrix asks in response as she curtsies and takes Florianne’s hand again in her own, continuing the dance. The duchess looks a little taken aback by the comment, her nose curling under the mask.

 

“I hope we are of one mind on this…” Florianne hedges as they mirror one another’s steps. Beatrix comes from behind the other woman, pulling her into a slow spin that shows off the billowing skirts of both their dresses.

 

When Florianne’s back is turned is when Dorian notices Beatrix looking right at Vivienne and himself. She knows they’re listening in.

 

“In times like these,” she says, clear enough to be heard, “It’s hard to tell friend from foe, is it not, Your Grace?”

 

Dorian feels a lump forming in his throat, very nearly misses stepping on Vivienne’s foot as they turn in time with the other couples on the floor. All of a sudden he’s realizing how alone Beatrix must feel, the whole world resting on her shoulders and now her friends were turning from her, one after another…

 

“I know you arrived here as a guest of my brother, Gaspard… and that you have been everywhere in the palace…” Florianne states, “You are a curiosity to many, Inquisitor… and a matter of concern to some…”

 

“Am I the curiosity or the concern to you, Your Grace?” Bea asks, gaze back on her dance partner.

 

“A little of both, actually,” Florianne replies, laughingly, “Especially given that earlier display with your commander, Herald of Andraste…”

 

Beatrix’s expression sours visibly, but she says nothing, doesn’t even miss a step in the dance. Dorian’s honestly impressed, he’s not sure he would be able to go on if he was in her position.

 

“This evening is of great importance, Inquisitor. I wonder what role you will play in it,” Florianne says with a smirk, “Do you even yet know who is friend and who is foe..? Who in the court can be trusted?”

 

The blonde leans in closer and Dorian has to strain to hear her words—

 

“Can you even trust your own Inquisition, Herald? Will you follow blindly along Andraste’s path, with your very own Maferath leading your armies?”

 

Beatrix’s spine stiffens, hand going white-knuckled on Florianne’s. Dorian’s certain any moment there’s going to be another fistfight breaking out on the dance floor…

 

“If I’ve learned anything, Your Grace…” Beatrix says, “It is to put my trust in no one.”

 

Florianne’s eyes widen and she seems surprised by the reaction—and a little disappointed too, in a way. The duo spin around and around and Beatrix daringly dips the duchess, strength from travel showing in how easily she holds the other woman’s weight.

 

“In the Winter Palace, everyone is alone,” Florianne replies. When they straighten, she lays off the probing and is all business once more: “It cannot have escaped your notice that certain parties are engaged in dangerous machinations tonight…”

 

“And here I thought ‘dangerous machinations’ were the national sport in Orlais…” Beatrix states in a dry tone that even makes Vivienne give a soft huff of amusement as they pass by the Inquisitor and duchess.

 

“You have little time,” the duchess warns, “The attack will come soon. You must stop Gaspard before he strikes.”

 

And there it is… Dorian thinks. Finally.

 

Beatrix cannot possibly ignore being outright told by the man’s own sister that he’s plotting treason. Especially when she goes on to tell the Inquisitor, “In the Royal Wing garden, you will find the captain of my brother’s mercenaries. He knows all of Gaspard’s secrets.”

 

Beatrix and Florianne bow to one another as the dance draws to a close.

 

“I’m sure you can persuade him to be forthcoming,” the blonde says with a wan smile.

 

Vivienne and Dorian withdraw off the floor, Beatrix walking away from Florianne with a brusque, “We’ll see what the night has in store, won’t we?”

 

They ascend the stairs together, Beatrix pausing to get a drink of water as they all regroup. Bull’s still talking to Briala and Dorian considers going over to him when he’s intercepted by a flurry of skirts, Josephine’s little sister looking up at him and Beatrix adoringly.

 

“Oh, bravo!” Yvette enthuses, clasping their hands, “You’ll be the talk of the court for months!”

 

Beatrix gives a weary sort of smile, Josephine shooing her sister back before echoing her sister: “We should take you dancing more often.”

 

“I’d happily do more dancing,” Beatrix says, “Just not with Corypheus.”

 

Josephine’s smile wavers slightly. “I promise not to invite him to your next ball,” she vows and then asks, “You were dancing with Duchess Florianne… did she have anything of interest to say?”

 

Leliana comes up then, Varric, Sera and Cassandra at her back. “More importantly, what happened in the servants’ quarters? I heard there was fighting…”

 

Beatrix hands her water glass to Dorian and shrugs at him. “No rest for the wicked,” she says simply and works on catching up the rest of the group.

 

Bull wanders over during this, putting his hand on Dorian’s shoulder. “You’re not bad at that,” he says, nodding at the dance floor in explanation.

 

“Really? I’m ‘not bad’ at that?” Dorian scoffs at the larger man, “Do you have any idea the hours, nay, days I spent studying every step of every bloody waltz and tango invented in all of Thedas?”

 

Bull sighs deeply—“All that study in etiquette and you can’t even take a compliment.”

 

“Oh do shut up,” Dorian replies and tries not to smile. It’s easy when he tunes back into the talk, where Josephine is explaining—

 

“Warning Celene is pointless. She needs these talks to succeed, and to flee would admit defeat.”

 

Leliana’s been quiet up until that point, but when she finally speaks, it holds a great deal of weight to it:

 

“Then perhaps we should let her die.”

 

Everyone draws back from the spymaster in surprise at her words—including Beatrix.

 

“I must have misheard you,” Beatrix says, scowl forming on her face, “I thought we were here to stop the assassination.”

 

“Listen to me carefully, Inquisitor…” Leliana begins patiently, “What Corypheus wants is chaos. Even with Celene alive, that could still happen. To foil his plan, the empire must remain strong. This evening, someone must emerge victorious.”

 

“And it doesn’t need to be Celene,” Cassandra concludes, even though there’s a touch of distaste to her expression at the consideration. Or maybe that’s just how her face always looks.

 

“Do you all realize what you’re saying?” Josephine says, ever the pacifist.

 

“Sometimes the best path is not the easiest one,” Leliana replies, “And our options are limited without fighting support.”

 

“So let me get this straight— you’re asking me to decide what’s best for Orlais?” Beatrix rephrases and she’s intentionally trying to make it sound as idiotic as it does. But even Dorian’s starting to lean Leliana’s way—she has a point.

 

Besides... Celene has had several chances to escape. We’re not the only ones who warned her. If she got over her idiotic pride and trusted Briala, then..

 

“More than that. Whoever controls the imperial throne will affect all of Thedas,” Cassandra says gravely, “We cannot stop Corypheus without a decision. We must support someone, or all is lost…”

 

“Then we should support Celene!” Josephine insists, “She is the rightful ruler… who are we to say otherwise?”

 

“Because she led Orlais to this point,” Blackwall points out, shaking his head.

 

“I would suggest Briala,” Leliana says, “She could bring true peace, not only to the empire but also to its elves. We have enough leverage on Gaspard that she could use… if we choose to let the assassination happen.”

 

Beatrix shakes her head firmly, looking to her friends. “I can’t decide this,” she says, “Not yet.”

 

“You must,” Leliana insists, “Even inaction is a decision, Inquisitor.”

 

“Oh, I don’t plan to dawdle, Lady Nightingale,” Beatrix says, “Florianne told me Gaspard’s mercenary captain is in the Royal Wing. That he knows about the assassination.”

 

“Which could be a trap,” Bull interjects dryly.

 

“Or a lead,” Dorian adds, “Either way it’s worth a look, yes?”

 

“Right,” Beatrix agrees, “So… shall we?”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“I don’t like this,” Bull says again, unable to help himself.

 

They did come up with a good strategy, Beatrix leading himself, Dorian and Cassandra to the Royal Wing. Josephine and Blackwall would distract the guards while the others found weapons and monitored the ballroom.

 

Still he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that they were playing right into someone’s hands. Whose hands, he wasn’t sure yet, but Bull didn’t particularly like feeling like willing prey.

 

“Neither do I, Bull,” Cassandra agrees, giving her stolen sword a few practice swings. She’s got her dress hiked up to allow for easier movement and her tan calves are slightly distracting—up until Dorian ‘accidentally’ smacks Bull with his staff to get him to stop staring. “But we must have faith.”

 

“Oh, I have faith,” Bull says, “Faith that Bea’s going to lead us into a hell of a fight. Fighting’s fine… it’s the surprise part of it I don’t like.”

 

“Shh,” Bea says, leaning on a door that leads out to the gardens. “I hear something…”

 

They open the doors to the gardens and step out onto the grass. Two things immediately catch Bull’s attention—first, that there’s a slight ripple of green misty magical crap in the air and secondly—

 

“Oh my,” Dorian states in response to the group of men tied up in the courtyard in their skivvies. They’re lashed together in a circle around the base of one of the statues, hollering through their gags as much as they can as they struggle. Bull bends to examine the knots, they’re expertly done. Not enough to hurt but enough to restrain, to keep the men from going anywhere anytime soon.

 

“Someone’s got my idea of fun,” Bull says with a grin, leering at one of the guys. The man responds by curling up protectively, cursing under the bit of cloth in his mouth.

 

Cassandra covers her face in embarrassment, “What is the meaning of this? Who are these men?”

 

“That’s what I intend to find out…” Beatrix states, glancing over the group and going to the one man who isn’t struggling. She tugs the gag from his mouth and he glares murderously ahead. “Gaspard’s mercenary captain, I assume?”

 

“Brûler en enfer, salope! Je ne vous dirai rien!” the man responds sharply.

 

“I don’t suppose that means, ‘why yes, thank you so much for asking’…?” Beatrix asks, looking over at Bull.

 

“Ah, no, boss,” Bull says, shaking his head and chuckling, “Not at all…”

 

“Shame,” Beatrix says, pulling away and waving to Bull to come over, “I would have been nicer were he more forthcoming…”

 

Bull smirks, swaggering over. He doesn’t bother with the battle-axe at his side, instead just grabbing the man up by his throat and squeezing. Intimidation—now this was more his speed.

 

“Vous aurez tout nous dire, ou bien je vais commencer à couper les choses au large…” Bull threatens quietly. He speaks the language of the empire pretty well, though he’s not as nasal as most of the Orlesians are—speaking it more like Qunlat, the accent of which comes all from the chest, “Et ils seront des choses que vous allez manquer.”

 

The man’s sweating profusely, squeaking in Bull’s hands. The others around him are working harder to escape their bonds and they’re yelling louder.

 

“Oh relax,” Bull complains, looking over at them, “I barely touched—”

 

Bull jumps back just as an arrow flies by his face, knocked off course by a bolt of incendiary magic flung by Dorian’s outstretched fingers. It would have impaled him ear to ear if Dorian hadn’t acted.

 

“Archers!” Cassandra calls out as Dorian casts a barrier over them, readying for battle. Bull grumbles and takes a stance in front of the tied up men. Assholes or not, they’re evidence of what Gaspard’s been up to. We can’t let them die…

 

“Inquisitor!” a voice says from the balcony above, “What a pleasure. I wasn’t certain you’d attend…”

 

The archers appear from the darkness, all with their arrows trained on Beatrix. She stands still and fearless as Duchess Florianne stalks across the gallery, looking down at them all with amusement.

 

So all this time it was her? Then Gaspard… what is going on? Bull thinks, looking at the stripped-down soldiers behind him. Whatever it is, they certainly weren’t informed about it…

 

“You’re so hard to read,” Florianne admits, smiling gaily, “I had no idea whether you’d taken my bait…”

 

Beatrix stands with her hands clasped behind her in a parade rest, not unlike a stance Cullen himself would take in the same position. “I fear I’m a bit busy at the moment—if you were looking for a dance partner, that is…”

 

Florianne laughs in response, hand gliding along the banister as she looks down her nose at all of them. “Yes, I see that. Such a pity you did not save one final dance for me…” she says demurely, “Though it was kind of you to walk into my trap so willingly… I was ever so tired of you and your meddling friends.”

 

“Corypheus insisted that the empress die tonight,” Florianne states, surprising even Bull, “And I would hate to disappoint him…”

 

“Wait, so you’re the—oh bugger,” Dorian says, grimacing. “How could we not realize…”

 

“Why kill the empress?” Cassandra asks, shield at the ready as she counts the arrows trained on them. There are too many for her to block on her own, even with magical cover. “What does Corypheus want to achieve?”

 

“Celene’s death is but a stepping stone on the path to a new world,” Florianne explains, as villains are wont to do, “Corypheus will enter the Black City and claim the godhood waiting for him. We will cast down your useless Maker and usher in a united world, guided by the hand of an attentive god…”

 

Cassandra spits on the ground—the untoward act contrasting amusingly with how dressy she appears—and curses at Florianne, “Utter blasphemy!”

 

“To you, perhaps, but then again, you are just another dog of the Chantry, Pentaghast—too content chasing your own tail to realize your master is gone and is never returning!”

 

Bea presses her right hand against Cassandra’s chest to hold the warrior back, the bowstrings of the archers surrounding them drawing taut in reaction. Her left remains behind her back, Bull notices. It makes him wonder what she’s up to.

 

“You’re Orlesian royalty—even if you don’t care for the Chantry, why would you let Corypheus attack your own empire?” Dorian questions.

 

“Ha, you are just like my brother, Tevinter… thinking so small…” Florianne declares with a dismissive gesture, “Why settle for an empire when Corypheus will remake the entire world? And I must admit, I will relish the look on Gaspard’s face when he realizes his ally has outplayed him. He always was a sore loser…”

 

Bull glances at Beatrix when Florianne outright admits Gaspard had been helping her in some way. The red head doesn’t react at all, just shifting her stance wider. She looks to Bull and lightly nods her head towards the center of the garden.

 

The ripple of green is growing, crackling ever so lightly. Bull doesn’t know much about magic, but he can feel the energy building in the air. Oh no. She’s not going to…

 

“So Gaspard was in it for the throne… that makes sense. But what do you get out of this, Florianne?” Beatrix questions, holding her ground.

 

“Isn’t it obvious?” Florianne replies merrily, “The world, of course. I’ll deliver the entire south of Thedas and Corypheus will thank me. When he’s ascended to godhood, I will rule all Thedas in his name…”

 

“Well then, Florianne,” Beatrix says with a smirk, “If you’re planning to rule in his stead you simply must get acquainted with one of Corypheus’ current dance partners—disappointment.”

 

“Ha, witty until the end I see,” Florianne sneers, “You poor deluded thing. You don’t know half of what Samson and I have planned. And now I suppose you never will!”

 

The woman turns her back on them, cackling softly—“In their darkest dreams no one imagines that I would assassinate Celene myself… not even your pathetic ‘Nightingale’ would realize until it was too late. All I need is to keep you out of the ballroom long enough to strike…”

 

“A pity you’ll miss the rest of the ball, Inquisitor. They’ll be talking about it for years to come,” Florianne says as she sashays out the door, ordering the archers—“Kill her and her friends. Bring me the marked hand as proof. It will make a fine gift for the master…”

 

The doors shut behind Florianne heavily as the archers take their marks from every angle—

 

“Bull,” Beatrix says quietly, “Do you trust me?”

 

The question surprises him. He can’t get a good look at his friend’s face in the moment, too busy counting the arrowheads pointing at them all. Sweat drips down the right side of his face.

 

The Ben-Hassrath, qunari side of him screams ‘no’ in answer to the question. Beatrix has been ducking around, telling lies, turning away allies, wheeling and dealing without giving anyone a real clue to what her plans are. All of those poor choices have led them to this, to getting trapped by a madwoman, cut off from their friends and unable to do anything about the assassination…

 

“…absolutely, boss,” he hears himself saying.

 

He can hear the smile in Bea’s voice as she replies, “Good,” before ripping the rift in front of them open wide.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Demons pour out of the tear in the Veil, startling the archers. Errant arrows ping harmlessly off the walls as the creatures devour the enemy archers before turning on the Inquisitor’s party.

 

“A little forewarning would have been lovely, Bea!” Dorian calls out as he grapples with a rage demon, narrowly ducking a spray of fire.

 

“Give me a break!” the red head shouts back, channeling her energy into the staff blade she’s wielding and slicing off the arm of a terror demon that’s trying to tear into her, “I’m improvising here!”

 

“Less talking, more fighting!” Cassandra harrumphs, performing a coup de grace with her shield that sends a demon screaming back through the rift.

 

“See, this is why you’re my favorite, Seeker,” Bull declares with a grin, beating back all the demons that are lurching towards the unarmed mercs.

 

The battle’s a thorough rinsing, but it takes time for Beatrix to close the rift. Time that they don’t have. Dorian kneels by the mercs as Beatrix pulls the energy from the rip to seal it.

 

“I don’t have time for pleasantries and I don’t speak Orlesian like my horned friend, so… talk or I will paint this statue with your innards, so help me.”

 

The merc captain shakes his head urgently, “Non, please don’t...”

 

“Then talk.”

 

“It is true, Gaspard was planning to attack but… it was for the good of the empire! Not this madness with demons and gods… just… he wanted better for Orlais!” the captain states, shaking his head, “That bitch, Florianne… I bet she was the one who sent the masked chevalier to detain us! She probably convinced Gaspard that we would talk, told him she’d take care of us with her archers… damn her to the Void!”

 

“Alright, stop talking,” Dorian says, pushing the gag back into the man’s mouth and glancing back at Bull, “Masked chevalier, huh?”

 

That person Beatrix was speaking to earlier had a chevalier helmet on… one that covered their whole face… so they were the one who tied up Gaspard’s men and stole their clothing… but for what purpose?

 

“There’s no time,” Cassandra says, gesturing at the clock with her bloodied sword, “We must hurry, the empress’ speech will start any minute!”

 

Much as Dorian hates to admit it, the mystery will have to wait until they stop the assassination. They don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle, but they’ve got the most important ones. Now all we need to do is fill in the rest and hope the completed picture is the one we want…

 

They run through the halls with urgency, cutting down through any resistance they meet until they reach the ballroom, bursting through the doors in an ungainly fashion. Everyone stops and stares at them questioningly.

 

Leagues and leagues away, Florianne stands at Gaspard’s side, close to Celene. Briala watches from a short distance behind the empress and her guards. Florianne catches Beatrix’s eye and looks a little flustered, pulse pounding in her throat.

 

The clock chimes the hour. Celene smiles and waves to the assembly, the music slowing to a stop as she gets the attention of all gathered.

 

“Thank the Maker you’re back,” Blackwall rumbles, Josephine at his side.

 

“The empress will begin her speech soon—what should we do?” Josephine asks, looking over their battle-worn state with worry.

 

“The assassin,” Dorian gets out, breathing hard from all the undue exercise, “…is Florianne. We need to stop her…”

 

“No,” Beatrix orders sternly, “All of you wait here. I’m going to have a word with the Grand Duchess.”

 

Dorian looks up at his friend, aghast, “But there’s no time—the empress will begin her speech any moment!”

 

Beatrix pats Dorian’s shoulder with a serene smile. “Trust me,” she insists again and hurries towards the ballroom floor as it is being cleared.

 

“Let all gathered attend! Her Imperial Majesty will now address the court!” the seneschal announces.

 

Celene walks the length of the balcony with Briala, Gaspard and Florianne at her side, turning towards the assembly gracefully.

 

“My friends, we have lost much,” she states, “We have each seen a child, a lover, a friend consigned to the flames. The darkness has closed in around us, but even now there is light!”

 

“We must be that light! We must lead our people safely through these troubled times. We must be their guiding star. Tonight, the war dividing us must end!”

 

The gathered nobility applauds raucously in response to Celene’s words. Dorian’s pretty impressed, Celene doesn’t have a card in her hand and yet she speaks like she’s holding a royal flush. Ironic though that sounds…

 

Celene gestures to Florianne, who ascends the dais to speak, her eyes fixing across the ballroom where Beatrix is struggling to get through the crowd.

 

“My friends,” Florianne states, drawing closer to Celene, stepping behind her, “We are here to witness a historic moment. A great change is coming for all of us… isn’t that right, Gaspard?”

 

The duke frowns at his sibling, giving her a quizzical look, “Florianne, what are you—”

 

“Your Grace!” Beatrix yells from the bottom of the stairs, the court gasping at the interruption. Even Florianne gives pause, trembling a little in place, “I believe we owe the court one more show!”

 

“Inquisitor…” Florianne grits out, barely hiding her contempt.

 

Celene frowns, glancing back over her shoulder at her cousin in concern, then looking to Gaspard who looks like he’s eaten something sour.

 

Beatrix ascends the stairs swiftly but steadily, eyes fixing Florianne in place like a snake stilling a mouse. It reminds Dorian that he still needs to ask Bea about that nickname he heard she had once… ‘the Evil Eye of Ostwick’ or some such…

 

“The eyes of every noble in the empire are upon us, Your Grace. Do remember to smile…” Beatrix states with an insincere smirk of her own, “This is your party. You wouldn’t want them to think you had lost control…”

 

Florianna takes a step back from Celene, appearing uncertain even as she responds easily, “Who would not be delighted to speak with you, Inquisitor? But perhaps you could have chosen a better time, yes…?”

 

“Oh, but there’s no time like the present, is there, Florianne? I seem to recall you saying, ‘All I need is to keep you out of the ballroom long enough to strike’!” Bea declares—loudly too, so that all hear her words. Several of the nobility gasp in shock at it all, staring critically up at the duchess through their masks.

 

Bea folds her arms behind her back, stalking around Florianne as she continues, “When your archers failed to kill me in the garden, I feared you wouldn’t save me this last dance. It’s so easy to lose your good graces… you were even going to kill your brother’s men just to cover up your involvement with sneaking in his chevaliers…”

 

Gaspard gives a sound of affront that he tries to mask as a cough, glaring at Florianne murderously. “What is the meaning of all of this—”

 

“It was an ambitious plan… Celene, Briala, Gaspard… the entire Council of Heralds… all your enemies under one roof. Being able to also take out the Inquisition at the same time would have been an even greater boon—if your brother had been more forthcoming about his inviting me here…” Beatrix declares, smiling and blowing a kiss to Gaspard, “Thank you so much for your discretion, Gaspard.”

 

“Why you—”

 

“This is very entertaining,” Florianne states, body tense, “But you do not imagine anyone believes your wild stories?”

 

Celene glances over at the other woman harshly, taking a step forward and away from Florianne. “That will be a matter for a judge to decide, cousin…” she says sternly.

 

Florianne looks taken aback—apparently not expecting that the Inquisitor would be believed over her. She looks to her brother for support immediately, “Gaspard?”

 

The duke assesses the situation quickly and quietly, then makes to withdraw, shaking his head.

 

The empress’ guards begin to move in and Florianne’s eyes darken suddenly, her hand going to her waist—

 

“Assassin!” Briala yells and throws herself over Celene, knocking the empress down to the floor in a heap of skirts. The move reveals the knife Florianne has in her hand, still poised to stab Celene in the back. Florianne steps back a pace before screaming and striking at Briala with the blade, which the elven spy blocks by ripping the decorative piece off the back of Celene’s dress to use as a shield.

 

Briala throws herself at Florianne with fury in her motions, Beatrix hurrying up the steps to pull Celene back and out of the battle.

 

“Briala!” the empress cries in alarm, fighting Bea’s hold. The rest of the Inner Circle moves in, working to push their way through the crowds to get to the dais.

 

Florianne’s surprisingly swift, moreso when she throws her skirts aside to reveal the light armored leggings beneath. She fights with two daggers, slicing at Briala one after another. One gets the elf right across the shoulder before Briala catches it in the grooves of Celene’s adornment and throws it aside with a clatter. Florianne punches Briala in the face and tears at her hair to try and hold her in place for the next blow of the knife—only to have the elf willingly pull free of her own mask.

 

Briala falls onto her back, chestnut curls going every which way. She springs back up with her hands like an acrobat and rushes at Florianne. The elf kicks the knife out of the noble’s hand before wrapping her thighs around the other woman’s neck and taking her down with a twist of her body.

 

Florianne hits the floor hard and goes limp as she’s knocked unconscious. Briala’s panting as she pulls herself to standing, her dress split up the sides and her mask gone.

 

Dorian’s surprised to see how incredibly ordinary Briala is. Her skin is dusky, worn and rough from sunlight, sprays of freckles marking her shoulders and cheeks. Her eyes are definitely her best feature, so wide, the color and size of a chestnut. And while it is apparent that she tries to keep well-groomed, her hair is thick and curly and dark, going every which way now that it was not contained.

 

And this… Dorian thinks to himself. This person made an empress fall in love with her…

 

Bull’s parting the crowd ahead of him with his bulk, simply pushing nobles out of his way without so much as a by-your-leave, grunting like the animal that is his namesake.

 

Well, I suppose I can hardly talk…

 

“Celene… are you okay?” Briala asks, holding her stinging, bleeding shoulder as Beatrix helps the empress to her feet.

 

Celene’s dress is wrecked, gaping at the back. She’s holding the cloth at the front so it doesn’t slip and bare her breast-band to the court. Her hair is loose from its impeccable braids and her mask has fallen away in more ways than one.

 

“Yes,” she says, breathing hard, “Thank you, Briala…”

 

Celene reaches to touch a bit of dark hair back over Briala’s pointed ear when Gaspard clears his throat loudly from the sidelines. Celene’s hand falters and she withdraws, instead picking up her mask from the floor and placing it back on her face.

 

“This is all very charming,” Gaspard growls, “But don’t you think we have more pressing matters to attend to, Celene?”

 

Celene thrusts her jaw upward and Briala opens her mouth, undoubtedly to spout an elven curse at the duke—but Beatrix beats them to the punch, saying:

 

“I couldn’t agree more, Grand Duke. But let us speak out here in the open— where all of Orlais can hear what a duplicitous snake you are…”

 

Gaspard gasps in affront, neck purpling in rage. “How dare you speak to me in such a manner!”

 

“You have no room to speak at all, Gaspard! Your sister just attempted regicide before the entire court!” Briala shouts at him, even as she uses her own hairpin to close the back of Celene’s gown for her. Dorian marvels at the gesture, it’s so dutiful and practiced and he wonders if they’re seeing Briala and Celene actually as themselves in the moment.

 

Gaspard guffaws, pointing the finger back at Briala, “You’re the spymaster. If anyone knew this atrocity was coming, it was you.”

 

“So you don’t deny your involvement?” Briala shoots back keenly, nostrils flaring. She hasn’t bothered to put her mask back on, facing Gaspard as herself and not the spymaster the Inquisition had met.

 

“I do deny it!” Gaspard proclaims, fist slamming on the banister, “I knew nothing of Florianne’s plans! But you—you knew it all and did nothing! Perhaps you even orchestrated it, so you could once more ingratiate yourself with the empress!”

 

“Ha!” Briala laughs sharply, “I don’t know which is better: that you think I’m all-seeing or that you’re trying so hard to play innocent and failing.”

 

“Enough!” Celene says strongly, shoulders thrust back now that her dress was no longer slipping down, “We will not bicker while Tevinter plots against our nation! For the safety of the empire, I will have answers.”

 

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Beatrix says, “And so you shall. First off, I wouldn’t have caught Florianne in time without Briala’s help. Her spies were all over the palace, watching for the venatori agents both the duke and duchess invited in. She furnished my people with weapons to stop them.”

 

“You were working together, then…?” Celene questions, voice going a touch soft.

 

Briala looks aside, cheeks and the tips of her ears heating. “It wasn’t… I…”

 

“That only proves that this knife-ear was sneaking around the palace. Whether her intentions were ill or not is mere conjecture!” Gaspard snarls, obviously on edge.

 

Bull leans over to Dorian where they are both standing on the ballroom floor with the others. “Gaspard’s losing it,” Bull murmurs into the mage’s ear.

 

“It appears so… not only did his sister double-cross him, but now he no longer has the Inquisition in his pocket…” Dorian replies, smirking a little, heart pounding in his chest. Get him, Beatrix.

 

“I suppose it is just conjecture… though the fact that you’ve been trying to bully the Council of Heralds into crowning you emperor is fact,” Beatrix responds sternly, tipping her chin up towards Gaspard fearlessly.

 

“Ha! A few idle threats hardly make me a traitor, Inquisitor,” Gaspard replies dismissively.

 

“Keep talking, Gaspard,” Briala mocks, “Eventually you’ll convince somebody.”

 

The crowd around Bull and Dorian murmurs in disapproval. More eyes turn towards the duke with suspicion.

 

“If you left it at threats, I would agree,” Beatrix says, and then gestures across the balcony, “However your follow-through, as always my dear duke, is impeccable.”

 

“Let me go, you brute!”

 

Dorian gasps in time with the crowd as the figure in the chevalier helm appears again, frog-marching the merc captain from earlier with one arm and dragging the councilmember’s body with the other. There are gasps and shrieks when the figure throws the body onto the ground at Gaspard’s feet before bowing its head to Beatrix in deference.

 

“That is the crest of your family on that dagger, is it not, Gaspard?” Beatrix asks, more to the people of the court than the duke himself, “The Council was in a deadlock over your claim, so you murdered one of Celene’s supporters to make up the difference and make your point deadly clear. You would stop at nothing to be emperor. And this man helped you sneak mercenaries and chevaliers into the palace.”

 

“Honestly, Inquisitor,” Gaspard laughs, even as sweat drips down the side of his face, “Given what’s happened tonight, sneaking in forces seems a sensible action. It was fortuitous that you uncovered Florianne’s plot before they were needed.”

 

The duke looks down at the dead man, then back up at Beatrix’s masked helper, squinting at them severely as if trying to figure out who they were.

 

“…besides… anyone can use a dagger. You have no proof that my hand dealt the killing blow,” Gaspard states with a smug smirk.

 

“By all means, continue to protest your innocence, Gaspard,” Dorian calls out from the crowd, “We find this performance endlessly entertaining!”

 

“Besides—do you really think I would go to all this trouble if I didn’t have proof of your treason?” Beatrix adds, raising her left hand. The mark on it glows faintly and Gaspard backs away as the court reacts negatively. “Calm yourselves. This is the mark of Andraste, not blood magic. It reacts to the rifts and strong magical energies… and coincidentally, thanks to my researcher Dagna’s perseverance, I’ve also found it reacts to lyrium as well...”

 

The green mark passes over the dagger handle, revealing a clear handprint of blue. Then Beatrix lifts her fingers, aiming the light from her hand towards Gaspard—and his right hand glows an identical blue, all over his fingers and palms.

 

“How—this isn’t—this is a trick!” Gaspard proclaims, stepping backwards, away from the advancing Inquisitor.

 

“Oh no, dear duke,” Beatrix states, hand’s light fading once all in the ballroom witnessed the reveal, “This is no trick. Me feigning adoration for you, making you think you could have not just the throne but also the Inquisition’s army as well… now that was a trick, Gaspard.”

 

Beatrix throws her shoulders back, head raising proudly. “I would never love a man as dishonorable as you, Gaspard. Now give up. You’ve been outplayed.”

 

“Why you little bitch—

 

Beatrix is stepping back out of the way as Celene’s guards close in to stop Gaspard, grabbing at the edges of her dress so she doesn’t trip. Her head whips around when another voice calls out loudly, “For Corypheus! Kill them! Kill them all!

 

Florianne’s back up, staggering slightly, but her command is still followed and the ballroom erupts in chaos.

 

“Inquisitor!” Dorian cries out as Beatrix stumbles away from Gaspard, who uses a dagger matching the one currently buried in the councilmember’s back to slice the throats of the guards trying to arrest him. Dorian doesn’t get a chance to try and intervene, he’s tangling with a harlequin who has suddenly appeared to his right—getting his staff up to block the knife being thrust at him.

 

Then the colorful assassin is being torn off like he weighs nothing, thrown into a wall by Bull. The qunari tries to charge up the stairs, but there’s more of Florianne’s goons there.

 

We’re not going to make it… Dorian thinks, panicking. They’re all fighting on the ballroom as non-combatants rush away from the battle screaming. The Inner Circle is holding its own against the forces, but there’s so many—

 

Beatrix bolts in a flurry of skirts down the stairs, Gaspard furiously following after her. He jumps over the banister, hooking her ankle with his foot. Beatrix tumbles forward, somehow managing to come up on her feet, grabbing the blade she’s secreted away on her thigh.

 

She jabs viciously at Gaspard, but the man is a trained close-quarters fighter and she is not. Gaspard shows no mercy, punching her right in the face—Beatrix making a feeble squeaking sound in reaction, grabbing her now gushing nose with her free hand to stem the flow.

 

“You took my crown away from me…” he growls, eyes alight with rage as he stalks towards her.

 

Beatrix straightens, swinging the blade in a wide arc that the man avoids easily again by ducking. He then kicks her right in the stomach and the Inquisitor groans in pain, falling back a step.

 

“Now I’m going to take everything from you,” he promises, slugging her in the face again as she throws a wild stab his way and misses a third time, falling to the ground, vulnerable…

 

BOSS!” Bull bellows, fighting four guys off of him at once trying to get up to her. Gaspard readies for the killing blow, pulling his arm back high…

 

…only to have his knife intercepted by a whirl of red fabric, clattering to the floor with the remains of a tattered Inquisition jacket.

 

Commander Cullen growls as he follows the move with a hard left cross that has Gaspard staggering back from him, head undoubtedly reeling. At Cullen’s feet a chevalier helmet spins in place from where it has been thrown aside, along with a rumpled black cloak.

 

“You—but how—” is all Gaspard gets out before Cullen kicks him square in the chest and over the banister.

 

“I couldn’t very well leave when I was owed a dance, Grand Duke,” Cullen declares, kneeling and helping a grateful Beatrix upright with care, “After all… I practiced very hard.”

 

Gaspard just groans from the bottom of the steps, passing out on the floor.

 

“Heh,” Beatrix laughs, holding her nose still, “You took your time…”

 

Dorian marvels at the way he looks at her, even amongst all the chaos and confusion, with nothing short of utter devotion.

 

“I’m sorry, darling,” Cullen replies, giving her his handkerchief before slugging out an approaching harlequin, “But I couldn’t see a bloody thing in that helmet.”

 

“…and you wrecked your jacket,” she adds chidingly and then blasts fire at a chevalier who is raising his sword to Cullen’s unprotected back.

 

“Well, it did need to be let out a little,” he states, Beatrix laughing in response through tears of relief. He holds her close, taking the sword from the fallen chevalier.

 

“Inquisition! To arms!” Cullen commands, Beatrix and him standing side by side as a united front once more.

 

“Maker’s balls,” Dorian says in shock, “They played all of us.”

 

Bull grimaces, lowering his battle-axe as Cullen’s forces swoop in from where they were hidden amongst the crowd and take out the opposition swiftly and neatly.

 

“Great,” Bull says, “Now I’m gonna have to spend my last sovereign just to buy enough beer to properly apologize to the boss…”

 

Dorian laughs, lightly slugging Bull in the arm in a show of camaraderie.

 

“Don’t worry,” he says, all affection, “I’ll chip in.”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“I can hardly believe it,” Josephine says for the umpteenth time since everything settled down, “You two—all of that arguing and fighting, all of that was just part of The Game?”

 

Beatrix is still nursing her nose with a bit of ice, smiling up at the commander even though it must hurt her to do so.

 

“Yes,” she replies, “A necessary evil. We suspected Gaspard from the start but we needed some way to find evidence, so…”

 

“You played the honeypot, Cullen played the jealous idiot and Gaspard fell for the whole thing,” Bull concludes, unable to help but be impressed by it all.

 

“Now now, ‘idiot’ is a rather harsh term,” Cullen states sulkily.

 

“I don’t know, Cullen,” Beatrix laughs, “You wailing after me like you were performing in an Antivan opera was a little bit idiotic—ow!” The redhead pouts as Cullen lightly flicks the tip of her sore nose. “Brute,” she sniffs.

 

“Still, I’m surprised, commander,” Leliana remarks, arms folding under her breasts as she arches an eyebrow at Cullen, “I thought you have no taste for The Game and here you are, an expert player… you even had me fooled.”

 

“I don’t have a taste for it,” Cullen says with a shrug of his shoulders, “But I find games are only as fun as the players on your team and I was fortunate to have an excellent teammate. Not to mention there is a certain strategy to the whole matter that appeals to me… even if being so duplicitous to my friends was a tad disconcerting. I am so very sorry, Josephine, for that display at dinner…”

 

Josephine shakes her head at that, smiling, “Think nothing of it, commander. I was rattled, yes but… I… I had a very kind person look after me…”

 

The Antivan blushes and Bull grins to himself as Blackwall clears his throat awkwardly.

 

“There will be time for apologies later,” Beatrix says, squeezing Cullen’s hand in hers, “For now… I think we have an empress to speak to, yes?”

 

“Indeed,” Cullen agrees and the duo excuse themselves to see to Celene and Briala.

 

Bull watches them awhile, not hearing the words but he can see the surprise on Celene’s face. Then the adoration that follows it, the elf looking away as she nods in agreement about something or other. Celene draws closer to Briala, holding her hand and the elf smiles, meeting the empress’ eyes with happiness.

 

Bull barely needs to hear the speech that follows, where Celene names Briala ‘Marquise of the Dales’.

 

“An empty title,” Solas remarks, appearing at his side, “But perhaps the title is not as important as the message it sends.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Bull asks, leaning on the banister, gaze following not the empress and her lover—but rather Dorian’s back as he talks to Vivienne. “And what message is that?”

 

Solas gives a knowing sort of smile, saying, “That the freedom to love another person is more important than ages of rules and structure.”

 

Bull blurts out a laugh, shaking his head, “How’d I know you were gonna turn this into a Qun thing…” he says sarcastically, drumming his fingers on the banister in consideration.

 

Cullen and the boss walk together down the steps towards the ballroom floor, the band playing something more upbeat and Ferelden for them both to dance to with big grins on their faces. Cassandra and Varric are talking in the corner, drinking wine—Cassandra glancing over the contents of one of Varric’s journals with increasing interest. Celene and Briala remain on the balcony together, holding hands and looking up at the stars together instead of alone.

 

“Ben-Hassrath takes Queen at F6,” Bull says suddenly.

 

“Ah, back to our game then? You’re deflecting, Bull…” Solas states, giving another one of those smartass smirks.

 

“And you’re losing. You’ve got no towers, you’re down to a single mage,” Bull states and looks up just in time to see Dorian staring back at him. The ‘vint nods towards the balcony and then walks out onto it on his own. Bull tries to ignore the invitation, focuses on the game.

 

“Too bad you wasted time moving that pawn to…” Bull begins to say and then stops, blinks and quickly visualizes the board in his head again. Solas’ smile widens a few teeth more.

 

“To…” Bull starts again and then scowls, “You sneaky sonuvabitch—”

 

“Mage to E7,” Solas declares, pushing off the banister, “Checkmate.”

 

“Rrgh,” Bull grumps, but Solas is right. He’s deflecting, he’s trying to hide behind some noble crap that isn’t his style. Trying to protect Dorian from himself or something when Dorian’s perfectly capable of handling his own shit. Sighing, Bull puts his hand out to the elven mage and Solas takes it.

 

“Nice game, mage,” Bull says, squeezing Solas’ hand.

 

The elf doesn’t flinch, nodding back with respect, “And you as well… Tal-Vashoth.”

 

Bull parts from Solas, heading out onto the balcony. Dorian’s leaning on the banister wearily, but he turns his head in response to Bull’s footsteps, smiling at the other man warmly. The moonlight hitting his face reminds Bull of nights ago when he saw the same sight in a more… sensual situation.

 

“Hey,” Dorian says, “Did you see Blackwall and the ambassador snogging in the corner? I was about to be sick on my shoes. Had to come out for a breath of fresh air.”

 

“Musta missed that,” Bull replies, leaning on the railing beside Dorian, “You doing alright, Dorian?”

 

“Me? Yes,” Dorian answers immediately, giving a weary shrug, “It’s just been a rather long night...”

 

The mage glances at Bull and Bull looks back instead of looking away. Dorian stares at his hands again, pulling at the tips of his gloves idly, “So what brings you out here?”

 

“Ehhn…” Bull hedges, “They ran out of that cheese dip. Asked for more, and they gave me this look, the assholes…”

 

“At least you didn’t plant their faces into a crème brulee in retaliation,” Dorian replies laughingly and it’s telling that the mage doesn’t seem to mind that Bull doesn’t just admit to wanting to follow after him. Dorian’s getting used to him being a stubborn asshole and Bull hates himself a little for doing that to him.

 

“Yeah,” Bull says, “Wouldn’t want to have to have you save me from myself again. People will talk.”

 

“People often have nothing better to do than talk,” Dorian agrees, ears warming at the mention of his earlier assist.

 

They stay quietly like that, watching the stars twinkle overhead. After a long moment, Bull reaches over and pulls his arm around Dorian’s body, bringing him closer. The mage makes an inquisitive noise and Bull leans in to kiss him for several long, lingering moments.

 

“You looked cold,” Bull explains and Dorian smiles in response, elbowing into Bull’s space—acting like he was fluffing a pillow for himself.

 

“Hey…” Bull says, heart pounding wildly in his chest, “…about that dance you mentioned earlier…”

 

Dorian blinks up from under his arm with disbelief, breath catching in his throat a little as his ears burn. Bull can’t even begin to describe how damn pretty he looks like that, every time Bull surprises him. He’s gotta do that more often…

 

“I wasn’t actually—”

 

“I just wanted to know if it was still a possibility…” Bull says before he loses his nerve, “I mean… the music’s finally got enough of a beat to it. And they’re out of food…”

 

Dorian snorts at that. “Oh,” he says dryly, but pulls away, offering himself up in dance position, “I see how it is—”

 

Bull grabs him by his waist, pulls him closer than is probably ‘appropriate’ for Orlesian ballroom dancing. There’s that look again, a flutter of long eyelashes, rimmed dark with kohl… a throat bobbing with a hopeful swallowing motion, Dorian’s teeth catching on his lip slightly…

 

“And I want to be near you,” Bull adds, “For as long as we can. I want to do this… whatever this is…”

 

Dorian’s breath leaves him in a gust and his smile is brighter than all those twinkling stars in the sky. Bull presses his forehead to Dorian’s as they sway in place together, creating a quiet, warm, safe place between their bodies. It brings the word ‘home’ to mind, even though Bull doesn’t say so aloud.

 

“Me too,” Dorian agrees immediately, hand running over Bull’s angular face. He traces the ridges of his horns, runs his fingers over every scar and imperfection with nothing short of adoration, “For as long as you’re mine.”

 

Bull doesn’t have the words to respond and he doesn’t need any. He surges forward again, kissing Dorian, over and over again until they’re both breathless.

 

Dorian’s putty in his arms, practically purring in delight as the bridge of his nose brushes Bull’s lightly.

 

“You still haven’t told me what it means…”

 

“Hm?”

 

“Kadan,” Dorian clarifies, looking up at Bull curiously, “What does it mean?”

 

Bull chuckles at that question, breath warmly gusting against Dorian’s cheek.

 

“You can’t guess?”

 

“Bull…”

 

“Kadan means that you’re important to me, Dorian,” Bull explains, brushing the back of his fingers over Dorian’s face, all that smooth dark skin shining in the moonlight. “But literally…”

 

He takes Dorian’s hand and places it over his chest, slightly to the left.

 

“It means ‘my heart’…”

 

Dorian swallows again, fingers tensing on Bull’s chest with want.

 

“Kadan,” he repeats and tiptoes up to kiss Bull again.

Chapter Text

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO – THE INQUISITOR’S BEDROOM, SKYHOLD KEEP

 

“So your plan,” Cullen says, laying on his stomach in bed with the floor plans of the Winter Palace laid out in front of him, “Is for me to look like an absolute moron and for you to act like an utter bitch.”

 

“Something like that,” Beatrix replies, toying with the little place markers they’re laying out on the map to indicate troop positions within the palace. She trots a horse figurine idly across the parchment, shifting to her side and smiling as Cullen’s eyes drop distractedly to her bare breasts before turning back to their battle plan. “As a united front we seem formidable. It’ll pull a stronger hand than we’re ready for.”

 

“But if we act divided… we’ll be able to cover more ground than we would together and…” Beatrix tiptoes her fingers up along Cullen’s back, admiring the firm muscles there, “…we’ll have a better chance to catch Gaspard slipping up.”

 

Cullen rumbles a little, shifting onto his elbow in the bed so he can look Beatrix in the eye. She smiles at the way his hair is all ruffled from their lovemaking, curls showing more where she raked her fingers through those lovely blonde locks.

 

“You’re sure the duke’s the one planning the assassination?” he asks, concern lining his brow.

 

“…not entirely, but given the evidence we already have, I can’t imagine he’s not involved in some capacity,” Beatrix states, picking up one of the many damning letters to leaf through casually, “And he has the most to gain out of all parties involved.”

 

Cullen yawns, cracking his jaw as he looks over the materials in front of him. “Well then that’s settled, let’s get the bastard,” he declares and smirking at the laugh this gains him, “And if he’s not working directly with Corypheus I doubt a man with his political ‘reach’ wouldn’t be able to find out who is in exchange for not having the Inquisition stomp on his head…”

 

Beatrix nods, setting the figurine down and leaning up to kiss Cullen’s brow, brushing a blonde curl back into place. “I know you wanted those chevaliers…” she begins, apologetic.

 

“Not more than I want our success. And at this point I would wager our boys could match the mettle of any chevalier…” Cullen declares, cupping her hand close to his face.

 

Beatrix’s eyebrows arch in response at that, lips curling. “Our boys? Why commander, I didn’t realize we’d already begun a family! And neither of us married—the scandal of it…!”

 

Cullen’s ears go a wonderful red and he buries his face in both hands as Beatrix laughs, turning onto her back, papers falling from the bed when the motion moves the mattress.

 

“I did not mean like—oh, you are an absolute—”

 

Beatrix ceases holding her stomach in laughter, glancing over at Cullen, “Oh? I’m an absolute what, commander?”

 

“An absolutely beautiful woman,” Cullen declares, leaning over to frame her face with his hands, bracketing her in with his heavy arms. She curls her hands up his biceps as he dips to kiss her, their arguments and machinations and debate ceasing for a moment of soft silence.

 

“That’s not what you were going to say,” Beatrix concludes when they break apart, but she’s smiling all the same.

 

“No it wasn’t,” Cullen agrees, “But I’ll have to save up my unkind words for the ball, yes?”

 

Beatrix’s hand runs up and down his back as he shifts on top of her, a warm living blanket. Cullen was a Templar and still embodies the purity of the Order she believed in when she was a girl. Beatrix feels so safe with him like this. Nothing can touch her here, nothing can hurt her. He would not allow it.

 

“And I will forgive them all,” she replies, absently tracing down his side to his hip.

 

“I’m grateful for your understanding, my lady,” Cullen states and then chews on his lip a moment, “But I must ask… could you… that is…”

 

She waits. Normally she would tease and taunt until he stops stammering but Cullen’s amber eyes are quite serious. She waits and her own breath catches in her throat.

 

“I mean, after all this… if there is an after… I just wonder… you came from a large family, as did I…”

 

Something stills within her and she blinks rapidly. Another surprise. Cullen is often so morose and serious (the boys in the barracks have started calling him ‘Commander Sullen’ behind his back—Beatrix needs to have a word with Varric) that the idea he would even be thinking about the future for either of them is novel.

 

“Are you asking if I would want children, commander?” she questions, getting right to the point.

 

“I’m sorry, it’s not really—”

 

Beatrix interrupts him with a firm kiss, smiling toothily into the act. When she parts, she lets their foreheads rest together for a moment before opening her eyes to look into his.

 

“Scads, Cullen,” she declares, “Providing we all emerge from this hale and hearty. A veritable litter.”

 

Cullen laughs. Beatrix likes to imagine that ever fold of a smile she makes in that face erases a crease of pain, of worry. She likes to trace the lines with her fingers and she thinks he knows, he always quiets when she does, like he’s also feeling the hurt being smoothed out bit by bit.

 

“Now it suddenly makes sense…”

 

“What does?”

 

“Why you have so many friends who need you to look after them, Mother Hen…” Cullen replies with a chuckle. A chuckle that stops when he notices Beatrix’s face fall, her soft lips downturned. “What? What’s wrong? What did I say—”

 

Beatrix shakes her head shortly, eyes stinging just a little.

 

“No it’s just… I just realized… I’m going to have to lie to them, all of them,” she says, “And they’ll believe the worst of me… and the thought of that… hurts.”

 

“…but it’s just to protect them, Beatrix,” Cullen replies, “You said so yourself, this is so we don’t pull a stronger hand than we’re prepared for.”

 

“Y-yes, but…” Beatrix’s throat bobs, “You’re right, Cullen. You’re so right... they’re mine and it will look like I’m abandoning them…”

 

“Bea…”

 

She rubs at her eyes, hiccups, “Don’t you dare tell any of them that I cried over them like this, Cullen. Especially not Dorian!”

 

Cullen shakes his head, kissing a tear away from a warm cheek. “Somehow I don’t think he’d laugh at this,” he says kindly, brushing her hair through his fingers, “And I think they will all understand, in the end. Vivienne will probably give us a standing ovation.”

 

The mage’s tears cease, laughter bubbling from her lips. She turns towards her Templar, kisses him again. Both of them have seen the worst of what the other’s order has to offer. They see none of that in one another and it heals a rift that’s far older than the ones Beatrix now tends to with her hand.

 

“Okay,” she says, picking up their materials again, “Let’s focus on the battle plan then, commander…”

 

“Of course, Inquisitor,” Cullen declares and begins to point out various avenues on the map, talking about tactics and formation with earnest for several minutes.

 

Several extraordinarily long minutes. Beatrix’s eyes stray to the forgotten figurines and place markers.

 

“—and we will then be able to close off the eastern—are you listening, Beatrix?”

 

The redhead’s hand freezes mid-way placing another horse figurine on Cullen’s rump to join the three others she’s snuck on there while he’s gone over the battle plan.

 

“Maker’s breath! What are you doing with those?” he gripes, reddening.

 

“They’re marching over the hill!” she declares and squeaks when he upends her and the maps too.

 

“I’ll march over your hill,” Cullen declares and kisses her laughter silent.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

It becomes apparent that their ruse won’t work on everyone in their group, when Cole catches Beatrix and Cullen speaking to one another after their ‘argument’ over breakfast.

 

They had been fairly secretive about their comings and goings but Cole had stronger powers of perception than anyone else. However, his understanding was limited…

 

“You and Cullen say words that hurt, but they’re lies,” Cole observes worriedly, “Slithering, stinging spears slip softly from your mouths… but they’re not real… why would you do it?”

 

Beatrix glances to Cullen, who looks back helplessly. The Inquisitor makes a decision then and there, crouching close to Cole…

 

“Cole, can Cullen and I trust you with a secret?”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Their eyes meet in the crowded ballroom, watching Gaspard and his sister. A new factor, requiring a new approach. They will have to push their plan forward, bring it to a boil faster.

 

Cullen’s tossing his drinks into the plant behind him after a few feigned sips. No one seems to notice. Beatrix makes a decision, approaches him with determination.

 

“Perhaps you should lay off those caramels Josephine keeps sending you, hm?” she says in the midst of their argument.

 

Caramel. It’s the code word they decided on—odd enough to not come up in normal conversation, but average enough that anyone listening in wouldn’t realize it was the starting pistol of their plan.

 

Cullen’s eyes narrow and she turns away, knowing her command had been heard even as he cries out in offense in reply. She just sees his hand tuck into his coat, where the phial Dagna prepared is. He palms it in his right, his dominant hand, and she walks to Gaspard to solicit the dance.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Cullen throws the first punch wildly and Gaspard easily blocks it with a hand, capturing Cullen’s fist. No one hears the phial break or notice the gleam of the lyrium imbued compound spilling over their joined hands—because Cullen’s forehead is cracking hard against Gaspard’s face.

 

I think he’s enjoying this a little too much… Beatrix thinks in amusement as she gasps in shock and cries for him to stop.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Cullen’s men frogmarch him out of the ball under the guise of guards. Once they’re out of sight they let go and salute him.

 

“Take the bulk of our forces around the outer wall—we’ll climb into the ramparts from the northern edge of the palace as planned,” Cullen says, pulling on the cloak and helm, “I will survey ahead. Wait for my signal, then move in. Swift as a fennec, silent as the grave, understand?”

 

“Sir!”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Cullen really means to stick to the plan. He does. But he has difficulty staying away from her. Just like he had difficulty years ago, when a pretty elven mage caught his eye. He was barely a year into his service as a full Templar back then. It seems ages ago.

 

Cullen knows his weaknesses well. What happened at Kinloch Hold, terrible as it was, was quite instructive. The demons held him in place, forced him to watch his fellows slaughtered like pigs. But the worst was when they came to him in her form, tempted him with smiles and promises.

 

The blonde saw a wonderful life with the Warden—Nevia, the name he knew her by—played out by demons of Desire and Temptation. Preying on his yearning for love, forbidden though his infatuation was. Cullen knows when he falls, he falls hard and fast. It’s why after that ordeal he ran from Ferelden, ran from people and relationships, threw himself into his work.

 

Beatrix brought him out of that melancholy with her easy confidence and impish grins, her silly jokes and that laugh that made his heart feel like a fluttering bird in his breast.

 

“Cullen,” she says, once Celene’s arcane advisor leaves, “This isn’t where you’re supposed to be…”

 

Cullen sighs and emerges from behind the lion statue he’s been hiding behind while Beatrix idly twirls the iron key around a finger.

 

“I was concerned,” he admits, “Leliana vouched for this—Morrigan, was it?—but she knew the woman during the Blight. Everyone was different back then. Even me. Especially me. I wanted to make sure you were safe."

 

Beatrix's lip twitches in a soft smile and she touches the edge of his helm, tracing the curve of a stern face etched into the metal.

 

“I’ll be fine, I promise. Did you find it?”

 

“Yes,” Cullen says with a nod, “Dagna’s really outdone herself with this lyrium formula, it showed right up when I passed the rune over it. Can you believe the man had his orders to his men hidden in a secret vault under his trophy room? If it wasn’t for his handprint I wouldn’t have found the switch on the statue of Emperor Florian…”

 

“Tch,” Beatrix snorts, “Orlesians.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Alright, I’ll try to follow up on Morrigan’s information, you find those mercenaries,” Beatrix says, “Don’t kill them—we might need them as evidence.”

 

“What shall I do with them then?”

 

Beatrix makes a considering noise, then smirks—“Well, our boys need disguises, yes? What better guise than that of the men Gaspard thinks are on his side?”

 

Cullen chuckles and nods, clasps her hand to his. “As you wish, Inquisitor,” he replies and turns to go. He feels her eyes on his back for a long time before—

 

“Dorian, Bull!” she says, surprised, “What are you doing here?”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

The rescue shocks Beatrix because it isn’t part of the plan. Cullen is supposed to be getting the troops in place, not following after her.

 

She cannot say she’s not grateful, if Cullen didn’t throw that dagger right at that moment—

 

Cullen stands up from his crouch on the balcony, curtains blowing around him. Beatrix can practically feel the smirk he’s directing at her.

 

He raises two fingers to his brow, salutes and disappears over the edge of the terrace.

 

Show-off… Beatrix thinks, slowly rising off the floor. Bull’s suspicious—of course he is—and is trying to track Cullen’s movements but the blonde makes good time, already on the opposite roof. And he should be hurrying, considering the time he’s wasting tailing me like I’m some waif who can’t protect herself…

 

Beatrix bitterly kicks at her broken staff, finding the blade intact. She may be a rose, but roses have thorns. She secrets it away on her thigh as Briala arrives just in time to save a distracted Bull from an errant knife.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“What do you know of Florianne?” Beatrix asks Briala. Bull and Dorian had wandered off downstairs and Cole followed after when she asked him to do so.

 

“Gaspard’s sister? Not much, only that she’s not the delicate blossom she plays at being…” Briala remarks callously in response. “Apparently she made all the arrangements for this gala. She tried to leave me out of the matter but someone advocated for my presence… probably as a possible scapegoat should things go bad…”

 

Beatrix has read every piece of correspondence she can get her hands on, anything that helped give her an idea of the character of their three main players. Briala’s role in both Gaspard and Celene’s lives was the most interesting of the tales she browsed in preparation for the ball.

 

“Or maybe,” she says, with authority, “Celene wants you here because of your past. Because she still cares about you and by extension, your cause.”

 

Briala’s arms cross protectively over herself. Beatrix took notice earlier, when she accused the elf of not alerting Celene, how defensive the woman got over talking about this subject.

 

“Let me be clear, Inquisitor,” Briala states, voice quaking, “Whatever Celene and I had doesn’t matter tonight. She will not listen to me.”

 

“You know something’s going to happen tonight. To her. Someone’s trying to kill her, Briala,” Beatrix insists, “I am trying to find out who that someone is. I don’t believe it’s you. I believe… from what I’ve read and researched… that you, above all others, care the most for Celene.”

 

The silence that comes from the elf in response speaks volumes on its own.

 

“I have to return to the ballroom,” Beatrix states, “If you have anything to—”

 

“Florianne had a large argument with Gaspard not long after your arrival,” Briala says, “My people overheard, which I believe is why they were targeted. They didn’t hear much though, just Florianne getting angry and telling Gaspard that ‘The Master’ would be unhappy if Gaspard really was bedding the enemy…”

 

Briala smirks, “Then there were several disparaging remarks towards you…”

 

“I can imagine, thank you,” Beatrix says, taking a deep breath, “Well, Briala, that helps significantly. I might just have to take to the dance floor after all…”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

It’s unsurprising to Beatrix that her dance with the duchess leads to this point. The only regret she’s experiencing, staring down dozens of arrowheads and a strange warp in the Veil—is that her friends are in danger as well.

 

Especially since they still believe the worst of her. She feels Bull’s stare penetrating her the most and licks her lips, fingers and palm of her marked hand tingling.

 

“Bull,” Beatrix asks quietly after the door closes behind Florianne, “Do you trust me?”

 

“…absolutely, boss,” is the astonishing reply and Bull’s words give her courage as she rips open the rift before them in a blast of light.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Cullen often reads to Beatrix in bed. Usually its Inquisition business, letters from allies and such—but every once in a while she can convince him to relax and take a break, he’ll pick up a leisure book.

 

They both are fond of mysteries. Varric’s ‘Hard in Hightown’ is a favorite of course, but Beatrix is also fond of the classic detective stories, such as the Knight-Captain Pierre series from Orlesian author Francois LeClair. The one aspect of the stories she enjoys the most is ‘the parlor scene’—the point where the detective gathers all the suspects in one place, typically a parlor, and reveals how the crime was committed.

 

Even though everything is very tense and dangerous as she stands before the Orlesian court, Florianne’s knife seconds away from stabbing into Celene’s side—Beatrix can’t help but be a little tickled that she’s getting to have her very own parlor scene.

 

Somehow her words must have had an effect on Briala, the woman jumps to Celene’s rescue in the nick of time. Florianne’s down but not out, not entirely—however it is Gaspard that gives Beatrix cause to panic.

 

He’s bearing down on her hard and fast. Beatrix is seeing stars from the blows he’s given her but it’s the murderous expression on his face that makes her freeze in place.

 

She’s back in the Tower, angry Templar bearing down over her, cursing at her, hits her across the face, eye stinging and bleeding…

 

Cullen’s suddenly there, shielding her from the killing blow. He kicks Gaspard over the railing with more force than is probably necessary before helping her up.

 

There’s no time for tears of relief, she smiles at him through the pain and they trade their quips as usual, fighting once more at one another’s side happily.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

After explanations are made to the others in the Inquisition, they dance the night away together to upbeat Ferelden violin instead of stuffy Orlesian flutes.

 

“I don’t know what’s more swollen,” Beatrix says, her shoes dangling from her fingertips as she walks alongside Cullen down the steps of the palace, “My nose or my feet…”

 

“Good thing we’ll be taking the carriages to Val Royeaux,” Cullen chuckles and then bends to scoop her knees up from under her, carrying her bridal style in his arms as she gasps. He’s gotten bolder and Beatrix likes it.

 

“And if we didn’t have them?” Beatrix wonders, leaning her head against his shoulder, “Would you carry me all the way to Val Royeaux?”

 

“Maybe. You might have to lose a pound or two…”

 

Beatrix gasps, laughs and socks him lightly in the shoulder for the jest. Cullen responds by kissing her rude response away from her lips—careful to not press too hard, considerate of her injury.

 

Taking this journey to Val Royeaux is hardly necessary, they can more easily return to Skyhold without the detour but she insisted on it.

 

After all of this drama they all deserve a vacation.

Chapter Text

 

 

Light hits his face gently from the gap in the curtains and stirs him to waking. Normally Dorian would grouch and duck under the covers, but today he smiles, eyelashes fluttering lightly.

 

“Now that’s a pretty picture,” the other man rumbles appreciatively and Dorian laughs softly, voice rough from all the exertions of the night prior.

 

“Mmn… and how long have you been awake and admiring?” he wonders, giving a languid stretch before rolling closer to Bull, tossing his leg possessively over the qunari’s larger thigh.

 

“Not long,” Bull says, kissing Dorian’s forehead.

 

“…Hissrad,” Dorian replies, continuing to work on his pronunciation of Qunlat as he calls Bull out on the lie.

 

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out,” Bull replies with a chuckle, running his hand up and down Dorian’s back in a terribly distracting manner.

 

Dorian huffs, slides on top of Bull. The sheet falls away from him, baring his skin to the coolness of the room. Bull’s gaze is all for him, flicking over every coppery goose-fleshed inch with nothing short of total desire. Nobody’s looked at Dorian like that and it’s addicting. Dorian’s a mixture of pleased and terrified as he comes to realize he’s never going to tire of that expression on the qunari’s face; worse, that he needs it, needs Bull to look at him like that, like he’s something rare and precious.

 

“No, it’s not,” he declares with authority, fingers sliding over steel gray skin, tracing scars and swirling around dark nipples that go taut at his touch, “Your name is The Iron Bull.”

 

Bull’s face changes from amusement to affection in an instant. He smiles, large hand sweeping up Dorian’s body to the back of his neck, squeezing there fondly as he levers himself up on his elbow. Their foreheads meet briefly, breaths warm in the space forming between their mouths…

 

“So it is, kadan,” he agrees and kisses Dorian. Their tongues aren’t as hurried right now and while Dorian is incredibly fond of their quick rough shags in camp—there’s something to be said for nice and slow.

 

“Thanks for remembering the ‘The’,” Bull adds with a wink and Dorian laughs, socks him in the arm.

 

“You’re ridiculous.”

 

“Ahuh, so what does it say about you that you keep sleeping with me?”

 

“You’re the one who sleeps with me,” Dorian declares, rocking on his knees and shimmying back under the covers, “And we’re not sleeping— I’m sucking you off right now.”

 

Bull blinks at that, raising an eyebrow, “Dorian, you don’t—okay alright, that’s good, you’re the boss… hnngh…!”

 

Dorian grins underneath the blankets as he settles between Bull’s thighs. They’re big like the rest of him, full of long healed marks over the silvery skin and Dorian likes how easy it is to rest against them. He likes sliding his hands up them, watching as Bull’s soft prick twitches and firms up from his teasing.

 

His lips brush over Bull’s belly, over his hip, exploring. His fingers trace Bull’s knee—tracing the threads of that thick knot of scar tissue that seems to go all the way down Bull’s leg from his thigh. It’s different from Bull’s other wounds, it’s deeper and longer and more jagged. And it’s in an area that wouldn’t be vulnerable normally, not unless someone really close up inflicted it, or if Bull was restrained…

 

Dorian wants to ask, but he doesn’t. He’s afraid of pushing too hard, not just because he doesn’t want to ruin this, but because he has his own skeletons in the closet he wants left be. He understands.

 

Besides—it’s more fun to focus on the now, like lipping his way up over Bull’s sac, sucking the soft skin between his lips in little pecking kisses that have the other man groaning and grasping the sheets at his sides. Bull’s prick hardens, throbs above untouched and Dorian intercepts Bull’s hand without looking; slaps it firmly on the back of the knuckles when the man tries to touch himself.

 

“Ow! Alright, alright… control freak…” Bull mutters, hissing a breath between his teeth when Dorian nips at him in response.

 

This coming from the man who is constantly tying me up… Dorian thinks with a snort as he slides upward, runs his tongue up along that thick vein that spans the length of Bull’s cock. His tongue makes sinuous swirls over the hard flesh, paying attention to the tip, foreskin pulled back revealing the blood-dark head. Bull’s already wet there, Dorian taking pride in his good work and flicking his tongue over the damp beads—Bull cursing in response.

 

“Kadan…” he rumbles again, voice rising in desperation.

 

Now that he knows what it means, Dorian’s addicted to being called that word. Like all of Qunlat words it’s very terse in tone, but Bull draws the two syllables out, makes them heavier and more meaningful somehow.

 

“Say it again,” Dorian orders, sliding a hand upward towards the nightstand. He keeps Bull distracted by sucking the first few inches into his mouth as his fingers find the small jar of salve. It’s getting rather light, they’ll have to get some more—maybe something better and more appropriate for their use. They are, after all, in Val Royeaux—nowhere else would have better, save for Antiva perhaps.

 

Bull chews his lip, bunches his fingers into the fabric harder. He’s grinning, gritting his teeth around the word that wants to escape. Dorian glances up, sees this and arches his eyebrow high.

 

Oh you bastard

 

Bull’s resisting his order. Somehow that thrills Dorian almost as much as it irritates him. If Bull won’t call him kadan on command, well, Dorian knew ways he could make him do it…

 

“Vashedan…!” Bull grunts as Dorian pulls him deeper and hums. Dorian’s a little concerned Bull’s going to end up with his horns stuck in the headboard (again) if he keeps throwing his head back like that—then again it is too fun to glance up at the long tempting line of the qunari’s thickly muscled neck.

 

He doesn’t let up, though instead of bobbing his head to and fro, he focuses on the tip so he can work on getting the jar open with his hands. It is getting light, Dorian has to scrape his fingers along the sides to get enough of the balm on them. Not that Bull would complain—the qunari doesn’t shy from pain.

 

“Ngh… Dorian…” Fresh sweat breaks out over the qunari’s silvery skin as Dorian’s fingers work up inside of him. Bull tosses the blankets back from them both with a shaking hand so he can watch, spreading his large thighs further apart to give Dorian better access.

 

“Yes dear?” Dorian quips, scraping his teeth along Bull’s hip and sucking a bruise there.

 

“You… rrrgh… nobody likes a tease, you know…”

 

“Funny, I like you well enough,” Dorian replies and hooks his fingers deeper, two of them now. Bull grunts and throws an arm across his face, hips arching back and open.

 

Bull’s fairly muscular and intimidating (well until one found out what a light touch he was) but this is one of the few soft spots he has. Dorian takes his time opening him up on his fingers so he can explore it. Hot, quivering, pulling at his digits in a tight clench…

 

“Mmn, you’re doing so well,” Dorian purrs in a pleased tone, “Knees up, there you go, very good… look at you, opening up so nice and easy for me… I bet you want to touch yourself, don’t you?”

 

Bull’s hiding his eye but Dorian can clearly see his down-turned lips, the slight ridge of a snarl in his nose as he’s teased. Dorian chuckles, pulls out his digits to get a little more balm and then comes back with three. The qunari’s jaw goes slack, angry expression gone.

 

“But you won’t will you? You’ll be a good boy for me, right Bull?” Dorian asks and Bull’s got one hand on the back of his own thigh to help hike it up while the other claws at the sheets. He doesn’t try to reach down again, throat bobbing as Dorian leans into the movements of his hand, stronger, deeper.

 

“Yes,” Bull agrees, voice like thunder.

 

Dorian has to grip himself painfully tight to take the edge off. Nothing is quite so exciting as Bull—huge and imposing and physically stronger—surrendering to him utterly. Dorian’s breath comes a little faster, fingering Bull a little more roughly and watching the other man undulate in response, pushing back into the motions.

 

“Do I have to tie your hands?” Dorian asks, flicking his tongue over the other man’s prick. Bull’s fully hard now, cock curving up to the left slightly, thick and engorged. Drops well up from the tip and there’s a sizeable pool of precum forming in the dips of Bull’s abdomen.

 

“No,” Bull responds.

 

“Do you know your watchword?” Dorian checks, like Bull does for him.

 

It seems to surprise the bigger man, he lifts his arm slightly from his ruddy face and locks his gaze with Dorian’s.

 

“Katoh,” he replies obediently, licking his lips, “Yours is maleficar.”

 

“Good,” Dorian says, fingers free as he strokes himself, cock glistening with what little balm remained for their use, “Then know this, you either come from being fucked or you don’t come at all. You will ask my permission before you do. If you come without my leave or if you try to touch yourself—I’ll tie you down and tan your arse for it.”

 

Bull chuckles, “Not much of a punishment, Dorian—ow!”

 

Dorian lets go of the nipple he twisted, Bull giving him a puppy-eyed look in response to the abuse. Dorian’s ears are red and he huffs impatiently, shoving a pillow under Bull’s hips.

 

“Have I made myself perfectly clear, qunari?

 

Dorian swears he sees Bull’s dick jump at the snarled word, his eye going all dark and hungry. There is definitely something there that’s worth exploring, perhaps in a game of ‘evil naughty magister and captured qunari spy’. For now he just takes solace in the sharp nod Bull gives him in response.

 

“Good,” Dorian says and pushes up Bull’s knee more to expose him, “Hold onto that for me, would you?”

 

Bull grunts and does so, big fingers spanning the width of his thigh and digging in slightly to the thick flesh. Dorian really likes Bull’s legs. His lap is perfect for sitting on and much to Bull’s chagrin he’s become Dorian’s new favorite reading perch. And Dorian likes them like this too, his eyes shutting as he slowly pushes into the qunari, Bull’s other thigh hugging heavily against his side as he takes him.

 

“Fuck… Dorian… fuck,” Bull moans out before biting down on his own lip to stop himself from babbling.

 

“That’s the ah… general idea, Bull,” Dorian replies, breathing heavily himself. He brings to mind everything horrible and arousal killing because if he opens his eyes right now, sees Bull laid out and needy in front of him, he’s going to come right-fucking-now.

 

Giant spiders… nug’s feet… getting kissed by a druffalo… Blackwall naked on a bear skin rug…

 

The last one does it and he can open his eyes, fingers tense on Bull’s leg as he pulls out a scant inch and fucks in again. Nice and slow, luxuriating in the feeling of being inside the other man. Bull tenses around him, the man’s muscle showing here too, with how he tries to clench on Dorian and hold him in, in…

 

“You love this, don’t you?” Dorian murmurs, sliding his fingers up over Bull’s chest, squeezing at dark nipples until they stand stiff at his touch, Bull’s cock jerking in reaction to the harsh pinches, “Getting spread out and fucked good… you’ve needed this for a while, haven’t you? You’re so tight inside, I haven’t been giving you nearly enough attention here, have I? So sorry, darling—I’ll try not to neglect you so much anymore…”

 

Dorian kisses at the scars at Bull’s knee, moustache brushing the marks as his hips work lazily away, fucking the other man deep and slow. Bull shivers in reaction, mouth open and panting as he pushes his hips back into the movement.

 

“Dorian… Dorian please,” Bull groans and Dorian’s tickled at how little it takes to get Bull so desperate for more.

 

“Oh? Begging already? And here I thought it would take more than a little teasing,” Dorian replies, punctuating his claim with a hard thrust that sets Bull’s teeth on edge, “Though you’ll have to clarify—I’ll absolutely please, but what is it you want specifically, Bull?”

 

“I hate you,” Bull grunts.

 

“No you don’t,” Dorian says, self-assured by necessity.

 

Bull groans, chest working like a bellows as he catches his breath, “Harder… and… faster… keep… keep talking to me…”

 

Dorian’s breath catches, his pace quickening as Bull keens underneath him—thigh squeezing tight to Dorian’s side. They’re sweating as they saw together, Dorian’s voice hitching as he speaks:

 

“And say what, exactly…? Tell you how exquisite you are? How it feels inside you, hot and clutching like you don’t want to let me go?” Dorian grins, leaning in and over his taller lover, mouth brushing against a pointed ear, “Or maybe you want me to tell you what a filthy cockhungry slut you are… spreading your sweet arse open for a ‘vint…”

 

Bull’s hand rushes up from the bedding to grasp at Dorian’s shoulder, sweaty and sliding against his skin. His neck arches, simultaneously trying to get away and get closer to the teasing tickle of Dorian’s moustache against his ear.

 

“Dor—” Bull barely can speak, huge hand sliding along the mage’s firm back, pressing fingerprint bruises into Dorian’s skin.

 

A rush of words leaves Dorian as he thrusts deeper, harder, jarring Bull’s body and the bed as well—the frame smacking the wall as they both move. He doesn’t even know what he’s saying, filth and profanity and declarations of desire—of love—leaving his lips in turn. Bull eats it up, cock rubbing between their stomachs until Dorian sits up on his knees again, puts his back into it.

 

“Oh fuck, please, Dorian, please!

 

Sweat drips into Dorian’s eyes but he forces them open, wants to see when he says, “Yes, Bull—come for me…”

 

Before Dorian’s hand even reaches Bull’s prick, the man’s muscles lock around him strong and tight, the words alone enough. He can’t move, Bull’s arse flexes taut as the qunari howls, cock jerking as he spills in several great spurts, abdomen tensing with each shot.

 

The sight of him, the sounds he makes undo Dorian more than the way Bull’s squeezing at him. He shouts as well, they can be loud here and it feels amazingly freeing. Dorian can barely manage another two shaky thrusts before he follows after Bull, shuddering for a moment before going lax, falling onto the other man.

 

Their breaths are harsh in that quiet moment, Dorian feeling dizzy with that wave of exhaustion and satisfaction. Bull grunts uncomfortably after a moment and Dorian realizes the other man’s still holding himself up and open.

 

“Knee,” Bull grits out, “Cramping…”

 

“Kaffas—sorry, Bull,” Dorian apologizes, pulling himself up and out as Bull hisses. He tries not to stare lustfully at the gleam of oil and his own spend on Bull’s rounded backside but like he’s said to everyone in their party—he is a bad, bad man.

 

“S’alright,” Bull mumbles, smiling dumbly, “Damn… that was… damn.”

 

Dorian chuckles throatily, passing his hand over Bull’s leg. Squeezing, massaging out the kinks. Bull groans again, eye fluttering shut.

 

“How monosyllabic of you,” Dorian says, “I may swoon.”

 

“Shut up,” Bull responds with a laugh of his own, his arms going up over his head as he splays out under Dorian. His posture is so open and full of trust; it touches Dorian right under his ribs, seeing Bull feel safe enough with him to be like that. “And keep doing that,” Bull adds, nodding towards Dorian’s hand on his leg.

 

“…as you wish,” Dorian says with a smile, kissing the other man’s temple before sitting back and letting Bull’s leg rest across his knees. Dorian cracks his fingers and sets himself about the task with vigor, Bull moaning again in minutes from the massage. The qunari gets even louder when Dorian adds magic to the mix, heating up his hands just so…

 

“OY!” Several loud thumps bang against their wall about five minutes later. “SOME PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO SLEEP IN! STOP CARRYING ON ALREADY!”

 

They both look at one another and laugh and Dorian just has to kiss Bull again, mouths slick and warm together. They part a moment later, Bull reaching up to affectionately tousle Dorian’s already wrecked hair.

 

“Well,” Bull says, “I’ve always wanted to see if you can fit two in those fancy Orlesian clawfoot tubs…”

 

The qunari smirks up at him, adding a beat later, “Wanna try… kadan?”

 

It shouldn’t mean much, that Qunlat word… but it does, Dorian feeling light and floaty. Giddy, even.

 

“Sounds like a plan,” he agrees.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“You’re happier now, Dorian,” Cole says offhandedly.

 

Everyone finally woke up to greet the day—though he and Dorian were tardy to breakfast, surprising no one. At the Inquisitor’s order, they’re taking a proper vacation from world saving. It’s a bright sunny day in Val Royeaux and for once they’re all wearing their casual clothing instead of armor as they walk the streets together.

 

If anything Dorian wears can really be deemed casual… Bull thinks to himself with amusement. Dorian’s wearing a royale sea silk shirt that doesn’t seem to have any buttons done up, baring too much of that tempting dark skin of his. The sleeves are missing half their fabric it seems like, cutouts on the shoulders because apparently Dorian can’t take having them covered. The shirt does nothing to hide the dark mark on his throat from the toothy kiss Bull gave him while they were in the bathtub this morning; just as the pants Dorian’s donning, all tight and full of unnecessary buckles, don’t hide the firm roundness of his arse.

 

He’s wearing his usual amount of rings on his fingers and he’s so glittery. Bull’s head still spins from the idea that that’s all his to touch.

 

“Is that what that light tingly feeling is?” Dorian responds blithely to Cole as he peruses a stall full of arcane tomes, leafing through one at random. He shuts it, shrugging and smiling shyly—“I suppose you’re right.”

 

“Hiding a hopeful heart, hankering and helpless—how can this be real? How can I feel so much without the hurt?”

 

“…but it is real,” Dorian says and grins at Bull, no longer as squirmy about Cole leafing through his thoughts about them, “And now I know I can.”

 

It makes Bull feel a bit uneasy to hear—all that expectation in Dorian’s voice. He quiets his mind like tama taught him, hopes Cole is too distracted to hear his doubts and hopes that he can live up to all that expectation in spite of his past…

 

“And now you’re smiling,” Cole enthuses laughingly, “It’s good!”

 

“Of course it is,” Dorian preens, “Everyone likes my smile! And they should! I have excellent teeth.”

 

“Ugh,” Cassandra says, “You know, you’re not as handsome as you think, Dorian.”

 

“I must be, or you wouldn’t have been thinking about it all this time…”

 

“Anyone who claims it as often as you must be dreadfully concerned they're not…” Cassandra needles as Dorian struts about. Bull covers his mouth, trying not to laugh at his conceited kadan’s antics. He knows Dorian’s not as sure as he acts and that part of him is interesting and enticing to Bull as well.

 

“Look at this profile,” Dorian declares, waving a hand underneath his chin, posing, “Isn’t it incredible? I picture it in marble… though I rather doubt I’ll be the hero of this story, remembered for generations and all that rot.”

 

“True,” Varric says with a chuckle as he scribbles in his journal, “You’re more of the charming rebel type. You’ll get all the one-liners, all the fans will fawn over you but you’re not the main event…”

 

“See? Straight from the writer’s mouth,” Dorian agrees with authority.

 

“…you aren’t actually going to write about all of us, are you, Varric?” Cassandra asks, aghast.

 

“Seeker, how could I not? I have an obligation to my readers—Void, to all of Thedas to record the truth!” Varric declares laughingly as Cassandra grunts in response.

 

Bull’s ears perk and hearing that is probably the only thing that could tear him away from perusing a stall full of broadaxes. “Wait, are you gonna write me into your books, then?”

 

“Of course, Tiny!”

 

Bull puffs up his chest and waves at his torso—“Great! But when you do, make sure you describe the musculature right. ‘Cause this isn’t just endurance work—there was a lot of strength training to get here. You want to use words like ‘rippling’ or ‘ripped’…”

 

“Hmm…” Varric muses, “The Iron Bull’s belly was prone to rippling after every meal…”

 

“He rarely wore shirts as they ripped under the strain,” Dorian adds unhelpfully.

 

Bull immediately stops posing, lip jutting out. “That hurts, you guys. That’s hurtful.”

 

Dorian chuckles, leaning in and elbowing Bull while everyone laughs. The motion is all affection, Dorian lingering nearby. He’s warm and close and Bull’s hand naturally rests on his hip as they walk together with the group.

 

“See, what I really gotta capture is this,” Varric says, framing the two of them between his fingers and thumbs, “You and Dorian—the readers will love it!”

 

Bull smirks and squeezes tighter to Dorian, not letting him squirm away from this after the earlier teasing. “Go on…”

 

“Two worlds, tearing them apart—Tevinter and qunari, with only love to keep them together…” Varric recites as Dorian squawks a little in protest.

 

“I don’t see how this is even remotely your—or your readers!—business, Varric!”

 

“Could you make it sound angrier? Love is a bit soft…” Bull says in a considering tone, earning a smack on the arm.

 

“Please stop helping the dwarf!” Dorian hisses, punctuating the demand with a stomp of a foot.

 

“How about passion?” Varric suggests.

 

“Yes… that’s better. Love is all starlight and gentle blushes. Passion leaves your fingers sore from clawing the sheets…” Bull rumbles and Dorian just huffs, rolling his eyes.

 

“You could have at least have had the courtesy to use the bedposts…” he retorts finally, exasperation clear.

 

“Hey…” Bull says, wounded once more, “Don’t top from the bottom.”

 

The others are all laughing at their expense, but Dorian stops trying to squirm away and Varric makes a note in his journal—“Passion it is then!”

 

“Anyways,” Dorian says with a clearing of his throat. His neck is ruddy with embarrassment and Bull really wants to bite the back of it. He’s realizing that Dorian’s not ashamed of him persay—but he is shy at times. It’s cute. “What I was getting at is this—how do you want to be remembered, Cassandra?”

 

“Me?” Cassandra asks, a little pink from the turn their discussion took. She’s looking at a display of kite shields, unsurprisingly. Giving Varric a withering sort of look, she responds, “I rather doubt I will have much control on how I will be remembered… isn’t this a better question for the Inquisitor?”

 

“It is but Beatrix is off making calf eyes at the Commander who is undoubtedly staring back in an equally nausea-inducing manner… so!” Dorian claps his hands together, “What do you think? Valiant yet sexy rebel against the status quo?”

 

“I could get behind that,” Varric says, journal open again.

 

“I bet you could,” Bull says smugly, bumping the smaller man with an arm. Varric ignores him, all innocence, but Bull knows the Seeker throws Varric. And not always literally.

 

“Sword raised high, blue scarf dramatically fluttering in the wind, sun rising behind you!” Dorian enthuses, draping an azure length of material from a textiles display around Cassandra’s neck.

 

“Blue scarf?!” Cassandra grunts, shaking off the soft material with disgust, “Why would I be wearing such a thing?”

 

“It’s a painting of course! Work with me, it’ll be fantastic!” Dorian urges, giving Cassandra puppy eyes and earning a shove in response. Cassandra doesn’t hold back either, Dorian nearly bangs into another stall, but he doesn’t seem too put out because there’s more books to look at there.

 

Bull shakes his head, laughing as Dorian enthuses over some magical tome or other. Sera nudges him and offers an apple which Bull takes, only raising his brow slightly in concern.

 

“Did you actually pay or was it a five finger discount?” he wonders, shining it on his pant leg.

 

“Are you no’ going to eat it if I did swipe it?” Sera asks, looking strangely hurt.

 

“Didn’t say that,” Bull responds and bites into the fruit heartily, “Just thought you were always looking out for the little guy, not stealing from them.”

 

“Does tha’ one look little to you?” Sera asks, pointing at the heavyset merchant behind the counter of overpriced fruit, “It’s a front. He’s probably fencing weapons or illegal magicky shite.”

 

“That’s why he’s overcharging,” Bull says, swiping a hand over his mouth to clear it of flecks of fruit, “Keeps regular buyers away, sends a clear signal to those with the money to purchase whatever he’s dealing under the table… he’s a vint, you can tell from all the dragon-y crap on his jewelry. We’ll tell the boss.”

 

“Or…” Sera says, wiggling her fingers into Bull’s side, “We can take care of it ourselves.”

 

Bull hums, looks to where the others are getting further away into the market. Shopping and talking is great and all but Bull’s a soldier, first and foremost.

 

“Alright, we’ll go with a two-pronged attack. I’ll take point, you flank from the alcove directly beh—”

 

“Whoa whoa, stop with that qunari rubbish. We’re on vacation, Bull,” Sera declares, holding up a hand to stop Bull in his tracks, “We do this my way. We need three things: a pillow full of Ferelden goose down, a bucket of pitch and a long stick with a hook-y thing on it.”

 

Bull takes his hand away from the axe in his belt loop and takes a breath. He remembers that this isn’t Seheron. There aren’t enemies around every corner.

 

“Alright,” Bull replies with a smirk, “But you’re taking the fall if the boss finds out.”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“They look the same,” Dorian declares and shrugs as both warriors shopping with him groan in unison, “I’m being honest! And you two rolling your eyes at me is not particularly instructive, thank you. You’re supposed to be helping me.”

 

“And we want to, Dorian, it’s just…” Cassandra presses her palm against her forehead, muttering something under her breath—probably a prayer for patience.

 

“You don’t know a halberd from a broad-axe,” Blackwall finishes, “And it makes me want to cry.”

 

“Well we can’t have that,” Dorian says and reaches for one of the weapons on display to attempt to pick it up, “What about this one—”

 

Dorian lifts, he really does, but the heavy metal thing doesn’t budge. He strains for a moment longer before giving in and glowering as Cassandra walks over and plucks it off the pegs like it weighs nothing at all.

 

“It’s a bit top-heavy for my tastes…” she states, giving it a practice swing that Dorian gets far out of the way of, crouching behind Blackwall. “But then again, I do not specialize in two handed arms like Bull does. What do you think, Blackwall?”

 

Dorian’s frustration grows as Cassandra easily tosses the big axe-or-possibly-maul over to Blackwall for him to examine. He walks away from them as they discuss sharpness and durability and metal quality.

 

“Couldn’t find a nice southern mage to warm my bed, no not Dorian, has to go for the big bloody strapping warrior type who is impossible to shop for…” Dorian mutters as he peruses another display, arching an eyebrow, “…are those axes pin—”

 

“Monsieur Pavus?”

 

Dorian’s exclamation of disbelief is cut off by the appearance of the young page in an emerald green mask. Dorian wonders a moment if he should answer—they might have saved the day in Halamshiral but he’s still a Tevinter mage in Orlais…

 

“How may I help you?” he replies finally, folding his arms across his chest.

 

“A message from my master Monsieur Ponchard de Lieux,” the page says, handing an envelope over to Dorian, “He hopes you will be able to meet with him while you are in Val Royeaux.”

 

The name strikes a chord with Dorian and he stares at the envelope for a moment, stomach giving a lurch as he remembers months ago, back in Redcliffe…

 

“Dorian, you’re not wearing your amulet,” Halward notices, hand warm on Dorian’s shoulder for a moment before Dorian shrugs it off. The older man shows no surprise at being rebuffed in that manner, brow knitting slightly.

 

“Dorian, you can be ashamed of me as much as you will, but,” Halward shakes his head, “The Pavus name is one of honor. For centuries we have been scholars and sources of strength for the Imperium. Your great-great-great-great-great-great—”

 

“—great-great-great-great grandmother came up with the Simulacrum enchantment, allowing us to beat back the qunari forces that were in attempting to infiltrate Ventosus Straits even when our forces were failing—I know…” Dorian mutters, staring out of the window of the pub. He can see a horned shadow cast across the half-drawn shades and it’s strangely comforting.

 

“I’m just saying… don’t throw that away because you’re angry at me,” Halward insists, “…no matter our differences, my son… I know you will be the best of the Pavus clan…”

 

“You know that? Is that what you know?” Dorian replies hoarsely, tears running down his face as he glares at his father because it always comes back to duty and bloodlines. Always.

 

“I believe, Dorian…” Halward smiles lamely, glances away from Dorian’s ruddy face, “…because the way the world is going… the Pavus family’s strength will be needed. Your strength, Dorian. I’m beginning to see that, now.”

 

He’d left that encounter with anger still in his breast. Frustration and sadness and feelings he wanted nothing to do with.

 

Dorian returned to Skyhold and that same night tumbled into bed with Bull. He’d wanted to for a long while anyways but it also gave him an outlet for all of those mixed up emotions. He clung to the other man and shut his eyes and just felt.

 

The morning after, Dorian had crept out of bed early as per usual. What surprised him was what he did when he got back to his room in the tower. Instead of flopping into bed to sleep in, Dorian had sat at his desk, took up his pen and wrote a letter bound for Val Royeaux.

 

To this man, Ponchard.

 

The reply had been frustrating. Ponchard refused to sell the amulet back. In his own words, ‘its value was far more than gold’. Dorian immediately felt a fool. How stupid could he have been? So angry and careless…

 

“Thank you,” Dorian says and flicks his eyes up. The page has his palm held out for a tip. Dorian’s eyes flash gold with barely restrained magic energy—he can feel his pupils burning with it. The man stutters back a step fearfully.

 

“You’re dismissed,” Dorian says with finality and the man runs for the door. Dorian’s thankful that Cassandra and Blackwall are too busy talking up the smithy to really notice the exchange and he casually slides the letter inside his shirt.

 

He’s almost out the door when Blackwall stops him with a hand on his shoulder, “What, giving up already?”

 

Dorian blinks a few times and feigns a smile. It convinces Blackwall somewhat, though the man’s brow is still a bit furrowed in concern. Or maybe that’s how Blackwall always looks, Dorian’s not terribly certain.

 

“Not at all,” he declares and points towards the display he’d been gawking at earlier, “That one, right there.”

 

“…that one?” Cassandra echoes incredulously.

 

“That one,” Dorian insists and tosses his coin purse to Blackwall before walking out the door.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“That part with the custard pie wasn’t part of the plan, but it was brill, Bull!”

 

They’re sitting up on a rooftop together at the elf’s insistence. Sera’s beaming from ear to pointy ear at him, a few feathers stuck up in her hair from their tussle with the dirty merchant. Bull’s equally messy, meringue on his face and pants from his improvised missiles when their tarred and feathered friend attempted to bolt from them and the Orlesian authorities.

 

“Thanks,” Bull replies, grinning back, “I do my best. Strategist and all that.”

 

“Tch, I’m just impressed you aim that well,” Sera says, blinking her big eyes up at him, “What with having only one eye an’ all.”

 

“Pshhh, depth perception’s overrated,” Bull responds, “Besides, I’ve had a good long time to get used to one eye.”

 

Krem was just a teenager when Bull ran into him. His lieutenant is a man full grown now and he’s proud of him—proud of himself for having stopped to help. Sera reminds Bull of that feeling he had, what drove him to take a blow for a man he didn’t even know. She’s young and earnest, still has a shine to her eyes despite all the shit she’s been through.

 

Dorian would cluck at him, call him a mother hen. He’d be right too. Bull wants to protect Sera even though he knows she would rather chew glass than accept help from him—or anyone for that matter.

 

“And the huffing and puffing when you were bolting after ‘im?” Sera asks and because she’s not one to sugar-coat anything, gives his leg brace a light kick for emphasis.

 

He’s a little surprised that she noticed it at all. Nobody else has—most think it’s probably armor. He always waits until Dorian’s away to put it on so no one’s seen him lacing it up his mangled leg. But Sera’s surprisingly perceptive for being madder than a bronto in heat and it’s the reason she’s one of the many faces of ‘Red Jenny’.

 

“That… took more getting used to than the eye thing,” Bull says, wincing a little and rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.

 

Sera’s brow knits just a bit. Bull might mistake the expression for sympathy if it wasn’t Sera, who avoids expressing such emotions like the Blight.

 

“Bad one, yeah?”

 

“Real bad,” Bull agrees, lip twitching, “Back when I believed all that ‘Qun rubbish’, as you put it.”

 

Sera snorts, plucking a cookie from the little packet in her lap and breaking it in half, offering part to Bull. He takes it, absently wishing for some milk. He really has gotten soft.

 

“Pshhh, you still believe in it. You don’t follow it, but you believe,” she declares, staring out at the horizon.

 

“For the qunari, following it is belief. We don’t get to pick and choose like you Andrasteans do,” Bull replies, arching an eyebrow, “What makes you think I still believe?”

 

“The way you talk about fighting, for one. You’re all twitchy and such, like you’re ready for a fight, like you’re trying to figure out what everyone’s up to always,” Sera responds, waving her hand, “All that tosh about strategies and you trying to chuck me over a line of enemies. I still see you writing in that little book of yours too, y’know…”

 

That’s another thing altogether. Bull shifts a little on the roof, stretches his legs to dangle over the edge as he leans back on his hands and stares off.

 

“Old habits.”

 

“Bullshit,” Sera declares, holding up two fingers, “Because you’re Bull and that answer is shit. You’re still thinking ‘bout yourself as Ben-Hasshole when you’re no’ one of those anymore. And I say well done for tha’. Better off without everyone tellin’ you who you ought to be, yeah?”

 

“It wasn’t—ugh, it’s about purpose, Sera. If I seem on edge it’s because I’m choosing my own path. Last time I tried to do that… well…” Bull lets his leg brace clank on the roof’s edge for emphasis, “I’ll try to keep the whole bloodlust thing to a minimum. I know how you feel about ‘bits’ flying off bodies…”

 

Sera shudders, pointy ears going a little flat at the mention of decapitations. “Eugh, don’t remind me. You an’ Blackwall are right gits when it comes to tha’…”

 

“Well maybe if you stop stealing our kills…”

 

“I tol’ you tha’s not a thing.”

 

“Fine. Kill-helping. You’re kill-helping….” Bull grumbles as Sera laughs, stuffing his face with cookies.

 

“You should tell ‘im, you know…” Sera says out of the blue.

 

Bull wipes crumbs from his mouth. Following along with the way Sera’s conversations jump from topic to topic is a skill he’s slowly learning. He knows she means Dorian, but…

 

“Tell him what?”

 

“ ‘Bout the last time you made your own choices… ‘bout what happened…” Sera states, looking down at the masses milling around below, “… ‘bout why you flinch whenever we’re mixing it up with Corphyface’s mages…”

 

Bull’s shoulders stiffen, leg giving an ache that he absently rubs with a hand.

 

“He already knows everything he needs to,” Bull lies.

 

“No, you see, tha’s not fair,” Sera declares, wagging a finger in Bull’s face, “People always say tha’, tha’ they’re keepin’ truth from people to protect them. But it’s never really like tha’. They’re keeping the truth away to protect themselves, and tha’s a fact.”

 

“It’s not that easy, Sera—”

 

“Well it better get easy,” Sera says, standing up and brushing off her plaidweave pants, “Or else you’re both gonna lose out on the one half-way decent thing you both are gettin’ outta this Coryphenus mess…”

 

She thumbs over her shoulder before hopping down the drainpipe and climbing back to the street. Bull’s eye scans the general area where she was gesturing and catches sight of Dorian walking along. It’s easily done, he’s so bright and bold among even the overdressed Orlesians.

 

He’s walking without really looking where he’s going and he has a piece of parchment in his hand that he is scanning over repeatedly. The thumb of his free hand is caught between his teeth and Bull knows that gesture well—doesn’t need to be a Ben-Hasshole to know that Dorian’s anxious about whatever the letter contains.

 

Sera’s running over to Dorian already and Bull watches how the mage jumps, folding the letter over and pocketing it quickly before greeting Sera. The elf points upward and Bull brushes off his pants as Dorian glances up at him.

 

Dorian cups his hands around his mouth, shouting upwards—“Practicing to be a gargoyle, are you?”

 

Bull just shakes his head, making a rude gesture before carefully making his way downward to join them.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“So should we drink our way through Val Royeaux alphabetically, then?” Dorian suggests and laughs at the groans that answer his question.

 

They’re all back together, save for Vivienne who is at her duke’s estate and Solas who is Maker knows where. Everyone’s drinking and having a good time even though nobody’s quite got Dorian’s vigor for it—save for Beatrix since she’s the youngest. And she’s… well…

 

“Me, I’ll do it!” Beatrix declares with a hiccup, fist pumping wildly in the air. She attempts to stand and a slightly more sober Cullen has to catch her around the waist to keep her from falling flat on her face, “Let’s go!”

 

“You’re not going anywhere but bed,” Cullen says with a grunt, wrestling a little with the uncooperative Inquisitor.

 

“Pbbbbbt! You’re such an old man sometimes!” Beatrix whines, kicking out her legs a little to try and get free.

 

“Old man?!”

 

Dorian and the rest laugh in response to Cullen’s outrage. Blackwall’s deep belly laughs and Sera’s shrieking little giggles, Bull’s hearty chuckles and Cassandra’s quiet snickers. The sound of them together, all of them, is like home to Dorian now.

 

“That’s true, isn’t the Inquisitor only a wee thing?” Blackwall questions, “Twenty, yes?”

 

“Twenty-one!” Beatrix declares from where Cullen’s hefting her weight over his shoulder.

 

“My goodness—Commander, didn’t you just celebrate your thirty-first nameday?” Josephine remarks teasingly as Cullen reddens.

 

“If by celebrate you mean spent it knee-deep in the muck of the Fallow Mire, then yes,” Cullen states, arching an eyebrow, “And respectfully, Lady Ambassador, I do not think this is a battle you and Ser Blackwall want to fight.”

 

Everyone hoots even louder as the warden and ambassador fall into an embarrassed silence.

 

“He’s got you there, Ruffles,” Varric declares unnecessarily, “Night, Curly.”

 

Cullen gives a smug bow of his head before carrying Beatrix out even as she howls about being the dread Inquisitor and commanding Cullen to order his own beheading.

 

“So you’re fat with it, right?” Sera questions suddenly, changing the subject without much ado, looking right at Dorian intently.

 

“Who, me?” Dorian asks, pointing at himself incredulously, trying to piece out that question, “Are you referring to…”

 

Sera sighs heavily, “Do you sleep on silk while gold shits down all over you? Are you rich?”

 

“I left all that behind…” Dorian says and tries not to think of his current predicament, “Although I do miss the gold shitting from time to time…”

 

Not that it would help him in this case. Ponchard’s demands are absurd and at the meeting tomorrow Dorian plans to tell him as much. Even if Beatrix wasn’t going to be fantastically hungover the next day, Dorian has no intention of involving her in this debacle.

 

He’ll figure it out somehow.

 

“You really left it, huh? Knew you weren’t all bad…” Sera states approvingly, topping off Dorian’s beer for him.

 

Dorian drums his fingers along the flagon idly.

 

“I wouldn’t say that now. There are things I miss, back in Tevinter, back home… the architecture and history, the people speaking five different languages and twelve different dialects and somehow getting on… magic being studied not for the good of the man but for the good of mankind…” Dorian states evenly, “But that’s why I’m here instead of there. To preserve and protect my homeland and its integrity. Whether they want me to or not.”

 

“Here here,” Blackwall says, thumping Dorian’s shoulder and making him choke on his beer with the force of the slap, “And we’ll beat up venatori until they figure that out!”

 

“Quite,” Dorian replies, trying to look annoyed at Blackwall and failing, smiling instead. He feels a familiar gaze on himself and glances over at Bull, who is looking at him with something like concern.

 

The letter burns in Dorian’s breast pocket. He probably should tell Bull, but he worries what the man will think of him. Dorian’s father didn’t exactly leave the best impression on Bull, which is entirely unsurprising to Dorian.

 

However, given their relationship now…

 

It’s idiotic, but Dorian wants to keep some peace between the two. After all, Halward will always be his father. And Bull is… well… Bull’s his... something. Paramour? It feels like an odd term to use for what they are, but the most apt that Dorian can devise at present.

 

Dorian just can’t see how telling Bull about all this with his family’s amulet will end well. Dorian’s supposed to be ‘estranged’ from all of them after all, just as Bull has been cut off from his own people. It is something they hold in common and it makes it easier to overlook centuries of prejudice. They’re not part of their respective cultures.

 

Except Dorian still is tied to Tevinter. Still wants to be. Misses home and his family. Sooner or later it will have to be addressed… what will happen if and when the Inquisition wins against Corypheus.

 

Dorian’s wanting it to be later. Telling Bull about his vexation over the Pavus birthright would prove that he’s not as distant and unaffected by the loss as he acted at first. Dorian fears Bull’s judgement—worse—his disappointment for that.

 

“Kadan..?”

 

Bull’s suddenly beside him, warm and present. Dorian just barely hides the way he jumps in surprise.

 

“Oh, sorry… woolgathering…” Dorian apologizes quietly as he watches the others. Varric’s telling some story that has even Cassandra slapping the table in amusement.

 

“Something I can help with? It isn’t like you to go all quiet… in fact, you’re usually the one standing on the table with Varric at this point…” Bull notes.

 

Bull’s not wrong, but Dorian’s not in the mood and besides, it’s funnier when Varric yanks Cassandra up out of her chair instead.

 

“True, true…” Dorian states, pulling a leg over Bull’s and sitting facing him with a smile. He tips Bull’s flagon back for him, encouraging the qunari to finish his beer before Dorian favors him with a deep kiss.

 

“Maybe I just want a different sort of entertainment tonight…” Dorian suggests with a purr against Bull’s ear.

 

The qunari sets down his mug heavily, tosses his contribution to their tab onto the table—pays for both himself and Dorian.

 

“I think I could help with that…” he states and now Dorian’s the one being carried off over a shoulder like a prize, laughing all the while.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

Dorian thinks he’s being quiet. He isn’t.

 

Bull hears the sound of him slipping out of bed like a thunderclap. He waits until Dorian’s feet pad across the carpet to open his eye and watch. The mage washes at the basin instead of drawing a bath, bites his lip a little as he draws the linen between his tacky thighs.

 

Bull can imagine the blush on Dorian’s face—Bull made a point of making the man filthy the night prior.

 

Much as Bull hates to admit it, it was a strategic maneuver. It would tell him something was going on, if Dorian didn’t take a bath after all of that. Dorian, like most people, has habits and rituals. Bull’s analyzed them thoroughly. Sera might have told him he didn’t have to be like this anymore but he can’t help it. It’s in his nature.

 

Dorian’s never up this early in the morning of his own accord. He never wears the same outfit more than once in a week. That bracelet never goes with that ring. His hair never takes less than half an hour to style.

 

Something’s wrong. Bull knows it from all these little tells without needing to see a slightly rumpled but otherwise dressed Dorian stare somberly at a letter before shutting it up in a drawer with a sigh. Bull shuts his eye again when the mage turns towards him. Waits for the footsteps to the door, but they don’t come.

 

“I’d rather stay in bed…” Dorian murmurs and Bull feels the slight tickle of mustache as Dorian kisses along that ridge where his horns meet his brow. Then the footsteps, followed by the door shutting.

 

Bull waits a moment longer before pulling himself up and out of bed. Nearly stumbles—cramp in his knee aching worse for some reason—on his way to the desk. He opens the drawer and reads over the letter once and twice.

 

Understanding hits him like a charging Bronto and he hurries to get his brace on, to get dressed. He might just be able to catch Dorian if he hurries up.

 

Bull’s still fixing his belt when he strides quickly into the hallway. The fact that his attention is so divided is probably how he manages to run right smack into Cassandra Pentaghast.

 

“Bull!” Cassandra gasps.

 

“Apologies Seeker, I didn’t see—” Bull begins and nearly drops his belt as he does a double-take. Another oddity this morning—Bull’s never seen Cassandra without at least two layers of clothing and/or armor on her.

 

Right now she’s wearing a red tunic and nothing else. Worse, it’s not even her tunic. It’s too wide in the chest and there’s a split right down the middle that would bare her entire chest if she wasn’t holding it together with a hand. There’s familiar blocky gold filigree along the collar—dwarven style decoration.

 

“Koslun’s horns…” Bull says in disbelief because while he teased them plenty, he never actually expected—

 

“Please! You saw nothing—this—this was a momentary indiscretion, nothing more—” Cassandra’s voice is halting, somewhere between authoritative and pleading.

 

“…Seeker?” a deep voice—Varric—rumbles sleepily from the door Cassandra’s left slightly ajar behind her.

 

Bull just shakes his head, puts a hand to Cassandra’s mouth firmly. “Look, normally I’d be laughing my ass off but right now I don’t have time, Seeker,” he says, “I have to go. Just make sure both of you can still march together, alright? We don’t need any more drama.”

 

Cassandra’s brow knits but she gives a sharp nod and Bull lifts his hand away before hurrying off into the Val Royeaux streets.

 

They’re mostly empty. Orlesian parties tend to go on late into the night ‘til almost daylight. The only signs of life at this time of the day are the street cleaners working on getting rid of the evidence of an evening’s revelry, broken bottles and trash littering the historic pavements. Bull remembers when he was first transferred here, the joking among his squaddies about how Orlais was like a lady of the night—ridden hard in the midnight hours only to smear another layer of paint on her face to greet the light of day.

 

As Bull watches one of the cleaning crew lift a pair of frilly underwear off the ear of one of the large lion statues in the center pavilion, he realizes how fitting that analogy was.

 

And now as he watches Dorian sit at a table at one of the open air cafés that cater to those few people who are actually up at this hour—or perhaps, those who never went to sleep to begin with—he realizes what Orlais can do to someone when she got her claws into them. Bull had quickly learned how to play The Grand Game, but he never really understood it until now.

 

How something like an amulet in the wrong hands could cause such distress. Dorian’s face is crestfallen, tired. Was this why he hadn’t said anything? It wasn’t like Bull hadn’t seen him worse off…

 

He should hang back, observe… spy.

 

Bull fights that instinct for subterfuge—he simply opens the small wrought iron gate, brushing off the maitre’d and going to sit across from Dorian.

 

“You’re up early,” he says simply, waving a hand to get the waiter to come over, ordering a café au lait and beignets.

 

Dorian’s face went from pale to rose in the span of a second. Bull slides the letter over to him before Dorian can compose a lie, the mage picking it up off the table with a huff of irritation.

 

“Careless…” Dorian mutters, shaking his head.

 

“Naw,” Bull says, sipping his drink when the waiter drops it off, “Even if I hadn’t found it, I would have known something was up, the way you were acting all fidgety…”

 

“I suppose that’s what I get for sleeping with a spy…” Dorian says and Bull’s thankful Dorian’s not just flying off the handle over being followed.

 

“Ex-spy.”

 

“You can put wool on a wolf but that doesn’t make it a sheep, Bull…” Dorian states dryly, stirring his spoon in his tea with a twirl of a finger and a measured amount of magical energy.

 

“If you had told me, I wouldn’t have had to snoop around. If you’re looking for an apology—”

 

“I’m not,” Dorian replies, placing his hand on Bull’s and sighing, running his fingers over the raised bumps of Bull’s knuckles. Bones that never set right after breaking, callouses wider than Dorian’s thumb. “I just didn’t want you involved in this… I can handle the situation.”

 

“And you didn’t want Beatrix involved either, even though this guy Ponchard wanted to meet with her…” Bull says, pointing at the letter, “You ever think for a second it might be a set-up? That they might be trying to kill Bea and if you show up without her that you could be—”

 

“Oh honestly Bull, I can—”

 

Bull slams a fist into the table, making it creak and sending the silverware rattling. Dorian jumps and everyone’s staring.

 

“If you say you can handle it yourself one more time… we’re going to go a few rounds and trust me, you’re not going to like it,” Bull growls.

 

Dorian’s eyes narrow, pretty and angry all at once. He folds his arms across his chest and harrumphs—it’s as close to acquiescence as Bull will get right now. Bull resets the silverware as the waiter comes over with the plate of beignets and scurries away again.

 

“These things will kill you, you know…” Dorian declares, even as he snitches one of the powder sugar doused doughnuts off Bull’s plate.

 

“What’s so special about the amulet anyways?” Bull asks, not falling for the distraction even as he smacks Dorian’s hand when it goes for another piece.

 

“It’s the Pavus family birthright,” Dorian explains, sucking sugar from his fingertips, “The flashy thing you show peons to make them tremble at your impressive lineage. I didn’t leave Tevinter with much in the way of coin so… I sold it…”

 

The last part Dorian practically whispers. There’s shame and hurt in the admission, that much is obvious to Bull.

 

“Entirely forbidden of course… and foolish but… I was desperate,” Dorian says, shrugging absently.

 

“And angry,” Bull supplies because he’s not letting Dorian squirm out without a thorough explanation.

 

The mage sighs, chin touching his chest as he looks away from Bull. “Yes, that too…”

 

Bull doesn’t particularly understand. He’s proud of Dorian for not dragging Beatrix into this. That the mage is aware enough to know what a bad idea that would be. But there’s one aspect of the situation that Bull just can’t wrap his head around—

 

“What I don’t get is… you don’t even like your family, Dorian. Why would you even want it back?” Bull questions, reaching for Dorian’s hand, huge fingers resting on the inside of the mage’s wrist.

 

Dorian lifts his head slowly, nostrils flaring as he gives an exasperated huff of breath. “Because it’s mine and it shouldn’t be passed around like candy…” he grits out, unaware of the way his pulse jumps under Bull’s fingers.

 

“And that’s the only reason?” Bull asks, presses his fingers in just a little.

 

“It’s reason enough,” Dorian snaps, “Leave it be.”

 

Pulse going wild, frantic. Not that Bull needed to feel it to know Dorian’s lying.

 

“No, I won’t,” Bull replies firmly, holds onto the other man’s wrist when he tries to pull free, “It has to do with your family, doesn’t it? Why you want it back?”

 

Dorian’s pulse shoots again, fluttering anxiously under Bull’s fingertips.

 

“…my father…” Dorian mumbles, “At Redcliffe, he… he noticed I wasn’t wearing it. He asked after it.”

 

“So you felt guilty? Is that it?”

 

“No!” Dorian responds, his heartbeat heavy yet steady. Not lying, then… “I realized… just because I was angry at him didn’t mean I should throw away my lineage. And I plan on getting the amulet back, dangerous or not. Asking me to abandon this, Bull—it would be like me asking you to burn your tama’s blanket…”

 

Bull lets go of Dorian’s wrist, giving a slow nod. “I agree,” he says and gruffly bites into his breakfast, “Which is why I’m going to go with you. Finish your tea.”

 

“You’re—what?” Dorian blinks at him in confusion and then shakes his head. “No, Bull, I mean it—I want to handle this myself. I didn’t ask Beatrix not just because it might be dangerous but also because I shouldn’t be putting this on anyone! Everyone asks her for the moon and beyond. I didn’t want to be in her debt, nor do I want to be in—mmph!”

 

Bull stuffs the last beignet in Dorian’s open mouth, getting powdered sugar in the other man’s mustache. “Anyone ever tell you you talk too much, Dorian?”

 

Dorian merely gives Bull a scowl and a middle finger before finishing his breakfast. Bull notices a slight twitch of a smile on the younger man’s lip between patting at his mouth with the cloth napkin.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

The rest of breakfast passes quietly, just the clinking of Orlesian silverware on painted plates and teacups. They don’t speak, even when Dorian pays the bill. It surprises the mage, but it’s a point in Bull’s favor honestly.

 

Dorian really resents how hard it is to stay mad at the other man. They walk side by side to Ponchard’s shop, Dorian taking a deep breath before ducking inside.

 

There’s no one around, not this early in the morning, so Ponchard catches sight of them quickly.

 

“Monsieur Pavus!” he greets, squeezing his gloved hands together covetously, “Good, good this is exactly what I was hoping for… but ah—where is the Inquisitor?”

 

“We had a celebration last night,” Bull answers, appearing at Dorian’s side after perusing some overpriced halberds, “She’s sleeping it off. I’m The Iron Bull, the captain of Her Worship’s best band of mercs—I’m here to represent the Inquisitor’s interests in this.”

 

Dorian rather likes the way Bull makes anyone do a double-take. Bull’s big, even by qunari standards—and Dorian’s not above enjoying the slightly intimidated expression on Ponchard’s face. Of course, Ponchard’s Orlesian; and much like poisonous snakes, when backed into a corner Orlesians tend to spit venom in your eye in response…

 

“Her Worship’s interests? Or your own, perhaps?” Ponchard suggests with a smirk, face hidden by the faux-gold mask he wore, “Apologies, I have friends who were invited to the meeting in Halamshiral. They were quite amused with your unique relationship with Monsieur Pavus…”

 

“Why you little cretin—” Bull’s hand flattens over Dorian’s mouth firmly before the mage can tell Ponchard where he can shove his amusement.

 

“All I’m interested in is what the price is,” Bull replies unflinchingly.

 

“Well, when I heard of the Inquisitor’s association with Monsieur Pavus… I am afraid, Monsieur Bull, I could not resist. It is not coin I seek for the amulet—but influence. Influence that Inquisitor Trevelyan possesses but which the young man does not…” Ponchard explains.

 

“But you’re a merchant,” Bull states, “Why hold onto the amulet if Dorian’s willing to pay for it?”

 

Ponchard huffs, unaccountably offended. As if he has the right to be… Dorian thinks, batting Bull’s hand away from his face, calmed down enough.

 

“I am not a fence, monsieur!” Ponchard says, “I only bought your friend’s amulet because of what it is. I do business in the Imperium. Having a birthright, even one not of your own, is most useful in… select situations.”

 

“Hmmph,” Dorian grumbles, “He’s got the right of it there, Bull…”

 

“Yes—and that is why I gave the young man so much. If he relinquished it, how is that my fault?” Ponchard adds.

 

“Still figuring the answer to that one,” Bull replies, cracking his knuckles, “But when I do, you’ll know, trust me…”

 

Ponchard swallows hard but Dorian has to hand it to him, he’s persistent. “It is a simple enough request I have of Her Worship. The League de Celestine is an organization of wealthy noblemen in Orlais. I would join, but I lack the lineage. If someone like the Inquisitor applied pressure, they would admit me. That would be worth the return of the amulet!”

 

“Wait, that’s all you want? To get invited to someone’s fancy tea parties?” Bull questions, incredulous.

 

“Orlais, Bull…” Dorian reminds, shaking his head.

 

“Yeah yeah,” Bull says, cracking his neck, “Look, buddy. You seem like an okay guy, all exploitation and smelling like you drowned yourself in lavender cologne aside. Hand over the amulet and maybe I don’t break your legs. Deal?”

 

“Bull!” Dorian gasps, “That’s not the way to handle—”

 

“No, it’s exactly the way to handle it,” Bull explains, “This prick is just a little fish that wants to swim in the big pond. I’ve worked undercover in Orlais long enough to know what happens to those little fish. I’m doing you a favor, Ponchard. Amulet, or you get to see what the sharks really look like up close.”

 

“P-perhaps you shouldn’t b-be so hasty!” Ponchard states anxiously, edging back against his counter worriedly, “B-besides, if you harm me I will not give you the am-amulet!”

 

“Bull,” Dorian insists, holding onto the bigger man’s arm, “Leave the man be. I got myself into this, I should get myself out.”

 

“Yes, perhaps you should listen to your friend, monsieur…!” Ponchard encourages meekly.

 

“Kaffas-! I know what you’re thinking, you little worm! He’s not my friend, he’s—” Dorian pauses and glances at Bull who is giving him a very critical look. “…nevermind what he is…”

 

“Yes, that is another factor…” Ponchard agrees, wringing his hands, “Wouldn’t want to spread anymore talk about your… unnatural companionship…”

 

It hits Dorian right between the ribs like a thrown dagger, those words. Bull’s chest puffs up angrily. Unnatural.

 

“Listen you—”

 

Bull doesn’t get to finish his threat. Dorian’s fist crashes into the man’s nose, crunching it to satisfaction even under the mask’s protection.

 

“He’s not my friend,” Dorian repeats, dander up, blood pounding in his ears, “He is my amatus and he will break your legs into numerous pieces—that is if I don’t get at you first for calling anything between us unnatural you disgusting little creature—so I advise you listen to what he has to say, Ponchard!”

 

Dorian’s not sure who is more surprised, Bull or Ponchard. He runs his now slightly bruised fingers back through his hair anxiously and gives Bull a ‘well?’ look.

 

Bull smirks, crouches by the fallen man.

 

“Here’s the deal, Ponchard,” Bull explains, “You can give us the amulet or…”

 

“Or you’ll hurt me? Ha! I will not give into you r-ruffians! Hurt me and you will g-get nothing!” Ponchard whimpers, holding a lace handkerchief to his bleeding nose. “I am shocked, Monsieur Pavus—a noble re-resorting to such t-thuggish tactics!”

 

“What can I say? The south’s finally rubbed off on me…” Dorian states, trying not to wince too much when he wraps up his throbbing hand. This is why he leaves the punching to Bull and Blackwall and Cassandra…

 

“And I wasn’t finished,” Bull states, grabbing Ponchard by the chin so he’d focus on the qunari and not Dorian, “You give us the amulet or I break your legs—then I go to everyone you care about, break their legs—and then I go to everyone in that secret club you want to join and break their legs… and tell them you ordered me to do it.”

 

Ponchard pales. “Y-you’re bluffing…”

 

“Non, je ne suis pas,” Bull replies with a smirk, “But if you want to test me…”

 

Bull starts to stand when Ponchard makes an abortive gesture with his hands. “Wait, wait, no please—fine, I will give you what you want just please… please think kindly of me?”

 

Ponchard crawls around the counter to a safe that he unlocks, producing the small package. Dorian opens it to be sure, smiles when he sees the familiar emblem, the weight of it correct, all the wear and tear of the years as he remembered.

 

“Is it real?” Bull asks.

 

“Yes,” Dorian replies, putting it into his pocket.

 

“Good,” Bull says, “Hand me that mallet over there, will you?”

 

Ponchard goes white as a sheet.

 

“W-wait—I didn’t—wait!”

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

“I never knew you could bend a leg that far back,” Dorian states off-handedly, sitting on top of Bull back in their bedroom.

 

The walk back from Ponchard’s shop was far more pleasant than the way to it. Bull had put his arm around Dorian’s shoulders and wasn’t rebuffed. They returned back, avoided the others and helped themselves to the bath. Now, laid out on fresh sheets underneath Dorian, Bull felt all that earlier unrest leave him.

 

“I’d feel badly for the fellow if he wasn’t a toad…” Dorian adds, tiptoeing his fingers over the scars on Bull’s chest.

 

“Hey, I was nice,” Bull states with a smirk, “Back in Seheron bas like that would end up with more than their foot up their own arse, trust me…”

 

“I really really don’t want to know…”

 

“You’re really really smart.”

 

“Well that’s rather obvious, don’t you think?” Dorian preens.

 

“I don’t know, I think running away from home, selling off your valuables to some shady merchant and then going to meet that shady merchant on your own without telling anyone else where you were going were all really stupid ideas—mmph!”

 

Dorian’s mouth crashed onto Bull’s and the qunari let himself indulge, running his hands up along Dorian’s body. His skin was warm and didn’t have the same wear and tear as Bull’s own. But there were marks, new ones from their journey. A scar here and there that Bull could touch in admiration. His kadan… his strong, smart Dorian…

 

“Are you telling me you don’t think I should have run away from home?” Dorian asks when he’s finished taking away what is left of Bull’s breath.

 

Yes.

 

“No,” Bull states, shaking his head and smirking as he dangles the delicate chain of the Pavus birthright over his fingers, “Besides, I can’t really blame you—I’d run away if my family’s crest was a pair of peacocks necking—”

 

“They’re not necking,” Dorian snaps, attempting to snag the amulet back and missing, “And if you knew as much Tevene as you know Orlesian, you’d know that ‘Pavus’ means ‘peacock’…”

 

“Wait—you act like a peacock and your name literally is peacock?” Bull asks, incredulously and throws his head back in laughter, deflecting the swats Dorian aims at him with a big arm.

 

“Shut up! I hate you! You big brute! I can’t believe I punched that merchant—you’re turning me into a commoner—” Dorian argues and then yelps when Bull grabs his arms, sitting up with his back against the headboard and Dorian caught in his lap.

 

“You don’t hate me,” Bull states, transferring Dorian’s wrists to one hand so the other can loop the Pavus birthright over Dorian’s head. He manages the catch well enough, but it requires several moments of leaning into Dorian’s space. The smaller man’s chest rises and falls heavily, excitement trembling through every inch of him.

 

Bull knows he doesn’t deserve this. He’s got his dark corners, more than Dorian knows. But that doesn’t mean he won’t enjoy it while he has it.

 

“After all… my Tevene’s pretty bad but I don’t think ‘amatus’ means ‘bull-headed idiot’…” Bull states, kissing Dorian’s neck before letting his wrists go, the cool metal and gems of the amulet resting against Dorian’s chest, the only thing he’s wearing now.

 

“…it’s… rather like ‘kadan’ actually…” Dorian admits shyly.

 

“Mmmhm…” Bull states and chuckles, tastes the word on his tongue— “Never keep anything away from me again, amatus…”

 

Dorian’s lips crush against his eagerly with a whispered ‘kadan’. His hands grip to Bull’s horns and that does it, Bull’s turning him over onto the mattress to show the mage how much he will do to be worthy of that title.

 

They spend the whole day and the night in bed—tomorrow they’ll be back on the road to Skyhold. Bull sends out the tavern boy to get them meals in between sessions. They talk too, and Dorian reads to Bull from a book on dragons he borrowed from the Empress’ private collection.

 

They pause during the evening to have a final drink with everyone down in the tavern. It’s there that Dorian presents Bull with a gift of his own—a huge broadsword made out of dawnstone.

 

“This is the best! I love it!” Bull enthuses as Cassandra and Blackwall both give him the side-eye.

 

“I thought you might,” Dorian declares, laughing even as he slops his beer down his arm when Bull pulls him close to kiss him on the cheek happily.

 

“But it’s… pink…” Blackwall says, aghast.

 

“It’s pretty,” Bull growls in response, “And it’s got blood grooves!

 

It’s all a dream, Bull knows it. All this comfort and safety is an illusion. A distraction. Corypheus is still out there—and even if he wasn’t, there’s their people. There will always be something, some struggle…

 

“Shok ebasit hissra…” Bull murmurs to himself as Dorian finishes packing that following morning.

 

“Hm? What was that?” Dorian asks.

 

“Nothing,” Bull responds, kissing the side of the other man’s face before mussing up Dorian’s hair intentionally with a big hand. Bull just barely manages to get through the door before it gets blown off its hinges with a magical burst of energy.

 

Struggle is an illusion. The tide rises, the tide falls, but the sea is changeless. There is nothing to struggle against. Victory is in the Qun… Bull thinks to himself, even as he jumps the railing and ignores the cursing in Tevene as Dorian chases after him; not really hearing Sera telling them to knock off the creepy foreplay…

 

Sometime both of us are going to have to face who we are, really…

 

Gatt and then rest would laugh, to know that right now, Bull would rather live in an illusion than face the truth.

 

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

 

The journey back to Skyhold is significantly less arduous than the one to Halamshiral, especially considering how well everyone is getting on.

 

“I still don’t believe you,” Dorian says aside to Bull as they walk behind the rest.

 

“I’m telling you, she was wearing his shirt and nothing else,” Bull replies, looking ahead at Cassandra as she snarls at Varric for something or other as they climb up the last (bloody) hill towards Skyhold’s front entrance.

 

“And I’m telling you you’re having me on,” Dorian declares, “Now if you said you saw the ambassador covered in beard burn I might have believed it—”

 

“I heard that,” Blackwall grumbles, cuffing Dorian in the back of the head and grunting when Bull reaches over and hits him in response, “So what’s this about Varric and Cassandra now?”

 

“Well,” Dorian starts and Bull shushes him.

 

“I told her I wouldn’t talk about this with everyone—” Bull grumbles.

 

“You told me!” Dorian protests. The guardsmen at the gates are taking their sweet time getting them open apparently. One’s coming out to speak with Beatrix alone and she gets a very strange expression on her face that Dorian can’t really figure out.

 

“You’re not everyone…”

 

“Still—Bull believes he caught Cassandra sneaking out of Varric’s bedroom during our vacation—”

 

“I knew it!” Blackwall whoops as the gates finally open, “Leliana owes me ten sovereigns. I told her that by the end of this they’d be shaggi—”

 

Blackwall stops talking. They all stop talking because a figure strides out of the gates. He’s tall and strapping, dark hair wreathing pleasantly chiseled features. His lips are curled at the ends, like he’s about to laugh at some joke that the rest of them aren’t hearing.

 

He’s wearing battle mage armor, a staff strapped across his back rattling slightly as he steps forward towards the group. The beard adds a few years to his age but Dorian can tell he’s not much older than Commander Cullen—and has probably seen as much, if not more, battle. His eyes are a deep brown and they crease pleasantly at the corners as he reaches for Beatrix’s hand and shakes it.

 

They speak for a moment before he raises his eyes to the gathered assembly, grinning toothily from ear to ear before holding his arms out wide.

 

“I come all this bloody way and you just stare at me like a drunk nug! What kind’ve greeting is that?” the man states and Varric rushes forward, claps his arms around the mage’s firmly.

 

“Hawke! You got my letters!” Varric enthuses. Dorian’s never seen Varric get even a little emotional—the dwarf seemed pretty immune to sincere emotions—but right now the writer looks like he’s close to tears at seeing the Champion of Kirkwall standing in front of them all.

 

“Of course,” Hawke replies, “And they’re a great deal better than that Hard in Hightown II nonsense…”

 

“I did not write that and you know it, you asshole,” Varric grunts and Hawke laughs.

 

“I know. You can spell, for one thing…” Hawke says and then raises his eyes to the group. Cassandra’s mouth is wide open in shock and Hawke makes a beeline for her, holding out his hand.

 

Hers trembles as he takes it, shaking vigorously.

 

“You must be Cassandra Pentaghast—the Seeker, yes? Varric’s told me tons about you. Mostly about where you were so I could be not there, but still… it’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I’m sorry to have been so elusive, truly…”

 

Hawke lets go of Cassandra’s hand and scruffs his gloved fingers through the back of his hair, looking sheepish. “You see, it’s rather tricky getting out and about when one’s significant other decides to kick start a revolution by blowing up a church and all that… sorry about that as well…”

 

“…this is one of the greatest heroes of the century?” Dorian mutters to himself as the man prattles on to an increasingly purple-looking Seeker.

 

“This is why the qunari are better than you humans…” Bull notes.

 

“From what I heard, he killed your last Arishok in single combat…” Dorian retorts and smirks at the harrumph that he gains from Bull.

 

“…and I’d have Anders apologize himself if I wasn’t so concerned with people cutting his head off the moment they see him coming. I like his head right where it is, you see. It’s a rather pretty head—” Hawke continues to say when he notices Varric fidgeting beside him, raising his eyes back to Cassandra’s and asking, “Er… why are you looking at Varric like you want to…”

 

Cassandra’s fist smashes into Varric’s face. She’s got gravity to work with, putting extra force into the blow and Varric goes down with a squawking sound.

 

“…aaaaaand there you go,” Hawke finishes, laughing as Varric holds his now gushing nose while Cassandra stomps into Skyhold in a rage.

 

“Ow—what the hell!” Varric groans and watches Cassandra march away with a wince, “Thanks for that, Hawke.”

 

“Hey, usually it’s your mouth getting me punched, so I’d say we’re about even…” Hawke remarks before turning to the assembled group, beaming from ear to ear.

 

“Oh—apologies—my name’s Garrett Hawke. It’s very good to meet you, Inquisition,” Hawke declares, giving a friendly wave.

 

“Now that we’ve got introductions out of the way…” Hawke’s face changes in an instant, from cheery to serious, “…I must ask for your help.”

 

“…out of the frying pan…” Dorian says to himself, shaking his head as the Inner Circle heads immediately for the war table, “And here I was hoping for a bath, a nap, even…”

 

“No rest for the wicked,” Bull replies, pulling an arm around Dorian and walking beside him into the fortress.